Monday, June 30, 2014

94. Living in a Tent (TINY HOUSE EDITION!)

Well folks, Dumptruck and I are the proud owners of a Tiny House. We are open to suggestions for names for the house. It's like Mary Poppins' carpet bag, the Tardis, or Hermione's beaded bag: it looks tiny from the outside but from the inside it feels huge. It is way more than enough space to live in, feel comfortable in, and party in. If you are curious about all the ins-and-outs about how everything works, check out the Tiny House FAQ!

It's basically the driest tent I've ever slept in.

We bought it in February, and have been steadily working on it since that time, and moved in this past weekend. I have put in some "before" photos at the end of the post, so you can see the amount of work that we put into our little house. We know fully understand the meaning of the phrase "Do It Yourself." We DIYed all over this mother. Every single construction thing Dumptruck did himself, installing all of it with his own two hands. I helped with the design, moving it all into place, painting, etc., but Dumptruck did absolutely all the math and construction, sitting in front of the house with a jigsaw and circular saw on the ground.

Let us all bow our heads in thanks to whatever deity you believe in that he still, against all probability, has all of his fingers.

The house is 8 feet by 18 feet, which is just about the same footprint as a Chevy Suburban. I don't know if that makes me feel weird about myself, or makes me feel weird about America. But in either case, there's that little fact to ruminate on. The house has a kitchen, dining/living room, bathroom, bedroom loft and storage loft. It also has a wood burning stove and a chimney.

We (personally, with our four hands) built and installed storage benches (one of which can roll across the floor with hidden wheels), a fold-up table that folds down and locks into place, a sink, a ladder to the bedroom loft, created a closet, created an entire separate bathroom with a shower and marine head toilet (called an Air Head). Dumptruck even wired the entire house for electricity, and it's fully lit. The house had no electricity before this, whatsoever. Dumptruck spent the last several months ripping out a huge amount of construction inside the house to rebuild it to make it good for 2 people. We even added a set of jumping shelves for the cats to be able to get up to the loft. They've done it many times already, and have made me question my own level of athleticism.

We moved in on Friday (which was an insane escapade, which is why I didn't have the energy to post last Friday). I was so exhausted after all the move-in process that for dinner I sat on the floor with a loaf of bread in one hand and an entire block of cheese in the other hand, just taking alternating bites of each, while Van Morrison played in the background.

If you're on a computer, you should click on the photos to enlarge them to full size!

We had to take down the chimney to be able to move the house, and the
last thing we have to do is re-install the chimney.
You can seen the cat-leap shelves on the left!
To the front you can see the white wall that separates the bathroom.

Climbing up to the bedroom loft.

Storage benches. Tools in the left bench. Winter clothing in the right bench.
Table folded up on the right!
(Look at that outlet on the right! It is one of many! Woo!)

Bench rolls out and to the side to allow for 4 people to sit and eat easily! The table
folds down and locks into place, so the support can't be kicked out.

Fridge and sink on the right. If you have more questions about how we'll do water,
feel free to ask! I'm happy to explain it, it's just not the most interesting for folks
not looking to try and make the same thing happen.

Bathroom, toilet and shower! The green curtain closes as a door for the bathroom.
Our shower is a 2 gallon weed sprayer with a shower head attached to the end of the hose.
You pump it up and it gets great pressure! We do 1.5 gallons cold water and 0.5 gallons boiling water
to make a perfectly hot shower.
The average American uses over 100 gallons of water a day. We will now (two people, with two cats), will cumulatively be using less than 9 gallons of water a day. 
We do "ship showers" in which you get wet, stop the water, soap up, then rinse off!
The water drains to a tub under the house that we remove and dispose of in an underground
grey water tank that Dumptruck installed.

View around the bathroom wall, toward the book/clothes shelves!

Our closet, clothing hamper, and cats, view toward the kitchen.

Kitchen counter and shelves!

Sleeping loft!

View out the front door!
Panorama of the kitchen/dining room! The storage loft is directly above me,
on the right.

Basically: after you live in a tent for 6 months, this is like a palace. I don't know if I ever would have even considered this as an option before long distance hiking, but the AT really taught me that you don't need a lot of space or a lot of things to be happy, healthy and feel at home.

Clever Girl

Oh, and here are the "before" photos. This house was built by an incredibly talented, very VERY thorough builder in Maine who has built two full homes before, and built this tiny home for himself as a camping little bachelor pad (hence no hookups for water, bathroom or electricity). It is built like a tank, and has 4 inches of insulation in the walls, floor and ceiling. It was insulated to survive easily in the Maine winters. After he found himself a lovely lady, the bachelor pad went up for sale. We SNAGGED it and turned it into a home.

