Friday, May 18, 2018

Working Indoors (for the outdoors person)

I've had an "office job" for almost seven years now. And yes, I was one of those people who said they would never come in from the field. But you know, years of toiling on trails, on the fireline, and wilderness rangering take their toll. Besides being sort of low pay, they can eventually wind you up with health issues that could prevent you from doing the things you love. (For example, I never thought that leaving a 70 pound pack on while digging out hundreds of waterbars would catch up
with me. My knees don't agree.)

So here I am, tap tap tap on a computer. But, now when I go outside it's to do the things I want to do, not the things some manager thinks I need to (dig a waterline anyone?). Is it easy? Nope. I see my former co-workers heading to the field and I am envious. Rain, snow, beautiful sunny day, it makes no difference--I'm stuck inside.

A quick lunchtime walk that takes five minutes to reach

How to deal? Maybe you aren't in this boat and are independently wealthy, or are lucky enough to be able to balance an outdoors life with work. If so, stop reading and go outside (but leave me a comment. I love comments. And I am always looking for new blogs to follow). If you're like me, though, here are some survival tips.

1. The obvious: Put a block of outdoor time on your calendar. Everyone should get a lunch break. If I don't put it on my online calendar, someone will plop a meeting in there. It's easy to fall in the trap of thinking that if I only have time for a 30 minute run, then it's not "enough." But it's something. I sometimes change into my workout clothes a few minutes early--that signals to me that I am actually going to go.

Luckily, some hiking pants can look like "work pants"
2. Use conference calls wisely. Ah, the four hour call, where people blab on about "taking deep dives" and "unpacking this". If you aren't presenting, there may be time to go walk briskly around the block or even sit outside, as long as you are ready for the inevitable, "So....what do YOU think about Brad's idea?" I have a co-worker who even goes for runs during conference calls. I'm not sure I could pull that off (don't breathe heavily into the phone) but mute is a wonderful invention.

3. Don't let co-workers guilt you. Once, someone I supervised loved to snark on the fact that I left "Early" (4:30) to go outside and exercise. One day I was still at work and he said, "You're still here!" There will always be these people, those who feel married to the job. Don't marry the job. There are people in my workplace who lose their vacation time! Don't be them. Ignore the haters and stand your ground. To me, planning little mini-hikes throughout the year is much more rewarding than taking all my time off at once. And as the saying goes in my workplace, if you can take 30 days off, your job isn't really necessary. (I know, I know..)

4. Pack the weekends/after work. After a day of the computer, the struggle is real. I want to just sit and stare blankly into space. Darn you, Excel formulas! But move you must. I try to reserve the (boring but necessary) gym and bike trainer for weekdays and do longer adventures on the weekends. I've been known to backpack on a Sunday and run down the trail at four in the morning to make it to the office on Monday morning. It's good to show up at work kind of tired from the weekend's activities. The gym, though tiring, isn't as good of a feeling.

5. Avoid adventure envy. This is a hard one! There's nobody else's life that I want, but there are times when I read blogs or see posts about multi-day or even day long trips people are able take on a random Wednesday. Some are my local friends, too. What I do is count up the things that I am lucky enough to do. I have weekends off. I have a living wage. I probably won't have to work as a Walmart greeter. I can retire at a (relatively) young age, unless Congress adopts the current budget proposal. I'm not suffering from a terminal illness. And so on...

I get to hike about 300 miles of the PCT a year. That is not a bad thing.
6. Rig up an outdoor space. This can be difficult unless you work at home, but there may be chances to take a laptop outside and work. I have a contraption using my trekking umbrella, but it can be tricky to see the screen. But if you have to review a hard copy document, go outside to do it! (Just beware of distractions. The neighbors are having happy hour on their porch! Oh look, a kitten!

7. Walk around! In a cubicle prairie, this may be hard. Someone may be waiting to trap you into a fascinating conversation about rivets. But try to get up once an hour at the very least and pace. Maybe do a walking meeting; I have been known to entice co-workers outside for this. No need to sit in a conference room!

