Taking a Long Walk

I’m about to do something a ton of things I’ve never done before.  The major features:

  • I’ll be hiking 15+ miles a day
  • For 11 days
  • In the mountains (elevation 7000′ to 13000′)
  • By myself

The idea for this trip started when I read (and then watched the movie adaptation) of Into the Wild in 2007 and was further compounded by a slideshow in Yosemite I attended in 2010 where a guy who had done the John Muir Trail twice shared his experiences and tips. I loved the pictures of stunning meadows & mountain passes and was captivated by his claims that once you hit day 4 or 5 your body acclimates to just hiking all day, every day. I wanted to know what that felt like.  It sounded exactly like the kind of transformative experience that a person who tends to want to do things only when they’re extreme would be into. Spoiler alert: I am exactly that kind of person. From that moment on, I was eagerly talking up the idea of hiking the JMT someday.

Things have been tremendously challenging for me over the last year.  I’ve been struggling through an embattled divorce process and back in the winter when there was no end in sight, I decided I wasn’t going to let the stress and uncertainty of divorcing ruin my summer. I began to plan a big adventure to do alone.  It felt like the right thing to do, to renew my confidence in my ability to accomplish big things. Let’s be clear, getting a divorce is also a “big thing” of a different kind.  My entry into the JMT permit lottery was unsuccessful and while apparently it’s possible to get walk-up permits I’m not the kind of person (yet?) who can plan a 21 day trip that hangs on whether I can score a permit the day of on a very popular route.  A little searching, however, turned up this a very interesting alternative: Big SeKi Loop

At 156 miles, it’s still a challenge and it covers 53 (and according to the authors, the most beautiful) miles of the JMT.  I was drawn to it immediately because it’s a loop which minimizes risk of needing to schedule car swaps or transit to be able to get home when I’m done. The length makes the trip take just under two weeks instead of almost a month and that lets me take time off work with less stress about being gone for too long.  Someday I hope to do some thru-hiking (AT or PCT) but BSL is a solid warm up for a newbie trying to do long distance hiking without a “quit your job” level of commitment.

Once I decided to do Big SeKi I started researching light & ultralight backpacking strategies.  This route doesn’t lend itself to re-supply so I’d have to figure out how to carry 11 days of food – 10 of which have to be in a bear-proof container and that meant everything else would have to be REALLY light.  I read a ton of sites about lightening loads, planning meals, and what to bring – these are the ones I got the most useful information out of:

I also had a coworker’s husband’s spreadsheet from his JMT trip (he was a really good planner!) and learned from him about LighterPack which is a site that does the math on your pack weight (and makes for a great packing list) with support for categories like consumables and stuff you’re wearing instead of packing. Using this tool, I’m able to see that my base weight is only 25lbs when distinguished from my food/clothes I’ll be wearing.

When it came to backpacking gear, there was a lot I didn’t have.  I only just bought my first car camping tent this year. My prior backpacking experience had been just a couple of 2/3 day excursions with my ex and almost all the gear we used was hers.  I had a backpack and a sleeping bag so big items I had to make decisions on right away were:

  • Backpacking tent
  • Cooking system
  • Water purification
  • Bear canister

It was exciting to start building up my backpacking gear.  I tested things out with other pieces of equipment I already had on a few car camping trips in the spring/early summer and I’ve spent the last several months tweaking the gear I needed based on what worked & what was too heavy or not ideal for my expected environments.  In this process I made several significant changes:

  • Lighter weight sleeping pad – I ended up going with the insulated Nemo Vector  (has a foot pump built in) after the Nemo Tensor I bought started leaking after only two short weekend trips.  To make up for the weight difference, I went down to a regular size on the Vector where I’d had the long size of the Tensor (which was indulgent)
  • Thanks to a very experienced friend’s recommendation, I purchased a way better, bigger, and lighter backpack – my old North Face one was 65 liters and almost 5 lbs.  I got this ULA 75 liter instead that only weight 3lbs.  I love how this bag is designed and just took it out on a trip to Desolation Wilderness last weekend for a trial run.  It’s all one compartment inside but has hipbelt pockets, side pockets, front mesh,  and an internal hydration bladder bag that help keep things organized and easy to access at all times
  • After a trip last Thanksgiving with my 30 degree down sleeping bag where I ended up freezing, I was advised to upgrade to a 10 degree bag which will better suit sleeping in the mountains at 10,000′.  I’ve done a few trips now with the 10 degree bag and it’s perfect.

