Half-Dome Part 2: Talk with an Expert and Gear

Check out Part 1: Half Dome here

Talk with an Expert:

Mr. Half Dome, also known as Rick Deutsch is the president of Carpe Diem Experience LLC. He has written the how-to-guide for hiking Half-Dome called “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome.” He frequently gives talks at REI about his book and hiking Half Dome.  His book has sold over 13,000 copies, and he has been called a modern-day Muir. Mr. Half Dome has completed the Half Dome hike over 42 times.

Around 1990 he moved from the East coast and did Half Dome without any preparation or training. “It knocked me over, and I said, I am going to do this once a year. I wrote a bucket list, and I kept it going every year.”

“For the first timer there are three things I say, 1) education, learn about this hike. Learn about the water. Shoes or boots, noncotton. You need to know how much food and electrolytes you need. Also, have head lights. 2) preparation- Start by hiking hills. These are different muscles. Get hiking poles; a water filter is mandatory. A Stairmaster is great but only does uphill muscles. You go downhill for 6 hours. 3) Motivation- Do it because you want to do it. Anybody can do this with those three things.” Mr. Half Dome goes on to note that most people focus on the cables, but the switchbacks of sub dome are much more challenging than the cables. He says he usually completes the hike in 11 hours and not to rush.

When it comes to training Mr. Half Dome says, “A lot of people underestimate the upper body strength going up the cables. Don’t grab both sides of the cables. Just grab one side.” He then advises the proper gear, “Use body glide on your feet then a thin liner sock. No cotton. I believe in a good hiking boot with tread. The problem with running shoes is that they are not as rigid (see my comments on this in the Things to Bring section) and there is no ankle protection, high top boots offer more protection.” He stresses the importance of NO SMOOTH SOLES. He and I cannot impress this upon the reader enough. The rock is often smooth and wet. Smooth soles shoes, in my opinion, would be the worst gear mistake you can make. He goes on to suggest a hat, sunscreen, and a fanny pack. He says, “backpacks get hot and cause lower back pain. In your pack, you want water bottles, food, power bars, lifesavers, flashlights or headlamps. It gets pitch black up there.”

Many first-timers find the permit system intimidating. “The best day to get a permit is June 21, you get the longest daylight, fewer crowds, less chance of lightning and best waterfalls,” he says. “August has more chances of lightning. About 5,000 people request for 250 daily permits.”

“If you have good boots, hydration and rubber sticky gloves you can do this. About 40,000 people a year do this. Anyone that is physically able can accomplish this. A guy with a prosthetic leg came up to me proudly exclaiming that he had just completed the hike the day before.”

Gear:

Permit: Hiking half dome starts with obtaining a permit. You can do most of the hike without a permit, but you need permits to ascend the cables. The way a permit works is one named person is the ‘applicant’ who can request for several other people to be included on the permit. Those people are unnamed. If an applicant reaches the permit checkpoint and has a permit allowing for example 5 people but only has a party of 4, then you can politely ask them to include you on their permit. The applicant must be present, and the entire party must be present to move forward. Another way is entering the lottery. Check out the parks and rec website for specific dates. The most straightforward option is with a tour group or a guide. They often obtain the permits for you in advance. Though this is a more costly option, it is easier.

Trail running shoes with Gortex- Regarding a person of average fitness, high top hiking boots might be overload. I liked the waterproof aspect of my shoes as they helped me stay warm throughout the hike.

Food- Endurance activities are not meant for weight loss. You need to fuel your body to ensure you have the energy needed to complete your hike. Bring protein bars, sandwiches and whatever else you need to sustain your body for the intense physical activity required.

Water

Layers- It is cold then hot, and if you aren’t dressed appropriately for each you will be very uncomfortable. I am a fan of synthetic fabrics.

Gloves-The cables will tear your hands up.

Safety rope and clip- In the group, I was the only one that used the safety rope and clip. Almost everyone else decided to go without. Perhaps it was the stories of how people had died going up/down the cables that set my mind on the safety rope. It is not required. I will say this, by the halfway point, people were looking with envy at my safety rope. I was comfortably scaling the cables.

Half Dome Part 1

My story:

  

I heard about it; then I had to do it. Such goes the simple story of my life. Half-Dome was no different. The summer of 2015 I was talking to a man who told me hiking half-dome was on his bucket list. The following summer my church camping group was hosting a trip to Yosemite, complete with a Half-Dome hike. Done and Done. I wasn’t nervous about hiking Half-Dome because at this point I already had two full marathons under my belt. I hiked with a group of about 20 other people. Most were first-timers, and most were very nervous. Every single person made it.

Half-Dome is an exceptional hike not just due to the overwhelming beauty but also because the peak is only accessible by climbing up cable wires. Half-Dome peaks 4,737 feet from the floor of Yosemite Valley. The half-dome hike is 16.4 miles round trip. The last 400 feet of the hike are via cable wires. Once at the top, the views are spectacular.

What I find the most fascinating about Half-Dome is its rich history. In the 1800’s a geologist named Josiah Whitney proclaimed that no man would ever set foot on half dome. After hearing this George Anderson began drilling holes into Half-Dome, he put eye-bolts into the holes he drilled. He would stand on the eye-bolts and used this method until he reached the top. Anderson was the first man to stand on top of Half-Dome. We all have a moment in our history, a moment we thought (or were told) we couldn’t achieve something. For me, it was Death Ride. I had an old friend tell me that I just couldn’t do it. I loved the way his jaw dropped when I saw him on the final descent. For Anderson, it was hearing no man would stand on the top of this specular summit. We are all capable of so much more than we realize.

I knew I could hike half-dome from the moment I heard about it, but what floored me was hearing the negative self-talk from everyone in my group. The entire group of about 20 people permeated the trails with chatter regarding a lack of training, being out of shape, overweight, not very fast—excuse after excuse. Every single one of them made it. I have learned to stop telling myself I can’t do things. I know better now. There comes a time when you have to put away the negative self-talk and just do. Just go, just throw yourself in, and swim.

