This week on Live Like the World is Dying, Pat talks to Margaret about working outside for a living with the National Park Service. They talk about gear, preparedness while hiking, search and rescue, how to prevent needing to be sought for and rescued, and the unfortunate realities of climate change.
Find Pat on the trails. Do not find them on the internet. They cannot be found there.
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Live Like the World is Dying: Pat on Working Outside
Hello and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host today, Margaret Killjoy. And this week…Okay, so you know sometimes I have these shows and it’s basically like I find people who talk to me about the things that I’ve decided I’m really interested in that week. Well, this is one of those examples! And so I’m really excited about it. I think you’ll all be excited about it too because this week I am talking to Pat who works outside for a living and he gets to do search and rescue and help people access parks because he is a backwoods…person…at a national park. And yeah, I don’t know, I think…I’m excited for the conversation. I can’t tell you what’s gonna be in it because I haven’t done it yet because I record these before I do the interview instead of afterwards. But! This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts and here’s a jingle from another show on the network. Baba Baba bu ba baa ba ba baaa. [Making noises like a song melody]
Okay, and we’re back. Pat, so if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then just like a little bit about the work you do?
Yeah. So I’m Pat. He/him. I am a back country ranger for the National Park Service and I’ve been doing it for about 10 years. So I basically just hike around to talk with people, help out with search and rescue, clean toilets, do whatever needs doing. Yeah.
Hell yeah. Okay, I have one question up front.
Okay, once when I was doing this forest campaign in a national forest–so not the Park Service, but, you know, the National Forest Service–there was this pit toilet. And–because he brought up toilets–there was this pit toilet and it had a door. And we would prop the door open to avoid it smelling. But then the Ranger came by and yelled at us and says that it works better…The like ventilation system is built on the door being closed. But then other times, I feel like I’ve seen ones that say, "Leave the door open." What’s the deal?
That is…I’m going to chalk it up to every toilet in the back country is different. So maybe one of them was like designed in such a way with specific ventilation systems, because they get pretty high tech. We have some that have like little solar powered computer fans that will like vent air out and bring fresh air in to try to dry them out. It’s kind of neat. It’s a huge part of the job.
This was like 20 years ago I think…Probably didn’t have a solar panel
Probably not solar powered then. [At the same time as Margaret says above
I just couldn’t figure out whether she was like fucking with us because she didn’t like us or whether she was just like annoyed at these idiots who thought they knew about the woods but didn’t.
Well, the reason they gave may have not been like 100% accurate. Like one thing that comes to mind is–it really sucks–but you know, critters find their way down into there. And so if the door’s open like, you know, a raccoon or something may climb down there and like it really sucks because oftentimes they get down there and they can’t get out. And you know, at my park, we shovel all of that waste out into buckets and hike it out. [Margaret makes a "pee-yew" noise of disgust] And sometimes you know little chipmunks and stuff are in there. It’s really sad.
Yeah, Is there like a back entrance where you can go down and access the pit? Or do you have to just literally like drop buckets and like it’s a terrible well?
Oh, no, those structures are literally just…like you just you just like rock them and move the wooden structures off. They’re not secured to the ground. and then you put a hole in the ground with just like posthole diggers.
That’s fun. I’m glad that this is the first question I asked you. [Laughing]
It’s part of the job. Sorry, gonna turn all the listeners away.
No, no, no, no, I asked. And I think that that’s like….Okay, I mean, that even gets kind of…Um, when I would do any kind of forest defense or anything that involves living in the woods, I feel like one of the main signs of like a newbie in a bad way was people who didn’t dig a hole before they took a shit.
You know? And so the stuff that when you’re like in houses and stuff that you sort of take for granted, you can’t take for granted when you’re not. So it sort of makes sense that shit is the defining characteristic.
Yeah, it’s kind of fun.
But, speaking of shitty jobs…Hehe, I had to make the pun at least once. I’m very sorry. What got you deciding that you want to work outside?
I feel like I was kind of like destined for it. Kind of a weird way to put it. I was basically…my first backpacking trip was before I could walk. My dad put me on his shoulders. And I was out in the woods when I still in diapers. I grew up doing Boy Scouts so I was backpacking basically once a month. And so I just continuously did that essentially my whole life, and then, weirdly enough, in college kind of fell off for a bit. And then, you know, I graduated and decided to volunteer and have been doing it ever since.
Okay, and you moved from volunteer to now this is what you do professionally, right?
Yeah, that’s kind of the primary path to get in. If you’re not coming from some sort of military background or something, you kind of have to volunteer or do an internship or something like that. It’s a pretty small community. So getting your foot in the door and learning the lingo is kind of important. And having a name that a hiring manager can call for a reference check that’s like in the system is kind of an important deal.
That makes sense.
Yeah. Kind of a small community.
What do you like about it? Like, I think that a lot of people listening…So the reason I wanted to had you on, part of it is about search and rescue stuff–which I want to talk to you about in a bit–But part of why I wanted to have you on is I think that a lot of the listeners, a lot of listeners do either work outside or spend…Like I actually work inside, but almost all of my hobbies–and I make it this way on purpose–take me outside. And then I often sort of live outside. I don’t currently, but I have at various points. But I think that a lot of people are looking for ways to get outside and don’t like their current work or don’t have work at all or whatever. And so I guess I want to ask you about what you like and don’t like about having a job that has you outside all the time?
Yeah. I mean, it’s…I love that my job like requires me to be out there. It’s like such a huge boost for mental health and everything. It’s nice that I don’t have to, like take time off for my family to go out and get those experiences. So that’s really huge. Yeah, the outdoors is like a…I’m sure a lot of people that go out regularly have the experience where it’s…even if you’re not religious or anything but it’s kind of got a spiritual element to it where you’re just like out in it in the wilderness by yourself or even with a small group, and it’s just refreshing, you know. It fills you up. So that’s huge that I get to do that and I get paid for it and I get to–I think most of all–I get to help people get out to get into it, pointing out trails, conditions, things that. Yeah, it’s really cool to have a job where I can, like materially help people on a day to day basis, you know? Like when I recommend a day hike and someone comes back like all sweaty but smiling and thanks you for it. You know, it’s a good feeling.