In the month leading up to departure I was mostly focused on food planning.  My initial approach was to try and aim for as many calories per ounce as I could in each item of food but I struggled to get 3000 calories each day to weigh less than 2 pounds.  My first pass on food looked like it would be impossible to carry.  Not only that but it become obvious pretty quickly that I was going to have to bring 2 bear canisters on the trip if all my food was going to be protectable (and meet park regulations).  My experienced friend thinks this is funny and I can’t find much information on the web about other people doing it but by the numbers I’m still happy with my final pack weight and I’m using two 3 lb Bear Vault 500 canisters with a little room to spare in one of them for my toiletries.  Also, as the one can empties out, I can fill it with other things so that my pack can get more compact.

Last weekend’s trip made me realize I was putting too much oatmeal in my breakfasts (1 cup) so last night I spent a few hours finalizing my food packing with a new approach:  what actually looked like enough food?

Photo of packaged food laid out for a backpacking trip meal
Breakfast, 4 snacks, Lunch, Dinner, tea & vitamins

Once I removed about 1/4 of the oatmeal, and pared down the snacks, each day’s meal fell between 1.7-1.9 pounds per day.  This shaved over 10 lbs off my initial food packages. It  meant I was able to get 5.5 days food into one canister and the remaining 4.5 days (my first day’s food will never need to be in a canister) into the other.

Having my food packing working was a really exciting milestone in my trip preparation but this next part sealed the deal on increasing my excitement for the trip: My pack fits two bear canisters while still being able to close!  I was expecting to have to strap one canister to the outside of the pack and am so grateful that won’t be necessary.

2 Bear canisters fit!!
2 Bear canisters fit!!

Here’s a photo of everything I’m stuffing in there – and here’s the weight breakdown:

Everything that's coming along

Weight breakdown

One last item I had to consider for this trip was whether or not to use a personal locator beacon.  It definitely didn’t make sense to buy one (yet) since they run $150+, and that’s without data plans, but since I work in a pretty gadget-loving environment I sent out a message to our social email list in the hopes someone might have one I could borrow.  This worked recently when I got to borrow a GoPro to take underwater videos in Belize, and it worked again last week when a co-worker volunteered to loan me his DeLorme inReach.  The two main locators are the SPOT and the DeLorme.  The former requires a $150/year subscription while the latter let me reactivate it for only $14.95 a month.  As long as I remember to cancel the subscription when I get home, I’ll have the peace of mind for a very low cost.  I hope my mother appreciates that I’m carrying an extra 6.9 ounces just for her 🙂

As of right now my bag is packed, my food fits and feels like enough, and the things I have left to do before I drive away on Sunday are:

  • make a pot cozy  since I’m doing all my breakfast & dinners in freezer bags it will be good to have a place to keep food warm while it’s cooking
  • organize my iPhone podcasts & kindle downloads (I’ve already deleted every single non-essential-to-this-trip app from the phone to maximize photo/video space)
  • prepare my dog’s going away bag
  • print out an itinerary to leave in my car

I’ll take notes and pictures while I’m away and report back on how the trip goes – hope this info helps someone else take on the challenge of solo backpacking. I’ve added some John Muir essays to my Kindle to really get in the spirit of things while I’m up there.  It occurred to me the other day that I was approaching this trip like I do most time off: planning out every minute of how I was going to enjoy the time.  Instead of trying to force myself to a rigid schedule or expected accomplishments, though, this time I’m going to push myself to just look at each day as its own time and see what happens.

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 11.57.48 AM

Relief from relieving stress

Backstory

I’ve been at Pinterest just over 4 months and 2 months ago I sent out this email to all the women in my new workplace.

I was torn about whether to write this or not when I first joined Pinterest but today I need to say something because I just had someone be scared to come out of their stall when they saw me  washing my hands. I’m not a fan of scaring people so here’s what I probably should have sent 2 months ago:

Hi!  My name is Lukas and I’m a masculine woman (genderqueer/butch) and I use women‘s washrooms when there is not a unisex or gender-neutral option available.

It’s not easy to use a women‘s washroom when you’re constantly afraid of scaring/confusing/angering someone and so I’m hoping that letting you know about me will help decrease the likelihood of this happening when we happen to run into each other in that space.

That email generated 65 replies – all positive – from women throughout the company.  I was blown away by the kind (and often hilarious) responses from my co-workers regarding an issue that has been a lifelong struggle. It also helped lessen (though not eliminate) much of the stress around using the women’s bathroom, which was the point.