In my experience, the most profound part of the half-dome hike was the people. It inspired me how despite living their fears, they were still moving forward. At the top of the summit, everyone came together and basked in the awesomeness of the task they had accomplished. Get your permit, and hike.

Check out Part 2 here: Talk with an Expert and Gear

Whitewater Rafting Part 3

This is part 3 (My Experience).

For Part 1 (My Story) click here

For Part 2 (Interview with a Master and What to Bring) click here

My Experience:

I had only seen white water rafting on T.V. I wasn’t sure what it entailed or what it was all about. My first experience white water rafting was when I organized a girl’s trip at Cache Creek, in Northern California. I didn’t understand what I was looking for in a trip. I ended up booking more of a party trip. It was an overnight camping trip, my friends “bestie” and “CC” were the girls who joined me. We parked at one end of the river and left our bags to be loaded by the staff. We were put into a 4-person boat. It was not self-bailing (more on this later), we were not given helmets or a guide. Then the guides gave us a quick instructional that was difficult to hear over the clamor of everyone getting situated.

We put on our life vests, were handed paddles and attempted to figure out what we got ourselves into. The section of Cache Creek we rafted were class three with some parts class two. Though considered mild, I would like to note, I felt unsafe without a helmet or a guide. The trip was fun overall. Going down the rapids, there was lots of music and drinking. Everyone was very social. We had a blast.

There were a few rapids that required attention but nothing extreme. Until we came upon the largest rapids on the trip. Our boat got stuck. As it was not self-bailing, it filled with water. The boat became wedged between two large rocks. We couldn’t get out by rocking the boat or pushing off with our paddles. None of us knew what to do, I got out of the boat and stood on the rock and kicked it out. That was stupid. I see that now. As the boat dislodged, I fell into the water. My friends in the boat were swept away from me, out of their control. I was being carried downstream, hitting each rock as I went. I was terrified I would hit my head. It hurt, it sucked. I was able to grab onto a tree branch as I was floating by (remember this is in rapids, I had no helmet, nor did I have what I felt was proper advice on what to do in this situation). So, there I was, water rushing past me, holding onto a tree branch. If I let go of the branch, I would be carried into a long stretch of jagged rocks (the shore was cliff-faced, I could not maneuver to the shore). Like a scene from a movie, a man and his friend saw me. One of the men jumped out of the boat, swam towards me and positioned his body under me. He took the hit of every rock on the way downstream, protecting me. He later told me he was in the army. I thanked him profusely as he caught up with his boat. I met up with my friends who were waiting for me at the end of that section of rapids.

Knowing then, what I know now, I would not have chosen this company. In my opinion, a helmet is necessary for beginners, and one was not made available to me. This trip was advertised as perfect for beginners, yet I felt the instruction beforehand left me grossly unprepared for the experience. Other than that incident though, we had a wonderful time.

The second time I went rafting was with a friend “Stanford.” He booked through a great company called “Whitewater Excitement.” This trip had a much more professional feel. The guide was in the boat with us the entire time. He gave us thoughtful instruction before and during the rafting trip. We wore proper equipment, and no one fell out of the boat. The rapids on this trip were more intense than the rapids at Cache Creek. This trip was along the South Fork of the American River.

 

At one point along the trip, I asked the guide if I could steer the boat through some rapids. The guide delightfully obliged. He told me I was the first person to kick him out of his chair. He instructed me on how to steer the boat. It was a blast.

When the rafting trip began, I was a bundle of nerves. I kept thinking, how I fell out of the boat my first trip. As the first few sets of rapids came up, I would cringe. As the trip progressed I realized, the guide had everything under control. I felt more and more comfortable which led to feeling full on excitement as we came across each set of rapids. I let go of my need to control the situation and trusted that I was in good hands. It worked. For me adventure is more than just something to do to have fun, it is therapeutic. It is a way to learn to let go and just enjoy life. If you have never been white water rafting, I encourage you to go out and find a reputable company with a knowledgeable guide. Then, just go and have fun.

 

Whitewater rafting Part 2

For Part 1 (My Story) Click Here

Talk with a master:

 

Erik Allen has been kayaking for 21 years and rafting for 19. He has been a professional guide for 19 years. Erik’s respect for the outdoors is his platform for showing love for the two most important things in his life, his religion and his family. He is often seen with his wife and children hiking, biking and rafting.

“One of the things I’ll think about is how beautiful and awesome it is to be on the river. Spiritually, I analyze how amazingly beautiful it is,” Erik said. “We are blessed to live in the Sierra’s, which has rivers, canyons, and lakes. We are privileged to live where we do. We have world class river systems. There is a bible verse talking about how the mountains flow down to the river. You can see it right here.”

Erik suggests researching and finding a reputable guide and to “just go.” He says, “Everyone has horror stories, and sure boats flip over, but everyone is fine. The biggest injury is usually just a scratched knee. There are two things I look for when booking a company, which one has the best lunch and I appreciate guides that are respectful. I like the guides that watch their language. But some companies are all about partying.  Investigate before you hire a company. But just go. Don’t go with the cheapest company; you get what you pay for.”

If you are a first timer, Erik suggests starting with the South Fork of the American River. “Do the gorge, that’s my personal favorite. It’s a slam dunk. As you advance, try Coloma down to Salmon Falls and explore other rivers.” He goes on to advise, “Stay on class three. It’s just fun. At that level, you need to be able to pull yourself into the boat on your own. Don’t do class four as a beginner. If you fall out, you have a higher potential for injury.”

