Reflections On Diving Into Art Shows

“Artists, by nature, are gamblers. Gambling is a dangerous habit. But whenever you make art, you’re always gambling. You’re rolling the dice on the slim odds that your investment of time, energy, and resources now might pay off later in a big way – that somebody might buy your work, and that you might become successful.”

Elizabeth Gilbert’s friend as quoted in Big Magic (pg. 105)

Leading up to this year, I had wanted to start selling my photography at art shows for quite some time. I had always admired artists who did this. Throughout 2018, I got lots of positive comments/compliments on my photography, and late in the year I finally decided I was at a point in life where it was a good time to give it a shot. I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to make a living off it, but with all the compliments I had received, I figured I would be able to make some sales at shows. Now that I have four shows under my belt, and have a little bit of a break until my next one, I figured I would put together a post with some thoughts/lessons based on my brief experience so far.

One of the lessons I learned pretty quickly was that a lot of work had to be done before I could even start applying to art shows. Most of the shows (if not all of the shows) I was interested in required a picture of my booth layout. This meant I almost had to get to the point of being able to do a show before I could even apply to a show. So even though I started making prints in mid/late March, I didn’t start applying to shows until early May.  

This led to the second lesson: show applications are usually due a few months before the actual show. This meant that the shows I was applying to in the May/June timeframe were in September/October/November. So between all the work before even applying and then the time between the application and the show, it took several months from “starting” until my first show. Granted, there may be shows you can get into quickly. I was able to get into a show in July last minute, although it wasn’t the ideal show. So be ready to put in a lot of time, effort, and money before you can even start applying to most juried shows, and then some more time until the shows actually happen. 

Once you start doing shows, be prepared for lots of learning and inefficiency the first few shows. Kudos to you if you can figure everything out right off the bat. But for me, between packing my truck, packaging items, setting up, the best tent layout, tearing down, etc., there was lots of trial and error in how to do things best. It took until my 4th show before I felt like I had a good handle on how best to set up, my tent layout, how to tear down, and pack the truck. And that was with some work outside of shows as well. 

Last big lesson: compliments don’t equal sales, and rejection is a given. If I got $1 for every person who said my work was beautiful, or something along those lines, I wouldn’t have to sell any of my art. And yet I have sold very little art my first four shows. It could be that people are just trying to be nice. But I think it’s more along the lines that it’s just hard to sell art. There are obviously lots of things that go into this, but don’t think that because people are complimenting your art you will get into every show you apply to and that it will be easy to sell it.

And yet, despite the slow start and difficulties, and points of wondering why I’m doing this, I’m not giving up yet. There are some great things about doing the shows. I have really enjoyed getting to meet and chat with the people who come through my booth, as well as other artists at the shows. Being fairly shy and an introvert, I don’t have much of a social life, and the shows are one of my ways to be social. It has been fun visiting with others who have connections to the mountains, and seeing the reactions to and explaining to people the why behind my fire hydrant photos. Despite not doing well with sales up to this point, there has been lots of good learning so far, so that has been a positive I could take away from the shows. And finally, I’m of the opinion that it can’t hurt to get my art out in front of more people. 

Also, one other thing I want to point out. If you do decide to start selling your art at shows, don’t think you have to give up everything else and be fully devoted to making art and selling it. I have not experienced this myself, but some people apparently frown upon not being “fully devoted” to your art. However, if you were to give up everything else, not have any source of other income, and then not do well at shows, it could become very stressful in a hurry. I have a full time job, and I consider fine art photographer to be my side gig. It takes so much stress out of it knowing I have another source of income, and I don’t have to count on sales at art shows. Does that mean I’m not going to try as hard? I don’t think so. I would still like to do it full time someday. But until I get to that point, I have a lot less stress, which for me makes it much more enjoyable. As Elizabeth Gilbert put it:

I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills. I’ve seen artists drive themselves broke and crazy because of this insistence that they are not legitimate creators unless they can exclusively live off their creativity. And when their creativity fails them (meaning: doesn’t pay the rent), they descend into resentment, anxiety, or even bankruptcy. Worst of all, they often quit creating at all.

(Big Magic, pgs. 152-153)

So, in conclusion, being an artist selling work at art shows isn’t as glorious as most people probably think. Sure, there are some people who do well with it, but based on my experience and talking with other artists, I think that’s the minority. There is a lot of work and time that goes into the shows, and often not the payoff that the artists would like. If you’re thinking about giving art shows a try, be prepared for a challenge, but there is also a deep satisfaction in pursuing something you’re passionate about. 

No way was I going to give up on my work simply because it wasn’t “working”. That wasn’t the point of it. The rewards could not come from the external results – I knew that. The rewards had to come from the joy of puzzling out the work itself, and from the private awareness I held that I had chosen a devotional path and I was being true to it. If someday I got lucky enough to be paid for my work, that would be great, but in the meantime, money could always come from other places. There are so many ways in this world to make a good enough living, and I tried lots of them, and I always got by well enough. I was happy. I was a total nobody, and I was happy.

