Category Archives: Uncategorized

Take A Danged Class You Mountaineer

The start of this article may head in an odd direction for some but bear with me if you have a few moments. If your days feel heavy and you perhaps you find yourself engaged in a battle with unhealthy life choices, join a group or take a class. Now I know you’re thinking I mean take a class related to the unhealthy choices and sure that’s not a bad idea as I would be the first to say if you apply the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous to any obsession, it will absolutely help.

So, to the nitty-gritty. Just like a decision to never take another drink of alcohol and a commitment to surround yourself with folks bent on the same goal, identify your challenge, stare it down, turn away, and then get busy having a helluva good time. Immerse yourself in a passion and…


I took a class this past weekend in snow hiking and mountaineering to prep for a return to Mt. Whitney. The use of an ice axe was taught as well as ropes and crampons. The expert instructor, April Mayhew brought me up to speed both in snow travel and regular hiking but I have to say her humble attitude was a threat to this Banty rooster. The woman has guided Kilimanjaro twelve times and also led trips up Denali and Mount Rainier, just to name a few, so when a hiker in the parking lot observed my classmates and me all geared up (ok fine, we were only carrying backpacks with ice axes and crampons attached) and then asked what we were up to, I was ready to draw in a chest expanding breath and wave them away with “Oh you know, a little ice climbing and mountaineering”. I love the sound of “mountaineering” over backpacking.

Alas my reply was never delivered because April responded with “just taking a walk in the snow”. What!!? Sheesh! Walk in the snow, dang-it! I went from mountaineer to third grade camper in a nano-second. And that was the start of a class that both inspired and humbled me and had me learning that there are so many things I would benefit from knowing.

We began with a hike along a picturesque lake to a snowy mountain (yeah, yeah, I’m sure April would say “hill”) and then we settled and April inadvertently threw me a bone when she referred to the jumble of packs and sack lunches strewn about on the ground as our “base camp”. With visions of Everest in my head, I fell in line behind my daughter’s bestie, Bree, a college co-ed who had driven me up on the trip while cheerfully sharing that she ignores speed-bumps. This I came to believe might’ve been a conspiracy designed to prep me for impact when actual mock falling was announced to the group but who was I to complain as next in our student lineup was Pat, a gal older than I with a serious infusion of optimism and sass and Barry, a polite guy who looked like part of the REI management team. Barry loaned me a hat, thereby rescuing my ego, upon discovering that I’d forgotten my beanie and was forced into Bree’s extra which had been purchased in the kids department and sported horns. Seriously.

The loan of the hat was indicative of a day that unfolded to be one of mutual support and instant group enthusiasm. With April leading us through a thorough and well-presented curriculum, set by REI, we alternated between learning self arrest with ice axes and joyfully glissading (once again a term I love despite the fact that I think April called it “sliding”).

The class imparted great skills and a new-found respect for the backcountry was cemented. Stories were swapped and I thought surely I could hold my own with my tale of a pair of fingers broken years ago while trail running but of course April casually mentioned the near loss of multiple toes to frost bite on Mount Whitney. I was tempted to challenge her to a comparison of my bent finger to her still compromised toes but I knew in my gut she’d win and toe necrosis, coupled with lunch, did not seem a crowd pleaser.

The completion of the class sent us all hiking back to our cars and had me reflecting on the past few years of my life. The absolute turn away of an emotionally unhealthy way of being was one step for me but the next was a turning to what was and is emotionally healthy in my life. Over the last decade I’ve traveled to right smack-dab in the middle of the place that makes my heart thump. And continuing on this path is exciting even if means knowing it only requires something as simple as walking, however, I do plan to continue calling it mountaineering. That is unless April is around.

***If you want information on classes and/or guided trips, here ya go and I do want to add for anyone who is curious about this that tipping instructor/guides is appreciated and 20% of the class fee is a good ball park.

Sierra Guided Trips – Sierra Mountain Center (April Mayhew was our instructor and she guides as well).

REI classes

The Nitty And The Gritty: 10 Steps On A Solo Trip

Teri’s hilarious collection of short stories, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO,  is available at Amazon for under $5!