 We turned the wall to the left of the cabinets into a ladder.

This bed was screwed into place. Dumptruck removed all the wood and ripped
out that entire left set of cabinets to make the bathroom. 

No benches, no table! No electricity! The pull-out drawer on the left is double wide, and Dumptruck
made it half as wide to make room for the sink.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

95. Successfully Getting a Hitch

Before hiking the Appalachian Trail, I'd never hitch-hiked in my entire life. In my mind, it was a very Kerouac-ian, romantic-bohemian-type activity. My favorite story to tell about hitch hiking was about my Uncle Bart leaving home on the east coast to travel to Ohio for college back in the 1960's. My uncle climbed into the car with his father, my granddad, who dropped him off on the side of the highway. From there, he hitch hiked alone all the way to the midwest to little Delaware, Ohio, where he saw Ohio Wesleyan University for the very first time.

If you've been following along in your E-Z Clever Girl Abridged Reader's Guide, you may note that I also attended Ohio Wesleyan University. The first few days at college I was SO READY to meet new people, clutching my glowing fact nugget about Uncle Bart's yearly hitching pilgrimages to and from the school. I can assure you that it made me seem pretty cool by association, which is all a college Freshman can really hope for. Score!

When you go on long distance hiking treks, you must occasionally find your way back into civilization to get more food, unless you fall into one of these categories:

1. You are The Hulk, and can carry a month's worth of food on your back at one time.
2. You are a hunter, and you're hiking in hunting-appropriate areas. I am going to imagine you carrying a super rad bow and arrow. Even if that's not how you hike, that's how I picture you hiking.
3. You are a robot who needs no food.
4. You carry a fishing rod, and when you find bodies of water with fish, you abandon your fishing rod and just catch those bass with your bare hands because you are a beautiful champion.
5. You are a woodland creature.

On rare occasions, wilderness trails may route themselves through little towns, so you can just walk into a grocery store without a care in the world (except you have to remember to leave your backpack outside or everyone gets all riled into a tizzy). However, a lot of times the closest you can get to a town is if the trail crosses over a road, and there may be a town 10 miles down that road. At that point, it is time to hitch hike.

You may notice that I didn't title this post "Hitch Hiking," I titled it "Successfully Getting a Hitch." This is because hitch hiking, as a general rule, is a demoralizing crap shoot of epic crappiness. Standing on the side of the road, completely unwashed and carrying a gigantic backpack, while simultaneously trying to look approachable and trustworthy is a very difficult task. If you're lucky you'll get picked up right away, but if you don't, then it's just a downward spiral.

After a while of standing, you start to question how your face looks. Should I smile? Should I look steely and determined? Should I walk or stand still? Should I wave? In the minutes between each passing car, you try out all of these different options, weighing which one you think would be the most comforting to the strangers in those cars. When a car does suddenly appear, if you're like me, you'll get frazzled and end up trying to do all of those things at the same time. This creates a lovely amalgamation of conflicting signals, a combination which is read by oncoming traffic as: THIS BROAD BE NUTSO.

Over time, each passing car becomes more and more degrading. Eventually you may start to wonder if you've ever been approachable or appealing at all, and maybe the only reason you have friends is because you make delicious cookies on a semi regular basis.

Sometimes after the 10th car went by, swerving madly across the road to avoid getting anywhere near me, I would look at my outstretched hand, sincerely worried that I wasn't actually putting up my thumb but unconsciously displaying some sort of rude hand gesture. I would always stand off the roadway, never impeding oncoming cars, but every once in a while I'd get that older woman driving alone who would jerk the wheel wildly to swerve all the way over in the opposite lane, as though terrified out of her wits that if her car came within a 10 foot radius, I would launch forward and cling on, like Indiana Jones when he leapt onto that tank. In her mind she must have pictured me hoisting myself over the side of the car, bare-knuckle punching through her backseat window, hurling myself inside and demanding "TAKE ME TO THE NEAREST ARBY'S."

The horror of it all!

Anyway, all of that is to say, when someone does finally pull over, it's one of the greatest things in the world. It's always an adventure, and it's so fun to get to know kind local folks. Getting to ride in the back of a pickup truck was always my favorite, because then I got to stick my head into the wind like a dog, and I didn't have to feel self conscious about stinking up the person's vehicle.

I think the best summary of the glory of getting a ride is in a post I wrote last June, when Whistle and I got a rides in 4 different vehicles, one of which was a 18-wheeler and another of which was a minivan that took us 45 minutes out of the way, so we could go to the chicken factory.  That can be found here: Hitchin' a Ride.

It's possible, though not probable, that I have finally ascended to the same level of cool as my Uncle Bart.

