6 Ways to Reduce Outdoor Allergies

Posted by: | Posted on: April 14, 2016

2016-04-02 - Brazos Bend Family Camp (108) (1024x768)Do you look at this photo with longing? Do you wonder what it must be like to enjoy fresh air and beautiful spring flowers without allergies? Anyone who has allergies knows the misery of itchy eyes, a runny nose, itchy throat, coughing and hacking, and even allergy related asthma. In some cases, systemic allergic chain reactions triggered by pollens, etc, can cause joint pain, rashes, stomach distress, cognitive challenges, and the dreaded anaphylaxis. I’m sure many of you have even noticed that you are more susceptible to getting sick after a severe allergy attack, or once you have reacted to one allergy, you become more sensitive to others.

Alex taking a siesta during a NEO picnicYour allergy symptoms are ultimately caused by an overactive immune system. One of the primary chemicals the body releases during an allergic response is histamine. Histamine has several important functions in the body, but we think of it as our enemy during an allergy attack and immediately reach for whatever “antihistamines” we can find in the medicine cabinet. We then settle in for an uncomfortable waiting period…either for our allergies to subside or for the “antihistamine” to knock us out so we can sleep off our misery. Since histamine is vital in promoting wakefulness, “antihistamines” cause noticeable drowsiness.

You may have noticed that you can’t seem to think clearly when having an allergy attack. There is a good reason for this. Histamine is a neurotransmitter, and when your brain is flooded with the chemical, chaos ensues. Out of balance histamine levels have now been linked to neurologic diseases, sleep disorders, clinical depression, decreased cognitive function, addictive behaviors, obesity, and much more. Scary, right?

Family enjoying a bike ride at Brazos Bend State ParkSo, is there a way to avoid some of the misery and help keep histamine responses under control? Having suffered from severe systemic allergies since childhood, I can tell you “YES!” with confidence. With just a little planning and some easy tricks, you can enjoy a much better relationship with the outdoors and decrease the number and severity of your allergic reactions. The following are a few tips I have discovered over the years, and I am confident they will help you!

1. See an allergy/asthma specialist. The right doctor will help you find out what your true allergy triggers are and develop a regimen to get them under control. This may include inhalers, steroids, shots, or holistic options. It may take some time to find out what combination of medications works best for you and what times of year you really need to take them, so be patient and stick with it. Even a year of experimenting is well worth a lifetime of diminished (or eliminated) allergy attacks. Through testing, your doctor may decide you don’t need medicine at all. You may just need to avoid a few key triggers.

2. Keep an allergy journal. This can be as simple as log entries you make on your cell phone’s note taking app. This journal will be invaluable to you and your doctor and will help you narrow down what your worst triggers and reactions are. Make a note of the situation surrounding your reaction. Had you been sick leading up to the attack? Did it start with an itchy throat? Were you dogsitting at the time? What did you eat that day? etc. You will start to notice trends you never would have thought to consider or bring up with your doctor.

Father and daughter spending quality time in the great outdoors.3. Plan ahead. If you know you will be subjecting yourself to allergy triggers, start taking your medicines at least a few days before hand. One of the biggest mistakes allergy sufferers make is thinking they will just take some Benadryl once they start showing symptoms. The problem is that once your body starts to respond to allergens and floods your tissues with histamine and other chemicals, it is too late. At that point, it is those chemicals that are actually causing your discomfort such as sneezing, itching, wheezing, sniffling, etc. An antihistamine will not counteract the chemicals that are already in your body. It will just help prevent more chemicals from be produced. Unfortunately, you will have to suffer until the histamine and other inflammatory agents already saturating your tissues have dissipated or have been neutralized by other chemicals in your body.

4. Rinse your face and hands often. Pollens and other allergy triggers collect on your face and hands. Simply rinsing with water will help keep allergens from collecting and being breathed in, swallowed, or rubbed into your eyes.

