I’m launched

Well, the American Trails webinar last week went really well! I had an audience from all over the world and was thrilled to learn about all the interest out there from trail organizations and conservation groups about engaging the recreation community in conservation issues.

But first! Have you filled out my hiker survey yet?

  • Have you hiked a trail and wished the planning was easier?
  • Would a different or improved resource have helped you on the trail?
  • Are you concerned about environmental issues affecting your trail experience?
  • What will the future of thru-hiking look like with accelerated climate change?

*A long-distance hiker doesn’t need to have completed a thru-hike. You are the best person to determine if you are a long-distance hiker. Some folks hike 30 miles in a day; others hike 30 miles in 3-5 days. If you spend more than 2 nights on trail, no matter your daily mileage, I’d love to hear from you.

And please enjoy the video from my presentation last week:

Pioneering Path for Long-Distance Trail Blazer

How wonderful to see this article come out in our local business paper!

I worked for Cascade Publications (home to Cascade Business News and Cascade Arts & Entertainment) for over four years, before the last 7+ years of the Oregon Desert Trail, before my hike of the Continental Divide Trail.

I was the A&E Editor and can attribute a lot of my design and writing chops to designing a 40-page art magazine once a month for years, and writing twice as many feature stories for both publications during that time. A hard publishing deadline is one of the best teachers!

I feel so lucky to be doing this work, and I couldn’t have gotten here without years of sweat, tears (yes, those deadlines sometimes provoked tears!), and just showing up day after day. There are so many metaphors I could insert here about how hiking is like life…blah blah blah, but it’s all true.

One step at a time.

Don’t get lazy.

How you live your days is how you live your life. – Annie Dillard

Activating the Trail Community in Conservation Issues

This Thursday I will be giving a free online presentation for American Trails, Activating the Trail Community in Conservation Issues.

I will explore ways to empower and activate trail users on your local trails.

Register and join me at 10am (Pacific Time)

The talk will be recorded, so if you are interested but can’t attend, you can still register and receive a recording following the event.

Hope to see some of you there!

Next Steps in my Quest to become Professional Hikertrash

Iā€™ve been quiet on the blog since coming home from the Appalachian Trail last summer, but all has not been quiet, in fact, Iā€™ve been dreaming and schemingā€¦sometimes for hours every day. Why? I have figured out my next step in hiking-as-a-professionā€¦Iā€™m starting a long-distance trail consulting business!

This business idea is a natural evolution of what Iā€™ve been thinking and doing for the past seven years (since starting work on the Oregon Desert Trail in 2015), but it goes deeper than that. I could say itā€™s a natural evolution of what Iā€™ve been thinking about for over 20 years now.

Back in the late 90ā€™s when I was navigating my way through a bachelorā€™s degree in communications and looking at my choice of major and minor (graphic design & writing), I was well suited to glide into the slick world of advertising. Through ad campaigns and persuasive TV commercials, I could have made my mark with clever visuals and turns of phrases, but this niggling desire to have my 40 hours a week count towards change in the worldā€¦positive change in the worldā€¦redirected my vision. Instead of moving up to Chicago to work for a fancy ad agency, I hitched my cart to international development in the Peace Corps.

There was a fair amount of flailing about in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I spent long hours, weeks, and months sweating in my village, wondering at my life choices thus far, and sinking into loneliness and cultural bewildermentā€¦but I also learned to show up each day, chit-chat in a new language, and find meaning in the work. Then there were the books. I read hundreds of books during the two years I spent in the village of Zogoreā€¦one of the most pivotal being There are Mountains to Climb about a womanā€™s hike on the Appalachian Trail.Ā 

That book helped direct my attention once again, and I set off on my attempted Appalachian Trail thru-hike on the first day of spring, 2002. Even when I reached Katadhin five months and two days later, I didnā€™t know how the long-trail experience would become the narrative thread to my career and life all these years later, but I definitely became comfortable with challenge, with being uncomfortable, and with trying new things. I was someone who wondered what was over the next mountain and enjoyed the steps it took to get me there. Curiosity was, and continues to be, my constant companion.

So I started thinking about change. How can I change the world for the better with my skills and interests? I narrowed down my focus to information designā€¦specifically, I enrolled in grad school in London in the Design Futures program at Goldsmiths College. Design Futures was, and is, very idealistic. It asked us: How can we create a better world through design? Or better yet: How can we design a better world? It was the perfect next step for my thinkingā€¦and I had the fresh experience of half a year spent outside to marinate the ideas of broad cultural changeā€¦of systems design.

