Friday, March 24, 2017

Running on Desire Paths

It was the kind of chilly, windy, rainy day when you just want to sit on the couch, but I knew I had to go for a run. Unable to face the uphill climb to the park, I drove to the campground.

There's something I love about running around a deserted campground, I don't know why. (In high school, I used to run around a cemetery, but signs soon went up: No Jogging. I guess someone got offended.)



Most campgrounds are flat, which is rare terrain around here, and most have a nature trail of some sort associated with them. I was able to stitch together a short run without seeing a soul save a man with an umbrella (what do you call someone with an umbrella? A tourist).

The other thing about campgrounds is that they have little paths going everywhere. None of these are sanctioned, and I really try to stay off them, because I have spent countless hours trying to reclaim them in other areas. These, however, are pretty hardened into place, and so sometimes I can't help following them to see where they go.

All of my career I've called these "social trails", or "unauthorized routes", but I recently heard a new term: desire path. I love this! They make me think a little more kindly of people who create them. Most of the desire paths around this campground just lead straight uphill and stop.

This desire path leads to an impassible stream. Well, not impassible, but too wet to cross.
I thought about desire paths in life, too. For most of my twenties, I followed desire paths instead of designated trails. It was wild and free, but now that I've done it, lived penniless in bunkhouses, I don't have much of a need to go back there. But there's still occasional straying to be done.

What I've learned is that you pick and choose your desire paths. Durable surfaces, where you won't cause erosion or heartbreak, either one. The thing about desire paths is that other people will see where you've been and try to follow. Pretty soon there's a full-fledged trail. Tread lightly, wanderers.
Here's a desire path leading down toward the lake.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Climbing Fergi

Rain in March. It really shouldn't be raining in March, but nothing about this winter has been normal. What this means is that cross country skiing is history but hiking is not optimal. Optimistically we ventured to a usual spring sure thing, Davis Creek north of town, and found ourselves floundering in deep snow. Nope, not going to happen.

You take what you can get, so we headed to Fergi, the local volunteer-run ski hill. Fergi possesses its own unique charm, with a T-bar and $7 lift tickets. Even with the weather so awful, when the lift isn't running, people determinedly skin up to get a workout.

Except for me. I snowshoe. Yes, I am the fool who snowshoes up the ski hill, just to snowshoe back down. Where the fun is in that, I'm not sure, but it is something to do outside when the options are very limited. I did try to ski down once with my cross country skis, but this was punctuated with screams of alarm and not likely to be repeated.

It's not a very long hike up. In a short amount of time I was at the Voodoo, the small hut at the top of one of the runs. The story is that the original building at this location was named after a Rolling Stones album, the Voodoo Lounge. At any rate, it's a cute little building, and I spent the night after I got married in it.
Once you reach the Voodoo, it's all down hill, which in snowshoes really isn't easy. I picked my way down praying a fall wasn't in my future. It takes me longer to go down than it does to go up. But eventually I arrived back at the base of the hill.



Fergi is usually the site of much revelry, but today nobody was around. Fat bikes have been ridden down it, and on one occasion a guy tried to take the T-bar with a kayak, in order to kayak the snow back down. Neither attempt, up or down, was very successful. I'm pretty sure I am the first and only snowshoer to hike the hill, though. It's good to be a record holder.

Still winter up here.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

wild enough

I finally got out of town. It's been five months. I had a book reading on the west side, so I went a couple of days early and drove to the ocean. There's just something about listening to the waves that I had been missing. The coast has a peacefulness I needed. Sometimes I think I could just go and live in a remote cabin and never talk to people again. When I start feeling that way I know I need to go someplace wild. Or at least, semi-wild.


When I first pulled into Newport, it was an uncharacteristically sunny day. People were everywhere! Oh no, I thought. But despite all the people, I had to get out there.

 There were endless views in each direction. Time to go for a run!
Beach running is so easy. So flat! So sea level! No rocks, no bears, no mountain lions! You can look around without the possibility of a face plant. I ran toward the lighthouse, and then turned around to run in the other direction. 

The next day the weather returned to its normal self. Agate Beach was completely deserted, with torrents of rain and a biting wind. Driftwood had been tossed onto the sand. I still made myself go out, stalking the abandoned coast. Nobody else was out there, unlike the day before. This was more like it!  I am a fan of extreme weather--the years I lived in Florida with its endless sameness were hard to take.

