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?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Strangers on a plane

The worst part about traveling for a fun trip is the airline travel! I meet my friend P in Phoenix. "I'm driving everywhere from now on," he says. I nod, having just experienced being cooped up way in the back of two planes with people who don't move until the row in front of them has stood up.

Sometimes I meet interesting people on planes. And sometimes there's nice views, like this one.
This summer, a couple friends will be climbing this mountain. I've never been compelled to do the ropes and crampons thing. I'd like to hike the trail around this mountain though.

At least, air travel gets you to fun places relatively quickly, and so here we are, on the Grand Canyon rim in the midst of a winter storm. Optimistically I pack my hiking skirt. I wonder if I have enough layers. I look at the woman in front of me on the plane. She has false eyelashes that look like caterpillars. Why? But then I tell myself not to judge. She probably gets as much joy from those eyelashes as I do from hurtling myself down an icy trail to camp in 40 degree temperatures.

See you in 2020, friends. Do the things while you still can.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

I don't look like that

Before the days of social media, I only saw them occasionally. Women in the backcountry with perfect hair, wearing white (!) T-shirts, looking immaculate. Meanwhile, people accosted me with, "You're looking a little rough from your travels," or "Did a bomb blow up next to you?" Much like in real life, I have never been able to achieve a smooth ponytail or a model-like appearance.

I laughed the other day as I slogged up a road in the snow, realizing that everything I had on dated from the late nineties or early 2000s. I often hit the post office in a puzzling combination of shorts and Uggs knockoffs, because I have come from the gym and forgot to bring clothes to change into. My hair doesn't have highlights. I'm a backcountry disaster!

Does it matter? No.  But sometimes seeing posts of women hiking with their hair down and rippling makes me wonder. Because I'm interested in the Tanner Trail and the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon, I watched a video two women shot over four days of hiking. They had their hair down the entire time. Fifteen minutes of that and I would be reaching for the scissors, or end up with a bad case of dreadlocks.

I'm not writing this because I feel inferior. I probably could keep up with most of the women I see posed artistically before a nice view. It just seems like such a divide though. Where are my rumpled sisters? Am I the only one who can step on a trail, fairly well hairbrushed, and immediately look like I have been out for days?

I don't lie awake at night thinking about this, honestly. It is just an aspect of the outdoors that I am starting to see in more profusion lately. I've always gone to the wilderness because it doesn't matter what you look like there. Not like in real life, where women always get silently or not so silently judged for their appearance.

So don't worry, my selfies will always show a mess. But, an incredibly happy mess.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The tyranny of planning

TC and I email back and forth.
"Passage 19 is out. The trail has been destroyed by fire."
"You need 4WD to get to the end of Passage 19."
"Passages 20 through 23 look beautiful, but what about snow?"
"Maybe we can skip over 19, and 18 but that would take two shuttles..."

We debate, and it becomes clear that section hiking is way more complicated than just doing the whole Arizona Trail at once. But we have jobs, and I'm also not convinced I want to section hike another entire trail. To do that, you have to be incredibly committed, focusing just on that trail, and walk sections that are...well..not so great.

So maybe not the whole trail. But perhaps I will become more like my friend Beekeeper, who because life is short, chooses trails that are "cherry picker delights". Thus the debate raging over the interwebs, while TC and I try to find someplace to hike in February.

What it looks like here. It's beautiful, but I will need a mid-winter break. My young retired friends are going to Hawaii for two months. Me? A week in Arizona.

Losing Callie has reinforced that I need to live a life of adventure, as much as I can. Who knows how long we have left?  I'm reminded of a friend who refused to plant trees at his house, reasoning that he hated his job and planned to move soon. Ten years later he was still there, hating his job and with no trees. Another friend wanted to travel, but said he wanted to wait until he had a partner. Thirty years later, he hasn't gone anywhere.

When I hiked the PCT, it became apparent that there were two main types of people. There were the planners, who created elaborate spreadsheets of how many miles they would hike each day, how much water they would acquire at desert streams, and where they would send resupply boxes. Then there were the Wing Its, whose mantra was "the trail provides". (Interestingly, it often did) These people rarely consulted maps, had  no plan beyond the day in front of them. Useless to ask where they planned to camp that day. The result would be a confused look, and a "I'm just going to walk until dark."

