Memories Over Stuff: A Washington Experience-Giving Guide

We’re in the thick of the holidays and it’s a stressful time of year. Here in the PNW, the weather usually takes a turn for the bleak as folks scurry around, trying to catch up with family and friends while navigating the finances and norms of gift-giving.

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Whether you’re feeling strapped for cash or searching for the perfect present for the person who has everything, consider giving the gift of experience and memories over stuff this holiday season. I have rounded up a few of my favorite adventures below and encourage you to grab the ones you love for some quality time together outside this holiday season.

Snowshoeing, Sledding and Touring at Paradise

Paradise is aptly named. No matter the season, it’s a dreamy spot with a lot of options for the beginner adventurist and seasoned explorer alike. You can grab some sleds and hit the mini slopes to watch children and adults alike shrieking with laughter as they slide down the snow in the shadow of Tahoma, take a guided snowshoe tour with a ranger, or have a walkabout at your leisure, taking in the sights from Panorama Point to the Tatoosh and beyond.

Things to consider:

  1. A piping hot thermos of soup, hot cocoa, or tea will add some flair and magic to your day! Throw it in your backpack, then unpack when hunger strikes for a festive picnic in the snow!

  2. Be careful with timing. The gates to Paradise close each night for maintenance and safety issues. You’ll need to be down the mountain before then, or risk a hefty fine. The best resource is the MRNP Twitter account, which you can view here:

  3. Check the avalanche forecast! This applies to every winter adventure in the Cascades. Certain routes in the area pass through or under avalanche terrain. Make sure you check the avalanche forecast on NWAC before heading out, and stay safe!

Experience the Ape Cave Lava Tube at Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens is home to the longest continuous lava tube cave in the continental United States. At just shy of 2 miles, it’s a relatively easy tromp through a fascinating natural feature, though you do have to traverse the occasional rock pile and a few slippery water-logged features. Keep your eyes peeled for the natural windows, which provide the perfect opportunity for some dramatic photos and bring water and snacks with you! Pro-tip: I much prefer hiking to the far end of the caves, then returning under the ground!

Things to consider:

  1. You will definitely want headlamps and maybe even flashlights as it’s very dark inside! Consider backup batteries in the event that you want to linger!

  2. Wear a raincoat and layer up! It can be a bit chilly and drippy inside of the caves, so have a few layers handy and definitely bring a raincoat to stay dry.

  3. Grab some hand sanitizer and pack a picnic to be enjoyed after the caves! You’ll definitely get your hands a little dirty inside, so save the big snacks for a post-adventure meal if you can!

Head East and visit the Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls is a remnant from Ice Age and one of the most striking falls in Washington state! Water plunges 200 feet to a pool below, and the spines of a nearby ridge lend an ethereal quality to the spot! It’s a bit of a drive, but more than worth it to take in the views and hike around the area.

Things to consider:

  1. Early winter sunsets make catching the glow at the falls a reasonable winter adventure, giving you plenty of time to drive home and sleep in your own bed if you’re just going for a day trip! Grab a thermos of something hot and tuck in for the show.

  2. Be careful as you explore the area surrounding the falls. Waterlogged slopes can be more unstable so stick to the marked trails and take in the views safely!

  3. Check the pass before you hit the road if you’re heading over I-90, and go prepared! Safety first, friends!

Visit the Olympic Peninsula

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The Peninsula offers something for everyone. Looking for a spot to play in the snow? You can’t go wrong with Hurricane Ridge, Lower and Upper Lena Lakes, Mount Storm King, or one of the many other popular winter hiking destinations. Fancying some time in the hot springs? The Olympic Peninsula has those too! Itching for a little winter beach time? Check, check, and check! Grab your loved ones and hit the road for a memorable adventure!

Things to consider:

  1. Many of the coastal destinations on the Peninsula require that you purchase a recreation pass from the Makah tribe. Please respect all tribal rules and regulations as you recreate on tribal land, and honor the work they are doing to preserve these places.

  2. If possible, plan your route to include a ferry ride. Washington ferries are a fun, beautiful way to make your way around. Always double check the WSF ferry site before you go for schedules and seasonal closures. Bonus points: they serve local beers and wines on board so grab a designated driver and a glass of something delicious.

  3. Coastal weather is mercurial. Make sure you have layers and waterproof gear so you’re ready for anything the peninsula throws at you!

Catch Sunset at Artist Point

At 4 miles roundtrip, the trek up to Artist Point in the winter is moderate and incredibly rewarding! Skirt around the active resort area and climb toward Table Mountain until you’re greeted with incredible views of the Canadian border peaks, Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker (originally and most accurately known as Koma Kulshan) and other stellar views of the North Cascades. It’s a great spot to layer up and hunker down for sunset and if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to gorgeous pink light washing over Shuksan as the sun goes down. Before you get too cold, strap on a headlamp and make your way back to the car, then head down the hill for pizza and burgers at Chair 9.

