Backpacking Guadalupe Peak

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Our backpacks were too heavy. Nobody had trained. Nobody had even worn their packs before except me, and mine hadn’t left the garage in at least ten years.

On paper, the hike seemed easy. It was four miles up the trail with a 3,000 foot elevation gain, reaching a final height of 8,600 feet above sea level. The logistics of getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and back to Houston in one weekend were what had me the most worried … at least until we stepped on the trail.

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We formulated a plan to leave Thursday after work and drive to Kerrville, then get up Friday morning and drive the rest of the way to to the park. Once there we would obtain the limited backwoods camping passes for the Guadalupe Peak Trail from the rangers, then hike up the mountain. After we set up camp, we’d hike the rest of the way up the peak to watch the sunset. Then I’d take some amazing milky way photos, maybe even do some starry sky timelapse videos before heading to bed. Then we’d wake up before dawn to hike back up to the peak to watch the sunrise before walking down the mountain to go explore other things like Carlsbad Caverns or the strange Prada store in Marfa.

Things did not go exactly as planned.

We did leave Thursday night, and we did make it to Kerrville.

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The Holiday Inn Express had a fancy Texas-shaped pool. Unfortunately it was far too cold and late in the evening to try it out. The next morning we were back on the road.

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We made it to Guadalupe Mountains National Park around 1 p.m. and were very lucky to snag one of the few remaining backwoods camping permits. We unloaded our gear and headed up the mountain.

I’d done a fair amount of backpacking when I was in the Boy Scouts, and I was lucky that I still had my gear. However, nobody else had really tried out their packs, some of which had been procured through eBay, so everyone was starting the hike with discomfort.

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I also didn’t have time to open each person’s pack and ruthlessly throw all their belongings back in the car saying, “Nope, can’t take this,” like the guides and counselors did to me back in the old days. No deodorant. No extra batteries. Not even a toothbrush unless you break off the handle. What’s worse is I didn’t even follow my own rules and packed in two camera bodies, three lenses and a tripod in anticipation of all the amazing photography I was going to do. (So glad I brought a tripod for this …)

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Let’s just say it was a very long hike up the mountain.

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We stopped to rest often.

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We really should have paid attention to the fact that the trail was marked strenuous.

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Although we made sure to find plenty of photo ops.

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Five and a half hours later, we finally reached the sign for the camping area.

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Unfortunately that arrow on the sign doesn’t actually point in the right direction. The trail is off to the right of the sign, so the girls took a break while TJ and I wandered the mountain looking for any sign of a camp.

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It turned out to be just over the ridge of lower peak, so we made the last march of day into the camping area and set up our tents.

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We started cooking dinner just as the sun was setting. No, we weren’t going to be able to watch sunset from the peak, but there were times throughout the day when we weren’t sure we were even going to make it as far as we had.

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As I set up my cameras to capture some stars, the brightest full moon I’ve ever seen rose into the sky. I thought it made the night look a bit unique, so I set up a timelapse anyway. Then, since the moon hadn’t been able to dissuade me, the clouds moved in as mother nature had a good laugh about the fact that I’d carried all that camera equipment for nothing.

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The weather in the desert makes massive shifts between day and night, so we all layered up to fight the cold. The dehydrated food never tasted so good. Our friends passed around a flask, and we all took a nip of Scotch before climbing into sleeping bags and quickly falling into a deep, black sleep.

Around 2 a.m. the wind had picked up to better than 25 miles per hour. It had been impossible to drive stakes into the hard ground where we were camping, so Mary sent me out with rope to tie the tent down to whatever rocks and trees were within reach. The moon loomed over me, lighting the work. I never even had to turn on the flashlight.

We slept through sunrise.

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The dehydrated egg scramble had never tasted so good, and spirits were high as we knew we didn’t have to carry our backpacks up to the peak.

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Yes, we’d missed the sunrise, but it would still be a nice hike.

 

I packed some water and my camera into a sleeping bag stuff sack, slung it over my shoulder, and we headed for the top.

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The last mile was full of beautiful scenes. We couldn’t get enough photos, but even without packs, everyone was still having a bit of a struggle.

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Once we passed El Capitan, we knew we were almost there.

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A few portions of the trail crossed steep rock face, which had Mary crabwalking, but she overcame her fear of heights to cross them.