(Big Magic, pg. 113)

Show Report: Art in the Park 2019

This past weekend I traveled all the way down to Friendswood, TX (southeast side of Houston) to participate in the Friendswood Art in the Park. Back when I started applying for shows, I made it a goal to try and participate in a show each month. When I was looking at shows for November, I was having trouble finding shows within a few hours drive of OKC, and happened to stumble across this show with a Google search. I would have preferred a closer show, but since I couldn’t find anything else, I decided to apply and give it a shot if I got in (and as you can now tell, I got in.)

Friday

I left Friday morning at 6:00 A.M. to try and get to Friendswood with enough time to set up before it got dark. I have heard from many, many people about the horrible traffic in Houston, so between that and having to drive through Dallas/Ft. Worth, I wasn’t really looking forward to the drive. It actually didn’t end up being too bad on the way down. I made it in a little over 7 hours. There were a few slow spots in DFW and Houston, but nothing too bad.

After figuring out where to park, I ate a quick lunch and then got started setting up. There were 3 side-by-sides available for the artists to use to unload their stuff. That was definitely a good perk. However, I just used my dolly since it wasn’t far from my truck to where my spot was. The weather was beautiful for set up, and set up went really smooth. Since they had to move the booth locations the night before the show (due to recent rain and muddy conditions) and I didn’t see any place to plug in, I figured we wouldn’t have electricity and didn’t put up my lights (more on this later). I was completely set up by around 5, with some time to spare before it got dark. I think I finally have a pretty good system down for setting up, which helps a lot.

After getting set up I headed to my hotel and got checked in, and then got dinner at a Wendy’s. The rest of the evening was spent getting stuff ready for the show and watching some TV.

Saturday

Fire hydrant picture taken in Kemah on Saturday morning prior to the show starting.

The show didn’t start until 10:00 on Saturday, so I left the motel around 7:45 to try and get some fire hydrant pictures before the show started. I almost didn’t bring my camera for the trip, but by the end of the trip I was really glad I put it in. I got a few pictures, and then headed to the show. Right before the show started I was given my booth sign. I didn’t have any rope with me to put it up, so I had to run back to my truck and dig my rope out to put it up. That was a little bit annoying. It would have been nice to get that the day before when I was setting up.

It got busy pretty quickly after 10:00, and it stayed busy until around 3:00, at which point traffic slowly started tailing off. Around 4:00 I started noticing a few booths that had lights set up, and shortly thereafter noticed a couple extension cords running behind my tent. I went behind my tent and looked, and at some point after I finished setting up a generator had been placed back there with some plug ins. By 5:00 I was wishing I had put my lights up, since it started to get pretty dark inside my tent. I had meant to ask about power when I arrived, but in my hurry to start getting set up, I forgot to ask them, and my assumptions were incorrect. Lesson learned. Haha. The show ended at 6, but I shut down around 5:45 since it was really too dark to see anything in the tent.

Lasagna dinner at Frenchie’s on Saturday evening after the show.

Other than the lack of light towards the end of the show, it was a good first day. It was the best day of sales I have had so far (which isn’t saying much), the weather was beautiful, and I had pretty good traffic through the booth most of the day. After the sun went down, it cooled off quick though. By the time I left, I was pretty cold, even with my fleece jacket on. After I left I stopped by Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant for dinner. I got their lasagna. I highly recommend stopping by there for dinner if you’re in the area. It was delicious. I really wanted to try one of their desserts, but I was too full for that. After dinner it was back to the hotel for the evening.

Sunday

Picture taken Sunday morning prior to the show starting.

On Sunday the show started at 11, so once again I left the motel early and took some time to get some more pictures. I got to the show about 40 minutes early to give myself some time to get set up and then walk around and see some other booths. It was nice to have some time for that. Since I’m by myself I’m not really able to walk around during the shows.

The traffic was definitely slower on Sunday. It wasn’t dead by any means, but not as busy as Saturday. The weather was absolutely beautiful once again. Thankfully I made some sales on Saturday, because I didn’t make any sales on Sunday. The show ended at 5:00. I finished getting everything packed up at 7:00. I was a little bit worried about packing up in the dark, but thankfully there was enough ambient light that it wasn’t a big problem. As with the setup, I think I have a pretty good system in place now for the tear down as well.

After that it was back to the hotel to get stuff ready to leave early the next morning.