Things to consider:

  1. As with the rest of the Cascade locations, be cognizant of avalanche risk and the terrain you’re traversing on your explorations. Stay safe out there.

  2. The trail skirts around active ski areas. Respect the trail boundaries or you’ll run amuck of the Mount Baker Ski resort staff!

  3. Consider grabbing a spot at the Baker Lodge if you’re not interested in making the trek in a day!

What are your favorite adventures to share with loved ones in the winter? I would love to hear all about them!

Escape Adventures: E-biking through Utah

I recently had the opportunity to take an e-bike and hiking tour through Utah with Escape Adventures. It’s hard to sum the trip up in just one word, so here are three: fun, dreamy, and insanelybeautiful (I know, I know, I cheated)!

 Jaylyn, Jen and Stacy leading the charge in Snow Creek Canyon, Utah. Ancestral lands of the Paiute People.

Jaylyn, Jen and Stacy leading the charge in Snow Creek Canyon, Utah. Ancestral lands of the Paiute People.

The trip began with a tour of the LEED certified Las Vegas Cyclery where we learned a bit about the company and their passion for biking and protecting the environment. After loading up on the essentials, we piled into the Escape Adventures van with Jen, Troy, and Merrick and hit the road! The van soon entered beautiful sandstone canyons and dreamy landscapes and the Escape Adventures crew made sure to fill us in on local lore and highlights. We stopped at our first departure point for a bike fitting and demo, and then the trip really kicked off!

 Have you ever seen so many beautiful e-bikes?

Have you ever seen so many beautiful e-bikes?

Over the course of the next couple of days, we rode through wide open spaces and staggering canyons with sheer, red walls. The electric boost of the bikes kept us going strong on the longer climbs and Jen, Troy, and Merrick kept us fueled up on delicious food, coffee, and a whole lot of stoke. We ditched the bikes for some beautiful hikes through Bryce Canyon and Zion, marveling at the beauty along the way. I was especially blessed to bike with Jaylyn Gough, founder of Native Women's Wilderness, who shared the history and significance of the land as we passed through reservations and tribal boundaries. If you follow in our footsteps, I hope you’ll take a moment to honor the land and acknowledge the history of these places.

 Jaylyn, taking in the views.

Jaylyn, taking in the views.

The culminating night of our trip found us eating grilled salmon and roasted potatoes at the Hatch Hut, a unique spot that Escape Adventures has been working on for years. The hut is constructed from upcycled cargo containers and beautiful in its simplicity and thoughtful design. It has a kitchen, bunk beds, cozy living space, and a lovely shower to wash off the dust after a long day on the trail. The first of its kind, it will eventually be connected to 3 other huts and over a hundred miles of bike-accessible trails. It’s the realization of a lot of hard work, evinced by the space itself and the passion with which Merrick, Troy and Jen shared it with us. Spending our last evening there was a treat and in some ways, it felt more like a new beginning than an end. I can’t wait to go back for more!

If you’re thinking of hitting the trail with Escape Adventures, here’s a little list of essentials to take with you to make it that much more comfortable and fun:

  1. Bike shorts

    I made the mistake of going without bike shorts and let me just tell you, you are going to want a pair! The ease of an e-bike doesn’t take away from having a sore tush!

  2. Polarized glasses

    Weather is variable and if you’re lucky, the sun will be shining! Snag a pair of polarized glasses to keep your eyes protected from wind, sun, and bugs as you hit the trail!

  3. Buff or Balaclava

    A crucial piece for chilly mornings that doubles as a sweatband if you turn off the e-boost like I did! Keeps your face warm while you bike and makes you look extra fly!

  4. Layers layers layers

    You will start chilly, warm up, cool down as you scarf on the scrumptious snacks the crew makes you, then warm back up again! You’ll want a nice light layer, insulating mid layer (I’m a huge fan of a vest), and windproof/waterproof layer just in case it starts pouring!

  5. Hydration pack

    A hydration pack is the easiest way to stay hydrated on the go. No need to stop and grab your water bottle if you have constant access to water! Bonus points: you won’t be using single use plastics or contributing to the garbage and recycling problem as you refill along the way!

  6. Sunscreen

    You’ll want sunscreen for your face and body at altitude, even on semi-cloudy days. Slather some on, then snag a selfie before you hit the road!

  7. Camera

    The Escape Adventures crew will take you to some jaw-droppingly beautiful places. Grab your camera, you’ll want to document the experience to remember for years to come!

Want to learn more about the different tours that Escape Adventures offers? Check out their website and drop them a line!



