Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Camping for Swingers

I was doing some more book research today, and started looking into camping hammocks. I've never had the opportunity to try one out myself, but they seem like a great idea. Light, small, no poles required - that all makes a lot of sense. I'm not so sure about the two-person model in the photo above. Hammocks are tricky for sex at the best of times (which I discuss briefly in Sex in a Tent) but sex in one of these capsule-like hammocks would be limiting at best. Even just sleeping side-by-side in a hammock like this is for the few and the brave. I think it would be tricky if either of you toss and turn in your sleep, or don't like another sweaty body pressed against yours outside the sexual realm.

Solo hammocking, however, looks like a nice way to enjoy the outdoors. You don't see a lot of hammock campers around New Zealand, however, for a few good reasons. First of all, most Kiwis sleep in backcountry huts, so they don't need a hammock.

Second, it sure can get windy here! Trying to sleep in a suspended bed in the middle of a gale sounds cold and somewhat terrifying.

Third, a lot of serious trampers here spend a significant number of nights above the bushline, where there would be no trees to suspend the hammock from. Some can be set up like tents using hiking poles, but that would somewhat defeat the purpose of having a hammock in the first place.

So I may not get a chance to go hammocking here in NZ, but I'd like to try it out someday in a temperate, dry climate. I think I'd enjoy spending a night or two swinging under the stars.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's in the (sleeping) bag

I love my sleeping bag. It has kept me warm and cozy every night that I've ventured outside of the civilized world and slept in a tent or hut, or without either. It has been with me for about 8 years, and shows no real signs of wear and tear. My sleeping bag is an MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop, a Canadian retailer) Cygnet down bag, like the one pictured above except that it's purple. But my wonderful sleeping bag has one drawback - sometimes it's just too darn warm!

Having a sleeping bag rated to -10C seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, better to be too warm than too cold. But now that I stay in backcountry huts a lot, and tend to do most of my camping in the summer, I'm thinking I could use something not quite so cosy.

Yesterday we popped into a few outdoors shops to see what was on offer by way or summer-weight bags. Some were ridiculously expensive ($400? I don't think so!) Others were ridiculously heavy. But a few are real contenders for becoming my next bit of gear.

One that I quite liked was the Marmot Trestles women's bag. It's a synthetic, which means it's cheaper than down but not quite as light. It comes in a delightful 2-tone green look as you can see from the photo below.

But in the long run, I'm thinking that another down bag may be worth the extra expense. Not just to save weight, but also because they pack down so much smaller. This would leave more space in my back for important things like another bar of chocolate, or the mini-tripod for my camera. (I also have to buy a new camera, but that's a whole other story!)

So now the great down vs synthetic debate is occupying my thoughts. In case you haven't had the debate yet, this is how it goes:

The down bags are so much smaller and lighter - and what's the point of getting a summer-weight bag that's just as big and heavy as my warm bag?

Yeah, but the down is expensive, and I already have one. Plus, it's no good if I get it wet. I can get a decent synthetic one for like, $100. Down will cost at least double that.

Sure, but my other down bag has lasted for years - probably way longer than a synthetic fill would last. So that makes up for the extra cost.

I dunno - let me think about it...

And so here I am, thinking about it. What I can say is that it's nice to see more sleeping bags available in a "women's" size, not just standard or long. Of course, they could have just called it "small" instead. Either way, it beats carrying around twice the bag I need for my size.

Stay tuned to find out if I eventually make a decision! (I can waffle for a surprisingly long time about these things. Don't be surprised if the decision takes a while!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Where the Bloody Hell Are Your Clothes?

While 45km of New Zealand beach is being proposed for "clothing optional" status, our neighbours in Australia are apparently far more conservative when it comes to letting it all hang out.

A proposal by Freebeach Australia to allow nudity on the beach in the Mudjimba Beach area has been rejected via a petition signed by 450 locals who are opposed to the idea. Apparently they had both moral and "safety concerns" about a nude beach.

Safety concerns? Nudity is very safe - it prevents people from concealing weapons, and also eliminates any reason to mug anyone. Clearly they'd have nothing "on them" to steal!

So the sunbathing debate is a hot topic on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Stay tuned for more news as it unfolds!

Read the story from the Sunshine Coast Daily

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gimme Shelter

Being the conscientious hikers that we are, even on day hikes we bring our ten essentials along to make sure that - should things go horribly wrong - we'd be safe overnight in the bush.

One of the things we always bring is an emergency shelter, and some cord to put it up. The emergency shelter we generally pack is essentially a ground sheet. It has one reflective side so it doubles as an emergency blanket. But it isn't very big, and because it's not really meant to be used as a shelter, it only has grommets on the four corners. So G sewed on some nylon loops to tie the cord through in the centre, and on the sides.

