Last Day in Town!

Today is my last full day in town. I fly up to Anchorage tomorrow afternoon as our “advance” team – I’m going up a day early with all of our stuff that looks like weapons (we call them “sharps”) and all of our stuff that can cook or combust (three stoves!) so that I can fly at a manageable time of day, and also be the negotiation-friendly battering ram to get our gear through any hiccups it may encounter.

The other girls will fly out at the too-wee-for-me hour of 6am on Sunday (with a 4ish am start time).

On the Anchorage side we’ll be received by one of my close friends and trail buddies from college, Gil, at whose home I’ll stay on Saturday night. Sunday morning we’ll be out of bed early to get to the airport to grab the girls, and then we’ll drive straight from Anchorage to Talkeetna in a two car caravan, ideally after a decent breakfast, assuming everyone and everything arrives on time.

We have a 2:45pm check in with the rangers at the Talkeetna Ranger Station where we’ll be given the all clear to head out and get our Clean Mountain Can (where the poop goes as we climb), and we’ll bed down for the night at a modest hotel in Talkeetna, before (hopefully) flying out first thing on Monday, which would be at or after 8am, Alaska Time, although that will depend on weather.

In the meantime, here’s what life looks like this morning:

I woke up today to the urgent desire to go to REI, at 7am, because I’ve decided to switch up the way I’m sacking my food bags, so need a few more. Since REI doesn’t open until 9, you get this blog post. ūüėČ

My Google Keep to-do list. Dwindling in length, and starting to feel manageable.

My Google Keep to-do list. Dwindling in length, and starting to feel manageable.

This is the Google Keep app that I’ve used to track my to-dos, and which I check more¬† times per day¬†than Facebook. ūüėČ Each of the things that is on there isn’t on there because I haven’t tried to do it yet – it’s still on because of a hiccup.

My BD Guide gloves are the reason I’m up so early, and aren’t waterproofed yet because I lost the waterproofer they came with. Rather than sanely heading to REI to fork over the remainder of my dough, though, I felt compelled to search the house, top to bottom, sure I would find it. Instead…you can find me at REI today, a little after 9. I would have hurried up and gotten this done by now, but I knew I had most of two days for them to dry, and today and tomorrow off, so decided not to sweat it too badly. But yes – those gloves (and the need to give them enough time to dry) are why I’m up early. You’ll note “locate BD waterproofer” is still on there – what can I say? I’m stubborn.

Similarly, drying out the stoves is on the to-do list because I knew I had two solid days of sunshine coming up, but moreover, because I wanted to set them outside to dry out, but we have a very active raven/crow (which are they?)¬†population, and I had this nightmarish image of them swooping in to sneak off with my stove parts with me oblivious, and not finding out until one of the other girls tries to light the stove on Denali. So the stove drying out waiting until today is really about me managing paranoia! I’m literally going to sit here and watch our stoves dry. Like paint, but more essential.

Other places in my house, it looks like this:

wpid-wp-1431098483210.jpgThat’s 26 “day bags” of food on the right side, with a day bag consisting of all my food from breakfast through to the hot drink and instant soup we’ll eat once we sit down in camp to heat water for dinner (the hot drink and soup are to fend off the “hangry”, and keep everyone happy while we wait for water to heat). The only food not in my day bags at this point is the cheese, which goes with the triscuits, which I’m going to vacuum seal into little baggies today, to try to preserve the triscuits intact. In front of the food is a luggage scale (handy-dandy, these days) and some extra stuff sacks, which are also piled on top of the whole mess.

We’re each bringing 5 “just add water and eat” high elevation meals – those are in the foreground. I went fancy on the risotto on the left – I promise to report back. The ‘Joy of Cooking’ is just there as a bookend, and on the left is Dr. Andy Luks’ guide to recognizing altitude sickness, which I plan on reviewing today.

