A New Experience: Backpacking and Camping in Yosemite (Part 1)

I was a failed Girl Scout. It never occurred to me that at my age I’d be going on my first backpacking and camping trip.

When my Girl Scout troop went camping, we were given the choice of being in the lodge or doing it primitive.  I firmly called out, “Lodge.”  I’ll see you around the campfire, but I want a bed and flushing toilet.  Among the other Girl Scouts, I wasn’t the least bit ashamed about it; nor was I alone.

I’ve ignored the possibilities of a trip like this all my life. When my brothers, Daryl and David, would backpack and camp, I never thought: Wow, I’d like to do that someday. It simply never occurred to me. I’m all about comfort. So, how did I end up here?

Believe me, it wasn’t my idea.

A soror, who’s also a work colleague, told me about REI Adventures‘  four-day backpacking and camping trip to Yosemite. I didn’t even know where Yosemite is and I used to live in California! But, I did know this is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I usually travel solo, and so does my soror. After talking about our traveling style, we thought we might travel well together. What the hell, I thought… let me challenge myself with this backpacking trip. We talked about this trip for about a month before I booked it.  My “travel partner” said she couldn’t make it after all. I had 30 days to cancel the trip and get all my money back.

I gave it about a half-day’s thought and decided I’d go anyway. It’s a challenge. I’d already wrapped my head around the trip and made the commitment. I wasn’t going to let my plans be wrecked because a travel partner falls through.  I can be stubborn that way.

David offered up his son’s backpack, sleeping bag, and bedroll. He even included a water filter, mess kit, and rope. He sent me a text when he found out REI had a sale on hiking boots. He told me to buy the Vasque hiking boot because he had already researched it. This is why I often say, “My brother says….”, which is, of course, exactly how I started off with the sales associate in the shoe department. I’m sure she could give a damn, but I knew I was making the right choice because David said so. And no one could have sold me a different brand of boot if they wanted to.

I started breaking in the boots about six weeks before the trip. I wore them all day to work, not making a fashion statement. I even wore them with shorts and a tee shirt for 12 hours at a music festival on a hot summer day. The Vasque hiking boot is very comfortable and the only tightness was in my right instep. Breaking in the boots didn’t take long.

I bought clothes and gear for the trip based on REI’s packing list. My good friend, Phil — a former Army officer and Eagle Scout — showed me how to pack and put clothes on fast from inside my sleeping bag.

Backpacking and camping gearA Lesson in Packing the BackpackPre-packing for Yosemite

This trip is more expensive than I anticipated because of the gear I had to buy, the plane ticket, and rental car. (Thank goodness I have cousins in Oakland to stay with before and after the trip.)

I received an email from the trip coordinator that said I should be fit enough to hike 6-9 miles a day carrying 35-40 pounds on my back. Everyone will help carry tents, water filters, cooking gear, and the bear cans REI will provide. I did mean “bear cans” and not “beer cans.” In fact, every facet of this trip seems to strike a cautionary note about the damn bears. I became concerned.

About a month out, I came up with a training plan.This was crucial because I have a job where I sit all day long. I planned to finally put in a regular appearance at my gym and do treadmill work at an incline, wearing the boots and loaded backpack. I’d regularly walk up the escalator at Wheaton Station, which has the longest single span escalator in the Western Hemisphere. (I figured all the heavy crap I carry when I commute to work would help my training efforts.)  I’d go on practice hikes with the loaded backpack on terrain. I’d continue playing tennis 3-4 times a week. Since my lower back has become achy, I’d go to my barre class regularly to strengthen my core.

Lake Frank training hike

Practice hike on trail in Montgomery County, Maryland

Training hike - Lake FrankLake Frank

That was the plan. As it happened, other things intervened. Work can be so inconvenient. Hopefully, I’ve done enough. I don’t know what I’m going to do about the altitude, though. My particular backpacking trip is in the high country. I didn’t fully realize that when I booked the trip. I was only paying attention to prices and dates. There was no training for altitude where I live. All I can do now is hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate and be well-rested. Plus, I went to California a couple of days early so I could get past the jet lag and not add that to my pain.