My dissertation focused on museum exhibitsā€¦before grad school, I had completed an internship at the Smithsonian in Washington DC where I played with the idea of information design within museum exhibits. I loved the idea that in an exhibit, a person could walk through a three-dimensional space and come out the other side having had an experience, perhaps one that would influence the way they see the world, or at the very least, present some new information or art that communicated something of importanceā€¦information design! But I took that idea a step further and posited that we needed to remove the museum exhibit from the museum, we needed to create experiences – that is where the true influence and learning will come fromā€¦an interactive, full-body, curated three-dimensional space with a theme. Then I called it the Eco-Interplay Ethic. Now I call it a long-distance trail.

In the years between grad school and starting to develop the Oregon Desert Trail (my real application of these ideas into trail form), I hiked many more miles, worked professionally on trails and as a graphic designer and writer, and continued to explore the intersection of hiking, extended time in nature, cultural change, and design.

Over the past few years I have hiked a series of trails and routes where I wanted more: I wanted maps to show exactly the features and information I needed, I wanted a data book that made it easy for me to plan the dayā€™s mileage and overall flow of the hike, I wanted resources that would streamline my planning and hiking experience. So I created them. I had been creating trail resources for the Oregon Desert Trail for years now, refining and editing the materials so that hikers would have everything they needed to be successful on the 750-mile hike. But what the Oregon Desert Trail also offered, was an opportunity to embed environmental and public lands information into the hiking experience. The ODT was created to connect the recreation community to conservation issues along the route, I was designing my ā€œmuseum exhibit.ā€ 

When the Greater Hells Canyon Council started re-envisioning the Blue Mountains Trail and wanted to develop a similar concept to the Oregon Desert Trail, things started to align in my mind. Trails could be a more intentional path to engaging hikers with the issues affecting the trailā€¦can long-distance hikers be the advocates that environmental and conservation organizations need? 

Yes. 

In this business, I will improve the hiking experience on long-distance trails through developing new/enhanced/better trail resources like maps, guidebooks, and digital tools. I will help trails with community, hiker, agency, and stakeholder development. I will create systems to better manage trail information updates, trail maintenance needs, and hiker expectations. Basically, I will be the creative problem solver for long-distance trail organizations and developers and go even further if my interests align with the trail organization. I will embed environmental and conservation information into the trail materials to activate the recreation community in stewarding and participating in the issues that affect that particular trail. And the real ulterior motive? Help hikers see they are connected to the world we hike through, that what affects the forests and rivers affects us too, and maybe, just maybe, we will make different decisions based on those connections.

And the really good news? ONDA and the Oregon Desert Trail is my first client…I will continue to manage the route and help hikers be successful out there.

Through this blog you have come along with me on many of my long-distance hikes over the years, and I hope you will come along with me in this new venture as well. I will explore this new direction in my professional life through this blog, and donā€™t worry, there will be many more morning coffee-induced blog posts coming! One of the best ways I will know what a trail needs is to hike it. šŸ™‚

I am planning a fun online launch party on March 8. Please come if you are interested! As part of the launch, I am also hosting a business shower. This is the first (and probably only) time I will be asking for financial support from my community. One of the fun things about working as a volunteer and for non-profit organizations for much of my adult life is I don’t have a massive savings accountā€¦even $5 will offset the cost of my business phone number for a few weeks.

If you do want to come, please shoot me an email…I have some important updates that I’ll be sharing with folks via email before and after the event (including some party favors!) so please give me a heads up so you get the full experience. And I’m doing everything I can to make it an enjoyable experience.

Thank you for sticking with me on this blog through the many challenges and opportunities long-distance hiking has put in my path. There is so much more to come. 

Off Trail Podcast

I recorded a new conversation recently with Off Trail Podcast (scroll to the bottom to get to the recording).

The show’s host, Ryan ā€œConstantineā€ Bunting is quite an impressive dude. He started hiking in 2016 on the Appalachian Trail, and went on to hike the PCT in 2017 and the CDT in 2018…since then has gone on to hike all 11 National Scenic Trails, culminating with a speed record on the 4,830 mile North Country Trail in 2021 and has hiked over 22,000 miles and counting.

I like how he described our conversation:

We begin the show with what it means to identify as a thru-hiker. Renee has been involved in the outdoor, backpacking, thru-hiking world for 20+ years now, and we dive into what it means to her to be a thru-hiker, and whether or not that definition has changed over the years.

