December 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
I love camping with my best friend Arnold. Here he is building a tiny snowman:
We’ve spent approximately 3% of the last 8 years camping together. Caves, mountains, bikes, sharks, horses, kayaks, fish, and fires. The adventures have been grand. He’s got a measured temperament in stressful situations. Lost on a snowy peak? No problem. Snorkled into some sharks? It’s cool. Lightening storm on your float trip? Land ho! He’s flexible when it comes to the plan – both in suggesting detours and following off-route – and pushes his adventuring to a level that I’m comfortable with. Plus the dude is strong and lift some heavy shit. Pretty helpful to have around.
His adventure attitude is great. His camp etiquette is even better. Tent and personal belongings in the tent first. Wood collection second. Fire and food preparation simultaneously third. Once dinner is going, then personal time. Dishes are split. In other words, shared camp tasks first. Personal tasks second, unless you’ve really gotta pee. The guy is totally selfless and minimalist. He once took just two towels for sleeping for a two week bike trip. I’m sure he would have given me one if I had asked for it.
Going camping / adventuring with someone is a really good way to get at their character. Are they calm under pressure? Are they risk averse? Do they help out with shared tasks or do they do their own business first while you set stuff up? Are they totally oblivious to the work you’re putting in to keep up camp? Do they ask if you want help or do they just jump in to help if you’re doing something?
It’s all pretty basic stuff that comes to light when you’re living a pretty basic existence.
So I dragged my girlfriend camping in November without any of this in mind. I just wanted to go camping after a long summer campaign with no respite. It seemed like a good thing to do to clear my mind, and great with my favorite person and partner.
It happened to be in Florida. On a swampy trail that looked like this…
Except that we got a way late start and it was dark already climbing through that muck. And did I mention that we were covered in mosquitoes and that the campsite was 2 miles out and primitive? Oh, and also we passed this sign –
She’d had a tough week (the Supreme Court made a shitty decision on one of our campaigns) and wasn’t too stoked on the overnighter, but knew that I’d had my heart set on it.
We set out into the darkness.
And it was totally awesome. We got off trail in the swamp and she put her foot down on not splitting up in a totally stern but respectable way. She offered to switch packs and encouraged me chill when I wanted to muscle my way there with all the firewood attached to me. She prepped the food as I started the fire in simpatico. We got to zen out in the wilderness together and it was just lovely.
Apparently, (I just Googled this to confirm), they say you have to camping with your partner before you really know them. This probably isn’t true – all of these things arise in one way or another in normal life – but it is a very concentrated situation where all of the things come to light in a short period of time.
So there you are. Go forth and camp with your betrothed, folks.
August 23, 2014 § 1 Comment
In the summer, I run citizen outreach offices that take about 100 hours of work a week – the last two years this has meant a pause from written reflection on the outdoors. I always loathe not having the time to write about my wanders in the summer (you can’t really capture the feeling or the colors of a moment three months later), but I suppose being too tired to write is a testament to how much you’re accomplishing and that is something worthwhile in itself. Thank god for iPhones I guess..
This summer –
I biked from New Jersey to Boston
I was in D.C., living about a mile from my office near Capitol South. D.C. is a weird place. Very nice in some parts, kind of crappy in others, all mostly along racial lines. A flat, fairly green city with many bike commuters and mediocre bike friendliness.
I rounded the summer off with a trip to naked desert hot springs and the Colorado River in California. Mostly this made me think that clothes are a terrible societal convention and that nudists really know what it’s all about…
Lesson reinforced: adventures are where you make them.
October 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
When I lived in California, the beach was a pilgrimage to the closest thing to god I’ve ever actually believed in. The morning waves rolling in on Del Mar at even intervals over a foggy sunrise. The tide lifting the rocks and smashing them in a chaotic jumble at La Jolla cove. We’d spend hours in front of waves and fires, staring off into our own thoughts, the surf an active backdrop to passive contemplation.
The northern California coast was even more of a beast to be wary of. Cold and unpredictable, heavy with mist and moss. It good place to feel the weight of a vast landscape.
I remember surfing and boogie boarding, beach parties and shenanigans, of course, but when I get a whiff of salty ocean air or get in the car to the ocean on the holidays, it’s the landscapes and the crashing waves, the majesty of the open ocean that are most poignant in my mind, that elicit the most emotion.
The Jersey Shore is decidedly not that place. (Surprise!)
