My Own Private Idaho

Into the Sawtooths!

If this country has a hidden gem it must be Idaho

I have this theory that hiking uphill isn’t any more tiring than hiking on flat ground. Uphill takes a different set of muscles, but once your “ups” are in shape, you should be able to climb as readily as strolling. I’ve been trying to convince myself of this idea for years and after a decade of daily hikes, I’m beginning to believe it. Driving west from the Tetons through Victor and Driggs, I decided to test my theory on Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho and one of the steepest hikes around.

Home sweet home at Borah Peak

Home sweet home at Borah Peak

The trail up Borah Peak gains over 5,300 feet of elevation in under 3.5 miles up to the summit at 12,662 feet. That’s steeeeeeeep! No switchbacks. The narrow, rocky path just arrows straight up the mountain. I camped at the trailhead the night before and got some disappointing beta from a woman coming down the mountain with her golden retriever: the crux at Chicken Out Ridge wasn’t passable to dogs. Having left Dio in the camper for my last big hike at Death Canyon (which is in Tetons National Park, no dogs allowed) I didn’t want to leave him behind again. So I decided to do it anyway, with Dio, and deal with the dog unfriendly obstacle when I got up there. If I couldn’t summit, then oh well, I’d still enjoy the hike.

The way up Borah Peak gains 5,300 feet of elevation in under 3.5 miles. That's steeeeeep!

The way up Borah Peak.

At 4am, I was awoken by a gaggle of boy scouts assembling right outside my trailer, getting ready to head up the mountain. When I got up at 6 another gaggle of women was gathered at the trailhead. Apparently Borah is a popular group hike. The ladies invited me to join them but I declined. I’m not one for hiking in herds. I took Bowie for an easy stroll around the base of the mountain, fed him breakfast, got him settled back in the trailer (he’s not a morning dog and he’s usually more than happy to go back to bed) and Dio and I headed up by 6:30.

Right from the start, the trail was steep and I spent the first half mile visualizing away the dull early morning ache out of my legs, the burn sifting down to my feet and out my soles, leaving an invisible trail of fatigued particles in my wake. My legs felt stronger with every step and soon I was cruising. I’m not really a fast hiker, just a smooth and steady one; I seldom need to rest. The path was so steep that my heels rarely touched the ground, my toes and arches carrying all my weight up the mountain, a precarious position, and yet it felt so good. I soon caught up to the group of women and left them behind, puffing in my wake. Not everybody subscribes to my uphill theory.

Dio chickening out on Chicken Out Ridge

Dio chickening out on Chicken Out Ridge

We passed maybe a dozen straggling boyscouts on the way up the flank of the mountain and then caught the whole troop just below Chicken Out Ridge, a steep, narrow class 3 section just before the final ridge line to the summit. The kids were nervous and the ridge reeked of fear. Dio caught the scent and started fretting and shaking, despite the warming sun. I scouted out the class 3 section above and found it hand-over-foot steep, with deadly drop offs on both sides. I can handle exposure but I wasn’t going to make Dio do it if he didn’t want to. Looking back at him, crouched nervously on a ledge, I said, “Do you want to go down?” and he turned back down the trail, tail wagging in relief, decision made. Dogs don’t get summit fever. To them, the sides of mountains are just as intriguing as the tops.

On our way back down Borah

On our way back down Borah

If the ridge had been quiet, I could have laid down my jacket and poured a bowl of water and told Dio to wait there for me – he’s very used to waiting for me at the bottom of rock walls while I’m climbing – but I wasn’t going to leave him untended with so many people coming up the mountain. So I took a good long look at the final half-mile to the summit, savoring the enticing upward pull and then turned downhill. Once I was safely past the scouts I started skating down the mountain, giving in to gravity, balancing on the outside edges of my heels like a downhill skier, my stabilizers pushed to their limits, my legs strong and sure. Uphill I cruise, downhill I fly.

The Lost River Range from the flank of Borah Peak

The Lost River Range from the flank of Borah Peak

Borah Peak isn’t going anywhere and I’m sure I’ll take another dog-free crack at it someday. Ultimately, I think it was a good exercise for me to turn back from a summit I knew I had in the bag. Dio’s right: To really love the mountains you have to love the sides too, not just the tops.

