The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Secrets (page 1 of 2)

Tepee Dreams

Have you ever dreamed of sleeping in a tepee? For many of us, tepees and Indians on horseback were one of the mythic stories from our childhood. In the past six months, daughter A and I have had the opportunity to sleep in a tepee not just once but twice!

Tipi, Tepee, Teepee

The first time we were in a tepee was in the backyard of Woodchuck Hiker Hostel in Damascus, VA. (More details HERE ) On our recent Epic Road Trip, we stayed at the Devils Tower Tipi Camping near the National Monument inWY. (More details HERE ) At both locations, we enjoyed wandering the surrounding areas. Damascus, VA is a friendly small town with restaurants, outfitters, parks, and a little library. At Devils Tower I explored their private land, ending up on a point with deep, red-rocked canyons falling away on each side and the Devils Tower rock formation floating on the horizon in front of me.

Devils Tower National Monument

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

Sleeping in a Tepee is a form of primitive camping…not a hotel or “glamping.” Although tepees bring feelings of romance and adventure, there is nothing glamorous about sleeping on the ground in a structure with no screens, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. The Devils Tower Tipi Camping location includes a small table, a bench out front, a propane stove and lantern, and filtered water. For an extra fee, the owner will set up a mattress and nice bedding inside the tepee. Otherwise, it is typical to provide your own camping gear bedding. For us, a tepee is a special treat since it is much fancier and larger than our tiny backpacking tent.

Primitive Camping, Tipi, Teepee, Tepee

If it rains, when you sleep in a Tepee everything will get damp. Unlike a cabin, a tepee lacks a shingled roof to keep out the rain. Unlike a tent, a tepee has no rainfly. There is a hole in the roof to let out the smoke from the traditional fire in the center of the tepee floor. If big storms are coming, there is some protection by adjusting the high flaps. Even if no rain falls directly into the tepee, the moisture in the air makes your bedding and clothes feel damp. Yes, this was a worry for me. On the other hand, I loved the art and symmetry of looking up to the roof peak!

tipi, teepee, tepee, vent, poles

If the forecast predicts a cold night, bundle up! Because tourist tepees have no fire in the middle of the floor or electricity for a heater, when it gets cold outside, you need to have proper gear to stay warm. We used our sleeping pads (insulation from the cold ground), plus sleeping bags rated to 20 degrees, plus layers of sleeping clothes. This is the same thing we do on cold nights in our tent. The biggest difference is that a tepee is too large of an area for your body heat to keep it warm through the night. The tepee in Damascus had double-walls which add to the insulation value of the structure. 

tipi, teepee, tepee, floor sleeping, canvas walls

Figure out how to adjust the tepee to deal with various weather conditions. As mentioned above, if it is cold, close the top vent and hope that there are double canvas walls. If it is rainy, close the top flaps. If it is extremely hot, open the vent at the top of the tepee and roll up the side walls to leave a gap at the bottom of the walls. This flexibility is an advantage of both tents and tepees in contrast to staying in a cabin.

tipi, teepee, tepee

And one bonus only found when sleeping in a tepee: We enjoy waking up in the mornings in a tent, with sunlight glowing through the walls and hearing birds singing. Some tepees add another layer of magic. When there are pictures and animals painted on the outside walls, the bright sun makes it appear like the images are watching over us as we wake up. And going to sleep with others still sitting around a campfire outside, makes the ghostly images “dance” on the tepee walls. I’ve thought about painting a few animals on our backpacking tent…if only I could figure out how to do that without risking damage to the waterproofing!

tipi, teepee, tepee, wall paintings

In our wandering, we have discovered other structures that would be interesting to spend some time in. Someday I hope to stay in a yurt…and a treehouse…and even an earth lodge.

mandan, knife river nhs

Have you ever slept in an unusual structure? I would love to hear about your experience! Please share in the comments below…

On the Road Again… an epic road trip

On the road again, Goin’ places that I’ve never been, Seein’ things that I may never see again, And I can’t wait to get on the road again” – Willie Nelson

Daughter and I have gone a-wandering again. This month’s adventure is a three week long Epic Road Trip through the West. The specific event is attending our son’s graduation from university in Montana. But, you know, once we head out the door it takes a while to wander our way back home again! (I write about being born under a Wand’rin’ Star HERE.) There are so many places to explore and people to see…

True Confessions: when I’m not limited to what I can carry on my back in a pack, the luggage area fills up with all sorts of things we might *need* for a wandering road trip: tents, sleeping bags/pads, cots, stove for hot water and plenty of food, things to read, cold weather gear, and “only” 5 outfits (changing clothes every day until the next laundromat? Decadent!) Of course, we threw in our swim suits, just in case. (Read about my mom’s rules for travel HERE.) So much for simple living! I assure you, however, I DID leave the dog and the kitchen sink at home…really!