Erik gives a basic description of each class. He describes class one as still water. Class two he says if you fall in you can maybe get hurt, but it is unlikely. Class three has an increased possibility of injury if you fall out of the boat, but he still considers this a safer place to start. Class four, you could get really hurt if you fall out. Class five you risk serious injury or death if you fall out of the boat. “It’s all about an injury related element,” he says. “I’ve been on big exciting class two rapids, even more exciting than class 4.”

 

What to bring:

Attire: You can raft year-round with the appropriate attire.

Sunscreen: Always, year-round.

Shoes: Wear a sandal with straps. You cannot go barefoot or wear flip-flops. At a minimum, you need shoes or sandals with a heel strap.

The company should provide:

Lunch: Erik suggests researching what is provided for lunch in advance. He notes a correlation between reputable companies offering a good lunch.

Helmet: When you the read My Experience portion of my segment on Whitewater rafting. I illustrate why I will never again choose a company that tells me, “I don’t need a helmet.”

Lifevest

Self-bailing boat: The first time I went rafting the boat was not self-bailing. I am an optimist, I find joy in most situations. It takes a lot to make me grumpy. But having to continually pull the heavy boat off to the shore to lift it and tip the water out, just plain sucked. The second time I went the boat was self-bailing. It was a totally different experience.

For Part 3 (My Experience) Click Here

White Water Rafting part 1

My story:

People often confuse my love of adventure with a love of adrenaline. The two are not linked. I consider myself an endurance athlete. I enjoy the slow, steady and thoughtful pace of a 100-mile bike ride. I feel a calmness when exerting my mental stamina on a 5-hour run.  During these activities, I keep control of my movements. Adrenaline is a different monster. It is releasing control. White Water Rafting tested my ability to let go and have fun.

When I go on trips, I am the one who makes the itinerary. I like to ensure before my spontaneous adventures; every variable is accounted for (yes, I hear the conundrum in that statement). I have often described myself as stable, yet free-spirited. White Water Rafting was a fun way to let go and have the adrenaline rush I often deny myself.

My discomfort with the unknown often stems from my unstable upbringing. After kindergarten, I never started or finished an academic year in the same school until my freshman year of high school. Every year, during the middle of the school year, my parents (divorced) would shuffle me between them or move. It has given me a profound need for stability. I struggle to accept things out of my control. Whitewater rafting, travel, surfing all of these adventures have helped me let go of the past hurt and embrace that which is beyond my control.

Through my adventures I am learning even when I am not in control, everything still turns out fine. I encourage those of you who are like I was, those who like to hold on to things they should let go—to do just that—let go. Put yourself out there and have an adventure. Whitewater rafting was an exhilarating way to relinquish that control. At the start of my trip down the American River, I was a ball of nerves. I was terrified I would fall out of the boat. The first few rapids I closed my eyes tightly and just wanted it to be over, then it was. And I was disappointed. I wanted more. Soon when I came upon a large rapid, all I could do was paddle and hope the guide knew what he was doing, and he did. As each rapid passed, I became calmer and more relaxed. I started enjoying the thrill of feeling the boat go up and over the water. I couldn’t control the boat; I just had to let go and trust the process.

After many years I have come to that conclusion in life. Sometimes you just have to relax and trust the normal process.

For Part 2 (Talk with a Master and What to Bring) Click Here

For Part 3 (My Experience) Click Here

Surfing part 2

Part 2 of 2: Surfing. Click here for part 1 

My experience:

The first time I touched a surfboard, I was on vacation in Phuket, Thailand. I found an instructor on the beach named, Jimmy. A handsome import with an Australian accent. For $30 I was able to get a one-hour private lesson and gear rental (insanely low price. Thank you Thailand). It was the dry season, so the waves were infrequent and very small. Jimmy kept apologizing for the lack of waves. Personally, I thought it was perfect for a beginner. I was able to stand up several times on the board. The water was warm like bathwater. The waves were gentle and far apart. I only needed a rash guard. I was in Thailand during the dry season. I have heard, but not seen, during the wet season the waves are much more aggressive.

I loved surfing the moment I put my board in the water. I wasn’t just sitting on the beach and sticking my toes in the sand. I was finally an active participant in connecting to the ocean.

My second time taking lessons was in Pacifica, with Adventure Out. This time, I took group lessons. Though the instructors were knowledgeable, Pacifica was unrelenting and determined to show me waves aren’t always so gentle. I spent more time paddling to the instructor than surfing. I wore a wetsuit and surf shoes. It helped in the frigid water. The ocean only had to tell me once, do not put your board to the side (i.e., you do not want your board parallel to the waves. You want it perpendicular). I went in like a perfect amateur, board to the side. The waves pushed the board back into me hard.

I enjoyed my surf experience in Pacifica. It is close to where I call home. I will go back, but I need to regroup before I feel ready to brave the unrelenting waves of the northern California coast.

Most recently, I took a lesson in Tel-Aviv. An adorable teenage girl, who had been surfing since she could stand, fought through the language barrier to help me try to stand up. Early in the lesson, I felt a slight pain in my calf. I assumed when I fell off my board, and I had gotten a bit of road rash from scraping against the sand. I shrugged it off and continued surfing. After about an hour of falling on my face, a man in a red rash guard came up to me and said, “I am going to give you lessons until you stand up consistently.” I gratefully accepted. (Side note: I have said my greatest weakness is my own hubris. I pray to God to grace me with grace and a bit of humility. God answered my prayers. There are few things more humbling than falling over and over while next to a class of seven-year-old kids standing up like Kelly Slater.)

As the man in the red shirt helped me consistently stand on the board, we started talking. He told me to stop looking at my feet and start looking at a focal point. Instantly, I saw a vast improvement. He smiled at me and flirtatiously asked, “How old are you?”

“I’m 36, I’m too old for you,” I replied.

He looked at me proudly and said, “I am 22, I am old enough to be your husband.”

I laughed and asked, “So, how long have you been teaching surf lessons.”

