Making Lemonade

Loc and I have some awesome friends here. Case and point:

Lufthansa’s pilots went on a previously announced strike last Wednesday morning. This was all well and good, as our flight to Sicily for our Italian Thanksgiving was not to depart until the following morning. All well and good, that is, until the pilots announced that their strike was to extend through the following day, the day we were to fly. Darn. At least they told us at 11:30.

11:30, you see, happens to be the beginning of Loc’s lunch hour. It’s also the lunch hour of our friend Kevin up at Vilseck. Further, we have three savvy stay-at-home types, two of whom put a good deal of effort into planning our Sicilian extravaganza. And up in Grafenwoehr, our friend Ryan spent his day without his phone, so he knew nothing about the proceedings until he arrived home and was told to pack his bags – honey, we’re leaving; let’s go!

In the 90 minutes from 11:30 to 13:00, our crew canceled all of our coordinations for our Sicily trip (except for the airfare…  Lufthansa’s lines were backed up for days), set our collective eyes on a new destination, and decided to drive that same afternoon. We chose to visit the wine country of eastern France, and we chose to book our lodging as our impromptu plan unfolded – spontaneity is the spice of life, right? Bethany even downloaded an audiobook for our journey, Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance (we’re all so happy we’re married).

We set our sights for the night on Colmar or Strasbourg, two Alsatian towns on the Franco-German border, and left Loc to secure the lodging. As we’d agreed to leave that same night, I volunteered to go to Nuremberg to retrieve the rental in a timely fashion – we’d gotten a 7-passenger van that could hold all six of us and our bags. I spent the 13:00 hour packing my bags and talking to my buddy Aaron, who gave me a low-down on the region, on the phone. By 14:00, I was out the door and walking to the train station, and I was rolling towards my automotive by locomotive by 14:20.

I’d listed 16:00 as my time of pick-up, and I walked up to the rental counter at the Nuremberg airport with several minutes to spare. I’d originally rented a VW Caddy Maxilife, primarily because it has a cool name for a bunch of married foodies to roll around in, but upon presenting my credit card, I was offered an upgrade. I got upgraded to a Mercedez-Benz Vito, which not only increased our storage capacity but came with an automatic transmission AND an onboard navigation system. Super spiffy – I tested the navigator on my way home and found it to be accurate, in English, and adept at pronouncing German names. Good, good.

Our friends still had to finish their duty days out and pack and such, so we didn’t begin our journey until after 18:00. Loc and I had a quick meal of vegetarian frikadellen, butternut squash, and bread. The rest of the crew brought their dinners along for a mobile picnic. All of us brought grocery bags of fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go bad while we were away. We all loaded up into the van, appreciating for the first time just how much space we really did have, and ruminated on how best to fill that space (read: wine) – and off we went.

With Loc as my right-hand man, I drove off into the darkness and across the land. Let me tell you, there’s just something wonderful about leaving Bavaria. It’s not that I don’t love the place, because I do, but there’s this forcefield of terrible weather  just beyond Nuremberg, the far side of which is, uh, pleasant weather. It’s like stepping through the wardrobe in one of CS Lewis’ books. Every time.

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Loc had booked a nice apartment in downtown Colmar, and we parked the van with relative ease and were inside by 2300. There was some goofiness here, because the entry code we’d been given did not jive with the keypad on the door, nor did the two successive codes that the receptionist gave Loc over the phone… but there was a bottle of Riesling and a bottle of water sitting on the table for us when we did get in. That was cool. The place was full of such nerddom as a full-blown map of Middle Earth and a beautiful book about a goofy Giraffe that J.R.R. Tolkien had both written and illustrated for his son – it’s called Mr. Bliss. Suffice it to say, I would very much have liked to meet the decorators of that apartment.

In the morning, after breakfast and a brief walk about town, we embarked on the next leg of our journey. I’d had Beaune and the road connecting it to Dijon recommended to me by my friend Aaron, so we all set off to have a look. Beaune, in addition to being impossible to pronounce, is home to an architecturally world-renowned hospice. Alas, we reached the town at the beginning of sieste (yes, the French do it too) hours and decided to move on to Dijon before the hospice opened back up. Dijon is home to the world’s oldest mustard empire!