First look at the Sawtooths coming into Stanley, ID

First look at the Sawtooths coming into Stanley, ID

From Borah I headed west into the Sawtooth Mountains. I camped near Stanley at a sweet free site and took an easy evening stroll with both dogs up Iron Creek to the wilderness boundary. The next morning was drizzly and misty, but I’m a firm believer that there’s no bad weather, only bad gear. I suited up in my raingear and Dio and I hiked up Iron Creek to Sawtooth Lake. I had my eye on Alpine Peak, a class 2-3 scramble, but I wasn’t going to tackle that much loose scree in the rain. Sometimes, in the mountains, you have to be satisfied to just look up at the summits and scheme for another day.

Heading into the Sawtooth Wilderness on the Iron Creek trail

Heading into the Sawtooth Wilderness on the Iron Creek trail

The Sawtooths! I see how they got the name.

The Sawtooths! I see how they got the name.

Spring melt along the trail to Sawtooth Lake

Spring melt along the trail to Sawtooth Lake

Thirsty D.O.G.

Thirsty D.O.G.

Nice backcountry campsite at Sawtooth Lake

Nice backcountry campsite at Sawtooth Lake

All raingeared up! Remember, there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.

All raingeared up! Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. That’s Alpine Peak behind me.

Sawtooth Lake, Alpine Peak & Wildflowers

Sawtooth Lake, Alpine Peak & Wildflowers

Self Portrait at Sawtooth Lake

Sawtooth Self Portrait

On to Oregon!

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 10 Comments

With A Name Like Death Canyon…

With a name like Death Canyon

Death Canyon in the Grand Tetons

Park rangers are one of my favorite resources for hiking tips when I’m on the road. At the Climbing Festival in Lander I met a ranger from the Grand Tetons and asked him to name his favorite hike. Death Canyon, he said, “Don’t let the name scare you away.” So when I rolled back through Jackson after my two week long loop through the Wind Rivers, I parked the dogs in the trailer for the morning and headed up Death Canyon to the Alaskan Basin.

Exactly what you want to see at the start of a hike into Death Canyon. I had my bear spray handy and made plenty of noise as I hiked.

Exactly what you want to see at the start of a hike into Death Canyon.

Oh boy.

Oh boy.

Phelps Lake

Phelps Lake

The trail lost about 1,000 feet of elevation down to Phelps Lake and then began climbing back up into the canyon.

The trail lost about 1,000 feet of elevation down to Phelps Lake and then began climbing back up into the canyon along Fox Creek.

Trail running along a narrow rocky ledge

Trail running along a narrow rocky ledge

Nice Gneiss!

Nice Gneiss!

Gneissic bands underfoot. Formed under high temp and pressure during metamorphosis.

Gneissic bands underfoot. Formed under high temp and pressure during metamorphosis.

Fox Creek

Fox Creek

If I were a moose I'd live here.

If I were a moose I’d live here.

Sure enough, a moose! Most polite moose I've ever seen. She stayed on her side of the river and I stayed on mine.

Sure enough, a moose! Most polite moose I’ve ever seen. She stayed on her side of the river and I stayed on mine.

Another moose! This place is lousy with them.

Another moose! This place is lousy with them.

Old forest service cabin at the junction of the Fox Creek and Alaska Basin trails

Old forest service cabin at the junction of the Fox Creek and Alaska Basin trails

Charming.

Charming. Please Leave No Trace! 

U.S.N.P.S.

U.S.N.P.S.

Death Canyon, indeed. Part of a rock squirrel/ marmot-type creature.

Death Canyon, indeed. Part of a rock squirrel/ marmot-type creature.

The Snag Crag, where a couple of friends of mine were climbing. I tried to find them up on the wall, but couldn't spot them.

The Snaz, where a couple of friends of mine were climbing. I tried to find them up on the wall, but couldn’t spot them. That’s a lotta rock up there.

This guy was upside down on the trail and I assumed dead, but I picked him up and he flapped his wings a bit and dusted himself off and flew away.

This guy was upside down on the trail and I assumed dead, but I picked him up and he flapped his wings a bit and dusted himself off and flew away.

This was my second hike in the Tetons. To see pix from my trek up Casacade Canyon click here. Now, on to Idaho!

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 14 Comments

EARTH Magazine: Crowd-Funding Science!

The August issue of EARTH with my feature on the cover!

The August issue of EARTH with my feature on the cover!

