Making Time for Nature

One of my favorite environmental quotations goes as follows:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive…”  ~Edward Abbey*

These are the words of wisdom I try to remind myself of when I am having a moral crisis over what sort of salad dressing to buy at the grocery store (Plastic vs. Glass??  High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Palm Oil??  Too many decisions!).  While I absolutely want to work as hard as I can to understand and conserve the natural world, I also want to take time to walk around in the woods!  When I am working out in the field, I try and remind myself to stick my toes in the water or gush over a particularly adorable weevil.  This helps keep the balance in my life.  

Lett Lake, Snow Mt. Wilderness Area, 

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job that requires as much outdoor time as mine does.  Heck, even for those of us that work outside, having unstructured outdoor play time is really important.  Remember, just because you are playing, doesn’t mean you aren’t learning or growing.  How do you think kids learn?  Through play, naturally.  Playing in nature, whatever play means to you, is a great first step to exploration, questioning, and eventual understanding.  The question becomes, how do we fit hours into our busy schedules for outdoor recreation and soul-feeding fresh air?  I am currently on a quest to answer this question in my own busy life.  In an effort to make it happen, my partner and I (editor’s note: Meridith and her partner, too!) have committed to hiking once a week every week.  The life experiment is set to run for the summer (May thru August).  For us, there are no rules aside from “get outside and walk!”  I’m hoping to see some new places and explore spaces nearby that I have under appreciated or overlooked.  As of today, we have gone on a walk-about all but one of the weeks we intended! Not bad overall, and we are only getting started! Would you like to get your outdoor adventure one?  Here are my strategies for making it happen!

     
STS Guide to Making Time for Nature

Schedule Your Nature Time
You schedule your classes, your work week, and time to hang out with friends.  As busy people, most of us know that if an activity doesn’t merit a spot in our calendars, it isn’t likely to happen.  So, pick a time and place and pencil in your next outdoor adventure now!  

Multitask (sort of)
Meridith likes to multitask by visiting
 Joshua Tree NP AND looking fabulous.

No, I don’t mean you should be checking your email while you are out on the trail.  I do mean you should make this time do double duty in your life.  Have you been wanting to read that novel, but cannot find the time?  Bring along an audio book and headphones on your next hike. Heck, you can even listen to a sweet science podcast! Have a friend with whom you need to have a life update?  Bring them with you on your evening walk!  Been meaning to find quiet time alone for yourself?  Do a little yoga or meditation by the lake, or, you know, just sit and watch the bugs on the grass.  I think this could be an especially useful tactic for the busy parents in the crowd.  Spend time with your kids and get them tuckered out simultaneously!  Your time in nature can be just nature time, but it can also be friend time, family time, personal development time, or just you time.

Don’t Get Preoccupied with Exercise
I am 100% completely guilty of this sometimes.  I think this is obvious based on my own personal goal to “hike once each week.”  Exercise keeps me centered, and this is often how I multitask my nature time.  And, sure, getting out into nature can be a wonderful way to get some exercise and breath some fresh air.  Is hiking to the top of a mountain superior to driving out to a lake and having a picnic?  I don’t think so.  It really depends on what you like and what you are trying to get out of this time.  Importantly, you can get different things out of nature at different times.  Sometimes it’s a calorie burn and sometimes its a peaceful nap.

Our local spot:  Stebbins Cold Canyon, UC NRS
Think Local
National Parks are amazing, and there is a reason that Ken Burns called them “America’s Best Idea.”  I’m sure Ken would agree that America has had some other really good ideas, like these cookies,(most) of these famous internet cats, and the numerous state and regional parks across the great ol’ US of A.  Just Google “State parks of (your state name here)” and you will be well on your way!  You can also go straight to Google Maps and type in “State Park.”  Don’t forget to do a little internet sleuthing about regional parks, open space areas, land trust zones, wildlife areas, or Bureau of Land Management Areas (BLM Areas).  Meridith and I particularly love finding new BLM areas because these are public lands, meaning when you find one designated for recreation, you can camp for free!  You might find a gem you didn’t even know about within your 20 mile radius.  That is totally within striking distance, even for the most over-committed weekend warrior!    

Expand Your Concept of Nature
Take the suggestion above, and go even further.  Sure, nothing really beats being in a large natural area like a park (national or otherwise).  However, the green belt running through my town is beautiful, and I love walking and running along it.  Does your town have a green belt?  Do you even know what a green belt is?  You can also check out local arboretums and botanical gardens.  Find a local green space and play some Frisbee or lay in the grass!  Don’t get me wrong, if I could, I would be at Olympic National Park every single day, but I can’t.  I can, however, take a walk through the restored riparian area along the local drainage ditch anytime I want.  Even if you live right down the road from some great regional, state, or national parks, I would encourage you to take a little bit of time to explore these non-traditional nature experiences.

