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How To Focus on Process Goals While Hiking Margaret’s Way

On this week’s hike along Margaret’s Way on Squak Mountain, my hiking buddy and I discussed goals. I described the difference between process goals and outcome goals. If you have a particular goal that you never quite seem to reach, it could be that focusing on process goals could better serve you. Let’s take a closer look.

Starting up the trail toward Margaret's Way on Squak. We had an opportunity to discuss process goals and outcome goals.
Starting up the trail toward Margaret’s Way on Squak. We discussed process goals and outcome goals.

One important note before I dive in: If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may know that I prefer to write about “intentions” rather than “goals”. To me, the word has a kinder, gentler, less guilt-provoking feeling to it. Less emotional baggage. Here are several posts on setting intentions from the past year that you might find helpful.

How To Set Intentions for the New Year January 2023

Mt. Washington: How To Set Intentions May 2023

Murky Middle: How to Follow Through on Intentions June 2023

How to Grow a Hiking Practice on Squak Mountain January 2024

A break in the clouds cast Ajax's shadow as we returned to a viewpoint along Margaret's Way.
A break in the clouds cast Ajax’s shadow as we returned to a viewpoint along Margaret’s Way.

Whether you use “intention” or “goal” the result is similar. Onward. Outcome goals are those results you’re striving for, like finding a life partner, landing a dream job, or publishing a book. Focusing solely on outcome goals can cause anxiety, lack of control, and demotivation if they seem impossible to reach. What’s more, outcome goals often neglect the journey and can lead to dissatisfaction regardless of your achievement.

Process goals, on the other hand, are the bite-sized actions you take consistently that are directed toward your goal. Focusing on process goals leads to increased motivation, a greater sense of accomplishment, and empowerment. Stringing small successes together leads to positive momentum and helps you get unstuck.

The three outcome goals I will use to illustrate how process goals work are the following:

  • Reaching a certain weight
  • Climbing X mountain
  • Being happier
Ajax looks back as if to ask, "Which way, Mama, Bullitt's Fireplace or Debbie's View?"
Ajax looks back as if to ask, “Which way, Mama, Bullitt’s Fireplace or Debbie’s View?”

Whether you embrace process goals or outcome goals, make sure each of your goals is a SMART goal. Make each goal specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-stamped.

Having a clear outcome goal is like knowing the endpoint, your destination on a map. But even airline pilots are off-course the majority of the time. Their process goals keep them on track so they arrive at the right airport.

It is far easier — not to mention more self-loving — to focus on what we can control than to worry about those we cannot. We have zero control over the weather, other people’s opinions or comments, or politics. But we can control where we choose to live and visit, what we make other’s thoughts mean to us, and what news station we listen to.

THINK ABOUT THIS:

  • Discover your underlying WHY. What would accomplishing your goal get you or do for you?
  • How would your life be different if you reached your goal? If you know you run on adrenaline and want to climb Mt. Rainier purely for the thrill of it, will that be enough, or will it just be one in a series of conquests?
  • What are you really seeking, and why?
Beautiful ferns grace the trunk of this tree.
Beautiful ferns grace the trunk of this tree.

Imagine that your goal is to lose 20 pounds in three months by sticking to your exercise and eating plan. While it is specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-stamped, it is still a little nebulous. The uncertainty comes from “exercise and eating plan.” We all know that moving more and eating less or better should take us to weight loss. But will your exercise and eating plan be the right one?

What if you focused, instead, on process goals? What do people at their setpoint weight do? A new process-goal plan might look something like this:

  • Drink a 10-ounce glass of water first thing in the morning, one with each of three meals, and one before bed. 50 ounces, tied to specific actions in the day so they’re easier to remember.
  • Move the body at least thirty minutes a day outside in whatever way brings me joy.
  • Eat a palm-sized portion of protein at every meal or snack opportunity.
  • Shut off electronics 45 minutes before bedtime and go to sleep at the same time each night.
Outcome goal: shoot a great photo of a gray owl. Process goals: watch birds twice a week; shoot a photo every day; carry binoculars on walks and practice spotting a bird before bringing binoculars to my eyes.
Outcome goal: shoot a great photo of a gray owl. Process goals: watch birds twice a week; shoot a photo every day; carry binoculars on walks and practice spotting a bird before bringing binoculars to my eyes.

By nailing down the habits a healthy person has, and instilling action items specific to reaching that goal, you will feel better, maintain lean muscle mass, move more comfortably, alleviate stress, reset your Circadian rhythms, and direct yourself naturally and organically toward your outcome goal.

If your goal is to climb Mt. Rainier, the outcome goal is reaching the summit and coming back down safely. What would the process goals look like?

  • Carry a pack weekly, increasing mileage, elevation gain, and pack weight no more than 10% per week
  • Twice a week, strengthen the legs, back, and core specific to carrying a heavy pack for three straight days over challenging terrain
  • Take a skills training course or find a professional to teach you about knots, rope handling, crampon use, and navigation
  • Practice fueling (protein and carbs 100 calories each) and hydrating (four ounces of water or electrolyte solution) every hour on conditioning hikes
  • Ask guides, your coach, or rangers about the best window of opportunity to climb to increase the chance of having favorable weather, then practice in all conditions so you’re ready for anything

You can see that the process goals above are completely within your control. See if you can think of five more process goals you might do to help increase the likelihood of reaching the outcome above.

Little Tahoma from Camp Schurman on Mt. Rainier. The shadow behind is Rainier's shadow.
Little Tahoma from Camp Schurman on Mt. Rainier. The shadow behind is Rainier’s shadow.

To come up with process goals for being happier, first, identify what brings you joy. Joyful Rejuvenation is one of the seven pillars of wellness I coach active, stressed women on at our new health and wellness company, Thrive Clues.

Please note that “being happier” is nebulous. Without more context, you could achieve it simply by finding a dollar bill on the ground. It is also highly individual and based on your values, personality, and identity.

While one person might define “happiness” as having material wealth and the ability to retire at age 50, someone else might define it as working until age 100 because they love it so much, as long as they can hike once a week with their dog.

Ajax and a sculpture of a canine relative at nearby Olympic Hills Elementary School.
Ajax and a sculpture of a canine relative at nearby Olympic Hills Elementary School.

Here are a few process goals for being happier that appear to be universal:

  • Have consistent, regular social contact with people who bring you joy and support you
  • Move the body at least 30 minutes a day in whatever activity brings you pleasure
  • Manage your stress by planning on doing something you enjoy daily

We learn best from each other’s experiences and our own mistakes. If you would like to share what has worked for you regarding process goals, please share in the comments below. A few parting thoughts:

  • Identify specific actions that are within your control.
  • Break down each goal into smaller, manageable tasks. This will enhance the clarity of what you’re going to do, when you will do it, and it will help you track your progress.
  • Enlist the help of an accountability partner, friend, or coach who will support your efforts.
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How To Warm Up, Pace Yourself, and Hydrate While Hiking

Earlier this year, I introduced the idea of how to grow a hiking practice. While my hiking partner undergoes physical adaptations after only three hikes, I’m noticing subtle mental transformations which I’ll describe in my next post. Join me in learning how to warm up, pace yourself, and hydrate while hiking. We have also included a bonus one-minute video on how to perform the rest step for anyone traveling above 8,500′ elevation.

How To Warm Up, Pace Yourself, and Hydrate While Hiking
Selfie at the summit of W. Tiger 3. Ajax and I managed to get above the cloud layer on February 13, but Rainier remained hidden.

For our first hike to Tiger, I shared the Tradition Lake Loop with my partner. At 3 miles and 150′ of elevation gain, it’s a perfect test for someone who is returning to the mountains after an absence or for someone who wants to gain experience and confidence in wilderness exploration.

Question: My hiking partner asked me: Why are the first five minutes of every hike SO HARD?

Ajax and my hiking partner at the toppled bus on the Bus Route of Tiger Mountain.
Ajax and my hiking partner at the toppled bus on the Bus Route of Tiger Mountain.

Answer: it takes a few minutes for your body to warm up, especially if you’ve been sitting in a car for a while. As you would with any gym workout, prepare your body for exertion by easing into your pace. Many people plan a clothing break at about minute 15. Others strip a layer at the trailhead, knowing they’re going to warm up quickly.

During the first five minutes of any workout, your heart works harder to deliver blood and oxygen to the firing muscles. Once that flow is established, you should feel more comfortable. Runners call it “hitting their stride”. It’s similar for hiking.

TAKEAWAY: Be gentle with your body. Start a little slower than you normally would. Allow at least five minutes to get your body used to moving. You might even try walking around the parking lot for a few minutes before you put on your pack.

How To Warm Up, Pace Yourself, and Hydrate While Hiking
A delightfully spongy mossy branch that reminded me of the incredibly deep mossy wall we encountered on the South Island of New Zealand.

On our second hike, I decided to see how she handled some elevation. We headed up the West Tiger 3 trail toward the Talus Rock Trail, aiming for a 3.5-mile loop with 800 feet of elevation gain.

Question: What do you do if your body wants to start and stop all the time?

My hiking partner looks relieved to have finished most of the elevation gain. If you learn to pace yourself, you'll have a much more enjoyable time on the trail.
My hiking partner looks relieved to have finished most of the elevation gain. If you learn to pace yourself, you’ll have a much more enjoyable time on the trail.

Answer: Learn how to pace yourself. As soon as we shifted into traveling uphill she asked for a rest. Several minutes later she requested another. She asked why her thighs were burning. I explained that she was in her anaerobic zone, which couldn’t be sustained for longer than 1-2 minutes at a time.

Instead, we continued uphill at a slower pace that allowed her to travel without huffing and puffing. She sustained a more constant and comfortable rate without stopping every few minutes. A classic case of the tortoise beating the hare.

Similarly, when climbers get above 8,500′ they often feel light-headed, dizzy, or nauseous. Using the rest step allows their legs to rest with each step so they, too, can keep going at a constant steady pace. Here is a brief video demonstrating this technique.

TAKEAWAY: Start-and-stop pacing is the quickest way to tire yourself out. I learned that the hard way on my first Rainier climb 30 years ago. Instead, find a pace that you can keep going for at least 30 minutes without stopping. That is your “endurance zone” pace for the day.

Ajax shuns the camera for this first Tiger Tuesdays group photo.
Ajax shuns the camera for this first Tiger Tuesdays group photo.

For week 3, we reversed the direction of our second hike. This time we warmed up on the Bus Trail, climbed the Section trail, and descended via the Nook Trail.

Question: How do you keep yourself from bonking on the trail?

Answer: If you start slow and pace yourself, another great strategy is to stay hydrated. On our first two hikes, my partner chose to drink in the car before and after the hike. On the third, I suggested she bring a water bottle so she could drink on the trail.

Ajax and I explored Tiger soon after a health scare in 2021. Nothing keeps me from the rejuvenating solace of the woods.
Ajax and I explored Tiger soon after a health scare in 2021. Nothing keeps me from the rejuvenating solace of the woods.

The result? Increased stamina and increased performance. Certainly, her body is adapting to the hiking after three weeks. But it also could more efficiently deliver blood and nutrients to the working muscles. In week four she’s going to bring a few snacks. As her body adapts to the distance, elevation, and in time, lightweight, she’ll see carryover into other realms of her life.

TAKEAWAY: Hydration and fuel are key to performance for any outing longer than about 90 minutes. If you feel like you “bonk” on the trail and you’re not carrying water or food, try it. You might see amazing results.

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Overcome Overwhelm: How to Inch Forward

Last Monday I felt overwhelmed by a new health diagnosis. I sent my accountability partner one intention for the week: “To get by.” I cried. I journaled. And I reminded myself that this, too, shall pass, like every other physical challenge I’ve ever confronted. Three days later, I updated her with, “Still standing. Here are all the things I accomplished this week.” By removing every expectation except self-care, I was able to shrink the feeling of extreme stress. Doing so allowed me to inch forward until I felt closer to normal. Below are some strategies you can use to overcome overwhelm.

Feel like nothing is going to be left of you once you get out from under the weight of the world? Want to overcome overwhelm? There is hope.
Feel like nothing is going to be left of you once you get out from under the weight of the world? Want to overcome overwhelm? There is hope.

Someone who is overwhelmed feels incapable of doing anything. They become “deer in the headlights.” Overwhelmed is the desire to bury your head in the sand. Draw the covers over your head and never come out. Watch silly cat videos because you have no bandwidth for anything harder. It comes from feeling like we have to do EVERYTHING. RIGHT NOW. PERFECTLY. Says who?

What if we gave up the need to control everything in our lives?

Brene Brown, researcher and author of many wonderful books on shame and vulnerability, writes that there is a huge difference between overwhelm and stress. While overwhelm shuts us down, we can usually handle stress. Stress manifests itself as an internal or external pressure to do something. Feeling overwhelmed means we are incapable of doing anything. Too much stress–without effective ways of handling it–often leads to overwhelm.

What are some ways you can prevent overwhelm?

When your only option feels like crawling under a rock, take massive care of yourself. Sleep. Hug a friend. Cry. Then pick ONE THING that will help you move forward again. You can do this.
When your only option feels like crawling under a rock, take massive care of yourself. Sleep. Hug a friend. Cry. Then pick ONE THING that will help you move forward again. You can do this.

Joan Baez is quoted as saying that action is the antidote to despair. Likewise with overwhelm. By taking one tiny step forward, we prevent overwhelm from stopping us in our tracks. In December 2021, I discussed the power of doing one thing to prevent overwhelm.

Another useful strategy is to identify your values, identity, strengths, and desires and review them often when faced with tough decisions. Unsure what you value? Try this worksheet.

An assessment you may find helpful is the Big Five Personality Traits. Unlike other personality tests such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, this one is backed by modern research and data analysis and is considered more accurate than older tests.

It uses 100 questions to assess your scores in five areas: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. (A helpful way to remember them is with the acronym OCEAN). You can take the free assessment here.

he Big Five Personality Traits test suggests that extroverted people are happier. That doesn't mean introverts can't find joy, just that joy comes from solitude rather than parties and crowds.
The Big Five Personality Traits test suggests that extroverted people are happier. That doesn’t mean introverts can’t find joy, just that joy comes from solitude rather than parties and crowds.

An example of how knowing myself better helps me reduce overwhelm: I test as introverted and high in agreeableness. I loathe confrontation. By working hard to develop skills around sticking up for myself, I can prevent future problems that might stem from hot debates I know I can never win. Similarly, knowing that my husband is an extrovert, I can choose to join him at smaller social engagements to prevent overwhelm.

TRY THIS: After completing the MBTI or Personality Traits assessment, think about how knowing more about your deep-rooted personality traits might help you make choices that support you.

My husband asked if I’d heard the saying that fear is a”mile wide and an inch deep.” Edgar Nye first coined the phrase, but he was talking about the Platte River. It applies to overwhelm, as well. After my recent health diagnosis on Monday, I shut down for most of the afternoon.

Fortunately, I had a hike with a friend planned for the next morning. Nothing provides balm for my soul quite like a visit to the mountains.

Hiking with Ajax and a friend helped me reframe my story. I got this. Thanks, Mother Nature.
Hiking with Ajax and a friend helped me reframe my story. I got this. Thanks, Mother Nature.

Following that hike, I faced another medical appointment and classes I wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to face the day before. Did I move through the five stages of grief (ending at acceptance) that quickly? No.

I reframed my story, another technique I wrote about on Jan. 17, 2022. I saw the possible benefits of the new diagnosis as potentially curing another problem I’ve faced for two years. But I had to come to terms with the new information to move forward.

TRY THIS: Think of a situation where you felt shut down. What single step might you take, next time, to pull yourself out of it?

Once you take any tiny step, you build forward momentum. You overcome overwhelm with action. You won’t drown in an inch of water unless you believe with all your heart that you will. Likewise, if you have confidence that you will find a way forward, you will. What you focus on grows. If you focus on the negative, you will attract more negatives. If you seek the positives, you will find more to support you.

Here are more ideas that might help.

  • Identify what, specifically, feels overwhelming right now. Journal about it.
  • Break big goals into smaller steps. Identify ONE and only one thing to do today. If you finish that one, you might find yourself naturally doing another but do not put pressure on yourself.
  • Differentiate between urgent and important tasks. Make sure you are doing the most important thing today.
  • Establish a routine to create order and reduce stress.
  • Delegate tasks to others so you don’t have to do everything yourself. Learn how to say no.
  • Move. Whether in the mountains or the city, moving will remind you of the importance of taking action.
  • Create a list of wins, ANYTHING that shows forward progress.
100% of the time when I get overwhelmed, I plan to get out in nature just as soon as I possibly can. For me, nothing heals like a hike in the woods.
Anytime I get overwhelmed, I plan a trip to the mountains as soon as I can. Nothing resets my spirit like connecting with nature.

No matter what your situation is, as long as you have hope that things will improve, you can overcome overwhelm and move forward. Here are some takeaways for you to try.

By taking tiny steps, you build forward momentum. One day that may mean sitting outside in the backyard watching the birds. Getting out of bed to feed your pets. Putting the Twinkies back on the shelf and buying a package of Rotisserie chicken instead. But each of those is a win. And no win is too small.

I use this example all. the. time. What took me a full 2 weeks in July 2021 – coming up with a blog post to launch into the universe — has become a routine process I do consistently, every week. That one blog post has grown to an entire body – 127 to be exact – of “get unstuck” wisdom I gladly share with my clients and readers. And I refer back to it often as my “Owner’s Manual.”

When your world feels like it is toppling all around you, ground yourself in what you still have. You are, after all, still alive. That's something to be grateful for.
When your world feels like it has toppled all around you, ground yourself in gratitude. After all, you’re still here.

Recognize your progress, no matter how small. Keep taking steps forward, a little at a time. You never know where they might lead you. Record your steps. Make note of what you still have. Write down what you’re grateful for. And get curious about what caused your feelings so you can change the outcome next time.

If you found this article helpful, please share a comment. I love to hear from readers.

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Box Breathing: How To Use It to Manage Anxiety

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a powerful technique for managing anxiety. I first introduced it on my blog in December of 2022. Since then, I’ve shared it with coaching clients. It can be quite simple to pause, take a few moments, and calm ourselves whenever we’re stressed. The key is to know the technique and practice it. If you struggle with being anxious, stressed, fearful, or nervous, try it for yourself by following our YouTube video on box breathing. You can also read more about it.

Coach Court shares Box Breathing Minute from our Thrive Clues YouTube channel.

As you try the box breathing technique demonstrated above in our box breathing video, notice what you feel. Perhaps you feel a shift in mental clarity. Or physical relaxation, including loosening the shoulders or an urge to do some neck rolls. Maybe you feel increased safety or comfort.

If not, remember that mastering any new skill takes practice and repetition. For future practice, try making the exhale take 6 counts instead of 4. Longer exhales are especially helpful for the vagal nerve.

If you did feel something shifted, congratulations! You’ve just learned a powerful tool for resetting yourself whenever you feel anxious.

I may not always have time to get out to my happy place in the mountains. But I always have time for box breathing. Olallie Lake as seen from the trail to Rainbow and Island Lakes.
I may not always have time to get out to my happy place in the mountains. But I always have time for box breathing. Olallie Lake as seen from the trail to Rainbow and Island Lakes.

Why is Box Breathing so effective? It helps regulate the body’s stress response in several ways.

Box breathing shifts us from a sympathetic (i.e. fight, flight, freeze, or flee) to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. We evolved with both. In today’s society, many of us have chronic stress. Try reminding yourself that there is no tiger in the room, no fire to put out, no mammoth at your doorstep.

Deep box breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calmness. We are in a much better position to make important decisions when we are calm. We also are much easier to get along with!

A tarn on the way from Snow Lake to Gem Lake.
A tarn on the way from Snow Lake to Gem Lake.

Focusing on the simple act of counting helps distract us from anxious thoughts. Counting to four (on the inhale, hold, exhale, and hold, four times for each) provides a simple meditation practice that only takes a few minutes, is free, and is available to everyone at any time.

Such mental focus can quiet the mind, offering a much-needed break from stressors. It therefore helps to reduce our anxiety. It also produces harmony between the mind and body, leading to inner calm as you become more present and engaged with what your body is feeling.

Ajax shows intense mental focus as he checks out something on the other side of the lake.
Ajax shows intense mental focus as he checks out something on the other side of the lake.

Finally, practicing box breathing can reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol, fostering relaxation and reducing anxiety levels.

In addition to lowering our blood pressure and providing an immediate sense of calm, box breathing also improves the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Why is this balance so important? Chat GPT helped me understand two situations that could happen when we are no longer in balance.

Prevent getting caught in a fog. Learn how to control and regulate your breathing to prevent hyperventilation and hypoventilation.
Prevent getting caught in a fog. Learn how to control and regulate your breathing to prevent hyperventilation and hypoventilation.

During hyperventilation, you breathe out carbon dioxide faster than your body produces it. This leads to a decrease in carbon dioxide levels in the blood, a condition known as hypocapnia. Symptoms include light-headedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and sometimes tingling in the hands and feet.

Hypocapnia can lead to a constriction of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, reducing oxygen delivery to the brain despite high oxygen levels in the blood. This can cause fainting or anxiety symptoms.

The next time you are hyperventilating or feel so angry you could punch a hole in the wall, stop to take some deep box breaths, and see if you can get your blood oxygen levels back in balance.

Smelling or cultivating flowers is another way to calm yourself. This amaryllis was a gift from a client and it's been beautiful to watch bloom.
Smelling or cultivating flowers is another way to calm yourself. This amaryllis was a gift from a client and it’s been beautiful to watch bloom.

The reverse, hypoventilation, occurs when breathing is too shallow or too slow, leading to an increase in carbon dioxide because it’s not being expelled at a normal rate. This can lead to hypercapnia, an excessive buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood.

Symptoms include confusion, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, and flushed skin. In severe cases, hypercapnia can lead to respiratory acidosis, where the blood becomes too acidic, which can be life-threatening if not treated.

One of the advantages of knowing how to perform pressure breathing at altitude, which we’ll share in a future post, is to expel that built-up carbon dioxide to make more room for more oxygen.

Lakes, rivers, and streams provide the perfect antidote to stress for me. But when I am unable to get to the mountains, I rely on other stress management techniques. Box breathing is one of them.
Lakes, rivers, and streams provide the perfect antidote to stress for me. But when I am unable to get to the mountains, I rely on other stress management techniques. Box breathing is one of them.

In summary, if you are looking for a way to help manage stress and anxiety, explore box breathing. You can do it multiple times a day. It is free and readily accessible to everyone. And it is easy to learn. Try the video above and see how it works for you.

And if you’d like to share your experience, please comment below. I love hearing from readers and your comments might help others. Breathe deeply. Breathe well. And keep breathing.

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How to Make Healthy Snack Choices

A question clients often ask me is: What constitutes a healthy snack? The answer varies widely. I’ve shared the concept of “nudging the notch” where we try to make “one step better” choices. I’ve also written about identifying your protein needs which can be a starting point in choosing snacks. Below, I share additional tips on how to make healthy snack choices.

There's nothing inherently "bad" about ANY food (except maybe Doritos...) unless it makes you ill or causes you to overeat. Even something as innocent as fruit can cause an increase in blood sugar, a problem for certain people. Knowing how your body responds to a given food is your first line of defense toward choosing a healthy snack.
There’s nothing inherently “bad” about ANY food (except maybe Doritos…) unless it makes you ill or causes you to overeat. Even something as innocent as fruit can cause an increase in blood sugar, a problem for certain people. Knowing how your body responds to a given food is your first line of defense toward choosing a healthy snack.

The first step to identifying a healthy snack is knowing how foods affect you. In December of 2022, I shared a post about identifying your traffic light foods to help you choose foods that make you feel and perform your best.

To review, green-light foods are your unique “safe” foods that cause no gastrointestinal problems and do not make you overindulge. Yellow light foods are those you might have occasionally, in small amounts. Red-light items are those that you find impossible to eat in moderation or foods that make you sick or cause you problems.

Artistic creations like this cake are fun to look at, but I know eating even a bit of this would make me feel awful.
Artistic creations like this cake are fun to look at, but I know eating even a bit of this would make me feel awful.

My current red-light list includes foods with gluten, sugar, MSG, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, corn, and soy. I won’t die from any of them but they will leave me congested or feeling sick to my stomach.

I’ve had issues in the past with fructose (fruit sugar) and tomatoes, but at the moment, they are okay. I also have a strong gag reflex around consuming liver. Eggplant is a big no-no; something about the texture. Everyone’s list is different. Think of it like a fingerprint. If you’d like to develop a personalized traffic light list, use this template from Precision Nutrition.

Once you have an idea of what your red-light and green-light foods are, consider those yellow-light, situationally-okay foods. Clients often struggle with moderation around sweet, salty, or savory treats. Such foods are manufactured to make people crave them. The result? More sales for the manufacturers. More pounds for us. What is a better solution?

One idea is to make sure you’re buying the smallest size possible for any yellow-light foods. If you supersize everything, you or someone you love is going to end up eating it. A pint of ice cream won’t do the same damage as a gallon. Single-serving Doritos pouches, the kind your kids might take in a school lunch, help you identify what a “single serving” looks like: seven chips, not seventy.

Homemade rice flour tortillas are a favorite treat of mine, either as a meal or a healthy snack with freshly made guacamole.
Homemade rice flour tortillas are a favorite treat of mine, either as a meal or a healthy snack with freshly made guacamole.

Another idea is to choose single-food snacks such as apple slices with peanut butter, carrot sticks with hummus, or even a can of tuna. Become a label reader. If there is any ingredient listed on the label that you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf. What does a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil look like, anyway? What does it to do you? If you don’t know, you might not want to eat it.

Third, whenever you make something at home, you have complete control over the ingredients. I can no longer eat most processed tortillas (corn and gluten are on my avoidance list), but I adore homemade rice flour tortillas made from avocado oil, organic rice flour, water, and sea salt (pictured above).

A final consideration is to look for ways to add protein to your meals and snacks. A palm-sized serving of protein forms the basis for most meals, according to Precision Nutrition guidelines. My favorite solution is to make more of any dish containing protein (chicken wings, ground turkey, lasagna, shrimp kebabs, burgers, you name it) so that I have protein ready for multiple meals. Who says pulled pork can’t be a breakfast item?

How else might you include protein in more of your snacks? Below are some recipe possibilities you can adjust according to your unique preferences. Experiment to see what works best for you. And share in the comments below if you have a favorite not listed here.

The incredible, edible egg. So many wonderful ways to prepare them, from grab-and-go hard-boiled to creative scrambled eggs.
The incredible, edible egg. So many wonderful ways to prepare them, from grab-and-go hard-boiled to creative scrambled eggs.

If you’re pressed for time in the morning (and who isn’t?) you might want to experiment with one of the recipes below.

Greek Yogurt with Topping:

  • Plain Greek yogurt (rich in protein, low in sugar).
  • Add a handful of almonds or walnuts (healthy fats and protein).
  • Add a quarter cup of frozen or fresh berries (anti-oxidants).
  • Optional: a sprinkle of cinnamon for flavor.

Dip Sticks:

  • Cut up celery, bell pepper, or carrot sticks and slather with almond butter (protein and fiber)
  • Slice apples or pears to dip into your favorite nut butter.
  • The crunchy texture of either complements the creamy butter.
  • A great snack for kids: add raisins and call them “ants on a plank.”
Ants on a log are fun eats for kids. Add pear or apple slices and you have a delicious and satisfying snack.
Ants on a log are fun eats for kids. Add pear or apple slices and you have a delicious and satisfying snack.

Protein Shake with Greens:

  • A scoop of your preferred sugar-free protein powder.
  • Blend with unsweetened almond milk and a handful of spinach or kale.
  • Quick, nutritious, and can be prepared in minutes.

Edamame with Sea Salt:

  • Cooked edamame beans (plant-based protein).
  • Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.
  • Can be served warm or cold.

For those people who traditionally gravitate toward sandwiches, or who stop by fast-food joints to pick up something when they’re ravenous, here are a few light alternatives to explore.

Turkey Roll-Ups:

  • Thinly sliced turkey breast (lean protein).
  • Wrap around cucumber sticks or bell pepper strips.
  • Secure with a toothpick for easy eating.

Cottage Cheese and Cherry Tomatoes:

Cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes.
Cottage cheese and cherry tomatoes.
  • A bowl of low-fat cottage cheese (high in protein).
  • Halved cherry tomatoes for a juicy crunch.
  • A dash of black pepper or herbs for extra flavor.

Boiled Eggs with Spinach:

  • Hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half (protein and healthy fats).
  • Serve on a bed of fresh spinach leaves (iron and vitamins).
  • Light seasoning with salt and pepper.

The ideas below might require a little more preparation, but they also involve more flavor. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Tuna Salad on Bell Pepper Slices:

  • Mix canned tuna (in water, not oil) with a little mustard and herbs.
  • Spoon onto thick slices of bell pepper.
  • Quick, crunchy, and full of protein.

Chicken and Avocado Lettuce Wraps:

Chicken and avocado lettuce wraps.
Chicken and Avocado lettuce wraps.
  • Grilled chicken breast, sliced (lean protein).
  • Wrap in lettuce leaves with avocado slices (healthy fats).
  • Optional: a squeeze of lime for zest.

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber:

  • Slices of smoked salmon (omega-3 fatty acids and protein).
  • Lay on thick cucumber slices.
  • A touch of dill or lemon juice for flavor.

Whatever you choose, by putting a little more thought into your options, you can add flavor, variety, macronutrients, phytonutrients, and enjoyment to any snack or meal. If you have a favorite, please share in the comments so we can all make healthy snack choices.

Featured

How to Grow a Hiking Practice: Join Court on Squak Mountain

2023 ended for me with a hike on Margaret’s Way (Squak Mountain) with my good friend Pam, who was visiting from Arizona over the holidays. On January 2nd, Ajax and I ushered in 2024 with a solo hike to Central Peak from the south side of Squak. Both got me thinking about what I’d like in the coming year: to increase mindfulness, develop more connections with clients and blog readers, and get consistent with hiking year-round. A client shared an article called “Practice as a Way of Life.” My 2024 intention was born: Add richness to my hiking practice.

Ajax takes a snack break at Bullitt's Fireplace on Squak Mountain, a quarter mile from Central Peak.
Ajax takes a snack break at Bullitt’s Fireplace on Squak Mountain, a quarter mile from Central Peak.

By “hiking practice” I mean being deliberate about it rather than just “doing” it willy-nilly. Last year I wrote about setting intentions for your hikes. But during the final months of 2023, I missed the mountains so much that I threw myself at Squak Mountain before putting much thought into what I wanted to accomplish.

By way of backstory, I’m more of a fair-weather hiker. Winter for many is “off-season” for hiking. Since COVID I’ve done more off-season hiking than at other times in my life. But when the daylight is short, or it’s cold, rainy, snowy, or, like this morning, extremely windy, I lack consistency. Add to the fact that I was short a hiking partner, and it was easy to skip this morning. Mastery requires consistency, practice, and discipline.

My friend Pam and I pause for a selfie on the Margaret's Way route.
My friend Pam and I pause for a selfie on the Margaret’s Way route. I’m helping her train for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in May. She helped spark the idea of social hiking support.

I faced a similar challenge last year when I created the Active Ajax Adventures project. My pup and I completed visits to 68 unique green spaces including 20 hikes, ten of them with my daughter. This year, I have several things I want to practice: Being more present on the trail. Exploring nature during all four seasons. And finding more like-minded people who feel the same way.

Perhaps I could use my blog not only to try to generate philosophical discussion and sharing of ideas, but also announcements for group hiking. Who knows, it might also lead to group coaching or networking. Right under my nose is a perfect tool for announcing intentions, and perhaps even generating a local hiking network. I open myself to new possibilities.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, my chosen word for 2024 is OVERCOME. By that, I mean turning obstacles into opportunities. And this presents a perfect way to model change.

My current perceived obstacle is a lack of hiking partners. You’d think that as a coach and current member of the Mountaineers, I would have tons of people to hike with.

May Valley Loop on Squak Mountain. The loop from the south side is 6.6 miles round trip and 2320' elevation gain. It took us 2.5 hours.
May Valley Loop on Squak Mountain. The loop from the south side is 6.6 miles round trip and 2320′ elevation gain. It took us 2.5 hours.

During COVID, my hiking network dwindled to three people. Other friends stopped hiking due to injury, moved away, lost interest, became too busy, or switched goals entirely. I even lost a semi-regular hiking partner to early-onset dementia. My most reliable partner right now is my canine companion, Ajax, who will turn nine in May. How can I find more?

Mindshift time. My current opportunity: reaching out to previous hiking friends and inviting people to join the fun. A bonus would be chatting with others about health and well-being, a topic near and dear to my heart.

Ajax loves our hiking practice. He is always ready and raring to go on Squak Mountain.
Ajax loves our hiking practice. He is always ready and raring to go on Squak Mountain.

My idea may flop. It may succeed. But regardless of the outcome, Ajax and I will be getting out more consistently on Tuesdays, with the bonus of having others join us. If not, I will practice observation, mindfulness, and seeing what the mountain reveals. The only way I’ll fail is to not try.

The benefits of hiking regularly are numerous. Beyond the obvious reasons (mental and physical health) hiking provides a great baseline for those who want to climb Rainier, backpack along the Pacific Crest Trail, or trek to Everest Base Camp. Maybe you simply love what it feels like to get outside and leave the city stresses behind.

Putting intentionality into your hiking makes it far more meaningful. Anything that means something to you is more likely to take root and become a consistent habit. So by making hiking a practice, you increase the likelihood of doing it regularly. Win!

A signpost indicates the trailhead for Margaret's Way on Squak Mountain.
A signpost indicates the trailhead for Margaret’s Way on Squak Mountain.

So, taking my advice to continue to cultivate a “growth mindset” and “hiking practice,” I’m starting in the mountains several months earlier than usual.

Ajax and I enjoyed the May Valley Loop trail, Squak Mountain.
Ajax and I enjoyed the May Valley Loop trail, Squak Mountain.

I can imagine the questions rattling around in your brain so I will try to answer them here.

I'm not opposed to taking our time; it depends on who is in the group. The idea may flop, it may soar; all we can do is try.
I’m not opposed to taking our time; it depends on who is in the group. The idea may flop, it may soar; all we can do is try.

What pace and distance? The target will be 6+ miles and 1500+ elevation gain. Our base pace will be roughly 2 miles per hour at about 1200 feet of gain per hour. If that’s easy for you, carry more weight. If that’s a stretch, come light with a jacket and a water bottle. And it’s okay to do part of the trip and turn around. You gotta start somewhere!

Any substitutions? Maybe. Since I missed today I’m looking for another weekday but it may be just me and Ajax since we have other things we have to work around in our schedule. Oops, there goes another tree branch.

A sitting bench at a viewpoint along the Margaret's Way trail.
A sitting bench at a viewpoint along the Margaret’s Way trail.

If you are a current client, you might think of these hiking practice sessions as accountability trips, appointments that will keep you committed to your hiking goals. No membership is required anywhere. These are informal, free Coach Court outings, not sanctioned, organized Mountaineers outings.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest but are not currently engaged with me in Body Results or Thrive Clues coaching, this could be a great opportunity to connect with me at no charge and find out if we might form a collaborative partnership. I only ask that you come eager to walk and be interested in enjoying the outdoors. Win-win!

