So I quit my job…

I generally enjoy my job. It’s the side effects I can’t stand–waking up every morning with third tier pop music stuck in my head, wanting to punch customers in the face for asking why I’m not more chipper at 9:53 at night, being unable to plan with certainty any events beyond next week due to the ever changing schedule.

For all the negatives, though, I love my co-workers. They’re some of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and they always make me feel valuable. Oh, and they’re nerds. In a good way. (Trick statement! There is no bad way to be a nerd.)

So, when I went to give my 2- weeks notice today, I left them a bit of art as well to commemorate our time together. I hope they hang onto this. It’ll be worth a fortune when the Louvre realizes how good my stick figures are.

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Helm's Deep got nothin on us

On that note, two weeks and three days until I graduate college. Six weeks until I start to question my sanity for dreaming of the PCT for the last 6 years.

Commence panic mode now.

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The Nicest Smelling Pit Toilets I’ve Ever Been In: Glacier National Park

I’m a big-picture planner. By this I mean I like to focus on the overall arc of an idea, and let someone else figure out the details. Sometimes, though, both of the other people I’m planning things with are also big-picture planners. The result? Two days in Glacier National Park with less than twenty minutes of planning, total, from our group. And most of that was me booking us a campsite. Which we didn’t even use one of the nights.

That one time my dad used the word “Selfie” correctly!

Months ago, my sister and I decided that, since our cousin’s wedding was about 5 hours on the road towards Glacier anyways, we would meander on from Oregon through whatever Google said was the fastest route and camp in Glacier for, who knows? Three days? A Week? Summer break, people! But then my dad got a few days of vacation time freed up, so he was able to join us. The catch? We had to be back in time for his knee surgery, which meant leaving the park after only 2 full days. 

No big deal. Being an efficient Googler, I would have a plan. I would mark out exactly which trails we could hike, and what to do, and–what? We leave tomorrow morning? I reserved the last available campsite in the entire park and trusted the rest to luck.

Three people. Three people’s camping gear. A very large cooler that in hindsight we could have skipped, because how many bologna sandwiches can three people stomach in two and a half days? (Answer: Not as many as that cooler can hold.). All of this in one Camry, filling the trunk and half the back seat. Not the ideal camping scenario, but since we grew up taking vacations with one child crouching on the floor of our turquoise Aerostar, ducking whenever a police car came into view, we weren’t concerned.

My sister and I!

Like family vacations of olde, we got started two hours later than we had intended. And between not wanting to stop for food in case we might miss our campsite, and thinking I might want to start eating healthier now that I’m almost done with college, I hadn’t eaten a lot on the very long drive. (How to reconcile that with bologna sandwiches? Just let it be, folks.) And I had also just done another 1,000 mile road trip a few days before. I was tired! So tired, that by the time we got to Kalispell and decided we were not going to make it to the stressfully-booked campsite in time to pitch our tent, I was running on empty. There may have been tears in the pizza parlor parking lot. Old ladies were giving me sidelong looks as if they weren’t sure if they should call a women’s shelter or an insane asylum.

The pizza place was out of original crust, so we had overpriced thin crust pizza. After throwing my nutritional goals to the wind and eating half the pizza, I felt great. Embarrassed, but great. Lesson learned: if I ever try to become anorexic, someone will probably shoot me before I see any weight loss.

After a short night at the Super 8, we finished our trip to Glacier. At first it felt like a theme park, mainly because of the themeparks and rafting companies gathered around the entrance. Inside, though, we accidentally ended up on the Going to the Sun Road.

I had learned 3 things in my research:

  1. You have to do the Going to the Sun Road. It’s on some list of awesome Civil Engineering things.
  2. The Northwest corner of the park is the most remote part of the park, and supposedly has some of the top 100 most scenic backpacking trails in any national park (Per this list compiled by Backpacker Magazine).
  3. The Glaciers are dying.

The bottom of the Going to the Sun Road.

