Congratulations to Leah (aka Lah), Trailspace's newest Reviewer of the Month!
Each month we recognize and get to know a different member of the Trailspace community. This month it's "salty sailor" Leah, a Colorado native turned Florida paddler, backpacker, free diver, and world traveler.
Congratulations, Leah, and thanks for sharing your many helpful gear reviews with us, including Good to Go's Herbed Mushroom Risotto: "a fresh, healthy, and tasty alternative to the every growing line of pre-packaged backpacker meals."
For your contributions, you win this month's featured Reviewer of the Month prize: a solid-fuel Solo Stove ($70 value). Plus, we're sending you a pack of goodies from Clif, Kind, NiteIze, Stoneridge Orchards, and Trailspace.*
Tell us about yourself.
I currently live in Miami, Fla., but I grew up in a one-stoplight town where the Colorado Rockies meet the Arkansas River valley. I think this humble beginning stirred in me a deep desire to seek a life of contrasts, both geographically and professionally.
Since leaving for college at 17, I have lived, worked, and played up and down both coasts of the U.S., in addition to a year or so abroad. The first two years after college saw me chasing seasonal jobs from Alaska to Mexico, then Maine to Hawaii, doing my best to trace a big X across North America.
My first childhood aspiration was to become a forest ranger, but somehow that morphed into earning my Bachelor’s in marine biology and later a Master’s in public health. I don’t really identify with any one profession, but I’ve done numerous ocean crossings and spent the equivalent of a few years at sea, so I guess you could say I’m a pretty salty sailor.
I enjoy driving boats and ships, both for the technical challenge, but also because of the amazing places I’ve had the opportunity to visit…Antarctica and the Mariana Islands, to name a few. Certainly I’ve done much to shake my land-locked roots, but I still pine for the mountains.
What do you like to do outdoors?
Anything...just live, be free, and be happy!
How did you get started exploring outdoors? Earliest memories?
My parents could barely get me to come indoors as a kid. I roamed all over town and later began forays into the foothills. My dad used to take me exploring on his dirt bike and my mom and I went trail riding on horses nearly every day. When I was a teenager, my parent’s river-guide friends invited us along to raft/kayak some of the Western rivers. I didn’t appreciate what a treat that was at the time, but I do now.
What’s your favorite outdoor place?
A friend was once asked where his favorite place to hike is and he answered “any place I haven’t hiked before.” Amen.
Describe your happiest moment outdoors (or proudest or hardest).
There have been many times I was frustrated or tired to the point of tears, others where I was moved to tears by awe, and some a combination of both. But to this day I don’t have any regrets about my outdoor adventures.
One experience that comes to mind is a choice I faced in fording a river or using a zip-line tram. I was trekking alone in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, hadn’t seen anyone in days, and wasn’t feeling particularly keen on the idea of using the tram. Previous experience had taught me that it was easier to get wet feet than expend the energy to reel the tram to my side of the river (it’s a law of physics that the tram is ALWAYS on the other side), then crank back across. Though this tram turned out to be gravity driven and not geared, which helped to change my mind at the last minute. It was, after all, a pretty big river and I couldn’t tell quite how deep it was, just that it was moving very fast.
I’ll never forget wrestling to get my backpack loaded with one arm while holding onto both the tram and platform at the same time, then jumping on and taking the plunge. In New Zealand, the thrills come cheaply and frequently...clearly they don’t have too many lawyers there. As for the decision not to ford the river, I still wonder if I’d be around to tell this story had I chosen differently.
Do you have any outdoor regrets?
That I probably won’t be able to see all the great outdoor places in my lifetime. But I’m pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished so far.
Do you have any outdoor plans or goals you want to share?
Back in 2003, I spent three months in New Zealand and fell madly in love with the country. I put several hundred backcountry miles under my feet while there, but this was before the Te Araroa track had been established. I’ve been longing to do a thru hike for a while now and of the many great ones, this appeals to me the most.
Describe your ideal day outdoors.
To have nothing to do in life other than to attend to basic needs and walk or paddle some miles, enjoying the journey in between.
What motivated you to share your reviews with Trailspace?
Plain and simple, I love talking about gear and reading reviews! The internet has been revolutionary in helping to make informed decisions about purchases and learn invaluable tips from fellow outdoorsies. Trailspace is an incredible venue in this respect.
What’s your favorite piece of outdoor gear?
There have been many pieces of gear that I loved at one point in time, but something better always comes along. My first backpack was a bright orange Dana Designs that weighed over six pounds. We shared so many good memories, but that didn’t stop me from ditching it for a lighter pack…but yes, I did feel a strong pang of sadness in letting it go.
Currently, I am really fond of my Black Diamond Ultra Distance carbon trekking poles. They fold up really small, are so light, and a necessity for hiking in wet places.
Got any good, bad, funny, or epic gear stories?
For my first hike in New Zealand, I took on the 43-km Tongariro Northern Circuit. For two of the three days it rained, making my already too-small boots shrink even more. Plus, un-conditioned, saturated feet do funny things, I’ve found.
I thought I had escaped unscathed, but a day later, my big toe went from throbbing pain to almost numbness. I had no idea that a blister had formed under my toenail. Almost after a week spent hobbling around, it released and the relief I felt immediately was incredible. But then I had to manage having a somewhat tender separated toenail for weeks, so I did the next couple hikes in my Chaco sandals. After months tramping around, I also lost both my pinky toenails.
I’ve given up on boots now, wearing only lightweight running shoes. I’ve also gone from absolutely loathing to embracing wet feet. In fact, I did an eight-mile, six-hour hike last weekend where my feet were submerged the entire time. My New Balance WT10 minimalist shoes are the perfect footwear in this respect.
What’s in your backpack right now?
Being part of the Gear Review Corps is perfectly in-line with my experimental nature, as I love trying out new gear. So I haven’t had a very consistent backcountry kit in some time.
I am anxious to try out my new Osprey Exos 48 pack along with my two-season Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed. I purchased both as a result of positive experiences with similar Review Corps samples. Since each weigh in at two pounds, I want to round off the Big Three by nailing down my comfort level with my Hennessey Ultralight hammock, also at two pounds. In meeting the six-pound benchmark, everything else just needs some tinkering.
Te Araroa, I’m coming for you!
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your life?
I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for inspiring my independence, confidence, and passion for adventure. If only all kids could be so lucky.
What's your favorite book?
Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire
What's your favorite quote?
Princess Buttercup: “But Westley, what about the ROUS’s?”
Westley: “Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.”
Where does your username come from?
LAH—just my initials. Sorry, I was at a loss. Most have settled on "Princess" for my nickname, but it doesn’t really go with my persona when on the trail.
What would Trailspace members be surprised to learn about you?
I have two toes that are mildly webbed, thus toe socks and Vibram FiveFingers are a non-starter for me.
* Thanks, and great job, Leah!
Besides Trailspace appreciation, Leah wins a solid-fuel Solo Stove ($70 value). She also gets a goodie pack with Clif, Kind, and Stoneridge Orchards samples, a Nite Ize GearLine Organization System, plus a Trailspace Trail Runner Cap and stickers.
Join the Trailspace community in recognizing other helpful reviewers by voting up the reviews you find most useful.
Wide images above: 1) Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile; 2) Palmer Station, Antarctica; 3) Torres del Paine; 4) Kayaking the shorelines near Wilmington, N.C.