Trail Tuesdays: 3 W’s of Hiking in Crappy Weather

Not all hiking days can be blue skies and sunshine.  Particularly here on the west coast, regular hikers are going to encounter inclement weather, everything from low cloud to absolute downpours. Let’s be clear here, hiking in heavy rain sucks. Today’s tips are more for those days when weather is unsettled, the kind of day when you know the clouds are never going to part and it’s probably going to rain here and there, but not the kind of all-day-rain-fest that can happen in the mountains. No one wants to hike in that.  Though it can be tempting to avoid hiking in iffy weather, sometimes you just want some fresh air, scenery and the healing power of nature.

The problem with hiking in crappy weather is that you’re probably not going to see a whole lot from the top of a mountain.  Trust me, I’ve hauled ass up many a trail to see nothing but cloud.

Exhibit A: No view after hours of hiking uphill.

Sure, it makes for a good workout, but it’s far better to save the epic mountain viewpoints for sunnier days.  On a crappy days, the three W’s can help you keep your hiking mojo even in less than ideal conditions:

1. Wildflowers:  Unlike mountain tops, wildflowers aren’t going to be obscured by clouds. On a crappy day, a hike through fields of wildflowers adds a pop of colour and some visual interest even if all the surrounding mountains are obscured by clouds. As a bonus, wildflowers actually photograph better in cloudy conditions than in full-on sunshine. If you get to know your area’s wildflower season and hot-spots, these become great destinations for less-than-perfect days.

Exhibit B: it rained for this entire 18 km hike and I never saw a mountain, but I think we can agree this is pretty damn beautiful.

2. Water: Select a trail that leads to a waterfall or a jewel-toned lake. Similar to wildflowers, jewel-toned lakes pop in grey conditions. Because they’re often found at the base of mountains, those pesky clouds won’t get in your way either. As for waterfalls, they tend to be underrated even though they can be simply stunning.  They’re also more likely to be found at slightly lower elevations, meaning good visibility even in the worst of conditions.  Seeking out both these destinations will keep you from slogging along a ridge line during a torrential downpour.

Exhibit C: Crap day, stunning lake.

3. Waterproof: I’ve written about having the right gear for hiking, and about an epic hiking weekend in which Mount Rainier decided to bestow upon me almost nothing but torrential rain. In other words, I have suffered through a lot of ill-prepared hiking in the rain.  Regardless of the type of trail you choose, the number one most important thing is some high quality, waterproof gear. In particular, you’ll want a waterproof jacket and hiking boots.  All the waterfalls and wildflowers in the world won’t save your hike if you’re soaking wet and cold.

So get out there no matter what the weather and remember your three W’s: water(falls and lakes), wildflowers, waterproof. I promise you it’ll help you make the most of an iffy day.

Trail Tuesdays: being bear aware

On a mini road trip this weekend, had the good fortune of seeing a fuzzy little friend from the safety of our car. There, directly on the edge of the highway, munching on a rather large clump of grass, was a juvenile black bear.  We slowed down enough that he wouldn’t get frightened and potentially bolt onto the highway, and we drove past him so slowly that I could see how very large and very terrifying his claws looked. Eek! It got me thinking about being bear aware in the mountains.

I have a deeply rooted fear of bear encounters, coupled with an absolute fascination with reading about bear attacks. It all started with watching a supposedly educational short film in an outdoor amphitheatre in a relatively secluded campground in the Canadian Rockies at night. Why they would show these types of films to campers at night is beyond me, especially when it featured a bear attack survivor who had quite literally done everything right.  What did he get for his bear savvy? Half of his scalp was torn off in the middle of the night, and the bear accomplished this feat through the camper’s tent fabric (!!!!!). And so, my healthy fear of bears/bear attack fascination was born.

I’ve spent all of my hiking years since desperately trying to avoid running into bears while hiking, which included a lot of reading about what does/doesn’t work. Today, I share the wisdom of my years of hiking, research and reading. The goal is to keep you from unintentionally surprising a bear on trail since the element of surprise is most closely tied to bear attacks.