I have to say that this has been a difficult time lately. People are so mean to each other now. There's a lot of superiority about lifestyles and how much better they are. Not knowing if we have to move (we still don't) has been hard. What helps is to get out, to realize that nature endures. This beach will be here long after I'm gone.

It rained so much that day that big rivers ran across the beach. The waves were huge. It was wild enough. I had my fix of the coast and could head back to my landlocked little mountain town. It'll be backpacking season soon. I can hang on until then.

Running on the beach, yes or no?
Are you a beach person?











Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Need for Speed (Not)

I've never been drawn to high speed activities (running and hiking aside, but those are different). My skydiving career ended prematurely on the third training jump when things went spectacularly wrong (we all lived). I was never one of those kids that wanted to ski fast or jump off high things. I liked the meditative pace of canoeing instead.

Cross country skiing as I grew up with it consisted of gliding serenely through deep woods, occasionally facing small hills, but nothing too extreme. I moved to Florida for a time, where skiing was referred to as "snow skiing" (which is just wrong) and then to Southeast Alaska, where snow rarely stuck to the town level and we went out in kayaks instead (I also had to drive motorboats for work, and didn't like driving fast either).

Where I live now, either you hole up and hate winter, or you adapt. Since I love cross country skiing, I adapted. But I'm not sure you can really term this "cross country". It's more "climb big hills and ski down them with Nordic gear." There's rarely anything flat about it.

"Enjoy the speed!" J yells as I pause at the top of the Hill of Death. I used to sidestep down the hill, and now I mostly ski it, which is a victory of sorts. However, my passage is a blur of fear, occasional giggles, and muttering a mantra of "oh no, oh no, too fast, help." I wish I could be a person who enjoys speed, but I doubt it will ever change at this point.

This is what cross country skiing should look like! Sadly, too brief of a flat interlude. BTW this is March, not December.
Sometimes conditions align. This past weekend, enough snow dumped to make the dreaded climb and subsequent plunge down from RY Timber lands joyful. Fast enough to glide, not fast enough to face plant. I arrived back to the ski area feeling confident. Maybe I was better, I thought, as I negotiated the last (mostly flat) approach. Maybe....

Thump! A small hill appeared from nowhere and my skis slid crazily down the strange concrete-like mix of snow. I thought I had survived until the last minute, when I plowed to a stop face first. Yep folks, still not ready for speed.

Pretty obvious what happened here.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pushing a Sofa Uphill

We pushed through a strange mosaic of snow. You never quite knew what you would get. Sticky as melted butter, an icy crust, or fluffiness. It all depended on the sun: where it had been, where it could reach. It was hard to get a good ski going with this inconsistency. That was March skiing for you.

As I skied, a familiar feeling crept over me. I was redlining, on a ski that should be somewhat easy. "You should go ahead," I snarled, stepping aside. When this happens, akin to pushing a sofa uphill, I am inclined to blame a lack of physical fitness or sheer laziness. I get mad and try harder. But this time I paused. I remembered what some friends are going through lately and it has made me think. Though I try to deny it, I do have an incurable, lifetime auto immune disease. 

Why am I writing about hypothyrodism on an outdoor blog? Because we all have our challenges. I tend to discount mine, and truthfully I'm lucky. I haven't had to change my medication in ten years. I breezily tell people it's no big deal. Most of the time I feel pretty good. But, puffing along in the wake of a speedy skier, I had to admit that it has affected my adventures.

There's that feeling that my eyes are just going to close on their own. The endless calorie counting no matter how much exercise I get. The times when my mind knows it can still do a seven minute mile, but my body says differently. Never waking up feeling refreshed. And days when the sofa is pretty hard to push. I realized that I've ignored all these because I didn't want to admit weakness. Better to ski harder, hike faster. Better to get mad.

But you can't ski mad. It just doesn't work. After awhile you just feel ridiculous. That's the benefit of being outdoors. There's really very little that mountains and snow can't fix, at least in terms of mood. I can tell when I haven't gotten enough, and that's been especially true lately. The changeable nature of March around here means that you stare anxiously at the sky. The forecast calls for 80% rain! But it's sunny? Do you dare go for it? You can try, like I did the other day, and discover to your joy that the park trails have been stomped down enough to run. Or you can drive up to the cross country ski parking area only to find a mean ice crust.