What they never told me was that there really is no other option besides the Going to the Sun Road. If you want to cross that park, that’s it. It’s the main road. And though the beginning part is flat and doesn’t make sense as to why it would be a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, after a few miles we completely understood the hype.

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It’s steep and beautiful and scary as Hell and I was grateful my Dad came, if only so that my sister and I didn’t have to risk driving.

A view from the Going to the Sun Road. Very High. Very Steep. Very Gorgeous.

So we marveled at the road. At the top, we saw a sign for Logan Pass. “Why don’t we get out here and hike a bit?” we thought.

“Because the parking lot is full, and as soon as one car leaves, twelve more swoop in to take their place,” the visitor center answered.

“Let’s not do that,” we decided. Instead, we meandered onto a waterfall just on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. We finished driving the road, found a gas station that charged more for a bag of ice than for a gallon of gas, and returned to the western side to pitch our tent in Fish Creek Campground.

What to do with the remaining four hours of daylight?

“Let’s head over to Bowman Lake,” my dad suggested.

Bowman Lake–in the remote northeast corner! We could finally escape the crowds… that we honestly hadn’t encountered much of the entire trip. But we decided to go, and two hours down a mostly gravel road (again: we were in a Camry) we finally said, “If we haven’t found it within the next ten minutes, we’re turning around.”

Nine minutes later, we arrived. It was a pretty lake, until you stepped out of the car. The only mosquito bites I received the entire trip were bestowed during the hour we spent there. After such a long trip, I found the pit toilets mentioned in the title of this post. We then walked around the lake about a mile, past the sign warning us of Grizzly attacks and absolving the state of any fault if we happened to run into one. The trail was surrounded by dog hair (thick forest and brush that makes it impossible to see more than a few feet).

We played “Would You Rather” so our noise would scare away the bears, and turned around well before leaving the lake shore. We got back to camp, ate quickly, and went to bed with a plan to hit Logan Pass early the next morning.

Beaten by the Bearvault

Question: Which bear is best?

Is that a ridiculous question? Are there basically two schools of thought? If that’s your answer:

  1. Let’s be friends. I always need people to finish my quotes from The Office, otherwise things get kind of awkward.
  2. False. The best bear, at least when backpacking, is the one that doesn’t come into your camp and eat your food, and/or you.

With this in mind, and in preparation for a future PCT thru-hike and a more imminent trip to Glacier, I set out last week to buy a bear canister.

A what?

  • Bear Canister. n. An often bulky container designed to keep bears out and your delicious snacks in.

Okay, I don’t work for Merriam-Webster. But you get the idea. 

Bear canisters are important for several reasons:

  1. No one wants to get two days into a four-day hike and have all their food disappear down Bongo’s gullet.
  2. Bears who get used to eating people-food can become so aggressive that the parks service has to kill them in order to keep people safe.
  3. They’re required in Glacier National Park and several areas on the Pacific Crest Trail. 

As Linus said in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Those are good reasons.”

Because I am mildly indecisive and never make a gear decision without consulting a trillion online sources, I compared four different models and eventually settled on one that looked coolest was lightweight and came highly recommended.

That is how I settled on the Bearvault.

Feel free to click that link. Look at that Bearvault. It’s beautiful. The clear blue plastic evokes visions of icicles and intergalactic travel at the same time. It has a black lid that practically screams, “Turn this for Nutella.” It has ridges that help the Bearvault stay secure on your pack. At least, that’s what the super helpful REI saleswoman from my previous blog entry said.

She also said I could take it out of the box and test it out. 

But really, what sort of person needs to test out a container for food? It’s not like it could be, say, mildly confusing to open! It’s not like anyone could be so weak that even when they figured out how to open it, they couldn’t push the tabs in far enough to actually accomplish the task!

Or maybe both those things could happen. 

Did happen. 

To me. 

To my surprise, I discovered the directions are really important on things like this. After five minutes of frustration at not being able to get that stupid black lid off that beautiful blue cylinder, I pulled out the instruction pamphlet that I had thrown across the room earlier. Turns out my fingers were about a centimeter above where they needed to be. Two seconds later, my two-year-old nephew, who had been trying to help but was now crying from frustration (or maybe because auntie kept taking this really cool looking thing away from him), started clapping as the lid spun off easily.

