Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hoboing Business Trip Report

Several months ago, I was invited to speak at a state-wide conference for pharmacists taking place in Sun Valley, Idaho.

We began preparations for the weekend trip to central Idaho, weighing our options. Family trip? Solo trip? We looked at logistics of skipping kid's soccer games, foregoing a local 5K, and traveling with a tyrannical 3-year-old. Ultimately, cost was the deciding factor in how this trip would play out. The "conference rate" for the cheapest rooms at the Sun Valley Inn were in excess of $200 a night. We were looking at 3 nights, so this option was laughably expensive. We looked at other hotels and Air BnBs, unable to find anything within 60 miles under about $150. The prospect of making this a family trip fell apart; the next logical option would be for me to go alone and to camp out.

This created another set of logistical challenges:

  • Finding a campsite near the conference
  • Staying warm in early fall Sun Valley
  • Having access to my presentation materials so I could adequately prepare
  • Keeping my phone charged (this ended up being surprisingly difficult. Outlets were hidden behind secret panels at the Sun Valley Inn and I didn't have my external power bank with me all the time)
  • How to fit in running adventures in an area completely saturated with world-class trails
  • Bathing, grooming, and appearing/smelling professional in front of colleagues (including my direct supervisor and boss) with whom I needed to maintain long-term working relationships
  • (And as a last-minute added challenge) Safely transporting 3 full-size (roughly 3' x 5') posters of our pharmacy residents' research projects
I mentioned my plans to several coworkers who in turn offered to share a room or use of a shower. Aside from the awkwardness of these potential arrangements, I had already mentally committed to the camping approach, so I respectfully declined. At this point, I viewed it as a challenge to make this trip work exclusively utilizing ancient hobo technologies (Hobotech®).

Going into the trip, I had prepared very little. I had a general idea of what I needed to accomplish, but not many specifics as to how I would do so. I had a mental list like this:

Day 1 Schedule:
4:00 Wake Up
5:00 Leave for Sun Valley
7:30 Summit Hyndman Peak, one of the Idaho 12ers
12:00 Find Campsite, set up camp
13:00 Conference Begins
18:00 Poster Session (residents would need intact posters)
19:00 Return to campsite, bathe, prepare dinner, review presentation for tomorrow

Day 2 Schedule:
6:00 Wake Up
7:00 Continental Breakfast at conference
8:00 Conference begins
15:00 Presentation
18:00 Find a suitable trail to explore
21:00 Return to campsite, bathe, prepare dinner, read

Day 3 Schedule:
6:00 Wake Up, break camp
7:00 Continental Breakfast at conference
8:00 Conference begins
10:00 Sun Valley Ward Sacrament Meeting
10:30 Required Law Continuing Education Session
11:30 Drive Home

Day 1 started off weighing contingencies. It was raining on and off across the state, so I brought some rain gear and knew there would likely be some snow at the higher elevations. I made it to the Hyndman Creek Trailhead on time and headed up the trail. It was drizzling steadily, but not a downpour. And it was colder than I was accustomed to in the Treasure Valley aka the Banana Belt of Idaho. I ended up running with my rainjacket over my running pack because the winds were picking up and it was getting hard to stay warm. My feet got soaked early on after slipping during a creek crossing. At 8500' it began to snow and the weather was becoming more overwhelming. I pushed on to Sundance Lake at 9740' and there was 6" of snow on the ground. I did some soul searching at this point. I knew the remaining 2000' of climb was over scree and involved some scrambling. The weather wasn't improving and there was certain to be more snow the higher I went. I opted to head back down rather than risk death. I was on a tight schedule as it was and I needed to get the residents their posters. They would have a hard time finding them in the back seat of my car at a remote trailhead were I to perish in the wilderness. On the descent, the weather began to improve, so I was slightly bummed at this decision, but still glad I wasn't navigating snow-covered scree fields with semi-frozen feet. I made it back to the car and began the next task of securing a campsite.

I had tentatively planned on staying at the Boundary campsite for $10/night. It is a mile or so up Trail Creek Rd. from the Sun Valley Inn, where the conference was taking place. When I arrived, all the sites were occupied. It was a no-reservation site and I knew it was a gamble. I knew there were other campsites further up Trail Creek Rd., so I headed up that way and saw a sign for campsites on Corral Creek. I pulled into the first open site and set up camp. I got a text from one of the residents while I was pitching the tent (it was about 12:45) they were looking for their posters. It was still raining some and fairly windy, so I put on the rainfly, added my cot and some chairs for weight to hold the tent down if the wind picked up and went straight to the conference. I was still wearing my running gear which consisted of long pants and a long sleeve tech tee. I added a down jacket as a makeshift sportcoat to look slightly presentable. I figured there was always some guy at these conferences wearing a Hawaiian shirt, so I wouldn't look any more casual than that. I wasn't overly sweaty because of the cold, but I was wet and that doesn't smell great. It was a short day at the conference and I figured I could keep a perimeter around me when possible and try to lay low. Walking in, I sat down with a one-seat spacer between the nearest pharmacist and settled in for the first presentation. I noticed a guy a few rows ahead of me weaving snowflake Christmas ornaments out of fishing line and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. I relaxed. I ended up socializing a lot more than I had planned this day, but no notable grimaces on people's faces at my wet-dog aroma. One acquaintance did comment: "you look like you're going camping!" I responded unironically that I was. Reaching my threshold of introversion suppression for the day, I left and had a hankering for a burger (my go-to post-run food) and went to the McDonald's drive-thru in Hailey then returned to camp. Bathing was the next order of business. I brought baby wipes as a last resort to be used for a makeshift sponge-bath. However, Corral Creek was a mere 20 yards from the campsite and had good tree cover, so I grabbed my Peppermint Dr. Bronner's and shivered my way to the creek. I had taken cold showers for 2 years on my LDS mission and had hoped to be done with them for good. The first hot shower I took upon returning home probably lasted an hour. This creek bath was definitely next-level cold and would serve as stunning contrast of how truly amazing a hot shower is. I focused on high-stench areas (use your imagination) to minimize the misery factor of lowering my core temperature with a full-body submersion. I had some foresight and brought a towel, which was essential in shortening the suffering. I got into dry clothes, crawled into my sleeping bag and began to read. I hoped to review my presentation materials, but I had forgotten to download them to my phone and didn't have a signal. So I read The Brothers Karamazov instead. As I warmed up, I instantly became comatose around 9pm.

