Buses, Boats and Bicycles

Normally each year I pick a fun international destination and spend a couple of weeks there for my annual vacation. This year, I decided to stay local and instead of eating my way through France, I opted to instead torture myself for two weeks by pedaling Bob (the mountain bike) across the state of Washington. Not only that, but I wanted to do it on dirt, so it was not a straight shot. Instead I wound my way around the state and up and down some mountains before getting to the end. After that, I still had to get back to my car, so the adventure was not done. Then I was like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, except my adventure was Buses, Boats and Bicycles. 

The adventure started by driving from California to the Olympic Peninsula and the tiny town of Forks, Washington. This may be familiar to you if you are a Twilight fan, as it is the setting that the author used for the series, and also one of the rainiest places in the US, according to Wiki. Luckily it did not rain when I was there, nor did I see any vampires. I parked my car there and got a ride to La Push, which has the westernmost zip code in the contiguous US, and also many beautiful beaches. As is customary, I dipped my back tire in the water and then started my journey. 

Sign outside of Forks, WA

I will not bore those of you who don't care much for a play by play of my entire bikepacking trip. However, there were a few highlights that I think everyone can appreciate! 

The Olympic Peninsula is beautiful. There are huge ocean beaches with enormous waves that remind me of the crashing waves of the Pacific where I live, but that doesn't make them any less intriguing. I could sit and watch them for hours! There are also tons of hiking trails, many tiny towns where you can get a coffee or a breakfast, and lots of places to stop and just take in the view. 

The lovely Pacific coast

Bob hanging out near Port Angeles

But the thing I utilized the most was the Olympic Discovery Trail. This is a mostly flattish bike trail that goes all the way from La Push to Port Townsend, which I think is about 135 miles. Right now, some sections are on the road, but you could easily find a 20 mile stretch that is mostly bike paths and quiet streets. There were a ton of blackberries along the sides and I think I spent more time eating them than I did riding. The other highlight was an alternative section called the Olympic Adventure Trail, which was a really smooth and fun single-track section that I really enjoyed, especially when it started raining and the canopy kept me halfway dry! They have a great set of maps on their website that you can even download to your phone and get turn by turn directions if you want. 

Olympic Discovery Trail near Forks

Bob and the ODT near Lake Crescent

The next fun thing was taking the ferry across the Puget Sound. Did you know that if you do not have a vehicle, riding the ferries eastbound is free? You have to pay $10 for the westbound trip but unless you have a car, you only pay one way! I have taken the ferries in the San Juans before, but I have never done it with a bike, so that was a first for me! It's quite exciting to zip in (and out!) before all of the cars come rushing up behind you and you have to get your bike out of the way and tied up before they run you over. Also, just like in San Francisco, taking the commuter ferry is a great way to see the bay (or the sound in this case) without paying for an expensive "bay cruise." For $10 I got to see the Seattle skyline and watch the sailboats in the Puget Sound. I call that a win! 

View of Seattle from the ferry

I also rode for a long time on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which I started on in the town of Carnation, which is east of Seattle. It goes along the Snoqualmie River into the mountain towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend. This was a steady uphill but it was shaded and cool and since it was an old rail trail, it was not very steep. I would really recommend going there; you can camp at the campground near Carnation and ride east to North Bend and get a hamburger at Twede's cafe. For those of you who are fans of the show Twin Peaks, this is the location of the famous cherry pie diner. I found it a bit kitschy of course, but I got a seat right away, my food came out fast, and they had bottomless French fries, so yay! After gorging yourself on fries, you have a downhill ride back to your camp. By the time you get back you will be ready for a swim in the river right next to your campsite! For me there is nothing better than a swim in the river on a hot day. 

Snoqualmie Valley Trail

Twede's Cafe in North Bend

Last but not least, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail links up to the John Wayne Trail, now known as the Palouse to Cascades trail. This is also a rail trail that has been converted to a bike trail, and is again all dirt and slightly uphill for the first 20 miles. I ended up loosely following this trail almost all the way to the Idaho border. The highlight of the first section of this trail is a more than two mile ride through the Snoqualmie tunnel! If you do not want to ride all the way up the hill from the start, you can also start at the town of Hyak and then it is less than a mile from the tunnel from there. It was very dark and kind of damp and chilly but pretty fun and was a new experience for me! We used to run through the train tunnels when we were kids; it was such a thrill to see if we could get through before a train came. I don't think the Snoqualmie tunnel had that same element of danger, but it was eerie being alone in the dark for several minutes, and you literally cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel!!!

Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel

Camping along the PTCT with the Enchantments in the background

In the end, it was a grand adventure! There were many hard days; I rode my longest ride ever so far (80 miles) in one day, and one day it was about 100 degrees out and of course this was in eastern Washington where there are no trees, so I think I baked my brain a little bit that day. However, I rewarded myself with a lot of ice cream when I could, and had fun seeing the small towns (and I do mean small! One was about 500 people) and farmland along the way. I saw a lot of dead animals, banana peels and trash, specifically aluminum cans. On one stretch of highway, I counted over 100 cans in a one mile stretch!! I ended up getting to Idaho via Spokane, where I then took my buses, boats and bikes back to my car before driving home. 

This photo was taken on the hottest day

Made it to the border!

Hottest temperature:     100 degrees
Longest day (miles):      80 miles
Total elevation gain:      31,784 feet
Total mileage:                688 miles

Have you ever been to Washington state? If so, what is your favorite place/thing to do there? Are there any fun bike paths or rail trails where you live? What did you do for your vacation this year? 


The Not So Successful Side Hustle

Most years, I do a purge of all of my things, but this year I decided to ramp it up and try to get down to the bare bones. I am doing a pretty good job for the most part. I have whittled my work clothes down to about three pairs of slacks and seven sweaters (one for each day of the week plus a couple of backups since a couple of them are well loved). I only have two pairs of running shoes (if you are a runner, you know how these can collect, and it is very common to buy several pairs of the same style if it fits you well). I am getting there slowly. 