As many of you know, I don’t just write for fun. This is also how I make my living! If you’re curious about my science writing, my latest feature story for EARTH magazine – on scientists using crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter to fund research projects – just went live. Read about how these savvy scientists are avoiding the traditional grant grind by raising money for research projects using Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms. This story makes me want run my own Kickstarter campaign!

Crowdfunding platforms are ripe for fostering more communication between scientists and the general public, says Jai Ranganathan, a co-founder of SciFundChallenge.org, an organization that trains and encourages scientists to engage in crowdfunding through the platform RocketHub.com.

“Our interest in crowdfunding really came from our mission to close the gap between scientists and society. You can’t do crowdfunding unless you’re willing to engage with the public. Any cash generated comes second to the public outreach aspect, which is really priceless,” he says.

Surveys conducted by the National Science Foundation show that the American public generally has a positive view of science, but that scientific literacy — defined as “a good understanding of basic scientific terms, concepts, and facts; an ability to comprehend how science generates and assesses evidence; and a capacity to distinguish science from pseudoscience” — is low overall. For example, less than a third of Americans surveyed responded correctly to questions about how scientific experiments are conducted with controls and variables, with nearly 20 percent failing all the questions.

“The goal is a better understanding about how science works — the scientific method and the process of discovery,” Ranganathan says. “If people follow a scientist over the course of a year, they’ll see how scientific discovery happens and hopefully be able to better recognize junk science.”

To read the rest, click over to EARTH’s website.

 

Posted in Science Writing, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Ask the Blonde Coyote: Where the Heck is the Bathroom?!

Home sweet home at Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho

Home sweet home at Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my free living success.

Wilderness trumps wifi any day.

Wilderness trumps wifi any day.

My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote: Hey Blonde Coyote, I love your trailer but where the heck is the bathroom?!

A bathroom is not a problem. This is a problem.

A bathroom is not a problem. This is a problem. Actually, it was fine. When camping in grizz country, I take everything out of the kitchen and put it all in the Rover at night. It takes me about five minutes and I sleep much more soundly. I’ve never had a problem with bears camping, but my Subaru was once ransacked by a family of raccoons. What a mess!

This is one of the most common questions I get about the trailer. There is no bathroom. Actually, Egon gave me a bucket, but I’ve never used it for that purpose; I use it to store random things like plastic bags, my extension cord and laundry detergent. I was a backpacker long before I was a road tripper and digging a “cat hole” has never been a big deal for me. In fact, I find it way more sanitary than pit toilets and most public restrooms.

When boondocking, it’s essential to practice Leave No Trace principals. There’s nothing worse than pulling up to a sweet free campsite and finding feces and toilet paper in the bushes! Cat holes should be dug at least 200 feet from water, trails or campsites. Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep – I keep a garden trowel in that bucket for this purpose – and do your business (hovering is good for the legs!) then rebury the hole. I always pack out my toilet paper by wrapping it in tight wads with clean tp and sealing the wad in a plastic bag. You can read more about the proper LNT waste disposal procedure here. My previous post on Leave No Trace boondocking is here.

Misty morning hike near Granite Creek in western Wyoming

Misty morning hike near Granite Creek in western Wyoming

Hello, I stumbled upon your blog recently after I caught the wanderlust bug. I plan to live on the road/camping around the US (as you do) for a year after I return from the Navy. I was wondering what you do for hygiene. Do you rinse off in creeks? Have a portable shower? Or save bathing for when you stay in a hotel room?

The short answer is: none of the above. Most RV parks will sell showers for around $5 and a lot of towns, especially mountain towns, have a YMCA/ rec center/ public pool. I rarely have a problem finding a shower and usually get one every 3-4 days. My longest stretch without one on the road was 11 days in southern Utah and that $3 shower at the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab was a downright religious experience.

I do often wash up in creeks, especially my feet and lower legs, which are always filthy and I never turn down a hot springs soak. I will sometimes take a hot water sponge bath in the trailer if I’m feeling icky, but I have way too much hair to wash in a solar shower. Fortunately, the nice thing about having really long hair is that I don’t need to wash it very often. Once a week is fine and my hair is healthier for it.

Granite Hot Springs in western Wyoming

Granite Hot Springs in western Wyoming

What’s the best way that you have found to do laundry on the road? I don’t plan on using laundry mats at all. My thinking so far is a bucket with a screw on lid and let it soak on the way to the next destination. Stopping at a rest area sink for rinsing. And hanging on a line at camp to dry.

