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How to Build a Fire

Being able to build a fire is a critical skill to have when maneuvering around the backcountry or the wilderness. It serves as a source for cooking, boiling/purifying water, heat, light, and if the situation comes down to it, an emergency signal. I’ve found that the times that I’ve needed a fire the most are when conditions aren’t so great. Like when I’m hiking during the winter or when it’s been raining. You’re cold, you’re tired from the hike, and you just want to cook some food, warm up, dry out, and hit the hay. The more you practice fire building in various conditions the better equipped you’ll be. However, there are going to be times that your surrounding conditions just aren’t going to allow you to start a fire. It’s important to recognize those conditions and not waste your precious heat and, instead, focus finding or building a shelter.

First consider:

  1. Conditions – Is it raining, snowing, or windy? Depending on the conditions of your location, your access to fuel (a.k.a dry firewood) and ease of starting a fire could vary.
    1. It takes more energy to ignite wet wood than it is dry dead wood. Access to dry wood may be limited depending on how heavy rain conditions are or if it’s been raining for several hours. Try to take dead tree limbs from the base of trees instead of limbs that have fallen to the ground. These are less likely to be soaked.
    2. In windy conditions, try to find a rock or spot that shields you from the wind. You can also build a shield for your fire with downed limbs, trees, or bigger stones. If you’re at the summit of a hike, you may have to hike down a bit to shield yourself from the elements and find better access to fuel resources.
    3. If snow pack isn’t too deep then dig down to expose the ground before building your fire. Otherwise, you’ll need to build a platform to have your fire sit on. If you don’t, you’re fire will melt surrounding snow, making it difficult to keep the fire going, while causing your fire to sink further into the ground.
  2. Environment – What is your surrounding terrain like? Are you up at elevations where trees are sparse or small and you’re more exposed to the elements or are you in a heavily wooded area? When you’re evaluating your environment you’re also evaluating the resources you have accessible to build your fire.
  3. Equipment – What do you have in terms of fire starting tools? You should have access to no less than two methods to start your fire. Whether that be matches, a flint stone fire starting kit, or a lighter you need to be able to have access to another tool in case the other fails. I find that lighters can be finicky in the winter or when they’re wet and the same goes for matches as well. Be sure to seal your tools in a ziploc bag or dry pack. I typically carry a lighter and flint stone fire starter.

Key Points when Building a Fire:This rendering was extracted from http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-light-a-fire/

  • Small to Big – You’re going to want to start your fire with fuel that ignites quickly and gradually add larger, more slower burning fuel. Starting off with larger fuel sources means that you’re going to need more energy, in terms of heat, to ignite that fuel. Ever try to start a fire in your fireplace with just large logs and a roll of newspapers? Takes forever! Going from smaller to bigger sources of fuel will allow you to gradually increase your heat output to create embers, which will help keep your fire going.
  • Let it Breath - In order to have a fire you need three things: heat, fuel, and oxygen. When you have a fire, the heat is rising, but also pulling oxygen in to continue the process of combustion. Don’t pile all your wood on at once. Instead, build it in a way that will optimize airflow between your fuel.
  • Have your fuel handy – There’s nothing worse than getting your fire going then having it go out while you look for fire wood. It’s a waste of energy. Have your fire wood collected before hand and put them in a neatly accessible pile. Usually, I’ll make a pile for kindling, another pile for slightly larger sticks, then a pile for larger sticks.

We’re all Dreamers

Life is about courage and going into the unknown.

A friend recently sent me a trailer from the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, because the main character reminded them of me. I decided that it looked intriguing enough to watch, so I sat down one weekend to see what this was all about. The further I got into the story the more enveloped I became with the main character, Walter Mitty, an aging man who manages the negative images of Life magazine. At first glance, he’s kind of a boring person. The parameters of his life consist of going from his apartment to work and from work to his apartment. He’s incredibly tedious and cautious, yet frequently finds himself daydreaming about leading a dangerous and adventurous lifestyle. Sound familiar to anyone? It sounded very familiar to me.

When his job is threatened, he’s faced with a situation where he needs to find photographer Sean O’Connell so he can retrieve the negative that is supposed to be used in Lifetime magazine’s final print issue before they permanently switched over to digital publishing. The only issue is that in order to find Mr. O’Connell, he’ll have to travel abroad into rough and sometimes unknown territory. He could stay and inevitably be fired for a mistake he wasn’t responsible for. He knew what he had to do, the rest was just finding the courage to do it.