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Polar Bear Plunge: A Metaphor for a New Year

On New Year’s Day, I celebrated the arrival of 2024 by taking the annual Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Washington. This time — my sixth — my husband AND my daughter joined me. I can’t think of a better metaphor for bringing in a new year than diving into the unknown murky depths and proving how resilient the human spirit is.

My sixth New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge in Seattle's Lake Washington. The air temp was 49, lake water 43 F.
My sixth New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge in Seattle’s Lake Washington. The air temp on Jan. 1, 2024 was 49 F, lake temp 43 F.

I spent my childhood in Shorewood, WI, a block off of Lake Michigan. We almost always had snow by Christmas. Sometimes the shore would be covered with windblown jumbled slabs of ice. In that much snow, well… let’s say there were faithful Plungers back in the 70s, but I wasn’t among them. Out of curiosity, I tuned in to Milwaukee’s Youtube plunge video to see what it looked like this year. No snow, clear sandy beach.

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest in the 90s I didn’t even think of the ancient tradition. Our earliest New Year tradition was to spend a day birding at Canada’s Reifel Bird Sanctuary (see last week’s post about the wood duck) or in the Skagit Valley. In 2015 and 2020, we welcomed the New Year from New Zealand. But starting in 2019, if we’ve been in town on the holiday, we take the plunge.

Take a DEEP breath...
Take a DEEP breath…
...dive UNDER and...
…dive UNDER and…
...OMG I DID IT!
…OMG I DID IT!

According to a Canadian source, “The polar bear swim started in Vancouver in 1920 by a group of swimmers who called themselves the Polar Bear Club.” Led by Peter Pantages, the group would take a swim. They would probably scoff at the masses of people who follow suit today, jumping in the cold water for less than a minute.

Another website indicated it started even earlier, in 1904, by the L Street Brownies in Dorchester Bay, Massachusetts. Some plunges draw as many as 12,000 participants. Others hold events as fundraisers. The one we do at Matthews Beach is simply for fun.

A beautiful morning at Matthews Beach, with no precipitation, and blue skies on the horizon.
A beautiful morning at Matthews Beach Jan. 1, 2024, with no precipitation, and blue skies on the horizon.

This year, I did two things differently. I went in not only once, but twice, the first time in a wool cap and long-sleeved swim shirt, the second with no hat or shirt so I could go all the way under.

Next year, who knows? I might hold my breath underwater for twenty seconds. Or I might wade out until I can no longer reach the bottom with my feet.

My daughter and I mark the occasion with a silly hat, polar bear stuffy, and polar bear sculpture.
My daughter and I mark the 2024 occasion with a silly hat, polar bear stuffy, and polar bear sculpture.

Explaining why I like to do the Polar Bear Plunge is a bit like telling someone why I love to hike. For many reasons. I plunge because it is playful and appeals to my inner child. It’s a bit of a crazy indulgence that allows me to test my resilience, get outside, and mark the change of the year in a unique way. Fortunately, we get to warm up by soaking in our hot tub.

We go well before the official noon kick-off time to avoid all of the crowds. Still, we enjoy marking a new year by doing something most people would call unusual. Fortunately, the six times I’ve done it have been relatively dry and clear days. My husband even asked ahead of time: If it rains, will we bail? To date, I haven’t had to answer that question.

C-C-C-COLD! The author taking the 2021 Plunge.
C-C-C-COLD! The author taking the 2021 Plunge.

I just can’t help it, I’m a writer. We think in metaphors. I also like keywords. For 2024 I have chosen as my keyword “Overcome”, with “Turn obstacles into opportunities” as my tagline.

Triple OOO.

Whether you prefer last week’s wood duck metaphor (for going with the flow, channeling your inner wood duck to embrace change) or this week’s polar bear plunge metaphor (for plunging into the unknown), find one that works for you.

The author after the 2023 Polar Bear Plunge.
The author after the 2023 Polar Bear Plunge.

Do something unusual this January. Set some intentions that gently move you out of your comfort zone. Last year, mine was doing 52 rambles with Ajax. This year, I released myself from the power of addictive tendencies.

Just today, I deleted a game app from my phone. I realized while journaling that I started playing it as a coping strategy for a health event I’ve gained closure around. The gaming behavior no longer serves a purpose. It only annoys, angers, and irritates me whenever I can’t move past a level. Who needs that? The world is angry enough without my contribution. We need more light, more joy, more empowerment. In its place? Consistent hiking on Tuesday mornings.

This year I swapped a phone game app for more time in the mountains with my best canine buddy. I will be hiking on Squak Tuesday mornings in January if you care to join the fun. Email me or leave a comment below for details.
This year I swapped a phone game app for more time in the mountains with my best canine buddy. I will be hiking on Squak Tuesday mornings in January if you care to join the fun. Email me or leave a comment below for details.

Change is hard. But setting up a symbol that works for you can help. It helped me. I’m plunging into the unknown without my crutches, aware that it will be hard. But I also know I have wood ducks and polar bears to emulate. If they can do it, so can I. My track record is strong. I can do this. So can you.

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The Wonderful Wood Duck: a Metaphor for Creative Flow

This week I’ve been listening to recordings of Tama Kieves’ “A Course In Miracles: Creating Flow in Your Life” from the summer of 2023. Flow reminds me of my favorite waterfowl, the wood duck. The Drake, pictured below, is one of the most unique and colorful ducks I’ve ever seen. I channel my inner wood duck when I need to “go with the flow” and let annoyances roll off of me like raindrops on feathers. They have become my metaphor for creative flow and resilience. As Leigh Hunt puts it: “Colors are the smiles of nature”​​. The male wood duck makes me smile every time I see one.

According to my Ebird.org records, most of my 28 sightings have either been at Juanita Bay Park or Reifel Bird Sanctuary just over the border in Canada. And a look at when I’ve seen these magnificent birds most often – in January – ties nicely with my 2024 intention to view obstacles as opportunities. We’re already planning a trip to visit these beautiful birds.

The elegant male wood duck is one of the most stunning waterfowl in North America.
The elegant male wood duck is one of the most stunning waterfowl in North America.

For this post, I turned to Cornell University to learn more fun facts about this favorite fowl. Not only are they lovely to look at, but they’re also unique and curious creatures.

  • Males boast a mix of green and blue, a chestnut-breasted chest, orange beak, red eye, and a black-and-white neck. WOW.
  • Wood ducks live in wooded swamps, where they nest in tree cavities or nest boxes near lakes
  • Nesting cavities might be up to a mile away from water; they don’t use woodpecker-made cavities
  • They have strong claws that help them grip bark and perch on branches
  • Wood ducks pair up in January and produce two broods a year
  • Females may lay 10-11 eggs, but nests might hold up to 29, the result of “egg dumping” from other females
  • Ducklings can jump from their tree nests over 50 feet high without getting injured
  • The oldest known wood duck lived over 22 years
  • As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit”​​. These fancy ducks top them all in North America. Only the Mandarin duck, native to East Asia, is more colorful.
Check out those powerful "claws" on the Drake's webbed feet!
Check out those powerful “claws” on the Drake’s webbed feet!

Wood ducks thrive in multiple environments throughout the U.S. As dabbling ducks, they feed in the water, but they nest in wooded areas where empty cavities are plentiful. They navigate storms elegantly and gracefully, weathering all kinds of challenges including growing debris in their native waters.

For those of us experiencing life changes (and who isn’t?), we may feel like ducks out of water sometimes. But by focusing on our strengths and capabilities — what comes naturally to us — rather than on perceived lacks or “should” messages, we increase our resilience like the wood duck. If we’re out of our element, how might we adapt? What could be good about the current situation if we rewrite our stories?

This wood duck chick is Oh. So. CUTE!
This wood duck chick is Oh. So. CUTE!

One way to increase our resilience is to spend more time in flow. By that, I mean getting immersed in a just-right activity. You may know the feeling: working on a craft, writing something you’re passionate about, helping animals, or doing some project like gardening where you lose track of time.

When wood ducks forage, they go after food with 100% focus. Likewise, when we are doing what comes most naturally to us, or what we’re meant to be doing, time loses its importance.

Birding, hiking, and grounding are such activities for me. I find I am much more creative with my writing when I regularly spend time in nature.

Female wood duck at Juanita Bay. Note the more drab colors and spectacular white eye ring.
Female wood duck navigating obstacles at Juanita Bay. Note the less spectacular colors and white eye ring.

For some, mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are calming activities that invite flow. But if they do nothing for you, think about those engaging and enjoyable activities that allow you to focus on living today, not in the past or future. And I am not referring to gaming, scrolling through cute kitty videos, or chilling with screens. Such activities don’t engage the mind like flow activities do. Where do you experience flow?

Albert Einstein put it this way: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”​​. While I am not a genius, I know the therapeutic healing effect nature has on me. The wood duck and bodies of water are both soothing natural elements. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may recall past posts about forest bathing. walking meditation, bird watching, and grounding.

The elements that all these activities have in common are: 1. they are outside activities, 2. they do not involve technology or screens (unless you’re charting your birds); 3. all involve contemplation and mindfulness; 4. time slows down. Elements of flow. Painting landscapes, gardening, hiking, writing at a park or nature retreat, and golfing can all be flow practices.

A female wood duck peers down at us from atop a feeder at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Canada.
A female wood duck peers down at us from atop a feeder at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Canada.

Think about your relationship with nature. When do you most enjoy it? Where? With whom? In 2024, how might you spend more time connecting with nature?

Alice Walker is quoted as saying, “In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful”​​. If we lived in a world of perfection, it would be a pretty boring place.

What if we viewed our lives the same way — that at any given time, nothing may be perfect and yet everything can still be perfect in its imperfection? How might we feel about all the obstacles in our path? Can we turn obstacles into opportunities? Can we see problems as gifts that can make us stronger?

In one of her classes, Tama Kieves reminds us that large irregular boulders eventually get scoured by the mightiest waters. Can we grant ourselves grace for our imperfections? How might we recognize when we are in flow and permit ourselves time and patience to dip into it when we’re not?

The Wonderful Wood Duck: a Metaphor for Creative Flow
On a frosty January morning at Reifel Bird Sanctuary, beauty surrounded us, from the frozen foliage to the beautiful birds. Not a perfect morning for birding, but it was delightful nonetheless.

I don’t have answers, merely more questions. I’ll close 2023 with a quote from John Muir: “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn”​​.

As we approach 2024 I hope wherever you draw inspiration, you can embrace some natural element that symbolizes resilience and flow for you.

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Discipline Equals Freedom: How to Dive Deep Into Change

Recently my husband caught me off guard when he asked, “What does “discipline equals X” make you think of?” I replied with the very first thought that came to mind: “Ball and chain.” I never expected him to insert the word “Freedom” for X. Turns out Jocko Willink wrote a book called Discipline Equals Freedom. I haven’t read it yet. This post is based solely on the title, with some help from Chat GPT 4. But it raises a blog-worthy question: How do you view discipline? And what’s your relationship with it? Let’s take a closer look at what discipline equals.

Orange flowers we spotted on a recent "orange walk". I needed to shift my mindset from frenzied to relaxed.
Orange flowers we spotted on a recent “orange walk”. I needed to shift my mindset from frenzied to relaxed.

As soon as I finished talking with my husband, I did four things. First, I reserved the book from the library and added it to my growing “Want to read in 2024” pile.

Second, I took a long color walk with my dog around the neighborhood. My daughter suggested I look for the color orange, so I’ve included some of my shots from that walk.

One of 15 orange items we discovered on our orange "color walk" last week.
One of 15 orange items we discovered on our orange “color walk” last week.

Third, I looked up the definition of discipline: roughly, discipline means “doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to do it.” Hence my “ball and chain” quip.

Finally, I enlisted Chat GPT’s help to summarize the highlights of Willink’s book. I wanted to see how many of them I’m already doing consistently and what skillset I may still need to develop.

Here are Willink’s top six points with my reactions to each:

  • Willink argues that discipline is the key to achieving freedom in all aspects of life. This means consistently following a set of principles and habits that lead to self-improvement and goal attainment.
  • My biggest fixed mindset issue around this is I used to think that “personal development” meant there was something inherently “broken” or “wrong” about me. Now I can see that if we stop trying to reach goals or improve something in our lives, we’re on our way to the grave. A growth mindset shift.
  • Willink believes that waking up before dawn is a foundational habit that sets the tone for a disciplined day. It’s about taking control of your schedule and maximizing productivity.
  • Check. For nearly four decades I’ve been a morning person, getting my most productive work — or workouts — in before anything else. If I don’t, I’ll be cranky the rest of the day.
For the past 25 years I've been an alpinist who relishes early morning outings so I can see sunrises such as this, over the Cascade Mountains. Photo taken from Mt. Rainier, July 2017, before 5 a.m.
For the past 25 years I’ve been an alpinist who relishes early morning outings so I can see sunrises such as this, over the Cascade Mountains. Photo taken from Mt. Rainier, July 2017, before 5 a.m.
  • Willink advises to prioritize the most important tasks and focus on executing them well. This approach helps in managing stress and being effective in both personal and professional life.
  • This is one area I could improve. It is also not new to me. Stephen Covey addresses something similar in his bestselling book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • In Discipline Equals Freedom, Willink asserts that rigorous exercise not only strengthens the body but also builds mental toughness and discipline. He emphasizes consistency and pushing beyond comfort zones.
  • Check. Frequent physical activity has been one of my pillars of health and well-being since high school and provides emotional satisfaction, enhanced sleep, joint lubrication, weight management, personal challenge, and the ability to do all the things I want to do without pain or injury.
Hiking with Ajax on W. Tiger trails brings me immense joy as well as a new outlook on my struggles.
Hiking with Ajax on W. Tiger trails brings me immense joy as well as a new outlook on my struggles.
  • Willink recommends maintaining an emotional detachment when making decisions. This detachment allows for clearer thinking and better decision-making, especially in high-pressure situations.
  • Ooh boy. This reminds me of “Care less about an issue than your clients,” a behind-the-scenes tip Precision Nutrition coaches are taught when facing client resistance or emotionally charged topics. If we care more about a client’s successes or failures than they do, it’s a recipe for disaster for the highly sensitive coach.
  • Willink emphasizes the importance of taking full responsibility for one’s actions and their outcomes, including mistakes. This mindset fosters growth, learning, and improvement.
  • This leads perfectly to where I’m headed in 2024. I want to cultivate a growth mindset in all areas, particularly around technology, communication, and spirituality, not just where I already have it in writing, training, and physical fitness.
Another treasured orange item on my recent "orange walk." It yielded 15 different items, rather a surprise in December.
Another treasured orange item on my recent “orange walk.” It yielded 15 different items, rather surprising in December.

So, what is the takeaway for you? You are here because you want something. And you want to get it with as little struggle or effort as possible. Maybe you’re looking for knowledge. Perhaps you want to change something. Or it could be that you’re following this blog to glean whatever nuggets you can. In Discipline Equals Freedom, Willink asserts that we need to delay instant gratification and be adults today so we gain freedom tomorrow.

Sometimes we need to do hard things, consistently, to get a payoff. If change were easy, we’d all be exactly where we want to be. We want the new job. The successful summit. A higher paycheck. Annual vacations. Stronger relationships. Fitter physique. A significant other.

My Rainier team from July, 2017. Discipline equals freedom. Consistent focus is the only way to attain your goals.
My Rainier team from July, 2017. Discipline equals freedom. Consistent focus is the only way to attain your goals.

Discipline requires ongoing effort. It took me nine years to publish my first book. I needed seven years to finally start my blog. And I put off shooting a one-minute video for my new health and wellness company. for nearly ten months. It doesn’t mean I was working steadily during all that time. Enter our friend, procrastination.

In each case, it would have been far less stressful if I’d just had the discipline to do the thing, rather than put it off indefinitely. But the payoff is this: by putting in the time, you get the results. The only way NOT to get them is to never even try or to quit when things get hard.

What are you putting off? What commitment would you like to make for 2024? Who can you share it with, in writing, so that you are more likely to follow through? Who can you tell, out loud, so that the world hears your intention — and so do you?

Even if you say your intentions out loud to your best canine companion, the multiverse has ears. You do, too. Hearing your intentions will make them much more likely to solidify and come true. So say your intentions out loud. Embrace 2024 as the year you will do X.
Even if you say your intentions out loud to your best canine companion, the multiverse has ears. You do, too. Hearing your intentions will make them much more likely to solidify and come true. So say your intentions out loud. Embrace 2024 as the year you will do X.
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I Am Enough: Acrostic Poems about Change and Growth

This post is for all my readers who might be facing fears or dealing with the concept of “good enough.” I offer five acrostic poems starting with the letters in “I AM ENOUGH.” Each focuses on an aspect of change and growth.

To create these acrostics, I combined all of my fall coursework into one creative experiment. The Art of Journal Coaching program inspired me to create transformational journal prompts for clients. The Precision Nutrition master coaching program helps me guide clients to better results than ever before. My exploration of AI taught me how to tap into the phenomenal potential of Chat GPT. Finally, by working with spiritual coach Tama Kieves I am learning that we are either reacting from a place of love or fear and how to shift to a growth mindset. May you tap into your inner wisdom with these poems and prompts.

Change and growth happen in stages. Nature demonstrates this very well.
Change and growth happen in stages. Nature demonstrates this very well.

Change is never linear, as much as we might love for it to be. Sometimes progress involves taking three steps forward and two steps back. By remaining open to possibility and approaching our challenges from love rather than fear, we can approach our struggles with a growth mindset and see obstacles as opportunities. The first acrostic poem embraces growth.

In every challenge, there’s a lesson to unearth,

Amidst the trials, we discover our true worth,

Moments of doubt transformed into strength,

Every step forward, a victory at length,

Nurturing hope, in darkness and light,

Opening our hearts to new insight,

Understanding that growth involves flight,

Grasping change, holding on tight,

Harmony found on a journey of delight.

Ajax struggles to find his footing crossing a bridge designed to drain well but that spooks smaller dogs.
Ajax struggles to find his footing crossing a bridge designed to drain well but that spooks smaller dogs.

Where did you see the most growth in 2023?

Are there areas in which you feel “I am enough” is already appropriate for you?

Where would you like to expand in 2024? Jot down a few notes about where you are right now.

On December 13, 2021, I experienced a health event that took me three days to overcome physically, but two years to heal from emotionally. I now know my wounds from the past simply need time to heal. And I need to reframe many of my old stories that are no longer serving me. The second poem involves a transformational journey.

  • Inside us all, a seed of change does sleep,
  • Awakening slowly, from the shadows deep,
  • Moving through life, with courage and grace,
  • Each obstacle faced in time and space,
  • New paths unfold as old ones merge,
  • Old beliefs are challenged; new truths emerge,
  • Unveiling strength we never knew we had,
  • Growing beyond, both happy and sad,
  • Holding onto good will conquer bad.
Trees transform every year. Like nature, we experience seasons of ebb and flow. For some, winter is a time of celebration, of rest, and recovery. What does winter mean to you?
Trees transform every year. Like nature, we experience seasons of ebb and flow. For some, winter is a time of celebration, of rest, and recovery. What does winter mean to you?

How are you transforming aspects of yourself?

What “season” do you most identify with and why?

Where is one area of your life you want to transform in 2024 to “I am enough”? What tools do you need to do so?

We all have enormous untapped potential within us. And self-doubting, fearful, negative thoughts are our biggest obstacles. What stands in your way? For some, earning enough money or getting the right education are big barriers. For others, it might be finding — or making — enough time. Everyone has 24 hours a day. Are you coasting, or are you trying to live your best life?

  • In the mirror of time, our reflections grow,
  • As we journey through life, embracing ebb and flow,
  • Memories are woven into the fabric of our being,
  • Every experience is a new way of seeing,
  • Never stagnant, always in motion,
  • Overcoming fears like waves in the ocean,
  • Uplifting our spirits with each challenge met,
  • Guided by hope and without regret,
  • Heart and soul merge, like dancing with a pet.
Sometimes we need to change lenses to view our situation differently. Think outside the box. Or better yet, get an outsider's perspective on your problems. A coach, mentor, or confidante can help you see things in a new way.
Sometimes we need to change lenses to view our situation differently. Think outside the box. Or better yet, get an outsider’s perspective on your problems. A coach, mentor, or confidante can help you see things in a new way.

What did you discover about yourself in 2023? What are three things you’d love to explore in 2024?

Do you know anyone who truly believes “I am enough?” What qualities of theirs do you admire?

Is there a different lens you’d like to use to think about your future?

As I review all of my physical accomplishments over the past two years, it surprises me how much I’ve overcome: a broken right wrist, heat exhaustion, unusual nerve issues in my left hip that David Grey’s PT program helped me with, a coronary artery spasm caused by an electrolyte imbalance and excessive stress, and a bout with COVID-19. If there’s one thing I can say with confidence, my physical body is impressively resilient. In 2024 I will be shifting my focus to exploring a path of spiritual and emotional healing.

  • Inner strength emerges from struggles and strife,
  • As we carve our paths into the tapestry of life,
  • Molding our destiny with hands of hope,
  • Evolving, adapting, learning to cope,
  • Navigating through storms with resilience and might,
  • Opportunities shining in the darkest night,
  • Unbroken, unyielding in our quest to thrive,
  • Gaining wisdom as we strive,
  • Honoring the journey, strong and alive.
I am enough. I am not one to let physical ailments get in the way. The mountains are calling and I must go.
I am enough. I am not one to let physical ailments get in the way. The mountains are calling and I must go.

Where do you feel you are most resilient?

What superpowers do you draw on when you face a challenge?

Where would you like to build more resilience in 2024?

Illuminating the path with each step we take,

Accepting the flux in every wake,

Mastering fears, setting our soul free,

Encountering life with a heart open to see,

Nurturing growth in every form,

Owning our story, through calm and storm,

Unveiling our potential in every act,

Gracious in our rise after each impact,

Home in our skin, embracing change.

I Am Enough: Acrostic Poems about Change and Growth

As you read through this blog post, what thoughts come to mind? What does it mean to you to “be enough”?

Where do you feel you are “enough” in your life? Where do you feel inadequate?

Generate your own “I AM ENOUGH” poem or journal entry.

I am enough. You are enough. We have all the tools we need within us. Relax. Trust the process. In the words of Tama Kieves, “Stop efforting.”

My blog continues to be a place where I explore change and getting unstuck. This particular post has been a journey into all things I hold dear: poetry, journaling, learning, transforming, writing, photography, and physical challenge. I hope you found some part of it to be helpful or interesting.

And as always, if you have thoughts about the phrase “I am enough,” please share them in the comments. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

Hiking Break: the Skill and Art of the Perfect Pause

Another shout-out goes to KJ for providing this week’s blog topic. He asked for advice on rest stops during hikes. Let’s take a closer look at the perfect pause: the skill — and art — of the hiking break.

My dog Ajax is my barometer for hiking breaks, especially on hot sunny days. Rests allow us to recharge, get a bite to eat, change clothes, take in the scenery, repair feet... the list is long.
My dog Ajax is my barometer for hiking breaks, especially on hot sunny days. Rests allow us to recharge, get a bite to eat, change clothes, take in the scenery, repair feet… the list is long.

The short answer to “When should I take a break?” is “Anytime it feels like you need one.” Here are some examples of when to insert a break into your hike.

  1. Physical Condition: Whenever you’re feeling exhausted, take a break. Keep track of your energy level, muscle fatigue, joint or tissue discomfort (think forming blisters), and hydration status. It’s far better to stop and take care of a small problem than continue indefinitely into it blossoms into an injury, crisis, or worse.
  2. Trail Difficulty: If you are traveling over steep inclines, rugged terrain (think bushwhacking), or extra long distances you may want to plan more frequent breaks than if you’re traveling on flat trails.
  3. Weather Conditions: On hot days, it’s crucial to take breaks to hydrate and prevent overheating. In cold or wet conditions, breaks provide a chance to warm up or change into dry clothing.
  4. Group Dynamics: If you hike with a group, be mindful of the needs and preferences of your fellow hikers. Some people may require more frequent breaks than others, so look for a balance that works for everyone. The exception to this is guides that require a certain climbing pace; check ahead of your climb to know what the pace expectations are and how many breaks you can expect.
  5. Time Constraints: If you have a specific goal, such as reaching a certain point or finishing the hike by a particular time, plan the number and length of your breaks accordingly to stay on track.
On our hike to Mirror Lake, we took this hiking break to let a large, noisy group of adults go by. Ajax and my daughter both love breaks. And I love to explore for photo ops.
On our hike to Mirror Lake, we took this hiking break to let a large, noisy group of adults go by. Ajax and my daughter both love breaks. And I love to explore for photo ops.

I know several people who prefer not to stop on the trail. They argue that taking breaks makes it harder to get going again. My breaks usually aren’t very long, especially when it’s just me and my dog. Here’s how I take breaks.

My general pattern is to hike for 15-20 minutes to set a good rhythm. Our first stop is usually a “clothing break” to remove a layer and get out my water bottle. Roughly every hour, I give my dog a biscuit and water, if he’s not drinking from streams, and at the two-hour mark, I give him a more substantial snack, usually part of an early lunch. He’s earned it by then!

Our breaks are usually only 3-5 minutes on the trail, perhaps 15-30 at our destination depending on the view and the weather. This summer my daughter and I spent several hours at various alpine lakes swimming. In those cases, the goal was to have a lake experience, rather than just a hike.

Taking a dip in chilly Rachel Lake. Our rest break on this hike was close to 1.5 hours and included having lunch, exploring side trails, a party separation, and swimming!
Taking a dip in chilly Rachel Lake. Our rest break on this hike was close to 1.5 hours and included having lunch, exploring side trails, a party separation, and swimming!

The list of reasons for stopping includes:

  1. Rest and Recover: Give your muscles and joints a chance to recover from the physical exertion of hiking.
  2. Hydrate: Pause to drink water and stay properly hydrated, especially on hot days.
  3. First Aid: Attend to any minor injuries or hot spots (before they form blisters) with a first-aid kit.
  4. Adjust Gear: Make adjustments to your hiking gear or clothing for comfort and safety.
  5. Check the Map: Review your trail map or GPS to ensure you’re on the right path.
  6. Navigation: Plan your next steps and discuss your hiking route with your partners. This might also include exploring options for future hikes, scouting campsites, or evaluating extended rest spots.
Some of my very best photos come during hiking breaks with my dog Ajax. This was on the summit of West Tiger 1 on September 23.
Some of my very best photos come during hiking breaks with my dog Ajax. This was on the summit of West Tiger 1 on September 23.

And if you’re not a big fan of hiking breaks but you’re exploring with people who need more frequent rest stops than you do, here are some helpful suggestions for things you can do while you wait:

  1. Snack: Replenish energy levels with a healthy snack to keep your stamina up.
  2. Spot Wildlife: Keep an eye out for wildlife and take the time to observe and appreciate their presence.
  3. Shoot Photos: Capture scenic landscapes, tiny mushrooms or slugs, birds, and wildlife on camera. Open your eyes to the beauty around you.
  4. Stretch: Perform some gentle stretches to prevent muscle stiffness and improve flexibility.
  5. Social Interaction: If you hike with others, use break time to talk with your partners and ask good questions.
  6. Scenery: Take in the breathtaking views and appreciate the beauty of nature around you.
Sometimes rest stops become a great excuse to explore what's around you, just off the main path. A hike to Wallace Falls took us off-trail to this upstream area. Beautiful!
Sometimes rest stops become a great excuse to explore what’s around you, just off the main path. A hike to Wallace Falls took us off-trail to this upstream area. Beautiful!

You can take a break just about anywhere. Make sure to leave plenty of room for other people to get around you. Step to the side or completely off the trail so you do not block traffic. It’s also a good idea to plan your break where people can take “party separations” without being interrupted.

On sunny days, choose shady spots. On rocky trails, look for larger rocks that might provide a temporary seat. I like to look for logs without moss (on damp days moss can soak up a ton of moisture and leave your bottom wet!) or at the very least a pull-out where I have a place to set down my pack and get out a food or water bowl for my dog.

Teneriffe Falls across the stream, away from the masses of hikers.
Teneriffe Falls across the stream, away from the masses of hikers.
I could tell from Ajax's expression that this wasn't the best choice of rest spot for him, but we prioritized getting away from the crowd over his comfort this time.
I could tell from Ajax’s expression that this wasn’t the best choice of rest spot for him, but we prioritized getting away from the crowd over his comfort this time.

Ideally, we look for spots with views so we can get some nice photographs. Pick a place that is away from crowds, safe, and comfortable for everyone in your party. Consider what characteristics make up the ideal rest spot for you.

And it probably goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — in winter, never take a break while you’re crossing avalanche-prone slopes. Get to stable ground before you stop. Likewise, in high wind, avoid standing under widowmakers, or trees that are losing big branches. Always keep safety in mind.

To expand your education on trail safety and mountain travel, a great organization I’ve been a member of for over thirty years is the Seattle Mountaineers. To read more about break time optimization, here is another point of view. Backpacking Light has a thread on their forum about rest periods when hiking. And Love the Backcountry has yet more advice. The main point is: you’re not in a race. Take breaks as needed and enjoy your experience. If you drive yourself into the ground, where’s the joy in that?

Heading toward the Emmons Glacier route on Mt. Rainier. This was our first break spot before heading up to the moraine and the steep climb to Camp Schurman. Timing and planning of appropriate breaks requires experience, skill, and art.
Heading toward the Emmons Glacier route on Mt. Rainier. This was our first break spot before heading up to the moraine and the steep ascent to Camp Schurman. Timing and planning of appropriate breaks requires experience, skill, and art.

If you have a break tip you’d like to share, or a burning question you’d like me to answer this month, please submit it below. I love hearing from readers and I always look forward to requests.

Featured

Unique Advent Adventures for Your 2023 Holidays

I get it. You’re busy. Who isn’t? If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? Leap into December with this fun month-long challenge. I call it “Advent Adventures.” It’s custom-tailored for busy, active adventurers who feel stressed out. Each is designed to be short, manageable, and doable during the winter season. Are you ready? Take a look at your daily rewards for all that you do, and join me in getting unstuck!

Yesterday I took a ramble with a writing partner and Ajax to look for holiday-themed photo ops to support this blog post. Some cool colorful rocks were on display in a yard in Shoreline.
Yesterday I took a ramble with a writing partner and Ajax to look for holiday-themed photo ops to support this blog post. Some cool colorful rocks were on display in a yard in Shoreline.

The guidelines are easy: find time in your calendar to carve out 5-20 minutes in your day devoted solely to you. If you know one of the challenges won’t work on a given day, find one that will. Then get out from behind your computer and do something nice for yourself. And if you prefer using this as a calling to generate your own challenges, feel free.

Dec. 1: Morning Stretch Routine: Start your day with a 10-minute stretching routine to energize your body.

Dec. 2: Indoor Plant Care: Spend 15 minutes caring for indoor plants, reconnecting with nature indoors.

Dec. 3: Winter Nature Walk: Take a brisk 20-minute walk in a nearby park, focusing on the winter scenery.

Dec. 4: Mindful Hot Beverage Break: Enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee outdoors, savoring the warmth and flavors.

Dec. 5: Winter Sunrise Viewing: Watch a winter sunrise, reflecting on your intentions for the day.

Advent adventures don't have to take much time. I enjoyed a recent sunrise from my back porch.
Advent Adventures don’t have to take much time. I enjoyed a recent sunrise from my back porch.

Good work! You’re on a roll. What have you enjoyed about your challenge so far? What do you notice when you make some time for yourself? Have you smiled? Did you tell anyone about your journey? Here are the next ten adventures to get you to your halfway point.

Dec. 6: Bird Watching: Spend time observing birds from your balcony, backyard, walk, or window.

Dec. 7: 5-Minute Outdoor Meditation: Practice a quick meditation or deep breathing exercise on your porch or yard.

Dec. 8: Photo a Day: Capture a daily photo of something outdoors that brings you joy or peace.

Dec. 9: Guided Outdoor Stretching: Follow a short guided stretching or yoga video outside.

Dec. 10: Gratitude Journaling: Write down three things you’re grateful for, ideally in an outdoor setting.

Grounding in the rain inside my bird blind tent. The other day my feet got so cold, I borrowed water from our hot tub to alternate soaks.
Grounding and journaling under protection from the rain in my bird blind tent. The other day my feet got so cold, I borrowed water from our hot tub to alternate soaks.

Dec. 11: Star Gazing Moment: Spend a few minutes gazing at the stars, contemplating the vastness of the universe.

Dec. 12: Quick Nature Sketching: Sketch something you see in nature, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

Dec. 13: Lunch Break Walk: Take a brief walk during your lunch break, focusing on being mindful and paying attention to all five senses. What can you observe that you don’t normally notice?

Dec. 14: Evening Candle Meditation: Meditate with a candle or stare into a fire for a few minutes, focusing on the dancing flame. If you don’t have candles or a fireplace, try a walk around the block to view holiday lights.

Dec. 15: Frosty Morning Observation: Spend a few minutes observing frost patterns on leaves or windows.

Advent adventures can help you appreciate the beauty all around us. Frost makes gorgeous patterns on the leaves.
Advent adventures can help you appreciate the beauty all around us. Frost makes gorgeous patterns on the leaves.

You’ve reached the halfway mark in your Advent Adventures challenge. Have you missed a day or two? That’s okay! The point is to do something kind for yourself each day that allows you to think about what is important and what matters. Self-care is a skill just like bike mechanics or publishing a blog. The more we practice a skill, the more second nature it becomes. Keep going and reap more benefits.

Dec. 16: Winter Bird Feeding: Set up or refill a bird feeder and watch visiting birds.

Dec. 17: Indoor Yoga Flow: Do a quick yoga session inside, focusing on breathing and balance.

Dec. 18: Window Garden Tending: Spend some time tending to a small herb or flower garden on your windowsill.

Dec. 19: Moon Journaling: Write in your journal by moonlight or near a window on a moonlit night.

Dec. 20: Holiday Lights Walk: Take an evening walk to enjoy neighborhood holiday lights.

Holiday lights display at Woodland Park Zoo. I loved this beautiful peacock.
Holiday lights display at Woodland Park Zoo. I loved this beautiful peacock.

Dec. 21: Short Hike: The shortest day (light) of the year! Embark on a short, local hike, appreciating the winter landscape. Feel gratitude that from here on out the days start to get longer again.

Dec. 22: Sunset Reflection Time: Watch a sunset and reflect on your achievements and challenges of the day.

Dec. 23: Indoor Strength Session: Enjoy a quick, focused 15-minute yoga, strength, or pilates workout to strengthen and center your body.

Dec. 24: Snowflake Study: Let it snow! If it does, take a moment to observe the uniqueness of snowflakes.

Dec. 25: Holiday Decoration Tour: Take a walk to enjoy holiday decorations in your area.

Beautiful baubles on an outdoor display during my Shoreline ramble yesterday.
Beautiful baubles on an outdoor display during my Shoreline ramble yesterday.

Most advent calendars end on December 25. But we are about to launch a new year and a new you. If you’ve missed any days and wish to replace — or even repeat — a few from the previous adventures, feel free. This is your life and what replenishes your spirit is unique to you. Here are the final suggestions and warmest wishes for a wonderful end to 2023.