He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Oh, I’m not an instructor.”

Thus, ended my surf lesson in Tel-Aviv.

Walking back to the beach I saw a woman crying hysterically as everyone crowded around her, she had a mark on her leg with a distinctive ring, saying a jellyfish had stung her. I looked down at my leg, which had not stopped aching from early in my lesson. I had the same ring. Excited I pointed my sting, and sounding both stupid and excited I said, “Hey I got stung too!!!” The ocean had finally initiated me.  The woman looked at me like I was an idiot and I sheepishly walked off.

One of the hardest things for me, living in NorCal is how people born and raised here, take it for granted. I despised Kansas before I entered into Kindergarten (once again, many people love the changes in seasons and the Midwestern charm. I didn’t). I couldn’t find a stretch of nice weather long enough for me to enjoy the outdoors. I didn’t have access to the ocean or mountains. Now, I live in the most beautiful place in the world. I love the pines of Tahoe; I love the splendor of Napa and the salt smell that rises from the ocean. When I meet people, California born and raised, they often tell me they have forgotten how lucky they are to live in such an awe-inspiring landscape.

I have been on a surfboard in Pacifica. There is nothing between the water and me but a piece of foam. I lay on the board in a paddle position, looking at the shore from a different vantage point. I love the taste of the salt water and the feel of waves.  In that moment on the board, waiting for the wave to come up behind me, I look at the people on the beach. I feel as if I am granted access to some special moment in life. A moment, too special and pure to articulate.  If you are not coastal, I suggest taking a few lessons on vacation. If for no other reason than to try something new. If you are coastal, born and raised, I suggest you go out on your surfboard. If it is for the first time or for the 100th time, look out at the horizon, look out at the beach and inhale. Breathe in your good fortune in living in the most beautiful place in the world.

 

 

 

Surfing

Part 1 of 2

My story:

I always felt displaced in Kansas. I was born and raised in the sunflower state. I woke up at home, yet I never felt at home. Since I was four years old, I wanted to leave Kansas. Nothing within me loved my home state. I am not saying Kansas is a bad place. I know several people who love and embrace the beauty the Midwest has to offer. But, as no two states are the same, no two people are the same. I just wanted out. I would periodically ask my parents, “Why do we have to live here?” I didn’t know anything else; I just knew this didn’t feel right.

I went to an in-state college. I love my alma mater, but I wanted to go to school by the ocean, this was something I could not afford. I met my (ex) husband, fell in love and got married.  Eventually, he was offered a promotion in California. I couldn’t pack fast enough. After 34 years of feeling displaced, 34 years of dreading the ice storms of the winter, the humidity of the summer, the storms of the spring and fall—I was going to move to a state that would give me at least one solid season of beautiful weather.

My friends and family always told me, moving won’t change who you are or solve your problems. They were wrong. I wake up every day in love with California. I love that my child is living in the most beautiful place on earth.

Being from Kansas, I have always felt uninitiated to the ways of the ocean. Throughout my life, I went to the ocean on vacation. I knew when I returned home; I was leaving the crashing waves I loved and replacing them with endless fields of wheat and corn. I watched surfing on TV and never saw it in real life until I moved to California. It seemed like the most unattainable feat I had ever encountered—needless to say, I was on a board the first opportunity I could find.

I started surfing as a way of embracing my new home. It was the most ‘California’ thing I could thing I could imagine doing. And every time I get off my surfboard, I can only think, I can’t wait to do this again.

 

Talk with a master:

Joey Evans is an instructor with Adventure Out, a surf school in Pacifica. He teaches group lessons and estimates he has taught about 40,000 people how to surf. “My dad put me on a surfboard at the age of one. Sometimes I think I’ve been on the water more than I’ve been on land if you don’t count sleeping.” Joey went on to tell me, he first taught surfing when he was 16 and in college did competitive surfing.

Joey puts a big emphasis on safety. He states each surfer needs to know where the rip current is located, as well as the longshore drift.  He goes on to say, “Certain beaches have certain patterns. You want to study your beach. Reading the waves is like learning another language.”

“Surfing is about riding a wave, not standing up on a surfboard,” Joey said. “There is no pause button on the ocean. People get distracted. Choose a landmark and pay attention to how other surfers drift down the beach.” Joey goes on to advise, “Don’t line up where the pros go.” Beginners need to stay out of their way. They also never want to go to whitewater, and never hold the board sideways.

“When you fall, you want to fall like a starfish. Don’t dive. If you nose dive, you can fly off the board. After people fall a few times, they realize it doesn’t hurt to fall in the water. Cover your head when you come up from under the water because the board could hit you,” He said.

During our conversation, I told Joey, “Being from Kansas, I envision the ocean is teaming with sharks just waiting to grab surfers.” Joey laughed at me and said, “Vending machines kill more people than sharks. If you see a shark, it won’t necessarily attack you. Great whites like really deep water. So, beginners don’t need to worry as much.”

He ended our conversation with a cool story. He told me, “I lived out of my car for eight months traveling the California coast while taking online classes. I was able to take down waves all along the coast. I was doing grad school, so I was doing my papers. I typed my papers on an iPad. It was a fun adventure. You wake up the next day, and you just look at the surf report and decide where you are going to go next. I just went to where the waves are going.”

What do you need:

Lessons: Don’t rent or buy gear. You need lessons not just learn the basics of surfing but to also learn safety, currents, and wave heights. Joey notes most people do not know what they are looking for when it comes to safe versus dangerous ocean conditions.  Use this time with the instructor to learn surf etiquette. A good coach will teach weight distribution. The positioning is the more important part of being on a surfboard. Once you stay in the right spot, it is easier to stay on your feet.

Surfboard: After you take a few lessons, Joey suggests a 9ft longboard with a soft top.