I guess that might work, but it sounds like a lot of work and a potential mess. I do laundry at a laundromat every two weeks or so, usually on the weekend when all the weekend warriors are clogging up the trails. I can wash almost everything, including bedding, in two loads so it’s not that expensive. I don’t own anything white, delicate or high-maintenance and it all gets washed on warm or hot. Last year for Christmas, some friends gave me a Scrubba wash bag, which can wash a few items at a time using very little water. I’ve been using it in between laundry days for socks and shorts, and it works very well.

Got a question for me? You can email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com.

Posted in Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 10 Comments

On Belay? Belay On. Climbing! Climb On! Getting Vertical at the International Climbers’ Festival!

Try. Hard.

Try. Hard.

As a life-long lover of rocks, it surprises me that it took me so long to start climbing them. I first got into climbing in grad school in Baltimore, where daily sessions at the indoor climbing gym kept me fit and sane in the midst of too much concrete. Six years later, I have yet to find a climbing partner as reliable as my friend Sarah, who traded belays with me almost everyday in those months I spent in the city. Sarah and I bonded on an absurd descent of a big volcano in Ecuador and we still meet up for adventures, despite living on opposite sides of the country.

Two-fingered pull up

Two-fingered one-armed pull up

On the road, finding trustworthy climbing partners can be tricky. When you climb with somebody, you’re literally putting your life in their hands and taking theirs in yours. It’s not an exchange to be taken lightly. Fortunately, it takes at least two to climb (unless you’re a free soloist like Alex Honnold) and climbers tend to be friendly folk, open to making new connections. This summer I’ve had a few fantastic climbing days, thanks to the generosity of complete strangers who invited me onto their ropes. Every time I climb, I want more; it’s addicting. After a fantastic session at Idaho’s legendary granite crag City of Rocks, I decided to head back east to the International Climbing Festival in Lander, Wyoming, in hopes of getting a thorough vertical fix.

Me on the wall at Wild Iris

Me on the wall at Wild Iris

The Wild Iris crag near Lander is an ancient coral reef riddled with zillions of pockets for hands, fingers and toes, making for some of the most diverse and most challenging climbing routes in the world. I’m a pretty good climber, but Lander attracts some of the best. At the 4-day festival, I met a lot of fantastic people – including some of my climbing heroes like Lynn Hill, Alex Honnnold and Conrad Anker – and made it up quite a few routes, but the highlight was definitely watching these two brothers, Cameron and Jonathan Hörst, ages 13 and 11, who are climbing at the very top levels of the sport. They also happen to be from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, not far from where I grew up in Strasburg.

These boys have been nicknamed the Send Brothers for their incredible abilities to "send" i.e. climb almost any rock face.

These boys have been nicknamed the Send Brothers for their incredible abilities to “send” i.e. climb almost any rock face. They are both sponsored athletes and spend the summers on the road with their parents, traveling to world-class climbing crags.

Cameron ties in

Cameron ties in. Raised by two climbing parents, these boys have been climbing since they could walk.

Boots on

Rock shoes on

Cameron chalks up.

Cameron chalks up. Chalk helps improve fingertip grip on the rock.

And shakes out

And shakes out. The tattoo on his arm is a temporary tattoo that served as our “ticket” to the festival events. Much better than wearing a wrist band!

And starts up the rock with his dad belaying

Starting up the rock with his dad belaying. This is a 5.14 route, an insanely hard grade.

The holds are so tiny that he's all but levitating up this rock face

The holds are so tiny that he’s all but levitating up this rock face

Clipping into the the first bolt

Clipping into the a bolt while holding on with two fingers and just the tips of his toes.

Jonathan discussing the route with his dad

Father & Son. Jonathan discussing the route with his dad

Jonathan gets ready

Jonathan getting ready

Jonathan on "Young Rider" a 5.13a route at Wild Iris

Jonathan on “Young Rider” a 5.13a route at Wild Iris

Pulling a move only an 11 year old with an insane strength to weight ratio could make

Pulling a move only an 11 year old with a superhuman strength-to-weight ratio could make

Fingertips

Two fingertips on the coral reef. Nothing like climbing at the bottom of the ocean on top of a mountain!

