About the Bees

Hello again.

Today I wanted to share an idea I’ve been mulling over, since my thoughts from last week seemed to go over pretty well and because it has to do with my work with animals over the past few weeks.

I’ve noticed that often times people will look at animals and say, “Oh if we were all more like [some animals species] then the world would be a wonderful place, full of cooperation and harmany and peace and hard work!” They say this of ants, and dolphins, and dogs, and bees, and doves and the list goes on. People seem to believe the animal world works by some angelic standard, and humans ought to strive to achieve its innocence and beauty and perfection.

I’ll take bees as an example because I often here people say how hardworking bees are and how humans should try to be more like them. So here’s the truth: I’ve been observing a hive of bees for a month now (we have one on display in the Nature Center) and I can tell you for a fact that bees are cannibalistic, incestuous, fratricidal, filicidal creatures. That is to say that I’ve watched them eat their young simply because they were hungry, and that the queen mates with her brothers, and that they routinely kill all the males in the hive once a year.

It seems to me that no one in our society is advocating eating babies. But they are advocating imitating bees. And bees eat their babies.

I guess my point is that animals are not perfect in some way, they don’t operate by magical innocent rules; there is bloodshed and murder aplenty in the animal kingdom. In fact I would argue humans kill one another less than animals do, even if it’s not by much.

On the flip side, as I’ve been thinking about that, I thought of this: the point of being human is to rise above those animalistic instincts. We are to not murder, not eat our children when we decide we have too many, not to steal, and so on. These are basic rules everyone agrees upon as being beneath any human being. Humanity is, so to speak, called to be more than animals. Called to be better than that.

I mean, really, what do we think of a person who does whatever their urges or desires or instincts (whatever you like to call it) tell them to? That person very quickly becomes a liar, a thief, and even a murderer, and the law cracks down on them. Yet these same things we find perfectly acceptable in animals, who simply follow their urges the same as the hypothetical criminal did.

It seems to me that when we do whatever we like, following our instincts, we give up a bit of our humanity. And when we do the right thing, only because it was right and not because it helps us in any way, we take one more step away from the animal world and become just a little more human.

Does that make sense? This is still a fledgling notion in my mind and I’d love to hear other thoughts.

That’s all for now, I’m quite tired.

Until next time,

Eliza

On Silence

Last week I talked about getting a flip phone. Today I’m going to talk about the silence that comes from being alone with no voices but your own. I’m including in my definition not just the voices of the people physically around us, but those from the internet too.

I’ve only really experienced this once, the first time I ever backpacked. I was hiking in a forest of rather short and underwhelming trees, putting one foot steadfastly in front of the other, catching glimpses of the lake, and following a flat, uninteresting trail. From time to time I saw fishermen on the lake and sometimes I even got close enough to wave. At other times their voices wafted over the water to me, the meaning lost but the inflections preserved. For twenty-four hours it was just the thin forest, the trail, the lake, a few distant fishermen, and me. I was alone in the midst of that reality.

It was eerie. I was unnerved. The silence was crushing and I honestly became afraid that backpacking wasn’t for me, that I couldn’t handle the isolation, that I would buckle under the weight of the silence and have to head home after only a week on the A.T. Later I felt somewhat reassured after I got to backpack with a group and found it to be a very social environment, but that worry still stayed with me for a long time. During this week, however, I’ve begun to see things differently.

I’ve begun to feel that my thru-hike is about confronting the silence. It’s about learning to step back from everything and everyone and learn to see the meaning and beauty that is not loud like the human world, but instead operates within the silence. The subtleness in the sunset, for example, or the pattern in the bark of a tree, or the meaning in the life of a mourning dove. None of these things are loud or obvious, but they are real on a level it’s still difficult for me to grasp, a level I’m just beginning to recognize. And that’s exactly why I have to spend six months in the wilderness: I have to learn to recognize it. It won’t be easy. It will, in fact, be incredibly difficult. But it’s what I need. I need to face the silence.