Attire: Do you need a wetsuit or just a rash guard? Even the most favorable surf conditions need a rash guard. The wetsuit will not just protect from the sun but will also save you from getting scratched up as you move around on the board. Joey notes in conditions like the bay area; you will need a 4/3 wetsuit. Be sure to know the temperature of the water in which you are swimming.

Beaches: Look up beginner beaches. You don’t want to start where you can get injured. Check if the beach is rocky or sandy underwater. Research, know your potential to get thrown into the water. A good starter beach has a 1-3-foot beach break and a sandy bottom.

Click here for Part 2: My experience 

 

Burning Man Part 2

This is Part 2 of Burning Man for the first timer. If you would like to read Part 1 follow this link: Burning Man for the first timer: Part 1

The experience:

“What is Burning Man?” The generic answer is an art and music festival in the desert. This answer will get shut down by any veteran burner. The truth is, describing burning man is like trying to communicate the color green to someone who has never had sight—but I love a challenge. Therefore  I will try. Every year, 70,000 people commune in the desert to just be who they want to be. Everyone from CEO’s to drifter’s meld together in this mecca for self-expression.

During my first burn (2015), I spent a lot of time alone. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I wasn’t pressured to partake in drugs either. I didn’t engage in promiscuous behavior. I say this only because, burning man has a reputation for being a sex and drug-fueled party. One of the reasons I enjoy talking about Burning Man is because I want to remove the stigma it is just some party in the desert. To some people, it is just that. To most burners, it is so much more.

There are a few key concepts to understand if you want to go to burning man. The first is you need to be self-reliant. The goal is to attend burning man with everything you need. All your food, all your water. You can buy (with cash) coffee, tea, and ice at Center Camp. Other than that, expect to be on your own. If you forget your sunscreen, there is no Wal-Mart. If you are not staying in an RV (services are provided for a fee for water and sewage), then think about how you are going to go to the bathroom. Though there are porta-potties, few people find this ideal when they have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. I suggest bringing a camping toilet. Solar showers are also surprisingly inexpensive and efficient for staying clean. Gray water, is the water that accumulates when you shower, brush teeth, dishes, etc. it is discouraged to allow this to accumulate. I like to bring a small inflatable baby pool to catch the shower water. There are no outlets or places for electricity. Take this into account when considering charging cell phones.  Last year, my setup was a large Coleman cabin tent, with a camping toilet. My burning companion, EDH (from part one of this series) rigged an umbrella pole from a patio set to hold up a solar shower. We put a baby pool at the base of the shower to catch the gray water. I brought a folding table and mirror for a vanity. That was our bathroom. It worked well.

If you have been camping, then food will be a simple concept. If you are not a seasoned camper look up quick and easy camping recipes. Bring as much food premade as possible. I have a camping recipe I like in my blog, Camping with Kids. I also get my favorites from restaurants and freeze them. Last year I got Pad Thai, put it in a ziplock bag, froze it, then reheated it on my camping stove. It worked out great! Another easy option, buy a whole pizza, put it in zip lock bags and have pizza to snack on.

Another fundamental concept is gifting. If nothing else, BM is a community. Do not be a drain on the community. Don’t go hoping to live off the gifting culture. The expectations of gifting for a first timer are small. Gifting can be intimidating. Do not overthink it. Some people go to thrift stores and find 10-20 pieces of wild clothing and hand them out. It is common to see people passing out a plate of homemade snacks or setting up a small lemonade stand. If you do not gift, that’s fine. No one is keeping track. But still, plan on attending self-reliant.

My favorite concept is radical inclusion. Bring your open mind or stay home. Burning Man is not a place for judgment. You will see self-expression in a whole new way. People will wear outrageous outfits; they will do marvelous things and all unapologetically. This is not a place for judgment.

My first year, I wanted to ‘costume right.’ I went online and looked at pictures of the various outfits. I attempted to recreate my favorites. I now see that is not how to do it. When costuming ask yourself, ‘if I could wear ANYTHING I wanted, what would I wear?’ Would you wear that Halloween costume that makes you feel sexy? Would you wear your old football jersey from high school? Perhaps nothing at all? The key is to wear what YOU want to wear. From my pictures, it is evident; I love wearing corsets and tutus. Shoes, do not play by the same rules. You want to be comfortable; I suggest boots.

Mainly, the BM experience is what you want it to be. There is a saying at BM, “Fuck yer burn.” This term isn’t meant as an offensive term. It means, “I am going to burn how I want to burn.” My first year I wanted to be alone a lot. I desired time to reflect on my recent divorce and my new-found independence. When people wanted to tag along, I had to stand up for myself and tell them no. My second year, I inadvertently really pissed off a camp. I had made plans to camp with them, but when I arrived the vibe didn’t feel right. They are all wonderful people, but I wanted more autonomy than being in a camp allowed. That didn’t hit me until after I had set up and been welcomed in. I could have stayed though it wasn’t how I wanted to burn. I chose to say, “Fuck yer burn.” I packed up and headed to the outer edges of the playa where it is quieter. When heading off to burning man, decide, what do you want to get out of this experience, because the answer to that is different for everyone. Stand by your choice and Fuck yer burn.

What you need to ask:

-Why are you burning? Are you on a spiritual journey? Are you there to party? To see the art and listen to music? No matter why you are going to burning man, you need to go on the burning man website and read the survival guide. These are not instructions from IKEA you can just toss, and Hail Mary you get it right. Burning Man is no joke, and sure as heck isn’t a backyard camping trip. If you run out of food or forget something— You might ruin your burn. Read the survival guide before you even consider buying a ticket.

-If you are headed to Black Rock City (AKA the location of Burning Man), first things first, where are you going to stay? The easiest answer is a tent. Unless you are already a hardcore, seasoned camper, I do not suggest this. The dust will consume everything in your tent, the wind is relentless, the nights can be near freezing and the days are scorching. A lot of people go to burning man, and they camp in tents just fine.  I consider myself pretty tough, and I wouldn’t even consider BM in a tent. Your best option is an RV or pop-up camper. Please know, many places have a clause stating you cannot take a rental to Burning Man. If you try, they will know. My car engine has playa dust in it from 2 years ago.

