Tapping Day

Saturday was tapping day, the day where we tapped more than 100 trees so that we can make maple syrup over the coming weekends.

I’ve decided that tapping day is one of my favorite days of this year. It doesn’t mark the actual start of spring, but it’s the clearest sign that spring is on its way. Tapping day is the beginning of the end of winter—a period of about 6 weeks during which the snow melts and everything that was buried starts to emerge.

I especially liked this tapping day because it was the first time I have been able to really be outside in quite a while. I had a nasty flu and am still recovering weeks later. I could only walk on snowshoes and carry buckets through the woods for so long, but it was a treat to be out and moving.

With the trees running as soon as we tapped them,  it won’t be long before we’ll be carrying buckets full of sap.

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Microadventures

Let’s be honest: adventures are fun and exciting, but they can also be exhausting. There can be a lot of planning involved in launching the adventure. And then, if you really do it right and live it up, you can feel completely exhausted afterward (i.e., the dreaded vacation hangover—when you need a vacation from your vacation!).

But what if you could do smaller, more bite-sized adventures between the 9-to-5 daily grind?

Adventurer Alastair Humphreys proposes one solution: microadventures.

Think of microadventures as the expresso of all adventures Continue reading “Microadventures”

How Little We Go Outside

Where are you right now?

This statistic floored me the first time I heard it: in developed countries, people spend more than 90% of their time indoors. More specifically, North American adults spend about 87% of their time in buildings, 6% in vehicles and only a teensy 7% outdoors.

That’s about 100 minutes outside per day, and when it’s summarized that way, that really doesn’t seem that unusual. I am sure that there are days in the winter where I’m lucky to get outside 10 minutes per day. But it’s still a bit depressing to think that we (or at least I) spend such a measly amount of time outside.

Even more depressing: after crunching the numbers in the late 1980s, scientist Dr. Wayne R. Ott called humans an “indoor species.”

And, for that reason, I made sure to write this article while sitting outside on our porch on a nice summer night.

Last fall, I challenged myself to get outside for at least a half hour every day during the fall. This didn’t include the time spent walking to/from my car or other small trips—it was dedicated nature time. There are some challenges like this, such as the 30×30 Challenge or 30 Days Wild (happening this month!).

But 30 is still a long way from breaking over 100 minutes per day and reversing the trend of moving increasingly indoors—not to mention trying to spend more time outside than in a vehicle.

I’m keeping better track of how much time I get out nowadays, and hopefully developing some good habits that last beyond the nice, summer weather.

What about you? How much time do you spend outside?

Places of 2014

After doing one last year, it seemed crazy not to summarize my travels from the past year—especially since I traveled so much in 2014. I saw a lot of cool places this year, only a small amount of which I ever seem to get write about here.

I often question whether I should blog, but it generally seems worth it when I consider how great it is to have captured so much from the past year, especially given my bad memory and the fact that I accidentally obliterated our photo library this year (oops).

Places I went in 2014

Here’s a list of the trips I took and one or two highlights from each:

Washington (Jan.)
I started off the year with a vacation. One day was seeing big trees on the Olympic Peninsula. The next started with breakfast and Bloody Marys in a train car restaurant followed by snowshoeing up Mount Rainier.

First trip in the forests of the Pacific Northwest: a great excuse for some tree-huggery!

Missouri (Feb.)
In the north, we always laugh about how places farther south shut down from the tiniest amount of snow. This short work trip was a great chance for me to understand why—a teensy amount of rain and snow fell at just the right temperature to create the greasiest driving conditions I’ve ever experienced. I understand now.

Maine (Feb.)
Spending two days in far north Maine was a great introduction to the forests of the area. Also notable was an egg-sausage sandwich I ate where two blueberry muffin tops served the role of bread. How brilliant is that?

Wisconsin (Mar.)
My only visit to my hometown this year. We went pheasant hunting on a friend’s farm, which was a pleasant morning outside. My dad also took on us a drive around the area, where he showed us the two adjacent houses where he grew up (his mom’s and his grandparent’s) and described what it was like in the 1940s and 50s.

fence-row

Massachusetts/New Hampshire (Mar.)
My first big road trip for work in New England that included to first signs of spring in MA (i.e., bare ground) to several feet of snow in the White Mountains of NH.

A notable form of transportation in the snow-covered White Mountains.
A notable form of transportation in the snow-covered White Mountains.

Connecticut/Massachusetts/Vermont/New Hampshire (May)
Another big trip, but mostly it was spring in the Green Mountains. I got to spend a lot of time in the woods for work, talking with various natural resource folks. I also got to stay in an 1880s house with springy floors and old school door latches and eat pancakes with maple syrup.

Minnesota (June)
My friend and I did the canoe triathlon again this year. The course was different due to extremely wet weather and impending thunderstorms, but it was a fun race. The 24-mile bike segment was like a long cyclocross race, where I had to get off my bike to cross a knee-deep stream and several places where the road was covered by water. And I got third place!