Having an emergency shelter with us is somewhat comforting. But G brought up the point that in fact we had never tried to put it up, and really had no idea whether we'd be able to use it if the unfortunate situation arose. He wanted to take it for a test run in a realistic setting.

Off we went to the Rimutakas for a day walk and shelter experiment. We wandered a little way off the trail and found an area with some good trees and relatively flat ground. What did we discover? Our ground sheet is too small and too tear-able to make a decent shelter!

In theory the two of us could spoon under there for a night, but it the rain was heavy or being blown by the wind, there wasn't enough cover to keep us dry.

So now we are on the lookout for a more durable, lightweight and slightly larger fly to use as a shelter. Unfortunately, these seem to be harder to come by in NZ than in other places. I guess we're so spoiled by the tramping huts that many people just don't carry shelter at all! (Risky, if for some reason you can't make it to, or can't find, the next hut!) There is one fly available, but it's bigger and heavier than we want at 3X4 metres and 1.2 kilos.

So we're on the lookout for a shelter - if anyone has recommendations. Feel free to comment!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Remember your first time?

As part of doing my research for "Take On Camping", I'm thinking it would be fun to get various women to share their memories of their first wilderness experience, whether it was camping, hiking, paddling, or whatever. We all started out as wilderness virgins - but no two stories of innocence lost are quite the same!

If you have a story to share, please e-mail it to loveinatent AT hotmail DOT com. (You know the drill, make it into a real e-mail address.)

Include your name and where you're from, unless you're keen to stay anonymous. The best stories will show up here on my blog and in the book!

To be fair - I'll start it off with my first experience. Unfortunately, I was only three years old so I don't remember much about it.

We were on a family trip to Vancouver, visiting friends of my parents. They took us into the mountains for a camping trip, and I assume we spent one night out but I really can't remember it. In fact, I have only two memories of the whole trip:

First, I remember seeing white water for the very first time. I recall being completely fascinated by it. It's water - but you can't see through it! I'm still fascinated by white water - so much power, so much chaos, so much noise - all because there are rocks in a river.

Second, I remember throwing up in the back of my parents friends' Volkswagen Beetle. I think it was orange (the Beetle, not my vomit.) but the rest is a blur.

I can't really call that the trip that made me into a camper. But still, you always remember your first time - right girls? ;o)

I'm looking forward to hearing your hopefully more complete stories!

Monday, September 15, 2008

45km of Nude Beach

Photo: Dominion Post, Andrew Gorrie

Chalk another one up for Nude Zealand! It looks like 45km of beach along the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington will be clothing-optional in the near future.

There have been naturists enjoying Kapiti for years, especially on Peka Peka Beach (oh the puns!) which has long been popular with gay men. But if the new bylaws pass, people will not be prosecuted for nudity anywhere on the beach. There will be no specific areas for folks who want to let it all hang out.

Considering the number of families I usually see on the beach during the summer, I expect there will be a certain amount of backlash as people fear their children will be somehow damaged by the "exposure" to human bodies in the buff. But hopefully the local council will stick to their guns and tell the paranoid parents to get over themselves.

I enjoy a good walk along Kapiti's beaches, which are ideal for strolling. Flat, wide and continuing for long stretches without a break, you can practically call a walk on the beach here a day hike! So the question is - will this new rule attract members of the nude hiking community to Kapiti in numbers? Only time, and the summer weather, will tell!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bears vs The Dot

So, I'm working on "Take On Camping", a book for women who want to learn how to camp, and I'm dealing with the oh-so-pleasant topic of how to deal with having your period (I can hear the guys clicking off this page around now).

As a sidebar, I'm looking into the wilderness myth (like an urban myth but away from the city) that bears are attracted to menstrual blood and will attack women who camp during their periods. My first question was - what gave anyone the idea that this was happening? (My second question was, who would win in a fight between a hungry bear and a woman with wicked PMS - but I haven't found any studies on that yet...)

It turns out the story that started the myth dates back to 1967, when two women were attacked and killed by a grizzly during a camping trip. It also happened that both women had their periods. This was apparently conclusive enough for the forest service to start warning women that they shouldn't camp in bear country while menstruating.

Subsequently, a few different researchers have attempted to find some kind of scientific data that would either support or disprove this assumption that bears are attracted to menstrual blood. Bizarrely, none of the tests have been done using grizzly bears, which was the species involved in the 1967 attack.

One study using polar bears did find that they reacted more to menstrual blood than to non-menstrual human blood. So chalk one up for the myth, but how many of us camp in polar bear territory?

A couple of studies have used black bears, which are by far the most commonly encountered bears in North America. (New Zealand is bear-free, so I don't have to even think about this most of the time.) In the first study, the bears showed no particular interest in tampons soaked with menstrual blood, when compared with clean tampons, and tampons soaked with non-menstrual human blood. A second study gave bears the option of a tampon soaked in beef fat. Guess what? Ten out of ten black bears prefer beef fat to menstrual blood!

