Backpacking Gear Review: The Big Three

This post is a long time coming! Since it's Black Friday and maybe you are looking for something to buy, this is perfect timing! Since the "big three" are really the most important for both comfort and weight in the life of a backpacker, I will start with those. For those of you that do not know, the big three consists of your shelter, sleep system and backpack. These are generally the three heaviest things you will carry, apart from food and water. There are a couple of different camps (ha!) when it comes to pack weight, but most say that the big three should weigh no more than twelve pounds, and many even think it should be no more than nine pounds. Of course if you are an ultralight backpacker, I think your entire base weight (everything except food, water and fuel) is supposed to be less than ten pounds. However, I digress; my big three items weigh about seven pounds with the heaviest being my shelter, then the sleep system, then my pack.

Before I start, I want to give a shout out to a tent that I have used for quite a while, but is no longer available online. It is the Big Agnes Fishhook UL1 Tent; a picture of it can be found here. It is a one man, three season, no zipper tent which weighs 47 oz. without a footprint. This was my first really light tent; before that, I believe my prior tent weighed about 6 pounds. Nope, I am not kidding. I was so excited to finally have a tent that was lightweight, easy to pack and carry and was actually quite spacious for one person. The only con is that the little hook closure is a little hard to open and close when you are trying to get out for a potty break in the middle of the night. Otherwise, it was great. I even took it to Peru where it got down in the 20s at night and I was pretty comfortable. Additionally, I would bring all of my gear inside with me and there was plenty of space. 

Lastly, but definitely not least, when the pole broke after I had owned it for about five years, I sent it back to Big Agnes and they fixed it for only the cost of shipping. However, this was right before the pandemic and when I had not received it back a few months later, I wrote to them and they said it had been shipped to me, but since I had not received it, they would send me a new pole set anyway, free of charge. The tent is great; the customer service is even better. 

Shelter: I guess that brings me to my next tent, as I bought this due to my happiness with my first one. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 weighs 46 oz. with the footprint. This is a semi freestanding tent, which means that there are two corners which have to be staked down and two corners which are connected to poles. It is a two man tent with two doors and two vestibules and it is spacious for one but you do have to be pretty friendly with your tentmate when you are sharing. Personally, I have had no issues with this, but I do think that if both people are sleeping on any wider than a 20 inch pad, it may be a tight fit. This tent has been with me in as low as 17 degrees Fahrenheit, has gone through snow and rain storms and has protected me from many a mosquito. It is easy to set up with only one pole and is skinny when packed up so it fits nicely in the outer pocket of my pack. 

Mine is made from nylon but there are now other versions that are made of other materials, like stronger nylon and also dyneema (DCF) if you really want to break the bank. There is also a three man version of this same tent. 

The Big Three

SleepWestern Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree sleeping bag (29 oz.) and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite regular size (12 oz.). If you know me at all, you will know that I can get stuck in the trap of analysis-paralysis. This was true in the case of buying a good sleeping bag. I own a really nice Caribou bag that I have had since I was in high school; it is synthetic and it is very warm and I used it for a long time on my backpacking trips. However, it is not small. There is a reason our packs used to be 40 pounds! Then I got an REI bag that is equally as warm, but even bulkier. So I tried to find a bag that was (a) warm, (b) light and (c) inexpensive. Like looking for a needle in a haystack, it was nigh impossible. Then I finally decided that I would have to pony up some cash, but then I couldn't decide between a quilt and a bag, down or synthetic, long or short, mummy or not!!! I finally settled on the Western Mountaineering bag. 

To make a long story short, it is an 850 fill down bag with a 20 degree rating. Just like most, it does not actually keep me warm down to the rated temperature; I have found that if it is under 30 degrees, I am happier if I add a silk liner to the mix. Otherwise, it is good; it has a little hood if you need it, although I normally just use that as a pillow cover. I wish it had a cell phone pocket, as I have had a few cold nights where I would have preferred to have my phone secured, rather than floating around in my bag, which is where I keep it. 

The Therm-a-Rest is a regular size, 47 inches long with an R value of 4.2, which means that it does keep me warmer on those cold nights. It is comfortable, but it took a little while to get used to the 2.5 inch height which sometimes feels like you are going to slide right off of it in the middle of the night. I find these pretty easy to pop though, and have popped two short versions. I repaired one of them with the kit that comes with it, but will carry tenacious tape from now on, as I constantly was having to blow it up in the middle of the night. The regular size one that I have now also slowly leaks but I am not sure where or why. However, it only requires one or two slight blow ups, so I have not really been overly worried about it. 

Backpack:  Hyperlite 2400 Southwest Backpack (28.6 oz.). I would say this is the best purchase that I have made. The other items are good, but I could  probably find better ones (like a warmer sleeping bag for instance). The backpack is made out of cuben fiber, or DCF, which is a waterproof, lightweight and very strong composite material. Think about the Tyvek they use to make buildings, but lighter. It has two hip pockets and you can order additional chest strap pockets if desired. It is built for your body, as in you measure your torso and waist and they customize it for you. It is frameless, has a roll top, three exterior pockets and it carries 40 liters. As I said, I love this pack; I was a little worried the frameless nature would be uncomfortable, but it isn't. It fits me like a glove. The only thing I would do differently if I ordered it again is that I would get the larger size, as you can always fill it less and roll the top more. However, I can fit a bear can, all my food and clothes and sleep system on the inside and my tent in the outer pocket and I sometimes still have room to spare. 

So there you have it! Next time, I will talk a little about the kitchen! 

What is your favorite "big three" item? Even if you are not a backpacker, tell me: what travel item is your heaviest? 


Emigrant Wilderness: Logistics, Gear & Planning

At the end of last month, my friend Dr. G (trail name Bugsy) and I decided to try to get one more trip to the Sierra before the snow flurries started to fly. And boy did we get lucky, as it started snowing the Tuesday after we got back and there have been several storms since.

The Emigrant Wilderness is a pretty small wilderness and is only about 25 miles long and 15 miles wide. However, don't let the size fool you! It is full of granite outcroppings and glacier scoured landscapes. It is also a great place to cut your teeth on cross country travel, as it is not too brushy in most places, so your "bushwhacking" is more like rock climbing than anything else.

The Plan/Logistics: When it had not snowed yet and Bugsy and I realized that we both had the weekend free, we kind of made a last minute decision to take a couple of days and get out one last time. Therefore, this was not the most well thought out or the most complicated plan; Emigrant Wilderness is about 2.5 hours away from the Bay Area if there is no traffic, so we decide that instead of sitting in the horror that is Friday traffic, we would start bright and early on Saturday. We left around 5 am and after two coffee/bathroom stops and a stop to get the (self issued) permit, we were on the trail by 7:50 am. Please note that if the ranger station is open (8:30 am - 4 pm on Saturday, 9 am - 4 pm all other days), you will have to get a permit from the ranger. They do not issue permits online. Permit info here.

The Route: we had a few options, but one of the things I wanted to try was a cross country route between Buck Creek and Huckleberry Lake, so we decided to give it a shot. I mapped it out on Gaia, but of course if there is no trail, you have to just estimate where you will go and it ended up being about 4 more miles than we had expected. That made what was planned to be about a 35 mile loop into about a 39 mile loop. Oops! We started from the Crabtree Trailhead, which is about 8 miles outside of Pinecrest Lake, and did a counter clockwise "loop" towards Huckleberry Lake. We ended up camping at Cherry Creek instead.

The Big Three: I have been using the same big three for a while and am loving them (Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (46 oz. with footprint), Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree sleeping bag (29 oz.), Hyperlite 2400 Southwest Backpack (28.6 oz.), and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite regular size (12 oz.). However, on this trip, Bugsy brought his tent because it has a bigger floor plan than mine (Big Agnes Copper Spur 2), so my big three was only two! I also carried a silk liner, since we had gotten reports that it could get down into the mid twenties at night and my sleeping bag is not warm under about 30 degrees, despite the 20 degree rating. My big "two" weighed about 4.5 pounds.

Base Pack Weight: I did not weigh my base pack for the trip, but based on my LighterPack list and experience from other trips, I would say it was about 17 lbs.

Clothing: I brought everything from my normal list and did not bring any of the heavier winter gear or traction. My normal kit includes a beanie, gloves, extra socks & underwear, rain jacket and pants and a puffy, and the forecast was clear skies, so I did not feel that I would need the extra heavy gear for this trip. However, I did bring an older REI rain jacket rather than my ultralight Montbell, so I probably added a pound of extra weight by carrying that.

Food: This was a huge difference from our normal trips. Firstly, we usually share dinner duties; if we are going for 6 days, we will each make and carry three meals for two people. However, this time we each did our own thing since we didn't have to skimp to save weight. We brought lots of heavy stuff! For dinner, I brought noodles, salmon packets, fresh mushrooms, hard boiled eggs and miso paste. For snacks I brought a whole salami, cheese, cucumbers, nuts and blueberries! For breakfast I had hard boiled eggs and coffee. Not only could we afford to carry heavier food, but I didn't mind if I didn't use it, and we had built in refrigeration so we could carry whatever we wanted. It was divine.

