May Favorites

Over the month of May the city fully transitioned from lovely spring into hot, hot summer. There are all sorts of fun new things to check out, like free performances of Shakespeare plays in Central Park, and rooftop and sidewalk dining options galore. This month I wrapped up the first school year of my Ph.D. program (!!!), and also got to spend time out of the city, both on a weekend backpacking trip in the Adirondacks and for my Wilderness First Responder in Vermont.

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The temperatures at the start of May were perfect for evening walks, which inspired us to get out and explore more of our neighborhood. One evening my boyfriend and I discovered a beautiful community garden which was bursting with flowers. It turns out they had just wrapped up their annual tulip festival the previous weekend.  This meant that we skipped the crowds but still got to experience full tulip glory. It was such a cool find, tucked between apartment buildings just a few blocks away from where we live. FullSizeRenderBefore we both got wrapped up in our final exams, Dan and I headed up to the Adirondacks for a weekend backpacking trip. It was my first time hiking in that region and I’m so excited to get back. We followed a small river up to a pretty lake where we lounged and ate chocolate and appreciated that we had made it out there before the black flies made their summer appearance.

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Sarah Martinet Photography

These photos from Iceland are getting me ever more pumped up about our very own upcoming trip! No flight-seeing flights for us, but plenty of exploring the country by foot and by little jeep are in store. 
IMG_5309Breezy porches are the greatest thing ever to help with this heat, and I got to swing by my sisters place and enjoy her lovely outside set up a few days ago. Check out that inspiring flower pot!


After a quick trip out to Colorado for the wedding of two great friends, I’ll be doing fieldwork in Greenland for the rest of the month. I look forward to sharing stories about the whole arctic experience once I’m back in July. Have a great month!

Expedition Prep: Greenland

Preparing for my field work in Greenland started about six months ago, and I’m now in the final week! The countdown has begun!

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This is the first scientific arctic expedition I’ve taken part in and there has been lots to learn throughout the lead up to the trip. My team of four will be based out of the Summit Station which is a year round research station in the very center of Greenland’s ice sheet. It has a main building which supports the teams based there throughout the summer, and we’ll eat our meals there, and use the building’s work spaces. We will camp on the ice near the main building, in tents provided for us (called Arctic Ovens!) which have plywood platforms inside.

Here’s a breakdown of the three main parts of the preparation that I’ve been working on for the past few months:

Map of Greenland showing where we will be working. Blue triangle is Summit Station, where we will be based and return each night. Red triangles are the seven seismometers we will be working on (note the one on the south east coast!). The brown shading denotes elevation.

 

The Science

The whole impetus for this trip up onto the Greenland ice sheet is for our team to retrieve data from our seismometers which have been recording the movement of the ice (and the bedrock beneath it) for the past year. I am part of a team of scientists who use these data to better understand how the ice in Greenland is changing, what the bedrock and deeper mantle look like beneath the ice, and how both of those things will influence the future evolution of Greenland’s ice sheet. My research over this past year of graduate school has focused on these questions.

Up until this point I’ve been working with data from a  set of seismic instruments located around Greenland’s coast. The new data we will collect this summer will be our first chance to look at data from the northern part of the ice sheet and will improve our ability to understand Greenland’s far north.

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The Gear

The gear I’ll be taking to Greenland is a combination of some pieces of my heavily-used, much-loved backpacking gear, and a few new very high tech additions. During the days we will be working in temperatures around 0° F and there will be plenty of sun reflecting off the snow, as well as a fair amount of wind. Additionally, because the center of Greenland is covered in ice two miles thick, we’ll be working up at 10,500 feet and need to take precautions against altitude sickness and dehydration.

Here’s a taste of what is going into my two big pieces of luggage:

Base Layers– On top: merino wool shirts, and a few mid-weight capilene 3/4 zip tops to layer. On bottom: my warm capilene long underwear bottoms and a pair of fleece pants. These are the regular, wicking clothes that I often take on backpacking trips or wear on runs.

Warm Outer Layers –  A lightweight down jacket under a big warm parka will keep my upper body warm. Having the option to shed the parka and still have a down jacket on will be great for when I’m doing physical work, like digging down to uncover the instruments buried in the snow. For my legs I have a pair of very warm snow-pants. I’m also carrying a full set of rain gear, because we will be spending a few days along Greenland’s coast. The coast will be much lower elevation and we’ll no longer be on the ice sheet, but there’s a definite possibility of rainy/windy weather out there.