Final Remarks

My main complaint with this show was that the communication could have been much better. The only communication I really received between my confirmation in July and the show was my booth location a week before the show. The two shows I did prior to this sent out at least one email prior to the show with details such as parking, rules/regulations, electricity, hospitality, sales tax, etc. Once the artist application was removed from the website, I couldn’t figure out a way to get any of this info for the show. When I got to the show, there was no check in booth. I just had to ask around and find the person I needed to talk to about finding my spot and setting up. And as I mentioned before, I didn’t get my booth sign until the start of the show. So in the “leading up to the show” phase, I have definitely experienced better.

As far as the show itself, it actually exceeded my expectations. With the lack of communication leading up the show, and the show not being on Zapplication like a lot of other shows, I was kind of skeptical going into the show. There was a nice mix of mediums, along with performing arts and food trucks. There was pretty much always at least some traffic through the show, and I had a lot of people stop in my booth to take a look and chat. As I mentioned earlier, Friday was my best sales day so far, which still wasn’t great, but still a positive. I was actually really surprised at how much interest there was in my fire hydrant pictures. I haven’t expected to sell a whole lot of those, but the sales and interest so far in those (particularly at this show) has been encouraging. All the people I encountered were great. A couple of the previous shows I did were better about bringing around snacks/drinks to the artists, and having booth sitters stop by, but that’s not a huge deal to me. Just something I figured I would point out. I didn’t visit with other artists as much at this show as I had at my previous two shows, but I still met and chatted with a few, which was nice.

So all in all, a pretty good weekend. It was fun to visit a place I have never been to, to get some pictures while I was there, get my art out in front of some more people, and meet some more artists. I’ll definitely consider this show for next year. I have a couple months until my next show, so hopefully I don’t forget the system I have put together for packing, setting up, and tearing down 🙂

If you want to see the pictures I got over the weekend, go check them out on my website.

Trip Report: 10/19/19 Fire Hydrants

This past Saturday I decided to take a day trip to photograph some fire hydrants. It had been a long time since my last trip, and I figured I better get a trip in while the weather was still nice and I had a quiet weekend. I decided to go up to northwestern Oklahoma. The route I took is in the picture below.

Friday night and Saturday morning I had scouted out some possible pictures along this route using Google maps and street view. I had done that for trips before, but not to the extent that I did it for this trip. By the time I left, I had a pretty good list of pictures to try and get.

I believe I left around 9:00 Saturday morning. I wanted to let the sun get up a little ways before I headed out. My first stop was Calumet. I quickly discovered that Google street view isn’t necessarily a reliable source for what things currently look like. One of the buildings I wanted to get in the background of a picture had been torn down and a new building was in its place. I got a couple pictures I was wanting to get, along with one I hadn’t planned for.

That was the general trend of the day. There were a couple other instances where either the fire hydrant I wanted, or the building in the background, were no longer there, which was always disappointing. One of the most disappointing ones was the fire hydrant in the Google street view image below from Okeene, OK. I was really wanting to get a picture of that hydrant with the church in the background, but the fire hydrant is no longer there. I was pretty bummed out about that.

Another really disappointing one was the fire hydrant in the street view image below from Clinton, OK. I really wanted to get the old fire station in the background of this fire hydrant. But when I showed up, there was a stop sign behind the fire hydrant that ruined the picture. I thought maybe I just missed the stop sign when I was looking at street view, but in the street view, the intersection has a stoplight, not a stop sign. So I got a good lesson to not necessarily get my hopes up based on Google street view. Haha.

But even though there were a few that didn’t work out, there were a few that were surprises. In Calumet I was able to get a fire hydrant with several drilling rigs in the background, which is the first panoramic fire hydrant image I have done, and is quite fitting for the area. I also got the image below as I was leaving Okeene. I kept driving about a 1/4 mile after seeing this before I convinced myself to turn around and get the picture. I’m glad I turned around and got it.

I grabbed some food at Jiggs Smokehouse in Clinton before hitting the road back to OKC. Jiggs is in a really random spot. I would have never known it was there if not for Google maps. It was on the pricey side. Over $12 for the food below and a small (think kid size) drink. The food was great though. So for taste, I recommend, but if you’re on a budget, probably not the best place.

So there you have it. Disappointments, surprises, and some good food. Generally how each trip goes. Haha. All my pictures have been posted on my website. You can check them out here. Leave a comment about which one is your favorite!

Show Report: Summit Art Fest 2019

This past weekend I participated in the Summit Art Fest in Lee’s Summit, MO. It had its ups, and it had its downs. Keep reading for the details!

Friday

I had driven to my brother’s place in SE Kansas Thursday evening, so I left from his place around 7:20 Friday morning to head up to Lee’s Summit. That got me there around 9:20. I got checked in, pulled the truck up to my spot, and got everything unloaded. After parking the truck in the artist parking lot, I started getting stuff set up. It was in the low 40s and windy while I was setting up, but thankfully my spot was fairly sheltered from the wind, so it wasn’t too bad setting up. Set up went much better than the Joplin show last month. Having it fresh on my mind and the learnings from the Joplin show helped a lot. I tried a little bit of a different layout than Joplin, and I really liked it. I’ll probably stick with that going forward. My custom print rack worked pretty well. It’s a little bit higher than I would like, but I’m not sure how I’m going to fix that. 

