Tuesday, February 15, 2011

OBN writing prompt - Childhood Outdoors

A recent writing prompt at the OBN was themed around children's outdoor experiences. There were a few options, one of which was either write about a memory of being exposed to the outdoors as a child, or write about exposing a child to the outdoors. My post will be two-fold, as I'd like to address both of those topics.

When I was growing up, my brother and I played outside, camped a lot, and spent a lot of time at parks and the beach. We didn't watch a lot of TV so being outdoors was a big part of our lives. Our family went camping (coastal Maine) every summer and it was the best part of our year - I think our first camping experience was when I was 3 or 4 and my brother was still a toddler. We were lucky to grow up in a nice apartment complex with lots of kids and a relatively large outdoor area to roam around and play in. There was woods, grass, and rocks to play on and in, and we had a great time. Beyond just spending time outside at and near home, two big trips I took during my childhood really helped shape my love of the outdoors.

The first of these was a cross-country train trip my family took when I was 13. My aunt and uncle lived in Portland, OR and my parents wanted us to see the country, so we took the train from Boston to Portland, then on the way home from LA back to Boston. The train trip was amazing (there and back), but once we got to Oregon it was even better. My aunt & uncle loved road tripping and the outdoors, so they took us to see a lot of things. We went to Mount Ranier, Mount St. Helens, Crater Lake, the Redwoods, and many other great places. It opened up a whole new world to me besides just woods and rocky beach, which was mostly what I got back home. The landscapes were just stunning, and so much more awe-inspiring than anything I'd seen before. That trip left me wanting more of the west, which I would get a year later.

(top: brother & I at Mount St. Helens, middle: Crater Lake National Park, bottom: me on the Oregon coast)

One year later, my eighth-grade class decided to go to Colorado and Utah for our trip. The trip included biking in Moab, doing a program with the Canyonlands Field Institute and whitewater rafting in Colorado. It was an outdoor enthusiast's dream! When we arrived in CO, we stayed in Grand Junction for one night and I was amazed at how beautiful it was, with the mountains towering over everything. Biking in Moab was awesome (although hot & I almost got heat stroke, lol), and the Canyonlands & Arches were indescribable. We were in Utah with the CFI for 4 or 5 days, then we did a 2-night (I think: could've been 3 nights) whitewater rafting trip down the Dolores river. In addition to contributing to my falling in love with the west, this trip kicked off my affair with whitewater rafting - I would go on to do a rafting trip in Maine once a summer for close to 10 years. I sadly do not have any photos from this trip scanned, but it was an amazing trip and I would love to move out to CO or UT someday if life allows it.

Now, my second part of this post, an experience exposing a child to the outdoors. My fiance has a younger brother who's 14, and we try to have him come up & visit us every summer. This past summer we took him canoeing at our favorite spot on the Ipswich river. We spent an entire afternoon on the river, paddling and fishing, and pulling off at Perkins island (not really an island) to have lunch. A couple things to know about my fiance's brother; he's a great kid, but has some issues and was mostly brought up by TV. He doesn't get outside much, if at all, and is kind of scarily obsessed with video games. When he's with us, he does express interest in camping, hiking, biking, fishing etc., but he gets none of that exposure at home. It's pretty rewarding to give him these experiences when he's with us (he lives out of state, by the way, so coming to see us is a big deal).

So, this recent trip while we were on the water at one point, we were floating along calmly & checking out an egret that was on the shore, and he said something to me along the lines of "this is really, like, nice you know, it's nice and calm and stuff? I like it." This is coming from a kid with ADD/ADHD, problems in school, no attention span, who's obsessed with video games and TV and wrestling. It made me SO HAPPY to hear him say that, and I told him. Made both the fiance and I feel really good that we're able to give him experiences like this. Oh, and I believe the fish he caught was his first, even though he claimed to have caught fish before.

If we're able to have him come visit this summer, we're going to take him somewhere to do a hike, I think he'd really like it. We may not be able to have him up this summer because of the wedding, but we're going to see. It's nice that he's older and still enthusiastic about doing things like this with us, instead of being a mopey teenager & wanting to stay inside.

I think being outdoors is an absolutely essential component of a good, physically-and-emotionally healthy childhood; I'm grateful for the experiences I had as a kid and happy we can provide a little of that to my future brother-in-law. We plan to raise our kids the same way I grew up: loving, respecting and enjoying the outdoors and being able to appreciate the wonders of nature.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

REI Garage Sale

This past weekend, our REI had one of their semi-annual garage sales. Despite the cold and predicted snow, we got there around 8:00am and waited in line until 10:00 when the store opened, at which time we had a battle plan for someone to run to shoes, and the rest of us would head for gear. Let me give a little background on these sales: REI holds them four times a year - it's a sale of returned & damaged merchandise, sold at ridiculous discounts. Sometimes the damage is bad enough to make it not worth buying the item, sometimes it's repairable, and sometimes the "damage" is something like busted packaging, and sometimes the item was simply used and returned, so they can't sell it as new anymore. You have to be a member to purchase from the garage sale (membership is $20, and is lifetime), and you can become a member same-day to buy from the sale.

