River Love

One of the best antidotes after a week filled with people is to get outside. I spent last week in Denver for the Outdoor Retailer show, representing the Oregon Desert Trail, ONDA, and thru-hiking in general. (I talked TRAIL SO HARD). So many good things came out of the week, but being “on” all the time comes with consequences. I’m drained.

So to the river!

Watching water flow in nature is one of my recoup strategies. It’s as simple as that. Throw in some adventure, and bam! I’m back to new in no time.

In honor of our river trip today, please enjoy this flash back to a similar trip on the North Umpqua River a few years ago when Kirk and I R2’d his raft.

…And this one is another one of my favorite river adventures of all time…

Talking Trail

I had the opportunity to participate in a podcast with the Salem Statesman Journal in Oregon with their Outdoors writer Zach Urness. Give a listen here:

And you will be excited to hear the Ultralight Jerk sale I posted about recently raised over $2,200 for the ODT! Thanks to those of you out there who bought shirts! The sale is going on for another 5+ days, so there’s still a chance to score a cool shirt.

One more item, as a Gerber “Badassador” and a thru-hiker, they asked me to participate in the Backcountry Hunters and Angelers Hike to Hunt Challenge this summer.

I’ll be hiking miles to help raise money for the organization. The website isn’t updating properly, but I already have 34 miles logged for the challenge! Are you interested in donating to my challenge? Check out more here and search for my name.

 

Oh, and I’ll be in Denver next week for the Outdoor Retailer show! Will you be there? Come say hi at the TOAKS booth in the afternoons, I’ll be talking a bit about the ODT at 2pm each day and raffling off some TOAKS goodies.

Cut Toothbrushes Not Switchbacks

Ultralight Jerk is a social media account that likes to poke fun at the ultralight backpacking community through their accounts, but in a very un-jerky move, they decided to donate the proceeds of their “Cut Toothbrushes Not Switchbacks” shirts to ONDA and the Oregon Desert Trail! In just over a day they’ve raised almost $1,000 for us. Impressive! There are 12 days left of the fundraiser, so head on over to https://www.bonfire.com/cut-toothbrushes-not-switchbacks/, get a shirt and help support our conservation and recreation efforts.

 

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Spring Basin Hike Inventory

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We’ve been out on a variety of adventures over the past few months: rafting a section of the John Day River with friends, hiking in the Badlands Wilderness (doing part of the Badlands Challenge), and I spent a long weekend in Arizona /New Mexico for the Continental Divide Trail Kickoff in Silver City last month. Kirk and I also spent a few days backpacking in the Spring Basin Wilderness so I could scout the area for my first ONDA volunteer trip of the year.

 

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A very invasive weed Dalmatian toadflax. Beautiful but no good.

 

The Spring Basin Wilderness is surrounded by the John Day River on two sides near the small blip of a town, Clarno. It is also a short sightline away from that infamous former cult site of the Rajneeshees. All cults aside, it is a beautiful small mountainous area that is absolutely covered in flowers in the Spring, and it just happens to be 10 years old as a wilderness area (thanks ONDA!). I would be leading this first trip of its kind to talk more at length about hiking off trail (there are no trails in Spring Basin… Just a few old 2-track roads that have almost disappeared), discussing responsible recreation, and hiking a series of routes to document some loop hiking options for the BLM to potentially publish in the future.

As most of eastern Oregon lacks trail systems, hiking off trail is often the only way to explore an area, so why not spend some time trying to help some folks get more comfortable with it? It could only lead to future adventures.

I drove down to the area on Thursday night, slowly navigating the curves of the highway amidst a thunderous lightening storm. Flashes struck on all sides (the rain could have been described as torrential) and at one point hail covered the road in white. Oh joy… What a start to the trip! I slept in the car at the trailhead, and by morning all was calm and the lightshow from the night before had moved on.

The plan was to meet my 11 volunteers at noon, but even though this wilderness was called Spring Basin, there was no reliable water to be found. I loaded up my backpack with 4 gallons of water, grabbed a shovel (for digging a group latrine) and hiked in the 1ish mile to a camp spot I had scouted on the previous trip.

The climb up into Spring Basin is a brisk 800’ of elevation gain in 1 mile, and if that won’t get your blood flowing I don’t know what will! Almost as good as coffee.

Morning mission accomplished, I hiked back to the car to wait for the volunteers to arrive from around the state. By noon we were sitting in camp chairs and orienting ourselves with maps, then with maps and compass, then with gps devices. In a place like Spring Basin, it is fairly easy to orient yourself without any extra devices as the views are extensive. We loaded up packs and hoofed it into our camp spot with lots and lots of water on our backs.