I did get pretty lucky with set up though. The tents are set up on the sides of the streets, and since the streets are fairly narrow, I couldn’t have my stuff sitting in front of my booth since it would block traffic. Thus, I had to set most of my stuff behind my tent. Thankfully I was able to get my tent set up and get everything moved around the front and into my tent before I had people set up on both sides of me. Had people been setting up on both sides of me while I was setting up, it could have been a really frustrating set up. 

I finished set up shortly after 1:00, and left to go grab lunch and try to check into the hotel. I got to the hotel around 2:00. Check in started at 3:00, but thankfully they let me check in early. I got stuff moved in, changed clothes, put some food together, and then headed back to the show.

The show started at 4:00. It was a fairly slow evening. I’m sure the weather didn’t help. By the end of the show at 8:00, I had on two jackets, gloves, and a beanie, and I was still a little bit cold. As I mentioned before, though, I was pretty well sheltered from the wind, which I was very thankful for. Some art show volunteers came by during the evening giving out a free slice of pizza to each artist. That was nice. Since it was fairly slow, I was able to chat with a few of the artists around me. It was great getting to know them a little bit. The show ended without making any sales. That was a bummer, but I had heard several artists say Saturday was their best day last year, so I was hopeful that Saturday would be better. Overall the weather was much better than I was expecting. I was expecting it to be a pretty miserable day, but it wasn’t too bad, other than getting a little cold at the end of the show. 

Saturday

Saturday morning got off to a rough start. As I was walking out to my truck to head to the show, I thought to myself I was glad none of my windows were broken out on the truck. However, after I opened the door, I realized that someone had been in my truck and stolen several items (tool boxes, sunglasses, rain suit, etc.). So I had to wait for the police to show up to make a report. The show started at 10:00, and it was 10:45 before I made it to the show. That put me in a sour mood the rest of the day. I tried to put on a happy face, but inside I was in a pretty bad mood. 

There was a fairly steady stream of traffic most of the afternoon. It wasn’t super busy by any means, but steady. I used my food truck coupon for lunch, and ate my normal PB&J, fruit cup, and pudding cup for dinner. We got another free slice of pizza for dinner as well. I finally made my first sale around 6:00. The evening was pretty slow, which allowed a lot of time to visit with the artists around me again. The weather was much warmer than Friday. Still a little bit chilly by the end of the show, but better than Friday evening. The show ended at 8:00, at which point I closed down and headed back to the hotel. 

Sunday

Sunday morning I woke up at 6:45, and it sounded like there was an elephant walking around in the room above me. I wasn’t able to get back to sleep, so I got up a little while later. The show didn’t start until 11, so I spent some time looking up the value of the items that were stolen out of my truck so I could provide a final list with values to the officer that took the report. It came out to about $500 worth of items. It could have been a lot worse though. I got everything packed up and loaded into the truck. Before I left the motel, I looked through the security footage to see if I could see when/how it happened. I was able to find it, and took a video of the video with my phone. A huge thanks to the clerk for helping me out and letting me do this. After that I stopped by Dicks Sporting Goods to see if I could find some sunglasses, but didn’t find any I liked. After that I headed to the show and got set up. I got the email sent off to the officer with a link to the video. 

The Chiefs game was pretty much during the entire show, so I wasn’t expecting many people at the show. It wasn’t near as busy as Saturday, but there were more people than I expected, which was nice. We got to see the flyover for the Chiefs game, which was pretty cool. The weather was absolutely beautiful on Sunday. Perfect art show weather.

The show ended at 4:00, without making any sales. I got stuff torn down and packed up, and hit the road shortly after 6. I was on track to get home around 11:30, but something had traffic really backed up between Tulsa and OKC, so I didn’t get home until 12:15, and didn’t get to bed until 12:50.

Final Thoughts

The show itself seemed like a pretty good show. I’m new at this, so I don’t have much to compare it to. The hospitality tent was nice. It was in a neat setting in the downtown area. There were booth sitters if needed. The free pizza and food truck coupon was a plus. I was really happy with the spot my tent was in. And for once it didn’t rain. Also, there were a lot of dogs. Sometimes I was wondering if I was at a dog show instead of an art show. Haha. They were all really well behaved dogs, though, so it wasn’t a problem. 