True Companions: My mom will wander with us for all three weeks. My middle daughter has joined us for the first 4 days of our road trip to Montana. I’m so glad we continue to make memories of adventures and misadventures together! (I’ve written about some of the places our family’s women wander HERE.) Our travels are fueled by plenty of caffeine and lots of conversation. (I’ve heard rumors of hours of silence when kids travel with my hubby…but I’m certain that *must* be in some strange alternate universe. HA!)

caffeine fuel, coffee, travel companions

True Story: On even the best planned trips, there are misadventures that are eventually spun into tall tales and campfire yarns. We haven’t had any unexpected happenings…YET. One of the best things about wandering is having epic tales to tell. I will keep you updated on the fun we have on this year’s road trip! (To see the latest photos and stories from our current adventures, “Like” and “Follow” the new Facebook page for The Big Epic found HERE.)

last dinosaur, dinosaur art

“Ta-Dah!” — Choose to Thrive (don’t merely survive)

Some weeks are bright, colorful, productive, full-of-life times. Other days are dark, only-managing-the-basics, blah times. Last week was one of the latter: supporting two friends who were suicidal, “holding space” for a family saying goodbye in a loved-one’s last days, listening to a friend facing a difficult divorce, hardly having time to cook or deal with laundry and dishes, and let’s not even talk about time to spend with my family! I’ve shared before how much I crave the BIG EPIC! But how in the world can I find any hints of adventure when I’m in survival mode?

Gray days. Blustery, windy, freezing cold days. Huddle under the blankets on the couch days. Days like this sap my energy and bury my motivation to accomplish anything. What about you?

winter tree

Dead flowers rattling through the winter. Brown leaves rustling in a cold spring breeze. Sometimes it feels like I’m in constant motion but am hardly living. What about you?

weary, survival

I don’t know about you, but all-too-often the to-do lists in my planner make me feel blah and gray, just like these photos. All I can see are rushing, busy days and zillions of things I might never get done. Staring at these foggy should-do lists buries my motivation to actually work on anything.  Where’s the life? Where’s the enjoyment? How in the world does a to-do list help me THRIVE??

gray day, blah

A few months ago, a wise friend of mine shared a happy secret. She chooses to celebrate her accomplishments with a “Ta-Dah” list. This is the place to write down all of the jobs completed each day. These are little bits of joy, even if not big adventures. I still keep a boring list of “Get ‘em Done” tasks in my planner. But, since I don’t want to just joylessly zombie-walk through my days, I also record Ta-Dah lists to remind me to celebrate the significant things accomplished each day. On productive, high-energy days this list will be filled with projects, business tasks, phone calls completed, and emails sent. On gray days when I’m struggling, I choose to celebrate different significant accomplishments–planning our next adventure, spoiling the dog, fixing daughter’s favorite meal, or simply making a friend smile. I’m choosing to THRIVE by celebrating the little and big things found in the ups and downs of life. What about you? Ta-Dah not to-do

I would love to celebrate your “Ta-dahs” with you! Please add a comment below to share the little ways you are currently thriving in daily life…

Lessons from my Mama

In January, I participated in a snail mail group. Each week, we were given a topic to exchange notes with our assigned partner. The final assignment was to summarize life lessons we have learned from our mothers (or other women/mentors in our lives). Here is some good advice for anyone dreaming of living a life filled with “Big Epic” adventures:

Never Travel Without Your SwimsuitBe prepared to say yes to unexpected opportunities!

If needs be, Travel Cheap! There’s always a way to reach for dreams, even if you have to adjust your expectations to make it happen.

Spread the Love—Invite Friends to Join YouOne year even the mailman came to Thanksgiving dinner! … yes, really! (It’s a long story… )

Here’s the summary of Big Epic Advice I have learned from my mama: Be ready for unexpected opportunities to reach for your dreams—and invite others to join you along the way. THANKS, MOM!

(Click HERE to read another post about my adventuresome Mama! And click HERE to read about my family’s heritage of women who love to wander.)

