A Minimalist in Bear Country

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Bear country means extra gear to handle the risks. As a minimalist, I managed to keep the gear down to a dull roar while still planning for the probability of bears. The Adirondacks are well known for bears, and there are certain times and certain years when a bear sighting is more probable than others.

There have been years, like this year, when the bear warnings are so high, that you are required to sign legal waivers to be in the Adirondacks knowing the risks of encountering bears. There are also pretty strict rules to follow for bear safety and to decrease the chance of a run-in with a bear.

One of the options for minimizing the chance of bear contact is to keep all food, including coolers, in a car trunk. Bears are smart. Even if the food is in the car in the passenger area, the bears will see and smell the food and break into a vehicle to get it. Trunks are a safer choice for food storage while in bear country.

A few years ago I had bought a new cooler for camping. The new cooler I purchased is one that is designed to withstand high heat, up to 90 degrees for up to 3 days and still stay cold. The other attractive feature of this cooler is that it has a drain spout at the bottom for me to be able to drain the water from the cooler as the ice melts. This alleviates the impossible balancing act of trying to dump out water while retaining ice and food.

When I had bought the cooler, I threw it in the backseat of the car and brought it home. This year was very exciting because it would be my first trip and opportunity to use the new cooler. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that this super awesome cooler is too tall to fit into my trunk. It fits into my backseat just fine, but this thing is too large for the trunk. So I was unable to take my fancy new cooler on this trip. It will have to wait for when I go on a camping trip that is not in bear country. The cooler will be fine in the back seat while camping if I go to a place and a time when there are no bear warnings.

Given the requirement that all food and coolers should be in the trunk when under a bear warning, I ended up taking a different cooler entirely. This is one instance in which I am happy I had not yet decluttered the “old” cooler when I bought the awesome new one. It is obvious that I am going to need to keep both coolers and then make a judgement call on which one to use based on where I am going and when.

Other options available when camping in bear country to minimize attracting bears to your camp site include: stringing the cooler on rope in the air between two trees. For me, this is way too challenging. If I’m going to string anything between two trees, it would be a hammock, and I would be in the hammock, so forget the cooler between the trees deal.

Some campgrounds have “bear lockers,” which are designated areas where food is locked so that bears cannot get to it. Bear lockers are usually in an area well away from where campsites are located, so that if bears are attracted to the lockers, they are less likely to hang around people’s tents. The camp site where I was at did have bear lockers available, but the bear warning was not high enough at the time to require their use. You could use them if you chose to use them, but they were not required.

Being under a bear warning effected the way I packed for my vacation.

Another safety tip when camping in bear country is that any clothing that is worn while cooking or eating should be taken off before you go into your tent for the night and the clothing should also be put in the trunk of the car. This includes clothing that you wore at your campfire, even if you did not use your campfire for cooking purposes. In my situation, I use my campfire for cooking purposes, pretty close to 100% of the time.

Given the clothing parameters for bear safety, this means that I actually have two pairs of “camp pants.” Camp pants are what I wear when I decide I am “in my site” for the evening – tending the fire, cooking, roasting marshmallows, etc. They go in the trunk of the car once I have put my pajamas on and am “in the tent” for the night. Since my camping trips are typically 2 night/3 day events, two pairs of camp pants works well for me.

Having “camp pants” for bear safety means that I end up packing more luggage for camping than I would when I go on vacation in a city. For example, when I was in Chicago a few years ago, I made it through my entire trip with only a backpack for luggage. This included even having a dressier outfit for an event I attended. For camping, I have to take the small duffel bag due to the “extras” needed for bear safety.

In addition to camp pants, I also pack two hoodies when camping, as I usually wear a hoodie when tending the fire. It typically gets down around 40 degrees at night when I go camping.

This way the hoodie can also go in the trunk when I am in the tent for the night. By using a new pair of camp pants and a new hoodie for the second night of camping, it prevents saturation of smells compared to using the same outfit for meals. Any way to dissipate smells so as not to attract a bear works for me. If I was not in bear country, then I would only take one pair of camp pants and one hoodie and I would wear them more than once.

Of course, you can take all of the proper precautions and still encounter a bear. I did have that experience a few years ago. In 20 years of camping, I have only ever physically encountered a bear once. I’m not sure who was more scared – me or the bear. Luckily, he ran away, so I did not have a negative bear experience.

Even with all the “extras” required for bear country, I happily noticed that I have effectively decreased the amount of gear I need for camping over the years. It used to be that the car was so stuffed full of gear that I could barely see out the back window.

