Tina’s Snow Season for POW

Hey y’all! For my 37th birthday, I’ve started a fundraiser for Protect Our Winters (POW), an environmental non-profit started by pro-snowboarder Jeremy Jones to mobilize the snow sports community to take action against climate change. Check it out: Tina’s Snow Season for POW

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Super stoked to ride off the Lone Peak Tram for the first time today!

 

 

Not a Gnarly Adventure Story

I recently went to a Boldly Went outdoor adventure storytelling event in Portland. Since then, I’ve been thinking whether I have any exciting stories about my outdoor adventures to share in that type of format. The problem is I don’t have any stories with much “gnar factor.” I’m not very sendy. I like to be prepared. I do a lot of research. I’m conservative in my decision making, because either I’m the least experienced or I am alone.

It was only about a year and a half ago that I went on my first backpacking trip, but as I live this life of being an itinerant-worker-outdoor-adventurer, I think that I may already be forgetting how hard and scary things I now think are easy once were. And maybe I am less excited to report back to you about my trips because they just seem ordinary now. So before I forget, here are some things I used to be super intimidated by. Funny (and sad) to think that these sorts of things kept me from enjoying the wilderness earlier in my life.

1. Peeing and pooping in the woods

It turns out that, as long as there are not a lot of other people around (e.g. not trails in day hiking distance from Tokyo), peeing and pooping in the woods is very pleasant. It’s cleaner than most public restrooms, and the view is going to beat your bathroom at home. When I am hiking and need to pee, what I usually say to my hiking buddies to indicate I am stopping and wandering off trail a bit is “I’m going to find somewhere scenic to pee” and it’s true! Further resources and funny stories here.

alpine charmin

The best backcountry toilet paper I have had the pleasure to experience. I think it’s a lichen? I just call it “alpine Charmin”.

2. Finding a campsite in the backcountry

Before you actually do it, you read about it and have no idea what other people are talking about. You should camp on durable surfaces; you should camp on established camp sites; you shouldn’t camp on the top of a ridge (too windy); you shouldn’t camp at the bottom of a valley (cold air sinks); and on and on. In the end, campsites are like any other kind of real estate, each one has it’s pros and cons and it comes down to personal preference. Maybe you are willing to take a more exposed campsite for the great view; or maybe you have to pick a less flat spot that is more sheltered from the wind. After a while, you start getting an idea of what looks like a good campsite to you. It’s like learning to find street parking in a new city (which is actually much harder).

3. Hitchhiking

Sounds scary. But in my experience, if you are hitching near a place that is popular with hikers, and look like a hiker, it’s totally not a big deal and doesn’t feel sketchy at all. Most often, the people who pick you up are hikers or otherwise adventurers themselves. Keep good hitchhiking karma by picking up hitchhikers yourself.

hitching

Me hitching off the JMT

4. Not showering every day

When I was in law school, I remember telling my friend Erica I could never go camping because I have to wash my hair everyday. I’ve found that if physical activity is stimulating enough and I’m tired enough at night, going to sleep dirty and itchy scalp becomes a non-issue. It helps to adventure in cool places where you won’t sweat too much. If I do get sweaty it helps to jump into a cool lake or towel off with a bandanna. My hair does still start bothering me after 3-4 days so I like to bring a wooden comb on multi-day trips to help me manage the grossness. Ostensibly it helps distribute hair oils, but it’s really just a way to scratch my scalp that feels good.

laundry

I still prefer to be clean if possible!

See, if I can become outdoorsy, you can too!

My First Month in Alaska

I am sitting on the deck of the CNB (staff lounge building) eating Moose’s Tooth pizza, finally getting to read Carrot Quin’s blog posts about here Brooks Range Traverse, writing this with a red pen because it was the only one I could find. This is my life in Alaska.

Today is my day off. It’s been a brilliantly sunny and warm day, but a rain cloud has appeared to cast am ominous shadow and the wind is picking up… typical Alaska weather. Earlier today, I ran 3.5 miles down Glenn Highway to Caribou Creek Recreation Area, hiked down and waded to a sand bar in the middle of the Lion Head branch of the Matanuska River, ran back to MICA base, rewarded myself with Moose Tracks ice cream from our MICA Mocha truck for lunch, hand-washed some laundry, video-chatted with a friend in Tokyo, and took a shower in the outdoor solar and propane powered guide shower.