This is my office burning down. As much as I hate office work, this was not a good thing to see.

8. If all else fails, quit. Nope, I am not brave enough to do this either. But you might be. I am not willing to go back to bunkhouses with 20 year olds, paying rent, and worrying about running out of money at 75. I have friends who think social security is going to save them. Oh honey. No. But if you can overcome financial woes to go back outside, more power to you.

Despite this list, I still suffer. There are tradeoffs to everything. Would I rather wake up with a backpack to grab for the day? Of course. But eyes on the prize. Or, pick a lane, as my friend Ellen would say. Make a choice and make it work.

Any indoor working tips to share?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Trail family

Thru hikers call it "trail family" or "tramily." It's a group of people that are your tribe, the ones who love you even if you have quirks like wanting the perfect campsite or seeing what's around the corner. These people are rare and you have to appreciate them when they appear. Living in a very small town, it was difficult to collect these people, but I have managed to find some.

That being said, I still like my solo adventures. A perfect week is a hybrid of both. During the work week, I am more often solo. On a rainy day, I went for a run in the park:

It was raining, and way more tempting to stay inside. But I had spent all day inside! To the park I can't pronounce!

A test of the Leave It command ensued. In the end, the deer were safe.

An after work hike on the Hurricane Creek trail and a scout of the river crossing. Still too high.

Finally the weekend came and I cast a net for day hikers. My friend could only hike for a couple of hours, so she turned around at the Ice Lake bridge and I continued on to see how high I could get.

Lots of snowmelt was making the waterfall huge.

The end of the line unless you are a fan of postholing. Still another month perhaps until the lake is accessible.

It's good to see there is still this much snow at higher elevations. We will need it this summer.
On the way down from the hike, I happened upon two other friends and we hiked out together.

On Sunday I gathered up two friends and proposed a hike to Freezeout Saddle. They agreed cautiously, because I have taken them on some unintended epic adventures. I also invited a stranger, a woman I knew only from professional email, because why not? We climbed up through beautiful views and wildflowers.

Hiking with friends has caused me to compromise. A slower pace sometimes, adjusting the destination, or turning around when they wanted to, not when I did. It's made me a better person, actually. I think. You would have to ask them!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Notes from the Vortex: a week in Sedona

"I don't feel any different," I said doubtfully as A and I stood in what he said was a vortex. We looked back at where we had come. A rare thunderstorm, strange for spring in Sedona, was slowly making its way toward us. We had just been caught in a brief rainstorm. While other hikers vanished from the trail or frantically put on rain jackets, we had marched serenely onward. Rain in the desert, it never lasts too long.

View from a vortex
Another work trip, another chance to put a life philosophy into practice. Unless you are very lucky, you have to work thirty to forty years. That is a long time. I work hard at trying to fit adventures into my work travel. It isn't always easy. There is paperwork to process if you want to stay over a weekend, and sometimes you can't if it costs more to fly back later. There's inertia to overcome--after leading a meeting, all I want to do sometimes is sit in the hotel. But I never regret making an effort.

Luckily, in Sedona it doesn't take much effort. The national forest surrounds the town, and trails are plentiful.
I found one for an early morning run. I had local intel because you had to walk on a right of way through someone's gate. Once I passed through, the options were endless. So many trails, so little time.

After a week of sitting at our computers, we were done. It was time to get out for a hike. We earnestly said we would be discussing wilderness character monitoring on the trail, and we did for the most part. This trail traverses the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.

An easy three miles one way was enough to get me dreaming of off-trail scrambling. There was so much to discover. Alas, there was not enough time.

Reluctantly we headed back. "Where's the next basket!" a flustered looking man asked. He meant the large cairns enclosed with wire, meant to keep people on the trail. They seemed obvious to us, but he appeared frightened of getting lost. He was headed for the vortex, and it seemed like he really, really needed some healing powers, or at least a bite of a calm down sandwich.