The thing that I decided to do this time which I have not done before is to sell some of the things online. Much of my work clothes and shoes were purchased when I worked at Nordstrom (in the late 90s / early 2000s and yes some of them even still fit!) and I spent a lot of money building up my work wardrobe. After that, I bought some extras from thrift stores, but I always pick through and find the good brands (BCBG, Ann Taylor, Tahari, Diane Von Furstenburg etc.) So I thought that maybe I could get some of my money back by selling these items. 

It took me a long time to get started. You know how you have good intentions but that box of "sell online" items sits in your closet for months because you are not sure how the shipping works and you are too lazy/scared/unmotivated to find out what to do? That is what I did. I purged, I segregated, the box sat in the closet. Finally, I looked up shipping procedures, got flat rate boxes from the PO and started taking photos of things. But then, I was not sure how much to charge and I waited again, pondering. Finally I put my first item on eBay. 

And then...nothing happened. Nothing happened for a long, long time. This was my first time and I had no idea what to expect or what to do if nothing happened, so I let it refresh (it does this every 30 days) for a long time before I finally took the listing down. Then, about six months later, I decided to try again. This time I put several listings up and I decreased the price if they did not sell after a certain time period. For a long time, nothing happened. 

And then...someone bought something! Hurray! Then I muddled through printing a label and putting it in the right box and getting it to the post office, but I did it. In the end, it was not that hard. I don't know why I waited so long to start. After that, I enthusiastically posted a half dozen other items, and...nothing happened. 

You can see where this is going! However, after about a year and a half of listing items, I have sold probably five items. So clearly I am not going to quit my day job! However, it is very satisfying to get even $20.00 for an item that I paid a lot for, as the alternative is to get nothing! HOWEVER, I do not think that the buck is worth the bang unless you are at home full time and you have free time. Let's say I probably spent five hours collecting, photographing and posting listings (and revising) and I have made....drumroll please...about $70.00. This puts me at $14.00 per hour, which is less than the $18.07 minimum wage in San Francisco. Bottom line: I should probably go get a job at a coffeeshop and give all the items to Goodwill! 

When the items do not sell on eBay, I send them to thredUp, which is an online consignment store. I have sent about 12 items to them and made $64.00, so my per hour on this is probably about $18.00-$20.00 per hour, but my per item is only $5.00 vs about $14.00 per item on eBay. I did look into taking my things to a local consignment shop but they are VERY picky, i.e. it has to be current season, certain brands etc. and most of my things are not current season (they are classics!) 

Next up is a big Goodwill/Salvation Army run, or maybe I can try one more platform, but first... 

I need advice! Have you ever sold things online? If so, what platform do you use and how successful have you been? If you have been successful, what tips can you give me? Has anyone tried or had luck with Facebook Marketplace? If so, do you let people come to your house or do you meet them somewhere? How exactly does that work!? 


Urgently Hiring: Personal Assistant

You know how we all have jobs that are not that hard but that we just hate doing? I have a few for sure! For some of the ones I have, it would be easy to hire someone but they are things that I CAN do myself but just procrastinate starting. My brother and I were discussing this and we decided to swap tasks; I would help him do the things he hates doing and he would help me do the things that keep getting put on next week's to do list. Here are a few that made the cut. 

Broski was/is seeking someone to to the following: 

Rollover his 401k to an IRA. DONE. This is one of those things a lot of people put off but in reality, it is not as hard as it seems. It does involve a bit of paperwork and can be anxiety inducing due to the fact that they have to liquidate one account and then you have to use those funds to buy something in the new account, but for most of us, we have enough time until retirement that we don't need to worry about timing the market. Just do it. 

Clean out and organize his garage. DONE. Luckily, I love doing this kind of thing. However, I know it can be daunting, especially if you have any big items that you are not sure what to do with, or memories/mementos that you are on the fence about keeping (or that you need to look at as you sort). However, having a third party come in and be less emotional about your stuff can be freeing. The other hard thing is getting started! For Broski, he had one big item that he needed to get out of the way before the rest could be accessed, but that one thing was causing weeks of delay. I went up there and pulled that thing out, helped him reorganize, sort and label things and put the big item back. However, he just finally got rid of it so now we can commence with the second phase!! 

I was/am seeking someone to do the following: 

Fix the water pressure in my shower. NOT DONE. Broski took a look at this and it looks to be a bigger job than I want to do myself and I don't really care enough to hire someone to do it. It seems like the hot pressure is just lower in general than the cold, so there is probably some corrosion in the line or something and I don't really want to pay someone to do a huge job. I will just deal with the trickle. 

Weed the yard. DONE. Broski came over this weekend and we got so much weeding done! He is a beast with a weedwacker and a fork looking tool that he uses to dig up the weeds by the roots. I worked alongside him, but it sure was nice to have someone enthusiastic by my side. Be gone ye weeds! 

Install the bike rack on my car roof. NOT DONE. Broski got on this task and it was determined that before putting the rack on my car, I would have to buy other racks to put on my car. Hm. So I am mulling this over, but may just buy a different rack since some of the trunk mounted racks are the same price as the racks I need to buy for the top. Plus then I started thinking about it and will I really be able to lift my entire mountain bike above my head and put it on the roof? Anybody have any tips here? For context, my bike weighs about 32 pounds without anything on it and the rack does not require you to remove the front wheel. 

Power wash my deck. DONE! Broski brought over the washer and not only did the back deck, but the side porch and front porch and all of my flagstone and paving stone. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! I forgot that the wood is red/tan instead of grey/black/dusty. It looks so good. 

So, I guess the moral of the story is, having a friend really helps when the jobs are crappy and/or one man's trashy job is another man's pleasure!? 

What job do you hate doing? What job do you love doing and would happily swap with someone to do? Have you ever pressure washed anything? 