Vermont (June)
In Burlington, I borrowed a bike a rode along the shore of Lake Champlain on a gorgeous spring day. It would have been the perfect spring day, were it not for my allergies. I spent lots of time outside as part of a conference for work.

Across Michigan (June/July)
I rode my bike 480 miles in 6 days to my in-law’s house. I saw lots of cool things, but the highlight was the last day of riding on smooth county roads. It was gray and drizzly and I rode fast because I no longer had the hot weather and headwind that had been with me all week. I was completely soaked and completely happy, like a kid stomping in a puddle all day long.

It was nice to kick back and rest along the shores of Lake Superior and Michigan on my bike tour.
It was nice to kick back and rest along the shores of Lake Superior and Michigan on my bike tour.

Downstate Michigan (July)
After the bike trip, we spent a week downstate with family. I have to separate this part of the trip out, if only to mention my birthday, which included both mountain biking and canoeing. Oh yeah, and we went fishing on Lake Michigan on an actual yacht on that trip as well.

Washington, D.C. (Aug.)
A fun trip that popped up for work, allowing my to see one of my best friends and also go on a long-awaited quest to find Teddy Roosevelt Island.

TRI-4
Teddy Roosevelt Island felt like a jungle outside of humid D.C.

New York (Sept.)
The slogan is right: Ithaca is gorges! Notable on this trip was seeing a few waterfalls, climbing a five-story tree house, and eating the best ice cream I had all year.

Taughannock Falls north of Ithaca, NY
Taughannock Falls north of Ithaca, NY

Massachusetts (Sept.)
Another work trip out east. I knew I’d be spending most the time outside, so I made an extra effort to get outside more than normal.

Vermont (Nov.)
My fourth trip to Vermont in 12 months! I climbed Mount Horrid and the Great Cliff because I found the name irresistible.

It was a really big cliff.
It was a really great cliff.

New Hampshire (Dec.)
I was preoccupied with meetings during this trip and didn’t get out much. The furnace broke at the field station where I was staying and I spent two nights pretending I was winter camping.

Maine/New Hampshire/Massachusetts/Connecticut (Dec.)
A whirlwind trip across New England that was definitely a high point of the year for work. We were there for the first snow of the year in Connecticut, and it was beautiful.

Downstate Michigan (Dec.)
The holidays with family, which is always a blast. This was the first year I participated in the family effort to make over 2,000 pounds of Polish sausage for a local fundraiser. And we got outside a bit, even though it was winter. We found some new trails, and it will be fun to visit them in the summer on mountain bikes.

Home Adventures in 2014
It would be silly not to mention at least some of the cool stuff I did at home this year. We made maple syrup with our neighbors, which was a great way to cope with cabin fever. I biked more than ever before, which include two grueling organized rides that included a seemingly never-ending amount of gravel. I learned that trail running is more enjoyable when I go with a friend. I made a point to get out more, especially in the fall, and go on more mini-adventures both with my husband and alone. I even identified all the trees in our woods.

There's cool stuff around home too!
There’s cool stuff around home too!

It’ll be hard for the coming year to top 2014, but I’m sure going to work hard to make sure it does. Happy new year!

Brr! How to Layer Up and Brave the Cold

Colder weather can make it hard to get outside and enjoy being there for any length of time. Fall poses a triple threat: the days get shorter and darker, the weather can be finicky and unpleasant, and there always seem to be a lot of holiday distractions (hello Halloween candy!!). Winter is just plain… winter.

Dressing the right way can make the difference between a cold and miserable experience and being happy as a clam in any condition. Follow these guidelines for dressing up for cold weather and then go get outside.

1. It’s all about the base.

The most important part of getting dressed for any cold-weather activity—except, of course, saunaing—is the base layer that is in contact with your skin. It provides the first layer of insulation, which traps warm air and keeps you comfy. Also important, the base layer is responsible for wicking away any moisture (aka sweat) because any moisture is going to have a tendency to pull heat away from your body and make you feel cold and wet.

There are two things to consider when picking out your base layer, and what you choose on any particular day will depend on the weather as well as what type of activities you plan to do.

Fabric

There’s a saying in the outdoor community community that “cotton kills” because it’s a terrible fabric for keeping warm. Cotton is very absorbent and doesn’t wick, so it will absorb moisture and loose its wicking ability very quickly. Being cold and wet is definitely not fun, and can be dangerous in very cold temperatures. So avoid that cotton union suit, even if it is mighty stylish. Instead, go with long underwear made from synthetic fabrics, wool, or silk.

Stylish? Yes. Ready for the outdoors? No way! (Photo via flickriver.com)
Stylish? Maybe. Ready for the outdoors? No way! (Photo via flickriver.com)

There’s a lot to say on the different fabrics, but pick something based on what you like and have handy, because that will get you out the door the fastest. Polyester-based synthetic fabrics have good wicking properties and are pretty easy to find—it’s likely you already have something in your closet that will fit the bill (think: tights or that free race t-shirt). Just be warned that these fabrics can build up some serious stink over time, so you may want to wash after very use. Wool, meanwhile, is a wonder fabric and manages to insulate without necessarily wicking. Baselayer wool is cozy and soft—not itchy—and will generally outperform synthetics in cold temperatures.

