Adventure (Responsibly) Like You Give A Damn

The Importance of Socially Responsible Outdoor Adventure Companies and Tours

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“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”.

-G. K. Chesterton

Mambo from Tanzania,

Before I dive deep into a very important subject that is near and dear to my heart, I thought I would give you a glimpse into my past week here in East Africa. I have not returned most of my personal emails, text messages or social media messages, simply because it is too much work (I am truly taking a major break from back home) so I figured I can give a quick wrap up of my past week on this blog post!

  • I have over 60 mosquito bites ( I stopped counting after 60).

  • People watching at an African dance club is literally the BEST!

  • I already ruined a pair of shoes by walking through wet tar.

  • My Swahili is actually getting a little better each day.

  • I had one really shitty day ( I literally went home and cried) and seven really good days, thus far.

  • I saw my African mama and the rest of the family, after 10 years, and I cried! A lot!

  • I have been on two safaris in one week ( I am addicted).

  • I have already had diarrhea (yeah, it was bound to happen).

  • I have eaten my favorite African food, chipsi mayaii, three times in one week (I actually ate it twice in one day).

  • I am obsessed with the two girls who run the house I am living in. Their names are Jenny and Monica.

  • I saw a fight break out on the dala dala (local bus) and it made me laugh.

  • I unfortunately, already experienced corruption, and it infuriated me to my core.

  • It is supposed to be the “cool” season here but I am constantly sweating. It is so HOT!

  • I am actually planning to travel a lot more than I initially planned!

  • I miss my dogs LIKE CRAZY( I wish I can teleport them here)

  • I am super happy to be disconnected from the United States and everyone at home ( I seriously needed a break).

  • The currency exchanges are STILL closed ( due to some corruption government scandal) so I am getting really excited to shortly be paying international ATM fees (NOT).

  • Wells Fargo Bank does not have a Tanzanian country code for free bank calling ( apparently this country does not exist to Wells Fargo).

  • Yes, I have to answer emails between 1-3AM Tanzanian time ( there is an 11 hour time difference between here and California) in order to accommodate my work schedule in the U.S….. so yes, my sleep schedule is crazy but I love the company I work for!

  • There is this HUGE raven who taps loudly on my window with his beak. Considering I am terrified of birds, this is extremely disturbing and is the main reason why I will never open my bedroom window.

  • Everyone here talks about my hair (white girl hair is a novelty here).

  • I have learned not to allow a 4-year-old to drink hot chocolate (regardless of what his crazy dad says) as it ended up all over my pants, his face, the table and the floor at a swanky hotel. (Yep, super embarrassing).

    Feel free to read my recent detailed blog post about my first 24 hours in Tanzania.

    An open letter to anyone who has yet to visit East Africa

My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

Socially responsible companies

Socially responsible companies are those that provide products and services that minimize negative impacts to the local community and environment by preserving the cultural and natural resources of the particular host community and also bring economic benefit to the local communities. According to research 46% of consumers are wiling to pay extra for products and services from socially responsible companies. 46%.... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This number not only baffles me but also bothers me to my core. Traveling and seeing the world is a privilege. It costs money, requires a passport and in some cases, a visa, and requires time off of work; a privilege that many individuals are not granted, however for those who are privileged enough to travel, particularly internationally, it is pathetic that only 46% of us truly care enough about the culture and the environment to engage in socially responsible travel. I also believe a large portion of international tourists are ignorant, in a sense they do not know any better. I was 19 years old when I ventured out on my first international solo trip and to be honest, it took me a few years before I learned the ethics and the importance of socially responsible tourism. I am now 33 years of age, and have been fortunate to have traveled to more countries than I can count and have lived and worked abroad on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). After a solid decade of international travel under my belt, I finally feel confident enough to speak on this important issue.

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The tourism industry in developing countries is saturated and corrupt and it can be extremely overwhelming to decipher which company is the best fit for your tour. Whether you plan to head out on an African safari, climb one of the tallest mountains in the world, take a cruise on the Nile River or take a tour of a local coffee farm, there are many factors that play into which tour company you choose to hire for your next adventure…and the number one factor for many individuals is usually money.

I get it, we are all on a budget and we are constantly looking to save a dollar or two; however there is a fine line between saving money and exploitation and oftentimes they both go hand in hand. The outdoor industry in the U.S. is no different as there are many outdoor retailer and adventure companies in the United States who are ethical and practice social responsibility however there are also many of which who are not. Whether you are buying a piece of clothing from REI or planning an epic safari in Africa, as a consumer, it is your job to ask questions, to do the research and to thoroughly understand why saving a dollar here and there may actually be more harmful to the local culture and the environment than you may think.

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Always book your adventure from local companies

Personally, I am very picky on which products I buy and which companies I hire when I choose to go on an adventure. I want to know where the company is based, how the employees are treated and if the environment is harmed in the process. For example, when choosing a safari company or an international trekking company, it is EXTREMELY important that the company is locally owned. Why on earth would I ever book an AFRICAN safari with an AMERICAN company? For starters, the American owners are profiting more than you can imagine which takes away profit from the local people in Africa. Also, the safari industry in Africa is huge, for example the safari industry just in Tanzania alone is a multi-million dollar industry, and let me tell you a secret, the people of Tanzania know more about safaris than any American tour company. After all, the animals you see on an African safari are indigenous to the land. By booking with an American company for an activity overseas, I can guarantee you that you will pay more money and somewhere down the line, you are exploiting the local people. Cut the middle man out and book right from the local source.

Do a quick Internet search for what you are looking for and email each company that you are interested in and ask them specific questions. Ask them if the company is local, ask about fair wages, and ask about tipping procedures. If you do not hear a detailed response within a week, then something is wrong. A reputable tour company will be honest and upfront and if it seems they are hiding something, then they probably are. I have learned this lesson the hard way and if you are not willing to put in the work, then it is only your fault that you are compromising your dream adventure. 