Yeah, yeah. So you’re like the human Alltrails[.com]? Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah, I’ve got a little bit of a beef with Alltrails. But that’s maybe another conversation.
Wait, I want to hear because I’ve been using Alltrails
I, and maybe this is just me, but I dislike how Alltrails chunks everything down into like little specific trails. So like, people come in and ask about like this one trail and it’s got a name that I’ve never heard of and I’m like, "Oh, you’re talking about like this section of the trail going up to here." Like, I’m much more like destination based. But that’s just me, you know. People like it. And it’s really great for finding new stuff. You have the maps right there, which is really great. Although I don’t think it’s as robust of a GPS tool as some of the other apps. But yeah, it’s got some weird stuff with like…Some of the information isn’t always accurate. So don’t trust it 100% is what I’m getting at.
Yeah, I have noticed that, that it never takes me to the right place to start a trail…
Which, i feel like it’s just trying to keep me honest. It’s trying to make sure I learned how to read maps right. Because it takes me to the wrong spot. But it doesn’t do it when I’m like in the backwoods as much, right? Like backwoods is an exaggeration of the kind of hikes I do. Okay, no, no, I mean, because one of the things that I almost dislike about it when I started using it is I’m like…It’s kind of like when I’m driving, and I used to drive without a GPS, and drive across the country and all that. And now I drive with a GPS and I know exactly how many minutes are left in my drive. It’s a little weird that I have brought that into my hiking life I admit. But, I do like that there have been a couple times where I’ve been hiking and I’m like, "I don’t know where this fucking trail is. Where the fuck am I?" And it’s been like, "You’re in the wrong place." And I’m like, "Thank God."
Yeah. Good job, mapping tool.
It’s amazing now how the phones have replaced so many tools in my back country pack. You know, it’s like, my camera, it’s my GPS, it’s, you know, I listen to podcasts when I’m hike. It’s…Yeah, it’s kind of cool. Very Powerful.
Yeah, no, I like it too. I used to hike around with an SLR [Big camera]. And I’m glad I don’t anymore.
That’s a lot of weight. Yeah.
Yeah. Okay, so how does it affect…You talked about like…One of the things that you said about working outdoors that actually seemed really interesting to me that seems really cool is that you don’t have to take time away from your family to do it because it is the thing…You’re combining the thing that you want to be doing and the thing you do for work. How else does it affect your life, working outside or even specifically working for the park service?
Yeah. So you know, I have a family. I have a wife and kid at home. So…but where I work is, you know, it’s a good couple hours away from where my wife and kid are. So it can be a little bit challenging at times. And I’m really lucky that I’ve got the situation that I do because my wife has a decent job with all the benefits and everything and I’m a seasonal employee. So I’m working May to October, and then I get like…and so in the winter months it’s kind of worked out where I’m able to be a stay at home dad and take care of my kiddo. Yeah, it’s pretty…It works out really well. And as she’s starting school, I’m just transitioning to homemaker, which is kind of working out pretty nicely. I just get to bake bread and do the laundry and all that fun stuff. It’s pretty great. Yeah, it’s a good setup. But in the summers, I ended up being away from my family. I go home on my weekends. But, you know, I spend four days at a time out here in the back country and in the office. And, you know, it kind of stinks, but I’m out in the woods and I get so much family time in the actual winter that it it kind of evens out. Yeah.
No, I mean, it sounds like it has advantages over almost every office job. Like even though my parents came home every day, both of them worked easily 12 hour days most days. Yeah.
And my wife’s job allows her to travel in the summers. So they go and visit family. Like they’re off doing stuff. So you know, the couple months where they’re off doing those kinds of things, you know, it’s not terrible. It lets me go off and do my own thing on my days off. So it works out nicely.
Yeah. What would you say for like…I’m obviously…I presume you can only speak specifically to the park service or whatever. But do you know much about like other outdoors jobs or like what kind of like…What would you say to someone who’s like thinking about working outdoors?
Yeah. So I’ve worked closely with some forest service stuff, forest service people. I shared an office with them for a couple of years. So, you don’t just have to work for the government to work in the outdoors. You know, there are a variety of jobs working for federal or state agencies. You know, there’s wildland fire. There’s jobs that take you outdoors if you’re interested in like biology. You know, there’s people that go out and survey frogs and that’s their whole…Their whole job is they spend the summers at alpine lakes just like doing frog surveys, which is pretty cool. But, there’s also some of the non government jobs,. You know, there’s guiding services. They’re the folks that take people up those mountains like Denali and Rainier. They’re private companies. That’s a job that you can get in there. And also–it’s not necessarily in the outdoors but adjacent to it–you know, all those national parks have concessions, you know, private companies that run the hotels and the shuttle services and all of that stuff. So you don’t even necessarily like have to be a park ranger to like work in Yosemite or something like that, you know? You can be like a line cook and still live in the valley and be able to go day hiking in those gorgeous places on your days off. So…
Okay, so I actually first ran across you because I put out a call saying I’m interested in talking to people who work with search and rescue. And I had initially thought of–and I’ll probably interview some other people about this, and who knows what order they’ll come out, so maybe you’re hearing this after I’ve already put out some other ones–But I was originally thinking about volunteer search and rescue, right, and the the groups that do it in different regions, but you do search and rescue as part of your work. And I wanted to talk to you about that, about what search and rescue is like. And just to…the reason I got really interested in thinking about this was I was thinking a lot about how search and rescue is a form of mutual aid that our society puts together and how there’s been like–I guess every now and then people try and charge people for search and rescue services and then everyone gets really upset about it. This is like something I’m completely outside of. I just read articles every now yeah and then. So I kind of wanted to ask you about the field of search and rescue and your work with it. And what that’s…What’s been involved?
