Monday, December 18, 2006

I'm a size 2... or 14

I came across this article that was linked to the Earth Sea Sky website (they're a New Zealand company who make good outdoor clothing.) It's all about how clothing sizes keep getting bigger so that overweight women can buy a smaller size and not feel fat.

After my shopping experience with the hiking shirts, I thought this was good backup for my claim that the sizes are almost irrelevant. The smallest sized article of clothing in my closet is a pair of size 2 pants from Old Navy, and the biggest is a size 14 top from Billabong. Both fit correctly. So what size am I?

Here's the article link -

On a somewhat related note, after my rant on shopping for a top, I went into a sporting goods store a couple of days later which was having a lease expiry sale. There I found a Nike top in a light polyester weave, with long sleeves and SPF 30 protection. And it's pink. So now I have two sun protection shirts to choose from. Ah, the irony. (And in case you're wondering, it's a 'medium')

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shopping for “Protection”

Sun protection, that is. One thing I’ve noticed since moving to New Zealand is just how dangerous that gaping hole in the ozone layer can be! Where previously a good coating of SPF 15 sunscreen would keep me burn-free for the day, that just doesn’t cut it down here.

On my last day hike (where I finally got to use my Diva daypack – and was totally happy with it!) the sun was shining. I slathered on the SPF 30 Coppertone, donned my hat and shades, and basked in the first glorious summery day. (Which has also been the ONLY glorious, summery day so far!) By the end of a short hike and a stroll along the beach, I could see that I was beginning to get a bit pink. If I’d been out in the sun all day, I would certainly have burned.

I decided it was wise to get myself a long-sleeved summer top to help keep my skin unexposed on long, sunny hikes. So the next week, I hit all of my favourite camping stores in search of the perfect hiking shirt.

I must have tried on about 20 shirts that day. As usual when I go shopping for clothes, almost nothing fit me properly. Some of the shirts fit just like men’s shirts – the shoulders were too broad and the torso was baggy. Some seemed to be designed for women with no breasts whatsoever, which is definitely not me!

I was tempted to get a top by the Aussie company “Mountain Designs” simply because it came in a pleasant, mauve colour – while everything else in the ‘dress shirt’ style was predictably beige, blue or khaki (at least from the selection they had in stock). What’s up with that? Sadly the fit on that shirt wasn’t quite right, although it made claims to be infused with some kind of mosquito repellent which I found intriguing.

I found that sizing was almost impossible to predict. ‘My size’ turned out to be anything from 6 to 12 depending on the manufacturer. Some of this is due to Australia and New Zealand using different size guidelines to the US, but I think some is just randomly decided by the manufacturer – and it’s a big pain in the ass when you’re trying on 3 or 4 sizes to figure out which one fits best.

In the end there were only two shirts in contention. One was by Columbia and the other by Mountain Hardwear. Both claimed to offer protection equivalent to SPF 30. Both fit me like a proper shirt, wide enough to not pull open at the chest, then tapered in a bit around the waist. Both were only available in my size in an uninspired shade of beige, although the Mountain Hardwear one has a bit of a green tinge to it.

In the end I bought the Mountain Hardwear shirt. The deciding factor was a 20% off sale price. I have yet to test it out on a hike (we’ve been busy with more domestic pursuits this past weekend) so I’ll have to report back on whether its sun protection claims hold up in practice.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Interview with a ‘sexpert’

Last week I interviewed a couples therapist named Esther Perel for my book. She has her own book out, called “Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic”. It’s a really interesting, and somewhat controversial book.

She goes against some of the popular advice therapists usually give to couples having problems in the bedroom. Instead of encouraging them to communicate more and share all of their feelings, she tells them to spend more time apart! She thinks that in modern, Western society, romantic partners put too much pressure on each other to be their family, their best friend and their lover rolled into one. In order for the sex to stay hot, she claims, you need a bit of mystery in your relationship.

It was a bit hard for me to relate to a lot of what was in her book, because my relationship is only a year old and we don’t have kids getting in the way of things. But I think any couple who are starting to find that they’re better friends than they are lovers these days would find her book interesting. So far it’s only available in North America and Germany, but there’s a British release coming out that will also go to Australia and New Zealand.