I often read articles that optimistically enroll me in an idea but then I can’t quite figure out how to execute it or I discover it’s not my talent. The wildly crooked, crocheted scarves I attempted in the past (and wear) are proof of this. Today’s post is shared with the hope that if you want to take on an adventure and feel confused about how to get started, some answers and some truth (the nitty and the gritty) might be helpful so…here we go.

December 2014 rolled around and I found myself once again coveting some wilderness snowshoeing. This had been a desire for years but every time I planned, weather and/or logistics derailed me. This time, the challenge was money. If I went for it, it would need to be on a tight budget. Before I continue, please know that I believe on a dime is subjective and generally I pick and choose a splurge or two so this overview is just my personal experience and money-saving strategy on this particular trip. If you stay at the Yosemite Lodge, don’t feel guilty, take a friend along…or message me.  😉

Here’s the way my Yosemite snowshoeing trip went down, step by step:

1) I found a ham on sale after Thanksgiving ($8 marked down from $27) and cut the leftovers into several portions and placed them in baggies, in the freezer. I also made split pea soup w/ ham in it. On Saturday December 20th, I packed the ham portions, soup portions, instant oatmeal (I ended up eating none of the oatmeal), peanut butter, oranges, tea bags, coffee (pre-perked in a thermos), 1/2&1/2, homemade peanut butter cookies and homemade oatmeal raisin bars, and a bottle of whiskey (splurge). Left over from another trip, I had two Mountain House egg and bacon pouches (this is a huge splurge that on my budget I don’t indulge in so I was thrilled that my guy had previously purchased these and left them behind). If you have the money, these are so EASY and no mess to clean up.

2) My gear became a creative challenge when my mat sprung a leak so I packed 3 bed pillows for cushion from the cold ground and 1 for my head. I knew I would not be backpacking so hauling stuff was doable. I brought from home – my tent, 3 sleeping bags (1 fantastic Sierra bag rated 20 and 2 cheapie 30 rated bags), camp chair, single burner stove, firewood (oak, don’t buy wood in Yosemite, it is a fortune), headlamp, lantern (I have never used the lantern in a decade so why I continue to pack it is a mystery), matches, mess kit (created from my kitchen), and cooler w/ my food. **3 sleeping bags? Yes, I used one as extra padding over the pillow bed and I slipped my Sierra bag in the other for additional warmth. I freeze easily and had noted the low 20s night temps and prediction of frost in the weather report and it had rained the previous day so it was still damp. **I did not pack a full med kit, HUGE mistake.

3) Sunday at 6am, I hit the road (cost for fuel from LA to Yosemite was $30, my car gets about 34 mpg). Arrived at my campsite at 1pm. The entry fee for Yosemite was $20 and it was $5 per night to camp in Camp 4. A good thing to know is that Camp 4 was tame and very mellow as I was there in the off-season but this is a well-known, historical rock climbing camp so in the busier season there are early lines for the first come/first serve sites of which, up to 6 tents can share a single fire ring. There are multiple bear lockers at each site and a number of picnic tables throughout.

4) I set up in about 20 minutes but left my Sierra bag and my firewood locked in my car. I do not worry about theft generally but have learned from another on a dimer – when she had her firewood stolen – to leave the important things locked when I can. After setting up, I headed out on the hike right at the base of the campsite which leads to Upper Yosemite Falls (this is an uphill climb). In all, I ended up doing only about 4 miles as I was suddenly hit with what I thought was a violent allergic reaction. I was sneezing and coughing insanely.

Hike view
THIS is the view from the hike about 1/2 way
Waterfall first glance
Yosemite Falls from the trail

5) Hiking back down was tiring and I took a quick break to call my guy and instantly felt perhaps I was suffering from more than allergies. An hour later (5pm) and I was in my sleeping bag, drinking a hot whiskey, water, and fresh orange juice. The next 14 hours brought shivering fever, sore throat, coughing, chest congestion, and finally euphoria. Euphoria? Yes but I would never in a million years suggest that this is the norm nor that it could be duplicated. I’m assuming it was a combo of the fever, whiskey, and the arrival of a couple that only spoke Dutch. My eldest daughter’s boyfriend is Dutch and as I eavesdropped on this couple clinking bottles, cooking, and making a fire, I had the supreme feeling of comfort that comes from access to something joyful and familiar. It was as if my daughter and her guy were right outside my tent. The night passed peacefully and a side note: right before collapsing in my tent, I witnessed the most glorious sunset over Half Dome. This view of Half Dome is from the parking lot of Camp 4.

