Monday, August 22, 2016

The No Good, Terrible, Really Bad Idea. But...

Have you ever read the mommy blogs, where they pose their baby with a sign saying how old they are, and what their likes and dislikes are? (I don't read these on purpose, because I can't relate, but a couple of blogs I like of triathlon competitors have turned into this type of blog.)

Here is my update. This is Ruby. She is three months old. Likes: Having her humans in sight all day long. Squeezing herself into the smallest place possible. Food. Sleeping on her back. Sleeping in general. Chasing cats (we are working on this). Dislikes: Exercise in the afternoon. Being left for one second. Not being able to chase cats.

Yep, this project makes me want to snooze also. (Actually not, co-workers!)
I know, a dog is the ultimate anchor. We were down to one, easy dog and three cats, and pretty much whenever I wanted to take off, I could. The house was relatively clean and I could leave the animals inside without any worry of what I might find on my return. While going on fire assignments or long trips still presented the need for pet sitters, I had some lined up. My life was simple.

What was I thinking?

But look at her (Sorry she is sideways, I couldn't get the picture to cooperate)


I regret to say I sort of bullied my husband into getting her, although now he loves her. Her name is Ruby, after the peak that we can see from our windows, the first peak J and I climbed together. She's going to be a fast, fast dog.

The reality is that puppies can't  hike very far. Or they can, but you aren't supposed to take them far. This little thing has really curtailed my hiking recently. I miss an all day hike (although I have another PCT section scheduled soon). Also, you can't just leave a puppy and expect her not to get into trouble. The other pets aren't super pleased with her either. But...

I've backpacked and run with friends with dogs. It's been a mixed bag. Some of the dogs are well trained and will run behind us at our heels. Others disappear and you have the sinking feeling that something bad is about to happen. I don't think dogs belong everywhere, every place. But I am looking forward to a well-trained companion. Someday.

Her outdoors training has begun. Any dog of mine needs to be able to swim. I brought her to the lake and she met some kids. (One of the little boys was shoeless in the rocky lake, and I asked him if it hurt his feet. His response: "I'm a tough dude.") Ruby isn't crazy about swimming, but she can do it. Next up: sleeping in a tent without destroying it (better use my old tent).
Gah! Another sideways picture! Something to do with my tablet and the computer. Sorry!
"That's a fifteen year commitment," my friend said when I got my kitten two years ago. You could say the same for this little creature. However, after a lifetime of avoiding commitments, I seem to be piling them on. 

Anyone with puppy training tips? How to get them to stop lunging at cats (not to hurt, but wanting to play)? When did you start doing longer hikes with your dog?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Running Mount Howard

I don't write about running very much, which is funny because it used to be the main thing I did. I ran six days a week at times, scribbling frantically in a running log, keeping track. A short run was five miles, and a slow run was eight minute miles. I loved running, and it was my identity for a long time.

But as can happen when you identify with just one thing, I started feeling a little burnt out. There were other things I wanted to do, like hike, and swim, and kayak. I made friends who did those things, and I didn't want to desert them to run when I could be with them, learning new things. I had knee surgery after my second marathon and stopped running as much. I still run, but it's one of many things I do.

The other day I was in the mood to run, so I headed for the dirt road that climbs to the top of Mount Howard. The summit is over 8,000 feet and you start at about 5,000, and it's about four miles (I never measure my runs anymore). There are some level sections and then brutally straight up ones. I soon decided I didn't feel like trying to run to the top. I could power hike and be up there almost as quickly, so I did.



Usually I snowshoe this route in winter, and it was much faster to hike. I was at the top in no time. I took a quick victory lap around the main trail, wondering if the tram employees would wonder from where I had appeared (the tram hadn't started running yet for the day). Then I ran down.

It took kind of forever, because there are steep sections with little rolling rocks, and I wasn't all that serious about running anyway. It was just an excuse to get up there and back. I didn't write down my time or worry about how long it took. That's how running is for me these days.


Nowadays, the intrepid friends I trained marathons with are just running for fun too. Maybe it's an age thing, or we've just proven to ourselves all we really need to. I started out at age 14, running through sprinklers in the neighborhood without a watch. Interestingly enough I have circled back to that kind of running. I like it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

McCloud Dreaming

I still remember the twenty year olds who paraded past my desk when I happened to be perched at it, back in Alaska. "I could never have a desk job," one said, wrinkling her nose. I wonder if, ten years later, she has realized what I have: that I'd rather save my hard workouts for my own time instead of on the job. I know too many friends now who are battling the results of years of wielding rock bars and carrying heavy packs. If I am going to face arthritic knees and strange aches, those are going to be because I chose my activity, not had someone tell me to do it.

That being said, a desk job is not my ideal reality. Except, sometimes, I get to go see projects in the field before they happen. This one happened to be on the PCT, just south of the section I had completed a few weeks earlier. We were in Northern California and it was hot, one hundred and ten. I gazed longingly at the trail, wanting nothing more than to load up my pack and head north. The hikers we saw looked so comfortable, at home in the woods.