Full disclosure:  I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve also never been attacked by a bear so…I must be doing something right.

Don’t let this adorable-ness fool you. Mama bears need their space! Be bear aware!

Do’s and Don’ts: Keeping Bears Out of Sight (but not out of Mind)

Don’t rely on bear bells: This is likely one of two controversial statements I’ll make in today’s posts. I think bear bells are a waste of time. Not only is the incessant tinkling annoying as hell when you’re trying to enjoy nature, but there is a lot of research that suggests they are not loud enough nor jarring enough to warn bears of your presence. This is particularly true around rushing water.  My father insists on using his bear bell often, and sometimes I can’t even hear it one or two switchbacks away from him even without running water. They just aren’t loud.  If you choose to use one, fair enough, but know that you may need to make extra noise in certain trail environments.

Don’t rely on bear spray:  Yup, this one’s probably controversial too. But hear me out: I am not saying don’t carry it if it gives you some peace of mind, but I am saying don’t rely on it so much so that you’re not following other bear-aware basics.  Personally, I don’t carry bear spray. It’s partly because I’ve tended to hike relatively popular and well-travelled trails, but it’s mostly because I know myself well enough to know that I would not be able to hold my shit together well enough to deploy it if it were necessary.  If a bear is charging me, I’m going to panic. My better option is to do everything I can to minimize an encounter. The reality is that bear spray is a last resort and works to the extent that you can calmly aim and fire at the right time and distance. If you’re cool under pressure, you’re a better man/woman than I.

Do use your voice:  Loud, frequent human voices seem to be widely recognized as the best way to avoid unwittingly surprising bears.  This isn’t just talking to your buddies, though. It’s actually yelling. Back when I worked at a mountain lodge, the hiking guides were trained to get their groups making noise by yelling out “heeeeey bear” to which the rest of the group would yell at the top of their lungs “bear!”.  Is it embarrassing? Hell, yes. Is it louder than a bear bell? Also, hell yes. I used to be mortified at the thought of someone hearing me yell to myself, but I just remind myself of things like the scene in The Revenant where my dear Leo becomes a chew toy for a grizzly.

Do heed bear warnings and closures: Bear warnings and area closures are put in place because there have been bear sightings and potentially even bears exhibiting aggressive behaviours. It’s best to wait until warnings and closures are removed. If you choose to hike anyway, make sure you’re fully prepared and, preferably, travelling with others.

Don’t assume that a lack of bear warnings means there aren’t bears:  A couple summers ago, the rest of my family was out hiking on a very crowded, very popular trail on the Icefields Parkway.  Despite hordes of people, they rounded a bend only to see a giant grizzly up ahead. They were able to back away slowly and safely, and no other hikers were harmed that day.  The moral of this story is: bear encounters can happen any time/anywhere, even when there are no posted warnings.

Do pay attention to your surroundings: Keep an eye out for diggings, scat, bear prints, or carcasses. Any of these signs could mean a bear is in the area. Depending on the how fresh the signs are, you may want to hustle a bit faster or even retreat. I was once hiking a slightly more remote trail with zero other cars in the parking lot when I encountered one pile of fresh-looking scat, followed by another, followed by another, the last of which was literally steaming in the cool morning air. That was the end of that hike. Also be extra vigilant when hiking through berry bushes, particularly when berries are in season.  It’s not just obvious signs, though.  Anywhere you could unintentionally sneak up on a bear warrants some extra caution–shoulder high scrub, sharp turns in the trail, or hiking alongside raging creeks and rivers are all good environments in which to make some extra noise and keep an eye out.

Do hike with others as much as possible: There’s safety in numbers.  A lot trails in Banff National Park actually have restrictions for groups of 4 or 6 hikers because attacks on groups are much less common. Even when restrictions aren’t in place, it’s better to hike with others (not just for bear safety, either!).  People are natural noise makers, and even two humans looks more physically intimidating than one human.