I guess this thought scares me because all my dysfunctions are laid so horrifyingly bare in the stillness of silence. I hate having nothing to look at but myself. But I want to learn how, and that’s the latest reason I have for my thru-hike.

I wonder if anyone else has dealt with this, in the context of backpacking or a similarly isolated setting? Anyway, just wanted to share that reflection with you this week.

Until next time,

Liza

P.S.

I know, of course, that there will be plenty of people on the A.T. and I will be far from alone. But during those early days when it’s still February, and perhaps the later ones in the North, I may have some instances of isolation. And anyway, I’ll surely have the odd day of walking on my own, which can be a weighty enough silence on its own.

 

 

I Got a Flip Phone!

Yep. I traded in my iPhone for an old-school flip phone. Why? My smart phone was just really distracting.

I guess I’ve been working towards this decision for a while. For a long time I’ve felt like my phone was keeping  me from the more important things in life. With social media and the constant barrage of notifications I feel as though I’m thinking broadly, but not deeply. It’s easy to consume fifty short news articles a day and have a fleeting and insubstantial impression of each one but it’s much harder to sit down and read one chapter of a good book, even if the word counts of the two are roughly equal.

And I’ve begun to suspect that just because I have access to more opinions and information than I ever have before that doesn’t mean I’m digesting it or learning from any of it. In fact, I’m just confusing myself. So my new strategy is to drink deeply of the perspectives of others until my soul understands theirs in some fundamental way. I want to learn and grow from the information I consume and I hope my flip phone will aid me in achieving the clarity of mind I’ll need to do that.

So that was my reasoning. I started trying to implement my plan about a month ago and I’ve been fighting with the phone company ever since just be able to get a flip phone. It’s taken me many visits to three different Sprint stores over the course of a month, but today I finally got this little guy activated and ready to go:

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My phone ❤

I recognize this topic isn’t, strictly speaking, related to backpacking. But it is, in another way, very much in the spirit of backpacking. It’s in the spirit of leaving behind the usual world with its busy chaos and entering a more calm place where there is peace and room to think. Additionally this step is a part of my journey towards the Appalachian Trail and as such I wanted to share it with you guys.

That’s all I have to say today.

Until next time,

Eliza

I Got a Job at a State Park! (Progress Update #12)

Hello again,

So I got a job! At a state park, where I can be outdoors and near lots of trails.

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Myself and Pete the gray rat snake. ❤

They have a little mini-museum there, called the Nature Center, and I’m taking care of it for the summer. Not a bad gig. It’s relaxed and pretty slow paced. Basically I give tours daily, show the snakes to visitors upon request, sweep up, feed the fish, and answer questions. I’ll be there full-time for the duaration of the summer.

(Fun backstory: when I was interviewing for this job my soon-to-be boss wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the snakes. So she let me hold Mazey the corn snake and stroke and pet her and all that normal stuff. I did okay, I even thought Mazey was cute. So next she draped Mazey around my neck. I would have been just fine with that too but Mazey wasn’t. Mazey wanted to be back in her bedding where she could hide and she noticed that my hair was in a high, poofy bun that day. So, fast as she could, she slithered up my head, through my hair tie, and into my bun. And she just chilled there. To my credit I didn’t scream or freak out, although I really wasn’t used to having snakes in my hair. We did eventually get her untangled, and I’m now on good terms with Mazey, but I’ve decided to wear my hair in braids from now on.)

 

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Exterior of the Nature Center, where I work. It’s  a cute little building.

Strategically this job is well suited to my plans. I knew I needed a few thousand extra dollars to make my thru hike possible and before even hearing about this job I decided I wanted to work just over the summer so that the autumn was free for applying to colleges and backpacking in earnest. This job is perfect for that. It’s full-time but short and I have my autumn free.

But those are short term benefits. I also knew that this was a field I was interested in entering later on in life (p

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Our blind cave fish. They don’t do much. 

erhaps as a park ranger?) so a job like this couldn’t hurt. And I love the outdoors and being near hiking trails. Heck, my instagram is nothing but pictures from state parks right now. My senior pictures were even taken at this particular state park. So all around it seemed like a great fit.