Autocamp at Russian River: A Luxurious Retreat

Saying my summer was busy is putting it mildly. It was a whirlwind of travel, moving, climbing, and sorting through life. When the opportunity to spend a few days at Autocamp at Russian River with my dear friend Paulina arose, I immediately said "YES!" 

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Nestled in the stillness of the redwoods, the Autocamp grounds are thoughtfully designed for maximum relaxation and fun. You can squeeze a fresh glass of orange juice each morning, play games on the lawn or sip a local wine from the Autocamp store without leaving the property. Each Airstream suite features luxe details, like Malin + Goetz toiletries, plush bedding and towels, and incredible lighting details that will have you contemplating moving in forever.

When you’re ready to hit the nearby town of Guerneville, there are plenty of options to keep you occupied! From oyster happy hour to paddling or floating the river to wandering the nearby Goat Rock Beach, there’s something for everyone! Paulina and I started each morning with a little feast, then wandered through the local shops and boutiques. We caught sunset at the beach, and made it back in time for s’more around the fire with new friends. It was the perfect way to spend a couple of days and I’m looking forward to the opening of their Yosemite location in February of 2019! Fingers crossed I can snag a spot for Matt and I to go visit

Gear Review: The Self Care Edition

I spend a lot of showerless days and uncomfortable nights in the mountains, playing hard and getting dirty. In honor of the hard work my body puts in, I like to treat myself in the mountains and when I get back home. These are a few of my favorite products and services to do just that*!

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1. Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes

I take these lightweight wipes into the backcountry to keep my face clean and happy while I get after it! Bonus points: they smell AMAZING!

2. Chuao Chocolates

Don't be fooled by the label, these are actually little squares of joy! Tuck a few in the snack pouch of your pack for a pick-me-up on the trail, or save them for dessert. I always keep a few squares around for a sweet break!

3. Alpen Organics Mind & Body

Whether I’m looking for a cream to rub on bruises and sore spots or something to calm my mind and help me fall asleep when thoughts of bears dance through my brain, these are my go-to products! Use code “MISSMEGHANYOUNG” for a little discount when you check out!

4. Backpacker’s Pantry Crème Brulee

This has become a mountain tradition for long days in the alpine. Nothing says “GOOD WORK!” like tucking in to some delicious creme brûlée after a successful (or unsuccessful) summit with the crew! You’ll go to bed with a full tummy and smile on your face!

5. Feathered Friends Down Booties/Pants

When the weather gets cold, I don’t leave home without my down pants and booties. Lightweight and compactible, they easily fit in my pack and keep me toasty warm when we are snow camping or hanging around in super cold environments.

6. West Seattle Chiropractics

Heavy packs and strenuous days wreak havoc on my body. I’m especially prone to lower back issues ever since a snowboarding accident left me with some herniated discs and a fractured tailbone. The combination of chiropractic work + professional massage therapy keeps me feeling good and going strong during mountain season. I can’t recommend the amazing folks at West Seattle Chiro enough!

7. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

I’m a sunscreen fanatic and after a few days in the backcountry, you can’t miss the layer of sweat, sunscreen, bug spray and dirt all over my face. This gentle scrub takes it all off and leaves my skin soft and glowing. Let’s be real: no one wants pimples in the backcountry or after an epic trip and this scrub helps keep me breakout free for all those IG stories ;)

8. Marketspice Cinnamon Orange Tea

Whether I’m in the backcountry or at home, this fragrant tea warms me up with it’s bold spices and cinnamon flavor. Pro tip: it’s equally delicious by it’s own or with a little bourbon thrown in for a nighttime toddy!

Do you have self-care favorites for the backcountry or home? I would love to hear about them!

*I have not been paid for these endorsements in any way.

Thoughts on Outdoor Elitism & The Social Media Excuse

A quick scan of my social feeds reveals a new trend in the outdoor industry: articles that blame an uptick in outdoor accidents and environmental degradation on social media and beginner adventurers.

 Paulina Dao ascends the trail to Black Tusk in British Columbia. It's a lovely place, though heavily impacted by traffic. If you go, consider packing out some trash on your descent.

Paulina Dao ascends the trail to Black Tusk in British Columbia. It's a lovely place, though heavily impacted by traffic. If you go, consider packing out some trash on your descent.

Though occasionally citing concerns over objective safety risks, these articles are riddled with problematic assumptions and written in the language of elitism, ableism, and exclusion. Rather than offering solutions to the impacts posed by the inevitable rise of humans in the outdoors, they gloat over their own superiority while shaming others for their lack of knowledge and experience. This is damaging to the point about safety and sound outdoor ethics and to the community at large. We should talk about risk and responsible recreation but the way we do it matters. It’s important to unpack what’s going on here while offering concrete solutions and actionable items grounded in the understanding that everyone deserves to get outside.