This is my favorite moment of the entire movie. It’s that moment when he decides to get up and go. Everything up until this excerpt showed you that he lead a very cautious lifestyle for the sake of others. In the film, he explains that when he was 17 his father died on a Tuesday and got a full time job at Papa Johns on a Thursday in order to support his mom and sister. He traded in his wild skateboarding look and lifestyle to help his family. He had always wanted to travel and be adventurous, but had lead a life in supporting others for so long that he kind of forgot how to live for himself. Long after his family had recovered and were able to support themselves, Walter was very cautious about his choices. He needed to ensure that he would always have a steady job in case something happened. This especially hit home for me. I think that all of us, at some point, have dreamed about doing something or going somewhere, but something happens and changes us in some way. I was given an opportunity, much like Water was, that would make or break my future career. I wanted to live/work abroad in some fashion (at that time the choice was in archaeology), but I had no idea how to do it and I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I took a chance, I applied for an archaeology program abroad and, by some chance, out of hundreds of applicants, I was accepted. I was working at a grocery store at that time. I approached my boss and told him my plans, but with the hopes that he would give me my old job back once I returned. Luckily, he understood my needs and said I’d be welcomed back once I returned. I bought my plane tickets and headed for the airport. There were moments, especially in the Madrid airport, where everything was in Spanish, I didn’t know the language, I had no idea where I was going, but I knew what I needed to do. Everything from that moment fell into place and I had the most amazing adventure I had ever had in my life. Not only did I learn that I could handle working and travelling abroad, I learned that I loved it and it was something that I wanted to continue doing.


A Flat Lander’s Journey to Nepal

Ever since I was little girl growing up in the rolling and rather dull plains of the mid-west, I have dreamed of being a world travelling adventurer. It’s why I initially chose my major in anthropology. The first time I decided to travel abroad was in 2009. I walked into my folk’s living room, shortly after graduating high school, and abruptly announced, “I’m going to live in Spain for the summer.” I had been accepted into a program doing volunteer archaeology work at a Celtic Iron Age necropolis and Roman settlement located in a little remote village in central Spain. Somewhere between laughing hysterically and feeling concerned, my folks asked, “Oh really? When are you leaving?” Without hesitation, I answered, “May 29th. I just bought my plane tickets. Do you think you guys could give me a ride to the airport?”

Walking along hand made walking routes through the Himalayas

Walking along hand made walking routes through the Himalayas

A few years since then, I saw a flyer at my university advertising a study abroad course in Nepal. Looking at some of the photographs of the villages that were clinging to edges of cliffs and sustaining themselves between these enormous, god-like mountains, I looked with fascination at a place that seemed far away from the norms of home, not just materialistically, but also environmentally, politically, socially, and economically. This presented itself as an opportunity to apply what I’ve learned, in anthropology, in the field. The very thought of the kinds of adventurous experiences and research skills I could develop were too exciting for words.

One of the major rivers in Nepal. The banks are sparsely dotted with villages that cling to the banks for what little water is left.

One of the major rivers in Nepal. The banks are sparsely dotted with villages that cling to the banks for what little water is left.

The best part about it was that Above the Clouds, the company that coordinated the trek, had already established close relationships among the local community members in the villages we would be trekking through. Some of these members were guides that stayed with us the entirety of our journey. All we had to do was simply let our curiosity take over and start asking questions…and I had several question. I certainly kept the instructor and guides busy.

Karma, one of our guides/horseman, shows us how the sling shots we bought in a local village really works.

Karma, one of our guides/horseman, shows us how the sling shots we bought in a local village really works.

Their constant reassurance in my curiosity inspired me to go beyond my comfort levels and learn more than I ever could in a traditional classroom setting. In a similar sense that famous photographer and humanitarian, Chris Rainier, described his experience in Tibet, this opportunity allowed me to “slow down” and “peel away the clichés” that we tend to think defines our “object of attention” when it merely “bounces across the surface”. Although, I still feel a bit badly when I unintentionally woke up the abbot of the Kag Chode Thumpten Samphel Ling Monastery in Kagbeni to quench my curiosity about Tibetan Buddhism. On the plus side, he showed me a Tibetan Sanskrit app he frequently used on his iphone to communicate with other Tibetan Buddhist. He also let me wander around the monastery on my own. I found some cool secret rooms filled with relics the monastery had stored for, god knows, how long. On top of that, I came back with a story that the other students could benefit from.

A traditional Buddhist  wheel of life preserved on the walls of the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery in Kagbeni.

A traditional Buddhist wheel of life preserved on the walls of the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery in Kagbeni.