  1. Early Morning Silence: Experience the quiet of early morning before the day begins.
  2. Nature Poetry Reading: Read a nature-themed poem outdoors or near an open window.
  3. Outdoor Aromatherapy: Use essential oils outdoors for a quick aromatherapy session.
  4. Flashlight Night Walk: Take a brief walk at night with a flashlight, exploring the familiar in a new light.
  5. Recap what went well in 2023: List your five favorite memories or accomplishments from 2023. What five things would you most like to have happen in 2024? Write them down.
  6. Quick Cold-Weather Swim: If accessible, take a brief swim in an indoor or heated pool. Or better yet, if you’re in the Seattle area and feeling brave, head to Matthews Beach at noon on New Year’s Day for the wildly popular Polar Bear Plunge. This shot was from January 1, 2023. Hope to see you there to kick off 2024!
Unique Advent Adventures for Your 2023 Holidays
Featured

Trail Etiquette 101: How to Share the Trail

A special thanks to KJ for his recent question. He asked about how to prepare for aggressive, belligerent, or annoying hikers on the trail. I thought it was a perfect time to write a post about trail etiquette and how best to navigate around others.

Headed for Rainier's summit in July 2017. Popular destinations around the country, especially in nice weather, will have hordes of people to deal with. Know these tips and you'll be able to survive the crowds.
Headed for Rainier’s summit in July 2017. Popular destinations around the country, especially in nice weather, will have hordes of people to deal with. Know these tips and you’ll be able to survive the crowds.

Generally speaking, just like with driving (for people in the U.S.) try to keep to the right side of the trail when approaching other hikers. There are exceptions — such as a narrow trail where the only natural pullout is on the other side of the trail.

New hikers may not be aware that trail etiquette dictates the UPHILL traveler has the right of way. If the trail is flat, use common sense, be polite, and wait your turn. Treat others as you would like to be treated. And if someone is struggling (i.e. if they’re being helped down the trail due to illness or injury), give them extra space and time–even if you’re heading up.

A root-filled section of the trail on the way to Rachel Lake. Trail etiquette states that the person climbing up such a steep part of the trail has the right of way.
A root-filled section of the trail on the way to Rachel Lake. Trail etiquette states that the person climbing up such a steep part of the trail has the right of way.

Despite national, volunteer, and outdoor organizations — think Mountaineers, Washington Trails Association, and the Sierra Club — offering training in proper trail etiquette, not everyone who ventures to the mountains has learned how to respect others while sharing the trails. What’s more, since COVID, many people have headed for the backcountry who otherwise wouldn’t be there.

While I love the fact that more people are heading outside, newbies may not know how to behave around others. Or worse, they simply don’t care. I recently added Snow Lake to my “rethink” list because of youngsters cranking rap music without personal listening devices.

Snow Lake is accessible, beautiful, and refreshing on a hot summer day. It's also highly visited as you can see every inch of available shoreline covered with people.
Snow Lake is accessible, beautiful, and refreshing on a hot summer day. It’s also wildly popular as you can see every inch of available shoreline covered with people.

We can’t control others’ behaviors. The very best way to avoid disrespectful behavior is to select less popular hiking routes where there won’t be hordes of people. Hike in the off-season when crowds are less likely. Go when it’s raining to cut down on crowding. Avoid holiday hiking when everyone else has a day off. And go at dawn or dusk when there are fewer people on the trail. My favorite idea is to hike during the week. No weekend mobs!

I love visiting the mountains to recharge, to listen to birds, rustling leaves, and flowing water. On the Snow Lake hike, I should have been able to hear 25-28 bird species. We only heard 7. Too many kids chattered or made annoying monkey calls. Instead of coming back stress-free, I felt like smacking the next pair who approached deep in loud conversation.

Rattlesnake Ledge is another “rethink” destination for me. Following hundreds of other hikers and their dogs without any chance of solitude feels too much like walking around Green Lake in Seattle on a sunny weekend. First, the likelihood of running into a problem dog is high. And second, if I wanted to be outside around scores of people I’d save gas and head to the nearest dog park.

Tiger Mountain's Poo Poo Point on the Fourth of July. We encountered dozens of people who seemed unaware of proper trail etiquette.
Tiger Mountain’s Poo Poo Point on the Fourth of July. We encountered dozens of people who seemed unaware of proper trail etiquette.

If you use headphones or earbuds, realize that you might have difficulty hearing approaching hikers or trail runners. Get to know when trail runners are out and consider hiking without music or podcasts. Along the I-90 corridor, weekend mornings between 7-9 a.m. seem to be popular. And if you’re using multi-purpose trails, know which paths might include mountain bikers, snowmobiles, or equestrians. By doing a little research you won’t be caught off guard.

When you encounter people who seem to be going about your pace but show signs of impatience, step off the trail to let them pass. Anyone itching to be “first” might get nasty about trailing a slower hiker. No need to provoke them. Remember, it’s always okay to stop and take a water break, remove or add a layer of clothing, or get a bite to eat.

I only know of two negatives of hiking solo. There's nobody to take your photo, so you're stuck with selfies, and you can't have a conversation unless you enjoy talking to your dog!
I only know of two negatives of hiking solo. There’s nobody to take your photo, so you’re stuck with selfies, and you can’t have a conversation unless you enjoy talking to your dog!

Try timing rest breaks to coincide with when others around you might be just finishing theirs. This provides more space on the trail so you aren’t all clustered together. Preventing your OWN ‘road rage’ from building up will lead to a much more enjoyable outing.

If you do find yourself getting annoyed, remind yourself that you are in control of your thoughts and experiences. Try taking 3-4 box breaths – 4 counts in, hold for 4 counts, 4 counts out, hold out for 4 counts for 4 repetitions. This is a great stress control breathing technique to use anytime you feel your blood starting to boil. Remember, you cannot control others!

Recognize that people have different reasons for going to the mountains. Trail runners love going fast. Kids love messing around and exploring. Naturalists love looking at flowers and plants. Birders love listening to birds. Trail etiquette means respecting ALL people’s rights to enjoy whatever they’re out to enjoy.

If you feel someone’s behavior is irritating more people than just you, you might consider politely pointing out the offense. They may not even be aware they’re doing something that is bothering anyone.

Prepare for alternate plans. If you have to walk half a mile to get to the trailhead because there’s no available parking, consider doing another hike. Mark overused trails as ones to avoid during popular hours since people usually return to their favorite places.

May all your hikes be sources of enjoyment and wonder. Share the trails. They hold delight for everyone.
The author and her daughter at Annette Lake. May all your hikes be sources of enjoyment and wonder. Share the trails. They hold delight for everyone.

By keeping these tips in mind, everyone can enjoy themselves and share the wonders of the wilderness. If you have a tip I’ve overlooked, please share it in the comments, so we can all learn from one another.

Featured

Non-Food Celebrations: How To Mark Achievements

Recently, I asked a client to come up with non-food celebrations she could enjoy whenever she completed small victories. When she came up blank, I realized the topic might make a great post. Rather than finishing something and diving right into whatever is next, pause and recognize what you’ve accomplished. Get off that hamster wheel! By acknowledging and celebrating each small victory, you will make it easier, more fun, and more rewarding to strive for the next thing.

Whenever Ajax does something courageous, like going across tricky bridges, I make sure to include a non-food celebration with him (praise and pats). What could you use to recognize and celebrate the completion of hard tasks?
Whenever Ajax does something courageous, like going across tricky bridges, I make sure to include non-food celebrations with him (praise and pats). What could you use to recognize and celebrate the completion of your hard tasks?

I have written before about shifting our focus (with a key takeaway from each) in the following blog posts:

Gap and the Gain: A Powerful Shift for the Brain (5/9/22) in which I point out the importance of tracking progress to see where you started and how far you’ve come. If we can’t recognize the small victories as we go, we can easily get discouraged. Click for more on Dan Sullivan’s book, The Gap and The Gain.

How to Reframe Self-Talk for Greater Gain (5/28/22) By changing the words we use to describe a situation, we change our attitude toward it. Even – perhaps especially – obstacles can be seen as opportunities if we embrace them that way.

Another tricky surface for Ajax is a pebbly beach at Seahurst Park. Fortunately, he was so distracted by all the wonderful smells (and surprise! salt water is NOT good for drinking) that he handled it okay. We celebrated with a game of Rah, or jump for the leash.
Another tricky surface for Ajax is a pebbly beach at Seahurst Park. Fortunately, he was so distracted by all the wonderful smells (and surprise! salt water is NOT good for drinking) that he handled it okay. “We celebrated with a game of Rah, or “jump for the leash.”

Rising Strong Lesson: The Story I’m Telling Myself (7/12/22) A powerful tool for reframing the half-truths or blatant lies we’ve been telling ourselves for too long. If you tell yourself you’ll never reach X goal, you’re right. If you convince yourself this is just another test, and you keep going, nothing will stop you. Click for more on Brene Brown‘s awesome resources.

Accomplishing Your Goal, Handling Anticipointment (7/21/22) Tips for moving on after you accomplish a major goal. Celebrate, sure, but also pause and recognize how far you’ve come.

Even finishing raking the entire yard can turn into a non-food celebration. When was the last time you played in the leaves?
Even finishing raking the entire yard can turn into a non-food celebration. When was the last time you played in the leaves?

What is new, however, is the focus on embracing each small win. Especially whenever we’re feeling stuck or unmotivated. I was recently reminded that what we look for, we find. If we look for problems, we’ll see them everywhere.

But we can develop, cultivate, and practice a more capable mindset and different skills. In particular, the skill of looking for moments to celebrate. We can train our brains to find them. Below are some ways to start your practice.

I look for color on every single hike, ramble, or walk, just as I've trained my ear to listen for birds. Do you pay attention when you're outside, or do you go on auto-pilot? What would you notice if you left your earphones and phone at home?
I look for color on every single hike, ramble, or walk, just as I’ve trained my ear to listen for birds. Do you pay attention when you’re outside, or do you go on auto-pilot? What would you notice if you left your earphones and phone at home?

I compiled a list of non-food celebrations to commemorate small wins. Each of the next ten items can be completed in as little as five minutes. All are completely free and available to anyone. Try generating your own list of ideas springing from the suggestions below. Have fun with it!

  1. Mini Meditation Session: Hold a brief walking or seated meditation focused on gratitude for and acknowledgment of the achievement. Embrace the feeling of accomplishment. Mark it deep within.
  2. Short Gratitude Journal Entry: Write a quick note in a notebook or journal about what you feel grateful for in this moment, as you focus on your recent victory. Embrace the effort that went into it.
  3. Celebratory Dance: Put on a favorite song and hold a little dance party. It’s a joyful, energizing way to mark a milestone. Put your hands in the air, jump around, and smile big. You did it! Really feel it.
  4. Nature Connection: Spend a few minutes outside, taking in fresh air, and appreciating the natural surroundings, whether it’s in your backyard, a nearby park, or just a view of the sky.
  5. Mindful Breathing Exercise: Do a focused breathing exercise, taking deep, intentional breaths to sink that great feeling deep in your body and soul.
Non-Food Celebrations: How To Mark Achievements
‘Tis the season to celebrate lights in your neighborhood. Take a walk after dark and enjoy the fresh air and holiday displays.

Remember that everyone’s list of non-food celebrations will look different. What feels like a great idea to me may not resonate with you, and that’s totally okay. What you’re after are ways you can celebrate that will hold deeper meaning than just a simple check on a to-do list.

  1. Personal Affirmation: Create and recite a positive, personal affirmation that celebrates your current success and supports you toward future progress.
  2. Virtual High-Five: Send a quick message or email to a friend, family member, or coach sharing your success. Give yourself a virtual pat on the back. A sticker on a calendar, or in a journal, can also be fun.
  3. Quick Stretching Routine: Perform a brief stretching routine, focusing on releasing tension and infusing the moment with a sense of accomplishment.
  4. Reflective Walk: Take a short, mindful walk, even if it’s just around the block or office, and reflect on what you’ve achieved.
  5. Visualization Exercise: Spend a few minutes visualizing the next step toward your goal, reinforcing your commitment while celebrating how far you’ve come.
Ajax enjoying the snow
Ajax enjoying the snow.

And if you want to splurge a bit, try browsing at a bookstore, seeing a movie, attending a concert, or investing in essential oils, candles, plush towels, or blankets – whatever feels decadent TO YOU. If you have more time, take yourself somewhere you love. A trip to the mountains is always one of my best rewards.

Reward that inner child who might feel nervous and scared. Let them know they are totally safe and you haven’t forgotten them. If you have a favorite non-food celebration to mark your baby steps, please share them with our readers below.

Featured

Expert Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

It’s the time of year when most people find themselves busier than usual. Taking care of extended family. Shopping and attending holiday gatherings. Getting “end of the year” tasks accomplished. And if you’re like me, exploring novelty or learning as much as possible. As a coach with over 25 years of experience, below I provide expert tips for managing stress during the holidays. These tips are set against a backdrop of holiday lights photos from Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlanterns display for 2023.

One idea for managing stress is to enjoy the Wildlanterns display at Woodland Park Zoo. Movement, festivities, fresh air, novelty - what could be better?
One idea for managing stress is to enjoy the Wildlanterns display at Woodland Park Zoo. Movement, festivities, fresh air, novelty – what could be better?

If you wanted to, you could probably do something unique every day between now and New Year’s. And pay the price. Instead, figure out what’s most important to you. When shopping, think about what gifts you really need to buy and which you can put on a “perhaps” list. Plan meals ahead of time for those stretches when you’re crunched for time. Here are some additional tips to make things less stressful:

  • Make a list of the most important things you need to do and focus on those first.
  • For gifts, consider buying online to save time or choosing gift cards.
  • Keep meals simple. Choose recipes that are easy and include ingredients you always have on hand.
  • Double recipes so you have leftovers for multiple meals.
  • Think about which holiday traditions are the most fun and meaningful. You don’t have to do everything. Just pick a few favorites.
This year's lights display featured bugs, spiders, pandas, and birds, with "snow" and "fantasy" paths as well. A plus: continuous corridors of lights.
This year’s lights display featured bugs, spiders, pandas, and birds, with “snow” and “fantasy” paths as well. A plus: continuous corridors of lights.

One tradition I’ve had for over a decade is visiting Woodland Park Zoo’s light display. Wildlanterns replaced the popular Wildlights five or six years ago. This past week I visited on Thursday evening. It was a dark and stormy night… The precipitation actually provided nice reflections on wet pavement.

My other includes enjoying holiday music. A client of mine invites me to several of her choral performances each year and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I’ve added the Choir of the Sound holiday performance to my “must-do” list, even if I go alone.

Expert Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

Staying active is especially important during stressful holidays. Exercise helps reduce stress and helps you avoid adding extra pounds. Here are some ways to fit movement into a busy schedule:

  • Try quick workouts at home. If you can’t find 30-60 minutes, try several 5-minute workouts. You can find short exercise videos online.
  • Take a brisk walk in the morning or after dinner. It’s a great way to clear your mind and increase movement.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park several blocks from work or in a far parking spot to encourage more movement.
  • Do stretching or yoga before bed. It can help you relax and sleep better.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Movement is my best way of managing stress. Try walking or biking to do local errands. If I have to go anywhere under a mile from my home (including stores, library, and post office), I visit on foot. Often carrying a pack.

Remember, you don’t need long blocks of time to exercise. Give yourself permission to break up workouts if you need to. Even small changes can help lower stress and improve your mood. And if you visit Wildlanterns you can add an extra mile to your total.

Festive polar bears grace the snowy "ice crystals" loop.
Festive polar bears grace the snowy “ice crystals” loop.

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment and not worrying about the past or the future. After all, we live only right now. Here are ways to practice it:

  • Try breathing exercises. Box breathing can calm your mind within a minute or two.
  • Meditation is another great option. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing or try a walking meditation where you allow your mind to be still.
  • Yoga combines exercise with deep breathing and can be relaxing.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Forest bathing, even in the rain, is a wonder way to boost spirits immediately.

These techniques can help you feel less stressed, especially during busy times like the holidays.

My favorite Wildlantern was the tiny panda up in the beautiful tree.
My favorite Wildlantern was the tiny panda up in the beautiful tree.

Making healthy choices during the holidays can be tricky. Here are some strategies to help:

  • Try to maintain a balanced diet. Include fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains in your meals.
  • Drink plenty of water. Aim for your body weight in pounds divided by two for your target in ounces.
  • It’s okay to have a treat but listen to your body. Enjoy every bite and notice how the food smells and tastes.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Watch for your ‘satiation sigh.’ This is a deep breath from your body that indicates it’s had enough. When you notice this, stop eating.
  • Eat slowly and savor your food. Enjoy the taste of your treats without rushing or multitasking. Try saving some for later, as spiders do. You can always have more when you’re legitimately hungry.
One of the crowd pleasers -- and one of the largest displays -- was this enormous spider on its web. It moves and changes colors.
One of the crowd pleasers — and one of the largest displays — was this enormous spider on its web. It moves and changes colors.

You can enjoy your favorite holiday foods without overdoing it. Moderation is key. By staying healthy and feeling good during the holiday season, you’ll be raring to go come January.

Set personal limits on what you can get done during the holidays. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything. Here’s how to set appropriate boundaries and say no when you need to:

  • Be clear about what you can handle. Don’t take on too much.
  • Use your “no” muscles. If someone asks you to do something extra, and you’re too busy, it’s fine to tell them you can’t.
  • Be polite but firm. You can say something like, “That sounds fun, but I have a lot on my plate right now.”
  • Remember, make self-care your top priority. You’ll enjoy the holidays more if you’re not stressed.
  • Coach Court’s favorite: Think about the pros and cons of the activity. If the pros outweigh the cons, figure out a way to include it but then remove something else from your list.
Expert Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

By setting realistic expectations and saying no when necessary, you can keep stress levels down and have a happier holiday season.

To wrap up, remember these key points for a more enjoyable and less stressful holiday season:

  • Prioritize and simplify your tasks. Focus on what matters most.
  • Stay active, even in short doses, to reduce stress.
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques to keep calm.
  • Eat healthily, enjoy treats mindfully, and listen for your body’s signals that it’s had enough.
  • Set appropriate boundaries and know it’s okay to say no.

Try these strategies during the holidays. They can help you manage stress and make this time of year more fun and enjoyable. If you have favorite ways for managing stress this time of year, please share in the comments.

Featured

November Challenge: Craft Your Own Compelling Project

If you knew me between 2012 and 2021, you may remember my fondness for NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month occurs every November. It is a compelling challenge to writers to crank out 50,000 words on their current WIP (work in progress) between 12:01 on November 1 and 11:59 on November 30. I’ve participated six times. However, since I’m between fiction projects this year, I thought about other ways to develop a November challenge.

Where I do most of my blogging, writing, and program creation. You can see by the number of books behind me that I ADORE Books!
Where I do most of my blogging, writing, and program creation. You can see by the number of books behind me that I ADORE Books!

Challenge History

I have a long history of creating challenges. In 2021 I created OcTraPiMo (October Trash Pick-up Month). My challenge was to pick up trash around the community each day and share my results with readers.

In November 2022 I created NoCluHoMo with the intention of reducing clutter around my home.

In January 2023, I created the AAA (Active Ajax Adventures) project involving 52 rambles (covering 320 miles together) to unique green spaces without any duplicates. You could say the creative child in me likes to be challenged periodically. These projects are my way of satisfying both needs.

Mt. Rainier as viewed from Dirty Harry's Peak. Ajax and I have easily covered over 11,000 miles together in his 8.5 years with me.
Mt. Rainier as viewed from Dirty Harry’s Peak. Ajax and I have easily covered over 11,000 miles together in his 8.5 years with me.

A New November Challenge Is Born

As October reached an end, memories of NaNoWriMo beckoned. I played around with the Latin root “nov” (meaning new). What about innovation? Launching a new company is certainly innovative, but I wanted something restorative, not stressful.

How about renovating some areas of our house? We did an extensive home remodel eighteen years ago and have zero desire to repeat that stress. Could I do something with the words novice, novelty, or novel reading (not writing?)

The cone of shame. This shot was a November photograph from 2017 in between long, intense novel writing stretches.
The cone of shame. This shot was a November photograph from 2017 in between long, intense novel writing stretches.

Taking a Test Drive

On October 30, I took a trial run with “novelty.” I sent several messages to friends I’ve lost touch with over the past year and was pleasantly surprised when I received warm replies.

I’ve done plenty of letter-writing challenges before, sending notes to my parents in celebration of anniversaries or birthdays, the number of correspondences matching the number of years. Been there, done that. What else might I try?

On October 31, I chose a different path. I started a pork shoulder in the Dutch oven first thing in the morning to guarantee I had protein for the week. Yum. Cooking requires time I can’t really spare this month, so trying a new recipe every day wouldn’t work. But what if I simply did something new each day?

A November challenge could be food-related. One of the fun things I like to do is decorate food. Here, fresh tasty treats with a Halloween theme, no added sugar.
A November challenge could be food-related. One of the fun things I like to do is decorate food. Here, fresh tasty treats with a Halloween theme, no added sugar.

Kicking Off My November Challenge

On the first day of November, rather than driving an hour to the mountains (as originally planned), I headed to Magnuson Park with Ajax. Our target was looking for a snow bunting, a rarity I had only seen once before. I don’t do much birding in the fall, mainly because the only birds available are residents. We recorded 23 bird species, no bunting, but plenty of waterfowl!

Thursday morning, I went outside in the rain in the dark to do a few of my physical therapy exercises while grounding at the same time. Friday I generated a possible script for a video using assistance from Chat GPT. On Saturday, my daughter and I visited Hobby Lobby for holiday crafting supplies. And today I’m enjoying reading a graphic memoir, Kid Gloves. My “novelty” November challenge is off to a good start.

Magnuson Park waterfront on November 1, 2023 to kick off my novelty November challenge. No rain!
Magnuson Park waterfront on November 1, 2023 to kick off my novelty November challenge. No rain!

Creating Your Own November Challenge

Now it’s your turn. How might you insert some novelty into your life? Can you come up with ways to manage your stress, embrace change, and tap into your creativity this month?

Here are eleven ideas (November is, after all, the eleventh month of the year!) to get you started. They all begin with the letters “N-O” and can be done in November without investing significant resources.

Challenge Ideas 1-5

No: Just say no to something you really don’t want to do. Put yourself first.

No Negativity: Consciously avoid negative self-talk and pessimistic thoughts.

Nocturnal Walk: Enjoy the crisp night air with an evening walk, embracing the tranquility and freshness. We set the clocks back an hour so we have more night darkness to deal with. Enjoy it!

Nomad Day: Spend a day exploring a part of your community you don’t usually visit. Notice and name whatever captures your attention. You may discover a part of yourself that goes underappreciated!

Nonchalant Attitude: Adopt a carefree approach towards minor setbacks. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I write down a few wins from the current or previous day to remind myself that yes, I AM moving forward. (You may recall this practice from The Gap and The Gain.)

The peaceful calm of Lake Washington was exactly what I needed on November 1 instead of a long drive in the car!
The peaceful calm of Lake Washington was exactly what I needed on November 1 instead of a long drive in the car!

Challenge Ideas 6-11

Nonjudgmental Listening: Practice listening to loved ones, friends, and colleagues with love, not judgment.

Notes of Appreciation: Write thank-you notes or express gratitude to loved ones.

Notice Nature: Spend time observing the subtle changes in nature as we approach winter.

Nourish Your Body: Focus on eating with awareness and appreciation for all the wonderful things your unique body can do.

Novel Reading: Escape into a fictional world by enjoying a book in a genre you don’t usually read.

Now: What have you been putting off that you could tackle today? Can you spend five minutes on it? What one thing can you prioritize for November so you stop feeling overwhelmed?

Fabulous colors abound in the Puget Sound right now. Go on a color -collecting walk
Fabulous colors abound in the Puget Sound right now. Go on a color-collecting walk.

November Challenge Takeaways

Which ideas resonate with you? How might you create your own self-supported and motivating challenge for the next few weeks?

Whatever you choose to focus on, have a way to track your “wins” whether that is reflecting on your day and noting what you did that was new or required a beginner’s mindset.

A "notice and name" mushroom I discovered during our birding trip to Houston and South Padre Island in November 2022, a "novelty" event for sure, traveling without our daughter.
A “notice and name” mushroom I discovered during our birding trip to Houston and South Padre Island in November 2022, a “novelty” event for sure, traveling without our daughter.

Periodically review what’s working for you so that you can adjust your challenge to serve you.

Share your results in the comments so that others can benefit from our collected wisdom. Good luck with your novelty November!

Featured

Gratitude Practice: How To Cultivate Your Unique Habit

As November approaches, it’s the perfect time to practice gratitude. Establishing such an approach is a great way to appreciate life’s blessings. In this post, we’ll introduce you to how to create your own unique gratitude practice. One that resonates with your lifestyle and transforms your perspective. For previous blog posts about gratitude, see How to Practice Gratitude to Get Unstuck and How to Play Your Way to Gratitude.

One gratitude practice I have is shooting a photo of something that catches my eye. I am grateful for colors, for vision, for people who enjoy seasonally decorating their homes, for walks with my dog, and for dry weather.
One gratitude practice I have is shooting a photo of something that catches my eye. I am grateful for colors, for vision, for people who enjoy seasonally decorating their homes, for walks with my dog, and for dry weather.

Transcend Judgment through Gratitude

A wise author, Dain Heer, reminds us in his book, Body Whispering, that we cannot be in judgment and gratitude at the same time. Are you often harsh toward yourself? If so, perhaps it’s time to notice when that inner critic takes over. Harsh judgment often leads to a spiral of negativity. According to Heer, the antidote is replacing judgment with appreciation.

Instead of feeling unhappy about your (insert body part here), shift your focus to being thankful for the many tasks that part helps you perform. This transition from a judgmental mindset to one of gratitude can improve your outlook and help you develop a more positive self-image.

Instead of complaining about the downpour, I chose to be grateful for roofs, umbrellas, and rain jackets. We take so many simple luxuries for granted until they are no longer there. Watching the survival series, "Alone", has given me an immense appreciation for having food on my plate rather than sedges, worms, or nothing at all.
Instead of complaining about the downpour, I chose to be grateful for roofs, umbrellas, and rain jackets. We take so many simple luxuries for granted until they are no longer there. Watching the survival series, “Alone”, has given me an immense appreciation for having food on my plate rather than sedges, worms, or nothing at all.

If you notice yourself being overly critical, stop. See if you can discover something positive about the situation. What we seek we will find. If we always look for the negative, we will find negativity. By training our brains to look for the positives, we reinforce that skill set and build the mental muscles that can help us feel better.

Gratitude Practice: Mutual Exchange

Sharing gratitude can amplify their positive effects. Consider exchanging gratitude with a friend or loved one. This can create a mutual appreciation for life’s blessings.

One way I do this is by exchanging gratitude with my mother in North Carolina. This Sunday afternoon ritual not only enriches our personal gratitude practice but also strengthens our family bond.

When I hike in the mountains, on the trip back to the car I often find myself calling out all the things I'm grateful for during the outing, from the weather, to my companion Ajax, to the beautiful mushrooms poking out to say hi.
When I hike in the mountains, on the trip back to the car I often find myself calling out all the things I’m grateful for during the outing, from the weather, to my companion Ajax, to the beautiful mushrooms poking out to say hi.

The other family gratitude practice we have includes sharing highlights of our day while eating dinner. We have been doing this as a family for about a decade. Some days it’s hard to come up with anything, but we always can say we’re grateful for the food in front of us and for each other’s company.

Cultivate a “Choice,” not “Should,” Mindset

For a gratitude practice to be effective, it must be something you look forward to. Not an obligation to check off your to-do list. See whether you can change from a “should” mentality to a “choice” mentality.

See if you can find tiny pockets of time where you are relaxed, maybe even happy. Use 1-2 minutes to think about a positive moment in your day. You have the beginnings of a gratitude practice!

This photo brought a smile to my face and a flood of memories of our second visit to New Zealand where we visited a wallaby petting center two days after Christmas, 2019. So grateful for vacations, for photographs, for memories.
This photo brought a smile to my face and a flood of memories of our second visit to New Zealand where we visited a wallaby petting center two days after Christmas, 2019. So grateful for vacations, for photographs, for memories.

At night before you go to bed, jot down three things that went well. They can be small, such as noticing a double rainbow. Or they might be big, such as launching a new website or celebrating a promotion. Doing so gives your subconscious positive statements to reflect on overnight. In turn, this can help you start a new day feeling positive.

Gratitude Practice: Diverse Ideas

Gratitude practices are not one-size-fits-all. They can take numerous forms based on your unique preferences. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Reflect Daily – Take a few minutes each day, perhaps in the morning or before bed, to reflect on what you’re grateful for. It can be helpful to center your thoughts on positive experiences, people in your life, or even simple pleasures.
  • Keep a Gratitude Journal – Jot down things you’re thankful for each day. This helps you foster a mindset of appreciation. It also creates a record of positive experiences you can reflect upon later.
The care and attention that went into this tiny planter box is evident, with the five-toe stones next to appropriately sized plants. What can you find that makes you smile?
The care and attention that went into this tiny planter box is evident, with the five-toe stones next to appropriately sized plants. What can you find that makes you smile?
  • Express Gratitude to Others: Send a simple thank you or a note of appreciation. Do something kind for someone. Expressing gratitude enhances your relationships and spreads positivity.
  • Cultivate Mindfulness – Being present and mindful can help you appreciate tiny moments. Look for the aspects of your life that bring you joy.
  • Keep a Gratitude Jar – Keep a container where family members can store notes of gratitude. Over time, you will fill the jar with reminders of good moments, which you can reflect on together.

Review Your Gratitude Journey

Creating a unique gratitude practice is a journey of self-exploration and appreciating life’s rich offerings. In addition, a periodic review of your gratitude can provide insight into your personal growth. It’s inspiring to see how your appreciation evolves over time.

As we approach November, we can make a conscious effort to replace judgment with appreciation. Share thankful moments with loved ones. Embrace a joyful approach to our practice. Explore diverse gratitude expressions. And reflect on our gratitude journey. Through these steps, we enrich our lives and create ripples of positivity that can spread to those around us.

So many gratitudes come to mind with this image. Gratitude for family, for travel, for creativity. For the time my daughter and her grandparents could spend together this fall. And for air travel which makes it possible to visit loved ones across the country.
So many gratitudes come to mind with this image. Gratitude for family, for travel, for creativity. For the time my daughter and her grandparents could spend together this fall. And for air travel which makes it possible to visit loved ones across the country.

If you have a unique gratitude practice you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. Your comments contribute to the shared community of understanding. Plus I love hearing from readers!

Featured

How to Use Journal Prompts to Embrace Autumn Change

This week provided a deep dive into furthering my education. Self-study material for becoming an NBC-HWC (National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach). Enrollment in a course called The Art of Journal Coaching. Precision Nutrition’s 8-week course about Chat GPT. Learning about lymph and fluid flow and the power of the tongue from the Tongue Mojo expert at Stop Chasing Pain. Although my daughter is enrolled at the University of WA, each fall I, too, evolve through learning. This week I merged all of my current interests into a post featuring 20 autumn journal prompts meant to inspire reflection on change.

Change is in the air. Use some of the journal prompts from this post to reflect on what change means to you.
Change is in the air. Use some of the journal prompts from this post to reflect on what change means to you.

Journal Prompts 1-5: Observe Nature’s Changes

As we head deeper into autumn, signs all around us point to change. Falling leaves. Shorter days. Dropping temperatures. Returning rain. Migrating birds. What are some of your favorite signs of change? What does autumn mean for you? To guide and inspire you, here are some journal prompts around observing nature’s changes.

  • Reflect on the transformation of green leaves to vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. How does this mirror change in your own life?
  • Write about a tree that loses its leaves every fall. How does it prepare for winter and what can you learn from its cycle?
This image evokes both the return to school and the changing seasons. One of my favorite local trees.
This image evokes both the return to school and the changing seasons. One of my favorite local trees.
  • Reflect on the crispness of the autumn air. How does the change in temperature make you feel?
  • Write about your favorite autumn scent, be it cinnamon, burning wood, or damp earth. How does it evoke memories or emotions?
  • Reflect on the sounds of fall, from rustling leaves to distant geese. How do these sounds shape your autumn experience?

Autumn Prompts 6-10: Embrace Personal Growth

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that every so often I stop to pause and reflect on where I’ve come and where I’m heading. While many people do this at the change of the calendar year, I also do it at the start of each school season. There is no better time than the present to stop and think about where you’re headed. Enjoy some journal prompts around personal growth.

  • Write about a personal challenge you faced this year. How can you see it in a new light, inspired by the changing seasons?
  • Reflect on the concept of “harvest.” What have you sown and reaped in your personal or professional life?
  • Write about a time you felt like a lone leaf, drifting away from its tree. What did you learn from that experience?
A photo from a trip to Melakwa Lake in the fall of 2022.
A photo from a trip to Melakwa Lake in the fall of 2022.
  • Reflect on the shorter days and longer nights. How can you make the most of your time, even when it feels limited?
  • Write about a past autumn when you experienced significant change. How did you adapt and grow?

Journal Prompts 11-15: Beauty and Impermanence

When life feels chaotic and out of control, taking a walk around the block or visiting a nearby park can provide substantial restorative benefits. Last week I shared a recent experience with forest bathing. This week I provide prompts for you to reflect on what nature means to you. How might you enrich your relationship with yourself — and with nature? Below are prompts on appreciating beauty and impermanence.

  • Reflect on the beauty of a decaying leaf. How can you find beauty in imperfections or endings in your life?
  • Write about a memorable autumn sunset you witnessed. What feelings did it evoke?
  • Reflect on the fleeting nature of fall foliage. How does it remind you to cherish moments and phases in life?
Fungus on a decaying nurse log covered in moss. What can you notice in your local green space?
Fungus on a decaying nurse log covered in moss. What can you notice in your local green space?
  • Write about a forest or park in autumn. How do the varying colors and stages of trees inspire you?
  • Reflect on a rainy autumn day. How does the rain rejuvenate the earth, and how can challenges rejuvenate you?

Prompts 16-20: Prepare for the Future

Finally, once you have reflected on today, imagine what you want your future to look like. Picture yourself ten years from now, living an ideal day. Where are you? Who is with you? What are you doing? Precision Nutrition coaches refer to this exercise as the Destination Postcard. The more vivid the details you supply, the more likely your brain is to help you reach it. Consider the following prompts in preparing for the future.

  • Write about the animals preparing for winter. How can you prepare for future challenges or seasons in your life?
  • Reflect on the balance between letting go (like trees shedding leaves) and holding on. When is it time for each in your life?
  • Write about the warmth of a cozy sweater or electric blanket. How can you create warmth and comfort in your life as the days get colder?
Consider your life as varied and colorful as Mother Nature's landscape. Everything provides balance until one color takes over. What do you need in order to restore balance in your life?
Consider your life as varied and colorful as Mother Nature’s landscape. Everything provides balance until one color takes over. What do you need in order to restore balance in your life?
  • Reflect on the anticipation of the first snowfall. How can you embrace the unknowns in your life with similar anticipation?
  • Write about a family or community autumn tradition. How does it bring people together and how can you foster such connections in your life?

