Kat Powers

Keep moving, always keep moving

Spending time, not money: Kat’s hiking rules

IMG_5643There’s so many reasons I’ve gotten back into hiking.

Now I’m rapidly becoming an old lady whose children have their own activities I get to ramble all I want — but this time, I’m doing it with a little more purpose following some basic rules.

  • Prepare. Every weekend is a “destination hike.” I pick a new location I want to check out and prepare for that particular location. You always need water and dry socks. Some hikes are paved trails great for running shoes and some are root-bound climbs for hiking boots.
  • Spend time not money. Whenever possible, I plan to spend zero so I don’t have to budget a hike. I bring extra water, snacks, and in addition to the gear in my bag, I have dry clean clothes in the car. Unless you need to kick into a kitty for a privately maintained property, most town and state parks should allow you to do your thing for free.
  • Take only pictures. My apartment doesn’t need more branches, skulls, leaves or pretty rocks.
  • Bring someone new. I know the trails will be safer for women when “outdoorsy” looks like someone who doesn’t appear in an LLBean catalog. And before you pick a fight, I don’t think I have to defend the rights of white men to be outdoors. They’re already encouraged to be out there. Let’s encourage everyone else to come out too. (OK, now discuss.)

I can happily cover miles with these four rules and sleep at night, happy and exhausted. What you won’t see me arguing about is how much money I can spend on gear and how fast a pace I need to keep. This isn’t a competition. This is about figuring out how far I can go, and the only thing I want to beat are my own expectations.

Don’t be a jerk, stay out of my tent I’ll stay out of yours

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Safety is seriously an issue for women outside. There’s no shortage of guys who think they can get away with showing up naked with the following excuses.

  • I pee outside within full view of you. Ooops.
  • You should know I’m going to change out of my clothes in an open leanto/Adirondack shelter.
  • I didn’t know this was your tent that I unzipped and started to barge in.
  • It’s totally natural for me to sunbathe naked after a hike/swim/ski.

While I don’t really want to draw a line between everyone’s natural state and what’s perceived as threatening, it’s no secret that one of the biggest barriers for women enjoying the great outdoors are creepy men.

And don’t be that guy. We know you’re fine. Here’s what I ask though — you can take a few steps to making it good for everyone to be outside.

  • Hike with someone who doesn’t look like you. I’ve taken some folks with pigment on hikes with me and they’re always remarking how they’re the only people of color they see all day. Make it obvious folks of all types belong in the woods.
  • Set a standard for peeing. When I need to pop a squat I make sure I can’t be seen from the trail. It’s not hard.
  • Get other guys to meet that standard for peeing.
  • Mark your tent. I understand being tired and starting to unzip the wrong tent — it’s not funny. For a woman in the woods it can be terrifying. I make it super-obvious which tent is mine so I don’t bother other families. You can do the same — and be ready at a moment’s notice for a game of capture the flag.

These aren’t onerous requests. They’re about respect. Just like I clean up my site out of respect for your experience, I hope you respect my safety out there.

Camping game-changer: The hot water bottle


For years I’ve been fighting the cold on camping trips. And as warm and active as I get during the day, over the fire or in the sun, I am freezing cold and sleepless at night. In the morning I’m cold and cranky and achey.

Too old for camping out? Not yet. The standby of the frozen and aged is the old-fashioned hot water bottle. I put this in my sleeping bag an hour before turning in, and for once I slept through the night. I also woke up a tad less achey than I do when sleeping on a mattress and not the ground.

For someone who usually rises about 5:30 in the morning, it was a shock to hear bugles going off when I was still in my sleeping bag — and Reveille comes at 7 a.m.

When filled from a kettle the hot water bladder is actually quite hot. Wrapping it in a smelly athletic dress worked just fine for me. I’ve  learned there are fantastic knitting patterns for hot water bottles, and some stash them in stuffed animals, which may be the more attractive way to handle the situation, but adds bulk to your pack.

I’m giving up and making my own gear

Today’s bike ride was windy and sunny and too hot and then too cold and could have been improved with some better clothes. I of course forgot to pack food so I stopped at a coffee shop, silently mocking the pudgy guy in matching teal windbreaker, teal shirt, teal bike shorts, teal-and-black socks and black bike shoes buying a coffee with too much creamer.

