Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sykes Hot Springs - Big Sur

There are very particular and special moments in this life, where we sit just where we are supposed to be sitting at any given time. Weary from carrying my pack into the woods, but clean from skinny dipping in the mountain creek with my friends, with my bare feet dug into the ground below the redwoods of Big Sur, I had one of those moments when I realized it:

I became the sort of woman I always wanted to be.

We planned a trip up north this weekend, to Big Sur, the little group of cabins and restaurants along Highway 1 as that road goes spinning along cliff sides overlooking the Pacific. It's my 3rd time there in 8 months, but it's the first time I've backpacked at all since I've moved to the West Coast. (One tends to forget how much more difficult covering ground can be when you have a 30 lb backpack on your hips!)

We went up into the hills, hiking along a ridge line of redwoods, descending towards the creeks that feed the Big Sur river, then moving up the hill again. Because it was Memorial Day weekend and there was talk of nearly 200 people at Sykes Hot Springs, our final destination, we camped 3 miles away, then finished the hike to the natural hot springs without our packs. We rinsed the sweat and dirt off in the chilly river, then dipped into the hot water. Once we were warm again, we took off our swimming suits and dove into the cold mountain streams.

This will be my last big California road trip. I'm officially leaving in less than a month. 

These friends of mine - the ones whom I've wrangled into weekend adventures and driven up and down this state, who have come with me into so many deserts and forests - well, as my Papa says, ten thousand words would be too few and one would be too many. The threads of our lives have moved so intimately together for the past few years and now they will drift apart, on to new and different parts of the tapestry. I see the beauty in this, and massage the sorrow as I think of all the others I have walked away from in this way. Today, our clothes hang together in the forest, flapping on the line like prayer flags, in just a few months, I'll be in a different bed, in a different country, winding my story around the lives of others.

When I was young, say 15 years old, staying up late on a cold winter night in Minnesota, I would imagine my life as a much cooler, wiser woman, there were two veins it would take. The first was towards a studio apartment in New York City where I would drink coffee at all hours and write and maybe waitress in my spare time and somehow I always afforded to live in this day dream (ah, the dreams of the young!). If I opened my mind a little wider, I would see something like the life I have now: men and women traveling with me, climbing hills, setting up tents, drinking wine barefoot and swimming in mountain creeks with me. Realizing that this is exactly who I am and those are the people I have found and whom I have been honored to share in so many journeys over the last few years, is something worth toasting to. 

As we were heading out of the woods, a few people stopped to sterilize water once more at a stream. With my heart rate already up and a rhythm in my steps, I decided to keep moving, and walked the seven miles back to the car in silence. I can feel myself winding up a little tighter these days, preparing for the move and naturally experiencing some elevated anxiety, as one does as they are about to move, then move again. 

I've felt my soul like a caged animal lately, thrashing and yelping for solitude. It terrifies me, but I can feel deep in these bones that there is a reason for it, I'm being called there to wring something out of me, to shift a looking glass.  Walking alone, I can't even say I was thinking anything. I felt my body, moving, breathing, lifting a pack full of  my belongings. I felt my ankles as they grew weary, and I watched the hills and flowers as they changed around me. I felt a song in my head, the old shaker song I remember singing with friends and neighbors: "Tis a gift to be simple".

It was very good to walk alone.

Read Masha's Blog for a closer play-by-play of the details of the trip - in case you are ever interested in doing Skyes Hot Springs yourself! I would highly recommend it. 


Help fund my artistic journey through Northern Ireland where I will be researching and finishing my book, working title Dear Bird for 3-4 months. Learn more about my campaign and donate here. Thank you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How I'm prepping #2

A continuation of my recent blog post about how one prepares for the sort of trip I've been planning for the coming summer and fall. 

I did my first trial run of my backpack today! (I couldn't wait any longer - I'm only a month out from leaving CA!) With all of my gear and clothing I'm about 5 pounds below the weight limit at which most budget airlines can change you HUGE bucks to check a bag (15 kg). There is even room for buying some things along the way! 

For the first three months of the trip, I'll be in warm, Mediterranean climates, and doing a lot of work on farms, then my clothing needs will change dramatically. When I arrive in Northern Ireland in October, I'll have my mom send me a box of sweaters, socks and a coat. The last time I spent 3 weeks in Ireland it was July and I wore a sweater 2/3rds of the time, so I'm anticipating needing to change up my wardrobe for sure during the end of fall into winter!

I've been purchasing lots of light-weight, wrinkle resistant clothing, including Columbia and North Face brand t-shirts, tanks, dresses and pants. These are a little pricey but they are so easy to pull out of a bag and throw on, plus they are light-weight and will stand up during the work I'll be doing on the farms. 