Half Dome sunset 1
Half Dome sunset from Camp 4

6) I woke and felt weak but better and drank some tea and ate a Mountain House. The Mirror Lake hike (near Curry village) is a piece of cake so I strolled that one and then headed to Curry Village to hand over $15 for DayQuil (not fun). After consulting with my guy on the phone, it was decided I would sit in my camp chair in the sun and drink herbal tea all day, log some more sleep and then the following morning either head directly to my daughter’s house in Tahoe if I was sicker or go for the snowshoeing if I was better.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

7) I managed a fire with my oak and some discarded boxes left in a bear locker. Note to you: bring kindling because I would’ve been in a world of hurt if not for the boxes. I ate split pea soup and relaxed by the fire and then got in my sleeping bag with my book by 7pm.

Campfire and view from Camp #4

8) My alarm sounded at 7am and this is something to take notes on as I believe I finally have conquered breaking camp when it is hatefully cold. I activated the hand warmers, placed them in my gloves and packed up the car. Dismantling metal tent poles with ice on them was so much more doable with the hand warmers. After the car was loaded, I fired up the single burner stove and made my Mountain House and coffee while the car warmed up and melted the ice off of my windshield. **Bring an ice scraper unlike yours truly.

9) White Lightning (my little Hyundai) was pointed toward Badger Pass by 8am and I arrived 10 minutes after they opened the rental area. The snowshoes were $24 for the day and I only made a slight ass out of myself when I considered putting them on INSIDE the rental area (you attach them when you are already in the snow). I had been told by many that snowshoeing is horrendously arduous but I found it required the same exertion as regular hiking. Now, it is important to note that I was traversing snowshoe trails so the snow was pretty packed. The arduous part would’ve occurred if I had taken on unmarked areas of deeper, powdery snow. I learned this upon exploring those areas and took a few ungraceful stumbles when the snowshoes stuck. The end result was that I fell in love with snowshoeing and will do it again. There is silence and beauty and such stillness when you leave the congested areas and head into the forest. I literally only saw three other hikers for the first three hours I was out. If you enjoy company and want to skip the $24 rental fee, Yosemite offers daily guided snowshoeing hikes *Scroll to the bottom of the link and the snowshoes are included. I ended up hiking 4 hours and then had to head to Tahoe but I will absolutely return to explore more trails.

Snowshoeing finally!

Stunning stillness

10) Overall, this trip was lovely despite the complications. I’m often asked if I get lonely or am ever afraid when camping and trekking alone and the answer is, yes. Sometimes I am lonely and miss camaraderie and sometimes I am afraid but that is rare and really it’s the same experience as hearing an unfamiliar bump in the middle of the night in my home. I also have been asked if I miss luxury and the answer to that is, yes, sometimes, but I feel I experience the return to civilization in an enhanced manner after time in a tent. Soaking in a hot lavender and eucalyptus oil bath is a million times better after camping – and drinking a glass of wine with family and friends feels more joyful after solitude. There are always times of imperfection, derail, regroup, and breakdown, but the moments of sweet perfection outweigh any less than stellar experiences. It is that sweet perfection – so very powerful – that pulls me back time and time and there has never been a trip that did not deliver multiple versions of euphoria.

Finally, is this for everyone? No. I get that some people don’t derive pleasure from roughing it but for those dreaming this little dream, go ahead, what are you waiting for? If a misfit like me can figure it out, you can too. You deserve that sunrise/sunset, campfire, frosty morning air, perked coffee, aroma therapy bath. Take it.

See our other articles on Mount Whitney and Half Dome if you covet backpacking as well as our simple “how to” tab for planning.

