Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Confessions from the gear shed

I've lived in this cabin for five years, the longest I have lived in any house since I was 17. I knew it was time for a purge. After all, J had been nagging me having a lot of stuff around makes me anxious. A hoarder, I am not.

Except for gear. And with a house with only one closet, no garage and one shed, it was time to visit the Land of Unwanted Gear. It was raining, so there was one thing to do: wade in.

As a backpacker of many decades, I have accumulated considerable amounts of gear. It's always tempting to reach for the next shiny thing, and over my years of hiking, newer, better things have emerged. I'll never go back to using a water pump filter, for example, so I added two of these to the pile. This backpacking stove was purchased in a fit of stove envy, but as it turned out, I really didn't want to fiddle with priming and fuel bottles. A mystery tent pole emerged from the depths. What was it, and where did it belong? The mysteries continued. It was almost like an archaeological dig.

The neighbors approached and left happily with a backpack and two tents. Briefly I was consumed by reading a journal from my time in exile in a small sagebrush town. Had I really been that lonely and heartbroken? I found old pictures. There were my Alaska co-workers, carrying our required rifles by the biggest waterfall I have ever seen. Oh look, there's my first backpacking stove. So heavy! There was my first tent that I bought with my own money, that I carried all over the Sierras. I was awash in memories.

Time. It goes so fast.

I found three sleeping bags I had FORGOTTEN I EVEN HAD. How does that even happen?

I found my new bike helmet.

Here's the shameful tally:

Tents sold: 4.  Tents kept: 4. (Well....)

Water filters sold: 2. Filters kept: 1.

Stoves sold: 2. Kept: 1.

Sleeping bags sold: 2. Kept: 5. (I KNOW)

Backpacks sold: 4. Kept: 5. (I know. I know!)

Room in shed for more gear: Infinite!

Are you a gear hoarder for a certain activity? Do you ever get rid of stuff?

Next, the old running shoe shelf!

(sorry no pictures, it's too shameful!)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This is what normal looks like

Crikey! I haven't gone anywhere exciting for a month! All of my fellow bloggers are in some weird little town in Alaska pushing bikes through snow, hiking the Arizona Trail, training for Boston...weather, work and other boring things have kept me at home every weekend. I know, who is this person?

But you know, you can find pretty nice places even close to home. My running route today is a mile from my house (Yes. I drove to it today. Shoot me. I don't like pavement). I thought, I'll take my camera! And take pictures! And maybe cross the elk fence for once! 

Back in the day when I ran competitively (not for a team, just trying to beat everyone I could), taking a camera on a run meant I wasn't a real runner. Now that I don't pay to run, and since I've been running longer than some of you have been alive (ahem..Karen) I don't take things as seriously. I want to run forever, so I need to switch it up once in a while. So here's my moraine run for today. Come along...

First, you climb. Puff puff puff.

It's pretty rocky. Give up those PR times. This first fence is a step-over...

 Here's the elk fence. It's very very tall. If I ever can't fit under it, I know it's time to diet.
The view as you slide under fence #2, wishing it was smooth strand...

There's actually a flat section  in the middle and a lone tree.

The view is pretty nice....

Before my run, I was feeling a little cranky. I had a brief window of time when I could have gone to the canyon for an overnight trip. I had to be back for a conference call (Seriously. Who schedules calls for late in the day on the last Friday of a pay period? But my purpose is to serve, so I will be there, with more comp time), so that meant most accessible areas were out of reach. I wasn't feeling very zen about life. But as it happens after a run, or a hike, or some kind of exercise, things get put into perspective. I mean, who needs to enter a Tough Mudder? Here I have four fences to negotiate, plenty of mud, maybe even a cow or two to dodge. You can't really beat the scenery. If this is what normal looks like, it's pretty great after all.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Twenty. Five.

What were you doing twenty-five years ago? (I know some of you are going to say, I was in kindergarten or worse, I wasn't born yet. I used to be the young one! It goes fast, peeps. Enjoy. Wear sunscreen. Eat that cookie.) Apparently twenty-five years ago I was starting work with the federal government (though not really. I had some partial seasons before that, but they cobble them together to determine length of service). To my surprise I got a certificate saying so this week. You're supposed to get these for 5, 10, 15 and 20 but I never got those, because I have moved around so much. 