5. Keep your hair covered or restrained. If your hair is exposed and able to blow in the wind, it acts as an enormous allergen collecting net. It will not only collect allergens, but as it blows in the wind it will deposit them all over your face and even in your nose, mouth, and eyes. Keeping hair tied back, braided, or covered with a bandana or hat will significantly reduce your exposure.

6. Eliminate scented toiletries.
If you know you are going to be exposed to your allergy triggers, forego your regular scented lotions, perfumes, colognes, soaps, body sprays, etc. While they may not affect you under normal circumstances, they may compound an allergic response when your body’s immune system is already in overdrive.

With a little practice and some changes to your habits, you can make a significant impact in how allergies affect you. Your quality of life will improve drastically, and you will enjoy the outdoors with renewed confidence and vigor without the fear of being knocked out by allergens. Get started now! Then, come out and play!
What a beautiful day for fishing!


Hidden Kingdoms: Amazing Nature TV

Posted by: | Posted on: June 19, 2015

Hidden Kingdoms: Shrew vs. Monitor LizardAs outdoor nuts, many times we see TV as the greatest enemy of the outdoor lifestyle. However, there are some amazing shows out there that really drive home the importance of protecting and preserving our natural world…shows that inspire us to go exploring or see a little larger piece of this huge marble we live on.

“Hidden Kingdoms” is one of these shows. It is difficult to put into words how utterly jaw droppingly amazing this piece of television magic is. From the opening scene of the first episode, I was glued just a few feet from my flat panel screen…soaking in the colors, the movements, the crazy cinematography that had my brain doing somersaults in my head. I felt like every sense in my body was exploding with overstimulation! Yes. EVERY sense. The scenes are so real I felt I was there, just inches from the animals being filmed. I “felt” the dry heat of the African plains pounding down on me and I “smelled” the damp mustiness among the forests of Borneo.

The cinematography in this series is truly ground breaking. The goal of the series is to show the viewer the giant world from the point of view of a tiny creature. The stars of the series are an elephant shrew, a scorpion mouse, an eastern chipmunk, a tree shrew, a Japanese rhinoceros beetle, and a marmoset. This means that a good deal of the time the incredibly sophisticated cameras are mere inches off the ground and up close and personal with the wildlife.

The talented producers and cameramen/women customize their gear and develop filming techniques on the fly to accommodate their demanding four and six legged performers, and the results are amazing. Using super high speed cameras and custom macro lenses, they capture a world that has been completely foreign to us until now.

On top of this, they create scenes to tell a dramatic and action packed story with a soundtrack that can rival “Star Wars” or “Jaws” in its suspenseful impact. This is paired perfectly with such horrific scenes as a Godzilla-esque monitor lizard running down our helpless shrew and an enormous razor talloned owl dive bombing our beloved chipmunk.

On this note, I should mention that many of the scenes are staged and even blue-screened. This is no secret. In fact, each episode ends with behind the scenes explanations of the cameras, special rigs, stages, and special effects used to capture the shots and create the stories. This may seem like cheating to some of the purists out there who remember the bitter sting of the revelation that the 1980’s PBS hit, “Wild America,” staged many of its perilous wildlife scenes. However, I can tell you I’m a believer. “Hidden Kingdoms” is completely transparent in its use of creative story telling, and I can tell you that anyone that watches this show will forever alter their view of the little guys and the underdogs of the natural world.

This show is meant to inspire our curiosity and raise our understanding of a little known and largely overlooked world that is just out of sight and under foot. To find out more about “Hidden Kingdoms,” visit the BBC page at http://www.bbc.co.uk/hiddenkingdoms.

Check out “Hidden Kingdoms” today on Netflix at http://www.netflix.com/title/70305470.


NEO’s Wilderness Kids: Meet Kaitlin

Posted by: | Posted on: June 5, 2015

Anyone who has the opportunity and joy to watch kids playing outdoors knows that kids love nature.  In fact, they crave it…whether they realize it or not.  They are just designed that way.  Outdoor kids activities are a must for helping to develop physical and mental acuity in our children.