Yeah, um, I am kind of…you mentioned it, pretty lucky in the search and rescue world in that I get a paycheck for what I do. The Park Service is unique in that it’s part of like our enabling legislation to provide for the safety of our visitors. So most other places, it just goes to the county sheriff. That’s just the default, the County Sheriff. They don’t have the budget to have a paid search and rescue team. And there’s always, always always volunteers, people willing to step up to help. Which is, yeah, kind of amazing. And yeah, it’s pretty great. We don’t ever charge for anything. My park owns a helicopter and we don’t charge for pulling people out of places and lifting them everywhere. Yeah, it’s a pretty cool setup that we’re able to just purely help and not at all worry about money or anything like that. It’s pretty great. It’s interesting because you see it a lot just in everyday like back country interactions with, you know, non search and rescue personnel to where, you know, you get injured in the back country and complete strangers are going to help you no matter what. Like, you see someone on the trail, they will help you in pretty much any sort of issue you have. I do love that about that sort of wilderness aspect is that like, everyone helps each other. It’s kind of great.
That is a…I think that’s a really important point. We had a guest recently who’s a wilderness guide in Arctic regions and how that work actually led him to understanding anarchism and non-hierarchical organizing was that realization of like, of some of the things that come up in the back country. And so this thing that you’re talking about, about how everyone helps you when you’re in the backwoods, I think about…Like, I’m a real weird looking person by most of society’s standards. And if I am in most…If I’m in the back country, if I am on a hike anywhere other than kind of like a weird city trail or something, no one looks at me weird. Everyone just like nods like they do everyone else. And it reminds me…[Interrupted]
Everyone says hello…
Oh, go ahead.
I was just…Yeah, it’s amazing. People just say hi. They wave. It’s…You drive a dirt road and everyone waves. It’s interesting.
Yeah. And it reminds me a little bit about what I hear about, and what I’ve had minor experiences of, of what happens in disaster, which is, you know, the main theme of the show, right? And I wonder whether it’s just because when we’re far away from civilization and like we…the alienation of society, or civilization, or whatever the fuck–I don’t know what we call this–but, you know, the alienation drifts away when we’re in these places that don’t have as many structures in place or like…What do you think it is? Why is it…If someone’s passed out in the street in a city, everyone walks by them, and it’s like, "Oh, that person didn’t take care of themselves. So fuck them." right?"
Yeah, it’s…You’re absolutely right. It’s an interesting phenomenon. I think it has something to do with when you’re away from that safety net of society, when you’re away from like, "Oh, an ambulance is just a 911 call away. Someone else will do it. Someone else has done it." When you’re out there and you’re…You know that, "Oh, I haven’t seen anyone in two hours and here’s this person who’s injured." You know that like you are the only one. I think that’s part of it. And also like maybe a sense of, "Well, I would want someone to help me in this situation." And I you know, when we’re in the woods we we see ourselves potentially in more risky situations. I don’t know. It is…
No, that that bystander effect….Go Ahead.
No, I’m just, you know, it’s that or it’s just, you know, when you’re away from all of this modern everything we’ve built, people just are how they naturally are, which is helpful and kind.
Yeah. And, and that’s what’s so interesting to me about it is that like because people talk about like–a lot of preppers, especially like the center-right preppers and things–will talk about backwoods skills as the most important prepping skills. And overall, I don’t think that that’s true. Although, I think backwoods skills are great and I’m personally trying to work on mine. But maybe it’s like, they’re getting the wrong things out of it, right? Like, I mean, it’s cool to know how to hit squirrels with axes and skin them or whatever. But knowing how…Like returning to this, "We take care of us" thing, returning to this sense of like, "We’re in this together," maybe that’s the more important backwoods skill.
Honestly, it’s wild. You have, you know, just the interaction you have when you’re just far enough away, where you’re not, you know, close enough to society. Everyone’s…everyone’s really friendly. Yeah, it makes my job really easy.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. I always have…Like, when I talk to park rangers of various types, they’re usually fairly happy and not like smiling because they have to for work.
Well, it’s like a customer service job at its core, but you’re talking with the crowd of people that are–like we were just talking about–gonna go out into the woods and say hi to every person they see. And they’re like, going off and they’re spending their free time to go do this. Like it’s a very specific crowd of people. And it’s very like, okay, yeah, it’s gonna be…[Audio distortion with missing words] Very rarely do I ever have difficult interactions with people.
Yeah. So with search and rescue, I have a couple questions about it. Okay, one, the least…the most specific–sometimes I like to just ask the most specific question that’s on my mind. Which is, so I carry…like when I hike I carry a Garmin inReach Mini 2. I carry an SOS device and a satellite communicator, right. And it’s the most expensive thing on my fucking pack. It probably costs as much as the rest of my pack, but I like having it because I hike by myself. I hike by myself…well, with my dog. And this seems like overall a very good thing. I’m very glad I have it, but I keep wondering, especially like when compared with like smartwatches that can send SOS’s and like now phones can send an SOS, are you all like buried under fake SOS calls now?
So no. Not really. We haven’t…I feel like it’s just that like new iPhone I think that does that SOS, but I don’t think we have enough of those out there just yet to really see a lot of that. But, the inReach is our–my goodness–like gold standard. Those things it’s an absolute wonder how those streamline the search and rescue process and get people to the care that they need quick. Yeah, like there’s numerous situations I can think of off the top of my head where an individual would have potential…would likely have have died if they didn’t have an inReach. Yeah, that…I’m sold on those things. They’re just the absolute best. And there’s a different brands, not inReach specifically. There’s a couple other varieties, you know. I’m not here to sell Garmin products or anything, but anything that you can press a button and call 911 is huge.
