Friday, February 14, 2020

AZT prep: anxiety and Cheezits

I sat among a mess of epic proportions,  feeling slightly ill from eating trail food (OK, Cheezeits) that I was supposed to be dividing into ziplock bags. It was time for section hiking prep!

"Why don't you just have a kit?" J asked as I threw gear about. Perhaps in another lifetime, when I have a house with more than one room, this could happen. Instead I am reduced to slogging to the shed in search of a vital piece of gear.

which pack to taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake? 
I had forgotten how much work it takes to prepare for a section hike, especially when not done solo. TC and I fire emails back and forth. Should we stay in Superior before the hike? Where can we leave our extra clothes? Was she bringing rain pants? Should we cache water or wing it? The prep is more exhausting than the hike.

I was beset with anxiety. What if the plane couldn't get out of the airport due to the forecasted winter storm? What if a rookie was again doing the de-icing, making me miss my connection? What was this nagging sore spot on the outside of my knee? "Could be a meniscus tear," Spindrift says helpfully, sending me in a panic.

All of this may sound so terrible that you might wonder why I even hike. I do too, sometimes. But I know once I get on trail all of this will fall away. I need a social media and life break. See you on the other side, friends.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

return of the winter princess

The winter princess made a brief appearance yesterday. For those who haven't been reading this blog long, the winter princess is me, having a meltdown over difficult conditions. In this case, I was trying to side step up an icy berm on my skis to reach the trail. Not succeeding, I tried taking my skis off, only to sink knee-deep in the snow. Cue the princess!  "This is too hard," I whined. "I'm over winter!"

In addition to my woes, I hadn't brought the right gear for the conditions. It has been such a warm winter that I am used to skiing in tights and a couple layers. But in this ferocious wind, I was unprepared. I had to borrow some long underwear, and I wrapped a buff under my hat, adding a neck gaiter and a puffy jacket under my softshell. There was nothing I could do about my hands, desperately cold in gloves, not the mittens I should have brought. I'm tired of winter, I grumbled to myself. After all, it has been snowing since September. Shouldn't it be over by now?

When I finally managed to step up on the trail, I was annoyed with myself. I don't like the winter princess. Having a meltdown doesn't help the situation any. But as I skied along, a snowy wind buffeting my face, all the other skiers prudently at home, my fingers frozen, I wondered how long I had to be tough. All of those years on the trail crew and on the fireline, you were mocked if you showed any weakness. You had to acquire a tough skin and power ahead no matter how difficult it was. Is it ever okay to be a winter princess?

Note all the snow on my hat, accumulating in just a few minutes.
Maybe once in a great while, I thought.. Having a brief meltdown usually allows the frustration to dissipate and subsequent obstacles don't seem as bad.  Embarking on my second long loop, I realized I had switched out my insoles to the ski boots I wasn't wearing. No wonder hot spots were beginning to emerge on my feet. In the old days I might have just kept skiing and ended up with blisters. Now I think I know when to call it, so I headed back through the campground to the car to get the insoles.

The princess successfully banished, I returned to the trails. Only a few brave souls had emerged from the ski lodge. A combination of near-freezing temperatures, a snow dump of epic proportions, and gusts of thirty miles an hour had kept most away.  Feeling a bit vindicated, I tackled a more difficult loop, finishing without falling. The snow conditions were perfect. I didn't want winter to ever end!

You can rent this yurt. How fun would that be!

Near the yurt, a lodge employee paused on his snowmobile. "What a great day!" he enthused. Yes, yes it was. It was a perfect day.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The inevitable presence of gravity

Sometimes it seems like winter is all there is, that summer does not really exist. That this is all there will ever be, the sound of our skis cutting through a light crust, snow falling lightly.  It is not unreasonable to think this, since the mountains have been shrouded in snow since September, and we have been skiing for over three months. February and March are usually the snowiest months, and it seems like this is on track for 2020 as well.

I strap on my gaiters, circa 1997. Unfortunately one foot strap has broken. What to do? I see one of J's gaiters has the same problem. So I take one of both. Though not stylish, I thought this was brilliant. Why buy new if you don't have to?

We head out on the trails. New snow has fallen over a crust, which makes the conditions fast but treacherous. The Devils View loop has some significant hills, but I have skied them before and am sure I can do so again. When I first moved here I was afraid of this loop, but now it seems less difficult. We find a friend skiing alone and loop her into our group. On the ridge, a fragile sun appears.

We are skiing through the cut-off when suddenly I fall. I'm not even on a big hill. I land awkwardly in a position from which it is difficult to untangle. It takes my companions to help me up. That is the only thing I have noticed about getting older: it is harder to get up. 

We decide to do the loop one more time, to take advantage of the track we have made. "This is going to be fast," C says as she tucks into the descent. I hurtle along until I divot into the hillside. Another fall! This time my foot is bent back oddly, making it challenging to get up. I struggle to my feet, making a big crater.  C is waiting ahead so I ski on.