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The volunteers were a mix of thru-hikers, section hikers, avid photographers who often go off trail for that perfect shot, and some folks new to off-trail hiking and navigation. All in all, a good mix of skill levels, experiences to share, and a willingness to learn.

That night we talked all about responsibly recreating in an area with no trails or no infrastructure… a lot of the best practices revolve around responding appropriately to the terrain and conditions, making good decisions, and trying to travel with respect for intact habitats and those that live in them.

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Saturday we broke up into four groups and each hiked a loop of sorts through the wilderness. The rain came back, and we tried to celebrate with the cupcakes I had packed in to celebrate the wilderness birthday, but rain blew out the candles, and my packing job smushed the frosting. They still tasted good after a day of hiking, and we toasted with a couple small boxes of wine I had packed out for the occasion.

A long night of rain had us hunkering in our tents, but a brief reprieve in the morning provided a dry hour for breakfast and packing up.

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A few of us hit the Antelope Café for coffee and pie on the way home, and helped to bring the fun weekend to a close! I hope to do more trips of these kind in the future…in the high deserts of Oregon the best exploring is off-trail.

Take the Badlands Challenge

I have recently found myself saying: “I am only limited by my imagination,” and it’s true! I have an incredible opportunity at ONDA to dream big and then make it happen. This past weekend we celebrated 10 years of a wilderness area that ONDA was pivotal in helping to designate, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. Over the past two years I’ve led some trail work trips with volunteers to help build some new trail…new trail that helped to link together other existing trails…and that work helped to create a 50.1 mile network of trails in the Badlands (9 of which are along the Oregon Desert Trail).

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Then I had the idea of creating a challenge to hike all 50.1 miles. Turns out there wasn’t a map with all the trails and mileages, so I made one. And now it’s live!

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The Badlands Challenge: hike all 50.1 miles in the wilderness; write a desert hike-u (haiku) and identify three new species (new to you!). Read all about it here.

Gear of the year

Since I started working with Six Moon Designs five years ago it was always a bit of a mystery to me why more hikers weren’t familiar with the lightweight cottage gear company. Ron Moak started the company before most of the ultralight movement hit mainstream, and the products were well designed and much more affordable than some of the alternatives on the market.

So it is awesome to see some of the recognition coming out… This year with Backpacker Magazine’s “best of” award for the Lunar Solo tent!

It’s my new tent too this year, and I practiced setting it up on a recent trip to the Oregon Coast Trail last month.

I used the Deschutes tarp on the CDT in 2015, and it’s the same set-up, but with mosquito netting in a fully enclosed tent. Mint!!! I can usually ignore the bugs, but sometimes you just need to totally get away from the blood suckers, so I am excited to have this one-person tent to add to my collection.

I also started using their new Minimalist backpack too.

Stay tuned as I put the gear to the test this year… And check out their full lineup when you have a chance: www.sixmoondesigns.com

And for a one-time 10% off coupon code use GoWild12 at checkout

Quiet adventures

February was a quiet one.

Kirk and I had been planning a grand month-long adventure to celebrate our 10 years together, fortunately coenciding with our recent purchase of a truck camper from my folks. The plan: load skis, gear, food, books, games and movies for a ski trip around the Pacific Northwest.

Snow parks were our nightly destinations, and nordic trails mapped out the daily adventures in the never-ending freshies.

I thought I might do a lot of writing, blogging, or making videos with the years of go-pro adventure footage I’ve been taking on hiking, packrafting and skiing trips…I even set myself up with a sweet little mobile studio…but I didn’t do any of that.

It was a month of being. Of being in the moment.

We had adventures!

We skiied our way up Washington state…hitting spots from Lake Wenatchee to the Methow Valley. We popped into Mt. Rainer, St. Helens and Olympic National Park, and did our best to avoid getting the truck stuck in the snow. We had ocean views from our camper, soaked in hotsprings, and even hit two long-distance trails (skiing on the Pacific Northwest Trail and beach walking on the Oregon Coast Trail).

I didn’t do much thinking or any writing, but there was a fair amount of reading and playing cards.

It was lovely, peaceful and quiet.