Right. They haven’t sent us one for free. Okay, yeah, it’s funny because ever since I bought the Garmin inReach I am on their like mailing list and so I get the like…like once a month they send a story of like, "This man survived because he…on a ledge for six hours because of his Garmin inReach 2." Yeah. And it’s like clearly sales propaganda. But it’s also true in this case.
Just last year, we had an individual who was experiencing heat stroke, was getting like combative with the rescuers. They were in such a bad way. And if they had not had the inReach, they were like 15-20 miles from the nearest road. If they had not had that inReach for us to be able to get a helicopter there like quickly, it would have been a much different mission for us. So yeah, it’s…Yeah, those things are amazing.
Yeah. So if you’re listening, Garmin, send us free ones to give to our listeners..
Garmin kind of stinks because you have to pay a fee, like the monthly whatever, in order to pay for it. Like the best…The only like real benefit it has over some of the other ones is that you can send messages. But the other ones, I think Spot is a simple one, you just buy once and you don’t have to pay things. You just like jam a button and it’s good. Also most boats have them, so if you have access to a sailboat, you could probably find one
Okay, now that actually, that’s funny. I mean, one of the things, the only thing I’ve ever used my Garmin for, right is the text communication and the…So for anyone who’s listening, it’s a small device. It’s like, it looks like a miniature walkie talkie. It’s smaller than my cell phone, but it’s like chunky and it’s a satellite communicator. I pay a monthly fee. I think it’s like 10 bucks. You can pause it whenever you want. So, if you’re not gonna go anywhere for six months, you can stop. And it gives you like basically a phone number that you can text anywhere you can see the sky in the world. And then you’re paying, you know, 25 cents a text or I’m making that number up. I don’t remember how much money it is. It’s around that. And yeah, and so it gives you an SOS button, which calls for help and tells people where you are, or initiates communications with the responders. And it also just lets you…like it Bluetooths to your phone, or you can very slowly and annoyingly type on this like weird thing. It doesn’t have a touchscreen. And so, one of the reasons I actually do like that model is that like, I don’t want to interact with authorities unless I absolutely need to, right? And I absolutely will press the like "Please save my life button," right. But, there’s a lot more situations where it’s just like, "Oh, I’m gonna go be off grid for a week. It would be really nice to know…" Like, recently I was off camping in the backwoods. Well, not really the backwoods. I’m playing myself up. I was fucking…I was at Joshua Tree. I didn’t have cell service and my aunt was in the hospital and I just wanted to know if anything happened to her. And so it was nice to know that I was able to be reached.
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s, that’s huge. You know, I do a lot of solo travel too. And so it’s nice to be able to–just because you can send your track as well. So you can send like, "Oh, this here, you can follow me on the website." And so like, you can just send a link and initiate your tracking. Like, "I’m gonna go off trail and scramble up this little peek here. Like, go ahead and follow along." It’s kind of nice, nice reassuring, at least. But then you’re connecting with that outside world, which takes away that part of the wilderness a little bit.
I know. I was gonna say that part of it. And I feel bad saying it, but like…
Everywhere has cell service now and I’m like not always glad.
It’s nice when you can’t be…[Talking over each other]
Okay, well…Go ahead.
I was just saying it’s nice when you can’t be reached.
Yeah. For anyone who is listening is wondering why the conversation…We both have shitty internet. So there’s lag and that’s what you all are listening to. Which, is the fun thing about two people in a rural situation and trying to record a podcast together. And so okay. So you go and you do search and rescue and I have two questions about that. I have more questions about that. Garmin was my like weird specific one. What are people doing? What are the main takeaways that you’re learning that you see hikers or campers or all vehicle, all-terrain whatever…offroaders. Whatever. Like, what are people doing that puts them in these situations where they need rescue. Like what? What lessons can you impart to our audience from having seen people both live and die in bad situations in the woods.
I think the biggest thing…So it kind of depends on where we are. If we’re talking about like the close in day hiking trails, the folks that are just out for a vacation and like maybe doing a hike in flip flops. For that, we’re looking at a lot of the basic like, you know, the dehydration, twisted ankles, things like that. You know, people that don’t hike a lot are going out and suddenly doing a, what may be for them, a really strenuous hike. And so those sort of like, broken ankle dehydration, whatever medical issues, you know. Grandma doesn’t really hike and she’s suddenly climbing up some switchbacks and, you know, has some some sort of condition that that causes her to go down or something like that. So that’s what happens kind of in the front country. In the back country, when you’re like really a little bit deeper out into the wilderness, oftentimes, what gets people into the most trouble is they are overextending themselves. They are pushing past what they are really kind of capable of doing. Oftentimes, you get a lot of like the weekend warriors who maybe haven’t done a ton of hiking, who really decide like, "I want to do this one hike, because I saw it on Instagram. And I’ve got to do it because it looks really cool." And it’s way above where their skills are at. They maybe go on too hot of a day and they don’t have enough electrolytes. And so we still get a variety of, you know, the whole gambit of issues that can arise when you’re out in the back country. But usually, it all stems from pushing themselves beyond what they should do for their capabilities. Yeah, and then the occasional like, whoopsie daisies breaking an ankle.
So it’s actually kind of the same thing as the front country?
Yeah, I mean, you’re right in a sense. I don’t…Yeah, it’s just more of…Yeah, you’re right. It ultimately comes down to just going beyond what you’re, you know, expecting yourself to go do more than what you’re actually able to do. Yeah.
Yeah. Alright, so are the majority of things heat related and ankle related?
