Looking Back: February

 I am not sure if it is because February was a short month or what but all I can say is what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks happened to February!? I do not feel that it was especially productive, but still things sailed pretty quickly from January to March. Maybe this is a good thing, as it means one day (week, month) closer to, dare I say, "normalcy?" Here's hoping. Until then, one day (week, month) at a time, we keep paddling. Yup, I am in a sailboat with a paddle. 

Running: In February, after two months of solitude, we came out of lockdown. I started back doing a once a week run with my running buddy. However, I still had quite a few solo runs, several of them in the pouring rain and the majority of them still on the road rather than trails. I ended up with 215 miles. I have been having fun finding weird things in my neighborhood, like this series of wooden creatures on a local trail. 

Plumbers crack

Forrest creature

Reading: Two things dragged down my reading numbers this month. One: I am reading a book called Dark Money for a work book club and it is dragging along! It is about the Koch brothers and I have learned a lot but man it is boring at times. Two: I have been studying a lot. However, I did read 12 books and my two favorites were Code Name Helene (WWII alert!) and A Good Neighborhood. For more details you can go here

My study buddy

: Hahahahahaha. What? Snore emoji! I went back and forth to work, I went grocery shopping and I went to the gas station. My big traveling lately has been done on YouTube (places like this), which is helping me to plan about 10 summer camping trips of which I will hopefully get to do a few of. 

Misc.: I have done a fair bit of puttering in the garden and we have actually had some rainy days but not enough of them, so the backyard days have been more plentiful than I thought they would. I did some digging and moved some dirt around and did a ton of weeding. In a couple of weeks, I will make sure the drip system is set up and I will throw some veggies in the dirt! It is very satisfying and a nice break from studying. I am also tentatively planning a few summer things, although I am keeping my expectations low while also being cautiously optimistic. 

What was your favorite book in February? Did you go anywhere or do anything? 


Looking Back: January

The first month of the new year pretty much went the same way as the last month of last year went; we were still under lockdown, which meant more solo runs, audiobooks, and puttering around the house. I also started studying again, and am doing that about 15-18 hours per week. In addition, it's been raining, so the weeds are getting out of control, but that is a task for another month! 

Running: I have been trying to run three times per week, once during the week and once each weekend day. I can get out early on the weekends so can be "mask-less" for a couple of hours before I start having to put it up from time to time, and on the weekday run, I have found a neighborhood route where I see fewer people, even though it's the middle of the day. This has resulted in a lot of neighborhood exploration runs and I have found some interesting kitschy gardens and funky gates around town. In January I did 14 runs for a total of 230 miles. 

These guys just people watch all day, I guess.

Survivors will be shot again.

I love the pretty blue tiles.

Reading: Due to being home, I once again read a lot! I already put a couple of five star ratings on books and my goal is to try to write an actual review blurb for (not just star) a few books a month. My favorites were The Book of Lost Names (WWII French Resistance), The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (Immortality), Tell the Wolves I am Home (AIDS, love, being a teenager) and A Promised Land (Obama). They were all good, although I felt that Obama's book was a bit too long and wish he would have edited it a bit more. It was a 30 hour audiobook; thank goodness for 1.6x speed! 

Travel: Crickets again! I traveled to and from work. I did not even go to the grocery store, as I stocked up at Costco in December and am working my way through my stash of fridge meals. 

Happy New Year! Brought to you by happy eggs! 

Misc.: I am back on the study bus, so as much as I would like to say that I was super productive around the house, I mostly studied, worked in the yard (the balls/seeds falling from the maple tree are the bane of my existence), read and puttered. 

What did you do in January? What was your favorite book so far this year? 


Looking Back: 2020 Money Pie

Unfortunately, in 2019 the system that I use for compiling my data had a glitch and I decided not to recreate everything, so I never got 2019 data all put together. This year, I was interested to see how my spending stacked up to prior years, as I did not spend as much money on travel, which is generally my second biggest category. I also wanted to break out some of my shopping a little more fully, and so I spent some time looking through my Amazon, Costco and Walmart receipts since a lot of those are multiple categories, whereas in years past I just called Costco "groceries" and Amazon "shopping." 

So without further ado, here is the pie!

Overall, in 2020 I spent 94% of my average over the years of 2016-2018, or 6% less than normal. The categories that decreased the most in dollar terms were Travel and Dining Out and the categories that increased the most were Groceries and Health. 

Home: (Increase 2% YoY) This category includes mortgage, utilities, garbage, taxes, insurance and garden. As you can see, this is my largest category by far. However, I spent a little more than I normally do in this category, and I chalk that up to the fact that I decided to start paying a little extra toward my principal midway through the year. Otherwise this category dollar-wise has been very consistent through the years and is always my largest.

Groceries: (Increase 62% YoY) Woof! I spent a lot more on groceries than I normally do, which is probably due to the following: (1) I bought a lot of non-perishables online and I probably went a little overboard. (2) I stocked up at Costco a few times. (3) I decided to experiment with making my own dehydrated meals and also tried some new foods for camping trips (that could be its own post!) (4) I  cut out sugar and am eating more natural items and I tried a lot of new products for this as well (this could also be its own post). However, an interesting note is that if you add groceries + dining out, I spent less in total this year than I do on average (almost 20% less). 

Transportation: (Increase 14% YoY) This category is often my third biggest as it consists of daily public transportation commute costs plus any car related costs like gas, tolls or maintenance. This year, due to COVID, I actually did go into work every day, but I drove instead of taking public transportation, which upped my car related costs significantly. In addition, I had to buy two new tires and a new side window for the Red Rocket in 2020. 

Travel: (Decrease 64% YoY) This includes any flights, meals, lodging or activities while traveling. This year I took one flight and paid for one that I did not use. Otherwise, I took a couple of road trips. I tried to be more diligent with breaking down my costs, so this does account for all camping, food, gas etc. that I used while doing the road trips, but there were a lot of cooler and backpack meals and wild camping, so the number was very low. 

Misc.: (Decrease 36% YoY) This category is mainly gifts. There are a few credit card fees in there as well, but they are minimal. Normally this includes education, hair cuts and massages, but well...I paid for my education in 2019 and it's still postponed, and there have been no hair cuts this year and I decided to put my one massage in Health instead. 

