Kat Powers

Keep moving, always keep moving

Sometimes you just need to read the signs around you

Slow down

I fully admit to being tightly wound.

I’m really trying to learn how to chill out. And while I’d like to say I’ve come back to hiking to chill out in the woods, that would totally be a lie.

My hikes are super-planned, with enough snack food to get trapped for six hours in bad weather, back up cell phone batteries and dry socks. I get up at 5 a.m. so I can be at the gates of a park at sunrise. I bring an extra bag with me to pick up trash on the route. I leave a message as to where I am, including directions of the route I’m taking — despite my hikes usually being in sight of downtown Boston.

This past weekend I was going to charge to the end of a bog walk and then the six miles around the bog in question. I went past the signs that say enter at your own risk, and then found myself in the middle of a rotted boardwalk that was covered in ice where it wasn’t just swollen and under water.

As gorgeous as it was, plowing ahead would have been stupid — you don’t know where the weak spot is in an ice-covered bog where you can sink through.  I’ve lost count at the number of times  in life I’ve seen the evidence but plowed ahead because that’s what I was expected to do — into a bad marriage, into a bad job, into a bad deal.

Hopefully it’s not too late to learn how to slow down when there’s trouble ahead, and even reverse course. Full speed ahead into the ice is not the best course.

‘This is totally like Naked and Afraid’

naked and afaidMy hikes are pretty basic. I find a trail someone’s written about in the Boston area, somewhere less than an hour from my house, an I find a circuit I can walk. I tend to like circuits where I can see something new for the whole walk, but on days where I just need a hard workout I’ll find a big hill and run up and down both ways (not knee-friendly, but it keeps me sane).

I like to introduce folks to hiking, and I’ll take folks out with me when I can. For some reason, every single one of them, within half a mile of homes and streets and post office boxes and other harbingers of civilization, every single one will exclaim “THIS IS JUST LIKE NAKED AND AFRAID!”

I’ve learned that Naked and Afraid is a television program where a heteronormative pair is dropped, naked, in a reckless situation with a TV crew and no gear. I’ve watched a preview online after the third companion brought it up — I’ve not subscribed to the Discovery Channel to see it.

My hikes are within a days’ walk of downtown Boston, sometimes with a view of its skyscrapers. I tell my fellow hikers that in my pack I have extra hats, gloves, a water bottle for everyone, a flashlight, protein bars, a fire stick to power a dead cell phone and a rudimentary first aid kit. On one of my hikes we’re all going to be perfectly safe from everyone except perhaps fellow hikers.

And yet, everyone gets out of view of a street and they only have a semi-reality TV show to reference. That’s really sad.

I’ve totally got to drag more of you out on my hikes so your reference is the relative safety of the last hike we were on.

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.