Saturday, May 20, 2017

Retreat from a high point

The trails are opening up!  It's been a long winter of the bike trainer and the gym. While it will be a couple of months before the high country melts out, the lower elevation trails are once again open for business. We are able to now trot along about six miles in before snow stops us.

Going to be awhile before anyone climbs Sacajawea.
The late spring means that the narrow Hells Canyon window is open a little longer than usual.  "I don't think I've ever climbed up Freezeout this late," I mused to T as we ascended the trail. Usually baking in the heat by now, it was downright pleasant this April...I mean, May. A 50% chance of thunderstorms was not about to deter us from our goal, Freezeout Saddle. Only about three miles, it can feel like a lot farther as you plod up endless switchbacks, climbing over two thousand feet. 

We had a bigger day than that planned. We hoped to hike along the ridge for a few miles, on a little-used trail that circles the canyon rim. I hadn't been on it in years and T never had. It would be a good, long hiking day.

Two backpackers lounged on the saddle, getting ready for the rocky descent into the canyon. I felt envious, as I always do when I day hike. It would have been a perfect night to camp.
This view doesn't really get old.
Or not. A clap of thunder from nearby sent us on high alert. A storm crouched just to the west, ready to descend. We were on the highest point around. Time to leave. The miles went a lot faster on the way down.


We gained the parking lot just as the storm unleashed. A bear hunter observed us.
"You girls got back just in time," he said. Disregarding the fact that in no known universe can I still be considered a girl, he was correct.

So it would be a short day, but you don't mess with thunderstorms around here. I recently talked with a lightning strike survivor, and his story pretty much convinced me that retreat was the better part of valor.  In these mountains, you have to know when to retreat. 

As we drove away, lightning pounded the hills. I thought of the backpackers and hoped they had made it to a low point. Though six miles is nowhere near an epic day, it felt fine. When I used to run more, I got caught up in the miles I recorded in my training log. Less than a certain number meant I had failed. I'm glad I've moved past that point.

Monday, May 15, 2017

They call me the breeze ( a packing story in memes)

I stared at my outdoor gear totes. How can you know what you'll need for four months? Clothes are easy. It's summer (allegedly. It is snowing currently). Shoes? Just a pair to run in and a couple to hike in. But outdoor gear! How to choose? I threw three tents into a pile. What? It makes sense! The PCT tent that folds up as small as a water bottle. The two person deluxe. And my overnight fave.

Over the last eight years I have mostly lost my gypsy nature. I used to be up for any kind of move. I was like the breeze, always moving on. I've lost that person, and it's time to find her again. I am moving about six hours south, for 4 months, a job thing. Just like I never thought I would do, I am following a man (but it's okay, I am married to him). The alternative is to stay here and take care of the two houses we own. Oh Honey. No.

It's surprising how deeply rooted I've become and how hard it is to prepare for this. How did I ever move every six months, for years? At the same time, I've become kind of comfortable. Time to shake things up.

And the stuff! How did I acquire so much stuff? I'm cleaning out the house so some short-term renters can move in. What are all these electronic chargers and what do they charge? What is this unidentifiable gadget? How did I end up with four nail clippers? And on what planet did I ever think these shoes were stylish?

Weeding out your life is actually a good exercise. Minus furniture, I have discovered that my belongings all fit in a small shed. I've taken stock of everything I have and decided if it's worth keeping. I still hang on stubbornly to a few things. Doesn't everyone need two camp stoves? And five sleeping bags is totally reasonable.

The pets are the issue. I've never wanted to be a person who would not go on vacations because of their pets. But it definitely becomes a consideration when embarking on a temporary move. Some of them don't get along, which raises the complexity of the whole thing.

It's hard to think about missing a summer here.This is about perfect--enough tourists to make sure we have some nice restaurants and a bookstore, but not so many you feel road rage trying to get home. People in the mountains, but less than other places. On the bright side, this is a way to try out a new place without a commitment. I have new trails to explore, a pool (!), lakes to kayak on. The town is full of athletes, which can be good and can be bad. I'll have to get over being passed by other runners, which never happens here. But I might be able to find some kindred souls, which can sometimes be lacking in my small town.