Finally we decide we've skied enough and head for the parking lot, down a final steep slope. You guessed it! I fall again! I have now fallen more times in this single skiing outing than I have in the past several years combined. 

Covered in snow, I ski soberly back to the car. Sometimes the snow is like that. With three more months of winter, I have plenty of time for redemption.

Pre-falls, still feeling confident

Saturday, January 25, 2020

It can't always be spectacular

"Okay, Red Riding Hood," J said. I had just finished listing all of the reasons why I couldn't think of a good outdoor adventure. I laughed, because I was sure he meant Goldilocks, but that didn't lift my sullen mood. I don't need conditions to be just right, but the combination of ice and high winds wasn't overly appealing. Slog up Mount Howard? But, thirty mile an hour winds and no views. Ski? Not unless I want to break a leg on the icy snow. Run? See skiing, above. But then again...I had been sitting at work all week. It was time to do something, even if it was wrong.

Each winter I tell myself I need more indoor hobbies. My mood should not be so tied to the weather. So I made some bread:
And thought about my next book, which is a toss up between adding to my national park seasonal worker essays, a new novel about TB sanitariums in the 1940s, or stories from the PCT (these ideas keep ping-ponging in my head with no resolution). Then it was time for a more ambitious project!

Sorry, neighbors!



J rolled his eyes. "You had all day when I wasn't here to do that," he said. Then infuriatingly he picked up the harmonica and was able to play a song. What's up with that?

OK, so there was always reading. I picked up my current book, The Sun is a Compass (highly recommend). All that did was make me feel lazy in comparison to those adventurers. That led me into a rabbit hole of planning some fall trips. Tanner Trail to Beamer to the confluence of the Little Colorado, anyone? "That Beamer Trail was the hardest trail I ever did," T tells me later, at the pub. He was twenty then, in the 1980s. I reconsider.

I've tried other indoor hobbies. I foisted homemade soap on unsuspecting relatives for a while. I tried making jewelry, until I realized I am not much of a jewelry wearer.

I sulked around the house, feeling as though I had wasted a precious weekend day because I hadn't done anything spectacular. Which is silly, because it won't always be spectacular. That is what you don't see in social media--the days when people have headaches, when they putter around the house, when they do chores. Let me tell you, I have plenty of those. Fortunately, I can usually balance those out with days that look like last Monday:

It was one of those perfect days when the snow and sun align to make for great skiing. The steep hills seemed gentle, the climbs not taxing. The sun, which has been notably absent, decided to show its face. Only one small avalanche had come across the road, and the danger seemed to have subsided.

On this day, though, I gave up and went to the gym. Soon, C came in. "This weather sucks," he lamented, getting on the treadmill. "I wanted to run up from the green gate but I didn't want to run in the ice." I was glad someone else agreed with me and I wasn't the only one to retreat indoors. We attacked our various cardio machines with as much enthusiasm as we could muster. It wasn't spectacular, but we did it.

Of the three choices I have listed, which book sounds more interesting? Do you ever go to the gym and then feel like you should have been outside?


Sunday, January 19, 2020

To not slow down

I slogged up the mountain in pursuit of R and A, who were comfortably skinning on skis. They were only going up for the day, but I carried a full backpack to spend the night. My snowshoes felt clunky compared to their skis, but this slope was way too steep and technical for me to ski it, thus the shoes. Still, I couldn't help but think how difficult this was, sinking into deep snow as I shuffled along. After all, it was my birthday the next day. Maybe it was finally happening, the slowing down that my older friends had mentioned. Though I have accepted this with running, I am not ready to acknowledge it with other adventures.

But. Snowshoeing is hard. Though it isn't the hardest activity out there, snowshoeing with a full pack in deep, powdery snow isn't the easiest either. "I used to like snowshoeing," A says as we ascend yet another hill. "Then I started skiing." I can see her point. Though they have to skin up the mountain, it takes them half the time to get back down. I stomp along, feeling slow and old.

But as we reached the cabin, R said, "You are the fastest snowshoer I know." Maybe I wasn't slowing down, not yet.

A little worse for wear, but I made it to the cabin on snowshoes.
Because there is a very small adventure pool here, I often find myself out hiking or skiing with friends that bridge a wide age gap. The other day in our party we had someone who was 25 and someone else who was 67. In a larger city, I'm not sure this would happen; I have noticed on the online groups that people tend to stick to their own age bracket. They're missing out. My older friends fill me in on life in these mountains forty years ago, and the younger ones bring a spark of enthusiasm that I appreciate.

Selfies with the dog
At the cabin, I opt out of the mountain climb with the others in order to stay with the older dog, who wants to go but probably shouldn't. He whines a bit, upset to be left. But then his young buddy, Ruby, can't stand to go without him and bolts back to us. Despite the age difference, they love each other. We sit by the fire and read and take dog selfies. "We'll go out later," I promise the old dog, "when there's a trail packed down."

Later we climb high, looking over as far as Idaho. The wind has stopped and, at thirty degrees, it feels warm. The old dog bounds down the hill like a puppy. He's not slowing down that much either, not yet. Neither of us are.




