Saturday, April 17, 2021

Financial advice for people starting out, with examples

Financial Advice Start a retirement account as soon as you can. When I hired on at NASA in 1994, my annual pay was $27,000. This was barely enough for me to get by on. I shared a house with three other people, I was driving an old car, I ate the cheapest possible foods and shopped carefully with coupons. I was still strapped. I would have liked to take advantage of the 401k retirement account that my employer offered, but I couldn’t. It’s fully understandable. It wasn’t until a few years later when pay raises increased my income to get me above subsistence level, that I was able to invest. So I started to save for retirement as soon as I could - several years after I got the job. Why should you start as soon as you can? Two reasons. 1) Employer matching. Most employers will “match”, i.e., contribute the same amount as you do, up to a certain amount. It depends on the employer, but in my experience they’ll match between two and four percent of your income. You can contribute more than that (although there are limits, defined in the tax code) but they match that small amount. It’s not a lot, but it’s free money and you should take advantage of it. 2) Compound interest. What that means is you earn money on the money you contribute, and you also earn money on the interest paid to you by your investment. So the earlier you start investing, the more interest you will have to earn money on. This can add up to an astonishing amount over time. Make a budget and list everything. Include some savings at a bank or credit union, so you’ll have resources if something goes wrong - car repair, surprise fees, etc. If there’s a part of your budget that surprises you (like the amount spent on entertainment or clothes or insurance) you may have to make some hard choices. Shopping for new insurance is painful but worthwhile. You may need to go to thrift stores for clothes for a while. You might need to find less expensive entertainment. How you spend your money is up to you, but you need to be aware of how you’re spending it, and making a budget is a good way to do that. Example from my life: I moved into a cheap rental house. I didn’t know, at that point, how much various forms of heating cost. The house had baseboard electric radiators. They warmed the place just fine, but the first electric bill was several hundred dollars. It was about the same as my rental payment. The house had a wood stove, so I checked into how much it would cost me to get a cord of wood. That was $75, plus renting a vehicle to go get it. For $100, I heated the house with the wood stove for the rest of the winter. I had been surprised by the cost of the electrical utility, and I made the choice to pay with my manual labor to run the wood stove rather than dollars for electricity. I also had to educate myself on how the wood stove operated, and learned to get up in the middle of the night to check on it, to see if it needed wood. To me, that was a small price to pay to save a couple thousand dollars over the course of the winter. Once you know your budget, and you can survive on it, then you can plan for investing. Anything over your necessary budget plus some savings, you can invest. Most employers will pull your 401k contribution directly from your paycheck. That makes it easy and forgettable to invest, which for most people is the best way to do it. Set it and forget it. If you start your contribution when you get a pay raise, your wallet won’t see any difference. There are two ways to approach this. Put your entire pay raise into your investment, with the reasoning that it won’t make any difference in your daily life. Or put part of it into investment and part of it into your pocket, so that your current standard of living can increase. The earlier you are in your career, the more attractive the second option is. However the earlier you are in your career, the more you’ll benefit from compound interest, which you’ll get more of from the first option. When you change jobs, DO NOT CASH OUT YOUR 401k. You can leave it where it is for a while, and then “roll over” your old one to an IRA or a 401k elsewhere if necessary. Cashing it out means that A) you’ll have to pay a large portion of it to the government because there are rules about how old you can be to take it out without penalty, and B) you will lose the advantage of the compound interest. If you have to move the contents of an old 401k, read up on it so you understand how to roll it over. Once you’re putting at least the minimum into retirement investing, and you have a healthy emergency fund at your local savings institution, then you can also invest in non-401k things. I shopped around and found a company that let you invest without big fees - in my case, at that time, it was Vanguard. There are more options now. I saved up the minimum amount to get started, which at the time was $2000. My birthday present to myself that year was buying into the fund I chose. Because I’m not a financial expert, I chose a fund that generally matched the market - the Vanguard 500. This was another “set it and forget it” plan. I let Vanguard figure out which were the best things to invest in for that fund, rather than spending a lot of time and effort trying to figure out what individual companies to invest in. I think this is a good plan for most people who aren’t naturally inclined to spend a lot of time researching companies and the stock market. Once I’d made the initial investment, I set up my Vanguard account to automatically pull $200 a month from my bank account, which was an amount that I felt I could afford. And that was it. I left it alone. Vanguard did a good job of managing the fund, I didn’t have to remember to add money regularly, and I earned interest on the initial $2000, the $200 they pulled every month, and the interest from every previous quarter that I’d held the investment. It all worked in the background without me having to do anything after I set it up. I signed up for a DRIP, a dividend reinvestment plan. So Vanguard never paid me anything directly - any time the stock paid dividends, it was added to the investment so I could earn even more. This also meant that I did not pay taxes as they didn’t pay me anything. I would, however, have to pay taxes when I eventually took the money out. The taxes would be far less than earnings when I eventually did take my money out, so that was all right. That investment was the best birthday gift I ever got myself. It took me a while to save up the initial $2000, but after that it took no thought or effort on my part. For comparison, I started my 401k around 1997, at age 27. I started the Vanguard account in 2008, at age 38. So it took me quite a while to get to that point. In the meantime I bought a house (which was a good investment for me), and many things in my life changed that took money. I hope it would take you less than 11 years after starting retirement investing to get to the point of personal investing, but that’s how long it took me. I’ve taken money out once to help with a house purchase. It was about $5000. Between my initial contribution, monthly contributions, that one withdrawal, and market changes, the account has over $70k in it. If I’d put my $2k and a monthly $200 under my mattress, and not taken that withdrawal? I’d have $30800. Investing it more than doubled the money. I’d have had to remember to add to it every month, and my mattress would be lumpy.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Some clothing options for your lower half