Our journey northward along the A31 took us past a number of reputed wineries, among them the Clos de Vougeot estate. It also took us past a number of wine bars, and we stopped at one of these to use its facilities and drink a bottle of wine before continuing on our way. It is here that I learned about the Gamay grape and the wines it yields, the kingpin being Beaujolais. We had a 2011 bottle of Gamay, which we all quite enjoyed. The Vougeot estate likewise proved a worthwhile visit, though due to our timing and our desire to get to the Maille flagship store before closing time, we did not tour the chateau. We did, however, pass by a wine vendor and flip a U-turn in the van to pay a visit. Worth it.

Dijon is a foodie haven, yo. Kevin booked us a dinner venue, a French tapas place, for 2000, and we set out to go find Maille, that emporium of fine mustards – so fresh, they’re onimg_1282 tap. Well, we found it. We spent time aplenty sampling mustards, vinaigrettes, oils, and gurkens, and left with mustards, vinaigrettes, and oils. Tip: crush some garlic and pop the whole crushed cloves into a bottle of good olive oil; after a few days, mix the oil with a tasty Balsamic vinaigrette and have at it – soooo yummy. Anyway, dinner was great; my favorite dish among delicious dishes was an open sandwich with goat cheese and fig compote. Breakfast was great too – croissants, éclairs, and a baguette from a superb boulangerie. And then we found a coffee shop that advertised coffee art on its window; Loc walked out with a panda on his cappuccino. Each one of our individual drinks was crafted with great care… it was just awesome. Also, I will learn how to make a worthy baguette. I left that city so happy.

img_1283Pressing on, we moved for Reims. It was on this leg of our voyage that we listened to Aziz Ansari tell us how much dating has changed and how hard it is to find a mate now – yay marriage. Loc had booked us a place with jaw-dropping views and a parking lot, and we made it into that lot with nary an issue. While Loc and the rest of the crew went off to find the owner of our apartment, I parried with a Frenchwoman who ardently insisted that I could not park where I had parked because the police had forbidden it. It was a numbered parking spot; I didn’t move. The owner came down and met me just as Loc and the gang came back into sight. She didn’t have any issue with where I’d parked, and we all filed upstairs. The living room window looks directly at the facade of the cathedral; our jaws dropped.

As we’d arrived around 1500, we wandered around the town and its Christmas market looking for a lunch venue, but came up short on something agreeable to all and just went to the pub by our place. It was good but unremarkable, save for the fried soft boiled egg that Loc got – none of us had ever seen that before.

Reims was the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division in 1944. In early 1945, GEN Eimg_3192isenhower and his staff took the infrastructure for their own. It was chosen for its proximity to rail, road, and canal, and also for the intact telephone system housed therein. Reims is where the Germans surrendered to Eisenhower’s staff. Today, there’s a rarely-visited museum in that same building, with the operation center laid out as it was in 1945. We walked up there, watched a movie about the war and the building’s importance, then toured the rest of the facility. The surrender at Reims was overshadowed by the surrender that Stalin demanded in Berlin, so it was a cool piece of history to stumble upon.

This night, the group settled on Moroccan food. People, I had good Moroccan wine. The last time I drank Moroccan wine, it was out of a repurposed 1.5L water bottle, and it turned me off wine for a looong time. Chateau Roslane – put it on your bucket list. I guided my culinarily adventurous friends through the ins and outs of the menu, and we briouats, tajines, and couscous dishes laden with vegetables and fall-off-the-bone tender meats. All left supremely satisfied, no room for dessert.

Oh, and Reims has a fantastic light overlay projected onto the facade of the cathedral at night during the Christmas markets – it’s sweet. Per Wikipedia, that facade is one of the masterpieces of the Middle Ages. By the way, that cathedral is built on the site where Clovis converted to Christianity, establishing France as a Christian nation. It’s also where 25 kings of France were coronated. I just really like it.
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On the way out of town, we visited the Pommery champagne estate for a tour of its cellars. It’s a rather eclectically decorated building with a most impressive cellar lined with bottles of champagne dating back to 1874. Yes, 1874. I didn’t get to taste it. We did get to learn all about champagne production, which was pretty cool – the way they do the in-bottle fermentation, then expel the yeast is pretty ingenious. We sampled a glass apiece of their Brut champagne, then continued on to Strasbourg.

