Trip Planning, Goal Setting and Picking the Best Backcountry Partner

A recipe for happiness: Friends, alpine lakes and Moo.

A recipe for happiness: Friends, alpine lakes and Moo.

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”
Louisa May Alcott

Exploring the Hoover Wilderness: Saddlebag Lake, Conness Lake and 20 Lakes Basin

This past summer, I have had the pleasure of spending the majority of my time in the backcountry. I spent many days exploring new trails, paddle boarding on alpine lakes, fording swift rivers, and even learning how to backcountry ski. I went on solo 60-mile backcountry excursions, bagged a couple of 14ers, hiked fun easy treks with friends and suffered through extended knee breaking day trips with my dog in tow. Over the past couple of years, I have learned to set many different objectives when I venture into the outdoors. My outdoor partners and I have essential discussions on whether we are going to bring wine or vodka and if we should also bring along blow up rafts and bikinis. We also discuss the practical stuff like weather, alpine gear, and strict turn around times due to inclement forecasts. I have come to learn that not every trip has to be an "accomplishment", in the sense of bagging a massive peak, or doing loads of miles each day. An accomplishment can mean having tons of fun, frolicking in lakes, improving my photography skills, or spending hours watching my dog run around alpine meadows.

A day without bright colors is a boring day…

A day without bright colors is a boring day…

I have also learned to choose my backcountry partners wisely. I have about ten close friends who I backcountry with on the regular and although I love each one dearly, I am very attuned to each of their limitations and preferences. Some of these friends have zero desire to hike 20 miles in a day with me, others cannot stand the snow, and a small handful will be up for any adventure I plan. I also have some friends who I will struggle to keep up with and who will challenge me to my core. Having an agenda and a goal in mind for each trip is important because it not only determines the purpose of the trip, but it determines who you will have the most fun with in the backcountry.

To solo or to not solo?

I recently completed a 60-mile loop in three days with a total of 24,000 feet in elevation change. I started from Glen Aulin and made my way to the Grand Canyon of Tuolomne via Pate Valley up to White Wolf to Ten Lakes and back to Glen Aulin. It was an absolute sufferfest, and my goal was to push myself physically and mentally so far out of my comfort zone. I wanted to test my strength, endurance, and willpower. Although I would have loved a backpacking partner, I honestly didn't have anyone on speed dial who would jump at this chance. So, therefore, some trips like these are better off as a solo adventure.

Fun is the goal of this trip

When my friend Brandi reached out to me about a backpacking trip over Labor Day, I jumped at the chance. Brandi is extremely easy going, and FUN and I like fun! She told me she did not want to do big miles or any crazy elevation gains so I decided on a stunning, moderate loop off of Tioga Road. We had a quick phone conversation to discuss goals, gear, and alcohol, and the decision was final, Saddlebag Lake and 20 Lakes Basin over three-days. Low miles, lots of swimming in lakes, minimal elevation gain, non-quota permits, and only an hour away from where I live.

  • Trip details: Saddlebag Lake, Conness Lake, and 20 Lakes Basin

  • Permit: Yes, non-quota

  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but be mindful of the paws 

  • Miles: 15

  • Highest elevation: 10,800 feet 

  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet

  • Parking: On the side of the road

The long path to fun…

The long path to fun…

One too many tequillas

Living in Mammoth during long holiday weekends means one thing; I need to escape the crowds. Vodka, rainbow blow-up rafts, swimming in alpine lakes, playing fetch with my pup and just enjoying Mother Nature, were the only items on our agenda. We decided to go out to dinner Friday night before our Saturday morning early departure, and I may have had one too many tequilas. Yikes! I am pretty sure I had a tequila to go and took it on the trolley with me back home.

Easy to say, the next morning was brutal. I felt like death, but with Brandi's motherly help, I powered through! We had to make a couple of quick stops in town and everyone who I ran into, declared, "Kristen, you look like death!" Yes, I was hurting. Brandi drove my car to the trailhead after trying to convince me to eat some food at The Mobil Mart, but I could not even keep water down. I had an emergency bag in the car, and we may or may not have had to pull over multiple times on the 395. I was off to a rough start.

