Ice is Slippery: Ice Climbing

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“I’m in Lake Placid and it’s cold as f***. And when I say cold as f*** I mean cold as f***. The temperature gauge in the car as I’m warming up reads -3 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature on my phone calls for -9 degrees Fahrenheit and that’s all before wind-chill. I mean it: It’s cold as f***. And of course today, of all days, I am booked to go ice climbing: an outdoor winter hobby that does require some cold-but Jesus Christ, this much? Sigh. I suppose: Through rain, sleet, snow, and negative temperatures—the Hobby Hoarder persists.” My thoughts race and then continue: “I have three pairs of pants on, multiple top layers, several pairs of gloves, hand warmers, hats, a balaclava, wool socks, and it really just doesn’t feel like enough: but what is enough in NEGATIVE Fahrenheit!”

These are the thoughts going through my mind as I’m literally waiting for the car to heat up so I can drive to my ice climbing lesson.

One night prior, my thoughts are—well–nervous thoughts. I actually don’t remember having been this nervous before a hobby since January 1, 2013–when I did another outdoor winter hobby, the Polar Bear swim. Perhaps, I just don’t like the cold, or I have a bigger fear of freezing to death than I thought: either way, the feeling ahead of ice climbing is painfully familiar: “Perhaps, the guiding service will call it cause it’s just too cold.” “Maybe the ice is just TOO icey.” 

That’s of course not what happened. Instead, what happened is that on Saturday, January 30, 2021 I set out on an expedition to meet my guide EJ– a 20 year old licensed rock climbing and ice climbing guide who works for Mountain Skills Climbing Guides. 

Before we go into the day and how I did (spoiler alert–I struggled); let’s go through what ice climbing is—and isn’t.

  • Ice Climbing is a technical sport. Really technical.
  • Ice Climbing is essentially what it sounds like: Climbing up ice–like waterfalls and ice covered rock walls. 
  • However, ice Climbing is NOT rock climbing. I’ve gone rock climbing, albeit once, but this is not the same sport. In rock climbing, you predominantly use your hands and your feet to find grips along the walls. In ice climbing you are outfitted with an ice axe for each hand, and crampons–basically knives on your boots. Using the ice axes and the boot knives you dig into the ice to carry yourself up the wall. 
  • Ice Climbing skills can be used by those who enjoy a day out in the woods just getting physical during the winter; on more technical day or overnight hikes–and ice climbing skills can be used by those who tackle more technical climbs like K2 or Everest. 
  • What I learned very quickly is that Ice Climbing is really difficult.

Back to the day of: 

At 7:50am I arrive at a local gas station where EJ greets me with a giant smile on his face. We each open our windows and shouted hellos. “COLD NO?” I yell, and he shouts back, “IT’S GOING TO BE–ARE YOU PSYCHED?”

His energy is contagious. He clearly wants very much to be here, and to be honest, I do too, I’m just also very nervously contemplating whether I’ve worn enough layers or the right layers: if my Yeti really should be holding my warm coffee or if I’ve ruined by Yeti forever, and what a “full day of ice climbing” means. Is that like a full 8 hour day –or like til 2:00pm? (I confirm that a full day of ice climbing means til 3 or 4pm). 

EJ shouts, “Okay, let’s do it.”

We roll up our windows and I see him get out of his car. He tells me that before we head to the climbing location, he’s gotta pass along some gear to me. He hands me mountaineering boots which will replace my winter hiking boots, crampons (boot knives), two ice axes, a harness and a helmet. As he hands me each one he asks me how familiar I am with each tool: I know helmets very well, am familiar with mountaineering boots, I have worn a harness a few times for rock climbing or indoor rock climbing, ziplining, etc. but my only experience with crampons and ice axes are the adventure films I’ve been watching over the last couple years–and on the shelves at REI. 

When I tell him my lack of experience with ice axes and crampons, he smiles and says “that’s okay, I’ll show you.” He’s confident. This relaxes me. He’s got his shit together. Thank god. 

After handing off the gear, he tells me it’s time to head to our climbing area. He sets off in his car first, and I follow closely behind. The drive is gorgeous. I’ve already done this drive a couple times since getting up to the Adirondacks one day prior, and I feel like I’m driving through a Robert Frost poem. There’s beautiful white, clean deep snow surrounding the roadways and sludgey snow and salt paving the way north and south along route 73. It’s a winter wonderland. And just like Alice’s Wonderland, I’m about to shoot through the rabbit hole to another dimension–one with giant ice walls.

EJ takes a left into a familiar parking lot. As it turns out my fiancée Zoë and I had pulled off here just one day prior to snap a photo. It’s kismet. 

EJ get outs of his car, but I take my time swapping out my boots for the mountaineering ones he’s passed along. Once I’m done lacing up,  I get out of the car and the wind hits me along with snow drifts. My hat and my balaclava are already dusted with snow. EJ notes that my boots probably aren’t tight enough so he instructs me to lace them up tighter, especially around the ankles, because if there’s any heel lift it can make climbing harder. I lace and relace my boots. Next, I pull on my harness and strap on my helmet. EJ notes to wait on the crampons until we are across the street, because walking on the road can dull the knives. EJ does one last thing before we cross the road–he throws a rope on my pack. This is the moment that I feel as though I’ve entered a new universe. 

Once I’m geared up and have stashed a second pair of gloves in my jacket for switching out, we cross the road and head for the approach trail. The snow is deep and steep. Once we are in a safe spot, EJ instructs me to put on my crampons and shows me how. I look up to my left and it’s the first time I see the ice wall we will be tackling today. WOW, I think, but I don’t have much time to stand and admire from a distance—when it’s this cold you don’t want to be caught standing still, really, at all, and we’ve still gotta get up to the wall.  

We have just a five minute approach–maybe less if you’re seasoned like EJ–but I’m intimidated. The rope on my back is heavy and I’m tripping over my crampons a bit. EJ takes a look back and I tell him not to worry! “I’m cool” “I’ll be where you are soon.” He heads the rest of the way to the nearby ice wall. 

I lean over my front side and use my hands to help me up this snowy trail. I peek to see if EJ has looked back. He hasn’t “Phew…this is embarrassing,” I think to myself as I breathe heavily into my mask –which I’m wearing for both COVID protection and because as we’ve already defined: It’s cold as f***.

After I struggle up what was a small hill but felt like an Everest (ha), I meet my mountain. I’m astonished by the ice formations in front of me. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so up close and personal with this type of ice. I’ve seen Niagara Falls in the winter, but from a safe distance. Here and now I’m at the foot of the ice wall.

I’ve also now met EJ at the bottom of the pitch. He’s busy adjusting his layers which he does to keep himself moving in the cold. He explains to me how to best stay “warm” or at least…comfortable in this crazy weather:

  • Keep moving.
  • If you’re getting cold, put a layer on
  • If you’re getting comfortable, take a layer off–cause if you get too comfortable, you will start to sweat–and sweat is bad, sweat means water, sweat in the cold means ice. Cold as f***.
  • Keep eating throughout the day, snack here and there. 
  • If you need to pee, pee. The more pee our bladders hold, it actually steals heat from our body and we get colder.

I think of what he has just told me: “If you need to pee, pee.”  It’s -3 degrees + wind chill out–and if I need to pee–I’ll need to literally pull my three pairs of pants down and squat in the snow—Perhaps I should have worn an adult diaper  as one of my layers.

Once we’ve gone through the ABCs of staying warm, EJ goes over a couple more safety rules for the day. When ice climbing, everytime you make a move, you are literally changing the ice, and with that, ice tends to fly off the mountain, generally small pieces, but sometimes larger pieces. If you knock out a piece that’s larger than your fist, you should yell out to those below so they can dodge the iceball before it knocks them out. Helmets are helpful, obviously, but once ice gets big enough, the helmet can only be so helpful.  

After giving me a few more safety protocols, EJ heads up to the top of the pitch. Today, we’ll be top roping, which means he’ll anchor a rope up on top of the pitch, and anchor another rope, our climbing rope to that rope. He then throws the climbing rope down the ice, but holds onto the other end. (Excuse me if this is not exactly correct—but that’s how I understand it as only top roping for my second time). The rope lands a few feet in front of me and then EJ begins his descent—rappelling down the ice face. He does this carefully and technically. It’s again different from rock rappelling where you have some give in the wall and can do little bounces off. While rock climbing, you don’t necessarily have to climb yourself down: but here on the ice, you want to use your feet and the crampons to help guide you down. 

