Friday, April 28, 2017

Hawai'i or Bust: Adventure Travel with a Toddler

Summary of our trip:

No fancy adult beverages with a little umbrellas served to me on a tropical beach.

Come on, motherhood hasn't changed me that much. ;-)

kk gets her beverage - also sans little umbrella (i should make an album of epic nursing photos...)
We've been home a month and a half, and if I don't bang out a trip report right now, it's never going to happen. And I really do enjoy looking back and reminiscing about our dumb/ sketchy/ awesome adventures.

So let's do this. Q&A style. No edits or drafts, start to finish, in one take. Ready set go!

So how was Hawai'i?

Type 2 fun, all the way.

Where did you go?

We started on The Big Island. Made a big clockwise arc around the island, going north from Kona to Spencer Beach Park, up to Pololu Valley, down to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park via Hilo, then back to Kona via the Saddle Road and Mauna Kea. We camped at Spencer Beach Park and Namakanipaio campground (outside HVNP).

toddler's first hike!
Yes, we saw lava, from a distance.

what do a toddler and lava have in common?
Next, we went to Kauai. Camped at Salt Pond Park (3 nights), the unfortunately named Camp Slogett in Waimea Canyon (2 nights), Polihale State Park (1 night), Lydgate State Park (1 night).

did you know that kauai is infested with wild chickens? ear plugs not optional.
Overall, we moved around WAY too much. Way, WAY too much. But we definitely enjoyed our rad minivan rental! Can't wait to get myself one of these sweet rides. (Shut up, Tim.)

i probably should not post this online
How were the flights?

To Hawaii: 11 hours. We had an entire row, 6 seats, to ourselves (!). I hit up the dollar store and wrapped up little trinkets in tissue paper; these provided entertainment not just for the plane ride, but for the subsequent car rides, monsoon afternoons (see below), and hours in the backpack carrier. (We are bad parents.)

To New York: 9 hour red-eye. It was rough. I survived it the same way I survived labor and delivery: white knuckles and ruthless badassity. In other words, KK slept in the front-carrier, and I didn't move a muscle for 5+ hours.

at least someone is getting rest, part 1
February must have been a great time of year - escape the Northeastern winter!

The weather was amazing by Upstate NY standards and awful by Hawaiian standards. We spent some time highish up, so it was anywhere from 60-80 during the day to 35-50 at night. Most days had at least a little rain, which was fine... until the day we were stuck in a flipping monsoon, in a tent, with our toddler.

stake down that tent, holy smokes!
Speaking of that toddler, adventure travel with a toddler is HARD (but totally doable). One of us was always on kid duty, and the other was on camp duty, so there wasn't really any rest.

dave on kid duty; i'm on stove duty. yes we cooked all our meals except for 2.
Wait, what do you mean by camp duty? You camped for 2 weeks with your toddler? WTF is wrong with you? Why didn't you stay in a resort or something?

Pitching a tent/ cooking on a Whisperlite/ bathing in the ocean;
I don't know;
they're expensive and more importantly, eww.

Um, so how was camping with a toddler?

Let me preface this by saying: previous to parenthood, we rocked a sub 4-pound ultralight single wall 2-person mini-tent. I cut off the dang handle of my toothbrush and measured the weight of my gear in grams (yes really). I did gear, in the sense that I did as little gear as possible.

The secret to camping with little kids is: embrace the Gear-with-capital-G. Our tent weighs 16 lbs (because it fits a 10-lb queen-sized air mattress, because this is how you get a toddler to sleep in a tent). It has a 6-foot peak height (because you need to stand up straight if you're rocking a baby at stupid o'clock). I am simultaneously mortified to roll into camp rocking such a beast and THRILLED that the toddler has space to play when it's monsooning.

This tent and associated 10-lb queen-sized air mattress are backcountry "mom jeans."

And lemme tell you... once you go elastic waist, you don't go back.

one of us is wearing pants with elastic waist, i'm not telling who
Ok, gimme more details. HOW do you camp with a toddler?


