Archive | June, 2012

A Guide to Car-Camping – in Walmart Parking Lots

As any experienced road tripper, climber, or long-term traveler can attest, one of the biggest issues with life on the road is finding a place to rest every night. Between tight budgets, uncertain routes, and evenings spent driving at ungodly hours, there is often a need to find a makeshift place to catch a few hours of sleep.

One of the tried and true traditions of my climbing trips and cross-country excursions is the practice of spending a night (or two) in a Walmart parking lot. I was extremely reluctant and nervous my first time, during which I hardly achieved a few moments of rest. However, after nothing but positive experiences, the sight of a glowing Walmart sign on the side of a highway has become a welcoming landmark.

While Walmart founder Sam Walton has allegedly been quoted in feeling strongly that all travelers should reverie his stores as a destination for safe rest and refuge, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the practice of overnight camping in the parking lots. While I have never been approached during my brief stays, I have heard plenty of stories of people being asked to leave, or told they couldn’t stay.

So, should you spend the night in a Walmart parking lot? I’d say sure, but first, educate yourself on the do’s and don’ts of overnighting at one of these fine American institutions (ha).

What You Should Do:

Depending on your attitude, calling ahead to inquire about a specific location’s overnight policies is the safest course of action. However, if you’ve pulled into a random store in the middle of the night, desperate for sleep – you will likely be fine. Always be discrete. While large campers and RVs are sitting ducks in the parking lot pond, sedans and smaller vehicles have the advantage of blending in fairly well.

A few crucial elements of discretion include parking away from store entrances where shoppers should have priority, keeping your ‘space’ clean, and leaving as early as possible in the morning. Additionally, you should make an effort to give patronage to the place that is giving you a safe place to sleep – buy something. If you just grab a protein shake and cheese stick in the morning, fine. Need to stock up on some camping supplies? Even better – you’ll make the entire car-camping community look good.

Just because Walmarts are generally a secure place to stop for the night doesn’t mean that every location stands equal when it comes to safety. Always be aware of the surrounding neighborhood – a sketchy area equates to a sketchy Walmart parking lot. Be smart. Always keep your keys within reach. I prefer to keep the driver’s seat open and easy accessible, in case there is a need to make a quick getaway.

What You Shouldn’t Do:

*Note: Niko wasn’t actually in a Walmart parking lot in this photo, no worries.

Basically, don’t be that guy. If you roll up to a Walmart at 11 PM, pop open the hatchback, and set up a few chairs around your parking spot while throwing back a few beers – don’t be surprised when you get the boot. Anyone traveling in a non-car rig is should never set-up camp in any conspicuous manner. If security or management approaches you, don’t be disrespectful. It is a privilege to have access to staying overnight, and travelers must remain understanding that some locations have had bad experiences with long-term or disruptive ‘campers.’

Don’t leave a mess. You should be practicing this in all aspects of your adventures, but littering free accommodations is especially offensive. Nothing leaves a bad taste in a manager’s mouth than rude overnighters.

Despite the usually relaxed overnight regulations at most locations, there are some stores that are actively against travelers shacking up in their parking lots. Check out this listing of Walmarts that do not allow overnight stays.

Niko says: “I’ve been crashing in Walmart parking lots ever since I was able to drive — it’s a “simple comfort” for dirtbags. On long nights, you know that just down the road there’s a parking lot where you can grab some munchies, clean up in the 24-hour bathrooms, and shut your eyes for a couple hours. I always crack a window in my car to get some fresh air, and like to stop in the store to grab breakfast before heading out – think of the cost of your milk and cereal as a camping fee.”

If you aren’t bothered by the unavoidable florescent lighting and likelihood of waking up in a sea of cars from Walmart’s morning floods of blue collar customers, pulling into one of their many parking lots provides a great venue for catching some rest before embarking on your next day of adventuring.

Have you ever spent the night in a Walmart parking lot?
Got good any experiences to share? Any bad experiences?
Sound off in the comments and contribute to the conversation!

 

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This week’s #ATQA Adventure Travel chat recap – “Avoiding Thirst” with the Hydration Summit

During this special edition of Twitter’s only chat dedicated solely to outdoor adventure travel, we teamed up with the folks at the Hydration Summit for a discussion about staying hydrated while out on the trail. As an added bonus, Geigerrig generously donated a hydration pack to give away to one lucky chat participant.

From favored methods of carrying water while hiking to the best ways to keep water bottles clean, this weeks’ discussion dove into every aspect of staying hydrated while outdoors. We were joined some experts in the field, and everyone came away from the conversation with some new knowledge, and a few new items to add to our gear wish lists. Check it out:

Q1: How do you keep hydrated on the trail?