Water: I used my new BeFree 1 liter filter bottle and carried an extra Platypus 1 liter bottle with a 2 liter Platypus for extreme emergencies/backup. I am glad I had the backup bottles as we went through some really dry stretches and crossed dry creeks that I had never seen dry before. However, we did camp near a lake so we really did not need to carry more than 1 - 2 liters at a time in the end.

Total Pack Weight: Including two liters of water, the bear can, one day of food and one fuel cannister (and the heavy rain jacket!), my pack weighed 25 lbs.

The Verdict: I really liked just going for one overnight as it really provides a lot of flexibility with food, which tends to be one of my most heavy items. It also is a great chance to test out items that you would not normally want to lug around for a week.  I could have lived without my rain pants and I am very glad that I added the silk liner, as I slept warm but not so warm that I would have been happy without it.

More Information: You can find information about the wilderness at the Stanislaus National Forest website. Stay tuned for the Trip Report!

For fun...here is what the same area looks like now! 

Highway 108 (source)

Have you been to the Emigrant Wilderness? What is your one backpacking item you cannot live without?


Looking Back: Books

Well yes, hi. I do only write about books and nothing else these days. I have all of these grand plans to write about hiking trips and gear lists and life, but somehow this fell along the wayside a bit. It could partially be due to the fact that I have been experimenting with other forms of media a bit more, but I will talk more about that later. 

It could also be that I got a new job and have been a different kind of busy, but I will also talk about that at a different time; for now, lets talk books! 

In all of the books I read in the third quarter, here were my five favorites! 

Happy-Go-Lucky by David SedarisYou either love him or you hate him, and I love him. Which is funny because he is a bit snarky for my normal taste. But he picks up trash on the side of the road, and he sees funny in normal things. This is another book full of interesting stories about him and his family and it was a great one for a long hike, which is when I listened to it. I am actually going to see him in a few weeks and I am really looking forward to it. 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: This was such a fun story of a woman chemist in the 1960s who leaves her job and goes to work as a cooking show TV host. Of course she wants to teach people the science behind the recipes, but her male boss does not concur. It is a bit silly, but was a fun and quick and entertaining read. 

Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River by Peter Heller: I really enjoyed Heller's book The River which was about a fictional rafting trip in Northern Canada gone awry, so I thought this would be more of the same. However it is actually a true story about an elite kayaking team's attempt to conquer a never-before-conquered section of the Tsangpo River in Tibet. They have many an challenge, including fights with porters, death defying rapids and impenetrable passes and it makes for an intriguing story. 

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach: A book about a teenage girl who loses her sister in a horrible car accident, and then struggles with the grief of it. To make things worse, the only person she feels a connection to is the sister's boyfriend who was driving the car when it crashed. It is a story of emotional struggle but still manages to not get too maudlin while still sparking interest. 

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett: I really love Patchett's writing style and especially her personal essays. She makes you feel like you are sitting right next to her in her living room listening to her stories. My favorite story was one during COVID where she befriends the assistant of Tom Hanks and invites her to stay at her house during the pandemic, striking up an interesting friendship. 

And that was five. 

What was your favorite read over the last few months? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? 


Looking Back: Books

Another day, another dollar; another quarter, another book list. Hopefully as you are reading this, you are about to go and sip a margarita, or lounge in the pool, or are getting ready for a summer trip. 

This quarter I read a lot more than last quarter, because I spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks. I listen to them while doing my grocery shopping, working in the yard, driving, hiking, working around the house and running. Of all of the books that I have read so far this year, approximately 80% of them have been audiobooks. I have also asked one of my good friend's daughters, who is 12, to recommend books to me. So far, she has recommended Ground Zero (I loved it; it is also by the author of The Refuge) and the Tales of Despereaux (very fun). If you have a 12 year old, they may like these books too!  

I do have a couple of book related goals this year and so far, I am not doing very well! I wanted to read and get rid of 12 books (one per month) from my bookshelf. I have been doing a lot of purging lately, but for some reason, those books seem like grey hairs; even though I am not buying more, they keep seemingly multiplying! I have read one book so far from my own shelf. I also wanted to read a book in Spanish. I did this in 2020 (Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal -- #1) and I really enjoyed it, and I learned some weird words like wand and owl to boot. In 2020 I set 10 minutes aside each day to do that and some days I couldn't put it down. I am about one chapter into my Spanish book so far for this year (Auggie y Yo). Total fail. 

I am going to keep this quarter's list to my top six books. 

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe: this book details the rise of the Sackler family, who are the makers of oxycontin, and are one of the richest families in the world. It's a tale of big pharma and the opioid crisis and I couldn't put it down. 

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn: I haven't met a Kate Quinn book I haven't liked. This time she tells a story of WWII from a Russian woman's point of view. The main character is a librarian and a mother who ends up having to go out and fight and she becomes one of the most feared snipers of her time, with a nickname of Lady Death. I like how Quinn takes a true story and makes it into something entertaining and enlightening. 

Blindness by Jose Saramago: I wanted to not like this book but it brought up a lot of emotions and that is the sign of a good writer! I gave it 4.5 rounded up to 5 for the fact that it made me contemplate my existence over and over. It was disgusting, disturbing and scary. It paralleled some of the feelings I had during the pandemic lockdown. It made me feel hateful about humanity but also made me feel fond of people and grateful for human connection. It was a cross between The Lord of the Flies and the Walking Dead and the Great Influenza. Although it grossed me out, I couldn't stop reading. 

Think Again by Adam Grant: this book explores the idea of changing, or rethinking things that you have been doing one way for a long time. Of course, like many, I sometimes get set in my ways or struggle with change and he brings up a lot of good points regarding why a new point of view or way of going about something can be an asset rather than a burden. 

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley: this is a fun and light book about a heavy situation. When Patrick's sister dies, he takes the kids for the summer. He is a single man, not used to caring for young children, but he learns a lot about life and love over the course of a few months. 

State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton: who doesn't love a book about international terror and possible world domination? When a terror group threatens the world, the US secretary of state has to try to save the day. There are a lot of parallels with a certain administration and it brings some amusement to an otherwise serious situation. 

Some others I liked were: One, Two, Three (corruption, greed and love), Notes on an Execution (murder), This is How They Tell Me The World Ends (cybersecurity), Dopesick (opioid epidemic) & The Paris Apartment (murder). 

What are you reading right now? What has your favorite book been so far the year? 


Every Quarter Counts

Some people are not comfortable talking about money. I am actually a very private person and often don't like talking about anything about myself, money included. However, I am learning that this is not always beneficial in the long run. How do we figure out how to do things or what to do if we do not seek the information and advice from others? How do we avoid the mistakes that others have made if not to talk about them? I am not saying that I am going to put my taxes online for everyone to see them, but maybe if I did someone would give me some tips to do them better! Actually, if you can give me some tips to do them better (I do them myself; your first tip is probably to hire someone else!), please let me know! 

Due to worries about finances surrounding COVID and the economy in general lately, I think this is a good time to share tips about money, be it saving, spending or investing it. I was always taught to save it, but as I have gotten older, I have learned a little about spending what I have saved! But today I will not talk about the spending portion, only the saving portion. I have heard many mind boggling stats about Americans, such as that less than 30% have more than $1,000 in savings! 

Today I want to discuss three pieces of advice I have been given and the things I have learned over the years because of them. If you know something that I don't know, please let me know. 

Never throw away free money.  I had just landed my first college job and was filling out all of the HR paperwork, including 401k documents. I had no idea what half of the terms meant and I asked a friend of my parents to tell me what boxes he though I should check. He told me that it did not really matter what fund I put my money into; what mattered what that I should put at much as I could from each paycheck into the 401k and most importantly, should at least contribute the amount the company was willing to match, otherwise I would be "throwing away free money." For example, I believe my company at the time would match dollar for dollar up to 3%. He told me that I should try to put in 10%, but if I didn't feel that was possible, that I should at least put in 3%. I did what he said and by the time I left that company after eight years, I did not miss the amount I had been putting in each month, I was fully vested and I walked away with that extra money "in my pocket" (technically it is in my retirement account, but it's still mine). 

A side note or addition to the above is that if your company has a 401k, you should put money into it. Some companies have an automatic contribution (i.e. they will put 2% of your paycheck in unless you opt out) but many require you to sign up on your own. Currently in the U.S. you are allowed to put up to $20,500.00 per year into your 401k before taxes and your employer match does not count towards this number, so it could be even more than that once the match is added. I will talk more about this specific topic in a future post but the takeaway for this post is that you should contribute something. 

What does this mean? Even if your contribution is pennies or dollars, if the company is willing to match it, you should put as much as you can! It can also be beneficial to implement some sort of similar plan with your kids to teach them to save some of their hard earned money instead of spending frivolously. For example, you can suggest that they put half of their babysitting money in an account and you will match whatever they put in there dollar for dollar. 

Compound interest is your friend. This is not a new concept, but I think it is one that is not fully explained to people in the early days, when it is the most pertinent. Did you know that if you started putting $50.00 per month into a account yielding 2% when you were 18, and then stopped putting money in at age 40, by the time you were 67, you would have about $30,000.00. Your total investment would be about $14,000.00 in this case. 