So hear’s the thing: I’m in a sweater that’s absolutely soaked in sweat, which doesn’t block the wind very well but at least covers me from the sun. It’s either too warm or damp in the wind and too cold. And then mocking some guy dressed for biking appropriately.

Now, wearing a size you cannot find in a regular outdoor store, I improvise. Cutting men’s sweatshirts so they’re closer to fitting, using yoga pants as a base layer. But I want wool under-layers, jackets with pockets and maybe even a sun hat I can wash after it’s taken a dunk in the river.

I cannot seem to find those things in the store, and I have to try clothes on. A size 16W on a 5’2 woman is totally different from 6’0 woman in the same size.

So I think I have to make my own gear. I wonder how hard this will be.

Walkabout with a kid


There’s something soothing to an agitated kid when you go outside. Today I grabbed one and we walked around the Charles River. One of the reasons we moved here was because of the walking paths — they’re fairly safe, they’re maintained, and when it warms up on days like today you can smell the river. It’s a good smell, of things growing and living. Just moving our persons around for a few miles made everything a lot better. Apparently watching geese fight is pretty cool too.

Dressing in layers on the cheap: Cuddl Duds on sale

I’m always cold. I sleep with wool blankets with a broken child-size sleeping bag and sometimes a heating pad because I’m always cold. However, finding warm layers is pretty touch.

Cuddl DudsToday I tried out Cuddl Duds which I found in a going-out-of-business store sale. These are the “Climatewear Legging ” style They’re soft and 100% polyester. I bought a size 2x after eyeing the 1x size. The larger size was both a little wide for me, and very long, but the bottoms could be rolled to fit under pants or tucked into socks.

Wearing them in 25F (2C) weather and not very active, I was appropriately warm, they didn’t tug at my underwear and then didn’t start sliding down me when I walked. If you’re outdoors for a while, they’ll tug at any body hair, so if you shave your legs, do that before attempting an overnight with them.

Fit: While they were obviously designed for someone much taller than my 5’2, I could make do with tucking them into my socks without discomfort. If I find them again I’m going to try going down one size.

Packing: Rolls up to the size of a T-shirt, and dirty I would use them to protect a treasure, be it a camera or something breakable I got at the gift shop.

Wear: Didn’t shrink in the wash. While white was what was available to me, I would most likely buy them in a color to match what could stain them. Perhaps a blood red or a forest green.

Price: They retail for $32, which would be worth it for a single pair you can wash often. Mine were discounted 60%, which I know I won’t find again.

Writing this down to keep myself accountable

Every once in a while the direction forward seems particularly clear: I just happen to have some obstacles in the way.

I started this blog when I left the Red Cross. It was to help me write a book, originally, but mostly it was keeping me honest. I’m going to use it for those same purposes, but it’s going to be about moving in a new direction.

When I was young, being outside was fabulous — I could walk or bike for miles, even across borders, and occasionally I could grab people with me. I would explore sugar shacks that were empty for the season, old cabins built in the woods by those running alcohol across the Canadian border in the 1930s, finding bear traps, abandoned cars and squatters. I learned to find my way by noting moss on a tree, how empty my stomach was and where the sun lay in the sky.

I got away from all of that. I was rewarded for working hard, so I worked, inside. I grew into my grandmother’s body and soon enough, finding clothes for cross-country skiing or rock climbing was impossible. And being a woman alone on a trail can be terrifying when a pack of men catch up with you on the path.

Now that I have sons big enough to get outside with me, who want me outside with them, I’m learning how to get back outside just for me. What I write about here is that process — how you find gear for a short, fat body that’s pushing 50, how you afford to camp on a shoestring budget, how to get these stiffened joints to move in the outdoors again, and perhaps something I’ve no figured out yet.

I love moving. This should be fun.

Taking the tougher path


I’m one of those people who thinks better while moving. I’m the standing-desk, rock-at-the-lecturn-while-speaking, my-best-ideas-are-while-shoveling person. So this past weekend, instead of driving I thought I’d walk over The Arnold Arboretum in Boston. And I do mean walk over. I would start at a corner, walk in a straight-enough line over hills, rocks, whatever.