I likely sound like a paranoid bear-phobic (I’m sure there’s a correct term for this, but I’m too lazy to look at up). I assure you that’s far from the truth.  My fear of bear encounters has never caused me to avoid hiking and, really, as much as I call it a fear, it’s more of an incredibly healthy respect.  Still, I’m going to do whatever I can to avoid ending up like that guy from the campground amphitheatre video…or poor Leo in the Revenant. Yikes.

Hike safely, friends.

 

Trail Tuesdays: walking in the spiderwebs

Can I tell you about something that fills me heart with even more terror than the thought of being attacked by a 500 lb grizzly bear, that has caused me to abandon hiking plans a full 2.5 km into a trail, and that makes me look a crazy, skittish, jumpy freak on the trails?

Ready for it? It’s walking through spiderwebs.

I know it’s ridiculous for a grown adult/outdoor enthusiast to have such an irrational fear of not just spiders but also their empty webs. I live in a place where there are incredibly, incredibly few (in fact, I’m not sure there’s really any) deadly spiders. Those empty webs are just as bad as they serve as a powerful reminder of terrifying spiders’ existences. Plus, I loathe that feeling of wispy strands of spiderwebs clinging to my flesh, invisible to the eye, harmless, and yet so incredibly icky.  I try to remind myself that spiders are good for the ecosystem, that they mean me no harm, that their webs are just their way of catching a mid-day snack.  All of that works only as long as they stay off my trails.

Particularly in early mornings, when few if any hikers have passed through a trail, the risk of spiderweb encounters is at its peak. But even when trails are crowded, I have been amazed at how quickly new webs are spun. It’s like spiders don’t learn that it’s not really worth it to work their magic across well-trodden paths. As a result of this unpredictability, I’m always on watch and always at risk of making an utter fool of myself. Here are just a number of ways in which I have embarrassed myself when encountering spider webs on trails:

–Forced my father or friends to walk ahead of me for significant portions of the trail for the explicitly stated purpose of knocking down spider webs.  The taller the person, the more likely I am to rope them into lead hiker/spider-web-killer.

–Walked for several kilometres swinging my fully-extended hiking pole up and down in front of me like a crazy person to try to knock down any spider webs that may be in my path.

–Shrieked such that friends have been certain I was actually being attacked by a ferocious forest beast. In fact, once when I was a child, my father actually got angry with me for doing this. I was off playing in the woods by our campsite when I passed through a spiderweb and screamed bloody murder. My father ran through the woods convinced I’d suffered some legitimate injury or attack only to find me perfectly fine (aside from the emotional trauma, of course). Apparently it’s super uncool to cry wolf in the woods.

–Repeatedly thrown small branches or rocks at the spider and his web in an effort to knock it down so I can continue without fear of the spider/web potentially landing on me.  This sounds simple and straightforward, and yet I’m so afraid of getting close to the web that I end up throwing both rocks and branches from such a distance that the branches don’t reach the web or the rocks veer off target. You do not want to know how much time I’ve spent employing this tactic.

–Stood there for five minutes having an internal argument with myself about whether I can possibly continue on the trail. I am embarrassed to admit I have turned around before…after hiking 2.5 steep kilometres…when I only had one day for adventuring in the area. In my defence, this was a mammoth spider smack dab in the middle of the trail and about the fourth of its kind I had encountered in the last kilometre alone, all of which I’d had to “clear” with the aforementioned stick/rock throwing technique and under extreme emotional duress.

–Had a minor panic attack and proceeded to spend the next ten minutes furiously trying to dislodge a spider from my person (with no evidence to confirm that a spider was even on my person). Imagine something akin to the running move in Flashdance.  Actually, let me provide a better visual, which is Chris Farley doing the Flashdance dance in Tommy Boy.  In other words, it’s not pretty.