Hands and Feet –  My boots are truly heavy duty, and are rated down to -100° F!! (much colder than anything we’ll experience this summer). I’m wearing my regular, warm wool hiking socks with these. My Gore-Tex work gloves have leather on the palms, which will hopefully stand up to day after day of working with metal poles and stakes which we use in the installation of our instruments and the solar panels which power them. Because there’s no option to acquire more gear once you’re out there, I’m taking two sets of these big gloves as well as two pairs of thin liner gloves just in case. We’ll also have hand warmer packets with us, and I’m bringing hiking boots for the times when I’m not actually out on the ice.

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Head and Eyes –  Just like the rest of my body, my head, face and eyes, will be almost completely covered when I’m working outside. I have a heavy duty windproof fleece hat, a thin inner balaclava, and a fleece outer balaclava. Glacier glasses will protect my eyes from the high levels of light which reflect off snowfields and as a backup I’m also carrying ski goggles.

Other Essentials –  A big, burly -40° F sleeping bag is the single bulkiest thing I’m carrying. Even in its compression sack it takes up about three times as much space as my regular 15° F bag. I’m also carrying my laptop, an additional field laptop, three external hard drives which we’ll backup the data onto, and my camera. Food is valuable in helping to stay warm and I’m bringing a big collection of energy bars to snack on while we’re out doing work between meals. A couple of books, toiletries, sunscreen, and multiple tubes of very protective chapstick round out my gear.

The Medical Preparation and Clearance 

I am traveling and working with a National Science Foundation (NSF) supported group, which is how we are able to visit this remote part of Greenland. We’ll be working many hours away from any sort of medical facilities and as a result there is an extensive medical clearance process to go through before anyone is given the go-ahead to participate in a field expedition like this. Over the past few months I’ve had multiple dental and medical check ups, and filled out a multitude of forms on all of the details of my past medical history. Once I had everything assembled, including letters from my doctors stating that I am fit to participate in fieldwork in a remote polar environment, my file was sent off to the NSF’s Polar Medical Operations office where it was reviewed by one of their specialists. They followed up with questions about specific details in my file, which prompted follow up letters and copies of medical records on my end. Happily, it all wrapped up about a month ago with an official statement that I have been “Physically Qualified for Polar Deployment”.

Additionally, I recently completed a Wilderness First Responder course to beef up my own backcountry medical training before this trip. The course imparted lots of knowledge to call upon should an unexpected situation arise, and gave me a more well rounded sense of what it will take for this expedition to run smoothly.


These last few days before I leave will involve last minute errands and tying up loose ends before I leave the city. I look forward to sharing pictures and stories from this trip when I return!

Wilderness First Responder Course

I spent last week up in Vermont taking a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. This 80-hour class provides a comprehensive overview of how to deal with medical emergencies in the backcountry, as well as an intermediate level introduction to human anatomy and body systems. The class was fast paced and full of hands-on scenarios, and I walked away with both a better understanding of how to deal with emergency situations in the wilderness, and a reminder of how important it is for all of us who participate in inherently risky outdoor pursuits to have the training and knowledge of what to do before any of these situations arise.

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The course was part of the preparations for my upcoming fieldwork in Greenland, where I’ll be part of a team of four people working in a remote part of the arctic for three weeks. I’m so glad that I took the course, both to have this medical knowledge fresh in my brain during fieldwork, and as a skill set that I can draw upon if need be in all of my backcountry trips with friends.

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WFR courses are offered through a variety of outdoor organizations, and mine was through the New Hampshire based SOLO. One of their very knowledgable instructors led our class on the campus of the Hulbert Outdoor Center in central Vermont on Lake Morey. The Outdoor Center hosts summer camps throughout the season, and our week of staying in their bunk rooms, eating at their cafeteria, and sitting on their lovely dock on the lake after dinner had a fun, decidedly camp-like feel.
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Each day was a combination of classroom lecture time and hand-on sessions which allowed us to practice the skills we’d been covering. These ranged from splinting our classmates ‘broken’ bones to building backboards out of our camping equipment to learning how to appropriately bandage and protect a punctured lung during an evacuation.

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We also spent a significant amount of time on rescue scenarios. For these, half of the class would go outside and be assigned ailments to act out (often complete with face paint on the ‘injured’ body part to simulate a burn, a fishhook stuck in a hand, a femur fracture….), and then the other half of the class would be sent out to diagnose their issue and treat appropriately. It’s amazing how easy it is to get your adrenaline pumping and for your mind to go blank when you come upon one of your classmates doing a very convincing job of crying out in pain, while fake blood oozes down their face.