The Last Frontier

Alaska has been on my list for years; it is wild and untamed. It is dark and cold. It is  full of large creatures. It has very few roads. It is literally in the middle of nowhere. Well, I guess supposedly you can see Russia from some parts of the state, but I did not experience that myself. 

What I did experience were adventures, beautiful scenery and some challenging backcountry hikes. Here are some of the highlights from the trip. For context, I flew into Anchorage and planned most of the outings within a few hours drive of the city. I have noted the driving times below.

Denali NP – it is worth taking a bus on the Denali road (you can do an audio tour or just take the normal park bus depending on what you like. We just took the simple one, and you can see lots of animals and possibly Mt. Denali if the weather cooperates, which it did not do ☹). This is 3 hours north of Anchorage by car or you can take the train.  

There are a couple of short hiking options near the visitor’s center or you can get a permit and a (free) bear canister from the building by the bus depot and tromp around the back country (no trails), fording rivers, whacking bushes and fleeing bears, which is what we did (minus the bears). The park road is about 100 miles long and currently it is closed due to a landslide at mile 42 (supposedly to be fixed in 2025), but there are still plenty of hiking zones to choose from. 

Teklanika River

Hatcher Pass – great views and lots of hiking opportunities with different lengths depending on fitness level. This is about 1 hour north of Anchorage by car.  Note: it is a dirt road part of the way, but it is very smooth and we had no issues whatsoever. We also did the Bomber Traverse, a hike starting from the Gold Mint Trailhead and continuing past the Mint hut, the backdoor gap, the Bomber hut and the Snowbird hut (and many glaciers!). This hike is about 25 miles in total, with about 7 or 8 of them off trail, so we ended up doing it in two days. If you want to sleep in the huts, you can join the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA), or you can just camp near the huts (or anywhere) for free. 

Pennyroyal Glacier -- Backdoor Gap -- Bomber Traverse

Seward – port city, gateway to Kenai Fjords and the start of the Iditarod trail; Great place for hiking, eating, and lots of walking along the water. Lowell point walk (about 2 miles each way), Sweet Darlings for ice cream and Firebrand BBQ for their pork belly are a must. We also hiked up the famous Mt. Marathon, which is a 3,000 foot climb in 1.5 miles if you use the official race trail or about 2.5 miles if you go via the hiker route. The views from the top are fabulous! 3 hours south of Anchorage by car.

View from Mt. Marathon

Kenai Fjords NP – The Exit glacier and Harding icefield are beautiful. The Harding Icefield trail is a 4.1 mile each way out and back which is about 3,000 feet of climbing, but the views of the glacier along the way as well as the icefield at the top are stunning. It is well worth the climb, but I suggest you start early as we were the first ones to the top and had the view to ourselves (around 8:30 am) but there were a lot of people heading up when we were headed down. 20 minutes from Seward by car. 

Harding Icefield

Anchorage – you can rent bikes and ride (or walk) along the coastal trail which goes from downtown to Kincade point, about 10 miles each way. It is a very pleasant and flat bike trail along the mud flats. I would recommend Snow City CafĂ© for breakfast/lunch, but be prepared to wait a little while (you can put your name in and walk around while you are waiting or you can grab a mug of coffee and sit outside and enjoy the weather). 

Chugach National Forest – there are so many hikes and so little time, but two that we did that I would recommend are the Lost Lake trail and Crows Pass. The Lost Lake trail is about 20 minutes from Seward and is about 7 miles each way, but it is only about 2,200 feet of gain, so it is uphill but not too strenuous. Again, I suggest starting early, as there were a lot of people on the trail on our way down. The Crows Pass trail is a 21 mile trail each way, but if you start on the south end near Girdwood (about one hour south of Anchorage), you only need to go about 4 or 5 miles before you see all of the good stuff (the Crows Pass cabin, the Raven glacier, great views) and can turn around and go back. After that it is very brushy, so save your energy for something else. Part of this trail follows the famous Ididerod trail too! 

Lost Lake

And just like that, the one week trip was sadly over. 

Have you ever been to Alaska? What was your favorite thing that you did? Have you been to any of the places on my list? 


Then Versus Now

Now that summer is officially underway, I thought this would be a great time to talk about what summer means to us all. I have written before about what summer was like when I was a kid, so I thought that today I would talk about the then vs. now. 

Then: We used to have a campfire every weekend. We would roast marshmallows and hot dogs and just stand there, flipping from front to back to keep both sides of us warm after a cold river swim. Now: I might whip out the backpacking stove on a trip to make coffee or rehydrate my dinner, but I am not really a big campfire person. I guess part of it is that it smells and I am going to be wearing the same clothes for several days and they are already going to be smelly enough, so I don't really want to walk around smelling like a forest fire on top of it all. The other part is that sometimes there are a ton of mosquitoes and I would rather just chill in the tent and read. In other words, I am a party pooper. 

Then: We used to sleep outside in the backyard in the summertime. All of my cousins would be there and we would be lined up, sleeping bag to sleeping bag, under the stars. Now: While I have never slept in my current backyard, I definitely still sleep outside on a regular basis! A modern summer usually involves at least two weekends and and at least two weeks of camping and backpacking each year! I don't cowboy camp (sleep with no tent) as much as I did then, but I do like to sleep in the tent without the rainfly on it and gaze at the stars through the mesh! Another big change is that I use a sleeping pad now, whereas we used to sleep right on the ground. 

Then: I would spend a couple of weeks each summer with my aunt and uncle, who live in the Bay Area. I could eat what I liked, watch MTV all day, hang out with my baby cousins, and go watch the Giants with my uncle. Now: I live in the Bay Area; I usually go to at least one Giants game per year, and I eat what I like, although I guess now I should be providing my aunt and uncle with their favorite foods instead! Also, my baby cousins all now have babies themselves! 