Using Journal Prompts in Your Practice

Allow these prompts to inspire you to see the beauty of autumn and draw parallels with your own experiences. If you feel pressed for time, consider picking one prompt that speaks to you, to begin with. Set an alarm for anywhere from 2-5 minutes and jot down everything that comes to mind. The next time you have a few minutes, pick another prompt.

A favorite fall image from a hike on Tiger Mountain.
A favorite fall image from a hike on Tiger Mountain.

Don’t feel compelled to write about them all, unless you love journaling. When I get stuck journaling I love to have a prompt or two available to channel thoughts in a new direction. And you can do this in a natural setting (nature journaling), on a computer, or even dictated. Whatever works for you.

Happy reflecting! And if you care to share, please do so in the box below. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

Forest Bathing: How To Get Started

Before I share my recent experience with forest bathing, I wish to extend deep gratitude to Chloe Lee, affiliated with Cascadia Forest Therapy. She first introduced me to the practice in March 2021. Chloe has a unique and deeply personal way of extending “Invitations” to enjoy the forest.

Last Tuesday, she invited me to join her on a guided walk in the Arboretum. During our two hours, she asked me several questions about my own practice which I thought would make a good introductory blog post. Any errors herein are mine alone.

Forest bathing doesn't require any water, although we had plenty of rain on October 10. It made everything magical.
Forest bathing doesn’t require any water, although we had plenty of rain on October 10. It made everything magical.

What Is Forest Bathing?

Put most simply, forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is the Japanese practice of self-care and mindfulness that involves opening your senses to all the forest has to offer, from noticing movement, seeking tiny objects, experiencing colors in new ways, or finding a place to sit and absorb whatever Mother Nature offers.

If after reading this post you’re interested in learning more, please visit Cascadia Forest Therapy’s article on a “Typical Forest Bathing Session” or scroll down for some wonderful resources I found on my shelf.

A damp heart-shaped leaf that reminded me of my mother. While use of cell phones is discouraged on traditional forest bathing walks, I knew I would ultimately want to share this wonderful experience with readers.
A damp heart-shaped leaf that reminded me of my mother. While the use of cell phones is discouraged on traditional forest bathing walks, I knew I would ultimately want to share this wonderful experience with readers. Instead of several dozen photos, I only shot five.

The Beginnings Of My Journey

In March 2021, I needed helpful ways to handle stress rather than sinking into addictive tendencies. Chloe introduced me to the calm, centering practice of forest bathing. During our walk this week, she asked me to share an early forest bathing memory.

I recounted my first time in Boeing Creek Park, a place I’ve returned to many times since. At her invitation to find something that “spoke” to me in some way, I crept up to the biggest Douglas fir in the area. I caressed the ribbed bark, circled around the trunk examining woodpecker holes and moss covering it, and looked up as the tree sighed on the breeze.

Out of respect to "Be a tree" I have never taken her picture, but at the end of my first forest bathing experience I did shoot a picture of the round stone, a symbol of my "go-go-go" nature that I strive to leave behind.
Out of respect to “Be a tree” I have never taken a picture, but at the end of my first forest bathing experience I did shoot a picture of the round stone, a symbol of my “go-go-go” nature that I strive to leave behind.

Be-a-Tree

Assigning the tree a human name didn’t feel right. I intuitively thought of it as female, but I admit I don’t know whether trees can even be male or female. So I refer to the tree simply as “Be-a-tree.” (Beatrice?) I gave Be-a-tree a hug, stared up into its high and mighty branches dwarfing all those in its presence, and felt deeply connected to a tree in a way I never had before. Almost like the tree was a grandparent. Or great-grandparent.

Am I a tree hugger? That particular one, yes.

A madrone reaching high up in the canopy of the Arboretum.
A madrone reaching high up in the canopy of the Arboretum.

Every time I return to the park, I include a short visit to Be-a-tree. Oh, the many fascinating years it has experienced. And it will probably be standing long after I move on. Appreciating nature’s longevity and healing powers helps put things into proper perspective. It’s hard to be depressed or manic while surrounded by trees.

Have you ever connected with a tree? If you are interested in learning more about the hidden lives of trees, check out Peter Wohlleben’s book.

Sit Spot

Chloe extended another invitation in a grove where a barred owl hooted a greeting. She suggested we find a spot to lean up against a tree and absorb whatever Mother Nature wanted to reveal. This time I found a Madrone with peeling bark. Since I seldom visit the Arboretum, and probably couldn’t locate this one again, I did not feel a need to name it. However, I did notice the lovely, thin, tissue-paper bark.

In our tea circle, I shared that Mother Nature had wrapped up the tree, almost as a present. Have I mentioned that I love trees?

Forest Bathing: How To Get Started

Integrating Practice with an Urban Lifestyle

A question we discussed in a group and in smaller groups was how to include a forest bathing practice in an urban setting. My own practice looks like this:

  • Daily walks (3-4) outdoors with my dog, rain or shine
  • Daily grounding (earthing) in my backyard, 30 minutes
  • Weekly hikes with my dog
  • Birding seasonally, sometimes monthly
  • Forest bathing as the opportunity arises, no set frequency but more often in spring
  • Vacations 2x/year to wildlife destinations for bird and animal photography
  • My Active Ajax Adventures Rambles and OcTraPiMo projects, both outdoors-based projects
One of my favorite things to do outside is to appreciate the changing seasons. My favorite colors occur in the fall.
One of my favorite things to do outside is to appreciate the changing seasons. My favorite colors occur in the fall.

As you can see, even living in an urban setting like Seattle, I have carved out regular practices that take me out in nature to help me stay grounded, connected, and less stressed. You can, too, by making it a priority and finding ways that work for you.

Developing Your Practice

If you are interested in trying forest bathing for yourself, you can embark on a guided trip to see what the invitations and practice look, feel, and sound like.

Once you have had a taste for it, plan a few visits to your nearest greenspace, preferably a place with trees. Go alone, without any set objective of time or distance. Your goal is simply to BE and FEEL. Motion can come later once you tap into emotions.

Use all five senses. Can you find ten different sights that appeal to your eyes? a certain color? something bigger than a bicycle, smaller than a penny? What do you hear? When you walk, how do you feel? how does it feel to rub your feet along the surface or skim the top with your hand? Are there distinct smells?

Oh, to be so lucky on your forest bathing adventures as to find a handful of ripe blueberries!
Oh, to be so lucky on your forest bathing adventures as to find a handful of ripe blueberries!

Perhaps the hardest sense to use during forest bathing is taste. I don’t advocate trying mushrooms, as I don’t know which might be poisonous, but when berries are ripe or apples are in season, go for it. We enjoyed 100% cacao and freshly brewed forest tea with cedar, cinnamon, and nettle Chloe picked during our hike.

Where Can I Learn More About Forest Bathing?

I used forest bathing techniques on a hike with Ajax in March, 2021 on one of our favorite trails on Tiger Mountain.
I used forest bathing techniques on a hike with Ajax in March, 2021 on one of our favorite trails on Tiger Mountain.

If you are interested in contacting Chloe Lee directly, here are her personals:

www.chloejanelee.com

hello@chloejanelee.com

www.cascadiaforesttherapy.com

Instagram @chloe_jane_lee

Now go outside, find a tree to admire and learn about for the next five minutes, and tell it Chloe, Court, and Be-A-Tree sent you!

Featured

Granite Mountain: October Balm For the Spirit

To celebrate the change of seasons, this week Ajax and I participated in our annual pilgrimage to the summit of Granite Mountain. In 2020, Ajax overheated on the descent. We changed tactics in 2021 but the muggy, buggy, and smoky outing dowsed my interest in hiking it during the summer. The exposed south-facing slope — an avalanche chute in winter — is too brutal for Ajax in the heat. On October 5, 2022, we enjoyed cooler temperatures, an empty trail, and brilliant fall colors. And on the same day this year, the Cascade Mountains once again stunned us with their beauty.

At every turn, we found more to gawk at and photograph. The mountains are calling and we had to go.
At every turn, we found more to gawk at and photograph. The mountains are calling and we had to go.

Getting Started

In previous posts, I have shared how sometimes I have to get myself to a trailhead before I actually feel like hiking. This time, I couldn’t wait to reach the trail. A recent trip report raved about spectacular fall colors and I knew exactly where Ajax and I would go.

Fire-red dew-covered maple leaves, the first shot of the hike. My jaw just about dropped.
Fire-red dew-covered maple leaves, the first shot of the hike. My jaw just about dropped.

On the drive to Exit 47, four things set this trip apart from others.

  • We stopped to fill up with gas in the dark so I wouldn’t run out of gas 45 miles from Seattle
  • I listened to Il Divo’s Mama for the first fifteen minutes — which repeated in my head for most of the hike (yes, mine is still with us; not so my husband’s)
  • For the rest of the drive, I listened to Richard Schwartz’s audiobook, No Bad Parts. It reminded me of the blog post I wrote some time ago about reigning in our inner critic.
  • Through morning mist and fog, splashes of color hinted at the display to come higher up

By the time we reached the parking lot just after dawn, I had my camera all ready to go.

Balm for the soul: Mother Nature's awesome artistic display against Mt. Rainier at Granite Mountain.
Balm for the soul: Mother Nature’s awesome artistic display against Mt. Rainier at Granite Mountain.

Granite Mountain: Ascent and Discovery

We started hiking around 7:20, with only one other hiker in front of us. When a spider web brushed my face just past the Pratt Lake/Granite Mountain junction, I guessed the other hiker must have headed in the opposite direction. At the avalanche chute, colorful shrubs awaited. And at every switchback, more stunning scenery vied for my attention. By the end of the morning, I’d shot over 200 photos.

Unfortunately, the beauty couldn’t mask a growing ache in my left foot. Right between the second and third metatarsal, I felt a nodule or tender spot that made me want to scrunch my toes or roll onto the outside of my foot to avoid the ball of the foot. It posed no problems on dirt, but the irregular rocks through the chute aggravated it.

Peek-a-boo! Ajax pauses for just the right moment behind flame-red bushes. Jaw-dropping balm for the soul.
Peek-a-boo! Ajax pauses for just the right moment behind flame-red bushes. Jaw-dropping balm for the soul.

Since I usually don’t feel problems with my Keen boots until descending, I worried about continuing. Each half-hour, I stopped to give Ajax some water and tweak my laces. Take note: the next time you have issues with your boots, try removing your liners. As it turns out, a matted clump of pine needles under the left arch support caused the issue. I guess I’m the proverbial “princess and the pine” rather than pea!

Solo Summit

At 10:15 we enjoyed a half hour at the summit of Granite Mountain. Snow geese in the hundreds migrating southeast squawked high overhead in shifting V formations. A lone hawk soared lazily on an updraft. Hornets (or wasps?) hovered above Ajax’s food and water container, bothered little by a light breeze that kept the other bugs away. I scanned the meadow below looking for other hikers but we had the place to ourselves.

I surveyed the mountains as though they were my own backyard. Due east, a thick marine fog layer blanketed the Puget Sound. All around us were our friends. Bandera. The Tooth. Washington. Defiance. Snoqualmie. McClellan Butte. Not a single cloud other than those below our feet. And stunning reds, golds, oranges, and yellows in all the west-facing valleys illuminated by the sun. Calm confidence washed over me. This is a peaceful world I know so well.

While Granite Mountain is still draped in reds, golds, and oranges, Adams, Rainiern and Glacier Peak all have a healthy dose of snow above 10,000' elevation.
While Granite Mountain is still draped in reds, golds, and oranges, Adams, Rainier, and Glacier Peak all have a healthy dose of snow above 10,000′ elevation.

The only thing that could have made it better was to be able to talk about it with Ajax. What was he thinking, as he sat nearby, panting? Did he appreciate the warm sun or was it too much for him? He wouldn’t eat any kibble. Nor did he chase the chipmunk that approached my pack looking for handouts. But once I put on my pack, he trotted over, ready to go.

Descent from Granite Mountain

As with any early start on a beautiful day, the silence broke as soon as we left the summit basin. Fortunately, the hikers we passed as we descended were spaced out over the next few hours. In addition to Granite Mountain, the trailhead allows access to Pratt, Rainbow, Island, Talapus, and Olallie Lakes. So while the parking lot was full, we didn’t see everyone using it.

Ajax takes a rest beneath the summit. My beautiful puppa is so photogenic, not to mention patient.
Ajax rests beneath the Granite Mountain summit. My beautiful pup is so photogenic, not to mention patient.

The days are once again getting shorter. Rain is common in the Pacific Northwest the last three months of the year, so I know we’re on borrowed time. I knew if we didn’t get out during the week, we might not have another chance. A climber once commented, “If I’m not a little cold, hungry, or tired at the end of a trip, then I brought too much stuff.” As tempted as I was to cut corners, I’m not that climber. I like being comfortable and having sufficient supplies for the two of us.

Balm for the soul: Ajax enjoys sniffing picas, chipmunks, and squirrels in the meadow beneath Granite Mountain's summit.
Balm for the soul: Ajax enjoys sniffing picas, chipmunks, and squirrels in the meadow beneath Granite Mountain’s summit.

Do you have a favorite peak you visit every year? Mine used to be Mt. St. Helens, but the permit hassle has meant changing my goals. Now, Granite in October has become the perfect balm for the spirit. I can’t wait to visit again next fall.

Featured

Protein Needs: How to Assess Whether You Get Enough

A question Body Results clients frequently ask is, “What should I eat?” followed closely by “How much?” Just as no two people have matching fingerprints, our dietary preferences, carbohydrate, fat, and protein needs, and programs differ as well. This week we look at how to assess your unique protein needs with helpful input from my nutrition certifying organization, Precision Nutrition.

Tubac Jack's in Arizona. Even when I am out birding, I can always find someplace that will help me fulfill my protein needs.
Tubac Jack’s in Arizona. Even when I am out birding, I can always find someplace that will help me fulfill my protein needs.

Protein’s Bad Rap

Twenty-five years ago, there was plenty of skepticism about protein. After all, bodybuilders ate lots of it—but they also experimented with all kinds of “questionable” things.

In the late 1990s low-fat diets took center stage (we all know how disastrous that was) and high-protein diets grew in popularity for weight loss—an approach health experts labeled as “unsafe” back then.

Over the years, the hand-wringing about protein has faded. Some of those same experts now advise people to “eat more protein.”

But one claim just won’t die: “Protein is bad for your kidneys.”

Tsui Sushi is one of our very favorite places to go to meet our protein needs -- sashimi and sushi -- with a good dose of omega 3's, the healthy type of fat. Makes me hungry every time!
Tsui Sushi is one of our very favorite places to go to meet our protein needs — sashimi and sushi — with a good dose of omega 3’s, the healthy type of fat. Makes me hungry every time!

Spoiler: It’s a Myth

The concern about high protein and kidney problems began because doctors tell people with poorly functioning kidneys—usually from pre-existing kidney disease—to eat a low-protein diet.

There’s a big difference between avoiding protein because your kidneys are already damaged versus protein actively damaging healthy kidneys.

It’s the difference between jogging with a broken leg and jogging with a perfectly healthy leg.

Recovering from injury, illness, or surgery will mean increased protein needs.
Recovering from injury, illness, or surgery will mean increased protein needs.

Jogging with a Broken Leg is a Bad Idea

Doctors would probably tell you not to do that. But nobody would ever argue that jogging causes legs to break. Same with protein and kidneys.

Eating more protein does increase how much your kidneys have to work, just like jogging increases how much your legs have to work.

But protein hasn’t been shown to cause kidney damage—again, just like jogging isn’t going to suddenly snap your leg like a breadstick.

In fact, clinical studies show people can eat up to 4.4 g of protein per kg body weight (or 2 g per pound) without any short-term health problems. But very few people would ever voluntarily eat that much.

The author in my younger days, sporting a casted right leg and holding our previous dog, Emily.
The author in my younger days, sporting a casted right leg and holding our previous dog, Emily.

So How Do I Determine My Protein Needs?

For the average person eating a standard diet, protein deficiency isn’t a concern. However, “not deficient” does not mean optimal. It just means getting enough to maintain function and prevent malnutrition.

For sedentary, generally healthy adults, 0.4 g per pound of body weight should cover basic daily requirements. (A little math here: 40 grams for a 100-pound person, 60 grams for a 150-pound person, and 80 grams for a 200-pound person.)

The more active you are, the more protein you need. The author stands atop Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park.
The more active you are, the more protein you need. The author stands atop Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park.

Our bodies need protein for so many essential processes that your protein needs increase if you are:

  • Training hard frequently or doing a lot of physical labor (think backpacking, trekking, or climbing)
  • Trying to maintain or increase lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat
  • Older (protein digestion reduces with age, so you need more to meet daily requirements)
  • Injured, sick, or recovering from surgery

For people in one or more of these groups, research suggests aiming for 0.7-1.0 g per pound of body weight (or about 105-150 g for a 150-pound person.)

A delicious chicken salad at Tubac Jack's
A delicious chicken salad at Tubac Jack’s.

Don’t Agonize Over the Numbers

Many people avoid calorie counting, tracking intake, and measuring food. If the thought of tracking intake makes you cringe, you might love learning about an easier way.

Click here for a helpful Precision Nutrition infographic on what a “serving” looks like using your own hand. Shoot for having 1-2 palm-sized portions of protein at each meal.

Also, please remember that you won’t reach your protein needs goal overnight. Start by nudging the notch one step better. If you currently only get one palm-sized position of protein a day, try increasing that to two. Once you can do that consistently, build to three.

A homemade protein-rich lunch of leftovers: tomato, pulled pork, raw veggies (peppers, celery, carrots, water chestnuts), and roasted potatoes cooked in avocado oil and sea salt. Delicious.
A homemade protein-rich lunch of leftovers: tomato, pulled pork, raw veggies (peppers, celery, carrots, water chestnuts), and roasted potatoes cooked in avocado oil and sea salt. Delicious.

This might be as simple as increasing your breakfast egg scramble from two to three, adding a scoop of collagen to a protein shake or post-workout smoothie, or adding a wing or two to the chicken thigh you routinely eat at lunch. If you get most of your protein at dinner, try adding a palm-sized serving to breakfast or lunch.

Try it out for a few weeks. If you enjoy it, you feel it’s helping you approach your goals, and you’re seeing improved performance, then keep building on your success. And if you need help planning your way forward, contact me. I’m always happy to collaborate!

Featured

How to Use Decisional Balance to Help Make Choices

Saturday morning I wrestled with the pros and cons of hiking. The weather forecasted rain starting around noon. My daughter, who starts her sophomore year at U. of Washington this week, was home for one final weekend. I hadn’t hiked since our birthday trip to Peek-a-Boo Lake. I reflected on resistance and ambivalence and how decisional balance can help us make choices when we face change.

Our 10-mile hike felt like a race against time as a front moved into the mountains. The view is looking due north from the West Tiger 3 summit.
Our 10-mile hike felt like a race against time as a front moved into the mountains. The view is looking due north from the West Tiger 3 summit.

Decisional Balance: Cons

Resistance and ambivalence are normal and expected in the process of change. I tend to focus on obstacles first. If I perceive too many, I avoid the first step, in this case, getting into the car. The roadblocks felt ample:

  • My daughter was home for the weekend, but she had to work, so I would be hiking alone with Ajax
  • Hiking half a day meant delaying my weekly blog
  • We’d get a later start than usual since I hadn’t totally packed
  • Even in the shoulder season, weekend crowds are still likely on trails
  • Hiking meant postponing doing my foot and hip rehab exercises
  • I had no audiobook to listen to on the drive and nobody to talk to

When I listed the cons, I noticed the biggest ones revolved around going alone and prioritizing my time. Then I shifted my thoughts to how I might reframe them into positives.

View toward the east from just east of West Tiger 1, en route to Preston/Bootleg trails. The fall color change has just started!
View toward the east from just east of West Tiger 1, en route to Preston/Bootleg trails. The fall color change has just started!

Decisional Balance: Pros

Reframing is one of the most powerful tools in a coach’s toolbox. It helps us turn negatives into positives. Here’s what I came up with when I tried turning my cons into pros:

  • I committed to doing a ramble a week with my dog Ajax this year; this would be number 60.
  • Hiking would supply a topic and photos for a blog post; nobody cares about the timing of launches but me
  • We could get on the trail by 7:15; the hike I wanted to do never had very many people
  • I could do my PT later in the evening
  • Hiking in the morning would mean we’d beat the rain
  • Birdsong! Need I say more? Fall migrants might present themselves
  • Enjoying nature is one of the best ways for me to reflect on all the changes in my life
  • I wanted a memorable way to celebrate finishing the Precision Nutrition Master Health Coach course which is the first stepping stone to becoming a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach with the NBHWC
Ajax celebrates my achievements at the summit of West Tiger 1. I do so love that little guy.
Ajax celebrates my achievements at the summit of West Tiger 1. I do so love that little guy.

By reframing my list of cons into pros, I could focus on the main reason to hike: to celebrate! If we don’t highlight and enjoy our accomplishments, they get lost in the rush of daily living. I wanted to pause and do something I love, even if it meant delaying other important things.

Assessing Change Readiness

Enter decisional balance, which is a way of weighing the costs and benefits of choices. For simple decisions, we do this intuitively and quickly, usually without writing anything down. But if you have larger life changes you’ve been considering for quite a while, writing the pros and cons on paper might help.

An example of a hard decision is whether to stay at a current job with people you enjoy that provides security and benefits, but which is totally boring, or to switch to a better-paying job in a new industry with a lot to learn and no guarantees. Which direction you choose depends on your values, identity, and priorities.


One of the tipping points for me in decisional balance was seeing the fall colors. October is a beautiful month to enjoy the mountains.
One of the tipping points for me in decisional balance was seeing the fall colors. October is a beautiful month to enjoy the mountains.

To explore decisions yourself, check out this decisional balance worksheet from Nova Southeastern University, along with an explanation of how to complete it. Precision Nutrition also offers a worksheet called the decision journal.

Bootleg Trail

On our descent, we hit an unexpected obstacle. I’d started composing a blog post in my mind about decisional balance and stopped paying attention to the trail. When we reached a turnstile with a sign for the Bootleg Trail, I stopped in my tracks.

Crud! How did we get on the wrong trail?

The overgrown entry into the forest east of all the logged areas is marked with a small rock cairn and faded pink ribbon on two bushes. The detour beneath the deforested boundary is not marked except by faded blue arrows on the uphill trees.
The overgrown entry into the forest east of all the logged areas is marked with a small rock cairn and faded pink ribbon on two bushes. The detour beneath the deforested boundary is not marked except by faded blue arrows on the uphill trees.

We weren’t exactly lost. I’d been on this stretch during prior exploratory rambles. But we were too far east. My attempt to access a map showing whether the Tiger Mountain Trail or Railroad Grade route crossed nearby failed. Drat Mint Mobile!

Oh well, I thought, what’s another mile? As we did on Squak, we retraced our steps. Fortunately, I found the bypass trail with faint blue arrows pointing west. Aha! Back on track.

Lessons Learned

I certainly didn’t expect to see Bootleg Trail yesterday. Nor did I anticipate my hesitancy to launch the wellness coaching branch of our company. As in all aspects of life, sometimes our experiences and expectations don’t match.

Yet mistakes are great teachers. And when we make mistakes and say “Oh well, no big deal,” or better yet, “What can I learn from this?” we advance toward cultivating a growth mindset.

It's mushroom season!
It’s mushroom season!
How to Use Decisional Balance to Help Make Choices
How to Use Decisional Balance to Help Make Choices

Once we reached a trail I recognized, I reflected on the past twenty weeks of coaching classes. I also reminded myself of my intention to continue the forward momentum I’d built all summer. On our way down the Cable Line trail to our car, I shot some videos introducing Webtraining. My first step toward getting less awkward in front of the camera is to take more video selfies while on hikes. I got this!

In the end, my decision to hike yesterday was the best one I could have made. As soon as we got home, it started to pour. The forecast for the foreseeable future is rain. But I’m basking in the glow of a summer of successes and of yesterday’s wonderful (albeit long) celebration hike.

Featured

Mountain State Fair: How to Enjoy Your Visit

It’s been a very emotional week. Instead of delving into change, I’ve intentionally kept this post playful and lighthearted. Last weekend, my parents, husband, daughter, and I all visited the North Carolina Mountain State Fair in Asheville. We wanted to compare it with our annual visit to the Washington State Fair. You may recall a comparable post in January about visits to the Washington and Alaska State Fairs. Which fair will be next?

My father, a die-hard Yankees fan, treated us all to tickets. He was fascinated by all the colorful rides. And despite afternoon thunderstorms in the region, we had a dry visit.
My father, a die-hard Yankees fan, treated us all to tickets. He was fascinated by all the colorful rides. And despite afternoon thunderstorms in the region, we had a dry visit.

Animals at the NC Mountain State Fair

North Carolina’s Mountain State Fair is the official “state fair” for the mountainous region of the state. Located in Asheville, it runs for ten days and draws about 180,000 visitors each year. The Alaska State Fair draws close to 100,000, and over a million guests visit the Washington State Fair annually. We enjoyed each of them for different reasons.

While the Washington State Fair has considerably more animals on display, we were impressed with the unusual and unexpected variety at the NC Mountain State Fair. Sea lions swam in two big pools by the south entrance. Ponies provided rides for kids. Metal mechanical bulls were no contest for kid riders. And who can resist newborn calves in the “Mooternity Ward”? They drew as many guests as the Piglet Palace does in Puyallup.

Day-old calf, Candi, in the Mooternity Ward at the NC Mountain State Fair.
Day-old calf, Candi, in the Mooternity Ward at the NC Mountain State Fair.
Week-old piglets (ten!) in the Piglet Palace at the Washington State Fair.
Week-old piglets (ten!) in the Piglet Palace at the Washington State Fair.

Exotic Draws

Eudora Farms hosted exotic animals ranging from camels to zebu, and kangaroos to ring-tailed lemurs. I especially loved the African watusi, the “guy with the big horns.” The fair also has two mechanical bulls for kids of all ages. I don’t recall seeing one at the Alaska or Washington fairs. Since my volunteering stint at Woodland Park Zoo ended during the COVID era, it was wonderful to see zoo-like animals again.

My father, daughter, and mother pose next to an African watusi, or "guy with big horns," courtesy of Eudora Farms at the NC Mountain State Fair.
My father, daughter, and mother pose next to an African watusi, or “guy with big horns,” courtesy of Eudora Farms at the NC Mountain State Fair.

Senior Citizen, Very Special Arts Categories

We found the biggest differences in the hobbies exhibits. In particular:

  • NC MSF had a “senior citizens” category separated by age groups, much like Legos for kids at WSF.
  • NCMSF also had a “very special arts” category for otherly abled entrants to exhibit their creations. I am unaware of either being available through the Alaska and Washington State Fairs, but that could certainly change.
  • Lego submissions can be of any size or even built from kits. The Washington State Fair has very stringent size requirements (10″ by 10″ by 15″ maximum) and designs must be unique creations with Lego brand bricks only, no kits.
NCMSF offered several special categories for entrants ranging from senior citizens crafts ...
NCMSF offered several special categories for entrants ranging from senior citizens’ crafts …
Mountain State Fair: How to Enjoy Your Visit
…to “Very Special Arts” for otherly abled entrants.
A very oversized helicopter made of Lego bricks would not have been acceptable at the Washington State Fair.
A very oversized helicopter made of Lego bricks would not have been acceptable at the Washington State Fair.

Another enjoyable part of the fair was an artisan pavilion where we could watch artists hard at work on their machine knitting, leather crafting, quilling, and even glass blowing. Outside the pavilion, a pair of wood carvers used chain saws on huge wooden blocks, and another put finishing touches of paint on a completed sculpture.

Food at the NC Mountain State Fair

When it comes to food, state fairs have two things in common: large portions and hefty prices. Washington State Fair is famous for its scones. People wait in line sometimes twenty deep to order one.

I was intrigued enough by the idea of a deep-fried Oreo to shoot a picture of the sign, but not enough to try one. And we spotted a “Chicken and Waffles” (i.e. waffle fries) booth at both the Washington and NC Mountain State Fairs.

Interesting enough for a picture.
Interesting enough for a picture.
Fried chicken strips and waffle fries seem to be a common occurrence at fairs.
Fried chicken strips and waffle fries seem to be a common occurrence at fairs.
NC MSF wins for food purchase: a Berry Berry smoothie!
NC MSF wins for food purchase: a Berry Berry smoothie!

But the most enticing (and only) food purchase we made at any of the three fairs was a Berry Berry Smoothie that we split three ways. Made from four fruits and almond milk, it was the only item that was remotely “health conscious.” By that, I mean it didn’t make any of us feel horrible afterward. Delicious!

Competitions

This year my husband entered five photographs at the Washington State Fair. My daughter submitted entries to the embroidery, crochet, Lego, and papercraft exhibits. I’m still trying to figure out how to turn my passion for helping people and playing with words into visual art others can enjoy.

I call myself the “cheerleader” with bragging rights on social media. Someday…

My husband's beautiful owl photo earned an Honorable Mention.
My husband’s beautiful owl photo earned an Honorable Mention.
My daughter's whimsical organic build of a dragon drew lots of comments from children as their favorite.
My daughter’s whimsical organic build of a dragon drew lots of comments from children as their favorite.

Have you visited the Washington State Fair yet? This year it runs through September 24. We tried our hand at archery near the entry gate. We got to view solar flares on the sun through a special telescope. And we watched a magnificent sword juggler on a high unicycle. Whatever you are interested in, you’ll find it at the fair.

I will be back next week with more reflections on another aspect of change once I am not in the midst of so much of it myself.

Featured

Trainer and Coach: How to Know the Difference

This week presented me with a number of blog options during a significant period of change. Shopping with my daughter for back-to-school items. Starting a new physical therapy program. Preparing to visit my parents. Visiting the Washington State Fair. And, tragically, watching a neighbor’s house go up in flames. The bright spot that stood out the most was the “aha” moment I had yesterday during my Master Health Coaching class. It dawned on me that readers might be interested in learning the difference between trainer and coach.

First place in quilling at the 2023 Washington State Fair. One of my family's traditions is to go on opening day to see how our entries do in various contests.
First place in quilling at the 2023 Washington State Fair. One of my family’s traditions is to go on opening day to see how our entries do in various contests.

Personal Trainer Defined

For 25 years I have been the lead personal trainer at Body Results Inc. As such, clients come to me seeking guidance and expertise on how to most effectively prepare for their outdoor adventure, my chosen niche.

Some might be preparing for a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon or trekking to Everest Base Camp. Others might be interested in climbing Mt. Rainier, Denali, or Everest. A few want to participate in alpine skill-building classes. Occasionally I’ll get a client who wants to ski, kayak, canoe, or even compete in triathlons or marathons.

Trainer or coach? Depends on whether you want to be told exactly what to do or get guidance on a climb. A personal trainer will provide training programs. A climbing coach or guide might actually take you up the mountain.
Trainer or coach? Depends on whether you want to be told exactly what to do or get guidance on a climb. A personal trainer will provide training programs. A climbing coach or guide might actually take you up the mountain.

Personal trainers generally advise their clients what to do in order to best reach their physical goals. They provide recommendations about stretching, mobility, strength training, and aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Some may also include recovery, sleep, and nutrition guidelines. If you’re looking for someone to develop a program for you and help keep track of workouts, sets, reps, weights, and times, a personal trainer is the person to ask.

Coach Defined

On the other side of the “people-helping” spectrum are coaches. Their primary role is as a facilitator of learning. Coaches work in all fields: life, financial, spiritual, mental health, wellness, career, retirement, family, sales, sports… If you want guidance in some realm, you can probably find a coach for it. Coaches often play the role of educator, guide, facilitator, and mentor all rolled into one. They aim to improve your performance right now, rather than in the future.

Precision Nutrition, touted as “the largest and most respected private nutrition organization in the world,” teaches that coaches act as advisors and collaborators. Their philosophy is to “bring the boats alongside” — i.e. create a partnership where the coach lets the client take charge of their own health decisions. They encourage the development of autonomy and self-efficacy by mastering a certain set of skills that will get the client closer to their goal.

Our Body Results training studio. We even have space and means to coach Z-pulley set up and prusik set up.
Our Body Results training studio. We even have space and means to coach Z-pulley set up and Prusik set up.

One Big Difference

Ask yourself: Do you want to meet your trainer or coach in person or remotely? Having offered both, I can say there is an obvious, fundamental difference for the consumer post-COVID times.

Traditional personal training (guiding someone through a workout) is more challenging to offer on video calls. I have clients with home gyms who enlist my guidance as their trainer. Others record themselves doing exercises and then submit the video to me for critiquing.

Coach Court and Ajax on Dirty Harry's Peak with Mt. Rainier in the background.
Coach Court and Ajax on Dirty Harry’s Peak with Mt. Rainier in the background.

If you have issues that require hands-on manipulation, form check, positioning, or spotting, then in-person training might fit your needs best. If you know your way around a gym and want someone to develop a program for you to do on your own, remote training could work well.

A coach who offers thought experiments, tracking logs, and conversation can do so quite easily over video conferencing.

Trainer and Coach: Who Are You Looking For?

When you’re thinking about choosing between a trainer and coach, continue asking yourself questions such as these:

  • What is my end goal? Do I want general improved health and fitness or do I have a specific outcome goal in mind such as climbing the Matterhorn or completing the Snowman Trek in Bhutan?
  • What skills do I need to accomplish my objective and who can help me build those skills?
Think about what you want in a trainer and coach. Are you results-oriented? Is the goal more important than the journey? Who best aligns with what you want?
Think about what you want in a trainer and coach. Are you results-oriented? Is the goal more important than the journey? Who best aligns with what you want?
  • What type of person do I want to help me? Do I want to be told exactly what to do, or do I need a partner who will ask me enlightening questions to help me grow and challenge myself?
  • What obstacles stand in my way? Do I have an injury I need to rehabilitate? Do I have health issues I need to address first? Would help with the mental and emotional side of things make sense first?
  • Do I prefer meeting someone in person or would a video call, phone conversation, or email suffice?
  • What must come out of my sessions in order to feel that the relationship has been successful?

Armed with these answers, you will be able to determine whether you need a teacher, a physical therapist, a counselor, a nutrition or movement coach, a personal trainer, or someone else entirely. Each plays a vital and unique role, with different responsibilities and outcomes.

The embroidery piece that won the blue ribbon at the Washington State Fair is an intricate Parisian cafe scene.
The embroidery piece that won the blue ribbon at the Washington State Fair is an intricate Parisian cafe scene.

My Evolution to Trainer and Coach

If you’re lucky, you might come across someone who has skills in a wide number of the above roles. I have more than 28 years of experience as a personal trainer. In the last seven years, I’ve added nutrition knowledge. Sleep, stress management, and recovery skills. Understanding of change psychology. Coaching skills. And, starting in November 2023, a journal coaching credential. A widely varied toolkit to draw from, depending on the client and what each person wants, needs, and wishes to use.

Evolution and Epiphanies

I’m evolving into someone I don’t yet recognize. (This is, after all, a blog about change.) During a role-play in my Master Health class last night, I had an epiphany. I was acting as the coach and started to have that deer-in-the-headlights feeling of “I dunno what to do here!” In the past, I’ve tried throwing out desperate suggestions: “You could try X. Have you thought about Y? What about considering Z?”

