Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lost Key Karma

Ever lose your keys on a hike before?  If you have (like we have), you have also lived that "heart stopping moment".  That moment where (after hours of maneuvering uneven terrain with your feet) you are ready to collapse into the bucket seats of your car But you can't, because when you reach for your keys...they are gone.

In Hawaii, after a lovely afternoon viewing sea turtles and exploring tide pools, we meandered our way back to the car.  Truman had fallen asleep on Brian's shoulder (this is a running theme).  Brian and I chatted about the day and our grumbling bellies.  We get to the car and I fumbled for the keys, but they were gone.  

"DON'T PANIC!", the excellent advice from the most famous travel book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was lost on us that afternoon.  Exhaustion quickly turned to frustration as we realized that we would need to retrace our steps and we had hiked quite a ways.  I may or may not remember briefly bickering and blame tossing before we regained composure and formulated the plan:  Operation Retrieve Keys or Suffer the Consequences.  We decided it would be most efficient if only one of us returned to the beach while the other stayed with Truman and the gear.   

Brian drew "daddy duty" taking Truman to the playground at the beach park and I began the trek back to the area where we had been hiking, combing the landscape for the missing keys.  My mind began to race with anxiety as I recalled the conversation I had with my mother before we borrowed her car for the day.    

"There is only one set of keys for the car and this is it.  DO NOT LOSE THESE KEYS!" she said sternly, jingling the keys at me. 

"We won't!" I replied confidently, taking the keys and attaching them to a brightly colored plastic teething toy of Truman's and then attaching that to our pack for the day. 
Image of teething toy attached to keys

Still lost in my own thoughts, I continued to spiral...   

"How could we have been so cocky?"   

"Wonder how much a locksmith will cost?"   

"Dammit, why didn't my mother have a spare key made?!?" 

"Why did we have to be the one's to lose the keys?" 

You get the idea...Just Plain Ugh! 

And then...out of the corner of my eye...there they were.  The brightly colored teething chew toy, keys still attached, laying on the beach.  Halleluiah! 

A huge weight had lifted.  I returned to Brian and Truman with a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and keys (tightly clutched) in my fist. 

A few weeks ago, on our hike back down from the  summit of the Manitou Incline via Barr Trail, we had a chance to pay a little "lost key karma" forward.  There were quite a few hikers coming down the trail that day.  many moving faster than our family of three.  And by faster I mean they were running the trail and we were...well, crawling.  Hiking etiquette recommends moving aside for speedier travelers.   

A solo runner approached us from behind, with about two miles left to the parking lot.    Brian was a few yards ahead of us.  I called out to let him know someone was coming.  We each moved to opposite sides of the trail and the runner zigzagged between us exchanging "Hello's!" as he passed.  As he wound the bend that took him out of our line of sight, Brian saw the keys.  A basic key fob with a few keys attached was laying in the trail.  They were clean, which meant they had been recently dropped.  We yelled for the runner, but he was already out of earshot.  Even if we had been able to stop him, there was no guarantee they were his.  

Brian pocketed the keys and we continued moving.  Clouds were rolling in and
the sun was beginning to go down.  We needed to pick up the pace if we were going to make it back to the car before it got dark.  We hoped whoever dropped the keys would make an attempt to find them by coming back up the trail or that we'd see someone in the parking lot waiting for a locksmith.  

About a quarter mile from the end of the trail we saw a dejected hiker heading towards us.  He was looking down and even from a distance, we knew it was him.  When he reached us, Brian said, "Lose a set of keys?" as he pulled the keys out of his pocket.  The runner was momentarily speechless and then profusely appreciative...especially when we told him how far back we had picked them up.  We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then the runner turned and bounded back down the hill towards the parking lot...with a spring in his step, a smile on his face, and his keys (clutched tightly) in his fist.       