We dive deeper into time itself and as she describes it, “Deep Time.” Is there a finite amount of time needed to reach this type of time and what are the conditions that it is found? Along the way we go through her time in the outdoors and her progression into who she has become today. We start with her initial thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail back in 2002, and how the fire that began there was never quenched. Travelling forward through a masters degree to her next thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2006, we chat the thoughts when she reached the point many in the outdoors eventually reach, the question of, “How can I make hiking my life.”

We discuss the growth from a hiker into making hiking your life. We chat Wilderness First Responder courses, meeting other hikers involved in the industry, and following your curiosity.

We go into all things Blue Mountains Trail and Oregon Desert Trail. The trail systems are located in the state of Oregon, which Renee has an important role in the decisions of trail routing, conservation, and trail awareness. We discuss the missions of both trails, and how one goes about bringing the thought of conservation to the forefront of each hiker’s minds and most importantly actions. Is it the maps, the trail association, the individual’s responsibility, the preparation, the information along the way, what are the ways and how does it become a reality? We discuss what a trail means when sometimes the very point of a “trail” is to not become a “trail.”

We chat a pair of scissors and $5 per cut of hair “fundraising,” the immensity of time in 6 weeks to build 30′ of trail, and the beauty of alternates.

Listen today!

Circles in the Blues – 2.5 miles

Here I am with my backpack on again, and another warm and sunny weekend on deck.

This time my circles are more time and place-based. These circles encompass two years and multiple trips.

My first, most obvious loop, is returning to the scene of my Blue Mountains Trail groundtruthing hike. On this day two years ago I was walking above Hells Canyon and the Snake River. Today, I’m hiking along the headwaters of the North Fork John Day River. I drove up to NE Oregon this weekend for the Greater Hells Canyon Council’s yearly gala (if you remember, GHCC created the Blue Mountains Trail). Well, there hasn’t been a yearly gala since COVID happened, so this would be the return to an in-person event. Since I’ve come to call many of the people I met during my inaugural hike of the BMT friends, I jumped at the chance to visit and celebrate with them. AND my other 2020 hiking cohorts, Allgood, Mike, and Naomi will be there too!

The gala isn’t until tomorrow so I had time for a short trip to walk and sleep in these mountains again. I wanted to visit the Vinegar Hill area and walk more of the Princess Trail, which looks to have some stunning ridgewalking, but the area was still closed from a fire this summer. Then I thought of the Peavy Cabin trail, which traces the headwaters of the NF John Day River until it pops up on the Elkhorn Crest and Blue Mountains Trail. Two years ago when I was here, snow blanketed the old burn area and I had just survived my first and only single degree night on the trail.



But that wasn’t the last time I was up here…another circle brings us back to summer 2021. Kirk and I took a month off work to travel the river from the source (where I am nowish, writing this) to the mouth at the Columbia River. “But wait, you didn’t write about that,” you might be thinking. Nope, I decided that I didn’t have to always capture every moment in text, last summer was a different kind of trip anyway. Was the idea to travel the length of one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the west born two years ago on the BMT as I peered down into this drainage from the crest above? It must have been, because I spent the next seven months planning for it, and in early June, Kirk and I started the attempt by walking up this trail towards the highest spring that fed the 300-mile river.

I’ll give you a few highlights…the whole month was full of excitement, card games, random meetings with friends, crazy weather, 120 degree tempatures, and quickly dropping water levels. Oh, then there was the tick in my ear…so far only a few people have heard that tale.

Kirk hiking along the headwaters
Hiking with our packrafts was too heavy.



But back to today and my overlapping footsteps. I wanted to hike in a few miles, sleep with a view, and enjoy the surrounding mountains that have become so important in my life. I cruise up from Bend, bag still partially packed from my trip with Cindy in the Casades last weekend. Driving up the highway from the North Fork John Day Campground, I crossed paths with last year’s Kirk and Renee. Since we had decided on a multi-staged human-powered adventure, (hike, packraft, paddle board, IK, and raft), we had layers of logistics to figure out. BMT friends Jim and Rhonda Kennedy, who live on the Middle Fork John Day River, agreed to help out and shuttled us and some of our gear to the previously mentioned campground where we cached our packrafts. We would walk up to the headwaters, an out and back trip, because the river was too small and choked with wood to paddle.