Arnold ArboretumBut the designer of the park did me one better. I was lured up a beautiful stairway of terraced logs to a meadow. From there I could or sit under an apple tree or keep moving. A nearly private footpath beckoned. At the top was a view of giant trees, a sloping lawn a hint of a pond in the distance, and a map that showed me the graceful sloping road I could have taken to the summit.

As I stood catching my breath, a cyclist made it to the top of Bussey Hill.

“You made it!” I said.

“Huh? Oh, I didn’t take the steep route,” she responded.

I’m still wondering if there are more than just bragging rights to have taken the tougher path. I do know the cyclist missed out on the steep climb that was just a little more beautiful than the road.


How low a Kat Number do you have?

KatLaughSmallNew goal in life: Seeing how many people can have a Kat number of 2 or fewer.

What am I talking about? So the Erdős number notes the mathematician who dedicated a great deal of his life to working with other mathematicians, writing papers together to figure out problems. If your Erdős number is 1, you wrote a paper with him. If your Erdős number is two, you wrote a paper with someone who wrote a paper with Paul Erdős. According to Wikipedia (crowdsourcing, folks) “only 134,007 mathematicians have an Erdős number, with a median value of 5.”

I think this isn’t just a math thing, this is a life thing. Whether it’s the Butch Ward edict that the “wisdom is in the room” or the general notion that two heads are better than one, I’m convinced great things come from bouncing ideas off others. Now I know that Dunbar’s number states I cannot have this sort of meeting-of-the-minds with more than a dozen at a time.

Granted, my entire career has been built on this premise that you get ideas out to folks and let them play with those ideas and make them their own. I bet I can codify that. If you’ve worked with me on a newspaper, project, or disaster, you have a Kat Number of 1. (That’s what, 22 newspapers, a few blizzards, a zombie game and a terror attack?) Basic formula: If you’ve worked with someone of a Kat Number of 1, you have a Kat Number of 2.

Examples of people with Kat Numbers:

  • Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You. Have you worked with Dorie? (She’s awesome, right?) That gives you a Kat Number of 2.
  • MA Attorney General Maura Healey has a Kat Number of 2, since I’ve worked in the same newsroom as her media maven Chloe Gotsis.
  • Ringo Starr has a Kat Number of 2, which he earned through a long interview with Krista Bradford (boss at The Good Search). Which means poor Paul McCartney has the high Kat Number of 3.

I shall presume Boston has a great number of Ones, and lots of Twos in the larger media markets. How big can one grow a personal network and not be Kevin Bacon? I’d say it’s totally on me to make that number higher, but I want us to work together on that. How big can we make that group of Kat Number 1?

ORGASM pizza and Domino’s Crisis Communications

Back in the mid-80s, when we all had feathered hair and I had a crush on a boy who worked at Papa Gino’s pizza, the way to get someone’s attention was to order an ORGASM pizza and leave his/her phone number as the pickup number. The gentleman upon whom I was crushing shared the codes the order takers would use for pizza toppings. O for onion, R for pepperoni (Roni), G for green peppers, A for anchovies, S for sausage, M for mushroom. Apparently orders came in to the phone line for this particular combination of toppings and had the home phone number for the chemistry teacher we didn’t think highly of, or the tennis coach who had comments about student’s thighs.

Now we have social media, and bored teenagers working in pizza shops have smartphones with access to the internet. There’s a pretty good case study over here at USC Annenberg on what to do when you’re faced with a crisis as it is presented on social media.

Essentially, a crisis triggers attributions of responsibility to the organization from stakeholders, along three dimensions: 1) whether the crisis has happened before or will likely happen again; 2) whether the event was controllable or uncontrollable by an individual or the organization; and 3) whether the crisis occurs within the organization or external to it. In this case, Domino’s as an organization was not directly responsible for this crisis, as the event occurred internally at the hands of employees, and this type of crisis had never happened before.

It’s an interesting, quick read, showing how you need to balance the rights of the company, the rights of the alleged nitwit teens, and the needs of your consumers when you’re dealing with a worldwide brand.