If you want to learn more about Burning

Step 1: Go to the Burning Man website and read the survival guide. If you read it and still want to burn then DO IT!!!!

Step 2: GET A TICKET. There are a lot of scams. The best way to get a ticket is through the main sale. If you cannot secure a ticket directly through Burning Man, then make sure you do not pay with cash. There are a lot of fake tickets circulating on the market.

Step 3: Accommodations.  If you have an RV or pop-up camper, you are ready to go. Otherwise, consider joining a Facebook group and getting hooked up with an established camp. Often for a fee or in exchange for work, you can find a place to crash.

After this, the rest is just details. Bring more food and water than you think you will need. I will not include a list of what you need as the survival guide provided on the site is fully inclusive.

 

Just go, burn. Once you are there, remember, there is no place like home.

Burning Man

My Story:

I have a profound need to actively engage in my own life. Whatever the hell that means. I am a doer. When I gain knowledge of something that interests me, I think, “Let’s go. Let’s do this.” I struggle with ‘someday people.’ I am the type of person that if someone says to me, “I have always wanted to go to Thailand,” I respond with, “Let’s pull out our calendars.” If that person looks at me sideways and simply says, “I’ll go someday,” you can bet money, they will never go. I heard about Burning Man from a friend. He tried explaining it to me; he tried showing me pictures. I still didn’t get it, but I wanted to. I kept looking at pictures and reading blogs on fire dancers and costuming. I thought this is something I need to do, to feel I have experienced the full range of life.

I have had the privilege of attending Burning Man twice. I went 2015 and 2016. Both burns were completely different experiences. As the point of this blog is to help inspire doing something for this first time, I will focus on my first burn.

The story of my first burn began in August 2015. I had started dating a man, let’s call him EDH. I had gone on three dates with EDH at the time, and I sat across from him quietly picking at my drink. “Have you heard of Burning Man?” I asked. “I think I am just going to go.” He gasped several times. He told me how he had wanted to go to Burning Man for over a decade. I smiled and said, “I’ll have to tell you about it when I get back.” I wanted this trip for me. I wanted to experience this on my own.

My first burn fell together so easily. I obtained a ticket (and didn’t get scammed) and accommodations came together for me in an RV. I went out and bought outrageous costumes, I joined multiple facebook groups, and I still had no idea what to expect.

I made the drive to Black Rock City with my car loaded up and butterflies in my stomach. I was greeted at the gates with a bear hug by a dust-covered man wearing only a kilt. He scanned my ticket and told me, ‘welcome home.’ Through those gates, I went on to have one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Every morning, I got up and rode my bike onto to the playa. I stopped at various tents and talked to people giving away coffee and wanting nothing in return. I rode my bike to the different works of art. Nights, I would ride from DJ to DJ dancing to music and meet new people. It was one of the most amazing and random experiences at the same time.

The most meaningful part of my first burn was my visit to the temple. The temple is a wooden structure. It is a solemn monument standing among the eclectic art. The temple is a quiet place for reflection. On the walls, you see tributes and memorials to people who have lost loved ones. I took a moment to write a note to my step-grandmother, in sharpie, on the walls of the temple. I told her I was sorry I didn’t try harder to visit her before she died. I then, sat alone under my writing and cried. I had never fully processed her death, or my guilt for denying her requests asking me to make the drive to El Dorado, Kansas to visit her one last time. As I cried, strangers came up and hugged me. One man looked at me and said, “I am just going to stand next to you, as a presence so you know you are not alone.” To me, that is burning man. That is radical inclusion. It isn’t the parting or the costumes; it is being accepted in your most honest form. I was sitting alone in the temple, wearing a rainbow-colored corset and matching tutu, bonding with strangers who wanted only to provide comfort in a moment of pain.

The majority of Burning Man is fun and games.  The city quickly becomes a community. Walking along the streets of Burning Man, I have stumbled across a full-on roller skating rink, twerking contests, dance parties and anything else the creative human mind can concoct. Last year a piece of a Boeing 747 was brought in and used as a lounge.  My favorite camp is near center point. Every morning a group of people come together and hand out freshly baked focaccia bread and mint tea. It is a place to relax and socialize. My favorite event every year is the French Toast and Lingerie party. Wear your favorite outfit and get served some yummy french toast.

Burning Man is a place for people to go out and be their most authentic self. It is amazing how natural it feels to dress in wild costumes and hop on and off wild artistic cars. I acclimated quickly to all of the quirkiness around me. Decompression, as it is called (coming home after burning man) can be a rough transition. You go from wearing clothing that makes you feel expressive, to wearing what the latest magazine tells is trending. After seeing people put so much time and energy into creating transportation illustrating their personality, you return to the real world of silver and white cars all looking the same. It can be a bit sad for people. That is why you will hear so many people refer to burning man as home. And from one burner to another I can tell you, there is no place like home.

Master of Burning Man:

David Bell is a veteran burner. He has burned 12 times and heads Camp Shrunken Heads. To prepare for my first burn, I joined a local facebook group and was quickly put in contact with David Bell.  When I asked David for his number one piece of advice is for a first-time burner he said, “Don’t worry about the bullshit, you can buy ice and melt it for water. Just get a ticket and get your butt down there. Mentally you have to be tough. People can be assholes in the desert just like in the city. It’s not nirvana. I always sleep inside my car. I had a spare tent, but it got run over by a drunken dinosaur.”