  • Bedshare and breastfeed at night - or the potent cocktail of sleep deprivation and frustration will make you lose your f****** mind. Oh, and everyone in camp will hate your guts because your kid is wailing all night long. Get out the boobs, snuggle up, and doze until the roosters wake everyone up (that's another story).
  • White noise machine. KK sleeps with one at home, and it provided an important source of continuity and routine in camp, as well as muffled the sounds of people laughing/ dogs barking/ music playing. Ours runs on batteries, which we charged in the rental minvan as needed.
  • Accept that you are going to get marginally acceptable sleep. But hey, if you've survived parenthood this long, you're used to that.
  • Also, instant coffee. Because ain't no one got time for the fancy sh!t.
at least someone is getting rest, part 2
  • Just like an adult: a hat on the head is worth two layers on the body.
  • Also just like an adult: "cotton is rotten." Stick with fleece, nylon, polyester. (If you have a daughter, be prepared to dress her "like a boy," or as I prefer to say, "like a boss." The segmentation of "girls" and "boys" activities and associated apparel starts immediately after birth. Initiate feminist rage.)
  • Fleece snowsuit takes the place of a sleeping bag.
  • Watching a camping toddler eat goldfish crackers is like watching a great white shark swim through a school of surfers. It's total carnage and you're going to be finding pieces of goldfish cracker in your sleeping bag for many years to come. Something about the fresh air stimulates the appetite. You can never ever ever have too many packs of goldfish crackers.
  • Clip-on high chair + combo placemat/bowl = ability to feed kid without kid wandering off or eating seagull sh!t off the picnic table.
never underestimate the power of cheddar cheese
  • Don't use cloth diapers. Just don't. Disposables. Really. I don't care how much of a dirty hippy you are, just trust me on this one.
  • Repeat after me: a little dirt never killed anyone, as long as you wash your hands after diaper changes and before eating. No, you are not going to give your kid a bath every night. KK got 2 baths in the 2 weeks we were out. Wipe 'em down with a washcloth and call it a night.
lost one of these sandals around Koke'e. this is why we can't have nice things.


Wait, why didn't you write anything under "Expectations" above?

It deserves a section of its own, because the hardest thing about this trip was managing my/our expectations.

In our 2 weeks, we had 3 hiking days. THREE (3). Those 3 hiking days were all sub-6 mile days. This is, um, not a lot of hiking. Especially for flying nearly 1/3 of the way around the world. And no backcountry nights at all. Buh bye, Kalalau Trail. 

Previous to KK, Dave and I could run ourselves pretty hard. It was NBD to pack up camp, drive a couple hours, slam out a hike, set up camp, and crash - rinse and repeat the next day.

This time, we were dealing with ANOTHER PERSON who had her own feelings, needs, and desires. (IMO, this is the key distinguishing factor between a baby, who would be as obliviously and happily drooling at the North Korean DMZ border as your kitchen table, and a toddler, who is the human equivalent of the Doomsday Clock at 11:59 p.m.).

i have opinions
On this trip, we had to limit our driving to KK's afternoon nap. When we hiked, we needed to take regular breaks so she could scoot around and stick her hands in the mud and play with our noses. We couldn't have dinner at 9:30 p.m. We had to stop for goldfish crackers, diaper changes, more goldfish crackers, another layer of sunscreen, dear heavens why more goldfish crackers. 

moar goldfishhhhhhhh
 We couldn't "just push through."

Not that we didn't try. It blew up in our faces: it was HARD. And then we learned our lesson, regrouped, and continued on. 

My mantra since becoming a mother is: JUST GET OUT THERE. Counterintuitive as it seems, at this point in young KK's life, it actually does not matter if the trail is 6 miles or 0.6 miles. It doesn't matter if I climb 2 pitches or 20, if those pitches are 5.6 or 5.11. Doesn't matter if I'm camping in Hawaii or my backyard.

Children learn what they live. If I wait until KK is old enough/ strong enough/ communicative enough/ potty trained/ whatever to show her there is more to the world than our living room - it's too late. She's enough, just as she is right now. And to be honest, she doesn't know or care for the difference between a desolate beach at the end of the earth and our cozy living room - as long as her loving parents are there with her.

not poop, but would love her even if it were.
Each of her small experiences builds on the previous. If we want to hike 2,659 miles on the PCT as a family 8 years from now, then I need to go hike 3 miles in Danby State Forest with her tomorrow morning so she sees me pee in the woods and knows that is a normal thing that ladies do when they need to go.

So fine: we only hiked 3 days. Fine! We hiked 3 days in an incredibly beautiful and special corner of this One Great Dewdrop - and we did it as a family. Never thought I'd write those words.

hey mom :o)
Dang. That's deep.

Yeah, I would say motherhood is about as deep as it gets.

pele: goddess of fire
polihale: the end of the earth
home: is wherever i'm with you

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Colorado has been on my bucket list forever.  I thought it would be a great place to visit with a baby - not too far away, amazing natural beauty, same language/ culture, not insanely expensive - so when Dave had a tournament outside of Denver this summer, we jumped on the chance to have our first family "vacation."

I put "vacation" in air quotes because this experience involved living out of a van and camping with a teething, non-sleeping baby.  And river baths. One of these days I'm going to get my fancy adult beverage with a little umbrella served to me on a tropical beach...

