Posts Tagged With: outdoors mom

DIY Gear: Portable Fire Pot

The great thing about the outdoors is that you can have a lot of fun on a strict budget. We often rely on camping and other outdoors activities when the money just isn’t there for a trip to Disneyworld, but we still want to do something fun.

Unfortunately, you can break the bank on outdoors gear, much of it stuff that you will never, ever need. I’m sorry, but no one short of an Everest expedition guide needs a $500 sleeping bag or a $1000 tent. Even better, for most of your family’s adventures, you don’t even need a $100 sleeping bag (yet!).

There are some really great life hacks that I like to file under DIY Gear, and this Fire Pot is no exception. It’s nothing more than a terra cotta pot, some tinfoil, and some charcoal or wood pieces, but it’s the perfect size for a small fire to roast a few hotdogs or marshmallows. It’s also a nice little personal fire pit, so you can enjoy the night sky with a flickering glow.

WARNING: I know this might sound like common sense, but it’s really not. Why? Because of websites where items like this are photographed badly. I happen to know someone who blogged about this very fire pot, and how it burned a hole straight through her deck. She’d seen the picture on Pinterest, and in the photo, there were people holding these little pots while they burned. She knew it would get warm, but not warm enough to char wood. Eventually, this woman’s story was actually featured on Pinterest Fail. Check it out.

Once you’re done with your fire pot, it will still be hot! You can pour water or sand over the burning coals to put them out, but make sure you’re exercising all fire safety precautions for putting it out. Don’t just dump your coals on the ground, or you’ll be reading about the forest fire you caused in the following day’s newspaper. You also need a sturdy box to transport it back home in, and some kind of pot holder or glove to pick it up with.

NOTE: If you took your fire pot to a nice little picnic spot, DO NOT CARRY IT HOME INSIDE YOUR CAR WITH THE COALS IN IT. You run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning! Plan your excursion to leave you plenty of time to put out the coals safely and let the pot cool off before returning it to your vehicle in its sturdy cardboard box.

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RECIPE: That Stupid Foil-Packet Cooking Everyone Loves

Can you tell how I really feel about foil packet cooking? 🙂

Okay, let me take that back. Foil packet cooking is great. There, I said it. I mean, I admitted it. But here’s what I hate about foil packet cooking: it’s become the gold standard of camp cooking, as though you’re somehow a gourmet AND a Sherpa-level guide if you cook your food in the coals and then eat it right out of the foil.

For the rest of us, though, it’s a good way to eat raw potatoes while your kids gripe about why you can’t just go to the McDonald’s they saw when you turned off the highway.

Foil packet cooking involves prepping your meal at home and cooking the whole packet in the coals of a campfire, but is a flawed, hatefully system:

  • Problem number 1) You’re going to prep all these great packets and they’re going to leak all over your cooler.
  • Problem number 2) It takes quite a while for a campfire to reach the coal stage for you to cook these.
  • Problem number 3) It takes even longer for raw food to cook down in the coals. This is NOT like putting them in a skillet over the fire.
  • Problem number 4) Much of the food that cooks well in a foil packet isn’t something your kids are going to like anyway. They wanted a hot dog on a stick that they could have eaten two hours ago, but no, you made brisket with carrots, potatoes, and slices of corn on the cob by slow cooking it in the coals.
  • Problem number 5) By the time this stuff is actually ready to eat, you get to fish a molten-hot metal packet out of the coals without ripping the tin foil and dropping all the food on the ground, and you get to eat it while holding a black, soot-covered foil packet.

They make it look so great in the LL Bean catalog, but please remember that the image of the man in the flannel shirt eating his fresh-caught trout out of a foil packet (which inexplicably has lemon slices and rosemary sprigs… because he brought those with him in case he caught a trout) is actually a staged photo shoot with a crew of about fifty people making it happen. I could eat this way, too, if someone else did all the prep work and I just had to sit there and look outdoorsy.

But since we’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that it’s just not camp cooking without at least one foil packet meal, here are some tips and photos:

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First, I never cook the meat in the packet with the veggies. I get the fire going, get the packets in the coals, and cook the meat over those coals with a grill grate above them. That way I don’t serve my kids raw meat with overcooked, dried out carrots. When you’re assembling your packets, it’s good to line a salad bowl with the foil since it keeps your ingredients from rolling all over the place.

