We’ll Be Back!

Hi, everyone!

Autumn’s arrival heralds many spectacular gifts: crisp breezes, the scent of pumpkin spice, and the satisfying crunch of dried leaves beneath our boots. It is also the time of the year where we, as students, dive headfirst into our textbooks and practically live in the secluded cubicles on our library’s designated “quiet floor.” This year is no exception. As always, both Colin and I will be chasing after some exciting goals of our own. But this time, we will be continents apart.

Colin will be embarking upon the adventure of a lifetime by studying abroad for three months in Kenya and Tanzania with The School for Field Studies. He’ll be going on awesome backpacking expeditions, aiding local villages through his research, and gaining valuable insight and experience that will ultimately make him an awesome wildlife conservation biologist. I’ll remain in the United States to continue pursuing my own research interests and projects, achieve my Level 1 Kingian Nonviolence Trainer certification, and fully immerse myself in our university’s Peer Advocacy program, amongst a thousand other things. Needless to say, we’re both very excited!

With us being on two different continents and being busy as ever, our hiking trips will unfortunately be put on hold, but only for a few months! We will post intermittently about our own experiences during this time, but as of now, the regular schedule won’t be back in place until the semester ends. When life starts back up again in the spring, you can find our new adventures right here on Mud, Sweat & Mountaineers!

Infinite love, hugs, and successful adventures,

Katie and Colin

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Wisdom: As Taught by the Sloth Gurus

Sloths are ugly. That’s a blatant lie, but a great hook.

Actually, sloths are amazing creatures, and just after completing my junior year, I had the unique opportunity to work with them directly at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica. I’d never personally seen a sloth, but I’d heard accounts of their cuteness (confirmed by the adorable videos circling around YouTube), and studied them briefly in mammalogy and ecology classes. Yet nothing could have prepared me for my first meeting with a sloth. Their curious, loving, bright, yet lethargic demeanor became immediately apparent when I entered their cages. Depending on the number of fingers and the sloth’s overall personality, I could expect any number of greetings ranging from a deluge of licks, to an excited rush to maul my face, to a sloth-hug (which, if allowed, would probably never end), or a torrent of piss to cleanse the cage for my arrival.

From an ecological standpoint, sloths are fascinating to me. Contrary to popular belief, the sloth has a similar sleeping schedule to humans and can be active both day and night. Their survival strategy is relatively unique in the world of mammals; they choose to conserve energy and avoid predators simply by doing nothing. The sloth has also developed a symbiotic relationship with algal cells contained within groves on their individual hairs (which gives them a greenish hue), and with a moth that feeds on the algae, which keeps it fresh. These relationships, along with its lethargic lifestyle, allow the sloth to avoid predation and competition by simply passing for a (cute) patch of moss on a tree. The ecologist in me could go on forever with facts and speculations about the sloth, because, frankly, the brilliance of their life-strategy utterly fascinates me. But I guess I’m just a nerd (Katie confirms).

My day began with a 5:50 AM wakeup, a cup of coffee, and a walk over to the cages for the morning feeding and cleaning. This consisted of sweeping out old food, documenting urination and defecation (sloths poop rainbows), and a water-vinegar wash of the shelves used by the sloths within their cages. This was always an adventure because we usually had to work our way around the sloths: carrying them away from the doors, pulling plates from beneath their butts, and dodging cuddles and kisses. The morning feeding consisted of beans and leaves for the sloths to munch on and I would usually spend a while in each cage hand-feeding every sloth before moving on to the next. We then had a break until 9:00 AM, during which I would fashion myself an omelet with whatever veggies I could find lying around at the time.

9:00 AM was baby time, also known as the most exciting part of the day, when each volunteer would get a baby or juvenile sloth and monitor it on a jungle gym of tree branches. The purpose of this activity was to exercise the more active babies and to help teach them proper muscle movements, though it was also a great time for them to poop. Baby time was one of the best ways to observe the uniqueness of each sloth’s personality. Some babies were fast and eager to bite unsuspecting volunteers, while others simply wanted to cling to your chest for hours and lick your neck.