I'm so glad that I started planning and buying my clothing and other gear a year in advance. It can be surprising how quickly all of these costs can add up (after rent, bills, food, my California trips, etc.)

The packing list includes, as of now:
6 underwear
4 travel underwear
2 sports bra
2 regular bra
7 socks
1 fleece jacket
1 rain jacket
2 pair jeans
1 pair shorts
2 hiking/work pants
4 tanks/tshirts
2 long sleeve shirt
2 shawls (for chilly nights or when I go into temples/mosques as I move eastward)
1 sleeping t-shirt/1 pj pants
2 dresses
1 infinity skirt
1 swimming suit

A lot of this packing list was developed based on research from herpackinglist.com, which is full of great tips from many real women out in the world, as well as of advice for how a woman can meet all of her hygiene needs on a long trip.


With a mesh bag to throw my dirty clothes in and keep them separate as they accumulate, I'm hoping to have early access to laundry facilities of some kind about every 2-3 weeks. This is where the quick dry/travel underwear come in handy. I used them on the Inca Trail and all you would do is wash them out the night before, leave them hang for the night (or 20 minutes if you are in a warm place) and they would be perfectly dry and ready to wear in the morning. A pinch of Broner's Magical Soap and a sink stopper in a hostel will also do just fine, along with a braided laundry line. I've got some Tide-To-Go sticks in my purse as well. 

Chacos - my favorite shoes. Certain to be
unfashionable in Europe
As I've mentioned before, I've decided I'm not giving a damn about how fashionable I look. I've had Chaco's for a year and if the Californians don't get or like them, I'm fairly sure the Europeans won't either, but I've decided not to care. When you know you're going to be walking around all day every day in a pair of sandals and you have high arches like me, you certainly want good foot support. 

I also purchased a new pair of hiking boots, for long days on the farm, actually getting from place to place and for any hiking I may end up getting the opportunity to do. The ones which took me through many mountains in California and throughout the Andes in Venezuela and Peru were falling apart to rapidly to trust them abroad. 

The last shoes I have, since both of the above pairs are pretty basic and outdoorsy, are a pair of slip-on black flats, which roll up into each other then into a nice little case and can be stowed away into a corner of my backpack for any fancy occasions I may encounter. They were cheap and the plether is thin, so they are a once in a great while sort of wear.

Organization in the bag

Underwear, socks/bras, tshirts, dresses and cloth pants, easily sorted
I came across these Eagle Creek brand super light traveling cubes recently, and I'm SO glad I invested in them. When I first opened the box, I was skeptical, thinking, how will I actually USE these? Now I see how great it can be: socks and underwear in their own, t-shirts in another - no shifting through all of your clothes to get to the clean sleep sack and messing up all the careful packing you've just done. I am so excited to use these on an upcoming back packing trip, as well as while I'm abroad. 

Questions about other packing, items I'm buying? Problems I'm trying to solve in advance? Comment and I'll do my best to answer - or I'll throw you a more educated answer on the road! 


Help fund my artistic journey through Northern Ireland where I will be researching and finishing my book, working title Dear Bird for 3-4 months. Learn more about my campaign and donate here. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How I'm prepping #1

Logistically, a lot of people wonder how in the world one can prep for a 6-7 month trip where you live out of a backpack. I'm not sure I have the answers yet, but with a little research and my previous experiences of long trips, I'm beginning to come up with my own plan. 

I've been being thoughtful about the types of clothing I've been purchasing and I've already started making changes to my personal beauty regimen (not that I've ever really been that high maintenance, let's be honest) to prep myself, including...

Shampoo Bars:

Easier to carry, able to pass through airport security without a plastic baggie, less wasteful and SLS-free, shampoo bars are just like bars of soap that you lather into your hair then rinse out with water (and once every three weeks or so after the transition period, I use a rinse of diluted apple cider vinegar to cleanse the whole head. Shockingly, this doesn't even smell like vinegar once it's dried.)

From my understanding (and I am NO expert), Sodium Laruryl Sulfate is in most liquid shampoos, conditioners and soaps. It's a detergent and an irritant. I'm not someone who is going to get all preachy about what we're putting on our bodies, but this to me is just a plus of this switch over. 

The way normal liquid shampoos and conditioners work is they coat your hair to get rid of the natural oils to make it silky, untangled and smooth. That's why our hair gets SO greasy not long after washing it: our scalp is fighting back against the shampoo. A SLS-free shampoo will not rid your scalp of all it's natural goodness than coat it with something else, it will get rid of the gross stuff and allow your natural oils to do their work and make your hair healthy and grease-less. It takes a few weeks  (and lots of vinegar rinses) for your hair to regulate, but once you're there, it's great! I've had many compliments on my hair and love that it takes less time in the shower (A+ in SoCal where we're in a major drought), and I need to wash my hair less often. My first bar lasted me about 2.5 months with a shower every 2-3 days, which is comparable to regular shampoo. Plus it'll be SO much easier than buying, storing and carrying on the road, partly because of the handy little travel carrier I got as a part of the deal.