Alone in the Woods?

If the idea of spending months alone in the woods intrigues you, backpacking the Appalachian Trail is not the right choice for you. Contrary to what worried friends and family imagine, you will not experience day after day of dangerous solitude. At times, you will be surrounded by people…

The original vision for this trail was a place of respite for the many big-city dwellers along the East Coast. It certainly meets that goal. In the past few years, 2-3 million people set foot on the AT annually.  Popular sections get downright crowded on weekend days when visitors come out for a few hours or a simple overnight.

Like most overnight hikers, we aim for a shelter each night. We like the ease (laziness?) of throwing our sleeping pads and bags on the wooden floor. Others prefer to pitch their tents nearby. Everyone appreciates the often-found “luxuries” of a picnic table, a nearby water source, and an outhouse.

When hikers gather, stories are told and tips are shared. Some nights there is chatter and joking around a campfire. Mornings tend to be hectic, with hikers all focused on grabbing breakfast and packing up their gear. Occasionally the nightly conversation has been deep enough that new friends gather for a photo together before going their separate ways. For most of us, this social aspect is part of the joy of a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail.

Do you need more time away from people? Even when evenings get crowded, it is easy to spend most of the day by yourself. You will only occasionally pass another hiker. You can choose to hike at your own pace. If sharing the adventure with a partner (like daughter Andowen and I do), walk on your own for most of the planned daily miles, then meet occasionally to check on each other and enjoy a snack together. Savor those hours of quiet, immersed by yourself in nature!

Do you long for solitude? Do you dream of traveling alone? Consider a backpacking expedition on a different long trail such as the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail. Both of these trails are much more remote. Hundreds of thousands of people use the PCT annually. Even fewer set foot on the CDT.

If you still want to hike the Appalachian Trail but occasionally need more than a few daily hours of hiking alone, consider backpacking on a more remote area of the trail (such as in Maine). Or simply plan to camp away from shelters for a few nights. We greatly enjoyed the nights we slept beside waterfalls or beautiful streams.

Now you know the truth. Tell your family and friends to stop worrying. When you choose to adventure on the Appalachian Trail…you will rarely be alone in the woods!

Secret Fun

Many of you enjoyed the recent post where I shared the hikers’ “dirty little secret” (about laundry).  Today, I thought you might like to hear another secret. Shhh! Don’t tell our family and friends…but we do NOT spend every day plodding along, up and down mountains, following the AT in the woods! Sometimes we find other ways to entertain ourselves.

Here is photographic proof of the non-hiking fun we find on-trail and off:

While still out in the woods, I’m sure none of you will be surprised to hear that we sometimes have enough energy to gather wood and enjoy a campfire in the evening. When we walk past (or through) streams or waterfalls, it is to be expected that we might stop to splash in the water or soak our feet. 

Anyone who knows us is already familiar with our long-term “vices.” Andowen loves to pursue imagination play, whether she is in the woods or on a playground in town. She is constantly drawing—so a lightweight journal is included in her backpacking gear. Some trips she has carried a deck of playing cards to play solitaire or to practice card tricks. She didn’t choose to carry the extra weight this trip—but the trail provided some card fun at one of the shelters.

Story Seeker (that’s me!) can’t survive for long without something to read. An actual book with pages to turn is weight-prohibitive on the trail, so I carry a kindle. (Yes, it got destroyed in my pack last year. I quickly ordered another one to be shipped to me in the next town. Don’t separate this gal from her books!) Naturally, lounging goes along with reading…

I’ve posted in the past about the joys of resupply days in town. (You can read about that HERE and HERE.) In addition to rest at a hostel/hotel and buying more food, we usually enjoy a meal or two at a nearby restaurant. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be within walking distance of a library to spend a few hours reading. Damascus VA even had a “Little Free Library” so we could take a book back to the hostel for bedtime reading. Occasionally, the hostels have pets that we can spoil—missing our dog back home. (Okay, I really didn’t want anything to do with this cat…but couldn’t seem to kick him off my lap…)

We found some unexpected fun on our backpacking trip this fall. (Don’t tell anyone, okay? They might start thinking we didn’t actually spend any time hiking in the woods but were on a luxury vacation instead!)