Kids these days! :) Now back to Idaho and then on to Oregon!

Posted in Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 8 Comments

Into the Wind Rivers: Part 2

Granite Wonderland D.O.G.

Granite Wonderland D.O.G.

The Wind River range in west central Wyoming has long been one of my fantasy places. It seems like every time I see a stunning photograph in a magazine and wonder “where is that?!” it’s always the Winds.

The Photographer at Photographer's Point

The Photographer at Photographer’s Point

The Winds were so spectacular, I’ve already forgotten the swarm of mosquitoes that escorted me along this 12-mile day hike to Photographer’s Point from the Elkhart Basin trailhead near Pinedale. Fortunately, for whatever reason, the pesks weren’t really biting, just swirling. The only thing I hate more than bug bites is bug spray so my mosquito remedy is just to keep moving. Those little bastards top out around 2 miles per hour so I swing along at 3 and call it a truce. :)

Into the Winds

Into the Winds

Roots & Rock

Roots & Rock

The Tree Abides

The Tree Abides

Spring in the Winds

Spring in the Winds

Wind Rivers Cabin Ruins

Wind Rivers Cabin Ruins

Dio in his happy place

Dio in his happy place

Sky Lake D.O.G.

Sky Lake D.O.G.

Our first glimpse of the granite wonderland

Our first glimpse of the granite wonderland

Self Portrait at Photographer's Point

Self Portrait at Photographer’s Point

The Wind Rivers from Photographer's Point

The Wind Rivers from Photographer’s Point

For part 1 on the Wind Rivers click here. Stay tuned for a post from the International Climbers’ Festival in Lander, Wyoming!

 

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Into the Wind Rivers: Part 1

Granite Wonderland D.O.G.

Granite Wonderland D.O.G.

The Wind River range in west central Wyoming has long been one of my fantasy places. It seems like every time I see a stunning photograph in a magazine and wonder “where is that?!” it’s always the Winds.

The Photographer at Photographer's Point

The Photographer at Photographer’s Point

The Wind Rivers did not disappoint but the visit was somewhat bittersweet; I so longed to shoulder my backpack and disappear into those mountains for a few days, but my older dog Bowie just isn’t up to long hikes anymore. For his age, he’s in great health, excellent shape and high spirits. He has almost no grey and you’d never guess he’s 11 – he’s certainly not counting – but he’s slow and gets sore after a few miles and is easily dehydrated. At a burly 85 pounds, he’s 2/3 of my weight and I’d have a hell of a time evacuating him if he had some sort of geriatric crisis.

I so want to keep walking thataway!

I so want to keep hiking thataway!

Entering the Fitz Wilderness near Dubois

Entering the Fitzpatrick Wilderness

Wind Rivers Bouquet

Wind Rivers Bouquet

A beautiful cairn. Pink limestone and orange lichen

A beautiful cairn. Pink limestone and orange lichen

Trail marker on the way up Whiskey Peak

Trail marker on the way up Whiskey Peak

When I adopted Bowie ten years ago, the summer before my senior year of college, he was a yearling ball of manic energy and draining his bottomless reservoir is what got me into hiking and backpacking. In a decade of daily walks, Bowie and I have traveled thousands of miles together in 49 states (he missed out on Hawaii) and the thought of not having him panting at my heels is heart wrenching.

D.O.G. on the summit of Whiskey Peak- 11,157 feet

D.O.G. on the summit of Whiskey Peak- 11,157 feet

Tumbledown

Tumbledown

Ahh the Winds!

Ahh the Winds!

It’s hard watching him slow down, but I’m determined to give him a graceful retirement. He’s not up for long hikes, but he loves a good mosey where he can stay in the shade and wade in the water and follow his nose, usually towards something disgusting. At least once a day, he likes a thorough roll in long grass, something he’s enjoyed since his wild puppy days. After all these years, his antics still make me laugh and before he somersaults onto his back, he always checks to make sure I’m watching.

At Lake Louise

At Lake Louise

Tricky finding a route down to the water with all the steep granite walls!

Tricky finding a route down to the water with all the steep granite walls!

Nice Gneiss!

Nice Gneiss!