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Side note: I recently was engaging with an American owned Kilimanjaro trekking and safari company through social media, (I have had many offers to climb Kilimanjaro for free in exchange for photos or a blog post, all of which I have politely declined) and I asked if they were supported by KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project). The owner politely responded “no” along with many ridiculous excuses and I quickly lost interest in doing any sort of business with his company. Every single Kilimanjaro trekking company that you hire should be supported by KPAP, if not, you are doing yourself and the Tanzanian culture a disservice. For more information on KPAP, visit their website.

Second side note: I am currently planning a trip to Nepal to climb Everest Base Camp November 2019 and I have spent hours emailing back and forth with the trekking company I chose to hire (If I couldn’t afford to put in the time to research the specifics then I should not be venturing to Nepal).  

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The Tanzanian safari and trekking industry

Let’s be honest, the majority of foreign tourists who visit Tanzania are coming for the sole purpose of going on a safari and/or to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both of these experiences are life changing and although I have lost count of how many safaris I have gone on, a day on safari never gets old for me. Unfortunately many of the international tourists who venture into Africa sit idle for 20 hours on a plane each away to spend 5-10 days sitting in a safari jeep without taking any time to venture out into the towns and experience the local culture (I think this is crazy but it is also quite comical to witness). 

An African safari in Tanzania costs $150 to $1,500 per person per night (unless you are a local or have your resident permit) and this rate depends on your accommodations, which National Parks you are visiting, which tour company you hire, or whether you book a private safari or a group safari. I personally will not pay more than $400 per day to go on a private safari if I am using a safari jeep or more than $150 per day for a private safari if I am using someone’s private vehicle. The average safari-goer will choose to go on a 3-5 day safari totaling anywhere from $450-$6,500 per person, and much more for a 7-10 day trip. A safari company will profit on average, $8,000-$10,000, per group for a week safari and the safari guide will take home on average, $1,000 (the safari guides work super hard and do all the real work). 

The average price per person for a 6 day Kilimanjaro trek is anywhere from $1200 to $4000 and again these prices depend on which company you hire and whether you are looking for a budget climb or a fancy climb. You can only imagine how much the company makes off of each climber compared to how much the trekking guides and porters make.

If you are interested about the specifics on porters and guides on Mt. Kilimanjaro, please read my recent post entitled, Giving Back, Porters’ Rights and My Experience Climbing Kilimanjaro

Also if you are the asshole who goes on hunting safaris, I hope I never have the dissatisfaction of interacting with you.

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Tipping IS protocol

Personally, the cost margins between safari companies and the worker’s wages are super important because there is not only a huge discrepancy in price, but also this brings up the importance of tipping. I do not care if tipping is protocol or not in your home country but tipping on a safari, a trek or any type of adventure or experience around the world IS PROTOCOL. If you hire a guide to take you hiking through the Amazon, you tip him, if you hire a driver to take you on a tour of the ruins in Southeast Asia, you tip him and if you go on an African safari or climb Kilimanjaro (or any other mountain) you better damn well tip your guide, cooks and porters and tip them properly. If you are too cheap to tip the proper amount or simply cannot afford to tip, then take some time to save your money until you can afford to tip properly. If you do not know how much to tip, then search the Internet, ask your guides and ask the company you hired. A proper company and good guide will be honest with you about tipping. For a quick and dirty on tipping for Kilimanjaro trek or a Tanzania safari, please read below:

Kilimanjaro tipping guidelines

Per each climber per day:

  • Per Chief Guide: $20- 25 per day

  • Per Assistant guide:  $15- 20 per day

  • Per Cook: $10- 15 per day

  • Per Porter: $8-10 per day

Each client should expect to tip between $250-$350, for the entire climb in addition to the cost of the climb.

Tip at the end of your trek and personally hand the tips in an envelope to each guide, porter and cook. Do not give your tips to the trekking company!

If you cannot find your porters because they are always WAY ahead of you, then ask your guides to meet with them or give the porters your tips at camp on the last night of your trek. If you cannot, in anyway, hunt down your porters, then you most likely hired a corrupt trekking company. I met every single one of my porters (and saw them every single day) on both of my Kilimanjaro treks and my Machu Picchu trek.

Tanzania safari tipping guidelines

Per client per day:

For a day safari, there is usually a guide and a tracker. For overnight safaris the tracker may double as the assistant guide and cook.

  • Per Chief Guide: $15-$20 per day

  • Per Assistant guide/tracker $10-15 per day (if they double as your chef then tip on the higher end)

  • Per Chef: $10-$15 per day

For a seven-day camping safari, each client should budget approximately $250, in addition to the cost of the safari. Personally hand your tips in an envelope to your guide and assistant guide at the end of your safari (not at the end of each day).

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Outdoor ethics while adventuring in Africa

Regardless if you are hiking on a local trail in Southern California or adventuring on an African safari in a Tanzania National Park, there are rules and regulations you should follow. Yes, some corrupt safari companies (and guides) will allow you to break the rules in hope they will receive a bigger tip so it is YOUR responsibility to respect the environment and the animals

Keep wildlife wild: Do not disturb the animals you see on a safari. I get it, us photographers want the best photos possible but yelling, harassing or feeding a wild animal is stupid, reckless and dangerous. Do not get out of your safari jeep at anytime and please do not try to bribe your guide in hopes he will allow you to break the rules. Do not put your guide in that type of situation and a respectable guide will be very clear about communicating the rules to you (in case you are inept).

In regards to photography, keep your noisy drones at home (they are forbidden in National Parks) and if you want to take a photo of an individual, ask them first. It is exceptionally rude and culturally unacceptable to go up to people and take their photos as if they are objects. If you cannot speak their language then wait until you have a translator with you to ask them for permission. I always ask for permission, and then show them the photo afterwards, which usually sparks some form of human connection. If the individual does not want his/her picture taken then you must respect their wishes.

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For additional trips on traveling, check out a previous blog post I authored about why I LOVE traveling solo.

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

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Thanks for reading and I wish you a happy and safe adventure (whether it’s in your own backyard or overseas).

