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? 


Grandad Jokes

I heard a phrase the other day that reminded me of my Grandad; he used to have a lot of these phrases he would throw out and this one really made me remember him as well as wonder...does everyone's grandfather do this? I also think some of them have flowed over to my Dad and some of them are still said by my Grandma and so I may be mixing them up a bit, but here are some of the sayings I used to hear a lot as a kid. 


Yours is not to question why; yours is but to do or die. This is the one that gave me the initial deja vu feeling, and I actually looked it up and the phrase is actually "ours is not to reason why," but it is still an alteration of a line in a Tennyson poem about the British military: “Theirs not to make reply / Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die.” However, I am pretty sure that my family used to mean that if you are a child, just do as you are told. I guess this kind of jives with the military aspect, although luckily as a child we would not actually die, which cannot be said for the soldiers. 

Children should be seen and not heard. My Grandad was often working when we were at his house and you had to always be quiet. This also was used when we interrupted, and I would often stand there quietly, waiting for him (or my Dad) to call on me to speak when he was on the phone or talking to someone else. Of course in my child's mind, what I wanted to say (probably "can I have an ice cream") was important, but he would make me wait my turn. 

A penny saved is a penny earned. As I have talked about before, I am actually a saver, and I don't know if it was this phrase that kicked off my habit, but this is one I heard often. I actually had a savings account when I was quite young; in fact I had a little bank ledger book that I would record each entry in and I was fastidious about keeping track! Although I don't think we should pinch pennies so much that we do not enjoy our day to day life, I do think that not spending on frivolous things now can help build a bigger pot for later, as the saying indicates. I think my Dad and Grandma still also use the phrase, so it lives even though my Grandad does not. 

In for a penny, in for a pound. If you are start something, you may as well go all out, no matter how difficult or costly it is. Once again, I do not know if I have this phrase in my head when completing a race, or working on a project at work, but I definitely believe in finishing what you started, so maybe this phrase stuck too! However, I am not sure I would always throw good money after bad, so the literal "pound" part of if may give me pause. 

A job worth doing is worth doing well. Once again, I think this one makes sense. My parents had a business and I worked in the convenience store and helped clean cabins from the time I was about eight. I remember my Dad checking on my sweeping and mopping at the end of the evening and making me redo it if there was dirt in any of the corners. My Mom makes her beds with perfect hospital corners and I also learned to do this by having to redo it if I got it wrong. I hated that, and I hated redoing it, BUT guess what, they were right to do that (thanks guys) because I do not like to do shoddy or half baked work now. To be frank, my Dad will probably still go one step further than me because he is a Gemini perfectionist, and my Mom's hospital corners are still way tighter than mine, but doing it right the first time rather than having to fix it again later makes sense! 

Have you heard these phrases? Do you agree with them? What phrases do/did your grandparents or parents use often? 


Things That Make You Go Hmmm

I recently listened to the book Food, A Love Story by the comedian Jim Gaffigan where he talks about his relationship with food. I don't know much about Gaffigan and have never seen his stand up or a movie with him in it, but the book was available at my library and I wanted something light so I picked it up. It is read by the author and in the end, it was surprisingly funny. I am not always a fan of memoirs as they just talk about themselves the entire time, but he talked about himself in a depreciating but comedic manner. 

One of my favorite places to think deep thoughts...

In addition to that, this book made me think. Of course I was out hiking when I listened to it, and that already lends itself to deep thoughts, but I do love a book that makes you consider things you may not have thought of before. In this case, he made a joke about eating when you are not really hungry: “Ugh, I’m so full. I guess I’ll have some cheese. Hmm, I don’t even like this cheese. I guess I’ll finish it.” It got me thinking about how often I do this (a lot!) and how some people don't seem to have this issue. Why can I not open a bag of tortilla chips without eating the entire thing when some people CAN "eat just one?" I don't know the answer to this question, nor do I know if I will ever change, but it got me thinking! Here are a couple of other recent reads that have got me saying hmmmm lately...

The Measure: this is a book about everyone in the world receiving a box with a string in it. The length of the string indicates the length of your life. I will not tell you how I felt about this book, but it got me thinking... would I want to open the box? What would I do (differently?) if I found out that my string was long/short? The book also explores the politics surrounding the strings: should you be required to disclose your string length? Should you run for office or be in the military if your string is short? It was very interesting and really make me think about a lot of different social and political issues. 