 So while I have an incurable autoimmune disease, and it can affect what I do, I'll just keep pushing that sofa. Some days it's not even a recliner, and others it feels like a full-on sectional. Fortunately, I am usually able to push through it and find some other plane where it's easy. I intend to keep doing that.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

jumping the fence

Yesterday Ruby jumped the fence. She was off for a wild runabout, reappearing later without remorse. She was so excited when she returned that she could  barely breathe. She raced about in a state of delight (At least she came back). I'm sure she wanted to tell me all about her adventure, but also how much she missed me and wanted to come back. Oh, Ruby. That is a dilemma us fence jumpers have to live with all of our lives.

Good thing she's cute.



Obviously she can't be doing that. There's so much snow that it's easy for her to get out. We'll have to shovel.  But this started me thinking about fence jumping in general. Breaking out. Doing the unexpected, even if you "should" be doing something else. We did this on Friday. I worked longer days so Friday afternoon was free. Sort of.

I had deadlines. I should have been at work. But winter decided to reappear. The snow was the best I have ever seen it. It looked like December. Because of all the fluffiness, I was able to ski down slopes that I usually have to timidly walk down. It was not to be missed. Well worth jumping a fence or two.
I skied the next two days in a row. Snow like this comes only a few days in a lifetime. I dragged some friends on a windswept traverse one day, and the other day we sped silently through the woods, successfully navigating the Hill of Death with no falls. This winter is the one that never seems to end.

What makes some dogs fence jumpers? I don't know. The lure of the unknown must finally overcome safety and home. I get it, Ruby. I was a fence jumper when I was younger too.

Now I just ski. But there's freedom in that. With snow like this, I can go wherever I want. Sick of winter perhaps, the others have abandoned the trails. I haven't skied a groomed trail in years. Instead I hunt for passage through trees. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not.


Apparently, it's been a hard winter. At least that's what people are saying. It doesn't seem that way to me. We had a brief February thaw and people appeared in shorts. They took studded tires off. They were fooled. You don't turn your back on winter here. We have two months at least to go.

The thing about fence jumping is that sometimes you can't find your way back. That's why Ruby has to learn to stay home. That's why I don't pack up and go hike the Pacific Crest Trail in its entirety, in one season. Or go sequester myself in a waterless cabin and write novels for a year. Other people don't subscribe to this. "YOLO!" they exclaim. They all have tales of people who died too soon, reminders that life is short.

It is short. As we skied today, the blue diamonds we followed were put up by a man who left us way too soon. If he had known, would he have jumped the fence? Was there something he passed up, thinking he would have time later? It's impossible to say. The only thing I can think of is this: jump a few fences, don't miss the adventures that would break your heart not to miss. But come home to the people who stay behind, waiting for you.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Going back again

I've now lived in one place longer than anywhere I ever have as an adult (7.5 years). The rest of my life, from age 18 to just  a few years ago, consisted of floating across the country, trying a place out, and moving on. I lived in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, New Mexico, Washington, Michigan, California, Idaho,  Nevada, Oregon (twice), and Alaska. They were all pretty good (Well, Pennsylvania wasn't that great) but I felt like I wanted to see what else was out there.

I've gone back to some of those places and big surprise, it wasn't the same. Good, but not the same. Being a visitor is a lot different than being part of the fabric of a place.

I  spent a lot of time at the Bowery Guard Station when I was a wilderness ranger.
The Sierra! My home for two summers

Florida, still beautiful,  but (except for this beach) so crowded! So much more pavement! It was sad.

Idaho, also still beautiful! But probably too much of a winter for me anymore.




I found out last week that I'm going back to Alaska for work. Not moving, just for a week. Going back to a place I've lived, I've figured out, is always kind of strange. The friends have moved on. The rain is much more annoying than it ever was. The tourists, so many! Even the scenery has changed, wildfires changing the landscape, new trophy homes dotting the hillside. Nothing ever stays the same, and I haven't either. Talking on a conference call with my old co-worker, AM, about my project was weird. We used to be teammates on the ranger boat, toting guns in the field. I'm not that same person anymore.

a "Fort Wench" in Michigan
I could be sad about this, and think about all the years that have gone by, never to be reclaimed. More years are in the past now than will be in the future (at least I hope so. Who wants to be that old?) But instead the overwhelming feeling I have looking back is gratefulness that I lived in such spectacular places. Even though friends who wisely stayed in one place and got permanent jobs at 21 can retire way, way sooner than I ever can, I wouldn't trade with them, most days. I have made all the right choices, I think.

My former co-worker AM in a survival suit, looking over Dry Pass.
Ever go back to a place you lived? Was it different?