Clever Girl

Monday, June 23, 2014

96. Switchbacks

This past weekend I went with some friends up to The Forks in Maine, which is just south of the 100 Mile Wilderness, near the AT crossings at Moxie Bald and Caratunk. We went on a few little day-hike jaunts on the AT, which was weird, to say the least. There were no-thru hikers, as I think we were before the Northbound bubble. I thought perhaps we'd see at least one Southbounder, but either there is a decrease in Southbounders this year or there is an increase in velociraptor attacks. The trails felt quiet and lonely, a beautiful tranquility which we summarily destroyed by singing and laughing for the entirety of our hikes.

The one difference that I found most startling was my physical ability (or lack thereof) to hike straight up a mountain. We went up Pleasant Pond Mountain, which is only 1.4 miles up, but which gains 1,200 feet in elevation in the last mile. I don't have any distinct memory of Pleasant Pond Mountain, which means it probably passed as little more than a tiny blip on my "difficult hike" radar. The last time I was there I'd already been hiking for 5 and a half months, and my body was like a coiled spring. A hungry, malnourished coiled spring, but a coiled spring nonetheless.

But this was my first time actually hiking since finishing the trail. I've been running long distance on a consistent basis since September, but I haven't hiked. You know what they say about different muscle groups being used for different physical activities? THEY ARE CORRECT, WHOEVER THEY ARE. As soon as the trail started ascending straight up, I had to stop every 0.2 miles or so to breathe like a lumbering rhino and chug water. I was covered in sweat, and I began to seriously question the sanity of my previous self for doing something like this for over nearly 200 days in a row. Those muscle groups in my rump which have oh-so-happily settled back into atrophied slumber were rudely slapped awake and sent groaning and grumpy into action.

But about halfway up the mountain something glorious happened: A double blaze on a tree, indicating a turn in the trail. I didn't want to get my hopes up, because I thought perhaps this was just a trail redirect for a fallen tree. But, no, it was an honest to god switchback. A switchback, for the uninitiated, is when the trail curves in several back-and-forth S-shapes. Do you remember that scene in Return of the King when Elrond rides his horse up that cliff-face to bring the sword of Elendil to Aragorn so he can ride away from the riders of Rohan and get those Dead Men of Dunharrow off their sorry ghost butts to save Minas Tirith? If you don't remember it, you can instead imagine just beating the snot out of all of us nerds. Anyway, when Elrond is riding his horse up that cliff face, there's a series of intense switchbacks, making it possible for a horse to go up an otherwise impossible ascent.

There are several motivations for trail maintainers to add switchbacks to the trails. The most important reason is that it does a better job at stopping erosion. When the trail goes straight up a mountain, when it rains, the rain naturally finds the easiest route down the mountain, turning the trail into a waterfall or aqueduct. Firstly, this causes that section of the mountain to turn into a trough, and secondly, less experienced hikers may hike on the side of the trail to avoid the water, causing even more erosion. Rerouting the trail into a switchback may mean that the trail covers more ground, but overall has a smaller environmental impact. The less important but bonus consequence of this is that it makes the trail a little more manageable for us wimps.

Some hikers dislike switchbacks, expressing that once they have their trail legs, they'd rather be able to just go straight up and down the mountains without being forced to dither around. But I think that if you're tired, or if you're just starting out, switchbacks are the perfect training ground to build up muscle without making you realize how far you've actually ascended. On Sunday, when the vertical ascent turned into a series of switchbacks, everyone was able to breathe and talk again, and we got to the top at what felt like a much quicker pace, because it wasn't a brutal uphill anymore.

I think it's also nice to have something built into your day that forces you to slow down. Once I got used to hiking, I would sometimes go entire days without looking up from the trail (although, as you know if you've read any other parts of my blog, I had to hike looking down, because as soon as I looked up, I'd immediately trip and faceplant). I think this happens to us a lot in our daily lives. We get used to a routine, we get proficient at it, and we get it done without letting ourselves enjoy it. Switchbacks make us slow down, whether we like it or not. And sometimes just that little dip in speed allows us to see things we otherwise would have missed.

Clever Girl

Friday, June 20, 2014

97. Successfully Landing In the Cat Hole on the First Try

It's really great, because then you don't have to find a stick to scoot the stuff over. Also you are saved from the potential disaster of accidentally stepping in it.

I'm not going to describe this anymore, but suffice it to say, it is a rare and delightful accomplishment, that is known only to the long-distance hiker or woodsman. If you know what I'm talking about, you know how smug you feel about your success. A smugness which is quickly followed by the crushing disappointment that you can't brag about it to anyone.*

If you don't know what I'm talking about, then go do some camping or hiking that lasts more than a day and isn't anywhere in the vicinity of public facilities.

