Saturday, April 4, 2020

The end of an era

There once was a pack of three dogs: Sierra, Cale, and Aluco. In a town where people recognize your dogs before they know you, these dogs were icons. They hiked, ran behind skiers, hung out at the ski area, and backpacked. Dogs don't live long enough, and Aluco and Sierra left us within a month of each other, four years ago.

Cale, the remaining dog, mourned them the rest of his life. Sometimes he howled for them. When Ruby came along, he didn't want anything to do with her, but then he fell in love with her, just like anyone who meets her does. The two dogs became intensely bonded. If one of us tried to go off with just one dog, the remaining dog would cry and pout and try to go along.

Last weekend, Cale left us. He stopped eating, and after many procedures, the vet found stomach cancer. We could have woken him up and kept him with us for an unknown time, but it would have been selfish and unfair to him. I'll never forget him walking bravely into the vet's office, and we could not go with him because of this stupid virus. His last hours were with someone else, not us.

I have a number of friends who will never get another pet because it hurts so much when they leave. Right now there is a big gap in our hearts where this white, fluffy dog used to be. I look over at his bed and he isn't there. He isn't in the yard, lying under his favorite tree. There's no more howling. Ruby is very sad and still looks for him everywhere.

I know in time there will be good memories of him and the great life he had. We're just not there yet.

Losing Cale feels like the end of an era, an era when we were younger and ran farther and skied steeper and believed none of that would ever change.

But here is something really strange. I am not a person who believes in these things, but on Cale's last day, I saw a white dog run through the yard, though there was no real dog. I know I saw this. I believe it was Sierra, come to lead the way for Cale. Run on, white dog pack.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Are you going to live here forever?

The little kids next door have been having fun riding their bikes across my lawn and my driveway. In the past they have done adorable things like knock on my door and sprint away, leaving me with a bouquet of dandelions. Today I was getting out of my car after snowshoeing, and the youngest kid approached.

"Are you going to live here FOREVER?" he asked.

I hesitated. "Um, probably not? Are you going to live here forever?"

"Yes!"  he answered.

I probably won't live in this house forever, in this neighborhood. But because I have been forced to stay close to home, I have been working on appreciating the local things. I had to cancel an Idaho backpacking trip that has a short window, so it won't happen this year. I threw a small tantrum (alone), felt silly, and decided to make the best of what I have here.

My backpack is still packed though. I'm not giving up hope that we will have a backpacking season.

Ruby and I went for a hike up the East Fork. I picked the fork with the least footprints, and when I caught up to the hikers in front of me, I turned around. In my community there are still people camping by the river in large groups, and I don't want to be part of the problem and cause the trails to be closed (though I hear rumors they will be).

We also found that there was enough snow for snowshoeing, and the views aren't bad.

I've been thinking about how to reconfigure my life if there is no hiking this summer. Kayak laps around the lake (if the launch is open)? Ride my bike every day? Run more? It won't be ideal, but I will find a way to make it work.

I hope everyone is doing all right. I'm still working, and so my life has not changed that much. My work trips have been canceled and my writing workshop is in jeopardy, but those are small things in the face of what others are going through. Stay safe, friends.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Being outdoors is essential

As I write this, I expect my state to go into lockdown tomorrow. What this really means, I don't know. Outwardly, it is supposed to mean that you only do essential errands, but going for walks outside is okay. But how far can you drive to walk? To the county limits? Beyond if you don't stop anywhere? Nobody knows.

After a week of frantic conference calls, attended by people who were clearly unable to telework professionally, I knew I had to escape to the outdoors.  The drive to Cow Creek is a rough one, taking an hour to drive 15 miles, so I rarely attempt it. But the call of the river was too much. Arriving at the trailhead, I was horrified to see large groups of people sitting around in lawn chairs, partying. But fortunately few people were on the trail, and we all gave each other wide berths.

At the confluence of the Imnaha and the Snake, there were two other backpacking groups (it is rare to see even one other group). However, I knew of a secret beach, so I made my way there. Nobody was around, the sand was warm, it was perfect.

I wanted to see the stars, so I left the rain fly off. The temperature dropped into the 30s, which tested the limits of my backpacking quilt, but it was too magical to cover up.
 Before sleeping I took an after dinner walk. I had made the rookie mistake of bringing a stove but not fuel! And nowhere is open for me to buy any. Good thing I am experienced in the art of cold soaking. Bean salad for the win!

I always think that I will hang out in the morning and read but once morning comes I am ready to get going. I was packed and on the trail by 7:20.
The sun was just starting to peek out as I reached the confluence (tiptoeing past sleeping campers).
I don't know about you, but a 24 hour break from the news and social media was perfect. I wish I could go for longer.