Build to Something Bigger
Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I am super goal oriented.  For me, setting a goal encourages me to do things I would never have made time for otherwise.  For example my 10-year goal to see all the US National Parks has resulted in numerous adventures that I’m not sure I would have facilitated otherwise.  Just two weeks ago, our household goal to hike once a week this summer lead us to take a short detour to Point Reyes National Seashore after attending a family graduation.  Giving your everyday actions context in the larger picture of you life gets you jazzed and propels you out the door.  And that, really, is what it’s all about.


**************************************************************

So there you have it! What are your plans for getting outside this summer? Any big outdoor oriented goals you want to share?



*Emphasis is my own

Advertisements

Why Choose Between Hostels and CouchSurfing?

When I arrived in Dublin on Thursday, my plans for the summmer were very loose.  I’d used many styles of accomadation during previous travels and had great experiences with with CouchSurfing and hostels. When planning for this summer, I had a hard time choosing which to rely on. Luckily, since I have three months to travel and I can take my time wherever I go, I don’t have to choose! Before arriving, I had booked two days in Isaac’s Hostel and confirmed two days with a CouchSurfing host. The rest of the summer I would plan as I went. 



As mentioned in my previous post, it is very easy to meet fellow travelers while staying at backpacker’s hostels. KC, SC and I hung around together for the duration of our hostel stays. We explored Chester Beatty Library Museum, a place pointed out to us on our free walking tour, and enjoyed three floors of exhibitions, all containing pieces collected by Chester. Fellow backpackers understand the importance of exploring and eating on the relatively cheap. The museum was a free stop and we had a group ‘dinner’ to prepare our tummies for the night’s pub crawl. Dublin has lots of cheap convenience stores. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be a science geek, you can also unexpectedly lose five or six hours at the Trinity College science gallery. KC and I did as much, resulting in my receiving top accolades in balloon pop guessing and Texas Hold ‘Em. That place is heavily indebted to me for some serious science. I do wish we’d been playing for cash, I was that much of a shark at poker. Plus, our subsequent pub crawl with the hostels would’ve be VIP all the way. Kinder eggs for all.
The boys planned a trip to Galway, but I was set up with a CouchSurfing host so we split up the Dream Team and I went to meet up with Stijn. My luck continued with my host selection, as I ended up with a great guy that involved me in his entire weekend. With him, his CSers are his guests instead of just strangers on the couch. It turned out that Dublin had a pretty active and diverse CS community with some of the friendliest people ever. Stijn and I had both gone out late the night before so we started out with a stroll around Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe. He was quite knowledgable about the area and told me all about the deer wandering about. I’d never seen such color variation in a herd of deer! Once we had some food in us we were able to perk up for a night of fun. Started out at the birthday party for fifty year old Irish twins at a back room of a sushi restaurant with free sushi and a rad DJ. Honestly, I dont know how I can top that event for the rest of my trip. I did mention the free sushi, right? Stijn introduced me to some other CSers and we kept the night going with loads of dancing. 
Depending on your style of travel, quiet days where you spend most of the time at a table eating and drinking tea can be a major advantage of hanging with a CSer over other hostel travelers. Since I have 3 months of traveling, I welcome the occasional low key day. Plus, a nice meal and tea is tops after a late night. I even splurged on what ended up being an adorable and delicious chocolate mousse dessert served in a baby Guinness glass! Seriously, look at that picture and tell me that isn’t the cure to anything that ails ya. 

Another big advantage of a local host is their knowledge of events around town. Yea you can ask the front desk at the hostel for recommendations, but often they have a select list of places/tours/events that they promote. My host knew about a FREE comedy show in the basement of a pub. One that I’d actually eaten in with KC and SC (Stag’s Head). We got there just in time to snag some of the last seats right up front, just to the side of the stage. Not only are there five acts for no charge, but they also handed out chocolate candy treats during intermission. Allegedly, they usually pass out ice creams. I highly recommend trying to hit up a show there on a Sunday or Monday evening. I had actually planning on leaving the next day, but Stijn told me about a group that was heading to Dun Laoghaire for a day by the seaside. He graciously agreed to let me stay an extra night and got me all of the information I’d need for the next day’s event. It turned out to be a fantasticly sunny day, perfect for the trip. There were a few people from the previous nights out in attendance, but loads more new faces that were eager to be friends. I was not actually brave enough to jump into the water, but a handful of the group actually went in. When there are swimmers wearing thick wetsuits to get in, thats usually my cue to simply enjoy the view. 
All in all, I think I saw most of what I wanted to see around Dublin. The two approaches both covered some really fantastic experiences and I definitely want to keep up with my trend of exploring different areas with travelers and locals. It also seems like the weekends are the best time to hit up a CSing host, as they are usually free from work to show you around and the hostels are sometimes pricier then. Next stop, Belfast!

In My Pack: (3 Month) Summer European Adventures

I’m just one sleep from waving farewell to Louisville at the bus station and starting my long journey to get to my long journey. For anyone just now tuning in, I am spending 90 days traveling around different European countries by myself. I have a very, very basic itinerary, a Euro Railpass, and whatever fits into my backpacker’s pack. During my three months traveling around Europe I’ll need a variety of clothing options. Chilly days are still a threat even in the middle of summer.