Under the stuff sacks in the middle is my most exciting purchase -a new camera!!! I splurged (sort of) and bought a new camera even though my circa 2008 Nikon Coolpix would do. I got the Sony DSC RX100 I, after much agonizing and collection of data and reading of reviews, and when it came down to it I picked it because it had the larger sensor and the images would look better printed (or so they tell me). I haven’t even taken it out of the box (or the bag) yet, so my reward for getting through all my to-dos today will be playing with it as I head out for a last, nice dinner with Ed tonight, and then as we do brunch and hopefully sneak in a walk to the beach before I leave tomorrow. If I had more money right now I would have gotten the RX100 III, but this will still very much be an improvement over the Coolpix!

I ought to mention here that I feel very lucky we have such a spacious place – I often tease my boyfriend for having a house with a bit more floor space than two people need, but lately we’ve utilized every foot of it – and then some. Last weekend the girls were here alllll (and I do mean allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll) day Saturday and most of Sunday doing food packing and gear packing and sled-coffin weighing… and we had sufficient parking and space for all of it, and then some. So thank you to Ed, for sharing this big lovely house with me, and allowing me to fill it to the brim with climbing gear! ūüėČ

And about that space – here’s what the other spaces look like:

wpid-wp-1431098585918.jpgThis is our gear room, and this photo makes me so happy I could burst. This is some seriously organized gear!!!

I’m one clothing stuff sack short of ready to throw these things into my duffel (lower left) and backpack upper left-center, just out of the shot, hence the REI urgency – really it’s just a matter of which stuff sack I’m not using for food, and that one will carry my remaining clothes. Because we have all our sharps in a sled, we have very little technical gear still out, and most of the rest is soft stuff. The pile in the lower right hand corner, plus my boots, will travel to Alaska in a¬†carry-on, because we’ll be wearing them on the glacier when we fly in!

Otherwise you’re looking at my gaiters and overboots (both black in the middle-ish), a lingering extra glove decision to be made (also black in the middleish), a pile of cordage plus biners plus ascender plus tibloc plus harness on the left (seriously in need of better organizing – one of my to-dos today), a pile of food stuff (next to my boots and helmet) and then the following stuff sacks, from left to right: “head and foot” stuff sack (everything from spare socks to spare gloves to balaclava to sun hat), NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad, clothing stuff sack (green), first aid/toiletries/self-care items (everything from sunblock to deodorant to lady-business stuff), my super warm high elevation parka (black stuff sack), the group food I’m carrying (orange), a small stuff sack with toe and hand warmers (I have terrible circulation!) 4 stove bottles, and three black stove bags. The sleeping bag is out so the down doesn’t get any more compacted, and the foam mat goes too. The biggest piece of group gear I’m carrying is our tent, in its entirety – we have two matching Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tents, and I’ll have one. On the right are our radios, getting good and charged up before we go.

Finally, the gear “coffins”, and our wands. We take two sleds and put them together to carry our sharp stuff, and put duck (duct?) tape all around them to keep ’em together. One is closed and ready to go – the other needs to be taped up, but is also ready, since Ed helped me get a different sled than I had planned to use all prepared the other night. (My sled is the sweet one standing up on the left). The sleds are waiting in the hallway to our carport, to be whisked away to the airport.

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And that’s all she wrote! I’m off to nail down the to-do list – you can find me at REI mulling stuff sacks, or doing a stare down today with crows as our stoves dry out, if you need me. ūüėČ 1 more day!!!

10 Questions with: Meredith!

As we wind our way into April (crazy!), there’s a lot on our minds and several items on our to-do lists, although each of us is focused on and working hard to address different things. Over the next few days each of us will post a “10 Questions With:” blog entry, to each answer the same 10 overall questions and ¬†share what we’re thinking, what we’re doing, and where our head is at with regards to the rapidly approaching Denali climb.
First up? Yours truly.
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1. What has been the biggest change in your day-to-day life since beginning to train for this climb? What are you doing this spring that you wouldn’t normally be doing, at this time?
Can I say “spraining my stupid ankle” without sounding like a petulant seven year old? Because spraining my stupid ankle definitely became a defining experience in this training period. It was frustrating (and somewhat agonizing) to get super amped up to really get started and put in the training time with the rest of the girls, then go out on our first all day conditioning hike, and slip on ice …while standing still looking at the view. And it sucked to stay home while they went out to train, a few of those earliest weekends. It made me feel 100 years old. 100, and seven, apparently.
My sister during a recent visit, "helping" me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little - by mimicking me, like a dork. :)