Kids love nature: Kaitlin backpacking Lost Maples State ParkKaitlyn is a typical girl. She loves the color purple, prefers Anya over Elsa, enjoys video games, and has an opinion on anything you can name.  Kaitlin also loves spending time outdoors…especially with her Dad.  She recently attended one of NEO’s Port Aransas beach camping trips with him and says that has been her favorite outdoor adventure yet!

She loved being outdoors after dark, enjoying the campfire, and playing with the other kids in camp!  Getting to know other kids is Kaitlin’s favorite part of camping.  It is amazing how she transforms from a shy, sensitive introvert to a curious adventure loving leader of the charge.  She becomes all about the business of having fun and socializing with others who have a similar goal.

Kaitlin doesn’t know why she loves being outside so much…particularly when she gets to enjoy nature and look up at the stars…but she really doesn’t need to.  It’s natural after all.  Who feels genuinely comfortable being locked behind a desk under fluorescent lights?  Not Kaitlin.  Fresh air, bright stars, beautiful scenery, and interesting wildlife is the only life for her!

Kids love nature:  Kaitlin plays with a pinata in campShe gains confidence with every new obstacle she tackles, and each new challenge encountered in her outdoor surroundings forces her to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.  In other words, being outdoors helps make Kaitlin smarter.  It helps prepare her with real world skills that she will use in school, in her future career, and in life in general.

Kaitlin says one of the most important lessons she has learned as a result of her time outdoors is to always be aware of her surroundings.  She throws in that you should definitely be aware of what snakes might be in the area.  In Texas, it is common to run into venomous snakes.  For Kaitlin, this isn’t cause for panic, just informed decision making and a little caution…additional skills that she is able to hone during her outdoor adventures.

Kids and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Join NEO’s “Wilderness Kids” initiative, and introduce a kid you care about to the amazing natural world around them.  NEO can help!

Check out our Facebook page for some great photos of our “Wilderness Kids” enjoying the great outdoors.  Be sure to “Like” us to help promote the NEO “Wilderness Kids” movement!

by Jennifer Boley

Kids love nature:  Kaitlin playing in camp with her puppy, Daisy


The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation in the Outdoors

Posted by: | Posted on: June 4, 2015

By now, we all know that sleep deprivation can be detrimental in many aspects of our lives.  Lack of sleep is linked to a host of physical problems such as heart disease, neurological disorders, and lack of proper hormone regulation.  Irregular sleep cycles lead to traffic accidents, mistakes at work, and cognitive impairments.  However, even with the overwhelming evidence that sleep deprivation really screws with our minds and bodies, many of us refuse to adjust our sleep habits to make proper sleep a priority.

Dozing on a plane

I can give fact after factoid to try to convince you that sleep is REALLY important, but I think it best to break it down into how it affects your ability to enjoy something you are really passionate about…the great outdoors.

5 ways sleep deprivation affects your outdoor loving self:

  1. Decreased Cognitive Function (you don’t think so good)
    • Decision making is key in the outdoors.  One bad decision can cause you to read a map incorrectly, take a wrong trail, and end up in Kalamazoo.
  2. Decreased Stamina (you run out of steam)
    • There’s no worse feeling than to believe you are holding your hiking buddies back.  If you haven’t gotten in enough zzzz’s, it’s inevitable that you will hit the wall sooner than your well-rested counterparts.
  3. Decreased Coordination (you get clumsy)
    • Alex taking a siesta during a NEO picnicThis is really serious.  Clumsiness is no joke on the trail.  One wrong step can mean anything from spraining an ankle in the middle of nowhere to plunging over the edge of a cliff.  In the Grand Canyon I’m told the vultures will help the rangers find your body…so is that considered a silver lining?
  4. Unstable Temperament (you become Mr. Crankipants)
    • Lack of sleep can significantly alter your mood and personality…from depression to feelings of anxiety…from manic excitement to boiling anger.  When you don’t sleep well, you just aren’t yourself.  That can definitely ruin your good time and affect the happy levels of everyone else around you.  Don’t be a downer, man!
  5. Health Deterioration (you can get sick…big time)
    • Prolonged lack of sleep can lead to ailments that will bring your outdoor exploring days to a grinding halt.  Allowed to go unchecked, sleep deprivation can lead to heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and a myriad of other serious and potentially life threatening physical and mental ailments.

