Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Soggy Sneaker Spring

This spring reminds me of why I left the rainforest. So. Much. Rain. Last year we were already swimming in Wallowa Lake in our wetsuits. Not this year, unless we want to court serious hypothermia. There is way too much snow to get far in the mountains, either. And I've been traveling for what seems like months. So what's a person to do? Go on short adventures.

We went to the ski trails to run and bike. Nobody else really uses them, but they make some nice loops. We emerge from the woods looking like drowned rats. On the way back, we ran into a cow jam:

There's also Power Lawn Mowing, where you run behind your mower praying for the rain to hold off long enough to finish. And lots of gym time with the usual suspects: Man Who Counts Reps Out Loud, Hiking Boot Elliptical User, and Duran Duran Listener.

It is really easy to let the rain get to you. I saw this a lot when I lived in Sitka. Some people embraced it, but others settled into a depression that was only alleviated by taking the ferry south. The rich people ran away in the winter, to Florida and Hawaii. The rest of us survived by deciding that the weather was like this everywhere, that this was all there was, no other parallel universe where people wore shorts and a bottle of sunscreen didn't last for five years. There could be a kind of comfort in the rain, shutting us off from a world that seemed increasingly volatile.

This was a nice day in Southeast Alaska--you can see the mountains!
So I bike and I run and occupy the gym and wait for the summer I know will come. Flash and I email back and forth about our PCT section hike: should we go stoveless? (Possibly.) Should we spend the night in Etna? (Probably.) Should we hike 20 mile days? (How about 17?) Flash runs two half marathons while I do little outings. Will she kick my butt on the trail? (Likely.)

I've lived in endless summer (Florida), endless rain (Alaska) and endless desert (Nevada). I like the space between the extremes. Lately I have been thinking about careers and being left behind as people I worked with on trail crews surge ahead. Others live without their spouses for years in a sort of commuter marriage. I decide in the end I just can't do it. I need the three spheres: work I don't hate, place I love, a person I adore. You can always add more spheres until it gets kind of ridiculous: running trails! A swimming pool! A dentist within 100 miles! But the core three is what matters.

It didn't always. I've been a traveler, chaser of new places. That's changed. I'm glad I had those wild seasonal years. It makes it easier to buckle down now, to get money in the bank, to mow the lawn even, instead of thinking, I'm mowing the lawn. What have I become?

Rain lends itself to musings like these. I'm looking forward to sun.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Running in Cities

I just got back from two weeks of traveling. Guys! What's happened? I looked around at the other people in the meetings, and they look so....young. There's a huge shift in my agency to hire millenials who have plenty of school experience but have never cleaned a toilet, cleared a trail, or fought a fire. Not that you HAVE to do those things to be a good resource manager, but if you are supervising people who do those things, you really should be familiar with what it takes. It's hard not to be a little envious of these twenty year olds who skated in without years of hard seasonal time, in jobs that it took me twenty years to attain. Especially when they try to condescendingly explain policy.

Soon, these people will be my supervisor. That's a little hard to take, but it's been a conscious decision on my part not to chase numbers. Often to move up, you have to live in an urban area. That's just not for me. The quality of life for me really goes down as population goes up. Traffic, having to  lock doors, being worried to run down a street after dark...No.

But there can be some good things about visiting. Both places I went to have amazing greenbelts. I giggled to myself as I ran out of my hotel right onto a flat path by a river. It was so novel not to look at my feet for rocks,  not to face plant, not to climb breathlessly up several thousand feet in elevation just to attain a few miles, to run a normal running pace. I allowed myself a moment to think of how much faster of a runner I could be if I lived in a place like this.
Paradise for running!
Plus there's fun things to watch:

I'd like to try this!
It's funny to be the older crowd at meetings because it seems like such a short time ago I was the youngest one in the room. I remember an old salt calling me a hippie because I wore sandals. Even though I worked my way up, I'm sure they had some of the same misgivings I do when I see the new people today.

For now, though, it's eyes on the prize (ten years!) and traveling to places I don't want to live in, but can mine the good stuff from. Like running on greenbelts, where for a few brief moments I can be fast and fearless.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Don't "hike like a girl." Just hike.

Apparently this weekend was "hike like a girl" weekend. I don't know who started it. The purpose, I guess? is to show women that they belong outdoors. Or something.

