I Picked a Woman


The Japanese call it, “forest bathing”: Shinrin-yoku (森林浴). The tiny dry trees of the pygmy forest slipped away into dense redwoods as we descended towards the roots and the green canopy rose to cover us. Our pores eagerly soaked in the green aliveness. The quiet drew us out of our thoughts and gently tugged us into our sensitive feet on the earthy path and brought the giggling water to our ears.

Months earlier, in an attempt to show Angella what had shaped me, I dragged her to the desert for the Burning Man festival. We stayed out all night, as tradition dictates, and danced and explored and wondered until the sun peeked back around the earth to see what it was all about. As we made our exhausted happy way home we passed endless huggings of humans cuddling on couches to watch the orangy sun’s arrival, their furry outfits covered in the ubiquitous powder of the place. I pulled her closer and said, “I just want to end up in a dustly little pile with you.”

burning man signburning man 2014

Now in these wet woods we moved towards the river that had wiggled and snuggled down into the earth until it was held by the valley it had formed. The bridge called for kisses and we acquiesced. The water in stereo, the sweet lips, and my warm heart felt like it wasn’t worth waiting any longer. “I have something for you,” I said. My hands did a great job of drawing out the tiny Indian medicine bag and my body only began to fail me as I went down on one knee. Somehow my lungs weren’t putting out the same kind of air and my words were a bundle of sticks.

She opened the bag, peeked into the acorn inside and saw the playa dust collected from an important year at Burning Man. I managed to say, “Will you stay with me until we end up in a dustly little pile together?”

When she could speak she made me say the other words too. We sprinkled each other with dust and she said, “yes.”

indian medicine pouch
kai brewery
angella brewery
North Coast Brewing Company (very tasty)
Whale watching
The wine sophisticate
Very odd – a huge Chinese Buddhist monastery of some kind – almost completely empty but for a little vegetarian restaurant. Very “X-Files”.
When Vigor and Compassion come together!
kiss at ocean

What Is He Doing In There?

Frequent readers may have noticed that there has been a great lull. A series of impersonal gear-related posts and then silence. Oh sure, you say, there have been lulls. But this lull, this particular silence, was not the empty silence of naught, but rather a darker silence of mystery. “What has Kai been doing in there, in the internet, away from this public space?” There is the sense that something is stirring.

Indeed my keys have not been still. There has been no less tapping and muttering here, dear friends. I find myself, however, aiming my scribbly resources at a bank of words, a bank that, in time, will return something to you of great interest.

Since the time of my poisoning and recovery I have been on a journey of a different kind. While it is not in any way a new journey, it is my personal version of that ancient tale. It is also, in these times, endemic of a whole cast of characters riding alongside me, each of us in our little rubber rafts.

I do not know where the river ends, or when we will reach the great falls. Before that day, before the fall and my keys go silent, I hope to choose for you a bundling of waymarkers and tales. In short, yep, I’m writing a book.

I missed my chance to chronicle my days in the first wave of dot coms. I missed the next as I rode the independent film wave. One thing that became clear to me as I watched my life ebb in Taiwan was that, given another chance, I had two gifts left to give: my ability to listen and my ability to share. I’m alive and riding my third wave. I’m doing my best to give both.

Thailand On One Shoulder

Sometimes you find yourself staring into an abyss and something, a quiet voice inside, whispers at you, encouraging you to jump in and see how far you can go. I was standing over my bed, frozen for a moment as I lost myself looking deep into a tiny green bag. I had just pulled it out of its mushy brown mailing envelope. The nylon seemed tough and light and crinkled slightly in my hands. I opened it up and held it there, peering into the darkness. It seemed vast. Slowly the thought formed. What if… What if instead of having this be a tiny crushable day bag that fits into my pack… what if it was my pack? What if, for my entire trip to Thailand, I risked carrying only what would fit inside a bag that was supposed to roll up inside of a “normal” bag?