Read and Listen

A couple of exciting media pieces came out in the last month that I was asked to participate in. The Trail Show is one of my favorite podcasts, and in this extra special “longest episode ever” (3.5 hours! great to listen to on a hike) features the Oregon Desert Trail and Oregon Natural Desert Association. I gave the conservation interview about the good work ONDA does on behalf of Oregon’s high desert, and Salty and Allgood were interviewed about their 2018 fall thru-hike of the ODT. Give it a listen! Time to get #ONDAtrail 🙂

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Then I was interviewed for an article over at the REI Co-op Journal about creating routes. It’s pretty exciting to come to the point where what I have been doing for fun all these years has made me an expert in the subject…of hiking!

WOULD YOU CREATE YOUR OWN THRU-HIKE?

Some hikers who are looking for a new challenge are now designing their own routes in search of adventure and solitude. By Jonathan Oliver

Minutes after beginning the descent into an 800-foot canyon that’s home to Big Jacks Creek, a piercing rattle forced Jason “Ras” Vaughan to freeze. He could see the snake curled between rocks only a few feet ahead. Up on the ridge his wife, Kathy Vaughan, was waiting to find out if there was a safe way down to the river—this was the only water source around for 22 miles. Surrounding Ras was only more scree, so he yielded to the rattler, opting to find another way as a thunderstorm approached.

“It was an intense moment, but in moments like that, you’re so alive,” says Ras, a 47-year-old who lives with Kathy, 52, on Whidbey Island near Seattle. “The sage smelled incredible. There were lightning flashes that were blinding us.”

That was only 53 miles into their trip that they have dubbed the UltraPedestrian (UP) North Loop—a 2,634-mile circuit that strings together the Pacific Crest, Pacific Northwest, Idaho Centennial and Oregon Desert trails. The stretch with Big Jacks Creek wasn’t a trail at all, but a route through the backcountry that the Vaughans charted to link the Idaho Centennial Trail with the Oregon Desert Trail. That meant bushwhacking through sagebrush, navigating with a GPS or map and occasionally tackling surprise terrain features on the fly.

“The fact is, no matter how well you plan this out, things are not going to go according to plan,” Ras says. “Being able to improvise solutions when that happens is the main skill set that you need to do something like the UP North Loop.”

After enduring the storm that night, Ras and Kathy found a safe route to Big Jacks Creek, then continued on to Oregon. The duo completed the loop on November 5, 2018, after starting on May 14, and were the first to hike the trail. These sorts of trips are becoming increasingly common as the U.S.’s established long trails become overcrowded, Kathy says, adding that some long-distance hikers are looking for another challenge—and some solitude.

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What is a new route?

While trails are existing pathways, typically mapped, blazed and easy to follow, routes are unmarked and undefined. “A route, you have to do all of that homework yourself,” says Renee Patrick, the Oregon Desert Trail coordinator with the Oregon Natural Desert Associationwho mapped out portions of the UP North Loop for the Vaughans. “You have to be aware of where am I now on the map, where am I going, what makes sense between my point and my destination. You look at the terrain and you see what’s the path of least resistance in the terrain.”

Patrick says that for those with navigation skills and an extensive backcountry résumé—backpacking or hunting—creating a thru-hike can be a rewarding experience. Plus, it’s an opportunity to get away from the crowds and test one’s limits in a different way than an established long trail.

Identify a route

After looking at a map of the U.S.’s long trails, the Vaughans noticed existing ones that could be strung together—which morphed into the UP North Loop. That’s where they recommend starting to plan for a new route: search for pathways that may intersect. On established trails, most of the planning involves typical thru-hiking preparation, like searching guidebooks or the internet to identify water sources and resupply points. It takes even more planning to connect routes between trails.

With an expanse of backcountry to dissect, the Vaughans used Google Earth to identify terrain features and water sources, and then apps like CalTopo or Gaia GPS to route potential paths. Further reconnaissance included reaching out to people, like Patrick, who are familiar with a region’s terrain. The Vaughans also talked to as many locals as possible throughout their trek. “They were a huge resource,” Kathy says. “They gave us so much information about trails that we could take or ways we could walk to our next destination.”

It’s also important to know who owns the land the route will trace through, says Andrew Skurka, who has thousands of miles of route hiking under his belt from journeys like the Great Western Loop that covers almost 7,000 miles across the western U.S. Public land is the obvious first choice. He says this is where navigation apps, like those above, that show land ownership come in handy. But at times Skurka says there’s no viable pathway using public property, leaving a road as the only legal, public option.

In a pinch, private property can offer a path forward, Skurka says. “I remember being in a town in eastern Montana called Winnifred,” he says. “I needed to get across private property to get to my next town. There was no public land access. So, the guys in Winnifred knew the landowner. And I called up to ask the landowner for access and the guy said, ‘Sure, no problem.’”