When EJ reaches the bottom he explains to me that this is what I’ll have to do when I reach the top.

Pause here for imagining me making it to the top.

I laugh….he’s so positive: but I’m not sure I’m going to make it to the top of this mountain today. It looks daunting and far. But I like his attitude.

The next step is to learn how to use the ice axes. EJ shows me how to use them including: 

  • The correct form for holding the axe and then also sending the axe into the ice.  
  • Where to try and aim for in the ice and where to avoid. 

He then shows me how to appropriately use my crampons: 

  • Stay shoulder width apart, try not to get too narrow, but always want to keep your feet vertically close to the same level, and you really need to kick to get your crampon into the ice. 
  • He also shows me the right form for kicking to avoid 
    • 1. Kneeing an ice bulge and returning home with a bruise, and 
    • 2. So you really get the appropriate footing on the wall. 

EJ takes a couple steps on the wall to demonstrate. As I go to kick my foot into the wall, he stops me. One more big rule: Do not ice climb without being roped in. 

So now it’s time to get roped in. EJ helps tie the knot on my rope and asks me if I’m ready.  I guess I have to be. He sets the belay up and when he’s ready I take my right ice axe, and slam it into the ice, and then my left one. Then one foot at a time. I do this again. This time, my right ice axe gets stuck in the ice and I can’t get it out. EJ directs me from below—like two feet below–on how to get the axe unstuck, but I have little luck. Finally, I use enough force to remove the axe, but I’ve also produced enough force to take myself off the wall and I fall to the ground (Slowly in belay). I feel the ice against my back and I try to find my footing on the ground. I’m very grateful at this moment I did not have my gopros on to capture this. “Well that was an experience,” I exclaim. I then ask if that’s happened to anyone else and EJ calmly says, “Oh yah.” and adds either at this point or on one of my later falls (cause there were many):  “Ice is slippery.” 

Ha. He’s right. Ice is slippery, but it’s too cold to stay down, I’ve gotta try again. We reset. Again, one, two, three, four, one, two, three four, but man I’m already tired from swinging the ice axes in and ripping them out of the ice, and I’m struggling with my feet. I’m also clearly weaker in my left hand and left foot than I am in my right hand and my right foot. I fall off the ice again. EJ belays me slowly back to the ground. 

I go again. Lose my grip again.

So I go again. Once more I lose my foot gripping.

I take a moment. 

I take a breath. 

There’s no rush. 

EJ gives me some tips on what to try this time. 

I listen.

Right axe in.

Left axe in. 

Right foot in. 

Left foot in. 

Right axe in–a really good right axe in and EJ yells THAT’S IT. And I suddenly feel strong. 

I take a moment to look for my next placement. I swing the ice axe, and skim the wall. I try again, I land the axe, but then again lose my footing. I hang onto the wall by just the left ice axe and catch my feet back. I take a breath. I’m not giving up quite yet. 

I reach for my right axe and continue a couple more steps. It feels like I must be close to halfway up the ice. But when I look up–I realize I’m only about 5 ft off the ground. I can’t muster anymore strength and I ask EJ to bring me off the wall slowly. 

We take a few minutes while two other guys join us on our wall. They say hello, ask where we are from, what our experience is. When I tell them I’ve only outdoor rock climbed once, they are surprised. “That’s not usually the order people learn.” I take pride in that moment. But it’s the next half hour I don’t take much pride in. 

I try to axe my way up the wall again, and make it just a few feet. Again, I try, and the same thing happens. I’m growing tired and frustrated. I stop for a few moments and watch the other guys set up their ropes and climb. I tell EJ, I’ve got two more gos left in me, that I’m not going to last very long.

I try again, slipping off the ice. I exclaim okay, not just two more times, I’ve got this. I want to get this. But I do just try two-three more times before I exclaim that I’m done. The guys up above tell me you just need to get mileage in–but I’m just working on meters at this point. I tell EJ I’d like to call it a day. It feels like I’ve been up on that ice for a while, and I had made myself a promise I didn’t have to be a hero in the weather. EJ does the hard work and removes the ropes and packs up shop. We still have to climb down the approach, which proves easier than the short climb up. 

We reach the cars and I’m sure it must be noon, we must have been out there at least three  – four hours—failing does somehow feel like a forever thing, but when I turn on the car to warm it up, the clock reads just 11:03am. I’ve lasted about 2 and a half hours. I’m disappointed in myself in a way that’s hard to communicate. EJ tells me I’ve done awesome, and for all I know I have done awesome, but I’m disappointed in myself for calling it a day, for not getting further on the ice. Mostly, I feel like I gave up. 

EJ and I chat for a few more minutes as I return the rest of his gear to him. I learn that he’s studying at Lehigh–which just happens to be in my hometown. He peps my spirits up by telling me that he thinks I should totally come rock climbing this summer and that he can tell I’m very aware of my personal kinesiology and that from my form, I’d probably have a lot of fun on the rocks. He starts ringing off adventures we can try. I’m grateful for him. I had fun with EJ. I’m not disappointed by my guiding or my decision to go ice climbing: I’m disappointed in myself. I call Zoë and let her know I’m coming back to the Air BnB. 

For the rest of the day I don’t talk too much about ice climbing except to say that it was really hard, I’m a little sore, and at some point I must have hit my knee. I keep it light and post a couple pictures on FB and instagram that make it look pretty badass–and let’s be honest, ice climbing is pretty badass, but I definitely was not feeling very graceful or badass. 

After 24 hours and a long drive back to Brooklyn and a few hours in the apartment I tell Zoë that I think I’ve been processing my ice climbing trip. I tell her, it’s not just that ice climbing was hard, it’s that I wanted so badly to be good at it. I’d been watching films and getting amped and excited, and I just so badly wanted it to be a hobby I was good at. But I only made it 5 ft up the wall, and I was struggling with that. “With failure.” Zoë says. “With failure.” I nod. 

But I have to remember–it was just my first time. It may or not be my last time, but it was definitely just my first time: and when it’s our first time doing anything, as I’ve had to remember so many times over these past few years, we just have to remind ourselves, it’s okay to not be good. Honestly, it’s okay to be bad. It’s okay to be really bad. Because it’s not about how long we lasted out there or how high we made it up on the wall—it’s about the experience itself. 

Ice is slippery—so are firsts. All we can do is keep climbing. 

I’m Hiking to Albany

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I’m bored. COVID-19 has shut everything down, and we are nearing our 11th month of stay at home orders and I am desperate for adventures–prolonged ones. Restaurants and bars are closed, air travel is not recommended, and it’s cold as hell outside. I’ve been relying on short walks daily to keep me moving forward and looking ahead to each day, but I admit–it’s tough. Walking. Hiking. That’s been my saving grace.

I love hiking–I love it. There’s something really special about going out into the woods, meeting a mountain, perhaps standing on the top of the world, navigating the forest, or what have you: but I only really do it ever as one offs. Some people call what I do peak bagging cause I go out with a “peak” in mind, and hope to attain that peak. That’s definitely what someone could say I was doing with Half Dome and with Angel’s Landing. But this year, while I do have some peaks in mind, I’ve looked toward a different challenge: I’m hiking to Albany….well, kind of. I’m section hiking: which isn’t quite the same as thru hiking. Thru hiking, as I understand is doing a hike from one place to another–in one go. Think about people who thru hike the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail—their stops are for sleep and refueling. I guess what I’m doing could be a thru hike if you count weeks between treks as appropriate “refuels.” But I think the more appropriate term here is section hiking and it’s not something I’ve done before.

To be blunt: I’ve found a trail: The Empire State Trail, and I’m working my way from one end of one part, to the other end of one part, in sections.

The Empire State Trail is a 750 mile trail network through the state of New York. It was only recently completed which is probably why I only recently came across it in the news. There’s three large swaths of the Trail to navigate: There’s Buffalo to Albany. Albany to Canada. AND New York City to Albany. You can bike the trail or walk/hike the trail, whatever you please, and in some areas the bikers and the walkers are separate. Overall the 750 miles of trail take people through some of New York’s biggest cities (Manhattan) and along some of its most picturesque landscapes–like the Erie Canalway. Each of the three swaths is then broken down into smaller sections.

The route from New York City to Albany is a 201-mile paved journey that alternates between protected walkways and sidewalks on city streets (Hello Riverdale, Bronx). And it’s broken down into 20 sections that range from 1 mile sections to almost 20 mile section.

