First one kid, one dog, “solo” backpacking trip — Part 1: Planing and Preparing

It’s been 4 years since the last time I went backpacking and I’ve been itching to do it again ever since. Three summers ago I had a plan and a permit for a week-long trip to a different piece of the JMT but that year had seen a ton of rainfall and my intended route was still covered in snow late into July. Much as I love sticking with my plan, I recognize that I do not have the skills or experience to navigate without clearly marked trails. The following summer I was deep in the new-to-me experience of parenting a 3 year old and last summer that same small person was only 4 and we did other trips; to Maine for a week and we visited Canada a couple of times.

Now we’re (still! deeply!) buried in Covid, quarantining, and there’s been so much at-home time so going to the mountains with a now-5 year-old is actually one of the lower risk activities available to us. He’s ready for adventure, has strong legs, boundless energy, and has the ability to wear his own hydration pack so it’s on.

This post will outline the (current) plan and preparations for the trip. When we return I’ll share the actual experience as a comparison against what was planned for. I enjoyed thoroughly documenting my big solo trip back in 2016 and I’ll continue to do this for future trips since it might also be helpful to other newbie backpackers and/or parents trying to share the backpacking bug with their kids.


The goal is to have a trip that is a manageable distance for the 5 year old (and anything he can do, the dog can also do) that gets us into the mountains for a taste of what the solitude and beauty found up there can feel like. Bringing a dog already limits the locations and Desolation Wilderness is my go-to for dog friendly backpacking so I looked there to find a good route. When I returned from my bigger trip the Sequoia/Kings Canyon I immediately set out the following weekend to Desolation for a quick overnight as I was missing the mountains desperately. Unfortunately I didn’t plan that trip well and went up a jeep road which turned out to be very actively used by… JEEPS! Me and my low-riding dog ate dust for over 5 miles uphill while continuously crossing paths with the same Trump-loving (there were stickers, I’m not just making assumptions) ATV and 4w drive enthusiasts throughout the day. They’d get stuck, I’d walk past, they’d drive past and get stuck a little further up. The only good news was that once I reached the end of the Jeep trail there was a quick trail past the rambunctious camp to a quieter lake which could only be hiked in to. I got to rest peacefully and I booted it home the next morning bright and early to avoid crowds on the path. One of the many things I learned about on that trip was that Wrights Lake has a great campground that I’d love to return to just to car-camp, and there are better trails along Rockbound Pass that are hiking-only and end up at beautiful mountain lakes.

For this first kid’s trip I have waffled between doing a 1 night or a 2 night trip. If it wasn’t Labour Day weekend we could have done a night at Wrights Lake and a night out in the wilderness but the campground is completely packed so I’ve had to come up with a plan that gives us some flexibility. We’re going to hike from Wrights to Maud Lake on day 1 and, as long as things are going smoothly the next day, we’ll go in a little further to a second location for night 2. If for any reason there’s a need to bail after that first night, we’re less than 4 miles from the car. If things are going great, we do about 2 miles more and have maybe 6 miles max to come back out to the car on day 3. That will be a long walk but I feel confident that I am bringing enough gummy frogs and chocolate drops to encourage a steady pace as well as the promise of getting home to play some Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

map of desolation wilderness - section from wrights lake to maud lake
First day – less than 4 miles from car
hiking map of desolation wilderness from maud lake to lake lois
If all goes well, we can pop over to Lake Lois for a second night


First of all, I’m carrying EVERYTHING* for two people and one dog. My pack for what I thought was going to be a 10 day trip back in 2016 was 55lbs. This time I’m aiming for 40lbs which will get lighter as we eat our meals. I have to carry two sleeping bags and that takes up a lot more space than I imagined it would. The kid sleeping bag is not ultralight, it’s not even light! It’s a Kindercone and it weighs 3lbs. I have compressed the shit out of it in a compression stuff sack to make it smaller. For comparison, my sleeping bag for a full grown person is only 2.2lbs. If we do this often enough I guess I should just get him a grownup bag.

Weight: LighterPack is still around (yay!) so I made a duplicate of my previous trip list and am updating that to track my pack’s weight. I haven’t input all our food items yet but I get a sense of where I’m at and also it offers an excellent checklist for making sure I’ve packed everything. Tomorrow I’ll finalize the food, make sure it fits in the bear canister, and do a final weight tally.

Shelter: We did a practice run with all three of us lying in the 2 person tent – this was also an opportunity to test the air mattresses after not being used for 4 years – and it went well. The kid wants me to set up the tent every day now just to chill out in. Shortstack also seems to enjoy tent life.