Then you'll know.

Clever Girl

*Except other long-distance hikers or long-term campers. Those dudes will totally give you mad props.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

98. New Hiking Boot Smell

I've heard people talk about "New Car Smell." I've even seen those little pine-tree shaped air fresheners in taxi cabs that boast New Car Smell. People seem to really like it. I can't say I have spent very much time in the company of New Car Smell. This is because I grew up in a family where I learned to be fully appreciative of used cars that can last forever. I feel way more pride at having an old car with over 200,000 miles on it than I would if I had a newer car that kinda looked cool but hadn't proved its worth.

I like Old Car Smell better, because it could smell like anything. It smells like the history of your family, and all the trips the car went on. My 245,000 mile Subaru Outback smells like lilacs, grape bubblicious and just a little bit like an attic. The foot wells are covered in a perpetual coating of beach sand and forest dirt. There are ninja turtle action figures in the glove compartment and a rainbow hacky sack in the front window and a random assortment of camping gear and carpentry equipment in the back. There are several plastic pieces missing from the front bumper and rear wheel well that I have been meaning to go to a junk yard to scavenge, but I haven't. I have my doubts that I ever will.

This doesn't mean that I don't treat my car well. It means that I have used it for its intended purpose: to not just get from one place to another, but to enjoy the journey.

I'm saying all of this to defend this fact: New Car Smell makes me NAUSEOUS and it's probably because I haven't spent nearly enough time around it. It doesn't make me nauseous in any metaphorical class anxiety sense. It literally makes me nauseous. If I have to ride in a new car for more than a few miles, I have to ask whoever is driving to pull over so I can barf. I know I'm not alone in this. There have to be other people who feel ill from this smell. Based on my scientific data collection (I asked Dumptruck), 50% of people love New Car Smell, and 50% of people feel light headed at the mention of it. THESE ARE COLD, HARD FACTS, PEOPLE.

But, I get the appeal of New Car Smell.

I understand that to some people it smells delicious because it reminds them of being in a beautiful, brand new vehicle. It doesn't matter if that vehicle is a Kia or a Jaguar, if it's new and you had some formative experience of enjoying a new car as a kid or as a teenager, the smell probably makes you happy. And then of course, some people probably just like the smell for no reason other than the fact that their nose likes it. The same way that some people, like myself, enjoy the smell of gasoline. There's no reason I like it, I just do.

Long distance hikers see our hiking boots like people see their cars. It's our method of transportation, and we have to take care of them the same way that people have to take care of their cars. But like the used-car aficionados amongst us, the more destroyed a pair of hiking boots, the more they are respected. We aim for the perfect balance between functional and wrecked. That's when a hiker and our boots are in beautiful, spiritual harmony. The boot is broken in, but it holds us upright.

At some point though, the moment comes that a pair of boots must be retired. If you're not a long distance hiker, you can carry through the car metaphor. If you've ever had a beloved old junk heap that you've been rattling around in since 1993, and one day the drive belt just rockets right off and the car goes from perfectly functional to TOTALED in the span of 7 seconds, you know the sadness that follows. You go through the 5 stages of grief (abject horror, screaming, crying, sobbing over the hood of the car on the side of the highway like a complete lunatic, and finally, getting it towed to a junk yard to try and salvage some money from the parts that can be re-used), and watching your baby get taken away feels like.. well... I was going to say "getting your baby taken away" but I think that's a little melodramatic, even for me.

It feels like being forced to start over.

For hikers, when this day comes, it is a sad day. We all send our completely unsalvageable, stinky as heck no-longer-even-resembling-boots boots back home, thinking one day we'll need them again. This is the equivalent of leaving your old junker in the back yard. There is nothing shameful about this. This is practical. There are good parts in there than can be repurposed! It just needs some time to rest. And accumulate several seasons worth of pine needles in its grating. In the case of the hiking boots, I am planning on filling them with dirt and planting chrysanthemums in them.

After we have spent the appropriate amount of time mourning over our old boots (the amount of time it takes to walk from the post office to the nearest outfitter in nothing but our stocking feet), we can allow ourselves to bask in the glory of the New Hiking Boot. I remember walking into an outfitter and picking a boot off the display shelf with the same deep reverence that Indiana Jones held for that little gold idol with the screaming face. Luckily for me, I was not immediately flattened by a loosed boulder after I picked the boot up, but you get the picture.

I'd gotten so used to the smell of my old boots that I forgot that boots could ever smell good. But they do, by golly they do. They smell perfect. New Hiking Boot Smell smells like angel feet... which I can only assume probably smell good. I can't imagine that there are many divine fungal infections.