Oh, yeah, those are the two big examples. Those are honestly, kind of the most often are lower leg injuries, you just you step wrong, and you mess up an ankle, and then dehydration, and like heat illnesses. That’s like, probably a solid like 80% of what we see on a day-to-day basis. And those are all easily resolved. You know, they’re the quick in and out a couple hours and it’s done. Go in. Bring some electrolytes to someone. Bring them back up and you just walk out, make sure they’re okay. Or if it’s an ankle, quickly pop up there, and if they’re close enough, give them some crutches and help them get out. Get into a litter and wheel them out if you need to.
Okay, so the reason that I’m like…the ankle thing. I watch way too much like hiking YouTube. I wear–just because I’m an old punk–I wear boots all day every day. I used to wear big stupid steel toed boots and hike in them. And now I wear like tactical boots because they have side zippers and they’re lighter. And I like them more. Not aesthetically, honestly but for my life. But but all the hikers I know are all obsessed with trail runners. And everyone is like, "No one actually rolls an ankle. What are you talking about?" But you’re telling me that people roll ankles?
Yeah. The people that roll ankles are usually in boots, surprisingly enough.
Oh, shit. [Laughs a little manically]
Yeah. If you’re like using trail runners, oftentimes, you’re like strengthening your ankles and allowing that movement in your ankle, you know, because like the trail runners usually coincides with lighter pack weight as well. So, you have less weight, less risk. We’re able to actually like move with you rolling an ankle. So like, yeah, like I occasionally like step weird. My ankle twists. But like, I’m not locked into something where now all of my body weight is going to be over that. I can quickly adjust and like, be fine. But yeah, it’s usually the boots that you’re seeing the ankle injuries with. But like if it works for you, hike your own hike. I try not to judge people for their gear. But yeah, the trail runner cult is real and for good reason.
Yeah, you’re a trail runner guy. Okay. Okay.
I only wear boots in snow.
I mean, everyone I know who’s actually an outdoors person.
Yeah. That’s trail runners.
Okay. Yeah, I mean, at least like, you know, I…my friend Carrot was on talking about ultralight hiking and thru-hiking and you can hear in that episode me slowly getting sold on light weight hiking. I’ve always been like a maximalist. Yeah. And then in my defense I’m like, well, I used to live out of a backpack. I like know all about carrying weight many many miles. I was 25 when I lived out of a backpack I am. There’s that meme from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, "I’m a full 30 or 40 years old and I don’t need this anymore." Yeah. Okay, okay.
Join the future.
So you would overall suggest that lighter pack weight and trail runners might be a safer method than making sure that you carry everything that would be in a Dungeons and Dragons adventuring pack?
Yeah, um, honestly, you know, people aren’t used to usually carrying like 40 pounds on their back. Like, it’s not something humans normally do on a day-to-day basis. Like 20 is like not that much different. And most people can move pretty much the same way if they’ve got 20. But with 40, you’re like, you’re lumbering. Much more prone to the trips and falls and not being able to place your feet quickly and nicely. So…But, okay, ultimately, it’s, you know, there is a trade off of like you’re carrying less stuff, probably less robust stuff, you’re relying on doubling things up, multi-use stuff. So that’s kind of like…It’s a trade off.
No, and that’s really interesting to me because like what we were talking about earlier about people taking care of each other in the backwoods, I was thinking about how camping and hiking and outdoor stuff, in a way, is like making a hobby out of a little apocalypse. You’re going somewhere where you can only rely on what’s around you, the people around you, and the stuff that you’ve brought, right. And so that leads me towards my like, vaguely maximalist…Like what I do now, is that like, my pack is a weird lightweight maximalism. I like still want…Like, I carry P-cord, right? And that’s like not in an ultralight hike pack. But, I’m also not throug-hhiking. So I’m kind of like, whatever.
But I don’t carry like 50 foot of climb line, you know? And like, I’m not set to repel. I could repel in an emergency with my fucking p-cord. And it would be bad idea, but I would do it if I had to, right.
Yeah, no, I would double it up and then be terrified. Don’t do…No one should listen to me. That’s why I have experts on.
Don’t ever do that. [Laughing]
Okay, got it. All right. Everyone makes sure to repel with P chord. If you’re not, you’re not ultralight. So. Okay, so I expected the answer to be like, "What goes wrong in the back country?" I expected it to be like, people aren’t prepared, right? Because I have this like, tendency to think like, "Preparedness!" and like… But what you’re saying is that it’s a different kind of prepared. People are overestimating their capacity rather than running into a problem that they don’t have the wand of magic missiles that can solve or whatever.
Most of the issues we see are not solved by some like gizmo that you carry. It’s usually like your preparedness, your like physical ability, things like that, you know. Some little tool in your pack, like for the most part isn’t going to prevent the issues that we see.
Right? Yeah. But sometimes they’re fun. Like a walkie talkie.
Oh, yeah, they’re great.
Okay, okay. So while we’re…Is most of what you’re doing like day-to-day hanging out at a back country office or the office of…What do you do in your day-to-day? I should just ask that.
So like about half of my days, I am behind the desk in the front country just chatting with people, pointing out day hikes. I issue permits for backpacking things like that. And I have my, I always got my SAR [Search and rescue] pack there ready in case something pops off that I can quickly go hustle up trail to help with. And then the other half of my time I am in the field, in the back country, hiking around, chatting with folks, making sure that they’re not feeding the bears, and I get the point out cool flowers and frogs to people. It’s pretty cool. Explore new routes. Try to find shortcuts into places for quick access for search and rescue teams. It’s a cool job.
Does your back country pack include a full SAR setup?
It does. Yeah, so I…But a full SAR setup isn’t…I should correct that. It does not have a full SAR setup because I don’t carry a helmet with me when I’m in the back country. And whenever we’re on SAR, we’ve always got helmets.
Like, like the Team Wendy Bump helmets?