Where Did We Go?

Due to foul weather and our discovery that car naps are great, we ended up driving way more than intended.  We never planned on visiting the Steamboat Springs area, but it ended up being our favorite place on the trip.

Here's our route:

What Did We Do?

The usual:  camped every night (except for our tournament nights in an AirBnB), hiked many days, lived out of a sweet rented minivan.  Sort of like the soccer mom life... except way dirtier, and less Pinterest.

How Was Camping With A Baby?

Ok, I'll be honest:  the sleep thing was tough.  We tried 6 different night time arrangements (which means at least 6 nights of crappy sleep) before we found something that was even remotely satisfying:  KK on a sleeping pad on her own, KK on a sleeping pad behind a sheet, KK in a cardboard box with the sleeping pad on the bottom, KK in the box draped with a muslin blanket, KK next to Dave on her own sleeping pad, KK next to me on her own sleeping pad.

She and I eventually ended up on a queen-sized air mattress (bonus: nights were in the mid-thirties by that point, so she stayed cozy).  Dave and KK got great sleep, I got borderline acceptable sleep, but we did better overall as a family.

(Then we discovered that KK's Colorado souvenirs would be her first two teeth - that explained at least a little of the crappy nighttime sleep!)

Overall, camping with a baby wasn't much more difficult than camping without a baby.  KK isn't mobile yet, so when we got to camp, we'd plop her down on a sheet to play in the dirt while we set up camp.  She ate what we ate, plus a few easy baby snacks, and nursed more than usual due to teething.  She is very easy to entertain; she was content to tinker around with a small selection of easily packable toys, plus sticks/ stones/ leaves/ pinecones, plus a ton of attention from Mommy and Daddy.

How Was Hiking With A Baby?

Great!  KK does great in her Chariot.  For some reason, she never falls asleep on the way out or up, but she almost always snoozes on the way in or down.

We followed the same principles RE: altitude for a baby as for an adult:  take time to acclimatize, climb high/ sleep low, descend if you feel unwell.  (Babies can't tell you if they feel unwell, so I kept my eyes peeled for any behavioral changes.)  We went to 12,000' with no ill effects.

Even our hike in the cold rain went great.  Again, we followed the same principles for a baby as for an adult:  no cotton, cover your head, layer a weatherproof layer over an insulating layer.

How Was #VanLife With A Baby?

We would have been miserable in our Toyota Matrix. The rented minivan was the way to go, especially with a GINORMOUS wet tent, and cooking all of our meals on our camp stove (= grocery box), and bringing the jogging stroller with us (= naps during the tournament).

How Was Flying With A Baby?

We brought bribery chocolates for the flyers in the rows in front, behind, and to the side of us.

Didn't need them - Little Smiles was thrilled to have 175 new best friends.  She smiled at anyone who would look at her.  I was so worried about her disturbing other passengers that I played with her the entire time, tiring myself out, but really she was fine.

We flew Southwest, which was awesome - we checked 4 bags, plus 2 carry-ons, 2 personal items, a stroller, and a car seat.  The days of hopping on a flight with a toothbrush and my passport are over...

Do It Again?

Oh heck yeah.  We're already planning our next adventure!

Before KK arrived, Dave and I realized that we'd have to start with the basics again.  I would never feel comfortable taking a kid on an international trip focused on outdoor adventure if that kid had never worn a pack or hiked more than a mile.  My hope is that little adventures with a baby will lead to bigger adventures with an older child.

I also want to introduce KK to the woods when she's very young to normalize the presence of girls in the backcountry.  If she decides that she no longer wants to accompany Dave and I when she's older and can make her own decisions, that's just fine (really!).  But if we wait to introduce her to the outdoors once she is aware that world is dominated by boys and men, the likelihood that she'll ever feel comfortable there is certainly diminished.  And that would be a shame, because then she'd miss places like this:


And this!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Next Chapter (For This Blog)

I'm still not sure how much I want to share publicly about my family life.  On the one hand, my child deserves the right to privacy and anonymity until she's old enough to decide what to share for herself.  But it's difficult (impossible?) to talk about life in early motherhood without mentioning your kid.

I wish I knew more mothers who hike, camp, climb, and travel with their babies.  Real-life friends are the best (swap belays between breastfeeding, anyone?), but even stories from the virtual world could be a source of learning, solidarity, and connection.

So I'm going to share just a little.  From my perspective only - not speaking for my daughter.  Using one of her nicknames, "Kick-Kick" or KK, instead of her real name.  Adding a watermark to any photo in which she appears, so the photo can't be re- or misappropriated.