My sister during a recent visit, “helping” me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little – by mimicking me, like a dork. ūüôā

The biggest change post ankle, though, has been the addition of actual weight training (weight lifting) to my weekly workout routine, and that of ramping up that routine much earlier than usual (early January versus late February). I’m carrying 45 lbs, as of this week, and would normally be at about 35 right now.
Jenn pulling weights around back in February

Jenn pulling weights around back in February

In terms of weight-training – in early February we got together at Leigh Ann’s gym, Level 4 Crossfit, to talk about specific training movements to focus on, and pull sleds loaded with weight. Leigh Ann made a list of upper body and core workouts to focus on, and rather than keep track of them individually, I took a photo of the wipeboard, and then turned them into a checklist in my Droid’s ‘Keep’ app that I run through every single time I’m at the Y, checking them off as I go (very satisfying, psychologically). I do all the upper body and core stuff twice a week for about an hour and a half, and afterwards, I’m totally wiped – to the point where my arms tremble while I open my gym locker. Weight-lifting is hard (and a bit intellectually un-engaging) but I have the core (back and waist-area) resilience, and hunky new biceps, to prove it’s worth it!
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2. We’ve each purchased or borrowed a ton of gear for the trip – what two or three Denali-specific new items are you absolutely loving right now, and is there anything that simply didn’t work for you, and that you returned right away?
Some of my favorite gear I’m taking on this trip is old gear: circa 2011 Patagonia Expedition 4 black long underwear pants (the newer Exped 4s are¬†really thin!), and a pair of white Elita long underwear that I got way back when I first started¬†backpacking, from my parents. There’s nothing like the old standbys.
Me in my "new" Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I've ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it's fuzzy).

Me in my “new” Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I’ve ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it’s fuzzy).

In terms of new gear: I bought a new hardshell jacket (hardshell = plastic-like wind-blocking external layer) from Patagonia, sized bigger than I normally would so that it can cover all my layers, and I took it out for a test-drive this weekend and kinda love it. It’s their Patagonia Alpine Houdini, and it’s a super stripped down, super lightweight layer, complete with tiiiiny zippers! Although I admit, I wish it had pockets! (They left ’em off because it’s supposed to be super light – hence the “Houdini”). Plus, I like it because mine is purple. And that’s not because I’m a girl – it’s because I like purple!
Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive Spantiks!

Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive as all get-out Spantiks!

I also love (love, love, love) my La Sportiva Spantik (Carolyn rather adorably calls them “Sputniks”) boots, which look like moonshoes. The Spantiks are double boots (so there are two individual lace-up boots you wear on each foot – one nests inside the other), as opposed to plastics (which have a hard plastic shell, like ski boots). The Spantiks were my biggest, splurgiest purchase – they cost more than I have ever paid in monthly rent, to put it in perspective. I really wrestled with whether I should get those, or the Koflach Artis Expe plastic boots, which are about $300 cheaper (I actually bought and took home both, and then stared at the two pairs obsessively for most of February before making a decision), but I realized that most of the time when faced with a decision like this, I go for pragmatism and choose the cheaper option, and I’ve been known to suffer for that in the past. But my feet are literally what’s going to carry me up the mountain – so I went for the fancy option, this time, and haven’t regretted it whatsoever. And to quote the MountainTrip gear list¬†– what’s $750 divided by 10 toes? $75 a toe? The most expensive boots of my life, for sure, but keeping toes is worth at least that much. (Don’t worry mom and dad – losing toes is extremely unlikely!)
Other goodies I’m loving – the Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero parka I bought with a killer deal (in bright orange, no less), even though it’s sized for a dude with a barrel chest and I’m pretty sure I could fit Jenn in there with me(!), and Leigh Ann’s super sweet new Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tent! So sweet! So much internal storage! Such bright colors!
Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that's not quite what I meant. But I like it, so let's leave that here...

Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that¬†didn’t quite come out how I meant it… But, whatever. ūüėČ

Finally, can I cast a “cool gear” vote for Leigh Ann’s sweet new climbing bibs, which I can’t seem to find in my size anywhere, for the absolute life of me,¬†but¬†I’m sure she’ll tell you about?
 
3. Which logistical or planning-related decision are you feeling most thoughtful about, or has you worried?
I’m not worried about much, to be honest – I’m a pretty level-headed, logical task manager, and that trait has been very much present these last two months. I think the main thing I’m¬†worried about is what you might call the “controversial leave-behinds” – the question of how many shovels to bring, how many probes, whether to bring our avalanche beacons, and whether to bring helmets. (I’d be interested in the perspective of other people on this issue, I should note). A lot of the rescue gear we carry in the Cascades is more disproportionately useful in the Cascades, and so some climbers leave it behind for trips like Denali, but having been trained to compulsively wear one’s beacon…it’s really hard to contemplate leaving it behind, ever.
 
4. What’s your go-to snack for food on the mountain? The Denali Girls are planning for hot breakfasts and hot dinners – what will you be eating the rest of the time?
I can’t do bars or oatmeal, and I don’t eat meat, so no jerky, which pretty much makes me the most difficult mountain eater imaginable. I would rather do raw, unadulterated nuts (of almost any kind), straight up chocolate, or absolute crap candy (hello, gummy bears!) than anything else. Normally I’d carry raw almonds, dried apricots, Stretch Island, single serving fruit leather things that were all the rage a few years back, and Primal Strips –¬†pseudo-paleo vegetarian snack strips, as well as a few pieces of honest-to-god candy, around here. I also regularly steal dried mango from Trader Joe’s and peanut M&Ms from my boyfriend, here in Washington. In Alaska I’m anticipating a lot of fruit chews and some gels (consistency is a hang up of mine – I think oatmeal has the consistency of that which shall not be named, and some of those gels – don’t even get me started). So I’m experimenting a lot with what snacky foods to bring, and would very much welcome creative suggestions!
 
5. What new food or drink products have you added to your daily life since starting preparations for the climb? What do you like the best?
This is one of my favorite questions, because I’m so pleasantly surprised by my answer. Coco Libre, a company that makes coconut water fortified with added protein, agreed to sponsor us by providing product (a few boxes full of single-serving, to-go containers of coconut milk) and I felt a little gun-shy at first, because the last time I tried coconut water that wasn’t straight from a coconut, I didn’t like it. The Coco Libre stuff is¬†awesome,¬†thought, and I’m completely addicted. Current training philosophy suggests that consuming additional protein after a work out aids in muscle recovery, so for awhile my fridge was totally stocked with the squeezable containers of it, and I’d grab one and throw it in my workout bag before heading to the gym. The chocolate one and the vanilla one are particuarly awesome, and both have additional protein added.
Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I'm ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I’m ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

I’ve also added a fish oil supplement, whey protein shakes, and other healthy bits (plus more eggs for breakfast: protein source), but don’t have much more to say about that beyond – yeah – I’m doing it. Those whey protein shakes are pretty good – that BCAA-G stuff in “Lemonade” is headed back to the store as soon as I have a minute. The Omega-3 vitamins are the size of horse pills. Gulp.
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6. What’s the most interesting, most complicated, or most useful skill or technique you’ve learned or perfected over the last few months?
Working with the sleds is pretty interested, pretty challenging, and just kinda cool. Probably just that experience, of wearing a huge backpack while towing a full-loaded sled last weekend. I felt so super strong (and so super wiped out afterwards!)
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7. What’s still on your Denali to-do list? Give us a sample of the things you’re about to get to, or make decisions about, this week.
So. many. things. The most obvious are filling my gear holes (which are somehow more glaring than those of the other girls) – I still need a new pair of crampons, insulated overboots (which are like a wetsuit that covers your entire boot and lower leg), a bigger harness (sized to go over all the new clothes I’ll be wearing), an extra pair of long underwear, new glacier glasses (SO over my old ones!) and down booties. Like I said, I’m a little behind. Eeek. Other things – confirming our flight date and travel plans, ride information, etc. The biggest single thing we’re still working with as a group is our food planning – that’s a whole other challenge, with our varied diets and desire to travel light (freeze-dry allll the things…)
[Editor’s Note: writing this entry induced enough panic that as of yesterday I now have the overboots, long underwear, and down booties. I also don’t have $600 that I did yesterday…]
 
