That Certain Something About the Outdoors

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Spot the girl. Extra points if you spot the dog!

There’s just something about being outside, I mean really outside, away from crowds and man-made things,  that is hard to pin point. It’s best described as something that eases the mind, awakens the soul, and refreshes the body. In other words, it does a lot of good in a lot of ways. Maybe it’s the fresh, crisp air, or the untrampled, somewhat unexplored ground beneath one’s feet. Maybe it’s the views that are unlike anything ever made by man. Maybe it’s the sounds, or lack thereof, or the wildlife that is just as curious about you as you are of it. Maybe it’s the smells – the pine needles, the wild flowers, the sweet grasses, the dry dirt… Maybe it’s the sense of solitude, or self-sufficiency or a necessity for survival – some primitive instinct that begins to emerge when one is far from civilization.

Whatever it is, it’s something that I like and something that I genuinely believe is a good something. It’s not always realistic to get outside – really outside – all that often. With our fast paced, packed schedules and obligations it can be a challenge to get out into nature even one weekend a month.

So I’ve set out to try to pinpoint some ways in which we can try to capture that something and infuse it into our daily lives. A feeble attempt to bring a little of that certain something about the outdoors home to tie us over and stimulate the senses until our next grand adventure when life allows us a chunk of time in which to get lost in nature.

Here goes:

1. Sight: The outdoors are full of beautiful, pure, natural sights and breathtaking views.

Try this! Decorate your home with landscape pictures, natural colors, and accents that bring aspects of the outside in. Check out Trekking Photography’s work.

TrekkingPhotography.com

TrekkingPhotography.com

2. Sound: The sound of the wind rustling through the grass and rustling through the trees. The sound of birds chirping and a stream gurgling…the sound of silence.

Try this! Leave your windows open and let the fresh air and the breeze in. Find a nice Pandora station that plays nature sounds.

3. Smell: In the outdoors your nose is met with natural scents of wild foliage and places untouched by man. They are pure and simple and interesting.

Try this! Bring the scent of the great outdoors inside with Juniper Ridge Wilderness Perfume. Cabin Spray: $40

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4. Mind and Soul: Outside, you can unplug and slow things down. There’s no rush and there’s too much to do, see, smell, and hear to even think about updating your Twitter. It’s just you, your thoughts, and your senses.

Try this! Unplug for a bit. Stow away your electronics for a night or a weekend. Take time to just think and to be aware of your surroundings and engage your senses. Take some of the time that you would normally spend on your phone or computer and instead try meditating. Or do something to care for yourself, such as a nice relaxing bath or a yoga class or reading a book you’ve been meaning to get to. Capture some of that slow-paced, quiet, reflection that being outside gives you.

When I’m outside I feel relaxed, happy, curious, and in awe. I think those are good things to feel. So my goal is to try to mimic what I feel when I’m outside in my daily life, even when I’m stuck inside.

11070515_10205339766405452_3832441715362798048_nLet me know what you do to bring that something about the outdoors into YOUR daily life in the comments!

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Working Out to Get Out: Fitness Tips for the Outdoor Enthusiast

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Spring is right around the corner, can you feel it? Depending on where you are in the country right now, you can probably feel it a bit more than others. Well here in sunny Northern California it feels like Spring is really starting to blossom. With the coming of Spring, I find the motivation to kick my workouts into high gear in anticipation of little dresses, short shorts, and, more importantly, backpacking in the mountains.

The countdown to warm weather and outdoor activities is on. The mountain roads and trails are opening up in just a few short weeks. Now is the time to commit to getting in your best shape so that you can fully enjoy all that the great outdoors has to offer. Because if you hit the trail after a winter of hanging out on your couch without training first, you will be in for a less than stellar surprise.

10359155_10205203339274859_8055588343266801736_nHere are some tips to help you get in shape for your quickly approaching outdoor adventures:

1.  Give your stairs some lovin’.  If you have stairs in your house, use them to your own benefit. Walking or running up and down stairs is great training for hiking. It’s also just a great workout in general. Do enough stairs a11000056_10205164531464688_1503326286543275879_nt a fast enough pace and you can get a good cardio session in. Plus, stairs are great for your booty.

