5 Winter Camping Lessons

As Will and I are getting ready for our ninth winter camping adventure in mid February, I should share a story from once upon a time… 

In February 2020, right before the end of the world as we knew it. Back when you could sit elbow to elbow at a bar, try a friends beer, and share close quarters with someone outside your own household… Will and I took a dear friend Glen on his first winter camping experience.

It was fantastic.  It was almost easy.  I don’t know if winter camping can ever really be Type 1 Fun considering how much work it is and how much opportunity there is for things to go wrong. Yet Will and I have built up enough experience and have our systems so dialed that things went a little too well.  I was afraid that after all our warning Glen of how challenging winter camping would be that the experience went too smoothly to impart any valuable lessons.  

Hahaha!  How foolish of me!  Of course there were lessons learned! 

Lesson 1 – Everything takes longer.

Partially because of the snow and your mittens and all the extra gear.  Always on day one when you’re transitioning to trail life.  Certainly when it’s a new experience.  Everything takes forever.

Glen took his first steps on trail when his ski binding got maddeningly stuck.  Ten minutes after finally getting moving again he took his first (of many) snowy falls on a portage.  An hour later his z-rest (sleeping pad) escaped from his pulk (sled) and we all backtracked to rescue it.  Nine years ago when Will and I first started winter camping we were a comical mess of falling down with things flying off our pulks.  We were stopping ALL THE TIME to reattach gear and get our skis back underneath us.

Until you have specific experience, plan your time and distances conservatively.

Lesson 2 – Deprivations become luxuries.

Ahhhhh, the luxury of sitting.  On anything.  Even when, or especially when it’s a bench you labored to craft out of snow.  It might be of questionable height, and have no back support, or arm rests, and be uneven, but when you’ve been moving constantly for eight hours and it’s all you have it might be so delightful you lay down on it and hug your flask of whiskey.

Ahhhhh, the luxury of hot food.  After snacking all day on partially frozen bites of cheese, sausage and chocolate, putting hot soft food to your cold lips is heavenly.

You’ll never be so satisfied as you can be when you have so little.

Lesson 3 – Travel as a team.

While we all have different preferred paces, in the backcountry in the winter we stay together.  It’s super important to watch out for each other and communicate.  Minor irritants that you can ignore in the city or on summer trips can become major hazards in the winter woods.

I saw that Glen’s waist band of his pants were wet with sweat.  We stopped so he could re-layer and dry out his back.  I was slowing down and feeling tired and crabby.  It was an early indication that I was getting cold and hadn’t had enough to eat or drink.  We stopped to help me re-layer and refuel.  Both of these situations seemed minor at the time, but if they had been ignored could have snowballed (ha ha) into serious safety problems.

When the conditions are challenging and the stakes are high, community teamwork is far safer than competitive individualism. 

Lesson 4 – Things change.

The forecast is rarely 100% accurate.  We set out for a mild day but then a strange strong south wind made us work harder to find a protected camp spot.  We set up a really snug camp spot just in time for the wind to die down.  

You can only plan so much. And even those plans will have to change. Which is why sometimes the best plan is “Have fun. Don’t die.” The best plans keep you from dying. The best trips have some Type 2 Fun where things are miserably challenging at the time (but there’s no major permanent damage like death) and make a great story later.

Lesson 5 – Know when to GTFO!

Whether you’re a polar explorer or just weekend adventure seeker, sometimes the most important thing to know is when to Get The Fuck Out!

Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.  But it’s just as important to know when it’s not worth it to stick it out.

On our 5th morning we were getting blasted by wind and cold.  Doing our normal 3 hour morning of fire, boiling water, breakfast, teeth brushing, pooping, etc was just not worth it.  We had gone to bed knowing that this was a possibility, so we were prepared for an alpine start and got out of camp in just one hour.

Have plans and procedures for a variety of situations. It’s great to have all the leisurely comforts available but it’s just as important to quickly shift gears so mild inconvenience doesn’t become absolute train wreck.

After the crazy uncertainty in so many facets of life in 2020, Will and I are so grateful to be able to continue our tradition of winter camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Hopefully come March I’ll be regaling you with this years adventure stories.

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3 Steps To Get Better

How do I get better? How do I set reasonable achievable goals?

The easier and faster method would be to work one-on-one with a coach who can evaluate your history, current ability, discuss your desires along with your life situation, and then create a personalized plan for you.  But if you’re patient and willing to put in some work, you can both get better and set goals all by yourself.  

1️⃣ Focus 

Pick one thing.  Then pick one thing about that one thing.  Keep narrowing your focus.  So let’s say you like hiking, and biking, and skiing, and you’ve always wanted to get into climbing, and you wouldn’t mind getting better at triathlon… It’s great that you like and do a variety of activities!  If you want to get better at anything, you don’t have to give up everything, but you do have to pick one of them to improve for 6 months or more.  So let’s say you pick skiing.  Now pick one thing about skiing to improve.  Now make a plan that prioritizes that one thing.  You can and will do other things too, but the one thing has an improvement plan. 