My office desk, where half of my Zoom conversations occur. And where I had my pivotal epiphany.
My office desk, where half of my Zoom conversations occur. And where I had my pivotal epiphany.

This time, I stopped. Pivoted. Took a breath. Quickly asked myself, What do I still need to know? A new open-ended question popped up that took us down a brand new path. A new entry into the maze. Exploring that one question led us to a solution my partner, the “client,” came up with. One that pleased and thrilled her. We never would have found it if I hadn’t let that silence be for a few seconds.

At that moment, I trusted the client to suggest her own answer. Precision Nutrition calls the need to fix things the “righting reflex,” the natural instinct we have to give advice, tell someone what to do, and make the problem disappear. That single moment was subtle to my coaching partners, but to me, it felt enormous. I’d broken my habit of “telling someone what to do.” I have finally metamorphosed into a trainer and coach.

Three things make me really happy: Hiking with my dog. Completing a challenge. And helping clients expand their potential.
Three things make me really happy: Hiking with my dog. Completing a challenge. And helping clients expand their potential.

Trainer and Coach: How About Both?

The good news is you can have a trainer and coach. Me! While I have been contemplating leaving personal training to become a full-time coach, there are benefits to continuing both.

Nutrition, personal training, journaling, sleep, stress, and recovery credentials all make me a well-rounded health and wellness coach, with access to a wide variety of tools to help you move toward your objective. And even better news is I am opening several more training spots for the remainder of the year.

If you are seeking a trainer and coach, let’s have a conversation to help you find your unique path forward.

Featured

How to Rewrite The Rules at Peek-a-Boo Lake

Several weeks ago, a writing partner told me she’d mentioned my blog to a hiking friend of hers. Her friend didn’t find what she was looking for in my recent posts. It appears she was looking for long, tough hikes with huge elevation gain. When my friend called her friend a “hiking snob,” I laughed. Perhaps she just wasn’t interested in the change messages I shared. But on a family hike to Peek-a-Boo Lake yesterday, I thought about how stringent rules make us miss a lot in life. How might you rewrite the rules to get more from your life?

My hiking partners are ready to rewrite the rules with me.
My hiking partners are ready to rewrite the rules with me.

The Drive

We left Seattle yesterday morning at 7:40 under overcast skies. We mistakenly headed toward Monroe before realizing we needed to go due north to Everett. Oops. I didn’t calculate the distance properly; my estimation of 1.5 hours ended up being closer to 2.25 hours.

When we pulled into the Beaver Lake Trailhead to use the Portapotty (since Peek-a-Boo doesn’t have any facilities) I checked the mileage sign for an idea of other hikes in the Darrington area. Refreshed and certain we were close, we drove up the forest service road toward Peek-a-Boo Lake. And that’s when the wonder and awe began, along with a very long, slow drive.

Five miles of brushy, one-lane, potholed road. By giving myself permission to rewrite the rules, we get to explore pristine forests in out-of-the-way places where berries burst off bushes and nobody else is there to bother us.
Five miles of brushy, one-lane, potholed road. By giving myself permission to rewrite the rules, we get to explore pristine forests in out-of-the-way places where berries burst off bushes and nobody else is there to bother us.

Obstacles

How long can five miles take to drive? Forever, if the road is narrow and brushy. The one-lane road was in fairly decent shape, but we had to hop out several times to clear branches and debris. A downed tree across the road provided JUST enough clearance to pass underneath without getting stuck. We proceeded slowly so the branches wouldn’t damage the paint on our car.

A downed tree across the road provided just enough clearance for our vehicle.
A downed tree across the road provided just enough clearance for our vehicle.

Rewards

Eight ruffed grouse, about the size of chickens, ducked in and out of the brush. My husband, a master birder through Seattle Audubon, pointed out that they collect gravel from the road to help with digestion. This sighting boosted my hiking bird list to 32 unique species in August, one of the less birdy months of the year. The other dozen species on this trip included golden-crowned kinglets, western tanagers, and evening grosbeaks.

Fog loaned an ethereal quality to the morning. Water droplets collected on spider webs, highlighting the silver strands and making the mossy mountainside mysterious and mystifying. We finally pulled into an empty parking area with space for about a dozen cars. I couldn’t wait to discover what this trail had to offer.

Delicate maidenhair ferns - my favorites - covered in droplets. I never would have guessed the Pacific Northwest had been in a drought since early July.
Delicate maidenhair ferns – my favorites – covered in droplets. I never would have guessed the Pacific Northwest had been in a drought since early July.

Why Hike Peek-a-Boo Lake?

Why Peek-a-Boo? Both my husband and daughter preferred something under eight miles without much elevation gain. At five miles and 1500 feet of gain, this hike fit perfectly. My daughter wanted to explore another alpine lake and perhaps collect berries. Ajax likes shade, running water, cool temperatures, and the ability to hike off-leash with his family.

In some ways, I resemble the hiking snob. Ajax and I usually cover 8-15 miles with 3-4000 feet of elevation gain. We prefer overcast and cool days with a crack-of-dawn start to avoid foot and car traffic. This summer I’ve had to rewrite the rules. I chose nine hikes that my daughter (a night owl) could enjoy. When my husband offered to join us, I put my intended destination, Island and Rainbow Lakes, on hold. Time to rewrite the rules.

Fascinating old-growth trees with interesting shapes and textures reach up into the fog. If we don't rewrite the rules, we might miss out.
Fascinating old-growth trees with interesting shapes and textures reach up into the fog. If we don’t rewrite the rules, we might miss out.

Could we visit a beautiful place I’d never been before? Have some unique bird encounters? Find a trail nobody else was using? The trail register just beyond the parking lot indicated that the last visitors were two hikers three days earlier on Sunday. We had the trail to ourselves. Success!

Berry Surprise

We reached the lake around noon, chatting about my daughter’s teachers over the years. Keeping both my husband and daughter talking means I don’t have much time to think about my blog. But this was my birthday. Last year we took a boat tour to the Kenai Fjords in Alaska. This year, we could include our dog. Rules are meant to be broken. And when you’re working with a wellness coach, you learn how to rewrite the rules.

The biggest surprise was finding bushes all along the lake bursting with berries. For an hour we collected wild huckleberries and blueberries. It reminded me of the family trip to pick alpine berries on Mt. Catherine two years ago, another hike that doesn’t “fit my usual rules.” Frankly, if you intend to spend any time picking berries, you probably don’t WANT to be on a long hike!

A handful of blueberries we picked at Peek-a-Boo Lake.
A handful of blueberries we picked at Peek-a-Boo Lake.
Lakeside bushes bursting with berries.
Lakeside bushes bursting with berries

Could I Rewrite the Rules?

I started writing this post thinking we wouldn’t return to Peek-A-Boo Lake. It takes so much effort just to reach the trailhead. But then I asked myself one of the “crazy questions” that Precision Nutrition coaches like to ask when they guide clients to rewrite the rules.

What could get me back there? I realized I needed to continue to rewrite the rules. If I hosted someone who wanted a shorter hike, the conversation in the car could make the long drive worthwhile.

If I were camping at the Clear Creek Campground for a week, I’d set myself up with a bunch of shorter day hikes to explore including Peek-a-Boo. And if I wanted to have a writer’s retreat away from the craziness of busy Seattle, what better place than visiting a lake that few people hike to?

Our rule is to go into any alpine lakes we visit. I chose to rewrite the rules for Peek-a-Boo Lake on a foggy, chilly day: wading works for me!
Our rule is to go into any alpine lakes we visit. I chose to rewrite the rules for Peek-a-Boo Lake on a foggy, chilly day: wading works for me!

Your Turn To Rewrite The Rules

How about you? Do you have any unspoken rules that are weighing you down? Where did they come from? Who made them? Think of a rule you’d like to change. Maybe it’s as simple as “I can’t watch TV without eating a snack,” or “I can’t see a movie in the theater without popcorn and soda.” Have you ever tried? What could your new rule look like?

Another common rule might be, “For exercise to count, it has to make me sweat and be longer than an hour.” Says who? If you have five minutes, you have enough time to exercise.

Ajax is on high alert watching a squirrel race up a tree. He's so well trained, he knows not to chase.
Ajax is on high alert watching a squirrel race up a tree. He’s so well trained, he knows not to chase.

If you like what you read in this weekly blog and you’d like to talk to me about what you’d like to change, please connect with me. I’d love to help you discover your unspoken “shoulds” and help you rewrite the rules. Please share in the comments.

Featured

Take Action Before Motivation: How to Get Unstuck

Excessive heat and poor air quality make everything more challenging. (Wildfires are burning in the Pacific Northwest.) Fortunately, most of my Body Results clients are climbing or have finished their summer adventures, so I am calling late August my “summer vacation.” But not without plenty of hard work. In addition to working through my 20-week-long Master Health Coach course, I’ve been eliminating addictive tendencies. I’ve discovered that taking action before motivation strikes is the key to getting unstuck. If you wait for motivation, you may never act.

Ajax poses on the bench at the summit of Cougar Mountain in the Whittaker Wilderness on August 19.
Ajax poses on the bench at the summit of Cougar Mountain in the Whittaker Wilderness on August 19.

Return to Whittaker Wilderness

Pondering the complicated nature of addiction, I returned to Cougar Mountain with Ajax to celebrate a break in the heat. Saturday dawned in the low 50’s — perfect hiking weather. The morning’s weather report warned that shifting winds would bring wildfire smoke into the Puget Sound area. I didn’t want to risk getting caught in smoke like we did last fall (see my blog about a hike to Melakwa Lake). Even though I avoid hiking on weekends, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

The last time I hiked in the Whittaker Wilderness, I wrote about “Expecting the Unexpected.” In it, I shared how all three of us struggled with different aspects of the hike. On this trip, ready to redeem ourselves, Ajax and I hiked in the opposite direction, reaching the summit via the Gombu Wilderness Cliffs trail. We also visited Shy Bear Marsh, Long View (without a view), and Doughty Falls (which is now just a puddle), complete with a geocache we missed on our first visit.

Ajax poses by a moss-covered log in the early morning sunlight. I often take action before motivation by setting out my pack. He then does the motivating for me the next day.
Ajax poses by a moss-covered log in the early morning sunlight. I often take action before motivation by setting out my pack. He then does the motivating for me the next day.

Tsonduko: Love of Lots of Books

As we hiked, I wrestled with my thoughts. I’d successfully broken my addictive tendencies around chocolate, fruit, and playing a game on my phone. How could I break my addiction to books? Authors have the best excuses in the world for collecting them. We study them for craft. Keep books we love or stories by authors we wish to emulate. Celebrate writing friends’ successes by buying their new releases. Accumulate piles of those we want to read someday. There’s even a Japanese word for such amassing.

Tsonduko refers to the shelves of books you’ve acquired but haven’t yet read. In his Big Think article about the art of amassing books, Kevin Dickinson concludes that “the value of an unread book is its power to get you to read it.” Enter my problem: Faced with too many choices, I have been reaching for pen and paper rather than books. I needed to make some changes.

A community library north of my house which I recently donated generously to. Most of the boxes around me are now full, poised for back-to-school reading, perhaps?
A community library north of my house which I recently donated generously to. Most of the boxes around me are now full, poised for back-to-school reading, perhaps?

At the start of summer, I promised myself I would pare down. But with Labor Day in two weeks, I hadn’t gotten motivated enough to start. Fortunately, my daughter loves books almost as much as I do. But she doesn’t have the same collection tendencies. She’s asked several times in the past few weeks, “Ready to sort books?”

Action Before Motivation: Don’t Wait

When Ajax and I returned from our hike, I felt something shift inside. I remembered what Marie Kondo suggested about gathering similar items together. Without a second thought, I grabbed an armful of books and carried them downstairs. Before I realized it, I’d moved all the books from the shelves in the guest room and home gym. No turning back!

My daughter’s interest in helping me provided the tiny spark I needed to begin. I simply took action before motivation ever appeared.

Now all of my books sit waiting in the basement. Every time I pass through there, I remember my commitment. Whenever I walk Ajax, I load books into a backpack and return the discards to Little Free Libraries so other community members can enjoy them.

A Little Free Library near the stairs down to Lake Washington which I visited on my Cedar Park Elementary School ramble.
A Little Free Library near the stairs down to Lake Washington which I visited on my Cedar Park Elementary School ramble.

Takeaways of Action Before Motivation

Several takeaways from this experience stuck with me.

  • I don’t know what made me grab the first few books. Thoughts about the successful Yard Share event? Not wanting to disappoint my daughter? Getting fresh air with Ajax? I know that taking action before motivation works. Nothing will stop me now.
Mushrooms peeking out of the dry soil.
Mushrooms peeking out of the dry soil.
  • Sometimes we need to contemplate change for some time before we’re finally ready to act. Last week I discussed the five stages of change and reflected on whether I was in the Preparation phase. Hiking, participating in the Yard Share event, and having my daughter offer to help have all moved me into the Action phase.
  • Think about a big change you want to make. List all the reasons (are they excuses?) you haven’t yet made the change. If “lack of motivation” tops the list, break your list into steps you could take. Make them into small actionable items. Then take the first step. If your goal is to climb a mountain, it requires one step at a time. Take action before motivation and your motivation to follow through will grow.
Featured

Five Stages of Change: Am I in the Preparation Phase?

This week I feel like I’ve entered the “preparation” phase, the third of five stages of change. Stage three includes recognizing that change is imminent. But how remains unclear. In the preparation stage, we gather strategies and resources, take three steps forward and two back, and start to grow a sense of self-efficacy that maybe we CAN, indeed, change. The events that helped me move into this stage included a foggy hike of South Tiger Loop, a community-wide Yard Share event, and discovering my Change Capacity Assessment has improved over one I completed four months ago. What are you trying to change? Which of the five stages of change are you in?

We spotted huge nurse logs on South Tiger Loop. Change is inevitable. Preparation is the third of the five stages of change. Why do we resist so strongly?
We spotted huge nurse logs on South Tiger Loop. Change is inevitable. Preparation is the third of the five stages of change. Why do we resist so strongly?

South Tiger Loop

Last week’s adventure included exploring South Tiger Mountain Loop with Ajax and a friend. My daughter chose to sleep in that morning. My friend warned me that someone had reported a bear where we were headed. That was a double incentive for me, as I adore bears. Whether she felt nervous or just excited to get me caught up on her summer, I don’t know, but she maintained a constant chatter for much of the hike.

Every so often I dropped back to listen for birds. When a football shape swooped behind me, I let out a startled exclamation. She whipped around to see me peering through dense foliage. I mentioned that I’d spotted a barred owl. She seemed disappointed. At the end of the hike, my backpack accidentally brushed her shoulder. She let out a screech that left me as nervous as she must have felt.

A football-sized Barred Owl swooped in right behind me.
A football-sized Barred Owl swooped in right behind me.

Marine Fog

We only encountered two other people on our hike. In addition to the solitude, what impressed me was the dense fog layer. We typically don’t get fog until fall. Was Mother Nature signaling a change? Might we skip wildfire season altogether and receive early rain?

As I write this a week later, however, we’re experiencing temperatures soaring above 90. It’s uncomfortable enough for me to postpone long rambles or short hikes with Ajax. I won’t risk exposing anyone to heat exhaustion – been there, done that, prefer not to repeat, thanks. Right now, it seems downright dangerous to let dogs wearing fur coats exert themselves for long periods of time. We can wait.

Fireweed in the fog near the South Tiger Summit.
Fireweed in the fog near the South Tiger Summit.

Non-Linear Pathways

Just like humans going through the five stages of change, Mother Nature also flits back and forth, showing signs that change is imminent and then changing her mind at the last second. My transition to an empty nest has had similar fits and starts. A year of a mostly-empty nest. Summer with my daughter at home. And now as she prepares to return to college, I face a second year of a mostly-empty nest. This time, I feel better prepared. I am gaining self-efficacy.

Yard Share Community Event

The second event that got me thinking about the five stages of change was a community-wide Yard Share. In the Lake City area, seventy households agreed to participate. Think “garage sale” but without price tags. Saturday morning we set out stuffed animals, games, books, clothes, a trifold mirror, baby gate, posters, toys, and a few other miscellaneous objects that we’d stockpiled to donate to Goodwill. Maybe someone in the community would be able to enjoy them instead.

The Lake City area Yard Share event on August 12 included seventy different households.
The Lake City area Yard Share event on August 12 included seventy different households.

Our Finds

We visited six Shares within walking distance, a family outing we could all enjoy with Ajax. We came back toting a treasure trove that included:

  • A brand-new vacuum cleaner which I used that very afternoon. Timely, as I am about to retire mine
  • An enormous, brown stuffed bear my daughter named Nora
  • Three jackets and a wicking hiking shirt
  • A mug
  • Four puzzles (one of which is missing a few pieces, but that’s okay, we can’t expect much for free)
More goodies and the QR code announcement sharing the other locations of the Yard Share event.
More goodies and the QR code announcement sharing the other locations of the Yard Share event.

By the time we cleaned up around 8 Saturday evening, we’d cleared out about 75% of the items. Our next trip to Goodwill will be much easier.

Change in the Air

On a walk with Ajax the following morning, I realized I’d taken two months to follow through on an earlier commitment to bust clutter this summer. The external event with a deadline — a commitment to an outside party — helped get me to break through my inertia. By reducing clutter, I created additional space and capacity – both mentally and physically – for change. Another example of being in the preparation phase of change.

One of my daughter’s goals for the summer was to have a yard sale. While we didn’t make any money, she got the same experience putting it together, without the headache and hassle of having to sit still for eight hours or haggle over dimes and dollars. She’s going through massive changes as well. We all are.

Beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.
Beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.
More beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.
More beautiful wildflowers on S. Tiger Loop.

Stages of Change: Change Capacity Assessment

The final piece of evidence that suggests I’m in the preparation stage is my recent results on Precision Nutrition’s Change Capacity Assessment. Feel free to take it yourself and see where you stand.

At the start of the summer, I scored “105/180” (the sum of all numbers, out of ten possible, on the 18 questions). Today I scored 128, an improvement of 23 points. While I may not be totally “ready, willing, and able” to make changes across the list of possibilities, in some areas, I am.

What changes are you in the midst of making? Have you been stuck for some time? If you score a 5 or lower on any question on the change assessment, take note. You may be facing strong resistance. Awareness is half of the battle.

The signpost leading to South Tiger Summit Trail. Which path will you take next?
The signpost leading to South Tiger Summit Trail. Which path will you take next?

Stages of Change

In fact, if you aren’t even acknowledging the need to change, you are still in the “pre-contemplation” stage. As you gather resources and get more comfortable with change in the “contemplation” stage, you may find that the cons outweigh the pros. In the “preparation” stage, you realize that the pros outweigh the cons and you get ready to take action.

In several areas, I’ve already headed into the “action” stage, such as launching my new coaching practice. It might be slow, but I’m laying the foundation. In others, like taking a technology or Chat GPT class, I’m back in pre-contemplation. And in others such as living gluten-free and sugar-free, I have reached “maintenance,” where the habit is well established with very few, if any, relapses. Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that change does not happen linearly. It’s normal to wander all over the place before reaching the maintenance phase.

Ajax on our hike to Rachel Lake, getting a drink from the mountain stream.
Ajax on our hike to Rachel Lake, getting a drink from the mountain stream.

But the empty nest change? I will probably continue to weave in and out of it for the next three years. Change happens on its own timetable. If we have pressure to change — like the Yard Share deadline — we might change momentarily, but then return to old habits. The more we practice sustainable change, the better we can navigate the murky waters and the more confident we can be that the change will hold.

If you found this article intriguing, insightful, or useful, please share your comments in the space below. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

Paws and Reflections: 52 Rambles with Ajax

For anyone joining my blog after January 1, 2023, here’s a brief summary of our Active Ajax Adventures project. The quest: 52 unique adventures (one per week) with my 8-year-old Labraheeler and wonderful hiking partner, Ajax. The requirements: each green space ramble would last longer than an hour (and could include hikes), without repeats. I abbreviated the quest to “AAA”. The project was every bit as useful to me as the American Automobile Association is for drivers. Although I hesitate to do much with Chat GPT, I found one suggested AI headline to be appropriate: Paws and reflections. You be the judge whether it hits the mark.

Ajax heads off the trail for a drink of water near Snow Lake.
Ajax heads off the trail for a drink of water near Snow Lake.

Project Kick-off

In my second blog post of the year, I asked myself, “Why would anyone want to read about this?” Frankly, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your intentions as long as they ENERGIZE YOU. By using a tool Precision Nutrition refers to as the “Five Whys“, I drilled down to my Big Reason for completing this project: “As a way to explore mindfulness, learn to become more fully present, and experience joy in tiny moments.” In short, I framed it as an experimental path toward contentment and well-being.

Happy cooled-off swimmers about to leave the buggy shores for the hot trip out of the basin at Snow Lake.
Happy cooled-off swimmers about to leave the buggy shores for the hot trip out of the basin at Snow Lake.

Paws and Reflections: the Murky Middle

We zipped along with our project for the first half of the year. But in early June, I almost gave up. I shared why in a post about feeling stuck called “Murky Middle: How to Follow Through on Intentions.” By modifying some of my own guidelines (after all, I made them up, I can change them!) I decided to take our rambles to the mountains. My energy immediately surged forward again.

The last quarter of the project has been my favorite. My teenage daughter, home for the summer, joined us for 9 hikes. Although my husband and I have been wrestling with “a partially empty nest” since fall 2022, it feels like having her back has erased our progress on that front. But our relationship is so much richer than it ever was. We can relate to each other as adults. I absolutely love this phase.

Clear, beautiful waters of Snow Lake as we climbed out of the basin in the heat of midday.
Clear, beautiful waters of Snow Lake as we climbed out of the basin in the heat of midday.

While we have stumbled over some obstacles, especially in Cougar Mountain’s Whittaker Wilderness, we have also discovered a common passion: visiting — and swimming in — alpine lakes.

The Joy of Alpine Lakes

Of the nine hikes Ajax and I have done with my daughter, most included lakes or waterfalls. The most memorable, Mirror, Snow, and Rachel Lakes, all involved swimming for at least half an hour.

Paws and Reflections: My daughter made her way out to this rock in the middle of Mirror Lake. She had a blast doing jumps and cannonballs into deep water. Ajax preferred to stay on shore and supervise.
Paws and Reflections: My daughter made her way out to this rock in the middle of Mirror Lake. She had a blast doing jumps and cannonballs into deep water. Ajax preferred to stay on shore and supervise.

Mirror Lake

The rutted gravel road to Mirror Lake trailhead was the most challenging for us to navigate this year. It easily added an extra half hour in the car, sometimes at 5-10 mph. However, the PCT is a beautiful trail, and we encountered very few hikers on a Thursday in July. I’d only been on this trail to Mirror Lake once before, in November of 2021 in snow, so it felt new to me.

On this particular hike, the biggest surprises were:

  • The duration of my daughter’s swim (nearly an hour)
  • How much improvement she’d made in strength and conditioning in only two weeks (either that, or she’s very motivated to see lakes!)
  • Not a peep out of Ajax, who waited patiently by the shore, with wet paws. He’ll go in if we carry him in but otherwise, he’s nothing like other Labrador Retrievers.
Deep, emerald waters of Mirror Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail. When I saw my daughter go in for a swim, I simply had to join her. A new mother-daughter tradition was launched.
Deep, emerald waters of Mirror Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail. When I saw my daughter go in for a swim, I simply had to join her. A new mother-daughter tradition was launched.

Snow Lake

Another fun trip was a midweek hike to Snow Lake with my college crewmate and her teenage son, a student at the University of Washington in my daughter’s year. This destination at Snoqualmie Pass is incredibly popular, especially since some of the water-play trailheads along I-90 are closed this year for construction and trail maintenance. While we enjoyed spending two hours at the lake, I worried about how Ajax would do going back.

The rocky south-facing slope heats up significantly in the middle of the day. When I noticed Ajax overheating, I handed my car keys to my friend to get the air conditioning going in the car. My daughter and I slowed our pace and coaxed Ajax out. He’s done a phenomenal job this year, but he’s not getting any younger.

Paws and reflections for my fearless hiking companion. He loves watching critters and doesn't seem to be bothered by bugs.
Paws and reflections for my fearless hiking companion. He loves watching critters and doesn’t seem to be bothered by bugs.

Paws and Reflections: Where’s the Finish Line?

A few days later, I stalled again. I really wanted to finish our Ramble project with a special, meaningful, new-to-me or favorite hike, but most of the ones on my list were either too long for my daughter or too hot for Ajax.

Rachel Lake

Finally, on Thursday, August 3, we found the perfect destination: Rachel Lake. Not only were there relatively few people, but the first 2.75 miles are lovely, rambling through meadows and forest along Canyon Creek with plenty of wonderful photo opportunities. It took us four hours to reach the lake (and two hours out) because we kept finding places to stop.

The author takes a super-quick dip in Rachel Lake, the coldest alpine lake we've visited this summer. The breeze didn't help matters any.
The author takes a super-quick dip in Rachel Lake, the coldest alpine lake we’ve visited this summer. The breeze didn’t help matters any.

The trail was not without its trials. My daughter had a boot mishap at the second stop. While interesting, the copious roots, stones, and route-finding issues on the trail between mile 3 and the lake (a gain of 1200 feet in 1.25 miles) frustrated my daughter, and the steep steps challenged Ajax. The horseflies were annoying. I was the only one who had brought food.

Repeat in the Future?

When I asked my daughter if she would consider going back, she gave me an emphatic no. The steep jumps left my dog’s tail tucked and droopy for a good two days. Can a dog break his tail? Where was all his energy? I might be tempted to return in a month to see the fall foliage, feast on ripe blueberries, and add an extra two miles to see the view from Alta Peak. But I’d be going by myself.

Ajax and I wait for Brooke to come up from her swim. Rachel Lake is beautiful but cold.
Ajax and I wait for Brooke to come up from her swim. Rachel Lake is beautiful but cold.

Ramble Project Takeaways

This project was wonderful in so many ways, but I’ll share three highlights. First, it got me out of my comfort zone, visiting new places. I’d become a creature of habit the past three years, going to the same places each year. This year Ajax and I expanded our repertoire by a full eighteen locations, many of which I now suggest to clients who are looking for less-populated hiking trails.

Second, it made me want to continue to explore new dog-friendly locations. There are so many wonderful places to visit in the Pacific Northwest that are not overrun by people. What’s more, my daughter wants to keep building her stamina and tolerance for elevation gain so we can visit harder-to-access alpine lakes such as Blanca Lake whenever it re-opens. We might even try some backpacking next summer!

Paws and Reflections: a mother and daughter selfie at Rachel Lake while Ajax rested in the shade. I am thrilled beyond belief that Ajax and I have been able to add her presence to our last nine rambles.
Paws and Reflections: a mother and daughter selfie at Rachel Lake while Ajax rested in the shade. I am thrilled beyond belief that Ajax and I have been able to add her presence to our last nine rambles.

Finally, knowing how close I was to quitting the ramble project in June, I’m delighted that we kept going. By doing some “paws and reflections” I’ve come to see just how fabulous these last nine hikes have been with my two favorite hiking partners. Completing my intended objective feels great. And I have a new hiking partner, at least for a few more weeks.

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Squak Mountain: a Potential New Favorite

On July 11, I considered skipping my intended hike. Hey, it happens to all of us. But when I saw high, wispy clouds, I convinced myself that it could be a good day to get a view of Mt. Rainier from Debbie’s View on Squak Mountain. Ajax picks up on clues quickly; he whined excitedly the night before when he saw my backpack. Committing to 52 unique adventures with him kept me engaged and interested for the past seven months. But what sent me to the car that morning was the idea of a view and of hearing varied birdsong. By visiting Squak’s Central Peak, we may have identified a new favorite mountain to explore.

Like Tiger and Cougar, Squak Mountain provides a lovely interwoven lattice of trails that result in a "choose your own adventure" ramble, just what I was looking for.
Like Tiger and Cougar, Squak Mountain provides a lovely interwoven lattice of trails that result in a “choose your own adventure” ramble, just what I was looking for.

Wrong Turn

As I drove past the Poo Poo Point trailhead off Exit 17, I realized that Cougar and Squak Mountain were accessible from Exit 15. Oops! I’d been on autopilot, listening to an audiobook about becoming more productive. Ironic, I know. Assuming May Valley Road would eventually lead me to something we could hike, I continued south and then turned west.

We pulled into the May Valley parking area to find 5-6 cars already dotting the lot. A solo trail runner stretched at her car. Cedar waxwings squeed near the Portapotties. I have never hiked on Squak before, so I figured we’d take our chances. If not than Debbie’s View and Margaret’s Way (the westmost trailhead, 6.5 miles with 1500′ gain), we’d find something else for our 48th ramble.

Squak Mountain: a Potential New Favorite
This time of year the bridges all cross dry stream beds. An invitation to visit seasonally to see the changes!

Benefits of May Valley Trail

From the May Valley Trailhead, we followed signs for Central Peak (6.6 miles with 2,320’ gain). My auto-pilot mistake resulted in finding an even more appealing option than West Tiger 3 (5 mi. 2100′ gain).

On our ascent, we encountered only three people: a woman and her dog (who admitted she never sees anyone on that trail, and we’d have the upper mountain to ourselves) and two solo trail runners. The May Valley Trail on the south side of Squak gets very little highway noise. The mountain has not been logged like Tiger, and we found plenty of opportunities to create our own adventure. The only drawback this time of year is the lack of running water. Fortunately, I carry plenty for Ajax although he prefers streams.

Encountering this sign on Squak Mountain piqued my curiosity about the Bullitt Family legacy.
Encountering this sign on Squak Mountain piqued my curiosity about the Bullitt Family legacy.

Solitude and Quiet

The May Valley trail is lovely, lush, green, and well-signed. I did some research afterward to find out more about the Bullitt Family who once owned much of the land and donated it to the state as a wilderness public park. I don’t often learn about the history of a place ahead of time (especially if I “wing it”!) but in this case, I was curious and wanted to know more.

On our solitary journey, we heard 22 bird species, including a great horned owl, downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers, a Steller’s jay (who, interesting fact, are particularly fond of eating baby hummingbirds!), Swainson’s thrushes (who sing my favorite birdsong), Cedar waxwings (the masked “raccoons” of the bird world), brown creepers, and black-headed grosbeaks.

(By comparison, during a recent hot-weather visit to Snow Lake, we encountered so many people that I only heard eight species.) I also shot 53 photos including trail signs, acting as breadcrumbs that could help us navigate back to our car.  

Tiger, Cougar, and Squak all have excellent trail signs to help you navigate.
Tiger, Cougar, and Squak all have excellent trail signs to help you navigate.

Squak Mountain: Bullitt Fireplace

One of the reasons I love exploring is feeling like an adventurer and discovering curious new-to-me things. When I saw the sign for Bullitt Fireplace, I had no idea I’d actually find the remains of a stone fireplace, the remnant of a two-room vacation cabin built in 1952 by Stimson Bullitt. That sparked my imagination. How long did it take to build it? Where did they get the materials? Did they have to bushwhack or did they have crude roads to haul rocks and timber? How often did they use it? And why did vandals destroy it?

I did some digging later to learn more about Charles Stimson “Stim” Bullitt. He had the cabin built in 1952 as a weekend retreat and climbed in the Cascades until the age of 87. At 62, on his third try at North America’s highest peak, Bullitt summited 20,320-foot Denali. His family owned and managed Seattle’s KING radio and TV stations, and his extensive real estate holdings included 590 acres on Squak Mountain which the Bullitt family later donated to the state to form the nucleus of Squak Mountain State Park. Hiking gives me a growing appreciation for what this land looked like before settlers “conquered” and tamed it.

A picnic table set at Bullitt Fireplace, all that remains of the Bullitt Family cabin.
A picnic table set at Bullitt Fireplace, all that remains of the Bullitt Family cabin.

Squak Mountain: Chybinski Loop

We continued beyond Central Peak, expecting to find a view somewhere, but we missed the power station and reached a sign for Phil’s Trail and Old Griz before backtracking. Determined to see what else we could find, we decided to visit West Peak. Perhaps it would have more of a view.

Chybinski Loop includes a very steep trail to a tiny sign for West Peak, where some sort of shack must have once stood but has since been flattened. I had the brilliant idea to find the hook-up of the loop instead of backtracking. “I’m not going back up that,” I thought. Famous last words.

All that remains of the shack at West Peak.
All that remains of the shack at West Peak.

Squak Mountain: Debbie’s View

Eureka! Only .3 miles farther, we found signs for Debbie’s View, our original destination. As we added yet another extension, I did the mental math. Could we end up covering ten miles round trip? Unfortunately, the low clouds obscured any view we might have had of Mt. Rainier, so we didn’t linger. Then I got the bright idea to drop down to Margaret’s Way and return to May Valley along the perimeter trail.

Halfway down the wide, hardened trail toward Margaret’s Way, we encountered three women with a dog, followed by three others a few minutes behind them. Out of curiosity, I asked if they knew how much farther the perimeter trail was. One of the hikers – the one who spoke English – said I was mistaken, and I would need to backtrack to Bullitt Gorge. Bummer.

Goatsbeard, bleeding hearts, and clouds - but no view of Mt. Rainier from Debbie's View.
Goatsbeard, bleeding hearts, and clouds – but no view of Mt. Rainier from Debbie’s View.

Hasty Retreat

Always question assumptions! Fortunately, on an overcast day, more mileage never hurts. We still had water and food, and the shade and clouds were keeping it cool enough for Ajax. We backtracked at high speed, quickly leaving them behind to regain our solitude. By that point, I no longer felt as confident in my assumption that Bullitt Gorge would return us to May Valley (it does.)

Faced with adding even more mileage if I turned out to be wrong, I chose the known path back. My commitment to “not go back up that,” referring to Chybinski Loop? It honestly wasn’t as bad the second time around.

Spot the pup! The storm devastation through thick rambling woods on Squak Mountain's Chybinski Loop.
Spot the pup! The storm devastation through thick rambling woods on Squak Mountain’s Chybinski Loop.

Lesson Learned

The takeaway message from this outing was clear. If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. It was apparent when we elected to start from a different trailhead that we needed to be flexible and open to discovery. By staying open to possibility, I reminded myself that mistakes are opportunities, something that people with a growth mindset embrace. Maybe I could be developing a growth mindset after all.

Fortunately, we were able to link trails to reach our intended destination (Debbie’s View) with solitude, exploration, and birdsong along the way. It might not have been what we originally set out to do, but I’m happy I took the wrong turn.

Radio towers at the top of Squak's Central Peak.
Radio towers at the top of Squak’s Central Peak.

Change Meets Year Three

Such a coddiwomple is a fitting metaphor to kick off the third year of this blog. When I started blogging on July 31, 2021, during the middle of a pandemic, I wasn’t sure where I was headed or if this “blog thing” would even work out.

Year One Recap

In starting my blog, I knew only that I wanted something meaningful, memorable, and good to come out of the dregs of COVID. Those first six months were a time of trial and error until I developed my voice, message, and style.