2. Walk or jog. Now that the weather is going to be warming up it is a great opportunity to get outside in your neighborhood and go for a quick walk or jog. Just getting your body moving is important, and the fresh air wont hurt either. If the weather’s not so nice where you are, get your steps in on a treadmill. If you don’t have a treadmill, head to your local gym. No excuses! Walk instead of drive, park farther away from the door when going to the grocery store…find little ways to get yourself moving.

3. Work Out in Your Living Room. Find a fun workout that you can do in your living room before or after work. There are so many online that you can choose from. An online workout, or a fitness DVD, make it easy to fit in a workout without having to commit the time it takes to get to and from where you are going. Just turn on the workout and get to it. (My favorites: www.toneitup.com, barre3 workout DVDs or MyBarre3 online, and Ballet Beautiful. I do 10391415_10205235803006432_9078270789625860469_none or more of these types of workouts every day in preparation for hiking and backpacking.)

4. Rock Your Backpack. A really great (albeit, nerdy) way to train for backpacking is to wear your backpack around the house or out for your walk or jog. You can start out with it empty and gradually add weight to it to build up your strength. It’s amazing how heavy your backpack can feel when you haven’t worn it for a few months. Best to startil_570xN.674740473_5sw6 wearing it ahead of time to get reacquainted.

5. Squat It Out. Squats are something that you can do anywhere. They will build up your leg strength which is so important for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, fly fishing, trail running…just about any outdoor activity you can think of. The benefits of squats are unlimited. So do them. Check out this link to make sure that your form is correct. Then, get yourself this amazing tank top.

 

 

Hike: Beehive Basin, Big Sky, MT

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The way up to Beehive Basin, Big Sky, MT

When I heard that Beehive Basin in Big Sky, Montana is considered, by some, to be one the world’s best hikes, I knew I had to check it out while I was in town. The reviews for the hike all said it was easy and suitable for all levels of hikers. At about 4.5 miles round trip I figured it would be an easy jaunt up a path to a nice view where I could enjoy a PB & J by the lake at the top. I hit the trail in running shoes and my day pack and was pretty much immediately blown away by the scenery.

Big Sky is breathtaking from the road, and even more so from the little cabin I’m staying in on one of the many ski slopes that have been abandoned for the summer. However, on foot, it is unreal.

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Due to a late melt off and an unusual amount of snow still on the ground, the wildflowers that I had read so much about were not out in full force as they should have been. As I got up higher, it quickly became apparent that running shoes were a bad choice (see the post ‘Rookie Mistakes’). There were some pretty big snow fields to be crossed, and the closer to the basin I got, the deeper the snow got. My running shoes kept getting sucked off my feet as I sunk into the snow up to my calves. Before long, my socks were soaked and my feet were freezing. About a half a mile from the top I had to call it quits – my pride hurts to admit it, but my feet thanked me. I snapped a few pictures before booking it back down the mountain. I will definitely be doing this hike again in better footwear, and hopefully when the wildflowers are all out. (I’m a sucker for flowers!)

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Recommendation: DO IT! Beehive Basin is a beautiful hike with incredible views. It’s fairly easy (I’m sure even more so when there isn’t so much snow) and it makes for a fun day in Big Sky. Just try to hit it when the majority of the snow is melted…and opt for hiking boots!

Going Off the Grid: Why It’s Good For You

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One thing [of many] that I love about being at our family cabin in Montana, is the fact that it is completely off the grid. When I first went out there years ago, it was a bit of a shock for me. I was very much accustomed to the creature comforts of modern life, and the fact that I had to use a compost toilet in an outhouse, initially seemed like a sick joke.

But, as the years have gone by, I have grown to appreciate the beauty of the simultaneous simplicity and complexity that being off the grid provides. The only power is solar power [when you choose to hook it up] and the water all comes from a well. When my husband and I go out there, just the two of us and our dog, Gunner, we often choose to not to have electricity in order to fully immerse ourselves in the “Off the Grid Experience”.