Hint number two: you can prevent much of the burning and sticking of your food to the foil by lining it first with a little olive oil, and then with fresh herbs. The basil is going to be black and wilty, but the rosemary in the picture above has a woody stem and will help hold the veggies off the foil a little bit.
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Hint number three: please, for the love of all things holy, precook them taters! You don’t have to cook them all the way, but please do yourself and everyone you care about a favor and zap them in the microwave for a few minutes. Then cut them up. The coals can take over where the microwave left off. I’d personally do the same thing to the carrots. For the purposes of this exact blog post I made up these packets and cooked them on our camping trip, and the potatoes were perfect. This time, it was the carrots that were disappointingly chewy!
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And then you roll. Get the ends first and then make a center fold. This big center fold is how you’ll reach down into your cooking inferno and retrieve your food.
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Finally, take all of your packets and put them in a giant container that you don’t care about. This will keep them from spilling in your cooler and will keep them handily organized in case you were crazy enough to try foil packets for multiple meals. Oh, and don’t forget the salt. If you pre-salt your food in the packets, it will be slimy and gross when it comes time to finally eat it. Salt it after you cook.

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Pottying in the Woods: Part 3

No, we’re not done yet. Boy, how many times have you heard THOSE words through a closed bathroom door after sending your little one in there? So here we go, POOPING IN THE WOODS.

Fortunately, pooping is pretty much the same for boys and for girls, with the only stereotypical differences being in their willingness to comply. When I worked for the military and got to see my first open-bay bathroom (a room in many male barracks that contains twenty or so toilets, with no stalls, no doors, not even a fluttering paper towel to separate you from the guy pooping next to you), I was ready to run screaming from the Army base, let alone the room. That’s a big no… I’m not sitting close enough to high-five another human being while having a bowel movement. I’d be in the best physical shape of my life since I’d be running to the nearest gas station bathroom every time I had to poop.

I guess when the drill sergeant orders the men to potty, they either learn to potty or learn to love push ups. Oddly enough, the female barracks didn’t have this monstrosity of an open bay. It’s just one of those quirky things that makes us all different, right?

But all stereotypes aside, kids of both genders may either have zero problem pottying outside, or may really balk at the thought. I have two girls, but I got one of each in terms of “meh, no big deal, where’s a tree?” and “oh my dear lord I’ll just hold it ’til we reach civilization.”

So… pooping. In the outdoors…

This one’s a little more sensitive than peeing because it involves both contaminated human waste AND removing your clothes. That’s a daunting thing, so much that society even has a term called “caught with your pants down.” No one likes the thought of someone coming up on them at this sensitive time, so make very sure you’re in an isolated spot. You can also carry a jacket, shirt, or other long piece of fabric to tie around your waist and offer a little more privacy. Just remember that if any hiker comes up on you during this process, there’s a 98% chance she’s been in exactly your same position, quite possibly that same day. It’s natural, all humans do it. You guys just happen to be doing it in nature.

After tying your shirt around your waist (or not) and finding your secluded spot, again work the downhill so that nothing slides or rolls back onto your shoes. If you’re able to find an indention in the ground, that’s considered very polite because you can cover it with some rocks and leaves when you’re through. Be sure you’re not pooping into a convenient hole in the ground, since it’s quite possible a snake or other animal won’t appreciate the sudden arrival of waste in his den. When you’ve found a spot, it’s pants down, squat with your feet wide apart, and go.

But now that the hard part is over, the real fun begins.

There are (believe it or not) many schools of thought on what you should next. Most of these opinions come from die-hard hikers and adventurers and therefore aren’t as applicable to a mom and her kids out for a two-hour hike. The more avid outdoorsy people will spend months at a time through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, which means covering the entire distance from Maine to Georgia. That means how they poop and leave behind the evidence is of greater environmental impact. I just read that in 1990, almost 300 people actually hiked the entire ATC… that’s a lot of human poop, especially when you think about how many thousands of other people were just hiking parts of it.

Some die-hards will tell you that toilet paper is a thing of the devil and that you should never bring it with you. After all, leaves, rocks, and pine cones will suffice just fine (I wish I was kidding). Other hikers will tell you there’s nothing wrong with TP so long as you bring it back out with you. Yes… used. Still others will say that burying your TP or burning it is good enough.