I felt so accomplished at being able to unscrew that lid, I tried it a few more times with nary a hitch. Two main takeaways from this experience:

  1. Since I did manage to open the container, I must not be a bear.
  2. If I see a bear with reading glasses on the trail, I must hide the Bearvault directions. The state of my snacking depends in it.

Embarrassment at REI

I’ve spent 4 years obsessing over backpacking gear and planning a future Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike.

I’ve been backpacking three times.

I’ve read dozens of trail blogs, gear lists, and books of backpacking wisdom.

So when I went to REI to jump on the bandwagon of the Osprey Aura AG 65, (the AG stands for Anti-Gravity! How cool is that!) I was hoping to not feel like a total dunce.

As if fate would be so kind.

It began when the extremely helpful saleswoman asked if I wanted to try the pack on.

Well, yes, I suppose I would.

She measured my torso, found me to be right between a medium and a large, then gave me a medium to start off with.

I swung it confidently over my shoulders.

“Crap!” I muttered as my arms became entangled in the straps. What is this, a backpack for ants?

“Maybe you should loosen the shoulder straps,” the saleswoman suggested.

Of course! This pack was still configured for shipment! All the straps were tight as could be!

I loosened the shoulder straps and slid my arms comfortably through. THIS was how a pack should feel! Built for an adult-sized human, not my two-year-old nephew!

“Looks good,” the saleswoman muttered. “Now, you want the belt to sit on your hips.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, buckling it onto my hips like I’ve done on all my previous trips.

She paused. “It looks like it might be a little high,” she suggested.

I froze. I recognized that voice. That’s the voice I used when my roommate would try to wear leather boots with sweats on her walk to the cafeteria. It’s the voice that says, “If you think that’s a good idea, fine, but the rest of the world knows better.”

I refuse to be outsmarted by the rest of the world!

“Yeah,” I agreed, shifting the pack down an inch or so, “I’m just needing to adjust it a little. That’s better,” I said, looking up for affirmation.

I received none. “Still a little high. You want it to be on your hips,” she repeated.

At this point I was regretting bringing my sister on my shopping expedition. She wasn’t as adept at keeping a straight face as the saleswoman. I could practically hear her wondering how I would survive a five month trek if I couldn’t even make it to footwear. This, commingled with that particular joy that only comes from seeing your sister harmlessly embarrassed in a not-too-permanent fashion.

“Oh, right,” I mumbled, trying to save face and shifting the hip belt still further down.

“Do you know where your hips are?” the saleswoman asked gently.

“I thought I did,” I whimpered.

“Let me—do you mind?” I nodded. She moved forward to loosen the belt, then lowered it a full three inches and settled it where packs are apparently supposed to be.

It was at this point I discovered my error, though I was too embarrassed to state my case.

See, I had always thought that, “Your hip belt should be on your hips,” meant, “Your hip belt should be on top of your hips.” There is a crucial difference, however. If I had to write directions on how to wear a hip belt, I would say, “It should be around your hips.”

But no one asked me to write these instructions. Thus, I’ve been carrying my pack’s load on what most people would call my waist, or, not where it’s supposed to be at all.

In my defense, I’ve never seen a woman with a baby “on her hip” that carried it so low as REI and the rest of the backpacking world say a pack is supposed to be.

Embarrassment aside, the pack did feel incredible when worn properly. And the saleswoman was amazing and managed to not laugh throughout the entire episode, while giving me really useful advice. Unfortunately, I now have no idea if I actually need a new pack, or if my old one hurt my back simply because I was wearing this incredibly simple device entirely wrong. I’ve got two weeks to decide before my coupon arrives… And, should the upgrade be unavoidable, there are three other REIs I can go to to avoid having to meet that same salesperson’s eyes. Although with how helpful she was, I should probably go back and give her the sale anyways.