Continuing up the the body, let's talk about pants. Or I guess trousers if you're English? I mean, I'm not English. I'm just very inclusive.

I gave up wearing shorts to hike in a long time ago. They just expose too much area to ticks, mosquitoes, thorns, sun, and poison ivy. Instead I wear thin synthetic fabric pants which are tough and dry quickly. They are a little warmer than shorts, but not as much as you'd think.

My favorite hiking pants ever were White Sierra Teton convertible pants. I could have done without the convertible legs - I basically never unzipped them. But they had everything else I needed in pants. They were thin and dried fast, they had side zips up the calves so I could put them on over shoes, they had pockets at the waist and thigh. They were roomy in the leg and had elastic in the waist, so they actually fit me really nicely. I bought enough to wear them daily, even off the trail. Sadly, White Sierra eventually stopped making them. The replacement, the Sierra Point convertible pant, has an entirely different fit AND no roomy thigh pockets. They're a waste of fabric in my book.

These days I have two options for pants. The LL Bean Vista Trekking Pants are made of a stretch fabric, which is not my favorite but I can live with it. They have two thigh pockets with zip tops. They are less roomy pockets than I like, and the zippers catch my skin in cold weather. But the pants are reasonably comfortable to wear. The other pair, which I ended up finishing last year's thruhike in, are REI's house brand Kornati Roll Up Pants. They also are made of stretch material, and they only have one (zippered) thigh pocket. BUT! They have an internal adjustable elastic waist band, so you can adjust the size as you lose weight. This means that I don't need to wear an additional belt. My experience with belts is they tend to snag on things and also come unfastened unless you have them on pretty tight.

So the Kornatis are my current go-to. They, like all these pants, also have pockets over the butt which I find annoying. My backpack always covers them. They end up being just useless fabric and in my way. Although I admit to plundering them for fabric when I damaged my pants and had to patch them.

I was excited to try out Rail Riders Weatherpants. They've been low-key famous for men's clothing for years because they reinforce the seat and knees with semi indestructible fabric. I regularly destroy the seat of my pants by sitting and sliding down sketchy rocks, so this would be a huge boon to my butt. Unfortunately the larger size was balloonlike on me. I still wore them, but eventually they got uncomfortably loose and allowed my thighs to rub. The next size down was wildly smaller. Despite further weight loss on the trail, my legs never got so small that the seam across the thigh didn't drag at my leg as I stepped up. I gave up on them after a few hundred miles and returned to using less bulletproof pants which were easier to walk in. If you have smaller quadriceps than me (most people do!) you might very well love these pants. They're also factory treated with permethrin, which is nice.

Toward the end of the trail this year I found Terramar Cloud Nine tights at Bluff Mountain Outfitters in Hot Springs. I got them to sleep in or in extreme weather to layer with my other tights. I'm so in love with these tights! They're thick enough to wear alone without showing your undies. They're incredibly comfortable and non-restrictive. No special washing requirements, they've worn like iron so far, and they're thin enough that I could comfortably layer them with my other tights under my pants and still feel like I wasn't being squeezed to death. I use them when I teach yoga in chilly weather, and I wear them around the house. I heart these tights so bad.