However that’s what makes this a great course: you practice dealing with these semi-stressful simulations over and over again so that if you ever end up with a real (no doubt extremely stressful) emergency situation in the backcountry hopefully your training will kick in and you can get to work doing what you can to remedy it. To mentally organize all of the information thrown at us we learned acronyms to help us remember the essential first steps to take if we were to ever find an unconscious person in the field (ABC’s: Airway, Breathing, Circulation! ie. Are they breathing? Do they have a pulse?), and went over again and again some of the fundamental precautions to take after an accident (ie. if there was a fall or head trauma, always stabilize the patient’s spine!).

At the beginning of the course it felt like we had a mountain of material to learn: how to deal with cuts, burns, broken bones, internal bleeding, inter-cranial pressure, heart attacks, strokes, diabetic emergencies, allergic reactions, blocked airways, hypothermia, spider and snake bites, issues encountered at high elevations, and so much more. However the many hours of class time, hands-on scenarios, and our informal group reviews over meal times, all added up to a big leap in my understanding of how our bodies function, what can go wrong, and how to handle the situation if something does go wrong.

FullSizeRender_2The course culminated with a final exam and a big group rescue scenario where the 10 of us in the class acted as a team performing a mock rescue on a patient in the backcountry (one of the camp staff members who we’d never met before!). We first had to fan out and find our patient in the woods and then treat him and evacuate him on a backboard. It was an involved scenario that played out over three hours on our final afternoon of the course. We managed to find our patient, treat and stabilize him appropriately while in the woods, and then evacuate him out to the ‘front country’ on a backboard. Partway through the hike out carrying our patient, our WFR instructor pulled me aside and told me to act out a stumble and fall over a root on the trail and a subsequent clavicle fracture and sprained ankle. The team quickly sprang into action to deal with the added complication of having a second injured person, while still working to evac our original patient.

The course really underscored  just how important it is to do our absolute best to prevent injuries, accidents, and emergencies in the backcountry. For anything beyond a minor burn, twisted ankle, or maybe a broken finger, it will likely be imperative that the patient get to definitive front country medical care (ie. a hospital) as soon as possible.  As soon as you leave the parking lot and head into the backcountry on a trip, that transit time increases by hours if not days.

The course is an investment, in both time and money, but one that I think well worth it for anyone who adventures up mountains, down rivers, or along backcountry trails. There are so many fascinating places outside calling our names and we should definitely heed that call, but also make sure that we’re well prepared when we do.

 

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

We are currently in the middle of this magical time in NYC. Sunshine lasts all day, everyone is in a great mood, and its perfect outside: the skies are blue, it’s exactly T shirt and shorts weather without being too cold or too muggy, and the Cherry trees are going bananas.

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In order to soak up spring, carpe diem, play hooky, etc., Dan and I set an early morning alarm a few days ago and dashed down to Brooklyn to revel in the blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for an hour before heading back uptown for a midmorning class. It was absolutely worth braving the subway packed with morning commuters, because we got to the garden just as they were opening at 8 am and practically had the place all to ourselves.

FullSizeRender_1Strolling under blooming ceilings is a pretty fine way to start the morning. If we lived near these gardens I’d be here every day.

FullSizeRender_1 copy 2There are more shades of purple here than you can believe, thanks to the dozens of different varieties of Cherries housed within the garden. We wandered through a few of the small gardens tucked within the walls of the Botanic Garden: the rock garden, the herb garden, the many, many flowers which edge the reflecting pools. Then we made sure to head back through the Cherries. After a long winter, it’s really hard not to lose your mind over the fact that this much color is really happening.

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While the Cherries stole the show for me, there are a myriad of other beautiful colors to soak up too: tulips, lilacs, wisteria are all blooming away. In fact, the streets all over the city are blooming, and I even have blossoms to gaze at out my office window these days. I’m happy as a clam.

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The garden has a nifty CherryWatch page which lets you keep tabs on the progress on the trees as more and more of them start to bloom! Plus lots of pictures to live through vicariously… 

I can’t wait to head out to the Bronx later this summer to check out the much larger New York Botanical Garden, and hopefully make it back to The Cloisters sometime soon too!

April Favorites

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Spring has arrived! Everything is blooming and everyone seems to be outside. Here are some of my favorite things from the past month.