In order to fully understand this issue, one must consider the context it operates within. Public lands are inherently political spaces with a history of exclusion. The places that we hold so dear are the original homes and sacred places of Indigenous groups across the United States. The parks and wilderness areas that now dot these landscapes only exist because of the forcible, violent removal of Indigenous People from their land. In their infancy, procured through long political and legal battles, the parks were frequented by white males—a tradition that’s alive and well today. Although there’s a strong movement for equitable representation in outdoor spaces, they still remain largely white, male, and affluent. Thus, when we insinuate that new folks shouldn’t get outside, we implicate these issues and accidentally or otherwise, perpetuate the racist history of public lands.

 I love this campsite. I have spent many nights there, watching alpenglow set these peaks on fire. In recognition of that, I won't be applying for permits to visit it for several years so that others can go in my stead. I hope they enjoy it just as much as I have.

I love this campsite. I have spent many nights there, watching alpenglow set these peaks on fire. In recognition of that, I won't be applying for permits to visit it for several years so that others can go in my stead. I hope they enjoy it just as much as I have.

The good news is, there’s another way. We can have a conversation about the inherent risk(s) of outdoor activity and sound outdoor ethics without excluding folks who deserve to get outside just as much as anyone else. More than that, we can offer resources, education, and our own stories as guidance and we can do so with empathy. Without further ado, here’s a list of 6 actionable items we can all engage in to make the outdoors safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

  1. Mentor. A rich part of the outdoor tradition, this is an incredible way to help others get outside in a safe, ethical fashion. I’m willing to bet that if you’re already engaging in the outdoors, you had a mentor somewhere along the way who showed you the ropes and offered feedback and corrections when you made mistakes. Mentorship can be as simple as taking friends outside or sharing a link to the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and patiently explaining them, or as committed as working with an outdoor non-profit. A few of my favorite local organizations are Vertical Generation, SheJumps, and Outdoors For All.

  2. Volunteer: The trails and spaces we love don’t maintain themselves. Thankfully, there are innumerable organizations that volunteer their time to pick up trash and maintain trail systems so we can get outside. In Washington state, you can join the WTA, The Access Fund, The Washington Climbers Coalition (WCC), and a variety of local orgs for work parties and other events. The need for volunteers never ends. This is a great way to give back to the places you love.

  3. Talk about 1 & 2 to your friends and share across your social media platforms. Let people know what you’re up to, how they can join you, and why you’re giving up your time for these causes. Encourage them to get out and join you. The best work parties I have been on are the ones that include friends and the more folks who are visibly doing this work, the better!

  4. Consider opting out. If you have been to a wild place, especially one that’s permit-controlled, don’t go back for a while. Reduce your impact on the trail while creating space for someone else to see and experience it in your stead. Find a new place to explore; there are so many of them out there!

  5. Vote. Comment on matters that are put to the public. Engage. This is a really easy action item that can have a huge impact on wilderness areas and the way we use them.

  6. Look inward. We are all human and bound to get frustrated when we see problematic behavior on the trail. When it happens, take a deep breath and consider how to approach the situation. While shouting occasionally feels good and scratches a certain itch, it rarely results in productive discourse or teaching moments. Try to remember how you felt as a beginner adventurist. Things that may seem obvious now probably weren’t on your radar back then. Remember that, then proceed with civility and kindness.

 Another favorite place. To reduce my impact on it, I have started going in the off-season and make sure we leave the hut and the trail better than we found it every time. 

Another favorite place. To reduce my impact on it, I have started going in the off-season and make sure we leave the hut and the trail better than we found it every time. 

Do you have other resources or ideas about how folks can get outside, safely? I would love to hear them! In the meantime, be kind to each other. We are all trying to chase our joy.

    

 

Gear Review: Arc'teryx Norvan VT GTX

I'm the kind of person who resists wearing boots whenever possible. I prefer the weight and feel of trailrunners as I cruise up and down the trail. They offer stability, sticky rubber, and the breathability I want when I'm outside. Nevertheless, finding something comfortable for my wide foot has been tricky. Enter the Norvan VT GTX.

 Taking in the views from the summit of Black Peak.

Taking in the views from the summit of Black Peak.

Lightweight yet supportive, they have become my go-to for everything from day hikes to summit scrambles! I wore them on the summit of Shuksan, all the way up and down Glacier Peak via the Gerdine Ridge, and even out and about in town!

Pros: 

  • lightweight
  • adjustable lace system for extra support on the downhill
  • super rad colors
  • supportive and comfortable, even for my wide feet

Cons:

  • not available in metallic colors
  • better suited for lighter pack loads
  • mesh side vents are susceptible to tearing in heavy scree

All things considered, this is a great shoe that I will wear until they give out, and then get another pair!