8. What does your training or conditioning schedule look like this week, for example? Is there any one part of your physical conditioning that has most noticeably changed your physique?
In a nutshell: two days outside last weekend – Saturday: sled work and snow camping, Sunday, hiking the big slope on the approach to Rock Lake. Monday: wasn’t feeling so hot – too much business travel wedged between a lot of climbing training. Tuesday: got stuck in traffic-pocalypse and missed my stair climbing plans (please see “Overturned fish truck on Viaduct ruined everyone’s day” – because, yep, thanks for that, Seattle). Tonight I’m working around social plans (with climbers – ha!) to hit up the West Seattle Y, first, and get my core and upper body workout in. Thursday I’m hoping to swim in the morning (for some active recovery and additional cardio),and then do our night hike with 45 lbs. I’m angling¬†to take Friday off from work so that Jenn and I can head to the Mountaineers, hang off the roof, and give me a chance to practice escaping the crevasse by passing a sled, which the other girls practiced back when my ankle was still too messed up to bear weight. Then Saturday we condition again (45 lbs), and Saturday night we’re doing a “sleepover” at Jenn’s down to enjoy some downtime together but also get a bunch of small to-dos done! Sunday afternoon is real downtime, and then Monday it all starts over, again. The pace, at this point, is a little bit unrelenting.
And yes, on the physique – my core feels totally strong (which I partially attribute to the swimming I did most days in February!) and my biceps and shoulders could give Popeye a run for his money. ūüėČ
 
9. What are you reading or listening to right now? Denali books, or training books, or books to give you a break from all of the above?
I’m trying to concurrently finish Steve House’s book ‘Training for the New Alpinism,’ and Colby Coombs’ ‘Denali: The West Buttress,’ which is a matter of fact treatment of what the climb entails. I had dropped both when we got really busy training, so that’s the goal for early April.
 
10. What, to you, would make for a successful climb? Is there one moment or experience you are most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to landing on the glacier – I think that’s going to be a bit mind-blowing – like whoa – we’re really doing this, we’re really here. To me a successful climb is everyone going up and coming down friends, and each woman feeling empowered to speak her mind about what we do from day to day, and feeling heard, and engaged in the decision-making. I’m less attached to the summit (to all summits, really) than a lot of people – for me it’s all about the adventure, and always has been. Even if something happens and I end up sitting down at basecamp, waiting for the other girls to come back – it will be an adventure, an experience, a great story. I just realized as I typed this that I have the perfect fortune cookie taped to my computer monitor, to sum it up:
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
I’ll take a bit of daring, please!

Denali Prep Bottom Ten: Kinda Sorta Really Not My Most Favorite Things‚Ķ!

Yesterday I wrote a blogpost¬†on my favorite things about preparing for Denali. Today, the Not so Favorite Things list (although there’s only 4¬†– phew!)

This is my "less than stoked" face, and for that matter, all the gear I usually carry that's not rugged or warm enough to bring.

This is my “less than stoked” face, and, for that matter, a photo of all the gear I usually carry that’s not rugged or warm enough to bring.

