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Are we addicted to comfort?

I admit that addicted might not be the best word, but it’s unfortunately the closest in the English language to describe what comfort is doing to us. I suspect German may have a better word. When we are addicted to something, we need more and more of it to feel the same effects. We’ve made our modern lives as comfortable as technology allows, and we’ve cocooned ourselves. The deeper into the cocoon we go, the more sensitive we become to smaller and smaller levels of discomfort. 

Our bodies are actually incredibly good at adapting, but we insist on keeping the thermostat at 70° year round. We curse the heat in the summer and then again curse the cold in the winter- making ourselves miserable year-round unless we are indoors. We’ve long exchanged sustainably warm wool for snuggly, plush polyester and nylon. 

Let me explain with an example from my past. I used to lead sea kayaking expeditions during the summer on the coast of North Carolina. I spent six to seven hours a day sitting in my narrow kayak paddling in 100 degree heat. We camped each night on a beach. Everything was covered in salt and sand, and there were always mosquitoes stalking our every move. My memories from my first trip were of how gritty everything felt all the time, how itchy and prickly my skin was, how the heat was suffocating and the headwind exhausting. It was radically uncomfortable, but also beautiful and epic. By the end of the summer, I didn’t even notice the grit and I was accustomed to the heat. I have a distinct memory of walking into my house barefoot and marveling at how soft the carpet was. To me, the pristine white sand was soft- but the carpet in my dilapidated college rental was impossibly, remarkably soft. I was so accustomed to the heat, I had to take a fleece jacket out to dinner to tolerate the air conditioning in the restaurant.

It is currently winter, and I’m not leading outdoor trips at the moment. As I walk into the grocery store in fleece pants and a fleece jacket on a windy 36 degree day, I feel piercing cold when the wind blows. I haven’t spent enough time outside over the last two months for my body to acclimate to the change in temperature. I’m hyper-sensitive to the discomfort, and my brain resists hard (aka screams) when I try to force it to adapt by wearing less clothing on cool days, taking warm-not-hot showers, and turning down the thermostat. It’s SO EASY for me to avoid discomfort and therefore requires an enormous amount of discipline to not make myself more comfortable by flipping a switch or staying inside. 

I would argue that we’re all generally worse off for this extreme level of comfort. Climate controlled homes are great at keeping us from dying of hypothermia, and are critical for public health and safety. Our comforts are life savers for those of us with chronic illness and with disabilities. I am thankful for running water, electric heat and a gas stove when I'm sick or overwhelmed from work.  But for many of us, we’re making ourselves more miserable year round by avoiding the discomfort of acclimatizing. So bump your thermostat closer to outside temps, get outside when the weather isn’t perfect, and marvel at your body’s ability to adapt. 

Video: Paddle Boarding to Climb a Magical Tree

It is so hard to pick a favorite tree, but this one just might be mine. The only way to get to it is by water, and it reaches down to the water's surface with big strong branches to let us climb up. I can't think of a better way to have celebrated the Autumn Equinox than by enjoying a paddle in the sunshine and fellowship with a human I love and a beautiful tree.

Pitch Your Tent Like a Pro

Take the Right Tent
A tent in the wrong environment spells misery, no matter how well you set it up! 
  • High winds: (beach, mountain-top, plains) Take a low profile dome or pyramid. The lower the better! If you're camping on the beach, take a tent that's shorter than the dunes. 
  • Hot and humid: Two wall tent with as much mesh as possible means better ventilation. Go as big as you can get away with- a bigger tent won't get as hot.
  • Cold and dry: Single wall tents are warmer and more wind-resistant. Get the smallest one you fit in, because your body heat will keep a smaller tent warmer. 
  • Raining cats and dogs: Make sure your rain fly covers the tent entirely and reaches all the way down to the ground. A vestibule (a covered 'porch' area under the rain fly) is a gear saver in wet weather.
Follow the Video for the Perfect Pitch
Can't watch the video? Keep reading...