Find water and resupply points

Water is a huge concern when route planning and most sources you’ll have to find yourself. In arid areas, Patrick says, hikers must get creative to find water. “That’s where I actually found Google Earth was incredibly helpful,” Patrick says. “I was even able to see individual cows on the satellite imagery. You can trace a cow path and the cows almost always go to water.”

Even if you find a promising watering hole, there’s no certainty that water will be available year-round. So, Patrick says to carry more water than you think you’ll need, especially in dry regions.

When it comes to resupplies, the Vaughans had to hitchhike or road walk into small towns, often in remote areas where locals weren’t accustomed to catering to thru-hikers. That meant there were few serendipitous ice chests full of food and soda left by compassionate strangers like you’ll find trailside on the Appalachian Trail, called trail magic, or businesses offering discounts to hikers. They mailed food ahead, around 150 to 200 miles apart. “Once we were actually on the route, we fattened that up by buying additional supplies in towns and we went to a number of trail towns we had not planned on visiting simply because we wanted a little taste of civilization,” Ras says.

Two thru-hikers walk toward the camera on an abandoned road.

Know how to read a map

The Vaughans navigated mostly with their phones using GPS apps that had the route planned out, often with overlays containing topographic features and delineating public land. “We do like having a standalone GPS that’s separate from our phones, separate from anything else,” Ras says. “So that energy and the batteries in that are specifically allocated to navigation.”

But cell service can be spotty in remote areas, and GPS batteries can die unexpectedly. That makes a topographic paper map an invaluable resource, alongside a compass and altimeter for mountainous terrain. “You need to be able to figure out what the ridges mean, whether it’s showing you a canyon or a mountain ridge,” Ras says. “And to be able to look at the real world in front of you and see those features and connect them to the map in your hand, whether it’s a paper map or it’s on your phone.”

For those who have never used a topo map before, Ras says there’s no better practice than practicing in the backcountry—keep close to home and bring a GPS to keep you oriented. “You’d be surprised at how quick your learning curve can be under those circumstances,” he says. “Especially if you do something like climb a 2,500-foot ridge that you don’t need to climb.”

Be prepared

First-aid knowledge, as well as a solid kit to help with minor scrapes and injuries, is a great resource. Kathy recommends Wilderness Medicine Courses as the best tool against a life-threatening situation. Not only will a certification give you resources to navigate a medical issue in the backcountry, but it will provide insight into preventative measures like not getting too sweaty when trekking through the cold. “We did a lot of night hiking so that we could move efficiently through the desert when it was cooler,” she says.

Ras says although the challenges of route hiking are plenty, it’s never been easier to explore the nation’s natural wonders off-trail. “There are so many amazing things left to be done and all these new technologies now make it possible in a way that it wasn’t even a few years ago,” he says. “It’s a pretty amazing time to be a long-distance hiker … there are almost endless possibilities out there.”

Fix your gear

The fire spread in a blink of an eye and soon feathers were floating down around me like fat snowflakes. My down sleeping bag was the casualty in my momentary lapse of judgement that morning. I simply hadn’t let the alcohol dry on my hands when I lit my beer-can stove, and the moment my hand was on fire I waved it around (note: don’t do that) and splattered flames onto my sleeping bag.

It was day 100-something of my PCT thru-hike, and the only thing I could do was get out my patch kit of dental floss and a sewing needle to close up the 10 inch burn hole. Gathering as many feathers as I could, I stuffed them back in the gaping space that was once my sleeping bag and went to work.

You know what? That sleeping bag got me to Canada and I still have it. Its frankenstein mint-flavored patch job is still there. It still keeps me warm.

Don’t get me wrong, I love new gear. I have since purchased other sleeping bags. I have a -20 degree bag that was mandatory for the frigid nights during the two years I worked as a wilderness therapy staff in the deep winter of Central Oregon, I have a 40 degree quilt that I use for warmer summer nights when leading trail crews along the Oregon Desert Trail. There is a glut of cheap gear outlets, websites, and sales around the holidays, but I would love if we put more emphasis on reusing old gear, fixing our patches, zippers and waterproofing and making do with what we have.

Repair – Reuse – Recycle

We do it for cans, paper, glass. Lets do it with our gear.