Strasbourg proudly declares itself the Home of Christmas, and it pulls out all of the stoppers to prove it. If ever there is a Christmas market to visit for its aesthetic beauty, this one is it. There are six or seven markets set up in the city, and the streets connecting them all are beautifully decorated in Christmas spirit. We wandered all over these markets, having laid on reservations at a Lebanese place a bit outside of the city. We thoroughly enjoyed the markets and found an Argentinian cantina in our rambling. I canceled my reservation at the Lebanese place – he was stressed to have us coming anyway – and we went Argentinian instead. That restaurant is called La Pampa. It’s worth a visit.

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In short, go to France for food, wine, architecture, history, and happiness.

The following morning, we ate a hearty breakfast of toasted sandwiches, fruit salads, and a delicious yogurt topped with jam, then we said one last goodbye to France, hopped into our van (which we did manage to park in a garage the night previous, ground guides front and back), and drove into the sunrise. And on the following day, I did return the behemoth wagon to its rightful home.

All of this, my friends, was planned on the fly.

And it was awesome.

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My AT Gear List (and Why I Chose It)

Happy Monday, everybody!

As you all know, I set out last week in the pursuit of an array of objectives of varying levels of interest to me: yoga, piano, guitar, cooking, baking, and employment all pressed into some semblance of self-imposed structure in a day. As you may also know, one of these has clearly won out over all the others, and it is baking… artisanal baking at home. I could wax rhapsodic about all I’ve learned from my deep dive into the manipulation of that noble grain (wheat), and might just do that someday soon. Alas, I’ve been dragging my feet on publishing my gear list, so with no further ado, here we go.

I initially started out under the strong influence of the ultralight community, the premise being that the lighter the pack, the easier the miles. To achieve a lighter pack, one sacrifices creature comforts and/or spends a lot of money, ofttimes doing both. Imagine a line with hiking comfort at one end and camping comfort at the other: the ultralight hiker leans aggressively left. I myself came to be much more of a centrist: there is truth in the adage “ultralight, ultra miserable.” The list below is my refined  ‘centrist’ gear list, the one that I carried en route from Harper’s Ferry to Mount Springer. Enjoy!

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Pack and Waterproofing

I carried a Gossamer Mariposa 60L pack. I chose it for its light weight and reputed durability. Further, its maximum recommended carrying capacity is 35 pounds, which is a good benchmark for any long hike… you just don’t want that much weight on your back. That being said, I routinely carried over 40 pounds in my pack, and the most it ever suffered was some frayed stitching on a load lifter strap, which held after I stitched it back into place with a needle and nylon thread. I heartily recommend this pack: its back pad doubles as a seat, and its hip belt is modular, so you can replace it with a smaller size once you’ve shrunk enough that your current belt fails you (it happens). The only thing I didn’t like about this pack was its chest strap, which is prone to falling off when one is unaware; after losing two sets, I opted to buy an aftermarket strap at EMS that worked like a charm. Still, this is an exceptional pack.

Rather than rely on an external pack cover to keep my belongings dry, I elected for an internal waterproofing system. My decision was largely based my military experience, but you only need to experience one rain storm to realize the frailty of a pack cover, to devastating consequence. When it’s wet outside, nothing matters more to morale than the prospect of a hot drink and dry clothes… and nothing matters more to fighting another day than actually having them.

I lined my pack with the Gossamer Gear pack liner, in which I placed first my sleeping bag, then my clothes bag, one stacked atop the other. Both my sleeping bag and my clothes bag were in Sea-to-Summit dry bags; I used their Ultra-Sil View 8L bag for the latter and an Ultra-Sil 9L Stuff Sack for the former and never had an issue. I also put my sleeping pad inside the bag, then folded it over and rolled it tight. On top of this, my food and my hammock sat, both in their own dry sacks.

As to rain gear, I personally opted to just get wet, wearing nylon clothes that dry quickly – more on that later. My one piece of dedicated personal rain gear was the Outdoor Research Helium II jacket, which I used primarily on cold mornings before I began hiking; after it stopped raining and I was cold and static; and in conjunction with my down jacket as a layering system on cold evenings. I absolutely love it – it packs tight, is lightweight, and does a damn fine job. My friend also carried the Helium II pants, but I saw no need.