We were surprised with some colorful fun. Friends sent Andowen finger-lights that gave hours of after-dark fun in various shelters. (They also included some color packs to throw in the campfire. If you look closely, you can see blue and pink flames in the first photo above!) In one town, we were invited to a fun-fair at a local church. Andowen loved climbing the inflatable wall as a nice change from clambering up a mountain!

One of the hostels had table-top games and outdoor activities available. At another hostel, Andowen and her daddy (who visited us for a few days) borrowed bikes and helmets for a ride along the river.

We found some great music. One of the hostels had a genuine juke box, refurbished to play original 45 records. Andowen was entertained listening to music from the 50s and 60s. This trip, we took some extra days off trail. In two different little towns, we visited a local church. The old fashioned country-gospel hymns were delightful!

The most unusual entertainment we had on this trip? At a hostel located on a small farm, we spent more than an hour chasing hogs that had escaped their pen during the night! Yee-haw!

There’s never a lack of fun on our adventures…and that’s no secret!

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Dirty Laundry

Long-distance hikers have a dirty little secret. Unlike day hikers, we wear the same clothes day after day after day. Laundromats are in short supply out in the woods, which means those hiking clothes get sweaty, smelly, and stiff. “Acceptable” and “normal” are different on the trail!

We carry a set of hiking clothes which we put on every morning–wet or dry, clean or smelly. (Synthetic t-shirt, capris or hiking skirt, bra, shorts-style undies, and hiking socks.) We also carry a set of camp clothes–dry items that keep us from getting chilled when we stop the heavy, sweaty exertion of hiking. Obviously, these camp clothes get less grubby than the hiking clothes! (Synthetic tank top, leggings, thin undies and camp shoes. Plus a long-sleeved synthetic shirt in case it gets cold.) As soon as we get out of our hiking clothes at the end of the day, we hang them up to (hopefully) dry. Sometimes we adorn nails around the shelter. Other times we decorate a nearby tree. At nightfall, we often shove the clothes in our sleeping bags. Even if they are still damp in the morning, at least they won’t be cold and clammy! When we get to town every 4-7 days, we wash all of our clothes. Some hostels have “loaner clothes” to wear while doing laundry. Otherwise, two rain jackets work like a mini-dress while I stuff all the grubby clothes into the washing machine. (Andowen wraps up in her sleeping bag while I do laundry if there are no loaner clothes…) While we are hiking, we rarely notice how smelly we are. After all, everyone stinks! Occasionally, if we get to camp early on a sunny day, we might wash out a few of the most offensive clothes. We use the most basic of laundry facilities…

We dig out the “washing machine” from my pack: a gallon size ziploc bag and tiny bottle of biodegradable soap. Fill the bag partway with water from a stream or spring. Move a few hundred feet away from the water source. Squirt some soap on the clothes and put ’em in the bag. Shake and squeeze the bag, mimicking the agitation of a washer. Dump out filthy water. Add clean water and repeat until water stays clear of dirt or suds. (Yes, it is time consuming. This is why most hikers don’t bother…) We only go to this much effort if our clothes are particularly nasty…and if there is enough sun and a breeze to hopefully get the clothes dry by morning. A short line strung between trees helps. Obviously, we prefer to hike in dry, clean clothes. Sometimes after washing out clothes on the trail, we have to put on still-damp (but clean) hiking clothes in the morning. Ugh! Smaller items can be hung on the outside of our packs to dry by the time we get to camp that night. This dirty little secret of long-distance hikers might sound terrible to you. It’s really not so bad once you get out there. In-town standards of fashion and cleanliness give way to realities of weight and space available in the pack. We might not look or smell like day-hikers…but we hike with a smile on our faces. We love living in the woods…and that’s no secret!

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Lost and Found

Life changes when one takes on a “big epic.” A significant part of adventure is moving out of one’s comfort zone. Obviously, during that time frame, life is different than the usual routines of home. However, with most good epics, some changes are longer lasting. They continue even after returning back to “normal” life. Here are some of the things we lost…and found…on our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail earlier this fall.