Here are some controversial bits of her book that I found really interesting:

- If you have cheated on your partner and he/she doesn’t know, it may not be ‘the right thing to do’ to tell the truth. Sometimes the relationship will recover better if you just deal with the guilt yourself and don’t burden your partner with your confession.

- Couples who trust each other completely can lose the spark in their relationship. If you think there’s always a chance that your partner could be tempted away from you, you’ll be more attracted to him/her.

- You shouldn’t feel guilty if you think about someone other than your partner while you’re having sex. Pretending your partner is someone else can make sex more erotic.

- A lot of women have what they consider to be ‘rape’ fantasies and feel really conflicted about them. But on closer examination, these women are never physically hurt in the fantasies. They’re really more about submission than actual rape, and they don’t mean that the woman actually wants to be raped on some level.

What does any of this have to do with camping? Well, I asked her about the effects of getting out of the bedroom to help spice up your love life. It turns out she’s a big fan of the outdoors herself. She thinks having the sun on your face and the wind in your hair is an erotic experience in itself. I couldn’t agree more!

She also talked about how sexy it can be to see your partner in control of his or her environment. Catching a fish, lighting a campfire, or climbing a rockface – if your lover is impressing you it’s a big turn-on. This is especially true if he/she’s doing something you know you can’t do yourself.

She stressed the way nature’s unpredictability can take us beyond our comfort zone. That can also get us to think outside the box when it comes to sex. She says it’s all about using your imagination.

Anyway, you’ll get the whole story when the book comes out. But in the mean time, I wanted to share a bit of what I learned from this interesting woman. If you want to find out more about her (or her book) she has a website:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The International Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) of Campers

Last weekend we went on a camping trip with a very international group of acquaintances. In total there were one Canadian (me), one Australian, one New Zealander, two Germans, two South Africans, and two French.

It struck me that camping and hiking are the sort of activities that cross international and cultural borders. They are something you can bring with you no matter where life takes you. You can immediately find people who share some of your joys and values all over the world.

In fact, one of the first things I did after moving to New Zealand was join a ‘Tramping Club’. (In New Zealand backpacking is called tramping.) I figured it was the best way for me to meet people in my new home who shared a common interest with me. Since I wasn’t working yet, there were very few ways for me to meet people, and this was a great solution. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. There are people from all over the world in the club. So many people are drawn to New Zealand because of its reputation for outdoor adventure, that it’s no surprise to find new Kiwis congregating in a club that organises those adventures.

I doubt very much that G and I would have found each other if it weren’t for our common interest in camping. It was what brought us together in the first place. I was looking for someone to camp with, and if it turned into a romance so much the better! He was looking for someone who shared his passion for the outdoors. The fact that we were from very different places and very different experiences growing up didn’t really matter too much. All three couples who were on our camping trip last weekend are mixed nationalities. G and I are South African/Canadian, B and C are French and South African, M and N are Kiwi and Australian.

One of my favourite things about camping is the fact that it crosses so many divisions. Whether they are nationalities, generations or races. We’re all the same when we hit the wilderness – all humble visitors.

International symposium on river crossing:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My "Inept" Article

Hi all. The November/December issue of "InTravel" online magazine is now available for your reading pleasure. It features an article by ME, called "Attack of the Killer Seals". You can enjoy it at your leisure through this link.

It's a story from my first visit to New Zealand's South Island. Have I learned anything since then? Not really!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reader Participation Time

I’m beginning to work on some revisions for "How to Make Love in a Tent", and I could use your collective help. Here are some questions to ponder – please post comments if you have responses.

If you saw the book "How to Make Love in a Tent: Romantic Camping Adventures for Wild Couples" in a shop, what sort of stuff would you be expecting (or hoping) to find inside? What kinds of topics would you want it to cover?

When you think about sex and romance in the outdoors, what concerns do you have? What are the things that would stop you from getting frisky with your partner when camping?

What would you consider the main differences between making love at home (in bed) and doing it in a different setting, such as a tent, a car, a beach or whatever?

What do you think is the most important thing to keep your love life interesting and stimulating?

Have you ever used a book or advice column to look for ideas to improve your love life? In what ways did you find them helpful? How were they not helpful?