While I run into women sometimes who are afraid to hike alone, I have to say the idea that the outdoors isn't for women isn't in my universe. Who decided this? It's true that more kids should be outdoors, but I must live in a parallel world from the people who decided this was a good campaign. I see plenty of women outdoors. And, this sort of bugs me. It's similar to the articles that keep cropping up titled earnestly something like this: "Why hiking solo is something women should do. Here's some tips." I feel as though singling women out as if they were some special case is not helping. This should be "just get out and hike weekend." (Also? I STILL get the same questions when I hike alone as I did twenty years ago. "Aren't you afraid? Where's your gun? Are you really by YOURSELF?" From strangers! We don't do this to men. Let's stop this.)

Anyway, in the spirit of Just Hike, I decided to get outside, even though the forecast was truly horrible. Thunderstorms? Hail? Three inches of rain? Flooding! But, sitting at home didn't sound very appealing. So I gathered rain gear and took off. At first, I just wanted to hike a couple of hours. But....

I just wanted to see how far I could get, a common malady of mine. I crossed a scary bridge and headed up to Ice Lake.

I'm pretty happy to have made it across this bridge. But I have to cross it again on the way back!
I had no real illusions I would reach the lake. Last year, in a low snow year, it was possible, but it's going to be July before the high country melts out. Still, I wanted to see where the snow started. A couple of women came down the trail, professing fear of thunderstorms. See? Women outdoors.

I made it to the basin about two miles from the lake. That was as far as I was going to get. Happily enough, I turned around, watching some dramatic clouds. There was only a slight sprinkle, the ominous forecast never appearing.

It was a perfect day to hike. Not hike like a girl. Not separate myself out from the population as someone who needs encouragement to get out there. Just a hiker.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Car Glamping (My Way)

Car camping by the Imnaha River. The only time I have a campfire.
When I hear the term "car camping", I shudder. The picture it brings up is a bunch of folks sitting around in a campground, trying to pretend that strangers aren't a few feet away, large white man campfires, music playing, bright lanterns, and possibly an errant frisbee golf disc going through your campsite. Communal toilets, or just one toilet with a line of people standing in wait. No, just no.

This weekend we decided to car camp, but differently than this. We drove to the Lower Imnaha, which is a ten mile road winding by the river, with what we call in the biz "dispersed campsites." (Basically, you just go park it, with no amenities.) There are a few rustic campgrounds too, but most aren't open. In that entire corridor, we saw three other groups of people, and nobody close to us. We drove down to a site by the river and decided it would be perfect for us.

The previous (fall) occupants had left us a gift--a portable toilet. Don't do this. Just don't.

"Glamping": Table and chairs!
We decided to split up. J wanted to explore the rock rims and I was unsure, because adventures with him often should be titled, Darn It, I Should Have Worn Pants. I wanted to hike on a trail and go as far as I could. So I dropped him off at his starting point. "In case you get mauled by a bear, leave the keys in the box in the back of the truck," he said. This wasn't all that funny, because the last time I had hiked the Imnaha River Trail, I had been scared off by a huge bear. But I was determined to not let bearanoia defeat me. I marched up the trail at a fast pace.

This trail is well known for its blowdown, but it was surprisingly clear. I reached the Blue Hole, a summer swimming hole, in record time, and continued farther up the trail to get some views. Only when I started battling the brush and pictured a rain of ticks did I decide to turn around, thinking, Darn it, I should have worn pants!

J came back to camp with tales of having discovered a lake. A lake! I was envious. The next morning we decided to explore a little more of the rock rims, and stumbled upon a trail mystery. It was an old trail sign pointing to the river, but neither of us had ever known of a trail there. We wandered around, finding some blazes, but the trail is lost to the mists of time. There's rarely anything more intriguing to me than long lost trails. We will have to come back.

This tin was by the signpost. These knives were offered in the early 1970s.

Hard to read, but it says "Imnaha River."

Wandering the rock rims.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section B, Day 5.5: The Hardest Five Miles on the PCT

On our final day on the PCT, we woke to beautiful clear skies. We also awoke to a bubble: a small herd of PCT thru hikers (though none of them had done the actual alternate but skipped ahead to town). Plenty of people had washed up near us, and we saw them throughout the day, still looking pretty clean from Idyllwild.