Please feel free to share/like on Facebook. Always grateful.  🙂

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal ~by Adam Bergstrasser

The Bergstrasser Family

On A Dime Adventure is so very thrilled to have our first guest blog post and it deserves a teeny-tiny back story. We noticed fellow traveler, Adam Bergstrasser generously sharing some of his tips via our Facebook page and as a result, I asked if he’d be open to guest posting. Adam enthusiastically agreed but with the disclaimer that he’d not blogged before so his work might benefit from a possible creative edit. Well, here it is completely untouched because we found it to be perfect. Enjoy the blend of practical advice, coupled with the story of a family that figured out the spirit of On A Dime living long before I ever started my journey. My only addition is the title as I figured Adam would be  too humble to have come up with the one I thought he deserved.

So now without further adieu, meet the Bergstrassers.  ~Teri

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal

by Adam Bergstrasser

I’ve always loved the outdoors. When I was a child, my parents often took me camping at a lake outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma. As a teenager I began backpacking and camping in the mountains of New Mexico. I could never afford fancy gear, so most of my stuff came from friends and garage sales. I didn’t care. It was never about having the “right” gear, it was the act of getting away from town and into the wild that I loved.

When I met my wife twenty years ago, I was excited about introducing her to my outdoor world; minimalist camping, long treks, and amazing vistas. I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue this lifestyle, I needed to invest in a few creature comforts. On one payday, I bought a lantern. On another, a folding table. Soon we were packing a minivan to the rafters with all kinds of crazy stuff for each trip, but hey… we were camping! When gas was a buck a gallon, it was something we could afford to do as often as we liked. We took half a dozen mini-vacations each year to the mountains around Albuquerque. It was what we did. It defined our family.

Then I let life intrude. Making money became more important to me than quality time, and I chased construction projects around three different states. I worked seventy hours a week. We took an occasional scenic drive, but the camping gear gathered dust. I became homesick and dissatisfied. One evening in Austin, I came home and told my wife, “Baby… I want to go home.” We talked about the quality of life we wanted for ourselves and our three daughters, and decided that time together outweighed whatever we could buy them with more money. That was a hard decision. I took a 50% pay cut to move back to Albuquerque. It was a very difficult adjustment, but I pictured a time filled with camping trips. Singing around a fire. S’mores. Lots of pictures. Lots of memories for my daughters to carry with them for a lifetime.

When our savings account was almost empty, my wife handed me our last $800 and said, “Go buy us a camper.” She’s so smart. I’d wanted one for years. That 1977 Coleman pop-up saved us. We began camping again and really enjoying it. After a couple years we traded up for a new(er) 1988 pop-up, and proceeded to drag it all over the West. Life was good.

Over the last eight years, we’ve been to some amazing places. We’ve seen sights that I’m sure people pay a lot of money for, and we’ve done it on a very tight budget. How? I’ve used two keys: research and the government. Before every one of our “big” trips, I spend hours, days, sometimes weeks online. I look for the most scenic routes, the most interesting roadside attractions, and the biggest waterfalls. And I key in on all of the properties that I own. That’s right. Public property. National Forests. National Parks. BLM land. It’s my vacation secret. Everywhere we’ve been, I’ve been able to find a place to stay for between zero and thirty dollars a night. It doesn’t matter if you own a nice new camper or a $10 yard sale tent, you can stay at an incredibly beautiful campsite on public lands for free or close to it.

To be honest, I’m not much of a people person. When I camp, I want to be as far away from other folks as possible, so most of our trips are to primitive sites in the National Forests in New Mexico or Colorado. No facilities, no neighbors, and total peace. I even take a trip or two by myself every year. I’ve realized, though, that not everyone is as antisocial as I am. I’ve also realized that some of the best places in nature just happen to have a lot of other people appreciating them, too. If it was up to me, I would just go backpacking, but there are other people making this trip with me. My daughters love little mountain towns with lots of tourist shops. My wife likes waterfalls and showers (which, I learned quickly, are NOT the same thing). So I tailor our trips accordingly. Some wilderness hikes for dad, some tourist towns for the girls, lots of waterfalls for my love, and always with hot showers nearby.

Sure, you can pay a lot of money to stay in a nice hotel or cabin, but did you know that the Forest Service rents out the most amazing mountain cabins all over the West? Yup. They’re so cool. Look it up:

Did you know that for $80 a year you can buy a pass that gets you and everyone in your car into all kinds of federal and state lands for free?