I’ve already done quite a bit to squeeze my life into a little book bag. All I had to do was trim back a little bit more and still have enough to survive. Of course, if I was just going to Thailand plenty of people survive with a pair of shorts. But nothing is ever that easy. On the way back, I had a ten hour layover in Korea in the middle of winter. This bag was going to have to carry enough gear to travel all through Thailand and survive temperatures down to 14 degrees F.

Little ULtralight Parrot Bag REI Flash 22

First things first: the backpack I started with was an REI “Stuff” Travel Daypack. It’s a great little bag, but as I considered it holding everything I thought about not just the size, but also the weight. I grabbed the nearly identical REI Flash 22, which has a waist belt. I figured that it might save my aching shoulders if I found myself hiking for hours (I spend a lot of time lost) and had managed to somehow make this thing super heavy. You never know what kind of alluringly beautiful river stones you might find along the trail.

(Side note: sadly, it looks like they stopped selling this thing in this parrot green color. It was perfect for Thailand!)

What Changed To Make This Possible

The collection inside wasn’t that different from my older kit, but the changes were significant.

First is the discovery, since then, of this incredible change to my life: Wool: Edible Ultralight Clothes. (My blogged page of praise not unlike what you’ll find slathered all over the internets.) It’s pretty much all I wear now in “normal” life and served me perfectly over a wide range of temperatures there too. I even broke out the little beanie in the mountains and, in fact, I’m wearing it right now as I look out over chilly, rainy San Francisco. OK, I need to stop typing or I’ll write another entire giddy page about this stuff.

These have been with me quite a while, but really proved themselves again: Ultralight Sandals. I wore these things through much of Thailand when I wasn’t literally barefoot. They slipped thinly into a pocket of the Parrot Bag.

(Long time readers will also now realize why I kept writing gear posts over the last week – they were all in support of this one! I promise the next will be more personal.)

Everything I Needed in Thailand

The Big One: No Laptop

This was the biggest change and, yeah, a tough call. As a scribbler I really like being able to write longer things. But I went with a moleskin and an iPhone instead and for 2.5 weeks, it worked out fine. The iPhone is basically a little pocket computer, capable of almost anything I needed. (I should note that it’s unlocked: I payed a premium up front but as a traveler I want to be able to grab a $10 sim card anywhere in the world and run with it.) If I go any longer in the future, I’ve considered picking up a folding bluetooth keyboard. Since I’m primarily just wanting a keyboard for writing, this may actually carry me pretty far in travel mode and it’s $30 instead of $2000 for a laptop. That’s a big difference if it gets destroyed. If I camp out on a beach somewhere to finish one of my book projects, though, I’ll definitely want my Mac Air. It would add weight, but would also just squeeze into the back of this bag. (The power supply weight would actually be the bigger issue.)


I brought along some of these really cool Eagle Creek compression sacks. These are basically giant ziplock bags with valves at one end. Lay clothes inside, zip, roll out the air with a little ppphhhhhhttt and they stay ultra compressed. I loved these things and they worked great but, in the end, I probably didn’t need the extra space they gave me. I really was amazed at how much room I had in this 22L bag.

How Freakin Heavy Was It?

It turns out the whole thing, stuffed with food, was a little over 12 lbs. That’s it. Most of the time I wore one strap over my shoulder, sometime two, and never once did I use the hip belt. I should point out that the hip belt is removable, so if I wanted to I could have ditched it at any time.

No shame gloating in the customs lines every time a guard asked, “is that it?”

Chico Day BackpackIt turns out that the Parrot Bag had so much room left, I was able to pack another crushable day pack in for recursion points: the Chico packable day pack
. (Here is a good overview of packable day packs by another ultralight guy.) It wasn’t necessary, but certainly nice to be able to throw my water bottle, jacket and Nook into the “day” bag as I headed out without having to empty the main bag. With a day bag I love being able to take layers on and off, knowing I’ll be comfortable no matter what comes, without worrying about where to put them. I’m also a bit hypoglycemic and vegan so I like to have food and water with me at all times. Nothing worse than wandering around realizing I’m hours from food I can eat and so cranky and bent up from low blood sugar that I can’t find a way back.