  1. Place keys into pack or pocket that zips or seals.
  2. Attach keys to brightly colored key chains.
  3. If running or hiking without a pack or pockets, attach keys to a lanyard that can be worn around the neck. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hedonic Adaption and How It Helps Travelers

When we first started hiking and backpacking, our packs were filled to the brim with EVERYTHING but the kitchen sink.  And then, sometimes, even a kitchen sink (no really, we would take a camping shower and a bucket for dishes).  Inexperience made us try to plan for every possible problem scenario and in turn, pack an item to solve it.  At first, we didn't notice because our hikes were short 1 to 3 mile trips at a time.  The weight, it seemed, would never catch up to us.  However, as the distance of our hikes increased, it quickly became apparent that we would need to rethink our packing strategy.  With the aid of a few You Tube videos and some dedicated backpacker blogs, we drastically reduced the amount of "crap" we were stuffing into our backpacks. The reason this stuff was now "crap" became clear.  Every item could be broken down into a weight measure. An ounce quickly becomes a pound. A pound, over a few miles, can begin to feel like a ton. All that crap was keeping us back. It was quite literally holding us back from our goals. So we reduced. And continued to reduce. Finally reducing our packs from 40 to 50 pounds to a mere 20 to 25. This was great!

So much CRAP!

We could walk around the world.  Our packs felt like they were stuffed with feathers instead of river rocks.  We were happy and proud.  We learned to think of each item in terms multiple use.  Instead of those beautiful titanium spoon/fork/knife camping utensils, we packed plastic spoons with broken off handles.  Instead of heavy sleeping pads and comforters, we learned how to create soft beds from the forest floor.  And somewhere along the trail it hit us both...the realization!  "Everything I need is on my back. No matter what happens tomorrow, I can put on my pack and be just fine."  Suddenly one of the greatest weights in our lives had been lifted.  No matter what happens...We will be OKAY!

Which leads us to Hedonic Adaptation, or the hedonic treadmill. What is it? Well Wikipedia defines it as "the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes".  Basically it means, that your long term happiness, your life, is not significantly affected by huge changes, whether positive or negative. You can be born and raised in a world of wealth, then one day wake up in a van down by the river and your level of comfort will adapt. As long as you allow it. Sure at first it's a shock, but the mind quickly snaps into its new environment. The opposite is equally true, a person who has lived in poverty their entire life, will first find it shocking and uncomfortable to be surrounded by luxury. But then, will soon adapt.

How does this apply to travel?
I'm all ears buddy..

Well for one, this is your so called "comfort zone" (which doesn't actually exist). Let's redefine that concept. A "comfort zone" is nothing more than a fear bubble. The real comfort zone is a gradient that adjusts according to any situation you are in. Every travel blogger will tell you the phrase, or excuse they hear most is "I would travel if only…" This is you not realizing that you will be fine. This is you being afraid of getting rid of all that crap and just going for it. You won't die. You won't starve. You won't be living on the street in the rain. If you are reading blogs on the internet, chances are you are a healthy, intelligent and somewhat educated person. Those things will take you ANYWHERE. And you will be fine. Let me repeat…YOU. WILL. BE. FINE.

Second, travel is constant change. Change in climate, culture and surroundings. The only thing that is stable while traveling, is uncertainty. However, like anything else, the more you exercise adaptation, the easier it becomes. Sometimes you will stay in luxurious hotel rooms, other times you will find yourself in a tent in the middle of a national forest, without a toilet. What's important are the people you are with, the people in your contact lists…and those few things in your backpack. As travel blogger Nomadic Matt puts it:

"You've dealt with missed flights, slow buses, wrong turns, delays, bad street food, and much, much more. After a while, you learn how to adapt your plans to changing situations. You don't get mad, you don't get angry, you just alter what you are doing and move on. Life throws you curve balls and you hit them out of the park. Why? Because you're awesome like that."

"Are we in Hawaii yet!?!?!?!?!"

Third, this fits well into Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  At the base we need the physiological, shelter, and clothing.  We build the rest of our lives on top of those things.  With that in mind, life becomes a hell of a lot less worrisome.  Food can be dehydrated meals on the trail, a greasy spoon with the best breakfast, a home cooked meal, or fine dining.  Shelter can be a hotel room, a tent, an RV, a cabin, or a yurt. When we decided to sell everything and travel, there was HUGE anxiety.  It lasted about 2 days. We had so much crap, we didn't even remember buying a lot of it. Most of it was just stuff, with little significant or sentimental value.  What we learned from hiking was the only stuff we truly needed could easily fall under 20 to 25 pounds.