Stay healthy, friends!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

my next book

I try to keep this blog free of most self promotion, but it is too exciting not to share: a small, but reputable, press is going to publish my next book! The Last Layer of the Ocean is a memoir of marriage and kayaking on Alaska's wild Southeast coast. Spoiler alert, I didn't navigate either of these things very well, but in the end learned a lot more about resilience and truth along the way. I'll share more details about publication when I know it.

Other than that, I've been social distancing, which is pretty easy in a small, rural community. Most events have been cancelled and things are closed, but life goes on as it must in a place where people are more focused on their livelihood than on social activities. I'm used to not seeing anyone when I go out on the trails and this week was no exception.

I went for a delicious run on a back road. The view was okay.

And a snowy hike in the mountains. It's still winter here.

And snuggled with the pets. Puffin doesn't believe in social distancing.

Everything is OK over here. I hope everyone is hanging in there. What is your favorite social distancing activity? What books are you reading? If you could self-isolate anywhere, where would it be?
Grand Canyon, of course! But if it was a luxury location, a small cabin on the Pacific Ocean would also be good.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Quarantine Diaries

On Saturday, I worked most of the day, so I went to the gym to run on the dreadmill. I ran three miles, and as soon as I was done, an overwhelming tiredness swept over me. I went and lay on the gym floor, which is never really a good idea, but that's how tired I was. I had brought extra clothes to go to the grocery store, but I found I couldn't even contemplate it. I went home, and started to shiver.

The next day I felt better and assumed it was just a fluke. However, as I stumbled behind a bubbly friend on what should have been an easy hike, I just didn't feel right. I went home and shivered some more, threw up, and also went to bed at 6. I had to admit it: I had the flu.

Not my best look.

I NEVER get the flu. Although, I guess I do. The next several days were a blur, though I managed to work (a remote job means no real sick days unless there's blood), but luckily the people at the other end of the conference calls never knew I was lying on the couch at the time. I didn't even feel like eating chocolate, or eating at all.

I contemplated my life choices. I had just flown through two cities that were known to have coronavirus cases, one an epicenter where people suspect it has been passing among the populace for some time. Though I suspected I merely had the flu, it was hard not to wonder. For most people, who will have a mild case, there's really no way of telling. But I knew one thing, I had to stay sequestered, because the panic is running high. Stroll into the post office with a cough, and the news will be all over town in minutes.

I did sneak out for a walk, but nobody was around to infect.
So I quarantined myself. And I have to tell you, it gets boring! You find yourself with a pair of scissors, looking speculatively at your hair. You watch silly shows like "Find my First Love" on Amazon Prime (because you have no TV) and ponder the fine line between romance and stalking. You think of all the really busy days you have had and all the times you thought that if you had more time, you would write, but it doesn't sound appealing to do anything that requires brainpower. You disinfect your house and note how filthy the corners of it are. You annoy the cat with too much attention until it bites and runs away.

Finally by Day 6 I felt human again, and since I hadn't had symptoms for 48 hours (coughing, fever) I ventured to the gym. I felt as though I had lost all my fitness, although I am sure that isn't true. At least I didn't feel like lying on the floor anymore. I'm on the comeback trail.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hiking the Arizona Trail, Passages 17-16: and a flip to 21

Right after leaving Picketpost, we found ourselves in an enchanted place. The trail wound around Picketpost Mountain, in and out of small ravines full of birdsong. Even though we were climbing, the scenery distracted me from the effort.

A couple of day hikers approached. "There's water in a wash up ahead," they reported, "but it looks kind of nasty." We were burdened with three and a half liters, but we decided to make the wash our destination for lunch. Once we arrived, I saw they were right; there were pools of water in the wash, pools that wouldn't last for long. There was a skim of algae but otherwise the water seemed clear and cold. "I'd drink this," I said. "Me too," TC agreed. It was true, backpackers have different standards.

We had numerous reports that the rainwater collector was full, so we approached the building with confidence. This collector was placed here to assist Arizona Trail users in a long, dry stretch. If not for it, we would have faced a 22 mile carry: doable, but not pleasant.

We sat around the rainwater collector and decided to call it a night. We could have gone further, but we had already come 20 miles. This was good enough. In the night, rogue bunnies dragged off TC's trekking pole and chewed off the hand straps. Beware the bunnies!

The next day we began the long descent to the Gila River. Slow and rocky, it still afforded us the best scenery yet. Arriving at the river, we were distinctly underwhelmed. There were jeep paths crossing it, and the smell of cows. It didn't seem like a place we wanted to linger long. So we marched onward through a darkening sky, arriving at a calm wash minutes before sunset. Another 20 mile day in the books.