For some simple tips on how to sleep better in general, check out WebMD’s Insomnia Slideshow: 20 Tips for Better Sleep.

Having suffered from insomnia since childhood, I can find it extremely difficult to sleep in the outdoors sometimes.  Here are some tips I have discovered to help invite the Sandman into my tent when camping.

1.  Always keep earplugs handy when camping.  Earplugs won’t do you any good if you don’t put them in correctly.  Check out this video from Boys Town Hospital for instructions on getting the most out of your foamy ear friends.

2.  Sean snoozing at Hualapai HilltopDon’t drink too much before bedtime.  Having to go to the restroom when camping can be quite the undertaking.  Struggling to get out of your sleeping bag, fighting with your tent zipper, stumbling around in the dark to get to an appropriate tree or bathroom facility, and having every sense become wide awake all along the way can mean that it’s going to be a while before you can get back to sleep.  Try to be proactive in avoiding midnight bathroom breaks.

3.  Don’t get overly stimulated around the campfire.  Campfires bring out our inner cave-person (politically correct.)  We get excited…even downright rowdy in the dark surrounding a bright flame with interesting company.  Just be sure that you start winding down your campfire energy starting about 2 hours before you plan to be asleep.  Sometimes you have to suck it up and turn in a little early while others are still in caveman mode if it means you will have a better experience the following day.  Just be sure you have your earplugs handy to drown all of the cave people out of your dreams.

4.  Don’t eat too late.  Eating too late in the day can disrupt the hormone balance that helps you get a good night’s sleep and rejuvenate your body.  It can also lead to indigestion and unpleasant acid reflux…especially when you are eating standard campfire fare such as hotdogs and brauts.

5.  Sleep in layers so you can maintain a comfortable sleeping temperature.  You may be warm when you first get into bed, but your body temperature lowers when you drift to sleep.  At the same time, studies show that a person sleeps better at cool temperatures.  To balance a cooler exterior temperature with your body’s changing internal temperature, the solution is to have easy to access layers of clothing available.  I will go to sleep wearing a tank top and a t-shirt.  I’ll also have something long sleeved within easy reach ready to throw on in the dark without effort.  As I become warmer or colder throughout the night, it is easy to regulate my body warmth without having to wake up fully.

These tips should help you get a better night’s sleep the next time you go camping, but it is important that you take steps to fight your every day sleep demons now.  Correcting years of poor sleep habits and a significant sleep deficit takes time, patience, and diligence, but the benefits are well worth the effort.

Sweet dreams!

by Jennifer Boley

Yang resting up in a hammock



Start Camping for Under $150!

Posted by: | Posted on: June 3, 2015
Car Camping

Car camping means you can easily access gear from your car and can splurge on the amount of supplies you bring camping with you.

When I first dove into camping as an adult, I was shocked at how much money I was told I would need to invest in camping gear: tent ($250), sleeping bag ($150), sleeping pad ($120), etc, etc…

This just did not make any sense to me. How could sleeping in the outdoors cost more than staying in a 5 star hotel? How did all of these hippy camping types afford it? I knew there had to be a more affordable way. What I discovered was that when you ask incredibly experienced upper middle class campers what you need to camp, the answer tends to be much different than if you ask a 19 year old college student what you need to camp.