If you only starting saving your $50.00 when you were 30 and you kept putting $50.00 per month in your account until you invested $14,000.00, or were 52, then let it sit until you were 67, you would end up with about $23,000.00, over 20% less. Think about that. I used $50.00 and a low rate of 2%, but imagine your interest rate was 5%. In this case, the gap gets even wider ($100,000.00 vs $54,000.00) and if you double your total investment to $28,000.00 and assume a 5% rate you would end up with $198,000.00 vs $109,000.00. 

I think many people feel that they only have a few dollars and it is not worth it, or that they don't have any extra cash, but even if you are only putting in $5.00 or $10.00 at the beginning, it will add up eventually and I do think every penny counts. I think in most cases, you won't miss it if it's taken out beforehand, and to go back to my point number one, if you are putting in $10.00 and your employer is matching $10.00, it will add up faster than you think. 

What does this mean? Start saving as early as you can! Even if your contribution is pennies or dollars, when put in an interest bearing account early, you can reap the benefits of getting interest on your interest. But wait, what if I am already 40? In this case, it still makes sense to put as much as you possibly can in as early as possible, as you will still be able to take advantage of compounding!

The Latte Factor. This is an old concept and one I have written about several times. Basically the gist of it is that if you skipped your daily latte purchase, you could save a lot of money. The end. But seriously, if you bought a coffee from Starbucks every weekday, that would be approximately $20.00 - $25.00 dollars per week you would save. Using the example above about compounding, instead of $50.00 per month, you could be putting away $150.00 per month just by making your own coffee. The item does not have to be coffee; it could be a salad or a sandwich or a fill-in-the-blank. The bottom line is that the little things add up and probably many of them are unnecessary or frivolous and the savings now will pay off in the long run. 

What does this mean? If you think that you don't have enough extra money to put in a savings, here is where you can reassess. I am not saying that you need to give up all things good in your life. Even if you skip one latte a week (or one McDonalds hamburger, or one Uber ride or....etc.) you will now have that $5.00 a week or $20.00 a month to put into your interest bearing savings account! As you can see, each little bit counts. 

So now we have talked about three ways to save money. Do you already use some of these methods? Do you have other tips or tricks that you use to save money? Are you a spender or a saver? 

Disclaimer: The information above is solely an opinion based my own personal experience. You do you. I am not a tax and/or financial advisor; nothing in this post should be taken as investment advice. I have no fiduciary responsibility to anyone reading this post. Please consult a financial advisor for investment advice.  For my other posts regarding money, go here


Looking Back: Books

After spending a lot of time reading in my backyard in 2020, the last year and change has felt like I have not really read very much. Of course, on a relative value scale that is not really fair; it's almost like comparing the price of the stock market now to March 23, 2020 and saying that the price has gone up a lot. I am still reading a lot just not as much as 2020! 

For the first quarter of 2022, I abandoned four books already (Cloud Cuckoo Land, Furiously Happy, The Man Who Ate Too Much and The House on Vesper Strands). All of them were audiobooks, so maybe it was a concentration or situation issue, but I gave all of them up before I even got half way. However, for every high there is a low etc. and there have been quite a few good ones as well! Here are some of my favorites from the last three months. 

Pony by R.J. Palacio: This is a YA novel by the author of Wonder. She creates characters that you can't help but love and sprinkles in a little adventure and some of the trials of growing up (in Wonder she tackles being disfigured and in Pony we meet the main character's invisible friend). I want to read more of her books! 

Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting by Lisa Genova: If you have not read any of her books, you need to do it now. Genova has a PhD in neurology and writes about neurological diseases. I really enjoyed her book Still Alice, which is about early onset Alzheimer's. Her subjects are heartbreaking but fascinating at the same time. In Remember, she talks about how the brain stores memories and she reassures us the when we forget where we put our keys it may not be a slide into old age; we likely are just not paying attention! I have not read a book of hers yet that I do not like. 

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: This was a very touching book about a woman in her twenties who loses her mother to cancer. She speaks of her mother's strength and how seeing this wane affected her. Upon finding about her mother's diagnosis, she begins to get in touch with her heritage and figure out more about her own identity overall. 

The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club, #2) by Richard Osman: The four octogenarians from the Thursday Murder Club are at it again, they are off to solve a murder while simultaneously being helpful and thwarting the authorities. You never know what they might do. However, in the end, they get the job done but not without a lot of adventures along the way. 

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller: This book begins with a married woman with three kids cheating on her husband with a long time friend. The remainder of the book speaks to her struggle of what to do with her mixed feelings. It flashes back and forth and gives us some insight into her long time relationship with her friend, some of the trials they went through together and how this led to the subsequent relationship with her husband. 

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan: I listened to this as an audio book and I enjoyed hearing the jokes in the author's own voice. It was a good mix of him making fun of himself for loving food, and some interesting observations about food. For example, he questions why a shiny orange piece of plasticy food became "American cheese." This book made me laugh out loud while running, like when he talks about being so full he couldn't button his pants, so he decided to have some cheese as a snack and when he realized he didn't really like it, he decided to finish it. I have been there! 

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins: By the author of A Girl on The Train, this is yet another murder mystery by Hawkins. However, she does well developing her characters and this book was no exception. We meet the murdered man's strange ex-lover who has a criminal background, his uptight aunt with a bone to pick and the kooky boat neighbor, and we are kept guessing as to whether it was one of them who offed him or not. 

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell: A young woman disappears in a small neighborhood and fingers start pointing at who done it. Was it the creepy 30 year old "kid" who lives with his aunt and visits strange internet forums? Was it the young woman's therapist, who is not quite as perfect as we once believed? You tell me! I mean, who doesn't love a thriller? 

The Last Widow (Will Trent, #9) by Karin Slaughter: Speaking of thrillers, here is another one! I have enjoyed the entertainment that this author has brought me over the years. The particular one is about a CDC employee who goes missing and a month later a bomb goes off near a hospital. Are the two things linked? And why? We will soon find out! This is a detective series where Will Trent and his partner Sara, a medical examiner, team up to save the day. Or will they? 

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land: College plans go out the window fast when the author finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. She tries to make it work with the father but eventually moves out and attempts to make a life for herself and her young daughter by cleaning houses. She tells her story from the point of the maid, whom for some people is invisible, while others are friendly toward her and even go out of their way to be kind. 

The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik: This book talks about the famous photographer Dorothea Lange and her move to the city of San Francisco back in the early 1900s. She starts off as a naïve girl and gets hardened through the people she meets, and the things she experiences, most notably the depression. 

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams: The main character, Ruth, has not seen her twin sister in years, since her twin disappeared behind the iron curtain to Russia with her husband and children. Then out of the blue, she gets a postcard from her sister asking her to come and visit. She teams up with a counterintelligence agent and goes to Russia to get her sister out of trouble and finds adventures she never expected. 

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard: When Eve was 12 her parents and sister were murdered. Now she is older and she decides to write a book about it. The killer reads the book and thinks maybe he should finish what he started. It's a little strange as it's a story in a story, but in the end I was very satisfied with the way it wrapped up. 

Out of the thirteen books above, four are non-fiction, and yes, I am counting the Gaffigan book! Eleven were audio books, as I am not feeling as motivated to read when I am home in the evenings as I have been in the past. 

What has been your favorite book so far this year?


The Money Pie Deconstructed: Transportation

You know how sometimes you are running along, or driving, or walking and you are kind of letting your mind wander and all of a sudden something pops in there? I don't know about you, but this happens to me a lot when I am running and I sometimes have to stop and jot down a quick note on my phone or I will forget what my "brilliant" idea was. So the other day, I was running and it came to me that it would be fun to talk about each category of my money pie, not necessarily about the financial aspect of the category, although that may be part of it, but just random thoughts, or as Mike Meyers would say on Coffee Talk, "I will give you a topic. Talk amongst yourselves." 

I am going to do this in no particular order, because the topic that came to mind the other day was car related. Therefore transportation is the first category! 

What is your car situation? I did not have a car for about 16 years, as I was either traveling around the world, traveling for work, or living in San Francisco/Oakland, where you can get around without one pretty easily. When needed, I would rent one, but for a long time, that was not very often. I bought my car in 2016; it is a 2016 Hyundai Accent. It was used with about 10,000 miles on it and I bought it because I wanted a cheap car with good gas mileage. It is named The Red Rocket. 

What is the parking like in your area? Sometimes it is hard to park in San Francisco. If you live in a neighborhood, you can apply for a sticker, which allows you to park longer than the usual one or two hour limit. Otherwise, there is also street cleaning on most streets either once per week or once every other week, so you also often have to move your car every week. A friend of mine used to schedule his grocery shopping for 6 am every Wednesday so he could be back in time to follow the 7 am street cleaner down the street and get his parking spot back. It is also sometimes hard to find a spot and I remember driving around for 45 minutes once and almost getting into a fight over the one spot I finally snagged. 

This is what parking sometimes looks like. 