I left the show not quite knowing what to think though. On one hand, I was really frustrated that I only made one sale and didn’t come anywhere close to breaking even. This is despite person after person coming through my booth commenting how beautiful my work is. All three of my shows have gone that way. I wonder how long I’ll keep trying this before I decide my money is better spent elsewhere (aka backpacking trips, new vehicle, etc.). And having the stuff stolen this time definitely didn’t help. One of the artists at the show encouraged me not to let it get me down, but it’s hard not to. On the other hand, it’s great hearing all the compliments. I’m not much of a social person outside of the shows, so it’s great to get to interact with the people who come through the booth, and to get to know the artists who are around me and see their work.

So for now, it’s on to the Houston area in about a month for my next show. I’m sure I’ll keep trying shows through at least the middle of next year as long as I can handle it financially, especially since I’ll hopefully get to do some local shows the first half of next year. And, as I keep telling myself, maybe I’ll be surprised one day from by something that came as a result of doing one of these shows.

Finally, want to give a shout out to Aaron Henry, Susan Kiefer, and Crystal Nederman for being great neighbors. I really enjoyed getting to know them over the weekend. I wish them the best of luck, and I hope I can cross paths with them again in the future.  

Show Report: 2019 Joplin Arts Fest

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This past Friday and Saturday I participated in the Joplin Arts Fest in Joplin, MO. Although I participated in “An Affair of the Heart” back in July, the Joplin Arts Fest was my first “fine art show” to participate in, so I was excited to see how it went. 

Friday

I left OKC around 6:30 A.M. Friday morning. I had to stop at my parents’ place on the way to Joplin to grab a couple things. I was planning on hanging out there for an hour or so, but rain was on the way so I grabbed what I needed and headed up to Joplin hoping to get my tent set up before the rain arrived. I got to Mercy Park around 10:15. I got checked in, unloaded my tent, and then parked my truck outside the festival area while I got my tent set up. I didn’t want to unload everything and leave my art sitting out in case it started to rain before I had the tent set up. 

It took way longer than I had expected to get the tent set up. I could definitely tell it had been a while since I had set up the exterior of the tent. Before I raised the top up to put the legs on, I strapped the sides of the top cover down to keep it on, and figured I would do the rest of the straps after it was up. After I raised the front up, the wind caught it and blew the front of the top cover back up over the top. Then later something didn’t seem quite right after I put the first couple walls up, so I took them back down and rearranged how I put the walls up. Just a couple examples of the rust that needed shaken off.

I eventually got the tent put up, and pulled my truck up again to unload the rest of the stuff. Just as I was starting to get stuff unloaded a light rain started to fall. It didn’t rain a whole lot, and thankfully I was able to get everything unloaded into the tent without anything getting wet. I left to grab lunch when I got to a good stopping point, and then came back and worked on getting the tent put together some more. It was fairly breezy during the afternoon, and after getting some stuff set up, I decided to change the layout due to the way the wind was blowing. That was a pretty big pain, and another thing that added time to getting everything ready to go. Thankfully I was able to get everything set up prior to the show starting. I cut it way closer than I thought I would, so it’s a good thing I didn’t hang out at my parents’ place for long.

The Artist/Patrons reception was from 5-6, and then the show was open to the public from 6-10. The weather was great for the show that evening. It was quite busy from 6-8, and then slowed down the rest of the evening. I spent some time while it was slow visiting with Randall Kronblad and his wife, who were in the tent next to me. At 10 I closed up the tent and headed back to the hotel. I thought having the show after dark was pretty neat. The lighting adds another creative element to the tent setup for each artist. I don’t expect there to be many shows where the show happens after dark.

Saturday

The next morning the show started at 9. It started out slow, but the crowd picked up later in the morning. It was fairly breezy in the morning. Not near as bad as Vinita was for me earlier this year, but still breezy enough to shake the tent around a little bit. Some rain came through around noon, but thankfully the wind died down while it was raining. The worst part of the storm went to our north. After the rain cleared out it was pretty nice right up until the end of the show. Right at the end a few more showers came through. Nothing significant, but enough to get the tent wet right before having to pack it up. I had a fairly steady flow of people through my booth most of the day. It wasn’t crowded by any means, but I at least had people coming through. I was able to visit with Randall and his wife quite a bit throughout the day as well.

At 4 I started getting everything packed up. I had my brother, his fiancé, and my mom there to help out where they could, which was nice. The weather ended up bring great for the tear down, which I was quite thankful for. I think it was about 6:30 by the time  we had everything packed up. We went and got some ice cream from Braums before hitting the road.

Final Thoughts

In regards to sales, it was very disappointing. I didn’t make a single sale the entire show. I think some other artists did fairly well, but I wasn’t one of them. I had lots and lots of oohs and aahs and compliments, but no sales. That was a big bummer. But with that being said, it was a good experience. It was a good show for my first show. The crowd was much better than “An Affair of the Heart”. I had much more traffic through my booth, and had much more conversation with visitors. It was also great to get to visit with Randall and his wife quite a bit. Hopefully I can run into them on occasion in the future. I was able to briefly meet an artist that will be at my next show, so I’ll have to try and find him there. There were volunteers roaming around offering drinks and breaks if needed, which was nice. The musical performers were great. I didn’t find them distracting or overwhelming, but a great compliment to the show. And it was nice to be able to try a different layout and some tweaks I had made since my last outdoor show. Each show brings learnings and things to try at the next show.