Have a think about it, and let me know if you have any thoughts on those or other related topics. Even if you’re not a camper yourself, I’d like to hear your opinions. If you’re shy, you can be anonymous about it, or send me your response by e-mail to loveinatent AT hotmail DOT com instead of posting a comment.

Thanks for participating. Interactivity rocks!

PS - Good luck to all of the participants in this year's Novel Writing Month. Keep up that word count!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Our rented kayak, ready for action in Queen Charlotte Sound

Sunny Queen Charlotte Sound Friday

Stormy skies roll in on Saturday

Water, water everywhere!

(photos posted above)

The first long weekend of spring was a perfect excuse to head down to the South Island and do a bit of kayaking. Our friends P & T invited me and G along for four days in Queen Charlotte Sound.

After a couple of weeks of intensive planning (mostly by P & T) we boarded the ferry to the South Island on a stormy Thursday night. This was bad news for me. I get seasick watching badly shot TV, so a stormy crossing of the Cook Strait was guaranteed occasion to make me heave. Luckily I stocked up on Dramamine, the wonder-drug for nausea. It made me sleepy, but at least it kept my head out of the toilet on a rather rocky voyage. Our entire party made it through unscathed, but there were a lot of green faces on board.

We rented the kayaks on Friday from a place in Picton. While our original plan was to take a water taxi out to the far end of Queen Charlotte Sound where there would be fewer people, the owner decided that the forecast was too windy to let us go to such an exposed area. Instead we settled for a campground about half way along the sound, with boat access only.

This sounded like the perfect place. No hikers or mountain bikers could invade, so we thought we’d have it all to ourselves. Wrong! By the time we had set up our camp and had a bite to eat, a tour boat pulled up at the jetty and about 20 sightseers toddled onto “our” beach to have a picnic. So much for privacy!

We responded by getting into the kayaks and going off to explore the many bays of Queen Charlotte Sound. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the water was turquoise below the cloudless, blue sky. Green hills surrounded us in every direction. We even saw a couple of little blue penguins in the water (the world’s smallest penguins). As far as I was concerned, this was paradise! I barely felt the effort of my sweeping paddle.

As the afternoon wore on, the wind began to pick up. By the time we turned back towards our campground, the waves in the main channel of the sound were a metre high. It was hard work (and very wet work!) getting back to our bay. Sitting in the front, I took a few big waves right in the face. Even with a spray skirt on, I ended up sitting in a pool of water. I was exhausted but still having fun. P had not found it so fun to fight the waves, and G was sore and tired.

The tourists were long gone from our campground when we returned, but they’d been replaced by a family of sailors. They had pitched a tent for the two youngest (late teens) at the campground and were getting ready to barbeque their dinner. They also had 2 dogs with them despite the fact that dogs are not allowed at the campsite. While I hate to be unfriendly, all I wanted was a quiet evening in the wilderness. Not a loud, family barbeque with barking dogs. When they left the next morning there was garbage on the ground, and dog poo they hadn’t bothered to clean up or even throw into the woods. Nice work boaties!

The day looked gray and menacing, and by the time we got into the kayaks it was starting to drizzle. We first paddled to a nearby stream to get drinking water (which we would boil later) then out into the sounds again to explore. The rain got more persistent and G got more sore and tired, so we turned back early to take refuge in our tent. I was disappointed that we’d had only a couple of hours on the water, but I figured if Sunday was nicer it would make up for one bad day.

We woke to steady rain on Sunday. It was clearly not going to get better, and the temperature had dropped as well. We surrendered to the weather gods and called the water taxi to pick us up a day early. (Yes, our cell phones worked out there. So much for the wilderness!) We found rooms in Picton and had very, very welcome hot showers! That night we ate at a lovely little seafood restaurant by the water. It was the night before my birthday, so I had a very nice birthday dinner. (Thanks T & P!) Afterwards we even went to a café for cake. If I couldn't have a nice weekend in the sounds, this was a good substitute!