Then: We used to spend endless hours at the river, swimming, chasing white rocks, having contests of who can stay under the water the longest, or swim across the river the fastest, or throw a rock the furthest. We could entertain ourselves for hours. We used to do endless loops of floating down the rapids in a tube and then walking a half mile back up the river and floating down again. Now: I still jump in a body of water any time I get the chance, but I don't spend the same amount of time in the water. Last year we did have a cousins weekend and we all went to the old swimming hole and swam and jumped off the rocks and it was almost like old times, except we are all more careful not to hurt ourselves these days (sigh, getting older is hard sometimes). On the flip side, we had better snacks! 

Hanging at the beach with Broski

Then: I had to work every summer because my parents owned their own business and summer was the busy time. Many weekends had events and this is where I could really make and save some money, which I would then use to buy my own school clothes later in the summer. Now: I still have to work every summer but now I try to take a week off for each of the summer months and go somewhere and get outside! Unfortunately, I also still have to buy my own school clothes. 

What were summers like when you were younger? What things do you still do now that you did back then (or how have things changed if they have)?


The Joke Is On Me: Traveler's Checks

The first time I traveled abroad, I went equipped with several hundreds of dollars worth of traveler's checks. In case you have no idea what I am talking about, or forgot about these (it has been a while!) they are a check that you pay cash for and when you get them from the bank, you sign them once. Then when you want to exchange money, you give the teller in a foreign country the check, you countersign and date and they give you foreign currency in exchange. If I recall, they were a little safer than cash because they had a serial number so if you lost one or it got stolen, you may have been able to get your money back. I think this is true. 

Anyway, I did not use all of my travelers checks and I came back to the US and put them somewhere safe and then proceeded to move a few times, travel for work, move again and travel more until finally I bought my house and unpacked some boxes that had been sitting in storage for well over a dozen years and guess what I found? Two hundred dollars worth of travelers checks. So I put them in the "paperwork that needs attention eventually" pile and they sat there for about seven more years. I would look at them from time to time and think that I should probably just take them to the bank, but I was not in a rush, since they were issued by my bank where I still bank and hey, they are the equivalent of cash, right? 

Finally I decided to cross some of those long standing tasks off my eight year old to do list (there are still some things on it. I am looking at you, front yard drip system) and I put the checks in my purse with the intention of taking them into the bank as soon as I had the chance. First I tried the bank near my house, which I found out had been closed down about six months ago, which goes to show how often I go to the bank. Then I decided to take the checks to work with me with the intention of taking a lunch break and finally depositing them. You are probably not surprised to hear that they sat in my purse for another week before I finally made my way down to the bank. By the way, do you know how hard it is to find an actual bank that you can walk inside of and talk to a person in San Francisco/Oakland? It is hard. There are tons of ATMs but an actual person is rare! However, I had to take these to an real human, as they had to be countersigned in front of a person in order to be deposited. 

The first time I went down and got in line (where there were no people) I was told by the teller that their systems were down and they could not do any transactions. I felt like maybe someone was plotting against me. I went back the next day and wonder of wonder, the systems were working, the line was short and I was at the teller before you knew it. And then I deposited the checks and walked away whistling Dixie. As Borat would say, this story is NOT true. First of all, the teller had never seen a travelers check. No joke. Never. So she had to get her coworker to come over and explain the process. Then she had me countersign them. 

Then she looked at the two signatures and said that they did not match. I did not disagree with her. One was signed when I was not even legally allowed to drink yet and one was signed....a few...years...or decades....later. My signature is not the same as it was. I used to perfectly swoop every letter and write in perfect cursive; now my signature looks like I am a harried MD with a hot date. So she brought the coworker over again and the coworker said that they could not take the checks. I asked if they could look up the serial number and then verify it against my ID and she said that they do not keep records that long. She finally said that she would check my signature on file and would compare that. Unfortunately, the signature on file (from when I opened my account, which was opened before I could legally vote, or maybe even before I could drive) also did not match. 

She went into this big spiel about how she is doing this for my protection and I was thinking in my head, "lady, I work in finance; you are using MY LINE!" and I made affirmations about how I totally and completely understand, I work in the same industry, I have to tell people the same thing all of the time etc. We finally got around to a point where she said that she would attempt to deposit them if I crossed off and initialed the co-signature I had just done and then signed again but tried to copy the original one, BUT she was not making any guarantees that it would go through, she said. I thanked her profusely, signed again and left the building. 

I know that $200 is not chump change, and I know that I was an idiot and I should not have waited so long to deposit the checks and I know that now I need to go into the bank to sign a new signature card because my signature has changed a lot from the time I was 14. I also really had no expectations that they would get successfully deposited. However, imagine my surprise and glee when the next day I saw that I was $200 richer! 

Verdict: Don't be an idiot. Deposit your checks on time. BUT if you happen to be an idiot, but things end up working out in the end anyway, enjoy the small victories, because they are awfully sweet. 

Have you ever done something silly like this? If so, what was the outcome? Did you end up being successful in the end? 


Looking Back: Books

The year is half over now and it is time for another book check in! Since I posted in February about the handful of good books that I had read so far, I have found a few more good ones! Without further ado, here are a few more of my favorites so far this year. 

All The Broken Places by John Boyne: I know I am not the first person to suggest this book, so I will not go into too much detail. It is about an elderly woman living in London. When a new family moves in downstairs from her, it brings up some memories of the past, which are mostly surrounding her escape from Nazi Germany at age 12 and the fact that her father was the commandant of one of the concentration camps during the war. It goes back and forth between the two time periods, weaving a story of guilt, complicity, grief and remorse and in the end, she has to decide whether or not to reveal some of her long kept secrets. 

Quit Like a Millionaire by Kristy Shen: Although I work in the finance industry, I enjoyed this book because it is written in a simple manner that anyone can understand. Shen talks about growing up in China where her family lived on pennies per day, to moving to the US where she learned how to invest so that she could quit work early and travel the world. Her plan is pretty simple and you may have heard it before but it is still a nice reminder that we can live more simply than we do and perhaps spend more time enjoying our lives now rather than always working so hard to make more money for the future. 