Queer/outsider coping skills vs. Taking risks

At least for this (white, able-bodied, class-jumping) queer, the way to get by as someone who doesn’t conform to gender norms has been to lock down with a group of people where I feel seen.  This has been the case at every paid gig I’ve ever had.  Get foot in the door, find ways to connect with co-workers, create a tight-knit cabal of ‘my people’, and then hang in there.  However I have some kind of restlessness gene and so I’m always trying to push myself to get more out of life than hiding in a particular group. I’m petrified of ‘groupthink’. I crave more experiences, learning, and opportunities to develop increased skills & resources that I can bring back to my communities to lift others.  I’m constantly pushing myself out of the nest every time I start feeling comfortable.  Examples include going back at 30 years of age to do a 4 year degree in Software Development with 19/20 year olds,  moving to San Francisco to work in tech with a majority of young men while leaving behind my Toronto community of queers & artists, and moving away from Mozilla where I had spent 8 years establishing myself as a contributor in many areas of the project to work at Pinterest where I knew just two people.  Those are just recent examples. If I dug further back, I know the pattern would still hold.

Pinterest has a commitment to diversity

Every tech company is chasing its tail right now to prove how committed they are to “Diversity”.  Head of Diversity positions are abounding in the want ads, articles and data every day espouse how each company is going to try and take on this hard problem (hint, it’s not as hard when it’s authentically driven).

Pinterest has made statements and posted goals. They also have done things that show their commitment including Unconscious Bias training for everyone, changing interview methods (laptop instead of whiteboard for coding in interviews), creating measurable standards for what our culture fit interviews should be checking for so that we aren’t unconsciously moving the goal posts or building a homogenous environment.

On top of these ever-improving system-wide changes, in our new building down the street there are going to be gender neutral washrooms.  I noticed this on the plans when we had a launch party and asked the Workplace team about it.  They confirmed, yes, we would.  I was excited and pleased to think that in 2016 I’ll be in that building and able to relax a bit about a thing that so many people do without a second though several times a day, and take for granted.  It’s not something you can understand if you’ve never felt it but the best I can explain it is like you’re getting the side-eye from people you want to feel on the same team with and while you’ve built up the “thick skin” to handle 100 instances of being on edge, the 101th time in a week, it wrecks your day.  That sucks for productivity, for team-building, and it’s one of the millions of paper cuts that can build up into feeling you’re in a ‘toxic’ workplace that doesn’t try to openly and honestly tackle true diversity.  The objective of working on increased diversity in workplaces isn’t only to end up with a pretty-looking set of numbers for large umbrella groups, it’s also to take on tiny things that quietly shift the status quo by making it possible for more people to have less friction in their workday.

Yesterday Pinterest’s Workplace team sent out a note regarding our current building:

The 1st floor women’s restroom has now been converted to a unisex restroom and is now in service ready for use! Thanks for your patience during construction.

They might as well have said: From now on, Lukas will be 150% more productive because  she’ll always be able to comfortably go to the bathroom.

Thank you, Workplace:

brad_thanks_you

p.s. Don’t worry, I’m not so comfortable that I’m ready to leave this nest 🙂

Tech Job #2

Today marks the end of my third week at my new job (Technical Program Manager – Mobile) @ Pinterest.  It coincides with May Day and a Twitter stream today about #talkpay which was triggered by an article by Lauren Voswinkel over on Model View Culture.  The hashtag comprises of people “outing” their salaries over the years, location, levels of training, job titles, and a variety of other factors.

My participation was as follows:

For people who have also class-jumped or who understand what it’s like to live on social assistance or other low income realities, you will know from the above that it was not easy to leave my first ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  But I did.  I took a leap of faith (and a strong referral) and turned it into my second ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  ALMOST a pattern here…if I could only put aside impostor syndrome for a second and believe that I have transferrable skills and marketable ones to boot.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is to document for myself the differences now that I am in a new job and have gotten a bit of distance from the old one.  It’s important, also, to note that I am now able to reflect on my past 6 years as being a job.

Key areas I want to cover at this stage of being only 3 weeks in are recruiting, onboarding,  and culture. Here we go!

Recruiting

Mozilla got me through an internship and I left said internship with a job offer for when I completed my final year so I never did the all-day panel of interviews or any sort of salary negotiations.  I took what I was offered (because it was AMAZING) and I was quite happy about it.   Being ‘recruited’ by Pinterest was a wonderful experience.  I got to come in for the day and interview with 6 different people from various areas I was going to work with (iOS/Android engineers, product managers, and then a ‘culture fit’ interviewer that was just about the happiest person I’ve ever met).   In retrospect I worried they were easy on me because I was a referred candidate.  At some point I should ask them if that’s the case.  On my end I felt like it was all too easy.  I had some conversations, I asked some questions, I learned a ton about what they were doing and how different teams within the org operated, and then I went home with a nice notebook.  It didn’t feel stressful and shouldn’t interviewing for a job be stressful?  I suspect my experience was more laid back because I was coming from a place of already being employed and so I didn’t really need the job but I was curious about it and was being diligent about ensuring it would be a good fit for what I wanted to try next.  It was. I’ve read a few things about salary negotiations now and so for this job switch I tried out the advice. I’m quite pleased that it worked and felt good to do if only to test out the advice I’ve been giving others over the years but have never gotten to try.  The rest of the process was smooth and everyone had excellent communications – just the right amount of checking in and communicating status.  I appreciated that my Permanent Resident status coming in a week late, pushing out my start date, didn’t cause any problems.