The ferry ride back to Wellington on Monday was uneventful, but the rain continued. In fact, it is still raining a day later. So my plans for three solid days of kayaking turned into one and a half. But I still had a nice trip and celebrated my birthday in the great outdoors. Next time we just have to pre-book more sunshine!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Good news from bookland

Today I got an e-mail from the managing editor at Wilderness Press. She and my editor have had a look at my manuscript for “How to Make Love in a Tent” and they’re really pleased with how it turned out. Whew!! That’s a load off my mind. As a first-time author I had all kinds of fears about major re-writes to come.

But now I get to embark on a new adventure – the editing process! This should start next week. While it’s hard to deal with criticism about my writing, I’m trying to look at this as an opportunity to learn. After all, I’ve never had the benefit of a professional editor looking over my work before. I’m sure I’ll find out stuff I never knew, and she’ll think of improvements to my writing that would never have occurred to me. (I say all of this now, but in a week’s time I could be cursing her and tearing out my hair!)

So the next phase in my authoring life is about to begin. I’ll be sure to update you all if anything interesting or unexpected comes up. I can’t wait to see it all come together!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Snowy scenery on the Powell Hut trail
(see post below)

Snow today, gone tomorrow

Last weekend G and I went camping with our friends C and B, and their tenant’s dog Lily. We’ve been trying to arrange a trip together for almost a year it seems. All of last summer (after Christmas) my foot was injured so I couldn’t carry a backpack, and then scheduling conflicts kept us from getting out during the fall. But with the coming of spring we finally got our acts together.

We went on a pretty easy trip up in the Tararua mountains, to a place called Powell Hut. It’s a popular route because it’s relatively simple and well maintained, particularly compared to some of the other tracks through the Tararuas. (My previous post “At least it can’t get any worse…” illustrates the usual state of affairs in the area.) Even the name of the trail leading up the first half of the climb, the Gentle Annie Track, sounds leisurely.

Of course any time you slog uphill for 3 ½ hours it’s a bit of a chore, but the first half was indeed very well maintained, graded track. The second half was a bit more rugged, and as we got higher we started to see some remains of the winter’s snow. In fact, the ground was pretty much covered in snow as we got close to the hut, which was a bit surprising this late in the year.

The wind got cold and gusty as we neared the top, and a few times I had to plant my hiking poles in the ground and bend low to keep from being blown over! We were considering taking the long way down the next day, including three hours walking along the top ridge, but if this wind was any indication of how things would be along that ridge I didn’t stand much of a chance of staying on my feet. With no trees to block the wind, I’d be a human kite before long!

When we arrived, the hut was packed. There were over 30 people spending the night. (I did mention that this was a popular route, right?) Luckily C and B had saved us bunks. While we spent an enjoyable evening in the hut chatting with other campers, the wind outside howled and rain came and went several times.

The next morning, as if on cue, the wind died off. We decided to play it safe and go down a more direct route that didn’t involved hiking along the ridge. But as we left the hut, the sun broke through and we almost regretted our decision. It’s not often you get clear skies along the ridge, and no wind to blow you off. Still, it’s early in the season, and an 6-8 hour hike out sounded like an awful lot of work!

As we started to descend from the hut, I noticed immediately that things looked different. All of the previous day’s snow had been washed away by the rain. I felt so fortunate to have been able to hike up in the snow, when it was the last day of the year where that would have been possible! The higher peaks certain still have some snow on top, but as spring progresses it will disappear quickly.

It’s strange for me, since I grew up in a place where snow surrounded me all winter, to be living somewhere with no snow except in the mountains. Some of the guys at the hut were obviously finding it a novelty, staying outside in the bitter wind to have a snowball fight while the rest of us huddled inside. As for me, I kind of miss snow. Growing up in Canada, it’s part of my identity. I wasn’t in any hurry to join the snowball fight outside, but it was kind of nice to get a small taste of winter as I define it. (Even though it’s spring, and we could sure do with some warm, sunny days!)

Anyway, we hiked out on a beautiful, sunny day. It was an altogether enjoyable weekend, and I can safely say that I’m continuing to enjoy backpacking despite my rough start to the season. Our next adventure will be a long weekend of kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds. Stay tuned for that in a couple of weeks!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I’m a daypack diva!