Saturday, January 11, 2020

What's on your adventure bucket list?

"Kilimanjaro and a safari are next on my bucket list," Good Stuff said. (He had just returned from Peru, and true to form, was planning ahead.)

I thought for a minute. "I don't really have a bucket list," I confessed.

"Yes you do," Good Stuff insisted. "You might not call it that, but you have things you want to do before you die."

Except...I don't. I have things I think would be fun to do, but they aren't essential to enjoying my life. For example, for 2020, I am going to enter the Wonderland Trail lottery. I applied to be a Writer in Residence at a national park where I used to work. I would like to complete a couple of long loop backpacking trips in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and in the Seven Devils in Idaho. I want to kayak more, and bike more.
Halfway through a ten mile ski--why does skiing and swimming make me so much more tired than hiking?
And for the vaguely defined future, the Arizona Trail and some cherry-picker sections of the Continental Divide and Appalachian Trails are on the radar. I entered the Phantom Ranch (Grand Canyon) lottery for March 2021 for a cabin, because I guess I got spoiled by staying in one and why not? Then there are the someday things--as in, "someday, I'd like to hike the Superior Hiking Trail",  "someday, I'd like to do a long kayak trip", "someday, I'd like to go to New Zealand again." But if none of those happen, I'd be OK with it, because I know that other, just as exciting things would replace those.

OK, so maybe finishing the PCT became a goal. But a bucket list? IDK.
I guess my bucket list item is only one thing. To keep going, and be able to do what I want as long as I can. That's what pushes me out the door every day, when I see people younger than I am unable to do this, either from bad luck or different life choices.

"If you can do a run of eight miles," a co-worker used to say, "you can work up to a marathon." I don't run far anymore, but the premise is true. If you can maintain some adventuring and some fitness, you should be able to show up and achieve whatever your goal is. So on the days I really don't want to, I drag myself to the gym or outside, because I know eventually an opportunity to do something fun will arise, and I want to be ready. Even if I don't have anything planned out.

Is this weird that I don't have a bucket list? Does this show a lack of imagination? Do you have a bucket list? What's one thing that's on it?

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Hiking in the Deep Freeze: Clear Creek, Grand Canyon

We headed down the Bright Angel Trail in the snow. The white snow was in stark contrast to the red walls of the canyon. Winter storms had deterred all but the hardy. 

As I walked, I pondered my life choices. Or at least, my gear choices. Typically in late December I encounter daytime temperatures of 60 degrees. This time I was not to be so lucky. Down pants, a fleece, a puffy jacket, down booties...would it be enough?

Snow swirled around us as we reached the Colorado River. Snow at Phantom Ranch! I felt a deep foreboding. Cold is one of my nemeses. I worry about being cold, because I often am cold.

Our first night was at the Bright Angel campground, a place of great beauty but also crowded with other hikers. I had been lucky enough to score a cabin cancellation. These cute stone cottages are reserved a year in advance by lottery. Having never stayed in one, I was excited to try it.

My intrepid hiking companion, P, insisted he preferred his tent, so I left him to it and headed to cabin 11. Basic inside, it had bunk beds, a sink, and a toilet. Also, a heater. I reveled in the unusual luxury of sleeping indoors, but I had to admit that staying inside removes  you from the canyon experience a little. At least I wasn't staying in the dorms. Parked in a bunk bed with a bunch of snorers did not sound fun to me. I'd carry a tent any day over that.

You have to vacate the cabins at the unseemly hour of eight in the morning, so we packed up and headed to our next destination, Clear Creek. On the north Tonto platform, the nine mile hike drops into a few washes, but mostly rolls through an open landscape. A bitterly cold wind kept us hustling along, and we got to our destination by one in the afternoon. "Now what?" P asked. Because it wasn't warm enough to sit around in the creek like I had done a couple of Marches ago, we decided to retreat to our tents to relax. I felt a little guilty about this, but it was actually perfect to just read and nap for a couple of hours.
We had a layover day at Clear Creek, and decided to go our separate ways. Peter puttered around camp, and I headed both upriver and down. You can hike six miles one way to a waterfall, or five miles one way to the Colorado, but with the limited daylight and the slow going, these destinations were out of reach. I still managed to hike about eight miles.

The next day we hiked back to Bright Angel, spying a rafting party looking miserable. It would be a cold river trip this time of year. After a brief visit to the canteen, all too soon it was time to retreat to our tents, well before midnight on New Years Eve. Party animals we were not.

It's something like nine miles back out the Bright Angel trail to the rim and the wind was so biting cold that I hustled along with no breaks, topping out in less than four hours, passing all of the day hikers in my quest to finally get warm.

While this wasn't the most enjoyable trip. you can't really have a bad day in the Canyon. As I climbed out, I heard the faint clatter of the park helicopter. I read later that they were extracting this man from the New Hance trail. There are still lots of questions around his "disappearance" and I doubt he even realized he was missing. Maybe he wanted to stay in the Canyon forever. I mean, who could blame him?