Your dog is your own responsibility

Our first day consisted of an easy 2.5-mile hike into our campsite, so I was not too concerned. I could take it slow, puke my brains out and chug along. I was armed with Pedialyte, ginger and lots of water to keep me as hydrated as possible. After all, my philosophy is "I can do ANYTHING for two miles"! Within the first half-mile, we saw a dog that was overheating and needed to be treated then carried off the trail. The owner declared that I should carry her dog back to the trailhead (we were hiking the opposite direction, I had a 45-pound pack, I had my dog to take care of, and I was actively puking). I was in no shape to carry out a 50-pound dog. The lady was annoyed when I said, "I couldn't". She had the option of pouring water on her dog, soaking a t-shirt in water and wrapping it around her dog, allowing her dog to actually drink water and the list goes on. She was persistent in having someone immediately carry her dog off the trail, and I was not going to be that person.

The first lesson of the trip: If you are bringing your dog into the backcountry, make sure you can carry him/her out on your own and also understand how to prevent and treat heat exhaustion in your pet.

Reflections from Saddlebag Lake

Reflections from Saddlebag Lake

Broken tents and tequila sickness

Since it was a holiday weekend, the trail was extremely crowded. I was nervous; some dude was going to walk by me and give me the lecture on "altitude sickness" when I had "tequila sickness." As a result, I tried to keep it together and only vomit when nobody was around. Mission accomplished! We arrived at Greenstone Lake and took our time looking for a campsite that was not on alpine meadows or within 100 feet from the lake. We came across the perfect spot and started setting up camp when Brandi noticed her tent poles were broken. I was pretty sure I was done puking for the day, but I still felt like garbage; however, I knew I had to help her. We devised a plan, spent over 30 minutes re-constructing her tent poles, and I used my duct tape from my first aid kit to hold her poles together.

#TeamworkMakestheDreamwork

The second lesson of the trip: Always carry duct tape in your first aid kit

After we set up camp, I blew up my rainbow raft, and we ran for the lake. The water was refreshing, and Moo surprisingly ran in after me (she is not a water dog). We frolicked around for a minute and spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing on a rock. We were content, and Moo was off chasing all the cute marmots, flies and lizards to her little heart’s content. 

Queen Moo, living her best life.

Queen Moo, living her best life.

Granite waterfalls on the way to Conness Lake

Granite waterfalls on the way to Conness Lake

More tents than square footage

As we were cooking dinner, we noticed hoards among hoards of people setting up camp on alpine meadows. Many of the campers were also setting up their tents way too close to the lakes (like within a stone's throw away). I have never seen anything like it, in all my years of backcountry adventuring. I was downright disgusted in regards to how people were disrespecting the backcountry rules. Rangers work extremely hard to herd cats and to create a safe environment in the outdoors, and it is incredibly disheartening to see so many people have zero respect for Mother Nature. Although this area was under a "non-quota" permit; it is still required to walk into a ranger station, request a permit and listen to the lecture on the particular backcountry rules that are set in place to protect our environment. 

The third lesson of the trip: Leave No Trace regulations are in place for a reason. Please respect the rules, so these areas are around for your children and grandchildren to enjoy. 

We settled into our tents, and I started reading a new book that I could not put down. It was a new moon, so I was overly excited to photograph the night sky for my very first time. I woke up around 11 PM, and the Milky Way was shining in all her glory. I set up my tripod and camera and got to work! Astrophotography is a skill that takes practice. I spent over an hour shooting the night sky, and for my very first time, I was pretty stoked on some of my photos! By 1 AM, I was back in my tent, cuddling with my pup! 