I wish I could tell you what my other tights were, but they are low on identifying marks.

I was going to tell you about Ex Officio Lacy underwear, but I see they've changed it. It used to have a stretchy lace panel which made the waist never cut in. I don't know what to tell you. Try going to commando - it's what a lot of people do, much of the time.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Some clothing options for your feet

You'll find people hiking in just about everything, from nothing but socks and shoes on Hike Naked Day to Mennonites conservatively dressed with dresses and bonnets or vests and big hats. Some men like to hike in kilts. I've seen both men and women hiking in sundresses - they're lightweight, loose, and if you don't have chub rub, they let air get up to your thighs so they stay drier and chafe less. A lot of people like to hike in running shorts for similar reasons - they're incredibly light and airy.

Generally, your clothing should be fast drying and as light as you can manage. NO COTTON except in very specific situations. Cotton retains moisture, which makes it heavy after you sweat. It also means that it will not dry off quickly as you wear it in camp, leading to heat loss and hypothermia. Are you hiking in August in Louisiana? Feel free to wear a cotton tshirt. Otherwise, stick with synthetics, or wool. There is basically never a good time to wear cotton socks, though. Once they swell up with moisture, the thickened fibers will rub and contribute to blisters.

There are thousands of garments available. I'm just going to list what's worked for me. Ladies, if you are shaped like a babushka, you are in the right spot to find clothing suggestions.

I'll start from the bottom. On my feet, I wear Vasque Trailbenders. These have a thickly cushioned sole with a wide gripping surface. They are the most comfortable, stable shoe I've worn in years. Shoe fit is, of course, as individual as feet are. But that's what's worked for me. I swap out the insole for Women's Berry Superfeet. The berry model has thicker high density foam under the ball of the foot. I've hiked thousands of miles and my feet show the wear and tear - on X-ray if not on the surface. The cushioning makes the difference between a fun day on the trail and a death slog.

Although my feet are not very big, I wear a size D insole, trimmed to fit my shoe. I have short toes. Insoles are designed as if you have long toes. If you have short toes, the arch in the theoretically appropriately sized insole can be in the wrong place! Make sure that when you choose an insole, you get one that fits your arch. Having support in the wrong spot can lead to pain and damage. My feet were much happier after I discussed this with a boot fitter and started getting the larger size insoles.

A lot of people like to wear Injinji toe socks to prevent rubbing between their toes. My toes are crowded and I find it extremely uncomfortable to have fabric in between them. If you do not have chubby toes like mine, you might be very happy with some toe socks.

It's common to wear a liner sock and an oversock. The theory is that rather than your foot rubbing against your one layer of sock, your liner sock stays put on your foot and the liner sock slides against the oversock. As far as I can tell, the theory is correct. Once you've hiked a few hundred miles, your feet may toughen up so that you can be less careful with them. This is my experience. But first you have to take good enough care of them to get to that point.

I find wearing two pair of socks to be pretty fiddly. I end up having to perform minute adjustments to get them wrinkle free and not tight around the toes. Instead, I wear double layer Wright Socks. (Note that for winter you can get a merino wool version that I can verify works great for warmth and blister prevention.) They hit the sweet spot between blister free and easy to use for me. They're lightweight and breathable. They are not, unfortunately, as durable as some other socks. A lot of hikers swear by Darn Tough socks. The company guarantees them! If you wear them out, they will send you a new pair. I know people who got through the entire trail on one or two pair of these socks. For me, they were uncomfortably tight. But thousands of other thruhikers can't be wrong - they're durable socks for a thruhike.

I wear short, stretchy gaiters to keep cruft out of my shoes. Any kind of grit that gets in there will destroy your socks. There are waterproof gaiters on the market, but as they hold sweat in, they are not useful in most weather that I hike in.

I gave up wearing shorts for hiking in 2010. After years of bug bites and three rounds of Lyme disease, I started buying thin hiking pants and tucking them into my socks. I treat my pants and my gaiters with permethrin, which I STRONGLY RECOMMEND. The best way to not get Lyme disease is to prevent the tick from getting to your skin to bite you. Daily tick checks are not sufficient because although it is rare for a tick to transmit the disease within a few hours of biting, it is possible. I got Lyme disease this way in 2011. The tick was on me for less than four hours, but I still got sick. Treat your clothing!