I am spending the summer as an apprentice guide with MICA Guides, a company that primarily operates on Matanuska Glacier, about 2 hours northeast of Anchorage on scenic Glenn Highway. Yesterday, I was checked off as an assistant climbing guide and a few days before that I was checked off to lead treks on the glacier by myself. The glacier is like the Labyrinth of Greek mythology, changing every time you walk on it. Guiding on the glacier is living the duck on water analogy, trying to look smooth and calm on the surface while processing safety considerations and balancing them with the guest experience and not tripping over your crampons while looking back to see if your clients are still alive staying in line.

In the past month, I have learned to ice climb, kayaked in Prince William Sound, slept on a glacier, hiked cross-country over tundra and helped build a house. My experience with MICA so far has been excellent. The first couple weeks of orientation (disorientation?) taught us to roll with the punches and be ready for anything. Which accrues benefits like being able to depart for an overnight backpacking trip with only 15 minutes notice (which is what I did with my last day off).

Talking about Berkshire Hathaway and value investing with guests on a recent work backpacking trip, I thought about the companies I have worked for. Law firms view the size of the pie (market) as limited and aggressively try to grab a bigger piece of the pie from competitors. This culture trickles down to individual lawyers within a firm, manifesting in behaviors such as work-hoarding and back-stabbing. The company I worked for as an in-house lawyer seemed to take the view “Shit! My piece of the pie is getting smaller!… But, we’re just going to either freak out or pretend it is not happening and not change the way we have been doing things”, which breeds a bunch of dutiful but complacent “shoganai” paycheck collectors. The attitude at MICA is to grow the staff and create opportunity and make the pie bigger for everyone. There is, of course, great emphasis on technical training and delivering excellent product, but also a recognition that guiding is a short-term career for most and thus a big emphasis on building better humans with leadership and life-skills in general. It’s really refreshing and I appreciate what Don, the owner, is trying to do here in this little intense, live-together, work-together utopia experiment. This is really a business that you can feel good about patronizing. So, come visit!

As a first-year apprentice guide, I am technically an unpaid intern, but I am getting a lot of training (the most I have ever gotten as a job) and get to go on trips and have experiences that would otherwise cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The mistakes I made while learning to lead treks were discouraging and ego-crushing at times and neither my phone nor computer recognize my fingerprints anymore (manual labor, plus hours of wet gloves on the glacier, plus washing dishes in scalding hot water and rinsing them in cold bleach water), but this is definitely a great introduction to being a mountain guide, and I am feeling pretty good about my life choices right now.

The Mat

The Mat

Climbing after hours

Climbing after work

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I got paid to go backpacking!

Lion Head with the Crew

Lion Head hike with the crew

Reflections on Attending the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Public Scoping Meeting in Anchorage on May 30, 2018

I’m in Anchorage from a few days before heading out to Glacier View for the summer. Typical tourist activity, I attended the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Public Scoping Meeting in Anchorage and participated in a rally outside.

My takeaway from listening to the testimony of stakeholders and the public at the public scoping meeting was that framing the issue of whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas development as a question of “What is more important: the environment or economic development?” is completely incorrect. One of the speakers at the rally outside Dena’ina Center organized by Defend the Sacred AK said, “Nothing is sacred when everything is for sale.”

When I heard that, it clicked for me, and I think I understood the disjunction between what Gwich’in advocates were there to say and the EIS process as a whole. The coastal plain of ANWR is sacred to the Gwich’in people. Therefore, no amount of oil reserves, no amount of oil and gas tax revenue, no amount of job creation and infrastructure development can justify opening up even a de minimis portion of “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” to oil and gas exploration and production.

For my law school folks, this sounds like the “market inalienability” concept. Cynical law students, we laughed at Margaret Radin’s outlandish idea that some things have to be “market inalienable” to promote “human flourishing” when we learned about it in Property Law. As Radin defined it, something is “market inalienable” if it cannot be sold or purchased. “Human flourishing” sounds cheesy but it’s just a scholarly term for some essential value to keeping our humanity that cannot be valued by a market. She argued that things that are essential to personhood should be made “market-alienable”; in other words, we can and should protect those things by making laws to prevent their purchase or sale (she’s a legal scholar).

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act does the opposite of this. Literature from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from the public scoping meeting states that the purpose of the EIS is to “properly balance oil and gas development with existing uses and conservation of surfaces resources” which completely misses the point. As more than a few of the persons who gave testimony asserted, oil and gas development in ANWR is a human rights issue, maybe not as “human rights” are usually legally defined in relation to some international treaty, but at the most visceral, basic, plain-language level of concerning personhood.