Bear precautions are no laughing matter, however, and used sanitary items should be treated as potential bear attractors in the same way that food and food waste are treated. Don't bury them, because if bears start getting used to them as a food source that could make this myth actually have some merit. Hang your waste from a tree, or keep it in a bear-proof container. But don't cancel your camping trip just because you'll have to bring along your Aunt Flo.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

One Woman's Bi-Polar Adventures

Well, what else would you call a book written by a woman who has visited both the North and South Poles? She called it South Pole 2000, but I like my title better!

Caroline Hamilton was not an experienced adventurer or mountaineer when she decided she had to see the Arctic. She was a reasonably fit woman with a hell of a lot of determination.

First she set up a relay expedition where five teams of women took it in turns to ski from Resolute in northern Canada to the North Pole. From her descriptions, it certainly sounds like a rough journey, but with each team doing a reasonably short stint it would not seem so bad.

After that she abandoned the relay idea and decided to put together a small team of women to ski from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole in time for the millennium. (The book is a bit old now.) The biggest challenge, it would seem, was getting the funding in place to make such an expedition possible.

Reading her day-by-day account of the journey itself was my main draw to this book. What would it be like to live in that kind of extreme environment for two months? How would a group of women cope with the repetitive nature of that lifestyle, living in a single tent, trudging over the ice day after day hauling a heavy sledge?

It certainly wasn't problem-free, from a three week weather delay before they could even fly to Antarctica, to a range of physical ailments from a broken tooth to arm, back and leg injuries.

For me, I can't imagine spending that length of time without seeing a tree or an animal anywhere. The lack of landscape in the middle of Antarctica might very well drive me to despair. Two months of constant travel I could probably cope with, but the feeling that every day's surroundings would be almost identical would be very disheartening. (Two months hanging out around the edge of Antarctica watching the penguins and checking out the icebergs, on the other hand, would be awesome!)

The lure of the 'big trip' ebbs and flows with me. Sometimes I love the idea of taking some time out from the modern world and going on a long, simple journey in nature. Whether it's a long-distance hike, cross-country skiing, or maybe even a dog sled! Other times, I think I'd get bored and impatient with the routine of such an expeditions. Eat, move, sleep. Repeat. I think there would at least have to be some variety in the landscape to keep me moving on.

I guess the only way to find out for sure is to give it a try. It won't happen this year, but hopefully someday I'll manage to find out whether I'm a long-distance wanderer or not.

Meanwhile, it was a bit of an eye-opener to read Caroline Hamilton's book. It left me wondering what she has been doing since, because she didn't seem like these trips got the goal-oriented bug out of her system. Instead, I suspect she has taken on other grand plans.

I noted recently that there are plans underway for a group of 8 women from various Commonwealth nations to ski to the South Pole. After reading this book, the think I that worries me most about that upcoming expedition is how the personal relationships will hold up. Eight women from eight different countries and cultures, who will have to live in very close quarters, and trust one another with their lives. Sure it will be a physical challenge, but I think the real issues will surround these women and how they interact.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dunedin Calling

Photo: Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club

Hey y'all. I'm off to the South Island city of Dunedin next week for some work-related goodness. But while I'm there, I'm going to drop in on the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club for their regular Thursday night meet.

I'll be bringing a few copies of Sex in a Tent, in case anyone's keen to take a copy home.

So if you or someone you know is in Dunedin - tell them to come to the Tramping Club on September 11 and say hello!

I have to be just a little jealous of this club, as they have the Southern Alps practically on their doorstep (OK, a couple of hours away) and can do some wonderful tramps without too much travel time. Check out their snowy adventure on the Milford Track.

I hope I don't get too much grief for being a Wellingtonian!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Spring Skiing? Snow worries, mate!

When I was planning my move to New Zealand, I fully intended to hit the slopes every winter at one of the many ski areas in the various mountain ranges. Sadly, I've been here for over three years and haven't hit a single slope! But if the stars and planets align this weekend, we'll be skiing on Mt. Ruapehu!

This year has seen a banner winter for snowfall on the North Island, with a base of over four metres on the Turoa ski field on Mt. Ruapehu. (Don't let the photo above fool you, it's from 2002.) So spring skiing is going to last longer than usual this year, since four metres of snow takes a loooong time to melt.

This will be my first experience skiing on an active volcano - just in case avalanches aren't enough of a threat you can also think about lava! Of course there is usually enough warning before any significant activity, but still, it adds an extra element of uncertainty.

I can't quite remember how long it has been since I skied. As a kid, we went several times every winter (when mom and dad were paying!) and I continued to go now and then when I lived in Canada. I'd venture a guess that it's been around 5 years since I last strapped on the skis. Hopefully it's one of those skills you don't lose!

I'm sure I'll post next week with tales of my alpine adventures. Stay tuned - and if no post appears I may be nursing injuries!