Flight between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
That may or may not be ketchup wrapped in plastic for my
scared vegetarian in Africa ways. 

The closest I’ve come to needing to prepare for a trip of this magnitude was my month adventure around South Africa in 2008. I spent 4 weeks split between road tripping along the Garden Route and studying abroad with a group from my university, learning about local Wildlife Management practices.

Last summer, Rachel and I had the luxury of an entire car’s worth of space to cram in everything we could possibly hope to never need and then some. We had an entire bin full of our clothes. Another, even larger, with nearly all the food we’d eat the entire trip. Thanks, Sam’s Club! Not to mention, camping gear, computers, our letter writing box, gifts we bought along the way, etc. I honestly think at one point we just walked around my house in New Mexico grabbing whatever we wanted to toss in. SO MUCH SPACE!

Both trips, I surely over packed, but we went everywhere by rental car or vans, so I didn’t really have to lug everything around regularly. For this trip everything needs to fit onto my Gregory backpack. I’m unfortunately not sure of the model or even size. I bought it a few years ago at a local shop’s sale and did very little research (other than asking the sales man which fit me best). I’ve used it a few times and had no complaints.

I’ll have to report back at the end of my trip on the quality of my packing choices, so by no means is this current list a recommendation of any sorts. I did however check out several other travel bloggers for inspiration: Her Packing List, A Dangerous Business, Travel Fashion Girl. Luckily, since I am so used to packing for research/camping related trips, I am not disappointed by the lack of space for super cute clothes.

Without much further adieu, here is what is coming with me in my Gregory backpack for three months and an unknown number of countries across Europe!

I’ve already removed a pair of shorts from this original
selection. What else won’t make the cut?

Clothing

  • 2 bras – black/nude
  • 1 sports bra
  • 6 undies
  • 2 pairs wool socks
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair zip-off hiking pants
  • 3 shorts (1 for sleeping & hiking)
  • 5 tshirts (+3 for passing out to Gold Star Hosts)
  • 1 tanktop
  • 1 button up flannel (my token Adventure Shirt!)
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 handkerchief
  • 1 leggings
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 monokini
  • 1 dress
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 pair base layers – leggings and undershirt
  • 1 pair gloves and warm hat
Shoes
  • hiking shoes
  • chacos
  • I told myself that makeup was the last thing to go into my
    toiletries bag IF there was room. There was! This is all I’m taking.
    Already don’t wear makeup daily, but I like options.
  • extra shoe laces

Gear  (Bold Kept in Day Pack)

  • ipad (and keyboard)
  • camera
  • water purifier
  • chargers
  • dry sack
  • compression sacks
  • camping stove
  • mess kit (full or 1/2?)
  • pen & sharpie
  • money belt (mostly for organization)
  • wallet
  • nalgene, insert, and cover
  • travel tea things
  • sleeping bag
  • tent (backpacking style)
  • sleeping pad?
  • travel towel
  • head lamps
  • sun glasses
  • deck of cards
  • lock
  • leatherman
  • REI green day sack
  • First Aid Kit
  • Nifty Business Cards
  • Plug adapter
  • French and German phrasebooks 
  • headphones
This is slightly smaller than a TicTac box.
All my hair do-dads. Hair ties, bobby pins, and 2 clips.

Toiletries

  • toothbrush
  • Dr. Bronners
  • diva cup
  • razor? 
  • make up
  • hair things
  • wet wipes
  • mini hair brush
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Contacts and solution
  • Glasses and case

Important Papers – and copies of all!

  • passport
  • flight itinerary
  • bank statement
  • travel insurance papers
  • Railpass 
  • SCUBA cert papers
  • Kentucky for Kentucky and WHY Louisville Stickers (also for Gold Star Hosts/New Friends)
My two bags all ready to go!

The entire time I was organizing and making/moving piles around in my room it seemed like I was packing SO MUCH. But now that I’ve gotten everything in my big pack and day pack, I have extra space in both! And it’ll lighten as I use things and give away a few shirts. I consulted a few trusted friends and you’ll notice that several item did NOT make the final cut. Others I just added moments ago. 

I’m also bringing the book I’m nearly finished with, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, on the bus so I can get that finished and sent off to Rachel. We started it together last summer during our travels and I’ve been hogging it! Also an extra envelope and some paper because I owe a letter to one of my pen pals (and previous CouchSurfing host!).

Question of the Day:
What do you think of my packing job? Should I chuck anything out? Did I forget anything? You’ve got 2 days!






As a sidenote, the majority of my future blog posts will be typed/posted from my iPad. The blogging app has improved lots, but still doesn’t lend itself for much in the way of photo arrangement. I’m also not sure if there’s a spell check. I’m secretly a horrid speller. Hope you can excuse some less than perfect posts. I’ll be going back and prettying them up as I am able. I appreciate you, gentle reader!