I have three weeks to cull the herd, so to speak. The thrift store won't know what hit it. And I know once I get there, it will be an adventure. Welcome back, wanderer.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Pacific Crest Trail, Section C, Cabazon to Cajon Pass, Days 5-7:Strange Encounters

Triscuit and I hiked through the ominously gathering heat in a deep river canyon. Far below us, enticing, inaccessible beaches lined the shores of dark water--Deep Creek. I wanted nothing more than to jump in, but steep canyon walls guarded the creek, making it only a shimmering mirage. We had seen very few people in the last eight miles, and it felt like we were the only people alive.

Lovely Willow Creek
Then we rounded a corner to discover a scene of utter weirdness. In the middle of nowhere, there were tents. There was music. There was a slackline across the river. There were people hollering. There were...naked men?

This was Deep Creek hot springs, probably once a sweet destination, but now the site of a fatal ameobic disease if you submerge your head (though we saw plenty of people doing this) and a high fecal coliform count. I had to admire the tenacity of these people who had actually hiked in a couple of miles from a road to visit, but the scene was way out of place and uncomfortable. We quickly moved on.

Inaccessible Deep Creek beach

As we hiked, the heat became intense, and as a giant, strange dam holding back zero water came into place, we staggered to some cottonwood trees. A woman roared up on an ATV. "Ladies. A hundred yards from here I have beer, soda and kale salad."

Kale salad? It was a strange thing to have while hiking, but I would take it. As we sat by the Mojave River, the trail angel peppered us with offers. I'll drive you to Silverwood! I'll bring you hot dogs! It's too hot to hike the burned area! Take my phone number! Are you sure you don't want to go to Silverwood? I'll go get more food! We can get pizza! Have more salad!

She was sweet, but it was too much after a week of near solitude. We escaped, walking through an eerie burnt landscape. Fire doesn't bother me much, and it was interesting to see the bones of the land laid bare, even though we were walking in an oven. Arriving at our campsite, with a welcome seasonal stream still flowing, I encountered a southbound hiker who looked...oddly familiar. It was Pebble, whom I had met briefly on the steep climb up from Seiad Valley in Northern California last summer! What were the chances? Life is strange.

Silverwood Lake. Looks nice, but...

The next day we wound by Silverwood Lake, which was sadly trashed. The water was silty and garbage lined the sandy beaches. My hopes for a swim were dashed on this, the hottest day yet, over ninety degrees. We sat, homeless looking, in a picnic area with two other hikers. One of them would later write in her trail journal that she had met two others "about her age." Judging by a few things she said, I deduced her to be in her 60s. Did I really look sixty out here? The desert does strange things to you though. When I returned home, my skin felt like rough parchment. It takes a week for the desert varnish to leave, and a boatload of lotion.

Not the best picture of me, but I wanted to show you my hiking setup. Long sleeve shirt and a hat were necessities. Everyone thought I was a thru-hiker so I guess I looked the part.
Our last night on the trail was only six miles from the interstate but after 18 miles we called it quits by a small trickling stream. Hiding in the shade, I felt the same old dilemma. I wanted to be home with the ones I loved, but the trail has a pull I can't deny. I wanted to keep going.

The last six miles were truly magical.

Early morning walking
Triscuit and I sat, homeless looking, at the hotel where the shuttle would pick us up and deliver us back to Palm Springs. A van hove into view, the driver waving at us enthusiastically. It was....our lonely trail angel from the Mojave dam! For a moment we thought she had been tracking us. How else to explain how, thirty miles later, she would suddenly appear at exactly the same moment that we were sitting at this random hotel? After she drove away T and I burst into hysterical laughter. This strange encounter was the perfect ending to a long, strange trip.

the last campsite

Friday, May 5, 2017

Pacific Crest Trail, Section C, Cabazon to Cajon Pass: Against the Wind, Days 1-4

the mysterious whitewater area
Triscuit and I stood under a harsh Southern California sun. Wind, the equivalent of a blowdryer aimed at the face, whipped around us. Where was the trail? We could see the trail angel house we had stopped at the year before, but the angels had retired and this was clearly off limits. Taking a wild guess, we scrambled up a prickly hillside to find it: the PCT. We were back.
Uphill, always uphill