This has gotten long so I'll go over some pants options for women with hips in my next post.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bears pay for our laziness

It shouldn't be controversial. Protecting your food from bears means you get to eat all of it. But protecting your food means you have to make an effort, and a lot of people are too lazy. Assuming you are not so disabled that you physically can't hang or otherwise safely store your food (and if you are, how did you get into the backcountry?), there isn't a good reason not to protect your food supplies.

If you don't, the most likely answer is that mice will get into it, which also kind of sucks. This is why shelters are overrun with mice. Sometimes they're eating dropped food, but much of the time they have been habituated to steal food from food bags. Mostly mice aren't lethal, hantavirus excluded. So although we are all annoyed by mice, rangers are not hunting them down with rifles. Bears, on the other hand, ARE lethal. Once a bear has succeeded in obtaining food somewhere, they will return over and over to try again. Which means that if the people before you, maybe long before you, didn't hang their food or did a bad job hanging their food, there will be a bear around to check out your food supply before long.

The reason I care, in addition to liking food, is that I absolutely do not want an animal killed for my mistake. I do not want to be the one who trains a bear to steal food from people. I don't want to be the one who eventually causes a ranger to have to pick up a rifle and shoot that bear. Maybe that bear was a jerk before he started stealing food. Maybe he was already dangerous. But the food is what made that dangerous bear start hanging out around humans. Unconscious humans, usually, as the bears visit at night. Usually they leave people alone, but not always. Maybe they can't get to hung food and they're frustrated. Maybe you smell like BBQ sauce. Maybe other things are going on in their ursine heads. Whatever the reason, sometimes bears attack people instead of just trying for the food bags.

There are some pretty vocal people on the internet who will tell you they always sleep with their food bag under their head and they never have a problem. That's great, until they DO have a problem. They might always drive without a seatbelt, too, and never have a problem until the accident that sends them through the windshield. They're gambling with their safety when they do that. And they're gambling with mine when they sleep with their food.

There are options for how you do protect your food. Personally, I use a sturdy roll top drybag. I have a small bag with a rope attached to it, and I put a rock in the bag so I can use it to throw my rope up over a high branch. Depending on the level of bear threat in the area, I tie the rope differently. If it's low, I tie it off to a nearby tree. If the bear threat is high, I use the PCT method. I'm linking to the Georgia AT club's PDF describing how it works.

Some parks and campsites will have a bear pole to hang from. That's a tall steel pole with prongs sticking out from it at the top. This is a reliable and safe way to hang. Other sites have bear cables, which is a slightly more complicated pulley system. This gets your food way, way up in the air. Mice and squirrels have been known to bypass blocks and get to foodbags on these systems. Additionally, it is possible to hang your food bag from a hook on the bear cables. Then it can be bounced off if you hit the ropes vigorously. If you use bear cables, attach your food bag securely! The third easy way to protect your food is in a bear box, which is a large, heavy steel cabinet that they have lugged out to some shelters. They are difficult to open. As far as I know, bears have not learned how. Sometimes, I haven't learned how, depending on how stiff the handles are.

You can buy a bear-proof stuff sack called an Ursack as an alternative to hanging your food high up in a tree. You still need to secure the bag to something sturdy, like a tree, so that a bear doesn't just leave with it to gnaw on at its leisure. But bears can't get in to these bags. They're made of kevlar.

The last alternative is a bear canister. I myself have not used one yet. They are starting to become mandatory in places due to bear activity. Technically the Ursack meets the same requirements the bear canisters do, but not all agencies have caught up to this message. If you are backpacking somewhere that requires canister storage, you'll have to buy or rent one. If you'll be doing it a lot, it makes sense to buy. I'm including a link to one of the lighter units on the market, the BearVault. At 33 to 41 oz, the canisters themselves carry a hefty weight penalty. But given that bears are intelligent, persistent, and like to teach one another new tricks, bear canisters may be ubiquitous in the future.

Let's talk about your parts

Last post I mentioned the Intimina Lily Cup Compact - Collapsible Menstrual Cup (size A). FYI there's also a larger size. If you've had a child, for instance, you generally need a larger cup to fit your rearranged anatomy. Don't be left out, moms. There's an INTIMINA Lily Cup Compact -Collapsible Menstrual Cup (Size B) for you too. These cups are non-latex, non staining, and collapsible for packing. I leave the little case home and carry mine in a little cloth bag because I feel like it keeps it drier and airier.

You can also get something like a Diva Cup. It doesn't collapse, but otherwise does the trick. I liked devoting less space in my pack to my cup. Of course, either option is still wildly better than carrying non-reusable supplies.