In short: Go for synthetics at higher levels of activity (running, cross-country skiing) or if your base layer might get wet and need to dry and switch to wool when your activity or the temperature drops.

Weight

Base layers come in a variety of weights. While you can get technical on the merits of lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight fabrics, the main idea is that fabric thickness translates to warmth. The trick is to pick something that keeps you warm enough, without roasting with too much clothes on. At higher levels of activity, go for lighter weights to keep from overheating and reduce bulk—you can always layer (more on that in a sec). Cold temps or less activity? Lean to heavier weights.

Socks! Don’t forget that socks, gloves, and hat are a critical part of the base layer, and all the same rules apply!

2. Layer.

If you’re super-active and it’s not too cold out, the base layer may be all that you need. But if it’s not enough, layering is key.

Get out like these Keweenaw runners! (Photo by G. Thanks, G!)
Get out like these Keweenaw runners! (Photo by G. Thanks, G!)

Here’s the obvious-but-brilliant premise of layering: add layers of clothing to add warmth. There’s that insulating/wicking base layer described above. Then there are any number of insulating middle layers. And on top of all that is a protective outer layer that blocks wind, rain, and snow.

Middle Layers

The middle layers provide insulation to trap in heat, so the number and weight of these layers will vary a lot based on season and activity. Go-to middle layers include wool sweaters and fleece. Cotton still isn’t recommended since its a crummy insulator, but it could be decent to use at milder temperatures—for example: a base layer/hoodie/jacket-sandwich for a fall hike. Go with more layers if your activity level will vary or if you’re unsure about what to wear because you can add or remove layers as needed. For sitting in the bitter cold (think: deer blind or ice fishing), go heavy on insulation.

Outer Layer

The outer layer protects everything under it from elements like wind and rain to help keep that warm air inside. At the same time, it ideally lets moisture out so that all that warm, moist air isn’t trapped inside with you. An outer shell can provide the protection that is needed for a variety of conditions. Staying dry in very rainy weather can be a little more difficult because the most waterproof materials also tend to trap a lot of moisture. You may end up feeling a bit hot and muggy under your rain jacket, but you can also reduce the base and middle layers to compensate. In most other conditions, you’re just looking for something to block the majority of the wind and water.

3. Pick your flavor of the day.

Of course, every day is different and it all depends on what you’re going to do and in what kind of conditions you’ll do it in. And if in doubt, go for a greater number of layers so you’ll have ultimate flexibility.

Now quit reading and go get out!

Project Get Out: Week 6

Project Get Out is my personal challenge to spend at least a half hour a day outside for the fall. Because even though I work in natural resources and write about the outdoors, I don’t get out nearly enough.

Let’s just say last week was a bad week.

Monday: Since I was going to be writing about the previous week’s Project Get Out activities, I felt compelled to taking a walk to the lake before I could sit down and write about going outside. It was nice, and as always, totally worth it.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: Fail. Fail. Fail. FAIL!! My attempts to get out this week were a pretty massive failure, especially since I didn’t try that hard. Work was a swirl of craziness in preparation for upcoming meetings and I just couldn’t find the time or energy to make it outside.

This is my typical fall behavior, and exactly the type of thing I’m trying to prevent with this challengeUgh… so typical.

Fall is tough for me. Fall is three months of: colder. darker. colder. darker. colder. darker. colder. darker. And then one day its finally January and the seed catalogs come and everything seems so much better, even if it’s still cold and dark and endlessly snowy. Sure, winter is looooong, but fall is hard.

This is what usually happens, and also is what happened last week: Work gets busy. Or the weather is shit. Or both. So I stay inside and work on other things. And then I do that the next day. And then something comes up on the third day so that I really can’t get outside. And by then, I’m just not motivated to do anything at all.

Saturday: On Saturday I rallied. I relaxed all morning, and then took my bike out in the afternoon for a chilly ride. It was so fun to be riding out on woods roads, enjoying the first snow of the year.

Dirt road and my bike, Grit.
Dirt road and my bike, Grit.
#badselfie

Sunday: I mostly ran errands and relaxed on Sunday, but did take a walk in the evening on the woods road behind out house. The walk wasn’t notable, but it was notable that a bunch of No Trespassing signs went up at a certain point on the road, which means that I can’t go past that point on the road anymore—sad!

Cryptozoology 101: Bigfoot vs. Bears

I love it that Jane Goodall is fascinated by Bigfoot. Lots of other people are too, of course, but her interest really captures my attention. I remember listening to an episode of Science Friday where a scientist laid out some compelling evidence for the existence of Bigfoot, and it gave me that eerie heebie-jeebie feeling as if there was one very close to me, just about to pop out of the bushes. That, combined with Jane Goodall saying “I’m sure they exist.” Jeesh!

Michigan is a big state for Bigfoot sightings via Mystery Casebook.
Michigan is a big state for Bigfoot sightings via Mystery Casebook.

Continue reading “Cryptozoology 101: Bigfoot vs. Bears”