This show made 3 out of 3 outdoor shows that I have been rained on. I’m really hoping I can break that streak soon. Thankfully there weren’t thunderstorms like the previous two, and overall the weather was much better than I was expecting.

For the one night I stayed in Joplin, I stayed at the Best Western. The room definitely wasn’t anything fancy. Not bad by any means, but nothing fancy. The service was great though. I got a snack bag when I checked in. The front desk clerk called shortly after I got to my room to check if the room was ok. Saturday morning there was an employee offering to make waffles for anybody who wanted one. So I wanted to give this place some kudos for the service.

Finally, I want to give a big thank you to Steve Doerr for the mentoring/feedback he provided during the application process. This was the first art show I applied to, and after submitting my application, Steve got back to me with some feedback to help me improve my application, and allowed me to resubmit my application. That was great feedback to receive as I was just starting to apply to shows, and I am very appreciative of it.

Thanks to everybody who stopped by my booth as well!

Sawtooths: Getting My Gear There (and back)

Last year after my trip to the Uinta Mountains in Utah, I posted a blog about getting my gear and myself to the trailhead and back. After looking back on the Utah trip, I decided to make a couple changes for the trip to the Sawtooths this year. I figured I would go ahead and share those changes and a couple thoughts/recommendations.

Why?

Before I get into the details of the changes, I figured I would provide a quick explanation of why I ship my gear instead of flying with it.

  1. There are a couple items I can ship that I can’t take on an airplane (even in checked luggage): bear spray and stove fuel. While I could buy these items in the city I fly into, I hate buying it, only using a small portion of it (or none of it at all), and then having to get rid of it.
  2. I have more confidence in shipping with USPS than with checked luggage on an airline. On my two trips so far, my layovers have generally been pretty short, and it makes me nervous that my bags may not make it from one plane to another if there is a time crunch. I would really hate to get to my final airport and not have my gear show up. With shipping it, I can send it early, and that way if something goes wrong during shipping, there is still some wiggle room.

The one major drawback of this is cost. I have flown Southwest both trips, and with Southwest I wouldn’t have to pay for a checked bag, whereas shipping cost me around $200 round trip for both Utah and Idaho. So there is definitely a trade off. For me, it’s worth paying the $200 and having a lower chance (in my opinion) of the gear not making it. If you fly with another airline that charges for bags, the shipping cost may not be as big of a deal.

So with that said, here were the changes I made this year.

Shipping 1 Package

Last year I shipped two packages. This year I only shipped one (same size). How did I manage that? Mainly by putting my sleeping bag in my carry on instead of shipping it. Last year, I knew it would be several days between when I shipped the packages and when I would pick them up, so I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag compressed for several days to save room (not good for a down sleeping bag). But once I got to thinking about it after last year’s trip, I realized I could put the sleeping bag in my carry on and compress it, since it would only be like that for several hours (similar to a normal day of hiking). And with taking the sleeping bag out of one of the packages, I figured I could probably fit everything into a single package. Thankfully I was able to make it work. The pictures below show how I packed the shipped package if you are curious.

Larger Carry On

To fit the sleeping bag in my carry on along with everything else, I had to get a different carry on. Last year I used a laptop style backpack. This year I bought a true carry on suitcase that would hold more stuff than the backpack. In addition to the sleeping bag, I had some clothes for after the trip, a couple books, iPad, toiletry items, a pair of shoes, and other miscellaneous items.

Verdict?

The cost to ship my single package this year was nearly identical to what I paid to ship the two packages last year, and one package is definitely easier to carry around than two. So I will stay with the single package going forward. The single package ended up being around 40 lbs., so keep that in mind. I assume if you’re going backpacking, you can lift up and carry a 40 lb. package, but figured I would point it out anyway. A couple things to keep in mind when shipping the package though:

  1. Don’t ship too early. Based on my experience and what I have read online, the post office will only hold your package for 10 days (if you are doing general delivery). You can calculate shipping time on the USPS website, and thus figure out roughly which day you can send it to avoid sending it too early. If you are able to contact the post office, they may be willing to hold the package longer if needed. However, I tried calling the Boise post office that accepts general delivery many, many times (I would say at least 20) over the course of a couple weeks prior to shipping my package, and never got anybody to pick up. If you would like to send it a little earlier, I would suggest contacting the post office before you actually ship it.
  2. Matches: each of the four times I have shipped my package(s), the matches have caused some questioning/hesitation with the postal service employee(s). When I shipped my stuff back to OKC from Boise this year, one of the postal workers in Boise actually had me pull out the matches to make sure they were the proper kind. They have to be strike on box only matches, not strike anywhere matches. So be ready to get questioned on this, and it’s probably a good idea to have them somewhere easily accessible in case you do get asked to pull them out to verify they are the proper type. 