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Despite various threats of quitting, we all made it to the tallest point in Texas together.

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Inside the ammunition box at the base of the monument was a log book, signed by all who make the hike. Some people put serious thought into what they write. The book is full of poetry and quotes. We added our own signatures to the pages.

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Had we had more time, water and a permit, I think everyone would have been content to stay another night before breaking camp and hiking down the mountain, but we didn’t have that luxury. We made a quick lunch and then reluctantly put on our backpacks.

Mary had a sore knee, so it was slow going. Even so, it only took us about two hours to get down the hill — a marked improvement compared to our ascent.

I left my pack with everyone at the base of the trail and hiked over to the ranger station to get the car. Everyone was very excited to sit down.

We drove to Van Horn and celebrated our achievement with dinner and drinks at the El Capitan Hotel.

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We made the long drive back the Houston Sunday with one question in mind, what mountain do we conquer next?

4 Ways we Reduced Trash, on and off the Boat

In the general spirit of earth day, I decided to try to make 4 changes in our household that would reduce the amount of general trash that we produce. On the boat the reasons are obvious — there is limited space. Besides having a tiny trash can, it gets old to constantly haul tons of tiny bags of trash to the dumpster, and the dumpster is only an option in the marina. At sea you may have to live with that trash for weeks and weeks.

Instead of buying a bigger trashcan and increasing the percentage of our small boat that was full of trash, I decided to make some changes. Most of our trash on the boat is cans and bottles, almost 100%. There is no recycling offered at the marina. So that leads me to..

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#1. Reusable bottles. While I wish we could trust the water from our holding tanks, it tastes terrible. However, from now on we’ve committed to never buying disposable plastic water bottles. We have several reusable bottles of different colors that we refill and keep in the fridge — most of which were free at some event or another. This provides the added benefit of being able to take the big jugs of drinking water home to refill them for free.

Besides buying pony kegs of beer or one of those soda makers I couldn’t think of anymore ways to reduce waste on the boat, and neither of those options seemed highly practical for weekenders. However, I’m open to more tips or suggestions.  We can always use less waste!

Not wanting to give up, I turned to our land-lubbing abode to find my other 3 rules to inflict on my husband.

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#2. Recycling at home. I cleaned out our pantry and went to the garage to find Fred’s recycling crate. He has never once used it…ever. It was totally full of junk, as a lot of things are in our garage. After spending way more time than I expected cleaning the garage (once you start it’s hard to stop), I installed our new recycling crate right in the pantry where hopefully it will get lots of use.

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#3. Composting. To go right along with my gardening I have this delightful composter. While I don’t get a lot of dirt back out of it, it does seem to make all of my yard/kitchen waste go away.

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#4. Reusable grocery bags. I had about 100 of these bags scattered throughout my house, not doing anyone any good.  I combined them all into the biggest bag, and I moved them out into my car. I figure even if I forget to take them back out here and there, I should have enough bags for grocery shopping already in my car for about a year. No excuses.

I know it’s not much, but it’s a start. Please feel free to leave any more tips on reducing waste!

I’m not much of a cyclist

In 2007 I was asked to spend a Saturday in La Grange, Texas photographing cyclists doing some sort of two-day charity ride from Houston to Austin. That was my first exposure to the BP MS 150, and the energy and atmosphere was overwhelming. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since I was 12, but right then and there I pledged to ride in 2008.

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I bought a bike, I trained, and I rode the 187 miles from Houston to Austin. That year I raised $660 for the National MS Society.

Despite swearing that I’d never put myself through that misery again, in 2009 I found myself back on the bike.

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That year I raised $850 for the National MS Society.

In 2010 I’d had enough riding. I sold my bike, and I took over as Team Captain and organizer for the Technip MS 150 Team. For the past five years the BP MS 150 hasn’t just been a charity event, it’s been MY charity event.

I was content to organize for a couple years, but as you sit in the team tent and congratulate the riders for besting the challenge, you just want to be out there, so in 2013 insanity struck again. I bought another bike and made another ride, although this time my back and my legs weren’t holding up as well even though I did the shorter express route, which was only 167 miles.

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I was supposed to ride again in 2014, but I was introduced to sailboat racing that year with the GBCA Icicle Series, which took place the same weekends I should have been training for the ride. Then I ended up in London for work the entire week of the event, so Mary and I just volunteered.