AND all of these places are on a map:

You might have to haul your own water. You might have to sleep on a bunk and use an outhouse. You might have an encounter with wildlife… But here’s the key, the secret, the amazing truth: THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE MEMORIES! Your kids may not remember another plane flight, another vacation lodge, another trip… but they will DEFINITELY remember that time you burned your eyebrows off trying to start a fire (not that I recommend this)! They will remember that night the tent collapsed around you in a rainstorm. They will remember standing under a massive sandstone arch after a long hike in Utah. They will remember every wild deer, waterfall, and quirky roadside store. Last time I checked, all these things are free.

Sometimes I know I could do a better job as a husband and father. Sometimes I wonder if my choices are the best. But several times a year, I sit by a fire with my family, after a day filled with amazing sights and adventures that I was able to bring my family on because I researched and studied hard. I was very careful with my money. I took advantage of all the free things I could find along the way. I feel full. I feel peaceful. I feel complete. I never, ever, miss or regret giving up chasing a buck. I am super dad.
Happy camping!
-Adam Bergstrasser

Please feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet.

The On A Dime Gang Rides Again

The On A Dime Gang rides again? Well, maybe not but I liked the sound of that title so we’re sticking with it. Today, after a couple of readers wondered who made up the motley crew that is On A Dime, I thought I’d give a little transparent (embellished) overview so here we go.

View the direction of Shasta
Teri PCT at Shasta

In Los Angeles – Teri (me) is an ornithologist with a penchant for churning her own butter…. right. I had to look up ornithologist and as for butter, yep, I eat the real deal, salted and straight from Trader Joes.

We’ll start again but, warning, it’s not going to be as fun as an ornithologist.

I (Teri) am an overachieving underachiever  and truly have only come to embrace my “jack of all trades, master of none” psyche in the past year. What this means is that I know where I should be in my life, according to the world at large. I should be a teacher or a nurse or a therapist or a financial analyst (ok, THAT one is hilarious from someone who took 3 attempts to pass Algebra!). Anyway, I finally came to the conclusion that I have zero interest in any of those things and that left me with a tiny amount of what it is that does float my boat. A book, a story, a trail, and a tiny house. In short, I stumbled into a life I am falling in love with by failing miserably at a lot of endeavors I thought made sense and damned if the failing didn’t turn out to be incredible luck. I  found myself looking around and seeing people in my world that were not excited about going to work and not enthusiastic about life, rather they were plagued by physical ailments, emotional baggage, and financial sport (the constant state of coveting more).

So, what prompted On A Dime, which I launched in Feb. 2014 – isn’t “launched” a great word, like we had a marching band and speech by Louis C.K. – sorry, what prompted the site was that the people I came to envy and wanted to be like were the people seeking peace, tranquility, and answers on the road or on the trail. The kind of people  sleeping in tents in the woods. I launched 😉 the site and simultaneously accepted and embraced the fact that I make very little money and I committed to funding the travel by purchasing my clothing strictly used and from thrift stores, practicing minimalism, and eschewing expensive pastimes. I believe that people look just as amazing in hand-me-downs as designer clothes and that stunningly beautiful feelings create stunningly beautiful individuals.

Finally, I now am lucky to know that the best part of On A Dime is when readers share their favorite cost-friendly places and when I hear that someone ventured out and discovered the great outdoors. While I wish it had not taken me 40 years to go adventuring, I am grateful that I found the trail when I did. Better late than never!

And now for the other cast of characters which I will keep a little shorter as they are all overachievers so their bios require less fancy footwork. 😉

Scott & Teri PCH
Scott & Teri Pacific Coast Highway

In Oklahoma – “My Guy” (Scott McEwen) – The reason I refer to him most often as “my guy” is because he is a pretty humble guy and I think he enjoys remaining out of the spotlight, however, he is most certainly the tech half of the team and, as an air traffic control FAA Academy supervisor, On A Dime is in adept hands which allows us to fly high.

The Motley Crew consists of:

Stunning scenery
Andy Bonura in Yosemite

Andy Bonura – My cousin Andy (aka the beard), a wildly talented free-lance photographer/editor, can be difficult to locate as he divides his time between his new home with his even more adventurous mountain biking partner, Carolyn in Colorado and their journeys into the mountains to tear it up. He’s climbed Mt. Whitney too many times to count and run a 50 mile race in New Zealand as well as traversed the backcountry all over Yosemite. His bottomless optimism counters any whiners (cough, cough) and the crew is grateful when he is leading.