Do you have any tips for shipping your gear or an alternative method you use? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments. If you have any questions about something I didn’t cover in here or my post from last year, reach out and I’ll see if I can provide an answer or share some knowledge I have gained from doing this a couple times now.

Trip Report: Sawtooth Mountains 2019

Sawtooth Map Export
Planned route. Read below to find out what actually happened. 

This past Saturday I left for a 5 day backpacking trip in the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho. The plan was to start at Stanley Lake and do the loop down to Grandjean, up North Fork Baron Creek to Sawtooth Lake, and then back to Stanley Lake (see map above). But if you know me very well, you know that my backpacking trips rarely go according to plan. This was no exception. Keep reading for the details. 

Day 1

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Picture near Bridal Veil Falls (looking opposite direction of falls).

Day 1 got off to a very early start with a 6:30 A.M. flight to Denver, followed by a short layover and then a flight to Boise. That all went very smooth, even getting to Boise 15 minutes early. I got my rental car, and then headed to the post office to pick up my gear. It was still a little before 11 when I got my gear, so I packed as much as I could in the post office parking lot, and then stopped by a Subway to grab lunch before hitting the road to the trailhead. The drive to the trailhead took about 2.5 hours. 

It was in the lower 80s according to the car thermostat. I converted my pants into shorts before starting, which was the first time I had ever hiked with them as shorts. I finished getting my backpack packed and then hit the trail at roughly 2:45. There is a pretty amazing view of McGown Peak from the trailhead. I’m not used to having the great view right off the bat. Most of the hikes I have done require some hiking before the great views start. I stopped a short ways down the trail to fill up with water. On the first mile or so of the trail, there was very little shade, which got me wondering if I had packed enough sunscreen. Thankfully the forest got more dense, and the shade was definitely appreciated. 

I was a little worried about how late I would get to my planned camp spot having got a late start, but I made really good time and got there around 5. That was even with stopping several times for pictures. I camped at the junction with the Elk Creek Trail, which apparently isn’t a trail anymore. There is a tree “blocking” the trail from the main trail (picture above right). When I stopped to camp, I didn’t even see the sign for the trail (picture above left), but figured if it wasn’t the trail, it was close enough. (The next day as I was leaving, I actually noticed the sign for the trail.) I set up camp, and then taped up a couple of my toes that were already starting to get a sore spot.

A note regarding this tape. I used Leukotape, which definitely worked as advertised. However, I had watched a video prior to the trip where someone had put the tape on strips of wax paper so she didn’t have to take the whole role. I tried this at home, and it seemed to work. However, when I tried to remove the tape at my camp spot, it was very difficult to get the tape off without ripping the wax paper and leaving some on the tape. I’m assuming it was partly due to the tape being on the wax paper for a while in combination with the wax paper becoming “brittle” due to getting creased once it was packed. Next year I will likely wrap the tape around something (pencil, pen, etc.).

I ate dinner, and then did some reading before calling it a day. 

Day 2 

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Picture from Observation Peak looking southeast.

I got up at 7 on Sunday and got breakfast ready. Once breakfast was finished I got camp packed up and hit the trail towards Observation Peak. Not too long after leaving camp the trail entered forest that had burned. At this point, I really started to question whether I had brought enough sunscreen, as I was pretty sure most of the rest of the hike didn’t have much shade.

It was a fairly short hike to get to the intersection with the Observation Peak trail. I got up to the peak around 10. There were great views all the way up to the peak. It was difficult to see the trail in a couple spots, but I was able to find it again quickly. There was very little shade on the peak, but luckily there were a few trees that provided a shady spot. The views from the peak were spectacular, and definitely exceeded what I was expecting. I spent about 40 minutes at the peak resting, eating a snack, and getting pictures. It took me about 40 minutes to get back down to the trail junction, where a couple other hikers were just starting to head up. 

I started to head towards Trail Creek Lakes and ran into a few other hikers headed towards Observation Peak. I stopped at a creek a short hike down the trail to fill up with water. I was getting pretty low on water at that point, so it was a relief to get some more. I rested for a bit more, ate some trail mix, and put on some more sunscreen. I was going to convert my pants to shorts once again, but I figured I better not so I could save sunscreen. I kept going towards Trail Creek Lakes and arrived about 12:30. Right off the bat I could see at least a couple camps set up, and ran into a guy from one of the camps. We chatted for a little bit, and then I continued on to find a camp spot. 