Now about the bears. I’ve been to REI so many times  in the last six weeks. My last time there, I got some truth from a couple of sales associates. I had probing questions about hygiene. I was told no soap, no deodorant, no wipes (even the unscented ones), no lotion, and no toothpaste. The scent of any of those things and food would attract…what?…the bears. Why, of course. (But, can’t I bring a little plastic bottle of baking soda so I can brush my teeth and rub some under my armpits? Surely, baking soda won’t attract bears.)

Another seasoned backpacker said I should expect to be ripe by the end of the trip. He said I should want to smell like a human to keep bears at bay. I asked about the packages of unscented wipes I’d bought anyway. Nope, he said. Forget about it — just use water. I’m also not supposed to leave any mark on the land, if what I do is not biodegradable.  So… I need to consider that I will be carrying all my trash with me, including wrappers from protein bars and used toilet paper. That’s the nature of this trip, so to speak.

I’ve already been concerned about how I’m going to eliminate and whether my system will go on lock for four days, which really would not be good. I packed my probiotics. I cannot imagine how I will handle it, except I know I will.

As I took my last training hike with my cousin, Doreen, I became anxious again about the altitude and the weight of the pack. I checked the weather again and discussed it with David. He told me what I should still take and what should stay behind at Doreen’s.

Last training hike in Oakland CA

And then he helped lift my anxiety by focusing me on this:  I’m taking his trip, he said. Yosemite is where he has always wanted to go. Got it, David. I’m looking forward to my adventure in the famed Yosemite National Park.  Thanks for getting me ready.

(Check out Part 2 of this series!)


A New Experience: Nowhere Else Art and Music Festival

This year my passport might stay in storage. When a couple of kitchen appliances died in December, I knew 2016 would mean swapping travel abroad for house projects: clear clutter, repair or replace things that are broken, and finish projects.  Truthfully, it’ll make me happy to check these things off the to-do list.

Even forbearance needs some balance. I might not travel across the ocean this year, but North America is vast with plenty of places to see. Locally, I’m getting to know the DMV (District of Columbia / Maryland / Virginia) better. This area is a world-class destination! And then, there are also road trips for long weekends.

Speaking of which … my brother, David, had the idea to bring the family together Memorial Day Weekend for a folk festival in Ohio. It’s only the third time in 10 years that my brothers, sister and I were home at the same time. My sister-in-law and niece joined us.

Family reunion at Nowhere ElseFarmhouse at Nowhere Else

Why a folk festival? In 2015, David took Mama for a Memorial Day picnic and outdoor concert to see the Ohio folk group, Over the Rhine. She absolutely loved it. The concert was a fund-raiser for the new barn construction. The barn is now complete and was inaugurated in 2016 with this full-blown art and folk music festival. Hence, David’s idea to bring the family together for what he calls a “signature event.” I was into being with my family and the picnicking. The folk music? Not so much.

My music of choice is classical, soul, Latin jazz, and hip-hop, and some rock. I thought I was well-rounded enough when it came to music… until this folk festival challenge. I wondered if I could stand two days of it.

Based on the vague response of the GPS, the site for the Nowhere Else Festival was nearly off-the-grid. It was on a farm in Martinsville, Ohio… near Wilmington… and not far from Cincinnati. It was also just 45 minutes south of my mother’s house.

Wilmington Ohio - street art

Downtown Wilmington, Ohio

Festival hosts, Karen Burgquist and Linford Detweiler of the folk band, Over the Rhine, live on another farm they call “Nowhere.” The band is named after a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Their “Nowhere Else” farm hosted the festival and housed the artists.

Nowhere Else 2016 Festival Poster

Nowhere Else Festival 2016 Poster

Karen and Linford infuse their lyrics with love for each other and Ohio. “Meet Me At the Edge of the World” is my favorite song of theirs. Song lyrics, like visual art, invite you to create your story of what they mean.

“That lone tupelo soon will be on fire

For all I know with God’s desires

As Autumn in Ohio spirals

Off of the edge of the world.”

(Excerpt from “Meet Me at the Edge of the World” – Over the Rhine)

Over the Rhine band

David’s brain is a database of lyrics from any music genre. Give him a couple of words and ask for a lyric to match, and he can pull it up and give you a story about it. I, on the other hand, am usually lyric-deaf. When I listen to songs, I hear rhythm and instrumentals.  But, when I really really listened to this music, I could hear the poetry — the art within the art.

The new barn’s ground floor was used for artist demonstrations and gallery space. I get all nostalgic about Ohio, and was lovin’ the painting of the state bird.

Cardinal - Gallery at Nowhere Else FestivalGallery space at Nowhere Else barnArtist demonstration at Nowhere Else Festival

The festival was two complete days of scheduled visual and performance artists. Two tents were set up:  one for picnicking and the other for the musical performances. Those who couldn’t fit inside the tent sat outside on their own chairs and blankets. So did we, at one point.

The Poet and her Mentor

My niece and her grandmother.

We packed enough food and drinks for lunch and dinner both days. Everybody in the family contributed to the picnic fare. Our menu was ridiculous:  smoked salmon; smoked chicken; two kinds of deviled eggs; fresh green salad; crab, avocado, and quinoa salad with technicolor tomatoes; Christians and Moors salad; potato salad with sausage; and cut-up fresh fruit for dessert. Although the festival had food available for sale, like pizza, the best part was bringing our own grub.

My brother is laser focused on his plate. Get it, David!

Picnic grub - Nowhere Else FestivalPicnic fare at Nowhere Else festival 2016

Other things that were cool about this festival were: 1) the size of the crowd,  2) the ease of parking, and 3) decent toilet facilities. About 1,000 people attended the festival,which meant there was plenty of space. It was easy to come and go from the site, and parking didn’t cost extra.

A few words about the toilet facilities. I’ve been turned off by many an outdoor event for fear of the toilet facilities. Some would test the stoutness of anyone’s bladder.  At Nowhere Else, the outdoor hygiene station was impressive and had foot pedals to turn on running water. There were also soap dispensers and paper towels. That was better than I’ve seen in county parks and recreation areas! The port-a-potties weren’t smelly, disgusting, or gag-inducing…most of the time…just avoid looking down the hole. A couple of port-a-potties were even spacious. But, when the high heat of the sun was done, I eased up on hydration.  By 7 pm, those port-a-potties had been through hard duty and gone beyond the limit of tolerability.

My favorite discovery at the festival was the band, Birds of Chicago. Catch a bit of their sound here. The female lead vocalist, Allison Russell, is from Montreal. She plays banjo, ukulele, and clarinet. Her husband, J.T. Nero, writes most of the songs and plays lead guitar. His raspy vocals perfectly complement hers. Twang meets soul.

Birds of Chicago - Nowhere Else Festival

At Nowhere Else Festival, the band mostly played songs from their album Real Midnight, produced by Joe Henry. Evidently, Joe Henry is a big deal and artists score a coup if he produces their album, which is yet another thing I learned about the folk music world. Joe Henry was there performing his own music and he held a songwriting workshop. (As a side note, Madonna is Joe Henry’s sister-in-law.)

See the video clip from the festival — Allison and J.T. join Joe Henry’s band for a song. (Joe’s the guitarist in the black hat.)

I struggled to describe Bird of Chicago’s sound until I read Jewly Hight’s NPR review of the album Real Midnight. The artists describe their music as secular gospel. I can hear that. Hight also said this about the band’s lyrics:  “They show us a way to fully live with the awareness that nothing’s forever and everything’s at stake.”

I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed the music at this FOLK festival. What??!! I also liked other artists, like Lucy Wainwright Roche — a solo artist and guitarist with a gift for humorous story-telling. Blind Boys of Alabama closed the festival and took us to church!

Blind Boys of Alabama

Blind Boys of Alabama

But, back to Birds of Chicago. Less than a month later, my sister, a friend, and I saw them at Gypsy Sally’s in Washington, DC. I’d never been to that venue before and it was great, too!

Gypsy Sally's - Washington DCBirds of Chicago at Gypsy Sally's

See what happens when you open yourself up to new experiences?  Have you opened yourself up to anything new this year?