If you are in the financial district, which is where my office is, most streets are metered, and some even go from 7 am to 6 pm or even 10 pm in certain cases. These cost about $2.00/hour but can go as high as $6.00/hour. Parking garages cost around $25.00/day.  In Oakland, it depends, but usually it is not hard to find parking. My street has street sweeping every other week. I have forgotten to move my car, and the ticket was about $80.00. That is an expensive mistake! You're welcome Oakland. 

Do you have to pay tolls? We have tolls on our bridges; I have to go over the Bay Bridge to get to San Francisco, which is a $7.00 toll. The others are the Richmond Bridge, which is also $7.00 and the Golden Gate Bridge, which recently went to $8.00 if you have a FasTrak and $9.00 if you just go right through. The Golden Gate and Bay Bridge do not accept cash anymore (this was on the way out but was sped up due to COVID). 

What is your commute like? I live in Oakland and work in San Francisco. It is about 13 miles between my house and the office. There is a bridge between the two and there are not pedestrian walkways on this bridge. When I used to go to work later, I utilized the casual carpool. I wrote a post about that here. Then I started working earlier and I rode my bike to the BART train station each day. This took about ten minutes to ride the bike and 20 minutes to ride the train. Once I arrived in the city, the train station was about a five minute walk from my office. In 2018 they started doing maintenance on the train (it goes under the bay in a tunnel, which needed repairs) each morning, so they subbed out the early trains with a bus. At this point, I sometimes drove to the BART station, which took about seven minutes, where I would take the bus into the city, which took about 20 minutes. Once I arrived in the city, the bus station was also about a five minute walk to my office. 

Then....COVID hit, people stopped going to work, train schedules got cut drastically and people were afraid to take public transportation. I have continued going into the office the whole time and have been driving in each morning ever since. Let me tell you, at first, it was like buttah! The 13 mile drive took me about 15 minutes, and there were no cars on the road. As people started coming back, it took a little longer, but I go in around 5:00 am, so even on a heavy day, it is more like 20-25 minutes. As mentioned above, this does entail a toll charge and parking, but my work was paying for the parking due to the pandemic. Starting April 1st, they will no longer pay for parking. 

So...what will I do then? That is a great question. I will go back to taking public transportation. Unfortunately, they have not fully reinstated all of the buses and trains due to light ridership in the past two years, so the times are more limited. I will have to go in earlier than I need to or later that I want to, so earlier it is! At first, I will once again drive to the BART station and take the bus in. I may eventually transition back to the bike/BART commute after I get the hang of the scheduling. 

What is in your trunk? My coworker once had to put something in my trunk and when I opened it he gasped. I assumed he was disgusted by how much stuff I had in there, but actually he thought it was really tidy. I thought it would be fun to talk about what is in my trunk. My favorite thing, and one I have used more than once is a 3-in-1 car jumper, battery, and air compressor. Once charged up, it can be used to charge appliances (it has USB ports and a 110 volt outlet), jump your car or pump up tires. It also have a utility/flashlight function. I could write a whole post about this tool alone. It is very cool.

I also have a trunk organizer, which is probably why my friend thinks I am organized. In it is a first aid kit, 2 gallons of water, a towel, a blanket, an umbrella, more jumper cables (belt and suspenders!), dominoes & a deck of cards (you never know...), and an extra pair of running shoes. I also have a "running box" which includes an extra set of running clothes, socks, a hat, a sweatshirt, flip flops, a headlamp, a flashlight, a few snacks, a change of clothes for afterward and baby wipes. I guess if I were stranded, I could survive for at least eight days by utilizing the things in my trunk (if I drank one liter of water a day).

Your turn! Answer one or all of the following: What is your car situation? What is the parking like in your area? Do you have to pay tolls? What is your commute like? What is in your trunk?


Kungsleden (The King's Trail): Logistics, Gear and Planning

Kungsleden Trail, Sweden -- September 4 - 14, 2017
12 day hike -- 275 miles
Trip Report can be found here
Some of my favorite gear can be found here.

The Plan: How did I pick this trip? I did some research based on shorter long distance hikes. I wanted to go internationally, and needed it to be warm enough in the month of September for a two week trip. Obviously there are a ton of different websites and opinions, but many of the ones I found had the Kungsleden as one of the good ones. I wanted to be able to "wild camp," aka not have to stay in a designated camping area or hut. Surprisingly to me, since we can do this pretty much everywhere in California (and Canada and many of the other US states), Europe generally does not allow this. 

I also needed something that I could do in about 14 days. Most reports of the Kungsleden said it would take about a month. However, since the trail was about 450 km or 275 miles, I figured I could do it in less than that. I am comfortable hiking 20 - 30 miles per day and figured that if I hiked 20 miles for 14 days, or 23 miles for 12 days, I could get it done in time. The cherry on top was this woman's trip report, which showed that she had easily done it in 13 days. If she can do it, I can do it, I thought. What I did not factor in was that my original flight from the US to Sweden got canceled which pushed everything back one day. I also did not fully grasp the time that would be needed for the many lake crossings. 

The Logistics: Getting to/from the Stockholm airport to my hotel was fairly easy; I took a bus from the airport to downtown and then walked from the bus stop to my hotel, which took about five minutes. 

The logistics surrounding the hike were a little tough, as I had to fly to Stockholm and then take a puddle jumper flight from there to Kiruna, which only left once per day around noon. From there, I had to take a bus from the airport to downtown Kiruna, where I picked up a longer distance bus to Abisko, where the trail started. Alternatively, I believe there was a train that went from downtown Kiruna to Abisko, but that was a little later or longer than the bus; I cannot remember exactly. 

Since I was flying, I could not bring fuel on the plane. There have been other reports that you cannot bring trekking poles or tent poles and you definitely cannot carry a knife, so I checked my bag and carried on a small duffel with a few toiletries and my book which I planned to leave at my hotel in Stockholm. I wore an outfit on the plane that I did not plan on taking hiking with me and I also left in my hotel. That meant that I had to stay in the same hotel on the way in and out and also decreased my hiking time a little bit, but I did not want to carry all of my stuff with me while hiking; I thought it was worth having a dry, comfortable, non hiking outfit (and book etc.) for afterward. 

Once in Abisko, it was required that everyone obtain a permit. There were not quotas for the permit, but you do have to pay for it and there is a little store that you have to go to near the trailhead to get it. I also bought fuel at this store and weighed my full bag before setting off. 

After I was done, from the southern terminus of Hemavan, I could fly, or I would have to take a local bus to Umea, which is on the Eastern coast and has overnight busses back to Stockholm, which took about 12 hours. Not knowing exactly how long the total hike would take, I did not want to book this leg in advance,. I knew the logistics of the bus travel at the end could add a couple of days, so my plan was to try to hike a little bit faster than 20 miles per day just in case. Also knowing that the flight at the end was also only once per day and that there was a chance I would miss it, I wanted to give myself extra time for that as well. 

Since I ended getting off trail a little early, I ended up having to take a bus from Ammarnäs to Sorsele and then another to Lycksele and then yet another to Umea. Once in Umea, I had to wait for the overnight bus, which left around 11 pm. I did not realize that most people reserve their seat and so when I got on the bus the conductor said it was full and I almost cried. Luckily he found one spot for me, but I may have had to wait until the next day if there was not a seat. Alternatively there were flights and trains, but I was at the bus station so it would have been a little extra travel to do that instead. This bus dropped me in the same downtown bus station that I had gone into from the airport originally, so I could just walk to my hotel. 

As I mentioned in my trip report, the trail did have huts that you could stay in for part of the time. The trail was split into thirds with the north third being more developed with huts and the middle third being very rugged and the southern third being a little more developed again, but more rustic than the north, which is the most popular area. However, I brought my tent and sleeping bag and planned to use them the entire time. I also brought all of my own food, although there were reports that you could buy some things at the huts. However, since I was also going a little late in the season, I had read that some of the huts could already be closed down for the winter. I did not notice this for the northern third, but it could have been the case on the southern third. 

The Route: I knew that this trail was very well marked and also there were not really any "mountain passes" like I was used to, so you can see for miles where you are going at times. I used a mixture of Gaia GPS app and Offline Maps app for maps. Usually I plan my route with Gaia when I am in service and then export it to Offline Maps. As long as you save the map area that you are going to be in, you can use this any time, anywhere. It has topography, roads and trails on it and it has been very handy over the years. 

The Big Three: I brought the following: Big Agnes Fishhook UL1 Tent (47 oz.) (no longer available; I now use the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2), Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree sleeping bag (29 oz.)Hyperlite 2400 Southwest Backpack (28.6 oz.), and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Small size (8 oz.). Total weight of my big three: 112 oz. or about 7 lbs. 

The Clothing: I used my basic late fall/winter hiking kit, which consists of the following clothing: Capri pants, rain pants, short sleeved running shirt, long sleeved running shirt, rain jacket, puffy jacket, Saucony running shoes, two pairs of socks, hat, sports bra, two pairs of underwear, buff and flip flops for camp. I also carried the following dry outfit, which I planned on not wearing until the hike was over: Northface tights, socks, underwear, long sleeve shirt. 