I found a camp spot pretty quickly, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it. It was pretty darn close to another camp, and closer to the water and trail than regulations allow (although it was hard to find a camp spot that was far enough from the trail and water). It was also really fine dirt/dust, which I knew would get on everything. I went ahead and set up my tent anyway since I figured it would be hard to find another camp spot and so nobody else took the spot. I figured I would look for another spot while going to the second lake. 

From reading a guide book, I knew there was a way to get up to the second lake via a gulch on the north side of the lower lake. I hiked around the north side of the lower lake and didn’t see this gulch, so I decided to hike up the hill near the creek between the two lakes. It was steep and had a lot of loose rock. I knew it wasn’t the best idea, but it looked doable and I didn’t feel like trying to find the other way. Two-thirds of the way up my foot slipped and I hit the ground hard. I knew right away I had hurt my left hand. I fully expected one of my fingers to be crooked when I looked at the hand, but thankfully none of them were. I was pretty sure I had broke at least one of them though, possibly two. I laid there for a couple minutes gathering myself and taking stock of my situation. 

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Looking down at the first Trail Creek Lake from the second Trail Creek Lake.

With as far up as I had made it, I knew going back down wasn’t an option, so I got back up and continued up the hill to the second lake. I made it up to the second lake, got a few pictures, and then worked on finding a different way down. I found the gulch referenced in the guidebook, and took that way down to the first lake. I found a possible camp spot on the way down, but I wasn’t 100% sure that my tent would fit, and at that point I didn’t feel like hauling my tent up there to find out. 

The rest of the day was pretty rough due to very little shade, warm temperatures, gusty winds, and the dusty conditions. The hand injury just made it that much worse. A while after I got back down to the lower lake, I also discovered I must have landed on my hip when I hit the ground, as I had a pretty good scrape and bruise there as well. I didn’t do a whole lot the rest of the day other than hang out at camp and read. 

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As I was making dinner that evening, I noticed the saying on the bottom of the packaging (picture above). I just had to laugh as I probably got what I deserved picking a camping spot that went against regulations. I put on my rain cover (which was nearly impossible with my injured hand) shortly before calling it a day. I read in my tent for a while before finally deciding to try and get to sleep. Unfortunately, my sleeping pad is pretty noisy when I move, so I was paranoid the whole night that I was bugging the neighbors every time I moved. That didn’t help anything either. 

Day 3

On Monday, I got up a little before 7. I got breakfast ready and then got camp packed up. I decided to hike back out instead of continuing on with the hike as planned. If my fingers were broke, I didn’t want to do any more damage to them than had already been done. Once camp was packed up I hit the trail back towards Stanley Lake, at about 8:15. I was back at the trailhead around 11:40. I rinsed off some at Stanley Lake and changed into a new pair of clothes. I drove into Stanley to get a drink at the convenience store before heading back to Boise. I got back to Boise a little after 3 and stopped at a travel center to figure out what my options were. I decided I had three options: stay in Boise until Saturday, fly home early, or drive home. All three options were roughly the same cost, so I decided to go ahead and leave early to save a couple days of PTO. I got a hotel room and pretty much spent the rest of the day getting my backpacking gear cleaned up and getting stuff situated to pack and ship the next day. 

Day 4

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Picture of injured hand after getting to the hotel.

On Tuesday I got up at 6:30, and left from the hotel around 7:45. I dropped my gear off at the post office and then headed to an urgent care clinic to get my fingers checked. According to the X-rays, there were no fractures. Ironically that was more frustrating. Had I known that I probably would have finished the hike. But I was definitely relieved I wasn’t going to have to wear a splint. That would have made work really frustrating since I do a lot of typing. 

I wandered around downtown for a little bit and got a couple fire hydrant pictures, then ate lunch at Westside Drive In. If you are looking for something to eat in Boise, I highly recommend their meatloaf sandwich. It was delicious. At that diner I got the “fortune” above. Once again I just had to laugh, as my injured hand and hip would beg to differ otherwise. After lunch I headed to the airport.

Conclusion

The little bit of the hike I got to do far exceeded my expectations. For relatively low elevation mountains, I was pretty impressed. It was definitely warmer than I would prefer during the afternoon, and the lack of shade on the second day didn’t help much. If I try the trip again, I’ll avoid Labor Day weekend, likely do it later in the year, and bring more sunscreen. I was really bummed I didn’t get to finish the loop as I didn’t even make it to the part I really wanted to make it to. The trails were very easy to follow, with the exception of a couple brief spots going up to Observation Peak. I didn’t see any significant wildlife. I saw quit a bit of hoof tracks on the trail though. And next time I’ll be more careful about picking my camp spot, as karma apparently has my number. 

Trash

The only trash I found during the hike was a plastic bottle cap at the lower Trail Creek Lake, at my camp spot. For as many people as I saw during this hike, especially at Trail Creek Lakes, I was quite impressed that was the only trash I saw. Kudos to all the visitors for keeping it clean.