Triscuit views the trail ahead

Mt, San Jacinto, still snowy

Our goal: Cajon Pass, 132 miles away. Six days? Seven? Since we had started at three in the afternoon, we could only hope to reach Whitewater Preserve, an oasis in this parched landscape of cactus, creosote, and ceanothus. Trudging uphill, burdened by the entire food supply we had planned on taking (no resupply), we made it eight miles: a gurgling river and green grass, populated by a sea of thru hiker tents. Frogs in the desert, how was this possible?

out of the oasis

But this wasn't true desert. Over the next few days, we gradually ascended to nearly 9,000 feet. Our camp on Day 2, after an all day 18 mile grind uphill, though admittedly through a fascinating river landscape, was the result of a rookie mistake on my part. Arriving at the so-called "creekside camp" on my map, I was dismayed to note that it was only a wide spot in the trail, already festooned with tents. At lunchtime we had shared a sitting log with several other hikers and those were sure to follow. While others can sleep with tents right next to them, I am not one of those. I found a small sandy beach by the river and dropped down to it with delight. When Triscuit appeared after a rough day, she was too tired to argue.

During the night, the Santa Ana winds rose to a crescendo. I lay awake as a gritty substance blew in through the exposed mesh of the tent. Sand--I was being buried alive in the sand! After a sleepless night and a morning of panic when I dropped a contact lens on the beach and, amazingly, found it--we marched on twenty more miles, to find a forest of pine trees.

Was this really Southern California, I marveled, as I hurtled myself down switchbacks, near hypothermia? The scenery resembled the Sierra, with a deep forest and huge sand-shaped boulders. Who knew this existed?  The landscape was almost impossible to capture via camera, but it was composed of stark and strange beauty. We walked through burned areas, the bones of the land revealed by wildfire.

The people were a hardy, friendly bunch, far different than last year. We came upon a hiker huddled in a crevice to escape the ceaseless wind. When asked for his trail name, he said sheepishly, "Spooner.", alluding to the fact that some girls had given it to him on another trail. Other hikers weren't as circumspect about prior hiking experience: one man found a way to insert the fact that he had "hiked the AT" twice in a two minute conversation. (He was also carrying a bear canister, hundreds of miles before it was required, claiming he might as well get used to it. Okay, Bear Can Boy.)

Pine trees!

With our dedication to mileage, we outdistanced the hiker bubble we were in and reached a new one, with hikers who had started several weeks ago. At campsites the trail seemed crowded but during the day we mostly walked alone. Alone, but with the wind, a constant companion.

On Day 4, we hit a camping jackpot. It had been 21 miles of descent from the freezing pines into the swelter of the lowlands, and we knew we were coming into a restricted camping area. We had to stop somewhere, and we spied it, a small flat area near some boulders, with a view of trackless mountains. Nobody camped near us, not any of the people we had given our own trail names to and never saw again--the Australians (we had mistook their accents for Aussies), International Girl, Creeper, Tat--nobody was in sight. The wind even stopped breathing.

We were holding our own. Looking at the maps, it looked like an easy, though hot, cruise ahead. Little did we know things were about to get weird. Very, very weird...

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

On the trail again (PCT)

Last April, Triscuit and I sat in the dubious shade of a dumpster and pondered our life choices. We had just staggered through three miles of deep sand, accompanied by a forty-five mile headwind. It was hot, topping ninety degrees. At a blessed trail angel house, we drank Gatorade and fended off stoned waifs who inexplicably tried to hug us. Never again, I thought. I work so hard for my vacation time, why was I in this mindless desert?

But still. There's something to having a goal, even if it is just completing the entire Pacific Crest Trail in sections. I've done 1500 miles; the trail is 2,650 miles give or take. Even as we sat there, true "hiker trash", I knew I would be back.

And so it came to be. On Tuesday we embark on another section, from I-10 near Cabazon to I-15 at Cajon Pass. It promises to be much elevation change, and some weirdness (Deep Creek hot springs, where locals like to ingest substances and soak naked. We may not be clear of the stoned waifs yet). Wind farms are a distinct possibility. Why do we do this, when there are possibly more close to home, scenic places to hike? For me, it's all about the trail community; while the stoners do exist, there are still some real, genuine people (take Shortcut, the Frenchman I camped with last summer. We still email each other) and true soulmates can exist (solemates? Ha). Then again, it's about the dream: Footprints from Mexico to Canada. How amazing is that?