Today I drove up and parked at the end of the road, some fourish miles from that high spring. There is a trail that climbs to the ridge top and misses the highest spring, but last summer I had guessed that we could just bushwack over to it…or close to it anyway because it was on a steep part of the canyon wall. It being early June, we walked into snow and when the trail started reaching for the crest and away from the river we reevaluated.

Soft snow fields filled in the gaps of pickup stick trees – piles of them in all directions had fallen after a long-ago fire. The going looked to be a long sufferfest of postholing to that high spring, and Kirk and I looked at each other, not really wanting to put forth the effort after all. We had both arrived at this month off tired and burnt out. There had been a lot to do at work to ready for being gone for a month, and endless logistics to figure out for this trip (packing 30 days of food for two people being one detail), and now that we were here, the exhaustion had a chance to settle in.

“Nah,” we said. “Close enough.”

It’s completely hilarious to me that we bailed on the source-to-mouth thing on day one, but it also seemed quite fitting. Kirk doesn’t have the thru-hiker mentality like I do, and besides, he was here to paddle. “Let’s not take ourselves too seriously,” I thought. We were here to have a fun adventure together, and this was just the first day. (As luck, or good decisions, would have it, we missed two other sections of river during that month…our source-to-mouth trip wasn’t to be).

This river keeps her headwaters secretive…for even today as I’m climbing the trail up high and to the crest it looks like an arduous hike to visit that spring, even without the snow. The downed wood makes a gauntlet of the drainage, and I don’t have the effort it takes today either.

I hike in 2.5 miles until I have a view and somewhere flatish to sleep. I wasn’t feeling very mile hungry, and I kept getting stopped by good ideas that I had to write down. I am full of it when I walk…I mean them šŸ˜„



Good night, circles of me and memory. Until the next time.

Circles in the Cascades – Day 2: 16 miles

Photo by Cindy

I woke several times in the night…wouldn’t you know it, my sleeping pad had a leak. The cold ground was sharp enough to rouse me from the depth of the long miles the day before.

But! The stars were stunning and bright. I gazed at the Milky Way and the incredible infinity of the sky above. I tried to put more air into the sleeping pad but I slowly sank to the earth again and again. Drat.

When I finally had enough of the air games, I retrieved my food from the ursack and made coffee in the dark. By the time Cindy rustled herself awake at daybreak I was onto my second cup of hot drink and was reading the latest issue of Harper’s.


Ok, let’s hike! We were in the shadow of Middle Sister for hours this morning, but the air was still relatively warm, no frost yet. The colors were pure fall with carpets of maroon and gold as far as the eye could see. It was the best kind of hiking. I marveled over the difference from the Appalachian Trail…you almost can’t even compare the two trails, they are so different in character and style that it’s not really fair to sit them side by side. I do love the easy-breezy rock-free smooth trail, but my body wasn’t used to striding out…I kept falling behind Cindy and wondered if the steep rocky trail from this summer had caused me to shorten my gate…it was nearly impossible to take long smooth steps this summer….even on the flat bog bridges I had to hike a bit timid so my feet wouldn’t slide out from me on the wet wood (that happened anyway a few times).



When the sun finally hit, we were snacking by obsidian falls and about to enter the lava flow portion of the loop. Somehow a few trees were still able to do their thing, and grew precipitously from the volcanic rock. The air was clear enough to see up to Mt Hood, and we stopped often to take it all in.

My old friend
I had to wear my PCT socks for the occasion.



We were both feeling the miles in the early afternoon…even though I had hiked almost all day through the summer, the month at home and back at a desk had taken its toll, and my legs felt heavier with each mile.

Then back to the burn as we closed the loop on the weekend.



Finally I saw the glint of car through the burned out trees…cars! I do love seeing my vehicle intact at a trailhead, cause, you know, things can happen.

We hugged out our goodbyes and parted ways….Cindy had a long drive home, and I had a date with a tub of lavender scented epson salts.

What a fabulous weekend šŸ„°.

Photo by Cindy

Circles in the Cascades – Day 1: 18.5 miles

I’ve been home a month now, and have been perfectly content to spend most of my days inside, doing inside things.

The arm is still bothersome, but I’ve been to a physical therapist a few times, and a couple sessions of acupuncture has definitely helped me feel almost healed. I have high hope of being able to return to my regular activities, like yoga. (Oh how I miss it!)

So Cindy, my AT 2002 partner, had a permit for the Three Sisters Wilderness (my backyard), and invited me out.