“Burning Man is no one thing. It is a self-fueled art expression festival. The point is seeing the people. We are all so fucking scared in life. In America, we are scared shitless. At Burning Man, you get to relax and play.” I asked him how he responded when people ask about the sex and drug aspect of Burning Man. “It definitely has a lot of adult shit. You aren’t going to be walking down the street and have someone ask you if you want drugs, but they are definitely there.”

*Please note that some pictures are from 2015 and others are from 2016

**Click here for Part 2: Burning Man for the First Timer

 

Death Ride

My experience:

If you ask me what compelled me to ride 129 miles and climb over 15,000 feet all over five passes, I will answer you honestly: To prove to myself I could. Shortly after I bought my road bike, in April 2015, I was at a karaoke bar waiting on a few friends. While I was waiting for a table, I started talking to a group of cyclists. They told me they were training for something called ‘Death Ride.’ I was in awe. It was as if they were speaking in a language I couldn’t understand. I daydreamed how it would feel being a part of the pack that finished all five passes.

I did my triathlons I took some time off from my bike over the cold NorCal winter (something I am embarrassed to say, having been born and raised in the Midwest). By the time Death Ride sign ups posted online the furthest I had ridden was 50 miles, so I did what any adventurer new to cycling does, I signed up for one of the hardest rides in America.

Most people train for years before they attempt Death Ride. I had six months. (If you take nothing else away from this blog—do not—DO NOT—do what I did. I am so lucky I wasn’t hurt or even killed. This blog is not a training plan. It is my story and some tips for what to expect.) I had no technical experience. I had NEVER done anything that resembled real distance or climbing, and I had no training partners. I found a few experienced riders who took pity on me and eventually through coincidence started training with the SAME GROUP I had met in the karaoke bar right after I bought my bike.

To date, Death Ride is the hardest and most intense thing I have ever accomplished. It is the only event I honestly questioned if I could finish (due to time constraints). But I finished, and the moment I knew I was going to finish, I cried. I cried is not expressive enough. I was hysterical. Snot was dripping from my nose. I was heaving; people were asking me if I was okay. At the top of Carson, you are given a pin to show you completed all five passes. The man who pinned my jersey could tell this was my first time. I was full of pride. I was in an elite club.

People often ask if I will ever do Death Ride again, to which I respond, “I think I proved my point.”

Talk with an expert:

Rod Halbert is a Level 2 USA cycling coach and owns and operates Phoenix Cycling Systems with his wife, Kristy. Rod has participated in Death Ride fourteen times. “As hard as you train, you will never know how hard it is until you do Death Ride,” Rod said confidently as he sat in his cycling studio. His wife Kristy nodded as he continued, “It’s no joke. Everyone wants to quit their first time.”

Every year Rod leads a group of experienced riders and newbies alike on their common goal, to complete all five passes of Death Ride. When asked what is needed for the minimum training he said, “you need to be on a bike at least six to seven hours per week average for ten weeks. And at least two weeks before the event you need to do at least ¾ of the distance and ¾ of the climbing. You also need to know how the steepness feels.”

Rod said that descending is the most important skill and to know how to use your brakes. That is where people get hurt. “Learn to feather the brakes. Don’t overheat the wheels, overheating the wheels can puncture the tubes.” He suggests going to a skills clinic before Death Ride and to ride with someone who can coach you on a downhill. Rod takes safety and training very seriously. A few years ago, he witnessed the tragic death of a woman that crashed on the backside of Monitor. Last, year a friend was blown off his bike by the wind on Carson. He slid down on his back, losing skin and teeth. He was going 50 miles per hour. Rod says, “So with the wind and descending, just get with a coach that’s done it before to help you get downhill.”

Regarding fuel and hydration, Rod says not to eat to lose weight right before Death Ride. Eat healthy all week, get in lots of carbs and proteins. Rod personally loves Osmo preload the night before the ride and the next morning. Kristy reminded, not to try anything new the day of Death Ride. Training is where you want to try new supplements and gear.

When it comes to gear Rod couldn’t stress layers enough. He suggests a wind jacket, arm warmers and light items you can shed. “It is usually cold in the morning and at the tops. Then, you’ll sweat on the climbs,” he says. He went on to advise, “We never stop at the top, because you’re warm from the climb. So, if you stop, you get cold then you descend cold.”

Lastly, if you start to feel your mental motivation draining, ask yourself, ‘why are you here?’ and ‘why are you doing this?’ Usually, poor mental attitude comes into play because you are low on sugar or dehydrated. Stay ahead of your hunger and thirst. But remind yourself, you’ve made the decision to do it, and you’re already here. You might as well finish.’

Description of the event:

I was limited in my ability to train for Death Ride. I could only train every other weekend when I didn’t have my daughter. Even with hubris such as mine, I knew better than to ride on streets by myself. I was in a unique position. Most people who sign up for Death Ride are experienced riders. Experienced riders are too fast to ride with someone like me for distances of 100 miles. It takes me about 10 hours to do 100 miles. It takes them 5-7.  People who are new to riding do not want to do distances that long. So, I went on Facebook, and I begged and pleaded to anyone who would take me out to ride distance and climbing until I found people to ride with me. I also signed up for a lot of organized rides. I did the Wildcat 125 (about 125 miles and 7700 feet of climbing). I did the Sierra Century which was 122 miles and 9600 feet of climbing, and I did Hell Hole. Hell Hole is 100 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing. It is arguably more challenging than Death Ride. After Hell Hole, any mental inclination that my body could not endure Death Ride had left me. The issue was the timing. I could climb, but I was still slow. Climbing and speed are different muscles; I only had time to focus on climbing. I carefully studied the elevation map in regards to my speed on similar rides. I allotted 5mph for uphill, 20 mph for downhill and 10 for the rare flat. To ensure I would finish on time I started at 4:30 am. Since Death Ride is a ride and not a race, you can start pretty much as early as you want. There were several people on the road at 4:30 am. I gave myself less than 5 minutes at rest stops, to account for how slow I ride.

