2015: A Final Glimpse Back

2015 was a great year, and I think 2016 will be even better.  Before I move on, one final glimpse in the rear-view mirror is in order.


As we started 2015, I was just back from the Galapagos Islands, meaning I had to stay home and rebuild my vacation time and savings accounts!  This taste of international travel (my first in almost 10 years) really stoked my wanderlust and made me vow to get at least 1 passport stamp every year from here on out.

I also decided to go with a fun New Year’s Resolution – try 1 new restaurant every week – I’m happy to say, thanks to a healthy dose of business travel, I met the challenge and since I pretty much stopped counting after 52, it’s probably fair to say I exceeded it.  And I didn’t end the year any heavier than when I started! (or lighter, but trying to stay positive!)

January was also the month I kicked off a big pro bono project with the Taproot Foundation.  The project lasted well into the summer, as we designed an Annual Report for North Lawndale Employment Network.


February was a pretty quiet, uneventful month – again, staying home to replenish the travel savings account for the year to come!


March was the start of a busy business travel quarter – for me, at least since my job normally involves zero travel.  I was asked to participate in a panel discussion for one of our vendors, so on St Patrick’s Day, I was off to San Francisco for 2 1/2 days.  I made sure to fly in as early as possible so I’d have some free time to wander the city and, of course, indulge in fish tacos, my West Coast go-to cuisine.

A week later, I was off to the East Coast version of the same conference, in New York.  I’d also planned an early flight to allow me to explore New York, but with snowstorms in Chicago, I was lucky to even make it out!  I arrived just in time to get ready for a business dinner, and flew out immediately after the conference the next day.  I think New York and I just aren’t meant to be!


April marks the 1 annual vendor trip that I’ve attend for the last 4 years.  This year, we were off to Orlando and Universal Studios. While it’s technically a working weekend, they do build a lot of fun in, including dinner at Emeril’s and tickets to Blue Man Group.  And I made sure to get some pool time in!


In May, a last minute opportunity came up to attend a conference in San Diego.  I jumped at the chance, and flew out early to have some free time, during which I fell in love with the laid back vibe of this coastal city.

May also marked 1 whole year since this little guy (my nephew) entered the world!

Emmett's First Birthday


June marks the official start of summer.  Summers in Chicago are super short, and we earn them with months of cold, dark weather, so I like to stay home and take advantage of them!  This means not much travel, but plenty of hometown fun, like taking the water taxi to do some lunch hour shopping on Michigan Avenue!


In July, I discovered Airbnb hosting (more on that later) and spent a few weekends out camping while I made a bundle renting out my apartment.  Fall is my favorite travel season, so it was a good way to pad that vacation account a little bit more!


The first week of August found me heading out to Colorado for a backpacking trip in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, north of Silverthorne.  Unfortunately, I woke up in Nebraska with the start of a head cold that only got worse, so the backpacking was not what I had hoped, and I even hiked out a day early.  But, hey, a bad day in the woods is still better than a day in the cube farm!  Despite being in a DayQuil haze the entire time, it was nice to catch up with some old friends and breathe the fresh (though very thin) Rocky Mountain Air.

Surprise Lake Camp

And any trip that includes my puppy is always a bonus!

Surprise Lake Camp

Since I bailed early on the backpacking, I had some extra time to explore some new areas I hadn’t previously visited, like Buena Vista and St Elmo Ghost Town, and my old favorite, Leadville.  And then I got to end the trip with some family time with my aunt in Evergreen!

Family pedicure in Evergreen - Donovan, me and Norie


September was big.  Huge!  For my 40th birthday, I had been planning (for almost two years) my big bucket list trip.  I spent 11 days whitewater rafting the Grand Canyon.  Somehow, it even exceeded two years’ of hyped up expectations.  It was truly magical!

Tuesday, 9/8Camp 3 - Lower Saddle

Wednesday 9/9Hike at Tanner

After a quick flight to Vegas, I was off to Zion National Park for a few days.  I fell in love with this area in 2008 and had been itching to get back here ever since.  The highlight of this was finally reaching the top of Angel’s Landing after I chickened out the previous time! The spa day at Flanigan’s was pretty good, too!

Flanigan’s Inn and the town of Springdale is seriously the kind of place I could visit every year, and I don’t say that about many places!

After a redeye flight from Vegas, I had just enough time for a nap before heading to FarmAid30 on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Who says you have to slow down at 40?!  Not me!


Once again, after a big bucket list trip, it’s time to stay home and replenish my vacation hours and money.  I stuck close to home this month, but did spend some time exploring Chicago – visiting Pullman one weekend, and Chicago Open House another.


In November, my niece arrived!

Then, at Thanksgiving, my mom and I spent a long weekend in Panama!  This was a great “warm up” for my spring trip to Asia – the heat and humidity were brutal, but it was still a fun trip!