The journey to Albany from the Big Apple begins at Battery Park which is located on the southern tip of the island of Manhattan. The beginning of the route is outlined by the Hudson River to the west, the harbor to the south (and Lady Liberty), and the financial district to the east. But when you’re starting at the Battery, you aren’t heading west, east or south–you’re heading north and the start of the route is marked and defined by just one thing: an awe inspiring gaze at the World Trade Center which towers 1792 feet overhead.

That’s where I am when I start: I’m gawking at the World Trade Center. Being that I live in New York, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the tower: In fact, I used to be able to see the lights at night from my apartment in Greenpoint and when I’d get off the train for my freelance gig in the Seaport, it was always there to welcome me each morning. But this view feels different, maybe it’s because it’s truly the only thing I can hold my attention on, or because, for me, it’s my first memory of this trail: And for the first few miles, I can’t take my eyes off of it. 

It’s cold out: It’s January, January 18, 2021 to be exact and for some reason I’ve decided that hiking from New York to Albany is a great idea in the winter. I’ve layered up–dri fit bottom, fleece, and have a bubble shell for wind and rain protection. I’ve got gloves and a hat, and I’ve got a pack. I’ve set my sights on accomplishing the first section of the NYC to Albany trail–which runs an estimated 12.5 miles from the Battery to Inwood in upper Manhattan. After passing the World Trade Center the trail continues up the west side along the Hudson River: Make your way past the midtown piers and soon another astonishing landmark becomes the foresight of the section: The George Washington Bridge which continues to get bigger the closer one gets to it. 

Overall, it’s a pretty crowded piece of the trail where people congregate to hang in the summer months or walk bike or run as they please at all times of the year. Being that COVID-19 is still well…you know…here…people are wearing masks and distancing: only one or two randoms pass by without their face covered. 

I’m proud of myself for getting out here today and tackling these miles, but I am struggling. I have just come off an injury–a sprained ankle on a job in October and will only be graduating PT soon, and overall I’m pretty low: Thankfully my obsessive compulsive disorder has mostly been at bay as of recent, but my depression has been peaking: it’s dark out longer, it’s cold, and at the moment I’m unemployed. The combination of these things is making it hard to settle into this 12.5 mile hike I’ve set out on. THAT and the added solid concrete that my feet are pounding on is making this jaunt feel that much more taxing. I’m only 3 miles in and I’m wondering if I’ll hit a “walker’s high” cause part of me is just plain bored, and the other is counting down the blocks repeatedly to remind myself just how much is left. I’m not present–I’m just trying to get it done–get anything done, while this year repeats feeling like last year felt. I’m inside my head–my meditation instructors would be so disappointed. I look at my GPS and I think 9 more miles—that’s not too bad–but do I really want to do it?

Around mile 5 and 6 I start negotiating with myself. “Well If I stop now, then I technically did half, and I’ll just have 6 more to do next time.” I push myself further. I push myself until I reach an image of a woman on the side of a building to my right. The caption says: Women are New York’s Strongest. The mural is by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and is on the outside of the NYC Department of Sanitation building.

DSNY’s slogan as I haven learned is “New York’s Strongest.” Tatyana has gone a step further with this. I like it. This inspires me. I push a little bit harder and further. I reach the start of mile 8. The GW Bridge is now in view and I’m comfortable in my stride, but my legs are starting to feel it. I’ve hiked 20 miles in a day before, but not on 0 training: so I call it: This will be my last mile. Knowing this will be it, I start strategizing about what that means for what’s next: how will I catch up on the miles….and I realize….I don’t need to strategize, I’m not competing, I’m on a journey—and it’s time to just enjoy it, no matter how long that takes or how far I make it each day I go out there. 

The first day ends for me right around 96th street. I turn off my GPS and vow to return. And I do—right to this spot 4 days later. 

Like the trail—- To be continued. 

Field Notes: On Surviving

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*Shoutout to REI for the their Wilderness Survival: Winter Skills class and to our guide KATE for any links provides within*

How are we surviving 2020? It’s as good a question as any. It’s been a strange year to say the least. With the Pandemic and COVID-19 continuing to spread and infect the world, our worlds have been turned inside out. Life is not what we thought of it as just a year ago. Whether we have lost loved ones, have faced depression, or are just bored out of our damn mind due to the Pandemic woes, we –you and me, if you are reading this, have one thing in common: We are finding ways to survive this year together: to get through, to cross the bridge over the trenches and make it to the sunshine, to the rainbows, to what hopefully is a brighter other side. We aren’t sure when we’ll get there, but perhaps, we can start building that bridge sooner than later. 

To help get me through, I’m hobby hoarding again: looking for things I’ve never tried before, never learned before, never understood before, and diving in. If Hobby Hoarding saved me once–then I strongly believe it will save me again.

And how apt is it that one of the first new hobbies I’ve tried this winter is a Winter Survival Skills class through REI.

Through the class, our guide, Kate, took us through a series of lessons on how to best survive in the wilderness in the winter. Kate’s got a pretty sweet background: She’s currently getting her PhD in medical anthropology and does A LOT of her time in Madagascar. Today, Kate braved the colder climate lower temps of Brooklyn, New York to drill home important ways to handle less-than-ideal circumstances. I found it overall to be a good metaphor for this year: 

First prepare so you avoid a shitty situation (not always feasible)—and then brace yourself for the worst by having knowledge and a plan for success. 

The first key step to survival is actually not having to “survive” —it’s prevention. We want to be as prepared as possible for whatever may come. If you are going to go to the store in the pouring rain, you’ll probably bring an umbrella to keep from getting wet—so when you’re going to go out in the woods–you want to bring your “umbrella” of survival. For hikers, your “umbrellas” are known as your 10 Essentials.

1.  Food and (extra food)

2.  First Aid Kit

3.  Sun Protection

4.  Knife and Tools

5.  Headlamp

6.  Extra Clothes

7.  Matches (lighter, etc)

8.  Water & Extra Water & ways to protect water – Water filtration/purification systems

9.  Map & Compass

10. Emergency Bivvy (shelter / protection)

Assuming you have these essentials, you are starting out well, but as we know, no matter the prep–things can still go wrong.

Here are some additional keys to survival I picked up while at my REI course (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Pack your bag appropriately — That means with the 10 essentials, but that also means CHECK and manage your essentials. Don’t just assume they are there. Keep your gear in shape: make sure your matches are waterproofed, your first aid kit is full, and your tools are sharp enough. 
  • Leave a plan
    • Don’t leave home without giving someone–anyone a heads up where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
    • Before hitting the trail, leave a note in the glove compartment of your car with all the information regarding where you are going so if you don’t return, rescuers have a starting point.
    • Use the registry books. They aren’t guest books. The books let forest people know who’s come in, and in some cases who hasn’t made it out. Also, if there are various registry books along the trail–continue signing them as these can let others know where you last were. 
  • Layering
    • Make sure your layered appropriately for the weather. This includes starting with a base layer that is moisture wicking, then adding a middle layer or two of looser fitting clothing (NON COTTON–perhaps, wool); and a final outer water resistant shell.
  • Map and Compass
    • Know how to read a map and compass. Don’t rely on GPS/cell phone/etc. You may lose battery, service, etc. 
    • Learn how to read the sun–in case your compass breaks or you just really have no idea where you are.
  • STOP: If you’ve arrived a juncture of your day where you realize OH SHIT, I’m lost; someone’s in danger, or I need to give up for the day: Consider the phrase: STOP. 
    • S – Stop- Literally stop. Take a breath. Stand down. 
    • T – Think – take in everything around you and think about your circumstances. 
      1. What time of day is it? 
      2. Where were you when you started? 
      3. When is it going to get dark? 
      4. Do you know which way North is?
    • O – Observe – Like Think, really take in your surroundings so you understand your stakes and what is possible in this moment.
    • P – Plan – Make a plan – and prioritize —rely on your 10 essentials and remember these 4 rules of 3 to prioritize: 
      1. 3 Minutes – You can survive for 3 minutes without oxygen
      2. 3 Hours – You can survive 3 hours without protection from the elements.
      3. 3 Days – You can survive 3 days without water.
      4. 3 Weeks – You can survive 3 weeks without food.

