This week, we caught up with Hayley Poy, a nurse and backcountry babe living in Colorado. Hayley’s figured out her perfect work/adventure balance to living a life full of travel. She’s shared with us some incredible hiking tips, including the secret to getting through a hard day in the backcountry, the value of safety and why its important to use your feet to explore a new land.
How do you make time for travel and adventure?
I never regret going on any of them. I have a great group of friends who are committed to going on at least one and usually two big backpacking trips a year so I always plan around those and ask for time off from work. We’ve gone to the Grand Canyon, Denali, Zion, Yosemite, kayaking in the Keys and most recently the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
How does your role as a nurse play into your ability to adventure?
As a nurse I work three 12 hour shifts a week which leaves me plenty of time to travel and go exploring. Fortunately I’ve never had to use my nursing skills in a major crisis in the backcountry. The most I’ve had to deal with is cuts and blisters. The worst situation I’ve encountered was when a friend got heat stroke on the way into the Grand Canyon. We had gone from snow on the rim into over 100 degree heat down in the canyon and he just wasn’t hydrating enough. We were able to get him some rest in the shade and get some shot blocks and water into him and he recovered enough to make it to camp. I did carry his pack AND mine for some distance to make sure he was ok–and that was the first time I thought to myself “I might be a badass!”
What’s more important – a high paying job that supports travel costs or loving what you do and figuring it out along the way?
I’m gonna say Secret Option C–It’s important to me to have a job that gives me the time to travel. I have friends who get very little vacation time and even though they can still go on the weekends if they’re committed, it makes it hard for them to do the big multi-day backpacking trips. Then I have friends who work at a company where everyone is into the outdoors and if we get a big dump they just say “I’m going skiing today, I’ll make up the time later” and their bosses understand and encourage it (and these are engineers, not dirtbags!). So you have to find a job that fits your lifestyle.
One more thing on this though, I think at some points in your life it is definitely okay to take a job you’re not passionate about but one that pays the bills.
What’s your favorite mode of exploring?
Definitely backpacking! You get to know the land you’re crossing in a much closer way than if you’re driving through it. On our recent trip to the Isle of Skye, we got to drive through and see some of the land we had just backpacked from the car and it was amazing how different it looked. If we had only driven it we would have thought it was pretty scenery but we wouldn’t have known that on the other side of a ridge was a cliff that dropped straight down to the sea…Or that the brown flat looking land was boggy and the green stripe by the ridge was the best footing. You don’t understand the harshness of the wind or the soft sounds of the sea from a car. You become so familiar with a land when you walk it one foot at a time.
Most memorable trip you’ve taken?
The most memorable trip I’ve taken was the summer I spent in Nepal when I was in college. We did some trekking in the Himalayas, nowhere near Everest or that level of mountaineering, but we got attacked by leaches, climbed towers of stone stairs– and at the top of which I had a hysterical breakdown. For me, that just means I just can’t stop laughing, got lost and ended up taking a “porter trail” which the villagers warned us was “very steep, very steep”, and slept in some of the most beautiful mountainside villages I have ever seen. And we did most of it in flipflops with a few pages ripped from a guidebook as our resource material!
Favorite piece of gear?
After much consideration I have to say my backpack. It’s an REI model maroon 65L (I think–it doesn’t say on it anywhere) that I’ve had for about 8 years. It has this awesome feature where you can unzip the whole front to get to things in the bottom of your pack and it has just the right amount of pockets. I got it on the REI outlet site on sale and that thing has been with me everywhere. I finally had to mend one of the seams this year but I freakin love that pack. May she never die.
What gets you through a hard day in the backcountry?
My friends and husband. We’ve been in some pretty tough and miserable places in our adventures but we always say that you don’t remember the bad things. One of my favorite stories is from the Everglades. We had to set up our tents in the dark in this field with high grass and there were so many mosquitoes they were like a cloud. My friend, Jen, ran around spraying us with deet constantly as we set up our tents and we made it a contest to see how fast we could get them up! And we still laugh about that night. When you’re tired and you feel like you can’t go another step, it makes all the difference to have that friend who will make you laugh and distract you by talking about other things.
How important is safety to you as a backcountry traveler?
Safety is super important. My husband would probably be surprised to hear me say that!! He jokes that he has the job of keeping me alive but that’s just because I like to jump off things with my mountain bike and snowboard. But in all seriousness I try to be prepared with all the knowledge and gear necessary. Whenever you are in the backcountry you are inherently taking a risk so its good to minimize whatever risks you can. When we go backcountry skiing we always make sure we take avy gear–beacons, probes and shovels and are very conservative and stay on low angle slopes. If any one in the group has any doubts or reservations about it, we don’t do it.
Do you have any travel goals for this year? Hot bucket list items?
I’m hoping to do some of the John Muir Trail, Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range, Ice Lakes Basin in Telluride, mountain bike the Monarch Crest Trail and also get back to Moab for some mountain biking there. Is that too much?! Long term my friend Jen and I are hoping to go backpacking in Patagonia for our 30ths.
Have you ever traveled solo and do you have any advice for women who want to?
I did a mountain biking trip to Moab solo last year and had tons of fun. I’ve also done a little traveling abroad solo. In some ways its easier because you just decide what you’re going to do and go do it rather than consulting a group. My advice would be just be aware of your surroundings and be smart about what you do. I stayed away from some of the gnarlier trails in Moab because I was by myself. Also take a good book!