The Gwich’in people have made it clear that the coastal plain in ANWR is essential to their personhood; it’s sacred and nothing can justify its economic exploitation. I would argue that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is also essential to the personhood of all Americans and it should be sacred to all of us. For better or worse (racist and expansionist and all those things that it was), the concept of “wilderness” is baked into our national identity, and ANWR represents the last of that great wilderness America has left. As Wallace Stegner put it:

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed … We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”

There were a lot of people at the hearing in support of drilling testifying that with modern technology the footprint of the drilling would be small, that American environmental standards are high (a weird reverse NIMBY argument, questionable at best), similar development has been done elsewhere with minimal impact. And those arguments kind of sound reasonable, but if we view the remaining wilderness as sacred, they’re all besides the point. It may sound radical, but at Martin Litton is quoted as saying in The Emerald Mile:

“People often tell me not to be extreme… ‘Be reasonable!’ they say. Buy I’ve never felt it did any good to be reasonable about anything in conservation, because what you give away will never come back — ever. When it comes to saving wilderness, we cannot be extreme enough.”

ANWR is federal public land. It belongs to all Americans. The Public Scoping Meetings for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program EIS are only focusing on soliciting comments from Alaskan communities, but due to the shady nature of this most recent attempt to open up ANWR to drilling, most Americans have not had to chance to express their concerns. BLM literature states the “scoping period provides an opportunity for people who could be affected by the proposed action to express their views and concerns, and to offer suggestions.” “People who could be affected” is all of us. So here is a call to action. Please submit your comment by June 19, 2018 to blm_ak_costalplain_EIS@blm.gov. Here’s the BLM site for more information.

From the cynical lawyer perspective, this is the least we can do to help protect the Arctic. The BLM is required to review all comments even if they decide to lump them together or determine they are irrelevant, so let’s do a tiny part to stall the process of opening up ANWR to drilling. Hint: Scoping comments are should address what the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement should be — alternatives to explore, impacts to assess — and if we want to stall development we need to argue that that scope of the EIS should be as broad and far-reaching as possible, e.g. the EIS should address the global effects of climate change.

Hearing members of Gwich’in and other indigenous Alaskan tribes speak, it struck me that it is so unethical to impose an inherently unsustainable economic system and way of life on peoples who trying to preserve their right to live a sustainable one. Even if we (Industrial America) purport to be offering them the conveniences of modern, industrialized, commodified and commercialized life, the current global economic system built on extraction of non-renewable natural resources is, by definition, doomed. We should be questioning our economic model of growth for growth’s sake and try learning from them instead.

Resources:

  • Follow Defend the Sacred AK on Facebook
  • I’m a big fan of Carrot Quinn’s beautiful writing and this summer she is hiking and kayaking across Alaska to raise money to support Defend the Sacred AK. Read about it hereSupporting her campaign and following her blog will be a fun way to learn more about ANWR and what’s at stake. 

What’s going on in my life

“The Mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Last winter, I quit my job as in-house counsel at a Japanese oil and gas company and moved to Nozawa Onsen, the best ski town in Japan, to be a ski bum.

What precipitated this life reset?

When I joined Facebook at the beginning of law school, in the “About Me” block (which is now hidden away three clicks in) I wrote “aspiring crafty person and ecoterrorist wannabe.” (It still says that.)

After law school I somehow ended up in the energy industry representing traditional fossil fuel interests. “Somehow” means I took the path of least resistance and of least risk. I did all the right things to make sure I was “Headed in the Right Direction” (a useful concept coined by my friend Lex in this great post here).

We are all dependent on fossil fuels, so I don’t think oil and gas companies are evil. I often responded to the typical conversation starter “What do you do?” with “I’m an evil oil and gas lawyer.” But, that was more an expression of ambivalence about my job. I wasn’t proud of it and I never wanted to talk about it.

By default, living and working in Japan, even as a fancy expatriate, means my carbon footprint was lower than the average American (tiny apartment, no clown-like-car-habit, eating less meat). I was making enough money to easily save more than 50% of my take home pay and well on my way to financial independence in less than a decade.

I read somewhere on the Internets that if you aren’t waking up everyday excited about life, you are not doing it right. And I think that’s true. Most of us just forget or think that we don’t deserve it or think that it’s unrealistic and that being a grown-up means learning to make sacrifices. Waking up everyday, putting on my lawyer lady costume, getting on the crowded trains and squeezing into the elevator with all the glassy-eyed salaryman drones who drown-out the emptiness in their lives with copious amounts of alcohol…

Yes, #firstworldproblems, but Carrot Quinn says in this awesome podcast episode (please listen!): “I think there becomes a point for people where if you’re living a life that feels wrong… Hopefully you will reach a spot where it’s so painful that that will act as a catalyst to get you out.” That finally happened to me.