This spring I decided, after much stubborn procrastination, that I really need a proper daypack for one-day hikes. For years I’ve been using the zip-off pack from my travelling backpack. It’s quite small (maybe 15 litres) and has no hip belt or structural support, so if you put anything heavy in it, it’s quite uncomfortable to carry after a while. A water bladder, rain gear and lunch may not sound heavy, but after the first couple of hours, you start to feel it. So a bigger, better daypack was in order, and my ever-generous partner G offered to buy me one (a bit early) for my birthday.

I quickly proceeded to try on pretty much every daypack between 30 and 40 litres available in Wellington. While we don’t have the range of some bigger cities, this was still a substantial amount of pack-trying. First to be struck off the list were those with a hip belt that was just a strap. A wide belt is much more comfy and distributes the weight better.

I found out that a lot of the packs in this size range were meant for people who do ‘adventure racing’. It’s a fast-growing sport where travelling light is essential, so special lightweight packs are one key element to going fast and having the essentials with you. The packs are very comfortable because they’re so light, but the drawback is that the lighter materials are not as tough. Being the clumsy person I am, I didn’t think it was a good idea to risk a pack that might rip if I caught it on a branch, or dragged it along a rock.

This still left me with a goodly number of packs to choose from, but there was one thing that separated the winner from the other contenders – a women’s harness! Just one model in that size range was available (at the local stores in Wellington, at least) with a harness designed to fit a woman. The straps didn’t start right at the top of the pack, but about a third of the way down. So my short torso was the same length as the distance between the top of the straps and the hip belt. The straps were also shaped differently from the other packs I tried on. They started closer together, for a woman’s narrower shoulders, and then quickly curved away. This left room for (to borrow a romance novel expression) my ample breasts. Other packs had straps that squished them together, which again is not so comfortable after a few hours.

The pack is a Marmot Diva 36. Surprisingly, the colours available to me were black and blue – not exactly traditional ‘diva’ shades but I went with the blue.

I am so glad that gear manufacturers have finally realised that men and women have different needs and body shapes. In my book, I write about all kinds of things that are different for men and women. Backpacks are one of the biggest deals as far as I’m concerned. It’s so easy to be uncomfortable while you’re backpacking, and it makes such a difference to have a pack that fits properly. If you’re buying a new pack, I can’t stress enough how important it is to put something heavy inside when you try it on. Everything is comfortable when it’s empty! I figure if your backpack and your boots are comfortable, you’re well on your way to having a great trip. Otherwise, there’s no end to the misery!

I haven’t had the chance to take my new daypack for a test run yet. Next weekend we’re planning an overnight trip, so the daypack will have to wait. But I’m looking forward to my first hike as a wilderness diva!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Off to Bookland…

Today I sent off the draft manuscript of “How to Make Love in a Tent” to my publishers, Wilderness Press. It’s a strange feeling. You work on something essentially by yourself for months and months, and then you deliver it into the hands of others. Will they like it? Will I have to rewrite the whole thing for them? Does it make any sense to anyone but me?

This is my first book, so every stage of the experience causes me anxieties I’ve never felt before. I made it through the ‘getting an agent’ anxiety, and then the ‘getting a publisher’ anxiety. I even got past the ‘editor wants to talk about the direction the book is going’ anxiety, which was a biggie.

But I’m one step closer to seeing a real, physical book with my name on the cover. That’s exciting enough to pull me through whatever insecurities are clogging up my brain! It was exciting the first time I saw my name in the credits of a (community cable) TV show; it was exciting the first time I saw my name in the credits of a theatrical movie; but I don’t think either of them will match my excitement when I get my hands on a copy of my book. My idea, my research, my writing, MY BOOK!

Of course, next in line is the ‘waiting to hear what they think’ anxiety. The problem with this one is I’m no longer able to distract myself from it by working on the book. I can sit around being anxious all day if I want to. On the bright side, I’ll have more time to blog! Or, you know, I could try to find a day job and pay the rent. Whatever.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

At least it can't get any worse...

I’ve been looking forward to spring for months. Restless to get back into the great outdoors and do a bit of camping, I was dying to load up my pack and head off into the wilderness. So last weekend, the first official weekend of spring (for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere) G and I did just that.