  • Understanding how we maintain and lose heat 
    • There are a variety of ways that we lose and maintain heat:
      • Through Conduction
      • Through Convection
      • Through Radiation
      • Through Evaporation
      • Through Respiration
  • Frost-bite
    • Frost-bite will affect your most exposed extremities: Nose; fingers; toes; lips/
    • Frost-bite is often talked about in degrees or thickness:
      • First Degree through Third Degrees OR
      • Partial vs Full Thickness
    • SIGNS:
      • DO NOT tolerate Numbness. Numbness is the first sign.
        • If there’s numbness–warm things up (avoid using breath and rubbing aggressively)
        • Stick hands in warm spots
        • Work on REHEATING
        • Gentle Conduction
      • Look for BLANCHING and LOSS OF MOVEMENT
        • Take off anything constricting (think Wedding Ring)
        • DO NOT pop any blisters.
        • WRAP up affected areas–warm it up– and protect
      • SEVERE – REQUIRES ER/EVACATION/HOSPITALIZATION
        • Look for stiffness/discoloration
  • Hypothermia- Hypothermia starts with something a simple as shivering.
    • TO DO
      • Keep moving
      • Mittens vs Gloves
      • Eat something
      • Drink hot drinks
    • PROGRESSION – Hypothermia progresses QUICKLY
      • Body Temp of 95 to 90 degrees F
        • You might have the “umbles” –someone will begin mumbling/fumbling/stumbling. Appear delirious
        • Go inside asap; turn back; shelter; get warm.
      • Body Temp of 90 to 85 degrees F
        • This is considered severe
        • Might appear belligerent and more delirious.
        • Get hot liquids asap, wrap in blanket, multiple blankets, pass your body warmth onto the person.
      • Body Temp of 85 to 80 degrees F
        • Incredibly dangerous — preceding death
        • ***PEOPLE ARE NOT DEAD UNTIL THEY ARE WARM AND DEAD–if you find someone and they are still cold, they may still be alive as cold can preserve humans—still try to save them.

  • Setting up camp/Shelter
    • Set up camp x # of feet from water.
    • Set up camp away from your food/any waste/or trash. All of these will bring animals.
    • Look for a flat area — If you’re on the bottom of a hill and it rains….I wouldn’t want to be in that tent.
    • Look out for old, dead trees. These are more likely to fall in various weather conditions and if an old tree is swaying above your tent, it’s a danger to you and whoever is in your tent.
    • Build a shelter if you don’t have a tent

  • Additional ways to prepare and learn for future incidents:

Of course, there’s the lesson of: Enjoy yourself and have fun, but the best way to truly enjoy yourself is to be prepared–don’t go out without a plan–and get ready to improvise when a plan goes to shit: Kind of like 2020.

With that said–I’ve got a lot of hope for 2021–so let’s do this–let’s get to this next year and do our best to not just survive this next loop around the sun–but truly thrive.

Half Dome – Yosemite National Park

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June 6, 2019

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

16 Miles Round Trip

4,800 Feet of Elevation Gain.

400 Feet of Steel Cable assistance.

12 Hours up and back from the Valley

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It wasn’t supposed to happen—at least the odds were totally against me.

  • There’s a 2-7 percent chance of receiving a permit to climb the Half Dome Cables (the final 400 feet of the 8-mile-one-way ascent). People apply for years without getting a permit. I applied and received one for the first full day we were set to be in California.
  • The cables generally go up around Memorial Day each year, but the date is approximate—not official, as the set-up of the cables depends on the aftermath of winter. This winter, for Yosemite, was brutal. On April 1 of this year, the park measured at 176% of it’s average snow pack, making it difficult to estimate when the cables would be safely put in place and available to climb. From mid-May through June 3 – there was no estimated date of the cables opening. The hike was likely to be cancelled. My hopes dwindled. But then, by some miracle, Yosemite announced that the cables would official open on June 6, 2019. I don’t know what those odds were compared with receiving a permit, but I know they were small.

I had my permit. The cables went up. The only other thing out of my control was the weather the day of the hike: which fortunately, proved to be beautiful.

From mid-March through June 5, I trained, hiking over 70 miles in preparation for the challenge ahead. I used my days off to go to the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and PA – where I could get an elevation gain I couldn’t get from city streets. I worked out at the gym 2-3 times a week and followed the program my trainers provided. We built my lower body strength, my endurance, and my upper body strength so I could pull myself up the cables. I didn’t want to just complete my challenge—I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to reach the top and not dread the 8 mile return. I wanted to reach the top and feel like I could do it all over again—like I’d want to do it all over again, like I could keep going and reach the top of any summit I wanted to reach.

The trek was unlike anything I ever experienced. I woke up at 4:15am, drove to the base of the mountain, met my guide, Maddie, from Lasting Adventures, and we took off. What began as a gentle incline quickly took the form of a steep ascent through the Mist Trail where Vernal Falls crashes from above. With the high snow pack/snow melt the Mist Trail may have more aptly been referred to as the Monsoon Mountain, as the wind and water whipped at us: the climbing steps with deep puddles. Not even an hour into our hike and we were drenched, our boots filled with water. In another scenario—I may have been miserable–but instead, the moment felt magical. This was the mountain’s territory—and it gets to choose the conditions: not us. We wrung out our socks, poured the puddles out of our shoes, and got back to hiking, quickly. We followed the trail up to Nevada Falls where we took a twenty minute break. Two hours in and we still had 4.5 miles to go to the top. The views were amazing, but there was little time to waste: the journey was still long ahead. We continued on, passing Little Yosemite Valley and meeting other hikers. As we gained altitude, my pace slowed, and my breathing became heavier. Every few steps, we took a break. We closed our eyes and listened to the rushing water through the park. We slowed our heart rates. We continued on. The only worry now was the threat of storms. But the clouds were moving – and it was clear, nothing was going to stand in the way of the cables and me. As I grabbed a hold of each cable I began my climb. My arms tired after each big pull, but that did not stop me. As we reached about halfway up the 400 foot incline, I took a few deep breaths. I let some of the people who were going down pass me. I forged on. And then. I was there—the top of Half Dome. I had made it. The emotions began pulsing through me like the creeks and streams and rivers and falls through the mountain.

After six hours of hiking – taking in the views, scrambling up parts of the sub dome and then ascending the cables –I had done it. I had reached the summit. I looked down at the Valley floor below. Tears began to stroll down my face. I imagined this moment. I changed my screensaver at work to Half Dome. I closed my eyes and envisioned it. The hard work – it was all worth it. But it wasn’t just me who had reached this summit.

It was my guide who was next sitting next to me sharing in lemon scones. It was my fiancé who had patiently sat through my stress and anxIMG_2558iety whether the cables would ever go up: who supported me and cheered me on each week as I woke up before dawn to head out to another mountain. It was my trainers at the gym who listened to my goals and pushed me each and every day of my program to exceed expectations. It was my friends and family who knew of the challenge I had set out on—and encouraged me to do it. We were all on the summit in that moment. We were all there breathing it in. It took about 6 hours to return to the base of Half Dome–6 hours of which I was in spectacular awe of the journey I was lucky enough to go on.

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Life is unpredictable. Some things just aren’t meant to be—and other things—well they just are. I truly believe this journey was meant to be and I am forever grateful for the opportunity I had to climb Half Dome: To see the whole valley with a bird’s eye view; to stand 8,000 feet above sea level and feel the rush of accomplishment in completing a challenge, I set out, so long ago to do. I am forever grateful for this memory, for Half Dome inviting me to experience it–for getting to meet this mountain.

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Never Have I Ever (Until Now): Chapter 3 – Truth, Dare, and Dance

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Never Have I Ever (Until Now): Chapter 3 – Truth, Dare, and Dance

Disclaimer: Five years ago,  I set off on a journey that I never anticipated would change my life in such an incredible way. The goal was to try 52 hobbies in 52 weeks. At the onset, I had intended to write a book compiling the experiences and sharing them. I wasn’t sure at the time if the book would be a quirky coffee-table accessory or if something else might evolve. As it turns out, I never published the book, but I did write most of it. Over time, I’ve gone back to it, time-and-time again. With the five year anniversary of the project, I’ve decided that it’s time to start sharing it: One chapter at a time.

This is Chapter 3
For the intro to the book, head HERE!
For Chapter 1 (Vulnerability) click HERE!
For Chapter 2 (Untitled- Pole Dancing) click HERE!
For the original Hobby post this chapter digs into, visit HERE!