Bowie’s declining but I’m as strong as I’ve ever been and my mountain legs love a lot of miles. As does my 6 year old former wild dog Dio; we’re hiking junkies, he and I. Anything under five miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain is a tease, a warm-up. So I’ve been leaving Bowie in his climate controlled, memory-foam equipped, rolling dog house while Dio and I set off on epic day hikes, powering through double-digit miles.

Torrey Creek.Only in Wyoming would this raging torrent be called a mere creek.

Torrey Creek.Only in Wyoming would this raging torrent be called a mere creek.

Self Portrait with Torrey Creek

Self Portrait with Torrey Creek

In three day-long hikes, we hiked nearly 30 miles in the Winds to Lake Louise and Whiskey Mountain from the Torrey Creek trailhead near Dubois and to Photographer’s Point from the Elkhart trailhead near Pinedale. All those miles and we barely scratched the surface of that glacially-carved granite wonderland. Oh well, there’s a time and place for everything. Someday, I’ll be back! Too many photos for one post. Stay tuned for part two from Photographer’s Point…

Granite Basin, Lake Louise

Granite Basin, Lake Louise

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

The Blonde Coyote in the Guardian: Top Ten Parks in Oregon!

Old Growth Trees at Mary's Peak in the Oregon Coast Range

Old Growth Trees at Mary’s Peak in the Oregon Coast Range

Hey everybody, my latest state-by-state roundup of the top ten parks for the Guardian just went live! This month I’m featuring one of my favorite states: Oregon! Oregon was the first place I lived after college and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Check out my top 10 list here.

Also check out my previous top ten lists for CaliforniaNevadaArizona and Utah. It’s a tough gig, but somebody’s gotta do it. ;)

Feeling Lucky

Feeling Lucky

Posted in Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 4 Comments

Behold, the Tetons!

Tetons Sunset

Tetons Sunset

On a road trip, the pull to keep rolling down the road is strong, but sometimes when you find yourself in a stunningly perfect place, at just the right time, it’s best to keep still for awhile. A few days before the 4th of July I rolled through the zoo of Jackson, Wyoming, up past the Elk Refuge to a sweet free campsite overlooking Jackson Hole and the Tetons and decided to call it home for the week. It was the perfect spot to ride out the 4th: my dog Dio is petrified of fireworks and from my vantage I could see the exploding stars across the valley at Teton Village, but they were far enough away that the sounds didn’t turn Dio into a quivering gun shy mess.

Another Tetons Sunset

The fireworks were nice and all, but no man-made display could ever compare with the light show put on by sunset over the Tetons every evening.

Teardrop Sunset with the Tetons

Teardrop Sunset with the Tetons

A week's worth of Tetons sunsets is priceless

A week’s worth of Tetons sunsets is priceless

Dogs hanging out at the paragliding launch site

Dogs hanging out at the paragliding launch site

I hiked up to this plateau every day, sometimes twice a day.

I hiked up to this grassy plateau every day, sometimes twice a day.

What a skyline!

What a skyline!

Of course, I didn’t just sit around all week, watching the sky. I also did a fair bit of exploring on forest roads east of the Tetons, often driving to the end of the track (I’ve always wanted a vehicle that can take me all the way to the end of any road) and setting off on foot into the Gros Ventre Wilderness. I also made it most of the way up Jackson Peak, the 10,741-foot mountain overlooking the town of Jackson, but the spring snow was too deep and slippery to go for the summit. Oh well, someday I’ll have to return for another week and another try!

Exploring national forest roads east of the Tetons

Exploring national forest roads east of the Tetons. If your Land Rover is clean, you’re doing it wrong.

Red, White & Blue on the 4th of July

Red, White & Blue on the 4th of July

This slippery snow made for hard going up Jackson.

This slippery snow made for hard going up Jackson.

Snowy D.O.G. resting below Jackson Peak

Snowy D.O.G. resting below Jackson Peak

Sitting below the too-snowy-to-summit of Jackson Peak and yet feeling totally accomplished. In the wise words of Pam Houston: "Success has less to do with the accumulation of things and more to do with an accumulation of moments and creating a successful life might be as simple as determining which moments are the most valuable and seeing how many of those I can string together in a line."

Sitting below the too-snowy-to-summit of Jackson Peak and yet feeling totally accomplished. In the wise words of Pam Houston: “Success has less to do with the accumulation of things and more to do with an accumulation of moments and creating a successful life might be as simple as determining which moments are the most valuable and seeing how many of those I can string together in a line.”