My hair remains luscious, soft and beautiful,
even after 4 months with only bar shampoo! 
I use J.R. Liggett's Coconut & Argan Oil Bar and after using their "original" bar for the first few months, I must say I'm very happy with this product (the other one was great, too, for the record). I'm surprised, with my long, wavy-curly hair, that I'm not missing conditioner. Especially with this coconut oil-based bar, I've never had trouble brushing the tangles out of my hair and it still feels silky and smooth. This is a small vanity which I was admittedly worried about giving up. 

The Diva Cup (For the ladies only):

I have transitioned from tampons to using the Diva Cup and I can report after 4 cycles that everyone, and I mean everyone, who can wrap her mind around using a tampon can and should use the Diva Cup. It saves money, you don't need to think about it during the day, no need to carry anything extra in your purse and with my experiences being abroad and not being able to find the personal products I'm used to and comfortable with (most tampons outside of the US don't necessarily come with applicators, if you can even find tampons for sale, for example) I'm happy to have something that will take up much less space, as well as be usable the whole trip. Their website is great for answering all questions and calming all uncertainties. 

Seriously, ladies, just get over the mental block and try it.

(I also use a couple Party in Your Pants Pads for night times or end of cycle times. I've got 2 on rotation and they feel clean and usable with a quick scrub and air dry.)

What's in my medicine bag?

I purchased a new medicine bag with a small mirror attached, for putting in contacts, as well as a hook on top so that I'll be able to hang it in crowded or sparse hostel bathrooms. Besides the normal medicine bag stuff (toothpaste, deodorant, contacts and prescription meds for 8 months - because who knows? - Advil, etc) I've been collecting a small batch of things specific to traveling which will be easier to use on the road or needed for those just in case situations.

Ta-Da! Earring Magic!
Small hair brush
Earring magic is the term I've coined to describe the genius way to keep your pairs of earrings together while traveling - put each pair through a button! I'll be able to keep everything in one little bag and not worry about too much tangling to loosing each morning while getting ready!
A used tic-tac box for bobby pins
Travel clock with an alarm and a light
Power adapter
Ear plugs for, you know, super crowded hostels or loud buses
Sea bands wrist bands with pressure points which help with motion sickness but don't make you sleep for 2 hours like Dramamine does. I'll also probably stock up on a bit of ginger, which I dislike the taste of, but also helps with seasickness.
Imodium my stomach is my least favorite part of traveling.
Tide-to-Go sticks
Sink stopper for doing my laundry (probably mostly underwear) in hostels.
Dr. Bronners Magic Pure-Castile Soap which will clean anything, like my body or my clothes, depending on the need. I use the eucalyptus scent at home, but I'll have peppermint on the road since I anticipate more clothes washing with this.
Quick Drying Towel and Washcloth
Bar soap in a plastic tub
Aroamas I just discovered these excellent hard perfume sticks which are great for traveling because they have no liquids so no spills or TSA issues, and much like a chapstick, they last forever. I ordered a sample pack and liked Parisian the best.
Neosporin, Bandaids and Moleskin for cuts and blisters (read about my shoe options in a follow-up planning post).

What kind of purse will I use?

This won't be the first time I say it: I'm not going to give a damn about how fashionable I look, which may not be very common for Europe. I've simply given up. I believe that in some ways and on some days I will be very fashionable, but in others, like my purse, it's just a battle I'm letting go of now.

My purse is a little shoulder satchel I got from my sister for Christmas which I was inspired to ask for after meeting a Canadian teacher in Peru who spends 6 weeks of every summer in some awesome foreign country and had something very similar. I like that it includes pockets for cash, cards and a hiding space for my passport. Inside, I'll have:

My Kindle the sort of device I was against for a while, on principal as a writer who loves used book stores and the idea that one day I will be able to hold my own published book in my hands, see it on a few shelves and sign it for others. However, after living in Venezuela where getting a book in English was very expensive and before my move to LA I realized that carrying books around the world with me is not actually that smart. And I have grown to love my device, with it's pretty leather case with which I'm admittedly trying to disguise it a little bit. 
A new notebook I am very very picky about what I write in and on, and I recently purchased a new notebook that would suit my needs for this trip - small lines, large pages, but it fits into my not-sexy purse. There will be a lot of note taking a'comin'. 
Passport protector that little notebook with the maps on it? That's actually my passport. I love the holder because I can be carrying it or flash it around and it doesn't look like the most important document I have on my person at any given time.