So what is a vortex, exactly? I looked it up: Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form 'vortices' is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy.

Hmm. I'm not sure I believe in them, but can't we all use all the help we can get? Maybe I will end up feeling healed and meditative in the coming work week. I can always hope.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My short-lived modeling career

 This will surprise exactly nobody, but I don't really shop. The clothes I buy are multi-taskers. The pants can be used for hiking but also in an office, should I need to travel to one. My dresses are all the "outdoors" type (even my wedding dress was a "beach dress"). So I don't really spend time perusing catalogs, but when I do, I notice that all the women in them seem to be about 20 years old and weigh about a hundred pounds.

I get that the companies have a product to sell. Maybe if you buy this, you will look like this! Does anyone really fall for this? I don't know. But when a clothing company came to town, wanting "models of all ages and sizes", I decided to test them out. Did they really mean it? I looked them up online, and they appeared to mostly have young women and kids, not a woman over forty to be seen. In an uncharacteristic move, I sent them my picture. To my surprise, they told me they wanted me to show up to their casting call.

Casting call? I cringed. Would I be lined up with flawless others, scrutinized to see if I passed? But in the end I couldn't resist. Represent for the older ladies! I showed up.

In the end there was only me...and a sea of moms with kids! Very, very dressed up kids. Their shot at fame, perhaps? The kids had to be measured, but thankfully I didn't. We all lined up with little flash cards with our names on them, so "they'd remember who we were". Then we were dismissed.

Feeling a bit foolish, I went about my normal life. Two days later, I was on a plane to Alaska when I got an email: "We'd like you to show up at 7:30 tomorrow for a photo shoot. And can you bring your dog?" Well, darn! The catalog people hadn't mentioned their timeline when I had showed up. I had assumed I hadn't been picked. Regardless, I would have to decline.

I'll never know if they just photographed everyone that showed up, and then weeded out the old or the unsuitable, or if I really would have been in the catalog. There went our chance, Ruby's and mine, I thought. I was disappointed, not because of being in a catalog, which seems like a silly goal to have, but because just maybe they would have featured someone beyond their norm. I have been called out, even on this blog, for calling myself old and for caring that people have a stereotype of older people. But how are we supposed to "age gracefully" when older people are pretty much invisible? I had been looking forward to see if this company would actually use pictures of someone who wasn't twenty years old. Now I'll never know.
Here's the real model in the family.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Type II fun on the Davis-Swamp Creek loop

You've probably heard about the three kinds of fun. If you haven't, this article explains it pretty well.

In retrospect, going backpacking when I hadn't been able to keep any food down for 24 hours probably wasn't the best idea. But I am always in firm denial over being sick, since it happens so rarely. Plus, several friends were going! And it was going to be sixty degrees! So I ate a banana and hoped for the best.

There's really few options for backpacking this time of year. The Wallowas are shrouded in snow. Hells Canyon has few options that don't involve poison ivy or a super long drive. We landed on the Davis-Swamp Creek loop, a route of either 14 or 16 miles depending on who you ask (or how long you get lost--foreshadowing). I had day hiked this loop once years ago, so I knew that there was a steep descent followed by a steep climb followed by a steep descent, then a fairly level path along a creek. It's not particularly scenic, being in the bottom of a canyon, but peaceful, with big trees and nice water.

Pic by T. I was too busy trying to survive feeling bonky.
Though I felt like I was operating at a lower level than usual, I managed to keep up as we descended into Davis Creek and climbed up Starvation Ridge. A few ticks tried to hitch a ride, though luckily those were the only ones we discovered on the hike. A chilly breeze made me regret the idea of wearing a skirt. It wasn't quite summer, not yet.