What I’m really getting at here is that, if I could have a super power, it would be to make spider webs in my path magically disappear, without harming the spiders of course.  Also, I would happily accept a permanent hiking lead/spider-web-knocker-downer to be at my beck and call for the remainder of hiking season.

ps. One last sad fact: I was going to insert a picture with this post but even the Google image screen of spiderwebs was too terrifying a prospect.

Trail Tuesdays PSA: be prepared!

Warning: this may border on preachy. Being adequately prepared for your outdoor adventures is one of my hot button topics. I’ve written about safety supplies and suitable gear before.  This weekend I was irked to hear of yet another series of search and rescue expeditions to retrieve hikers from local mountains. All of these trails were front-country, relatively easy half-day hikes in regular hiking season.  The common factor among these rescues: individuals were underprepared for conditions, which included snow at higher elevations.  The toughest part for me to swallow is that this will be the first of far too many similar rescues in the early season. There is enough that can go wrong in the outdoors even when you’re prepared, so why take the risk of going out unprepared and uninformed?

So as not to sound all negative, I’ll add that I actually think it’s great that people want enjoy nature, and I encourage people to get into hiking. However, I get quite riled up when I hear stories of hikers heading out with minimal gear, unsuitable clothing and footwear, and with little knowledge of what to expect in terms of trail conditions, including the intensity of the hike relative to one’s fitness level.  One of the beautiful things about our information age is that there is a ton of information out there to help you know what to expect on a trail. For the love of God, use it!

If you’re going to hit the trails this Spring season, make sure that you’re prepared for conditions:

1. Read up on trail reports: Early season hiking truly is some of the most risky for casual hikers. Warm temperatures and sunshine in lower elevations do not translate to higher elevations, where snow and ice are likely to linger for a long time. Not only that, the snow becomes less stable, which causes a lot more slipping, sliding and post-holing, all of which can cause sudden and unexpected injuries. Trickier conditions can also cause your casual hike to take way longer than expected, which can mean changing conditions and fading daylight can become risks. These aren’t things we tend to think about when it’s 22 degrees at the base of the mountain and yet we should. Provincial, federal, state and national parks have trail reports that are updated fairly regularly, and there are also a number of hiking websites where comments sections are used to provide recent trail conditions. Google is your friend.

2. Pack your gear: I wrote a whole post on being prepared for shoulder season, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say temperatures drop quickly and suddenly in the mountains.  If you get stuck waiting for help because of an injury, or even if it’s just that it takes you way longer than you thought to finish your hike, extra layers may save you from discomfort or even mild hypothermia and a headlamp may help you find your way back to the trailhead safely even in the dark.

3. Know your limits: If you hit snow and you’re not comfortable, or your footwear isn’t giving you enough traction, just turn around. I see people labouring (i.e. slipping and sliding) up and down snow-covered trails in street shoes all the time. My completely obvious pro-tip: if it’s hard for you to get traction going uphill, it will be ten times worse coming back down. It’s not worth it.  Just because others are easily navigating the trail does not mean it will be easy for you. If you encounter terrain that makes you uncomfortable, do not proceed just because others have no issue with it. We all have different experience levels with various trail conditions. Other hikers may be well-versed and geared for their snowy journey. If you’re not, don’t go.

4. Make sure you have route descriptions or a screen shot of a trail map: Most trails are really well marked, but in snowy conditions trails that are usually obvious may be less so. If you’re not sure you’re on the right track, don’t just keep going. Backtrack to the last time you had a clear trail marker or visible sign of trail. From there, if you cannot identify the actual route, do not keep going.

5. Hike for your fitness level: Particularly in early season, conditions may cause hikes to take longer than you think as well as make the hike more physically draining. There is a big difference in energy exerted on a dry, dirt path vs. post-holing through snow. If you’ve ever had to post-hole through crappy Spring snow, you know this. To add insult to injury, you’re probably less fit than you were at the end of last hiking season. Hiking time estimates are just that. A two-hour hiking time estimate assumes good conditions and average fitness.  That could mean you might take 45 minutes or you might take four hours, depending on your fitness and trail conditions. Keep track of your time and don’t assume it’s always faster descending a trail. Turn around if you think you won’t make it back safely during daylight hours.