But not us!  We had done the alternate and I felt good about that. We set a good pace as we embarked on the 6,000 foot descent. It is one of those where you see the valley floor hours and hours before you get to it. In times like this you have to give in to what the trail can teach you: patience, and being here now. There was no need to rush.

Suddenly Triscuit began to run. What was it? A snake? A weirdo? I soon found out as angry bees boiled around our heads. This is a notorious spot where earlier in the season at least one horse fell to its death. We hadn't done anything to disturb the bees, but they weren't happy with us passing by. Our sprint was successful.

A rare flat section.

The day began to get hotter and hotter, and we passed clumps of people collapsed in rare shade pockets: Gadget Girl, Seasoned Strider, a young couple, and the Three Musketeers (our name for them of course, and a guy we named Pop-Up because he popped up out of nowhere). "You know," Triscuit said thoughtfully, "I didn't like the rain, but now I think we lucked out." I had to agree: we had tackled some big climbs in chilly, overcast weather that might have been grueling in normal temperatures.

The valley floor. Way over there.
I had sort of hoped we would camp out one more night, but it was only two when we finally reached the mystical water faucet, a mysterious drinking fountain in the middle of nowhere. There was no shade and no good place to camp. We steeled ourselves for what ahead: the worst five miles of the PCT.

How bad could it be? I thought as we headed across sagebrush flats. Surely the people before us were just wimps! We were badasses! But soon reality bit. The wind gusted savagely, so much so that we had to lean over to keep our forward progress. We were walking in deep sand. And it was hot, blazingly so. We were headed for the unlovely sight of a highway overpass, which never seemed to get closer. As we finally passed under it, with its creepy vibe, I thought we were to the trail angels' house--but no, we still had 1.8 miles to crawl along.

We dragged ourselves onto Ziggy and the Bear's patio with looks of shock and awe. That was truly awful, I thought, as the Bear gave us each a cold Gatorade. Massive sugary drink? Okay. Feeling better, I took stock of my surroundings.

A few hikers sprawled on some ancient recliners. One of them was Wing It, who had taken the hitch. I told him what we had been calling him and he thoughtfully considered it. He may end up being called Wing it for the next two thousand miles. Strangely, two stoned waifs dressed in bizarre outfits--fishnet stockings, fur capes, and tails--poked through a resupply box. One came to hug me. They listened to tales of our journey. "Cooool," they said. They were headed to Joshua Tree with no real plan. I worried about them a little.

Triscuit escaped to call a shuttle. We had thought about staying here but the fact of no showers, waifs, and a small patio to sleep on with everyone else sent us over the edge. As we waited for our ride to Palm Springs, where we had a whole day to swim in the pool, look in expensive shops, and eat Mexican food, a clean and unruffled Welsh hiker strolled in. He looked at us as we sat by the garbage cans. Could he really have hiked the same trail we did? We marveled as we rode to Palm Springs. Would I see these people again in July, when I am in Northern California? I hoped so.

One hundred miles had gone so fast. Too fast. I looked wistfully out at the Whitewater Preserve and the trail to come. I wanted to be out there with Wing It and Slingblade and Man in Black and everyone else. But I'm not the kind of person who can live on a wing and a prayer. I don't want to be 75 and still working. I think this is why the trail is so precious to me. I know what it takes for me to get there.

There's a PCT marker on the underpass.

1200 miles down! I wish I could be out there tomorrow. However, most of the trail is still under deep snow. It's time to hunker down and wait. July in Castle Crags, I'm coming for you!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section B, Day 5: Patchouli, Water from a Puddle, and Triscuit Yogis a Ride

A day in the sun makes all the difference.
When we awoke, still the only souls in a huge campground, something was different. The sky was clear. There was no rain! Hallelujah! Triscuit and I made short work of packing up, but Man in Black lingered on in the campground, talking on his phone well out of our earshot. You meet nice people on the PCT, but they harbor secrets like everyone else. Leaving him to his rendezvous, or whatever it was, Triscuit and I found the mountain bike trails leading to Idyllwild easily. Why thru-hikers were skipping this section claiming there was no alternative to the fire closure, we couldn't figure out. It was a pleasant walk, our stuff was dry, and there was sun. We really couldn't ask for more.