When I moved to Bend over a decade ago, I was stoked to see we had two used gear shops in town; I had outfitted myself entirely from used gear sales for my 2006 PCT thru-hike. Then I noticed a gear repair booth set up at various outdoor events. Even better! My thrifty nature was directly related to spending all of my money on long distance hikes, so along the way I looked for ways to get the most out of my gear and my dollars. Repair, reuse, recycle.

I first met Kim Kinney at a mutual friend’s art show. Kim was behind those gear repair booths I had been seeing, and she had the chops to fix almost any kind of outdoor gear. She had spent years working on custom gear design, and as an avid outdoors woman, she knows first hand what we put our gear through in the backcountry.

Kim has repaired several tents for me. I thought these would be intensive repair jobs; the zippers weren’t closing and seemed mangled, dirt and grime and years of backcountry use convinced me they needed to be replaced all together. It turned out to be quick and cheap and easy. New sliders on the zippers, was that it??

Before you throw out or donate that down coat with the burn hole, or that backpack with broken buckles, look into fixing it. I would imagine many mountain towns around the country have gear repair shops. Heck, even if you want to resell it on Craigslist, you will get more moolaa for it if it’s in good shape. Even if you break out the mint-flavored dental floss to sew up a tear, do it. Lets not throw more money down for things we don’t have to. Save it for that pizza and beer after hiking 100 miles through the Wind River Range, or after paddling a week in the Boundary Waters.

If you don’t have a gear repair shop near you, ship it to Kim. She works on a variety of gear, tents, backpacks and bags, motorcycle clothing, luggage and zippers. Find out more here.

Repair – Reuse – Recycle

Lets make fixing our gear the first step before buying something new.

Oh! And you don’t always have to have the fanciest gear… One of my favorite pieces of gear is a trash bag. It’s a rain skirt, pack cover, ground cloth, rain coat, stuff sack… You name it.

It’s time to embrace JOMO

I’ve been working with local Bend company, Food for the Sole, for the past year as they are getting their dehydrated adventure food business off the ground, and man are they killing it! I wrote a blog post for them recently that had nothing to do with their delicious vegan and gulten-free meals, but after hearing the term JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) I just had to write about it. JOMO is the antidote to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

Deep Time: A Call to Action for a Better World

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The drive to contribute to society and make a difference for the betterment of the world has been a pervasive theme in my life and those around me. It could have started when I joined the Peace Corps as a fresh-faced college grad. It could have roots in childhood when I was surrounded by my parents and their inspiring and idealistic friends, or it could have ties back to the volunteerism stressed by schooling and community groups over the years, but a part of me thinks it came about much more organically.

I believe my greatest foundation comes from a childhood spent climbing trees, building forts in the neighbor’s corn field, and riding bikes to the nearest swimming hole. It was time spent outside. Deep time.

As a child of the 80’s, our generation was blissfully unaware of the future where the masses would be closely tied to the machine in our pockets, where a legion of “online friends” would influence everything from voting to vacation destinations. FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is real, and is really impacting modern life. For fear of missing out, the phones are never far from wifi, and the tablets tuned into the 24/7 news cycles. The selfies are often sunny and the posts paint a picture that hide the more boring traces of reality.

I recently became acquainted with the term JOMO, and think it has the potential to flip our modern agnst around to instead embrace the Joy of Missing Out.

Thru-hikers know JOMO. Deep in the folds of mountain ranges where the 4G peters out and the sunlight filters in, we have to engage with the world around us. We watch aspen leaves shudder in the wind, and ants slowly build their kingdom. We know the pace of human breath and rhythmic beat of footsteps on trail.

All this can be experienced on a day hike or weekend excursion, but for true release from the need to be connected to the world of metadata and algorithms, I think we need more deep time.

Deep time: a long time spent in nature. A month is good, two is better, three to four months? Freaking fantastic. Deep time resets our internal clocks, resets our need to be observed and applauded all the time, resets our connections.


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By embracing the Joy of Missing Out you are blissfully unaware of the latest movies, political maneuvers, memes and music, but you are blissfully aware of the full moon, the slow move of the seasons, and the transformation of your body that comes from walking every day, all day, through a landscape.

Can deep time in nature help create a better world? Can extended time in nature breed empathetic humans who want to contribute to the health of their communities? The wilderness doesn’t need us. The mountains don’t care if we are hiking or climbing, but this indifference to our comfort demands our respect, and we must rise to the occasion to stay safe, warm, and contented while outside. When spending deep time on a trail, we realize our connection to all around us, we are not separate from the woods, we are part of the woods. That respect has ripple effect. Yes. I do think deep time can change the world. At least it will change us.