Plus I just really love maps.

There's (always) more for me to talk about when it comes to planning! Follow up post about clothing and packing in my big pack to come!

Help fund my artistic journey through Northern Ireland where I will be researching and finishing my book, working title Dear Bird for 3-4 months. Learn more about my campaign and donate here. Thank you!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

This is a Sacred Space: A Letter About Leaving

I was asked to write to the current class of Episcopal Urban Interns, the program I participated in the first year in lived in California. The program director wanted us alumni to share insights with those who are nearing the end of their time in the program, and for most of them, in Los Angeles. These are things I've been thinking about, considering my own current circumstances. Here are my thoughts on the matter, less than two months out from the Great California Escape, as it's been named.

Hello Current EUIs! 

My name is Katy Cashman and I came to Los Angeles from Minnesota to participate in the program in 2011-12. I lived in the Glendale House and worked at a food pantry in Pasadena, and I have ended up staying here in Los Angeles for 2 more years since finishing the Episcopal Service Corps. I remember well the time in which I was about to leave the program, especially because I am also currently going through the transition of leaving: I'm moving back to Minnesota at the end of June, so I am also in a stage of reflection, reassessing, anticipating and beginning the process of saying goodbye while also trying to remain present.

Leaving is one of the strangest, saddest things. Even when we are happy or ready to go. Especially when we do not feel like an experience is quite over. These are sacred and emotion-filled times, when we are forced into reflection of what has been good, and bad, and are contending with the fact that all at once we are in control but completely out of control of our own lives. We celebrate, mourn and praise God for what we are leaving. Here we all stand on the precipice of another great adventure and another great leaving and it's different for everyone, but I encourage us all to be quiet for a moment, love what has been and what will be. The challenge can be to accept and honor the beauty of what an experience has been, whether awful, lovely, boring or transcendent. Whether we feel we have done everything we wanted or could. We are leaving something, even if we are staying in town.

I do admit that I always ached to get away from where I was. I have lived in a lot of different cities, traveled through more countries and I'm now backpacking through Europe for the next 7 months to finish my book. I'm a wanderer, but this space of change is not one I can say I enjoy at all, though I am learning to appreciate it. 

For a long time, when approaching the end of an experience, I would try my best to run backwards, push time aside and recreate all of the moments I was heartbroken to leave behind.  I would stand at the end of something, holding my empty hands opened and shuddering with all of the things that I felt rushing from me, never to be felt again. Now I worry that I’m beginning to get really good at leaving. 

When ending important things I’ve scared people I love with my supposed distance. I’m usually so emotional, they feel cheated by my acceptance of the fact that all good things pass from us at some point only to transform into other good and bad things. There was a day, right before I left Yellowstone National Park, where I waitressed for a summer and met one of my best friends who at the time I was convinced I’d never see again, that Lauren and I snuck into the closed side of the Yellowstone Canyon and at the top of the lower falls we lay on the ground, our feet suspended thousands of feet in the air. We were 19, and felt the weight of the entire world upon us, all the sorrows and joys and experiences that were to come to us looked down from the sky that day and winked as the sun set. I’ve never felt so ready to take on the world, and so scared to leave a meaningful experience all at once.

As for today, I trust that I can leave the relationships I’ve formed and honor them by knowing the blessing they have been, whether or not I ever see some of my favorite people here again. I’ve learned to trust that this is alright – that there is nothing wrong with moving beyond one part of your life and into another and that sometimes it is important to feel the whole weight of the world fall on you, while you cling to the hands of your best friends, kissing them goodbye.

Love and blessings to all of you during this time of transition. I'll be thinking of you, and I hope you will do the same for me. 

- Katy
The wish lantern Sarah, Hannah, Christina and I released at the end of our intern year to
celebrate all that had we had experienced together and all that was coming to us. 

Help fund my artistic journey through Northern Ireland where I will be researching and finishing my book, working title Dear Bird for 3-4 months. Learn more about my campaign and donate here. Thank you!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Poetry Month #5

Sorry - It's May 1. And I can't even say I wrote it on April 30 and was just late posting it. I've decided I don't care. 

May 1, 2014

I've come here to untie the ribbons
which knotted round my ribs
holding all the different lights
tight against my spine.

And now these lungs are sails
gasping and flapping with hot air
Pulling the ship out of port
into the morning light, 
now that Orion, that winter watcher
is gone from the sky.

These boards are creaking, 
my neck needs cracking. 
My belly is rumbling, reaching,
out to the thing upon which 
These fingers will find traction.

Help fund my artistic journey through Northern Ireland where I will be researching and finishing my book, working title Dear Bird for 3-4 months. Learn more about my campaign and donate here. Thank you!