My opinion? Well, using TP is a given unless it was a surprise potty attack. I’m not yer girl when it comes to wiping with a pine cone unless I’m only out there pottying in the first place because my plane has crashed and TP is the least of my survival worries. So I believe that after using a perfectly nice piece of TP, you should pack it out. Here’s why: it’s the least labor intensive version of the process (I promise I’ll show you how in a second) and you don’t risk burning down your local national forest. You’re also not trying to watch your kids hit each other with rocks while you dig a hole with your hands to put this used TP in. I’ll show you the Potty Pack in the next post, and trust me, you do not want to head outdoors–or walk out your front door, EVER–without these.

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Pottying in the Woods: Part 2

This installment is a great way to get our feet wet with wilderness pottying. Wait. Strike that. We do NOT want our feet wet while PEEING IN THE WOODS:

Boys… well, it’s a little more obvious how to handle this. You’ll treat it pretty much the same way you’ve covered their potty needs since they first got the hang of it. HOWEVER, don’t overlook the fact that you can’t just point your boy to the nearest tree and tell him to go for it. He will need to walk a respectful distance off the trail so as not to see-or-be-seen, and that will involve hiking off the path, potentially through ticks, spiders, snakes, unsteady rocks that can turn an ankle, and more. Help your son choose a spot away from the trail, but then stay nearby (back turning may be involved depending on your son’s age). The reason for sticking close is in case of snake bite, it helps the hospital immensely if you can describe the snake. If you send your son off to potty and only go looking for him after he screams or doesn’t come back, you can’t tell them what it looked liked.

Girls, this one’s a little tougher. If it’s seasonably warm, you have the easiest job in the world, especially if you’re wearing shorts. You simply find that same more remote spot, squat down, and pull the crotch of your shorts and undies aside. Make sure to pull them far enough that you aren’t actually peeing on the leg hole, not just because it’s no fun but because the rest of your hike will involve urine-soaked fabric rubbing against the spot where your leg and privates join. You will have raging blisters and possibly open sores from that. It’s important for everyone but especially girls to get the hang of the downhill, meaning the spot you select and the direction you face needs to be with the downhill going away from you so that your own pee doesn’t flood your shoes.

This is a tough one for girls/women to grasp, but we don’t actually have to have toilet paper after peeing. A good tushie wiggle to get any drips will suffice if this potty trip was unexpected. Simply stand up and let your clothes fall back into place. If the thought of not using toilet paper after peeing horrifies you, never fear, the next post will contain the instructions for a potty packet. Don’t forget your hand gel!

There is a product you can invest in that lets women pee more discreetly, even while standing up. It’s got mixed reviews, as you can see from this blog post.

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I Was Gonna Have to Talk about It Some Time: Pottying in the Woods

Whenever I talk outdoors fun with people who are unfamiliar, the conversation inevitably takes a strange, personal, halfway inappropriate turn. You can kind of see the look on their faces that tells you they want to ask a burning question, but then they don’t. Finally, I have to say, “I know what you want to ask me, it’s okay. Go ahead.”

My hapless victim will usually start to laugh and look sheepish and then finally stammer, “But how do you go to the bathroom?!”

When nature calls, and not just the call of a beautiful fall day in the mountains but the actual call of having to suddenly find a bathroom, how you’re going to react depends on a lot of factors. One of the most important factors is: what are you doing?

If you’re camping, are you at a state park or a back country spot? Because at a state park you go to the nearest bathroom. In the back country (a primitive campsite…be aware of those words “primitive camping” if you’re booking a trip to an actual campground, since they mean no amenities whatsoever), there’s an excellent chance it’s going to involve a tree for privacy.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not ready to head off on an unsupported backpacking trip. Important note: if you’re heading off on an unsupported backpacking trip and are still having to Google “how to potty in the woods,” you’re also not ready for this trip yet. I’m already envisioning a cruel prank where a new boyfriend has duped you into primitive camping and you don’t know what to expect.

A more likely scenario is that you’ll be on a hiking day trip or kayaking on a creek with your kids and one/all of you will have to go. There are a few schools of thought on how to handle this type of crisis.