Even though New Hiking Boot Smell is delicious, it's not the best. To me, those boots not perfect until I take a few steps in some mud. Because before the mud they are new, and after the mud, they are mine.

Clever Girl

Monday, June 16, 2014

99. Being the Only Humans for Miles

STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING. Well, don't stop reading this. But if you're doing something else, like petting your dog or eating a sandwich or picking your nose, QUIT IT. I am going to ask you to do something and it requires your undivided attention. Unless the thing that you're also doing is something totally awesome (like petting your dog or eating a sandwich or picking your nose), in which case, carry on.  This doesn't necessarily require your undivided attention. Unless you're driving or operating heavy machinery right now, and in that case, you are being very unsafe. I just want you to stop and really think about this question:

How many people are within a 1 mile radius of you right now?

I can't pinpoint exactly where my readers live, so it's possible that you live marooned on a tiny uncharted island off the coast of Newfoundland, that somehow has internet access, and the only other living creatures in a 1 mile radius are your 17 cats and a barracuda that you have named Phil the Destroyer that continually circles your island hoping you fall in the ocean so he can keep YOU underwater as a pet named Sparky the Skeleton.

But with the exception of that person, the rest of you probably have at least several people within a 1 mile radius of you right now. Even if you live in a small town, odds are there are at least several hundred people pretty close by. If you live in a big city, there are definitely thousands of people in very close proximity to you. You're probably not interacting with very many of them at any given time, but they exist. They're all zooming about from one place to another. Or perhaps some of them are sitting very still. And, as odds and physics would dictate, the rest of them going at some speed in between those two speeds.

When in your life have you had less than 50 people in a 1 mile radius of you?

This is both a rhetorical and literal question. If you HAVE been in such a remote place, please do leave a comment and let me know, because I am very curious. Maybe you took a rowboat to the middle of the Atlantic ocean!? Maybe you've gone to the moon!?

I cannot say for certain that we were ever truly in a remote place along any point of the Appalachian Trail. Even though the trail cuts a 2,186 mile swath out of 14 states, that swath is long, but not very wide. But I can say it's pretty likely that at least once or twice during those 6 months, my hiking partners and I were the only homo sapiens within at least a mile. Maybe it was only for a moment. But it happened.

The funny thing is, inside a bubble of wilderness, it's not quiet. It's just not the same human noise that we've all grown accustomed to. The forest is alive and full of sounds. Breathing, singing, calling, flying and jumping sounds that we can't hear back in our towns because either the cars are too loud or the cars have run over all the critters that make those sounds. There is a language to nature into which, if we're lucky, we can immerse ourselves.

There are many kinds of long-distance hikes, and some of them bring you through villages, towns and cities, while others march you through swamps and deserts (or desserts, which would be WAY BETTER). I hope that at some point you can take yourself on a journey that puts you in the middle of a place where you are the only human for miles. Don't get me wrong, I am a very social creature, and I love being surrounded by a supportive community of people. But as our population gets bigger it feels like our world gets smaller and smaller, and anywhere you stand, there's someone standing just a few feet away.

Voluntary, temporary loneliness: a good way to learn that you aren't really alone.

Photograph by Michael Wilson "Dumptruck"
We can't identify who this hiker is! But he was an AT thru-hiker, class of 2013.

Clever Girl

Friday, June 13, 2014

100. Crossing State Lines

I will be honest with you, my dear readers. I feel a lot of pressure about this post. It's number 100. I'm halfway through my list, and hitting number 100 feels quite momentous. Due to this pressure, I have spent the majority of this afternoon trying to avoid thinking about what to actually write. That's the mature adult thing to do! After I got home from work, I had to find a way to make myself feel productive, so I spent the last 2 hours playing my mandolin after a solid 6 months of not playing it. This means that I don't have any good callouses built up on my fingers at the moment. Mandolin strings are all metal, which is my way of saying, every letter you see typed from the left side of the keyboard, is typed with a lot of OUCHIE IN MY FING-IES. But I forge ahead, because I love you guys, and I did this to myself, so I have no right to complain.

I thought that the most appropriate way to pay due respect to this metaphorical milestone is by writing about physical milestones. To be fair, I know that a lot of long distance hikes might not cross any state lines. Maybe you hate yourself, and you decide that your long-distance hike will be wide-ways across the state of Pennsylvania, just walking on I-80. On the plus side, that would bring you within spitting distance of Punxsutawney, which means that you could make a pit-stop and kidnap the groundhog that predicts the weather.