2️⃣ Log 

Write it down.  Record what you actually do of that one thing.  Start by logging it wherever and however works best for you.  Maybe you integrate it into a calendar, app, spreadsheet or any system you already use.  Start simple with what it was and how long you did it.  Eventually you can get fancy by using specialized systems and record more data and integrate all the things you do (hint: Training Peaks) but start with anything that’s easy for you to start using.  Nothing wrong with pen and paper. 

3️⃣ Reflect

How much did you do what you set out to do? How much better did that one thing get?  What about that one thing got better?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you learn about the activity?  What did you learn about the process?  What worked well and what needs more work?  From this process you have actual logged data about what and how much work gives you particular results.  You also have insight into what you like, and want, and what you need more help with.  Now you’re in a much better position to set reasonably challenging goals for yourself!  

If you’ve done these steps and you want more detailed guidance, hire a coach. If you struggle to do these steps, hire a coach. If you want just a little more help and aren’t ready to hire a coach, give my new workbook a try!

Go to ZestEd.net for more info and purchasing

You also don’t ever have to pay for something. There is so much great information out there available for free. Doing the work alone takes more time, energy, and an immense amount of honesty. And if I’m honest, I think we all do better when there are people in our lives we trust to guide and push us to be better people.

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Pick One: Fast, Easy, or Cheap

Do you have a big goal in mind?  

You’re really fortunate if you can say:

✅ I’m able to be patient and work up to it as gradually as my body needs.
✅ I’m ready to commit effort and time to research, learning, planning, and training.
✅ I’m willing to invest money in equipment and professional services.

This is the best scenario for pursuing goals that will be fun, safe, and successful.  

Now, understandably most people can’t check all those boxes. But what doesn’t work is:

“I want to achieve a big goal ASAP ⏱️, but I’m really busy so I need a personal custom plan I can follow easily 🧞‍♂️, and I don’t want to spend any money on professional services or equipment 💰️🤌. “  

Fast + Easy + Cheap = 😭.  The goal doesn’t get achieved, or your body breaks, or your relationships break, either in the short or long term.  Taking all the shortcuts at once is a recipe for disaster.  

😂 Beware anyone selling all the shortcuts! I don’t know any challenging goals that can be achieved in “one simple trick.”

So what does picking just one short cut look like?  

FAST Examples:

  • I’ve done one one sprint triathlon and I want to do a full Ironman next year.
  • I’ve run one 5k and I want to do a marathon next season. 
  • I’ve only climbed indoors and I want to climb El Capitan next spring.
  • I can barely swim and I want to do a triathlon next summer. 
  • I’ve slept in a tent once and I want to thu hike the PCT next year.  

If you’ve picked fast it doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and spend all your money.  It does mean you can’t be stingy with your energy and money.  Pay for coaching, pay for the equipment that’s going to make a difference.  Set aside time to train.  Set aside time to research, learn, and plan.  

EASY Examples:

  • I don’t want to think about my training at all.  
  • I want someone to tell me what to do for all my workouts. 
  • I have a lot of other commitments, training needs to take minimal time and energy. 
  • I don’t have time to do any race/trip planning or research.  
  • I don’t have the mental space to learn new techniques or new equipment or new methods. 
  • I only want to train the way I’m used to training.  I don’t want to do the workouts or exercises I dislike. 

If you picked easy, be prepared to pay for it.  You might be able to get away paying for a one-size-fits-most plan, but then you’ll have to spend the energy to fit it to your schedule.  Or you’ll pay big bucks for coaches to write all your workouts personally for you.  Even if you have all the money for coaching, you still have to do the training.  If you want the coached training to be “easy” you can’t have “fast” too. 

Cheap Examples:

  • Bare-bones equipment.  Only what’s absolutely necessary, no extras that make training easier or more accessible. 
  • Free training plans and reading all the stuff on the internet. 
  • Reading all the low cost books and guides.  
  • Training advice from community groups and forums.  
  • Group workouts and online programs (nothing customized to your needs and goals). 
  • No personalized support like nutrition counseling, physical therapy, massage, or private lessons. 

Nothing wrong with being cheap.  It’s what I usually do, but it takes time and energy to do it all yourself.  


  • This is simplified to illustrate a point.  Can you be just partially fast, easy, and cheap?  Sure.  Just realize that you can’t shortcut everything and have stellar results.  
  • Are there people “successful” people who seem to be doing it the fast, easy, and cheap way?  Sure.  Those are fantastic best selling stories.  But for every one of those there are hundreds of sad failures that don’t make the news.  

Pick your path. Know what trade offs you’re making.

Need help figuring out your goal, your next steps, which shortcuts to take and what you need to invest in? I do that. It’s a Personal Coaching Consultation. You can check out our website if you click the “services” tab. You can also email me kym@zested.net

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Six tips plus two reflections from the Endurance Coaching Summit

I’m learning stuff all the time. I got to get better at sharing it all with you all!