Day 2 I woke up after sleeping 9 hours! I was periodically cold, but slept mostly well. I dressed up fancy with a tie and fresh clothes. I slathered on some deodorant, hoping that between the targeted creek bathing and artificial aromas of Old Spice, my vagrant quotient would remain below the acceptable levels for a professional society. The morning CE sessions went well, only I was in need of some last-minute cramming to prepare for my presentation since I didn't have all my materials and crashed early the night before. I skipped the end of one session and sequestered myself for some highly focused review of current treatment recommendations for sepsis. In the end, it didn't make much difference. The format of the session I was speaking at (along with 3 other pharmacists) had changed at the last minute. This led to increased anxiety and a true test of my stench-prevention measures. Three hours later, the session ended without me betraying my true nomadic nature and hopefully imparting a few pearls of wisdom about antibiotic use. I left and headed straight to the trailhead. On a whim, I chose the Pioneer Cabin trailhead. Looking at my National Forest map, I found another trail that connected a loop I estimated to be at least 6 miles. I get the impression it's hard to choose a bad trail in Sun Valley and this ended up being about as perfect as I could have hoped. I climbed a steep trail for 3-4 miles in cool temps with a clear sky, eventually reaching the eponymous Pioneer Cabin with large lettering emblazoning the roof: "The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get." This summit coincided with the sunset, creating some highly rewarding views of the Pioneer range including Hyndman Peak and Devil's Bedstead. The cabin itself was interesting, similar to Appalachian Trail shelters, but more elaborate. It was full of hiker paraphernalia, including a guitar, sleeping bags, pot leaf graffiti, some food and fuel, and even had an old wood-burning stove. It reeked of putrid humans, which was probably a good sign that I hadn't ripened to that point myself. It was now getting dark quickly and I wasn't sure how far I had left in my planned loop, so I pressed on. The temperature was dropping quick now, so I put on my wool gloves and headlamp. To my chagrin, the batteries were nearly spent and my lighting situation was pretty crappy. This fact hastened my pace, so as to avoid a moonless stumble down the mountain if possible. The weak beam got me down the mountain eventually, but not before a minor twisted ankle and a few near face-plants. I ran into some bow hunters at the trailhead who asked if I heard the elk bugling, and indeed I had.

Strava Activity

I got back to my campsite around 9 and performed an even more targeted creek bath as the temperature was now approaching freezing. I remembered seeing the fully enclosed bathrooms at the Sun Valley Inn where I could finish my bathing in the morning and wash the grease off my head. Bones chattering, I warmed up a Mountain House lasagna in some boiled creek water and whipped out The Brothers K once again. A friend of mine used to say "hunger is the best sauce" I would agree and add that a warm meal or drink when you are freezing cold and hungry is sauce for that sauce. It was great to not have cell service as a distraction this night. It helped me get fully immersed in Dostoevsky, reading a large chunk at once. Up to that point I had read small sections when I could and it was still great, but this was better and obviously how this book (and probably most books) should be read. Stepping out of my tent to water the plants, I looked up to an unpolluted night sky. The Milky Way was clear and prominent and constellations easily recognizable: Orion, big dipper, Cassiopeia, the north star. I opted for warmer arrangements this evening as the temperature was continuing to drop. I put my army surplus wool blanket inside my 20 degree down sleeping bag and stayed toasty til morning.

Day 3 I woke up groggy and it had frozen. The tent was covered in ice and my running shoes were blocks of ice. I warmed up my herbal tea while I broke camp. Made it to the conference at about 7 and secured my private bathroom stall for phase 2 of my bathing. Attended first CE session, then went to Sun Valley LDS Congregation Sacrament Meeting at 10:00. The chapel was a tall A-frame with large windows on the South side of the building. The chapel was packed with young families and Elder Hamula of the first quorum of the Seventy was visiting. I took the sacrament and headed back to make the last CE session starting at 10:30. This was the law session they intentionally put at the end of the conference so people don't leave early. (All Idaho pharmacists need one hour of law CE annually for their license). I filled up my water bottle and hit the road.

The trip was a success. I maintained some level of credibility among my peers, explored new trails, stayed alive, learned some new travel skills, and enjoyed most of the trip.

And lastly, I saved a ton of money (I estimate about $750):
Lodging: $0
Conference Registration: $0 (covered because I was presenting)
Food: about $20 (I mostly ate for free at the conference and also brought protein bars, gels, Mountain House)
Gas: about $20
Total: $40

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