Minus a few undeveloped beaches, it’s pockmarked with boardwalks, pavement, and oceanfront property, encroaching on the sand and waves, preying on it’s lessons of openness with, at best noisy revelry, and at worst utilitarian profiteering. It all kind of feels like making a lion sit in a cage dressed as a clown whilst teenage boys throw popcorn at it. The sand feels the same, the ocean a bit warmer, the waves are rolling in. But it’s hard to leave the surroundings out of the picture – built, everything around you, built up, boxing the wilderness out.
I had almost given up on my good friend the thoughtful-beach-pilgrimage until I went to Sea Isle City this weekend. It was unusually warm, and almost completely empty given that it’s October.
I had my sunglasses on, back to the ocean floor… Slowly rolled up with a cresting wave, and then back down…
I’ve considered the possibility that maybe my problem is I don’t like people as often as I thought. Perhaps the mental-escapism function is broken in my brain, or maybe the nostalgia part is overactive. Either way, it’s nice to have discovered a place where I can worship the ocean gods in peace.
July 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
The Delaware Water Gap is the 10th most visited national park in the country. It’s an oasis of wild in a coast of development, a real respite from the hum and the buzz and the humanness of the northeast. If New Jersey were LA County, the Water Gap would be the Malibu hills.
Now we trekked up with a group of 100 people so much of the weekend was as ruckus..
When I could tear myself away, I spent my time circling the lake in a kayak, snacking on blackberries and blueberries, sneaking up on animals.
On the last day, a pair of Carolina wolf spiders snuck up on me in one of the kayaks. I didn’t snap a photo, because you know, these guys were fucking giant and terrifying.
When I first read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, I thought “this all sounds terrible – all the landscape is the same! why come all the trees…?” After a few trips to the Water Gap, I may be a long distance hiking convert after all. There’s FOOD, INSIDE the forest, after all.
June 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
During the summer, I run door-to-door political outreach offices, building public support before the legislative session kicks into high gear in the fall. I’ve done this for seven summers in SF, San Diego, Berkeley, and Palo Alto, working to make sure we have clean water, open spaces, affordable healthcare, and other nice things.
If you’re following along, all of those places are in California. This summer, I’m running my first office in the east coast, and I’ll tell ya, it’s a different ball game.
There are obvious differences in weather (light coats versus stripped down to skivvies whenever possible) and politics (“No I don’t want to volunteer, I’m writing you a check so you can do this for me!”), that seem trivial at face value. Notable, but hardly earthshattering.
Intellectually, you know that “water” and “trees” are real things in places that aren’t deserts, but practically, it changes everything about how I’ve perceived and felt about my environment. Evenings aren’t quiet light sweater weather – good for a glass of wine on a rooftop – anymore, they’re mosquito prime time, draped in a layer of heavy humidity – good for shitty beer and barbeque. Mid-day isn’t the time the sun peeks over the fog, sharp and piercing hot – the only good time to go to the beach, they’re an ocean in the very air you’re breathing or a flash thunderstorm, warm and refreshing.
And the bugs! Cicadas chipper in every moment, clinging to doormats and littering driveways. Tiger mosquitoes, black and white striped, hunt in all hours of the day. Lightening bugs flash one light, then many, harbinger to the nightime cousin of the tiger skeeter.
Waterways are warm – a rarity you get in few places outside of central valley California – but as often polluted as water in California is cold. It’s a false positive each time, but a good reason to keep knocking on doors, talking about toxics.
March 22, 2013 § 5 Comments
I need to get outside. Somewhere, anywhere for a good old fashioned rigorous excursion. It still feels like the middle of winter, snow pounding down, 20 mph wind gusts, and a chill that kicks you right in the teeth. The perfect day for a bike ride.
My roommate recommended (and by recommended I mean she said “Oh I hear some people maybe go do this thing?”) the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail, so I pulled it up on Google maps to try and figure out how to get on the trail – it looks like it runs in the middle of water? – hop on my bike with panniers in tow so I can swing by the grocery store on the way back, and sprint out the door.
After shaking off the wall of cold, I got into a nice pace down Franklin and almost miss the path onto the trail because it’s a little flooded. I’m wearing my Vibrams and it’s too cold to play in the water, so I pick up my bike and gingerly tip toe across the stones.
The path is comfortably wide, and surprisingly flat and strait except for a few flood gates like the one above and below.
Too bumpy to ride on without risking a spill (usually I’d be fine with this, but the water on both sides in freezing temperatures was a good deterrent), these were pretty good reminders to pause and look around (it’s not often that you’re on a trail surrounded by water on both sides!) but mostly it looked like this:
I ran into some construction on the trail, took out my handy magic phone to figure out where I was, hopped back on my bike and sped past open fields and abandoned houses to the grocery store and then back home. 37 miles and negligible elevation – sometimes it’s nice to just wander.