I don't recommend taking tampons and pads. Carrying them out is kinda gross, you have to store them like you would store food (away from animals!), you have to shop for more in town. They may or may not carry your preferred brand at the dollar general. If you do decide to carry them, or need to carry them, getting something like a Waterproof Reusable Zip Mini Wet Bag makes a lot of sense. At under an ounce, it'll keep your used supplies away from your other gear, and it's opaque for privacy. Nobody else needs to know your business, know what I'm saying?

Non-menstrually, I'm a big fan of pee rags. Nota bene: do NOT pick up fallen bandanas unless you are absolutely sure they are not a pee rag that's fallen off somebody's pack. Even if they aren't pee rags, they have been used to wipe off sweat and snot and are still disgusting. Maybe handle with ziplocks and carry in to the next town to be washed. That said, these are a great solution to carrying and burying or carrying out a whole lot of bath tissue. You still need it for #2, or for menstrual fluid, but plain old urine doesn't need to use up your precious TP resources. They're easily washed in a ziplock with a couple of drops of Campsuds. Note that that size bottle will last you a life time, so I repackage mine into something like 5-100ml Empty Plastic Squeezable Dropper Bottles Eye Liquid Containers. One 10 ml bottle is enough for pretty much a thruhike for me. A lot of people use Dr. Bronner Baby Unscented Liquid Soap but having tried both, I prefer my CampSuds.

I don't use anything special for bath tissue. I get whatever TP the store has, preferably with enough texture to really clean. The single ply stuff that is what you can usually find in individual rolls is definitely not recommended. Yeesh. TP is one of the areas where it makes sense to cough up for better quality. Unfortunately you will almost always have to get a two or four pack to get good toilet paper. Find another hiker to share with. Also, take the cardboard core out of the middle of the roll. That way the roll squishes down and fits better in your pack. You can be all fancy and dispense your TP from the middle of the roll after you do this. I am not fancy. Regardless, be sure to double bag your TP. I put mine in a quart sized freezer bag like Ziploc Quart Freezer Bags. You definitely want the freezer bag version - it will live longer. Then I put that bag inside a gallon size bag like Ziploc Freezer Bag, Gallon Size. With the double layer, you're less likely to suffer the horror of wet toilet paper. Also, having the larger bag means you can open the smaller bag and have a dry space to reach into when it's raining. It is incredibly disappointing to soak your toilet paper with rain while you're trying to get some out of the bag. The larger ziplock also makes a good place to stash other hygiene related items.

Also it is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that you keep your booty clean. A microscopic speck back there is enough to create untold misery. I've been using individually packaged Preparation H Totables, Hemorrhoidal Wipes with Witch Hazel for years, but they are not universally available on the trail. Last year I found Sea To Summit Trek and Travel Wilderness Bath Wipes which have been great. You should be able to find them at outfitters for certain. I'm sending myself a pack with my maildrop.

If things get a little tender down there, you're going to need to baby your bottom. I break with tradition and use a product I found a few years ago. The tube is tiny, and it works really well. Mayinglong Musk Hemorrhoids Ointment Cream takes up minimal pack room and lasts approximately forever. I got most of a thruhike out of one tube. If you're using the wipes properly you may not need the stuff, but on those long, hot, sweaty summer days, I think even the salt crystals and heat you generate as your flesh moves across itself is enough to cause misery.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hello, The Internet

I've been over at trailjournals having a thruhike, but the thruhike is sadly over now.  Or not so sadly, if you're me and you were ecstatic to be home with husband and dogs and warm bed.  All at once because we sleep in a puppy pile.  But just like after my first thruhike, I missed writing afterward.  People suggested writing a book.  I might, but that involves a lot more brain than a blog post.  So blogging it is!

I'm actually gearing up for a section hike soon with my friend Neon, so I have equipment on the brain.  I thought I'd do a little bit of gear reviewing.

I plan to take the same tent I thruhiked with last year, the Zpacks Hexamid Solo Plus.  Not including stakes, it's 17.7 oz.  Mine is an ounce heavier because I got it in camo material, which is a little thicker.  My old Hexamid is in blue, and it's pretty dang see through.  The camo is not at all transparent.  On my thruhike last year, I suffered through weeks of attack acorns, and for the first time in my life my tent was punctured by an acorn.  Thousands of miles and decades of hiking, and this was a first.  But it happened, so be aware.  Cuben can be punctured by acorns.  Luckily it's easily fixed with a little tape.  I used Zpacks repair tape because I had it, but duct tape also works.