I have: nine pounds of food for seven days. The usual camping gear. Something new, a "rain skirt" instead of pants (the forecast shows no rain); and a new drinking system where I have a tube connected right to a Smartwater bottle instead of a bladder (I love bladders, but on a long trail, it's a PITA to keep unpacking to take it out and fill it and know how much water you have. For shorter hikes, it's still my preference). I am contemplating going the no camp shoes route--there aren't really stream crossings, and for a week, I can go without sandals.

So here we go. 127 miles give or take! I'll report back soon.
This pavement is actually a short walk on the previous section. Not sure why it was chosen to represent Section C.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dragging Friends on Adventures:the scary road edition

I try to include disclaimers, I really do. I told my friends: This is a narrow, steep, road, with exposure. As we inched along toward the trailhead on the dirt one-lane road, shrieks filling the cab and threats to walk, I felt worried. These same friends were exposed to a freezing, steep hike they weren't expecting a few months back even though I clearly said, it's only two miles, but pretty much uphill the whole way. When we had arrived at our destination, the looks on their faces showed that it had not been described as promised. Foolishly, they had agreed to come with me again. I was sure they were regretting it. This is why I like to go alone sometimes, but I like these friends and it was going to be spring in the canyon. We've been shut out of spring this year (as I write this, it is snowing) so this was a window I couldn't ignore.

One of my friends declared that landing a military plane on an aircraft carrier was easier than the drive. That was hard to believe, but since I've never landed on an aircraft carrier, I had to take his word for it. Backing up for two oncoming trucks in the most narrow place around was probably the last straw. I sighed. Once again, an adventure miscalculation.

not my picture. You think I was taking pictures? Source
I have a very shallow adventure buddy pool, and in a way it's like speed dating (though thankfully I never had to do this in real life). Someone wants to go with you and it's mostly cross your fingers and hope for the best. Along the way, I learn their issues through trial and error (lightning phobia, horse phobia, dislike of bugs, dislike of dogs) and they learn mine (sunrise chatterbox, exercise obsession). We work it out.

After a harrowing two hours we finally arrived at the trailhead. Fortunately, the hike was worth it, because it always is. My friends agreed with this assessment: 4.5 miles one way,  mostly flat! There's something about a confluence that calms everyone, though one friend was heard to say this was a once in a lifetime trip.

The Snake River at last!
I don't know if these friends will accompany me again, but I'll keep trying. I'll just cross them off the list of narrow, exposed roads, like I've crossed others off long slogs (and they have undoubtedly crossed me off steep skiing excursions). Different friends for different adventures!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Alaska is a tug to the heart

The sound of the ocean. Eagles with their crescendo calls. Friends, who never age because of the absence of sun. The familiar edge as I hiked along the trails, wondering if a bear lurked in the forest. And a siege of memories that I thought I had forgotten, opened like a wound.

 Many of us have places like these, places we fled when times got tough, or when we wanted to restart our lives. Southeast Alaska will always be that place for me. It was the scene of great joy and great heartbreak. I've managed to put all that away into a box but, going back to work on a project there, it all came springing out.

It's not bad to have these places in our lives. It's better, I think, than a flatline through life, a contentment that never gets shaken. Though my life is good now, I always think, what if I had stayed?

Because the light lingers from five in the morning to past eight at night, I was able to hike far past where I could down south, and I visited some of the old trails. Familiar, yet not, it was strange and yet wonderful to revisit the paths I used to run or hike daily. My former kayaking partner, Helga, and I crunched along the Cross Trail, walking through the place where a landslide took three peoples' lives, a half-finished house sitting mutely among the devastation. A reminder that things don't stay the same. In the time I have been gone, people have left, people have split up, people have had babies. Life doesn't stay in pause just because you are gone.