The Cold

Yep. No problem. From the picture of all the gear you can see that I have made the switch to carrying both the Montbell Jacket and vest and no warm long-sleeved shirt. I could pop through any combination and hang in any range of temperatures, and with the North Face jacket over the top I could evade rain and snow too! This combination was amazing, and I didn’t miss the long sleeved Patagonia at all. I am really happy with this set up. Always comfortable. Note: I also went snowboarding in this same outfit in -7F a while back.

The Pile

Backup battery! This flashlight/iphone battery backup was awesome and works as a flashlight as well! Great when I started using the iPhone as my camera and map.

I didn’t link to everything, like the harmonica I now carry or the moleskine, but here’s the rest of the pile with links. For questions about what’s worked out after 3 years of living ultralight, check out the post (yet to come) on 3 Years in the Same Pants. (Yeah, the pants, for one.)

Edible Ultralight Clothes

I’ve been working on lightweight living for a number of years now, and I’ve finally found the perfect fabric. Like most of the things you find for this kind of living, they’re insanely expensive but you only need two. In this case, these shirts are breathable, quick drying (sink wash and overnight dry-able for the essential ultralight quick turnaround) look good and, strangely and most amazingly, smell great forever. Here is a guy who blogged his way through two weeks without washing it. The company even has a blog dedicated to epic smell free weeks of spills and secretions.

kai return flight in blue icebreaker

As a kid hiking through the rockies my dad went on and on about how, “wool keeps you warm — even when it’s wet!” But what I remember was trying to see how long I could stay in one of those sweaters as terrifying itches crawled all over my skin. Now thanks to years of fiber hacking someone else did for me, I can hardly get myself out of these things they are so comfortable. I’ve been living pretty much exclusively in Icebreaker wool shirts since winter 2012 and still wearing the first ones I bought.

A Helpful Death

I also love that now I wear clothes that can return to the earth with me. Here’s what happens when you bury an Icebreaker shirt for a few months. Of course, this also means that they are full of delicious proteins and I now have a competitor, a nemesis, who loves my shirts as much as me and has no respect for property rights: moths! Fortunately as long as I’ve kept my shirts clean and out of their way I’ve been fine the last few years.

Buttery Underwear

kai return flight in blue icebreaker

Thanks to used sales on ebay I’ve been able to afford to collect a few more things including a delightfully smurf blue hoodie that is my only warm long sleeved shirt, a crazy light, breathable and warm pocket beanie and two pairs of underwear that are like wearing butter (well, ok, but they’re just so soft!) The underwear is also, I should add, much lighter and easier to wash than ExOfficio boxers, although the ExOfficios are so much cheaper they’re still most of my gear. (And, I should add, very durable. Haven’t given up on a pair yet.)

My synthetic ultralight shirts have long ago become so stinky or pilled that I abandoned them. (With the exception of one North Face shirt that they stopped making years ago… why?!) For shirts I’m completely sold on the Icebreaker wool from here out.


One note on weight: the tech lite t-shirts aren’t much heavier than most of the synthetics and are completely worth it. The pocket beanie is tiny. The underwear are much lighter than anything else. The hoodies and long sleeved things… are noticeably heavy enough that I wouldn’t travel with them, at least not for extreme ultralight. For that I’m sticking to the insanely amazing Mont Bell UL Thermawrap, still one of my favorite pieces of clothing of all time. More on that in the Thailand Next Level Ultralight Challenge post, where I attempt to travel in temperatures from 95F to 14F in a backpack designed to be small enough to hide inside other backpacks.

icebreaker hoodies

icebreaker t shirt

icebreaker underwear

icebreaker pocket beanie

Other People

One guy’s fond farewell to an icebreaker t-shirt after 1400 miles of hiking.