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.

Monday Musings: the long and winding road

We have had an absolutely amazing couple of weeks weather-wise. For me, any time the sun shines for days on end, I start to feel guilty at the thought of staying indoors or working out at the gym. The trails begin calling to me. Once I answer their call, once I taste that first trail of the season where there is actually a view, where the air’s aroma is that perfect mix of dry pine needles and all the greens of Spring, where the tree canopy offers just the right amount of shade from what’s starting to become a sweltering sun, I am a goner for the rest of the season. I’ll see you on the trails.

This is the state I’ve found myself in these last couple of weeks.   I want to hike. I crave the terrain, the search for ever-higher viewpoints, the familiar rhythm of my steps up steep slopes. The only problem is that my body hasn’t caught up with my mind. Instead, my body is like ‘holy f#^@, girl, you are way too outta shape for this!”

In recent years, a large part of my identity rested on being ‘the hiker girl’. I loved that I was fast on the trail, that I could cover so much ground in a day, that I rarely felt that even the steepest of trails were all that difficult. Now, trails that I would have deemed too easy to even warrant my time leave my lungs winded and my legs sore and exhausted.  In the last four days, I’ve hiked three times, a combined total of 32 km on easy to moderate trails. That was often a one-day distance tally for me and, even spread out over three days, it has left me sluggish and ready for a break. I have used this word before, but ‘humbling’ is the best word I can think to describe it.

No matter how much I want to jump right back into the types of trails I’ve been accustomed to, I won’t be able to do so right away…at least not without accepting that it will be slower, feel harder and, because of this, lead to some frustration. It doesn’t feel good to be in the position where things that were once so easy and natural feel impossibly hard again. The road to injury recovery truly is long. It has highs, it has lows, and it involves many, many (many) rough patches. Even though I am moving forward, ever-so-slowly regaining my hiking mojo, it often feels like two steps back (bonus points for anyone who has that classic Paula Abdul song stuck in their head right now…and I’m sorry).

Every time I push myself on more challenging, steeper and longer trails, it feels like I am right back at square one. I have been here before, though, a decade ago when I took up hiking and made it a mainstay in my life. I have just conveniently forgotten what it felt like to work hard to gain trail legs, growing complacent as my fitness plateaued at a high level. If I pause and reflect on the past, I know that what I’m going through now is just a part of the process, and that every journey has its valleys and its peaks. I’m just looking forward to getting back to one of those peaks some time soon. Until then, I will find solace in the fact that the tired legs and overly laboured breathing are exactly what I need to get me there.

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!

Real Talk Thursday: unpleasant side effects of frequent hiking

I used to hike. A lot. In fact, in 2015 I tracked my hiking and I ended up covering something ridiculous like 1200 km of trail.  I hiked every weekend and many weekdays, and many of these days were 30+ kilometres. There’s so many good things that come from this type of, dare I say, obsessive hiking.  I have stunning pictures and memories, I was the fittest I’d ever been, and I had an overwhelmingly positive outlook on life (which, as we’ve seen in this space, is not my natural state of being). Hiking is wonderful.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses. There is a dark side to frequent hiking that no one tells you about. Before you choose to embark on the path of obsessive hiking, I feel compelled to warn you about these unpleasant side effects of hiking. If you’ve already proven yourself an obsessive hiker, perhaps you can identify with some of these very real risks.

Really chapped lips:  I own roughly 9000 chapsticks and yet I never seem to actually put one in my backpack. Hiking is dehydrating. Heat is dehydrating. Sun is dehydrating.  It’s a triad of dehydration that is disastrous for your lips. I won’t even describe the horror show of peeling and chapping that my lips have experienced after weeks of hiking. Suffice it to say that they have been, at time, nothing other than repugnant.

Comical tan lines: Sunscreen will only do so much. It will keep you from burning but you will still tan with a vengeance and, when that happens, you will amass a collection of ghastly tan lines that will haunt you for the entire season.  If you wear hiking boots, get ready for an awkward mid-calf tan line that will make dress-wearing season an embarrassment. Even if you wear trail runners, like I’m prone to doing, you cannot avoid the tank top/backpack patch tan. There are no clean tan lines happening here. It will look like a crochet pattern on your back and shoulders. Own it.

Sweat Rash: All the breathable, sweat-wicking clothing in the world is not going to keep your back dry when you’re hiking for eight hours straight, with a backpack, in 30 degree weather. That back of yours is going to stay…moist (sorry, there’s no other word for it). And with prolonged moisture comes the dreaded sweat rash. Normally this itchy and unpleasant rash clears up in just a day or two. That is, unless you insist on hiking day after day after day (after day).  Obsessive hikers note, you may find yourself suffering from a perpetually mild and irritatingly itchy rash on your back, and sometimes even under the lower band of a sports bra. This is real life y’all. You need to know the potential risks of excessive hiking.