Yeah, like climbing helmets because we’re often like, doing off trail stuff in the dark in weird weather and they were getting way too many search and rescue personnel getting like head injuries. And the last thing you want out there is to like bonk your head on a tree. You know, head injuries bleed a lot. They’re not usually scary, but like a cut on your forehead is like…looks scary. And so it’s just too much to deal with in the back country. So we got to wear helmets, even when we’re hiking for SAR. It’s kind of silly.
So all hikers should wear helmets at all times. [Joking tone]
Yes, that’s what I’m saying.
Cool. Maximalism, that’s what you’re here to promote. So, how heavy is your back country pack?
Yeah, um, I actually got it loaded up right here because I’m heading out after this. But it is…Right now. It’s probably about 25 pounds-ish. And that’s loaded for three days with overnight gear, food, extra SAR stuff. SAR stuff isn’t that much more in addition. It’s just a little bit more robust things. Like I carry a bunch of like hand warmers. I carry just extra radio batteries, a big heavy duty like tarp emergency blanket, and then just enough layers where I can like stand outside all night long and not need shelter. Other than that, eye pro, ear pro, gloves. [Eye and ear protection] Not much different that you really need. Any like specialized equipment is coming to you. Or you would start out from the trailhead with it.
I see. So it’s not like you’re carrying the larger first-aid kit?
No, I mean, I’ve got a decent sized firstaid kit, but most of the time my first-aid kit is for me. And when I’m treating, when I’m helping someone, I’m using their first-aid kit, and I’ve got some extra stuff for like bigger injuries. But for the most part, I’m like if you’re injured on the trail, I’m finding your first-aid kit and I’m going through that first. So it there’s like a cool specialized band-aid that you like, make sure that you put that in your first-aid kit.
Okay, everyone needs a full suture kit. And everyone needs at least three Sam splints. [Joking tone]
Sam splints are great, but they’re just so big.
I know, they’re never in my pack and I always sort of wish it was, but it never is. It doesn’t…Even my maximalism doesn’t put my Sam split in my my pack, but I’m not like a medic.
It’s funny you mentioned that suture kit. I actually have a story about someone carrying a suture kit in the wilderness and it working out well.
Oh, okay. [Surprised]
They…It was in Boy Scouts and we were out hiking and one of the adults with us was a dentist and like way maximalist over packed. He had like an 85 pound pack, but he had a full suture kit. And lo and behold, someone fell and like gashed their knee open like incredibly deep. It was like a big bleed. There he was, sewing right up on trail.
it was pretty cool. But I don’t know if it was worth all of that extra weight. I mean, it was I guess but…
Yeah. I am so…I love talking to people about this because I’m so torn between my…like I mean the main pack that I carry, I just go day hiking most of the time right now and car camping. Currently, I used to basically backpack for a…not a living, but you know I lived out of a backpack, right?
You’re a professional backpacker.
Yeah. And now I just have like a day hiking pack and it has, you know, it probably has more stuff than I need, but I’m not pushing myself super hard on how long I’m hiking. I have a dog with me who provides a natural limit into how much I can hike. I can’t push myself too hard. I actually don’t go out too much in the summer, frankly, because my dog does not like the heat. He is a cold weather dog who loves the snow. I have bad news for him about the coming world. But, I am a little bit maximalist. And so I try. I’m trying so hard to pare it down. And it’s so hard. But okay. All right. So….Oh, I have so much more I want to ask you about SAR. Do you know much…Like do you all ever work with volunteers when you do SAR? Like, do you have like…Okay, so most of the SAR calls you get are like someone like calls in and it’s like, "I fell. My ankles fucked. I can’t walk home," and whether it’s someone on a switchback in the front country, or whether they’re 20 miles in or whatever, do you like? Like, how often is it? It was…I mean, I don’t know, it’s almost like…I mean I’m not going to put this in the title, so it’s not clickbait. But like, how often is it like, "Oh, shit, we have to get there in time, someone’s dying, or like, you find corpses or all the gnarly intense stuff?
Okay. So, only hike with a helicopter. Bring a helicopter with you in your maximalist pack. [Dry joking]
Usually…usually every day, there’s something small happening. Small meaning like, "Oh, someone twisted their ankle a quarter mile trail from the visitor center." Every…it’s usually probably three or four every summer, big ones, that have a big outcome, like where it ropes in a lot of folks and ends up being a kind of a big incident. Usually at three or four. But they can also resolve incredibly quickly too. So you can have a major thing that is from the time of knowing about, it’s within an hour, it’s completely resolved. You know, if you have a helicopter around and someone’s like impaled with an ice axe or something like that, we can quickly get them out to a hospital like within an hour if we have if we have a rush. Yeah.
Yes. Bring a helicopter. [Dry joking]
Okay, and then okay, so I want to ask–I guess I asked a version of this–but it’s like okay, so you’re mostly saying like, bring electrolytes and don’t push yourself too hard. Are there other things that people like get wrong or even sort of get right about about backpacking or about just like spending a bunch of time in the outdoors whether it’s day hikes or not?
Yeah, I think what people can get wrong is that like tunnel focus on the destination of like, "I have to get here because Alltrails says that’s a cool hike. And it says it’s moderate. So I have to do it." That’s the same light vein of thinking of like people pushing themselves. Where people get right is folks usually have like their ten essentials like people usually have like a backpack, and like a water bottle, and some way to treat water, or something like that. Most folks these days have like the navigation. They’ve got Alltrails on their phone. They’ve got ways to get away like get around. So we don’t see too many folks getting lost these days, at least in my current park, which is kind of nice.
Yeah that’s cool. Because I only read…Like I read some article about how the ski slopes have like…Local cops near a ski slope have stopped responding to the like Apple Watch "This person fell."
Because there’s like something about skiing that sets it off on your watch or something, you know?