The second six months between February and August 2022 were my “heal from a broken right wrist” months. Change became more difficult but mandatory as I battled to rehab my right arm while maintaining a household and handling a busy season of online clients. But I kept going despite facing three major health challenges.

My daughter and I are visiting as many alpine lakes as we can this summer. Mirror Lake via the PCT was ramble 49 on July 13, 2023.
My daughter and I are visiting as many alpine lakes as we can this summer. Mirror Lake via the PCT was ramble 49 on July 13, 2023.

Year Two Recap

From August 2022 to January 2023, I confronted an empty nest for the first time. Our daughter attends a local university and likes coming home most weekends. So empty nest became a “partly empty nest” as we adjusted to five days without her, and two days with her.

To help me cope, I developed the Active Ajax Adventures challenge (52 nonrepeated greenspace rambles) which we successfully completed in July 2023. Now that she’s home for the summer, I find myself naturally, rapidly, and comfortably evolving and growing. But what will happen when she returns to college?

The author enjoys a dip in Snow Lake at Exit 52 on July 19, 2023, during Ramble 51.
The author enjoys a dip in Snow Lake at Exit 52 on July 19, 2023, during Ramble 51.

Year Three Projections

My grandiose plans for year three included diving deep into the “ABCs of Change.” But in sharing my ideas with my husband and writing partners, it became evident that I would be restricting myself — to the point of getting stuck before I ever started. Have you ever made so many rules or placed so many limits on yourself that you come to a complete standstill? Yup.

So instead, this year I will examine the mental aspects of change. To quote one of my wise writing partners, “To write about whatever moves or inspires me.” That might mean becoming more vulnerable, which terrifies me. I see far more growth potential there than in writing what I’ve come to see as my “safe” trip reports.

Look for the beauty in everything, including mistakes. Mistakes are our greatest teachers and point out unique learning opportunities.
Look for the beauty in everything, including mistakes. Mistakes are our greatest teachers and point out unique learning opportunities.

Join me in year three on a continued journey through change, to move forward and get unstuck.

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Blog One Hundred: Tiger’s Poo Poo Point on the Fourth

For this week’s Active Ajax Adventure, my intentions were to find a longer, shaded hike that would provide uninterrupted solitude, avoid road construction, and beat the holiday crowds and summer heat. This was ramble 46 (and hike 12) on the year but more importantly, potential material for blog one hundred. We visited West Tiger 3 from Poo Poo Point, making a giant loop covering ten miles and about 3000′ elevation gain.

Cross to the "obvious trailhead", in this case, marked with a parachute and flag.
Cross to the “obvious trailhead”, in this case, marked with a miniature parasail and flag.

The Solitude of an Early Start

I’d heard that people love to watch parasailers take off from Poo Poo Point, so we needed an early start. I’d never been on this trail before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. How early was “early”? Would the trailhead be as obvious as the description made it out to be? Would it be as crowded as “the highway” from Exit 20?

Ajax and I pulled into the parking lot at 6:15, delighted to find only eight other cars. Score! As we started up the well-maintained rock trail I felt like I was climbing Mother Nature’s Stairmaster. We spotted a trail runner on the way down, a woman walking her dog, and a pair of trail runners who passed us going up, but for the most part, we had the trail to ourselves.

The first part of Poo Poo Trail is rock, rock, and more rock through beautiful dense woods. Once you complete the switchbacks the traffic noise fades away.
The first part of Poo Poo Trail is rock, rock, and more rock through beautiful dense woods. Once you complete the switchbacks the traffic noise fades away.

The day served up such feathered lovelies as olive-sided flycatchers (drink! three! beers!), Swainson’s thrushes (an ascending melodic spiraling song), western tanagers, a pileated woodpecker (one of my favorite birds), and chestnut-backed chickadees. As we warmed up, the stiffness in my lower back loosened up and some unusual hip discomfort on the left side disappeared. We were both in our element.

Poo Poo Point

We reached a magnificent view of Mt. Rainier in less than an hour. We paused for some photos and I asked another hiker if he knew which path would take us to West Tiger 3. I’d seen a gravel service road on the map that looked promising, but he insisted I continue to Poo Poo Point.

Rainier on July 3 from just below Poo Poo Point about 1/4 mile.
Rainier on July 3 from just below Poo Poo Point about 1/4 mile.

“Once you reach it, take the trail behind the restroom.” I thanked him for the information.

“It’s very far,” he added, looking at me as though wondering whether I’d started from the wrong trailhead.

“I know,” I assured him. “That’s what I’m looking for.”

Less than ten minutes later, we reached the vacant Poo Poo Point with a view of Lake Sammamish and all points west. Squak. Cougar Mountain. Seattle. The Olympics.

Ajax investigates the launching area where we'd later see parasailers take off. But when we arrived around 7:15 there was only one person with a pair of binoculars.
Ajax investigates the launching area where we’d later see parasailers take off. But when we arrived around 7:15 there was only one person with a pair of binoculars.

Beyond Poo Poo Point to One-View

Once we’d taken photos from Poo Poo Point, we continued toward the restroom and found a trail leading into the dense woods beyond it. I am well-acquainted with West Tiger 3, but exclusively from the north. How hard would it be to find One-View Trail?

It turns out that the signage everywhere on Tiger is excellent. We soon found ourselves on One-View, and I was looking forward to the view. Except it must be named for the only view it has: green, green, and more green. Enormous tree stumps. And several precious orange tiger lilies.

At the junction of One-View and Tiger Mountain Trail, we headed toward Tiger 2 and the logging zone. Now I knew exactly where we were, even though I’d never been on this part of the trail before.

Even the stumps have eyes. A selfie on One-View Trail.
Even the stumps have eyes. A selfie on One-View Trail.

Tiger Mountain Trail: TMT

The more I explore Tiger Mountain, the more interest I have in doing the entire 15-mile long TMT. Apparently, portions of the trail will be intermittently closed through the fall of 2024, but we didn’t encounter any closures. We did, however, discover parts of the trail that are overgrown, eroded, or muddy, so perhaps there are plans to fix those problems.

An eroded portion of the trail where a giant tree root system has collapsed.
An eroded portion of the trail where a giant tree root system has collapsed.

Plenty of short bridges traverse steep ravines and the worst of the mud. I sensed that both the TMT and Railroad Grade, at least between Poo Poo and West Tiger 3, don’t experience heavy foot traffic. We had the trail to ourselves, highly unusual for a beautiful summer holiday weekend. Win!

Once we reached a thinner part of the forest, I knew we must be approaching the logged portion of the mountain. In just two years, West Tiger 3’s barren, slashed, and ugly summit has become transformed into a lush alpine meadow with beautiful lupines, daisies, and foxgloves. And the views! Oh my. We shared the summit with one man when we arrived around 9 a.m.

Ajax takes time to smell the foxgloves.
Ajax takes time to smell the foxgloves.
Foxgloves, an erratic boulder, and chopped tree stumps.
Foxgloves, an erratic boulder, and chopped tree stumps.

Section to Railroad Grade

Once we left the summit of West Tiger 3, I searched for a stick to help me down the steep “unmaintained” trail known as Section Line. It is even steeper than Cable Line, and in the dry conditions we’ve had, it’s like walking on marbles. I’ve slipped enough in the past five years to last a lifetime; I wasn’t taking any chances.

Fortunately, with all the recent logging, there are plenty of sticks to choose from. Mother Nature provided a nice walking stick and I left it at the sign marking Section Line and Railroad Grade. May someone else benefit from it as well.

We ventured onto another new-to-us trail looking for the junction with One-View and our return to Poo Poo Point.

I believe this plant is called Goats' beard but don't quote me on that.
I believe this plant is called Goats’ Beard, but don’t quote me on that.

Return To Poo Poo Point

We returned to Poo Poo Point around 10:15 where plenty of spectators had gathered to watch parasailers take flight. Had the car in the parking lot hauled up all of the chutes? Or do the parasailers carry them up themselves?

Watching parasailers take off from Poo Poo Point.
Watching parasailers take off from Poo Poo Point.

As I watched more and more people hiking up from the Poo Poo Point trailhead, I realized how dramatic the contrast was between the solitude we’d experienced during the first four hours of our hike and the holiday crowd watching at the Point. I realized that on a sunny Monday morning, the day before Independence Day, Poo Poo is probably just as crowded as Rattlesnake Ledge. Fortunately, we had less than an hour to return to the car.

We took one more pause at the overlook for a shot of my favorite pup and my favorite mountain.
We took one more pause at the overlook for a shot of my favorite pup and my favorite mountain.

We’ve reached the end of blog one hundred. I am thrilled you’re continuing on this journey with me. I will be taking most of July to figure out the direction to take for year three. I’ll return in August with exciting new material.

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Expect the Unexpected in Whittaker Wilderness

Making your way through obstacles, struggles, and change is tough work. Especially when your obstacles blindside you. Ajax, my daughter, and I explored the Whittaker Wilderness and environs on Cougar Mountain. And the best tip I can supply from that trip is to expect the unexpected.

Shy Bear Pass and Doughty Falls will always remind me of hiking over the boardwalk with two of my favorite companions, my daughter and my dog Ajax. We all faced unexpected obstacles on this hike.
Shy Bear Pass and Doughty Falls will always remind me of hiking over the boardwalk with two of my favorite companions, my daughter and my dog Ajax. We all faced unexpected obstacles on this hike.

Previous Blog Posts

Such an idea is not new to this blog. I wrote about setting intentions on Mt. Washington in May. What if we set an intention to handle unexpected events with ease, grace, and humor? Last fall I reflected on the beauty of hiking Granite Mountain in the shoulder season, not expecting the gorgeous fall foliage. The unexpected can be positive…and negative.

Almost two years ago I discussed how to turn disappointment into gratitude at Blanca Lake when we arrived in fog, only to have it lift shortly before we left. One of the reasons I continue to venture to the mountains is I recognize Mother Nature has a lot to teach me. So what would Cougar Mountain reveal?

Narrow boardwalks snake through Shy Bear Marsh on a circuit from Whitaker Peak to Doughty Falls. We didn't encounter anyone coming in the opposite direction, or crossing could resemble a game of Twister.
Narrow boardwalks snake through Shy Bear Marsh on a circuit from Whitaker Peak to Doughty Falls. We didn’t encounter anyone coming in the opposite direction, or crossing could resemble a game of Twister.

Expect the Unexpected #1: Early Fatigue

Last Wednesday, the three of us headed for Exit 15 and the Whittaker Wilderness to do a 7.5-mile loop up Whittaker Peak to Shy Bear Pass to Doughty Falls. We headed up the trail at 8:25 a.m. I’d put a lot of thought into this choice. My desires were to prevent any of us from getting overheated, avoid sitting in traffic during road construction or rush hour, and enjoy a new trail without a lot of crowds. While we accomplished all three, we each faced our own obstacles.

The first unexpected obstacle was one my daughter faced. I could tell within ten minutes that she was having an off day. We stopped after ten minutes for a rest. Ten minutes later, while I was barely feeling warmed up, she dragged herself to a boulder and sat, dejected. The “go forever” solo hiker voice inside me reared its ugly head but I successfully squelched it. After all, we were doing something together as a mom and daughter. It was a gorgeous day and we had until early afternoon.

The mossy, fern-filled Cougar wilderness right before our first clothing break. Ajax wanted to dash ahead but we kept him on his leash.
The mossy, fern-filled Cougar wilderness right before our first clothing break. Ajax wanted to dash ahead but we kept him on his leash.

Taking Weight

After thirty minutes, and our third break, I resorted to diversion tactics including cracking jokes. Then I tried becoming a sleuth. Had she eaten breakfast? Were her feet feeling okay? It turns out she’d really been looking forward to having another person join us. But both people we’d invited had other plans. So part of the problem was disappointment. And perhaps the fact that there was no lake on this hike had her unmotivated.

On the fly, I told her we wouldn’t go all the way up to the Whittaker Peak summit, we’d just do the flatter loop. Even that news didn’t motivate her. When I finally asked if she wanted to go back to the car, she said yes, but she didn’t want to feel like a loser.

On the ascent, I simply strapped her pack on my front like a Baby Bjorn front carrier. On the way down I got smart and unloaded her stuff into mine and folded up her pack. That way I could see my feet and reduce the risk of a fall.
On the ascent, I simply strapped her pack on my front like a Baby Bjorn front carrier. On the way down I got smart and unloaded her stuff into mine and folded up her pack. That way I could see my feet and reduce the risk of a fall.

“We all have off days. Just because someone turns around doesn’t make them a loser,” I told her. But she gets her stubbornness from her independent parents. She refused to budge. I offered to carry her pack to see if that helped. We finally got moving again.

Doughty Falls

Fortunately, we raised a resilient teen. Once we’d completed most of the gain her oomph and enthusiasm returned. She just doesn’t like steep uphills; I get that. We meandered past Shy Bear Pass and over boardwalks at Shy Bear Marsh, finally reaching Doughty Falls around 10:45 a.m.

“More like Doughty Trickle,” I quipped. She preferred “Doughty Leak.” Who am I to argue? This time of year ferns drape the rocks but nothing more indicates a waterfall except lush green and a drop-off. Still, it was our farthest destination, so we stopped for a snack.

The author takes a selfie at "Doughty Leak." I preferred "Doughty Trickle" myself...
The author takes a selfie at “Doughty Leak.” I preferred “Doughty Trickle” myself…

Expect the Unexpected 2: Ajax’s Mallady

About half a mile later, Ajax acted as though he’d gotten stung, stabbed, or bitten. He pawed at his face and then immediately rolled around in the dirt. Was he trying to deaden the pain or get rid of something in his face? When he stood up, it looked like he’d done something to his left front paw. He took a few steps and then plopped down and refused to go.

My daughter checked out his paw to see if he had anything embedded in it. Would we have to carry him? I was already carrying both our packs and wasn’t sure I could carry the dog, too, even using his suitcase harness. The only option we had left was to let him rest and see if he could walk out on his own.

Our pooch, resting on his non-favorite side. Flashbacks to my other dog, Emily, and her death in 2012 had me near tears. I would NOT let it happen. Ajax is only eight. But if we expect the unexpected, we know that someday life for loved ones will happen. It doesn't make it any easier.
Our pooch, resting on his non-favorite side. Flashbacks to my other dog, Emily, and her death in 2012 had me near tears. I would NOT let it happen. Ajax is only eight. But if we expect the unexpected, we know that someday life for loved ones will happen. It doesn’t make it any easier.

Tricks to Try

Something similar with Ajax had happened twice before: once on a hike of Mailbox Peak, when he started limping for no apparent reason, and the other during a winter hike on Big Tree Ridge. Both times he recovered with rest. Little Man can’t talk, but he is a good communicator. I knelt to give him a paw massage, and after we let him rest for fifteen minutes, my daughter commented that he looked dead.

I had one last trick up my sleeve. Cheese. His favorite treat. I tore off tiny bites and handed them to him. That perked him right up. He didn’t stand, but he did look interested. At that moment I knew, somehow, he was going to be okay. After five bites and some water, I repacked my bag and he stood up. He took a few tentative steps with a faint limp. But after that, he seemed fine. Crisis averted.

My daughter and I discussed the challenges of having four legs and losing use of one, or having two and losing use of one. Many three-legged dogs adapt just fine; humans can get a prosthetic. But which would be easier?
My daughter and I discussed the challenges of having four legs and losing use of one, or having two and losing use of one. Many three-legged dogs adapt just fine; humans can get a prosthetic. But which would be easier?

Expect the Unexpected #3: Emotional Tidal Wave

My own obstacle followed shortly thereafter. We rounded the corner where the paths leading to Whittaker Peak and Gombu Wilderness Cliffs diverge. A woman was supervising a large number of children clambering around a mossy boulder. They had a large off-leash and highly energetic Swissy with them who wanted to play with Ajax.

I politely told the child closest to the dog that my dog just injured his paw and would she please call off her dog. The woman uttered something like, “Thank you for asking politely, calmly, and respectfully.” I nodded as we walked by. I remember thinking, “She must be modeling kind behavior for her kids.” As Ajax and my daughter disappeared ahead of me, something snapped.

Ajax poses by an enormous moss-covered log in the Whitaker Wilderness in the southeast corner of Cougar Mountain.
Ajax poses by an enormous moss-covered log in the Whitaker Wilderness in the southeast corner of Cougar Mountain.

Triggers

Seeing my best canine friend lying on the dirt, perhaps injured – could I have prevented it? – and having my daughter use the word “dead” triggered a wave of anticipatory grief. Eleven years ago we lost our first dog to lung cancer. Hearing the woman use the word “calm” for me, when I felt anything but, did something more. Add to that my daughter calling the trail “boring” and my fears that she was no longer enjoying hiking with me and I lost it.

A tidal wave of emotions rushed through me. Shame. Guilt. Grief. Sadness. Frustration. Longing. The slightest thing can unleash a torrent out of nowhere. Traumatic experiences like euthanizing a beloved pet can do that. I know if and when I lose Ajax it will be the worst pain I can possibly imagine. Nothing can prepare us for that.

But not yet. Thank the powers that be, not yet.

My eager Little Man, always ready for anything. He's the best hiking partner anyone could ever ask for.
My eager Little Man, always ready for anything. He’s the best hiking partner anyone could ever ask for.

Fortunately, my daughter was ahead of me. I knew I needed to let the tears out and then get my act together. I took several deep box breaths to help move past the hurt. But not before she noticed me rubbing my head.

“Are you okay?” she asked. I nodded.

“Did you get stung?”

“Only in the proverbial sense.” I assured her I was fine, just dealing with emotional demons. And the rest of the hike unfolded uneventfully.

Two intricate and fascinating snails on the Cougar trails.
Two intricate and fascinating snails on the Cougar trails.
I know my worries are first-world problems. They still feel stressful.
I know my worries are first-world problems. They still feel stressful.

Takeaways

Perhaps the biggest takeaways from this experience of unexpected events are twofold: that we have the knowledge we need deep inside us. Our job is to listen, to tap into it, and to trust it. And Mother Nature teaches us what we need to know when She knows we can handle it.

My job is to amass as many tools as I can so I don’t get blindsided by grief the next time it comes. I know it’s coming. And I am preparing. But I won’t let that detract from today’s happiness. Over the past two years, I have shared a number of techniques and tips around embracing change and getting unstuck. Knowing what to do, however, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Two posts ago I asked readers to share their “close calls.” This week please share any surprising obstacles that caught you off guard for which you felt under-prepared. What resources do you draw on to get through tough situations? How do you remain calm when you feel the world is collapsing around you?

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Talapus and Olallie Lakes: How to Enjoy Your Visit

On a recent hike to Talapus and Olallie Lakes, I practiced “channeling my inner wood duck” (i.e. going with the flow). Ajax, my daughter, and a friend joined me on a sunny midweek adventure. To enjoy the trip yourself, plan on allowing at least 30-45 minutes to explore the shoreline at each lake. Join us on our journey into the woods.

Log jam at Talapus Lake under perfect conditions.
Log jam at Talapus Lake under perfect conditions.

At the Trailhead

We reached the trailhead at Exit 45 a little before 9. I’d suggested we leave early since we’re in peak hiking season and the Talapus Lake parking lot is small. Eleven cars were already parked when we arrived, leaving plenty of spaces. Hurray for midweek hikes!

The four of us headed up the Talapus Lake trail under sunny, clear conditions with a light breeze. More like what our guest, Zach, was used to in Arizona, rather than the rain we experienced four days earlier at Wallace Falls. This time he borrowed a water bottle and refilled it twice before starting the hike. There’s always something unexpected with teenagers!

Red marks and blue tape on select trees denote the extent of the logging area.
Red marks and blue tape on select trees denote the extent of the logging area.

Trail to Talapus and Olallie Lakes

The area near the parking lot has recently been logged up to a sign indicating the boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. WTA trail maintenance crews have worked extensively on this wide, moderate trail over the past decade, most recently in 2021. Since I have only accessed Talapus and Olallie via the Pratt Lake trail (at exit 47), I was excited to explore a new trailhead. We were not disappointed.

The din of I-90 traffic faded as we gradually climbed into a denser forest. My daughter and Zach hiked ahead with Ajax while I hung back to identify birdsong (17 species including a red-breasted sapsucker, a type of woodpecker) and shoot photographs (113) of treasures in the peaceful woods.

Gentle switchbacks lead to Talapus and Olallie Lakes.
Gentle switchbacks lead to Talapus and Olallie Lakes.
A close-up of what I loosely call shelf fungus with dew drops.
A close-up of what I loosely call shelf fungus with dew drops.

Waterfall Detour

One of the advantages of hiking in a small, private group rather than a larger guided group is the freedom and independence to explore. When we came across a river cascade beyond an enormous fallen tree, we meandered off-trail in search of cool vantage points and photo opportunities.

My heart nearly stopped when Zach contemplated crossing a mossy log that had fallen across a stream. When he glanced over at me shaking my head, he changed his mind and found another way. They may both be adults, but teen brains are still developing. Thoughts of emergency first aid and “what if” raced through my mind until we were safely back on the official trail. If there is a way to squelch the mothering instinct, I haven’t found it.

Talapus and Olallie Lakes: How to Enjoy Your Visit

At Talapus Lake we stopped for a short water break and agreed to continue to Olallie Lake first. Then we could backtrack and spend more time anywhere that caught our interest.

I had one momentary fright when I slipped on a wet log. In a split second, I landed on my left forearm, flashing back to my fall in the Fiery Furnace 18 months ago. This time, I practically bounced off the pine needles and hopped back onto my feet, and dusted off the dirt, but not before they both noticed. My daughter raced back to check on me. I assured them both that I was totally fine. But I silently asked myself, is it age? Lack of attention? Terrain challenge? Or could there be a deep core muscle that is no longer engaging properly?

Olallie Lake Wading

After brushing off from my fall, we continued along the west side of Olallie Lake, scoping out campsites for a future backpacking trip. At a nice sunny vacant spot, we stopped to have lunch and clean away the rest of the dirt. Beautiful tiny butterflies flitted around our packs. They were so light I couldn’t even feel the one that perched on my hand.

Olallie Lake Basin Area Map.
Olallie Lake Basin Area Map.
A frog near Olallie Lake's shore, enjoying the day.
A frog near Olallie Lake’s shore, enjoying the day.

When I invited them to go in the water, Ajax stayed on shore. He can swim but only if someone carries him in and lets go. We decided he should stay dry.

The view south from one of the northern campsites. We backtracked to get closer to the water.
The view south from one of the northern campsites. We backtracked to get closer to the water.
Our lunch spot.
Our lunch spot.

The water is, as you’d expect, cold. But also delightfully refreshing. When I spotted a frog, my daughter grabbed her camera to take some photos. An item that would have been useful: a towel. I never bring one for day hikes, but for an overnight near a lake, it would come in handy. Since we still had a second lake to explore, we dried off our feet and headed back toward the log jam at Talapus Lake roughly 1.5 miles away.

Talapus Lake Log Jam

Olallie has a decent wading area with a sandy bottom. Talapus Lake has floating logs. Brooke and Zach both wanted to test their balancing skills. When they asked how much time we had (they wanted to take their shoes off there, as well) I said we could stay longer if they’d entertain me in traffic on the way home. While they hurled sticks into the lake, I found a spot next to Ajax to write in my journal.

Talapus and Olallie Lakes: How to Enjoy Your Visit
Exploring the log jam at the southern end of Talapus Lake.

The choice to linger meant adding time in the car on the drive home. The closer we got to rush hour, the more time I guessed we’d spend stuck in road construction between exits 24 and 18 westbound on Interstate 90. But because we expected it, we entertained ourselves on the drive by playing The Alphabet Game and looking for interesting license plates and bumper stickers.

The Alpine Lakes wilderness is full of fascinating trees. This "seat" was perfect for Brooke and Ajax.
The Alpine Lakes wilderness is full of fascinating trees. This “seat” was perfect for Brooke and Ajax.
Ajax spotted several bold chipmunks. He didn't give chase but the drool showed he wanted to.
Ajax spotted several bold chipmunks. He didn’t give chase but the drool showed he wanted to.

Choosing Between Talapus and Olallie Lakes

The best things about these two lakes are they’re close enough to visit both on the same hike. If you park at the Pratt Lake trailhead, you’ll reach Olallie first. Both are worth seeing. As to which is better, I didn’t raise that question. Frogs or logs? Which do you prefer?

Tree planter near the trailhead. Young kids will enjoy the diversity of tree shapes on this trail.
Tree planter near the trailhead. Young kids will enjoy the diversity of tree shapes on this trail.
Featured

How to Enjoy Rain on a Hike to Wallace Falls

On Father’s Day, my husband, our daughter, a friend from Arizona, and Ajax joined me for a hike to Wallace Falls. Mother Nature supplied plenty of rain, mist, and sun breaks along with plenty of puddles. The result? One very muddy dog. Fortunately, the hail waited until the long stop-and-go drive home. As a fair-weather hiker, I’ve recently come to enjoy rain because it provides cooler weather, a lower risk of sunburn, great photo opportunities (clouds make for interesting light), and fewer people. All contributed to a unique experience.

Wallace Falls is spectacular this time of year. It reminded me of being in a rainforest. Mist rebounds from the cascade, filling the valley. Or is that rain?
Wallace Falls is spectacular this time of year. It reminded me of being in a rainforest. Mist rebounds from the cascade, filling the valley. Or is that rain?

Uh-oh!

The last time Ajax and I visited this park was on a hike to Wallace Lake two years ago (see my blog post from August 2021). This year, a sign outside the parking lot declared it to be full, but we soon realized that was probably the case for a crowded and sunnier afternoon the day before. We quickly found a suitable parking spot in the half-full lot and traded sneakers for boots.

Missing Boots

Except somehow, my daughter’s boots never made it into my husband’s car. I had a second, older pair in my car, but she doesn’t wear my size. Would we have to turn right around and go home without taking a step?

Fortunately, my daughter and husband wear the same size. He offered to hike in his sneakers so she could wear his boots. The lightweight slip-ons she wore on the drive never would have held up to a mile of mud, much less six. Crisis averted, we locked the car and headed up the trail at 9 a.m.

Group photo of me, Zach, Ajax, and Brooke at the start of the Woody Trail, our route to Wallace Falls.
Group photo of me, Zach, Ajax, and Brooke at the start of the Woody Trail, our route to Wallace Falls.

No Raincoat

Our guest, Zach, and his parents were my hiking partners for the wonderful learning experience on Mt. Wrightson in Arizona. I knew he would be fine on whatever hike we chose. But he’s used to Arizona sun and heat. They don’t have many waterfalls or lakes. The thought of bringing a raincoat never crossed his mind.

No boots for one; no raincoat for another. In typical motherly fashion, I ruminated about how my daughter was doing up at the front of our group in her borrowed footwear. Did our guest have enough snacks and warm clothing? Was my husband actually enjoying his Father’s Day in the rain, or merely tolerating it? Surely we’d faced the worst.

Baby Grouse Chicks

I was wrong.

To avoid being pulled into muddy puddles, I let Ajax off-leash. He’s usually very good with voice commands. Unless he spots a mother grouse with baby chicks.

Majestic Ajax in his muddy harness. This was taken off the beaten trail, where we could access Wallace River before it plunges over the falls.
Majestic Ajax in his muddy harness. This was taken off the beaten trail, where we could access Wallace River before it plunges over the falls.

Strike three. Fortunately, I believe the baby grouse will survive. But we revoked Ajax’s off-leash privileges for the rest of the day.

Let Nature Be Your Teacher

As we ducked into the forest, we traded the annoying buzz of power lines for the refreshing sounds of cascading water. Ajax and I paused to capture a photo of the William Wordsworth quote that greets guests to the solace and beauty of the park.

Ajax seems to enjoy rain. Here he stands in a puddle at the base of the sign. He got two baths after the hike, a cold one at the trailhead and a warm one at home.
Ajax seems to enjoy rain. Here he stands in a puddle at the base of the sign. He got two baths after the hike, a cold one at the trailhead and a warm one at home.

On the rainy hike, my husband and Zach traded stories and questions until we paused at the picnic shelter for our first snack break: kibble for Ajax, homemade cookies for the kids, and ground beef for my husband. I chose to visit the vantage point for the lower falls. The volume of water flowing this time of year is truly mind-boggling.

Zach later admitted that his experience at Wallace Falls was “otherworldly.” Hiking in mud and rain must have felt as different for him as hiking in the arid Arizona April heat had been for me. Nature is an awesome teacher, if we’ll only pay attention to her lessons.

The author at Lower Falls.
The author at Lower Falls.
Brooke and Zach shoot photos of Lower Falls.
Brooke and Zach shoot photos of Lower Falls.

Enjoy Rain Mixed with Sun

People often joke about Pacific Northwest weather: if you don’t like it, wait a few minutes. We felt the air around us warm as we hiked higher and tried to figure out why that was. My guess is the clouds were growing thinner, which meant more of the sun’s strength could reach Earth. We paused at each vantage point for photos, continuing all the way to the bridge that crosses Wallace River where we spent time gazing at the rushing torrent beneath us and exploring off-trail down to the river.

On our return to the Upper Falls after exploring the bridge at the top, we got rewarded briefly by a visit from the sun.

The bridge at the very top of Wallace River. Note the very wet wood.
The bridge at the very top of Wallace River. Note the very wet wood.

Now, we can look back at our experience and laugh about those things we forgot and about our soggy doggy. (I offered to sit next to Ajax so our guest could sit in the front.) Trips are made far more memorable whenever obstacles are thrown in our path.

We’ve also rediscovered that the westbound single-lane highway east of Everett is a headache to travel on weekends. It was true three years ago. Maybe even more so now.

However, we salvaged the drive home with a Word Chain game in which we chose a category (geography) and round-robin fashion, had a person name a geographic feature and the next person come up with something starting with the letter the previous person ended with. And did I mention hail?

Enjoy rain but hope for the sun. It made a brief entrance shortly before noon.
Enjoy rain but hope for the sun. It made a brief entrance shortly before noon.

Enjoy Rain: Takeaways

The Mountaineers organization recommends that every hiker carry the Ten Essentials (or the updated “ten essential systems“) on the trail. These include extra food and water, a First Aid kit, extra clothing, and a map and compass for navigation.

It’s one thing to think you have it and another to have it. One strategy to use to avoid our mistake is to check with all party members ahead of time to be sure they actually brought what they need so that you avoid a painful surprise at the trailhead.

And we’re going to keep hiking in the rain in the summer. With the right gear, it provides a pleasant experience and interesting lighting. What “close calls” have you had in the mountains and what creative ways did you handle it? Please share in the comments so we can all benefit and learn.

Featured

How to Coax New Hikers at Annette Lake

Now that my daughter and I have joined forces to hike together this summer, I have adjusted our process. How many rests do we need? How long should each rest be so it restores us without leaving either of us cold? What is the best way to keep younger hikers interested and occupied? For that matter, when older hikers grow tired, can we coax more mileage from them? How much mileage and gain is too much? Since last Thursday’s visit to Annette Lake, I compiled a list of tips to coach and coax new hikers forward.

One way to coax new hikers is to stop to take frequent photo breaks. These beautiful falls are easily accessible, only .2 miles from the Annette Lake parking lot.
One way to coax new hikers is to stop to take frequent photo breaks. These beautiful falls are easily accessible, only .2 miles from the Annette Lake parking lot.

Coax New Hikers by Giving Them a Choice

Regardless of age, hikers will likely have more success on their outings if they are involved in choosing (and getting excited about) a destination. Before each hike, I ask my daughter what she’s interested in seeing. We use the WTA hikes finder to locate suitable hikes that include lakes.

From her baseline hike to Teneriffe Falls, we also have a better understanding of what elevation gain and mileage will be comfortable for her. We compiled a list of appropriate hikes from which she can choose based on the weather and how she feels on any given day.

Stunning trillium kissed by water droplets.
Stunning trillium kissed by water droplets.

Hikes Under 8 Miles and Less Than 2000′ Elevation Gain

Here’s our shortlist (in alphabetical order) of Pacific Northwest hikes east of Seattle that we plan to visit this summer. All are between 5 and 8 miles and involve 1000′ to 2000′ elevation gain.

Trail maintenance crews did a lot of work on the Annette Lake trail in 2022. They installed 288 steps (by my count) including a series of "crib ladders" such as these to improve footing.
Trail maintenance crews did a lot of work on the Annette Lake trail in 2022. They installed 288 steps (by my count) including a series of “crib ladders” such as these to improve footing.

Take Frequent Breaks

Another way to coax newer hikers forward is to plan frequent breaks. From our first hike together (as well as from decades of experience) I know that taking a short clothing and water break about 15-20 minutes into the hike allows an assessment of how everyone feels. With young kids that may be more like every 10 minutes.

Our modified plan is to check in with each other every 20-30 minutes. Sometimes when I’m alone with Ajax, I’ll go a whole hour before taking a water break.

My UW Husky student and I pose for a selfie in front of the lower falls.
My UW Husky student and I pose for a selfie in front of the lower falls.

No Regrets

After what felt like the umpteenth switchback, I could tell my daughter was getting tired. It was chilly and damp, and she had less oomph than she did on our previous hike to Teneriffe Falls. I used the phrase, “Just a little farther!” one too many times, and she ground to a halt. I figured that 52 minutes was close enough to an hour to merit a longer rest.

At that point, my daughter asked if I regretted inviting her to join me. I was shocked. “Absolutely not!” I replied. Her question reminded me that there’s more to communication than words. Could I be sending out vibes she’d misinterpreted? I joined her on the log. While I may long for the carefree pace I set whenever I go alone, I can do that anytime. But hiking with her is a rare gift that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Vanilla Leaf.
Vanilla Leaf.

Demonstrate Proper Pacing

A mistake new hikers sometimes make is starting from the cars too hard or too fast, resulting in early fatigue. Just like any warmup to a workout, try suggesting easing into the hike for the first half mile. This allows the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints plenty of warm-up time before sustained exertion. Then, after removing a layer of clothing, you can settle into your “go forever” pace.

My daughter has demonstrated that she does not like to be the last member in a hike. If she can’t be part of a “kid sandwich” (i.e. adult – child – adult) then she would rather be out front. My goal in upcoming hikes will be to try to teach her suitable pacing (e.g. no sprint/stop allowed) without requiring that she walk behind me. Maybe we can find hikes with wide trails.

On a rainy midweek morning with low traffic, we feel confident letting Ajax off-leash and relying on voice command. Maybe in this case she still feels a sense of a "kid sandwich" with Ajax in the lead and me taking up the rear.
On a rainy midweek morning with low traffic, we feel confident letting Ajax off-leash and relying on voice command. Maybe in this case she still feels a sense of a “kid sandwich” with Ajax in the lead and me taking up the rear.

Coax New Hikers by Providing Suitable Rewards

As we learned two summers ago on a trip to Mt. Catherine, when the huckleberries and blueberries were ripe and abundant, having some sort of reward can go a long way toward motivating a newer hiker. The promise of reaching snow in June was a big lure.

Suitcase doggie! My daughter and Ajax pose on a snow patch that persists into early summer. One way to coax new hikers is to promise something they'll enjoy. Snow, lakes, and an uncommon treat work for my daughter.
Suitcase doggie! My daughter and Ajax pose on a snow patch that persists into early summer. One way to coax new hikers is to promise something they’ll enjoy. Snow, lakes, and an uncommon treat work for my daughter.