Okay, I think this concludes my slightly patronizing rant. Like I said, this is a hot button topic for me. Most search and rescue teams are volunteer-based, which means these individuals are often working day jobs and then getting dispatched in the evenings and overnight, giving up their time and putting themselves at risk when searching for hikers. Let’s not put others into greater risk for no good reason.  Accidents absolutely happen on trails and we can’t always prevent them, but we can do everything in our power to be informed and prepared.

*end rant*

 

Training Tuesdays: Trail Snacks!

Let’s talk trail snacks! Snacks are fun regardless of where and when they’re eaten, but snacks become essential on the trail. Hiking burns a lot of calories and you can easily bonk if you don’t find some way of refueling along the way. Trust me. I used to hike all day without any snacks only to absolute crash and burn once I got home. I’m talking laying on my couch from 5 pm onward with no energy to do anything. It made for a riveting social life. In other words, you gotta fuel yourself on the trail.

When it comes to hiking, you’ll want to be extra thoughtful about what you bring along. Here are a few simple rules to help you pick the best hiking fuel for the trail. I’ve also followed up the general rules with links to some of my favourite products and recipes (and no, I haven’t been compensated for product suggestions–my readership is nowhere near what it needs to be for that!).

Trail Eats 101: snacking right for a hike

1. Keep it Compact and Resilient: You’re going to be carrying whatever you have to eat, along with all your gear, and your water. That’s a lot of stuff. What you don’t need to add to the mix are giant tupperware containers or large-sized snacks. Keep trail snacks small. And, if you’re anything like me, your snacks will quite literally be crammed into your backpack.  This is not the time for rice crackers in their foil pouch nor a pillowy soft coffee cake in a baggie (yes, these specific examples come from experience).  They will only end up flattened and crushed beyond recognition.  Choose foods that can withstand the pressure of a full backpack.

2. Watch out for thirst makers:  Heat and exercise already make you thirsty enough, so don’t pick a snack that’s going to add unnecessarily to your thirst.  If you do, you could burn through your water supply way faster than planned. Plus, it’s just unpleasant to be parched.  Salty nut mixes are your enemy. Instead, look for raw, unsalted trail mixes.  They’ll also be less delicious, which means you won’t eat an entire family sized bag before you even reach the summit. Peanut butter sandwiches are also on my no-go list. Peanut butter mouth is the worst even at the best of times so you know throwing dehydration into the mix is going to make it downright intolerable. As a rule of thumb, if foods make you really thirsty when you’re not even exercising, you probably want to steer clear when you’re sweating up a storm.

3. Sugar + carbs are your friends (but do both wisely):  Oh, how the world likes to villainize sugar and carbs.  Let me tell you, if you’re going to hike 20+ kilometres and gain a bunch of elevation, sugar and carbs are a great source of energy.  That said, this doesn’t mean packing chocolate bars and candy. Sure, those snacks are fine every once in a while, but they’re going to make you hella thirsty (see above) and won’t provide more than a quick energy boost. Plus, there are so many fantastic products on the market that make use of dates and other natural ingredients for sweetness, as well as great recipes for home-made trail cookies and bars (I’ve included one of my favourites below).  Look for products with a handful of ingredients (all of which you can easily pronounce), with fruits as sweeteners, with minimal additives, and with healthier grains.

4. Make sure they don’t need to keep their cool:  Anything that would normally be kept in your fridge is probably not ideal for hanging around in your hot backpack all day.  Forget food safe rules and just imagine being absolutely starving and having to dig into a lukewarm, wilted salad.  Even a simple meat + veg sandwich can be rather unforgiving after a few hours in a backpack. Don’t even talk to me about anything with mayonnaise…

5. Avoid big smells: This one is pure paranoia, but I have a long-standing and largely irrational fear that if I take any food with a strong odour on the trail, I will surely be attacked by a bear. Like I said, I know this is irrational but, when it comes to bears, my philosophy is that one can never be too careful. I keep my snacks relatively neutral in the odour department and live to hike another day.