In Love by Amy Bloom: Get your tissues out for this one. This is not a spoiler, but this book is about a woman whose husband gets diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and he decides to die with dignity rather than living out his life with the disease. Obviously this is not an easy decision and Bloom goes through some of the struggles that they face as they work through the plan. 

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys: Although this is a YA book, it touches on something that we sometimes forget about here in the US, and that is the fact that as late as 1989, people in Romania were still under communist rule. The main character is a teenager who has normal teenage dreams but is held back by the government oppression and has to decide whether to do nothing or to fight back and risk the lives of his family. 

Kindred by Octavia Butler: This book took me by surprise. The author was recommended to me by a client who is very involved in minorities in the arts, and she said that Butler was the first published African American science fiction writer. I am not big into science fiction, but I thought I would give this book, written in 1979, a whirl, and I really enjoyed it. Yes, it involves time travel, but it is about a modern day African American woman who keeps getting sent back in time to the slavery days, and how she handles the differences between the two time periods. Apparently there is also a TV show, but I have not yet seen it. 

The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks: I am a sucker for a thriller and this one was a fun one. A couple comes into therapy due to infidelity and the therapist has some unconventional ways to try to get them to work through their problems. In trying to get them to do so, she uncovers some secrets that she did not expect. I listened to this while backpacking and it kept me entertained over many miles. 

Some others that I gave four stars on Goodreads include: Hello Beautiful by Janet Napolitano, I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, I Will Find You by Harlan Coben, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, and many more. You can find my entire list of 2023 books read and reviewed here on Goodreads

Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think? What has been your favorite book so far this year? 


Looking Back: Purging Progress Report Q2

And that is the second quarter of the year, over already! As you know, earlier this year I talked about doing some purging and since we are now another quarter into this year, it's time for another accountability check! My three areas I wanted to work on for the second three months of they year were pantry, garage/camping items and bedroom/clothing. 

Pantry: The goal here is to go through things, check expirations, eat things that are getting closer (or are over, I am not against that) and then reorganize everything and get a good handle on what I have left before starting to restock slightly. 

How am I doing? I am a woman on a mission. First I took stock of how many of each thing I had. Don't laugh at me, but I found a lot of good deals during the pandemic and when I found a deal, I bought a lot. Didn't everyone? No? Okay. At the beginning of January 2022, I somehow ended up with 14 cans of coconut milk, 12 cans of garbanzo beans and 10 cans of artichoke hearts among other things. I revisited this list in April of this year and although I had done a very good job of eating my way to a cleaner home (I only had 2, 5 and 0 left respectively), I am still working on it (I now have 1, 2 and 0!) 

What is next? I still have some weird items like tomato paste (I guess I don't make as much sauce as I used to), pureed pumpkin and canned sardines left which I will probably try to make into a meal (not together mind you!) while also focusing on using more of my dried items (quinoa, dried beans, rice, lentils etc.) and bakery items (pumpkin bread anyone?) before taking stock again and then maybe buying a few things to fill in the gaps. 

Garage/Camping: The idea here was to prep for summer by organizing all camping stuff, make sure it's all in top shape, update it, fix it, patch it, go through my food supply etc. 

How am I doing? Meh. I went through the food as part of the pantry clean out, and have all of the stuff organized by car camping vs backpacking items, but I still need to get down and dirty and throw some stuff away or give it away. However, I am ready for a summer of camping, even if I did not do a good job of purging. 

What is next? Get down and dirty and sell, give away or throw some stuff away. 

Bedroom/Clothing: The idea here was to once again go through drawers and closets and pare things down. Kae and Lisa will get a kick out of this line, which I wrote in January: But really, how many hoodies does one woman need? (the answer is...seven...or eight...or maybe nine? See what I mean!?) 

How am I doing? Great! I have desecrated my closet and it is about half as full as it was six months ago. I only own two pairs of jeans and two pairs of (non-running) shorts. However, I have a pile the size of the Empire State building of "stuff to sell" and another of "stuff to donate" so we are not quite there yet. HOWEVER! I did put some stuff on eBay and have had some luck, and I also have a drop dead date where if it is not sold by that date, it will go to either threadUP (nicer brands) or Salvation Army (everything else). So we are making progress! 

What is next? In about a month, the neighborhood is doing a donation pick up, and I already took a few boxes over to my neighbor for that. For the rest, I will continue to try to sell a few things and then in October (beginning of Q4) if they are still not sold I will send a bag to threadUP and take the rest to Salvation Army. You heard it here first. 

One thing I did not put on my list, but I would consider it "bedroom" for now, since my spare bedroom is also my office, is electronics. I have two old laptops, a printer and various old cell phones (along with the usual cords and other random electronic things) that I need to get rid of, so for Q3, I am also adding an e-waste drop off to my list. The place I found will try to refurbish the item and if they cannot, they will properly recycle it. Before I take things to them, I do need to clear out any files or personal information though so this is one of those two step processes that can take longer than expected sometimes! I am also planning a bulky pickup later this year, which will only be for trash, but is a good way to get rid of some of those odds and ends once they have been picked through. 

How are you doing on your goals so far this year? What is your strategy for getting rid of stuff? How many hoodies DOES one woman need? 


Blast From The Past

You know you are getting older when you start reminiscing about the "good old days" or how kids have it so much better than we did or how you can't believe how much candy bars or pay phones cost these days (they are no longer a nickel, grandpa!) Oh wait, we don't really use pay phones anymore? Exactly. However, despite the fact that this will prove my age, I am going to do just that! Here are a few things that bring back fond memories of times past. 

The princess telephone with the long cord that you used to drag into your room so that you could sit and chat with your girlfriends for hours even though you had seen them all day at school. I don't know what we talked about, but we talked forever! My parents used to have to drag me off the phone and I remember getting call waiting, which was like really out of this world at the time. Also, remember getting star 69 and thinking how sophisticated that was, although I was not (and am not still) a big fan of calling back an unknown number to ask them if they had just called me. 