Entertainment: (Increase 10% YoY) This consists of any running, camping, music or national park related items or any other fun activities (excluding travel). This category was larger than normal because of my different allocations this year. In prior years, running shoes were under "shopping" but this year I decided to put them under entertainment. In addition, if I bought food that was only going to be used for camping (a bit of a grey area at times), I categorized it here. The big ticket items were a new tent, two concerts and three pairs of running shoes (I always buy them if they are on sale). 

Health: (Increase 69% YoY) This consists of gym membership, health insurance, doctors visits and things like vitamins and protein powder. This year my insurance increased a little, and I also spent some money trying to figure out a pain I had in my foot at the beginning of the year. However, I did finally cancel the gym membership that I was paying for every money but not using! 

Shopping: (Decrease 29% YoY) This category was mostly toiletries, home supplies and kitchen gadgets, with the bulk of the total going towards a new Ninja. Actually my second largest subcategory here was pet supplies. Gato had fleas a few years ago and I have happily spent money on flea treatment and prevention since then. Fleas give me nightmares.  

Dining Out: (Decrease 90% YoY) Most of my dining out is covered in travel. In fact, I only dined out a few times in January and February when I had some friends visit and we went for beers etc. Otherwise, I bought burritos for my two office mates mid-COVID but that is it! 

The Verdict?: I am now an expert at online shopping. I know where to find a good sugar-free jerky and that MRIs and pet supplies are expensive. Reading and weeding are both free. Owning a house is not. I wonder if next year's grocery number will be lower because I will still be working my way through all of the beef sticks and protein powders that I bought this year. 

Did you spend more or less in 2020 than you normally do? Which categories do you think differed the most year over  year? 


Looking Back: December

Well, that was an interesting month. On December 7th, California imposed another Stay at Home requirement, so I got a lot of stuff done around the house last month!

Running: Definitely not my highest running month ever, but December went out with a bang when I realized on the 29th that I was less than 5,000 feet away from having a total feet climbed of 400,000. So on the 30th, I went and ran up and down a hill near my house a few times and on the 31st instead of drinking champagne, I went and did a trail run to get those last few thousand feet of climbing in. I ended the year with 400,433 feet of climbing. 

Reading: In December I read my most books ever for one month. None of them were total duds, although I did give one book two stars only because I did not like the tone of the narrator (I listened to it as an audiobook and the author was the narrator). My favorite was Christadora, which made it into my top books of 2020. A few others I enjoyed were Gimme Everything You Got (an easy, fast YA read), The Black Swan of Paris (who doesn't love a WWII French resistance novel) and On Tyranny (an interesting comparison between Nazi Germany and the current US).

Travel: Crickets! The furthest I traveled was my commute to work. Oh, I also went to Costco once for a grocery haul so I would not have to go to the store a lot during the shut down. Other than that, I guess going back and forth from the kitchen to the bathroom were my big forays for the month! 

Misc.: I actually got a lot of those little annoying things that you do not like doing done in December. I cleaned out several closets, sorted and threw away paperwork, finally deep scrubbed the bathroom grout, installed a security system myself (it even works!), went through that darn junk drawer and other assorted things like that. I also worked in the yard a couple of times each week, as the Maple tree just keeps giving! I am also doing a lot of video calls!

How was your December? What did you do for the holidays? Did you read any good books? 


Best of 2020: Books

Well it's that time of year again, time to do the wrap ups! This year, due to spending a lot more time at home than I normally do, I read a lot more books than I normally do. In fact, this is the most books read per year since I started tracking and even more than some of the years where I was not working and was traveling a lot. In addition, I read over 20 books in one month alone, which is definitely the most I have ever read in a month! I guess it was that kind of year! 

I always like looking back and remembering what my favorite books were for the year and really enjoy reading other people's lists as well (and adding books to my to-read list!). Here are my recaps from prior years: 2019, 2018201720162015201420132012, and 2011.

And now, in no particular order, here are my favorite ten twelve books that I read in 2020. 

Five Stars:

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This was a very entertaining book about a rock band in the 60s; it's all about the sex, drugs and rock and roll and it doesn't disappoint. It is written in an interview style and goes back and forth between stories, but that does not detract from the story at all, in fact, it actually made it very entertaining, in my opinion. 

The River by Peter Heller: Two friends go out on a fishing trip in Northern Canada thinking that they are going to have a nice time catching up, fishing and enjoying nature but they end up getting more of an adventure than they bargained for. I won't say more in fear of spoiling it for readers, but let's just say that I finished this book in one day! 

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: In the 1930s many Native American children in Minnesota were separated from their families and sent to be "educated." This is the story of two brothers who attempt to escape this life. You really begin to like these brothers and their friends and are rooting for their journey to succeed. Of course they come upon hard times and danger and adventure along the way. 

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow: I actually did not know what this book was about when I started it; I only put it on my to-read because it had good reviews. However, once I started it, I was both disgusted and enthralled by the story. It is an investigative journalism story about the Weinstein ordeal, not only what he did, but how hard it was to find women willing to testify and how corrupt and controlling the big men in big chairs really are. It was very interesting hearing some of the "behind the scenes" information. 

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou: This was another investigative journalism piece about an ordeal that had been in the news a lot but that I did not know a lot of details about. This talks about the Theranos scandal, which if you are unfamiliar was a company that sold a machine that did blood testing, but they were delivering fraudulent results. Once again, there were some big power people at play here and the fight between might and right is in the forefront of the situation. 

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman: This book was written by a woman in the strict Satmar sect of the Hasidic Jewish faith. She talks about what it is like to be in a faith where woman have little rights. She is married off at an early age to a man she barely knew and after getting pregnant, decided to try to escape. It is not easy however, as the sect keeps to themselves and if you leave you are often ostracized. I learned a lot about the faith through this book and wanted her to be able to just leave but also understood the difficulties of trying to do so. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune: This book is about a man who lives a pretty by-the-books boring life. One day, his employer sends him to an island for an assignment and it turns out to be one where there are magical (and dangerous) children. He is there to evaluate them and their caretaker and in the end, he gets more than he bargained for. This was a touching book with a couple of twists thrown in and was one that was hard to put down. 