Living Without Plastic: this book is, not surprisingly, about trying to use less plastic in your life. It talks about some of the substitutions we can initiate, like some obvious ones such as our own reusable grocery bags, own own produce bags or some more not so obvious but easy ones like wooden combs and toothbrushes, bar shampoos and soaps, non-plastic straws and utensils etc. I try to do my part, and don't use a lot of single use things like plastic water bottles or takeout containers etc., but there are some changes I will make due to reading this. It even inspired me to finally take a load of old grocery bags to Sprouts for recycling (also did you know you can recycle plastic wraps, like the ones that are around a case of water or toilet paper, at some grocery stores too?) I still have a long way to go, but I feel like this book has given me some ideas to move in the right direction. 

Can you "eat just one" chip? Would you open your box/want to know how much longer you had to live? Do you do any of the anti-plastic activities I mentioned or do you have any other tips/tricks for not using so much plastic? 


The Best Month

Picking a favorite month is like picking a favorite travel destination, or a favorite child (not that anyone would ever do admit to that!) It is hard. There are things about each one that have their ups and their downs. For example, I love Italy because no matter where you go, you can find good food. It doesn't matter if it is some guy on the street selling tomatoes; they are the best tomatoes you have ever eaten. The same can be said for Bangkok street food - I could eat $1 Pad Thai all.day.long. Seoul has the most excellent outdoor fish and fruit markets. La Paz has mountains and tiny streets and Cholitas with various hats. And there are many more. I can't pick a favorite! 

When it comes to months, there is something special about a snowy day, a blue skied summer weekend in the mountains or the changing colors of the trees. However, despite the fact that I love summer and would be outside every day if I could, spring is my favorite season because it feels like a fresh start, and more specifically, the month of May is my favorite month. I may be a little bit biased, since it is the month of my birth, but celebrating my birthday is not even on the top ten for the month. Here are a few things that are on the top ten list! 

Green hills: the Bay Area has various different outdoor spaces, but is mostly either redwood forests on the coastal areas or savannah like grasslands on the inland areas. The grasslands are pretty much dry and yellow for 9 months of the year and on a hot year, it could be even less. However, in April and May, they are green for a fleeting moment and I love looking out over the green hills; it feels so fresh. 

Green hills

Flowers: The same hills described above have wonderful wildflowers in the spring. Also, my garden flowers are all in bloom too and they are so pretty (and due to the rain, I did not even have to water yet!)

April showers bring May flowers

Food: All of my edible perennial garden items have started to flower or fruit. Currently, the following are ready to eat: artichokes and strawberries. These are coming along nicely: peaches, plums, blueberries. These are getting new leaves and are showing promise: fig, apple. It's going to be a good year and the early heavy rains seemed to have helped more than they hindered (expect for my avocado, which I suspect got drowned or suffocated. So sad.) 

Friends/Family: Aside from my birthday, May is also the month of my parent's anniversary and Mother's Day. We have an annual tradition to get together with my family and a good friend's family for an all encompassing celebration and I really cherish this time spent together every year. 

Outdoor adventures: Memorial Day weekend is essentially the unofficial start to summer for me, as I often do my first backpacking trip over this three day weekend. This year I have an outing scheduled but due to our high snowpack, it may look very different than it did for the last few years. 

May 2022 backpacking in Yosemite

Running: if you like trail racing, May is the month where races kick off in earnest and in my area there is basically one in every weekend. There have been some years that I have done three races in May! This year I will do none, but many of my friends are out there getting it done! 

Weather: the weather starts to warm up, time is spent in the backyard reading books and life it good! Sometimes in May we get some freakishly hot weather, but overall it is usually nearly perfect! 

Backyard reading with Gato

Woof! 102 in May, go away!

To top that all off, I think as the sun starts shining more and the weather gets nicer, motivation levels go up, as do the serotonin levels, so when May arrives, it feels like it is time to get out of our winter shell and get ready to tackle the world. 

What is your favorite month of the year and why? 


The Money Pie Deconstructed: Groceries

Every year I do a recap of my spending, and I have broken the items into nine categories: Dining Out, Entertainment, Groceries, Health, Home, Misc., Shopping, Transportation and Travel. Last year I broke down my transportation category and went into more detail about where I spend my money in this category, how I get to work, how hard it is to park sometimes and what's in my trunk. 