If you’re wondering what I most often carry in my backpack, here are my top 5 trail snacks, including some home-made options!

1. Cashew Lara Bars: My stomach does not handle any of the Lara Bars with almonds, but the cashew bar is stomach-approved and absolutely divine. The ingredient list is short and they will give you a quick sugar hit when your energy reserves are low.

2. Prima Ginger + Pistachio: I am a sucker for anything ginger. And these have the added boost of brown rice crisps and quinoa flakes for some staying power.

3. Trail cookies: I make quite a few modifications to this recipe, usually adding coconut, chia seeds and dried (unsweetened) cranberries in place of the chocolate and cacao nibs (because not once in my life have I had cacao nibs on hand).  You can also sub peanut butter for the almond butter if you don’t want to pay $9000 for a jar of almond butter (seriously, how has it gotten so expensive?!?). Your end result will be a crazy dense and filling cookie, perfect for on-trail energy boosts.

4. Green smoothie: Okay, okay, this is totally going to look like it violates my ‘no refrigeration required’ rule and my ‘compact foods only’ rule, but hear me out. I bought this great small, super-insulated thermos years ago and it fits perfectly on the outside pouch of my backpack AND keeps things cold for over eight hours.  Here’s the trick: I make the smoothie the night before and freeze it overnight. For the smoothie, use a high-power blender to blend: 1 whole apple (peel and everything, which is why you need a really good blender), juice of one lemon, 1/4 of a cucumber, 2 TBSP chia seeds, and 1-2 cups of frozen kale.  Blend and add water to get to desired consistency. This has almost no sweetness so it’s not for everyone but it is ultra refreshing on a hot day and full of vitamins and minerals!

5. Sierra Trail Mix: The link is for a local drugstore house brand, but any raw mix will do. This one is heavy on seeds, lighter on nuts, and doesn’t have any of that pesky, thirst-making chocolate. I’ll save my chocolate binges for post-hiking, thank you very much.

Snack wisely on those trails, friends!

Trail Tuesdays (it’s new!): Being Prepared for Injuries on the Trail

It’s time to rebrand Tuesdays. Let’s be honest, I’m no longer even contemplating training for an ultra. My “training” these days is focused on the little things like, you know, having a normal, functioning body. What I am excited about is hiking season, and it’s safe to say I know a hell of a lot more about day hiking than I do about running.  Plain and simple, you are in better hands if I write about hiking topics.

Today’s topic is being prepared for the unexpected hiking injury. Clearly I have injuries on the brain these days, but as I get ready for hiking season, it’s a good time to refresh our gear and make sure we’re ready to hike safe.  I used to be the poster child for the ill-prepared, the girl who hiked with absolutely no gear, but at least now I’m reformed. Learn from the error of my old ways and go into the wilderness better prepared do deal with the unexpected.

A quick note: these suggestions are really geared towards dealing with injuries on the minor to moderate side of the injury spectrum. Major injuries are a whole other beast and, in many cases, my suggestions won’t be enough to cope with the big stuff.

Preparing for the Unexpected:Hiking Edition

1. Have a Safety Check: For the love of God, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, and make it someone that will actually pay attention to whether you return at that time. If you get happen to get injured badly enough that your ability to hike out is compromised, this is the best way to ensure that someone actually looks for you. I used to do only do this for solo hikes, but I’ve started to let people know even when I’m hiking with others. As I get older, I’m learning you can never be too safe.  If you don’t believe me, just watch 127 Hours.

2. Portable Cell Phone Charger: You won’t always have cell reception, but on many popular front country trails, you might be surprised at how well your phone works. If something happens while hiking, it pays to have a small, portable phone charger in case your battery gets low, particularly if you need to use GPS apps (they can really drain your battery!) or make an emergency phone call.