 

Gear Review: Katadyn BeFree

I drink a lot of water when we hit the trail and I'm always looking for the easiest, fastest, and tastiest way to fill up from alpine lakes and streams.

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Enter the Katadyn BeFree water filtration system. Lightweight and super easy to use, they consist of two parts: a bottle or "flask" and a filter that's built into the cap. 

Remove the filter, fill the bag at your favorite lake or stream, pop the top back on and away you go. As an added bonus, the filter is super easy to clean. Just pop it off, swish it around in the water, then pop it back in. I have been using mine for several months now and it has saved us so much time on the trail!

The Pros:

  •  lightweight and very packable
  • incredibly easy to use
  • incredibly easy to clean
  • comes in a variety of sizes

The Cons:

  • bacterial filter only; check out some of their other products if you're traveling to an area with known viral contaminants
  • not the best option for large groups
  • not suitable for freezing weather

All things considered, this is a great option if you're hitting the trail in the Spring, Summer and Fall and you want to go fast and light. 10/10 would recommend!

Trail Chat: The Dos and Dont's of Talking to Strangers

I’m hiking up the trail with my 65 liter pack on, relishing the tart huckleberries and fact that I’ll have my tent set up and a glass of wine poured just as alpenglow hits. In a state of sweaty bliss, I round a corner and bump into a group of men. “Hey guys!” I say. “Hey,” they respond. “You know the sun is going down soon, right?”

 Nearing the summit of Mount Olympius. Feeling fine, thanks for asking. Photo:  Daniel Fineman

Nearing the summit of Mount Olympius. Feeling fine, thanks for asking. Photo: Daniel Fineman

Seconds later, my male partner bumps into them as well. “Hey guys,” he says. “What’s up, man? Great day!” they say.

Insert facepalm here.

REALLY CHAD, TIM, and [INSERT OTHER BRO NAME HERE]*? REALLY?

I wish I could say this was the only time I have had similar such encounters, but it’s not. Sadly, I’m not alone in this. Despite no evidence of injury**, despair, objective risk, or the zombie apocalypse, my presence and ability/preparedness on the trail is questioned virtually every time I go out.

This is problematic. Before you chime in with a chorus of “but it’s not because you’re a woman,” let me stop you. Deep down, we all know why this happens. Therefore, I would like to offer some scenarios with appropriate responses for future reference. That way, we all win.

Scenario 1:

You encounter a person on the trail. There is no evidence of injury or imminent harm. They seem reasonably prepared, with a backpack and other gear as needed to support their adventure.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!”

Things to avoid: “Are you out here alone?” “Are you okay?” “That’s a mighty heavy pack for a girl.” “I love seeing women hit the trail.” ANY COMMENTS ON PHYSICAL APPEARANCE.

Scenario 2:

You encounter a person on the trail. There is no evidence of injury or imminent harm. You notice they don’t have the gear you deem necessary for the adventure, but you don’t know them, their experience level, their objective for the day, or anything else about them because THEY ARE A STRANGER.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!”

Things to avoid: Pretty much anything but a neutral greeting, unless they strike up a conversation.

Scenario 3:

You encounter a person on the trail. There is no evidence of injury or imminent harm. They seem reasonably prepared, with a backpack and other gear as needed to support their adventure. You notice they are heading deeper into the backcountry and that daylight will soon end.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!”

Things to avoid: Any comments about the impending sunset BECAUSE ANYONE WHO ISN’T AN INFANT KNOWS THAT THE SUN SETS EVERY DAY BUT THANKS FOR YOUR CONCERN.

Scenario 4:

You encounter a person on the trail. They are displaying evidence of distress or injury.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!” Perhaps your perception of distress is merely the result of them pushing themselves to get that cardio in or hit a new PR. Perhaps they are recovering from an injury. Perhaps they tumbled and are a little sore, but otherwise fine. Perhaps they need help. Either way, the conversation should begin neutrally, then develop from there. If they ask for help, give it.

Things to avoid: “Are you okay?” right off the bat. Lectures. Condescension. Body shaming.

Scenario 5:

You encounter a person on the trail who is obviously injured or so ill-prepared that they are posing a serious objective risk to themselves and others (think shorts and tank top in a blizzard).

What should you say? How about this: “Hello!” Even in emergency situations, it’s important to keep your cool and communicate clearly and effectively with the folks who may need your help. Check in, introduce yourself, assess the situation, and call for help if needed.

Things to avoid: Elitist or ableist comments. Lectures. Someone in dire need of assistance is probably very aware that they made a mistake. There’s a time to teach, and there’s a time to STFU and take care of business.

There you have it, folks. My handy dandy guide to not being a presumptuous jerk in the outdoors. Happy trails!