Christadora by Tim Murphy: I had this on hold for a while and finally got it right at the end of the year so it was a last minute five star add. About a family through time, it talks about the struggles of the AIDs movement, issues with addiction, mental disorders and emotional pain. It does jump back and forth a little between time periods, which was a little difficult, but all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Four Stars: I had a lot of four star reviews this year! Normally three stars is more common for me, basically when I found a book good but not totally wow, but this year I either got more generous or more of them caught my fancy! 

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes & The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson: I am combining this one, because both of these books are about the packhorse librarians of Kentucky and they were both very enjoyable. The packhorse librarians were a group of women in the early 1900s who would ride horses through the remote mountains of Appalachia to deliver books to people who lived too far out of town to come in and get them. In 1930, about 30% of the people living in eastern Kentucky could not read and did not have a school to go to, so this was their only way of learning. These books were both fiction, but they gave me a very interesting peek into the way that things worked in that area, and they make me think of how lucky I am that right now I have about 20 books checked out from the library! 

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld: This book is a fictional book about what would have happened to Hillary if she had not married Bill Clinton. It has a bit of raunchy areas that I felt it could have done without, and they made me cringe a little, but otherwise it is entertaining and sometimes when reading (or listening in my case) you forget that it is not a biography. I had to go and look up a couple of things to see if they really happened! 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I am not the only one who liked this book; it is on a lot of the top 2020 book lists and that made me put it off for a while actually. However, once I read it, I saw what all of the hype was about. It is about a set of light skinned twins who run away from home and one of them goes off and passes herself as white while the other moves back to their hometown with their mother. They live very separate lives for a while but eventually their paths cross again. 

It was hard to pick only ten this year as I read a lot of good books (hence the extra two)! Some of the others that I enjoyed this year included: A Burning, We Are Not From Here, The Girl with the Louding Voice, We Were Eight Years in Power, The Last Train to London, Sigh, Gone, Saving Ruby King, Know My Name, One of Us is Lying, Dear Edward, Shoe Dog, The Story Keeper, City of Girls, Cilka's Journey, Talking to Strangers, I'll Be Gone in The Dark & I Am Malala. 

What were your favorite books in 2020? Did you read more this year than you normally do? 


Looking Back: 2020

At the beginning of December, the Bay Area was placed back into Stay at Home lockdown. Although plans for this December were not as hearty as other years, I did hope to have a couple of socially distanced gift exchanges or hikes with friends. Instead, I put packages in the mail or dropped them off on people's porches. I scheduled a new round of video calls. I downloaded extra audiobooks onto my phone in preparation for solitary runs. 

There has been a lot of that this year; there have been many broken plans, many frustrations, plenty of audiobooks and a lot of time to reflect and think. There has been a lot of solitude for some and a feeling of being stuck with the same people in the same house forever for others. We have had to have patience and understanding; we have had to have flexibility. We have worried about our loved ones and been angry at them for their beliefs, just as they have been angry at ours. We have seen people in our lives sicken; we have been affected either directly or indirectly by an instance where someone has not recovered. 

January 1, 2020 - View from Mt. Tam

We adapt; we grow; we learn about ourselves and our resiliency when faced by adverse situations. I know that I am introverted; I love to read and putter around the house; I am happy on the couch with a blanket; I can measure success in small ways: reorganizing my closet for the hundredth time (success equals getting rid of even just one running shirt) or making lists and crossing things off (Yay! I went grocery shopping!). We can edit our goals; this year I read more books than I ever had in one year (success!); this year I went to a national park in California that I had not been to before (success!); this year I grew an onion in my garden (okay, it was two onions actually, but...success!); this year I did not gain weight. 

We will probably look back at this year in twenty years just like we do with 9/11 or whatever trauma we know in our lives and say, "where were you when..." or "can you believe we did...?" I lived in Istanbul for a few months, and I missed my first Thanksgiving with my family. At the time, I thought it was hard, but afterward, when looking back, even mere days after, it was not that bad. I have stories to tell about it. Did you know that I could not for the life of me find a turkey in Turkey? I had to make due with a chicken. And some of the side dishes were....creative. But it was an adventure. 

This year I missed all the holidays with all of my friends and family, but in the grand scheme of things...it is not that bad. We are all happy and healthy; we all have jobs; we all care about each other and have been there for each other even when we are not feeling motivated.  This year has been an adventure. Adventures are not always fun. The dictionary defines them as: an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. I would say that this year qualifies. 

Look, there's hope! I can see it! (PC: MW)

So long 2020; here's hoping that our adventures in 2021 are a little less pandemic, a little more rock and roll. To all my friends and family, here's hoping that in 2021 our adventures will be done together! 

How would you sum up 2020 in one word? What adventures do you hope for in 2021? 


Looking Back: November

As I ran around the neighborhood last month, past Christmas decorations, I wondered how it could already be November going on December. Now that we are in the last month of the year, it feels as if this year has gone by in a blur, while also crawling along at times. I know this month will also go by fast, although not as fast as years past, when every weekend in December is filled with parties and lights and celebration. This year will be a quieter December but maybe it's just what is needed: a bit of reflection and a glimmer of hope for the year ahead. 

Running: I took another road trip at the beginning of November and spent some time on the California coast running in places with blue skies and views of the ocean. I also tackled a couple of the higher peaks in southern California: Mt. Baldy (San Antonio) and San Jacinto. Unfortunately due to fires, I could not conquer the third of the three saints (San Gorgonio). That's going to have to be one to go back to later! Total miles: 220. 

Reading: Not having to study coupled with no travel (aside from the first week) meant lots of time for reading last month and there were quite a few good ones! I ended up reading twenty books, which may be a record for me! Eleven were audiobooks and I gave five stars to one book and four stars to ten books. Some of my favorites were: The House in the Cerulean Sea (*****), The Vanishing Half (****), Sigh, Gone (****), Saving Ruby King (****), We are Not From Here (****) and The Girl With the Louding Voice (****). The rest can be found here

Travel: As stated above, the only travel I did was a California road trip. In one week I went from camping in 98 degree weather in the desert to hunkering down on a snow covered mountain with temperatures in the high teens or low 20s. It was quite an adventure! 