Because we had gone farther than we planned each day (shocker!) we arrived at the car early the next morning. What to do now? We debated hiking south into Passage 15, but we decided we wanted new scenery, and the water situation looked grim. Piling in the car we drove north to the northern end of Passage 21.

This passage was different all right. Juniper trees! Flowing creeks! We encountered Hawkeye, who looked at us in bewilderment; after all, the last time we had seen him we were down in 18 going south. After hiking about six miles we decided to stop by the creek. I shoved my tent into a small space, feeling smug. I'd get to sleep by the river! This was going to be great!

Until it wasn't. The wind picked up with a ferocity that threatened to break my tent poles. I collapsed the tent and lay sleepless under it, waiting for daybreak.

This was the end of our AZT adventure. As I hiked out, I pondered my life choices. There are some other sections that look amazing, and I might be back.
The perfect tent spot...NOT.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hiking the Arizona Trail, Passage 18: water in the desert

TC and I exchanged nervous glances. The road to Rogers Trough was rough, though beautiful, and we didn't want to be responsible for damage to our trail angels' car. I would have turned back miles before, I thought, but "Umbrella Man" kept going. "I'm not even in four wheel drive yet!" he exclaimed.

Finally conceding at a exceedingly steep and rocky stretch, our trail angels left us within striking distance of the AZT. A Jeep sailed by, its lone occupant stopping to ensure us that we didn't have all that far to walk. Choking his dust, we deduced that the AZT is probably not as well known as the PCT--there, a Jeep would have likely offered us a ride.

An unfamiliar sun settled on us as we hiked up the road, a plethora of Jeeps roaring by. Missing our turn to the trailhead, we stopped to ask one of them. "Oh, you're miles away," he said, before driving on (and not offering us a ride). Fortunately between our paper maps, an Inreach, and the Guthook app, we figured out that we were actually on the trail--it merges with the road. Not being purists, we decided that this was good enough and no need to go back miles to find the actual start.

We were hiking southbound, Passages 18-16, mostly because of the difficult access and to avoid a long climb, which now became a rocky descent far down into Reavis Canyon. Burdened with 3.5 liters of water, I attempted to keep up with TC and failed. Several switchbacks later, we were on a flat and cruiser trail. I had been fretting over leaving my fleece jacket behind, but it was apparent that we had picked a great weather window. The late afternoon sun slanted butter-yellow across the saguaro cactus as we reached our dubious water source, a tank near a windmill.

Goldfish water
TC peered in. "There's goldfish in here," she reported. A few cows loitered nearby, looking malevolent. As we pondered the likelihood of having to filter this water, a truck appeared, and the occupants gifted us with some cold water. Trail Magic! Shortly after, we met a Canadian section hiker, Hawkeye, who assured us that water was running in Whitford Canyon. Free from having to drink cow water, we made quick work of a few more miles, winding up just before dark in the canyon.

It was true. The recent rains had created a bubbling creek through rocky cliffs. How lucky were we, I thought, as I set up my tent in the falling darkness. The desert was incredibly green, with purple, yellow and white flowers of unknown names. Tonight we would sleep with the sound of water bashfully trickling over the desert floor.

The next morning, early risers, we were on trail before first light. Our first stop was to be Picketpost trailhead, where we would pick up water we had cached for a potential 22 mile water carry. Though I had started out in my puffy jacket, the day heated up quickly as we threaded our way out and up from Whitford Canyon into a stretch of rolling hills and a gradual descent. (Later I was to learn that both Whitford and Reavis canyon are notorious flash flood paths. Fortunately, we were never threatened.)

Though we could see Highway 60 for a long way, it seemed to take longer than it should to tick off the eight miles to relative civilization. We sat on benches drinking cold water and contemplating our life choices. We hadn't planned to do twenty mile days, but if we did another 12, we would end up at the famed rainwater collector--a structure that had been put up for AZT users and significantly assists with the ability to hike the passage we were entering. (If not for this collector, the distance without reliable water would more than double.) It was either carry 5 liters and camp shy of that, or carry only 3 and be able to hike faster.

These really neat gates abound in all three passages. Interestingly, they all have different ways of opening.
Twenty miles, I hadn't done that since the summer. I knew that while I felt relatively fit, there would be some shock and awe associated with hiking that far with a backpack. In the end, though, I was up for the challenge. Shouldering our packs under a hot mid-day sun. we headed into Passage 17 and the unknown.
Crossing Whitford Creek in the early morning