Xx

Kristen

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Has Yet to Visit East Africa

Musings on my first 24 hours in Tanzania and why ignorance is not always bliss.

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“A hasty person misses the sweet things: Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu”

- A famous Swahili proverb

  • “Why would you go to Africa?”

  • “You must be going to South Africa”.

  • “Be careful”.

  • “Watch out for Ebola”.

  • “Where is Tanzania?”

  • “Did you get the malaria vaccine?”

  • “ Come back in one piece”

These are some of the questions and comments directed at me as I recently prepared for my temporary move to my favorite country in the world, Tanzania. In 2006, I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country and I eagerly returned in 2008 (for the long-haul). Leaving Tanzania in the beginning of 2009 was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I love the people, the smells, the rains, falling asleep to the loud chirping sounds of bugs and animals at night, the simplicity, the hardships, the beauty and the generosity of this fine culture. Sure, Tanzania has it’s own set of problems, but let’s be honest the United States is in shambles. People in the U.S. are angry, bitter, competitive, and can no longer consume iceberg lettuce. For the past few months I was so busy wrapping up things in the States that I did not let any of these comments or questions about my journey to East Africa bother me. I get it; a white girl departing to Tanzania for her third time is not normal (to many Americans), especially when our fine President declares this part of the world a “shithole country”. But after my plane touched down at Kilimanjaro airport and I planted my feet on African soil, the first thing that hit me was the smell…the smell of dampness in the air, the sweet memories of people I adore, trees, and burning trash (which is apparently illegal now); a smell that only Africa has and to me in that moment, I was SO happy to be back. I took a long inhale, savored the smell and thought to myself, “I am finally here and I wish others knew the truth about this part of the world”. While standing on the tarmac with my carry-on bags and passport in hand, I reflected on all the comments and questions and I became upset. Upset because these questions and remarks were stated in way that made Tanzania look dangerous and dirty. Of course, many of these comments and questions came from dear friends and family members who in no way had any ill or malicious intent but for some reason, I was and still am deeply bothered by these words. Instead of taking a defensive stance against these questions or correcting these false statements, I want to share snapshot moments of my first 24 hours upon arriving in Tanzania.

Maasai warriors: “Being a warrior is exciting and fun, it has many privileges but also many duties. Many of us look at those times as the best in our lives- though by no means the easiest. To become warriors we have to demonstrate our bravery: we have to undergo circumcision in front of the whole community, without flinching or squinting our eyes or giving any other sign that we are experiencing pain. After all, if we cannot stand bravely that bearable pain, how can we persuade the elders that we will risk our lives to protect our livestock and our community?”

Maasai warriors: “Being a warrior is exciting and fun, it has many privileges but also many duties. Many of us look at those times as the best in our lives- though by no means the easiest. To become warriors we have to demonstrate our bravery: we have to undergo circumcision in front of the whole community, without flinching or squinting our eyes or giving any other sign that we are experiencing pain. After all, if we cannot stand bravely that bearable pain, how can we persuade the elders that we will risk our lives to protect our livestock and our community?”

The awkward name card

 Upon arrival at the airport, my good friend Erick (who was supposed to meet me at the airport) informed me he was on a business trip to Dar es Salaam but has arranged his good friend Raymond to collect me at the airport. I trust Erick with pretty much every fiber in my body and thought it was very kind to arrange my airport pickup, when in reality I could have easily taken a taxi to my house. After I collected my 80 pounds of luggage, dragged one of my 50 pound broken suitcases off the conveyer belt and did a quick currency exchange; I walked outside holding my breath to a sea of taxi drivers and random people holding name signs in hopes of quickly finding a sign with “Kristen Fuller” written on it. I did not have my glasses on, so there I am walking up (in way too close of proximity) to random strangers just so I could read the names on their sign (this is always such an awkward experience for me and I dread it upon every international arrival). Within minutes I found my name and I quickly introduced myself to Raymond and within seconds I recognized him. I met him a few times on my past visit to Tanzania and we picked up our conversation where we left off 10 years ago. In the car we called Erick on speakerphone and we all laughed because lo and behold, we were all old friends.  Raymond told me that he drove to the house where I was staying earlier during the day to make sure he knew where to go and that he was tracking my plane throughout the day in case there were any delays (my parents won’t even drive me to the airport, let alone check my flight status). My heart silently exploded and then I realized, “Ahh yes, THIS IS Tanzania”. He offered to take me into town the next day in case I needed anything and told me to contact him with any questions. I am pretty savvy with the public transport in Arusha (old school VW minibuses called dala dalas that cost equivalent to 25 cents per ride) and planned on spending my first day re-acclimating to my old stomping grounds. My plan was to take a dala dala into town, go to the central market to buy food, purchase malaria prophylaxis pills (there is NO malaria vaccine) and take in all the sights and sounds.

A necessary drink before a 19 hour flight with a 90 minute layover sprint!

A necessary drink before a 19 hour flight with a 90 minute layover sprint!

Kitchens are where friendships form

 I awoke the next morning at 5am to the sound of a very confused rooster, checked my work email and realized work was piling up faster than I can say, “mambo”. I wandered downstairs to the kitchen to make myself 12 cups of coffee (jet lag is real) so I can tackle my work and catch a bus into town. Within minutes I was in full conversation with a sweet Tanzanian girl in the kitchen talking about all the words I do and do not (mostly do not) know in Swahili. She instantly reminded me of my Tanzanian dada (sister), Jackie (who I insanely adore and who just got married). An hour quickly passed, I was on my 5th cup of coffee and we both realized we never even introduced ourselves. She told me her name is Monica, she is in her early 20’s and bless her heart, she thought I was 26. She made me breakfast after a long confusing conversation of whether I should pay for meals or make my own food (I decided on both but we will see how that goes). She asked me about all the Tanzanian foods I do like and the very few Tanzanian foods I won’t eat and before I knew it, I had spent half of my morning standing over an entire pot of coffee and chatting with Monica while sending messages to my Tanzanian family informing them that I am back in town…a morning that will never be forgotten because within those few hours, standing in an African kitchen, a new friendship was formed. Within minutes, my entire African family, (Jackie, her younger brother Joshua, Mama and Baba) were all texting via WhatsApp arranging plans for me to visit (I now have full-fledged Christmas plans and standing dinner plans any night of the week).