But if you catch the long-distance hiking bug, odds are that at some point you'll hike a hike that takes you across multiple state lines. You might even hike across country borders! But when you cross between countries, you'll have to wear all black and hike by the border crossing patrols in the dead of night, completely silently. Or bring your passport. CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE. I went to high school in extremely rural, northern Maine, and sometimes we would walk to Canada just because we could. Also, because there was a dollar store directly over the border, which, when I was in high school, translated to be "the 78 cent store." But the American dollar hasn't done so well since then. Or so I've been told. I am cripplingly uninformed about the fiscal state of our country. I do all my dealings in peanut butter, ramen and paracord rope. What is this money thing you speak of?

State lines are, in the grand scheme of things, completely arbitrary. The landscape doesn't suddenly and drastically change when you go over the border. Passing by that particular mile marker isn't really any different than any other mile marker before or after that one. But the difference is that it feels immensely satisfying.

I am trying to find a good analogy to describe the deep, resonating sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction that comes from crossing from one state to another. I keep coming back to wanting to make an analogy about turning in a gigantic research term paper, or completing a really difficult but enriching course in school. But I don't think that's a fair analogy. I don't think that everyone is as ridiculously nerdy as me. How nerdy, you ask? Well, when I found out that my blood type was "A negative" instead of "A positive," my honest-to-god, knee-jerk reactions was: "A-MINUS?! WHY CAN'T IT BE A-PLUS?"


It still makes me a little bit mad.

So I am faced with coming up with a better analogy, a better way to convey to you just how beautifully elevating it is to take that step from one state into another.

Imagine you are cookie monster. Now imagine you have to resist just cramming all those cookies in your mouth at once, and instead, you can only take one bite of one cookie at a time, and only after you do a whole long of really hard, difficult muppet work. You have to savor that one bite, and soak up every little bit of flavor, texture, and goodness. And after that one bite, you can't take another bite until you've done a whole lot MORE work.

How good would that one bite of cookie taste?


North Carolina/Georgia State Line!
Maryland/Pennsylvania State Line, after the 44 mile day

New York/New Jersey State Line!
We took this photo specifically to send to NJ-native friends of ours.
Clever Girl

I guess I did a bad job of taking photos of state lines! Curses! Well, you get these 3.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

101. Photographing Your Journey

Hello everyone! This is Dumptruck doing a guest post on this wonderful blog! First off, I am not sure if most of you know how much Clever Girl appreciates all of you and how much she loves writing for such an amazing group of readers!

I wanted to share with you a few words about photography. After this past weekend's presentation Clever Girl and I did in Virginia, I was made very aware of the number of photographs that I took while hiking that will never see the light of day. It's not because they aren't good pictures, in fact it's the opposite. But it can be hard sometimes as a photographer to remember the fine art of editing.

The way my editing process works is a little confusing, but seems to work for me.  My initial selection is made based on what I am both emotionally attached to and what is a well composed interesting photograph. This is usually about 10% of the images taken. Following this I will sit down with a very critical eye and see what stands out from the first round. At this point I am usually sitting on about 3% of the original number of images.

For Northbound, the next step was laying the images out in a way that told a story. During this process many images came close to the final book layout but for one reason or another, some of them didn't make the final cut.

So now I would like to share some of those images with you!

Also if you are interested here is a wonderful article published in Rangefinder magazine about Northbound and about the process of self publishing books:

Also in the spirit of shameless self promotion you can check out more of my work here:
Or look through my print shop here:


Monday, June 9, 2014

102. The Appalachian Trail Museum

The Appalachian Trail Museum is in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania, just about at the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. It is the home of the famous "half gallon challenge" in which hikers are advised, against the best interest of their tummies, to eat an entire half gallon of ice cream to commemorate reaching the halfway point. The museum itself is kerplunked right on the trail, and hikers wander directly by it on their way North toward Boiling Springs, PA.

Joe "EarthTone" Harold is the current museum manager, and several months ago he asked Dumptruck and I to come and give a talk about our experience, and about Dumptruck's beautiful book Northbound. We did! The program was on June 8th. Here is the program description:


6/8/2014 - Like Your Own Hike
During their northbound thru-hike in 2013, Clever Girl and Dumptruck, discovered more than just awe-inspiring scenery, incredible wilderness, and close encounters with dangerous wildlife. They found that the trail became less about the accomplishment of hiking the entire East Coast, and more about the connections and experiences with fellow hikers. Featuring beautiful hiker portraits from Northbound, Clever Girl and Dumptruck will take you on a journey that shows that the Appalachian Trail isn't just a physical footpath connecting 14 states, but a ridiculous, emotional roller coaster that connects an entire community of unique, courageous, and lively individuals. Though everyone should hike their own hike, they should take some time to stop and smell the hikers... at their own risk, of course.


We had a great time, and were able to meet some of the greatest previous thru-hikers, such as Richard "Peregrine" Judy, who wrote the book Thru.