Daily Wear, Top to Bottom

Essential to getting into gear each morning was the donning of the hiker garb; it is effectively a transformation from camper to hiker affected by a bandana headband and a pair of sunglasses. These were the last two things I put on each morning before I put on my pack and picked up my poles. Aside from its function as a sweatband, a bandana just makes you feel cool. As to the sunglasses, I kept them poised on my head during the day and hung them on one of my hiking pole wrist straps at night.

I carried two nylon shirts, one with long sleeves, and one with short sleeves. The idea is to have a hiking shirt and an evening/town shirt, such that you’re keeping all of the scents that may attract wildlife away from you at night while also reducing the chance of some fun skin infection from all of the compounded salty sweat. I carried the Columbia Tamiami II shirt, which is a breathable fishing shirt that makes for great hiking in full sun (no sunscreen), and a simple nylon button-up by Jack Wolfskin (it was on sale). I bought button-up shirts at the recommendation of Ray Jardine; these allow for greater breathability in hot weather.

For poles, I recommend Leki; I started with a Black Diamond Long Distance Z set that lasted for all of 300 miles before it became dead weight, at no fault of my own. I switched to Leki Corklite trekking poles and loved them all the way home. Cork is the best thing going for trekking pole grips, and Leki is the best thing going for trekking poles; their gear is guaranteed for life and their customer service is exceptional.

For pants, I carried the following:

Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pants: these are great three-season hiking pants. I heartily, heartily recommend them. They are thin, lightweight, and sturdy. You don’t want a thick layer, as you’ll overheat and wilt. No fun.

Ex-Officio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs: I carried two of these and wore only these in the humidity of Virginia; they were excellent protection against chafing. I carried two so I could rotate out of my salty set. These are badass.

Soffee Running Shorts: AKA Ranger Panties. I kept a quick pace; these shorts kept me cool. I wore them – and only them – as much as conditions would allow me… and that was much of the Trail.

Socks:

Nylon Sock Liners: This was the last thing I decided on before I flew to begin my hike, and it was a good thing too: these are the only socks I ever wore hiking, and they worked like a charm. The link is more for the picture than to hawk the brand – I carried four pairs of these because they weigh nothing and foot hygiene matters.

I carried one pair of Smartwool hiking socks, largely for evening wear. These are great for winter days at home too.

And footwear:

Salewa MS Speed Hiking Shoe: I picked up three pairs of these in my desired size on Amazon for $68 a pop in March and broke all of them in before I flew. My desired size was one size larger than my regular foot size to allow room for my feet to swell (it happens). I lined all three of them with Superfeet insoles. This combination of shoe and insole was faaaantastic. It was comfortable throughout the lifespan of the shoe, and it had superb traction in all conditions. I don’t necessarily advise doing what I did, as you may not like the shoes that you buy, but it worked well for me. I changed out my shoes about every 700 miles: the first pair took me from Harper’s Ferry, WV to Hanover, NH; the second, from Hanover down to Catawba, VA; and the third from Catawba down to Mt Springer.

Vivo Barefoot Men’s Ultra II Water Shoe: These were the envy of the Trail, which is where I learned of them. I typically saw them on people who had packs identical to or comparable to my own. They are great for fording streams and for camp wear; I hung mine off of the back of my pack with a small carabiner apiece. Great piece of gear.

Sleep System and Layering

This is one area where I initially leaned significantly to the ultralight. My original shelter ensemble consisted of a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Tarp-Poncho strung over a cord suspended between my two hiking poles and held tight with titanium stakes. I used the tarp once to build a fourth wall on a lean-to, which saved me from hypothermia in Pennsylvania, and once in a fierce rainstorm in Maine. It works, but it’s not very much fun. Hiker’s preference, I suppose.

I switched over to a hammock for my southbound journey. I went with Hennessy, they have the best thing going at its price point, and it comes as a complete ensemble: hammock with integrated bug net, suspending ropes, webbing straps, rain fly, and a ripstop nylon stuff sack. You can’t find that with Eno. It took me a few days to adjust to sleeping in the hammock, but once I did, I was sleeping better than I ever had on the Trail. That, and it’s an excellent siesta shelter when the heat index is 115 and bugs are swarming all around.