Long story short, I didn’t leave the house until nightfall. I sat upstairs working away on my computer while listening to the rain. I made plans to go on safari to Terengeru National Park the following day (Thanksgiving) with Raymond, as he is a safari driver (I made sure we can purchase beer before entering the National Park) and around 6pm in the evening I ventured out for a walk (I needed water and beer).

Tanzanian breakfast of champions! Eggs, cassava, a bread I cannot pronounce in Swahili and COFFEE all made with love!

Tanzanian breakfast of champions! Eggs, cassava, a bread I cannot pronounce in Swahili and COFFEE all made with love!

“I will bring back your bottle, kesho”

I found two shops within minutes of walking on the road (yes, I walked alone at night in a very safe city). Side note: the shops in Africa are amazing, they are basically tiny little buildings where you can buy anything from cooking oil, toilet paper, beer, water, pasta, a plethora of meats in a freezer box, matches and literally any random thing you can think of. If you can’t find what you are looking for at one shop, do not worry (hakuna matata), because there are 10 other shops within the next two blocks. I purchased two large bottles of water at the first shop with my broken Swahili (there is Typhoid in the tap water so I either boil my water or buy bottled water) and asked for a cold beer (bia baridi) at the next shop. The shop owners will hound you for a bottle deposit unless you swear to them you will bring the empty bottle back. I told the guy I will bring back the empty bottle tomorrow (kesho) and he asked me what time. I couldn’t help but laugh because I know how serious these guys are about their glass bottles. I told him he could collect a deposit from me if he wished but I am staying just a block down and will most likely be his favorite customer within a week. He was hesitant, pulled out two small cold beers and reminded me “kesho”.  I ended up returning the empty bottles back later that night and he then knew I meant business (and yes, he is now my go-to beer guy).

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Setting the facts straight

Within 24 hours of landing in East Africa, I met five people (this post is becoming too long to introduce you to the other 2 people) who showed me kindness and generosity because it is in their blood. These may be pointless encounters or simple conversations to many, but to me, these encounters are proof of the kindness that represents Tanzania. So before you wonder about safety, racism, crime, diseases, or anything else that is heavily portrayed by the media in these “shithole countries”, listen to the stories and experiences from people who have set foot within these countries, who have formed relationships with the people or better yet travel to some of these places yourself because I promise you one thing, your life will be changed forever. I am not “brave”, nor am I here to “help” people, but I am simply an individual who was stuck in an American box for 19 years of her life and consciously decided to spend everyday possible forming memories and relationships with people (and animals) around the world.

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Happy hiking and hope to see you on the trails upon my arrival in 2019

Xx

Kristen

Photography in the Outdoors

Falling in Love with the Outdoors All Over Again Through the Camera Lens

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“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
— Ansel Adams

 I have zero artistic ability but I have always had a keen eye for angles, colors, patterns and textures. My favorite era of art is Post-Impressionism, Vincent Van Gogh is my hero, I have seen The Lion King on Broadway 12 times, I spend way too much money collecting antique furniture and I am obsessed with Sunflowers (the painting and the real live flowers). I often design my own bags and jewelry when I travel abroad and I can spend hours and hours perusing art museums and antique stores. I strongly believe I have a natural artistic vision but when it comes to putting my vision into reality, it often ends in disaster (I cannot even draw a straight line, or throw a stitch in any type of fabric). I have always been interested in photography but the competitiveness of the industry, the financial investment in lenses and the confusing technology deterred me from going anywhere near a camera. I was convinced I would get by just fine with taking pretty iPhone photos, and to be honest, it worked for awhile but after making the decision to spend the next three months in Africa, I knew I needed a proper camera to document my life among the zebras. I recently took the plunge and bought myself a big girl camera and I am IN LOVE. Before making my big purchase, I spent weeks researching cameras, talking with outdoor photographers and looking at all the fancy camera accessories because I wanted to be 100% happy with my decision. After I clicked the “complete purchase” button on the Amazon website I knew I had my work cut out for me. I dove right in, headfirst. I watched hours of YouTube photography videos, bought a couple of books and took a few private lessons with well-known local photographers in Orange County. If I was going to spend a decent amount of money on a camera, lenses and accessories, I better know what I’m doing right?

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Photography in the outdoors is a steep learning curve. I struggle with lighting, become overly annoyed when a strange person stands in the middle of my photo, and will take 300 shots before I am happy with one image but documenting Mother Nature through the lens of my camera has been one of my favorite learning experiences thus far. If you have a camera, I will most likely ask you a million questions about your settings with the hope I can learn one new tiny trick or tip. If you do not have a camera and you are hiking with me, I apologize in advance for making you wait on the trails while I take 58 photos of the same leaf.

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 I am not in anyway an experienced photographer and every time I pick up my camera, I struggle with finding the right angle, the right settings and the right lighting but I also find myself completely engulfed in the task at hand and to be honest, very few things in life receive my undivided attention. I have honestly fallen in love with nature all over again through the lens of my camera (my Sony alpha 600 to be exact).

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If you are on the fence about picking up a camera, learning a new hobby or stepping out of your comfort zone, I strongly urge you to do it. Take the leap of faith and invest in your happiness because you will not only find more joy in life but you may inspire others during your journey. Below are some of my favorite photos I have shot within the first month of owning my new camera and I cannot believe the next time I share photos I will be writing to you from Africa (I am currently en route on a 22 hour flight).

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 Thanks for reading and following along in my journey.

 See you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Girls Who Glamp: Big Sur Style

A summary of camping in style in one of the most coveted destinations on the West Coast

Pfeiffer Beach: I could sit here all day and photograph this beautiful spot.

Pfeiffer Beach: I could sit here all day and photograph this beautiful spot.

In case you haven’t heard, a glamorous camping trip is also known as GLAMPING!