The Other Stuff: For electronics, I carried my phone, a waterproof Panasonic camera, Ankur 20 milliamp charger, charging cords, Garmin watch, kindle and headlamp. I also had to bring toiletries, kitchen items (pot, pan, spoon, bowl, fuel, matches etc.), first aid, dry bags and other utility items (knife, rope, compass, trash bag, whistle etc.). 

Base Pack Weight: 18 pounds. 

The Food: I packed 12 days worth of food in total. I had all of my food already packed before I left home, as I did not want to worry about trying to resupply. I could always buy something extra if I wanted but I did not want to rely on that. I did not put my food in a bear canister and I did not plan to hang it. From what I read, there are bears in Sweden but encounters with them are very rare.  

My meals were fairly basic: I brought muesli with dried fruit and powdered milk for breakfast, which I planned to eat cold as I did not plan on resupplying my fuel and did not want to waste it. I was going to have coffee in the morning as well and was debating between hot and cold coffee. For lunch/snacks, I had a variety of things: yogurt covered pretzels, cheeze-its, peanuts, wasabi rice snacks, gummy snacks, peanut butter, trail mix, chocolate and protein bars. For dinner, I had Knorr pasta sides and beans and rice (this was and still is one of my standby meals). I did find a few days into the hike that I preferred my hot meal in the morning, so I started eating my dinner for breakfast and then having my muesli in the evening instead. 

I planned all of my calories before leaving and tried to plan for about 3500 per day. 

The H2O: I decided not to filter water and so only brought a one liter soft flask. I know this may be controversial, but from what I read it was not necessary. On one hand, it felt a little bit like going braless in public, but damn, it is so nice not to have to rely on filtering water all the time. It was freeing and meant that I only carried about a liter of water at a time, if that. 

Total Pack Weight: 37 pounds; the fuel and 12 days of food added basically 20 pounds to my load, which comes out to about a pound and a half of food per day. Luckily I didn't have to carry too much water! 

The Verdict: I am still loving my new gear, which I bought in early 2017 and used for the Wind River High Route. I carried about 10 more pounds than I did for the Wind River trip due to carrying the tent and a lot more food, but the pack still felt good. My sleeping bag kept me warm the whole time; obviously having a hole in my sleeping pad was not ideal. I definitely need a new system for all day rain as being wet and cold all day and sometimes through the night was not fun at all. 

A couple of things I would probably leave behind: My rain pants have seen their last days. These were ones I think I bought in the Philippines or Malaysia before hiking Mt. Kinabalu and they are a prime example of getting what you pay for. I need to invest in some that will actually keep me dry. I also brought a variety of snacks so that I would not get bored with my food, but I think I will just pick one or two of my favorites and/or the highest calorie ones and bring only a couple of choices next time. I definitely will not be including the melted blog of yogurt covered pretzel or the cheeze-it dust on this list. I also need to consider the shape of the items as some of them take up a lot room, so even if they are calorie dense, it is not as compact. 

A couple of things I might bring more of: I do like having hot coffee in the morning, if only as something to wrap my hands around before getting out of the tent into the cold, but I am not sure that I really need a hot meal. I think I could just bring more cold meals and save the time and effort of cooking. However, I think it is weather dependent, as I really do like a hot meal when it's really cold. I also do bring duct tape and a patch kit with me, but may need to invest in a few more repair items for the next trip. 

A couple of things I could not live without: See above! If I had not had duct tape with me, I would have had to sleep pretty much right on the ground after my sleeping pad got a hole. This was a lifesaver. It is easy enough to wrap around a trekking pole or a pencil and not even notice that you are carrying it and it sure comes in handy in a pinch! I also wore my rain pants 90% of the time on this hike. Although they are definitely not water proof, they did really help to keep the wind off of my legs and were priceless as an extra lightweight layer. Lastly, it was worth carrying the one dry change of clothes, despite the weight. After I got off trail, I had to take a series of buses to Stockholm (roughly a 24 hour trip from the end of the trail) and I would have been miserable in my wet hiking clothes. 

Are you a planner or do you just like to get up and go? What is one thing you could not live without when you travel? 


Kungsleden (The King's Trail): Trip Report

: September 4 - 14 2017
Who: Just me!
Total Distance: 225 miles
Food: Muesli, various snacks, Knorr sides, beans & rice.
Notes re food: Decided to eat hot meal in morning, cold meal in afternoon. 
Issues: Boats. 
Feelings/thoughts/Misc.: Lots of light! Lots of rain and bogs. 
Favorite part: Open terrain, wild blueberries, reindeer. 
Base / total weight: 18 lbs. / 37 lbs.

Day 1: Monday, September 4th 2017 / 10 miles / 10/275 total / 3.5 hours / 1,635 feet gained / Northern Terminus: headed south from Abisko to approx. 3 km past Abiskojuare. (Strava route)

To get to the start of the trail, I had quite a journey. My original flight from SFO to Stockholm was cancelled because they could not get the air conditioning working and the temperatures in San Francisco that day were about 100 degrees. My flight was supposed to be at around 7 pm and after sitting in the airport for hours and the flight being delayed several times, they finally canceled it. I ran to the check in area and rebooked my flight for the next day and got to stay in the wonderful and beautiful Santa Clara right near the 49ers stadium. Then I took a flight the next day, where I stayed one night in Stockholm. Since my bag had sat on the runway for 24 hours, a lot of my snacks were basically a melted brick. Luckily, I steer clear of chocolatey items for just that reason, but note to self, save the yogurt covered pretzels for trips where there are no flights involved. 

On day one, I had a wonderful European breakfast. This usually consists of different breads and then a selection of meats and cheeses. This hotel had that plus muesli, cottage cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit, pastries, pickles, pickled fishes, seeds, nuts, cereals, eggs and plenty of coffee. I did a “camel up” with food and then left a bag at the hotel, and flew to Kiruna, where I took a bus to the downtown area where I had some time to kill so I went to the grocery store, hung out and read and then took another bus to Abisko, where I arrived around 4 pm. I then had to buy cooking fuel, as I could not bring it with me on the plane, and a permit to hike the trail. I weighed my bag and it was 17 kilos (~37 lbs.) with everything in it, including the fuel, water and 12 days of food.

I started around 4:30 pm, and I passed a lot of people at the beginning, as the bus and train both arrived around the same time. It's amazing how big their packs are, and how clunky their boots! They must have way over 40 pounds in their packs. I wonder if they plan to stay in huts, and I wonder how many days they are planning to be out here. They seemed to be in it for the long haul. I wonder if they are planning a resupply anywhere. So many things to ponder! 

As I walked along, the trail was very well groomed and it was mostly flat. There were some areas with trees, which looked kind of like small birch trees or the like, and but a lot of it was open and had scrubbier brush and bushes. Also, most of the path was hard and packed, but there were some areas that went through wet or marshy meadows that usually had a boardwalk built to walk on. I had read that the trail was basically split into thirds, with the first third (where I was) being the most poplar with well-groomed trails and nice huts, where the second third was a bit of the wild-wild-west and you must have a tent and the trail was not as good. The third third was the second most developed. Right now, the trail looks pretty good! Also, today I saw plenty of water sources and even little toilets built next to the trail! This is first class hiking! 

The great part was that I got to see the sunset and the magic hour and it's Fall here. You can feel it in the air. Although it was warm at the start, 18° C (64° F), you could still feel that underlying chill. Also, the Fall colors are here and they're fabulous! I kept going and passed Abiskojuare, where there is a hut, and I am assuming many people who I had just hiked past were likely spend the night here. I went up a small hill for about three more miles and around 8 pm, I set up my tent on a windy flat spot and got right in it to escape the mosquitoes. I sat in my tent and had cold meusli for dinner. I hope the bears are scared of me because I have my entire bag inside the tent, food and all. This would never fly in the Sierras! As I lay in my tent and the clock struck 9 pm, it was still light out. I was really hoping to see the Northern Lights and was thinking that hopefully when I got up to pee in the middle of the night, as I generally do, it would be dark enough to see them. However, I did get up to pee but did not see anything this night. 

Day 2: Tuesday, September 5th 2017 / 29 miles / 39/275 total / 11 hours / 3,052 feet gained / From 3 km outside of Abiskojuare to Salka. (Strava route)

Lake Alesjuare

Today was a long day and the entire day was windy. I never took my rain jacket off! However, it was a beautiful clear day and the views were fabulous! For a long time I had a view in front of me of a nice snowy mountain range. The tallest mountain in Sweden (Kebnekaise, 6,909 ft.) is not far from here, and is part of the reason that this section of the trail is so popular. There are a couple of different routes to the top; one is about 6 miles; the other is about 11 miles, so it is a popular destination for Swedes and foreigners alike. I had decided that in the interest of time and in an effort to try to complete the entire trail, I would skip the mountain this time, as it was a bit of a side trip and I would have to cut out something else in order to fit it in. 

I passed my first lake that has transport, although you can walk along it instead. I also saw my first Sami village. The Samis are the native Swedish people, who hunt and fish but are generally known for their reindeer herding. I did not see any reindeer, but there was a cluster of Sami huts near the trail. The sign next to the lake said that until August 31st, there were four boat transfers on the lake (Alesjuare) per day. However, in the off season, you must call someone to come and get you and there must be at least 6 passengers. Luckily I could walk along the side of lake Alesjuare, but there were other lakes coming up that I would not be able to walk along. This could be my downfall. 