My hammock worked well for me with a sleeping pad and sleeping bag for most of my hike, only becoming a bit less than ideal as the nights cooled near the end of my journey. Hammocks are best insulated with an under quilt, which insulates the hammock by attaching to its exterior, which keeps your body from crushing the down and spending your night shivering. Under quilts are expensive and typically custom made, so they are not as easy to purchase as a hammock is. I made up the difference in my comfort with an emergency blanket lining the interior of my sleeping bag. I have room for growth here.

As sleeping pads go, I started with a Gossamer Air Beam – lightweight by merit of components and the fact that it’s a 3/4-length pad, the premise being that your pack compensates for the rest of that length. It’s not available online anymore, which is all you need to know about it. I switched to a Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad in Vermont, which made me much, much happier.

I carried an REI Flash 29 sleeping bag and a Sea-to-Summit Silk Stretch Traveller Liner; the former served me well on cooler nights, the latter served me well on warmer nights and in hostels, and the combination served me well on the coldest of nights. The silk liner lends an additional 10 degrees of warmth to a hiker; it’s a valuable asset.

On the topic of warmth, I carried the following to nullify environmental trauma:

Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoodie  – aside from my Soffe shorts, I wore this more than any other piece of clothing. I will wear it for years to come.

An Army Polartec fleece cap – this is another must have item.

Icebreaker merino wool gloves – I carried these for a few hundred miles, then sent them home. They were much appreciated the one time I needed them, though.

Polypropelyne shirt and pants – Army issue, lightweight, packs tight, and great insulating value as part of a layered system.

Sea to Summit Head Net  – Other people I know used this heavily to deter bugs from flying into their eyes… I relied on my sunglasses more. Nice to have.

I also carried a wide brimmed hat with a neck guard; I used this in the Whites and other exposed terrain.

Cook System

Titanium, titanium, titanium. It’s lightweight and durable.

Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset – Reliable from beginning to end, sized to fit a large fuel canister for transport too. I cooked enough food for two normal people every time I used this… it was great.

Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spoon – There were others before this one, but it is my favorite. You do not need a spork on the Trail. You do not need a spork on the Trail. You do not need a spork on the Trail. Also, the carabiner is good for peace of mind.

I bought a titanium cup, but I never used it. If I really wanted coffee or tea, I’d heat it and drink it before I started cooking. That being said, I largely found hot drinks unnecessary or undesirable.

MSR PocketRocket – A hiker staple. I started with a Trangia alcohol stove but switched to my PocketRocket when I got sick of the limitations of alcohol. I needed a simmer capability; this is not a realistic demand of an alcohol stove. I am entirely satisfied with my PocketRocket, though my friend tipped me off to this little BRS stove that weighs a paltry 25 grams… for $15, I may just have to try it.

A windscreen. I used folded aluminum foil. There are many options here; yours should nest with your cook system given both small and large fuel canisters.

Nalgene HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) Bottles – I used these for both liquids and spices; they never failed me, and I was not gentle with them. I carried a collection of 1- and 2-ounce bottles for spices with one 8-ounce bottle of olive oil.

Two BIC mini lighters. They lasted the entirety of my hike.

A 1″ Victorinox mini. I cut meat and cheese with this knife with regularity. Next time, I might swing for a full sized Victorinox, but nothing more. Frankly, a simple folding knife will suffice… but I did like having scissors on occasion.

One of my four bandanas served as a towel to wipe down my pot; it also served to muffle the fuel canister so it wasn’t rattling against my pan in my pack all day.

I tried several methods of overnight food storage. I started with a Bear Vault BV500, which is required along the Pacific Crest Trail, but not on the Appalachian Trail. It is secure and multipurpose (a chair), but heavy (41oz empty). I tried an Ursack for a night per the manufacturer’s instructions; a raccoon chewed through it (and it’s bulletproof). If you want to use an Ursack, I highly recommend  putting your smellables inside Loksak Opsak odor proof bags, then in the Ursack. Ultimately, I settled on a 13L UltraSil View bag suspended by 40′ of cord; it was simple, and I could see what was in my food bag.

All three systems can hold a week’s worth of my Trail food.

Water Filtration System

Sawyer Squeeze – This thing is solid. You do not need the pouch, nor the plunger. The pouch is not durable enough for outdoor living, and the plunger’s function is adequately met by a Smart Water bottle with a sports cap. Do not make the mistake of purchasing the Sawyer Mini; you will rue the day.