First, is it number one or number two? If it’s number one, you’re basically going to leave behind an almost-sterile liquid that will not cause any harm. If it’s number two, you’re going to leave behind a pile of human excrement for the next hiker to enjoy, along with some litter in the form of your toilet paper. More importantly, how you actually accomplish the pottying will differ based on whether it’s number one or number two.

In the follow-up posts, I’ll provide step-by-step, gruesomely detailed instructions on how to handle each of these, as well as how the steps are different for boys and girls. I’ll talk about handling squeamish kids who can’t do it in the woods, as well as give you instructions for making a potty packet. Enjoy!

Animals have zero qualms about pottying in the woods. This happens to be turkey poop.

Animals have zero qualms about pottying in the woods. This happens to be turkey poop.

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GEAR REVIEW: BikeCharge Dynamo by Bike2Power

I’m a complete and total sucker for cool gadgets that make the outdoors even better, and this handy device is a set it and forget it solution to keeping you powered up and connected while you’re out riding your bike. This one is borderline “must have,” as you’ll quickly see.

Back in 2005, I was out for a training ride for my first triathlon. This was actually supposed to be my last serious, all-out effort before the event, which was two weeks away. We’d covered more than sixty miles at a grueling pace and were headed back. Without about ten miles left until we reached the car, the bike in front of me stopped for a split second to let a snake cross the road in front of him, but that was all it took. My front wheel barely brushed that cyclist’s back wheel, but it was enough to flip me to the ground. I broken my collarbone and hit my head (thank god for helmets!) hard enough to have a concussion. I very clearly remember thinking, “Wow, you really do hear a ringing in your ears!” before everything went black.

I was in and out of consciousness for the next hour or two. I came to fully in the hospital, after I’d been transported, had a CT scan, and had already had the collarbone set. I remember brief snippets of all of it, but not the whole thing. I do have one very vivid memory, though, and that’s being in someone’s car as they drove me to the hospital. For a few seconds, I had a panicked “over”-reaction because my husband inadvertently said, “Some guy drove you to the hospital.” I began to yell, “No! It wasn’t a stranger! I knew who it was the whole time!” My husband saw the vehicle and knew it wasn’t ours, but what he didn’t know was a stranger had given my cycling friend his keys to get me to the hospital. He then took my friend’s keys and rode his own bicycle to where we’d parked, took my friend’s car, and swapped out at the hospital.

Why did my friend take a stranger’s new car? Because our phones were dead, and we couldn’t call for help. The kindly old man–saint on earth that he is–who gave us the keys didn’t own a cell phone.

This scenario could have been very different. I could have hit the snake myself, flipped, landed, and had a stranger take me in his car. I would hope that no one would take an unconscious, injured person somewhere and hurt her even worse, but the world is a strange place.

After I recovered somewhat, all I could feel was gratitude that I’d been out that day with another racer, and not out with my two kids. What would they have done if I was unconscious on the ground and my phone wouldn’t even let them call their dad? They would have sat beside my body and waited, probably crying, for someone to come along. Then instead of someone hurting an unconscious adult, the stranger can make the choice between helping us or taking two little girls to his car instead.

Here’s the thing: there are a million reasons why having a fully-charged phone is important for this kind of activity, and the BikeCharge Dynamo is an excellent way to make sure you never have a dead smartphone battery while you’re out riding. It attaches with easy to follow instructions for DIY installation, and it charges an external battery while you pedal. It even has lights on it as an added safety feature, lights that are powered when you ride. Your phone connects to the battery and charges off your own green energy, but even better, any USB-powered rechargeable device can get a boost while you ride.

Now the downside… this Dynamo is charging that battery based off of a current you’re generating as your wheel goes around, so yes, it’s going to create a little drag. It’ll be fine on downhills (in fact, it has a “power stopper” to keep it from overcharging on the downhills!) and level ground, but if you’re going to climb any serious hills for long periods of time, you’re going to notice. It won’t be impossible, but it will be noticeable that there’s a little bit of drag on your wheel. Chalk it up to extra calorie burn, and pedal through it!

The great people at Bike2Power are offering a discount on this device with the coupon code GET10NOW, so there’s no excuse! Get your own Dynamo (make sure it’s the BikeCharge Dynamo and not a hub dynamo, which they also sell and which requires professional installation) and generate your own electricity. Even better, install it on the back wheel and put the bike up on the trainer so your kids have to pedal to charge their devices!