"Why do you like this trail so much?" my co-worker asked as we strolled along, dodging thru hikers.  He looked less than enthused about an uphill section. It's just the idea of a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada, I tried to explain. The hikers going by are part of my tribe. We gave a ride to one who had run out of money and enthusiasm. He wanted, he explained, to stop sometimes. To swim. To hang out.
PCT!
We traveled along the McCloud River, with swimming holes galore. I looked regretfully at each one. I was working, and I had to appear professional. But still...


There's just something about water that makes me want to get in it.

We hiked along the McCloud River Preserve, and came upon a caretaker's cabin, complete with deck and outdoor kitchen. Sometimes I do want to be twenty again. I could totally see myself living here, I thought. Swimming every day, hiking the trail. No obligations.

Whenever I travel somewhere, whether for work, I think about slipping into that place. Could I live there? What would my life be like?

I'm back to the desk next week though. I've strolled across enough grass to know it isn't always greener. I do like the work trips though. They are like little rewards for the rest of the time that I spend tap tapping on a computer. I look forward to the next one.

Monday, August 8, 2016

You don't take a back seat to anyone.

I was putting my kayak on the truck when my 83 year old neighbor came over to help. "I don't see many women doing the things you do," he said. "You don't take a back seat to anyone."

Which was nice to hear. Even if it reminds me of "nobody puts Baby in the corner."

Into every life, a little rain must fall, and it was our turn this weekend as my friend T and I hiked up to Little Frazier Lake. Halfway up Hawkins Pass, LFL is somewhat overlooked, but it is a quiet and beautiful spot with few campsites. T was unfortunately re-learning the lesson we all sometimes forget, which is that hiking in boots new to us can cause repercussions. I hiked over to the neighboring horse camp to borrow scissors to cut her moleskin, and we watched as a benign sky turned to night.


Until about two in the morning, when an insistent rain began to fall on the tents, followed by several waves of thunder, lightning, wind, and more rain. It's been so long since I've camped in a thunderstorm that it felt deeply unfamiliar. Darn the packing up in the rain! But we had ten miles to go, so pack up we did.

T suffered greatly on the way down, resorting to flip flops at one point, but she is tough and continued on. At the last junction I sped down to the trailhead as fast as I could walk (3 miles in 50 minutes over lots of rocks!), grabbed the pair of boots she should have worn from her car, and hiked back up to intercept her, take her pack, and exchange boots. This earned me curious stares from the people I had sped past on the way down, and then passed going back up. "Oh no! Did you forget something?" one couple asked.

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, but it seems like everyone is this year. Contrary to previous years, the woods seem really crowded this summer. All sorts of humanity paraded past me on this hike: people with enormous packs and Walmart tents, guys with external frame backpacks, and Boy Scouts with the defining gadget: a coffee can with a wire handle. I picked a ton of those out of the wilderness back in the nineties and I had no idea they were still using them.
The next adventure is finding the lake that lies behind this basin above the light colored rocks.
Despite the misery that sometimes occurs, every trip has its elements, and this one certainly did. We sat on the rocks, speculating about exactly how to get to Honeymoon Lake, somewhere on the shoulder of Cusick Mountain. As my friend put it, "my feet hurt. But my soul..."




Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trail Recovery

Well, as it turns out, even if you are reasonably fit, hiking back to back 22-26 mile days with 3L of water and 8 days of food over steep, rocky terrain can leave you in the recovery lounge for a bit. Of course, I have been at this long enough to know when I need to stop: I don't do foolish things above my ability. Most days, I dragged myself into camp feeling okay, although there were a couple of times when I felt like one more mile was beyond reach. Actually, I am pretty happy with the results of my challenging hike.

Happiness is plentiful water that you don't have to carry. This is why I work so much: so I can afford to go hiking.
However. For a few days afterward my feet ached at night, and my legs wouldn't lie still. I took one day off from exercising and started up again. On my first run, my lungs felt amazing and my feet like dead weights. I hiked again four days after I finished, ten miles round trip, and someone two decades my senior beat me down the hill. (Though, he may have anyway. He's in really good shape.) I've also noticed that after my snow slide, I'm a lot more afraid of falling. It will take some time for the confidence to come back.

The mental recovery always takes a little longer. Being on trail is freedom. Being back is also great but means working at a desk. I like having no schedule. Doesn't everyone? It has been hard to dive back into the world of conference calls and projects. Everywhere I look I see people retiring early due to their career choices, or not working at all for a variety of reasons. I don't want their lives, but sometimes it is hard not to feel envious of their lifestyles.

After two weeks off trail, I feel like I'm back to normal. I did another two hikes this weekend and both were straight up towards the sky. One was on a well-trodden trail, and the other was an exploratory hike (and we all know what that means). We thrashed around in the downfall trying to find the remnants of an old trail, now abandoned but for a hardy few. Spoiler alert, we never made it to the lake, but not for lack of trying.