Just a quick explanation of the boat system: for each lake there should be three boats. If you come to the side and there are two boats, you can take one across and leave it on the other side. If you arrive and there is only one boat, you have to row the one boat across and bring another back to the first side and then row back again, so as to not leave the person arriving next with no boat. My hope at the start of this trip was that I would never arrive at a launch where there was only one boat. We shall see if my dreams come true. 

There were many more of the wooden planks over the trail, as this section was a lot of chaparral type scrub brush. However, the path underneath seemed dry enough so I wondered if this part of the trail got moist later in the year.  Whatever the reason, it was nice, as some of the trail sections before had been rocky. Not too much so, but enough that it was nice to have a smoother pathway. The mountains here are not super tall and most of what I am walking on is fairly flat. It is definitely not the Sierras, where you are always going up or down. This is a very gradual up or down when it is either, but it is mostly flattish. The views are great though, with wide open spaces and snowy mountains in the distance. It’s like you never climb up and over them, just in between them. 

There are these red painted rocks along the side of the trail and sometimes I mistake them for humans, if they are far enough away. I have seen a lot of humans too, but it is funny what the mind does when you are staring off into the distance all day. Parts of the trail are very rocky and they don’t have the wooden planks and they kind of hurt my feet. It’s interesting how varied it is! 

I spent a lot of time with my head down against the wind, thinking about stuff. I'd like to think I've got it all figured out, but I don't think that's the case. I called it a day near Salka, where there was a hut with a few tents pitched outside. I did not want to stay near the hut so I kept going a little longer and finally threw in the towel just short of 30 miles because the wind was horrible and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find a good place to camp. In the end, I found a not so flat spot that is a teensy bit sheltered from the wind so I decided to go for it. It was a bit rocky, but with my pad, I figured it would not be too bad. It was so cold and windy that I cooked inside the tent. Also, I believe the forecast was calling for possible snow. What a change from yesterday! Just in case, I brought all of my things up and under the vestibule or into the tent to keep them warm and dry. Also, on a good note, my shoes are not wet yet!! 39 total miles down; 236 to go. 10 days and who knows how many boat rides to go!! 

At some point in the middle of the night, my sleeping pad deflated. The ground under me was very cold but as it was dark and it was the middle of the night, I figured I would deal with it the next day. 

Day 3: Wednesday, September 6th 2017 / 20 miles / 59/275 total / 8.75 hours / 1,356 feet gain / From Salka to Teusajaure (Strava route)

Long row ahead

Last night was another windy night. It seems to die down around 2 am for a little while, then it picked back up around 4 or 5, which is when I finally got up. However, last night I popped my air mattress and basically slept in the cold ground. Fun! I spent a long time tossing and turning and ended up with a couple of cold hips. However, it was okay, as the ground was peat or the like, so it was a little soft at least. I made breakfast in the tent, as I had done with dinner the night before, and I went to go outside and realized my shoes were frozen, as was the tent! It was pretty chilly. 

I got started right away and it was a cold but very beautiful day. The scenery was once again fabulous and it even changed from above the tree line with a more Alpine feel to birch forests and beautiful fall colors. The sun was rising over the mountains as I walked along and the sky was pink and there were little clouds in the sky; it was very nice. The boardwalk walkways were covered in frost and it took a while for the sun to come up over the mountains, so it was cold. I wore my waterproof/wind pants over my shorts and my rain jacket over my long-sleeved shirt. As long as I was moving, it was fine but the wind had a good chill to it! Once again, I walked in a valley in between two ranges of mountains and the terrain was much the same as before; it is kind of a peaty ground cover a lot of the time and has very small bushes or shrubs. There is already (or still) snow on the mountains around me. 

As I walked along, at some point I realized that some of the small shrubs I was walking next to had berries and that they were blueberries! I spent a lot of time after that picking and eating them. Although they are smaller than normal store-bought blueberries, they have a lot of flavor! I probably would have walked a lot faster had it not been for the berries. There is also a ton of water here. That is one thing I do not have to worry about, and I am only carrying about 0.75 liters at a time, as there is always a chance to fill up. Also, I am not filtering water so it saves so much time and does not require as much thought or planning as it normally would.

I am still seeing some people on the trail, but not too many, and as we pass, we generally say hej (pronounced “hey”), which is Swedish for “hi.” It is funny, as in the US if someone says hey to you it seems a little bit familiar, but here it is normal; however, it seems like everyone knows you already! Hey! I got to my first shelter today. They have a few shelters along the Kungsleden, in case of emergency, or you can reserve some of them. They usually have a bench or two and a stove and that is pretty much it!

I definitely had a bonk moment around mile 17 where I just wanted the day to be over. Well, someone must have heard me because when I got to my first rowboat crossing, it was so windy, there was no way I was going to try to row across. I would have to pay someone to take a motorboat across the lake. However, even though I had arrived around 2:30, the next boat was not until 4, so I waited. But then, the driver said the lake was too choppy and that he could not do the 4 pm run after all. I waited with 3 German dudes from Hamburg, not associated, until a possible 7 pm boat. This time our wait paid off and we arrived safely to the other side. I camped right above where the boat dropped us off; the three German dudes were going to hike a bit and then find a place to camp, but I was ready to be done. There were a lot of bugs, and it was already pretty late, so I got right into my tent and went to bed. 

Day 4: Thursday, September 7th 2017 / 22 miles + one bus + one boat / 81/275 total miles / 9.5 hours / 3,060 feet gained / Teusajaure to just past lake Gåbddåjávrre (Strava route part 1Strava route part 2Strava route part 3)

I started hiking early; I have been starting around 5 am most mornings. It was chilly, but I was hiking uphill at first, so I did not have too much trouble with the cold. However, there was frost all over the blueberries! After a few miles, I ran back into the German guys, who were just breaking camp. I hiked with them for the next few miles, or at least when I got to lake Akkajaure; it was a big one! Before that though, we saw a bunch of reindeer which was pretty cool. We had a nice hike and chat before getting to the lake. Everyone I talk to looks at me funny when I say I'm trying to get to Hemavan in the next 8 days. I did the math again and I still have to hike about 28 miles per day to stay on track, which I haven't been doing!!!  Hopefully after this lake I'll have a couple of nice long stretches and will be able to get some real miles in. It's supposed to rain tomorrow so that could definitely put a damper on things!

Once we got to the lake, we had to wait for a bus, which only comes once per day (luckily, we were there before it arrived!) and then went for about 18 miles along the side of the lake before stopping for 40 minutes at a tourist shop. I guess the other people here are a little more relaxed than I am, but I am ready to get going! 

The bus then went to a dock where I had to take a boat to get to the other side of the next lake (Gåbddåjávrre; say that five times fast!). On the other side was a nice resort, which, if I was taking my time, I would have loved to stay at and have a nice warm room and a big breakfast the next day. Alas, I had only hiked about 9 miles that day and I was already falling behind! I did use the real toilet before I left though; what luxury! I headed up the hill right away, saying goodbye to my friends from the bus. I walked about 12 more miles and got to a lake called Sitojuare, and went to the rowboat area to find that there was only one boat. This lake was about 5 km long and with only one boat, that would mean that I had to row it across, get another boat, row it and myself back and then row back again, a total of 15 km of rowing! I was not really in shape for that, plus it was getting late in the day. 

Luckily but expensively a lady was giving motorboat rides across. However, she was not leaving until she had a full boat (this is very common; there is not a schedule; they just wait for a full boat) and I waited on the shore in a swarm of mosquitos for other people to show up. She finally took us across in the late evening right before it started to get dark and I hiked for about a half a mile just to get away from the dock before I set up camp in the shrubbery. Tomorrow there will be another lake in the morning where I hope there are two rowboats, as the motorboat only comes at 9 am and 5:30 pm. 

Day 5: Friday, September 8th 2017 / 28(+) miles / 109/275 total miles / 13 hours / 2,400 feet gained / Just past lake Gåbddåjávrre to Kvikkjokk. (Strava route part 1Strava route part 2)

Wild Swedish blueberries

I woke to cloudy skies, which made for a nice sunrise, but was not a good indication of what was to come. I had camped not far from the trail the night before, after having arrived late on the boat. After having breakfast, I got up and hiked the 5 or 6 miles to the next lake. This one was about 2.5 km across. I started early because I knew that there was a 9:00 or 5:30 motorboat so if there was only one rowboat, I wanted to have options. It turned out there was only one rowboat. I arrived there around 7:45 so I decided it would probably take me about 1/2 hour each way, which would be about 1.5 hours, so I may well wait for the motorboat that left at 9:00 am. Luckily, I was one of the first people at the boat launch, so I sat and read my book while waiting for the motorboat to arrive to take us across. 