I’m going to approach this from the 19 year old point of view.  These items are also assuming you are car camping and not backpacking.  This means you can easily access gear from your car and do not need to concern yourself with getting the lowest weight gear.  As our article “Rule #1 to Enjoying the Outdoors” promised, I’m going to get you out in the wilderness and camping for under $150. Are you excited? Let’s go!

Keep in mind that these recommendations are based on warm weather camping. You obviously will need some more intense gear if you are striking out on the trail in the Rockies during November. The specific examples of gear I refer to in this article can all be purchased at Academy Sports and Outdoors. You can purchase these items in store or online at www.Academy.com. You can find similar items at Amazon.com or at other low cost outdoor supply stores.  Each item name is linked to a webpage with full specs and pricing shown.  You can also find all of these items on our Pinterest Board: Start Camping for Under $150.

We will be starting out with the essentials mentioned in our article, “Top 5 “Must Have” Items for your Camping Trip.”

  1. Examples of tentsShelter:  Academy Compass 3 Dome Tent ($26.99):  This tent can hold 2 adults and up to a queen size airbed very comfortable.  It comes with a rainfly, but you will need to purchase a tarp or footprint to lay under the tent.
  2. Footprint:  Academy 8′ x 10′ Polyethylene Tarp ($6.99):  This will help to protect the bottom of your tent from being damaged by rocks, twigs, or other debris that may be under your tent  You will want to fold the edges of the tarp under to fit just within the perimeter of the tent.  This will keep water from collecting on the tarp and pooling under your tent.
  3. Sleeping pad/airbed:  Intex Classic Downy Twin-Size Mattress ($8.99):  This is a great mattress for a single camper that will have access to an electrical or manual air pump.  It can be pumped up quickly using an inexpensive electrical pump.  A queen size airbed can be purchased for just $15.99.
  4. Air Pump:  Intex Quick-Fill Battery Air Pump ($9.99):  While this pump uses C-cell batteries, there are other options that plug into your vehicle or a wall outlet.  These pumps come with multiple nozzle sizes and can be used to pump air in as well as take air back out of your mattress, making setup and packup of your mattress very simple.
  5. Sleeping bag:  Timber Creek 3 lb. Sleeping Bag ($9.99):  This is a very basic warm weather sleeping bag to get your started camping.  Eventually, you will want to upgrade.
  6. Cooking sausage on a camp stoveCamp stove:  Magellan Outdoors Single Burner Stove ($19.99):  This simple stove system comes with a basic fuel canister.  While this is not the fastest model out there, it will get you going with a simple warm meal and some morning coffee or evening tea.
  7. Cooking utensils:  Texsport 24 oz. Enamelware Cup ($1.99) and Grip-on Tools 3-in-1 Camping Spork ($1.49):  Enamelware can withstand high temperatures and can be used directly in a campfire or on a stove.  The entire cup will become very hot, so be sure to protect your hands when removing the cup from the flame and to let the cup cool enough so that you don’t burn your lips.  The 3-in-1 spork is extremely versatile and inexpensive enough that you don’t miss it too much if you lose or break it.
  8. Daypack/Hydration Pack:  BCG 100 oz. Hydration Pack ($39.99):  This is a great pack for just about any dayhike you can plan.  It comes with plenty of room for snacks, first aid items, and sundries.  It also comes with a 100 oz. water reservoir that holds 3/4 of a gallon or 3 liters of water.
  9. NEO members showing headlampsHeadlamp:  Cyclops Ranger XP Quad Mode (126 lumens) LED Headlamp ($16.99):  A great headlamp is a must.  Headlamps are preferred because you can use them hands free when necessary.  When shopping for a headlamp, don’t cheap out.  Yes, you will find various options for as little as $5, but you get what you pay for.  You want something with at least 90 lumens so you can see more than 2 feet in front of you in the dark.  Also, choose a model that has red or green light modes to protect the eyes of those you share camp with.
  10. Camp Chair:  Academy Logo Armchair ($5.99):  Sitting around a campfire is a lot more enjoyable when you’re in a comfy camp chair complete with cup holder.  You may want to upgrade eventually, but this simple seating solution will get you started.