My camo Hexamid in the 100 Mile Wilderness

I used two different Zpacks quilts last year.  I used a 20 degree in chilly weather, a 40 degree in warm weather, and I layered them in cold weather.  I went for the extra wide version so I could still sleep in a pretzel shape while the 20 degree was fully zipped.  The 40 degree I only got straps on, no zipper.  Since I bought mine, they changed the baffle orientation to longways down the length of the sleeping bag, which should be a significant improvement over baffles running side to side.  The latter allow down to slide downhill to either side of your shoulders over time.  I was happy with mine despite needing to fluff the down back to the middle occasionally.  Both quilts gave me room to move around as needed.  I was able to use the straps of the quilt to attach to either of my sleeping pads, but I had to put my head at the narrow end of my larger pad to make it work.

I had a number of problems from wear and tear to discomfort to an extremely stupid trowel puncture, so I went through a lot of sleeping pads this year.  My very favorite was the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite. At 23" wide, it's enough for me as a side sleeper to be comfortable.  The V structure let the pad form around my sprawling sleeping form better than a more rigid pad.  At 19.6 oz it's a little heavier than some options, but the comfort was worth it.  After that was NeoAir Xtherm.  The large (AKA the wide) weighs 20 oz, so almost the same as the Klymit.  Mine weighed less because I cut a foot off the end of it, so it was about 18 oz.  It was significantly warmer, but slightly less comfortable to sleep on than the V shaped Klymit baffles.  I sent for it when the temperature got down to around freezing.

On the personal hygiene front, I loved the Intimina Lily Cup Compact.  It collapses to the size of a quarter when not in use, was easy to clean, didn't stain, and felt like nothing once inserted.  Dealing with your period on the trail is not especially fun or pleasant, but at least using a menstrual cup means not having to pack out any grossness.  And because I didn't need to buy supplies in town, I never ran out at an inconvenient time.  The compacted cup was small enough to live in my ziplock with my toilet paper.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2013 recap

This summer I'm planning to finally, 25 years later, finish the AT.  My friend Cody with whom I thruhiked in 2010 is trying to come with me, as is Pansy.  I have known Pansy online for several years but we haven't met in person.  So that will be fun.

It's been a pretty weird year.  JD's mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and had chemo for it before succumbing five months after her diagnosis.  That was hard on everybody involved, and is a blow that has hit her sons hard.  Their dad passed years ago, so now they are orphans.  At 40 I don't know if orphan is the correct term, but I'm sure it is the right emotional term. 

We've had a snowy, very cold winter here.  I got to use my snowshoes for the first time since the winter of 2009-2010, when we got several feet of snow.  I enjoyed using them very much.  Sadly I probably won't get to use them again for several years unless I go elsewhere, which I might.  If I could get somebody to go with me (and Just Blue Skies is interested) I think they could make for a fun winter trip.

I was on a panel at a technical conference last year.  My Toastmaster's training came through, and I felt fine up there on the stage.  I guess I did well enough, because another conference organizer contacted me and asked me to propose talks to give at his conference.  I did, and two were accepted, so I guess I'm going to give some talks.  The conference is in the beginning of May so I have some time to write and practice the talks.  I'll need to prepare slide decks, though.  I have only done that twice so I expect it will still be a frustrating experience to create them.

I was lucky enough to go on several fun backpacking trips last year following my NY/NJ hike.  DeLee and I headed up to Vermont to hike.  She had never been there before!  It was fun introducing her to New England, and revisiting some beautiful trail.  In the fall, Just Blue Skies joined us for a two night trip on the AT in Pennsylvania.  The rocks were less annoying this time around.  It seems that you can get used to them.

I've been back and forth with doctors for a lot of the last year.  I went to get shots in my neck as a bulging disk had been making my arm hurt all the time.  They put me on a nerve pain drug during the course of treatment, and the drug caused MS-like symptoms.  That was a disturbing time.  I kept getting worse, with numbness and tingling all over my body, vertigo, and falling down.  After they took me back off the drug at the end of the treatment, the symptoms decreased quickly.  Then I had to get off the drug the neurologist prescribed to treat MS, and THAT WAS AWFUL.  Yeesh.  The withdrawal was worse than the symptoms.

So, yeah.  Weird year.  Glad it's over, and I'm hoping the rest of 2014 is kind of gentle and boring.