Cruising down PCH, jaw dropping ocean vistas, elephant seals barking on the beach, waterfalls, winding roads, redwood trees, lighthouses, boardwalks and stunning sunsets are some of the many reasons why Big Sur is one of the most popular road trip destinations in the entire United States and is a perfect spot for a girls glamping trip. I recently organized a fabulous camping trip to Big Sur for 15 ladies so I thought it would be fun to class it up a little bit; think string lights, real food, campfire desserts, mimosas, fancy plate settings and centerpieces (we even had a toaster AND an oven).

Tent camping at popular destinations has never been my jam because there are tons of people, it can be very noisy (we were woken up in the middle of the night to police sirens pulling over a drunk driver in our campsite) and the campsites can be littered with trash (my pup was chewing on a used tampon from a previous camping group). I have always been a fan of backpacking out into the middle of nowhere and surviving on lightweight gear, vodka, a good book and freeze dried food without being disrupted by screaming babies, drunk people and tourists but Big Sur was a special trip because it was my last official Girl Who Hike camping event so I decided to glam it up, because who doesn’t want yummy mimosas and a campfire at 9am??

Burgers and champagne for dinner.

Burgers and champagne for dinner.

Its all about the details…

Its all about the details…

I am clearly trying to get the best angle =)

I am clearly trying to get the best angle =)

Important lessons from “Girls Who Glamp” Big Sur Style

  • Do not plan to hike on closed trails as trails are closed for a reason ( I about lost my mind regarding this issue).

  • Champagne makes everything better.

  • Always bring extra cash for parking.

  • Don’t get an intense chemical peel with a booster two days before a camping trip.

  • When the women’s bathroom is out of toilet paper, there are probably 10 rolls in the men’s bathroom.

  • There is poison oak EVERYWHERE so mind your footing and keep your dogs on a leash.

  • Don’t rent a car with an overly sensitive alarm ( our car alarm went off 100 times with Moo sitting in the car by herself and I about lost my mind every single time).

  • Plan out when you stop at photogenic locations because midday light is awful for photos.

  • If you are camping with a group, be a nice person and offer to buy firewood.

  • Don’t leave your used tampons in your campsite for the next camper (or dog) to cleanup.

  • Bring extra lens caps for your camera.

  • Don’t ever leave home without a wine or bottle opener.

  • Keep in mind that camping gear takes up a lot of car space so be mindful of storage space versus people space. My rule of thumb is #passengers = total number of car seats minus 2 and limit one duffle bag and one small daypack per passenger.

Forget kissing the chef, how about filling her champagne glass?

Forget kissing the chef, how about filling her champagne glass?

Practicing my aperture settings on my big daddy lens

Practicing my aperture settings on my big daddy lens

Camping and hiking in Big Sur

Big Sur is a popular destination for EVERYONE (literally everyone and their mom are pulled over on every turnout snapping photos) and as a result it is difficult to obtain a camping reservation. Most reservations become booked up at least 6 months in advance so if you are planning a camping (or glamping) trip to this beautiful destination, start your planning early.  There are three State Parks with camping in Big Sur (Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, Limekiln SP and Pfeiffer Big Sur SP) and all can be reserved online through ReserveCalifornia.  I have had the pleasure of camping at all three locations and I think all three are equally spectacular. There are also tons of private campsites that can be reserved through Hipcamp and some hotels and lodges also offer camping spots. Most of the hiking trails are located within the State Parks so if you do not have a campsite reservation, be ready to pay the daily State Park entrance fee (for those with a camping reservation, the daily hiker fee is waived at all State Parks). From waterfalls, ocean views and redwood trees the hiking in Big Sur is outstanding however many of the trails are still closed so be sure to check before you go and respect the rules and regulations of all hiking trails (do not try to hike on closed trails).

How many tents can you fit into one campsite? Apparently 10!

How many tents can you fit into one campsite? Apparently 10!

Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.

Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.

Road tripping up the coast

One of the most magical parts about visiting Big Sur is the actual road trip along PCH (they didn’t name it highway #1 for no reason). This particular stretch (from Santa Barbara to Monterey) of PCH is rated one of the best road trips in the United States. There are so many great places to stop, take in the sights, taste some delicious wine and snap some beautiful photos.

  • Santa Barbara

  • Solvang (Danish style town with some great wineries)

  • Bubblegum Alley San Luis Obispo

  • Morro Bay: Check out the sea otters, sea lions and blue herons onboard Captain Stew’s Bay Cruise. Daily cruise times are 11am, 1pm and 3pm. The cost is $10 per person and it is the best 45 minutes you will spend on this trip. Morro Bay also has some great wine tasting rooms that grow and harvest their grapes in Paso Robles.

  • Paso Robles Wine Tasting:  Paso is famous for many great wineries.

  • Moonstone Beach in Cambria: Walk along the beautiful wooden boardwalk and collect colored moonstones off the beach (please don’t bring any home).

  • Hearst Castle: Schedule a half-day and be ready to shell out $100 for the full tour of this beautiful famous castle.

  • San Simon Elephant Seal Sanctuary: Watch the elephant seals play, swim and nap along this protected coastline.

  • Ragged Point: A great lunch and coffee spot.

Moo in the middle of Bubblegum Alley in SLO

Moo in the middle of Bubblegum Alley in SLO

Morro Bay with terrific lighting

Morro Bay with terrific lighting

 Places to visit in Big Sur

  • Bixby Bridge: Photo-op and viewpoint

  • River Inn: Enjoy a drink or a bite to eat while lounging on a Adirondack chair and soaking your feet in the river (dog friendly).

  • McWay Falls: One of two waterfalls that empties into the ocean in North America (Alamere Falls is the other one) and is a must-see in Big Sur. It can be accessed from the side of the road as a viewpoint and is a great photo spot in the early morning or late afternoon.

  • Pfeiffer Beach: Great for a sunset photo-op and a picnic. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

  • Point Sur lighthouse: Advanced reservations are required for the four hour tour.