Since I have started my minimizing journey, I have not only downsized my camping gear, but gotten more efficient at packing and at choosing what needs to be packed for a successful trip. Not only was I more than able to see out the back window of the car last week, but when I arrived, this is what the set up looked like:

The tent held my sleeping bag, pillow, and small duffel. The truck was full of food, cooler, and wood that I picked up at a stand about 5 miles away on the way into camp. The backseat of the car was completely empty, while the front seats held items such as camp chair, stereo, toiletry bucket, etc.

Just the fact that my car was not jam packed full of gear was amazing. I was not lacking or in need of anything. I am still in the process of playing with my camping checklist to see if there is anything more I can minimize, but for the moment I am in a pretty good place.

The one thing I always seem to over pack on while camping is food, and I consider this to be a good thing. When you go off in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, and the nearest town is a good 40 miles away, you need to have food. I always splurge and pack the good stuff for food when I am camping.

As I was packing to go on my trip, I was amazed at how full my freezer and refrigerator both were. It’s been a few years since I have had that much food in the house. It was all because I was preparing to go camping. Thus, the need for the fancy new cooler that is too big for the trunk. I’m trying to minimize the need to leave camp for ice. That way I can spend more time hiking and less time driving into town to refill the cooler.

Just because you are heading into bear country as a minimalist, does not mean you have to scrimp on safety. I plan for safety first. If that means extra gear, then so be it. I’’ll save the backpacking for the cities. A small duffel works for bear country.

How to Escape the Neighbors

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The horses of the apocalypse thundered through the heavens as if millions were stampeding across the sky. It started as a low rumble that gradually grew to overtake you, steamrolling you until your body quivered with the force of their power.

Then, total silence.

No birds.

No rain.

Suddenly, a crack as if the Devil himself snapped a whip so sharp that lightning turned dark into day.

One drop.

Two drops.

A light pitter patter.

The heavens opened as if all the angels were wailing tears upon the earth. Rain so hard and so fast that flash flooding was instant. It went on for hours. A storm so passionate, it was as if you were fighting for your very soul.

Meanwhile, I’m laying in the backseat of the car wrapped in a fleece blanket waiting for a break in the storm so I can run out and pee. I’m wondering if the same storm is happening at home and if the cats are okay. Simon is terrified of thunder.

Through the haze and above the noise, pierces a heavily accented French voice “the weather for the rest of the day …”

The French was coming from the radio, as I was about 20 miles from the Canadian border.

It sounds like a weird dream, but this is, in fact, real life. It is one of the top 3 worst thunderstorms I have been through while on a camping trip over the past 20 years.

This past weekend, I had an ADK intermezzo. It’s been about 8 years since I have had an intermezzo. Hopefully, this will be followed at some point by the real mccoy, but that concept is highly doubtful this year.

While the goal is to create a life you don’t need to escape, I had not had a vacation in almost two years, and I was ready to slap someone. Typically my annual August/Labor Day camping trip has served as a sort of reset button for me – a refreshing change of perspective for 3 days that helps me to successfully power through another year. Since I am running a half marathon over Labor Day weekend this year, I decided to go camping over Memorial Day weekend so I could have a break.

I have successfully minimized and slowed my life down to the point where I was able to navigate the many challenges that have come into my life over the past 2 years without completely losing my mind. That is a definite win.

In the time span between my last vacation and this past weekend, I lived through these changes: my dream job decided to close the New York location, so I had to take a new job (one of the worst I’ve had with a $7,000 pay cut), Kitty passed away, we adopted Simon, I went through my housing crisis from hell and bought a house, and I have been having yet to be determined neurological issues.

I’m not sure how I’ve been able to make it this long and through all that still intact. I credit it to my minimalist lifestyle philosophy.

Still, there comes a breaking point for every person, and I have pretty much reached mine. This past weekend I had an Adirondack (ADK) Intermezzo, to put a pause button on life and to take a breather.

Thus, the tale that started this post of the epic thunderstorm on night one of my camping trip. I was reserved, paid for, and scheduled for a typical two night camping trip. I ended up coming home after one.

There was nothing wrong with the trip itself. Epic thunderstorm aside, I was having a great time, and felt immensely safe. Therein lies the problem.

Since I purchased my new house last fall and have moved in, I have to admit that I do not feel safe in my own house.

I moved from a rural, isolated apartment community comprised primarily of senior citizens. I was the longest tenant in the building. I knew all of my neighbors. No one was a problem. I felt safe there. I never had an issue with leaving the cats for a camping trip over a 3 day weekend. Someone always had a key to my apartment to check on the cats just in case. I would just go off in the woods with absolutely no problem.