After another break, which I would usually spend swinging in a hammock, playing pool, or editing pictures, we would come back to the kitchens for 11:00 AM to prepare the afternoon meal. This was my least favorite activity because it was the only sloth-free part of the day, but I did get a lot of practice peeling carrots. We would peel and cook the food to help assist the sloths in ease of digestion and energy transfer (though, I think all this food just made them want to poop more).

This lead to yet another break (we really became sloths ourselves with all these breaks throughout the day) and at 2:00 PM we finished with the afternoon feeding, the sloth-feast of the day. This consisted of a smorgasbord of carrots, mango, camote, chayote, and beans, all cooked and cut into individual sloth-sized pieces for ease of sloth ingestion. I was surprised to find that each sloth had a taste preference and would actually pass on food that they liked if a food that they didn’t like was sitting on top of it. My favorite thing to do was to hand feed them by plopping pieces of food in their mouth one at a time to see how many pieces they would eat at once. I think our record was around 10 pieces of mango for one hungry, happy sloth.

The entirety of the experience was both fascinating and eye opening for me, and helped confirm my choice of study. I hope to get back down there at some point in the future, ideally to perform some of my own research to better understand these crazy little guys. If you have any questions about my experience, would like to volunteer or donate to the sanctuary, or just want to sloth-talk with me, please feel free to leave a comment with some feedback. Katie and I love reader-responses!

For prospective volunteers: The Sloth Sanctuary has a new website. Please visit http://slothsanctuary.weebly.com/volunteering-at-the-sanctuary.html if you are interested in helping at the sanctuary. Disregard their old webpage, it has many inaccuracies.

Slothy Teaser

I’m currently slothing it up at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica and I’d love to write a post about it for this weekend, but playing with sloths is much more fun. So here’s some cute pictures to tease you until next week!

Make Way for Sloths!

On May 11th, just two days after I take my last final exam, I’ll be boarding a plane headed for Costa Rica. As a Wildlife Conservation Biology major, I need as much experience working directly with wildlife as possible if I want to make it anywhere after graduation. I decided a pretty cool way to do this would be to volunteer at The Sloth Sanctuary for the first two weeks of summer break. You may have heard about The Sloth Sanctuary after they were featured on Animal Planet (check out the commercial below). Thankfully, I had heard about the program from a friend well before their TV debut, as I’m sure their phone has been ringing off the hook with prospective volunteers inspired by the show.

At the sanctuary I’m going to be getting to do some hands-on work and hopefully getting to play with as many sloths as possible. I’ll be helping to feed sloths, clean cages, exercise, and possibly even potty-train the younger sloths. I’m hoping to gain experience working with animals and get a better understanding of the exciting world of conservation and rehabilitation. I’ll be sure to post all about my experience when I return on the 30th.

Obligatory Canada Post

During the summer of 2009, my friend Dan and I decided to take an independent road trip through the southeastern side of Canada to mark our graduation from high school. Our goal was to spend three weeks camping every night, and hiking every day, and discovering what was up there to explore.

Our trip began Monday, June 15, with a ceremonial shaving of our heads. This was a dramatic change seeing as both of us previously had hair grown to our shoulders. The feeling of baldness was the main topic of choice during the 14-hour drive to our first destination, Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. Music was often interrupted by the over-dramatic tossing of a head and an exclamation of “I feel so much lighter!” We arrived in Fundy at around 2 in the morning, and passed out in the car without even a thought of pitching a tent. We awoke early the same morning to start our first hike, the Coppermine Loop. This was a fairly easy way to start the day with a few scenic views over the Bay of Fundy. A side trip brought us down to the rocky seashore, where we rested before lunch. After a second, easy hike to Dickson Falls, we headed back to the car and started our drive to the Hopewell Rocks, where we stayed the night.

Hopewell was an amazing park where we were given the chance to literally walk on the sea floor for a few hours while the dramatic 3-story tides of Fundy were at bay. The erosion caused by the tidal changes made for some unique rock formations, which we admired for a short time before the tide began to return and we were rushed back to the safety of the elevated trails.

After another long drive we arrived at the Cabot trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia. One of the most amazing things about this part of the trip was camping in an area so dark, we didn’t even realize we were next to an enormous rock face until we woke the next morning. That day we hiked the 1,200ft Franey Mountain, an intermediate loop that gave us a spectacular view over the northern tip of the Cabot Trail.