Truth, Dare, and Dance

My parents often brag about how I said my first word at just 6 months old, but rarely do they talk about my first steps. That’s because I’m pretty much convinced that I crawled until I was three-years-old. I’m almost positive that they’ve kept this a secret from me my whole life. I believe this, because I’ve never been graceful.  At the age of 4, I broke my arm, got a concussion from falling down the stairs, and sprained my ankle after jumping from a tree house, all within several months of one another. Then, at the age of 7, while playing during indoor recess, I crawled straight into a desk, cut open the skin above my eye and needed to be rushed to the hospital to get stitches. Years later, when I was a sophomore in high school I broke my left hand, and several weeks later, I broke my right one (or at least the fingers). Finally, in 2015, I broke my hand, sprained another ankle, and went onto break my foot in the final months of the year. Among these injuries, I suffered from countless others: stitches to the chin, sprained knees, sprained wrists, sprained hands, tendonitis, concussions, contusions, bumps, and scrapes. I often lost my balance, and was very clumsy. Needless to say, we went through a lot of bandaids, and a lot of bags of frozen peas substituted as ice bags, in my childhood home.

It should be no surprise then that dancing growing up was never my strong suit.

In fact, I can very vividly remember during a game of Truth or Dare, at an 8th grade birthday party, being humiliated as I was dared to show my “dance moves” on a chair. During the dare, someone laughed at me and said, “You can’t just hump the chair.” I tried again, but the laugher was contagious. Everyone caught on, except for me.

 I left the sleepover the next morning telling myself over and over again that by the time the next school dance came around, “I would show them” and prove that I could “get jiggy with it.”

 However, when my chance came to hit the dance floor again, the result wasn’t so hot. One of my good friends at the time kindly said that for me to dance would take some work—or more like a lot of work. She added, “Try and work it like this,” as she shook her hips gracefully across the school gym.

I had no idea what I was doing. All the kids were “grinding” and to me that was just what my teeth did at night.

It took me years to get comfortable with attempting to publicly dance, and even when I started feeling comfortable enough to dance, I still carried a great weight of self-consciousness on my shoulders.

This might explain why any time I had tried to attend a group dance class prior to pole dancing, I found myself defeated, and walking out before the class had been completed. And I can assure everyone that It wasn’t because I was out of shape, or simply tired. I was very obviously choreographically challenged.

As my dance classmates would ChaCha right, and Zumba left, I would stand in the back spinning in circles until my feet were tangled into a knot. The situation would subsequently stress me out. “Who is watching me?” “This is so embarrassing” “How can I sneak out without anyone noticing?” “Is that the bass of the song or is that the sound of my heart beating outside of my chest?” “Is that the roof leaking, or am I sweating that much?” “Wait, am I sweating cause I’m dancing so hard, or am I sweating because I’m terrified?” “Where did I put my bag…Did I leave it near the door? Is it close enough to grab it and run?”

And with that I’d find myself sprinting from a gym class to the locker room, vowing I would never return to a group dance class again.

 Now with my new found confidence at Pole Dancing, I decided it was time to to try and tackle another dance class. Though, this time, instead of trying another Zumba class, I recruited a good friend of mine, and went ahead and signed up for a beginner hip-hop class.

Like pole dancing, I instantly felt intimidated as I walked into the dance school. Everyone there was wearing bright colored, professional looking hip-hop shoes; baggy sweats; and an easy relaxed tank. I had on my running shoes, a pair of field hockey shorts, and a white t-shirt. It wasn’t difficult to feel out of place.

 Everyone was also chatting, as if they knew one another. As I looked at my friend, I questioned:  “Is this the illuminati of dance?”

Then I whispered to the woman next to me who was tightening her laces: “This is the beginner class, right?”

“Yeah—but he doesn’t always treat it like a beginner class. It’s fast paced.”

Of course he didn’t.

All I wanted was to learn how to “shake it” without falling; but instead, of course, I would pick the “Be Beyonce’s next back up dancer” class.

Like a cartoon character, I verbally made a “gulp,” sound.

I turned back to my friend. She didn’t seem nervous at all. I was grateful I had brought her. I knew I’d feel more comfortable if I had someone else with me who hadn’t tried it before. And she was calm. She was ready to dance, and that energy was contagiousas we took our spots on the dance class floor. Not before long, we were shimmying to our left, shaking it to our right, spinning, and hip-hopping all over the room—or attempting to at least. I began to sweat as I lost my balance.

“You’ll get it,” one girl confidentially said to me. “Just take it slow.”

Frustrated, I continued to try and keep up. But the teacher was moving quickly. My friend and I had split up into two different spots in the room. She seemed to be getting it. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by the Justin Timberlakes and Keshas of beginner dance. They moved effortlessly, their legs stretching far beyond any point of flexibility that I might be able to.

 And just as I started to get one eight count down, our teacher began moving on to the next one. I had to remind myself that this was my first time. I wasn’t supposed to be perfect. Patiently, I continued to try and find my rhythm.  One of my main issues in the past about group dance classes had always been, “Well what if the others in the class judge me.”

 But what I was learning as I struggled through 5,6,7,8 was that these people weren’t there to judge someone who couldn’t do a two-step. These people were there to better themselves, to get good at something they loved doing—or to try something that they’ve always wanted to try. They weren’t concerned if I was hip-hopping to the left when they were spinning to the right. As long as I didn’t get in their way, my skills weren’t a matter of their concern.

These people weren’t there for me. They were there for exactly who they should have been. And as we approached the end of the class, I realized that I too was there for the one person I was supposed to be there for: myself.

This epiphany was the perfect reminder as the class let out. This moment of clarity was the difference between me abandoning a class the way I had before, and me finishing the class with my eyes set ahead. It was the difference between me leaving the class and vowing I’d never go back and me saying “I’d like to try that again.”

The next day, my co-worker asked me how it went. I told her that it was fun—difficult—but fun. She asked me to show her what we learned in the class. I was nervous. Would she judge me the way my 8th grade classmates did? Would I run away, scared?

Instead of declining in shame, I took a deep breath, found the song online, hit play and then stepped it out.

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 Unlike my eighth grade classmates, she didn’t laugh. She was actually impressed. And I won’t lie; I was impressed too. The moves that I struggled to put together just one night earlier seemed to be flowing easily now. My muscles had retained the information. I got tap happy with the music, as I showed the dance again. I wanted to keep doing it—I wanted to keep showing it off. An overwhelming feeling of pride accumulated throughout my body.

Excited, I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be an awesome year.’ And then I yawned, “And an exhausting one.”

 

I Was Wrong About The Hobby Hoarder

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Recently, I’ve been sharing chapters from the book that I wrote during and subsequently following the initial two Hobby Hoarder years. Now several years removed from the project and a few years older, I thought it might be time to reflect even more deeply. I’ll still share chapters from the book. But wanted to share what I consider to be an “out-cerpt.”

It’s been five years since I initiated the Hobby Hoarder project, and sometimes I find myself pondering how it was possible—How could I have ever done one hobby each week, how could I have ever afforded it, how could I have ever preached that anything was possible when now at points I feel so tired, when the bills are so big, when I prefer a Friday night at home to a Friday night out; when time moves so fast.

The truth is that as we age—our bodies change, our minds change, and our lives change. I didn’t believe people when they told me that. Some people said “Just wait until you’re older. Life will be different. You won’t be able to keep up with the hobbies. You’ll have more responsibilities. It won’t be easy. ” I didn’t want to listen to these people. I thought they were just naysayers and debbie downers.

You see, when I was the Hobby Hoarder, I came to feel invincible. I was ziplining through mountains, I was diving out of airplanes, I was swinging around poles, I was tap dancing through studios. I had no fear.

Except the truth is I did.

When thinking back, it’s easy to remember all that fun, terrifying, exhilarating stuff.

But when I was doing the hobby hoarder project, life was much different: sure I was younger and had more energy. But the big — really important parts of my life— were much, much in disarray:

-I was a freelancer–who always worried about what job I was going to find next, and if I lost my current job, would I ever find the next one?

-I was still in the closet, worried what coming out would mean–worried not just about what friends and family might think, but how I would feel–and if I would get to the point of self-love.

-I was single and not in a place to be in a relationship.

-I was battling depression.

-I cared a lot about what people thought of me.

-I hid my most deepest thoughts.

-I struggled with my most deepest thoughts.

When I took on The Hobby Hoarder persona, I transformed into a confident, outgoing, dedicated, determined, human who no one could tear down.