Platypus Water Tank, 2L – A water tank like this is great for pulling enough water at the end of the day to keep you from making a return trip to the source in the morning. It’s also great for helping you through dry patches; on the Trail, there were times when I went 15-18 miles without a single water source this year.

Smart Water bottles – I carried two 1L bottles, both of which fit in one side pouch on my pack. One of these bottles had a sports cap that I yanked off of a 750mL bottle. I used this bottle to periodically flush my Sawyer, which kept sediment build up from obstructing the flow of water through the filter. This is a vital function.

A small plastic cup – This came in handy at water sources with little to no flow. I picked one up in Harper’s Ferry before I started going south and used it almost every day.

Hygiene and Electronics

I carried the following:

2 bandanas – one to wipe clean at the end of a day, the other to wipe dry on any number of occasions. There be many methods of bandana use. All of them obviate the need to carry a microfiber towel.

Deuce of Spades Back Country Potty Trowel – At .6oz, this thing is a solid option to fill a necessary function.

Dual USB Wall Charger – Either you charge two devices, or you make a new friend. It’s just worth it.

iPhone (Verizon) with charging cable and headphones – Verizon has the best coverage up and down the Trail. I used a pay-as-you-go plan and had no issues. Note that rodents like earwax and will eat your headphones. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. 

Kindle – I didn’t use this as much as I thought I would, but it was nice to have for siestas in the heat of the day.

External battery – I recommend Anker. A 3350mAh battery will charge an iPhone once. I carried a 20000mAh battery; I used my phone to write my journal entries, which used 10-15% of my battery daily, and to listen to podcasts and music, which expended considerable battery daily too. I charged all of my electronics in towns; where there is a need, there is a way.

In a small bag, I carried the following hygiene items: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, fingernail clippers, a Victorinox mini, a needle & thread, ibuprofen, assorted band-aids, Neosporin, sunscreen (unscented), ear plugs, a CrunchIt tool, toilet paper, alcohol gel, Dr Bronner’s liquid soap (unscented), tick tweezers, and Q-tips.

The CrunchIt is helpful in the disposal of fuel canisters: you twist it tightly onto the nozzle of the canister, which will cause the canister to disperse any remaining fuel in the canister; you can then puncture the wall of the canister, which allows you to recycle it with ease. I lost count of how many empty fuel canisters I found in shelters; don’t be that guy.

Scents attract animals. A hiker got dragged out of his tent by a bear because he went to bed wearing coconut sunscreen this spring. Anything scented, including toothpaste, should be hung at night. You don’t want to wake up to bear hovering over you… or to find that a rodent has chewed through your food bag, your hat, or your toothpaste. And yes, rodents ate through my first straw hat; they loved the salt on the brim.

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In Sum

It’s really easy to get lost in an onslaught of information when you’re planning a backpacking trip – there are many companies out there, large and small, competing for your dollars. If you do decide to go with a given company’s gear, look up their repair and return policy; these companies do a substantial portion of their business on the Trail and rely heavily on word of mouth for growth, which means that they should have exceptional warranties on their products. You’ll find that many of them do!

I hope this list, with all of the rambling and rationale wrapped up therein, is helpful to you. If I can assist you in planning your trek in any way, please let me know.

Until next time –

James

New Beginnings

Dear readers,

‘Round these parts, there be much change afoot.

Shortly after my arrival to the Vaterland, I found myself untended in the exotic land of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, accessory to my boo. He, however, had lectures and classes all day, and I was left to my own devices for much of the week. I attempted a summit of the Zugspitze via the Reintal Valley early in the week, but turned back after I realized that  a) I’d hobbled myself in my aggressive pace, and b) I didn’t have the time I’d have liked to summit the mountain and take the cable car down, and I certainly didn’t have the gear to survive the night. That walk back was at a decidedly slower trot, and I returned to my room with time to lick my wounds before dinner. And with that, my week of hiking evaporated into the ether. As if to endorse my decision, it rained… for days.