Pack Before you Go
Unpack, and then re-pack
  1. Unpack: and separate the tent, poles, rain fly, footprint and stakes
  2. Stuff don't roll: stuffing protects the waterproof coating on your tent and rain fly
  3. Stuff in opposite order: rain fly at the bottom, poles on the side, then tent, then footprint, then stakes
Use the Right Tools
Buffy chose the right stake for killing vampires.
You should pick the right stake for your campsite
The stakes are high.....
See what I did there?! But seriously, you need the correct type of stakes for the environment you're camping in. Those cheap aluminum stakes your tent came with? Leave them at home.
Forests and general use: MSR Groundhog Tent Stakes are super strong and won't bend when you hammer them, and resist being pulled out due to their design
Sand: 12" Sand Stakes because bigger is better

Set-up in this order
  1. Stake it first: Stake out the footprint and tent, with the narrow side into the wind. Stake down the windward side first. 
  2. Poles: Set up the poles and connect the tent to the poles
  3. Rain fly: Put the rain-fly on the tent and connect it. Connect the windward side first.  
  4. Guy lines and vestibules: Stake out all the guy lines and vestibules to make your tent strong against the wind, and to keep the rain fly tighter. A tight rain-fly will shed water and is less likely to leak. 
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Super Powers and Full Frontal Nudity
(Sorry Mom and Dad)

This is the story of how I discovered my super-power, and how I am unable to share the single best photo of myself because in it, I was naked. If you’re wondering what this has to do with adventure, just keep reading. 

By August of 2013, my friends in North Carolina were accustomed to my being out of the country more than I was than in it. I had spent the better part of a year working as an outdoor educator in Oman, did a high altitude trek in Nepal, and then spent the summer in California teaching horseback riding. Two close friends from high school decided that this was the perfect moment for an epic road trip. They flew to meet me in San Francisco and the three of us drove back east, trying to pack in as many sights and shenanigans as we could. 

On the first day of our trip, one friend hesitantly shared with us a goal she wanted to achieve, that she could not fulfill without our help. She wanted to be photographed naked in the desert. This wasn’t a sexual thing- it was about freedom and artistic expression. We said yes without hesitation. What are friends for, if not to help you live your best, weirdest life?

Blissful Beach Camping

how to beach camp
Beach camping in Hong Kong
Beach camping is one of those outdoorsy things that sounds like a great idea. Spend your day fishing, swimming, and soaking up the sun then drift off to sleep to the sound of the crashing waves after a glorious sunset.

Our imaginations tend to gloss over the not-so-nice realities of our daydreams. Just like dreaming of moving to Paris means you'll have to learn French and pay 5 euros for a coffee, camping at the beach comes with a few challenges that can make for a miserable time. Has one of your beach camping trips ended in disaster or misery?
Things that (usually) Suck about Beach Camping
    The worst line in any Star Wars movie? I think so.
  • It's hot
  • Sunscreen is sticky and gross
  • There are bugs that bite
  • Your tent blows away in the wind, or leaks when it rains
So while I can't magically make any of those things go away for you, I can share the tricks I've learned that make camping on a beach actually really wonderful.

Headache Free Vacation Photos- Document Your Adventure without the Hassle

My cousin is heading on a trip to Hawaii and asked me for info on what GoPro I'm using and what accessories I use most. I thought y'all might find the info useful too!

Balancing Experiencing with Documenting
I choose to be okay with using the best photo of the actual experience instead of impacting the experience to get the shot I want.  

Set it and forget it...
I am always sensitive to how documenting an experience can impact the experience itself. I'm sure you have all heard the horror stories of people so obsessed with getting 'the shot' that they ruin their honeymoons, or worse, fall off cliffs. The way I get most of my shots in the moment is by setting my GoPro on video at an angle I think will get me something good, and then focus on the experience. I think it is okay to spend a second or two adjusting the camera angle, but I try not to get too hung up on getting a specific shot. Instead, I set it on video, try to ignore it, and just pull whatever the best stills are later. I also sometimes shoot while I am teaching, in which case I cannot pay any attention to the camera. Sometimes when I am teaching, I end up not being able to use any of the footage, but that's ok, because teaching is the primary focus of that experience, and any photos I might get are just a bonus.