Most importantly, remembering that I am a parent in real-time for my daughter, not for this blog, or for an online photo album, or for social media.

(Though I will always believe you can never have too many baby pictures!)

the climber's DIY baby swing:  rope, trad draw, 2 biners, and a pull-up bar
(bicep pullups, not diaper pullups)
(baby not included)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to Adjust the "Mountain Mama" Harness

This pregnancy, I used a borrowed "Mountain Mama" harness by Mad Rock, a.k.a. The Strangulator.  Learning how to fit it to my body required looots of trial and error.

Eventually, I figured out that I need two adjustment settings:  one for belaying and one for climbing.

Hopefully this beta will help some other pregnant climber out there.  :o)

To belay comfortably, loosen the strap directly above your hip so the tie-in point is high and looser at your breastbone, with the red belay loops close together.  Also, don't belay (toprope) climbers that are significantly larger than you are, as this adjustment transfers more pressure to your mid-back, instead of around your legs.

This is the intuitive way to adjust the harness, but it compresses your rib cage and prevents you from raising your legs.  Result:  if climbing, you can't breathe while weighting the harness, and you can't keep your face/ belly off the rock while being lowered.

belaying adjustment
To climb comfortably, cinch the straps directly above your hips down as far as reasonable.  This separates the tie-in points and pulls them low across your belly, but it also transfers more weight to the straps around your legs and lower back.  If I rest or fall, the tie-in point rises to the level of my sternum and doesn't crush the bump.

climbing adjustment
Around 36 weeks, the harness just got too uncomfortable, and I stopped toproping entirely and switched over to gentle bouldering traverses.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Nova Scotia

While Dave was preparing to leave for a 2.5 week mountaineering trip in the Cascades, I decided that he wasn't allowed to have all of the fun - I would have a little adventure of my own.

Destination?  Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Why?  Cheapest flight out of Ithaca to somewhere interesting.

The general plan?  Rent a car, drive somewhere interesting, hike along the way, camp.  No specific itinerary or route, and therefore no reservations.

Of course, I couldn't make it too easy:  no smartphone or GPS for this trip.  I used maps printed on dead trees, questions to friendly passersby, and a healthy dose of serendipity to navigate and plan my next move.  How quaint, eh?

Here are the highlights...

From Halifax, I drove along the southern coast.  This part of the island felt abandoned and overlooked.  I camped at Sheet Harbor and enjoyed the solitude.

Next was Cape Breton Island, and specifically the Cabot Trail, a scenic drive at the northern tip of the island.  I'd read that the hiking was great and the scenery was superb...  but I thought the hiking was over-rated and the scenery was "just nice."

My favorite location was this little fishing harbor on the western coast that wasn't mentioned anywhere in the tourist brochures:  Pleasant Bay.  The easterly winds were so fierce that they were blowing the waves away from shore!

no waves here
I spent less time than I expected on Cape Breton Island and ended up in Pictou, the terminus of the Prince Edward Island ferry.  PEI was never part of the plan, but the ferry was right there, and free going over to PEI.  How could I resist?

Prince Edward Island was beautiful:  agricultural, quaint, rural, colorful.  I spent only one day, driving across the southern part of the island, stopping to see whatever caught my fancy.  A highlight of the trip, and completely unplanned!

point prim
life-changing clam chowder - now i understand!
growing potatoes
From PEI, I checked out Cape Chignecto and its hiking trails at the tip of the Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides.  Once again, the hiking at Cape Chignecto was over-rated, and I stayed for much less time than I had expected.  (Side note:  Cape Chignecto has a 3-4 day coastal backpacking loop that looks very exciting and beautiful, but already my pack's hipbelt is uncomfortable, so that wasn't an option for me on this trip.)

Instead, I continued on to Five Islands and camped at the provincial park there, high on a bluff overlooking the Minas Basin.

not even low tide.  crazy.
I looped around the Bay of Fundy and ended up at another favorite place, Delaps Cove.  The camp steward recommended a silly little walk in the equivalent of a county park here in the States, and for whatever reason, it captured my fancy.  I think this highlights the value of wandering, being open to suggestions, and having no fear of adjusting your plan on the fly.

uh, where's the water?
I also enjoyed a cone of "Privateer's Bounty," vanilla ice cream with salted toffee and black licorice jelly.  That probably didn't hurt my opinion of the area.  :o)

I passed by Kejimkujik National Park and did a few more hikes.  This park is best enjoyed by canoeing or kayaking, but the parts I saw on foot reminded me of the Adirondacks.