Onboarding

Apples to apples – Pinterest is winning big time here.  At Mozilla new hires are introduced at an all-company meeting and then they are off with their team learning the ropes for their jobs.  We had an onboarding portal (I checked it out last year when my team had a new hire) and it contained some videos and wiki pages, a bit of direction for weekly tasks to accomplish.  While I know that it took a lot of work by some amazing people just to get that much set up, Pinterest is really firing on all cylinders when it comes to integrating people into the company.  They do a 3 week process where in the first week  you and your cohort spend 2 full days together being addressed by various company areas of importance to the larger goals and mission – it’s just the right mix of immersion and indoctrination – meanwhile you’re becoming familiar with, in my case, 17 people who will always be familiar faces to you going forward regardless of the diversity of work areas you’ll be in later on.  They also have 101/bootcamp classes over the next week or two to get folks on the engineering side learning all the tools, data, systems that are currently in place so that you’re not so green when you move into the next stage:  fixing some bugs.  Mozilla should really consider doing this sort of bootcamp, get new engineers to fix bugs from various parts of the code base as a way to learn how the whole picture works before going deep in their assigned areas.  Finally, at the end of your first week you are introduced to the whole company as a cohort and you must speak in front of everyone at the Q&A that happens on Friday afternoons.  At that point you and your cohort have bonded and you design and lead the theme for that week’s happy hour – all these little things give you tangible experiences to reminisce about as you go forward and that means a lot when trying to integrate into a 500+ person org.

Culture

Oh this is the big one, isn’t it?  This is the all-important catch-phrase of the knowledge worker class.  What is the culture? Are you a good culture fit? Here’s the thing:  when I first joined Mozilla the “culture” wasn’t a thing that was being discussed and analyzed yet.  I was excited to be part of a movement, a community, an ethos, and a politic of open-ness/transparency and general things do-goodish on the Web.  Culture as it is currently examined came later than my start date.  It came in the form of starting Homozilla, a mailing list for queer employees and their allies because I was starting to feel isolated not knowing if there were many other people at Mozilla who were also queer.  I was happy when I kicked that initiative off and there were all sorts of people that I never would have pegged as being LGTBQ.  It also came up when a handful of paid and unpaid contributors started highlighting awareness of diversity and inclusive behaviour in Mozilla communities.  I did a lot of work on that issue and put a lot of my ‘extra’ time into trying to drive materials and discussions around how Mozilla could be a strong player in encouraging, retaining, and promoting a welcoming culture.  I also put a lot of time and energy into building out opportunities for Mozilla to be a leader in educating and onboarding new contributors in more varied spaces – LGBTQ youth, lower income, PoC, any community that wanted to learn more about how to develop or integrate tech into their activism and community-building initiatives. Sadly, I don’t know how successful I was because without me driving them, those partnerships are not carrying on.

I’ve only been at Pinterest for 3 weeks but in that time I’ve learned that there is already a queer employees group (yay, I don’t have to create it!), there are already people working on diversity and inclusion at a level that surpasses our fledgling efforts at Mozilla (they have executive-level support and are building out programs and recruiting efforts in measurable ways), and there have been several instances where I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the positivity and open-ness to change/build/grow whatever is needed to support employees.  Example:  I emailed the workplace team about our new building’s plans to have non-gendered washrooms on one of the 3 floors – I asked if that would be possible to have on all floors – and the response was quick, warm, and welcoming of the feedback as well as being clear that having non-gendered washrooms was as much a priority (as build-out would permit) as having mother’s rooms and quiet rooms.  Both of those two things being already in existence in the current space because of there being employee need for them.  The takeaway for me?  I can ask for what I need and be heard and supported in (eventually) getting them.  That’s some great culture, in my opinion.  I wasn’t made to feel weird or out of order for asking for something that is probably always going to be an edge case in the workplace and I really appreciated that.

Wrapping Up

It’s been a whirlwind the last three weeks.  I’ve been getting up to speed with what I’ll be doing and I’ve got 30, 60, and 90 day roadmaps.  I’ve had a great time learning about things I’ve never done before – like iOS releases.  People have been super happy to hand off work to me, and I feel like I’m managing the work I’m taking on as well as having lots of energy for what’s to come – when I’ll have the basics down and can work on creating more ways to add value to a lean, fast-moving company doing very interesting things.  So all this to say that I’m grateful for all the years and roles at Mozilla, the people I’ve learned from, the experiences I’ve had and at the same time I have a ton to look forward to in this new space.