  • Sand dollar beach

  • Andrew Molera State Beach: Great day hiking

  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Some of the best hiking and wildlife viewing in the area

  • Carmel and Monterey: These are great towns but should be explored on their own as an entire day-trip as they are an hour drive from Big Sur and there are tons of great sights to check out in both of these quaint coastal towns.

These cattails were everywhere!

These cattails were everywhere!

McWay Falls in overexposed, noon lighting. I highly recommend shooting these falls in the early morning or before sunset.

McWay Falls in overexposed, noon lighting. I highly recommend shooting these falls in the early morning or before sunset.

Bixby bridge in not so great lighting.

Bixby bridge in not so great lighting.

Relaxing in the creek at River Inn.

Relaxing in the creek at River Inn.

The gardens at River Inn were gorgeous.

The gardens at River Inn were gorgeous.

Food, champs and more food

Glamping requires a lot of prep work (and a lot of champagne). From meal planning, grocery shopping and food prepping to making sure all the serving utensils, cooking supplies, and decorations are accounted for, I usually spend an entire day getting ready for a big glamping trip. The more time and effort you put into the planning process the less time and effort is required during the actual trip (which means more time for sipping champs and hanging out).

Setting up our glamping site!

Setting up our glamping site!

My mom made these adorable center pieces. Succulents in blue mason jars! Go Mom!

My mom made these adorable center pieces. Succulents in blue mason jars! Go Mom!

Cooking over a fire and keeping the rest of our food warm. I highly recommend these aluminum containers for warming and cooking food over a campfire.

Cooking over a fire and keeping the rest of our food warm. I highly recommend these aluminum containers for warming and cooking food over a campfire.

Meal prepping tips before you hit the campground

Prep EVERYTHING before you go!

  • Slice, marinate, season and individually package all meats and veggies.

  • Crack, scramble, season and place egg mixture in plastic sealed bags for breakfast.

  • Purchase individual ketchup, mustard and relish packets (or take a few here and there from fast food chains) to save room in the ice chest or storage bins.

  • Slice and dice potatoes with seasoning and wrap them in foil (to place over the campfire stove).

  • Pour olive oil and camp soap in small re-usable containers for easy access and storage.

  • Bring tin trays to keep food warm when cooking for large groups (I covered these with tin foil and placed them over the campfire while cooking the rest of the food).

  • Bring dishtowels, scrub brushes and a large bucket to wash dishes throughout the trip.

  • Bring extra seasonings and spices in small ziplock bags.

  • A large teakettle is always helpful to boil hot water in the morning for your camp crew.

  • Don’t forget your camp stove, extra propane, camp pots and pans, cooking utensils, wine opener, cooking mittens, lighter, coffee, avocados, hot sauce, apron, tablecloth, serving utensils, knives, napkins, cutting board, or trash bags. I store all of my kitchen camping gear in a large plastic bin.

  • Don’t forget your champagne, wine and beer.

LRG-DSC01301.JPG
String lights are SO extra.

String lights are SO extra.

Camp toaster because buns are better toasted.

Camp toaster because buns are better toasted.

We are SO extra

We had everything from plastic semi re-usable champagne glasses, string lights, mimosas, centerpieces, homemade desserts, tablecloths, and fancy semi re-usable dishes to a hand washing station, a camp toaster and a camp oven.

  • Don’t forget your Bluetooth speakers.

  • Remember that most string lights are battery operated and require extra rope to hang from trees (nails are not allowed in the trees).

  • Purchase plastic semi re-usable dishware so you can wash and re-use during the camping trip and toss out at the end of the weekend/week.

  • Plastic semi re-usable champagne or wine glasses make drinking SO much better. You can toss these out at the end of the trip.

  • Encourage each individual to bring his or her own eating re-usable eating utensils.

Elephant seals playing in San Simeon

Elephant seals playing in San Simeon

Everyone needs a hug.

Everyone needs a hug.

Hey buddy!

Hey buddy!

That one day when I hijacked the captain’s seat.

That one day when I hijacked the captain’s seat.

Sea otter and her pup floating in Morro Bay.

Sea otter and her pup floating in Morro Bay.

Sea lions in Morro Bay.

Sea lions in Morro Bay.

There were lots of birds in Morro Bay.

There were lots of birds in Morro Bay.

Blue Heron in Morro Bay.

Blue Heron in Morro Bay.

Social Media and the Outdoors: The Third World War

Dear Girls Across the Globe,
Let's stop body-shaming each other with hurtful comments about how another girl looks or doesn't look. We are all beautiful in our own unique way; so let's speak about each other with the dignity that we would want others to have when they speak about us.
” 
― Miya Yamanouchi, Embrace Your Sexual Self: A Practical Guide for Women

Trying to get that perfect shot for the ‘gram =) But more importantly, I finally bought a real CAMERA. The Sony alpha 6000 is my new child. I cannot wait to share some of the photos I have taken with this camera! I plan on using this as my everyday camera in Africa and hoping to take some stellar safari shots.

Trying to get that perfect shot for the ‘gram =) But more importantly, I finally bought a real CAMERA. The Sony alpha 6000 is my new child. I cannot wait to share some of the photos I have taken with this camera! I plan on using this as my everyday camera in Africa and hoping to take some stellar safari shots.

Most of us can probably agree that social media is CRAZY. Filters, poses, rose colored glasses, the perfect outfits, hair and makeup just to post that perfect photo on the ‘gram and potentially risk falling off a cliff (too soon?) is a just a bit over the edge (no pun intended). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good photo, a funny caption and an inspiring story and I have met some great people through social media but the amount of back and forth on whether or not social media is good for the outdoors seems to be a hot debate (just Googling “social media and the outdoors” brings up a plethora of well-written blogs and articles by some very well known magazines and outdoor authors). I have seen people get in fights on social media over this topic (keyboard warriors who fight behind screens) and I have read a lot of great and not so great articles on this topic and yes overcrowded trails do lead to destruction but I truly believe there is an underlying issue here that goes beyond the outdoors.