Next stop was Forillon National Park in Quebec. This beautiful seaside park offered a great place for some leisurely walks along the ocean and a side trip to a waterfall and a lighthouse. We spent the night camped next to an old bunker. We felt cool.

Next on the list was Gaspésie National Park, where it rained the entire time of our stay. Originally we had intended to hike the Mount Albert Trail, but because the trails were completely flooded, we were advised to take a shower instead, which we did. This stop wasn’t without adventure, however, a drive up the side of a mountain treated us to a beautiful waterfall and a daredevil moose, who decided it would be fun to try and play chicken with our car.

It was at this point we realized that we were about a day ahead of schedule, which called for a side trip to Sugarloaf Park, New Brunswick. The drive there was spectacular and the park offered some fun trails and a great spot for lunch.

From there we headed over to Parc Du Bic, my personal favorite on the trip because of its beauty. The ocean was spotted with humps of land emerging from the sea. It was a natural beauty I had never experienced before (that was before I met Katie, of course). One that you just can’t help but sit and try to commit to memory. However, the trails here were uninspiring, and paled in comparison to the simplicity of viewing the park from ground level.

The next few days were spent in the city, where we split our time between Montreal and Quebec. The change in habitat was a little odd at first, but we soon transitioned and were awed by what the two cities had to offer. The culture was lively, the people welcoming, and visiting was a fun experience.

Gatineau Park was our final hiking stop on the trip, and it was by far the coolest. After a long hike through the woods, we were rewarded with the Lusk Caverns, a limestone tunnel carved through the earth that is just big enough to hike through. This was an unexpected treat for the area, and was a great way to end the hiking on our trip.

Next stop was Toronto and, of course, the Toronto Zoo. This, again, was quite a transition, and it was becoming increasingly hard to find camping spots in the city. The Zoo was awesome, all day affair. We probably burned just as many calories trying to see each and every animal exhibit as we did hiking After the zoo we headed out for the last stop on our trip, Niagara Falls.

This trip was an amazing way to experience our new post-high school independence, and reignited my passion for hiking and adventure. Oh, and Dan liked it, too. Go Canada!

Colin Likes Hiking: A Photo Collage

A photo collage of some of my favorite hiking destinations I’ve visited in the past.

Destruction Brook, Dartmouth MA

Slocum's River Reserve, Dartmouth MA

St. Kitts by the Water

On the Road to Canada

Fundy National Park, Canada

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

Parc national de la Gaspésie, Québec

Parc National du Bic, Québec

Black Mountain Summit, Lake George, NY

Black Mountain, Lake George, NY

Zion National Park, Utah

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Colin

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, UtahI’ve been hiking for years. Ever since I was younger I would tromp around in the 283.8-acre woods directly across the street from my house. It mostly consisted of running around aimlessly, getting lost, and eventually emerging onto roads miles from home. These early experiences instilled a fascination with nature, which later developed into an obsession. This passion truly began to develop during the summer months of 2009 when my friend Dan and I planned and embarked on a month long hiking expedition around eastern Canada. I now nurture and develop my passion for nature with my pursuit of an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Conservation Biology at the University of Rhode Island, and by rock climbing and hiking in my spare time.

For a while, my passion for hiking was stymied by the seemingly unavoidable fact that I had no close friends or relations who shared my drive. Yes, there were definitely those who opted to accompany me on hikes but would do so sparingly, nowhere near the amount of adventure I was searching for. I met Katie by chance in the beginning of my junior year. At the time we were both currently dating other people but as those relationships began to wind down, I found myself growing closer to her and the support she provided. As our friendship grew, I started seeing more in her than simply a comforting presence, so, to state it in simple terms, I asked her out. That’s how it started, really. We, like any healthy couple, drew parallels between our passions so we could experience them together. I soon convinced Katie to accompany me on a hike of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in my home state of Massachusetts. Although she had little hiking experience, she handled the steep 3491 ft climb like a champ, and even agreed to pee in open daylight when a port-a-potty was nowhere to be found (we eventually found one just down the trail, so she peed there too, but that’s besides the point). I quickly found in her a passion that mirrored my own, and would ultimately lead us to develop a fun, adventurous relationship.