Guidelines for 'Set it and Forget it' success:
  1. Use a wide angle lens or camera (like a GoPro)
  2. Set the camera in a good location to capture the action- with a wide angle lens, a little closer to the action than you would a traditional camera
  3. Set it on video and try to ignore it
  4. Use either the camera software or use Video to Photo- Grab HD Frame  app to pull stills from the video after your adventure

5 Awesome Micro-Adventures in the Triangle

mi·cro - ad·ven·ture: noun 1. an unusual and exciting experience or activity of short duration, achievable by normal people with busy lives 

Climb Lake Raleigh Boulders
Itching to get on real rock, but don't have the time to head West? Get immediate satisfaction at the Lake Raleigh Boulders. They aren't super tall, and only have a handful of problems, but they're a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Getting There
Park at Centennial Campus Middle School in the far corner by the woods. Go into the woods and turn left on the forest 'road.' About 100 feet down that path, you'll see an obvious trail on your right heading into the woods. Follow that trail downhill and to the right to eventually meet up with the Lake Raleigh TrailOnce you hit the Lake Raleigh Trail, turn left and follow it until it dead-ends at the boulders and Walnut Creek. 

Need to Know
You'll need to bring your own crash pad and spotter. One of the routes has a large pointy rock underneath, so multiple crash pads make the landing safer. If  the weather has been rainy recently, the rock is likely to be too wet to climb. Here is a link to the info on Mountain Project. *NOTE: Don't follow the 'getting there' directions on MTN Project as of 4/9/19, follow the directions above

Float the Neuse
A lazy afternoon float in early summer
The Neuse river is a (usually) slow moving river winding its way through Wake County. You'll float at a leisurely pace to the sound of songbirds. We spotted beaver, deer and osprey on our 3 hour float in early June.

Getting There
We only had a short afternoon for our float, so we chose a small section. Wal-mart had cheap floats for $10 each that we grabbed right before we headed out. They even had a float for the cooler! I used my sea kayaking tow line to keep our three floats connected. It took us about 3 hours to float the 2.5 mile section from the Poole Road Canoe Launch to the bridge at Auburn Knightdale Road. The city of Raleigh has a handy list of access points here. You'll need two vehicles or a friend to help with shuttling.

Need to know
Never float this river at flood stage- it is full of submerged trees that turn into dangerous strainers and the river is deceptively fast and powerful at that height.  You can check the river levels online by typing "Neuse River water levels" and the town you plan to float near into a Google search. The Neuse is notoriously dirty, so avoid floating after heavy rains. It is a good idea to wear shoes instead of flip flops as there are often sharp rocks when getting in and out. Avoid super low levels, as you'll just drag your butt the whole time.

Wild Swim in Sennet's Hole
On a sunny day in April, the water was still cold and
we had the place to ourselves
This is a gorgeous swimming hole along the Eno river, where large smooth rocks emerge from the river make you feel a little closer to the mountains.

Getting There
The optimal access is via the South River Trail (0.6 miles) to where it meets up with Sennet Hole Trail (0.3 miles) Access to the South River Trail begins in a designated parking lot off of Roxboro street.
There is a shorter route via the Sennet's Hole Access Trail which is 0.3 miles, BUT there is not designated parking, and you won't find a spot on a warm sunny day. 

Need to Know
Water quality and flow levels of the river are important to safe swimming. If there has been lots of rain recently, check the river level data available from the USGS here. Avoid swimming until the water levels have come back down to normal after flood stage. This is a SUPER popular spot, so expect to share the bank and the water with lots of other people during the heat of the summer.
Forage for Wild Edibles with Piedmont Picnic Project
A Piedmont Picnic-er with a bountiful persimmon harvest
photo credit @PiedmontPicnic
Piedmont Picnic Project connects people to their food through hands-on experiences that build skills and community. Commune with deeply rooted food traditions, nature, and a vibrant community through foraging and creating your own foods. Foraging along the greenway deep within the city feels like discovering hidden treasure. I had great time exploring and laughing with new people.

Need to Know
While there is always something to harvest year-round in North Carolina, opportunities for foraging are more plentiful beginning in the Spring. Expect to forage for leaves and flowers in the spring, fruits in the summer, and nuts in the fall. Other learning opportunities include learning to ferment, can, and pickle.

Find out about upcoming Piedmont Picnic Project events below:

Paddle Robertson Millpond
Roberston Millpond is the only bald cypress blackwater swamp in Wake County. Paddling through a cypress swamp feels like floating through a forest on a black mirror.
Need to Know
Bring your own boat to get on the water any time the preserve is open. Hours of operation and more info is available here. Life jackets are required to be worn at all times while on the water. If you don't have your own boat, Paddle Creek offers rentals from mid April to mid October on Saturdays. To schedule a rental, visit their website here.

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