I got to the other side around 9:15 and started hiking. The plan was to get to Kvikkjokk, which was about 40 km / 24 miles away. It was still very cold and I hiked with both my puffy jacket and rain jacket on, in addition to my buff and rain pants. Things went well until about mile 9 or 10 when I hit a wall hard. The trail was very rocky in this section and my feet hurt. There were tons of rocks which each were poking into my feet and making it worse. I was falling asleep while walking and I kept thinking that maybe I would just hike less miles per day and stop at Ammanaise (79 km before the end). I also arrived into the Sarek region, which would be a lot less inhabited or traveled than the last section. As I mentioned, the first third was the most popular third and had huts and things like that. I was entering the second third, which was known for being remote and for not having a lot of people and definitely no huts etc. One warning said, “there are no marked trails or huts to spend the night in.” No marked trails!? Ha. I was also going to not be close to any roads for the next while. 

I crossed the 100-mile mark and although I was eating regularly, I was a tired and I eventually decided that I was maybe not getting enough calories. So I sat down and had a muesli out of the bag with no spoon (not a pretty sight). This is about 700 calories worth of food versus the normal 100-200 I would eat per hour in snacks. It helped a lot. That was probably around 4 pm and I finally arrived at Kvikjokk around 7:30 pm. I arranged my boat ride for the next day with Bjorn the boat man, who asked me how far was I going, what was I wearing, did I know it was going to rain the next two days, did I have waterproof gear...etc. and then he showed me the map to Jokvik and where the shelters are. He also said 8:30 is the earliest he would be willing to ferry me across unless I wanted to pay extra! I said 8:30 is fine. 

I left there and went to pitch my tent under the trees, where it rained on me all night. 

Day 6: Saturday, September 9th 2017 / 27.25 miles + 3 mile boat ride / 136/275 miles total / 11.5 hours / 3,903 feet gained / Kvikkjokk to a teepee in the middle of nowhere. (Strava route part 1Strava route part 2)

The first thing I did was...sleep in! I didn't have to meet Bjorn until 8:30 so I reorganized my stuff, counted my calories, charged my items, repacked my bag etc. Besides the tent was wet from the rain so I was in no hurry to pack up. I even had breakfast in bed, which is something that I would never do in California, due to issues with bears and critters. Although I do believe there are bears and critters in Sweden, I could not be bothered to get out of the tent in the rain to make breakfast. Also, before I knew it, it was time to go! There was one lodge in Kvikjokk, and it had a real bathroom, which I took advantage of before meeting Bjorn to go to the boat. 

Bjorn was a wealth of knowledge. He is 10th generation from Kvikjokk. The area has been a mining area since the 1600s, I think he said. He took me across the Delta and gave me the lowdown on everything from the area, such as the fact that under the Delta there is methane gas, which Putin would like to have control over. He also said that there were two Slovenians ahead of me that he had taken across yesterday. He said he doesn't have kids and that the closest school is 120 km away and only 10 people live in Kvikjokk. Its industry used to be silver mining, then ore, but now was mostly tourism. There actually is a road that leads to the town but when I looked at the map, it was pretty darn remote! The boat ride was about five kilometers long and took about an hour. 

On the other side of the lake, there was an emergency shelter and a bathroom. This is pretty common, as I've seen this on each lake. In this one though, Bjorn had a two-way phone which you could use to call him with once you arrived. He gave me his website address and email and showed me a photo of his potato plants and we parted ways. He once again reminded me that it was going to rain for two days. He told me about a Sami teepee which could be used for an emergency shelter if needed. 

As I waved goodbye to Bjorn and set off up the hill from the delta, it started raining. The first few miles were through the forest and were really beautiful. However, it was quite rainy and foggy so the views weren't great. Next, there were big marshes with striking yellow grasses and little ponds. Next was what I think may be called the skierf, but is essentially exposed tundra with rocks and small scrubby bushes, usually blueberries and a type of small juniper looking plant. It's a bit dangerous as the juniper plant also has blue colored berries. However, that does not stop me from picking the blueberries; just don’t eat the juniper berries! When I got to this section, the rain had become hail/rain and the wind was strong at my back. It was cold, and walking through the scrubby bushes got my pants wet to the knees, while the wind blew the rain hard against my back. Basically there was no way to stay dry, no matter which way you were facing. 

I was in a great mood though. Funny, some days I really think about a lot of things, I write letters in my head to people, I think about what I should do when I get home, etc., but today I just walked, and thought about the Slovenians. I kept wondering how far they would get. I ran into an English girl who was headed north and she said she had met them in an emergency shelter that was 12 miles from the lake. I kept wondering if they would make it to the teepee which was 42 km from the lake because I was thinking that if was really wet and stormy, I may try to stay in the teepee. I kept doing math in my head and would guess where our paths would cross and what I would say to them when/if they did.

Other than that, I don't think I did my normal letter writing thinking process. I just walked with my head down against the wind and rain and watched where I stepped. The terrain was much more forgiving, with dirt paths and not as many rocks. However, it was very boggy and wet and my feet were soaked within minutes of starting out. Then once the rain started beating my back a lot, probably a few hours in, I could feel my capris and underwear start to get wet. I was trying to figure out the logistics of setting up the tent in the rain without everything getting wet and it was feeling a bit grim. I kept thinking that this teepee was going to be my salvation. 

I did pass the shelter that the English girl had told me about and I stopped there for a minute to get out of the wet, but I knew that I could not stay and that it would do no good anyway, as I would get wet again as soon as I went back outside. I wanted to press on to get as far as I could tonight and hopefully to the teepee! 

I passed the Slovenians around km 40. They were already in their tent. I wanted to try to get to the teepee before dark, but since I started late, around 9:30 maybe, getting to 42 km would take me at least 10 hours (@ 2.5 mi/hour). After I passed them with a quick wave, I kept walking and then it started to get dark and for a while I was not even sure I would be able to find the teepee in the dark. I had to stop to get out my headlamp and when I opened my bag, it was hard not to get the contents wet. I was in a bit of a funk at that point, as I was soaked and now my stuff was going to be soaked. 

After hiking for what seemed like forever, I finally found the teepee. I'm pretty sure it was a little farther than the 42 km stated, as I didn't arrive until maybe 8:45 or 9 and it was fully dark already. It was not what I was expecting at all. I guess after seeing some of the emergency shelters, I thought that the teepee would be made of wood and would be dry and clean inside. Instead, it was a mound of dirt and twigs with a dirt floor and a fire in the middle of it, kind of like what I imagine the Native Americans used. Also, when I opened the door, the fire was slightly burning (and smoking) and there was a person inside sleeping! At first that made me wonder if I should go back out in the rain and set up my tent, but then I decided just to try to make friends.

The person turned out to be a Dutch man (Hank) who was doing a NOBO trip from Hemevan; he happily shared the space and was quite nice. However, the roof make of twigs was not waterproof and it was a bit leaky and I slept right on the ground but at least I could hang up my clothes. I took off most of my clothes and huddled in my sleeping bag on top of my tarp, but I could hear a dripping (and feel it) near me and I knew that my sleeping bag was going to be wet the next day. I took off my pants and underwear in a hope to dry them, but I think the hanging clothes may have gotten caught in the dripping cross fire too. Due to listening to the dripping and worrying about being wet, I got the worst night’s sleep! I probably should have just set up my tent and then I could have properly undressed and prepped everything, but instead I went to bed half wet and freezing cold. 

Day 7: Sunday, September 10th 2017 / 13 miles / 149/275 miles total / 6 hours / 900 feet gained / A teepee in the middle of nowhere to Vuonatjviken. (Strava route)

The teepee

I got up, talked to Hank while having breakfast, and sent him on his way. After that I lit a fire in the teepee to try to dry my clothes, which helped a little but mostly made them stink like wood smoke. I got back on the road and within minutes, I was completely soaked again. I started off on the tundra again with high winds and rain/hail and was immediately cold and wet. I knew it was going to be a long day. My gloves (and therefore hands) were already wet and cold and I walked downhill and sometimes even ran to try to keep warm. I arrived at Vuonatjviken, where I would have to take a boat across, around noon. The lady said the next boat would maybe be at 3 pm, but to check at 2:30. I asked if there was a dry place to wait and she said no, but they have cabins for rent. I said no thanks, so she said I could wait on one of the porches. It was wet and cold and I was soaked through and after sitting on the porch for a few mins, finally I decided to just get a cabin and take the next morning’s boat. This would make for a few long days of hiking, or maybe an early exit, but I figured it was worth drying out and getting warm and waiting out the storm a little.

I got a cabin and spread all my stuff out to dry and ate a nice warm meal and had an extra coffee, even though it would mean I would have to go without later. Then I went for a shower, which was not in my cabin but in a separate room. This room also had a boot drying station which was like a big inverse vacuum that blows hot air inside your boots. I put my sneakers on it but they were not dry by the time my shower was done. However, they were not as wet as before! As I was leaving the shower room to go back to the cabin, I encountered a girl who asked if I would be willing to share my cabin with her and I said sure. She turned out to be a German girl named Pauline, and we had a nice time chatting about gear and hiking and this and that. Before we knew it our clothes were dry. Also, the Slovenians caught up to us! They came and knocked on our door and asked if they could hang some of their wet things in our cabin, as they were going to camp outside on the grounds of the property. We said yes of course. So I guess the 2:30 pm boat ride never happened! I am glad I got a place to stay after all.