Barefoot Panama City and Canal TourCasco Viejo


December was just the usual craziness of holiday parties, Christmas shopping and baking!  This was the first Christmas in several years that I spent at home instead of someplace tropical.  It was nice to spend it with family, but my wheels are already turning with next year’s destination!

All told, I had 14 flights in 2015- 6 R/T’s plus one helicopter and one Cessna (those were my favorite!)  I spent 20 nights in hotels.  I didn’t count nights in my tent, but other than the Grand Canyon, it wasn’t enough.

And with that, it’s on to 2016!  Happy New Year!



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Backcountry Backpack Gear List

Seems packing lists are all the rage these days, so I better add mine to the mix!  Here is my backpack gear list for backcountry backpacking* trips.

(Not to be confused with travel backpacking of the European/Southeast Asian variety.)

*Backpacking is the outdoor recreation of carrying gear on one’s back, while hiking for more than a day. It is often but not always an extended journey,and may or may not involve camping outdoors. In North America tenting is common. Backpacking as a method of travel is a different activity, which mainly utilizes public transport during a journey which can last months.

I started buying backpacking gear about 9 years ago, and went with mid-weight inexpensive items as I wasn’t yet convinced that my backpack gear wouldn’t end up in the same dusty pile as my ice skates and tennis racquet!  Since then I’ve been slowly upgrading my gear to more expensive, lighter items made specifically for backpacking.  I’ve found that camping and kayaking equipment are easily re-sold on craigslist, which helps fund new gear purchases!  I’ve tried to include weight and cost, where I can, in case that’s helpful.  I almost never pay full price, though – look for frequent 20% off sales from both Backcountry.com and REI!

  • Backpack:  MountainSmith Daisy Pack – 65L – I get a lot of comments on how large my pack is, but it’s very comfortable and nicely distributes the load. Someday I may upgrade to a lighter, smaller pack, but this works for me! (REI Outlet/discontinued, $100, 66oz)
Kickapoo Backpacking

Photo Credit: R.Schultz

  • Tent: Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 – ($350, 41 oz.) – much lighter than both my solo -tent and previous 2-person tent.  A little delicate though, especially with a dog!


  • Sleeping Bag:  Big Agnes Juniper SL Petite – rated to 26 degrees. ($280 , 34oz)
    • Stored in e-Vent Compression Sack (5.2 oz, $40)
    • I have a lighter summer and winter – a Mt. Hardware 45 degree and recently sold my 0-degree bag after using once in 4 years.
  • Sleeping Pads (yes, 2!) – NeoAir mattress and ThermaRest Z-Lite Foam Pad
  • Kitchen
    • Cookset – GSI Pinnacle Soloist – ($45, 10.9oz)
    • Stove – SnowPeak Giga Stove – fits right inside the cookset ($40, 3.25oz)
    • Bear Vault – BV450 – holds about 4 days worth of food and doubles as a stool (33 oz) – since I get very lazy at bedtime, this saves me from finding trees for a bear  hang.


  • First Aid Kit (10 oz) – includes Band-Aids, NeoSporin, Tylenol, Aleve, Pepto, water treatment, tweezers, Ace bandage, etc. –  mostly single use packages ordered from Minimus.biz.
  • Toilet Bag – TP, trowel, hand sanitizer and wipes.  Handy to keep in a separate stuff sack easily accessible at all times! (11 oz)


  • Clothing – this is some of my favorite clothing. What I actually pack is dependent on weather/trip length:
  • Personal Items or Toiletries (not to be confused with the toilet bag!) ~12oz
    • This contains the basic essentials for me – SPF face lotion, Kleenex, Toothbrush/toothpaste, Contact Solution and Case, eyeglasses, prescription meds and face wipes.  And Tums because Jerky always gives me heartburn!

Toiletry Kit Packing List

Luxury Items!  Depending on the trip, there may be room for additional “luxury” items, such as a Kindle, iPod shuffle, photography equipment, or my Aveda Foot Relief cooling lotion This stuff is magical on sore hiking feet!

Aveda Isle Royale

As for camera equipment, as much as I love photography, I’ve stopped carrying a tripod after two back to back trips where I was unable to stay awake past dark!  I also usually end up just using my camera phone on backcountry trips, due to the weight of my SLR.

All told, my pack usually weighs in somewhere between 30 and 40 pounds, depending on season and length of trip.  For reference, at the end of our Isle Royale trip (no food and water left) my pack weighed 30 pounds.

Every time I go out with a group, I come home with at least one new item on my wish list!  One thing I’m missing is a water treatment system.  So far, I’ve gotten by using Aqua Mira tablets, but likely my next purchase will be a SteriPen, which will also come in handy in Asia.

I would love any comments or thoughts on how to lighten my load!  I feel like most of my stuff is pretty lightweight, but it sure adds up quickly!


Backpack Gear List

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