Soon we attained the closed May Valley Road, a dirt road that runs through the heart of the old fire. As such, it is closed to vehicle traffic, so we could boldly walk through it, seeing nobody. There were only a few hiker tracks. Prior to the road we had been following some distinctive prints that had a castle like image on them. "King," I mused. "Chicken A La King!" Triscuit said. Whomever the tracks belonged to, he now had a trail name.  We giggled for miles. Sadly, we never found the person to let him know.

Trail messages

Near the South Ridge trail that would take us back to the PCT, we called the ranger station to see what conditions were like on Tahquitz Peak and to determine our fate--to Idyllwild or not? I harbored hopes of not touching a town at all.

"I'M SO GLAD YOU CALLED!" the ranger said. "DON'T GO UP THERE." He went on to elaborate that the trail climbed the shoulder of the peak and was icy and dangerous. People who had tried it had come back in defeat. It's always hard to know what fears other people carry, but we decided to be prudent and road walk into town. I was disappointed, but without additional information, this was the best we could do. On we walked, finally attaining pavement and walking through some delightful neighborhoods with cute cabins. I could totally live here, I thought.

But it was taking forever. Where the heck was town? Triscuit grew tired of guessing and flagged down a small car. The driver popped out, a lanky and handsome young man with a do-rag wrapped around his head, and reeking of patchouli. "Don't come near the car!" he warned, and two evil looking dogs surged the windows. "You're almost there," he said before retreating. What the..? The juxtaposition of a hippie and mean dogs was yet another mystery we could not solve.

Like a mirage, a restaurant appeared on the corner of the main drag. Despite our bedraggled appearance, we hiked in. Water! Tuna melts! Sweet potato fries! One thing I love about hiking is the freedom from the daily calorie count. Then we pondered our options. Most hikers were hitching to the Devils Slide, which took them up and over Fuller Ridge. However, we were hearing horror stories of people sliding and falling. It seemed to make more sense to take the Black Mountain alternate, which is the same in terms of mileage, so we wouldn't be "cheating." We just needed a ride to the Black Mountain Road, 8 miles away on a highway with no shoulder.

We scanned the dining room for possibilities. Would those older ladies be a good bet? Everyone's eyes avoided us as if they knew what we were up to. Triscuit marched off and managed to yogi a ride with two New Zealanders on vacation, ambushing the woman by the bathroom. Intrigued by us, they agreed to take us to the road. I wasn't able to believe our luck. We hadn't had to hitchhike!

Our trail angels the Kiwis!
The Kiwis dropped us at the road, which was actually driveable for two more miles before reaching a gate, but we were firm in our need not to cheat.  We would walk! Back at the restaurant, we had pondered the water report. It said that Posey Spring, eight miles up the road, was usually running. That had to mean it was, right? But our cautious nature compelled us to bring three liters. As it turns out, that was a good decision.

Triscuit and I trudged up the road, which was incredibly steep. We both agreed we wouldn't want to drive it. Near the top, Posey Spring was, in fact, not running, and we knew we had a long way to water--over 20 miles and not nearly enough water. I scraped some snow into my bladder and we gathered water from a puddle. That was a first. The water was a strange shade of yellow, but it would do.

Triscuit gathering water from a puddle

Finally we reached the intersection with the PCT and headed downward. This was a 6,000 foot descent to the valley floor. After having ascended 6,000 feet, we weren't going to do it all tonight. Instead, we hunted for the camping trifecta when it is windy: boulders, trees, and a great view. We lucked out at about mile 192.

Sparks, a section hiker finishing up his multi-year section hike of the PCT. Go, Sparks!

Later in the evening, a thick bank of clouds spilled over the shoulder of Mount St. Jacinto. It was a perfect campsite. A few other thru hikers trudged past, and two women, Seasoned Strider and Gadget Girl, came to share our site. GG's husband was supporting them in an RV, picking them up every few days and allowing them to rest, get showers, etc. That would be quite the luxurious way to thru hike, I thought enviously.

I often have a hard time explaining to others why I love backpacking so much. But this was it--a challenging day in the books, the right decisions made, nearly 100 miles under my feet, and one of the most beautiful campsites ever.