Vienna sausages: maybe this is just something that my family ate, but we ate these a lot. My brother's specialty was Vienna sausages with scrambled eggs with too much garlic. We called them "Dracula's Death." Remember how the little sausages were all stuck together and they slide out in a clump with their attached meaty Jell-O juice like a baby from the womb? It is kind of gross but I would probably still eat them if I was out camping. They are kind of a right place, right time kind of food. We also ate many other canned meats such as corned beef hash, spam and deviled ham. 

Color block clothing: I know this is back in style, but I think it was the style of clothes that I wore when my Mom picked my outfit, not the one I wore when I could pick out my own garb (no offense Mom!) She also dressed me in skirts, which didn't really take, and when I finally bought my own clothes I was a tomboy all the way. I still prefer pants over skirts but have come around a little towards wearing stripes from time to time recently.

Nice sweater! I am about 10 years old.

Passing notes in class. It is so sad that everyone just texts now because it was so fun to pass notes in class! Sometimes we would have three or four people on the note and we would pass it around in circles. Mostly we wrote about the following topics: why one person was mad at the other, which boys we liked, what the boys were doing, why we thought they were doing that, who liked who, who was going out with who, what we were going to do after school, what we were going to do that weekend or who had just broken up with who. Very riveting stuff, but very important at the time, and I guess actually not much different than what some of us still talk about now. 

Nylons: this is not from my childhood, but for my first job (and for several years) I had to wear nylons every day. I finally (just a few weeks ago) threw out my bag of used (but perfectly good) nylons and donated several unopened packages (that cost me about $10 a pop but probably have a value of about $0.01 now!) of nylons. I don't know why I was keeping them, as I have not worn nylons in at least about 20 years! The hoarder tendency of keeping things because they are "still perfectly fine" or "I may use them someday" runs strong in this family (but that deserves it's own post!)

Mixed Tapes: I know that now you can share a Spotify playlist, but it just doesn't have the same charm as the songs that you taped from the radio which had the announcer talking over them and the station identifier in the middle of the songs, along with any background noises from the house. I still have one that I got from a friend and I am pretty sure it starts off with the Rick Astley song Never Going to Give You Up and also has a Firehouse song on it. Good times. Gotta love the 80s. 

I am off to find my old cassette player!

Requesting a Song on the Radio: not only did we listen to the radio a lot, but did you ever DEDICATE a song to someone? I did and then we sat in front of the radio forever waiting for it to air. I think the only time I did it, it was the song So Happy Together by the Turtles and it had nothing to do with me liking or being with the person, I just liked the song and thought it was so cool to hear my and my friend's name out loud where anyone could hear it (seems pretty tame now with all of the social media though)! 

Did you do any of these things? What things from your childhood do your friends or your kids think are ridiculous or funny? 


Looking Back: Juneteenth Weekend

In the spirit of some of my blogger friends, I will call this Five Things Tuesday, the road trip version! Since I had an extra day off, I drove down to Sequoia National Park for a little bit of backpacking. Here are five things from the long weekend that were interesting or fun! 

Backpacking in Sequoia NP: I had a great time hiking around Sequoia National Park, although once again, I was foiled by snow, downed trees and high river (read: impassable) crossings. However, I never let that bother me too much and I had a fun time exploring, even if I could not do the loop that I had intended. This year has been difficult for hiking plans, as the normal entry to Yosemite is closed due to road damage, the road to Kings Canyon is closed due to road damage and many of the roads in Sequoia are still closed due to snow and/or road damage! It was a rough winter in the Sierra, let me tell you. 

View of Valhalla and Hamilton Falls

Hamilton Lake

Trip to Aldi: Since I was driving down through Fresno, I decided to stop at Aldi (this is the closest one to my house, and is about 200 miles away from me) for a little wander through the aisles. Since I was going to be in the car for a while and I couldn't have food in my car at the park, I did not buy much, but I had a lot of fun checking things out. The weird thing though is that when I arrived, there were only about 6 cars in the parking lot and I feared they were closed but they were open but it was nearly empty! Maybe the Fresnans have not gotten the memo that you can get good things at Aldi on the cheap? It probably did not help that the following stores were all on the same street within about a two mile stretch: Smart and Final, Grocery Outlet, Costco, Albertsons, WinCo. 

Tesla Semi Truck: I saw this on highway 99! I did not know that Tesla made a semi and it was a very strange site; it looks like a toy. I checked later and apparently the Modesto Frito Lay factory is testing them out so that is why I happened upon one. 

Road Trip Snacks: Although I normally try to eat healthy, when I go on a road trip, I give myself a pass to eat what I want! This included corn nuts (guilty pleasure), peanuts (the dry roasted ones with the yummy MSG) and lots of jerky! Actually I also bought some cheese and carrot sticks from Aldi on my way home, so I guess this time the snacks were not really that indulgent! 

Pilot: My Favorite Gas Station: Every time I go on a long road trip on a major highway, my stop of choice is Pilot/Flying J. When I go to Oregon in the summer, they are perfectly spaced out and my routine consists of the same thing every time - get gas (even if I am half full), get ice tea/lemonade combo (Arnold Palmer) refill with lots of ice and use the bathroom. Every. Single. Time. I have had disappointment when stopping at other truck stops and they do not have unsweetened iced team from the fountain drink section (not a bottled one from the cooler) so I just stick to the one that has what I want! 

What did you do this weekend? What are your favorite road trip snacks and/or break stops? 


What I Love

Earlier this year I did a list of gadgets that I use all the time and I thought it was time for another one! Here are a few more things that I either gained a newfound love for recently or have cemented my existing love for in 2023. 

Miso Soup: This one may seem a little strange, but if you have the right ingredients, this is an easy, fast and simple dinner item that you just can't beat. You can supplement it with rice or salmon or just eat it alone, but either way it is delicious. I even love it so much I have made a camping version! Here is what you need to get started: miso paste, dashi, tofu. That's it! If you want to have fun,  you can add: green onions, wakame or any meats or noodles (I like these). For camping, I use the instant version and add rice noodles for a quick two minute dish while on the trail. To top it off, you can add furikake! (I have put links to Amazon, but you can get all of these ingredients at your local Asian food store, or even Whole Foods has them now). 