The museum itself is beautifully curated, and it's a unique treasure on the trail. If you ever find yourself near Harrisburg Pennsylvania, it's only a quick jaunt to Pine Grove Furnace, and to the museum! 

The Appalachian Trail Museum Newsletter can be found here:
And the official AT Museum website is here:


Ran into a couple of fine folks who read the blog!
Thank you again for your support!!

This is Phys Ed, who started his hike last year and will be
finishing it this year!
Last but certainly not least, we met some current thru-hikers! If you're looking to follow the adventures of some of the class of 2014, these are some fun folks who we spent some time with before our presentation!

Sunshine - Class of 2014 Appalachian Trail
Owl - Class of 2014 Appalachian Trail

Clever Girl

Friday, June 6, 2014

103. Wind When It's Hot

The day we got to Falls Village, Connecticut, was one of those days where the air had been stolen away and replaced with greasy butter. The humidity was so heavy and thick that we were completely wrapped up in its sweaty, horrible embrace. Every step took double the effort, simply because the air was less aerodynamic than usual, and resisted our attempts to walk through it. The temperature was hovering somewhere in the 90's. Luckily this is the type of weather that mosquitos adore, so we were getting lots of affectionate love nibbles from our winged friends.

Whistle, Grim, Dumptruck and I were completely miserable. We knew that at the end of the day the trail would take us through Falls Village, a small Connecticut town that boasted an adorable hippie coffee chop called the Toy Maker's Cafe, and a library in the shape of a small castle. Furthermore, we were slated to get picked up in town by Whistle's aunt who lived nearby, and taken to her home to swim in the lake, feed the sheep, and eat food cooked on a real-life stove. We didn't have very far to go, but sometimes the looming promise of air conditioning makes it even harder to tolerate the heat.

There was no wind at all. The air was stagnant, rich and pungent with the smells of summer and heat. The trees felt incredibly close, like the forest was crowding in around my body, trying to give me even more warmth than I could possibly handle. I was keenly aware of my own accumulated body odor, as there was no wind to whisk it away from me, and I was unable to hike fast enough to get away from my own cloud. My hands were slick with sweat, and gripping my hiking poles felt like trying to hold onto pair of damp, angry eels. I haven't ever tried to hold onto a pair of damp, angry eels, but I imagine that it would be unpleasant, and probably not very nice to the eels.

We came to an uphill that led up through a skinny crevice in a gigantic boulder. At the top of the boulder, the trail emerged maybe 20 feet higher than it had been before. As I approached the opening to start my ascent, I was greeted by small, gentle tickling of a breeze. Could it be? Could there be wind up there? I didn't want to hope, but just as I had decided not to disappoint myself, there came a shout from Dumptruck, who had already emerged at the top of the boulder.

He just screamed a few choice expletives followed by some insane laughter and then the word WIND! WIND! yelled at the top of his lungs.

We liked to do our best to add to the ambiance of the natural forest setting.

Dumptruck took a photo of me as I made my way up through the crack in the rock, and you can't see the insane grin that was starting to spread across my face, which is good, because that might have negatively impacted the artistic integrity of the photo. With each step, I felt the wind start to pick up, gently rolling over my soaking wet skin. My arm hairs began to stand on end with goosebumps, which is impressive because my arm hairs are plentiful and thick as a gorilla's.

When I got to the top, I stood for a moment with my eyes closed, just letting the breeze wash over me. It felt like kisses from 1,000 angels. I'm sure it was only 2 or 3 degrees cooler that it had been below, but the context made it feel like so much more than that. I remembered, only briefly, how plagued I had been by wind in the winter. I thought for a moment about how Mother Nature is beautiful, fickle and unpredictable... and she doesn't give a flying fart where you are or what you're doing, she'll blow that wind around if she wants to blow it around.

Click on this to make it big and beautiful!
This is available as a print through the print shop here:

Clever Girl

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

104. No Wind When It's Cold

"Will this wind ever stop?"


"I SAID, WILL THIS WIND EVER- OH GOD OW," I stop yelling mid-sentence as several small ice chunks blow off a tree nearby, make it into my mouth and strike my poor defenseless tongue. I spit a little and, just for good measure, let out a couple of self-pitying whimpers to make myself feel better. We are on a mountain in mid-March, and we're on a ridge line. The wind is absolutely brutal, cutting through our many layers and biting deeply into our skin. My face feels completely raw, and I wonder what it will be like to return to normal society with half of my face frozen off. Maybe I'll take up playing the piano and haunt an old opera house.