When I had first arrived in Nepal, I immediately felt myself immersing in the culture, but even more so the further we traveled into the rural region of upper Mustang, away from the city. I felt a strange sense of familiarity that, oddly enough, I could relate to my time growing up in a small town in the Midwest. The groups of men, and occasionally women, I saw that gathered in a particular area would sit and chat from sun-up to sundown. It reminded me of my grand-folks and their friends who would sit on the back porch just watching and talking. The only way I could describe why they gathered in that manner was that they were collectively appreciating moments to slow down and be still in every sense.  Something I found that made my friends uncomfortable here in New England.  Another element that struck me was the communities’ relationship with Buddhism. It also reminded me of my hometown community’s relationship toward Christianity in a sense that they depended on each other for help and support. Granted the level of dependency the locals in Mustang was a much more serious context, I was still able to regain an appreciation for spiritually that I had forgotten even though I don’t practice Christianity or Buddhism.

A group of monks are released from their studies at the village library in LoManthang

A group of monks are released from their studies at the village library in LoManthang

While a larger majority of this journey allowed me the opportunity to reconnect with my own culture, I also wanted to focus my time in Nepal looking at how globalization impacted these communities through several aspects. Everyone from the teachers, guides, and local community members made that possible.  It was one thing to read about the potential impacts and how they were interconnected, but it was another thing entirely to see them. Their culture, for example, wasn’t only impacted by tourism, but also trade, domestics and foreign policies, education, NGO’s, and the economy. All of which, influenced each other in more ways than one.

Typically, in anthropology you’re supposed to bring any assumptions you may have towards your research forward. Even though I made a substantial effort to do so, I still found myself continuing to question those assumptions throughout the trip and even more so afterwards. That experience alone has proven to be one of the most valuable experiences I have had and it continues to resonate within me and everything I do.

A woman giving an offering at Boudhanath, one of the most holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu, Nepal

A woman giving an offering at Boudhanath, one of the most holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu, Nepal

All the experiences I’ve had, the relationships I formed, the food and tea I drank, the lessons I learned, the stories I’ve been told, and the knowledge I’ve gained from this trip I brought back to share with my own family and community. Even still, that continues to enrich both of our lives, especially, when I make momos!

180 Degrees South

Conquerors are the useless. That’s what we were. You learned that what’s important is how you got there. Not what you’ve accomplished. Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all, but we just went for it.

This is probably my favorite adventure documentary. It embodies everything I love about the idea of being an adventurer, but most importantly, it talks about what you should take away from that.

Find this documentary on Netflix

Sneak Peak into my Adventure in Nepal

Hey y’all,

First off, I’d like to apologize. I’ve been promising some extremely useful and exciting content back in June or July and now it’s December. I’m here to give you a sneak peak into my trip to Nepal. However, I’m afraid the videos I collected have all disappeared. I learned a valuable lesson in backing up content that day. I still have tons of pictures to show you and things to say about my journey that I think you’ll find fascinating.

Until then, enjoy!

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It’s Spring now? How long was I asleep?!

Moon Rise

Hey guys!

I know I’ve been away for a while, but I’m back now and I’m here to offer some exciting news and upcoming events. Next week I’ll be working on the first of many videos for my blog. Although, I wasn’t able to do a Winter hiking piece in time, there’s still plenty of snow on the mountains here in Vermont as well as tips and gear reviews to be shared. I hope to have my first survivor video uploaded within the next two weeks, so be on the lookout for those!

Mustang region, Nepal

Now for some news. This Summer I’ll be trekking through Nepal for a month through a study abroad program that’s affiliated with my university. I’m really excited and honored that I am able to participate in this rare opportunity and I plan to make the most out of it. On top of the research I’ll be doing there, I’ll also make short diary entry videos on a daily basis about my experience.

As an added bonus, there will also be an opportunity to show you how I’m going to prep physically for the trip and some of the knowledge I’ve acquired.


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Fall & Winter outfit

This outfit is ideal for the Fall or on those warmer winter days. I typically prefer to wear neutral colors. Here I mix white with a nice contrasting blue pair of jeans and a white long sleeve V-neck, which is then enclosed with a light grey long coat. I’m also wearing my Timberland boots.  The most unique piece in this outfit is of course the coat. This fully knitted wool coat features a hoodie, inner silk lining, two pockets, and toggle buttons. I picked it up on clearance for $40 at Urban Outfitters a few years ago. So, I’m afraid it might be difficult to find this particular style again, but there are similar versions of the coat out there. I listed one of my favorite alternative version of the coat below.


Skinny Jeans: Aeropostale $18.00

White V-neck long sleeve: Gap $16.95

Coat: Urban Outfitters $40 – best alternate version


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