You can be fine in a nice hotel ...

... in a pop up camper...


 ...or sleep like a baby in the back of your car.

And finally, here is why the "waiting for X to travel" thought is horrible and how hedonic adaptation can help you overcome it: 
Traveling is a lifestyle, not an end game. Just like owning a big house in a beautiful neighborhood, or a tiny house in the middle of nowhere.  It all costs money and time.  It is a choice to live your life in a way that suits you. Today, the internet connects the globe, making it easier to do things like work, collaborate and network from anywhere. There are plenty of ways to make money, even within your current field. There are many ways to live and still be comfortable. If traveling is what you want to do, burst your fear bubble and move into your real comfort zone.




Friday, March 13, 2015

Throwback Thursday | Caduceus Winery Summer 2013

{Image Description:  A bottle of Moscato D'Asti by Cupcake.}

Picked up a bottle of wine tonight.  It's a celebration.  A great interview led to an offer.  I start Monday. 

Now a glass in, I need to figure out a Throwback article.  Finally finish up Kisatchie article?  Nah.  Start a Monohan Sand Hills article?  Meh?  Catch you all up on our visit to a winery owned by one of our musical idols?  Perfect!

{Image Description:  James Maynard Keenan, front man of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Pucifer, pouring wine at Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, AZ.  Image courtesy of Mutineer Magazine}

Brian and I are Tool fans from way back.  Over the years we have followed all of Maynard's musical side projects (A Perfect Circle and Pucifer) as well.  Pucifer's album Conditions of my Parole became our theme soundtrack, with songs about dust devils, for our trek across the American southwest.  So it's not surprising Brian found a connection to this artist not far from us in Jerome, AZ, when searching for things to do while we were there.  A winery selling wines produced by Maynard himself, we knew we had to check it out.  We made 2 trips to Caduceus Winery while living in Arizona. 
{Image Description:  Sculpture of Hindu god Ganesha}

Caduceus is a small store front / wine tasting bar with traditional bar seating in addition to 2 more private tasting nooks flanking each side of the door. Fresh bread is served with each flight, the smell draws you in and invites you to stay awhile.  We are suckers for fresh bread and amateur bakers ourselves. 
{Image Description: Delicious sugar cookie}
We selected a nook and awaited our flight (one dry / one sweet).   Truman was on his best behavior this first trip and we each enjoyed our tastings, while Truman munched on a Caduceus cookie. 

 On our second trip (as part of our whirlwind tour of Northern AZ) we were not quite so lucky with Truman's patience.  He had no desire to sit and munch appetizers while we sipped wine.  Brian remained to finish up our wine and snacks while I occupied Truman at the playground across the street. 

Done with his test taste, Brian picked up a bottle of wine for the road and made his way back to the Grand Hotel (where we had secured accommodations for the night).  Phone dead and thinking, hoping Brian had headed back up the hill, Truman and I made our way back up to the hotel as well. 
{Image Description:  Truman loaded up with a Caduceus brochure, menu, and sugar cookie} 

We stopped in to the restaurant hoping to find Brian had stopped for a night cap.  He wasn't there, so we made our way to the front desk and asked if they happened to see my husband.  They had, he had purchased two redneck wine glasses and was on the back patio of the hotel.  I ran back over to the restaurant to order take out and mentioned we were on the back patio.  "We can deliver it there." the greeter said with a smile.  The service at the Grand compares to none. 
{Image Description:  A bottle of our very own Caduceus wine along side our "red neck" wine glasses}

A wine-derful day, capped off with a private dinner on the back patio of the Jerome Grand Hotel, sunset in our view and Caduseus wine in our glasses.
{Image Description:  Family photo opportunity with our amazing "flight attendant"}

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If our backpacks could talk...

As hikers and travelers, the back pack is the most important gear we essential as our Swiss Army knife.  They are easily stowed on planes, aboard trains, and in cars.  Versatile and efficient even when limited to travel by foot.  And they get the most intimate access to our travel itinerary.    