3. Tensor Bandages: The number of times I had to hike at least 5 km on badly sprained ankles before I started carrying Tensor bandages is astounding. Tensor bandages are going to make a world of difference for the bulk of common hiking injuries involving knees, wrists, and ankles. Carry a couple. They’re small, light-weight and pretty versatile.  You’ll still be in pain if you’ve pulled a muscle, sprained a limb, or (heaven forbid!) suffered a minor fracture or break, but Tensors will at least provide a little bit of extra stability in the short term.

4. Sturdy Poles: I hate carrying poles. I almost never use them for hiking unless I’m terrified while descending or crossing snow patches, so more often than not I leave them in the trunk of my car. I am still guilty of this, by the way. However, any time I’ve had a knee or ankle issue on the trail, I’ve wished desperately that I had my poles with me for some extra support.  Don’t be like me. Carry your poles. If you buy retractable poles like mine, you can clip them to the outside of your backpack and you’ll forget they’re even there.

5. A PROPER First Aid Kit: I used to carry nothing, then upgraded slightly to a small plastic container stuffed with bandaids, some gauze and a small set of scissors. It wasn’t until recently that I went with a full-blown outdoor first aid kit. They’re surprisingly compact and have most of the things you need to take care of everything from blisters to wounds. I believe mine is quite similar to this one.  What’s important is that your kit has more than just bandaids–look for a range of bandages and gauze that will cover larger wounds.  Just a couple years back, I was hiking with my parents when my mom slipped on a very steep section of trail.  Her hiking pole was looped around her wrist and, when the pole jammed into the ground, the handle actually hit her forearm with such force that it peeled back a sizeable chunk of flesh. Sorry for the gruesome mental picture there, but suffice it to say that without proper bandages, medical tape and antiseptic wipes, she would’ve been quite an infected and bloody mess by the time we got home.

6. Ibuprofen & Antihistamines:  Ibuprofen is a wonderful thing. Not only will it ease pain, but it’s actually an anti-inflammatory, meaning it will bring down swelling caused by inflammation.  Alternatively, acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, will help the pain but will do nothing for inflammation and swelling.  It’s also great to have a couple of antihistamines kicking around just in case you have an unexpected allergic reaction to plants or insect bites.  I wish I’d had one the time I was stung by a wasp and became convinced that my tongue was swelling and my breathing becoming laboured. Though neither of which was actually occurring, you don’t always know what you’re allergic to in advance. Barring a severe allergic reaction, an antihistamine is going to keep things in check until you get back to the trailhead.

It can be tempting to think this stuff only applies to backcountry hikers on long excursions, but I assure you this is just as important for day hikes. I’ve had my share of minor injuries hiking, and all of them have occurred in the front country and on 20-25 km day hikes.  Don’t let distance and location fool you. Accidents can happen anytime so hike safe! And happy Trail Tuesday!

Monday Musings: Best of 2016 Adventures

Well, it’s 2017. I won’t lie, many a time last year I found myself thinking ‘man, I cannot wait for 2017.’ In many ways, 2016 was an utterly exhausting year. Coping with an 8+ month injury, dealing with fitness setbacks, feeling like my immune system crapped out on me for the latter half of the year, these things made it hard to be optimistic at times.  But lest you all think I had the world’s worst year, I think it’s important to balance out my penchant for negativity with a celebration of the good from 2016.

When I really take a step back and think about it, 2016 was actually a pretty spectacular year full of travel, adventure, and many fortuitous opportunities. Each and every month had a major highlight, and I can’t say that’s always been the case in year’s past, where I’ve sometimes struggled to even remember anything from several months in a row.

January Highlight: First annual Leavenworth couples’ weekend.  If you haven’t heard of Leavenworth, it is a kitsch-lovers’ paradise in the form of a Bavarian-themed village.  Pro-tip: the best schnitzel of your life (well, at least in North America) can be found at Andreas Keller.

Bavarian-themed Christmas town AND schnitzel?!? You cannot go wrong with that combo.
Bavarian-themed Christmas town AND schnitzel?!? You cannot go wrong with that combo.