Saving Day 5.5 for last...because it deserves its own post. Ha ha.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section B, Days 3-4: Survival Situation on the Mountain

As we packed up, neither Wing It or the Flying Nun stirred. The ebb and flow of the trail meant we might never see them again. As we wound along the cliffs above Anza, I dared to believe that the ominous weather forecast might be wrong. This was to have been the worst day of rain, but so far it had held off.
A lot of the day looked like this.

But not for long. As we began a long descent toward Highway 74, I conceded defeat and put the rain pants back on. An insistent drizzle followed us as we put our feet on pavement. It was a mile road walk to the Paradise Cafe, and I really didn't want to go there, but I knew Triscuit did, and the lure of real food eventually made me give in. It was early for lunch, since we had hammered out 10 miles in only a few hours, but I dreamed of a grilled cheese sandwich. Triscuit yearned for her only vice, a Diet Coke. The rain increased to a torrent as we hiked the busy highway, nobody stopping to pick us up.

"We aren't in the Pacific Northwest anymore," I said. There, someone would have stopped to offer us a ride. Not in California!

Staring at the Paradise Cafe in the distance, I began to get a sinking feeling. The parking lot was empty. No lights were on. Committed, we continued to find a closed up shop due to a water problem. Shivering, we perched on the porch eating not a grilled cheese sandwich, but cashews. A few disappointed cafe goers approached, stared at us, and left. "Are you hiking?" One man asked, perhaps disregarding the obvious clues of backpacks and lack of a car. To their credit, they asked if we needed a ride to Idyllwild, but unlike 99% of the hikers this year, we were not going to hitch around the fire closure.  Our trailhead was only a mile back up the road but despite our blatant hints and (perhaps because of) our drowned rat appearance, we couldn't get a ride back there. Grilled cheeseless, we trudged back to the trail.

In rain too cold to stop and break, we wound back up into the mountains, passing little rock gardens and ephemeral streams that were running strongly. The footing was  rocky and the grade had steepened to something un-PCT-like. This was my vacation? I thought. This was why I had worked 50 hour weeks? But I could still feel the magic of the trail, even through the rain. Once again, it was not the flat, cactus desert I had expected.

Yard sale! A successful dry out has the trifecta: wind, full sun, and helpful bushes.
When we reached the ridge and turned the corner, the full brunt of the wind hit us. The fog thickened. We were walking in a whiteout, rain pelting our faces. Without saying anything we knew that this was classic hypothermia weather--in Southern California. We had to keep going. If we stopped, I doubted we would have the dexterity or ability to even put up a tent, if the wind would allow it. Scrambling to check our compass, we ascertained we were still on track.

As if there was any other trail...

Finally we reached the fire closure sign, which meant a switchbacking descent down the Cedar Springs trail. The wind receded and the urgency of the situation subsided. We had made it. Stumbling into an abandoned campground, we searched among the cow pies for suitable tent sites. The trail today had mostly been deserted but Man in Black was already in his tent there. As we passed he declared that the ridge situation hadn't seemed bad to him. Triscuit and I exchanged glances. We knew how much on the edge it had been. After 21 miles, it was good to stop.

Pictures were unfortunately scarce on this day.
Waking to a foggy world, we packed up our wet tents again and headed for a combination of paved road, mountain bike trail, and powerline to reach a roadside campground. Pausing to have a yard sale, we checked the weather forecast and were disheartened to see 100% chance of rain--again. This cemented it. We would do a "nero" hike today (nearly zero miles--it would be ten) and stay in the campground. On the way we stopped by a convenience store for some necessary Fritos. Outside, a man regaled us with tales of mountain lion killing and also that he had set up a game camera at the abandoned campground. I calculated the location and figured it was probably aimed right at my tent's location.

Peeping Tom, Man in Black and Triscuit: Hikertrash at the store
It was hard to curb my desire to make more miles, but it made sense. Besides, hot showers!

Except, no. Lukewarm showers!  I shivered as I sprinted for the tent. I was regretting my decision to go stoveless on this trip as I observed Triscuit and Man in Black sipping hot drinks. Who knew that it would rain this much? But there was hope. A hesitant moon peered out through the clouds. Would we have sun for our last few days on the trail? I fervently hoped so, not realizing that I would later have cause to change my mind. Soon the windswept and slightly desperate ridge situation would take on a different hue as the weather drastically changed.
To be continued.....