All of me feels so cold that it's almost impossible to think about anything else. I am able to put one foot in front of the other, and I am still functional. I don't have any idea what real cold even feels like yet, because I haven't yet had hypothermia, although I will, in a week or so. It's hard for me to even remember what it was like to be warm. Have I ever been warm? Or is warmth simply an illusion created by my mind in order to sustain some shred of hope in the barren, frozen tundra of my existence? There are people in Florida right now, probably drinking Arnold Palmers and wearing fashion sunglasses. Or are there? Is Florida just a delusion? A mirage of the fragile human mind?!

"Clever Girl, I think the ridge line goes over the other side of the mountain, we might be out of the wind."

My deep, thoughtful ruminations of complete insanity are interrupted as Dumptruck offers this informed prediction. I consider this.

"But that's what you said when we were on the OTHER side of the mountain, and there was wind there."

"Yeah, so that means that if the trail brings us down the opposite of that side, then there won't be wind," he offers, reasonably.

"I want to believe you, I really do. But I feel like this wind is ALIVE. It's FOLLOWING US, and no matter what side of the mountain we go on, there will still be wind. This way, if there is no wind, I will be delightfully surprised. But if there is still wind, then I won't be disappointed, and I can just continue to accept my lot in life."

In spite of the fact that I sound pessimistic, I'm actually quite happy. The cold hasn't made me grumpy or miserable, I just have taken on an existential acceptance of the truth of the situation. That truth being: I will be cold for the rest of my life until I die, encased in ice, sliding down the side of a mountain. Dumptruck and I start talking about food, and it is a good conversation.

Some time later I am suddenly aware that I can feel the left side of my face again. This seems strange. I must have finally fully succumbed to madness, and I am now imagining that my face is actually still firmly attached to my skull. But as I reach up a hand (inside of a wool sock) and touch my cheek, I know that the wind has stopped.

"THE WIND STOPPED!" cries Dumptruck before I can, and I look over my shoulder to see him grinning. His nose and cheeks are brightly flushed with red, and I finally understand the meaning of the phrase "apple-cheeked." We both pause to take in how different the environment feels, being on the leeward side of the mountain, protected by the howling gale above us. We can actually look around at our surroundings without the moisture being ripped out of our eyes.

I lower my hood and look up at the trees, sparkling with ice. I know this moment is a gift, from the trail gods, from mother nature, from the giant flying spaghetti monster, who knows.

I am standing inside a snow globe, existing in the moment of stillness just after the shaking stops and the last flake gently settles to the bottom.

Clever Girl

Monday, June 2, 2014

105. Instant Mashed Potatoes

Sometimes, at the end of the day, after you've hiked over what feels like endless mountains, and you're so tired you fantasize about just laying down in the middle of the trail and sleeping facedown in the dirt, the energy you need to expend just to chew your dinner sometimes feels like it would be too much to ask of yourself. Also, in the completely likely scenario that you get into a fight with a bear and lose all your teeth, you might want to eat something for dinner that can be kind of... absorbed through your mouth.

Luckily, there are instant mashed potatoes, which are just edible, buttery, chemical clouds. The only work you have to do is lift your spork from your pot to your mouth, and if you're really that tired, you can forego that step entirely and lay down with your face against the edge of your pot and just eat the potatoes with your face as your utensil. There is no need to chew. It all melts away without any energy spent on your behalf.

They're also super lightweight when they're dry, and full of just enough calories and sodium to make any fitness guru faint dead away from fright. It's more or less like making a bowl full of fluffy salt. It comes in "flavors" like "garlic" and "four cheese" without really providing any evidence that any real food went into the production of this product that could substantiate its flavor claims. It can also be used as an additive to literally any other foodstuff you might be making on your tiny campstove (ramen, rice sides, soup), because it's completely inoffensive and has the added benefit of tricking yourself into thinking that you're eating a meal of actual substance.

We got fancy after a while and started also getting dried cornbread stuffing to make with the instant powdered potatoes, because it added a lot of texture and seasoning. This did necessitate a tiny bit of chewing, but we could still get away with gumming at like happy babies. Grim and Whistle would also add instant gravy mix to their concoction. Here's your TOTALLY FANCY recipe:

1. Boil water on in your campstove pot
2. Once boiling, remove from the heat and pour in powdered potatoes - be careful, it makes way more than you expect!
3. Stir
4. Pour in stuffing mix
5. Stir
6. Pour in whatever else you want to pour it
7. Stir
8. Let it sit for a little bit to thicken up. Use this time for something productive, like changing your socks or throwing pinecones at your hiking partners who are just trying to make their own dinner in peace, goshdarnit.
9. Stir
10. Eat with face.

Most Appalachian Trail recipes just involve boiling water, adding dried ingredients and seeing what happens. We are gourmets.

Clever Girl