Twenty-five! That's a long time! In that time I have lived in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Washington, Nevada, Wisconsin, California, Idaho, Florida, Oregon, Alaska and Oregon again. I've been a naturalist, a firefighter, a biological technician doing restoration, a wilderness ranger, a recreation planner and a kayak ranger. I've cleared a lot of trails. I've cleaned a lot of toilets. I've written a lot of plans and picked up a lot of trash. I've driven a bulldozer, a fire engine, a swamp buggy, a boat, and a tractor. I've had to run from a couple of fires, burn out a safety zone while one went around us, lost a couple good friends to the wilderness, and hauled dying people out of the woods, saving their lives. 

But. Into everyone's life who does this work comes a decision. Do I continue to work outdoors for low pay, sacrificing my body to the punishment, or do I take a higher-graded job and move up into a cubicle farm and still be able to hike at 80? Except for a lucky genetically gifted few, the first choice guarantees future relationships with surgery and physical therapists. I chose the cube and it is challenging. It's hard to feel the same sense of pride in producing a plan as I did when I cut trees out of a trail or saved someone's house. At the same time, I can take time off in the summer. I can pick my backpacking trips and I don't haul eighty pounds of trash out of the backcountry for work anymore. I don't have to go on fires and breathe smoke unless I choose to. 

Will I get the thirty year certificate?  I have four years to go (the certificate was a year late). I don't know. Our jobs are tenuous, tied to the whims of Congress. My book could become a best seller (pleasepleaseplease). Who knows? 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Gone West. Send Chocolate.

Signs you need to go hiking, far far away from other people:

1. You have a meltdown at work before seven in the morning (thankfully you are teleworking); evidenced by statements like, "How many instant messenger files can several different people send me?! No I don't want to screen share! Go away! Go AWAAAAAY!"

2. You start looking at new tents. You deserve a Big Agnes Copper Spur Mountain Glo tent. You do, you really do.

3. You start planning new trips. Cascade Locks to the Three Sisters Wilderness on the PCT in September? Why not?

4. You consider guzzling the Dr. Richard's Pet Calm. It works for the pets!

5. You hide the Trader Joe's dark chocolate peanut butter cups from your husband. Mine. Miiiine.

Clearly, I've spent too many hours driving, staying in hotels, and working. I have massive hours of comp time and I don't even remember my last forty hour week. In the interest of everyone's safety, a long hike is in order.

But not this week. I'm traveling, which means more hotel gyms and sitting. I am at a group hug  team meeting in Portland. As far as cities go, Portland's not bad. There's the waterfront, where I may be able to run. There's food carts. There's TV. There's interesting people in scarves. Ooh there's a rally outside!

These are all things I don't have at home, although we have interesting people in Carhartts. So this week I will try not to snarl. I'll embrace the brutality of the hotel gym. I'll count up my comp time with a smile, because it means one more hour on trail. I've got this!


Here's my book cover. Coming out in Sept.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Recently I came across this fantastic essay. It ranks right up there with the top ten best things I have ever read. It seems like all my life I have struggled with Should and Must. It's why I never goofed off in the winters like the other Park Service seasonal employees. Instead I drove across the country to another job, never having a break in service, never taking unemployment. It's why I hung onto bad romances way too long. It's why I don't quit my job and write. I often wrestle with should, and other people's expectations, which can be a deep well you never climb out of. 

This weekend it snowed! I should  have gone to the gym. I should have cleaned the house. I shouldn't have eaten all those brownies. I should be selling all of my excess tents and backpacks.  I should have called up friends and made plans with  them. But..

It's snowing! Time to get to the mountains!
I decided to bolt. I caught a ride partway up Mount Howard with some backcountry skiers, and snowshoed the rest of the way to the wide, rolling summit at  8,150 feet.
In the summer this place swarms with tourists, killer chipmunks, and cute hang gliders. But today I had it mostly to myself. Here was all the snow I thought I had lost. Deep, powdery snow. Why do people complain about winter?
The Seven Devils--that's Idaho over there.
Mine were the first tracks to the Royal Purple Overlook.
I think I've written this before, but I never forget what a wise friend told me once. We were floating in our kayaks in Sitka Sound. The friend was making a go of it selling her art and picking up other odd jobs, a leap of faith I was unable to take. I was trying to get out of a bad romance. I was much younger and looking for answers. She said, "The first fifty years of my life were about pleasing other people. The next fifty will be about me."