The first climb was Monitor. With all my training and adrenaline, I took the first pass of Monitor down like it was my bitch. Sticker one. I finished the backside of Monitor with similar gusto. Sticker 2. I was warned Ebbets is the steepest and most challenging. I scoffed. I was on fire. Two stickers down and I was way ahead on time. I was making my way up Ebbets, actually thinking to myself, “Death Ride is sooo overrated.” Then Ebbets hit me in the face and let me know I was an idiot for underestimating her. After a false show of ease, Ebbets suddenly looked vertical. I was looking straight up at the path I needed to take. I held my composure for a few miles but the pain set in. I take a supplement to help ease leg cramps, but no pill was strong enough to override this level of intensity. I made it up and over Ebbets. My most frightening moment downhill was as I was passing a rider who was on my right I heard a woman out of control frantically yelling at me to go right. I couldn’t go right; it was packed with other riders. She couldn’t go left as it was filled with riders coming uphill.  The uphill riders saw her peril and made room for her to come into their lane— but my takeaway is don’t get too full of yourself and go so fast that you put other riders at risk. The uphill on the back face of Ebbets is where I started to break down. I was slowing down and losing time. Also, the ache of so much steep uphill was hitting me hard. I started crying from the pain.

After Ebbets, I ate lunch. I rushed through the meal, as I had a large climb and with my slow speed I knew I needed to get going. I began the stretch that was the most mentally draining, the straightaway past my car. For me, endurance is more mental than physical. I know my brain will quit on me long before my body. At that moment, my brain almost gave out. I looked at the parking lot that held my car, and I said to myself, “Breathe and move forward and you will have no choice but to finish.”  I knew myself well enough to know that I would not recover emotionally from the failure of a DNF. I set out to complete five passes, and I was going to finish five passes.

I pushed forward towards my last ascend, about 20 miles up. It is 10 miles uphill just to get to the 10-mile climb that is Carson. I had been riding since 4:30 am. My only focus was moving. I stopped at the last rest stop on this stretch to grab some more fuel. I attempted to clip back in and get going, but my legs were so weak that I physically couldn’t get the momentum to push forward on my bike. At this point, another rider saw my failed attempts, like a baby deer trying to walk, my legs did not have the strength to push off. He came over to me and held my bike upright and gave me a soft push. I gave a thank you wave, too scared to gesture too much as I might fall over.

The final climb up Carson was mentally brutal as I had convinced myself I was running behind schedule and might not make the cutoff time. A rider I didn’t know rode up next to me and was sporting a jersey from the Phoenix group (Rod’s cycling team) that allowed me to train with them. I called him out, and he saw the distress on my face. He took pity on me and motivated me the entire way up that hill. He told me about his previous experiences doing Death Ride, he told me about his wife and kids and helped me focus on anything but quitting.

As I turned the corner and saw the tent, I knew I was there. Everyone who told me I was ‘crazy’ for doing this, the people who supported me, wouldn’t me let down. The emotions mixed with the exhaustion and hysterical tears of joy poured from my body. I clocked a finish time of 6:36 pm. Fourteen hours later. The final descent back to my car was grueling but filled with elation. That night I slept very well.

Questions to ask yourself:

-How many passes are you setting out to complete? Not everyone does Death Ride with the intentions to complete all five passes. A friend of mine set out just to do the front faces of all three mountains; others just do monitor.  Remember, for Death Ride, there are two different jerseys, the Death Ride jersey any participant of the ride can purchase and then there is the five-pass finisher jersey. You cannot order the five pass jersey until after the ride. You must obtain a sticker at all five stations after the completion of a pass. Then, you either order your jersey at the end of the race or you mail in a photocopy of your bib with all the stickers. 3,290 people signed up for Death Ride in 2016, 1,556 completed all five passes. Of the total number of riders, only 372 were women, 207 of which completed five passes. These statistics aren’t meant to intimidate, just to make you aware of the level of commitment this ride entails.

-How much time do you have to invest in training? Never ride on the streets without experience. Never ride on the streets alone, always ride in a pack. The best place to find Death Ride training groups is online through meetup.com or your local bike shop. If you can’t find a training group then sign up for organized rides. I did the Sierra Century, Chico Wildflower and Hell Hole. I also did the Alta Alpina.

-How does your body respond to various fuel and hydration plans? Fuel and hydration needs are different for everyone. You will need to find what works best for your body. I start carb loading about four days before an event like this and also hydrating with electrolytes four days prior as well. I make sure I am peeing clear and that my carb stores are full. Not everyone responds to this plan. I hear some people say carb loading weighs them down or simply does not work for them. A coach or trainer that specializes in endurance cycling can help you come up with a program to meet your needs.

What do you need:

-Road Bike

-Fuel, water. I ran out of water part way through luckily another rider filled me up from his spare bottle. That was stupid on my part. Don’t make my mistakes. You will need a fuel plan. Don’t try new supplements or foods the day of the ride. Be sure that if you are going to experiment you do it during training. 129 miles is a long way to realize you ate something that doesn’t agree with you.

– Gloves-your hands will be a wreck without them.

-Lights- if you start early in the dark these are a necessity. It also makes you more visible to cars.

– Sunglasses (prescription if needed), sunscreen.

– Layers are essential. I started out freezing and ended sweating. Be sure you take into account the weather can change drastically.

-Helmet-you will be laughed out of the event before you even begin if you attempt this without a helmet.

-Training- Lots of training. Do you know how to descend in the rain or high winds? Are you able to ride in a group with lots of other riders? A coach is an excellent resource and highly recommended. If you do not have a coach, you will need a mentor or experienced riding group to guide you through safe riding.

Death Ride is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. I take immense pride in having completed something so difficult. If Death Ride is on your bucket list, remember what I told you, “breathe and move forward and you will have no choice but to finish.”