When our daughter was young, it was the promise of ice cream afterward. On this trip, I brought out crisp snap pea chips. We spent half an hour at the lake before we both got a little cold.

As soon as the activity itself becomes a reward, you know you’ve got a hiker for life. The fact that we have our next two outings lined up means that all those outings years ago with the Mountaineers Family Activities group have created strong roots. I couldn’t be happier. If you have tips for coaching or coaxing the newer hiker, please share them in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

Selfie at the lake. What's not to love?
Selfie at the lake. What’s not to love?
Featured

Look for Good at Teneriffe Falls

A reader recently asked for tips on dealing with loss and disappointment. The permits for a trip she had been planning for six months got canceled, making it difficult to maintain enthusiasm for her trip. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes. It includes injury, illness, change in plans, loss of livelihood, loss of youthfulness, and even death. After nearly two years of exploring change, the best suggestion I can make is to look for good to come out of the loss.

Look for good. Instead of complaining about the rain, we celebrated the fact that the rain meant fewer people on a weekend hike and beautiful photographs like this one.
Look for good. Instead of complaining about the rain, we celebrated the fact that the rain meant fewer people on a weekend hike and beautiful photographs like this one.

Weekend Hike to Teneriffe Falls

Last Saturday my daughter, Ajax, and I headed to Teneriffe Falls (6 miles, 1600′ gain) at Exit 32 on I-90. The drive has never passed so quickly. I usually listen to an e-book. Instead, we chatted easily about her coursework, the upcoming hike, her friends, and my clients.

When we started hiking around 8:30, the parking lot was about a third full. A trail maintenance crew was preparing for a day of work. Several Portapotties stood near locked latrines. And a large flat rock held numerous poop bags, indicating recent high canine traffic. Expect lots of people. It’s a Saturday in June.

Ajax and my daughter begin the steep switchbacks toward the Falls.
Ajax and my daughter begin the steep switchbacks toward the Falls.

I’ve been so conditioned to go at dawn on weekdays to less frequented trails, that I have forgotten what it’s like to hike with hordes of people. (side note: If you seek solitude, avoid Rattlesnake Ledge on a summer weekend.) When my daughter pointed out bleeding hearts, banana slugs, and nurse logs, my heart swelled with pride. She still remembers much of what we taught her during her childhood hikes.

Loss or Gain?

Over the past year, I have explored what it’s like to move forward with an “empty nest.” Sort of. My daughter attends a local university and often comes home for a few days. We’ve adjusted to weekdays without her, and weekends with her. Now that she is home for the summer, we’re adjusting again. The biggest change: she wants to join me hiking.

How could this ever be perceived as a loss? You can view any change as having loss and gain. For instance, hiking with another person means a loss of freedom to go at my own pace. To leave the house when I want. Hiking on the weekends also brings a loss of solitude on the trail and a loss of time due to higher traffic in the city.

We dubbed this the "mystical corridor" with its pine needles, fog, and empty space. The rain kept the weekend crowds to a minimum except at the Falls where a large group of rowdy students celebrated their recent graduation.
We dubbed this the “mystical corridor” with its pine needles, fog, and empty space. The rain kept the weekend crowds to a minimum except at the Falls where a large group of rowdy students celebrated their recent graduation.

But it also brings plenty of good. Wonderful conversations with another person. New perspectives. Varied pace. Exploration and adventure of a different kind. Moments of pride when you realize your daughter has absorbed all sorts of lessons from childhood. It depends entirely on how you frame it.

Ask yourself: are you a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” person? What if you tried to look at your loss through a lens of self-compassion and kindness, or tried to view your experience as a new learning opportunity?

Look for Good: Problem as Learning Opportunity

When my daughter insisted on a third break on the ascent, she needed to check her feet. She had hot spots on her heels that threatened to form blisters. I reminded myself of my biggest intention. Make sure she has fun so she agrees to hike again. I channeled the patience my friends showed me on Mt. Wrightson when I experienced heat exhaustion.

The joy on my daughter's face, when we reached the Falls, was worth the three rest stops it took to get there. I thought back to all the hikes we did with her as a youngster. Now that she's an adult, she's come full circle. I couldn't be happier.
The joy on my daughter’s face, when we reached the Falls, was worth the three rest stops it took to get there. I thought back to all the hikes we did with her as a youngster. Now that she’s an adult, she’s come full circle. I couldn’t be happier.

I asked myself, What’s good about this problem?

  • Learning how to lace boots properly and adjust for uphill or downhill
  • Layering socks correctly to prevent wear on the skin
  • Learning to doctor hot spots before they become blisters
  • Making sure to carry Moleskin, duct tape, or Bandaids in a First Aid kit.

Experience is one of the best teachers. I doubt she’ll ever hike again without bringing blister protection.

Near the bottom of the hike, I was relieved to see my daughter was still able to smile. We're off to another hike in the morning. She had a good enough experience (and the blisters were only a minor irritant) that she's willing to go again.
Near the bottom of the hike, I was relieved to see my daughter was still able to smile. We’re off to another hike in the morning. She had a good enough experience (and the blisters were only a minor irritant) that she’s willing to go again.

Look for Good When Losses Are Ubiquitous

Earlier this week it felt like every email I opened pointed to some kind of loss. Lost mobility that led to canceling a trip. Illness meant cutting a trip short. A fall that led to a trip to the ER. A friend reporting death of a friend. Loss of enjoyment due to pain. Loss of awareness while driving. And the death of a former client’s tentmate on Everest. Pain and loss everywhere.

Where’s the good? Two jumped out at me:

  • I have finally learned to hold suffering at a distance and not take other people’s pain on myself. I can remain compassionate and empathetic but not drown in the pain. Win!
  • Maybe I could write a blog about it that might help others find a path through loss.
The author, her daughter, and Ajax enjoy an hour at Teneriffe Falls before hiking down. If you go on a summer weekend, choose a rainy day to cut down on crowds. That will also make the falls more spectacular.
The author, her daughter, and Ajax enjoy an hour at Teneriffe Falls before hiking down. If you go on a summer weekend, choose a rainy day to cut down on crowds. That will also make the falls more spectacular.

Additional Posts on Loss

I’ve written about loss in other blog posts. This list is not exhaustive, but it might point to some interesting reading if you’re relatively new to the blog.

A hike with two of my favorite living creatures on this planet. WIN!
A hike with two of my favorite living creatures on this planet. WIN!

Parting Thoughts

My parting thoughts are about Kelly Clarkson’s blockbuster song, “Stronger.” To paraphrase, what doesn’t kill us builds our RESILIENCE. A hero’s journey is filled with obstacles. We can bury our heads in the sand, smother our pain with food or alcohol, or we can face the pain and go right through it. If we look for what good might come out of it — connecting with others also experiencing the loss, having a different kind of adventure, getting more clarity on our goals and values — we can handle the pain more easily.

If you have recently experienced some sort of loss, please share it so we can all learn from and help each other. You are not alone. And if you have a topic you’d like to explore, please suggest it. A shout out to E. for asking this question, and to my Monday Morning writing partners for a wonderful, lively discussion of the Murky Middle blog post. I learn so much from all of my readers and commenters! Thank you!

Featured

Murky Middle: How to Follow Through on Intentions

During the past four rambles with Ajax, I reflected on our progress on our project. Is it still meeting its purpose? Am I experiencing “shiny object syndrome” (i.e. wanting to jump to something else midstream) or just the murky middle that sometimes comes with long-term projects? What are some ways to follow through on intentions?

Ajax explores a driftwood structure at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park.
Ajax explores a driftwood structure at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park.

Pinehurst Pocket Park

Doubt started creeping up on me during the Memorial Day weekend. My daughter was home for three days so I had some free time. I refused to battle holiday crowds in the mountains, so Ajax and I did a local Ramble instead.

We included a stop at Pinehurst Pocket Park, a tiny park covering less than half a city block. But despite visiting six little free libraries, something was missing. I long for solitude, for views, for the freedom to let Ajax roam off-leash. I miss the mountains. What would finishing 52 unique rambles do for me that hiking wouldn’t? Was I ready to change my intentions? Or maybe I was just having an off day. Perhaps my attitude would change when I tried a few more.

A great way for a local homeowner to showcase a sense of humor. Dogs can't read but they sure can smell!
A great way for a local homeowner to showcase a sense of humor. Dogs can’t read but they sure can smell!

View Ridge Playfield

A few days later, I returned my daughter to the UW campus for finals week. On the way back, Ajax and I visited the View Ridge Playfield neighborhood. It brought back memories of summer visits to the kiddie pool when my daughter was a toddler.

We visited three little free libraries on this ramble, including one outside the Sand Point Community United Methodist Church, constructed to resemble the church itself. I marveled at all of the modern architecture in the neighborhood. At the same time, I felt crowded and confined, with people rushing from birthday parties to the library to local coffee and bagel shops.

Sand Point Community Church boasts two neighborhood boxes, one for books and one for food. Both resemble the church.
Sand Point Community Church boasts two neighborhood boxes, one for books and one for food. Both resemble the church.
The view from 70th Ave. NE looking east toward the Cascades. A block west, you can see a similar view of the Olympics.
The view from 70th Ave. NE looking east toward the Cascades. A block west, you can see a similar view of the Olympics.

In a word, hectic. A feeling I escape in the mountains and try to avoid during Rambles. But the farther south I explore (i.e. closer to downtown) the more hectic the pace feels. The yearning for the peaceful solace and rhythm of the mountains grows stronger with each urban ramble, now that more people are getting outside in nice weather. Or perhaps because I was able to see the mountains without being in them.

Haller Lake in the Murky Middle

The following day, our ramble to Haller Lake in north Seattle made me want to give up. Not because of inclement weather.

We strolled clockwise around the small, private lake hoping to find a waterfront path (it doesn’t exist) or at least public access to the lake (there is only one such spot).

Haller Lake from the west. Trying to access this mostly private lake was part of my murky middle. But I can change my approach to find safe, accessible, beautiful, public spaces and continue on my quest. Simple, right?
Haller Lake from the west. Trying to access this mostly private lake was part of my murky middle. But I can change my approach to find safe, accessible, beautiful, public spaces and continue on my quest. Simple, right?

Behind the North Seattle Church, we caught our first glimpse of the lake. Unfortunately, the only access by non-residents is on the west side. So we continued on our way, eager to spot any lingering waterfowl. So far, all we’d heard among the usual suspects were red-winged blackbirds, common inhabitants of wetlands such as Montlake Fill and Magnuson Park.

No Dogs Allowed

But as we strode toward the lake from the west, my heart dropped. A sign proclaimed No dogs allowed on Seattle beaches. A local collecting trash gave us the ol’ stink-eye.

“C’mon, Ajax, it looks like we’re not welcome here,” I said to my docile pup. He dutifully followed without a single growl or bark. I hate feeling unwelcome anywhere, but especially in green spaces touted as accessible to and for all. Apparently not dogs.

My murky middle nearly caused me to give up after 39 rambles. Decorative signs hang on the fencing leading to the public boat ramp at Haller Lake. For all they do to try to welcome people, it's the last thing I felt.
My murky middle nearly caused me to give up after 39 rambles. Decorative signs hang on the fencing leading to the public boat ramp at Haller Lake. For all they do to try to welcome people, it’s the last thing I felt.

“I don’t want to visit any more spaces that make me feel unwanted, unsafe, or uncomfortable,” I thought as we left Haller Lake.

But I had to remind myself, this was different. This was mostly a private access lake. And maybe the lady just had weird eyes. Maybe she wasn’t directing anything toward me. Perhaps the anger I felt was due to a poor, uninformed choice. But anger it was. Not one of the reasons I go on walks with Ajax.

The Desire to Quit Rears Its Ugly Head

So this morning, I told a friend that I was considering stopping my Rambles project. Surprised, she asked why. I mumbled something like, “I miss the mountains. And I miss visiting some of my favorite places where there are no people.” Both are valid reasons.

But they don’t tell the whole true story. I think I was willing to scrap my whole year-long project… in order to avoid shame. Well, eff that. That’s on ME, not anyone else. And now that I know what I was doing, I won’t cave.

Something my friend said reminded me to review my big why: this project was a way to explore mindfulness, learn to be more fully present, and experience joy in tiny moments. Haller Lake may not have been joyful but many of the others have been.

Review Your Intentions

Once she left, I reread what I hoped to get out of this year. June seems to be as good a time as any to reflect on intentions set at the start of the year.

  • Appreciate beauty
  • Connect deeply
  • Move frequently
  • Create abundantly
  • Improve lovingly
  • Challenge gently
Appreciate beauty, large and small alike.
Appreciate beauty, large and small alike.

I realized that I’d slipped on my why. And the two that need more work are “appreciate beauty” and “improve lovingly.” I have been trying to strongarm myself into going to places within walking distance of home — that may be aesthetically unappealing or worse, downright unsafe.

But what if I gave myself permission — challenged myself gently — to access green spaces beyond walking distance for my final twelve Rambles? What’s stopping me from driving to new green spaces like I do hikes?

Richmond Beach Saltwater Park

So, with renewed interest in our project (just in time for Ramble 40!), I drove to Richmond Beach Saltwater Park for a walk-and-talk with a writing friend. Connection. Check. I expected great views of the Olympics. Saltwater birds. And with any luck, no crowds.

This morning, the only people enjoying the park were dog walkers (like us) and stair climbers (also like us.) Movement. Check. We headed along the top promenade for an overlook of the park and ended up at a gorgeous Madrone tree – I think, based on the peeling bark. Beauty. Check.

Active Ajax Adventures are a great way to explore the area and get outside my comfort zone. A hiking friend convinced me to keep going and get twelve more Rambles.
Active Ajax Adventures are a great way to explore the area and get outside my comfort zone. A hiking friend convinced me to keep going and get twelve more Rambles.

My writing friend gave me several big hugs and encouraged me to continue with our quest. Twelve to go.

Takeaways: Surviving the Murky Middle

Whatever goal you are pursuing, at some point you may think, “Do I still want this? Does it matter? How can I stay interested and engaged through the finish line?” I offer some final thoughts about what might help.

Murky Middle: How to Follow Through on Intentions
A little free library near the InterUrban in Shoreline. It perked me up after the mood sink of Haller Lake and gave me a glimpse of hope that maybe I could refine our project.

New Perspective

  • Before you completely give up on any intention, give it a day or a week to let yourself think about it. You may be having a tough day. Things might look better with a little distance from your intention.
  • Review the initial reasons why you embarked on this journey in the first place. Perhaps (like it did for me) something has slipped and a reminder will jump-start you.
  • Discuss your decision-making process with someone who understands your struggle. They might have a fresh opinion that can help you see it in a different way.
Murky Middle: How to Follow Through on Intentions
Despite enjoying my rambles with Ajax, my experience with Haller Lake almost made me give up on the project. The simple solution: a reminder that it’s OK to drive to green spaces now that I’ve exhausted everything within walking distance of home! Win!

Tweak Your Intentions

  • Can you tweak your intention (i.e. nudge the notch) to make it a little more compelling? For me, reminding myself that it’s okay to drive to mid-distance green spaces opens up a ton of areas to explore. Not only will I still save on gas and driving time, but the choices just got a lot more interesting.
  • Imagine two outcomes: completing and not completing your intention. What will each look and feel like? Will you have any regrets about your decision? What does completing (or not) your intention say about you? What good might come from completing it, even if you feel like you’re struggling? And if it’s no longer right, be comfortable walking away without shame or guilt.
  • Finally, if you have been working on an intention alone, find a buddy or accountability partner. They help!

If you are struggling to follow through on an intention, don’t give up! Share your dilemma in the comments so we can support each other.

Featured

How to Assess Progress on Cougar Mountain

Tuesday morning, Ajax and I explored 7.5 miles of trails on Cougar Mountain. One of the things I love about both Tiger Mountain State Forest and Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park with its 35 miles of winding trails is the opportunity to explore lots of different areas of the park. Our ramble gave me three hours to reflect on my Master Health Coaching class through Precision Nutrition. In particular, I wanted to think about the many ways to help clients assess progress.

A lovely canopy of moss-covered trees drapes over the path just past Cougar Pass on the way to Lost Beagle Trail. One way we assess progress is to refer to a map and signage to make sure we're heading the right way.
A lovely canopy of moss-covered trees drapes over the path just past Cougar Pass on the way to Lost Beagle Trail. One way we assess progress is to refer to a map and signage to make sure we’re heading the right way.

My intentions shortlist included the following three items:

  • Reflect on the use of objective and subjective data for assessing client progress
  • Explore new-to-us segments of Cougar Mountain’s trail system
  • Test two new water delivery systems I’d purchased for Ajax’s 8th birthday

Assess Progress: Objective vs. Subjective Data

During our hike, I found myself thinking about how Precision Nutrition suggests tracking progress. To help clients reach distant mountain peaks, there are some obvious, objective metrics. Guide services such as Alpine Ascents International want to be sure their climbers can reach base camp carrying a specific pack weight in a certain amount of time. If not, they might jeopardize the team’s chance to reach the summit.

Objective Data

Objective measurements include measurable facts such as:

  • Distance hiked
  • Elevation gained or altitude attained
  • Time traveled
  • Pack weight carried
  • Heart rate data (average, max, rate of recovery)
  • Steps achieved using some biometric device such as an Oura ring, Whoop strap, or Fitbit
A piece of objective data for hikers is mileage traveled. King County does an excellent job with signage. As long as you know roughly what your end destination is, you can easily get there. But a goal like "increased fitness"? Without more specific parameters, you may never know if or when you've reached it.
A piece of objective data for hikers is mileage traveled. King County does an excellent job with signage. As long as you know roughly what your end destination is, you can easily get there. But a goal like “increased fitness”? Without more specific parameters, you may never know if or when you’ve reached it.

Subjective Data

But these metrics are only part of the picture. For some people participating in unguided trips where they can take their own time, subjective metrics may actually be more important. These might include:

  • Feeling less winded at the top of stairs or hills
  • Having energy for the trip back to the car
  • Wanting to eat at base camp or the summit
  • Feeling well enough not to need any pain medication or anti-inflammatories during or after the trip
  • Being able to recover quickly once exercise stops
  • Feeling like they can continue the very next day without much rest
  • Have a conversation with a partner on the way up or down
  • Having an easier time than the previous hike

Subjective data are harder to quantify. They are specific to each person and based more on internal feelings rather than external metrics. Such criteria often have more meaning for the hiker.

Ajax crosses a wooden bridge on the Tibbets Marsh Trail on the way to Cougar Pass. I assess his progress by his energy levels and panting.
Ajax crosses a wooden bridge on the Tibbets Marsh Trail on the way to Cougar Pass. I assess his progress by his energy levels and panting.

Assess Progress Using a Continuum

If something can’t be measured, how exactly do you gauge improvement? The short answer is: scaling, or using relative comparison on a continuum.

Take the first example given in “subjective data.” If you do a hike one week and it takes you fifteen minutes of sitting on a rock, panting, at the turn-around point before you feel like you can start again, and the next week it only takes you five minutes (for similar effort/exertion), and you stand for most of that, you have shown “much improvement.”

Whether you use a scale of 1 to 3, 1 to 10, or 1 to 100 doesn’t matter so much. And the exact number (which would mean you’re looking at objective data) also may not matter. What matters is feeling better than last time for comparable effort. We’re after improvement.

How do you track your own progress? Is your way helpful? Or do you beat yourself up over a higher-than-expected heart rate and slower-than-desired pace? Could you use a better way to gauge improvement? One that matters to you?

Water for Ajax

For several years, I’ve been providing Ajax treats on the trail in a collapsible silicone food and water bowl, but the ribs have collected some unidentifiable, unappealing substance that won’t scrub off. Ajax deserves better. For his eighth birthday, I bought several hydration systems for us to test.

A plastic Lesotc 2022 allows the remaining water to return to the bottle. It comes with a mini-carabiner for attaching to your pack. One fatal design flaw requires sticking your fingers into the water to secure a plug after filling the cup. I opted to maintain squeeze pressure while he drank. Unfortunately, when I let go mid-lap, the slurp of the draining water startled him. Product fail.

Despite numerous water delivery options, Ajax still prefers the old-fashioned way: fresh from the stream.
Despite trying numerous water delivery options, Ajax still prefers the old-fashioned way: fresh from the stream.

The second was a Gology insulated 32-ounce thermos, complete with a carrying case, detachable food and water bowls, a slot for a phone or wallet, and a screw-on cup. The unit is completely dishwasher compatible, which was my main objection to the silicone bowls. But at two pounds, I’m still skeptical. The verdict? You might have guessed. Ajax prefers running water from a stream.

Assess Progress During Exploration

Having successfully tested the two hydration systems, our third objective was to explore the park. Once you know the main route in any park, it’s fun to get off the beaten path and see what else the park or mountain has to offer.

Our route took us up Big Tree Ridge Trail for about a mile (in the northeastern-most corner of the park marked by “You are Here”). We immediately turned left and wandered along the following trails: Military, Precipice Top, Surprise Creek, No Name, Shangri-La, Protector, Tibbetts Marsh, Cougar Pass, Klondike Swamp, Lost Beagle, and finally ended up at the parking lot at the Harvey Manning Trailhead.

How to Assess Progress on Cougar Mountain

Solace and Problem-Solving

The wonderful thing about starting a hike midweek at 6 a.m. is — you guessed it — solitude! We shared the trail with two trail runners, a pair of women hikers starting as we finished, 19 bird species, a mole, a mouse, squirrels, and a chipmunk.

But perhaps one of my favorite reasons to hike is to give my brain a rest from helping guide clients solve challenging problems. Hiking becomes a form of walking meditation. I may start using the subjective metric of “feeling emotionally better at the end of a hike than when I started.”

May all of you find solace in your own exploration. And if you have a metric you use that I haven’t written about here, please share so we can all benefit.

Featured

How To Make Good Decisions on Dirty Harry’s Peak

Last Thursday, Ajax and I explored the trifecta destinations of Dirty Harry’s Peak, Dirty Harry’s Balcony, and Dirty Harry’s Museum at Exit 38 along Washington State’s I-90. This hike reminded me of the diverse factors that go into how to make good decisions for your party, whether that includes twelve hikers or your dog.

The trailhead has a nice map that I used to gauge the approximate locations of the Museum and the Peak. I also discovered there was a lake on the map, Granite Lake, which I'd never noticed before (top, blue).
The trailhead has a nice map that I used to gauge the approximate locations of the Museum and the Peak. I also discovered there was a lake on the map, Granite Lake, which I’d never noticed before (top, blue).

Which Hike?

Obviously, a dog doesn’t have a direct vote in which hike to do, but Ajax’s comfort IS always an important consideration whenever I plan an outing. Especially since these Active Ajax Adventures were designed as a way for us to enjoy the outdoors together.

When we hiked Mt. Washington the week before, Dirty Harry loomed directly across the highway from us. Since there is still plenty of snow on trails at Exit 47, we’ve been hiking farther west. Why not compare the north-facing slopes of Mt. Washington with the south-facing slopes of Dirty Harry’s Peak? We arrived at the Dirty Harry’s Peak parking lot early enough to start hiking at 6:10 a.m. The earlier, the cooler, the better for us both.

There are plenty of great vantage points all along the hike. Catching this view of McClellan Butte reminded me that I haven't visited it in over twenty years. Maybe within the next month!
There are plenty of great vantage points on the way to the Balcony. Catching this view of McClellan Butte reminded me that I haven’t visited it in over twenty years. Maybe next month!

Make Good Decisions About Where to Stop

The next decision was where to take our first break. We could visit one, two, or all three destinations, separate hikes in their own right: Dirty Harry’s Balcony (4.4 miles and 1,600 feet of gain), Dirty Harry’s Museum (5.6 miles and 2,800 feet of gain), and Dirty Harry’s Peak (9.2 miles and 3,326 feet of gain). I wasn’t sure Ajax would be comfortable visiting all three — he is, after all, wearing a fur coat in this heat — so we stopped at The Balcony first.

Dawn (7 a.m.) looking eastward over I-90 from Dirty Harry's Balcony at Exit 38.
Dawn (7 a.m.) looking eastward over I-90 from Dirty Harry’s Balcony at Exit 38.

Having settled into a nice rhythm of water breaks every 45 minutes, we continued through the lush woods to mile 2.8 where we reached the fast-running Museum Creek. In a trip report I’d read the day before, another hiker suggested using poles to cross. I had found a suitable stick (my pole sat forgotten in the car) in case I needed one. But how would Ajax do?

Where to Cross?

I never want to take any unnecessary risks that would jeopardize my partner’s safety. I thought about securing his leash to his “suitcase harness” so I could grab him more easily if he slipped on the wet rocks. The last thing I wanted was for him to tumble downhill out of reach. At the edge of the racing water, we stood assessing the flow. I couldn’t find any “obvious way” across.

Nope. Too risky.

I actually turned us around. Maybe we could explore the Museum or check out the Ira Spring Connector closer to the Balcony.

The stream is a raging river right now. I didn't see an obvious, safe way across where Ajax stood so I turned us around.
Museum Creek is a raging river right now. I didn’t see an obvious, safe way across where Ajax stood so I turned us around.

Once Ajax stood safely beside me, however, I glanced around. Several rock “islands” stuck out to the left (low) of the fastest part of the stream. Maybe we could cross there.

With Ajax watching on the bank, I carefully made my way across several large pieces of wood someone had placed on top of stones. Safely across, I turned and called Ajax.

Heart in my throat, I watched as he paused and shook out his nervousness. Then, determined not to be left behind, he promptly joined me.

Relieved that we’d made it across, I gave him lots of lavish “good boy!” praise. As we continued, I wondered whether the continued snow melt would cause us greater difficulty on the way back. We’d literally have to “cross that bridge” when we came to it. Onward, to find snow.

Happy author selfie. Anything that gets me outdoors to fresh air, birdsong, solitude, and beauty makes me smile. And when I think we've reached our turnaround point but I find a safe way forward, I'm even happier.
Happy author selfie. Anything that gets me outdoors to fresh air, birdsong, solitude, and beauty makes me smile. And when I think we’ve reached our turnaround point but I find a safe way forward, I’m even happier.

Make Good Decisions About How Long to Rest

At a lovely spot half a mile beyond the stream crossing, we took a ten-minute break. I felt pretty confident we would not see any other hikers behind us. After all, only dedicated and experienced hikers would brave that stream crossing. And only insane people would be up this high so early!

Several large trees have been carved into lovely benches where hikers can sit and enjoy the view. We were almost to the steepest part, so I gave Ajax a snack and some water while I shot several photos.

The author's selfie was taken while reclining on a carved tree bench roughly 1.5 miles from the summit.
The author’s selfie was taken while reclining on a carved tree bench roughly 1.5 miles from the summit.

Recharged, we easily stepped across numerous small stream crossings, covering the last 1.5 miles pretty comfortably. The trail includes some unrelenting switchbacks, and we reached snow about .5-.75 miles from the summit for the rest of the hike.

Where to Enjoy the Views?

From Dirty Harry’s Peak, you can look north, west, or south. The day we hiked, smoke from Canadian wildfires obscured most of Mt. Rainier to the south. My DSLR 100-400 mm lens would have been useless. Glad I didn’t carry it!

For our summit visit, we found a shaded spot on the far west end of the ridge where the snow had already melted. Ajax promptly plopped down to relax. I pulled out my foam sit pad and reclined, looking into the blue sky. As soon as I’d gotten comfortable, a gray jay (or ‘camp robber’, as some people call them) ventured close enough for a good shot on my phone.

Ajax approves of our summit spot out of the sun.
Ajax approves of our summit spot out of the sun.
A gray jay joins us hoping for handouts.
A gray jay joins us hoping for handouts.

After enjoying the views for half an hour, I packed everything up and we made our way to the “other summit” to check out the view to the north. I hoped we could see Glacier Peak and Mt. Baker; the haze made that impossible. But we spotted a lake I later identified as rounded Granite Lake, straight below us, with snow patches in places.

Granite Lake is due north of Dirty Harry's Peak.
Granite Lake is due north of Dirty Harry’s Peak.
A melting snow bridge near the north summit.
A melting snow bridge near the north summit.

My stomach dropped when I noticed what Ajax was standing on. Below him, the narrow snow bridge was rapidly melting. If it gave way… Fortunately, Ajax responds to my voice commands. He abruptly trotted to my side to lavish praise. Now, at the halfway point, we had to get down safely. The toughest part would be that stream.

Should We Include A Side Trip?

The trip down included interesting exchanges with eighteen single or paired hikers headed up. “Cross low,” I told them about the stream. I winced when I spotted a snake slithering across the trail in front of me. Fortunately, Ajax was exploring something behind me and didn’t see it.

There was also the issue of crossing Museum Creek again. We heard running water before we saw it. And twenty paces from it, Ajax came to an abrupt halt. Did he remember the first time? Could I coax him across again? I gave him another water and food break (lucky dog!) He’d done it before; could he do it again?

In order to make good decisions about this stream crossing, I had to look for an alternate route. Ajax succeeded with his second stream crossing at 10:30 a.m.
In order to make good decisions about this stream crossing, I had to look for an alternate route. Ajax succeeded with his second stream crossing at 10:30 a.m.

With a little coaxing, he scampered right across the stream, choosing his own way, reminding me of the pair of mountain goats I’d spotted on Dirtybox Peak situated between Mailbox and Dirty Harry’s Peak. Relieved and feeling invincible, I searched for the north turnoff for Dirty Harry’s Museum.

Dirty Harry’s Museum

There is no sign for the “entry” into the woods like there is for the trail itself. A small rock cairn sits on a large boulder directly across from a dark narrow opening in the trees. And once you enter the opening and head steeply upward, there are bright ribbons marking the way.

Ajax followed me for several minutes until the trail met the stream and opened up to Harry Gault’s rusty truck. I’ve only visited this particular destination once before, so we took a few minutes to explore the truck before heading down in earnest.

Harry Gault's truck, what is known as Dirty Harry's Museum.
Harry Gault’s truck, what is known as Dirty Harry’s Museum.

Make Good Decisions: When Enough Is Enough

Once we returned to Dirty Harry’s Balcony around 11:15, I stopped for Ajax to have the rest of his kibble. I could tell his energy after visiting all three destinations. I paused to enjoy birdsong and chatted with another hiker until it looked like Ajax was ready. Only two miles to go! I estimated that keeping on our pace, we’d reach the car by 12:30.

But my pooped pup had had more than enough. A mile from the car he plopped down and wouldn’t go any farther. I considered carrying him but I knew that would just result in both of us being exhausted. So instead, I pulled out my sit pad, found a good rest spot, and let him take a brief nap.

No. More. Momma. When Ajax plops down and refuses to go on, I know he's reached his limit, much like I did on Mt. Wrightson. In order to make good decisions, consider all in your party. I knew all we could do is take a break.
No. More. Momma. When Ajax plops down and refuses to go on, I know he’s reached his limit, much like I did on Mt. Wrightson. In order to make good decisions, consider all in your party. I knew all we could do is take a break.

After a fifteen-minute break, he’d stopped panting, but he still lagged behind me. I finally secured his leash to his harness and coaxed him down to the car. He’d clearly reached his max.

Takeaways

As we head into summer, some of my top takeaways from this experience include the following tips:

  • Consider all party members’ strengths and weaknesses. I plan early morning trips so Ajax will be more comfortable. And if the forecast is for temperatures much above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, we stay local.
  • Choose destinations wisely. Granite Mountain and Dirty Harry’s Peak are two trails I’ve decided are best done with Ajax in the fall or spring when there is plenty of snowmelt or cooler temperatures from shade and cloud cover.
  • Consider destinations with rivers or lakes to cool off when it gets hot.
  • Study trip reports on such websites as Washington Trails Association to learn about conditions ahead of time. Knowing the stream was running high helped me be prepared both with a stick and with alternatives.
  • Be okay with changing the destination – go farther or shorten the trip depending on party preparation.
  • Listen to your party members, canine or human. If they show signs of needing a break, provide one. Pressing on may only make matters worse.
Indian paintbrush.
Indian paintbrush.

What top takeaways can you share about any of your recent learning experiences in the mountains? Share them in the comments so we can all benefit.

Featured

Mt. Washington: How to Set Intentions

My recent adventures on Mt. Wrightson (in SE Arizona) had me wondering how my next hike in the Cascades would go. Last week Ajax and I hiked one of my favorite trails, Mt. Washington. I wanted to apply newly learned lessons in familiar conditions. The mountains were calling and I had to go… But this time, I set intentions that were different from my usual hikes.

The views of Mt. Rainier are breathtaking from many of the hikes along the I-90 corridor, including Mt. Washington, one of my favorite Cascades hikes.
The views of Mt. Rainier are breathtaking from many of the hikes along the I-90 corridor, including Mt. Washington, one of my favorite Cascades hikes.

Micro Intentions

I can hear you now. You’re probably remembering another post on intentions that I wrote at the start of the year. And you would be correct. That post addressed big-picture intentions (what some call “goals.”) You can use the same principle for small, daily objectives as well.

Often when I hike, I go wherever my mind and body suggest would be the most fun on any given day. Variables to consider might include weather, time, distance, elevation gain, and whether it’s a good place for shade, streams, snow, or solitude. Rattlesnake Ledge tops the list of places to avoid, as there are usually two dogs for every five people, a steady stream like ants on an anthill. Not the solitary wilderness experience we desire.

One of my set intentions for this trip was to include regular snack breaks. Ajax seemed to approve of this change.
One of my set intentions for this trip was to include regular snack breaks. Ajax seemed to approve of this change.

Sample Intentions

I chose Mt. Washington. But not for reasons you might think. You can set intentions before you leave the house, or you can wait until you pull into the parking lot. An intention is an objective you want to reflect upon or work on as you hike.

Someone who usually races to the top may set an intention to be more mindful of the scenery. A hiker who feels energetic might set an intention to take fewer rest breaks. Another might want to see what happens when they change from eating a sandwich to snacking on trail mix and a protein shake. Someone else might want to try to identify five new flowers or birds. Intentions, like goals, can be anything that matters TO YOU.

The stream just beyond the Great Wall sign has overflowed the river bank, but it is still passable. A pole may help with footing. Ajax hesitated for a moment but followed me across.
The stream just beyond the Great Wall sign has overflowed the river bank, but it is still passable. A pole may help with footing. Ajax hesitated for a moment but followed me across.

My Set Intentions for May 11 Hike

Many of my clients enlist my help as their trainer to develop strength and speed. My intentions for this hike included metrics of a different kind. Based on what I learned on Mt. Wrightson, I set the following intentions:

  • Take two short 2-minute mind-body breaks during the first hour to adjust clothing and give Ajax water
  • Include a 10-minute snack break at the lake to put on traction for snow conditions if needed
  • Pause for 30-60 minutes at the summit to listen for birds, look for jays, take photos, and have a snack
  • Use the Merlin Bird ID app to see how many spring warblers and sparrows I could identify
  • Build my heat resilience and tolerance (we’ve had some unseasonally warm weather)
  • Learn what the current snowpack is like to recommend hikes for local Pacific Northwest clients

The last one was an afterthought. I’d seen WTA (Washington Trails Association) trip reports and knew we’d be on snow, but I wasn’t sure how low it started. I had microspikes, a sit pad, and a pole in case we encountered icy conditions. While I am glad I carried both, in most areas the snow is so soft you can manage without traction. A pole, however, is useful for recovering from postholes or crossing higher-than-usual streams.