From the beach....(Big Sur)

...to the snow covered mountains (Trinity Alps)

Misc. & Etc.: Other than the above, my big excitement for the month has been mostly yard related. I have spent a lot of time raking and picking up leaves every week. The Maple tree is beautiful but it also causes about 6 months of work; I am either raking or picking up leaves or am picking up the balls (seeds) that fall on the ground after that as they can cause a bad accident or will grow new trees if not picked up (and once that is done, usually it is spring and then the weeding begins). I finally ripped out the garden and got rid of the hornets/yellow jackets using diaphanous earth. I pruned all of the fruit trees for the winter. Isn't that exciting? 

I have also been eating no sugar and have been experimenting with recipes. One of my favorite snacks is chocolate pudding. I make it with chia or gelatin depending on my mood, but usually it consists of the following: Blend one banana, one can of coconut milk and three heaping tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa and then heat to boil in a small pot, stirring a few times as you go. Turn it down to a simmer. For gelatin, in a separate bowl, put a half a cup of cold unsweetened almond milk and a package of gelatin (or one tbsp). Let the gelatin bloom (get fizzy) for a minute or two, then add to the warm chocolate, stirring while adding. For chia, add half a cup of almond milk to original mixture. Once that has all been brought to a boil, add 3-4 tbsp chia to the warm chocolate, stirring while adding. Pour into containers and refrigerate for a few hours. If you wanted you could also add monkfruit sweetener or some alternative sweetener (honey, maple syrup etc.) 

Tell me something exciting that you did in November! What was your favorite book that you read? Did you do any traveling? 


Looking Back: October

October in the Bay Area this year was very hot. We usually have a month in the spring and one in the fall (generally May and September) where there is a week of high temps and then the summers are generally mild. This year we had high heat and winds and lots of it. It's like Zeus is up there maniacally laughing while he throws heat and lightning and blustering wind our way. 

I was supposed to take a week off in September and was going to go hiking in the Sierras, but the fires had other plans for me and the national forests were closed and they stopped issuing permits for overnight stays in the California backcountry. So I had to improvise; more on that later! 

Running: Between running and hiking, I clocked about 295 miles. I have been getting back into running pretty regularly three days a week; it is very nice to have a routine, even if it is in a different place than normal in an effort to stay away from the crowds. Also, I am not doing a group run each week like I was last year, as I am still trying to keep my bubble as small as possible. 

Reading: I read a lot in October, although most were audiobooks. I would say that approximately 3/4 of my reading is now done via audiobook. This is mostly due to the fact that I drive to work now, but also I have been listening a lot while gardening or working in the house as well as when I run by myself. I also listen at 1.4x speed, so I can get a lot more reading done this way! My favorite was Rodham, which is the story of what Hillary's life would have been like if she hadn't married Bill, and at times I forgot that it was fiction as it flows so nicely. The only weird thing was that it was very crude at times and I didn't really want to think of Bill and Hillary in that way! 

Travel: Since my state basically was closed down due to COVID and/or fires, I ended up taking a road trip to Idaho to do some hiking. I brought a cooler and was self sufficient, except for gas and potty breaks. Of course, even though it was hot in California, it snowed on me and was probably in the 20s in the Sawtooths. However, I had some fabulous social distancing (I did not see a person at all for two of the days) and got some great photos of the snowy landscape! I will have to go back there another time for sure! I also met up with my parents once for a socially distanced hike and dinner, which was very fun! 

Hiking in the snow is fun! 

Misc.: Due to being gone a lot in October, the yard and garden has been severely neglected! I also have a family (with a lot of cousins!) of hornets/wasps/yellowjackets (?) in a hole in one of my raised beds and it has kept me from that area, so the weeds are taking over! My November goal is to get that all cleaned up, although my Maple tree in my front yard keeps sending leaves down every time I clean up, so it feels a bit fruitless at times! 

Do you know how to get rid of ground dwelling hornets/wasps/yellowjackets? What good book did you read in October? Have you traveled at all since COVID? 


Silver Linings

This year, at times it has been hard to find the good amidst all of the things going on. However, there have been some! I have heard many a parent or grandparent say that without this situation, they would have never been able to spend so much quality time with their kids/grandkids. My friend's mom is teaching her daughter to cook, which my friend never would have done. There are some silver linings here! 

Here are a few good things that have come out of the last six months.

A newfound love of riding the bike: At the beginning of the quarantine, due to the fact that it was hard to go running without encountering people who would (a) not give you space (b) not wear a mask, I decided that it was easier to keep my distance from people while cycling. In the first three months, I ended up going on 16 bike rides, totalling about 300 miles. I really enjoyed these rides, and got to know the island of Alameda pretty well over the three month period. I even named my bike, which is probably older than me and weighs about a ton, but she is a good old bird! Bertha is her name and she and I spent some quality time together! As people started following the rules more and I found running routes that were less crowded, I have to admit to ditching Bertha and sticking to my own two feet. However, the times we spent together were priceless! 

Hiking in CA: Since we cannot travel internationally, nor would I want to at this point, finding things to do during our vacation has been a bit more challenging. My company has a use it or lose it vacation policy (yes, even this year. No exceptions!) and so I took a week off here and there and had to be a little more creative. This means many hikes and backpacking trips in my "own backyard" which have been fun and of course I love the Sierras, so I am happy to spend time in my favorite mountains. 

Trying new recipes: This year since I am not spending money on travel, I bought a dehydrator and Ninja and have been trying out backpacking recipes. When backpacking, especially for longer periods, it is a fine balance between getting enough calories vs. carrying a lot of weight and the calorie/oz ratio should be as high as possible. To do this, I have been experimenting with fats like coconut oil (or powder), nuts, seeds, hemp, flax etc... I made a pretty good dehydrated chicken curry and am still perfecting the perfect protein bar. 

Reading: Although I am now back in study mode, which does not bode well for reading regular books (although I do find time to treat myself!) I have been reading a lot during these stay at home days. This is twofold; one is the fact that I am now driving to work, which I never did before. I used to study on the bus or the train but while driving I cannot, so I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks. I also used to generally run with other people but this quarantine has kept me running solo more often, which also translates to, you guessed it, more audiobooks! Lastly, when you are stuck inside due to fires or pandemics, I tend to turn to reading! So all of these factors have bumped up my reading stats for this year significantly! 