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PRODUCT REVIEW: K-Tor Power Box Generator

Yesterday’s post had a really great purpose, other that just sticking it to you for planning a boring old bird watching excursion and trying to drag your kids into your idea of fun. I promise.

It was really about leading up to the review of this great product!

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First of all, I despise objects or appliances that only do one thing. Whether it’s outdoor gear or regular household items, I hate buying things that only serve one purpose. Looking at you, countertop apple peeler. So when this object crossed my radar, I was super excited. Not only is it something you can really use in the outdoors, it’s great to have in the house for emergency situations (I’m all about being prepared for emergencies). Heck, it’s great to use it in place of a wall outlet anytime you can since it will save on energy costs and usage, and will double as exercise!

What is this wonderful device? The K-Tor Power Box Pedal Generator. Yes, you plug your item into the outlet and pedal to make it run. There’s no internal battery, so yes, it’s all you. Or if you read yesterday’s post, it’s all on your kids to power their devices.

At the risk of sounding like I support lying and trickery, here’s what I envision happening when you put this generator in front of your kids: they’re going to be super excited…for about a minute and a half. I’m willing to bet they’ll get up and find something else to do if they don’t want to power their devices. You get to be the parent who said, “Sure you can bring your iPad!” while knowing that they’re probably going to find something else to do instead.

In all seriousness, this device does have important ramifications for other things besides making your kids pedal for their screen time. Like I said, I’m really excited that it’s sitting downstairs right now just because we’re expecting storms later on today. I still remember the images of people huddled over some Good Samaritan’s power strip outside of an apartment following Hurricane Sandy, waiting for their cell phones to charge so they could even speak to their loved ones. Of course, this would also be the ideal unit to keep under your desk at work to pedal while you ran a radio or charged your cell phone. It would provide some calorie burn and keep your legs and back from being in the same position for too long.

As for how it operates, there are a few things you should know. It folds up nicely into a unit that takes up less space than a normal shoe box, but since the generator is inside the unit, it’s a little hefty at just over five pounds. It’s very important that you understand the unit will work directly out of the box, but it will work more efficiently and with less frustration if you bolt it to a board to keep it from toppling over while you pedal. Finally, you need to get a real feel for how much effort it takes to use this generator to power a device: it’s no lazy picnic. It will take actual effort, and any slacking off will result in a loss of output. Luckily, you can easily switch to using it as a hand-crank generator by standing it up in front of you and pedaling with your hands.

Don’t let the $195-or-so price tag put a damper on your interest in this. It’s a small price to pay for this much functionality, and it can make itself useful in a wide variety of ways. All in all, it’s definitely worth having, even if it’s something you hope you never need.

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Let Me Tell You Why Your Kids Hate the Outdoors

If I could get up from my desk right now and go anywhere at all, it would be to the beach. I don’t even care which one. I do want it to have trees on the shoreline, and no one else around. I’ll settle for the lake or a nice river, but same features: trees and solitude. Of course, if you told me my mini-me-vacation was to the mountains, I’m still not gonna complain. The mountains are great, especially if there’s any kind of view. Oh, wait! Throw in some fog! Foggy mountain mornings that dry up and reveal the scenery are awesome! Whether it’s beach or lake or mountains, I could just put up my hammock and my chair and sit there in the quiet, enjoying whatever nature has to offer.

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Why am I sharing this? Because the purpose of this blog is to speak to parents about getting their kids outdoors more. And let me tell you what your kids hate about being outside… doing nothing!

When we grown-ups plan a camping trip or a hiking excursion, we’re looking forward to getting away from it all. We want peace and quiet, we want solitude, we want nature, we want to unplug and unwind. Basically, we want to forget about the mortgage and our jobs and Netflix and just relax.

I’ve just described literal hell for most kids.

Your kids want stuff to do, activities to enjoy, and tons of people to hang out with or play with. They want to people watch, they want to shop, they want to go somewhere cool and tell their friends about it. If they’re like my kids, they even want an explosion or two.

We pretty much suck all the fun out of the things they like to do when we try to do the things we want to do. We drag them along, quite possibly kicking and screaming, only to have them hate it so much that the entire trip is ruined for everyone, never to be repeated or spoken of again.