Oh Starry Night

Oh Starry Night

Our backcountry “home”

Our backcountry “home”

Conness Lake is dreamy

We woke up nice and slow the next morning and started to plan out our day. Our original plan was to backpack to Lake Helen and set up camp; however, Brandi's tent was broken, and neither of us wanted to take on that task again during this trip. We also had an incredible, private campsite, and after seeing the hoards of people, we had a gut feeling Lake Helen was going to be packed! We decided to keep our camp and day hike to Conness Lake and around the entire 20 Lakes Basin Loop. We made the right decision. The crowds were out of control, the number of illegal campsites we saw around the lakes was disturbing, and it is always so much nicer carrying a daypack instead of our full overnight set up! 

The fourth lesson of the trip: Be flexible, plans can change, and sometimes for the better. 

Conness Lake and all her glory

Conness Lake and all her glory

We headed off to Conness Lakes for some alpine lake swimming. The two-mile trail was stunning. Moo ran and ran through alpine meadows, and we stood in awe of the granite, the waterfalls, and the views. The short climb was enough to get our blood pumping, and as we approached the second lake, we couldn't wait to go for a dip! I blew up my raft, and we immediately jumped in the turquoise lake. The frigid water took our breath away. We laughed at how ridiculous we must have looked, but we were having SO much fun. Once we could no longer feel our limbs, we jumped out, dried off in the sun and marveled at the beauty. As we were sitting in our bikinis on the granite rock, a nice gentleman offered to take our photo. He couldn't figure out how to work my camera, and the wind blew our raft away. He quickly retrieved our raft, took our pictures, complimented my sweet dog, and off he went. We need more men like him in this world; kindred souls who empower women to be themselves. 

Tent city and rock scrambles; Greenstone Lake to Lake Helen to Odelle Lake

We ate lunch and decided that we should get on with our day since we had about nine more miles to go. As we continued hiking the 20 Lakes Basin loop, we kept commenting on the number of disrespectful people pitching their tents wherever they felt like it. It was becoming a tent city!

After about five miles, we scrambled over some pretty rocky terrain on the way to Lake Helen. As we navigated our way through the boulders and rounded the corner of beautiful Lake Helen, we were grateful we did not choose to camp here, as it was overly crowded with tents, ice chests and lots of people playing music.

As you approach the backside of Lake Helen, you can continue the loop or verge left and go up Lundy Canyon. At the beginning of the summer, I hiked to Lake Helen from Lundy, and it was a type 2 suffer-fest. I do not recommend it!

Cornices are pretty but they can kill you…

Cornices are pretty but they can kill you…

Views from Greenstone Lake

Views from Greenstone Lake

The trail from Lake Helen to Odelle Lake was extremely rocky. I eventually packed Moo into my pack to protect her paws as we hiked up through the canyon to Odelle Lake. Odelle Lake was stunning, and it was void of people (my kind of lake). We continued the loop and made our way back to camp just before the sun was setting. We got cleaned up, cooked dinner, and reminisced about our day. Moo ran straight into my tent and passed out. We once again fell asleep under a sky littered with bright stars. We had a successful 10-mile day.

Lake Helen with Moo in my pack

Lake Helen with Moo in my pack

Will work for that Alpenglow

We awoke the next morning before sunrise to set up my camera, as I wanted to shoot the alpenglow. I do not function without coffee, so it took me a while to get my act together and adjust my camera settings appropriately. I had the most magical six-minute window as the sun hit Conness Peak, and I was in awe. When I was finally satisfied with my captures, I made coffee and began to pack up my camp. Moo was already off running around and guarding our campsite.

Good morning, Conness Peak

Good morning, Conness Peak

Looking for marmots

Looking for marmots

Air horns and cranky old men

We began our hike out on the opposite side of the lake from which we hiked in. As we were approaching Saddlebag Lake and as Moo was trotting along the trail, a cranky old man who had his tent set up in an alpine meadow, blew his air horn at Moo as she was approaching his camp. She barked and barked, and my friend and I both had steam coming out of our ears. She quickly ran off, not giving a care in the world about this guy. She had marmots to chase and could not be bothered by a hostile camper, but Brandi and I were both pretty bitter. That man must have felt like a fool for blowing his air horn at a 12-pound little dog, who did not even react. He could have yelled at her, asked us to leash her, and nine other possibilities before blowing his air horn. He also had his food spread out all over his campsite, inviting bears and marmots to a feast. We joked that he probably carries bear bells (the most annoying thing on the trails) and bear spray (which is illegal in this area). I was so over all the nonsense I witnessed on this trip, that I did not have the energy or the desire to approach this man about his erratic and inappropriate behavior. 