Our little remaining doggie. He's pretty sad about losing his buddies this summer, but he was happy about hiking.
 And, just like the bad romance you can't give up, I am trying to head back to the PCT. Triscuit and I want to do 125 miles of the Oregon section, from Crater Lake to Elk Lake. The only thing standing in our way is the bane of the hiker existence: a wildfire, started from an abandoned campfire, has closed the PCT at Crater Lake. We still have a few weeks, but this one looks like it is going to go big. We need to formulate our Plan B.

So the moral of my story is: Don't try to hike like a thru hiker...

Oh what the hey. Just go out there and challenge yourself. I'm glad I did my hike that way, sore feet and all. Once in awhile you need to go beyond.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Here.

I used to think that staying in one place was boring and ordinary. How did people do it, I wondered. Wasn't it like..settling? So I moved for decades, rarely settling anywhere for very long. Along the way I had some great adventures; I wouldn't trade them for the financial security that still eludes me. And, recently, I applied for the kind of job I always wanted: managing the wilderness for a well-known national park. After my long hike, I came home and withdrew my application.

It turns out that hiking two hundred miles solo is good for figuring things out. Among other things, I realized that I really didn't want to move again. After living in eleven different states as an adult, moving on has lost its allure.

We lost another of our dogs this week, this time sweet, happy Sierra. Pets are the only creatures you can really love unconditionally. People say they love their partners that way, but what they really mean is that they love them unconditionally as long as the other person behaves in a way that is understandable and acceptable to them. But Sierra loved J like that, once walking off the tread on her paws without complaining to keep up on a brutal 12 mile hike. The week she died, she gamely trotted behind his bike. She tried to rally after her emergency surgery, just like she always had when we dragged her on long hikes. She tried so hard. She wanted to live so much, even if it meant in the same yard, the same trails, the same people. You can learn a lot from a dog.

Cale, Sierra, Aluco. Only Cale is left.
We went down to the riverbank where the other pets--Wilkie, Aluco, Smoke--are buried. J dug a hole for Sierra. It was painful to watch. Afterwards I went and put my feet in the water. Another season had rolled around, another year of belonging to a place. I realized I wanted this. I wanted a history. I wanted to be able to come back to the place our pets slept. I wanted to hike up to the same lakes. It's not boring to love a place, and it's not boring to stay. Change can sometimes be overrated.

I looked at the clear water beneath my feet and let it go, a dream that had become frayed around the edges. I was staying here, and it looked like forever. For the first time, it felt really good to believe this. A weight I had been carrying around a long time floated away, the need to have big adventures every day, to always be traveling. It's not settling. It's finally coming home.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Ashland: Walking to Oregon

The snowfield stretched far above and below the trail. How was there even a snowfield here in July? I began to kick steps, following someone's ancient, melted tracks. Too late, I realized that only a thin skiff of snow lay over thick ice. As I was thinking this, my foot slipped and I slid at a high rate of speed toward some waiting rocks.

This was not a good thing.

Cautiously I assessed the damage. Nothing was broken. It was time to hike on, though this close call made me think about how quickly things can turn around. Just read this story, at a place I have been many times.

I had been lucky. With only a few lacerations, I skipped across the Etna Bar road and back on trail.

The Marble Mountains were a place to savor, even though my highly anticipated afternoon swimming at "Paradise Lake" turned into a quick retreat from a scummy cow pond. Who names these places?

This is what the trail looks like for long sections. See how there's nowhere to camp for miles?

This is "Man Eaten" Lake. It's well below the PCT and so I didn't go there. Plus, the name!

I took a side trail to this lake. 

More contouring through some pretty country.

Then it was time to descend through the poison oak gauntlet and do the roadwalk to Seaid Valley. At 92 degrees, it wasn't pleasant. A guy in a pickup offered me a ride, but the road is part of the trail and I wasn't about to skip. Later I found out that most "thru" hikers accept rides here, despite their elitist attitude toward day and section hikers (not everyone, but many have this view).

The tiny town of Seiad Valley baked in the heat. What would it be like to live here? I'd be lying in the Klamath River all day, I thought. A small group of us pitched tents at the RV park for the night, positioning ourselves for the scenic yet steep climb from 1,000 feet back to 7,000. 

Blurry, but I was captivated by these enterprising girls and their lemonade stand (yes, I bought some)

Shortcut and Half Fast looking at maps.
By the last night on the trail, I was feeling the effort of hiking 200 miles. Several people have asked me why I hiked so many miles in such a short time. Partly I wanted to see what I could do. You are also dictated in this terrain by campsite availability and water. Sometimes you have to walk far to get to either one. But nearly a week after finishing, my feet still ached. It took me four days to want to hike again.

I think that's an old lookout tower on Devils Peak?

Lily Pad Lake on the climb out of Seaid Valley

I've now completed 1330 miles of the PCT. On the last day, heading down to Interstate 5, a milkshake, and a bed, I contemplated breaking up with the PCT. Maybe I'd done enough? But only a few hours later I knew we weren't quite finished. I might not travel the entire distance, but there's still a few miles left to go.
Oregon!

Hiking into Oregon was strangely very cool!