@JillianLaura: “A1: Well, thanks to a total lack of gear, I opted for bottles this past weekend. Even with rationing almost ran out! #atqa

@valinreallife: “A1: I’m always sucking down h20. Use a bladder to keep things easy, esp. for the little Camp Granolans. #ATQA

Q2: Take a side on the great hydration debate: bottle or bladder?

Read More…

Thick slabs of steak, creamy baked brie, and camp cuisine that spoiled my outdoor perspective

During my first few climbing trips, my campside cuisine consisted of canned soup and instant mashed potatoes. Soon, fellow campers enlightened me about the camping bliss that could be achieved by simply adding an avocado to my instant mashed potatoes. Eventually, my food bin felt like a culinary success filled with parmesan cheese, canned Indian dishes, black beans, and tortillas.

I felt pretty darn fancy. I even started carrying a few spices with me to add a little extra flavor to those wonderful instant potatoes.

My humble perspective on outdoor cooking was absolutely shattered during the Havasupai excursion with the OmniTen and Columbia Sportswear. Holy mother of delicious. Our trip was guided by the wonderful folks of Arizona Outback Adventures, who not only successfully herded our crew through the canyon to the Havasu Falls campground, but truly blew our socks off with the best camping cuisine I have ever tasted.

It started with a gander at the camp’s impressive kitchen set-up. Our guides have a semi-permanent area pitched throughout the entire season, and the kitchen area was fully stocked with multiple grills, preparing areas, giant cookware, and everything in between. The first thing our guide, Brian, whipped out was a giant box of grapes – “well that’s a nice snack,” I thought to myself.

I was delighted by the prospect of popping a few plump grapes into my mouth to refresh my parched body after a 10-mile hike in the desert, but it didn’t stop there. Rather than tossing a bowl of grapes on the table, we were presented with multiple platters – of baked brie sprinkled with nuts and cranberries, assorted crackers, and a fanning spread of cheeses.

Wait, this was just the ‘starter’ course?

Judging by the appetizers we were served before dinner, I had a feeling things were about to get outrageous – and they did. For dinner, we feasted on the thickest steak and asparagus stalks that have ever entered my belly. The meat was complimented by a healthy helping of quinoa cooked with veggies, plus fantastic grilled mushrooms. I was a very happy camper at this point.

After a night of deep sleep, I woke up excited for a new day of exploring waterfalls and travertine tunnels – but first, breakfast. I stumbled out of my tent to find artfully plated platters of fresh fruit waiting to be devoured; and devour I did.

Our crisp and cool morning bites soon gave way to the main attraction: a sprawling cornucopia of scrambled eggs, grilled sausage, cheesy potatoes, and more. In an effort to accommodate our vegan companion, the crew even whipped up a batch of veggie sausage patties and vegan pancakes.

When it came time for our final dinner together before the 10-mile hike back out of the canyon, Arizona Outback Adventures once again outdid themselves with an Asian meal fit for royalty. Having experienced their culinary masterwork the night before, we were all curious about what we would be treated to as we watched the chefs get down to business.

To begin, they fattened us up with huge piles of edamame, and then continued the superior snackage with veggie pot stickers while they got to work on our main course.

Dinner left me wishing I could live at this camp forever. We were wowed with thick strips of Mongolian beef with sauce-smothered broccoli, grilled tofu and shrimp, white rice, and a colorful vegetable stirfry. Like I said, this was not your average campside meal. 

I think the entire Columbia Sportswear and OmniTen team will join me in extending an enormous amount of gratitude towards Brian, Jenn, Chris, and Sheldon for creating a truly unbelievable outdoor experience. While I will likely never again feast on two-inch thick steaks while camping, I am grateful for this amazing opportunity to partake in an adventure that was entirely catered and guided.

Sigh, now it’s back to instant mashed potatoes and corned beef hash out of a can – not that I can really complain; corned beef hash is the best way to start a long day of adventuring.

Finally sending my longest climbing pursuit, Super Mario, on the side of a golf course in Tennessee

Anyone can have confidence in the thought of completing a send, but confidence is moot without action. After a seven-hour drive up to Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, I wistfully fell asleep on my new Stonelick crashpad in the hatchback of my car at a Wal-Mart parking lot, trembling with shaky confidence towards the next day’s pursuit.

Niko and I got a fairly early start out to the Montlake Golf Course that houses the epic climbing spot called Stone Fort, and eagerly trekked out to the boulder field with an arsenal of crash pads. We eyed Art of the Vogi, warmed up on a few rounds of easy routes like Needless Things (V0-) and Fire Crack Flake (V1). Once our muscles had stretched out, we began our day of chasing climbs. 

We immediately trekked out towards the Super Mario boulder, where we met up with three rapscallions from Kentucky who took a liking to the strings of incoherent obscenities I bursted with every time I popped off the boulder. By the end of our time climbing together, we had all collected a few new curse combinations – but I still hadn’t sent Super Mario.