The cone of shame will not join us on the actual trip

Food: I’m bringing my Jetboil Flash, dried food, and a bunch of snacks. While it can look like fun on other people’s blog posts to bring more ‘regular’ or even ‘fancy’ food on a trip, I need the lightness of dehydrated dinners and I’ll keep both of us full of calories with a combo of trail mix, bars, and cheese/meat. On trips like this I’m more interested in what’s around us than what’s going into us. Here’s what the menu looks like:

  • Breakfast (2)
    • Flax & chocolate chip muffins & berries
  • Lunches (3)
    • no real ‘meal’ but a mix of cheese/salami/crackers and then bars/trail mix and apples
  • Dinners (2)

I’ll also bring miso soup packets for me as a warm option, hot chocolate for the kid and then electrolyte tablets, assorted gummies, chocolate drops, and astronaut ice cream for dessert and just the delight of eating real ‘space food’. Finally I need to carry kibble for the dog – 3 days worth. Thank goodness he’s a small dog and we’re talking less than a pound!

Clothing: Not much to say here – we’re going to be wearing the same clothes each day with only an extra set of underwear for me and a few pairs for him in case he has an accident during the day (unlikely, but I’d regret not being prepared). Both of us have wool thermal underwear to sleep in as well as beanies and puffy jackets for warmth at night. We’ll each have a light pair of shoes to slip into at the end of the day and also hats for sun protection.

All the gear, half the total food

Gadgets: First, one big ticket item — I invested in my own Garmin inReach Mini for the safety of having satellite communication. Previously I had borrowed a similar but larger unit from a coworker, only had to pay for the activation fee and a month of service, then returned it. Now that I’m a parent and plan to do this more often over the years it makes sense to have one of my own as well as the peace of mind. It’s half the weight, at 3.5oz, and a solid investment. For pictures I’ll use my phone’s camera (airplane mode) and we have a little digital camera with a waterproof protective housing for the kid to capture his own experience. I also have downloaded tons of bedtime stories onto my phone thanks to the library and Hoopla. Because I don’t know the impact on my phone’s battery of reading stories I will carry a battery charging pack with me just to be safe.

Activities: Mostly walking, taking pictures, and enjoying our surroundings but this trip will also introduce the kid’s FIRST POCKETKNIFE. I got him an Opinel as I love mine to bits and the one for kids has a rounded end which reduces the risks of *stabs* and leaves only the risk of *cuts*. I’ll take that 50% reduction in risk and to try and further reduce we watched some kid knife safety videos today. Based on YouTube’s current offerings I plan to make a few videos with him on our trip to increase what’s available since there wasn’t anything with this Opinel knife or with kids his age. I’m torn about whether or not to bring this magnetic chess set I got for us. When I was ordering I didn’t notice how big it was – weight and space are at a premium and we just started playing a few weeks ago. Perhaps we’ll fashion our own pieces from sticks at camp instead. Stay tuned for the report when we return!

* The kid is carrying a hydration pack and his air mattress for a total weight of 5.6lbs

Lesbians Who Tech 2019 recap

I’ve been to every Lesbians Who Tech summit that has taken place in SF (6 total) at the beautiful Castro Theater and this year was the BEST.  I love that this conference is unapologetically Political, that they are committed to modeling a world where 50% of the speakers are women of colour, that they highlight issues that are current and affect more than *just* tech, and that the level of technical acumen in the talks continues to rise year over year.

Also, the conference is just plain FUN.  There’s always dancing and video montages and high fives. It’s very collegiate in ways and that’s light and fresh and certainly more engaging than some of the technical conferences I’ve attended where it’s faces in laptops all day long. This year there was a Queer Jeopardy opportunity and I wasted no time in grabbing a spot as a contestant.

When they said they needed 3 players, I worked my way to the front of the stage, which meant going against a stream of 1000 lesbians trying to make a break for the bathrooms! They said to come back in 10 minutes, at 11:40 am, and then I was on stage with 2 other contestants managing to clean up during the first round that day. I was then told to return the next for a second round which ended up being against 2 new players where I continue my winning streak, becoming (as far as I know) the first Queer Jeopardy champ at Lesbians Who Tech.  I loved the “Name the drone footage” category – one of them was of a house and I guessed it was Edie Windsor’s but it was Mark Zuckerberg’s which I worried meant someone from LWT flew a drone over his house to capture but a simple Google search turned up the image used:

In the Tech Pavilion, GoDaddy had a photo booth where you could make your own sign to finish the sentence “Make Tech More”.  It’s a cute idea and I see that GoDaddy is *trying* but looking at the options they provided, I found myself quickly wishing for other words like “intergenerational”, “accessible”, “authentic”, “socialist”, “anti-capitalist”,  or perhaps “socially responsible”. I had to settle for “weird” from their pre-printed options. If someone else does this, I hope they might make a dry erase option for people to write in their own.  The best swag was this poofy dog – @buttonspom on Instagram – which got me wondering if Snapchat could make it easier for people to have pet accounts on our platform?? I’ve created an account for Shortstack (@corgishortstack) but I don’t end up posting much to it since switching accounts is not possible in the app (that I know of anyway).