*My apologies to the very sweet, feminist Chads and Tims of the world who would never dream of doing this. Sorry ‘bout your name!

**Actually, the one time I was visibly bleeding on a hike (on the summit of Mount Saint Helens in a sports bra and bare feet no less), the dudes who approached me proposed instead of offering me a bandaid. Shoutout to the woman on the trail who lent me some extras!

 Yes, I am on the summit of this volcano in a sports bra and bare feet. No, I don't need any assistance but I will accept Nutella donations.  Photo:  Ryuhei Yokokawa

Yes, I am on the summit of this volcano in a sports bra and bare feet. No, I don't need any assistance but I will accept Nutella donations.  Photo: Ryuhei Yokokawa

Borneo Explored: 7 Travel Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit!

Have you ever been to Borneo? I had heard tales of how wonderful it was, but never been myself until this year. 

 Such an amazing bunch of humans! Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

Such an amazing bunch of humans! Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

That's why I was so excited to visit Malaysia with Singapore Air and fellow adventurers Rachel Rudwall, Kristen Kellogg and Justin Walter when the opportunity presented itself in March! It was a delightful trip to the beautiful Island of Borneo, and I won’t soon forget the memories and laughs we shared there. If you haven’t considered Borneo for your next trip, I highly recommend adding it to your list!

Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and an absolute gem of an island. Sabah is one of the 13 states of Borneo, located in the North. With its lush, ancient rainforest, it’s critical habitat for many of the world's most amazing animals, including the the endangered Bornean orangutan. It is an important refuge for many endemic forest species, including the Borneo elephant, the eastern Sumatran rhinoceros, the Bornean clouded leopard, the hose's palm civet and the dayak fruit bat, many of which we got to see on our trup. More than that, it’s also home to some of the kindest humans I have encountered on recent travels, and that’s saying a lot! If you’re planning a visit (and if you’re not, you should be), here are 7 travel tips and ideas to make the most of it!

1. Packing 101

If you’re like me, the first thing you do when planning a trip to a new location is research what to pack! I always want to be prepared for whatever comes my way, which saves time and money on the ground! For the most part, you won’t need anything super specialized to visit Borneo unless you’re planning to trek through the jungle, in which case you will need a few special items.  If you’re sticking to river cruises and tamer walks like we did, these basics will see you through:

  1. Mosquito repellant. Bring your favorite brand from home and apply liberally whenever the bugs are out.
  2. An electrolyte supplement. It’s quite warm in Sabah so you’ll want to stay hydrated throughout the day.
  3. A reusable water bottle so you can travel responsibly. No need to worry about recycling or creating trash when you can simply refill your own bottle!
  4. Sunscreen and plenty of it!
  5. A hat
  6. Sunglasses
  7. A camera. There are so many amazing moments to capture, you’ll want to make sure you have a camera. If you’re aiming to capture the wildlife, check out this specific list of camera gear. Otherwise, whatever you have will do!

2. Food, food and more FOOD

The food in Borneo is delicious. Repeat after me: DELICIOUS! I’m always a fan of sampling local cuisine at little restaurants or markets and thankfully we found both to be abundant in Borneo! Whether you’re looking for a quaint restaurant or the more rustic food from a market, it’s ALL delicious. Pro tip: if you have Celiac disease like me, be sure to communicate clearly with your guide and companions before making selections. Malaysian food is rich with wheat-based soy sauce, but there are plenty of good options to be had! I definitely recommend using a food allergy translation app or service for added protection or if you’re heading out on your own.

3. Visit The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

When I heard we were visiting the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation center, I immediately hopped online and began googling these little cuties. With their small size and vibrant chest patches, they will steal your heart, just like they did for founder Dr. Wong. If you have the chance, visit the center early in the day when the bears are climbing to escape the damp ground in search of sunshine and snacks. You’ll be delighted to see them climbing!

4. Check Out the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Located just around the corner from the Sun Bears, the centre is home to to almost 80 orangutans of various ages. The centre focuses on teaching each animal the skills it needs to survive; whether in the nursery or by pairing a younger orangutan with one that’s more experienced with the ultimate aim of reintroduction to the wild! Make sure to stop by the nursery and prepare yourself for some adorable antics and if you want to increase your odds of seeing the larger orangutans, go during feeding time!

5. Go to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge and take a river cruise with Borneo Eco Tours

Founded in the 1990s, Sukau Rainforest Lodge is beautifully crafted with a focus on promoting sustainability from an environmental and social standpoint. They have implemented several different programs to achieve this, from hiring 80% of their staff from the local community to converting to energy practices that minimize their impact,  to helping reforest the local area. In short: it’s the kind of place that makes you feel good about traveling. Take a dip in the pool, enjoy the occasional sight of the resident Orangutan as you walk along the boardwalks, then grab a life jacket and hop on a boat for a river tour of the Kinabatangan river. Wildlife is abundant and if you’re lucky, you’ll see monkeys, birds, and even a crocodile or two while your expert guide fills you in on the local scene. It’s an experience that you’ll carry with you well into the future. When you finally leave, make sure you stop by the Gomantong Cave. Go early, the best light is around 9-10am and if you're lucky, the cave won't be crowded!