What good things have come out of the last six months in your world? 


Looking Back: September

Oh September, you devil you. Normally you are one of my favorite months, one full of vacations and adventures and great weather and friends. This year, you are not at the top of my list. September was a rough month for California. It was one of many wildfires; I read somewhere that there was a fire in almost every county (we have 59 of them). Also, on September 28th, this website posted the following information: "Since the beginning of 2020, over 3.7 million acres in California have burned from over 8,100 wildfires." According to Google, California is about 104 acres in size. Three and a half percent of the state has burned, and two places close to my heart (near my parents and near my brother) have gone up in smoke. 

As I type this, one of the biggest fires, the August complex, which is nearly one million acres in size (roughly the size of Switzerland), is still only 47% contained (according to CalFire). The one near my parents (the North Complex) is 78% contained and the one near my brother (the Glass fire) is only 5% contained. It is hard to find words sometimes. 

My Mom took this photo from her front yard.

But life goes on, doesn't it. While the state burns, we all still have to go to work each day, go out and find goodness in the world, go to Costco, etc. So, as always, here is what I did to "go about my day" in September. 

Running: As this is the way I keep sane, I had to try to do this as much as possible. I ended up running about 260 miles in September, including a couple of hiking trips. I have been running less days per week but more miles per day in an effort to still "quarantine" a little bit (less time out in the community) but to still stay healthy and have a little fun. 

Reading: This was an okay reading month for me. I only read one physical book; the rest were audiobooks. This was due to the fact that I did a hiking trip and instead of reading at night, I studied. Then when I was at home, I also studied and when not studying, tried to plan a couple of trips, which I will talk about in a few, so did not really read my book as much. My favorites this month were Wunderland and Shortest Way Home, although none of the books I read really wowed me. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. 

Travel: The beginning of September was supposed to be spent in Belgium, Holland and surrounds, but as that did not pan out, a road trip to Oregon to stay with my friends up there was plan B. I usually do this every July, but this year things were a little different! I finally circumnavigated the Three Sisters, which I had been wanting to do for years but it was always too snowy in July. This year it was a record breaking heat year and was in the high 90s. Talk about a 180! 

After that was a visit to Mt. Rainier to hike parts of the Wonderland trail. Luckily the hiking days were smoke free, but on the drive from Oregon to Washington and then again from Washington back to California, the smoke was fierce and the AQI was over 600 at times (for those of you not familiar with AQI, a normal good air quality is under 50 and a so-so quality is under 100 and above 300 is, "Health warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected" according to AirNow.gov.) Definitely the view of the Oregon coast was not what it normally is (aka there wasn't one)! 

Mt. Rainier as seen from the west side. 

As I mentioned above, I also tried to plan a couple of trips. I had the week of September 21st off, and had a permit and plan to go and hike part of the John Muir Trail. However, at the beginning of the month, the National Parks were all closed due to the fires and on September 4th, a fire broke out near where I would be hiking, and is also now one of the largest ones in the state. My permit got canceled and so I also canceled my trip. This year has definitely been one of much flexibility and patience. 

Misc.: What else? The garden is now going over into winter mode; there are a few more straggler tomatoes and peppers and a few figs, but otherwise, its nearly bare. I am studying a lot, but am still not sure if my exam will get canceled (it is scheduled for December 5th). I am trying some new protein ball recipes for hiking trips, even though I am not sure when they will be. 

How was your September? What do you do when plans get changed? 


Groundhog Day

Along with the phrase, "doing twice as much and only getting half as much done," I have heard the words "groundhog day" a lot in the last six months. If you have not seen the movie, which features Bill Murray, it basically is about a man who repeats the same day over and over. Much like most of us have been doing for the last six months! I was making my coffee the other day and it hit me hard for some reason and I thought it would be fun (or extremely boring) to go over what a normal groundhog day entails these days. 

I may not be quite as groundhoggy as some, as I have been going into the office since day one, but I still do get that "every day is the same" feeling! Here's what a day in the life looks like. 

3:30 am (yes, you read that right): get up

3:30 am - 3:50 am: bathroom break, brush teeth, make coffee and breakfast, eat, get lunch ready

3:50 am - 4:30 am: study

4:30 am - 4:40 am: work on journal (this is something I have been doing each morning for 10 minutes)

4:40 am - 4:50 am: read blogs or work on blog (another 10 minute/day goal)

4:50 am - 5:00 am: get dressed, let the cat out, pack lunch, fill water bottles with ice

5:00 am - 5:20 am: drive to work

5:20 am - 2:30 pm: work

2:30 pm - 3:10 pm: drive home (takes about a half an hour but sometimes longer with traffic)

3:10 pm - 4:00 pm: chores (water plants, empty dishwasher) and make/eat dinner or snack

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm: study (or run on non-study day)

6:00 pm - 7:30 pm: read books, catch up on news, do chores,  research vacations that ultimately get canceled, etc.

7:30 pm / 8:00 pm: bed time

Then repeat! Seriously, these days a trip to the grocery store is like a vacation, and a vacation is...well, what is a vacation? 

Are you experiencing this phenomena? What does your groundhog day look like? 


Looking Back: August

The last time I did a "looking back" post for August, it started like this: August was a good month! As usual, it was filled with lots of outdoor activities, family and friends! I love summer! Well this year sure is different! Not that I do not love summer, but this year was not filled with very many outdoor activities, family or friends! In fact, COVID, topped with a healthy dose of forest fires, has really put the kibosh on pretty much everything! But I still managed to eek out a few "summer" activities! 

Running: I won't lie; running has been a bit meh lately. I am having a hard time getting motivated to go out, and the fact that there were several very hot weeks, and then thunderstorms and then smoke, has only added to my enthusiasm, or lack thereof. However, I did get out and about each weekend a little, including a fun hike with my brother and Dad at the beginning of the month. Total running miles ended up being 215 miles, including the hiking trip. 