The fifth lesson of the trip: My dog has a better temperament than most people. 

Me telling Moo that she must always live her best life while she is hopelessly scanning the grass for marmots.

Me telling Moo that she must always live her best life while she is hopelessly scanning the grass for marmots.

The hike out was stunning and was much less crowded than the trek in. After 3.5 miles, we arrived at our car and headed back to Mammoth. Our hearts were full, our spirits were rejuvenated, Moo was dead tired, and once again, I was incredibly grateful for another friend who willingly puts up with my shenanigans on the trail. I am also eternally thankful for my healthy body that carried me to these beautiful places. 

Sometimes innocent and easy backcountry fun is just what we need

We accomplished our "goals" for this trip. We relaxed, had a blast, swam in lakes, and were able to enjoy each other's company while still overcoming unexpected obstacles. We did not do any big mile days, summit massive peaks, or backcountry ski a line; we just had fun.

I used to only think about the destination in terms of "I want to backpack here" or "I want to bag this peak" or "I want to do this many miles in this amount of time." When I look back on these objectives, I sort of laugh at myself. I won't lie; I still plan trips where I set goals that are out of my comfort zone. However, not every journey has to be about stroking the ego, chasing fear or gunning for adrenaline. Sometimes, we can all use a little bit of innocent backcountry fun.

 Thanks for reading!

Hope to see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Solo Adventuring in the Outdoors as a Female: Is it Safe?

An Open Letter to Every Woman in the Wild

"Feminism isn't about making women strong. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength."

G.D. Anderson

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

  • “You are going by yourself?”

  • “Is it safe?”

  • “How do you protect yourself?”

  • “What if something goes wrong”?

These are just some of the many questions most females, including myself, are asked when we exclaim that we are going on a solo adventure. I see so many posts on social media about how so many women are nervous about hiking alone or how their partner will not allow them to adventure solo. This sense of fear and uneasiness makes me sad and I hope this blog can empower at least one female to get out there by her badass self and conquer any trail, crag or mountain she desires. The majority of the folks in the outdoors are extremely pleasant, friendly and humble but sadly there have been multiple cases this past year of physical and verbal attacks on women, and as a result we need to be smart.

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

The harsh reality of being female

As females, we live in a society where unfortunately we are taught from a very young age to always be “on guard”, to pay attention to our gut feeling and to be careful. I grew up with a badass younger brother and we were both raised by the strongest woman I have ever met and although it was always instilled in me that I should be aware of my surroundings and be in touch with my intuition, I never grew up in a household where fear was instilled. My mom never taught me to be scared of certain people or of certain environments and I think this is one of the main reasons why I live a very fearless and a very fulfilling life. She told me from day one to be independent, to make my own money, to stand up for myself and to “never let a boy touch you where you do not want to be touched and if he does, punch him in the mouth”. My mom says some ridiculous things!

Yes of course, as women, we always have to be on guard and sadly, men do not understand this. We have to wait for our Uber inside the bar just to be safe, watch our backs in a gas station at night, be weary of being date raped at parties or bars, be mindful when we are walking or running at night or walking through a parking lot, walking to our car etc. In other words, as women, we must always be careful and mindful of our surroundings even if we are not fearful. Guys do not understand the risks we, as women, take on a daily basis. I have had conversations with my brother and best guy friends and have asked them if they ever worry about being mugged or attacked while walking down the road or walking home; men simply do not need to take the same precautions we do. Is it fair? Nope. Is it reality? Yep! I have had friends who have been attacked and raped and I am sure many women who are reading this are victims themselves or know of victims. It is the sad reality and my heart goes out to every female who feels she is no longer safe, but I truly believe being safe in the “real world” and being safe on the trail are two very different things that simply cannot be compared. Trail safety is a thing, a big thing, but this should never ever discourage you from getting out there on your own!