17 miles of stunning scenery
Lani 17 miles of stunning scenery

Lani Smith – We’ll keep Lani’s story short as she is not even aware she’s about to be outed. She’s an extraordinary cook of exotic fare and a true free spirit. When she’s not sussing out the latest musical talent in her backyard of Topanga Canyon she can be found rolling into Teri’s car, no questions asked. She simply tosses her pack on her back, grabs some of Portland’s VooDoo Donuts, and starts trekking; she proves invaluable with her super ability to sniff out the best diners as well as annoying with her ability to sniff out the most arduous hikes.

On A Dime Kids:

Lex & Jules
Lexie & Jules

Lexie, a former teacher in France and current curatorial administrator for Los Angeles County Museum Of Art is a Los Angeles resident and an expert on couchsurfing. She has traveled extensively both in the US and abroad and never lets cost derail her. She meets fascinating people all over the world and believes that avoiding the tour-group comfort zone of fellow travelers from your own back yard is the truest way to experience another culture. Her article on Couchsurfing for On A Dime is still one of our most popular posts and almost as welcome an addition as her new Dutch partner Jules, an enthusiastic trekker who has biked all of Italy’s peaks and visited more countries than can be counted on two hands. Lexie and Jules met when they struck up a conversation on a train in Europe, not a surprise, and it’s certain that their future journeys will continue to be filled with the unexpected.


Maddie is a college student in Lake Tahoe, CA as well as both a backcountry Yosemite guide (summer) and snowboard instructor (winter). She is currently pursuing her EMT so if you are hurt in the wilderness, she just might save your bacon but don’t count on her saving you any bacon.

Stop off at Lone Pine Lake right before entering the Mount Whitney permit zone
Waverly at the stop off at Lone Pine Lake right before entering the Mount Whitney permit zone

Waverly is a biology major at San Luis Obispo, CA and enjoys backpacking, surfing, and snowboarding. She blew this mom away when she saved all of her money for an entire year, working three jobs, and went trekking all over Europe, through seven countries in seven weeks. She camped, stayed in hostels, and couchsurfed, a true On A Dime kid.

Mom:Noah 2
Noah Horseshoe Meadows

Noah is a high school junior and while he is not a passionate hiker, he absolutely jumps when he hears of a camping trip, especially one where his camera can be positioned to capture stars or he believes there is a possibility of tarantulas and rattlesnakes. His cunning during a horrendous lightning storm on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was appreciated by his brave (hysterical) mom.

Hammock time
Bree & Amanda Hammock time

There are many other On A Dime joiners (sometimes victims) and I’d be remiss in not giving them a shout-out so… Bree and Amanda, your cooking and cleaning skills for the old fogies will continue to be appreciated so long as you also continue to not make us feel lame when we (we would be me) are lame and whine for Epsom salts.

And to you, the adventurers out there who have joined the On A Dime community and inspired us, I cannot thank you enough! You have brought excitement and joy to our trail and we feel it. Keep on trekking and rock on and please share with us your stories, we love hearing them!!

Feel free to “like”/share to Facebook. Grateful. <3

Wanderlust Wednesday

Today’s Wanderlust Wednesday photo essay is in conjunction with our brand new article on Telluride, Colorado and hopes to share that travel – on a dime – truly is possible even in areas with a reputation for being costly. Telluride was completely free. No charge to camp and the hiking and ghost town… well stunning and yes, FREE.

I camped it solo and after a wee bit of initial trepidation – that included an overactive imagination, engaged in ninja battles with serial killers and bears – I settled down and felt pretty embarrassed. The place can only be described as what you would envision heaven to look like. Alta Lakes sits at eleven-thousand feet and is accessed by about five miles of dirt/rock road and it is just waiting for you to put it on your list!

Feel free to pass this gem along and “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet.

Alta Lakes dusk

Bridge across the water
Bridge across the water
View from the former town
View from the former town

House view #2

View near the trailhead
View near the trailhead
Camping lakeside
Camping lakeside
On the trail
Ghost Town Trail
Road to the campground Alta
Road To Alta Lakes