And so I like have mostly read about the like, here’s how technology is like, making some things like more complicated and worse, but it makes sense to me that…Yeah, I don’t know. It’s easy to…I don’t get lost anymore. My phone tells me where to go. I mean the closest I’ve come right as you you go hiking and you’re like, "Shit, I didn’t charge my phone enough," or like or I always assume that in my day pack, I have a spare battery. And then like one day I was like, "I apparently didn’t bring my battery in my pack," you know? So I died. No, I clearly didn’t. But no, it’s cool to hear that people are getting lost less. And even I think that that also even applies to the like outdoors as mini apocalypse type thing, is that it helps to like know that there’s certain…I mean, obviously we rely on certain technologies that may or may not work in different situations, right? Like if we’re entirely reliant on cell service and cell service is no longer available or whatever. I am trying to think of what the, what the other thing is…I feel like there’s…Okay, well, one, I want to ask you what water filter you use, what water treatment system you use?
I use a Sawyer. Sawyer Squeeze. Put it right on my little water bottle. I like literally have my pack right here.
Yeah, no, I got really excited when you said that because I…I like, I make fun of how like preppers always, like, nerd out about gear. But it’s just impossible not to. If you get involved in a hobby, or an interest, at some point, you’re going to be like, "But what did you use?" Like, you know? So…But having a way to do it. Yeah, like Sawyer Squeeze…Sawyer is what I use when I lived off grid at the beginning of the pandemic and needed to filter all my water.
They’re great. They’re cheap. Can buy them in any outdoor store. Kind of nice.
Yeah. All right. The sad question. Maybe the answer isn’t sad. How have you seen, working at one place for 10 years…I assume…Whatever. I think you’ve been there for 10 years.
I’ve worked in two different parks. But yeah, ten years.
Okay. How has climate change affected? Like you see the outdoors every year? What’s been changing? And what are? What are people around you saying and thinking? Like, how seriously are people taking it? And what’s that?
Yeah, we all kind of collectively acknowledged that, especially like the group of seasonals that are like that I’m like working with, we all kind of acknowledge that, like, "Yeah, we get to be frontline watching these places go through the changes for, you know, climate change. We’re going to be like, documenting these in our patrol reports of like, how the snow melt is different from year to year and what the new normals are. And it’s kind of a weird, like, yeah, like, somebody’s got to document it. And so we’re, we’re here for that. And it’s yeah, it’s, it’s sad. It’s like a collective like, "Oh, shit, we’re gonna see this place, these places change. And we’re going to, we’re going to be documenting that, and recording that, and being that that data collection," at least from like, firsthand accounts, so…You know, it’s tough when we’re just, you know, we’re just little patrol Rangers. We don’t have really much power other than just communicating to people. That’s one of the things I like to talk about. And I like point out things on a map is like, "Oh, yeah, do you see this, like this glacier was here. And now it’s way up here. And it’s receding this much every year." Yeah. So we have that power to communicate with people. But it’s, it’s a tough part of the job. Let’s put it like that.
Yeah, it…I don’t know. Climate grief is a….At some point we need and episode on climate grief. Because it’s something that like we all sort of avoid thinking about, even when you’re like doing preparedness. Like part of the point of doing preparedness, from my point of view is to like avoid thinking about like how things might go. What have been people’s responses, like, do you run across…Are most people….? Because if you hang out on Twitter, anytime someone says, "Hey, this is the hottest day ever. This is a problem." You have like 50 blue checkmarks, who may or may not be real people, being like, "Everything’s seasonal, you idiots." Like do you run across those people in like a 50/50 to regular….people who actually understand what’s happening.
No, the vast majority of people that I talk to about that stuff….First off, I’m talking usually to backpackers. So it’s usually like a certain crowd of people, and like National Park backpackers as well. There’s also like a selective crowd. And so most people are like acknowledge the reality of climate change and recognize like, "Oh my gosh, this is a changing landscape now." Occasionally, though, I get the person that is like, "Oh, climate change. That’s…These glaciers, they always grow and shrink. What are you talking about?" And it’s, it’s a delicate manner, you know, to talk my way out of that one because I’m in uniform and everything.
Yeah, you don’t just like pull a gun and chase them out of the park? [Joking]
That’d be nice. I’d be like, "What are you doing here? Why are you here? Go away!" No, I have to be friendly and I don’t know, show them pictures of wherever glaciers used to be.
No, that makes sense. No, it actually, I mean, I actually…I think if anything is gonna get us out of…Well obviously, there’s no stopping climate change, right? Like there’s mitigating the worst impacts, both in terms of the level of change and how that change affects us. But like, we’re well past the like…We’re like, actually in it now. You know? But I do think still that like getting people…Like changing people’s minds, it still actually matters. And it’s still actually…You know, there’s this counter inflammation program that’s designed to destroy the fucking Earth and we have to counter it. And okay, but I have a non climate change related question. And it’s the last one I have on my list and then I’m gonna ask you if you have anything that I should have been asking you. What can folks…You deal with a lot of different people coming in, and you talked about different people overestimating their levels of ability and stuff. And sometimes, when I run across like outdoorsy stuff, there’s like this macho culture of like, who can do the most vertical feet? And who can, you know, walk the furthest in the worst climate? It’s actually almost cool that the weird macho thing about gear is to have us be lighter instead of heavier. But..which is the opposite of what I what I would expect it, you know? But, how can people of different levels of ability…like one of the things I like about…We didn’t really talk about the problems at the Park Service. I think that that’s just a thing?
That’s a whole conversation.
Right? You know, the Park Service comes from a very bad place. And so does all of the United States, right? And…
You know, like, you talked earlier about like private versus public. And, you know, and it’s like, is giving yuppies a safe taste of the wilderness for a private company like more ethical than working for the federal government? I don’t actually think so. I think everyone has to do different things in order to survive. But…Well, actually, I guess I’m now bringing that up. If you have anything you want to say about that we could talk about. You don’t have to.