I was my own superhero, battling my internal struggles by becoming more outgoing, more courageous, more energetic, more positive. By taking some of my fears and facing them head on while I avoided the other ones.

I realize now that all the “nay-sayers” and “Debbie Downers” were quite right about two things:

– Life as I’ve gotten older isn’t always easy.
– And it is much different than when I was 24.

But what the tone in their voice got wrong when they told me those two things, was that it would be different and probably much more difficult:

The truth is, that even when I struggle, and even when the days are tough: Life is different. Life is better. 

Even though some days I find myself to be more tired, to be more anxious, and to be just as insecure–I’m constantly reminded that I’m in a much better place now than I could have ever been then. It is in my most raw and vulnerable moments that I have to take a pause to realize this. It is in the moments where I stop feeling invincible–I have to remind myself that I am and can be. It is in our tough moments, where we come out stronger on the other side.

The best part of it all is that now, at 29, I don’t need the cloak of the The Hobby Hoarder.

At 29: 

-I have a full-time job.

-I have hobbies that I turn to as an outlet–not an escape. (Photography and sports)

I’m out of the closet, and couldn’t be more comfortable with that. My family and friends also could not have been more perfect in that struggle.

-I’m in a relationship with someone who I love. Someone who makes each day better than the last. Someone who I might never have met 5 years ago–when my heart wasn’t open or ready.

-I’ve cut all my hair off, and finally enjoy taking the time to look at myself in the mirror and see who I’ve become.

-I still struggle at times, but I’ve learned to admit the struggles. I’ve sought out help and therapy.

-I’m honest and open (sometimes some will argue too honest and too open).

-I ultimately have good intentions.

-I have  morals and values.

-I have more responsibility. I still struggle with stress and doubt and worry. Because of this, I tend to share the little thoughts inside my head–for better or for worse.

-I’ve got the best friends in the world: honest and loving ones who tell me when I’m being a little crazy. When I’m being selfish. Who tell me when I can do better, who offer advice on how to do better.

-And I’ve got people in my life who let me know mistakes are okay, but remind me to move on from them. I have people in my life who remind me that perfection is often in our imperfection. 

When I think about the Hobby Hoarder years, and everything that was possible—everything I was capable of, and then I take the time to see how much has changed since those years—I feel lucky. I didn’t think life could get better than when I was doing all those hobbies. I thought that was life. and I didn’t think life could be better than those moments.

I was wrong. 

And I’m glad I was. 

Life moves. It changes. But it’s always something we should and can continue to conquer, and the world–something we can always strive to be on top of.

And if we are lucky, we’ll reach the top, a little bit wiser as well.

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Never Have I Ever (Until Now): Chapter 2 – Untitled

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Never Have I Ever (Until Now): Chapter 2 – Untitled

Disclaimer: Five years ago,  I set off on a journey that I never anticipated would change my life in such an incredible way. The goal was to try 52 hobbies in 52 weeks. At the onset, I had intended to write a book compiling the experiences and sharing them. I wasn’t sure at the time if the book would be a quirky coffee-table accessory or if something else might evolve. As it turns out, I never published the book, but I did write most of it. Over time, I’ve gone back to it, time-and-time again. With the five year anniversary of the project, I’ve decided that it’s time to start sharing it: One chapter at a time.

This is Chapter 2.
For the intro to the book, head HERE!
For Chapter 1 (Vulnerability) click HERE!
For the original Hobby post this chapter digs into, visit HERE!

The truth is that sometimes the only thing more vulnerable than looking someone else in the eye is looking yourself in the eye. Before comedy—before the hobby year, I went an entire year without looking at myself in the mirror—without seeing myself. This isn’t just a poetic way of saying I was insecure. I didn’t even own a full length mirror and only occasionally would I check my outfit before I left for work by using Photobooth on my Macbook. When brushing my teeth or getting ready in the bathroom, I’d only take quick glimpses, but I truly stopped really looking at myself. Some days I’d go as far as avoiding my reflection in store front windows and car bumpers. I was terrified of the person who might be looking back at me—and I was also terrified of whatever flaws I might see. My self-confidence was at an all time low. I’d break down in dressing rooms—surrounded by mirrors. I stopped shopping—because I didn’t want to have to go through the desperation of wanting to escape before I even tried to slide on a new pair of jeans. Quite frankly, I just didn’t want to look at a reflection that would stare back at me with disappointment.

 

In 2012, I was 5’2” and what felt…chubby. Currently–I’m near 180 pounds. Let’s face it, by definition, I am not “sexy.” I’ve never been meant for the runway, I’ve never been able to sport a bikini, and I couldn’t even imagine gracing the cover of Cosmo.

My abs aren’t defined, my legs are stumpy, and my hair is flat. I am convinced that if pictures in the dictionary matched words, my mug shot would be the perfect candidate for “average,” and in a thesaurus: “your plain old Jane.”

Until my senior year of college, I was constantly fearful of going to group gym classes. Television commercials and infomercials always showed slender women in spandex who knew the choreography and routines better than I knew my menstrual cycle. Simply put, it was intimidating. I never wanted to go into a gym class and be the bigger girl who just didn’t get it. When I moved to New York City, I tried my first zumba class—and walked out in the middle. These gym-goers were fit and slender—and I was uncoordinated, clumsy, and chubby.

But I had decided, going into my yearlong adventure that I was tired of being simple. Flat. Adorable. That I was exhausted of hearing how lovely my dimples were—how wonderful my smile was—how cute my giggly laugh was. That I was tired of hearing the words “you’re just perfect the way you are,” “you are so cute.” The truth was—I really just wanted to be sexy. So I jumped into the year–or one might say swung into the year– with a quest to channel my inner Marilyn—and my deep dark Hepburn.

 

That brought me to my next dilemma…I didn’t know what sexiness was—or how to obtain it. For so many years I had just been intimidated by the thought that I would never achieve true sexiness.

I began to question if sexy was what I saw on all the magazine covers? If it was puckering my mouth up into a kissy face, or opening it just slightly enough while winking one eye?

Did sexy mean sipping on a cosmopolitan in a short black cocktail dress, dressing my eyes in dark mascara, and painting my lips a luscious red?

Did it mean buying a full-length mirror—rather than using the Photobooth application on my Macbook?

I googled “sexy hobbies”and regretted the search instantly as several hundred links to porn sites infiltrated my computer. So I put a condom on my search and revised it to “How to be sexy,” hoping that it’d be a bit more…safe.

I was drowning in the Internet. Advertisements were popping up right and left. Mass-marketing rhetoric on “sexiness.” What perfumes to spritz. What leggings to rock. What diet to go on.

My mind tried to understand everything I was seeing, everything I was reading. It was becoming very clear, very quickly, that sexiness was a math code that I couldn’t quite crack–that I might never crack. I tried to work through the calculations, but I found myself, instead, just talking in circles: “I’ve never done any of this stuff–This isn’t me at all–Is this what it takes? Could I only be sexy if I did everything opposite of how I already do it?”

And then I saw it—the piece of the calculation I was missing. A woman was staring at me from the computer screen. She was elegant. Flexible. And she had both her legs wrapped around a pole. I stared at the advertisement for what felt like hours.

“Pole dancing,” I said out loud to myself. “I could try pole dancing.”  “This could be my answer to sexiness.” I looked back at the advertisement again. Yes, this was the way to find my inner sexiness–or outer sexiness–and this was the way to truly start my year of firsts and prove I was committed to the new, the novel, and for me, the unexpected.

When I first told my best friend that I would be signing up for a pole dancing class, she looked at me, and burst into laughter. “Please, please, please…video tape it,” she begged. “I need to see this.” While her initial laughter made me uncomfortable–I was after all, on a serious quest, I realized her laughter was warranted.

She had known me for years, and to her, everything I was telling her about what I was setting out for–and to do–with this first hobby was opposite of who I was—or at least everything the childhood and teen version of me was. In high school, my hair was a bit messy, I wore my athletic sweats to school and I was always talking about the big game coming up–whether it be field hockey, basketball or softball. I wasn’t sexy. 

As I talked through the pole dancing thoughts with my friend, I couldn’t help but to laugh at myself, too. The truth was at the time the closest I had ever come to a pole was on an elementary school field trip to the fire station. However, I also didn’t want my own laughter to make it seem like this was something to take lightly. The reality was that I was on a quest, and this was my initiation to the year. If I couldn’t take this activity seriously—how would I make it through fifty-one more weeks of new terrifying, exhilarating, sometimes also self-deprecating activities? The answer was simple—I couldn’t. So instead of letting myself go down the path of deflecting by laughing it off or making too much fun of myself, I got down to business.