Get these items in your outdoor arsenal, and you will be all set to start camping.  You’ll also be well on your way to becoming an outdoor superstar!  Take it step by step, learn as you go, and make sure you concentrate on having fun…not keeping up with the people who always have to use the latest and greatest equipment.

You can always update your outdoor gear piece by piece as you get a few extra dollars to spend.  However, I can honestly tell you that these items are still exactly what I use when car camping.  Don’t break the bank.  Just get outside and enjoy some quality time with nature.  Now, come out and play!

NEO members playing in Fern Valley


Top 5 “Must Have” Items for your Camping Trip

Posted by: | Posted on: May 26, 2015

Adrien and Elena pitch a tent in the California Redwoods.

When you are heading out on a camping trip, you will likely spend more time on determining what to take with you than you will on researching your perfect destination. There are thousands of products advertised for people heading out for a few nights of sleeping under the stars, but what do you really need? To help you get your packing list together, here are the top 5 must have camping gear items for your first camping trip.

1. Tent or Other Shelter

Shelter is number one for any camping trip. Whether it is a tent or a permanent shelter that is available on your campsite or hiking trail, you need to be sure you have a way to get out of the elements and get a good night’s rest. If you are going the tent route, there are so many options that you can easily get overwhelmed. There are standard pop-up tents, hammock tents, tents tailored specifically for backpackers. If you are new to camping, consider the following as you determine what tent is best for you:

  • How long will you be carrying the tent? If you are camping out as part of a bigger hiking trip, you will likely spend a good amount of time carrying your shelter. In this case, weight should be a consideration for you. Even a few pounds can make a huge difference in your ability to complete a long hike.
  • How many people will share the tent? Is it just for you? You and a friend? You and your entire family? Pick a size that will be comfortable for the number that will be using the shelter. Note that tent sizing is a little strange in that a two person tent really only comfortably sleeps one, a three person tent comfortably sleeps two, etc. A good rule of thumb is to select a tent designed for one or two people more than you will actually have sleeping in the space to ensure everyone has enough room to be comfortable.
  • What conditions will you be dealing with at your campsite? Any tent you select should have some type of waterproofing at the base, but if you are in a damp climate, ensure your tent also includes a rainfly to protect the roof and other openings as well. Are you camping in a warm climate? Make sure there are plenty of mesh windows to allow airflow and keep you from sweating through the night. If you are camping in the winter or in a place with high winds, a dome tent will likely be the best option to shield you from those conditions. Know the environment and make sure your tent will have you protected!

2. Footprint

If you are sleeping in a ground tent, a footprint is key for protecting your tent from tears and, therefore, potential water or other outside intruders that you don’t want to wake up to in the middle of the night! A footprint doesn’t need to be expensive. You can use anything from a cheap plastic tarp to an old tablecloth you have lying around the house. Its main purpose is to protect your tent from wear and tear while it is on the ground so get creative and don’t spend a lot of money. The footprint, whatever the material type, should be just smaller than the actual tent base. If it is larger, water can pool under the tent making for a long and cold night.

3. Sleep System

Whether it is a sleeping bag or a pillow, blanket and a cushy yoga mat, you will want to be sure you have somewhere comfortable to lay your head at the end of a long day enjoying the outdoors. Get creative if you need to save money, but again, be sure you are prepared for the elements. Remember, many warm climates can still get chilly at night and you want to be well rested so you can enjoy the remainder of your trip. A mummy sleeping bag can be great for extremely cold campsites, while you may want something less insulated in a warm climate. Plan accordingly!