Deer Lakes August 2019

Deer Lakes August 2019

But are we safe on the trails?

When I am asked if I feel safe going into the wilderness by myself, I often chuckle, roll my eyes and make a snarky comment about how I am more at risk of getting into a car accident on the freeway or having an unsafe encounter in a gas station at night. As women, we are always at risk, and more so in populated cities and public places. I have had a handful of dangerous encounters with creepy men in big cities but when I am on the trail, I feel so much more at ease.

Guys play a major role in women empowerment

I know a lot of men who do “not allow” their significant others to go hiking, climbing, skiing or backpacking alone. I say dump these dudes, seriously! But in reality, it is totally normal for our loved ones to be concerned about our safety, happiness and well-being. But seriously, guys please support your female partners in their solo adventures in the outdoors. You can play such a huge role in empowering the women in your lives!

Duck Lake August 2019

Duck Lake August 2019

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

My definition of “glamour shots”

My definition of “glamour shots”

Getting personal: How do I protect myself on the trail?

Conceal and carry…or not

I am often asked if I carry a weapon or pepper spray and the truth is I do not. I do not feel I am in any sort of danger on the trail to the extent that I have to go to these extreme measures. I truly believe the outdoors is a safe place and with enough street smarts, grit and intuition, we as women, can conquer the trails.

I once considered (for about 10 minutes while standing in Moab Gear Traders in Utah) purchasing a knife but in reality I truly believe I will not be able to get to my weapon in a timely manner to actually do something to my attacker. I wonder “if my attacker saw my weapon, would he be more prone to shoot me right there?” Fumbling with a knife, even if it is in my pants or attached to my body or grabbing my pepper spray off my pack strap makes me wonder, “can I potentially cause more harm to myself because of my slowed reaction time, and my clumsy hands combined with potentially making my attacker more violent”? I also wonder, “what if they grab my weapon and use it on me?” I personally am extremely anti firearms of any sort (please refrain from the gun debate and politics) so carrying a gun is just not my jam.

With that said, I have many girlfriends who do carry a weapon on the trail and I believe if it makes you feel safe and if you are comfortable using your weapon (and actually know how to use it), then by all means, go to town…

Wear headphones…sort of

My main line of defense is my wit, my gut, my two fingers and my 12-pound terrier mix. Let me explain. I get around, literally. I have traveled all over the world and have hiked thousands of miles in the backcountry by myself so I can handle a creepy dude here and there. For the most part, I do wear headphones on the trail because I simply do not want to be asked a million questions about my pup, but what many do not know is I rarely have any music on. A tactic I picked up while traveling across India by train. People think you are unaware of what is going on around you because you are listening to music, when in fact, you know exactly what is happening but just do not want to be bothered.

Sure, I will smile and wave and have the one off conversation here and there on the trail but my solo outdoor time is not my idea of a happy hour.

Side note: If I do have music on, I only have one ear bud in so I can be aware of my surroundings while jamming out to some nonsense Justin Bieber. For that same reason, I do not wear earplugs when I sleep on the trail. I want to be able to hear if something or someone is out there and I want to be able to hear my dog bark.

Follow your gut

This leaves me to my next line of defense, my intuition. I can smell a creepster from a mile away. If you are a dude on the trail who is giving me the creeps then I will kindly step aside and let you hike in front of me. I may even sit down and eat a snack and watch my pup run around in circles. Basically, I do not want any creepy dudes behind me, ever. I feel that if they are in front of me, I have the upper hand.  I seldom tell people I meet on the trail where I plan to camp that night, sure sometimes I meet some incredibly rad people and I want nothing more than to tell them my life story and become best friends but I vibe it out. If my gut is telling me, “this guy is cool and is harmless” then I have no problem talking about my journey. But if I meet a creepster who wants to know where I am camping or where I am hiking to, I will often make something up or simply respond, “not sure yet, wherever Mother Nature takes me”.  In terms of camping, I have unfortunately camped next to some creepy dudes (who set up camp after me). I considered moving my tent but did not feel I was in any imminent danger. I have had friends who have straight up, picked up camp and moved because they pitched their tent next to creepy McCreepster. Do not hesitate to move your tent, trust your gut.