 One camp argues that social media is ruining the outdoors by overcrowding the trails, creating more human impact on Mother Nature, and advertising all the earth’s “secret spots” to the general public, thanks to geotagging (just the debate over geotagging makes my head spin). They also argue that SAR missions have drastically increased in the recent years due to social media (I believe there are many more factors involved other than social media).  The opposing camp argues that social media is a great way to bring the outdoor community together and there is a lot more encouragement to get outside (especially for the younger generations). Also, most people did not grow up hiking and camping so they use social media as a way to gain education and insight on how to prepare for the outdoors (guilty as charged, if you are reading this blog).

 This one is for the mean girls

I personally have witnessed a surge in crowds in the outdoors, especially in National Parks over the years and yes, I believe outdoor adventuring has become a marketing fad but I also believe in the healing power of Mother Nature and if more people are experiencing serenity in the outdoors instead of the hustle and bustle in urban everyday life, isn’t that a good thing? Are people getting outdoors to enjoy the healing power of nature or are people getting outside just for the ‘gram? To be honest, I really don’t care because there are much bigger issues at hand.

Social media has a disturbing impact on everyday life and it is affecting female self-esteem in a negative manner.

I still wonder to myself, “does the general public understand that social media accounts are curated profiles?” THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE PEOPLE!

Haha told you these photos are curated!

Haha told you these photos are curated!

And reviewed and edited…

And reviewed and edited…

I have had many girlfriends tell me they have become depressed by looking at social media accounts because they feel as though their lives are not worthy, they are not good enough, not pretty enough, not adventurous enough and they are missing out on all the fun. I know people who are so obsessed with Instagram to the point they only hike with people who have a certain number of followers (umm exclusive much?) Instagram is no longer “instant” posts but curated photos that could be days, months and years old that people are most likely posting while lying in bed at home. Let’s not forget the hair, makeup and fake poses that are often depicted on top of Half Dome. I was in Yosemite last summer camping with a group of gals who would take an hour to get ready because they had to put on fake eye lashes so they could look good in photos they were posting on social media (I ended up spending most of the weekend by myself because I do not want to be around anyone who wears fake eyelashes in the outdoors).

What happened to real women in the outdoors getting dirty on the trails, climbing rocks and not giving a damn if their hair is messy and they have sweat stains under their arms? As women, shouldn’t we be bonding on the trails, posing for silly photos, sharing stories and drinking wine? Or are we seriously getting into nature to just have a library of beautiful photos on Instagram so we can judge each other and compare our lives to a complete stranger?

I truly believe instead of debating whether social media is ruining the outdoors, we need to focus on what social media is doing to women and our society. We are tearing each other down, fat shaming girls we don’t even know, comparing ourselves to women who spent an hour putting on fake eyelashes and attacking each other for taking topless photos (do not even get me started on what I see in the mental health and eating disorder world of social media).

 Let’s get real on social, shall we?

Let’s talk about our mishaps in the outdoors, our embarrassing moments, why we have found healing in nature and let’s educate the general public (in a positive manner) why we choose to get outside.

No matter what you see on social media, remember you are beautiful, stop comparing yourself to another individual’s highlight reel, post that photo of you with boob sweat on the summit, and please do not allow other people to tear you down.

Real life versus Instagram. I carry sheet masks with me when I camp, backpack and travel and I may or may not wear them in my tent, at camp or in the car.

Real life versus Instagram. I carry sheet masks with me when I camp, backpack and travel and I may or may not wear them in my tent, at camp or in the car.

A super dirty, sweaty and happy selfie…

A super dirty, sweaty and happy selfie…

Ehh… I am mildly obsessed with Smokey the Bear and I may have already been a bottle of Champagne in deep. Are my eyes open?

Ehh… I am mildly obsessed with Smokey the Bear and I may have already been a bottle of Champagne in deep. Are my eyes open?

 **For those of you wondering (and maybe even judging), YES I am on social media. I love using social media to connect with friends and family members and I find it incredibly useful for travel information, photography tips and it is a great way to stay in contact with people who I meet on the trails.  I also use social media as an avenue to share this blog as well as my Psychology Today Blog. Writing has been one of my passions since I was in grade school and I have learned to use my electronic pen and paper to share my thoughts, experiences, mistakes and lessons with others in hopes they can gain knowledge, self-esteem and maybe have a laugh or two. Do I deal with trolls and crazy people on social media? Yep, every damn day!**

Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Ridiculous Trail Lingo That Every Hiker (and non-hiker) Should Know

“She wanted more, more slang, more figures of speech, the bee's knees, the cats pajamas, horse of a different color, dog-tired, she wanted to talk like she was born here, like she never came from anywhere else” 
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word  cauldron  but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word cauldron but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

The other week I was perusing a hiking Facebook group and I literally laughed out loud when I saw a post on trail lingo, common words or phrases used on the trail that common folk would never understand. I have had so many conversations with friends, strangers and my MOM in regards to the outdoors and when I start dropping words like “trail magic”, “cathole”, “alpine start” and “sweep” I tend to get some pretty ridiculous looks. Usually I just ignore the looks and go about my conversation regarding my most recent adventure. But seriously, how ridiculous are some of these terms?  I think this would make the BEST drinking game around a campfire; whoever shouts out the wrong description to a term has to drink. I thought I would drop some knowledge by sharing the meaning of some trail terms I often hear from others and use myself. Do you know the meaning to all these terms? I really hope my mom reads this!

Cat Hole: A small hole (6-8 inches deep) a hiker digs to bury their poop in the wild.

Alpine start: Getting an early mountain ascent start (midnight-3AM) to avoid lightning or rock falls.

Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Gogirl: A device women can use to allow them to urinate standing up aka pee like a man

Sweep: The last hiker that takes up the rear in a group to ensure the entire group makes it safely to their final destination (I love my sweeps on group hikes!)

Trowel: A shovel to dig a cat hole.

Summit fever: When a hiker will do anything in his or her power to reach the summit, even if they put themselves or others at risk of injury or illness (we have all been there).