4. A Warm Meal

One of the keys to wilderness survival is a positive mental attitude. While most camping trips aren’t about life or death, the positive mental attitude can most definitely make or break the trip. There is nothing that that can instill this attitude better than a warm meal or a hot cup of coffee or tea. There are many options when thinking about how to warm up your food and beverages, from a beat up coffee pot on the coals of the fire to a multi-fuel system that can boil your water in near record time. Be sure that your cooking / serving items reflect the type of trip you intend to have. And don’t forget your wilderness oven mitts!

5. Bathroom Essentials

Yes, Mother Nature calls even when you are out enjoying nature. This fact is a hang up for many that want to go camping, but if you want to get out there, you’re going to have to go to the bathroom at some point during the trip. Going to the bathroom in the woods is a right of passage so it’s time to get on board! Many campsites have bathroom facilities. Check into what your campsite offers before your trip so you know what you are working with. If your site does offer a bathroom, still know that some facilities are better than others. Packing your own toilet paper and / or wet wipes is encouraged (as is hand sanitizer). If you are wilderness camping, you may be left to your own devices. Be sure that you research waste disposal guidelines for your campsite and bring bags to carry out waste such as used toilet paper and wet wipes. Dog waste bags are great for this. If you are not quite ready to dig a hole, you can bring a portable toilet as well. Just remember, if you are hiking a long way you might want to lose this extra weight and work those quads instead.

Remember that with each trip, you will learn more about what gear is the most important to you and what you like and don’t like about each item. Research, experiment and don’t be afraid to make changes to your packing list each time you go camping. Tell us what gear you wouldn’t be caught in the woods without in the comments below!

Going camping? You can save hundreds of dollars by renting gear from Ayoopa (www.ayoopa.com). Check out our site so we can help you “Buy the Adventure, Not the Gear!”


What can a turtle teach us?

Posted by: | Posted on: May 16, 2015
Red-Eared Slider (Turtle) at Brazos Bend State Park

Red-Eared Slider at Brazos Bend State Park

Nature teaches us amazing life lessons if we just pay attention.  Even a turtle can be a great ambassador of patience and understanding.

Today, I saw a woman on the side of the street staring over the curb at something in the road. She seemed very uneasy. She kept reaching for the item in the street and snatching her hand back quickly. She would shift from foot to foot or pace in a small circle a few times before nervously looking back down at the street.  This played out for several minutes. Finally, she composed herself, reached her hands quickly down to the street and came up throwing a turtle behind her into a grassy patch near a drainage ditch.

I immediately grasped a moral from witnessing this. It is not always easy or even particularly desirable to help someone (or something) in need or to do the right thing. This woman was clearly terrified of the turtle that desperately needed her help to make it over the curb and down to the water in the ditch before he was crushed by a passing car. The turtle didn’t realize the woman was trying to help, so he was probably snapping and clawing at her as she reached for it. However, the woman knew what needed to be done and did what she had to do…regardless of whether the turtle wanted her help or not. I’ll be keeping the image of the woman and the turtle in my mind to help me make the right decisions when I come across difficult or inconvenient situations.  

This is another reason to spend more time outdoors and observing nature (including the human kind.)  The natural world is always willing to teach us something whether we know we need to learn it or not.

Learn more about red-eared slider turtles at Wikipedia.


Rule #1 to Enjoying the Outdoors

Posted by: | Posted on: May 9, 2015
Camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park near the California Coast

Camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park near the California Coast

As a child, I always loved the outdoors.  I enjoyed anything that involved fresh air, nature, beautiful landscapes, and wildlife.  My family didn’t really hike, camp, backpack or do any of those things.  The closest thing we did to camping involved sleeping in the back of my grandparent’s station wagon when they took me and my brother fishing overnight in Port Aransas or Goose Island State Park.  But I didn’t really need to have outdoorsy parents it turned out.  I was lucky enough to be the black sheep of the family.  I was the weirdo that had an unnatural love of nature.

As an adult I was even luckier to find someone to share my life with that loved nature as much as I do.  This was passed on to him by his parents who immersed him in the outdoors.  He grew up in the rural Texas hill country with parents who valued time spent outside…fishing, hiking, and camping.