Running in the smoke

: Some people watch a lot of Netflix; other people read a lot of books! I fit very strongly into the latter camp. In August I read 11 books (7 of them were audiobooks). My favorites were (1) Unorthodox: this is a book about a Hasidic Jewish girl in Brooklyn and her struggles to live within the confines of her religious group. I learned a lot, for instance, did you know that the Hasidic women all shave their heads and then wear a wig or a shawl? (2) One of Us is Lying: this book reminded me of The Breakfast Club; it is about a group of highschoolers and one of them dies unexpectedly and we have to find out if he was killed, and by whom. Each person has a distinct personality and it is fun to try to figure out who-done-it. (3) Know my Name: this book was about a woman who got assaulted on the Stanford campus and how helpless she felt. It was powerful and had many uncomfortable moments, but it really makes you feel how she felt (and still feels) after the trauma. 

Travel: Ah, travel, what is that? Just kidding. At the beginning of the month, I met up with my brother and my Dad and we did a backpacking trip in the Sierras for a couple of days. This was a lot of fun, as it's been a while since we have done a hike together (I think the last one was climbing Mount Shasta in 2013; can that be right?) It was fun to be with the guys and also interesting to see the dynamic change. My Dad used to plan everything and carry everything and be the leader and this time, we decided on the location together, I planned all of the meals and carried all of the food and had the maps, and my brother carried my Dad's tent. We are now peers more than father and kids and it is fun to make decisions together. Other than that trip, I spent the rest of the weekends at home. 

Hiking with the lads

Etc. & Misc.: Speaking of spending the weekends at home, I have been studying a lot and taking some breaks to experiment with making dehydrated food, protein bars and balls for backpacking (anybody have a protein bar/ball recipe with no flour and no sugar that is high in calories and stays together and can be carried on the trail for several days?) If asked what I spent the majority of my money on in the past 6 months, it would definitely be food! Other than that, I have been picking things from the garden (figs, tomatoes, peppers) and hanging out with Gato. 

What have you been up to? Do you have any good book recommendations? What was the most fun thing you did in August? 


Coffee Talk

If we were having coffee today, I would start off by telling you that I have started taking my coffee with coconut oil. It makes me feel fuller for longer, therefore keeping me from snacking before I have my lunch (sometimes!) I have also stopped putting any sweetner in my coffee (in fact, my second cup is now black) and I don't really miss it. It is funny what we do just because it is a habit (for years I took milk in my coffee) but once the habit is broken, it doesn't seem so bad. 

I am sure we would talk about the current climate of COVID, as it is something that you really cannot avoid, but I don't really want to focus on that; do you? 

Instead let's talk about our gardens. Do you have one? Mine is kind of small this year. Due to my studying and then the arrival of COVID (I guess it's unavoidable), I ordered plants online and then from a local nursery, but both got planted late and I have not been the best mother to them. I did set up a drip system and I was weeding a lot in the beginning, but in all honesty, that has gone the way of the dodo. Okay, maybe not the dodo, but definitely the black rhino. However, I did get my first tomato a couple of weeks ago and now have picked about six of them and have several more on their way. Also, I have green beans, peppers and lettuce. However, my asparagus, beets and squash decided not to come out and play this year. I think next year, if I am not studying, I will revamp the garden, fertilize it (something I have not really done), add compost, etc. and actually care for it. 2021 is going to be a busy year (hopefully!) 

What book are you reading? I am listening to Becoming Clementine, a book about a WWII woman pilot who joins the resistance in France. I am also reading The Paris Orphan, a book about a WWII woman who becomes a war correspondent in France. I did not do this on purpose, reading two books surrounding the same theme, and to be honest I think I am getting confused from time to time about what woman I am reading about. But both are good so far! Due to COVID, I have been driving to work instead of riding the bus/BART, and so I have been listening to a lot more audiobooks. Last month I think about 50% were audio, when generally it is more like 20%. 

What else is going on in your life? It took me a while, but I finally met up with my parents for a socially distanced visit. My brother and I slept in a tent in the backyard and we had dinner and breakfast outside. It was so nice to see them after 4 months, but I am still wary of bringing something bad from the crowded Bay Area to them in their small town. 

I am also trying (as you can see here) to get back into journaling and blogging a little. I try to do 5 or 10 minutes each day in the morning while my brain is still fresh. I also have a planner (paper) and I have been trying to keep my days more organized. Also I think it feels good to plan something, even if it is just a grocery list or a day working in the yard! I am definitely missing that. 

I bought a dehydrator. I have been wanting to make my own backpacking food for years but never did get around to it, but this year is the year! I have only made dried zucchini so far, but I plan to try to dehydrate entire meals at some point. Have you ever made a dehydrated meal?

What else is new with you? Tell me something interesting! 


Wind River Range -- Part Three -- Trip Report

I was talking to my friend Dr. G the other day and he reminded me that I had somehow lost the plot when blogging about our Wind River High Route trip in 2017 and I never finished part three (and the most important part) of my three part series, the trip report! Since I actually had it in my drafts unedited but never edited or published it, I now give you, only three years late later, the grand finale! You can find posts about the trail conditions here and the logistics here. (Note this is kind of typical of COVID days; I am cleaning out my virtual closet as well as my real ones!) 

Disclaimer: This post is very long. If you are short on time, please skip to day 6, which was probably my most scary (but fun?) day. 

The Wind River High Route is approximately 66% off trail, according to the Skurka version, and when I heard about it and saw photos, I had to get a piece of this. However, I knew it would be harder than just walking the same amount of miles on a trail, so I planned accordingly, but I still underestimated how long it would take. When I decided to make the trip, I didn't know how exhausting and rewarding it would actually be.

The Road Trip: Dr. G and I drove from San Francisco to Reno on the first Friday, and stayed with a friend of mine who lives in Reno. It was nice to split it up a bit. However, this was still about five and a half hours in the car with Friday traffic. The next day we got up early and left around 4 am. Luckily the speed limit is 80 on a lot of the freeways and it was mostly smooth sailing. However, we did hit road construction in Idaho, putting us in Jackson, WY around 4 pm. We changed into the clothes we would be living in for the next week, filled up our waters, readied our packs and went for dinner. We then drove to our finish line trail head, which was called Trail Lakes, and parked our car there. We had arranged for a car to pick us up and take us to the starting trail head from there. We were picked up by Christian, who drove us to Bruce Bridges trail head and entertained us the whole way with stories of the area, people he had given rides to and trip reports from other hikers. We slept in a dispersed camping spot at Bruce Bridge that night.