You don't have to  be fifty to start. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tame: April at Campo

In about a month, Flash and I will toe the Mexico-US border at Campo, California and begin hiking the PCT north. We won't be alone.


The graph above represents the thru-hikers (people hiking 500 miles or more) who are now required to get a permit at the start of the PCT. The quota is fifty people per day; the total number of permits possible to give out is 4600. On our start date it looks like 18 people have already gotten a permit, and that doesn't include section hikers like ourselves. (My mileage may total 500 on the pct this year--besides this 110 mile section, I hope to hike 256 miles in the northern Sierras and possibly some Oregon September hiking). 

Eighteen people?! I don't even like hiking around eight people. Yes, I am spoiled. But glad we are going early! Look at those late April dates! Where will everyone camp? Will there be enough water sources? Where will everyone poop? Is this many people in the desert even sustainable?

Most of our camps will be dry ones. There is one 30 mile water carry already that we have heard of.  It will be hot. There is already a search underway for someone who is missing in the general vicinity of where our hike will be ending. It's easy to underestimate the desert.

Planning has been pretty minimal; it's only 110 miles. We're hiking to Warner Springs and getting a shuttle back to San Diego there. I know both of us will want to keep going but, well, jobs. We've mapped out a pretty sane schedule which includes a 20 mile day but some shorter ones, and if we get done early we'll just hang out on the beach in San Diego.

Flash has hiked in the California desert before; I haven't. My only experience with it was on a soul-destroying wildfire near Cabazon. Under lockdown because of gangs, we slept in a city park while locals slowly drove around the perimeter. An inmate crew got burned over. A helicopter crashed in power lines. My crew, out of shape and lazy, sat down on the hills. One guy had to be evacuated because he was stung by so many wasps. It, my friends, was not a good time.

But this will be. Flash and I have dealt with many things over our PCT tenure: golf-ball sized hail, torrential rains of the century, cutthroat campsite competition, river crossings, and a family playing a cello late into the night. We can do this!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Death in the Whites

If you're part of the outdoors community, I'm sure you have heard this story.

Predictably the howls have begun. Why did she go alone? With that forecast? Why didn't she dig a snow cave, turn on her cell phone, not go at all? None of us can know these things unless we were there. All we can know is that she didn't have a chance once the wind began to blow.

I was dropped off today to do a solo ski from Salt Creek to Fergi, a distance of about ten miles. There's something about being dropped off that commits you to the adventure, but unlike Kate, I was skiing into a cold but sunny day. I was at a high elevation in a remote place, but after awhile I saw some snowmobilers, a sno cat, some dudes busting the oversnow road closure and a young girl mushing sled dogs. Winter came back this week and people were out. At the same time, the grader headed down a closed road to rescue a family that had illegally driven down it and been stuck out overnight. So you never know.

The road I skied lies high above the river, mid-mountain, far from anywhere. I was glad to be alone, to push the pace a little, to not have to talk. Maybe that's what Kate wanted too, but who can know? The people who admonish us to never go alone don't understand the value of being silent in your own company. I never really trust people who can't be alone.

Despite the meager snowpack, I was able to charge along the route at a blazing speed, faster than I've skied it before. It was so cold that I wore a puffy for the first half of the journey but the big hills soon warmed me. Somehow I always forget how steep this route is, but I skied along with my new mantra: "If a 74 year old woman can thru hike the Appalachian Trail, I can do this!"

Cold, the kind of cold Kate faced, can change everything. Maybe she made some bad decisions because of it. Maybe she should  have stayed home. It's really sad that she died, and it's sad that people's lives were put at risk trying to rescue her. But the mountains aren't safe. They never will be. And that's part of why we go there. Who wants to just hit the gym every day? Who wants to just sit on the couch?

I arrived at the parking lot in record time, happy with the day. The death in the Whites doesn't change a lot for me except that I will scrutinize the weather a bit more closely. Having been part of a search and rescue team, I never want to endanger others with my choices (Try having a Coast Guard helicopter out looking for you. It's embarrassing. And a long story. We weren't in danger but some conclusions were jumped to).  I carry a beacon and I turn around, a lot sooner probably than I would have at 32. I don't see this as failure anymore though I am sure at one time I would have. RIP Kate and all the others who have died in the mountains.