My morning session boosted my esteem over my efforts; I was able to stick a move I had never made it to before. Here’s how it goes: I had my left hand tightly perched on a deep, sharp crimp, with my right hand fulled extended out in a high undercling, while my leg was locked in a great knee-bar. The next move required me to ditch the security of the knee-bar, and balance my legs as far over on the right as possible. I then locked off with my right hand, and pulled on the undercling as I reached up above with my left hand to a solid pocket. 

And then I fell.

Again. My most familiar feeling on that boulder is the movement of falling off it. I’ve slipped, snapped, and popped off that route’s holds more times than I’d like to admit over the last two years.

*Note: This is an older photo; don’t worry, I’m not crazy enough to be wearing a
hoodie and sweatpants at Stone Fort in the middle of June.

Once the southeastern swelter began to bear down with relentless humidity, Niko and I retreated for a lunch break. We drove over to the Pep Boys crag parking lot, threw down our crash pads to make a little napping spot, cooked up some spaghetti, and prepared for our evening session.

As we hiked back out to Stone Fort, I decided I wasn’t going to hop on my project again until the next day – I figured I ought to give my tender fingertips a chance to heal before torturing them again. Instead, I gallivanted around the crag, following Niko to his own projects. I lounged on boulders, played with insects, and cheered Niko on as he sent ‘A Face in the Crowd.

Satisfied with his climb for the day, Niko urged me to hop on something else before we called it a day – so I decided to give Super Mario a quick burn.

Stone Fort was eerily deserted that day; Niko and I didn’t see a single climber during our evening session, which is unheard of at this popular climbing destination. It’s even more rare to have the Super Mario boulder all to yourself, as this rock tends to draw big crowds of boulderers projecting the many climbs that sit on it. Pleased with the solitude, I took my time working the route, and focused on cleaning up my messy footwork.

There were three unsuccessful attempts before I decided to just stop thinking about what I was doing. Without any intent of sending it on that particular burn, I shook out my arms, hoisted myself off the start holds onto the first big ledge, and cruised through the first series of moves.

When the knee-bar crux section approached, my technique became a little shaky. Feeling a slight instability, I jammed my knee into the space before the proper knee-bar, and ended up incorporating two into my beta. I swung out to the undercling, stuck it, and danced my feet over to the rightmost portion of the boulder. With a heavy burst of breath, I reached my left hand up to the pocket – and it stuck. 

From there, the route was all but sent. I brought my left hand up into a bowling-ball shaped series of solid pockets, shifted over to a large jug, and hoisted myself towards the sloped top-out area. Admittedly, my top-out was probably one of the most hideous sends that boulder has ever witnessed. Exhausted from my unexpected success, it was a struggle to beach myself up onto the rounded boulder – but I made it happen.

After two years of sporadic projecting, countless shredded finger tips, an outrageously bruised knee, two knee-bars where there should only be one, and the most ridiculous top-out of all time, I have finally completed my ultimate climbing project.

It wasn’t about the grade, it wasn’t the hardest climb I’ve ever attempted, and it wasn’t a glorious moment surrounded by cheering fans and snapping cameras. It was an intimate moment, shared only with Niko, with nary a single photo or video to bare evidence of my conquest – and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had while climbing, because it was mine

We retreated to Chester Frost Campground feeling pleased, sweaty, and famished. Niko whipped up a delicious campside dinner of quinoa, roasted tomatoes, black beans, and avocado – and then we promptly crashed in our tent. We woke up the next morning feeling more sore than we’d ever imagined, but it was one of the best mornings I’ve had in a while.

My epic send was celebrated with a trip to one of my favorite places in Tennessee – the Chattanooga Market, which was celebrating their annual Blueberry Festival on this particular day. One of the best farmer’s markets I’ve ever been to, this venue is loaded with produce delights like impossibly long green beans, crispy sunflower sprouts, golden zucchini, and the tastiest homemade bread I’ve ever tasted. We loaded up on the goods, slurped on frozen lemonade, and then hit the road back to Florida. 

I’m out in Tennessee, and I ain’t coming home until my climbing project is sent

In November of 2009, I set out on my first climbing trip to a place called Little Rock City in Tennessee – which I now more often refer to by its proper name, Stone Fort. I had only been climbing for a handful of weeks, and don’t even remember if I sent any routes during that inaugural outdoor excursion, but I do remember one distinguished boulder, and the legendary route that sat on the featured rock:

Super Mario.

Over the course of half a dozen trips out to Stone Fort, spread across a handful of years, I have always been drawn to Super Mario. The first few climbing trips spent working the route were admittedly doomed for failure; I was hardly a V4 climber when I decided this route would become my conquest. My most recent visit to the area was during January, during a time when I hadn’t been climbing consistently for about six months. It was no surprise when I was yet again unable to make the send.