Being a junior attorney in a large law firm really wears away at your confidence. Late one night my third year of practice after all the partners and senior associates had gone home, I was writing up a simple e-mail to the client and realized I did not feel comfortable sending it without someone more senior checking it over. It wasn’t advice, just asking some questions, but I didn’t want to sound stupid, or didn’t know what we lawyers were supposed to already know, or didn’t know if there was any politics that I wasn’t aware of. When I realized I couldn’t send the stupid 5-line email, I felt so disempowered that I felt like crying. I was so far away from when I started law school and was pretty confident I could do anything I set my mind to.

When you are a law student, they say you have to get a good internship your 1L summer, so that your can get a summer associateship with a big law firm your 2L summer, so that you can start your career at the largest, highest ranked firm possible, because it’s harder to move from a smaller, less prestigious firm up; and you should be a transactional lawyer because it’s harder to develop the relationships and experience needed to go in-house as a litigator, and after you go in-house, it’s hard to move back to private practice because you have no client base… It’s a mentality of scarcity and lack of opportunity and being trapped.

Back to the spot that was so painful. I parachute out of big law to a cushy in-house job where I am generally able to go home on time and have all of my weekends and take all of my leave. I am able to go out with friends on weeknights and recreate outdoors on the weekend (hiking, biking, snowboarding). I just become so angry that I still have to waste 8-9 hours a day on something that to me is not me, is not my life, and not anything that I want to be doing and that I eventually give up on trying to rationalize as having a positive impact on anybody. Since I have no motivation at work, my work ethic is slipping and I’m really angry at myself for that. I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I am not the person I thought I was or that I want to be.

On a whim, in Spring 2016, looking for an excuse to make a trip back to Chicago, I sign up for the Chicago Marathon lottery. And then I get in. After I get in, I read up on how to train for a marathon, including that you should probably only sign up for a marathon if you have already completed a 10k race. At this point, the longest distance I have run is a 4k charity race (it was supposed to be a 5k but part of the route got closed off due to construction for the Tokyo Olympics). I promptly sign up for a 10k. I just follow the free Runkeeper beginning marathon training plan. I run three evenings after work and do my long run on Saturday. I used to hate running. It’s boring and laborious, but it’s also empowering. The first rule of Zombieland is “Cardio”, after all. After a few weeks, my body feels great; I go on a weekend hike with friends and never get winded. I try all the cakes from the convenience store and eat tons of potato chips and burgers and I still look great. Marathon training is a great excuse for getting out of time wasting social commitments, mostly work drinking parties, and because I am an introvert this means I am left with more mental energy and a better mood. Every weekend, the long runs get longer, and I’m amazed at how far my legs can take me. Most importantly, I am reminded that I do have the discipline and grit to do anything I set my mind to. I am not just a crappy second-class worker after all; the reason that my work ethic at my job is slipping is that I just don’t want to be doing it. I ask myself, what do I want to be doing?

One day I’m running and listening to this podcast and it really resonates with me: http://dirtbagdiaries.com/start-saying-yes/ (Warning: Do not listen, or your could find yourself quitting your job too. Actually, please do listen and rescue yourself from the doldrums of corporate life.) I send it over Line to a friend and text, “I’m going to do this!” She says, “Oh no, it’s gotten that bad huh?” I say, “No! This is a positive development!”

I put in my notice the day before I leave for my vacation to the US to run the 2016 Chicago Marathon. That was the beginning of October 2016.

My long-term goal is to live a small, sustainable life in the mountains. I’m not quite sure what shape it will take, but at least I’m trying to pivot towards it instead of just thinking or talking about it.

Over the winter, when my life was structured by my job at The Schneider Hotel and snowboarding and I had a cheap place to live and colleagues doing the same thing, this life reset was pretty easy. Since the seasonal gig finished at the end of March, I’ve been losing hair from the stress of worrying about what’s next and how to make this lifestyle sustainable.

In the meantime, my short-term goal is to thru-hike the John Muir Trail this year. My hiking partners and I currently plan to hike in mid-September. (We had to reapply for a permit late due to high snowpack in the Sierras.) Like the marathon, it’s a fitness and mental tenacity “reach goal” for me. When I applied for the permit in January, I had zero backpacking experience. I just completed my first backpacking trip, a 3-day solo north-to-south hike across Yakushima (which I will write about soon), but I have still never pooped in the bush (due to the fragile ecosystem on Yakushima, you are not allowed to poo in the woods). I plan to spend the summer training for the JMT hike and challenging my comfort zone. The purpose of this blog is to document some of that, since I’m now doing things I’m excited about, that I’m proud of and that I want to share with you.

“Adventure is out there!” – Up