GORP: Good old raisins and peanuts aka trail mix.

SOBO/NOBO: Southbound or Northbound in reference to the direction a hiker is traveling on a trail, usually on a thru-hike. FYI I am hiking the John Muir Trail NOBO next summer =)

SAR: Search and Rescue volunteers that are trained in backcountry wilderness and give up their time to rescue lost or injured hikers.

Widowmaker: Trees that have already lost limbs or have a potential to fall; don’t set up camp or sit under one of these!

Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Wag bag: A bag you carry your poop in when you are forbidden to dig a cat hole aka one of the many reasons why I do not enjoy Mt. Whitney.

Scree ski: That shitty loose tiny gravel that is difficult to walk on but would be more fun to ski on.

Switchback: Oh Lord no! The never-ending zig-zag pathways that lead to the summit (top of the mountain). These apparently make the climb easier and prevent erosion. Do people actually enjoy switchbacks?

Cairn: Those ridiculous looking man made rock towers made to direct hikers in the correct direction on the trail (trail markers). They should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog and high enough to see above fallen snow. Unfortunately the general public likes to build these for “fun” or as a form of expression, without understanding the actual meaning behind them. This confuses hikers and breaks the rules of LNT.

Dirty Girls: The most colorful and best hiking gaiters on the market!

Shuttle hike: When you have to drop one car off at the end of the trail and leave one car at the beginning of the trail when you plan on going on a one-way hike. If you do not shuttle then you will have to hitch a ride back to the trailhead!

My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

Cowboy camping: Sleeping under the stars without any form of shelter. Just a sleeping bag and mat does the trick in warm weather (watch out for bugs).

Scat: Animal poop

Scrambling: This term does not just apply to eggs but it also applies to using your hands and feet to climb up rocks and boulders. (I despise scrambling).

Crampons: Yes this term sounds like menstruation but it actually refers to a spike like traction device you put on your hiking boots in order to hike through snow and ice.

Bear canister: A container that you store food and scented items in that is bear proof (if you use it correctly).

Blaze: A colored mark, usually painted or nailed to a tree, about 4 inches tall by 2 inches wide. These are used to help guide hikers if the trail gets hard to follow or makes an abrupt turn. White blazers refer to the trail markers on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Pink blazers refer to guys chasing attractive women on the trail.

Bonus miles: Extra miles you end up hiking to re-supply or when you made the wrong turn. Nobody likes these! (Shannon this is YOUR term).

LNT: Leave No Trace, a set of 7 guidelines hikers must follow that prevents trail and outdoor destruction. Don’t pee in a river, please bury your poop, don’t camp on new green growth and please carry out all of your trash (including toilet paper).

Posthole: Hiking in deep slushy snow usually without snowshoes or skis where you leave large holes behind, a sloppy way to hike but sometimes unavoidable. When I was hiking Mt. Bierdstat (A Colorado Fourtneener) last spring in the snow, I was postholing to my waist the last 3 miles WITH snowshoes and it was the longest and most painful 3 miles of my life. At one point I became stuck and had to dig myself out.

Single track: A trail made for one-way traffic, think follow the leader and pull over for other hikers trying to pass you.

Slackpacking: Lazy backpacking aka only carrying your daypack while porters, mules or vehicles, haul your gear.

Trail candy: Eye candy but on the trail aka an attractive hiker.

Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Triple crown: No, not a horse race! A true badass bucket list item: to hike all three major National Scenic Trails, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. I am guessing this is just less than 8,000 miles.

Ultralight: Carrying the lightest backpacking gear possible. Usually base weight (sleeping bag, mat, tent, clothing) is less than 10 pounds.

Fun Factor: The amount of fun you are actually having on the trail. I always say if there is no fun factor, it is not worth the hike and it is time to turn around and go home.

Zero: The best term ever when you are on a long trip/thru-hike, taking a day to rest at camp or stay in town to eat, shower, drink or do whatever you want that does not involve hiking.

Wetted out: When all your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof. Hope you have a trash bag handy!

Alpine zone: The zone above the tree line at the top of a mountain that is characterized by rocks and soil, which resembles the moon. This can range in elevation, usually between 9,000-11,000 feet above sea level.

Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Dirt bag: A dirty hiker. I was walking into El Pollo Loco to get my burrito fix after finishing a 4 day hike on the Lost Coast Trail, I camped 2 nights beforehand, so I did not shower in 6 days, my clothes were dirty and my hair was a wreck. I basically resembled a homeless person wearing expensive brand-named hiking clothes ordering a burrito without a care in the world. This is the ultimate description of a dirt bag.

Glissade: An incredibly fun way to descend a snow capped mountain slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.

Woofer: WFR or Wilderness First-Responder, which requires a weeklong course of moderate outdoor training on rescue scenarios and backcountry emergencies.

Death March: A long boring hike with no views in 90-degree weather or an uninteresting trail you must take in order to reach the desired trail. I consider fire roads a death march but yet we must take them in order to get to the beautiful trail.

Fourteener: A mountain that stands above 14,000 feet in elevation. My mom still thinks this refers to a hike that is 14 miles long, no matter how many times I explain this concept to her.

Bear burrito: Hammock. I have an obsession with burritos so this is my favorite term.

Blowout: No, not a diaper blowout. When your hiking boots take a beating and you need to repair them with duct tape or string to hold the sole and shoe together. It is now time for a pair of new shoes!

Dry Camp: A waterless camping spot. In other words, you have to carry all of your water in aka backpacking in the desert. I have had my fair share of dry camping trips, some were fun, others were just plain aggravating.

Trail magic: When something spontaneously wonderful happens on the trail; you meet a fantastic person, someone gives you food or supplies (in my case beer), or you are offered a ride from a passing stranger. Trail angels are often people who give out trail magic and let me tell you; trail magic goes around and comes back around to you.

Moo, my definition of Trail Magic.

Moo, my definition of Trail Magic.

What are some of your favorite hiking terms? I would love to know!

Thanks for reading and hope to see you on the trails!

Xx,

Kristen