Fishing boat and Mount Edgecumbe
 As I flew away, back to the life I've chosen, I looked down on Baranof Island and could name all the bays. There was where we pushed the boat through a sheet of ice in April. There was where Kitty and I spent one glorious patrol, nobody else in sight. I was surprised how much I remembered.
Nearing the edge of Baranof Island, Cape Ommaney in the distance
My friend said, "I bet this feels small to you now," and in a way she was right. I like the idea of living unfettered in a big landscape, able to drive to the next town, the next river, the next mountain, instead of hemmed in by sea and tough mountains. I have choices now that I didn't then. It is always a tradeoff.

Still, I will never be quite able to forget this place. I don't think I could live here again. Even though I was here during a few days of unusual sunshine, I know there are times when it rains thirty days in a row. I am a sunshine person now. Backpacking here was hard, a combination of desire and fortitude, armed with pepper spray and aerial photos. In many ways I have it much easier. I have probably  lost that Alaska toughness.

And there's this: I've lived there and in the Florida swamp, in the Great Basin and in the southwest. All of those places have left their mark. I'm glad I did it all. Even when it hurts a little to leave.

I recognized Lake Diana immediately as the plane flew toward the lower 48. I camped here for several days, looking for rare plants.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Talking with strangers on trails

I climbed out of the Grand Canyon, super annoyed. I don't know why, but sometimes people unaware of trail etiquette really bug me. Obviously if someone is puffing their way upward, you don't barge toward them when you are going downhill in a game of chicken. (There are exceptions. Hiking in Sedona last week there were some people who were obviously having a hard time picking their way downhill. We stopped to let them by.) I also don't like people right on my heels, or when you pass someone and they slow down, necessitating a game of leapfrog.

There was also Daypack Dude, whom I encountered at the Tip-off on the South Kaibab. He spotted me approaching from the East Tonto and made it his mission to keep ahead of me at all costs. Seriously, it's not a race. So, I wasn't overly thrilled about running into a big crowd as I topped the rim.

But then I saw a family emerging from a shuttle bus. They were your typical rim tourists, clad in fleece and improper shoes, without water. But the man, who had sprinted ahead, was returning to his family with a look of complete joy on his face. "IT'S THE CANYON!" he screamed. "WE CAN WALK IN THE CANYON!!!" (I guess he had thought you could only look at it.) How could you not love that enthusiasm?

There's something about being on trails  that makes me want to talk to other travelers. I don't normally do small talk in other circumstances. I spend nearly ten hours a day glued to a phone with strangers in my real job, so I don't feel like it on planes or buses or trains. (Though a guy did invite me to go to Mexico with him on my last plane trip. Hmm.)

Trails though. There's where I meet my tribe. I have met some true characters and had great conversations in passing on trails. I've met many a lifelong trail friends this way--Skeeter, Cherry Pie,  Buff, Camel and Short Cut. Where else would I have met a Frenchman in his 60s except on a trail?  There are others I will never see again but will never quite forget. There's something about backpacking that seems to revert people to their true selves. I've never found it anywhere else. It's not like I'm a different person, maybe just a better one, the one I was meant to be.

Do you talk to people on trails? Ever met a lifelong friend that way?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Along the East Tonto: Grandview to South Kaibab in the Grand Canyon

Every trip deserves a caption. This one, a 27 mile hike across a rough and remote section of the Tonto trail, (plus a side trip to Phantom Ranch) can be summed up as It's beautiful when you aren't terrified.

There was plenty of terror. Much of the descent, specifically the first couple of miles from the Grandview trailhead, and most definitely the 1.5 mile drop into Cottonwood Canyon (which took me an hour) plus a couple of the Cremation descents, contained the trifecta of exposure, little rolling rocks, and steepness. In retrospect, the first two days (10 and 12 miles) were a lot to tackle. GC miles are like no other. All of you RTRTR runners who scoff at this, know that the East Tonto is nothing like the superhighway of the corridor trails. It even bears little resemblance to the West Tonto.

Distant storm on the north rim, from the descent.
In addition, reports of water availability were scarce, so I often carried six liters of water on those descents. In truth, recent rains had brought water to many drainages that are often dry. I could have gotten by with less, but you never want to end up with less than you need.

Water in the desert! Lonetree Canyon
There's also the delightful aspect of losing the trail, which can happen frequently, especially as you climb out of the east arm of Cremation. And there's the outsloped trail right on the edge of Grapevine Canyon, where a strong wind threatens to blow you into the depths as you think, this can't possibly be the way.