Now its time to talk about groceries. Before I start, I have a confession to make. I like reading posts and watching YouTube videos about how people spend their money, and specifically how they spend their grocery money and/or how they save money on groceries. Some of my favorites are Frugal Fit Mom, Mary's Nest and FlavCity

I am not a doomsday prepper, but I definitely could last for a few months on the stores that I have in my house. Much of this is due to the fact that I have a good supply of camping food, which lasts for a long time, is lightweight and can be eaten by just adding water. I also have amassed a good supply of staples over the years, such as rice, dried beans and canned tomatoes. 

I am not an extreme couponer; however, I do like to sit down with the ads each week and compare prices at my local stores. I prefer to do this on paper as it is nice to be able to compare the different places side by side, but a lot of stores have apps and I will sometimes browse them instead, which is nice because you can make a list of things to buy right on the app. However, using the apps does sometimes mean toggling back and forth or making notes about which store has better deals. I usually base my weekly shopping trip on whichever store has the better deals. If one store has one of my staples at a great price, I may just shop at that one store for the week, or if the deals are split, I may go to two. 

I make a list in Google Keep and to be honest, a lot of weeks I just duplicate the list from last week and change a few things. There are a few staples I often buy so my list looks very similar each week. This app is also good if you are sharing shopping duties as you can add a collaborator and they can also add or cross off things from the list.

I generally shop at Safeway for most basics, and a local store called Farmer Joes for produce. Farmer Joes is a combination of expensive specialty items, bulk items and produce; if you want a head of lettuce, their prices and quality can't be beat, but if you are looking for a gallon of milk, you will pay out the nose for it. This makes it worth my while to go to both stores, plus they are only a block apart so it does not take too much extra time. 

I have a two tiered method of shopping: (1) fresh items that I use each week, such as milk, eggs, vegetables and fruit and (2) longer term items, such as dry goods like beans, rice or oatmeal, canned goods and meat, which I will buy in bulk and freeze. For the fresh items, sometimes you just have to pay a little more, but I try to buy what is in season and work around that rather than having a specific dish in mind and buying specific items for that dish. I am happy to eat oranges instead of apples, or use oat milk over almond milk if one is cheaper or fresher than the other. For longer term items, I try to get them when they are on sale and I store them until I need them. For example, last week Lucky's had pork chops for $0.99 per pound, so I bought ten pounds and froze them in two packs for later. Again, I don't really need specific items so will buy whatever is cheap at the moment. 

The "pantry"

I do not plan meals per se, but will see what is on sale and will then loosely plan around that. If pork chops are what I bought, that week's lunches will be pork chops and I will add whatever veggie I bought along with rice or quinoa from the long term section. I usually cook enough for one week's worth of lunches and prep them all at once. For dinners, I will normally go to the freezer where I have stored my prior deals in convenient serving sized packs, and I will take something out in the morning and then cook it at night with some other veggies etc. 

I guess I will be having pork butt soon!

I do not mind eating the same meal several times a week, and a lot of my meals consist of meat/tofu and a veggie with sometimes rice or potato. Other standbys are beans, lentils or some sort of Indian or Thai inspired "stew" (usually beans or tofu) over rice. If I am feeling lazy, an old standby is miso soup and if I am feeling frisky, I may add chicken or pork or rice noodles to it and call it ramen. 

Weekly meal prep

Lunches for the week

Let's talk about the costs, my favorite part! I love hearing what others spend on their grocery bills and why its higher or lower. I know a few of you chimed in on my purging post and I am amazed at what a range there is of how much people spend! Over the last six years, my average grocery bill per month has been about $320. This is inflated by the amount I spent in 2020; without this outlier, the average would be about $290. For the first quarter of 2023, the average is about $200, but my goal for this year is to shop more from my pantry and use up some of the items I already have rather than buying more, so I expect my grocery costs to be lower this year. 

Fun facts: in 2022, I went to Costco 17 times; my average spend per trip was $115. My three top purchased items by count at Costco were blueberries, strawberries and cucumbers and by dollar amount were coffee, strawberries and blueberries (yay fruit!). The price of two pounds of strawberries ranged from $6.99 to $10.79 throughout the year. The average cost was $7.97. 

What is your grocery shopping schedule/method like? Do you often buy the same things over and over or are you more exciting than me? What is your favorite "go to" meal? If you have not already answered this, how much do you spend on groceries?