My trusty ice axe came in handy for dragging myself out of deep post holes on the way up Jackson.

My trusty ice axe came in handy for dragging myself out of hip-deep post holes on the way up Jackson.

Self Portrait with Jackson Peak. I fear it's time for new boots. My feet were soaked by the end of this hike, even with the gaiters.

Self Portrait with Jackson Peak. I fear it’s time for new mountain boots. My feet were soaked by the end of this hike, even with the gaiters.

I stayed put through the holiday weekend and then headed north, closer to the Tetons I’d been studying all week. One of these days I’d love to take a crack at the Grand, but on this trip I settled for hiking around Jenny Lake and up Cascade Canyon.

Tetons Teardrop

Tetons Teardrop

The Tetons: the Grand on the left, Mount Owen on the right

The Tetons: the Grand on the left, Mount Owen on the right

One of my most beloved possessions: my Tetons belt buckle!

One of my most beloved possessions: my Tetons belt buckle!

I left the dogs in the trailer for a few hours while hiking in the National Park. It doesn't get hot the way a car does and they're quite safe and comfortable in their rolling dog house.

I left the dogs in the trailer for a few hours while hiking in the National Park. It doesn’t get hot the way a car does and they’re quite safe and comfortable in their rolling dog house. Check out the ride parked behind me! A vintage stretch limo from Yellowstone!

To avoid the crowds at Jenny Lake, I took the horse trail, which runs parallel to the main trail and didn't see anybody until I got around the other side to where the ferry drops people off to hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.

To avoid the crowds at Jenny Lake, I took the horse trail, which runs parallel to the main trail and didn’t see anybody until I got around the other side to where the ferry drops people off at the trailhead to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.

Ahhhh Jenny Lake. I was heading for the canyon hidden behind the green mountain in the middle.

Ahhhh Jenny Lake. I was heading for the canyon hidden behind the green mountain in the middle. Mount Owen on the left.

Self Portrait with Mount Owen in Cataract Canyon

Self Portrait with Mount Owen in Cataract Canyon

Stay tuned for more from Wyoming! For more on graciously sharing crowded trails in National Parks check out my previous post: (Not So) Delicate Arch

On the trail, my mountain legs carried me past dozens of people, families, singles, couples, kids, geezers, all wheezing their way up the slightly sloped trail. People in flip-flops, heeled boots; no water, no supplies. Where do they think they are? At the very least, carry water and wear proper footwear! Show some respect to the sun and the snakes! I have to remind myself to smile, be nice and share. At least they’re out here, out of the car. This might be the only hike they take all year and I can always go hiking alone elsewhere…

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 20 Comments

Ask the Blonde Coyote: Facing the Fear Factor

Home sweet home at a trailhead in Idaho

Home sweet home at a trailhead in Idaho.

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my free living success.

Teardrop Self Portrait

Teardrop Self Portrait

My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote: I have been wanting to travel the U.S. with my medium size dog. Of course, the first thing is that I’m nervous about traveling alone (besides my dog) and I also just don’t know if I could do what you do by tenting it or should I get a van/little trailer. So many things I’m worried about: traveling alone, meeting up with weirdos (safety concerns), bathroom situation, wild animals to name a few. Rereading these worries doesn’t seem all that scary but they’re holding me back. 

A wild animal!

A wild animal!

And this one:

It seems like you’ve never encountered any problems with other people, and personally, I’m not too worried about it myself, but my family is scared that I’m going to encounter trouble from other people, presumably because I am female.  My friend of the family thought I should bring a shotgun with me (uh, no) and I’ll have a knife for practical purposes but I really don’t want to try it out for defense.  I’ll have pepper spray, too, but I know that’s not ideal either.  I was thinking of bringing a baseball bat (?), but do you have any suggestions?  Like I said, I highly doubt that we’ll find anyone looking to give us trouble; we’re both pretty good at reading people and won’t likely find ourselves running into the wrong crowd.  But I thought I’d ask you since I’m sure you have plenty of experience. :)