The "turnstile" on the way up the last part of Mt. Washington, just beyond the lake.
The “turnstile” on the way up the last part of Mt. Washington, just beyond the lake.
Other than my Keen hiking boots, a pole and microspikes helped in the snow. My traction devices ended up coming off about ten minutes after I put them on; I decided they were more hassle than help.
Other than my Keen hiking boots, a pole and microspikes helped in the snow. My traction devices ended up coming off about ten minutes after I put them on; I decided they were more hassle than help.

Results of Our Experiment

In anticipation of swarms of people taking advantage of the unusually nice, sunny weather, we left the car at 5:30 a.m. We were the first to arrive. Each of our breaks served a specific purpose. We reached the summit with energy to spare and had there not been as much snow, we would have added a detour along the Great Wall on the descent.

We reached snow just beyond the sign that indicates the left-hand turnoff for the Great Wall. Above the river crossing, Ajax punched through in several spots. The trail has way more snow than I have seen at this time in May. With the warm weather, it should melt quickly. Expect snow in places until at least June 21.

Ajax is a real trooper. He may not appreciate the views as I do, but I sure do appreciate HIM.
Ajax is a real trooper. He may not appreciate the views as I do, but I sure do appreciate HIM.

Expect post-holing right now. As soon as I noticed Ajax punching through, I started to as well. We avoided tree wells and narrow snow bridges. Wherever we could, we stayed on the dirt trail so we wouldn’t unexpectedly lose our footing. At one point the trail headed straight up a steep snowy slope. Fortunately on the trip down we were able to find and stay on the switchbacks.

Brought to you by one very happy snow-loving hiker...
Brought to you by one very happy snow-loving hiker…
and her equally happy-to-rest pooch, Ajax!
and her equally happy-to-rest pooch, Ajax!

Set Intentions: Become Happy Hikers

As for the results of setting intentions, we identified 17 bird species from their songs. We spotted Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, and Glacier Peak under some of the most brilliant blue skies ever. I came home with three times more photos than usual.

We had the mountain entirely to ourselves except for three women starting up as we returned to the car. And now I can steer clients to appropriate hikes because I have first-hand experience of how high the snowpack is. Best of all, despite adding deliberate rest stops, our pace was comparable to other hikes up the mountain. Mission accomplished!

If you have experimented with setting micro-intentions for your hikes, please feel free to share your results in the comments section so we can all pool our knowledge and learn from one another.

Featured

Valuable Lessons in Humility on Mt. Wrightson

Last week, I described a birding trip to the top of Mt. Wrightson as part of my friend Pam Keyes’ video series for female hikers over 50. Be sure to enjoy her ten-minute video that accompanies this two-part series. I never expected to receive such valuable lessons in humility on the descent.

A beautiful April day in SE Arizona. I love the way clouds cast shadows on the ridges below.
A beautiful April day in SE Arizona. I love the way clouds cast shadows on the ridges below.

The Approach

Before we reached our lunch spot, Pam received a text from her son Zach, a Type-1 Diabetic, that his blood sugar levels needed checking. Cell service is intermittent in the Santa Rita Mountains, depending on one’s provider. I had no service until we left the mountain, but Pam’s worked fine. We’d had a similar experience in Alaska so I wasn’t all that surprised. I almost never use my phone when I ramble with Ajax in the mountains except to take pictures.

Since Pam was able to track her son’s progress, we knew he’d reach the summit before we did. At one point we received a text asking if we had turned around. With so many switchbacks, it was understandable why someone might interpret your dot as going down rather than up. She assured him we were on our way, but if he wanted to head down before we got to the summit, he could.

Ponderosa, Apache pines, and silverleaf oaks dot the landscape the higher you climb. Sycamores are more common lower in the valley. Summer fires including the Sawmill Fire (2017) and the Florida Fire (2005) often burn through wide swaths of the mountains leaving behind dramatic snags for birds to repurpose.
Ponderosa, Apache pines, and silverleaf oaks dot the landscape the higher you climb. Sycamores are more common lower in the valley. Summer fires including the Sawmill Fire (2017) and the Florida Fire (2005) often burn through wide swaths of the mountains leaving behind dramatic snags for birds to repurpose.

As we climbed steep switchbacks toward Old Baldy Saddle, the birdsong disappeared. A few turkey vultures and dozens of ravens soared on thermals. The views became more dramatic, as did the sun’s intensity. Having had a number of basal cell carcinomas removed over the years, I keep my skin covered even on hot days. I relished the few breezes that passed through on the sun-scorched slope.

Old Baldy Saddle

At Old Baldy Saddle, the wind increased. I knew we had less than a mile to go, but plenty of elevation to gain. The sight of a couple of hikers in front of us awakened my competitive spirit. Maybe I could pass them.

Pam continues at a steady pace with Old Baldy Saddle behind her.
Pam continues at a steady pace with Old Baldy Saddle behind her.

Pam insisted I go ahead and she’d follow. I picked up my pace, snapping photos along the way. I marveled at the terrain we’d traversed, including the winding path back to Old Baldy Saddle. A few minutes from the top, a ground squirrel stared at me, as if begging for handouts. Until that point, we had heard plenty of birds and seen a few lizards, but no mammals.

A brave ground squirrel blends in with his rocky surroundings.
A brave ground squirrel blends in with his rocky surroundings.

Summit Experience

Around 1:30, I reached the summit. A rock ring remains the only indicator of the fire lookout tower that burned down in 1973. After greeting Zach and telling him his mom would be up shortly, I found a good spot so I could record her arrival.

Zach continued chatting with the other hikers. He looked refreshed, not at all like he’d gained 4,000 feet of elevation over 6 miles.

“We took good care of him,” several of the hikers promised, assuring us that they’d shared their sunscreen, food, and water. “He’s a good kid,” another man, Dave, added.

Panorama of the summit of Mt. Wrightson. Zach started down before us. Lessons in humility include carrying more water than you expect to need.
Panorama of the summit of Mt. Wrightson. Zach started down before us. Lessons in humility include carrying more water than you expect to need.

When Zach asked if I had any extra food, I handed him an apple. I also had an entire bag of trail mix, but the last thing I wanted to do was eat.

Lessons in Humility: Dwindling Water

Of greater concern was my dwindling water supply. In the Cascades, 3.5 liters is enough for a 15-mile hike. With my dog. With leftovers. But in SE Arizona, it only carried me halfway. As I downed my last few swallows of Keppi lemon-lime electrolytes water I remembered I still carried Pam’s completely full two-liter bag. Perhaps she could spare some.

When Dave, one of the men trading stories with Zach, offered me some water “to lighten his load,” I gratefully accepted. The ice-cold temperature made up for the bland flavor.

With a liter from Pam and another half liter generously supplied by Dave, I felt confident I’d have enough for the trip down. I also predicted that my mild headache (presumably from altitude) would abate as we descended. We probably could reach the car in two hours. Down is always faster.

Pam enjoying the summit of Mt. Wrightson.
Pam enjoying the summit of Mt. Wrightson.

I took several last shots with my DSLR camera. I’d carried the extra weight up, and by golly, I was going to use it! My last task was to sign the summit register. Camera and binoculars stowed, and after enjoying the summit for half an hour, we started down.

Rejoining Walt

When we reached Old Baldy Saddle we got a pleasant surprise: Walt! He had continued up from his earlier resting spot. What wasn’t a surprise was that Zach had taken the car keys and continued down alone. He struck me as a remarkably independent and capable teenager.

At the summit, I’d considered asking Pam if I could use her phone at the Saddle to let my husband know we were running long. I forgot. As we started down the sun-baked switchbacks, Pam handed me her phone. Everything changed.

The path from Old Baldy Saddle to the summit. Snow patches remain in late April at 9,000 feet elevation. Lessons in humility: know the warning signs of heat illnesses.
The path from Old Baldy Saddle to the summit. Snow patches remain in late April at 9,000 feet elevation. Lessons in humility: know the warning signs of heat illnesses.

Lessons in Humility: Warning Signs

My headache got progressively worse, not better. I finally asked Pam if she had any painkillers. Ibuprofen is a staple in most First Aid kits, but it’s contra-indicated for me. I couldn’t come up with the word “Tylenol” to save my life. She also noticed that my face was quite red despite wearing a hat and sunscreen. Despite doing everything right, including staying hydrated, protecting sensitive skin from the sun, eating, and replacing valuable electolytes, my body needed help cooling down.

Squirrels and birds have adapted to the harsh SE AZ conditions. As a Seattleite for over 35 years, I'm used to rain and snow. I knew the heat could be an issue but I had no idea it would affect me so much.
Squirrels and birds have adapted to the harsh SE AZ conditions. As a Seattleite for over 35 years, I’m used to rain and snow. I knew the heat could be an issue but I had no idea it would affect me so much.

Bellows Spring Revisited

When we reached Bellows Spring, I grabbed the magenta scarf from my pack and soaked it in the trickle of water from the snow. That first squeeze of cool water on my face felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.

At some point, Walt reappeared (Had he waited for us? Had she texted him? Was he still recording video for her project?) Pam explained her concerns about my overheating. “We’ll just take it slow on the way down. Lots of breaks,” they said. Wait, what? I’m usually fastest on the descent. What the heck was going on?

We did THAT? A view on the way down through the woods. My phone was very low on batteries so I took precious few photos on the way down. Plus my focus was getting to the car safely.
We did THAT? A view on the way down through the woods. My phone was very low on batteries so I took precious few photos on the way down. Plus my focus was getting to the car safely.

“Put your whole hat in the stream and get it wet, too,” they suggested. Oh my goodness, pure bliss. For several minutes after that, I felt invincible. Until nausea and headache continued.

“Take your scarf off every so often so your body can get rid of the heat,” they suggested. Pam shared stories of two people she’d helped in the past who had heat stroke. One ended up in the hospital. I won’t. No more hospitals for ME!

A view of the reclamation pond. The burned slope provided little in the way of shade from the mid-afternoon sun.
A view of the reclamation pond. The burned slope provided little in the way of shade from the mid-afternoon sun.

Heat Illnesses

Hearing her use the word “stroke” jarred me. I knew from all my first aid training that heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (also known as sunstroke) are very real concerns for people unaccustomed to training in hot, arid conditions.

I am a snow girl through and through. I’ve experienced cramps before, but I couldn’t see my hot face or detect my slurred speech. I just knew I felt very warm, nauseous, headachey, and HOT. But this could definitely be heat exhaustion. If I wasn’t careful, it could deepen into something much more serious.

Resting and reflecting on my body's inability to cool itself down. Photo courtesy of Pam Keyes.
Resting and reflecting on my body’s inability to cool itself down. Photo courtesy of Pam Keyes.

When we finally reached shade, Pam suggested I remove my long-sleeved shirt and hat. She offered to take my pack. I hesitated for a split second before accepting her help. The next thing I knew, she was pouring water all over my shirt. “This will help your body cool down.”

Lessons In Humility: Accept Help

Pam asked if it would be okay to include my experience with heat exhaustion in the video. I hesitated again. What does it say about me that I had trouble on the last two miles of an 11-mile hike? Would people think less of me?

But a second later, I agreed. I looked down at my Go for Good wristband and reminded myself of my intentions to see the positives in every negative outcome. How could I turn what I perceived, in the moment, as a failure into a valuable learning experience, for myself, and for my readers? What lessons came from it?

I still maintained my sense of humor and humility and demonstrated the "Thinker's Pose" during one of my rest breaks.
I still maintained my sense of humor and humility and demonstrated the “Thinker’s Pose” during one of my rest breaks. Photo courtesy of Pam Keyes.
  • No matter how fit or well-prepared you are, something unexpected can still happen.
  • Do what you can to prevent heat illness and heed warning signs of a potential problem.
  • Realize that one event does not mean it will happen again, whether you experience heat or cold illness, or altitude sickness. Every trip is unique.
  • The scouts’ motto, “Be prepared,” applies on every trip. Expect the unexpected and you won’t be surprised.
  • Always carry MORE than you think you will need, especially if you don’t expect to find a water source.
  • Realize that when you’re at the summit you’re only halfway done. Most problems occur on the way down.
  • Accept help readily and graciously when someone offers. I owe Pam my life and I’d do it all again.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the whole trip was the great time we had collaborating on Pam’s wonderful video project. Experience Wrightson for yourself in Pam’s ten-minute video, including the 28 bird species we encountered during our adventure.

Featured

Mt. Wrightson: Hiking Old Baldy Trail (part I of II)

I have been a physically active person my entire life. Neighborhood games til dusk in elementary school. Swim team and basketball in high school. Crew (rowing team) in college. Powerlifting in my 30’s. Mountaineering in my 40’s. And hiking with Ajax over the past 8 years. On April 23, 2023, I hiked to the top of Mt. Wrightson with a good friend, Pam, as part of her video series for female hikers over 50. When we started, I never expected we’d hike the entire Old Baldy Trail.

Mt. Wrightson: Hiking Old Baldy Trail (part I of II)
Old Baldy map and elevation profile: traveling to the top of Mt. Wrightson would require 4000' gain, 11.4 miles round trip, attaining an altitude of 9,456', the highest point in the Santa Rita Mountains.
Old Baldy map and elevation profile: traveling to the top of Mt. Wrightson would require 4000′ gain, 11.4 miles round trip, attaining an altitude of 9,456′, the highest point in the Santa Rita Mountains.

A Visit to SE Arizona

A month before my husband and I traveled to SE Arizona for a week of birding, I sent Pam a message letting her know we’d be south of Tucson in a few weeks. The last time we’d seen each other was during the summer in 2021 when she and her kids joined us for dinner in Seattle.

We got to host Pam and her two kids for dinner on July 24, 2021.
We got to host Pam and her two kids for dinner on July 24, 2021.

“Is there anything you feel is a must-see while we’re there?” I asked.

“Me!” she replied emphatically. We agreed to hike part of the Old Baldy Trail on Mt. Wrightson,

Our goal was to shoot a video combining my birding and physical preparation knowledge, with her expertise in filming and her familiarity with the region. I wanted to start early enough to avoid the worst of the mid-day heat. If you’ve followed my blog over the past two years, you already know I absolutely adore snow. The more, the better.

Starting Up Mt. Wrightson on Old Baldy Trail

At the parking lot on Sunday, April 23, 2023, following our first full day of birding, we hit our first snag. Pam had borrowed a day pack from a friend, but when she tried it on, the lumbar stays poked her awkwardly in the back. Without a thought, I offered to carry two of her liters of water to make it more comfortable.

The Keyes family poses in the parking lot: Walt, Pam, and their son Zach.
The Keyes family poses in the parking lot: Walt, Pam, and their son Zach.

I avoid applying sunscreen until it’s absolutely necessary, preferring to absorb as much natural vitamin D as I can. I also try to stay covered with long lightweight pants or tights and breathable long-sleeved shirts. Sunburn on the ears, neck, or stripes behind the knees (where I’ve missed spots) is NOT my idea of a fun way to kick off our birding vacation.

A little before 8 a.m. Walt and Zach headed up the Old Baldy Trail together, leaving the two of us to enjoy girl talk as though the 20 months between visits was more like 20 days.

A glimpse through the forest.
A glimpse through the forest.

Stops Along the Ascent

As we walked and talked, we took our time, stopping to check out birds and views. I shared my binoculars whenever any birds appeared. We used the Merlin Bird ID app to identify songbirds that got approached the trail. And I tried to provide a few tips for the beginning birder.

One of 27 bird species, the yellow-eyed junco, that we saw or heard on our Mt. Wrightson hike.
One of 27 bird species, the yellow-eyed junco, that we saw or heard on our Mt. Wrightson hike.

Sky Islands

Whenever I explore unfamiliar trails, I lose track of time. Especially if I’m deep in conversation with good company.

I found myself rewriting preconceived notions of SE Arizona (limited to the Grand Canyon and Sonoran Desert Museum) as mainly desert. Pam described the various mountain ranges in the region as “Sky Islands” with unique microhabitats and slight variants of all the flora and fauna.

Josephine Saddle

We shot a number of video recordings along the way, our collaborative project growing step by step. Before we knew it, we reached Josephine Saddle (1670′ gain / 2.4 miles) where we spotted a sign remembering three young teenage boys who perished in a snowstorm in the Santa Rita Mountains on November 15, 1958.

Mt. Wrightson: Hiking Old Baldy Trail (part I of II)

A little farther along the trail, we found Walt stretched out, snoozing in a patch of sun. His back was still bothering him from their backpacking trip to Horseshoe Mesa in the Grand Canyon the week before, so he was taking his time. He graciously agreed to shoot some video of us doing some hamstring stretches for Pam’s project before we continued.

Early Lunch on Mt. Wrightson

Not too much farther along, we chose a shaded spot with a view for lunch. I ate two oranges and some trail mix and soaked in the sights.

We could see a copper mine's reclamation pond from high up on Mt. Wrightson with Sky Island mountains behind.
We could see a copper mine’s reclamation pond from high up on Mt. Wrightson with Sky Island mountains behind.

I spotted a turquoise body of water that stood out from all the rest. “Copper mining tailings,” Pam explained. A reclamation pond. It may be wastewater, but boy, what an amazing view of it!

Snow at Bellows Spring

Once we resumed hiking, it wasn’t long before we reached what has become one of my favorite spots (why will become more apparent in Part II): Bellows Spring, at 8,153′.

Mt. Wrightson: Hiking Old Baldy Trail (part I of II)
SNOW!! In SE Arizona in April!! Bellows Spring at 8,153' had running water beneath a snow patch. A hike after my own heart.
SNOW!! In SE Arizona in April!! Bellows Spring at 8,153′ had running water beneath a snow patch. A hike after my own heart.

Man with a Tourniquet

Once we reached the baking-hot switchbacks leading up to the Old Baldy Saddle, a mile from the summit but the most elevation gain yet to climb, we encountered an elderly man with blood streaks all up and down his arm. Out of respect for his privacy, I did not shoot any photos although the image is burned in my mind.

The five people he was hiking with remained buoyant and positive, trying to keep his spirits up so he wouldn’t go into shock. One woman mentioned the time they’d started the tourniquet. A tourniquet! Holy moly, surely not — anything I’ve read about tourniquets indicates likely loss of limb afterward. Poor guy! We asked if there was anything we could do to help but aside from carrying out his broken, discarded pole we found on the way down, they insisted they would be okay.

Mt. Wrightson: Hiking Old Baldy Trail (part I of II)
Blood spatters on ragged rock where the gentleman fell.

I found a bandana and propped it up on a bush; it was gone by the time we came back. We also found where the gentleman must have slipped on some steeper jagged rock that was the source of his injury.

Successful Summit of Mt. Wrightson

By the time we reached the summit around 1:30, I had a slight headache. “It’s the altitude,” I told myself. I hadn’t been over 9,000 feet elevation since my eighth summit of Rainier in 2017. But headaches at that altitude are pretty common, especially after gaining 4,000 feet.

I’d consumed most of my 3 liters of electrolyte-dowsed water, thanks to the recommendation by my naturopath. Zach had been hanging out at the summit for some time; the breezes at the top and the thermals the ravens were cruising felt wonderful.

I crouch on the summit of Mt. Wrightson in SE AZ, 9500' high, with stunning views of sky islands in all directions.
I crouch on the summit of Mt. Wrightson in SE AZ, 9500′ high, with stunning views of sky islands in all directions.

But as you may know, whenever you reach the summit, you’re only halfway. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” is spot on. Don’t miss next week’s blog post on Part II: The Descent.

Featured

Birding 101: How to Get Started

On a recent week-long trip to Southeast Arizona, my husband and I joined forces with two friends who, several years ago, completed the Master Birder program offered by what was formerly known as Seattle Audubon. I added 46 new life birds to my Ebird.org list and, as a foursome, we encountered 175 unique bird species. If you have ever wanted to learn more about our avian friends but don’t know how to get started, consider this your Birding 101 tutorial.

An Acorn woodpecker has a snack. These birds are common in SE AZ but far less common in Western WA unless there are giant oaks nearby.
An Acorn woodpecker has a snack. These birds are common in SE AZ but far less common in Western WA unless there are giant oaks nearby.

Birding 101: Where and When?

The best times to bird are during spring and fall migration, but you can appreciate birds year-round. In spring, not only can you see them, often in beautiful bright plumage (the better to attract mates!), but you will often hear them first, especially birds with melodic songs like thrushes, robins, and song sparrows. Birds are more active near dawn and dusk, building nests, foraging for food, and enjoying spring.

Birds need shelter, food, and water. They also need protection from predation, areas where they can build nests and rear their young. The best place to start studying birds is in your own backyard or local park or green space.

A tiny hummingbird pauses in flight to sip nectar from tubed plants. We saw 7-8 species and I'm still mastering the differences.
A tiny hummingbird pauses in flight to sip nectar from tubed plants. We saw 7-8 species and I’m still mastering the differences.

If you have any feeders, start by studying the birds that visit. Most people can identify common birds such as the American robin, mallard, and American crow. How many birds do you know already? You might be surprised.

If you prefer larger birds such as house finches, goldfinches, juncos, stellar’s jays, and towhees, try a seed or nut feeder. Just be aware that squirrels also love peanuts and are very crafty.

Do you like hummingbirds? Try putting out sugar water or colorful pink or red plants such as fuchsia. And if you like ducks and other waterfowl, you might want to learn which species winter in your area during the off-season.

A pair of mating bushtits in Ramsey Canyon, SE AZ.
A pair of mating bushtits in Ramsey Canyon, SE AZ.

Some great places for birding year-round in the north Seattle area include the Union Bay Natural Area (known as Montlake Fill) near the University of WA campus (see my recent blog post) and Magnuson Park.

Increasing Your Knowledge

Once you can identify a handful of common birds, it’s time to grow your list. A bird guide such as The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America is useful for identifying and studying new birds. Participating in neighborhood bird walks at local parks can also be a fun way to learn from more experienced birders. Plan to spend a few hours on a nice weekend morning craning your neck and ears.

A new-to-me life bird, the Arizona woodpecker.
A new-to-me life bird, the Arizona woodpecker.

Having a good pair of optics can make seeing hard-to-spot birds easier. While you don’t need super-expensive binoculars to gain an appreciation for the birds you’re watching, the higher the quality binoculars, the more enjoyable your experience. Be sure to get a few tips from the vendor on how best to adjust and care for your optics before you venture into the field.

If you want to travel light, Cornell University has several great resources you can take with you on your phone. Ebird.org allows you to keep track of all the birds you see. We’ve been keeping track since 2010. My life list, or the total tally of bird species I’ve had visual contact with, is now at 657 species.

Birding 101: There are many ways to expand your bird knowledge. Start today! A stunning Scott's oriole, another life bird.
Birding 101: There are many ways to expand your bird knowledge. Start today! A stunning Scott’s oriole, another life bird.

Another great resource, also through Cornell University, is Merlin Bird ID. This app allows you to visually and audibly identify birds you might not know. Not only can you make a recording of the songs you hear, you can replay them against other apps or have expert birders confirm what you heard, in case Merlin is unable to identify them.

Birding 101: Tips on Spotting Birds

You’ve got a place to watch birds, a pair of binoculars, and an app or guide. Now what? Here are a few final birding tips on how to spot the birds.

  • Spend time in an area. Birds often will stop singing as soon as an intruder arrives. By standing still and letting them know you are not a threat, they’ll often resume their behavior.
  • Keep your movements slow and deliberate. Rushing any wildlife will cause them to dart or fly away.
  • Keep your gaze soft. Rather than hunting for birds with the binoculars, look for movement with your naked eye then bring the binoculars up to get a better look.
A bird truck at the Southwestern Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains, SE AZ.
A bird truck at the Southwestern Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains, SE AZ.
  • Use reference points to get others in your party to see your bird. “That tree, right over there!” is not at all helpful. “The cottonwood, go up to the V, then look twenty feet up the largest trunk, it’s creeping up on the right-hand side below the obvious vegetation clump” is way more useful.
  • Be patient with yourself. Do not try to master all the birds or you will get overwhelmed. Aim for adding 5-10 birds an outing, and even that is pretty aggressive.
  • Don’t forget to look for foliage and mammals, too. Above all else, getting outside is all about having fun!
Don't forget all the other things you can spot outside, from flora and fauna to landscapes and portraits.
Don’t forget all the other things you can spot outside, from flora and fauna to landscapes and portraits.

Much More to Come!

I have very exciting news. I have partnered with a videographer friend, Pam Campbell Keyes, who is doing a series on hiking in SE Arizona targeting women over 50 on her YouTube channel. We will be bringing you a special film treat about our adventure to Mt. Wrightson in a few weeks. Don’t miss it!

Featured

Go for Good: How to Rewrite Stories

If you follow any sports, you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “Go for the gold.” Aim high, shoot for the stars, and push hard. To remind myself of my goal to cultivate a growth mindset, I modified it to my new mantra, go for good. Simple. Catchy. Easy to remember. Motivating. I even wrote it on an elastic band and placed it on my wrist as a visible reminder of my intention.

A visible reminder of my intention: Go for Good band. Every time it snags on things it reminds me of my commitment. The more I discuss it with people, the more I look for challenges as positive learning opportunities. Gimmick? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely.
A visible reminder of my intention: Go for Good band. Every time it snags on things it reminds me of my commitment. The more I discuss it with people, the more I look for challenges as positive learning opportunities. Gimmick? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely.

To me, go for good means seeking what’s good about any struggle, obstacle, mistake, failure, disappointment, or problem. Finding the silver lining. Turning what I may have previously viewed negatively into a positive. In other words, rewriting my negative stories is becoming a path toward building the mental muscle of optimism.

Flight Delay

Last week’s return flight from Asheville to Seattle is my first example of a negative story. Thunderstorms grounded all planes into and out of Chicago’s O’Hare International for several hours mid-day. Instead of arriving in Seattle at 6:30 p.m. I got home past midnight. With only four hours of sleep before a day of clients. It would take several days to recover from lost sleep and jetlag. But we have no control over Mother Nature.

Ajax poses in front of cherry trees on the UW campus.
Ajax poses in front of cherry trees on the UW campus.

Go For Good 1

I rewrote my story to include the following good lessons. I:

  • am fully capable of solo travel even when things go haywire
  • have a greater appreciation for our local airport in Seattle, which feels far more manageable than O’Hare
  • had ample time to fully recharge my phone battery, which had declined to 10% (neither flight had charge capabilities in my row)
  • remember how important it is to set and stick to personal boundaries (courtesy of my brother)
  • enjoyed recounting my adventure with my husband who picked me up at the airport (with Ajax). I can use my light rail pass for a future trip
  • came up with ideas for future unplanned or long layovers: explore the airport
A shot of artwork at Chicago's O'Hare Airport en route from gate D4 to C31. It's an intimidating airport but next time I get stuck there I plan to explore it more fully.
A shot of artwork at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport en route from gate D4 to C31. It’s an intimidating airport but next time I get stuck there I plan to explore it more fully.

In short, if I stop, reflect on the entire experience, and look for the good things, it’s likely that I can find them. I can also learn from previous mistakes and plan how to handle them the next time they happen.

Today, I describe my return trip to Seattle in terms of “an adventure” rather than “a disaster.” As a learning experience rather than an epic failure. What’s more, instead of dreading my next flight, I’m eager to see what challenges come up. Because they will.

Cherry Blossom Ramble

Another example of a story I’ve rewritten happened on a recent ramble with Ajax. The cherry blossoms on the University of Washington campus reached peak bloom on April 5, 2023. On Tuesday, I had a few spare hours, so we drove to the Horticulture Center for our thirtieth unique Active Ajax Adventure.

Cherry blossoms in full bloom on the UW campus in Seattle. Go for good: on a rainy, windy, mid-week day, "the good" included fewer people lingering for photos, pink "snow" to add a playful quality to our ramble, and a moody sky for atmospheric photos.
Cherry blossoms in full bloom on the UW campus in Seattle. Go for good: on a rainy, windy, mid-week day, “the good” included fewer people lingering for photos, pink “snow” to add a playful quality to our ramble, and a moody sky for atmospheric photos.

We headed up the steep hill to the north campus to see the cherry blossoms on the quad before wandering around the Union Bay Natural Area viewing twenty species of birds. We had high winds, high lake levels, chilly temperatures, and overcast skies. What’s more, my plan to connect with my daughter in the morning failed. Without her, who would take my picture? And what about getting a photo of the two of us with the trees?

Go For Good 2

It turns out that she had a science lab at noon. She kept her phone off until later in the afternoon. But if I rewrite the story with a focus on the good, I come up with the following positives:

  • Rainy conditions mean fewer gawkers in my photographs and fewer distractions for Ajax
  • Overcast skies create dramatic backdrops for photos
  • Ajax and I had a lovely 90-minute ramble together, the first since my trip to North Carolina
  • I reflected on my own time on campus during grad school, as well as last year’s visit to campus for Prospective Students Day with our daughter
  • We enjoyed pink snow as the wind blew petals from the trees. Where else do you get to see that?
  • I got to be spontaneous, something I want to do more of
  • And though I’m not a fan of selfies, it’s always available as a last resort

What’s more, by trying something new, I continue to model for my daughter how to take risks, get outside our comfort zones, and keep trying if we happen to fail the first dozen times.

A beaming pair of friends at "Prospective Students Day" on March 26, 2022, along with thousands of weekend spectators.
A beaming pair of friends at “Prospective Students Day” on March 26, 2022, along with thousands of weekend spectators.

Challenging Interactions

My last example of a rewritten story includes interactions with challenging people. That might include folks who have differing opinions from mine, who are in a different stage of life, or who make me feel inadequate. You know the type: anyone you might tend to avoid.

Go For Good 3

Instead of avoiding challenging people, I can remind myself that:

  • Everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have available
  • Each person has a complex backstory that shapes them, a story I can’t imagine; I can only ask about it
  • My job is to get curious about each person I meet and look for a way to connect or similarities in our stories
  • If I look at challenging people as mysteries to solve or puzzle pieces to fit together, I can replace fear with curiosity, which unlocks my problem-solving ability and makes the conversation far more enjoyable
  • I can seek one GOOD thing about each interaction. It’s there!
Go for Good: How to Rewrite Stories
A selfie with the cherry blossoms.

Go for Good Takeaways

In order to rewrite your stories, here are some takeaway tips. The next time you feel like you have a problem you can’t solve or something has gone wrong, ask yourself three questions:

  • What would an optimist focus on in this situation? In other words, what GOOD do you see?
  • What have you LEARNED from this experience that you can apply to future experiences? Everything is a teacher if we are open to learning
  • How could you turn the current problem into an OPPORTUNITY to explore something you haven’t before?

If technology frustrates you, try thinking of the advantages it might bring once you master it. When you have to wait in a long line, consider striking up a conversation with the person behind you. And the next time something doesn’t go quite as you expect, look for the benefits of the way it did.

Please feel free to share any comments below. I love hearing from readers.

Featured

How to Grow a Growth Mindset

Two weeks ago, I discussed the importance of developing a life-purpose map to help you get where you want to go. Last week, I introduced the idea of gaining a fresh perspective on your goals and stretching outside of the familiar to challenge yourself in new ways. The third and final post in this mini-series outlines my journey through setting SMART goals. Join me as I launch my journey toward growing a growth mindset.

Spring has sprung in Asheville, NC
Spring has sprung in Asheville, NC

Assess Your Mindset

Stanford University professor Carol Dweck has studied mindset for over 30 years. If you want to know whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset, take her short quiz.

I know I’m onto something when I read part of my results: “You may be coasting when you could be excelling. You probably have more potential than you are using.”

Add to that my husband’s recent question, “Do you want to look back at this time with regrets, or amazement at all you’ve accomplished?” Easy. I hate regret.

Quilled ornaments at Thyme in the Garden.
Quilled ornaments at Thyme in the Garden.

Steps Toward a Growth Mindset

Once I recognized that I want to develop stronger tendencies toward a growth mindset, I tried imagining what would be different when I had one. In other words, starting with the end goal in mind. But what exactly does someone with a growth mindset do?

Growth Mindset Attributes

Below is a comprehensive list of mindset attributes compiled from a wide variety of resources including Precision Nutrition, Future Learn, Carol Dweck’s research, and Steve Hogarty at WeWork.

  • Practice “beginner’s mind
  • Seek new perspectives
  • Seek out challenges
  • Be self-compassionate
  • Think on a continuum
  • Focus on effort over results
  • Embrace and analyze “failure” or mistakes
  • Take small steps daily
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Roll with the punches
  • Set realistic and reasonable expectations
  • Identify and record bright spots
Wood ducks remind me of my desire to grow a growth mindset. I think of problems as water droplets that I can shake off my feathers and continue to go with the flow.
Wood ducks remind me of my desire to grow a growth mindset. I think of problems as water droplets that I can shake off my feathers and continue to go with the flow.

Create a Shortlist

I can hear you griping. It’s just like reading a better eating habits list that starts with “chew each bite forty times,” “avoid multi-tasking,” and “set your fork down between each bite.” If you’re like me, you took one look at the long list and felt like quitting before you even started.

That’s the fixed mindset at work.

Read the list again. What three actions jump out at you? What are a few items you feel could be helpful but not impossible, that might result in forward progress? That’s where to start. Here’s my shortlist.

Thyme in the Garden, a lovely boutique garden shop outside of Asheville, NC
Thyme in the Garden, a lovely boutique garden shop outside of Asheville, NC

Channel Your Inner Wood Duck

My mantra for “roll with the punches” has been to “channel my inner wood duck.” I love the beautiful, multi-colored birds pictured above. I imagine water droplets — problems — landing on my feathers and simply shaking them off and continuing on my way down the stream. No harm, no foul.

What’s a Reasonable Expectation?

When I reached “set realistic and reasonable expectations,” I hesitated. What change might I see by summer, if I put serious effort into it? Can someone with decades of fixed mindset develop a growth mindset in all areas of life? Is it a lifetime pursuit? If I wanted to see measurable progress, how might I go about making a deliberate change?

Beautiful blooming bushes remind me of the one constant in life: Change.
Beautiful blooming bushes remind me of the one constant in life: Change.

Growth Mindset Action 1: Identify Bright Spots

I finally settled on the last one on the list, “Identify bright spots,” as my first action. I already have a habit of recording three wins each evening (an activity suggested in Dan Sullivan’s The Gap and The Gain). So it should be straightforward to change that to “record bright spots related to a growth mindset.”

In this way, I am training myself to call obstacles challenges and opportunities, not roadblocks. Language matters.

Blooming tulips during a walk in Asheville, NC.
Blooming tulips during a walk in Asheville, NC.

Whichever task you choose, focus on one action for two weeks. Write down your start and end date on a calendar or app. Then at the end of two weeks, assess whether you notice a difference.

Set up a support system. Give yourself a sticker when you complete your daily task. Set up reminders to keep it front and center. Tell someone about your intention. When you reach the end of the time period, decide whether you want to keep the habit (if it helped) or change focus to a new one. Every two weeks, evaluate your progress.

Ready to grow? Get set, GO!