If only our packs could talk?  What would they say?

I think ours would have a lot to say.  

Their initial purpose was to help us hike Southwestern Pennsylvania.  After a single hike with make shift duffel bags as packs, we knew it was an investment we had to make.

{Image Description:  This is definitely not my favorite picture of myself.  I was indeed a work in progress at the time.  Attractiveness aside, it is an excellent example of how inexperienced and ill prepared we were in the very beginning.  Packs uncomfortable and awkwardly balanced made hiking difficult.  This pack was definitely saying "I don't belong here!" Spring 2007} 
Purchased and packed they were set for their maiden voyage into the great unknown.  
{Image Description:  Our very first real packs...mine red and Brian's yellow.  Packed ever so neatly.  They are definitely saying they are up for the task.  Hiking with these made all the difference. Summer 2009}

An inaugural journey, into the back country of the Bear Run Nature Preserve, our packs got their first test.  Or maybe it was us who were tested and pleasantly surprised.  What a difference well fitted packs made!  Supporting upper and lower back alike, and allowing our bodies to move more easily along the trail, scaling and avoiding obstacles with flexibility and grace.

Then it was off to scale the highest point in Pennsylvania.   Camping in a bed of ferns.  Purposefully, carrying the laptop to play a morning love song and the wares to make a breakfast of pancakes.   

{Image Description:  The pancake breakfast we enjoyed on Mt Davis.  Brian remembered everything...including the syrup.}

And scale that mountain we did.  A mere 3,213 ft.  Not knowing we would be living at an elevation twice that, just a few years down the road. 

{Image Description:  View from the top of Mt Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania.  The trees look like a lush green carpet.  There is one lonely tree in the distance that pokes out above the rest.  An impressive view in it's own right.}

We were training for something bigger.  And our packs were ready to do our bidding.  Week in and week out, packed full.  Trail after trail.  Working towards a goal.
{Image Description:  Picture taken on a training hike during the Summer 2010.  Western Pennsylvania is a beautiful place to hike.  Having the right equipment makes it so much easier.} 

"The Fontana!"
{Image Description:  Floating on Lake Fontana.  Our packs road best up front for balance.  I'd imagine they enjoyed acting out the scenes from "The Titanic".  Amazingly we never tipped and kept everything relatively dry during our 3 days on the water.  Summer 2010} 
A  6 day back country excursion at the southern base of the Smokey Mountains on Fontana Lake.  It is a delicate balance between the pack and the person.  Test this relationship and the body will fail to preform.  We experienced this breakdown, but with a few adjustments, and a flexible attitude, we turned what could have been a nightmare into a 5 day journey we will never forget.
(Image Description:  This is a picture of our "reduction".  Our packs were originally filled with all this extra stuff.  Close to 30 lbs worth.  Individually it's little, but little by little quickly becomes a lot when it comes to camping.  We did just fine without.}

Let's face it, checking luggage is expensive and time consuming.  Packs make great carry-ons.  We jetted from Chicago (the windy city streets with a great night life), to San Diego (no need for a rental car, flawless public transportation), to Miami (with it's amazing Cuban cuisine), and most recently Oahu (with it's paradise like beaches and lush green bamboo trails).  Ideal for plane travel, they have seen everywhere we have.
{Image Description:  Amber enjoying a Starbucks while standing next to the Coastliner before boarding.  Backpacks offer hands free and coffee easily carried in hand.  Backpack says nervously, "I've never been on a train before..."  Neither have we, backpack...neither have we.  We highly recommend it.  Easy access from Downtown San Diego to the Outer Beaches and most Hotels offer free shuttles from the train stops.  Oh...and there is power at every seat!" Spring 2011}

And they are still our traveling side kicks, packed with essentials, ready for the next adventure.  Hanging within reach in the closet by the front door.  

Do they exchange stories while they wait?  We all know they don't, but if they did I imagine this might be how it would go...