After our most recent trip to the cabin, I have come up with some reasons why going completely off the grid is good to do every once in a while – for your body and your soul.

1. Fewer distractions.

Going off the grid means no TV, no cell phone service, and no internet. It means you have to find ways to entertain yourself – ways that are, in my opinion, seemingly more in tune with a primal part of humans. Read a book [or two, or three…], go for a hike, go fishing, go for a walk, play a board game, simply sit and talk with a loved one, or just enjoy the silence and watch nature going about its business around you.

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2. Quality time.

I love being at the cabin with my husband because there are no distractions. We are able to really be together and have long conversations and play games together and enjoy little things, like a herd of 23 deer grazing right outside the cabin. We get to share the work that comes with being off the grid, like hand washing dishes and making a fire in the wood burning stove. It’s magical, in a way, to spend a weekend entirely cut off from the rest of the world. Especially with the one you love.

3. Candlelight.

One of my favorite parts of being off the grid is having to use candlelight at night. My husband and I ate our dinners by candlelight. We lit a dozen candles and spread them out all around the cabin, filling the place with a warm, flickering glow. The wood burning stove crackled and heated the cabin, making it cozy. Candlelight is so calming and beautiful.

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4. Work for it!

Being off the grid is a lot of work. A LOT. You have to chop wood for the fire, especially in the cold months. Without a fire, the cabin is freezing, so always having a bunch of wood on hand is a must. You have to empty the compost toilet. Enough said about that. You have to hand wash dishes with well water, which is a task that I avoid feverishly at home, thanks to my dishwasher. Cooking takes longer, so you have to plan meals ahead accordingly. But the good thing about all of the work that goes into being off the grid, is that it makes you appreciate that fire, and the ingenious nature of that compost toilet, and that food that you slaved away over, and those sparkling clean dishes, in ways that you never would if you hadn’t had to work so hard for them.

5. Appreciate nature.10306182_10203066990667479_5290437805133571472_n

Over a four-day weekend at the cabin a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I saw countless deer, a herd of 37 elk, four moose, and a bunch of bighorn sheep. It is incredible to be able to be so close to wildlife and to observe it in its natural state. It’s a rush!

If given the opportunity, my recommendation would be to take advantage of a chance to get off the grid for a few days. It makes you appreciate the little things, and it allows you to quiet your mind and focus on the present. Going off the grid is hard work, but the reward is more than worth it.

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Jump Start Your Spring

Spring has sprung and it’s about time! It was a long winter and it is easy to start feeling a bit stir crazy when your outdoor activities are limited. With the warming of the weather, it’s time to start planning those backpacking trips and getting ready for those wilderness climbs.

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The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir

During the winter months it is normal for us to slack on exercise in favor of snuggling up with a blanket by the fire. Nothing wrong with snuggling or blankets or fires, however when spring  rolls around, it can be quite the rude awakening to realize that all of that winter snoozing left you feeling weak, out of breath, and totally unprepared for a long trek. When it’s time to load up your pack and head out into the backcountry, you want to be ready.

Here are a few ways to jump-start your spring and get back into the swing of things, physically:

1. Make a list. Write down your goals [i.e. hikes you want to do, backpacking trips you have planned, climbs you want to try, a beachy vacation that you want to get in shape for…]. That way you can see everything laid out before you. If that isn’t motivation to whip your butt into gear, I don’t know what is.

2. Create a routine. Make a plan of when and where and how often you are going to exercise. If it’s before work five times a week, then set your alarm a little earlier and go to bed a little sooner than you normally would the night before. Then, [and this is easier said than done,] stick to it. Routines take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form, depending on who you ask. So when your alarm goes off at 5:30am or you get home from work at 7:00pm, don’t give into the urge to “take the day off”. Just do it.

3. Mix up your workout regimen. It’s easy to get bored if you do the same work out every day. So, try picking a few different ways to exercise and rotate through them on various days of the week. When prepping for a backcountry adventure, it is important to not only get good cardiovascular exercise in, but also to build up strength and endurance. Try alternating between running, going on hikes, and yoga.