Oh! And I did eventually test out my poncho. It works fine, I didn’t get wet, but I never did get any pictures. Ah well, someday I’ll be on a lonesome trail in the wilderness when the sky suddenly starts pouring buckets. On that day I’ll get out my rain poncho and my water-proof camera and I’ll take a selfie of my dry, comfortable self. Then you’ll have proof. Until then you’ll have to trust my word that the poncho works.

That’s about all. I would have told you guys I was going to get this job a month ago but I wanted to wait until I really had it and everything was set in stone.

Until next time,

Liza

 

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Pete and I again. They like to wrap around the neck because it provides a secure hold, so they know they won’t fall. But don’t worry: she’s not strong enough to cut off my airflow, even if she wanted to.

 

 

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One of my senior pictures, shot at the same state park where I now work.

Radnor Lake Fun+Pictures

Short one today. I haven’t done anything specific to backpacking this week but I did go explore Radnor Lake State Park with my family today and I have pictures.

The first thing to understand is how delightful the Lake Trail was. It’s about three miles of woodland tunnel but the path is an old abandoned asphalt road. The result is incredibly picturesque and fanciful.

roadd

 

The lake, too, was stunning. It’s a bit (very) small, but clear and blue and at a few points I felt as if I could fly away on the wind coming off it.

 
Radnor Lake

We also spotted a fawn, not three hundred feet from the parking lot, just chilling with his mother Apparently that’s commonplace at this park, which I think is really cool.

Full tally of the wildlife we spotted:

  • Toads
  • Many turtles
  • Fawn and doe
  • Ducks (or possibly geese, they were far away)
  • Cranes
  • Snake
  • A blue and an orange salamander. We named the blue one Sally.

This is the snake:

snek

Snek, snek, snek.

 

I had fun. It’s a great little park.

To update: my water filter and poncho probably work but I still haven’t tested them (oops). I’ll do that eventually, probably on my next backpacking trip, if I’m honest. I would rather test them in the field and be able to given an accurate opinion than have nothing to say at all.

That’s all for now.

Until next time,

Liza

 

feet

Feets.

Orginazational Changes (Progress Update #11)

Hello again!

It’s Monday and I’m going to talk about pack organization this week.

So I went on my second overnight backpacking trip two weeks ago and I had a great time, as I detail in a different post. But I also noticed that I had a lot of free-floating items, just sort of thrown into my pack. Additionally I don’t have a good place to put my clothes, or books, or electronics. In fact at one point my phone wound up in the mesh, exposed, outer-pocket just when I most expected it to rain. If it had rained I know for a fact my phone would have gotten wet before I managed to take off my pack and retrieve it, and I also know it probably would have been ruined. That moment is a big reason I want to remedy my disorganization before my next overnight trip.

So this is the game plan I have at the moment: I’ve decided to group my things into the following categories and give each category its own stuff-sack or bag, depending on the nature of the contents.

  1. Clothes                                                                                                                                           I was sorely tempted to say I wanted to have two separate pockets in this bag, one for dirty clothes and one for clean. But it occurred to me that during my thru-hike, a week after my last in-town stop, wearing one of my two shirts and my only pair of pants, the distinction between clean and dirty clothes will lose all relevance. I might as well get used to mixing my dirty clothes with my clean now.
  2. All things toiletries.                                                                                                          Okay this is gross, but bear with me. I want a small, non-see-through bag which contains toilet paper, trowel, hand sanitizer, Ziploc bag, and anything else I might need. Feel the call of nature? Grab the bag and go, everything you need is in there. I just felt like I was juggling all my things last time and especially with see-through bags the whole group knew where you were going. This way there’s more privacy, more organization, and more convenience.
  3. Miscellaneous.                                                                                                                      This one is actually pretty important because I found that I had a lot of random things floating around my pack last time. I intend to fix that issue with a bag for all that stuff.
  4. Food.                                                                                                                                        This will come in the form of a bear bag. It was surprisingly frustrating not to have one spot to put my food, and instead have to hunt down each individual item every time I wanted to eat. (To be clear I did hang my food last time, I just used my tent stuff-sack as opposed to a bag designed for hanging.)
  5. Water proof stuff-sack.                                                                                                             For electronics and anything else I want to keep especially safe.  Pretty self-explanatory.