Go for the eyeballs

My pointer finger and middle finger on my right hand are my secret weapons. I have been told by many self-defense instructors to go for the eyes. If I ever get into a situation where I feel physically threatened, these two fingers will take out someone’s eyesight. I can guarantee that.  Sometimes I tell my guy friends this and they tell me “Kristen, you need to stop going around telling people this, it is weird”. Sure it is super weird, but I know any guy can physically overpower me but not one guy is going to physically overpower me when he is blind. Let’s talk about self-defense classes because I am a huge fan of these. I think it is super empowering for women to learn how to get out of violent physical holds by men and I encourage every woman to take one of these classes.

Get an “attack” dog

If you did not know, I am overly obsessed with my pup, Moo. She is the cutest, sweetest, hilarious and most adventurous canine I have ever met. Although she has no viscous bone in her body (and she weighs 12 pounds) she sure does know how to spot creepsters. She is by no means an attack dog and she rarely ever barks, but every so often she will stand next to me and bark at a random individual on the trail until he/she is literally out of our sight. She has chased weird men out of my campsite and she makes it very obvious she wants nothing to do with you if she senses you are a creepster. I have hiked almost 1,000 miles with my pup so I am incredibly in tune with her as she is to me, especially in the outdoors. We are a team! Dogs can truly keep you a little bit safer on the trail and I feel so much more at ease when she is with me.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

Whistles, alarms and air horns

I actually have a whistle on my running pack and my backpacking pack (but not any of day packs, useful huh?). I actually have these two whistles to scare off furry creatures rather than creepsters but a noisemaker is always a good idea to alert that you are in potential dangers. Growing up my mom always used to carry this heavy “rape whistle” on her keys. She would even tell me, at my ripe age of 9 years old, it was a rape whistle and it sort of made me chuckle but as we get older, we clearly become more like our mothers, right?

I have seen people carry alarms that attach to their back pack strap and also know people who carry mini air horns; which I think are way less annoying than the constant jingling of those damn bear bells!

Crags for days…

Crags for days…

In my backyard…

In my backyard…

Other safety precautions to take when you are solo adventuring

  • Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to be back and who and when to call in case they do not hear back from you.

  • Baby steps: maybe start with a 2-mile solo hike first to build up your confidence

  • Know your limits

  • Have some experience in the backcountry before you adventure solo

  • Be knowledgeable about back country navigation

  • Carry a photo ID on you.

  • Carry a Garmin InReach, it can truly save your life.

I recently had a guy friend tell me that if women needed to carry a Garmin InReach in case they needed to activate the SOS button, then they probably should not be in the outdoors. I thought this was one of the most ignorant comments I have ever heard. No matter how experienced or knowledgeable you are, Mother Nature is stronger, faster and wiser and there may be a time when you need to activate your SOS button and do not ever feel ashamed for that.

For a review and my personal experience using my Garmin inReach, I have included both links.

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

Remember, you are a QUEEN

Of course, tragedies do happen because well there are creepy guys everywhere, even in the wilderness. But in my 16 years of adventuring solo I have had two encounters in the backcountry where the hair on my neck stood up and my gut was twisting and tumbling. As women, we are the queens of intuitive feelings however often times we do not follow our gut and we end up in danger. So my biggest word of advice when adventuring in the backcountry solo is TRUST YOUR GUT. If something just feels off, then it probably is so either take a different trail, allow the weird creepy dude to go ahead of you, move your tent to a different campsite or worst case scenario, get off the trail. But never allow fear to keep you from getting into the wilderness by yourself. You are more likely to be hurt driving on the freeway, walking home at night or going out to a bar. I truly believe with my whole heart that solo adventuring as a female is not only safe but incredibly rewarding and empowering and I encourage every woman to get out there on her own and experience it for the first time.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

To read more on why I love traveling solo, here is another cheeky but informative blog post written by yours truly on why women should embrace their bad-asser-y more often!