LOST:

  • Fears (of snakes, of spiders, of walking in rain, of the dark, of getting lost!!)
  • Long to-do lists
  • “Need” for lots of “stuff” (except books…we still need books…)
  • Weight (if you find it somewhere, please don’t send it back…)
  • Tastebuds (everything tastes great when you are starving and tired at the end of a long day of hiking…fortunately we have regained these now that we are home!)
  • Need to be in control of even small details (okay, so this is an ongoing battle…) LOST

FOUND:

  • Outdoor Skills (reading a topo map, making a campfire, pitching a tent, and more)
  • Confidence
  • Courage
  • Perseverance (gotta keep walking until there’s a flat place to camp!)
  • Muscles (and hip bones…who knew I actually have hip bones?! HA!)
  • New Friends
  • Attitude of partnership and companionship between daughter and me
  • Enjoyment in simple pleasures
  • Ability to reframe frustrations by choosing a different attitude
  • Need for regular exercise (We are working hard to not lose this one again. Hubby asked this morning what I had planned for the day. I was shocked to hear myself say that I *needed* to get out and walk, that I was feeling jittery without exercise. What a stunning change from the couch-potato I was before this hike!) FOUND

We look forward to returning to the Appalachian Trail for another long-distance adventure. (Is it spring yet?!) We want to reinforce the attitudes and life skills we found this fall.

Have you taken on the challenge of a “Big Epic” recently? What things were lost and found for YOU along the way??

Music Therapy

Home-grown music is a significant part of our hiking adventure. Here’s a taste of what we can be heard singing as we walk along…

On misty, foggy mornings, daughter often starts with this song from Lord of the Rings: Edge of Night Misty trees

We sing this song back and forth when we are having fun and hiking with lots of energy: Hallelu, Hallelu Happy hikers

We sing this one when we are intimidated–facing shifting rocks and clambering over boulders on a trail that is not clearly marked: Psalms 56:3-4, When I Am Afraid Rock jumble

Sometimes I am just DONE and it feels like I can’t possibly take another step. This is when I ask daughter to sing for me. Somehow this song keeps me going: Overcomer It's a long trail

When the footing is hard or we are getting tired, daughter likes to sing this song, and sometimes she changes the lyrics to fit our adventure: Brother Stream crossing

One hostel we stayed in had a piano available for hikers to play. Daughter played a few songs she knows. Then I sat down and played through a book of folk songs. Ahhhh, a wonderful way to relax after a long day of hiking! Playing piano

In addition to making our own music, there have been a few times that our spirits have been lightened by music by others. One morning I was having a “gray day”–feeling like I was in a fog, with no energy to hike, but having to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We got to the shelter early and found “Hillbilly” settled in for the night. He hesitantly asked if it was okay to play guitar for awhile. He had written wonderful folk songs about growing up in Appalachia. As he sang, I got teary…and eventually the gray lifted and all was right with the world again. Thanks for the music therapy, Hillbilly! Hillbilly

What is your favorite music to get you through tough times or to give you energy?  We would love suggestions in the comments for us to check out!

(Note: we finished our adventure on Oct 21, but still have plenty of photos and blog posts to share with you about our epic adventure!)

Bear Pole?

When backpacking in bear country, it is important to hang all smelly things in a “bear bag” each night. This includes all food, trash, and personal care items. (Don’t worry, apparently even bears want nothing to do with sweaty, smelly, hiking socks and boots!)

In the past, hikers had to try to find the perfect tree…at least 200 feet from the tent with a branch 12 feet above the ground that is strong enough to hold all the items hanging at least 8 feet away from the tree trunk. Yeah, right. Not so easy to find in real life! (See more detailed instructions HERE, if interested.)

Because of the lack of perfect bear trees, most shelters and official campsites along the Appalachian Trail have installed “Bear Poles.” These metal trees have multiple hooks 12+ feet above the ground. The goal is to use the attached metal pole to lift the bear bag into the air and slide it onto one of the hooks. HAH! Bear Pole

I am hardly coordinated enough to do this at chest height where I can clearly see what I’m doing and where the weight of the bag is manageable. Trying to manage this feat with a heavy pole unbalanced by the weight of food bags becomes a comedy of missteps and errors. Hooking bear bag

I’ve decided these contraptions are actually “human torture devices.” Better yet,  they are probably secret “candid camera” set-ups for the entertainment of bears. Hanging bear bag

Yep, I can hear that young black bear snickering right now, and I’m sure granddaddy bear is guffawing at my pathetic attempts to master the seemingly simple “bear pole.” Wish me luck, folks, I think Yogi is about to have a picnic with my food!

(Note one: these photos are not representative.  They were taken at the shortest bear pole we have seen so far. Many posts are more than 12 feet high!)

(Note two: it is stacking the deck against me to have to reverse this process in the morning BEFORE I can get my hands on breakfast and morning caffeine…)

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