When I first heard of the “Meetup” phenomenon and discovered I could connect with other nature lovers, I was ecstatic.  I quickly connected with groups that enjoyed hiking and camping as much as me!  I had not done any serious activities in a while since I had been buried in my career in retail management…not many outdoor opportunities there.  I started picking people’s brains on the gear they used, and what they recommended as “must haves.”  While everyone meant well, some people almost turned me off of the idea that I could push my outdoor experience to the next level.

I was nearly made to believe that it would be impossible to start camping and backpacking again without an investment of over $1000 in equipment and gear.  According to some, I needed a $200 sleeping bag, $300 tent, $200 sleeping mat, $100 stove, and much more before I could seriously consider taking on mother nature.

So, I had a choice.  I could believe the hype and stay home, or I could do some research of my own and get the facts through asking more questions and testing myself in the field.  I’m glad I went with door number 2!

The lesson?  Don’t let other well meaning but short-sited outdoor enthusiasts intimidate you out of following your passion to live a more outdoor oriented life.  Yes, maybe a $300 tent is necessary when in the Himalayas, but it certainly isn’t required to enjoy a weekend in the Piney Woods of Texas.  It’s all relative, and luckily most of us live in areas where we can get by with much more economical outdoor gear options.  In an upcoming article I will tell you how you can get everything you need to start camping for under $150!

In the meantime, follow Rule #1 to enjoying the outdoors.  Never let anyone else intimidate you out of enjoying nature or affect your passion for it.  Follow this rule, and the rest will fall into place.  Now, go outside and play!

-Jennifer Boley


You Packed What??? (in defense of packrats)

Posted by: | Posted on: April 5, 2015

Camping on the California Coast

One of the first camping trips I took as an adult involved an overnight stay on the beach with my husband. The idea seemed great at the time: being alone, playing ball with the dogs, getting tans and falling into a glorious slumber surrounded by soft waves cascading in the near distance. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of doing this before…until it came time to pack.

Where to begin packing for a camping trip? What to pack? What to leave behind? What if I make the wrong choice and am stranded in the middle of nowhere without that fourth kind of sunblock or with that magazine I chose over that book I should be reading? Should we bring more food lest we risk utter starvation?

I decided to play it safe and pack for any kind of foreseeable situation: various swimsuits, clothes, reading materials, several types of beverages, enough toiletries to make it through the Sahara for a month… the list goes on. Just pack it all, I thought. Just leave whatever you won’t need in the truck.

Off to the beach we went! And how well we did unloading and setting up the large tent, followed by the gazebo tent – both requiring intense assembling; then the barbeque pit, the large cooler, chairs, table, and so forth…and then, we went about our business.

It didn’t occur to me until the next day, as we grumbled our way through stuffing tent poles into a too-tiny bag under the unrelenting blare of the sun, how incredibly burdensome all this stuff became. Packing the still-folded tanks and shorts, followed by the hoisting of the cooler back into the cab with all those drinks swimming around in their little ice pool, made me wonder about my relationship with these objects.

Didn’t the point of getting away entail unshackling one’s self from the cumbersome, ho-humness of the everyday ordinary? If that was the case, why did I decide to bring it all with us on our mini-getaway? Did we really need seven types of flashlights in varying sizes and colors? I think not!

That whole exercise taught me a very important lesson:

Going away means letting go.

It’s about leaving your comfort zone and gaining confidence in yourself and what you’re doing, rather than focusing unnecessary thought and energy on those items which simply weigh a person down.

Everybody else will tell you to pack light and then describe how to stuff everything you’ll need into an overnight bag the size of your cell phone — with food included. Not me.

I implore you to take it all so you can gain an understanding on why you probably needed to get away in the first place. So pack those bags. Pack them to the gills. That way, you’ll know exactly what you should be leaving behind.

– Judith Lyle