Hiker’s feet: This is my affectionate term for a condition that’s anything other than affectionate. No good can come from having your feet stuffed inside insulated hiking boots for 8 hours at a time.  The smell is the least of your problems. I never had dainty feet to start with, but I can promise you that excessive hiking made them ten times worse.  There were callouses, blisters, rough patches, places where skin was rubbed raw, and so, so much more. I swear my feet got wider and flatter, too. And, thanks to the sheer volume of my hiking, my feet never saw the light of day and were approximately 20 shades whiter than any other part of my leg, which is saying a lot since I’m ghastly pale at the best of times.  Flip flops will be your worst enemy. Avoid them at all costs.

If this has made me sound like a hideous monster, I assure you that I’m relatively normal looking in day to day life. But hiking season will take its toll on you. As much as I’m a huge proponent of hiking, I also want you to know what you’re walking into.  Consider yourselves warned.

Trail Tuesdays: my own personal tips for trail etiquette

Hiking season is a wonderful time to see beauty, connect with nature, and to find quiet and calm.  It’s my own personal opinion that, in order for hiking to be enjoyable, hikers need to demonstrate trail etiquette. Think of trail etiquette like rules of the road.  Nobody likes the guy who drives slow in the fast lane, and nobody likes the hiker oblivious to others on the trail. In other words, trail etiquette is an important part of ensuring that everyone can enjoy his or her time in nature.

I’m particularly fussy about trail etiquette for a couple of reasons 1) I’m easily annoyed by others and 2) I want to preserve trails for as long as possible.  Today, I’m here to share my own personal rules for trail etiquette. Follow these trail rules and you’ll never be victim to my seething death glare on the trail. If that’s not enough motivation for you, then at least consider our fine planet and help with preserving nature for future generations.

5 Simple ways to show trail etiquette

1. Don’t cut the trail: You don’t want to walk through mud so you step off trail to walk along the forest floor.  You don’t want to walk an extra 20 metres so you cut up the slope between switchbacks; someone’s already done it because the “shortcut” is practically carved into the ground. What’s the harm right? The harm is that you’re potentially damaging plant life that’s fragile and important to the ecosystem. The harm is that you’re potentially causing slopes to become less stable over time.  Trails have been created to minimize damage to nature. When we go off trail and create trail erosion, we can increase the likelihood of things like mudslides, rock slides, diverted waterways and, ultimately, decommissioned trails.  So just stay on the actual trail.  What’s a little mud on your boots and extra exercise? That’s part of the accomplishment of hiking, isn’t it?

2. Make room to pass: Oh, few things fuel my inner rage like groups of hikers walking abreast, completely oblivious to others on the trail. I get that you’re out with your friends and want to talk, but you can still talk to people walking single file. Keep an eye out for other hikers. If you hear someone behind you, make room for him or her to pass. Technically speaking, descending hikers are supposed to yield to uphill hikers, too. To me, this is a bit old-fashioned and mostly relevant for very narrow trails. What matters most is that you’re paying attention to your surroundings and creating as much space as possible for other hikers to get around you.

3. Pack it in, pack it out: This should be so obvious, but over the years I have seen an alarming increase in garbage on trails, including non-biodegradable waste (i.e. plastic bags and wrappers). It goes without saying that this is just bad for the natural environment. I’m just as irritated by biodegradable waste, though.  The reality is that an apple core or banana peel isn’t any more indigenous to a mountain region than a candy bar wrapper. I get that no one likes carrying around a smelly banana peel all day, but if you feel that strongly about it, either bring a sealable container to put it in or don’t bring it with you at all. Why? Even though some foods break down in nature, wildlife may still be getting exposed to food that isn’t a part of their natural ecosystem, and that’s just not okay in my books.  Any food, tissues, toilet paper, or anything at all that you bring on a trail with you should leave with you.  See how riled up I’m getting?  It’s not going to get any better with the next couple of rules!

4. Do not feed wildlife: This is another one of my hot button topics. Chipmunks do not need your trail mix. Squirrels do not need your sandwich crusts.  Do not even get me started on how insane you must be to try to feed larger wildlife like deer, moose or *gasp* even bears (don’t laugh, people still get caught doing it).  This is a hot topic item for me because when we feed wildlife, they grow accustomed to being fed. Over time, they can become less capable of fending for themselves.  Also, the foods that humans carry are not what these animals typically eat.  Bread products, chips, crackers, candy etc. are not healthy for wildlife.  Keep your food to yourself and help keep wildlife wild.

5. For the love of God, stop blasting your music for all to hear: I am not in nature to hear the latest Justin Bieber or One Direction or whoever your current musical fave may be (I know, I know, I am horribly out of touch with popular music).  Over the last few years, I’ve seen more and more groups of hikers carrying portable speakers or using their iPhones to blast music while they hike. I love music, but I don’t want to hear your music, and I certainly don’t want to be subjected to it while trying to unplug in nature.  It’s just annoying, and often makes it so that you can’t hear other hikers approaching and trying to pass.  But mostly it’s just annoying. If you feel the need to rock out while hiking, here’s my tip for you: headphones. Sure, it’s not the safest suggestion, but at least you won’t be irritating everyone else around you (i.e. me).

There you have it, follow these rules and you’ll be widely revered as a courteous and nature-minded hiker…and, perhaps even more importantly, you won’t ruin my day of hiking! Happy trails.