Day One (21.56 miles): The first 13 or so miles were on a real trail. Even though we were not yet off trail, we still managed to miss a turn at the Deep Creek Lake cutoff, which afforded us with a nice view of a meadow and some good looking peaks. However it also caused us to detour about three extra miles and about an hour and a half. We arrived at Deep Creek Lake (10,100 ft) around 2:30 p.m. The Skurka guide and others reports stated that from this point, to get up and over Wind River Peak and back down to a place where you could camp was about 6 hours. We decided to go for it. 

This is where the accidental detour took us

From that lake, we were on a real trail for about half a mile and then we took our first detour off trail. Skurka says to orient your compass to Chimney Rock and head towards the peak that way. We oriented it but ended up having to go around a big hill to get a clear view of it. I'm not sure if that is due to our error or bad directions from Skurka (probably the former), but it seemed to take a lot of extra time. Finally started the climb up to Chimney Rock, which is at about 12,500 ft. The climb was not super technical; it was through a lot of marshy and grassy areas as well as rocky ones, but it was a steep climb. We got about halfway, we thought, and then got completely socked in with fog. It was about 5:30 pm by this time so we decided to pitch our tent on a semi flat spot and conquer the peak the next day. We were on the smallest little rocky ledge in the middle of a bunch of talus (large boulders) but if not for the fog we would have had great views! 

View from the side of the mountain

Day Two (10.6 miles): Right away, we continued back up the steep hill. This time, however, much of it was covered in snow, so we put on our microspikes and yaktrax and climbed the hill. It was very slow going and I remember going from wearing all my layers to only a couple by the time we got to Chimney Rock. Once there, we went around it to the left, as Skurka had said we had to descend a bit before climbing up to the Wind River peak and then descending down a gully. Unfortunately, first we went a bit too far South, so we ended up having to backtrack quite a bit uphill. Also, on the descent, I stepped on a wobbly rock and fell, scraping up my leg fairly badly. So we headed back uphill to what we thought went to the west gully descent. On the way there I looked down and said that this also looked like a descent down a gully. To get to Skurka's gully, we would have to go up another steep climb and then back down the gully. So we decided to take this direct route, which we figured could not be any worse. Famous last words, I guess.

Me (that tiny black dot in the middle) descending the gully

It was very steep and the rocks were all semi unstable. It was very slow going, as each step was a cautious decision of what would come next. We got down to the point where our descent met Skurka's and we picked our way down the hill. Once the rocks ended there was a long steep snowfield to descend, and then more large ralus, and then another snowfield. On the first one, I dropped my yaktrax and John went sliding for about 30 feet, which was a bit nerve-racking. It definitely was not easy or safe, but we made it down in one piece. After that we went around Lake 11185 through yet more talus, then followed a creek through willow (my nemesis! it's so scratchy!) and lots of bushwhacking before ending up at Black Joe's lake. At Black Joes, we followed the shore for a while before finally doing an up and over (through more willow) of some granite cliffs to get to the North side of the lake. From there, we joined up with the big Sandy trail (a real trail, and people!) where we had a fairy easy few miles to big Sandy Lake.

War wound

From there we went up North Creek trail not too far and found a nice camping spot by the water. Of course, now that we were out of the hills and back near the stream, it was mosquito paradise. We quickly put up the tent, filtered water, ate and went to bed.

Day Three (15.5 miles): We started up the North Creek trail again in the morning, and about four miles later we arrived at the Cirque of the Towers.

The Cirque of the Towers

I believe this is one if the most heavily trafficked places in the Wind River Range. It is definitely beautiful. It us a semi-circle of pointy mountains all surrounding a lake. We peaked at Jackass Pass, which is about 12,500 ft. and where we could not help but getting some photos with the sign (jackass!). We then dropped down into the lake area before heading up the Texas pass. At this point, we had two options of getting up and over and we decided to forgo the New York pass in the interests of time, as it now seems like we aren't going to be able to get done as much as we thought we would and it was the more difficult of the two.

After descending Texas pass, we walked along two lakes to get to Shadow Lake, where we turned north. Here we passed through a gorgeous meadow with granite boulders and peaks in the distance. It reminded me a bit of the JMT near Cathedral Peaks. Then it started to hail. It rained and hailed on us for the next few hours. We went up from Shadow Lake through the meadow, then towards Pyramid Lake before going off trail again at Skull Lake. From there we bushwhacked a bit before following a river for a while to another lake. Then it hailed some more. Then we followed another river to another lake. Then it hailed and rained. Due to the rain and the time getting a little later, we finally decided to set up camp around 5 pm at Lake 10,5xx instead of trying to climb Raid pass today. By this time our feet were soaked, but we did get a respite from the rain to eat our dinner before going into the tent for recharging and relaxing. And, I almost forgot to mention...I saw a chipmunk carrying a baby chipmunk today and got dive-bombed by a yellow throated hummingbird while filtering water. Good times!

Day Four (14.2 miles): On this day we realized that we were definitely going to have to find an early exit route, as we were not covering as many miles as we thought we would and we had to be back home by a certain time. We looked at the map and saw that there was an alternative near Europe mountain which would get us back to the car in about 20 miles. We were hopeful that we would be able to get there by the following night!

We started up our first pass of the day, Raid pass, with wet feet. I had not been looking forward to putting on my wet shoes and socks from the day before but it had to be done. The climb to the top required a lot of marsh walking, talus hopping and then crossing a snowfield before getting to the top. Then it was back down the other side, into Bonneville basin, an unnamed lake, and Boulder Creek.

Bonneville Basin (we would walk around that lake to the left)

We climbed down on large granite slabs rather than go down the steeper snowier decline. We then skirted the lake and a lot of bugs (actually we did not skirt the bugs at all!), and climbed up some grass ramps to Sentinel Pass, where we had a great view of Photo Pass.