Backpack 1:  I rode to the top of the Manitou Incline and carried a jacket that kept Truman warm on the way back down.
{Image Description:  Brian carrying the supply pack with Truman on his shoulders.  Location:  Manitou Incline, Manitou Springs, Colorado}

Backpack 2:  I rode to the top of the Manitou Incline too!  And I carried Truman...
{Image Description:  Amber hiking up the Manitou Incline with Truman in our current kid carrying pack.  Found at a thrift store in a town called Snowflake, Arizona for only $2.25 it has served us well.  It's easily transferable between Brian and I.  It allows us much more flexibility while hiking with a toddler.  It is ESSENTIAL!}

Sadly, packs will retire...broken zippers and warn straps offer no hazard pay for these trusted travel companions.  I like to think...replaced, but not forgotten.  Pictures and memories remain, of well organized trips with everything at our fingertips in the packs on our backs.  

{Image Description:  Photo collage of packs we have retired.  Top left is one of our original "real packs".  It's zipper broke making it's continued use impractical.  Zippers keep stuff in and that's vital in hiking.  Top left photo is of a hiking pack we had for Truman.  One of the shoulder straps broke the day this photo was taken.  Sadly it, too, was irreparable.  The bottom photo is of Truman enjoying a ride on my back through the Monahan Sand Hills State Park in TX.  He is simply too big for this carrier any longer.}


Monday, March 9, 2015

Friends from Home: Patricia

As much as we wanted to get away from Pittsburgh for a "geographical solution" to We have found and reconnected with our home town everywhere we have been. Each reunion could be a whole article and so I will give each friend the spotlight deserved. Over the next several weeks I will recount these assorted get-togethers.  


Prompted by a simple Facebook post.  


I scan my notifications and see I've been tagged by a friend (Patricia).  


"Days like this I miss my PGH friends!"  

Click. Like.  

Click. Comment.  

"We miss you too! Was just thinking about how great it was to be able to get together when we lived in AZ!"  
{Image Description: Patricia, her son, Truman, and I in an obligatory reunion selfie.  This was the first time we had seen each other in almost 20 years, since graduating high school}

You see, Patricia and I grew up together. We were friends. We were in Band together and took several classes together over the years. I had always really liked and admired Patricia. She was intelligent, a talented musician, and a genuine friend. Upon graduation, we were attending different colleges and failed to keep in touch.  

Enter Facebook, a great way to reconnect with lost friends. Sorry for the ad-like, not sorry.  It has been a great way to get reacquainted with friends old and new.  I don't remember who friended who, but I do remember being glad that I had Patricia back in my life. We'd chat off and on, liking and commenting on each other's posts. Virtual friendship at it's finest.  

These friendships were all virtual at this point. Many of these people I hadn't seen since they or I graduated from high school just over 20 years previous. All basically consisting of the same interaction of occasional chat, liking and commenting on posts. And yet, these people, when we are miles from home, were willing to lower that Internet shield, welcoming us into their homes, treating us to meals, and offering us rides to the airport.  

Fast forward to April 2013 and our arrival in Arizona. When we announced where we were, I remember Patricia reaching out and letting me know they were in the Phoenix area. She mentioned to drop her a line if I ever had a bit of time while down in the Valley. I took her invitation literally and next thing you know, I was knocking on her door (Truman in tow). It was such a treat to see our kids play together. I mentioned needing to head to Best Buy to make a return and there it was, my golden ticket...she offered to watch Truman while I ran to make the return. I took her up on the offer without hesitation. This was a friend I trusted enough to watch my son even after not seeing each other all these years. I knew he would be fine...and he was! She even sent me a picture while I was gone to let me know he was doing okay. I don't know if she realizes the gift she gave me that run that errand kid free. Priceless! 
{Image Description: Truman and Patricia's daughter.  He just loved her.  He didn't want the evening to end.  Truman wanted his new friend to come home with us.}

In the week before we left for Hawaii, we were back in Phoenix for a brief stay. We decided to meet up for dinner. It turned out it was the night before we were to fly out. We ate sushi, the kids played, and the adults enjoyed the food and the conversation. When we went to pay, they had already taken care of my meal. Still so very grateful for their generosity. What a great farewell to Arizona!