As I mentioned earlier – this conference is unapologetically political and centers the voices of black and brown queer women which meant the excellent work Alicia Garza is doing with the Black Futures Lab got center-stage with a packed house near the end of the day on Friday.

Another talk I enjoyed was “How to Prevent the Robopocalypse” where Cynthia Yeung flipped the script of “robots will take over our jobs” and pointed out how robots &  humans will need to work together on certain areas long into the future, and more importantly how universal healthcare, revamped education, and basic income could pair with a welcoming of human/robot society being built. The robopocalyse is a lie, she said, the current systems are already broken and causing harm & risk to humanity.  The robots are not the enemy in this scenario, the policies of dropping people from social safety nets, quality education and care, are the real culprits we should be fighting.

My talk went well.  I was presenting at 10:30am on Saturday at Badlands with several other amazing speakers. The two folks who went before me both shared some serious knowledge and comfortable public speaking skills about Agile development and then geo motion capture. It was a packed house, impressive for an early, rainy morning.  I presented “Ship Fast & Leave No Engineer Behind” which is a slimmed down version of an internal roadshow I’ve been touring to small groups within Engineering to familiarize them with Release; what we do, how we can help them get features ready to launch, and what some best practices and key tools are for being able to make trains on time. I saw a lot of heads nodding in the crowd as I explained our process of moving quickly through development, to stabilization, and then to monitoring releases post-launch. My friend Marcy, who is not a tech worker, was the best barometer of my success – when I was done she said she fully understood what I do now 🙂

Basking in the glow of two days of being immersed with queers who are empowered and vastly knowledgeable about many many things like AI, geo motion capture, Pixar animation lighting, and so much more has left me a little sad to be back to reality, however on the bright side – my laptop is now delightfully bedazzled and provides a daily reminder of the queerest event in tech.  I’m super glad that Snap had a strong presence at the conference and that I met several coworkers that I hadn’t before. Looking forward to growing our internal initiatives over the course of the next year with all the awesome women @ Snap that I’ve met in the last month!

Let’s talk about giving away money

In a post a while back, I shared the history of my salary as I grew into a career in the tech industry.  For the last 7 years I have moved into having a ton of class privilege and I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time to share my strategy for one of the ways[1] I try to give back as someone with more money resources. I share this also as a way to hold myself accountable using actual data instead of vagueness.  When left to vagueness even my best intentions don’t add up to how much I believe I should be giving – when I do my taxes at the end of the year, I am surprised that I didn’t give away as much as I felt I did.  Some of the money I give away isn’t to typical charities but I know that if I was to go back and add it all up, I’d still fall short of what I want to be giving.

I’ve created a spreadsheet where I can track my donations month over month and make sure I’m holding up my commitment to my strategy and so that, at the end of this year, I will know exactly how much I have to hand over to complete my plan.

It’s a simple strategy, based on doing 10% tithing of my post-tax income.  I want to put the bulk of it into sustaining monthly contributions as those help organizations plan longer term projects and then I have two categories for ‘unplanned’ giving: random  501c3 organizations (or whatever local community member/gofundme comes up) and then the second is for cash in hand to share with people on the street (most often in SoMa where I work).

I’ve published the spreadsheet so that anyone who is interested can follow along.  It will update as I add more data throughout the year.  Click on the image below to go to the published page.

I’m interested in hearing how you donate money, what your strategies are, how you track yourself — what’s missing from this year’s plan that I hope to work into future years is: how could I take some of this money and put it into investments or other ways of growing the principal so that more money can be made from that money to give away?  I was talking with Damien about this at Lesbians Who Tech and it was the first time that idea came up but now I’m intrigued.  How can those of us without family money/major inheritances find ways to build wealth and create trusts & grants that can persist beyond our lifetimes?  Big questions.  Today, I’m just going to start with finally publishing my 2017 plan.

[1] Other ways of giving back include advising and sitting on boards, leveraging my company’s space and  budget to assist non-profits, spreading the word around my networks to get increased visibility for fundraising, and volunteering my time with several programs of my own creation and also more traditional existing ones.