6. Shop Local at the Filipino Market in Kota Kinabalu

Located along the water, this market hums with life. Organized by categories of food, you can wander down the rows of fresh fruit, dry goods, spices, and fish and take in the sights, sounds, and smells. Sit for a minute and just take it in as the vendors call out their wares. I highly recommend sampling the local mangosteen and stopping for a tasty bite here and there. Double points if you grab an ice cold Milo as you walk around! There are options for every palate and it’s a sensory experience that you won’t want to miss!

7. Hit the Beach

Once you’re done exploring the markets and stuffing yourself with food, do a little beach hopping! No trip to Borneo would be complete without a boat tour of some local island destinations! Grab your swimsuit and your sunscreen, then hop onboard. Once you travel to the islands, you can snorkel, paraglide, and even do a zipline over the turquoise water. If relaxing is more your style, no worries. Sit in the sand with a freshly cracked coconut and watch the waves float by.

THANK YOU TO OUR TRIP SPONSORS!

A HUGE shoutout to our trip sponsors, who made this dream come true. Thanks to Singapore Air, for treating us to luxurious business class accommodations, including the use of the lounge during our layovers! We traveled in comfort and style thanks to you! I napped on my pullout bed, had access to endless gluten free snacks and drinks, and finally caught up on several movies and the entire first season of Handmaids Tale, all while being pampered by the kindest staff imaginable. 

 Huge thanks to Jeremy and the entire staff at the Hilton Kota Kinabalu for a feast fit for queens, and all of your kindness in taking care of us. I wish we had more time to spend on that rooftop pool! 

To Jeffrey, Dean, Sonny and all of the other fine folks at Sticky Rice Travel: you took phenomenal care of us and made sure we got the most out of every experience on the ground! From pharmacy stops to the best iced coffee to showing us the gems of the Island, you made our trip so special! 

Finally, to Sabah Tourism and Malaysian Tourism for hosting us so graciously and letting us see what Borneo is all about! It was an honor to visit and learn more about this special place and I am already dreaming up my next Bornean adventure!

 Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women, Wild Places, and Belonging: A Note on Aesthetic Alienation

I was sitting in bed in Switzerland on a women’s adventure trip, basking in the glow of a solid day of hard work when it happened: I opened Facebook and saw an article pop to the top of my feed wherein a certain type of woman was being dissected, ostensibly because her aesthetic wasn’t “authentic" enough for the author to consider her “outdoorsy,” despite photos of said woman in wild places. From there, it took a nosedive into familiar territory: tearing certain types of women down based on their looks or clothing alone while setting up a false dichotomy wherein badassery and a certain aesthetic are mutually exclusive. 

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This is problematic. This is a distraction. This should not be praised. This has to stop.

I have written about the fucked up scarcity model that’s pitting women against each other in our quest for recognition and space in the outdoor world. We have been sold the idea that there’s only space at the top for a few of us and that if we want to be successful, we have to smash every woman who stands in our way, thus excluding her from admission into the club. The easiest way to begin tearing other women down, so it seems, is to pick on the obvious: outward expression. Articles that do this are symptomatic of the scarcity phenomenon and they proliferate. More of them have been written and published than I care to count. While they may scratch a collective jealous itch, it’s important to recognize what that itch is rooted in, then nip it in the bud.

That said, there are several things going on here that need to be acknowledged.

The first is that ALL female-identifying folx deserve to see representations of themselves in outdoor media and beyond.

That there’s a dearth of equal representation can’t be denied. One need only look at the latest outdoor catalogue or guidebook to see that. Outdoor media is dominated, first and foremost, by men, and secondly, by white women. The lack of diversity is disheartening. For those struggling to find a sense of community or resonance in outdoor spaces, it’s damaging.

Societally-defined and constructed archetypes of beauty are thrust upon us everyday. From social media to print ads to billboards and marketing campaigns, we digest other people's ideas of beauty all the time. Some of these ideas repeat throughout history and across media, creating a construct of beauty that we have seen time and time again: the outrageously attractive, fit white woman with nary a wrinkle or dimple in sight. This narrow construction misses the complexity and richness of the individual—reducing us to a singular plane of existence. It’s woman as object, and this reductive approach is archaic and damaging. Some women fit into the archetype on a purely physical level. The majority do not. Regardless of how we see ourselves reflected in these standards, they affect us. The data on this point is clear.