Reusable Sandwich Bags: I started using these when I was hiking because I felt like we create so much trash with single serving items. There are cloth, washable versions of either sandwich bags or snack bags and these are great for dry snacks like granola, peanuts or dried fruit. There are also silicone ones that are supposedly leakproof. I use these for wet items or things I want to keep fresher or put in the cooler (like carrots or grapes etc.) but have not tested them on any real liquids. I gave a set of these to a few friends and one of them uses the cloth ones to keep her toiletries in check! 

Dry Wet Wipes: These are a game changer. How many of us carry around bulky wet wipes in our purse or car? However, if you have a smidge of water, these expandable wipes are great! They literally only need about a capful of water and then they are large enough and strong enough to wipe down your entire body. I am not just saying this; I have tried it! I usually use them for camping but also have some in my purse for everyday use. I like them so much that I told Santa to give them to all of my family members a couple of years ago. 

Audiobooks: I have to admit, over the last few years, I have moved strongly into the team audiobook camp. I used to listen to a lot of music or podcasts when I ran or drove, but now I am audiobook all the way. Doing this has upped my reading game by probably roughly one book a week and if I am hiking for multiple days or doing a lot of gardening, it could even be two or three! I have gotten to where I do listen to them at 1.75 speed most of the time, but an average book at normal speed takes about 10 hours to finish. 

Gallon Sized Hydroflask: I have a knock off version of the Hydroflask in the gallon size (roughly 4 liters) and it is awesome. I can fill it up with water and ice on a Friday when I am headed out the door on a weekend trip and if I do not drink it all, it often still is about half ice when I get home on Sunday. This has been great for weekend hiking trips when it is really hot and we get back to the car hot and sweaty and parched, but it is also great for long road trips; when I drove to Washington last summer, I kept it right next to me in the car the whole time. It is a bit hard to drink from while driving but I imagine you could get a straw top instead of a screw off and the problem would be solved. 

What things do you use all of the time or have you discovered recently? What does your go to road trip car kit look like? 


Looking Back

As I mentioned last week, Memorial Day weekend normally kicks off "summer" in these parts. It means we can start swimming a little, even if the water is frigid and it marks the beginning of camping and hiking season. This year we had a very high snowpack and some parts of the Sierra have over 10 feet of snow still, but this did not stop me from getting outside anyway. Here are some of the highlights. 

Memorial Day weekend, I went to Yosemite for a few days of backpacking. Basically depending on what way the hill was facing and whether or not there was tree cover, there was snow from about 6,000 feet in some places or as high as 8,000 in others. Additionally there were a lot of downed trees due to either the recent fires and or the snowpack causing them to fall. The cherry on top was the creeks and rivers, which are all swelled up three or four or more times their normal size. This meant altering my route several times, but did not detract from the beauty of the region. 

Panoramic Trail view of Half Dome

Top of Nevada Falls

Sunrise on Half Dome

Merced River

Snowy Trail

Four Mile trail - view of Half Dome

Four Mile Trail - view of Yosemite Falls

Four Mile Trail - view of El Capitan

Last weekend was my Dad's birthday and I met up with my family to do some regular camping, hiking and a couple of rounds of Spades. We met near Mt. Shasta, in an area called Castle Crags. I have driven by this a bunch of times and have even hiked near it, but I did not know that you can hike right into the middle of it and it is really beautiful! It was quite hot though, probably over 90 degrees and we wanted to go swimming, but the Sacramento (and all of the rivers) river is still flowing a bit too fast for our liking. 

Mom and Dad looking at the Crags

Crag Dome and Mt. Shasta

Dad nearly at the top of the Crag Dome trail

View from the top (with Mt. Shasta)

What did you do this weekend? Is it hot where you are? Have you gone swimming yet this season? 


Great Divide Trail: Logistics, Gear & Planning

Happy Memorial Day! This weekend kicks off the "official" backpacking season for me each year, so I thought I would finally post about the two week trip that I took to Oh Canada to hike the Great Divide Trail (GDT)! Hopefully you are off enjoying the extra day off of work and the sunshine today (and are reading this post on Tuesday)! 

Healy Pass - Banff NP

Canada's Great Divide Trail is a 1,123 km (702 mile) trail that follows the Great Divide between Kawka Provincial Park in the North to Waterton Lakes National Park in the south. If you are a Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hiker in the US, you can actually just keep going north if you wanted, following the GTD the rest of the way up to Kawka PP.  It flip flops between Alberta and British Columbia and goes through several different national and provincial parks and wilderness areas. 

It is made up of several trails linked together and some are very well maintained (Banff Mountain National Park), some of them are washed out and some of them are nearly non-existent and require route-finding (Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park). Some of the trail goes through places with more access to roads and/or people (Banff, Jasper etc.) bus some places are downright remote. In fact, if you are a NOBO hiker, when you arrive to Kawka, you have to hike out about 75 km (47 mi) on a forest service road to get back to a highway. You can find information about this and a lot more on the GTD website

The Route: I had been hiking in Yolo, Kootenay, Jasper and Banff before and had found the scenery stunning, so in 2018, I decided that I wanted to see more. However, I was not going to be able to cover it all in a two week vacation. I really wanted to see the four parks I mentioned again, but logistically, I felt it was easier to either pick a more southern section, therefore skipping Jasper, or pick a more northern one, therefore missing some of the Provincial Parks I had not been to. 

I decided to do a NOBO section hike of sections B, C and D which would be a 500 km (312 mi) stretch starting in Coleman and ending in Saskatchewan River Crossing. This would mean hiking about 25 miles per day. If needed, I could skip section C and bail out one road crossing before that at Field, which would be 385 km (247 mi) stretch and about 20 miles per day. I would start in Coleman since I could easily get a bus from Calgary, and hope that at the end I would not have to wait around for two days for a bus back. 

