Sunburn and Bliss

Although I kept a great habit of hiking this winter, and getting outdoors quite a bit regardless of the temp, something magical happens when the warmth arrives. The line between inside and outside becomes deliciously blurred. I can eat outside, sleep outside, and stay outside as long as I wish to. The wind no longer bites, the cold no longer burns, and the sun no longer sets at 4pm. There is a gentleness in the wind, even when it is blowing mightily. The sun-warmed, pine-covered slopes are sweet with their resiny perfume, in a way that evokes memories and impressions of my childhood.

The frogs are singing in the dam, we’ve enjoyed our first thunderstorm, and I’ve fallen asleep to the sound of rain on our roof. I’ve woken up with sore muscles from strenuous hikes, sore shoulders that got a little too much sun, and taped blisters on my feet. I’ve hung clothes on the line to dry, and hammocked under the stars. Spring is finally here.2019-04-23_06-41-05After wintertime and never venturing out with fewer than what seems like a hundred layers, it is delicious to wear a tanktop and feel the breeze and sun on my arms, and get a little sunkissed, or even a little toasted. The days are longer, the nights are warmer, and it becomes more of a struggle to stay indoors.

But summer is almost here! And what means work at the greenhouse will start, teaching will be done for the season, and my life will be lived more and more outside. Which is what I love.

So I nurse my sunburns and sore muscles and wind burnt face as glorious symptoms of bliss.

Winter Gear

Over the last few years, my winter wardrobe has grown substantially and I’m just tickled pink. I tend to get cold very easily, but I also warm up very quickly once I’m moving around. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, I warm up fast when I’m moving, and over the last few years have learned some tricks of layering that have greatly increased my enjoyment of winter recreation. I thought I’d do what I’ve never done before on this blog and share some non-expert enjoyment of some gear that I’ve found that I particularly enjoy!

  1. Ice cleats. Last winter, I bought a pair of YakTrax walkers because I was cheap, and found out why they were cheap. Because they weren’t meant for the kind of hiking I like to do! By the end of the season, I had broken them, not beyond repair, but they were broken. So when this winter rolled around, I knew I wanted something sturdier and, as I thought about it, more aggressive. So I found a pair of ice cleats by Unigear. They aren’t as expensive as the Kahtoola brand ice cleats, and they might not be as durable, but they’ve stood up great to some of the ridiculous terrain I’ve hiked in over the last couple months, from ice covered AND bare boulders, rocks and rocky terrain, and normal winter conditions. The metal links aren’t welded, so I have had to to a minor fix job on them once, but that’s it. Their one limitation I’ve found so far is deep, sticky snow. They quickly form snowballs under the ball of the foot and the heel and make walking a little awkward, and they get heavy and fall off, in spite of a velcro tape holding them on. But I’ve used them on a number of hikes where they were indispensable, including a search and rescue effort where I was the only one on my team with cleats. Yes, people were jealous. I also have some hip issues which seem to crop up mostly in the winter, either in deep snow (because of having to step so high) or on slick surfaces (when the hips experience extra torque). Traction is very helpful in minimizing that torqueIMG_20190119_153606333
  2. Gaiters. In addition to ice cleats, another piece of gear I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year is a pair of gaiters, also indispensable for winter hiking. Not only do gaiters keep your lower legs and boots dry, and keep snow from getting into your boots, they’re an extra layer of insulation and wind protection. I love them. They’ve made my regular hiking boots be quite sufficient for winter hiking, including in frigid temps!
  3. Balaclava. This one I discovered on a hike where temperatures hovered around 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit all day. What a difference a balaclava makes. Not only does it keep all cold air from reaching your neck and ears, but the Carhartt one I have pulls all the way up to the eyes, keeping chin, cheeks, and nose warm, and allowing you to breathe warm air. I had no idea what a difference that could make, both in terms of comfort and in terms of (for a lack of a better word) survivability.
  4. Wool socks. Most hikers already know the joys of wool socks. I just want to briefly state that the hype isn’t just hype. Its true. Wool can absorb much more water than cotton and still feel dry and warm. A great option for winter hiking. However, I’d like to bust the myth that Smartwool is the only way to go. I bought a few pairs on discount last winter, and honestly didn’t think they were that great. I found my feet to get too sweaty in them, even in the winter. The wool socks I’ve fallen in love with are the Cabela’s brand wool blend crew socks. They’re excellent. Just the right amount of insulation, and my feet don’t over-sweat.
  5. Wool mittens. When it is really bitterly cold outside, wool mittens are the way to go. I have two pairs that I found at Menards and I love them. They’re inexpensive, which is a huge plus. They’re convertible, mittens and gloves, which I like because of my photography and needing to have my hands or at least fingers free. I’ve worn them comfortably down to 0 degrees, probably colder, definitely colder with windchill, and my hands were toasty warm. And they’re roomy enough that when my fingers did get cold, I could just pull my fingers all into the body of the glove and warm them up.
  6. Waterproof pants. This is a very new one for me, but they’re super effective. Often, the snow out here is dry, rendering waterproof pants completely unnecessary if you know how to layer. But on a recent 9-day Wilderness First Responder class, we did a lot of sitting in snow and being outside in frigid temps. They recommended bringing waterproof pants or snowpants, which I was very glad I did. It made sitting in the snow and being relatively inactive in cold temps much more manageable. Waterproof often means wind resistant, which is a huge plus in frigid temps. 2019-03-16_10-56-04
  7. Hiking pack. The only reason I include this one is because of the issue of size. I bought an Osprey Sirrus 24 pack a year ago, thinking it would be sufficient for day hiking. It is. But not during the winter. It is just enough too small that for a long hike or a cold enough hike, I’d either have to skimp on water or skimp on layers. I’d rather not skimp on either. So with some Christmas money, I bought the Osprey Mira 34, which is 10 L bigger than my Sirrus 24 (and was on clearance), and really is the perfect size, AND can be cinched way down if the extra space isn’t needed.