I began researching pole dancing facilities in New York City, and very quickly came across Body and Pole on 27th Street. The company advertised a “Pole Dancing Virgins” class on the front of their website, and so I thought what a perfect way to pop this cherry. I didn’t care what the price was. I submitted my Visa card number and sat back. I closed my eyes and basked in the moment. This was it: I was on my way to becoming …. sexy.

Then it dawned on me. What the hell does one wear to a pole dancing class?

As I thought of all the pole dancing videos I had seen on YouTube, I suddenly felt ill thinking of what I would have to wear—nearly nothing.

I went back to the Body and Pole website and decided to see if they had recommendations, and they did: booty shorts and a tank. I had never sported booty shorts in my life. I ruffled through the fine print on the site to see if I could get my money back. “This isn’t what I signed up for,” I yelled into my pillow and panicked.

But it was what I signed up for, and in the moments that followed, I made peace with the decision. I also decided that it was time for a shopping trip.

The next day, I set out on a search for the perfect outfit, hoping I would find something I’d feel comfortable enough in. I started at the mirrors of the dressing room. Nothing was right. The blue booty shorts came up my thighs too much. The black ones gave me a wedgie. In the orange ones, I had a muffin top. I began to be reminded of all the years I avoided the mirror. I was ready to avoid it again.

As I hastily handed the clerk my stack of clothing, I turned toward the men’s department. Maybe booty shorts wasn’t the answer. …Maybe something else was.

I walked to the men’s underwear section and located the boxer briefs.

I laughed… “I guess….maybe this works??? I mean…I guess a lot of women feel sexy in their man’s clothing the morning after….?”

I pulled a red pair of boxer briefs off the rack, along with three back up pairs, and a black tank top from the women’s department. Then I darted for the changing room, and threw on the red boxer briefs and black tank.

Begrudgingly, I turned toward the mirror. But then something changed….I wasn’t repulsed by the figure in front of me. Instead, I felt comfortable….and cool. This wasn’t anyway I’d felt in front of a mirror in a long time. I took a moment, and was grateful to have found something. However, as I went to change, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to put my street clothes back on quite yet. I wanted to indulge in this moment, so I immediately slipped the guy’s underwear back on, threw the tank top back over my head, and began posing in front of the mirror. Smooching my lips together, winking, shrugging my shoulders, waving my hair wildly. Then I started firing off mirror selfie after selfie. I was in the dressing room for over a a half hour. I was already beginning to feel sexier—and I hadn’t even started the class yet. “Good,” I thought. “This is fun. This is how it should be.”

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Just one day later I headed to the Body and Pole studio, and prepared to get my sexy on.

As I walked out of the center’s changing room, I realized that many of the girls waiting for the class were much, much prettier than me, and I rushed into the bathroom to clear my nerves.

After calming myself down, I headed into class—red boxer briefs and all.

I grabbed a mat and placed it in the back of the room. As soon as the teacher walked in, she laughed and said “Why are you all so nervous? Move your mats to the front.” Then suddenly, with no way out of it, I was in the front row—staring at myself in a mirror. At this moment, I wanted to run as far from this spot as I possibly could. But the door was too far away, and the warm up was starting. And I was already behind, trying to catch up on the stretches. What I learned quickly about group classes like this, is that the instructors don’t pause for your self-esteem: That’s on you to work out.

As we moved through the warm up, I began to feel even more uncomfortable. The early instructions involved a lot of pelvic movement, hip rolling, and awkward discomfort. Suddenly, with the full mirror in front of me, I realized I wasn’t looking at the woman I had been photo shooting in the dressing room the day before, I was looking at woman full of imperfection. I noticed where my flabs were as I stretched my body from side to side. I was nervous that this case of self-consciousness would continue for the entire class.

All of this was just a prelude, of course, to our first moments on the pole—our first moments of real sexiness. It was just a half hour into class that we began to make our first moves on the pole, leading the way with our hips, extending our arms, and pointing our toes.

“It’s a body roll—not a pole hump,” our teacher yelled. “There is nothing sexy about pole humping,” she laughed.

I watched as she smoothly and seductively grasped the pole, rolled, spun, and turned. I was inspired. “Hot. Damn. That’s freaking sexy,” I whispered.

I looked at the mirror and made a kissy face as I went to take a spin.

I then fell off the pole trying to complete my turn, bruising my knees. I looked back into the mirror. This wasn’t sexy. This was hard. This was terrifying.

But while I’ve never been sexy—I’ve also never been a quitter, so just like a horseback rider gets back on her horse—I jumped right back on that pole. ‘Sexy is painful,’ I thought, and nailed the next spin I did.

“How we feeling?” The instructor yelled to pump us up.

Giggling, I responded, “Sexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxy.”

She laughed, and headed to the front of the classroom, and took a moment to explain that pole dancing can be anything you want it to be. It can be sexy, gymnastic, aerobic, athletic, a way of getting fit, a try at something new. Sexiness, she started to describe, is something we feel inside ourselves. It’s not the way we dressed or the faces we make. Feeling sexy is a state of mind.

And she was right. In the hour and a half that I stretched my body, popped my hips, and shook my booty, I had felt more “sexy” than I ever had in my life. Was it because I would have sexually aroused another person if he or she had stood within ten feet of me? Likely, no. (Trust me: I watched the video of myself doing some of the moves.) But had I played dress-up, again, like a little kid? Yes. Had I taken every part of the class seriously? Yes. And had I done something I loved to do (try something brand new and unusual)? Yes. Had I been anything other than me? No. And that made me feel like the sexiest person in the room.

On Coming Out and Everything that Goes with That

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On Coming Out and Everything that Goes with That

Recently, I received an email to create a casting video on my coming out story–as well as some of the struggles faced with coming out, if there was anyone I still had to come out to, and if I hoped to inspire others with my story.

In having the opportunity to sit down and talk to my camera–the way I had so many times before for the Hobby Hoarder–I felt at home. I also felt as though I was doing something I needed to do.

Within the video, I share a college story, crying in my dorm hall, my first kiss with a girl, the relief of having friends who supported me, and the sadness I have for others who may not live in a safe enough place to share their own stories, or to be exactly who they are.

With Pride month having just ended, I thought I’d share this video with you; however, I like to remember and remind people, that for many of us, Pride isn’t just a weekend, or a month, it’s a lifetime.

Consider this my first foray back into vlogging.

Love. is. Love.

Never Have I Ever (Until Now): Chapter 1 – Vulnerability

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Disclaimer: Five years ago,  I set off on a journey that I never anticipated would change my life in such an incredible way. The goal was to try 52 hobbies in 52 weeks. At the onset, I had intended to write a book compiling the experiences and sharing them. I wasn’t sure at the time if the book would be a quirky coffee-table accessory or if something else might evolve. As it turns out, I never published the book, but I did write most of it. Over time, I’ve gone back to it, time-and-time again. With the five year anniversary of the project, I’ve decided that it’s time to start sharing it: One chapter at a time.

Never Have I Ever (Until Now): Chapter 1 – Vulnerability

 “Are you nervous?”

I turn around. Standing there is a 4-foot 11-inch young woman.

“No I’m not….”

“Really—cause I’m shitting my pants,” I joke.

“Okay…maybe just a little. Should we go buy diapers?” The young woman adds.

We share a laugh, and strike a short conversation.

It’s October 11, 2011. I’m about to do my first stand up comedy show, ever. As it turns out I’m also about to do something else for the first time as an adult: I’m feeling like I’m about to shit my pants.

Even if I didn’t do my first official hobby until February of 2012—this is really when I felt my life take a change for the better.

Prior to beginning my true quest, I met a stranger who took me under his wing. Who I warily let into my mind and into my heart, who I let see me struggle and who I let see me frustrated. In short: who I really let see me. By no surprise, I met Justin, a New York City comic, through the internet. After sarcastically responding to something I had posted on someone else’s wall, Justin apologized and told me he was a comic, that I shouldn’t take anything he said so seriously.

I laughed it off, but not before responding to him by saying, “comedy, eh?” That’s something I’d like to try one day.”

He responded by telling me that if I really wanted to try stand up comedy, he’d put me on his show. Though hesitant, I said, “Yes, let’s do it.”