I used Gaia to map out my estimated miles per day and then exported the routes to the Offline Maps app. I also bought the GDT app for my phone so I would have a couple of different options for navigation. I won't lie, I did not figure out until two thirds through my trip that it's interactive and people could make notes in the app, which would have been helpful at the beginning, which was more rugged and had more route-finding. 

The Plan/Logistics: To hike the trail, you need to buy a Parks Canada National Pass, which covers entry into all the parks. I bought mine in advance and had it sent to my house. Camping is a little confusing as there are several different organizations and parks you have to deal with regarding passes and permits. You may need to book campsites in advance for many of the national parks and some provincial parks; this pdf list of all of the sites and whether or not they need to be booked was very helpful. When I went, they were not all online, but it looks like more are now; you can find the online booking tool here

I got a flight to Calgary from San Francisco, which after spending nearly 24 hours traveling to my mountain destinations in Europe, felt so short and easy! From Calgary, I took a Greyhound bus to Coleman. There was only one bus per day and it left Calgary around 10:00 pm, arriving in Coleman around 4:00 am. I flew in around 10:00 am, which left me with some time to kill, but I spent it having my last hamburger and beer, and buying fuel and bear spray since I could not fly with either of those. 

A quick note about Canadians and bear spray: I had to purchase bear spray and register it, as it could technically be used as a weapon. I was told that there was a serial number on the can and if I left it at a random trailhead and someone used it as a weapon, I would be liable. Wow. I am not sure what they expect foreigners to do with their (hopefully) unused bear spray. (Note: apparently you can rent it in Banff, but I did not find a place to do so in Calgary). After eating and shopping, I killed time reading and charging my electronics at a coffee shop before boarding my bus to Coleman. 

I arrived at Coleman around 4:00 am and was dropped off at the 7-11 in the dark on the side of the highway. I then had to walk a couple of miles on the highway to get to the trail. It was a bit of an odd start; I was very happy when I veered off the highway and onto the trail, although then you walk on ATV roads for the next maybe 20 or 30 miles, so it was not exactly what I had expected.

Once I had finished, I took a series of local busses and the Greyhound back to Calgary. The bus system in Canada was just okay; it definitely was not as good as the transport in Europe, and is probably more on par with some of the options in the US. For example, both the bus to Coleman and the one back to Calgary were just once a day and they were at very strange times. Also, as it is in the US, there were some interesting characters riding the bus, whereas in Europe everyone rides the bus, not just the people who do not have a car. 

The Big Three: I took my Big Agnes Fishhook UL1 Tent (one man - 47 oz.) on this trip. I used the Hyperlite 2400 Southwest Backpack (28.6 oz.) and Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree sleeping bag (29 oz.). For my sleeping pad I had the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite short size (8 oz.) that had popped on my Kungsleden trip. I patched it up with the kit that comes with it, but it still slowly deflated throughout the night, so I was constantly blowing it up. My big three weighed about 7 pounds.

Base Pack Weight: My base pack weight was about 18 pounds, excluding clothing worn and including an extra dry and clean outfit for after the trail. You can see my LighterPack list for this trip here

Clothing: For weather, this trip ran the gamut. I experienced the following: baking in the sun, below freezing temperatures, snow and rain. I brought my normal list of layers: REI button down shirt, short sleeved shirt, Mountain Hardware ghost whisperer puffy jacket, Montbell rain jacket & REI rain pants. I also brought a buff, a windbreaker, gloves, beanie and tights just in case, and I used them all! I don't want to have a spoiler alert for my trip report, but after this trip, I did a lot of research about snow camping and waterproof gear.  

Food: After my Kungsleden trip, I decided that when I am hiking long days, I prefer to have a hot meal in the morning and am fine with a cold one in the evening. This saves on gas and time. However, I do love a warm cup of coffee, especially when it's cold. My plan was to have coffee and dinner for breakfast, which consisted of beans and rice, ramen and a couscous medley. For dinner, I would have cold muesli with fruit and powdered milk. This also allowed me to eat dinner easily on the go as well as not eating in my camp at night due to the presence of bears. 

I carried all of my food in two drybags, which I hung each night. However, this is more easily said than done, as some forests were made of only pine trees which did not have limbs long enough or high enough to hang a bag from. There were some nights that I had to hang the food as high as I could in two separate spots 100 feet away from my camp and pray for the best. 

Water: This was the bane of my existence. I carried the Sawyer mini and the 1 liter squeeze bag that comes with it as well as a one liter clean water container. Finding water was no issue at all, and I did not really need to carry more than a liter or so at a time most of the time. However, I popped the squeeze bag somewhere around day 4 or 5 and duct taped it up, but it required a bit of jerry rigging to make it work. Aside from that, filtering is my least favorite thing to do and I felt that I was constantly filtering on this trip. Spoiler alert, I have since fixed this problem with two magical items, the CNOC squeeze bag and gravity filtering! 

Total Pack Weight: Including two liters of water, about 20 pounds (13 days worth) of food, a medium fuel container and bear spray, my pack weighed about 40 pounds. Let me tell you, I was happy to eat my way toward a lighter pack on this trip! 

The Verdict: As I mentioned above, after this trip I dialed in my water filtration system a lot, which has made me a much happier camper. I also invested in some wet/cold weather items, as I got pretty wet and cold in good ol' Canada. Other than that, I was very happy with my set up. I definitely want to go back and hike more sections of this trail and maybe even revisit a few places, such as Mt. Assiniboine, which was very foggy on the day that I was there. I would say that my pack is quickly becoming my favorite piece of gear as it is lightweight, comfortable and mostly waterproof! 

More Information: GDT website

If you have any questions, let me know! Otherwise, happy hiking! 

Have you ever been to Canada? Have you ever ridden the Greyhound (or other long distance transport) in the US or Canada (and what did you think)? What did you do for the long weekend this weekend?