So five bags. I’m waiting on an REI garage sale for that.

Also I’ll be camping next weekend for my brother’s birthday! So a post about that should be coming out soonish. And I still intend to tell you about my water filter and poncho, but I feel they deserve their own post and that I should wait until I’ve tried them out to give my thoughts.

That’s all for now.

All the best,

Liza

Rock Creek Loop Overnight Hike! (Progress Update #10)

Hello all!

Time to tell you all about my excursion to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (it’s a mouthful, I know). This is an area in Tennessee near the Kentucky border, about halfway between Nashville and Knoxville. I’ve got a nifty little map below so you can see the Big South Fork and Nashville at the same time. You’re welcome. 

 

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Nashville and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

So Saturday, the 30th of April, I got up early and packed everything for my overnight backpacking trip. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty stressed out with last-minute details. But I survived and at about nine o’clock in the morning I met the rest of my backpacking group to coordinate carpooling. Because I’m a rather new driver and also because Casper (my car) isn’t particularly suited to backcountry driving, I left my him overnight and hitched a ride to the park.

Two and a half hours of driving, folks. That’s what it takes to get to this park. Not that we were really on a tight schedule, of course. We leisurely swung by Subway for lunch and afterwards arrived at the trailhead of Rock Creek Loop where everyone hung out for a while, getting our packs all put together.  At roughly one o’clock we finally hit the trail and not twenty feet along we ran into a snake. Like a big one. This one:

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We weren’t super happy that he was there. But to be fair, he wasn’t all that happy with us either. We made noise until he slithered off the trail to find another spot to sunbathe.

After that the hiking was mostly uneventful, but lovely. At times it felt almost like we were in a rainforest what with waterfalls and magnolia trees, high rocks and caves, and a pervasive, cooling mist.

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It was three miles to camp and we covered those quickly, so after we set up our tents we had the entire afternoon and evening to chill and get to know one another. There was a creek, and I played in that because I love playing in creeks, and we told stories by the campfire after dark, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I touched on this last week but truly, the people were amazing to be around. The ten of us made a great group. But none of that is really related to hiking so I’ll fast-forward to the next morning.

 

 

After a good night of sleep I woke up and helped everyone break camp. I’d say we left about nine o’clock Sunday morning. We had about three and a half miles to go that day and the first two were smooth sailing. I was starting to think the entire hike was going to be akin to a leisurely walk in a park. Then we came face to face with this:

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The bridge above had formerly spanned a trench of sorts, but at some point two trees fell on it and the entire thing had collapsed. We all sort of stared at it for a few minutes, not sure how to go on. One in our company decided to cross the tree trunks, as you can see in the picture. But he almost lost his balance and I was certain that I would too, if I tried it. The fall would have been about ten feet into bracken and tree branches and we were in the middle of nowhere, hours away from medical help. After a few more minutes of staring at the wreckage the rest of us decided to find a long way around.

After everyone was safe on the other side things went smoothly again for a little while. Then the rumors of uphill climbs came true: it felt like all the gentle downhill hiking we had done yesterday was coming back to haunt us in one very steep and relentless climb. It was pretty challenging. I always dismissed it when people say that the approach trail to the start of the Appalachian Trail destroys them, but I believe it now. Still, I’m glad to have an idea of what climbing mountains is like, so I can be prepared on future hikes. All in all the climb was an exhausting, but good experience.

That was about it. We reached the top, hiked maybe a half mile further, and found our cars. Then we turned towards home.

All in all, a lovely time. I especially enjoyed the creek, the waterfalls, the campfire, and the tranquility of the forest at nighttime.