However, this year I was determined to ride again! I raised $1025 for the National MS Society this year, the best fund raising I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, that was offset by failing to train … at all … whatsoever. The week before the event I finally pulled my bike out of the garage and aired up the tires. I managed to squeeze in a total of three hour-long sessions on the stationary trainer before D-Day hit.

Sailing has some very good health benefits. The constant motion of the boat does strengthen your core and help your balance. Pulling lines and raising the anchor does work the arms, shoulders, back and legs. However, I can say with 100 percent certainty that sailing every weekend is not appropriate training for a 100+ mile bike ride.

When the thunderstorms hit and the La Grange fairgrounds flooded canceling Day 1 of the ride, I don’t think I was the only rider feeling relieved. Day 1 is the 100-mile portion, and while the logistics of getting my 90 riders to La Grange Sunday morning were daunting, it wasn’t as scary as that 100-mile ride.

I spent Saturday morning picking up trash at the spring Adopt-A-Beach Clean Up, and I spent Saturday evening carbo-loading. Sunday morning we were up at 4 a.m. and headed to the office to get the volunteers set up for rider check-in.

By 7:30 a.m. the riders and I were in La Grange and lining up for the start of the 67-mile ride from La Grange to Austin.

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My group finally rolled out at ten till 9. By 9:30 I was really wishing I had done some training.

By noon I was ready to die, but I kept on pedaling. In previous years I had been able to skip rest stops to save time. Not this year. I made full use of every break point the volunteers provided.

Not until 6 p.m. did I finally roll into the Austin city limits, feeling terrible that I had told Mary I’d finish by 4 p.m. at the latest. It was almost 6:30 p.m. when I finally reached the finish line, but there was Mary, still waiting for me with the camera in hand.

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I felt a vindication as I crossed the finish line. Something along the lines of, hey, you’ve still got the willpower to push through this kind of challenge. I’m also very proud that my team has now raised more than $63,000 for the National MS Society this year.

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However, the experience was a wake up call. I can’t let myself fall out of shape again doing nothing but sitting on a boat drinking beer every weekend. There’s a new fitness program being implemented aboard Gimme Shelter.

I’m not sure if any of my co-workers and donors read the blog, but thank you to all the riders, our two riders that volunteered as ride marshals, all the volunteers who supported the riders, and all of our donors.

I think I’m through with cycling. I’m really tempted to sell the road bike and buy two folding bikes for the boat — but you never know. Whether riding or not, I’ll be there supporting the MS Society in 2016.

2015 GBCA Icicle Series begins

With rainy weather in the mid-50s, there were no actual icicles to be seen during the first race of the 2015 Galveston Bay Cruising Association Icicle Series Regatta. However, I was glad I decided to put on a coupe extra layers of clothing before reporting to the boat Saturday morning.

With Antares, the Cal 40 we crewed with last year, suffering from a leaking fuel pump, I crewed for our friends Andy and Jayne aboard their new boat Hippokampus, a Pearson 422. It was my first time sailing with them, and it was their first time racing the boat, so it was a learning experience for all of us.image

All was going well as we approached the starting line. Then we attempted our first tack to begin the race.

That turned out to be a very long tack. The jib wrapped itself up on the furled stay sail, and it never took less than two of us to run to the foredeck and work it loose. Jibes were no problem, but a clean tack proved impossible, and we ended up starting ten minutes late.

Once started, the first leg of the race went well. Then when we were about ten minutes away from the second marker, the wind shifted. That resulted in a couple more very dirty tacks to stay out of the ship channel and make it around the tower.

The last leg would have been uneventful until we were about ten minutes from the finish, at which point the wind completely died. That last ten minutes stretched to thirty as we sped towards the channel at a whopping 1 knot.

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Of course, the day wouldn’t have ended appropriately if we hadn’t had to make one last tack to get through the finish markers. We actually furled the jib and used to stay sail to  make the turn, then unfurled the jib to finally crawl across the line.

It’s interesting how many time during the race that starting ten minutes late made a difference. Of course, nobody was worried about where we placed. It was great just to be on the water with friends, learning the ins and outs of a new boat. Of course, the rum served after the race was great too.

More photos of the regatta can be found here, courtesy of John & Scott Lacy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lacyphotos/sets/72157649706310299/