As we traversed Swamp Creek, we came upon several cattle fences. The person who built these had an obvious desire to keep other people out. Some of the gates were so tight that we were forced to crawl underneath them. At one such area, the trail disappeared, but it looked like we were supposed to cross the creek. I hesitated. I didn't remember this, but it had been several years since I had hiked the "trail", so maybe I was wrong. Disregarding the sense of unease that usually prompts me to speak up, I joined the group in crossing near-freezing water. 

On the other side, we floundered looking for trail signs until it became obvious there was no trail there. Back across the freezing creek and scouting the other side, until we finally picked up an extremely well-used trail. How had we missed it? We didn't know, but we had spent an hour wandering among prickly bushes, so we had to pick up the pace to reach camp.

Once we reached our intended destination, the confluence of the two creeks, our hearts sank. Cows! Why were they in here so early? Camping with cows is not fun. Retreat! We had to leave the nice meadow (actually, not so nice now that cows have been in there), crawl under another fence, and pick a flat spot nearby. Our evening was punctuated with bellows from bovines. Mine was also punctuated with anger at myself--I had brought the wrong tent poles for my tent, a rookie mistake! I was somewhat proud of my unstable result, though.

Poles for a one person tent used on a two person, plus some help with poles
I had cautiously eaten only a packet of tuna and a slice of homemade cold pizza all day, and that night my throat burned with indigestion. Obviously whatever plagued me wasn't over yet. Sleepless, I listened to the carefree snores of camp mates and contemplated the next day's cold start (the water in the dog's bowl froze solid).

And cold it was. The cows fled at our shrieks as we negotiated two icy river crossings.  "My feet, my feet," I moaned as I hobbled across a frosty meadow on blocks of ice. After some time, they warmed up, but the effects of not eating for a couple of days were beginning to take their toll. I concentrated on my chatty hiking partner's tales of adventure and made myself keep going. Just one more mile, albeit steep, before we got out.

I had somehow foolishly volunteered to drive, so after cramming a wet dog, four backpacks, and four people into a Nissan Xterra, we headed for town, while all I could think about was a nap. Even the thought of chocolate was revolting, so I knew I had been really sick. (Whatever it was mysteriously vanished a day later.)

Type II fun at its finest, but now that I look really was kind of fun. Minus feeling sick, of course. That's Type III at least.

The dog only has one type of fun. It's all fun!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The evolution of a runner

They say that you can improve for ten years once you start running. Does that mean that I peaked at 24?
I'm sure that's not true for everyone, but I did have semi-impressive times at that age. It would be easy to sit around and moan about how much slower I have become, but I'd rather look at it as an evolution.

The other day, with fear in my heart, I ventured down to Devil's Gulch. I say fear because the trail has grown exceedingly brushy, enough so that if you don't wear pants, you regret it mightily. You also have to search for the trail, ending up high and dry on a scree slope, bushwhacking down through willows, or else on a precarious ledge above the creek. Also, once a dog I was with got bitten by a rattlesnake. (It should be noted that dogs aren't allowed on this trail. We didn't see the sign saying so, so we became part of the problem. However, it is also a reason I don't run it much, because I want my running buddy with me.)

Views on a run
Trails that are relatively flat, and by this I mean those that don't shoot straight up to the sky, studded with trippy rocks and logs to hurl yourself over, are very rare in these parts. I think that's why I don't enjoy running like I used to. You can't ever just let go. You are always on the verge of a potentially painful face plant.

But I was pleased to discover that trail work has taken place in Devils Gulch (here is where I make the obligatory plug to join a trail work party if you use trails. Please. I've done my share, I feel, but I will also do more in the future). I was able to (sort of) speed along, and wear shorts! Winning!

Look! Almost flat trail! The holy grail.

As I ran at a pace that I would have been horrified to admit to in my 20s, I thought about how my relationship with running has changed. I used to train intensely, and unwisely, because there were few instructions out there. Run at two minutes slower than your marathon pace? Take rest days? Unheard of! I hurtled along at the fastest pace I could at all times. Races were always intense. Back then, most people were pretty fast. There was no real back of the pack, recreational runner. You went all out. A pace of seven, or even sometimes six, minute miles wasn't enough to garner an age group place, much less win.