I learned that Justin produced and hosted a show on Tuesdays at Gotham Comedy Club, so I bought a ticket to his next show—which happened to be August 26. This day also happened to be the day that a rare earthquake struck New York City. Little did I know that as the ground shook, my whole life was about get shaken up itself.

Following his set, I approached Justin and introduced myself. His blue eyes were welcoming, and he had a giant grin on his face–“Hey Libs! What’d you think? You still want to do your set.”

I hesitated, “Yeah…I think I do.”

“Great, we will write together—it’ll be awesome!”

From there, we were inseparable. We met in coffee shops for two months and spent hours crafting material for my first gig, a nine minute set in the Gotham Comedy Club basement lounge. Through our meetings, Justin helped me mold my jokes.

He taught me how to write jokes in order to surprises audiences: “Here try this. Set the joke up so that you look like you’re going one direction—then go the opposite.”

Well that’s not much different than my every day life….I thought out loud.

He laughed.

“Let’s take a look at one of your jokes….”

This was my chance….

“Some people say the best things in life are free—friends, family—that’s great. But I don’t believe that. I do not believe the BEST things in life are free—and here’s one reason: herpes.”

He taught me how to cut out the junk: “take out anything that’s extraneous. Keep everything short. You’ll lose your audience with too many words.”

He taught me the importance of including gestures and hand motions to make a joke come alive.

And he taught me to slow down: “Every time you think you’re doing your joke slowly—slow down even more.

Above all, he taught me how to appear as though I’d been a seasoned comic, not a beginner. And that lesson started with confidence.

Justin explained that if I really wanted to appear confident on stage, the first thing I had to do was take the microphone stand and put it behind me. This way nothing would stand between the audience and myself. He then asked me to perform stand up jokes in front of him—a one-man audience. And then when he had friends around, he challenged me to do my set for them with a fake microphone.

Justin not only taught me confidence and comedy, he taught me how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, how to stand up in front of someone and let them see me—really see me—something I struggled with for a long time. Mostly, because for many years I was unable to see me either.

Through one-on-one get-togethers with Justin, and through letting him see me in some of my most vulnerable states, I began learning how to let people in. And then I began to let myself in—to accept and to love myself. And even though sitting down to learn comedy was the prologue to The Hobby Hoarder year, the process of learning the craft, of sitting down with a stranger, of letting someone else see me, and of letting myself see me, opened my eyes to the world of opportunities out there. Justin also reminded me of how good it felt to laugh and how good it felt to make others laugh as well. In a way, stand up comedy was the spark plug to the hobby years—helping me to find clarity—helping me to focus my attention on the physical world rather than the internal world I had felt trapped in.

On October 11, 2011, just as Justin had instructed me, I took the microphone by one hand, and then placed the stand behind me, stepping into the spotlight.

Little did I know, this moment was just the beginning of an unpredictable journey ahead. This comedy show was my boarding pass for the flight I didn’t even know I wanted – or needed – to take; my permission to fly; to face all my fears; starting with my biggest fear of all: Facing myself.

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Never Have I Ever (Until Now): The Prologue

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Five years ago, this last week, I set off on a journey that I never anticipated would change my life in such an incredible way. The goal was to try 52 hobbies in 52 weeks. At the onset, I had intended to write a book compiling the experiences and sharing them. I wasn’t sure at the time if the book would be a quirky coffee-table accessory or if something else might evolve. As it turns out, I never published the book, but I did write most of it. Over time, I’ve gone back to it, time-and-time again. With the five year anniversary of the project, I’ve decided that it’s time to start sharing it: One chapter at a time.

Never Have I Ever (Until Now) – The Prologue

Find your passion and run with it. Don’t look back. Thank the people who call you crazy–anyone who’s crazy enough to pursue their dreams is strong enough to achieve them too.

An Intro

“You really need to quit something,” My supervisor tells me as she walks by my office door. “You’re taking on too much.”

My supervisor is right–I’m taking on a lot.

It’s January of 2012. I’m an associate television producer for the City of New York who has recently, in her free time, started writing and performing stand up comedy, perfecting her drawing skills, training for her second half-marathon, and doing photography with a digital SLR. And now I am signing myself up for an acting workshop.

My day planner is filling up faster than a doctor’s office during flu season.

My mom would tell you that I was just as active as a kid as I am when my supervisor tells me that I need to quit something. When I was younger, I played field hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, and softball. I’d attempted the clarinet, I’d tip-toed through a ballet class, I’d sailed in a lake, I’d canoed across a pond, and I kayaked down a river. My parents would rush me from one athletic practice to another; from one gym and on to the next. I was relentless. I never stopped.

But then I grew up, and my willingness to try new things suddenly came to a halt. For several years, I was in a funk. I had fallen into depression and I had forgotten how to live life fully and completely. I would say that I wanted to try something and then I’d never try it. I’d fear failure or judgment from my peers. And instead, I’d mope on my couch about how I’d never be good at anything. I’d lost my sense of wonder. I had lost my yearning for learning new things. I had lost my smile, my laughter, my sense of joy. I had concerned myself so much with destinations that I had forgotten that what really mattered was the journey.

With the new activities, the stand up comedy, the drawing, the photography, and the acting, I felt that I was finally opening myself up to a life that I had been letting slip to the way side. And now, suddenly, I felt as though the progress I was making with the activities was being threatened as my supervisor told me that I needed to quit something.

I didn’t want to quit anything. I didn’t want to limit my life to going to work, coming home, cooking (or getting take out) and going to sleep. I didn’t want to experience living solely from the couch in my artist loft.

So instead of heeding my supervisor’s advice, in February of 2012, I set out on a yearlong quest in the hope of navigating my way to a life that extended beyond my 9-5 job and beyond the sadness I had sulked in for years. I decided that in opposition to quitting anything, I instead wanted to try one new activity or hobby each week for an entire year.

I started to brainstorm names for the quest and came up with “The Hobby Hoarder.” I used my lunch to draw logos on blank pieces of paper and to write lists of hobbies or activities that I could try that I had never tried before. I hadn’t even started the project and I was beaming with excitement.

Over the next couple of weeks, I continued to brainstorm on the year, and began telling people what I was going to do. As I sat down to coffee with a friend, she said, “So you are going to live like you are dying.”

My eyes brightened. “No. I’m going to live like I am living!”

The truth is that I don’t believe we should live as if we are dying. Instead, I think we should live each day as though it’s one of our firsts: full of excitement and ambition, full of curiosity, full of fear, full of imagination, and full of wonder, full of an openness toward whatever comes our way—that’s right—we should live each day like it’s our first.

For so long, I had forgotten what firsts felt like. When we are young, our firsts are celebrated with smiles and applause and sometimes balloons. First step. First word. First hit in tee-ball. First A+. But somewhere between the time we share our first kiss and the time we hit our twenties, we lose our thirst for the sensation we feel when we experience something for the first time. Firsts can make us realize what we are passionate about: Maybe you’ve never taken a dance class before but when you do you figure out that you’re meant to be the next Beyonce. Maybe you’ve never swung from a trapeze before, but that first time you do, you realize you’re meant to be in the circus. Or maybe you’ve never piloted a plane before, but then you do and you discover that you were always meant to fly.

Firsts can make life worth living. But when we hit a certain age, it’s almost as if we forget to let ourselves experience those firsts. We get caught in “Busy traps” (NyTimes) and “life takes over.” But that’s not true. Life doesn’t take over: Work takes over—financial restraints take over. Think about the last time someone asked you to do something and you said you couldn’t. What was your excuse? If you’re without children was it work? Was it money? Life clearly does not take over. If anything, life takes a backseat ride.

Too many times, we get so caught up in our daily routines and our jobs that the only thing we concern ourselves with when we get home is kicking back.

But that’s not how life’s supposed to be—not at all. Life is supposed to be enjoyable. Life is supposed to be full of challenges—and then exceeding our expectations of those challenges. Life is supposed to be full of fear and overcoming that fear. It is supposed to be about saying I’d love to do that and then actually doing it. Surprisingly life is supposed to be about living.

I hope that before you continue reading this book, you’ll step away. You’ll grab a pen and a paper—and you’ll start writing down everything you want to try this year—that you’ll make your own quest—to live.

And if you haven’t stepped away yet, and have disobeyed my only wish, then welcome! Strap on your seat belts, make sure your seats are in their upright position, understand that the only emergency exit is to live your own life—and that it’s now time to take flight. Literally.

All Aboard.

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