Along the southern shore, west of Halifax, I ran into Tourism Central.  The historical town of Lunenburg and the photogenic lighthouse of Peggy's Cove are mentioned in every tourist brochure, and while they are lovely, I passed by many more beautiful villages and lighthouses that were not swarming with people.

peggy's cove from afar - those black dots are people
Also, I can't believe I have written this much with only one photo of a lighthouse.  Seriously, the Nova Scotia coastline is covered with lighthouses.  Here, have another:

ridiculously cute, no?
This was my last solo trip for many years (the thumping in my lower abdomen makes it hard to forget), and that made it very special.  I intended a mostly hiking trip, and because the hikes were short, easy, and somewhat boring, it turned into a mostly road trip.  I'm happy I didn't have a plan and was able to discover places for myself.

Friday, May 29, 2015

46er!!! ...And the Next Adventure

On Saturday, May 23, 2015, I hiked to the top of Nippletop and became an (unofficial) 46er.

However, this trip report begins at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, December 29, 2008. Bear with me: I have a story to tell. It's a tale of adventure, struggle, character - and yes, it's also an old fashioned love story.

So here I am, the baby face of 6.5 years ago: I'm standing in lightly drifting snow, figuring out how to put on my snowshoes, fresh out of their eBay box. I've got my Columbia jacket I've had since college, with its thin fleece lining and non-water-resistant shell, and a pair of my mother's old wool mittens from Sears. The cap is already partially frozen onto my waterbottle. I am drastically under-prepared and dramatically over-excited, because it's Day 1, Mile 1 of my second winter hike ever, and my first High Peak experience.

I'm hiking with two friends and the guy I started dating seriously just a month before. The trail goes straight up, and it takes us 3 hours to go 2 miles because we stop every 1/2 mile. It bitterly cold on the summit, and savage winds make mincemeat of my sad jacket. But just like that, I've hiked my first High Peak.

Cascade Mountain, 12/29/2008
Then my boyfriend reminds me that we're not turning around just yet - there's a second summit "over there." I realize that anyone who hikes 46 of these beasts must be certifiably insane, plus possess powers of stamina, balance, fortitude, and power that I would never have. I was frozen to my core, my knees ached, and the roar of the wind took my breath and left me fearful - and exhilarated. I was so small on that mountain, yes, but I also was something that mattered, someone who could remain standing while the wind roared.

Why did I return to those mountains? Stubbornness? Curiosity? Something to prove? Adrenaline rush? Fear of missing out? A budding love of the wilderness? I don't know, because my first experience was kind of miserable.

But I did return.

Sometimes with friends...

Rocky Peak Ridge, 2/23/2012
Sometimes alone...

Phelps Mountain, 3/3/2013
But usually with that boyfriend. That boyfriend, who took me up the Trap Dike, over Colden, then up the back side of Algonquin to traverse the MacIntyre Range on my first ever backpacking trip. (Let's just say that he was trying to kill me, and if I survived, I'd make a decent girlfriend.)

Algonquin, 8/16/2009
Some of his "adventures" were my misadventures, and especially in the early days, I didn't always love him when we were in the mountains. But as the miles passed under our feet, we learned to work as a team. My developing backcountry skills gave me confidence to voice my opinions and needs. He learned to give appropriate feedback and recognition. And eventually, there were no more misadventures.

We hitched our lives together on the summit of Mt. Marcy, highest point in New York State: a fitting place for our love, born in the wild.

Mt. Marcy, 6/15/2013
Without noticing, I had hiked 28 of the High Peaks and had become one of those certifiably insane hikers who can start a one match fire and who carries a toothbrush without a handle (saves 15 grams!). 28 down, 18 to go - and then I thought I might finish, because what the heck: I, and he, and we were having fun.

Finally: the morning of Saturday, May 23, 2015. Today I finish my 46. I'm hiking with some friends, and of course, my husband. As we gain altitude, I start to see the back side of the Great Range, Haystack there, Colvin and Blake in front - memories from so many miles of trail, each peak an old friend now. Speaking of old friends, those hiking partners from my first High Peak trip are married, with a baby son, and live across the street. It's a bluebird day - reminds me of my wedding day - in fact, there's Marcy.

After 6 years, 4 months, and 25 days, 275 miles, 117,000 feet of elevation gain, 18 distinct trips spanning 27 calendar days, 3 pairs of hiking boots, 50 pounds of trail mix, and an infinite number of black fly bites, I summited at 12:45 p.m.

After 46 of these, there isn't much to say. It was a lovely day, and this adventure was complete.

Of course, the completion of one adventure always marks the start of the next one...

P.S.  Completing the 46 on Nippletop was a total coincidence - but it does make me chuckle.