"I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."Maya Angelou

Thanks mom, for instilling this sense of empowerment in me!

(I honestly do no even know if she is aware I have a blog)

Hope to see you on the trails

Xx

Kristen

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

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

#Adventurelikeagirl

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein

“I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

“I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

For those of you that know me, I LOVE traveling alone. It may sound weird at first and a little bit ‘loner-ish” but hear me out. I love making my own schedule, waking up and going to sleep whenever and wherever I want, having the option of meeting new people or not talking to anyone, being able to change my plans last minute, listening to audiobooks in the car or on the airplane and having the option to stay in lavish hotels or pitching a tent at a free campsite. Whenever I travel solo, I get to know myself a little bit more, become a bit more comfortable with being alone and feel so rejuvenated when I return home. I usually end up meeting a few rad people along the way too!

Is it safe?

I am often asked if adventuring solo is safe and my snarky response is usually along the lines of something like “it is safer than driving down the 405 freeway”, which in my opinion is true. I have traveled to other countries solo, camped solo, backpacked solo and road tripped across the country solo and I have definitely learned a thing or two about how to stay safe while traveling solo and making the most of my trip. In reality, no matter where you are in the world, you are never 100% safe. True, some cities and countries are safer than others but I truly believe that if you practice good judgment and have some street smarts (Don’t show your ignorance, fear, and vulnerability while on the road, it may encourage unwanted attention and invite others to take advantage of you), you will be just fine.  

I have many girlfriends tell me they are fearful of traveling solo because they may be unprepared or may find themselves in an unsafe situation, however, living in fear is scary in itself. You will not know if traveling solo will fill your soul until you step out of your comfort zone and try it. I promised myself after I graduated college that once a year I will travel internationally and travel somewhere within the United States where I have never been before. It has been 10 years since I have made this pact to myself, and I am still going strong.

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

How do you afford to travel so often?

I am often asked, “How do I afford to travel so often”. To be honest, I have an amazing career that I love that pays me well and gives me the freedom to work remote the majority of the time. I save a lot of my money because I do not go out to eat frequently, I rarely buy coffee out and I rarely shop for clothes. I literally spend most of my money on travel, sparkling water, wine, and skincare. I consider myself a minimalist as I do not like owning a bunch of things and I am that person that always has the same outfit on in every photo. I buy most of my clothes from consignment stores and will wear them until they have holes in them and I never buy processed snacks from grocery stores because they are overpriced and unhealthy. In other words, I have learned to spend my money on things that are important to me.

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Tips and tricks for the most epic solo adventure

