Backpacking: Deer Pee Edition

Vacation/relaxation, at this point, means “get outside of cell service range and as far from a road as possible” for me. Which is why, as soon as classes ended, I skedaddled out to Olympic National Park for two nights.

Lots of new experiences were had. For starters, I’ve never camped on a beach before. After the initial mild panic about if I’d identified the high tide line incorrectly and might get swept off into the ocean, tent and all, it was pretty darn cool. Other than a couple of very adorable, very small mice, the only wildlife sighting here was maybe a pod of otters out at sea; alas, I didn’t have binoculars to confirm. Regardless, the scenery was excellent.

Somehow I’d never actually made it out to the coast til now, in spite of living in a state with an actual ocean coastline for almost four entire years.

The next night I hiked out into the rainforest. There are some huge trees there! I hike in a lot of forest that’s recovering from logging, and had therefore forgotten what old growth looks like.

Look at that beast of a tree.

This is also where the deer pee comes in. I was filtering water and heard a noise a little ways off. I look over and hey, cool, a doe!

It was surprisingly ok with getting this close to me. I hope people haven’t been feeding it.

After getting a drink, the doe kept crossing the river. It paused halfway across to pee directly into the water. While I’m glad I was upstream of this particular incident, I can only assume that I’ve drank a lot of deer piss in my time outside. Alas.

Red/yellow columbine. Heck yeah.

In addition to the animal life, there was also an abundance of cool plants and fungi. The main floral highlight for me was the large number of red columbines along the river. I’ve only ever seen blue ones before, so this was fun. As with most hikes I’ve been on, there were many excellent mushrooms, but this time I finally bought a mushroom field guide (which I am referring to as my mushroom bible, since it’s got nice faux leather covers, thin paper and tiny typeface).

These particular mushrooms look like turkey-tail, or another thin polypore.

Same trail, different seasons

One thing I very much enjoy is revisiting trails at different points of the year. Lots of cool comparisons to be made.


Same sign, same dog. The amount of snow is also directly proportional to how tired we were when we got to the sign, because it turns out that walking/snowshoeing through snow is much harder than walking on dirt.

Season: forest fire smoke
Season: heck yeah
Season: I almost slipped on ice and died on the way up here

The view from the summit of the mountain also changes considerably with the seasons. One of my favorite parts of the pictures above is that they’re all taken at roughly 1:30pm, but the lighting is radically different due to cloud cover/smoke/time of the year. That said, if you’re looking for mountain views, the there’s really only three scenarios around here: crisp and clear, raining, or smoke/fog. It saddens me immensely that smoke is projected to become the norm for much of the summer. That forecast inevitably leads me down a rabbit hole of sadness about climate change and all the people/companies that could’ve made better choices, so I’m gonna derail that train of thought for now. I’m supposed to be on vacation.

All that said, I’m curious to see if the March snowfall in the first picture is typical; this year Western Washington got its heaviest snowfall in nearly a century. I’ll report back next spring…

Backpacking: Cold water and… more cool fungi

I took advantage of not having class on Monday to go backpacking for a night. Technically, I could do this on two-day weekends too, but sometimes the thought of having to fit in doing laundry and cleaning the bathroom in addition to unwinding makes me very anxious.

Look at all that water!

Since it’d be two days of hiking, I felt like it was actually worth driving nearly two hours away (including nine miles up a pothole-riddled dirt road. And here my round little commuter car thought it was signing up for an urban lifestyle). The payoff was almost immediate: within a mile I was standing on a bridge over a wide, roaring river. This river started as the outlet to the first of four lakes I visited.

Pictured: Tasty glacial melt.

The lake inlet, on the other hand, did not have a bridge, and on account of my stubby legs/hefty backpack I wound up wading across it barefoot. The water was cold enough to hurt. When my feet went numb, it was a relief. I got my revenge by refilling my water bottles there. Ha, take that, river! A whole two liters less water for you!

Heck yeah.

At this point, the sun emerged, and it took way longer to walk by the next two lakes on account of how often I was getting my socks knocked off by the scenery. (Not literally. The river crossing meant that those cozy wool socks were staying put.)

Heck yeah!

The last lake was at the bottom of a nice long descent. After snagging a campsite, I ate a concerning number of energy bars and salty dehydrated camping food, then set an alarm for 3am, because it ain’t backpacking without at least checking to see if the stars are out. Luckily, the weather forecast was completely wrong, and the sky was clear enough that I could even see satellites crossing the sky. I hope we figure out some way around light pollution in urban areas because that was unbelievably soothing.

And, of course, there were the fungi, both large and small. I found trees that were more mushroom than tree and also wee little orange mushrooms hiding in crevasses barely an inch or two across. Still don’t know anything about them (adding that to my list of things I want to do).

Adventures in publishing science

I’m in the process of publishing my first paper. It’s been interesting.

One thing that’s continually bothered me when reading papers is how general the methods section is. If I’m trying to do the same procedure, not having the details is very unhelpful. Thinking about this while writing mine, I included enough detail to replicate the experiment… only for the editor to ask me to reduce the length of the paper by 30%, and given that the results and conclusions are critical parts of the story, it was the methods section that got cut. So, I’m sorry to all the authors I internally grumbled at while digging around for experimental details. And I’m very disheartened to find that my frustration is actually with the editors.

I also have to wonder why there’s a discrepancy between what the editors want and what I want out of my paper. I want the people in the field, doing similar projects, to know exactly how I did my science- especially if they’re going to try replicating my experiments. But the editor is going to be more concerned with getting more people reading the journal. We have different audiences in mind.

These differences would be easier to deal with if we weren’t in an epoch of separate Supplements which don’t download with the paper. Papers are getting shorter, supplements are getting longer, and I’m tired of having to go back to the paper’s webpage to look for a link to the SI. I’d rather have longer methods sections that I can simply skip over if I’m not interested in how the experiments were done, but would settle for having the supplements attached to the paper.

At any rate, my paper is currently under review, which is good because I need publications to graduate and get a job. And there’s a lot of satisfaction in finally getting several years of work out the door!

Bushwhacking: Nope weed and cool fungi

I hiked an old logging road today, which started out pretty clear and then became overgrown, and then turned into a trail-less bushwhack. I cleared a lot of spiderwebs with my face and will therefore not be revisiting this trail during the annual late summer Spiderpocalypse.

Outside! Yeah!

I also encountered some really neat fungi. As someone who grew up in a desert, the prevalence of mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest has yet to get old.

Heck yeah, forbidden gummy candy. (I have no idea if this is an edible mushroom.)
Probably one of the coolest shelf mushrooms I’ve seen. Looks like it changed orientations after the tree fell.
Adorable lil mushrooms. I don’t see these too frequently, so it’s always a treat.

Unfortunately for my skin, this hike also included a large quantity of Devil’s Club, which I am simply going to call “Nope Weed.”

See? Lots of Nope.
Check out all that Nope.

This route also crossed some wonderful clear creeks. That’s another Pacific Northwest feature which still endlessly delights me.

Not shown: the author’s damp socks.

I’m happily sore and will enjoy not walking 12 miles tomorrow.

Yelling about science

And some non-science yelling, too. I yell about many things.

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Once I made a sample that looked like a ghost, especially after adding two drops of water for eyes. This is the sort of quality content you can look forward to.