This time, I’m ready. (I think.) I’ve sent multiple V5s in rock gyms across the country, I’ve been training for the past few months for both sport climbing and bouldering, and despite a two week break from climbing to galavant all over Arizona, I feel strong. This is it. Super Mario’s reign of defeat is coming to an end, and I’m not coming home until I finish it.

Mind you, Niko has to be back for classes on Monday,
so this boulder problem better go down quickly. I’m just sayin’. 

While I enjoy my weekend of chalky, sweaty hands, torn up finger tips, aching muscles, a tricky knee-bar, and (hopefully) a victory slice of Lupi’s Pizza after sending Super Mario, check out this great video by Andrew Kornylak that gives insight to the beta and beauty of this classic Stone Fort climb.

Send lots of positive, rock-crushin’ thoughts my way – I’m going to need as many good vibes as I can soak up!

This week’s #ATQA Adventure Travel twitter chat recap – “Technology on the Trail”

After requesting any suggestions that the Adventure Travel Q&A chat community may have, we received a great inquiry about discussing the relationship between technology and the outdoors from Adam Nutting. The result was a great Twitter chat that generated plenty of opinions about topics like taking technology on the trail, favorite gear, and the merits of knowing how to navigate by compass when your GPS fails. We also had a few great guest appearances by awesome outdoor technology brands like Goal Zero, Pocket Ranger, and Point6 Socks.

Check out the conversation recap, and add your answers to the comments section!

Q1: What’s the role of technology in the outdoors?

Read More…

Vortex yoga on Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona during Columbia Sportswear’s 2013 Preview event

On a scorching Sedona morning, I found myself perched on a little patch of dusty rock, cross-legged amid a collection of fellow females as we passed tiny bottles of frankincense and rose oil around our circle.

As we dabbed little drops of oil on our foreheads, a soft yet authoritative voice instructed us to affirm ourselves, to mull on our emotions, and to let it all go with deep, releasing breathes.

 Welcome to my vortex yoga experience on Bell Rock.

Like any brand, Columbia Sportswear used their Spring 2013 Gear Preview event to showcase their new designs and products – but unlike most brands, they required us to truly put their gear to the test. After wining and dining their audience of editors, journalists, gear junkies, and adventurers, Columbia sent our big group out on a variety of activities. We were able to choose between mountain biking, intense hiking, and vortex yoga.

Intrigued by this undeniably funky video demonstration vortex yoga in Sedona, I immediately opted to spend my ‘activity day’ out on Bell Rock practicing my downward dog.

Our group ended up being comprised solely of ladies, which made for a wonderful and intimate experience. Our instructor, Johanna, guided us along the trail towards Bell Rock as she pointed out the area’s distinct flora and desert features. After walking for a bit, we paused to gather in an energy circle for some initial breathing exercises beneath the shade of a tree – and at that moment, the spiritual journey of the vortex experience truly began.

I’m not a hokey gal – but the heightened sense of energy found at the vortex was undeniable. During the meditative portion of our afternoon, we gathered under another shady area, and plopped down on the rocks and dirt to enjoy a few breathing techniques and thoughtful moments that challenged us to overcome the usually buzzing in our brains in favor of a quieter and more reflective mentality. In my opinion, the time we spent thinking, releasing, and feeling was when the energy of the vortex was most noticeable.

Admittedly, when we finally began our yoga session upon the sprawling red boulders on Bell Rock, my spiritual bliss was overcome by my incessant need to document my adventures. Fellow OmniTen member Heidi and I ended up so occupied by our quest to obtain good photos and GoPro footage that we ultimately lost some of the spiritual flow during yoga.

Still, I had a wonderful morning hiking through the desert terrain with the ladies, learning a little bit about my body’s natural energies, and practicing my yoga poses while gazing out at the gorgeous Sedona landscape. I left feeling calmer, uplifted, and at peace with my mental chatter. Even Heidi agreed that she felt the effects of the vortex (coupled with Johanna’s excellent spiritual guidance) – and for a gal with the nickname “Banana Buzzbomb,” that’s quite a statement.

If you are ever in the Sedona area, and feel keen on getting in touch with your spiritual side, I would highly suggest taking a vortex yoga tour Yoga Life with Johanna and her assistant
A former New Yorker, she offers the perfect balance between an enlightened hippie and, well, normal everyday lady. She offered us great information about our chakras and energy flows, made sure every member of our group was comfortable, and yet still helped us push our physical and mental limits.
Our group was on a strict time limit, which caused us to have to be slightly more ‘aware’ during our meditative and yoga sessions — I can only imagine how much more fun would have been had if we had been with Johanna for the entire day. 

Want more vortex yoga fun? Check out Heidi’s post “Calm & Cool Yoga in Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero” on BananaBuzzBomb.com!

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