View of Photo Pass

From there we crossed a huge snowfield (part of it very steep) to the lake below. Once we got a little lower though, you could slip slide and glissade a little to get down, which Dr. G did not want to do, but I did happily. Then it was a bushwhack-a-palooza around the lake, where there were supposedly elk use trails, but they were hard to find! Then we climbed up the side of a waterfall to get to another lake, where we then headed up photo pass. Again, we had to climb up snow to get to the top then there was a trace of a pack mule trail but it was quickly covered in snow, so we hiked down the snow instead. Actually I slid down on a garbage bag on my butt which was so fun! Dr. G was not amused.

Our tent on a rock next to a frozen lake (pre-snowstorm).

From there we had to go around another lake, follow a stream up a hill and then once we got to a lake we headed up more granite slabs to get to our camping spot. Oh, did I mention it hailed and rained on us pretty much all afternoon. That evening we camped on a granite slab next to a partially frozen lake and it was super windy and probably in the 30s! As we lay inside the tent, it began to hail. Then rain, then more hail. Very hard! I fell asleep to the sound. I woke up to a strange sliding sound, which was snow sliding off the tent. It had pooled up in the top and was causing the tent to sag. As it melted, it slid off the tent.

Day Five (13.75 miles): When we woke up, there was fresh snow on the ground. Which made for an interesting time, trying to hop from rock to rock when you can't see the rocks and the ones you can see are slippery. We first went up Europe cool, which was a smaller pass, then we crossed over to Europe peak, but to do so we had to climb up a 20 foot crevice to get to the knife edge at the top of Europe peak. It was hairy. Then it was a gradual descend over lots of snowy slippery rocks to a little lake where we crossed over snow and saw so many animal footprints. I'm not sure what they were but it looked like they had 5 toes and claws, so I would guess some sort of doglike animal. Also saw tons of small creature prints, some with five long toes, some with four feet together (jumpers?) and some little mice, etc. type prints.

Somewhere near Europe Col

After climbing a hill, we followed a stream to a tarn (small glacier lake) and then followed the tarn to it's end where we crossed over to find a fisherman's trail (very faint at times). We followed it to Golden Lake, Lake Louise and upper Golden Lake, with probably about 10 creek crossings to boot. There was one crossing where the water was so fast and was up past our thighs that we had to hold hands and slowly cross together, step by step. Then it was a long climb up to where we could see Douglas peak pass, our next climb. It was grueling on both the climb up and the one down, with lots of loose smaller talus. On the climb down it was loose gravel, loose talus, then huge talus, then more huge talus. We arrived at the lake where we set up camp on a big flat rock around 6 pm.

The Golden Lakes

Day Six (14.5 miles): when I woke up this morning, my shoes were nearly dry! Hallelujah! We got ready and the first thing we tackled was a smallish pass (11,400 ft) which took us up to a frozen lake where there were two guys camped. We went around the lake on talus, then had to climb up a class three crack to get to our next obstacle, Alpine lakes pass. The entire pass appeared to be covered with snow. And it was very steep. We strapped on traction and started up.

Dr. G climbing Alpine Pass

Dr. G chose a diagonal route across the face towards a few rocks on the east side. I chose a straight up approach, with a plan to cross over higher up where it was a narrower snow band. Dr. G chose the better option. By the time I got up to the rocks where I had to cross over snow to get to the summit, I was sweating and nervous. Plus to get up to the top of the rock pile, I had to climb several class three cracks. Then I had to cross over the steepest and highest section of snow with only yaktraks and a prayer. Obviously I made it, as I am writing this, but I had my doubts at the time. I tried not to look down as I jammed my foot into the snow as much as I could, step after step. I made it, to the first rock island, then had to do the same thing again to get to the snowy saddle of the pass. Once safely there, I called out to Dr. G that maybe that had been type two fun.

After that, we had to climb down . I can't remember details of the downhill portion. I think it is safe to say that we went on pretty gradual downhill on snow towards a glacier, which then led to a saddle, then we followed a stream, got lost, forded the stream, bushwhacked through willow and then climbed up and down another hill before fording another wide stream before heading to Blaurock. Blaurock pass was 1,200 ft. of climbing per one mile. We started by going around a huge floodplain, then began a slow crawl up the hill. I think we averaged about an hour and a half per mile. It was tundra, then a lot of talus and snow, but mostly talus, so it was slow going!

Looking back from Blaurock Pass

We got to the top (12,800+) eventually and headed back down the other side, which was a combo of gravel use trail and snow, before petering out into tundra, then another easy rock hop River crossing before joining up with the glacier Trail, which would eventually lead to the car. We went about 2 miles on the trail then set up camp on a nice soft woodsy spot with a tree cover. That night there was a fabulous thunder and lightning storm!

Day Seven (23.4 miles): Since we were now on a trail that we had not planned to go on, and with no mileage markers on the maps, we estimated our distance as the crow flies. We had thought that we would have approximately a 20 mile hike for this, our last day. We started off at our regular time, around 7 am, and we were luckily on a trail the entire time. Otherwise the going would have been a lot slower! My understanding was that the trail would be a gradual downhill, as we were starting above 10,000 feet and we're heading towards the parking lot, which sat at 7,500 feet. However, we did know that we would have one section where we would have to climb back up to above 10,000 ft. before our final descent to the parking lot.

A real trail! (on the home stretch)

The trail was soft and easy. We started off with a gradual decline from about 10,200 to 9,500 feet. So far, so good. This took us to mile 8 or 9. Then we started climbing up and got to about 10,500 before the trail levelled off. I thought this was the end of it. It was not. A few miles later the trail started slowly climbing up again. We got to about 11,000 feet before we finally started to descend. At this point we were at maybe 16 or 17 miles. I had seen switchbacks on the map toward the end portion of our hike and thought the downhill portion would be quick. However these were the longest switchbacks I'd ever seen! They were so gradual and each switchback felt like a quarter mile long! We finally got down to 9,000 feet and then the trail levelled off again which was not what we wanted. The last few miles seemed endless but finally we spotted the parking lot down below. From there it was a steep mile down to the car where we finally changed out of our 7 day old sweaty clothes and headed to town for a hamburger.

The end!

Total miles: 113.71 mi.
Total elevation gain: 30,577 ft.

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Have you ever done a multi day hiking trip? What is your favorite place to hike (day or multi-day)?