I fall somewhere in the middle, mostly because my work schedule dictates it. If I had a free six months, it might not matter and TC and I could just fly to Arizona and figure it out. We go back to the guidebooks. We email anyone who might know the answers, who could possibly predict snowline in February. It's all kind of ridiculous, but it is the fate of a section hiker.

Are you a Wing It or a planner? Do you cherry pick the best locations?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Resilience (losing callie)

Trigger warning: if you've lost a pet, you may want to skip this post.

I lost an anchor this week. I've always known that my pets are why I don't go off on long adventures lasting several months. It's hard sometimes to go places and find people to take care of them. But it is also impossible to imagine life without them.

Callie was the world's biggest scaredy cat. For years, everything frightened her; loud noises, dogs, the outdoors, people. She was a tiny shelter kitten who endured several moves, including a three day trip on the Alaska Marine Ferry, which is not fun for pets. In the final move, she decided she preferred staying upstairs and so she did, sometimes looking over the railings as if she wanted to come down. For special people, she would timidly venture downstairs.

In the last year of her life, Callie found bravery. She marched downstairs, hung out with the dogs, and even went outside to the garden. Sometimes I was annoyed, because treating her hyperthyroidism took expensive medicine that had to be administered twice a day, hampering my adventures. The vet couldn't figure out why she threw up so much, and of course she always chose the one rug in the house. But even though something was obviously wrong, she rallied several times.

Until she couldn't. Her last night she came and laid on me like she used to do, and I think she was asking for help. I won't write much about her passing because it's too painful, but it took a long time for her heart to stop. "She's a fighter,* the vet said, which made me sad but it was true, she always was. Finally she let out a sigh like she knew she could go.

Despite the challenges she endured, dogs, a pushy young cat, being poked and prodded with medicine and fluids and pills, she was resilient. She taught me a lot. And one thing was true to the end: she had a strong and brave heart. I'll miss her.

The view from Callie's grave, where she is close to her buddy Smoke.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

White Friday

I didn't shop on Black Friday, in fact, I hardly shop unless it is for outdoor gear. Living in a cabin, there just isn't room for stuff, and most of the stuff I see, I can do without. I mean, who really needs a shower beer holder? Even if I drank beer, would I really need to have one for the three minutes I'm in the shower? 

So since shopping was out, we decided to make it a White Friday. Skiing, that is. After a season off, it was hard to wrap my brain around skiing again. It's amazing how, after not skiing for six months, the skiing stuff is hard to find. Where's the gaiters? The Musher's Secret for Ruby's paws? What do I even wear?  

In the end, I wore everything. It was clearly time to embrace winter.

As we drove into the mountains, the situation became unnervingly close to those you read about--Couple follows GPS onto an unplowed road, one unwisely leaves the car to walk for help. Only, we knew where we were going, and we did an inventory: Snacks, firestarter, emergency beacon. Others had given up, seeing the fifteen inches of snow on the road. Bravely, or unwisely, we continued on. The parking lot was bleak and deserted, as if nobody but us was left on earth. An unlucky rancher had abandoned a trailer right in the middle of the road. It was likely it would be there all winter.

I stared glumly out the window. "Why is winter so cold?" I whined. But ultimately, I got out. My Patagonia windstopper coat, circa 1990, stood up admirably to the bitter wind. It was time to ski, or rather, shuffle through two feet of snow on skis, a human groomer.

We reached the Hill of Terror, and I skied down it happily, the deep snow slowing my descent in a way that never happens if I follow a broken track. I have had many a meltdown on this hill, but today was perfect. Not so for the steep climb back up to the top of the divide. I huffed my way toward the top, each step like walking in deep sand.  I refused to concede the lead until I reached the trail junction.  I'm stubborn like that.
It's so cold that I never removed any layers. So pretty though.
Reaching the parking lot, I stared wistfully back at the track. Once again, we had broken trail for someone else to enjoy, but it had taken all of our energy to do it, and the weather was closing in. Live to ski another day, I thought. Staying up here any longer greatly increased our odds of participating in a winter campout. 

"Why is cross country skiing so tiring?" J asked, bent on a nap. I don't know why either, but it is. "Let's go out tomorrow!" he says. "Yes!" I say.