As the decades piled on, I ran, but stopped racing, with the exception of a few select races. The Steens Rim Run, where you ran up to 10,000 feet. Avenue of the Giants. A marathon on Prince of Wales Island, where there were only 40 participants. It became about quality, not quantity.

After knee surgery, I stopped racing and quit pavement. I took to trails exclusively. Running became more about the experience than the time. It was freeing to just run without looking at a watch, without having to "train".

Then, two years ago, I got a puppy. The puppy needed exercise. My runs became more like training the puppy and less about me. I (GASP) stopped during runs to call her, or to have her sit when other people went by. I had to pick less popular places, becoming less choosy about where I was able to run. Up a really steep muddy road? Floundering in the snow? OK!

Now that Ruby has become a *pretty good girl* on the trails, I am back to mostly enjoying blissful, stress-free runs (except for that pesky face-plant thing).  Back in the day, I would never have walked during a run, even through treacherous sections. Now I do. I stop and take pictures, sometimes!

I think I look dorky, but I had to show how strong the wind was, blowing my hair out like a flag.
Even if it's not "real running", I am so much happier with it now than I was then. I feel like when your life is really structured, like 40-60 hours of my week is, it's nice to let go of pace and time. I like how my running has evolved.

I finished my non-brushy, non-getting-lost, non-snaky run feeling accomplished. Maybe not as accomplished as finishing a race and getting a trophy, but almost. Who needs more trophies anyway? I don't have the room for them. I'd rather just run. RYOR, run your own run.

Has anything you've done for a long time evolved?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

North to Alaska, again

I feel different in Alaska. It's hard to explain and makes no rational sense, but I do. Returning nine years after I left, the time in between vanishes. In the humid, rainy air, my hair curls up. My skin drinks in the rain. I love Southeast Alaska so much.

But I don't think I could live here again. As I ran down the same trails I used to run back then, I thought about how life is somewhat compressed on an island, even one this large. We used to backpack, but backpacking meant treacherous off trail travel, hours to a mile, and the threat of large bears always present. You can't just stroll along obliviously plotting a novel. Even running on trails near town, I was deeply aware of the brown bears. As I walked solo among the alders on a familiar trail, I thought uneasily that one could pop out of the bushes at any time.

Very windy at Heart Lake
If I lived here again, I would have to take to the water. Kayak camping is where it's at, not foot travel. It's still sometimes hard for me to believe that for seven years, I was a wilderness kayak ranger, traveling through remote bays and through the Gulf of Alaska. As my friend Helga and I hiked along this week, we shrugged as we tried to catch up with each other in the year since we had last been together. Nothing really came to mind as being epic. 

I caught myself feeling a little sad, nostalgic for the times that I flew in floatplanes, traveled around the Interior fighting fire. Was my life now....boring? Possibly, compared to back then. But there are tradeoffs to everything. It had all seemed so..normal. But it really was extraordinary.

The wilderness kayak trips, the landing on remote lakes with floatplanes, the dip of a paddle: I got to have that, even though it's over.

I was there for work, so many trails remained unhiked, friends unseen. I ran some of our old trails, marveling at how easy it is to run at sea level. Nine years have gone by so quickly. Two friends are gone from cancer. Others have split up or left. But a surprising amount of people remain: lifers. I wasn't one of them-I fled for the sun, and it's been a good choice, even though perhaps less exciting. I watched my friends gather up their rifles for gun practice at the rifle range. The guns are required: every work party that goes out has to have a rifle bearer. I don't miss the bears walking by my tent. I don't really miss that thin line between life and death. But the ocean: I miss the ocean.

A really interesting conglomeration of a house steps from the ocean. Also, a boat. Everyone has a boat.

In the end, it was good to go back home, where I have so much country to move around in. It's also good to have extraordinary times to look back on.