As far as learning experiences, I realized my organization system is inefficient, saw water filters in action, and discovered that even in the wee hours of the night you can see just a little without anything but moonlight, even inside your tent.

I’ll get more into the organization system next week, and I’ll introduce you to my new water filter and rain poncho.

Until then,
Liza

About Traimily and Big South Fork (Progress Update #9)

Hey guys,

It’s going to be short today because I’m pretty exhausted from this weekend. But I want to give you an overview of how the trip went. I’ll detail it a little more next week. But for a summary:

I met up with the group around nine in the morning on Saturday and we carpooled to Big South Fork, hit the trail about noon, encountered a massive snake and lots of beautiful scenery, made camp, hung out for several hours, and went to bed. The next morning we got up and lounged around a bit before hitting the trail again. This time there was a collapsed bridge and ruthless climb in store for us but I’ll get into that next week. For now I’ll just say we made it to the cars and back home all safe and sound.

More than anything I want to touch on the incredible warmth of the people I hiked with. I’ve always heard about how accepting the trail community is, mostly with reference to big trails like the Appalachian Trail. But I found it to be completely true on this hike in a way that it’s difficult to describe. It’s like the shared experiences bind you together, I guess. The whole atmosphere was very refreshing. I enjoyed myself immensely and absolutely intend to keep hiking with this group though it may be a while, depending on how my job situation works out.

That’s all for now; I really am exhausted. But I’ll have more next week, including some pictures.

Until next time,
Liza

About Water Filters (Progress Update #8)

Hello again,

So quick explanatory note: the backpacking trip I was going to go on this weekend was canceled due to extreme weather. Don’t worry though, they rescheduled the trip to this coming weekend so I will be able to share that experience with you! Just not quite yet. Instead, this week I’m going to walk you through my choice of a water purification system. I need one, I hadn’t got around to buying one until now, and I thought it would be nice to show you, step by step, how I chose from the different options on the market.

So my priorities when shopping for a backpacking water purification system are:

  1. Reliability.

Above all you want your system to always work. Duh. But getting sick from contaminated water sources is no joke, so reliability is top on my list.

  1.   Low weight/compactness. 

This one is pretty straight forward. If you’re carrying all your things on your back you can’t afford to have your water filter/tablets be 5 lbs. or something like that.

  1.   Convenience. 

This means we’re looking for a system that doesn’t take a lot of manual labor to make it work or a lot of unnecessary time.

  1.   Reasonably priced.

I’m not keen on spending upwards of $100 on a water system.

So those are our criteria. Now let’s look at the choices.. I’ve already narrowed my list down to three main options: The Sawyer Mini Filtration System, Platypus Water Filtration System, and purification tablets. There are plenty of other options on the market but these are the three I’ve decided to examine and choose between, just because I’ve heard good things about each of them.

First up: Water purification tablets.

Iodine Tablets

Sometimes these are iodine, sometimes it’s iodine plus other chemicals, sometimes you have to add Vitamin C after the initial pills have done their work. But essentially it always works the same way: you drop one of the tablets in the water you want to purify and you wait about half an hour for the tablet to dissolve.

A con of this process is that it does take a while to work (so not great convenience) and it doesn’t necessarily get out all the dirt, leaves, sediment, or little rocks- only the bacteria. From what I’ve seen these are made by lots of different companies and they go for between $12.00 and $30.00. They also seem to last a while, so they could be viable for a thru-hike. Plus it’s just a little bottle of tablets so if you were very concerned about weight I’m sure you could put them in a zip-lock baggie and it would only come to a few ounces at most. (For more in-depth information about all the different options in this category I recommend this article.)

Second: The Sawyer Squeeze Mini

Sawyer Squeeze

How does this little guy measure up? Well it claims to remove 99.9999% of all bacteria and has a good reputation for doing it’s job. It’s weighs 2 oz., requires no work to operate but you do have to be present for it to work (i.e. you have to be holding it) and it’s $19.97 before tax or shipping on Amazon. Looking good. Let’s keep moving.