So how do you avoid that? How do you keep from making your kids hate everything about the outdoors while still getting to enjoy it yourself, and with your family?

Stop being a wilderness dictator!

If I could throat punch every single person who declares a “no devices” rule when going outdoors, I swear I would do it. What is your kid supposed to do at your campsite without the very devices YOU bought for him? Throw rocks at a tree for three days? NO. He’s going to throw rocks at his brother for ten minutes, or until you get tired of it and make him go sit in the car. From there it’s going to be a battle of the wills to see who wins, the parent who wants to enjoy quiet nature or the kid who wants revenge for being forced to leave his iPad at home.

Instead, try this: no chargers. You bring the device fully charged and your child is responsible for using it wisely. Be sure to turn off the wi-fi since it will drain the battery in its futile attempt to find a signal over and over and over. I would personally say the car trip doesn’t count since there’s nothing worse than driving in heavy interstate traffic with a bored kid. Using it and charging it during the car trip is fine, but once you’re there, the chargers are gone. He can still use it, and you might even want to remind him that he’d better save it in case it rains and the hike/fishing/star gazing/whatever are cancelled. If he knows that his device is still available for him to play with but that he has to be careful with how much he uses it, he just might surprise you with his sudden sense of responsibility and his ability to find neat things to do outside. I can also promise you this: I’ve personally witnessed amazing acts of sharing, as in two kids happily playing a game or watching a video together to save the battery on the other kid’s device, knowing that they’ll share the other device later on.

Now here’s the real kick in the pants: don’t you dare enforce a no device or no charger rule, then violate it yourself. I don’t care that your job is important or your mom is getting on in years or the dog sitter might need to contact you. If your kids can’t have their devices, put yours away too. You’re not more important than they are, and this was all your idea in the first place.

Remember that your kids aren’t in the same place emotionally that you are. You might be blown away by bird watching, but he’s thinking, “I could be playing Angry Birds right now.” (Wait, is Angry Birds still a game? Or is it Flappy Bird? Dumb Bird? Whatever… you know what I meant.) The quiet that you crave in order to recharge is mind-numbing to him. If this is truly a family experience, then it’s your job to make sure every member of the family is thought of and has his needs met.

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Out on the Water

It doesn’t matter where we go, if there’s water involved then I’m happier than a pig in mud. Or a hippo in…water.

Whether it’s a camping trip to the beach or a kayak day trip, if there’s water involved, it’s heavenly. Ideally, the water involved won’t be rain, but then again, it happens. You can let it ruin your trip or you can go with it.

Locally, I live for going kayaking. This actually happened one recent Sunday. Yes, I texted my friend and suggested we play hookie from life and go paddling. She was totally game, and we ended up seeing a beaver.

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And that’s how awesome the water is. You never know what you’ll see or what the experience will be like. But it’s practically guaranteed to be amazing.

My daughter has learned how to truly get the most out of kayaking, and that's basically to let someone else do all the work.

My daughter has learned how to truly get the most out of kayaking, and that’s basically to let someone else do all the work.

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Welcome to Daring Feets!

Welcome to the Daring Feets blog, your personal invitation to get out there!

I’m a huge fan of the outdoors, whether it’s camping, hiking, kayaking, geocaching, snorkeling, caving, hunting, or just laying in my backyard make grass-angels when I think no one’s looking. I absolutely love reading about all the places in National Geographic and Outside Magazine and Conde’ Nast Traveler… but I’m never going to those places. Sure, it’s fun to read the articles about free diving in Belize or scaling Pike’s Peak, but the reality is I’m probably not doing any of those things.

And that’s okay.

I make my own adventure right here where I am.

So this blog is dedicated to all the people who would love to get out there more but who’ve only been told it’s Everest or nothing. That’s just not true! You (and your kids!) can have a great outdoors adventure without having to hire Sherpas. It’s just about finding the places you can get to, and bringing the right gear and attitude with you.

So go… get out there, and get those feet dirty!

Here's the Daring Feets crew on our recent trip to the Gulf. Yes, we're heading out to sea in our own boat. Bon voyage!

Here’s the Daring Feets crew on our recent trip to the Gulf. Yes, we’re heading out to sea in our own boat. Bon voyage!

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