No one is immune to this pressure and we all react to it in different ways. Some try to conform, whether that means changing their style of dress, doing their makeup a certain way, opting for surgical procedures or other enhancements, or more. For some people, this is as much an issue of mental and physical safety as it is soul-searching. Consider transwomen whose safety can be predicated on their ability to pass i.e. be correctly perceived as the gender with which they identify. Consider those with scars and other physical marks that affect their sense of confidence and self-worth—acting as triggers for trauma that they have been working to escape. Consider women who have never seen a representation of themselves in outdoor media and are simply looking for a sense of belonging.

Tearing these women down and telling them they don’t belong because they’re wearing makeup and curating their aesthetic isn’t just annoying, it’s cruel, ignorant, and tone deaf.

 That's me, asking the age old question while leading up the West Ridge of Prusik Peak: if you place pro while wearing leggings, do you even climb? Photo courtesy of  Nick Lake.  

That's me, asking the age old question while leading up the West Ridge of Prusik Peak: if you place pro while wearing leggings, do you even climb? Photo courtesy of Nick Lake. 

Other women rebel against these pressures, lashing out at norms that they view as damaging or inapt and experimenting with their self expression. Experimenting is a process that can take days, months, years, even lifetimes and it's subject to change. It's important to note that as difficult as this process is, it's not available to everyone, whether they lack the confidence, community, or privilege to explore these aspects of themselves.

Wherever you're at with this, my deepest hope is that as we move forward in our own processes, we arrive at a place where we can sit comfortably with ourselves—whatever our outward expression, and know that we belong.

That said, it’s 100% inappropriate for me to call out your appearance and self-expression because it doesn’t align with my ideas about what a woman looks like. That kind of thinking is rooted in bias and discriminatory stereotypes. It's similarly inappropriate to assume that aesthetics have any bearing on our abilities. If you reduce women to the status of "lesser than" simply because of their looks, you are a part of the problem. If you try to exclude her from the table because of how she looks, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

If this has struck a chord with you, I hope you'll join me in directing your anger at the source of these constructs. Harness your power to create change. Support companies who represent a broad spectrum of humanity. Use your platform to uplift diversity, rather than tearing others down. Remember that words have power, so yield yours deliberately. Consider the difference between these two approaches:

  1. Women who have [insert arbitrary descriptor here] aren’t authentic. Their motives are suspect and they are a danger to themselves and others. They do not belong outside so I will not uplift their stories.   

  2. We aim to uplift women in their diverse forms by asking them who they are, what they are about, and what they hope to accomplish. We will showcase diversity of physicality, background, accomplishment, and thought.

Now say those phrases were people and not just words. Who would you want to hang out with? Who would you invite on your trip? While the former may satisfy the jealous monster inside of all of us (and as humans, we all have one), I suspect most of you will choose the latter.

 The thing about mountains is, they don't care what you're wearing or how you look as long as you show up prepared and give them the respect they are due. 

The thing about mountains is, they don't care what you're wearing or how you look as long as you show up prepared and give them the respect they are due. 

So, what do we do moving forward?

  1. Check yourself. When you feel the urge to deny the authenticity of a women or refuse to let her take up space because of how she looks, stop and think. What’s really going on there? What assumptions are you making based on appearance alone? What do these assumptions indicate about you and how will you use that knowledge to adapt moving forward?

  2. Check others. When you hear or see someone engaging in this behavior, call it out. It can be an uncomfortable process but we need to hold each other accountable.

  3. If you’re on the receiving end of this feedback, take a deep breath, listen, and reflect. Realizing you have hurt someone by making these mistakes can cause sadness, guilt, shame, and a whole host of other responses. Before you respond, stop and listen to what you're being told, introspect, and if you realize that you’ve been engaging in problematic behavior, own your mistakes. Offer a sincere apology, then use what you have learned to make a change.

  4. Support companies that uplift diversity and call out companies and brands who don’t. Make noise. We have a lot of power as a collective, but we must choose to wield it.

  5. Support women who do the same. Some amazing voices who do just this are: Ambreen Tariq of Brown People Camping, Jenny Bruso of Unlikely Hikers, Danielle Williams of Melanin Basecamp, Indigenous Women Hike, Native Women's Wilderness, Alpenglow Collective, Diversify Outdoors, Outdoor Asian, and so many more!

This won’t be a perfect process. A growth mindset goes hand in hand with growing pains. We will all make mistakes as we move forward. Move forward anyway, with humility, forgiveness for yourself and others, and openness to learning more. Let's shine brighter together. The future needs us.

The above photos were sent to me when I asked women to share photos of themselves in the wild where they felt strong, accomplished, challenged, satisfied, and beautiful. Their responses were touching and I hope you'll take time to go through them as you let this all sink in.