So there you go. A non-professional’s top seven items of winter gear, which I have found to be either indispensable for winter excursioning, OR to make winter excursioning much more enjoyable! Feel free to share your favorite winter hiking gear in the comments section. I’d love to hear what others do to enjoy the outdoors in the winter!

Bustin’ Broncs

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It is a beautiful day in the Black Hills, and the Black Hills Stock Show continues! Started the day off right, joining a few hundred other rodeo fans at the James Kjerstad Event Center in Rapid City. Broncs for Breakfast is new this year to the Black Hills Stock Show, and they had quite the turnout, and a great bunch of cowboys riding. There were a handful of locals, quite a few South Dakotans, and others from Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and even one cowboy from Iowa.

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Unlike rodeo saddle bronc, for this bronc ride a stock saddle was used. Those were sure some adrenaline-filled rides! Half the time the horses were airborne, and they sure were wild.

Great way to start the day.

Laura Elizabeth

A Little Bit of Crazy

IMG_7518There is nothing quite like the rip-roaring fun of a rodeo, and the Sutton Rodeo at the Black Hills Stock Show was well worth it. The sheer display of skill, strength, and grit makes for one adrenaline-filled afternoon. Roping, steer wrestling, bronc busting, bull riding, barrel racing, and don’t forget the bullfighters and pickup men…I’ve never enjoyed any other sport, but rodeo fascinates me.

And it goes deeper than just the fun or excitement.  Rodeo is unique from other sports in its real-life application. These aren’t skills that were perfected purely for the sake of their sport. These are skills that have been years in the making, skills that require more than just brawn or youth or speed. These are skills that are at the heart of ranch life. Go to any branding or round up and you’ll see these skills on display.

IMG_7858Our culture celebrates youth, sex, beauty, but rarely celebrates hard work or guts. Rodeo is a sport where youth isn’t necessary or demanded, sex-appeal isn’t requisite, and where feminists seem to have no sway. It is a sport where even the champions take tumbles. It is a sport where skill is rated higher than showmanship, and where teamwork, whether with one’s horse or one’s partner, is absolutely essential.  In the sport of rodeo, the ground is level – Bulls and broncs and roping steers don’t pick sides. It isn’t rigged. It is all very refreshing.

IMG_7455It is a sport where patriotism is upheld and veterans are honored. It is a sport where prayer isn’t foreign, and the name of God is mentioned humbly. It is a sport where political correctness takes a back exit. It is a sport where good sportsmanship is expected, from audience and participant alike. No one cheers when a cowboy is tumbled, unless it is to applaud him for his well-spent effort. It is uniquely American, embracing and preserving the rugged independence of the American spirit, the pride in one’s country, the satisfaction in one’s physical work, the willingness to get dirty, and to get thrown once in awhile.

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And at the end of the day, all philosophical and social appreciation of the sport aside, what’s not to love about a little bit of crazy?

Laura Elizabeth