Hiking up Paris Peak in southeast Idaho

Hiking up Paris Peak in southeast Idaho

Ah yes, the fear factor. If you’re going to enjoy traveling, especially solo, you need to get a handle on all those anxieties that can paralyze you during the day and keep you awake at night. Honestly, the most dangerous part of road tripping is driving. I’ve met some weird people and some creepy people, but never once in all my travels have I ever been threatened by anybody. Maybe it’s because I travel with two large dogs (though I’ve been to South America twice and Europe thrice and plenty of places around the US without them) or maybe it’s in the way I carry myself, or maybe I’ve just been lucky, but after nine psycho-free years, I’d like to think I’m doing something right.
Southern Idaho from the Highline Trail

Southern Idaho from the Highline Trail

The key, of course, is confidence. There are predators in this world, but they are generally looking to prey on the weak and unaware. Everywhere I go, I pay attention and everybody I cross paths with I meet with a level gaze. Making eye contact says “I see you too” and that’s often enough to stop a predator in its tracks. Just recently I ran into five drunk dudes at Bloomington Lake in Idaho who wanted me to come swimming with them. They were rowdy and leering and too friendly but I kept calm and said no thank you and made eye contact with each of them and when they saw I was not afraid they went on their way and left me alone.
At Bloomington Lake.

Spring hailstorm at Bloomington Lake

I am not fearful and I am not fearless; fear is an asset and I pay attention to it. I pay attention to my dogs, to my surroundings, to my exits, to my gut. I don’t waste my energy worrying about all the scary scenarios that might happen; I pay attention to what is happening in front of me and deal with situations as they unfold.
Storm descending on Bloomington Lake. Good thing I pack rain gear in the mountains!

Storm descending on Bloomington Lake. Good thing I pack rain gear in the mountains!

I think one of the best things I have going for me in the fear department is that I don’t watch television. I didn’t have a TV for most of my childhood and I’ve never lived with one as an adult. Every time I catch a glimpse or see a show, I am disgusted and often downright appalled. Whether it’s the news or the newest must-see TV or the incessant commercials, to my eyes it’s all ugly and violent and invasive and absurd and I can’t understand how anybody functions with all that terrible shit in their heads. I quit watching scary movies while I was living in a cabin in the Oregon woods by myself with no neighbors and no phone to call for help. If you don’t want to be thinking about all the terribly dramatic ways things can go wrong, don’t fill your head with torrid plots for the sake of entertainment.
My kind of Mountain Dew

My kind of Mountain Dew

In general, I try not to worry until I have to. Of course, sometimes things do go wrong. I’ve never had anybody threaten to physically harm me, but I’ve had a few unsettling encounters. Dealing with creeps is kind of like dealing with wild animals: there’s no one right way to handle meeting a bear or a moose. Every situation is different. As a general rule, always try to diffuse, rather than escalate and the best recourse is almost always to physically remove yourself from the situation.
White Buffalo chasing Dio

White snow buffalo chasing Dio through spring wildflowers

And now we come to weapons. I’ve thought hard about getting a firearm or at least a realistic BB gun that I could brandish. I’m not attracted to guns but I know how to handle one and I’m a pretty good shot. But after all this time of never encountering a situation where a gun was even remotely necessary, I can’t help but think that by getting one, I’ll be inviting that kind of darkness into my life. I am not unarmed, however. My trusty ice axe hangs on the door of the trailer, as a subtle warning to passersby. It looks intimidating as hell and I can wield it as if my life depends on it (sometimes, in the mountains, it does). My trailer door locks from the inside and if anybody ever tries to force their way in, they’ll meet the two-foot long razor sharp machete I keep handy, not to mention my two beastly dogs. Personally, I sleep very well at night.
My ferocious hounds! They're sweet dogs but they look out for me and if they don't like somebody, I pay attention.

What ferocity!  Look at those teeth! Seriously, they’re good, sweet dogs but they look out for me.

So, to Cathy: can you sleep safely in a tent? Sure, I did for years before I got the Teardrop. But if you’re skittish, you’ll probably sleep much more soundly if you have a door you can lock at night. Also, stop worrying about whether you’ll like traveling and go traveling. Take a few solo day trips and then work your way up to overnights, then weekends, and see how far you get. You don’t have to go full nomad to find out if there’s a road warrior in you. And Cassie: can a baseball bat work for self-defense? Sure, but if you only get one swing, wouldn’t you rather be wielding a machete? ;)
Home sweet home at the Spiral Jetty. Ice axe on the door.

Home sweet home at the Spiral Jetty. Ice axe on the door.

Got a question for me? You can email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com.
Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 19 Comments