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Sculptures at The Met

I finally made a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art! It paired perfectly with a long walk through Central Park, which is just starting to burst into bloom. You could spend weeks, and weeks (and weeks) looking at everything that museum has to offer, so on this visit I focused on just exploring the sculpture galleries. They are light, airy and make for perfect wandering on a Saturday morning. Pro tip: Get there at 10 am when they open and head straight to popular areas (like these sculptures) straight away. Everyone else thinks that this sounds like a nice way to spend a weekend too, and you won’t have the place to yourself for long. 

The Poconos 

At the beginning of this month we headed to Pennsylvania for a family weekend in the Poconos! My parents flew in from Alaska, we picked my grandmother up from her place a few hours away, and my sister and I drove down to join. It was a wonderful weekend in a little house that we rented in the woods. Lots of great conversations, yummy meals, books, walks, and excitement over various trips that we’re planning. It felt great to get out of the city, get to truly relax, and catch up with everyone.

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This article + books, books, books

One of our family friends wrote a piece in a recent New Yorker! It was so great to sit at a little coffee shop and see an Alaskan name, even though I’m so far from home. The article is really interesting AND it involves geophysicists! One of my (successful!) April goals was to set aside 30 minutes to read my book every day and I’ve realized that the more I read, the more I want to read. Time can so easily be dissolved by tasks and errands and all of the things that fill up our lives, but after finishing two great books this month, I’m reinspired to continue to be more intentional about making time for reading full books, not just articles, for the rest of the year (/my life).

Need some more inspiration to read not just short articles, but full works of literature? Check out this Slow-Books Manifesto. Or do you prefer to listen to your stories on podcasts? This article says there’s a reason for that: your brain loves the “neuro ballet” that takes place when you listen to a story!


Next month promises to be an exciting one! Finals, a big presentation on how my research is progressing so far, and then the semester is over! Dan and I are going to try to get out of the city for a camping weekend, I’m going to take some dance classes, and then I finish off the month with a weeklong Wilderness First Responder Class. Summertime here I come!

Iceland on the horizon

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The thing I am most giddy, and most can’t-believe-its-really-happening about this summer is our upcoming trip to Iceland!! We’ll be there for a whole 12 days of backpacking, road tripping, hot-spring-soaking, and exploring!

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Iceland is somewhere that I have been dying to spend some time exploring for years. I got a tiny taste of the country on a short layover between flights many years ago and since then returning with time to explore has been at the top of my travel wish list. I studied geology in college (which REALLY increased my need to explore Iceland), and am now studying glacial seismology in grad school (which REALLY, REALLY has increased my need to explore Iceland). I can’t believe how much this one 300-mile-wide island has to explore: active volcanoes, seismic activity, glaciers, hot springs, huge water falls, not to mention a fascinating culture and history, boasting one of the oldest democracies in the world.

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The catalyst for this trip becoming a reality this summer was the fact that I will be flying back through Iceland on my way back from my field work in Greenland this June. I was able to arrange some time off from work and extend my ticket, and the best part is that my boyfriend and sister will be flying out to meet me in Iceland!

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Our plans are beginning to come into focus, and they center around a backpacking trip on the Laugavegurinn trail followed by adventuring around the perimeter of Iceland on the Ring road. The Ring road circles the whole country, and is going to serve as our jumping off point for day hikes, exploring fjords, glaciers, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge!

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We all have our plane tickets, so right now the three of us are diving into research on which regions we’ll explore. I already know we’ll have to make hard decisions about choosing one area over another, but I’m thinking of this as the first of many extended trips I’ll make to this crazy beautiful country. i (4)


All of the photos in this post are the work of the talented Kilian Schoenberger. He has lots of other equally inspiring images of beautiful northern places at his website: 

http://www.kilianschoenberger.de

How to plan your best summer yet

Summer!! This season just begs to be filled with trips and adventures and we shouldn’t shy away from the challenge. Maybe you spent a good part of the past few wintry months dreaming up warm weather trips, like I did. Consider this your formal invitation to sit down and iron out the kinks in those plans, so that you can put those trips on the calendar!

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Start with the big trips

These are the trips that your summer is going to be built around and they include any big vacation plans, plus anything you’ll be doing with fixed dates, like weddings or work trips. Make sure these are on your calendar in big bold letters because once those dates are set they are probably pretty nonnegotiable. My big travel this summer will be my field work in Greenland and an Iceland adventure which I’m tacking on to the end of it (¡more info coming soon!). Right before heading out for the arctic I’m taking a quick trip to Colorado to celebrate the wedding of two great friends, which means that my June and early July are fully booked. Write down all trips like this in pen. This is your first draft summer calendar.