4. Find workouts that you love. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will be more likely to actually do it. All the good intentions in the world wont make you go out for a run if you absolutely hate running. If a spin class is more your thing, do it! If jump roping floats your boat, do that.

I love taking barre3 classes. They are fun and they really build up your strength and endurance – plus you get a great cardio work out, mixed with toning and stretching. Perfection!

And if hiking is the only form of “working out” that you can stand, go hiking more. 

If crowded trails aren’t your style, check out my post on “Why It’s Good to Get Off the Trail” for some tips on how to find more remote places to hike.

5. Start now! It is not too early to start training for your backpacking trip this June. Start your new exercise routine, and make sure you strap on your loaded pack at every chance you get. Even just walking around your house with it on will build up your strength. You don’t want the first time you put on your pack this year to be when you’re heading out into the wild for three nights.

This is going to be a great year of outdoor exploration!

Let me know your favorite ways to get physically ready for adventure in the comments below!

Rookie Mistakes

Rookie mistake: hiking 12 miles up a mountain to a glacier in jeans and a flimsy cotton sweater.

Rookie mistake: hiking 12 miles to and from a glacier in jeans and a flimsy cotton sweater.

Any time you start a new hobby or try a new activity, you, my friend, are a rookie. Making mistakes comes with the territory. In fact, I can guarantee that when trying something new, you are almost certainly going to mess up or do something stupid at some point, [like leaving all of your soaking wet fly-fishing gear in a plastic tote over the winter and forgetting to hang it out to dry so that when you pull it out in the spring, it is all moldy, or having a perfect shot of a yellow-bellied marmot in Yellowstone, mere feet away from you and forgetting to take the lens cap off of your camera…yep].  And that’s ok. We’ve all been there, and the good part is, mistakes help us to grow and to improve ourselves. Yes, it can be embarrassing at times, and no, nobody wants to look like they don’t know what they are doing, especially in front of people who are no longer in the rookie phase. But, as sure-footed, skilled, and cool as some people come across as, they started out as a rookie too. And there are surely things that you do better than they do. So, when trying a new activity, embrace your rookie-ness! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and to give it your all. Have fun with it, learn from it, and let your mistakes and experiences help you to grow. You will be scaling that ice wall, surfing that big wave, and reeling in giant brook trout by the dozens in no time.

Little Slice of Heaven

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Our family’s little slice of heaven.

Everyone needs a quiet place to escape to. A place that makes you relax just thinking about it. That is what is so great about cabins. They are your own little slice of heaven that you can run off to in order to get away from it all. They are a safe haven that you can go to for a peaceful weekend away from the grind; a springboard for adventure.

Whether you like to hole up inside with a good book and shut the whole world out, or use it as a base camp for exploration, cabins are what it’s all about.

Ode to Freeze-dried Suppers

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If you’ve been in the backcountry over night, you know what I’m talking about when I say that there are few things that taste as good as a re-hydrated meal eaten right out of the bag in the middle of nowhere after a long day of hiking. Dehydrated meals are a must for any true backpacker. And boy, do we love them. Here are the top reasons why freeze-dried meals are the shizz:

1. There is no better way to pack in the calories needed for long days of trekking it through the wild.

2. They provide you with a hot meal at the end of a long day. Think how nice a warm pouch of Chili Mac would be after a 12 mile hike, eaten as the sun starts setting over the mountains and that cool night air starts to creep in. You can’t beat it. Hot meal. A must.

3. Some of them actually taste really good. Try these meals from Mountain House: Chicken a la King, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Beef Stroganoff, Chili Mac with Beef, or Mac and Cheese. Steer clear of the ‘Breakfast’ options…just my advice.

4. Easy clean up when you eat right out of the bag! No bowls required. Just rinse the bag out when you’re done, roll it up small, and stuff it in your pack. No muss no fuss.

5. They fill you up. No really. You wont be hungry after downing a Mountain House Entree pouch.

Freeze-dried suppers are a life saver on a cool, wilderness night. That’s why we, the adventurers, the explorers, the backcountry men [and women], love them so.