I talked to the landlord and they said the first boat the next day would be at 10:30 am, so once again, I had to recalculate my mileage, as these boat rides were causing delays that I had not been aware of. My calculations were as follows: With the next day's late boat ride, I would likely only be able to get in 20-25 miles and would then probably have three very long (34 mile) days to Hemavan. There is one rowboat crossing left and then it's smooth sailing. Barring a big storm or something bad happening, I was still hoping that I could make it all the way.  

Day 8: Monday, September 11th 2017 / 21 miles + 0.80 mile row / 171 / 275 miles / 8.75 hours + 40 min row / 2,700 feet gained / Vuonatjviken to just past Luvtavrre. (Strava route part 1, Strava route part 2)

Unfortunately, this was a short day due to the 10:00 am boat ride. The cabin owners brought me, Pauline, the Slovakians and one other girl with a huge pack (everyone has such a huge pack!) to the other side and at about 10:30 am I set off ahead of the others pretty quickly. About 7 miles later, I got to a lake where there was a rowboat crossing. 

 At this crossing, not only was there only one boat on my side but only one on the other side too, so that everyone would have to row! It took me about an hour to untie the boat, empty the water, push it down the ramp and then row across, do the same to the other boat, and then row back across again. Just as I was leaving the first side again, Pauline came along, so I rowed back and she did the final row of the day. First of all, she is a way better rower than I am. In fact, I am so dumb that I rowed backwards at first, but luckily nobody was there to see me! After I realized that it seemed way more difficult than in should be, I remembered that I should be facing backwards instead of forwards like I was sitting and then it was much easier. However, I am still a T-Rex with tiny arms and it was still hard! Pauline just breezed right across the maybe 500 or 600 meter stretch. 

After that, I went about 14 more miles before it started to get dark so I had to find a place to rest. Luckily today there were only in and off showers so I did have time to dry before getting into my tent. However, by the time I decided to stop, it was dark and there were no flat spots so I camped on a mossy knoll and got the tent up just before the heavy rain began again. Did I also mention that the trail has been very boggy lately? Also due to the rain, all the bushes are wet and when you walk through them you get soaked! I am basically wet from the ground up even when it is not raining. 

This was my best night's sleep on the trail. It was not very cold and I could keep my head out the whole time, plus the mossy knoll was cushioned. However, I did not realize that the wet moss would eventually soak through! Before going to sleep, I had a hot dinner as a nice treat and was planning to have a hot breakfast the next day as well (I had been doing only one hot meal per day) as my plan for day 9 was to go from 6 am - 8 pm so that I could try to still make it to the end.

Day 9: Tuesday, September 12th 2017 / 28 miles / 199 / 275 miles / 11 hours / 2,300 feet gained / Just past Luvtavrre to a wet bog near Lisvuojavrrie. (Strava route)

When I got up it was raining and the inside of my tent was wet. Apparently although the moss is soft, when it rains, water pools under the lowest spot, aka under me. When I got up there was a puddle underneath me. Luckily my sleeping bag was only a little wet, but my pad was wet as was the inside of the tent.  I packed up the wet tent and tried to keep my sleeping bag dry. I started off at 6 am and it poured down rain all day. And was windy and cold the entire time. Most of this day's stretch was above the tree line so was totally exposed. In addition, it was boggy as hell and there was pooled and running water everywhere. In addition, the rain was being blown into my face, so basically I marched, head down, as I got more and more wet. 

There is something very disheartening about tromping along in a pouring rain. Firstly, I did not take any/many photos, as getting the camera out goes a little something like this: let’s pretend that your lower layer, your fleece for example, is currently dry. Over that is your rain jacket, which is wet on the outside. You are wearing wet gloves, so your hands are freezing. Now, you need to get your camera out from an inside pocket. You lift up your rain jacket, take off your glove and reach into the pocket to get your camera. In the meantime, your fleece is getting rained on. You get the camera out, take a photo as the camera gets wet, put it back, also getting your fleece a little bit wetter in the process and keep walking. Each time you do this, your fleece and other dry layers get just a little bit wetter. Secondly, the same story is true for food. You have to take off your glove(s), get the food out from wherever it is hiding, eat it, put it back. Sometimes it is just easier to tromp along without eating or drinking or taking photos or doing anything fun! Then you start to be colder and hungrier and you are thinking that you came here for the scenery but you are not even looking at it or taking photos of it so what is the point! Of course, being all alone means that there is nobody or nothing to distract you from these thoughts, so they go over and over in your head as you walk along in the cold rain. 

Finally, around hour 9, I started thinking that I had not seen a sufficient spot to put my tent in hours. The land was sloped and boggy with lots of standing water. By now even my pants and underwear were soaked and I started to get worried as I knew the inside of my tent was wet as well. Around the 11-hour mark, I decided to throw in the towel. As soon as I decided that and found a slightly not as wet spot and decided to pitch my tent, the rain and wind picked up in full force. I was a pathetic sight, trying to pitch my tent in the wind and freezing rain with frozen stiff fingers. Once pitched, the inside was even wetter, so I took off all of my clothes except my t-shirt and bra which were not as wet as everything else, wiped down the inside of the tent with my long-sleeved shirt, put a piece of plastic on the tent floor, blew up my not too wet thank goodness air mattress, put on my (only dry item) puffy jacket and climbed nakedish and quite freezing into my sleeping bag. I probably lay there shivering for at least an hour before my feet even started to thaw, and the wind and rain threatened to beat down my tent (luckily, I have learned the hard way the benefits of staking). At that point I grabbed a snack which I ate while lying sideways with the covers over my head and praying that I would not have to go outside to pee. Have I mentioned that my air mattress doesn't stay inflated? This was not the best night's sleep I have ever had.

Day 10: Wednesday, September 13th 2017 / 11 miles / 210/275 miles / 4 hours / 260 feet gained / A wet bog near Lisvuojavrrie to Ammarnäs. (Strava route)

**Side note --> my Garmin is shortchanging me. I got to Ammarnäs, which means I should have 79 km or ~ 50 miles left, therefore completing 225 / 275 miles, not the 210 that I have added up so far. 

I woke up on day 10, if you can call it waking up, since I felt like I never slept, to the sound of... you guessed it, wind and rain!! Woohoo. I made a hot breakfast while sitting in my dryish sleeping bag with my puffy on and dawdled a bit, hoping that it would abate a little and that my wet clothes from yesterday would magically dry before I got started. No such luck. Finally, I just ripped off the band-aid, got out of the warm sleeping bag and put back on my wet (very, very wet) clothes and took down the tent, again in the blustering rain and wind. I swear it picked up just in time for me! Now the inside of my tent was hopelessly wet. I started walking, as that's really all I could do. However, the rain and wind came down in torrents. I was getting sick of it and really was not looking forward to another night in a wet tent or another day with all wet clothes. It took me a while, but after a lot of pondering I decided to do a weather forecast check in Ammarnäs, and then possibly quit there if it was forecasted to rain for the next two days. It wasn't an easy decision though, as I was currently on track to finish, and with no really long day even! 

I got into town and the weather forecast was rain for the next two days. So I got the bus schedule and decided to call it. I changed into dry clothes for the first time in a while, my only outfit being leggings and flip flops, had a coffee at the market and waited for the 12:30 bus. The guys at the market were very helpful with looking up times for trains etc. for me and even let me have the coffee for free! Before I knew it I was in Umeå waiting for the overnight bus to Stockholm. I went to the grocery store there and got lots of lunch meats and cheeses (oh fresh food! Yay) and then went to the bus station and went for a beer at the bar. Then I got an overnight bus to Stockholm, luckily snagged the last seat even without a reservation and sat next to a really nice, clean-smelling lady (I cannot say the same for myself; she must have been gagging at my smell). I arrived in Stockholm around 7 am and went back to the hotel that I had stayed at and they would not let me check in early. I walked around town and went and got a coffee and a couple of pastries and read my book before I could finally check in and shower! Side note: my feet were so swollen. When I got on the bus to Stockholm, they were fine, but when I tried to get off, it was hard to walk down the stairs. That day, they looked like two large sausages, but they did start to get better after 24 hours off of my feet.

For the next two days, it rained most of the time. I washed all of my stuff in the shower, went for exploratory runs, ate the rest of my food and read my book in my room. I went downstairs each day for breakfast and ate one of everything! Otherwise, I had a great time relaxing and wrapping up my trip in a different way than I had anticipated!

Fun fact: Did you know that Sweden has over 97,500 lakes larger than 2 acres!? In the US, although Minnesota is dubbed the land of 10,000 lakes, it is actually Alaska that has the most, with about 3,197 officially named natural lakes and 3 million unnamed natural lakes. BUT, Minnesota has the most named lakes with about 15,291 natural lakes, 11,824 of which are greater than 10 acres. 

Have you ever camped in the rain? What tips do you have to keeping the inside of your tent etcetera dry? Have you ever rowed a rowboat?

You can find a links to some of my favorite hiking items here