We discovered these sales about 2 years ago so I promptly got a membership, and we've been going to almost every sale since then. There are actually people who camp out overnight to be the first in the door for the sales - the deals are that good. An example of some of the better things we've gotten over the years, among many:
  • Numerous pairs of hiking boots for my fiance, who goes through shoes quickly - he can buy a pair for $15 or less at the sale which were either worn, had something small break on them, or "leaked" (we've never found any to actually leak). I got a pair of Keens two years ago for $12 that supposedly leaked, and I've hiked in rain, snow, and hail in them and they have never leaked. They're my favorite boots!
  • Backpacking packs for myself and my fiance - retired rentals, nothing wrong with them, for $19.99. Perfect for us beginner backpackers, although we'll probably upgrade eventually to something lighter. Mine's a size small, although not a women's, and still fits me pretty decently.
  • 4-person tent - my brother grabbed this one last year, for $20 I think, it's a Kelty and probably about $100 new. It was missing a rain fly - he puts a tarp over it and uses it for their annual guys-only camping trip.
  • Trekking poles - my fiance has found two single trekking poles at the sales - one needed a pin to hold the height, which he rigged with something, and one was missing its basket. Got them for pennies on the dollar. He prefers to just use one instead of two, so they work perfectly for him (they were designed to be singles, not part of a pair)

(my $19.99 pack, on the trail on Camel's Hump in 2009)

Pretty much, if you get in early to grab at the good stuff, you can find some amazing deals. Thing is, REI has a 100% satisfaction guarantee on everything they carry, so a lot of the things at these sales are just returned or used, not damaged. People do get in quickly and rush the gear table, so you have to be quick to get the good stuff. Another trick is to wait around until after the initial rush is over - people will hoard things but then look through their stuff and put some back, so vulching around can sometimes net a good item.

(My fiance on the trail this past fall with his $19.99 pack, $12 pole, and $7 hat, all from garage sales. His pants may've been a garage sale find too...)

This year, I left disappointed with not one thing :( However, the guys made out pretty well - fiance spent $25 on a pair of $140-regularly priced Lowa boots that were simply worn & returned, my brother got a $75 Leatherman multi-tool for $12 because the blade was straight instead of cerrated, and our other friend got two pairs of boots and a tent. There was a Burton jacket for $35 missing a zipper pull, which I could've easily fixed ($200 jacket regularly), but I realized I don't need a new jacket and behaved myself and didn't buy it. I was sad because I'd wanted to look for snowshoes, but they were snapped up before I even got into the store.

If we're able to make the one in the spring, I'll be looking for snowshoes again (missed them all this time), and maybe packs for something lighter. I don't need boots and I'm good on clothes for now, so we shall see. We'd like to camp out for one of them sometime, just for fun! REI.com has a list of store locations and the garage sales will be listed under the store events and classes. I know our Boston area REI stores do them around the same time, so there probably won't be one around here for 3 months or so, but check out your local store's page & keep checking until they list one! If you go - remember to get there pretty early if you want a chance at the good stuff. Bring camp chairs, layers if it'll be chilly out, and lots of coffee. The other folks in line are usually pretty cool :D

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow and boarding

After 3 years, I've finally gotten back to snowboarding! I have just not had the time or money the past few years, and 2 weekends ago I finally dusted off the old board and hit a local park with a big hill. I figured a local park would be a (free!) good spot to brush up, and brush up I did. Didn't fall as much as I thought I would. I'm a little timid on the board, and I was never that good, but I had a great time. My brother came with me the first time, then the second time we took my fiance and a friend. This past summer, a co-worker of mine moved to Germany and sold a lot of his things he didn't want to bring along. He had a nice Burton board & bindings he wanted $100 for, plus boots for $30, so I snapped it all up for my fiance Pano, since he'd be much more likely to try it if he had his own gear. Great deal for all of it, and the board and boots are exactly his size!

(my LTD Snow board on the left, and fiance's Burton Float on the right)

When we all went together that first weekend, our other friend who came didn't have a board or tube or anything, so he took a big box to sled with - it worked pretty well for what it was! My brother got Pano strapped into his board to try out, gave him the basics, and got him going. I was both surprised and not surprised that by the end of the day, he was going down the entire hill without falling, and enjoyed it!

(Top: fiance, front: brother, down the hill: friend with sled-box, middle. Bottom: me pretending to rock it)

A few issues we need to iron out: my boots don't fit well (too big), Pano realized he was more comfortable boarding regular, with his left foot forward, but his board is set up to be goofy, which is right foot forward, and his board needs a sharpening/wax. When I got my gear 5 or 6 years ago they did fit me for boots, but they're really too big & very hard to get into, so I am going to look into replacing them. We will bring Pano's board somewhere to get tuned up and have the bindings adjusted for him, and he has no problem with his boots. Last weekend we tried a different venue and went to the local golf course, which was great but we went late in the day & lost the light pretty quickly. Hoping to go again this weekend if we have the time! I'd like to go to a real mountain, but unfortunately all of us are pretty broke, so doing it locally for free is really great.

(pretty snowy road and trees after one of our storms)

This is a really nice way to get outside a little during all this ***** snow we're having. I'll be the first to say I love the snow, but enough is enough. We probably have had 60+ inches of snow this year so far, and it's totally insane. There are 20-30 foot piles around and they just keep getting bigger with every storm (we've been getting a storm a week since the new year). I've been hit with some really bad cabin fever lately and getting out to board a little has been helping. I wanted to start winter hiking this year and I'm planning to get some microspikes to try out, but there's just too much snow right now - I'd need snowshoes, which are more than I can afford at the moment. Snowboarding is an acceptable substitute for now and I'm glad I'm actually getting to do it this year!