1. The Spend. Good god, the spend! Gear is so expensive! Taking shortcuts to save money is¬†so scary! If I¬†keep the slightly-less-expensive OR Women’s Luminary Glove as my functional, high dexterity, super¬†warm pre-summit glove, and everyone else is wearing the almost twice as expensive considered-standard, the BD Guide Glove, will I live to regret it? And will my fingers? There is tons (and tons) of gear purchasing advice out there for aspiring Denali climbers, and it’s really easy to lose one’s composure trying to sort out where it’s ok to save a few $$, and where to really invest one’s dollars (it feels like the answer to the latter is “on everything”). Even with lots of great loaner gear and other forms of assistance, this climb has already turned out to be more expensive than I anticipated (or at least, it has been much more painful to shell out thousands of dollars to make it happen). I really struggle with the spend.

2. Random Internet¬†Advice. This is not the same as the much-treasured “advice from friends,” or “advice from our community.” But there is simply so much advice out there, that you can drown in it. And a lot of it is bad advice. Advice from random people online who solo-ed Denali? Not really what I’m looking for right now. Advice from random people online who went “ultralight,” ie cut down on pounds by eliminating some of the warmer and heavier and more protecting items on a gear list? Also not interested.

When we started preparing for our climb we found the gear list overwhelming. There are some lists online, generally, on blogs and such, but the most comprehensive lists we found were on the sites of companies that run climbs, like that of Alpine Ascents International, Rainier Mountaineering Inc, and Mountain Trip. So we began the process of winnowing down the gear lists by making a long spreadsheet with everything our own common sense, experience, and research said we’d need, and created fields for what each of those companies recommend (and what they simply don’t allow). We created another column for Ed’s Denali gear, and populated it with the specific brands and items that he took along with him, which allowed us to more or less triangulate what would be a useful or appropriate piece of gear to bring, and what would not. This was a good process for me – we created columns for each of us on our spreadsheet, and shared it across our group, so that we could ask questions and offer feedback to each other, and also observe which way the other girls were inclined to go (this is where my obsession with the Guide vs Luminary Gloves comes from!)

Here’s a screenshot of our gear list, as of today (group gear, or shared items, are in yellow):

Denali Gear ListGetting gear advice from people online can be risky, though. I spent some time on the Mountain Hardwear website considering their Absolute Zero Parka the other day, and was totally irked by the absolutely useless and irrelevant review of a well-meaning woman who described her husband as a “true freezy cat” and so bought him this (NEGATIVE FORTY DEGREE-RATED!) parka as a Christmas present. I mean, c’mon, people. A negative 40 bag that costs $800¬†for your husband to take the dog out in the winter? I think your husband should¬†suck it up and rally.¬†Jeez. We spent a lot of time last weekend making fun of you, freezy cat lady.

3. The packing and unpacking of gear.¬†I wrote about this on my “About Meredith” page, but good god I hate packing and unpacking gear – especially food. I could go on about this at length, but let it suffice to say that we have massive volumes of gear, and it all needs to be cleaned up and put away and dried or washed between each use, and then repacked. And when you’re using your gear several times a week, that gets old. The following may or may not be a photo of my not-yet-dealt-with gear from last weekend, which I’m headed home to repack for this weekend, tonight. And I do mean to say that everything you can see in the hallway needs to go with me…except the sled (orange).

 (Eeek. Don't tell the other Girls I still haven't dealt with my gear yet!)

(Eeek. Don’t tell the other Girls I still haven’t dealt with my¬†gear yet!)

4. The Sheer Number of Things to Wonder About, and Look Into

Here’s a screenshot of my inbox – see anything “just for fun” or non-Denali related in there? Me neither.

My inbox. All Denali, all the time.

My inbox. All Denali, all the time.

There is a LOT to figure out on a Denali climb, and a lot of small details to go over. Food, nutrition (which is actually separate from food), funding help, tents to borrow, books to read – they’re all in there. We’ve been sending so many emails on Denali¬†topics that sometimes it’s tempting to ignore one’s email entirely – but then again, a lot of these decisions are really, really, really(!) important, and require our time and patience to sort out how we want to go about doing what we’ve set out to achieve.

All in all, the Denali prepping isn’t too hard, terrible, or taxing – but those are definitely a few of my (least!) favorite things!!!