With this camping trip, I was apprehensive to leave the cats. No one has my spare house key. All the people who were helping me will no longer visit me. The house is 7 miles father away from most of my friends than my apartment was, and I now “live too far away” for them. It was my first time leaving the cats alone in the house overnight.

I set them up with the automated cat feeder, so they would still be fed at their usual times while I was gone. I left 12 bowls of water. Both cat pans were clean.

I went camping and had a great time. Epic thunderstorm aside, I slept better camping that I sleep in the house.

That’s when it hit me.

I feel more safe sleeping in a tent outside in the middle of nowhere alone than I do inside my own house.

Then I panicked because my cats were alone in the unsafe house without me there to protect them. No one has a key if something goes wrong because either people are too far away to know something is wrong, or they straight up don’t care.

I could not in good conscious stay the second night knowing that I was in a completely safe situation and my cats were not. If something happened to them while I was gone, I would never forgive myself.

So I cut my trip short and came home a day early.

This sucks epic-ly, because I never fully got the chance to completely relax on my trip. I did not have enough time away.

I came home and the cats were fine. For the moment. Things were not fine yesterday when I was home and someone decided to break one of my rain gutters and remove the door to my crawl space.

I have a problem with the neighbors where my house is located. To be exact, I have a problem with the neighborhood children. I am not anti-child. I taught pre-school for over a decade. I like children in general. I just loathe the children in my neighborhood.

To make matters more complicated, I don’t know their names or what house they all belong to, but I’m sick of things being broken, my space being violated, and having them scare the shit out of me literally.

As scary as I made out the thunderstorm at the beginning of this post, the neighborhood children are more scary. They are creepy.

I came home from work last week and one of them was standing about 5 feet away from me staring at me as I put my key in the door to let myself in the house. He didn’t say anything. He just ran away when I looked at him.

The kids are constantly on my property without asking. They move things. They play on the fire pit after I yelled at them not to, they go in my garage. They hide just outside my house windows and stare at me or scare me when I am sitting on the couch reading a book.

Who does this? Who goes on someone’s property and does this?

Don’t tell me to close the curtains. It’s my property. People should not walk up to someone else’s house and stand in front of their window staring inside at them. It’s not right.

Who goes into someone else’s garage, their fire pit, moves things in their yard, and breaks pieces off their house intentionally because they think it is fun? It’s not just me.

There are older neighbors in their 70s on the one side of me. I have stood at my kitchen window and watched a group of these neighborhood children purposefully remove the lattice from the bottom of my older neighbor’s porch so that they can go under the porch to play. Then the 70-some year old gentleman will notice the lattice is removed and affix it. I watch this happen. He thinks it’s the wind, when it’s really the children destroying his property.

By the way, the average age range of these free roaming neighborhood children is kindergarten through second grade.

I would talk to the parents of the children if I knew which houses the children came from. I don’t know who to talk to. And what type of interaction will that be? Um, your child is destroying my property, can you please supervise them more closely? I’m sure I would piss people off.

Bottom line, I do not feel safe living in this house. I never know who is going to be staring at me through my own windows, I don’t know who is lurking around on my property, and I never know what I am going to find broken.

I feel chained to this house.

I’m not happy.

I can’t even take a two day camping trip anymore to relax because I don’t know what I am going to come home to or if the cats will be okay if I leave them alone with these fiends.

These children don’t talk to me. They don’t tell me their names. Never has anyone knocked on my door and asked if they could play in my yard.

If they knocked on the door, told me their names, and asked to play in the yard, I would probably say yes as long as they stay in the grass and not near the fire pit.

Some of these kids are out late. They don’t appear to have a curfew. When I was growing up, you came in when the street lights turn on. I have had moments when one of these kids was staring at me through my own window at 9:00 pm. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a school night or a weekend.

I’m thankful that I was able to go camping for at least one night to escape this situation. I wish I had stayed for the full two nights. This has not felt like a vacation at all.

I don’t know how to deal with bad neighbors because I have never had bad neighbors. Even times when I was homeless and living on the streets, people were more respectful than this. Yes, there were times we were sleeping out in the open, but there is like an unspoken thing with homeless people that you respect people’s personal space when they have claimed a spot. Personal space was pretty much the only thing we had.

I have no idea how to deal with these neighbors and their evil, unruly children. All I know is that I do not feel safe in my own house.

Any suggestions?