A couple weeks ago I attended (virtually) the Endurance Coaching Summit hosted by Training Peaks. It was three days lots of internationally renowned speakers including Gwen Jorgensen (Olympic goal medalist) and her Triathlon Coach, Lesley Paterson and Simon Marshall, authors of the Brave Athlete, Alen Lim co-founder of Scratch Labs, and many many more.

Instagram post from the last day of lectures.

I’ve got pages and pages of notes. Condensed here are just six tips for you 😀 If any of them tickle your fancy, please reach out and let me know! I’d love to chat with you more about any one of them! Just email me at kym@zested.net

  1. World class champions also feel like imposters, want to quit mid-run, are terrified of the goal, doubt everything, get the should-woulda-couldas and feel harassed by their own thoughts. They are not failures. You are normal and also not a failure. There are so many techniques to help you. What to do about it?
    • Be willing to try things. Some of these techniques can seem silly, simple, or take time. You have to be willing to give a new mental technique a chance.
    • Get help and talk to them. You can read the books and websites and articles on your own. It’s also great to get and utilize help. Have a therapist, coach, or mentor. Then actually tell them how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.
  2. Mental fatigue alters perception of physical effort. Reduce emotional and mental workload for better performance with “cognitive drafting.” Continue reading
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F*ing Weirdest Hardest Easiest Adventure

It would have been a good day for anything else. I could have spent the day ticking off the endless overwhelming tasks of the self-employed. Or considering we’re eight months into the pandemic; it would have been a good day to whimper in a ball on my bed under the weight of existence watching anything on Netflix to numb the fear of uncertainty.

Instead, on a chilly gray Saturday November 14th in the year two-thousand twenty, in a year where everything is fucking weird and hard… I chose my own little (big) adventure. Turned out to be one of the fucking weirdest hardest easiest things I’ve ever done.

I woke up at 4am. For someone whose pandemic schedule means waking up around 8am, four in the “morning” is not a thing. Pretty sure this was my entry into another dimension of weirdness.

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Personal Urban Ultra Challenge

I’m doing this big thing tomorrow!

Well, it’s quite a bit smaller than the REALLY BIG thing I want to do.

I suppose it’ll take about as long as my Ironman Triathlon I did in 2015, and that’s a big thing.

On the other hand, it’s way more casual and chill with way less pressure than doing an Ironman Tri, making it feel like a small thing.
But considering the dumpster fire that is 2020, this is my thing. Which makes it feel big.

Clearly I’m torn about how big a deal this thing I’m doing tomorrow is.

I’ll tell you about it, and maybe we can decide how big a thing it is.

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Giving Aid For Free

In the first weeks of the COVID pandemic our household lost 4 part time jobs. Our fledgling family business, Zest Ed gave us purpose while we were adrift and gives us hope going forward.

Many of us who do the itty-bitty business thing don’t do it for the financial security (none) or amazing benefits (none). We do it because we are passionate about what we do. The pandemic didn’t change that. We provide our communities with products and services to make your life better. That didn’t change.

Do you have a friend who is self employed or who has a side hustle? Have a favorite bitty business? Want to help them survive the pandemic but you can’t afford to buy all their stuff? Perhaps you love their vision but you aren’t their target customer? You can help without spending a dime. You can give aid for FREE. You can do these things even when there isn’t a global crisis.

Let’s break this down a bit.

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My Running Journey

I have a long and complicated relationship with running.  

I grew up a fish, swimming before I could walk, and winning fists of ribbons by ‘91.  My running coach dad convinced me to run because he said Janet Evens (‘88 and ‘92 Olympic swimmer) ran for cross-training.  I HATED it.  He’d drag me on his cool down mile at a shuffle pace and my feet would ache and rebel.  I had all the advantages of youth, and it still took over a year before both my body and mind adapted.

Learning to do strides in 1994.

By 1995 I was confidently competitive in running as well as swimming.  In 1997 I did my first triathlon.  And by 1998 I gave up daily hours of chlorine and staring at a black line for running outdoors.  

Me, leading the pack in a high school cross-country race.

Let’s say this is when I married running.  

The honeymoon phase didn’t last long.  

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Camping feels good: 4 reasons and advice

Life feels complicated and the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s so easy to despair. Why does camping make me feel better?

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Successful loop!

Winter camping doesn’t need to be ambitious to be adventurous. Our trips are all 3 to 4 nights and are never very far from civilization. Yet we’ve had seven memorable years of winter shenanigans.

In all these previous years we did two things that make it significantly easier. 1) We did an out-and-back. It means on our way out we follow our own trail making it twice as fast. 2) Had a layover day.  Which means staying at the same campsite for two nights. Considering the hours of work that goes into making a winter campsite, using the same one twice greatly eases the burden.
This year we didn’t do either of these things.

2019 turned out to be our most adventurous year yet.

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