Paria Canyon, Arizona

Paria Canyon, Arizona

Dream & Brainstorm

What are you really interested in doing this summer? Grab some scratch paper and start making a list. In order to strategize and figure out what you can realistically fit in you need to have a clear sense of everything you’d like to do. Visit family? Go backpacking in a new National Park? Make sure you don’t miss a concert or festival? What about things nearby, in your hometown or city? What kinds of day trips did you dream up while curled up on the couch over the winter?

Since summer + money + free time are all finite commodities, you won’t be able to do everything on this list, but now that it’s in front of you you can start prioritizing and looking at ways to combine things. My Iceland trip is happening because I was already going to be flying through Reykjavik anyway. I want to go backpacking this summer and make sure that I go on trips with my sister before she moves away, so we’re working on planning those together.

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho

Extended weekends

Now that you have your first draft summer schedule in one hand and your adventure wish list in the other, it’s time to see how the puzzle pieces can fit together. I always start looking at how I can use extended weekends to fit in little trips since just taking Thursday and Friday off and combining them with a weekend is often pretty doable. When I started looking at my own summer calendar this year I realized that I could squeeze in an extended weekend in late July with a group of my best friends from college. We’re going to meet up at one of their family’s lake house in Wisconsin, and because I booked early I got a steal on airfare. Late summer is still months away so book those tickets now and you can still get great deals to tons of places!

Gila Wilderness, New Mexico

Gila Wilderness, New Mexico

Weekends trips close by

Ok, so now you’ve probably mentally burned through all your vacation days and it’s time to look at what you’d like to do with your other weekends. I’m a big fan of local adventures and am continuously amazed by how many cool things can be found within a day’s radius of wherever I find myself. My sister and I have a weekend bike trip out Cape Cod planned for a weekend in August. It’s close enough that it won’t be hard to leave after work on Friday and make it back by Sunday evening, but it will be a new part of New England for both of us!

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Central Park, NYC

Days in town

There are all sorts of things that I don’t want to miss this summer right here in town, no transportation required. Granted, my “town” is now NYC so of course there are things to do, but this is true wherever you are! Did you know that one of the US Mints is in Denver and you can tour it for free? I’d lived in Denver for three years (and had seen those letter D’s on coins forever) before I went to check it out, and it’s cool! Not to mention all of the cool new breweries with patios which are constantly popping up in Denver (and elsewhere) and begging to be enjoyed on summer afternoons. No matter where you live, I guarantee that there are new places (many of them free!) to check out this summer: Botanic gardens? Tiny museums? New parks to picnic in? New trails to bike or stroll? Outdoor concerts? Street fairs? I’m especially excited for Shakespeare in Central Park here at the end of May.

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Death Valley, California

Write it down

I highly recommend writing all of these plans in your calendar right now. Anything that involves a plane ticket or long road trip is probably already written in, but you should add all of the smaller plans too. It’s SO easy to let time slip by, and just as with New Year’s resolutions, having things in writing holds you accountable. Now that you have all of these exciting and well-drawn-up plans, you definitely don’t want to miss out. Nothing needs to be set in stone, but I have jotted even little ideas down ideas on certain weekends so that I don’t forget all of these cool things I want to do. For example, I have a visit to the Chinese Scholar’s Garden penciled in for a Saturday in July and my boyfriend has put together a day of walking and exploring that we’ve titled “Street-Art Day” for a different weekend.

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Don’t plan it all

Of course, you definitely want to leave blank weekends on your calendar and don’t try to book every minute. Those lazy summer days absolutely deserve their time in the spotlight and you don’t ever want plans to become a chore. Plus, you need to save some things for next year: I wanted to get up to Acadia National Park this summer but it’s going to have to wait for next summer.

By the end of this summer you’ll hopefully have some great memories of new places you’ve found. But you’ll also hopefully have lots of memories of lazy sunny mornings, impromptu get togethers with friends, grilling outside, blue skies, green grass, and sunsets spent relaxing on the porch swing/fire escape/couch. The combination of all of these things blended together is what gives summer its magic so make sure all the little things get to happen, too.

I have a feeling this summer is going to be one of the best.


I know that I’m 100% on the pro-planning end of the spectrum, and that not everyone is. However, if you have things you want to do this summer it makes so much sense to plan them early so that you aren’t scrambling and dealing with high airfares, booked hotels and campgrounds, or missed opportunities. None of these ideas are new, but may they act as a little bit of inspiration to motivate you. Get to it!