I chose a trail that looked relatively easy for our first trip of the season. Just 8km or so along a low ledge of a mountain, then along a creek, then a valley, ending at a hut where we could spend the night. The forecast was for possible strong winds but no rain, so I figured staying off of the exposed mountain ridges was a good plan.

Of course things don’t always go as planned, and while the trip began with a pleasant enough walk, things gradually descended into deeper and deeper levels of hell.

After two hours of reasonably good trail, we climbed up a steep, muddy slope that required some scrambling to deal with large steps up and bad footing. From there on things got even muddier. Often ankle deep, making sounds like ‘schlllooomp’ and ‘pttthhhht’ as our boots were repeatedly sunken and recovered.

I figured things would get easier once the trail started following the creek. But instead they got much worse. On the map, the trail was a simple dotted line following along one bank of the creek. In reality, the trail crossed back and forth across the rocky creek over and over again, and sometimes simply forced you to walk along in the creek. With the waters all in spring flood, this was no easy task, and by the second crossing I had stepped in water deeper than my boots and my feet were completely soaked. This was around the time I started thinking “At least it can’t get any worse.” But I was wrong.

About half an hour into our creek extravaganza (how long could it possibly take to walk 1.5km???) I slipped on a rock and bashed my leg against it, stopping myself just before my face hit the rock. The pain, mixed with anxiety about possibly smashing my face against any of the thousands of rocks ahead, started tears flowing. While I did kind of pull myself together enough to carry on, I was never far from tears for the rest of the afternoon. At least, I consoled myself, it can’t get any worse.

It ended up taking about 1 ½ hours to get through the creek section of the trail, far longer than we’d expected. After that it became steep, muddy terrain with tangles of slick tree roots. Even though it was getting late, it was almost impossible to hurry without slipping. But soon darkness started to creep in on us. We’d started late, maybe 11:30am. I figured it was a 4-5 hour hike. We had been going for 7 hours when it got too dark to carry on without flashlights.

I’ve never hiked by flashlight before. I always knew it was the sort of thing you could do if absolutely necessary, but it never occurred to me that it would be necessary on a straightforward trail. But it was a day of surprises. The main problem facing us was a split in the trail ahead. One path would lead to the hut and a soft bed. The other would end at a bluff, not a good place to find yourself in the dark. Luckily there was a large sign pointing to the hut track, and after an hour of slowly stumbling through the dark we finally arrived. One other guy was there. He’d somehow done the trail in 3 hours. We took 8 hours! At least it can’t get any worse.

Hiking out began with tired, sore muscles on Sunday morning. We left the hut at 9:30 to absolutely make sure there would not be a repeat of last night’s adventures. The tangled roots and mud were extra slippery in the morning thanks to overnight rain. How much more water would there be in the creek? I found out quickly when we re-entered the creek. At the very first crossing I slipped on a slimy rock and went down, landing on my side in the water. I would spend the rest of the day soaked through. More tears, this time mostly from exhaustion and frustration. I fought my way determinedly through the rest of the creek, thinking ‘At least it can’t get any worse.’ Then it started raining.

The rain continued for the rest of the hike. But once we were back to the last two hours, I knew that the terrain ahead, while muddier than the previous day, would not put any ridiculous obstacles in my path. At that point, rain was not an issue. I was so wet I couldn’t get any wetter. My boots squished with every step.

But through all of that I managed to come out of the weekend with just bruises and stiff muscles. So, while it seemed at the time to be a total disaster, I guess it wasn’t all that bad. But from now on I’m going to do more investigating about the trails before I make a decision based on what the map shows. And even though it was not the lovely, enjoyable weekend I’d hoped for, I’m still looking forward to my next opportunity to pack up and go into the wilderness.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I'm starting this blog as a companion to my upcoming book "How to Make Love in a Tent: Romantic Camping Adventures for Wild Couples".

The book looks at camping, backpacking and paddling from a couples' point of view. It has all kinds of advice on what to bring, where to go, what to do, what to eat and, of course, how to make love in a tent!

Since this is my first book, the blog will not only be a place to share more info and ideas with campers, but also a chance to take you all along on my journey as I figure out what it means to be an author.

I'm hoping it will be a fun ride, so come along and drop by once in a while to see what's new and exciting in my world, and my tent!