  • Have an itinerary printed out that includes your reservations, distance to each destination, stops along the way, and any other details you do not want to forget. I also email this agenda to myself and take screen captures on my phone.
  • If you are road-tripping solo make sure you have downloaded offline maps and a detailed description of your final destination and stops along the way as it is very possible you may lose cell signal. I am preparing for a 10 day solo road trip in Northern California where I will be backpacking The Lost Coast Trail and will stop at a few National Parks within the general area so I have a word doc with all my stops, campground reservations, hiking details, trail recommendations and of course a tide chart (since backpacking along the Lost Coast solely depends on the tides).
  • Always check the weather and plan accordingly. My parents recently canceled their trip to Hawaii a day before their flight because of the hurricane. So sad.
  • Make sure you always have at least 1/3 tank of gas as oftentimes you can drive for 40-60 miles without any service stations and running our of gas does not sound like a good time.
  • Carry essentials in case you run into car trouble. This includes an emergency first aid car kit, a flashlight, a warm jacket (in case you get stranded in the cold), a gallon of water (in case your car overheats), a spare tire, jumper cables and your roadside assistance card. Make sure you know how to use your jumper cables as you can do some serious damage if you do not use them correctly.
  • Always make sure you have plenty of snacks, water, caffeine and good music (or in my case, audiobooks). I usually order 3-5 audiobooks at the library before an upcoming trip so I have plenty of entertainment while I am driving. My rule of thumb at every gas station stop is I purchase two bottles of sparkling water, a coffee and a couple of bags of trail mix and gummy bears. I am a creature of habit and for many of my friends, who have been on road trips with me, know that I buy the exact same thing at every gas station.
  • Bring ear buds and a battery pack to charge your electronics. Ear buds come in handy especially on trains, airplanes and in long lines.
  • Always have a book… or three. For great book recommendations, check out this list of the top adventure books for women
  • Remember you can do laundry anywhere in the world so pack light. Whether you are hiking the John Muir Trail or you are adventuring to Africa, you can always wash your own clothes (in the case of the JMT) or pay a small fee to have your clothes washed. I have lived in India, Africa, the Caribbean, and Italy and I always was able to have my laundry done. Everyone around the world does laundry so there is no need to pack a new pair of clothes for each day you are adventuring. Contrary to the fashion magazines, it is totally okay to wear the same outfit two (or even three days) in a row.
  • If you go out to eat, grab a seat at the bar instead of a table (it is less awkward and you will meet lots of people eating at the bar).
  • If you get lost, take a deep breath, look at your map and center yourself. Everything is going to be okay and yes, you will make the wrong turn at least once. It happens to everyone.
  • Keep an open mind. Not every plan is going to work out and not every detail is going to go your way. There may be a wrench in your plans but the only thing you can control is your mindset and attitude. Keep an open mind and always be willing to make a new move.
  • Skip washing your hair, seriously, I never wash my hair when I am camping or backpacking no matter how many days I am out on the trails. When I am staying at a hotel or a rented apartment, I wash my hair once a week (my usual routine).
  • Do not ever forget your sunscreen (I actually carry most of my skincare regimen in travel size containers even when I am backpacking).
  • Always send a loved one at home your itinerary and tell them when they can expect to hear from you.
  • Baby wipes and face wipes are a must. I use Philosophy cleansing cloths for my face
  • If you plan on flying, always carry on, unless you are bringing camping gear or traveling internationally for more than 10 days. I use stuff sacks in my carry on bag and can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes in my carry-on without having to do laundry. Nobody likes waiting for luggage to come off the plane, paying for luggage or losing his or her luggage.
  • Do not venture out alone at night, always be diligent when you are pulling money out of the ATM, never carry too much cash or your passport on you, keep your valuable items in a safe at the hotel, and always trust your gut if you feel you are being watched or followed. I have been chased down twice in foreign countries and both incidences were at night and I saw the individual follow me out of my peripheral vision. I do not carry a weapon or pepper spray and I hope I will never need to.
  • Wear minimal or no jewelry and do not wear revealing clothing. 
  • Talk to people. It is amazing how many people you will meet whether you are backpacking alone or traveling internationally alone. People are usually very intrigued by solo female travelers and it is a great way to engage socially and learn some great tips about the trail or the city. 
  • If you are in a country where toilet paper is uncommon, always have a stash in your purse.
  • Charge all electronics before you hit the road and bring a backup battery pack (with an adapter for foreign countries if needed).
  • Take public transportation whenever possible to save money, save the environment, meet people and be adventurous. Taking public transportation helps you sharpen your navigational skills and many metro systems have apps you can download or you can always use Google maps offline to navigate the public transit system.
  • Buy a memento from your trip. I personally collect magnets for my fridge so I can save wedding invitations, printed photos and hand-written cards I receive in the mail. Some of my friends buy a patch, a pin or a t-shirt. If I am in a place that is known for their art or jewelry, you can bet I will be doing some damage on my credit card.
  • Always make a packing list so you do not forget anything.
  • Take lots of photos. Instead of taking selfies (I despise selfies) use your amazing people skills and ask someone to take a photo of you or instead of having to be in every photo, take a photo of your surroundings. 

A complete guide on planning a successful backpacking/camping trip

A complete packing list for any backpacking adventure

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

If you ever have any questions about preparing for a solo trip or would like to see one of my itineraries, feel free to reach out to me!

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

Xx,

Kristen 

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott