That 8-5 Grind

As I sit on break at my 8-5 summer job, I realize once again how unsuited I am for the office lifestyle.  My cubicle has no windows and no door, preventing me from seeing the sun on most days.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad.  I usually enjoy what I’m doing and on occasion we get to do cool things like kayak and hike and just work outside for awhile.  But those days that involve reading reports and updating websites and picking through folders of pictures are really, really long (oh, the glamorous life of an intern).  Give me sunshine and fresh air and the wind in my face!  Or at least a window.  On the bright side, next week’s agenda includes a kayak trip and goose banding.  Much better than stuffing envelopes!  But I suppose, boring jobs that give you a variety of experiences must come before dream jobs.  I guess.

The Best Days End with a New Color of Dirt

The best days end with a new color of dirt coating my hiking boots.  At this point, tying the laces involves holding your breath as months of dust pillow back up to you with each pull.  But hey, that’s what they’re for, right?  I’m far happier with a pair of shoes that are solely meant to get dirty than with trying to keep my shoes clean.

So, hiking boots!  Probably the best investment I’ve made in quite some time.  After doing some online research and trying some boots on in the store, I finally settled on these Merrell’s.  I chose Merrells because they’re about in the middle price-wise and offer a wide variety of options.  I was also looking for something that would be waterproof and offer ample ankle support.  These do the trick fabulously!

Some boot shopping advice: try them on in a store with the socks you would usually wear.  Even if you’re planning to order them online to save some money, you need your boots to fit well!  I’d also recommend getting your boots a size larger than your every day shoes.  The extra space allows for cushiony socks and prevents your toes from being squished when hiking up or down hill.

A bonus of new hiking boots is new hiking socks to go with them!  Personally, I like SmartWool socks best for long hikes.  They come in a variety of styles, sizes, and amount of cushion so you can usually find exactly what you’re looking for.  Even though they can be a bit expensive, if you hang them up to dry they’ll last for years!  I’d also recommend getting a liner kinda like this one, especially if you’re planning some longer trips.  They prevent friction in places like the back of the ankle and toes where blisters are likely to form and keep your socks fresh longer.  I’ve been told you can get through a week-long trip and only bring three pairs of hiking socks if you have two liners to go with them! Plus they’re soft and comfy!

Hikes are pretty great, but they’re even better with shoes and socks that will help you keep going for miles.

Hidden Waterfalls and Adventure

Puerto Rico must just be the place for adventure.  If you have the chance to go, take it!  But I’ll wax poetic about Puerto Rico at a later date.  Let’s talk about hidden waterfalls and adventure.  When I visited Puerto Rico we stayed at a research station in El Yunque National Forest.  We were surrounded by jungle and rivers and amphibians of all shapes and sizes.  We spent one afternoon visiting the various streams and rivers for a stream ecology lesson.  This included a fairly large river that you could track from the research station to the shore, which was pretty cool.  I’m told we were there during a pretty hefty drought or our adventure wouldn’t have happened.  The river in question features pools connected by areas of rushing water.  The side of the pool we were focused in was essentially a rock wall was a small sliver open to a waterfall that could be heard but not seen.  The explorer of the group decided there must be a way to get to that waterfall and he soon disappeared under the water.  When he came back and pointed out the ‘path’, everyone soon followed.

Path is used loosely here.  To actually get to the waterfall from where we were situated, one had to swim about fifty feet to the other side of a ten foot deep pool, balance on a rock to catch their breath, then begin their ascent.  You see, there was an opening in the rock just above water that created a tunnel up to the waterfall.  It wouldn’t have been possible to climb if a tree limb hadn’t gotten stuck, providing a makeshift ladder.  If you’ve ever been on river boulders, you know just how slippery this whole situation was.  With the help of good friends, we all shimmied through that hole and enjoyed the view.  Here’s a picture that hardly does it justice!

17285_665450570267241_1152919931804729207_nIf coming up sounds precarious, coming down was just as bad.  It was impossible to go back the way we had come because there was nothing to hold on to one you reached the bottom.  The same explorer as mentioned before suggested we try sliding down the log you can see on the left side of the picture above.  There was a space just big enough for the average person to fit through, so away we went.  I must say, natural water slides are much more fun that amusement parks.  Surprisingly, no one got hurt and all eighteen of use made it to the waterfall and back out again.  While it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Bioluminescent Bay in La Parguera, Puerto Rico (Also known as The Night I Swam with Jellyfish)

If you haven’t seen a bioluminescent bay in person, google it right now.  It’s incredible.  The water is full of dinoflagellates that glow blue when they move.  This means the water glows when you move (and when it’s dark enough out, of course).  There are quite a few bio bays around the world, but one of the best is found by La Parguera, Puerto Rico.  This cute little town was under construction when I last visited, but in theory it’ll be done by the time you make it there.  Either way, their bio bay operation is up and running!  If you sign up for this adventure, a lovely tour company will take you and your friends out on their boat at the optimal viewing time.  It takes about twenty minutes to get from the shore to the protected cove that is dark enough to see any form of bioluminescence.  The view at first is a little unimpressive, just dark water and stars.  Then the captain dives into the water and the ocean comes to life with sparkling blue creatures.

One not so brave soul in our group asked the captain what else was in the water.  Makes sense to me, black ocean that’s twenty or so feet deep make me question what could be in there too.  The captain assured us there might be a few schools of fish but that’s about it, and they’d be far too deep for us to notice.  So we hop in and become enchanted by the blue glitter that follows in our wake.  Almost everyone is now in the water when the first girl rushes back to the boat in tears.  She didn’t want to freak the rest of us out, but her bright red arm did that for us.

Apparently the captain forgot to mention the swarm of jellyfish that enjoyed hanging out in the bay.  These weren’t normal jellyfish either.  Known as moon jellies, they prefer to swim upside down, as in tentacles up, and are found five to six feet below the surface.  If you’re short (like me) or aren’t a particularly rambunctious swimmer you won’t even know there’s jellyfish in the water.  Unfortunately for six of the eighteen of us, they didn’t fall into either category and came back to the boat sooner than they wanted with jellyfish stings in various places (mostly ankles and wrists).

But no worries, the pain only lasted a few hours and the redness went away by the next morning.  And I didn’t get stung, so even better.  Even if I had, the experience would have been well worth it to be able to say I went swimming with jellyfish.

Cold Weather Camping

I haven’t had as many camping trips as I would like, but I’ve gone enough to successfully pitch a tent all by myself.  Most of my camping experience falls under the summertime, let’s go enjoy the lake and the company category, but I had the (mis)fortune to accidentally attempt cold weather camping.

I thought camping in Colorado and Utah in the middle of May would involve mild weather with the nights maybe being a tad chilly.  As did the rest of the group I was with, so no one was prepared for reality.

As always, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from this experience so you don’t have to go through it accidentally unprepared.

Gear for hanging out in the evenings/mornings/whenever you’re outside your tent

  • Layers:  The most important thing you can do is bundle up in as many layers as you brought.  I’m talking short sleeve shirt under a long sleeve shirt under a crew neck sweatshirt under a hoodie under a jacket under a coat.  Seriously.  The warmer you can keep your insides the happier you’ll be!
  • Extremity coverings: Hats, gloves, wool socks, whatever you think you need to keep warm.  Again I’d recommend layering up (knit gloves under ski gloves, things like that).

Gear for staying alive overnight

Ok, so that might be a little extreme (it really wasn’t that cold, just mid twenties throughout the night) but when you’re shivering in your tent at three in the morning, you’d be thinking a little extreme too.

  • The most important thing you can do is get yourself a solid sleeping bag.  I’ve found sleeping bags can either be compressible and cheap, compressible and warm, or cheap and warm but these things usually don’t overlap any more than that.  If you know you’ll get the most use out of your bag in cold weather, focus on that.  If your budget is tight, stay within the cheap range.  You know what’s right for you.  However, if your sleeping bag isn’t necessarily the warmest do what you can to fix that.  I recommend packing a fleece blanket in your sleeping bag before leaving so you always have it just in case.  Even the one added layer makes things much more bearable!
  • Sleep in layers.  I think running tights or some other sort of legging under warm sweatpants is the best way to go, but that’s just me.  I’d also keep a majority of the layering you’ve already done!
  • Extremity coverings are needed more than just when you’re outside.  I slept in my hat and gloves and that made a big difference!  If your toes are prone to getting chilly or you know your sleeping bag isn’t especially warm, I recommend hand warmers between two pairs of wool socks to save your feet.

Comfort Zones

As I sit at my computer enjoying Bunny Tracks ice cream and my favorite TV show, I realize how comfortable my daily life is.  If I’m hungry, the pantry is full.  If I’m thirsty, a glass of water isn’t too far away.  But I realized something else: some of my best memories happened when I was unbelievably uncomfortable.  Hikes can be exhausting, driving all day to reach your destination gets tiring, plane schedules get pulled in all directions and something always goes wrong with the schedule you worked on for hours before departing.  But in those moments of discomfort, you learn things about yourself.  You learn that the view at the end of the trail is worth the three hours it took to get there.  That your plane being delayed gave you an extra few hours in a city you now love.

What I’m trying to say is take those adventures when they’re handed to you.  Don’t be afraid to leave the comfort of your home for the discomfort of a new country, city, state.  You never know when you’ll have that opportunity again and you might be surprised what you’ll learn about yourself.