The idea: Circumnavigate North and Middle Sister, a 30-oddish mile route. The weather was looking like the typical clear, warm, fall day that October can reward us with.

The start: We woke up at 5am. Cindy had arrived a few hours earlier from Portland, and I made us egg and cheese bagels while we packed our few last things. Wheels up by 6am, walking by 7:30.



We were eager to talk trail, afterall, it was Cindy’s 20-anniversery for the AT too!

The morning trail necessitated a brisk pace till we warmed up along with the sun. We were walking through a vast burn area that would take the whole morning to get through. We were heading south from Scott Pass Trailhead.



We lunched at the junction with Demeris Lake, and couldn’t resist the pull of treeline and the pass between South and Middle Sister. The lake at the top, camp lake, is apparently at risk of breaching the glacial rock, which forms its swell in the earth, and flooding Sisters. When I worked for Outward Bound we avoided this drainage for liability reasons, so when Cindy and I reached the water, it seemed i might have miss-remembered the whole situation or this was one has-been of a risk.



It was lovely though. It was all so beautiful.

We spent the afternoon sauntering, as much as you can saunter in lose scree fields, stopping for photos and expressions of delight.


The best news of all: we were headed for the PCT to walk the western portion of the loop back up to our cars. My old friend.

I can’t tell you what a psychic boost it is to have the Pacific Crest Trail in my backyard. I know it has had a profound effect on me these almost 15-years I have lived here. All trail all the time.

We worry about finding water for the night after passing several dry creeks, but our rationing fate was sweetly wiped from our brow when we saw the pretty little pond, our hopeful destination for the evening.

There would be no tents tonight…we tucked ourselves into a small clearing above the pond, and lay out our tyvek. Soon we had inflated all the things and surrounded ourselves in down cocoons. The early October air cooled around us as we looked at a small pocket meadow, all golden and shiny in front of us. Contentment. We ate snacks until it was time to lay down.

The best day.

AT 2022 – Day 54: 20.4 miles (615 miles total)

So today I am ready to be done with the hike, which is convinent since it is my last day!

The tent held up overnight, but with each unzipping I was worried the unnatural angle of the broken and splinted pole would stress or tear the zipper or door fabric, so it was a relief to take it all down. These poles will be going in the garbage when I get to town, my tyvek ground cloth too…it has gotten to the point where it picks up a fair amount of the forest floor when I lay it down, and is absorbing water instead of repelling it. On a long hike I like to replace it every few months.

I had wings this morning. I have done a good job at being present on this trip, I had to be to keep from tripping and cracking my skull open on a rock, but today the thoughts of home, Kirk, seeing my parents, and wearing clothes other than my stanky hiking ones was strong. I couldn’t peace out all together though, Vermont’s roots and rocks continued with some additional mud pits thrown in for good measure. This was still New England hiking. And then my feet slid on a wet bog board like it was ice and I went down hard on my left knee. That could have been bad, but somehow it wasn’t, and I kept going.

I made amazing progress and even had time for a nice relaxed lunch under some power lines where I was actually able to feel the sun on my skin (the green tunnel is thick).

When I reached the Massachusetts border I did a little jig, three states completed on my sobo hike!



Then there was a crazy jumble of rocks to contend with as I descended to the town of North Adams, and bugs. Little knats flew in my eyes, near my ears and were all up in my grill the last few miles. No thanks! These bugs were the last straw…I’m done with you AT.

I had called a hotel from a few miles back (thank you technology!) and made plans for them to come pick me up at the hiker kiosk in town. NEMO is coming to pick me up tomorrow, and since I’m down a day earlier than I had planned, I’ll have some time to unwind, shower, do laundry, and be ready for one last hurrah with her, Pouch, and Rewan at their farm before I fly out the next day.

The trail turned into an urban hike as it crossed the valley towards Mt. Greylock, and when I reached the pre-arranged meeting spot, to my delight, found multiple coolers filled with cold drinks and snacks. Wooza! I was so thristy, it was hot in the valley and this was unexpected. A woman stopped by to check on the cache and I met Renee (another Renee!) who trail angels in the area and helps replenish the coolers and takes hikers in occasionally too. She has so much excitement for the AT and hikers, it really was a wonderful bookend to the hike. This community, these people, this trail…it’s larger than life.

I love you Appalachian Trail, but it’s time to go home!

Done!
Cheese balls at the end