I don’t mind. Yeah, it’s it’s tough. You know, I love these places. It’s not my land, though. You know, I’m on indigenous land. This is where I work. And it’s, it is a tough aspect to kind of try to reconcile because I love my job. And these, I’m happy these places are protected. But also, like, I don’t know, if…Like, you know, I’m white. Like, I don’t know, if I should be the person in the back country telling people not to step on the wildflowers, you know? I’ll do it because the job is there. And honestly, I couldn’t imagine doing something else. But if that land got returned to the indigenous tribes, tomorrow, I would be all for it. You know, it’s, it’s at the edge. It’s a tough one to reconcile. And they’re starting to make moves. You know, just the other day, got to go through all of our little laminated maps and sharpie out one of the names for a lake because it used to be a really offensive name for Indigenous women. And now, it’s not that anymore. It’s like a local indigenous word for grandmother. And it’s like, "Wonderful! I get to cross this out and write in the new name on this map." Like, that’s fun. But also, you know, it’s still not the tribe’s land anymore. So, I don’t know. It’s tough.
No, it makes sense. And I mean, when I think about the National Park Service, I think about a lot of really negative things and then I also think about how like as when I was doing forest defense, the National Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture and national forests exist federally not to be protected but to be harvested. And any like people use, or nature use that–and people are nature but you know–that comes along the way is like a byproduct.
You know? And yeah, that’s the…It’s weird because the park services are like, parts of them and more some of them more than others, are like theme park for nature. And there’s like all kinds of complicated things. But it’s also like…I remember at one point, I was in Yosemite, and I was like on a raised walkway to go see some falls. And I’m like, "You know, it fucking rules that these falls are wheelchair accessible." Like, that’s cool. And it’s interesting to me that there are people working to try and figure out how to balance, access and preservation. And so even though it comes from the….I don’t know, whatever. I’m not trying to be like, "The park service is great," right? But it’s just like, it’s fucking complicated.
Yeah, exactly. It’s, you know, you make the parks really accessible and then that degrades the quality of the resource in the that solitude in that wilderness aspects if there’s a parking lot with 1000 cars, or you know, 200 people on the trail. But also, like, it’s great that people can get out to these places. That is the…Yeah, give a park ranger a beer and ask them, "How do you balance access versus preservation?" and that’s a that’s a whole podcast series right there.
Yeah, no, I would totally listen to a podcast series that both talks about the weird fucked up place that the parks come from, and like the way that they do all this bad stuff, but then also, they’re complicated, like…I remember being in a national park run cave and this little kid was like, "Why can’t we go in that part of the cave?" And the Ranger was like, "Because there’s a bat sleeping." And the kid was like, "Well, what if I want to go in anyway?" And the Ranger looks at this like little kid and is like, "If it’s between you and the bat, the bat gets the cave and you don’t." Like, watching the entitlement strip away from this little kid’s eyes and I’m like, yeah…I don’t know. Well, okay, and this actually gets into the thing that I was going to ask as my question, which is, um, what can people different levels of ability do? Right? If you try to get involved in, in, not necessarily working outdoors but like, engaging with the outdoors and you’re not like, totally able to just immediately–I mean, I can’t fucking hike like I used to. I’m not trying to fucking go…Like, I walk seven miles and up 2000 feet, and I’m like, "I am fucking done." And my dog is like, "We are done." You know? But like, what can people do? Like…how make more accessible?
The best way to really get started if you don’t have that experience and really want to avoid that pitfall of like, "I’m going to do this hike because I saw a guide book that says I should do this hike. So I’ve got to do it." It’s just be completely flexible with not getting to whatever the destination of the hike is, you know? Choose something small to start off with, you know, and only do a couple miles, and set a time to like turn around. Say like, "I want to hike for two hours and turn around in one hour," regardless of if you get to the destination or not. And really try to change your mindset from the point of the hike being to get to the viewpoint or to get to the cool cave or whatever, to being the point of the hike is to like stop and see the little things along the way. Some of favorite days are like cloudy, rainy days because I’m not looking for views on those days. I’m like, focused down on like how the rain and the water makes the moss look different or changes the coloration of the wood grain and things like that. You know, rocks look a lot cooler in crummy weather. So I think like changing your mindset to like, "I’m not hiking to get somewhere. I’m hiking to be in nature," can really change like your mentality of, "I don’t have to push myself to get to that place. Because just around the corner, there might be a cool thing to look at," and like really sit and explore and like look closely.
That’s my advice is to treat it like a walk in the woods before a trek. And you’ll eventually get better and more fit and more experience to be able to push on and do more extreme stuff.
I like that a lot. Okay, well, that’s, that’s my questions. Is there like a question you wish I had asked you or like final thoughts or anything?
No, I think the biggest thing is that folks should get out and hike and push yourself, but have a backup plan and make sure that you don’t get in over your head. Drink your electrolytes. It’s hot.
Yeah. What electrolyte do you rep? What do you pack?
The gold standard is the that Liquid IV brand, just because it’s like four times as much electrolytes than the other stuff. It’s also really expensive. So like the knockoff store brand version of that, I’ve found it like a Safeway has been…It’s been okay. Yeah, okay.
Alright. Well, everyone go outside, or don’t, but probably do. See the world while it’s still around? I gotta admit, that’s been a big part of it for me is I’m like, "But I haven’t seen everywhere."
Yeah, I want to see it before that doesn’t happen there anymore. Yeah, it’s tough. Go touch really faraway grass.
Yeah. Well, do you have anything that you want to promote or push? Or do you want people to follow you on the internet or support any given program or thing?
I wish I had thought about this before recording, but I don’t…I don’t like having an online presence. So don’t try to find me online. You can’t. But yeah, go for a hike. And touch some grass that’s really far away. That’s my advice. That’s what I’m gonna plug.
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