February Highlight: Long weekend in the Rockies.  I took my boyfriend to Canmore/Banff/Lake Louise for a whirlwind winter adventure. We hiked in the snow. We sat in the nicest mountain rooftop hot tub I’ve ever seen under falling snow.  We danced to a really bad cover band at one of my favourite old haunts in Banff.  It was long weekend perfection.

The mountains are my happy place.
The mountains are my happy place.

March Highlight: Easter in the Rockies. Just a month after our visit to the Rockies, we went back for Easter. Once again we hiked in the snow and visited old haunts in Banff. On top of that, my parents bought my boyfriend onesie pajamas, which is pretty much the greatest possible Easter gift imaginable.

It's totally normal to do push ups on a frozen lake right?
It’s totally normal to do push ups on a frozen lake right?

April Highlights: Disneyland!!!! I am a five year old at heart and, say what you will, there is no age at which it is inappropriate to visit Disneyland. We did four full days in the parks and the only thing I grew tired of were the lines, standing in which for hours on end is still–in my heart of hearts–what I believe to be the cause of my SI resurgence this year. No matter, this trip was wonderful start to finish. There is a reason it’s called the happiest place on Earth.

Sigh.
Sigh.

May Highlights: May Long Camping Couples’ Weekend.  Our Leavenworth couples’ friends joined us for a weekend at the campground, complete with some tame hikes, oceanside strolls, discovering a delightful local cheese-maker, and many a campfire. I heart campfires.

So strong I can hold up a tree.
So strong I can hold up a tree.

June Highlights: Wedding in Niagara. My big brother got married in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which meant an epic family weekend frolicking through quaint shops, dining out, and visiting the best cider house that I have ever encountered.

Not too shabby for a wedding venue.
Not too shabby for a wedding venue.

July Highlights: Wine Weekend in Naramata. My parents met up with my boyfriend and me in Penticton for a wine-filled weekend. I scored a brand new condo rental that was the best VRBO I have ever encountered in all my years of renting vacation properties. We bought 60+ bottles of wine (ahem, and be “we” I mean just me and my boyfriend) and I had ice cream every. single. night.

Land of the wine.
Land of the wine.

August Highlights: Guns n’ Roses. I have never before in my life spent a whole stadium concert  standing on my feet and singing along with every single song…at least while stone-cold sober.  This concert was the most amazing concert I have ever seen. The day also involved ginger beer, oysters and the best ice-cream cookie sandwich I’ve ever had.

Get one of these immediately.
Get one of these immediately.

September Highlights: Wine Weekend in Kelowna! No one who reads this blog regularly will be surprised that there’s two wine trips in this ‘best of’. I love my wine. I took my boyfriend to Kelowna for his birthday. We visited nine or ten wineries and I got to golf with him, and by golf I mean I drove him around on a golf cart all day. It was more fun than it sounds.

More wine!
More wine!

October Highlights: Eurotrip 2016! We hit Rome, Florence, the Chianti region, Cinque Terre, Nice, Hermitage, and Lyon on a whirlwind adventure of hiking, stuffing our faces with crepes, macarons and pasta, and guzzling as much amazing wine as we could.  It was perfect.

Epic sunset in Manarola.
Epic sunset in Manarola.

November Highlights: Leaving my Job. After several months of sticking around in a soul-crushing role, I finally left my job. It was a like the world’s heaviest weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I cannot even put into words how much I needed–and still need–the time away. Best decision ever.

December Highlights: Holidays on Holiday! Is there a better way to spend the holidays than not working? No. Holiday shopping stress? None. Holiday baking stress? None. I had the time to do everything, including some time to snow hike.  Throw Christmas into the mix and you have yourself a winning month.

Ahhhh, our tree makes me feel so festively warm and happy.
Ahhhh, our tree makes me feel so festively warm and happy.

Now that I’ve convinced myself last year wasn’t all that bad, it’s time to look only ahead to 2017. Here’s to health, adventure, and reminding myself to put things in perspective.