Third:  The Platypus Gravityworks 2.0 Liter Water Filtration System

Platypus Gravityworks

As you can see the first bag hangs (perhaps on a convenient tree branch) the water flows through the tubes and filters on its own, and when you return you have pristine, fresh water to drink.

This one takes about two minutes to filter two liters. There’s no labor involved, it weighs about 6.3 oz, meets all reliability requirements, and it can even filter water for up to four people. You also don’t have to engage with it at all: you just hang it from a tree and gravity does all the work for you, whereas with the Sawyer you have to be present to filter the water yourself. The problem is that this filter goes for $79.96 on Amazon. While that’s not terrible (it is under my $100 goal) it’s still significantly more than the Sawyer Squeeze.

 

After going over all of these specs I decided to purchase the Sawyer Squeeze Mini. It’s the cheapest and the lightest and those are two pretty important categories to me. While I do have to hold it the entire time I feel that’s worth it for the other benefits. So I’ll be purchasing the Sawyer Squeeze Mini for this upcoming backpacking trip. Maybe I’ll even let you know what I think. 

Until next time,

Liza

How to Prevent Back Pain While Backpacking

Hello again, friends.

Last Monday I went to a meet up with backpackers in my area and we discussed how to prevent back stiffness whilst backpacking! Just a little bit about correct posture and all the muscles that go into standing and walking correctly. A physical therapist ran the show and she did an excellent job and actually answered a lot of my questions. If you’ll recall from last week I was already interested in preventing back pain and standing/walking correctly so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I’m not an expert, I didn’t come home with a complete command of the physiology that goes into posture, but I find the topic fascinating and I’ve been implementing some of the little things she mentioned all this week, and I want to share that with you.

Transverse Abdominis

Upper-left information bubble points out the transverse abdominis. As you can see it runs deep in the core, with the six-pack muscles layered over it.

So the first thing she told us to about was the transverse abdominis. This is the deepest muscle of your core, and it wraps all around your abdomen and connects at your spine. The “six-pack” muscles are the layer over it. But the take away is this: you can have the biggest six-pack in the world, do all the sit-ups you like, but if your deep down core isn’t strong then none of that will do you much good. And that deep down core is mostly the transverse abdominis.

What does this muscle do/how do you strengthen it? Well I’ll show you. Sit up straight right now, without using the back of a chair, a wall, or anything else for support. You’ll want your shoulders to be slightly back and in line with your hips: no slumping forwards. Now see how long you can comfortably hold this position. I bet not very long.

The muscle that is holding you upright, providing you the support you need to sit erect, is the transverse abdominis. You should start to be able to feel it within a few seconds: a sort of ache all through your sides. Just sitting upright unsupported a few times a day can strengthen this muscle.

Proper sitting posture

This person is sitting upright without support and using her core muscles. Bravo her. It’s harder than it looks.

Walking and standing employ the same concept. But the thing to remember here is to tilt your pelvis slightly forward, almost as if you’re tucking it under your body or pointing your tailbone towards the floor. This will both ensure that your transverse abdominis is working and also engage your glutes ever so slightly; they will begin to power the way you walk. I think that’s fascinating because it means that maybe, if you only subtly change the way you carry yourself, you can get all the same benefits as you would from doing fifty squats a day.

If you stand and walk in the ways I’ve just described it supposedly helps with back pain while backpacking, but I hope to eventually implement this constantly, throughout my day. The beauty of it is that, while it is hard, there’s no constant reps or exhaustion or a ruthless sap of energy like with many workouts. It’s literally just a tiny way to adjust the way I carry myself that still makes me much stronger and is the way I was meant to use my muscles. I don’t want to always be dependant on chairs to keep me upright, you know?

Food for thought. Anyway that’s all I have this week. Next week I will have completed an overnight hike with the backpacking group I keep mentioning and will at least be able to summarize my experience, so exciting things coming up!

Until then,

Liza

(P.S. Happy Easter!)