Now, there’s only so much media that I can consume in a day. I thought I was on a pretty good kick with Downton Abbey, which I began for the first time down at Garmisch (so good), but I found that I am a terribly antsy couch potato. I became increasingly agitated: act, be not acted upon! I did venture into town each day, but that ain’t no freedom of the hills. Poking around the Interwebs in my ennui on Wednesday or Thursday of that week, I discovered two sites that appeared as if manna from Heaven, which seems to be how my life works. These two sites, Proofread Anywhere and Transcribe Anywhere, are legitimate work from home sites that offer to teach you the skills of their respective freelance trade. Each offers a weeklong introduction course, which is conducted daily via email. I took both of these and found that I quite enjoyed them. Oh, and I stumbled upon and purchased the Genius Blogger Toolkit – a bundle marketed for one week at 97% off retail price. That’s pretty cool.

With the conclusion of the annual dental conference on Friday morning, I got my husband back. We spent the day and a half remaining to us there in the outdoors, riding a really cool coaster in Oberammergau on Friday, and climbing the Kramerspitz to the north of Garmisch on Saturday morning. We’d timed the hike to allow us ample time to drive to Memmingen Airport for our flight to Portugal, site of Honeymoon The Second. On our way there, we passed under this magnificent pedestrian suspension bridge in Reutte and flipped a U-turn to go check it out. Loc suffered a bit on our Kramerspitz hike, and he had me push him up the hill to that long bridge; the incredulous looks of passers-by was well worth the effort. Oh, the bridge was nice too.

We flew to the Algarve region of Portugal with one attraction on our agenda: the Benagil Sea Cave. The southern coast of Portugal is riddled with sea caves, the result of millennia of erosion, and this one is the creme de la creme of sea caves – an Instagram fave. Alas that the ocean was not in our favor and the one attempt we made was by speed boat from 30 kilometers away. The location of the cave is deliberately obscured, and it was with some chagrin that we discovered it an honest 150 meters from Benagil Beach. We attempted to reach it on our own several times after that boat ride but were ill-equipped and unsuccessful. My personal highlight of that trip was our stay at Vinha do Gaio, an agrotourism B&B perched on a mountain north of Monchique. Put simply, it is what I envision paradise to be.

But the changes:

1) I’m launching a career as a professional proofreader and transcriptionist. Right now, my goal is to become a legal transcriptionist, which I hope will lead to other opportunities as I establish myself in the industry. Legal transcriptionists work predominately with court reporters. Proper English is a matter of reputation in this world, so I am getting grammar and punctuation through a firehose (it’s not easy). I am also taking the proofreading course, as these two fields nest nicely and allow me the freedom to work from home (stay at home dad!).

2) I’m doing yoga with Adriene, my YouTube crush. I’m on day 6 of her Yoga Camp, a 30-day program that is challenging, but gently so. I like to start my mornings with yoga, as it awakens both body and mind and encourages synchronization between the two; it is active meditation.

3) I’m baking bread! I have a lovely sourdough starter bubbling away in the corner, and yesterday, I made both a quick bread with a small portion of my thru-hike grains and cornbread done right. I have several bread books on hand, chief among them The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and I am just rolling in gluten.

4) I’m expanding my (vegetarian) culinary repertoire. I’ve long had vegetarian leanings, but after watching a particularly frightful PETA video (damn you, Paul McCartney), they’ve intensified. Since that fateful day, I’ve nearly gagged several times while eating hamburgers at restaurants. My qualm is largely an ethical one: I cannot support industrial farming. I’ll write a whole post about that some day. Yesterday’s chili had beef in it, but I bought it on the German economy rather than at the commissary. Your money is your voice in this modern economy, and I’m becoming increasingly judicious in how I use mine.

5) At the recommendation of a friend, I’m keeping a line-a-day journal. I’ve been doing it for a month now, and I really like both how it forces me to focus on what I deem most important in a day and how it serves as a historical record.

6) I found BookBub. If you’re at all literary, I highly recommend this site. It aggregates sales from across the web on books that may appeal to you. I’m still tailoring it to my interests; yesterday, it suggested a book of lesbian erotica to me, but also the Bar Tartine cookbook, which is chock-full of instruction on culinary techniques! Oh, and it was $2.99. Speaking of culinary techniques, The Kitchn offers a free culinary school online.

That about sums it up: English, yoga, food. I’m about to dive into music too; I have a keyboard and a guitar that have spent months in lonely isolation and they are calling my name.

Here’s to living deliberately –

James