But. There is something to the stark beauty of the Tonto. I was alone most of the time, only intersecting with people on a few occasions. There was only the desert wind, the sound of canyon wrens, and my own thoughts. The few people I met were hardy desert adventurers, my tribe that I miss so much.

Not a soul but me and my thoughts.
Muddy Colorado

Heading toward Grapevine
I camped the last night in Cremation Canyon, the place where a marathon runner died in 2004, running the same route it took me three and a half days to hike. Cremation is also the place where Native Americans scattered the ashes of their dead. It is a solemn and spooky place. Unlike in July, when Margaret searched desperately for a way to the river, there were small potholes of water below the campsites. Enough to save your life.

I've been below the rim eight times if I am counting right. This trip was very different than the others. Though it's fairly easy if you take your time and prepare, it showed me the vast indifference the canyon has for all of us. In the other areas I've been, you are never too far from safety. On the East Tonto, you have to rely on yourself. It's a situation we all need to find ourselves in once in a while.
Cremation canyon

Where I camped: Grapevine (10 mi); Cremation (12 mi); last arm of Cremation (1 mile? then day hike to river and back). If I were to do it again I'd camp at Cottonwood (5.5 slow miles); Lonetree (about 11 miles) and Cremation, to break it up a little. Horseshoe Mesa is an interesting destination also, but I didn't have time to explore much on the dry mesa.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Running on Desire Paths

It was the kind of chilly, windy, rainy day when you just want to sit on the couch, but I knew I had to go for a run. Unable to face the uphill climb to the park, I drove to the campground.

There's something I love about running around a deserted campground, I don't know why. (In high school, I used to run around a cemetery, but signs soon went up: No Jogging. I guess someone got offended.)

Most campgrounds are flat, which is rare terrain around here, and most have a nature trail of some sort associated with them. I was able to stitch together a short run without seeing a soul save a man with an umbrella (what do you call someone with an umbrella? A tourist).

The other thing about campgrounds is that they have little paths going everywhere. None of these are sanctioned, and I really try to stay off them, because I have spent countless hours trying to reclaim them in other areas. These, however, are pretty hardened into place, and so sometimes I can't help following them to see where they go.

All of my career I've called these "social trails", or "unauthorized routes", but I recently heard a new term: desire path. I love this! They make me think a little more kindly of people who create them. Most of the desire paths around this campground just lead straight uphill and stop.

This desire path leads to an impassible stream. Well, not impassible, but too wet to cross.
I thought about desire paths in life, too. For most of my twenties, I followed desire paths instead of designated trails. It was wild and free, but now that I've done it, lived penniless in bunkhouses, I don't have much of a need to go back there. But there's still occasional straying to be done.

What I've learned is that you pick and choose your desire paths. Durable surfaces, where you won't cause erosion or heartbreak, either one. The thing about desire paths is that other people will see where you've been and try to follow. Pretty soon there's a full-fledged trail. Tread lightly, wanderers.
Here's a desire path leading down toward the lake.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Climbing Fergi

Rain in March. It really shouldn't be raining in March, but nothing about this winter has been normal. What this means is that cross country skiing is history but hiking is not optimal. Optimistically we ventured to a usual spring sure thing, Davis Creek north of town, and found ourselves floundering in deep snow. Nope, not going to happen.

You take what you can get, so we headed to Fergi, the local volunteer-run ski hill. Fergi possesses its own unique charm, with a T-bar and $7 lift tickets. Even with the weather so awful, when the lift isn't running, people determinedly skin up to get a workout.

Except for me. I snowshoe. Yes, I am the fool who snowshoes up the ski hill, just to snowshoe back down. Where the fun is in that, I'm not sure, but it is something to do outside when the options are very limited. I did try to ski down once with my cross country skis, but this was punctuated with screams of alarm and not likely to be repeated.

It's not a very long hike up. In a short amount of time I was at the Voodoo, the small hut at the top of one of the runs. The story is that the original building at this location was named after a Rolling Stones album, the Voodoo Lounge. At any rate, it's a cute little building, and I spent the night after I got married in it.
Once you reach the Voodoo, it's all down hill, which in snowshoes really isn't easy. I picked my way down praying a fall wasn't in my future. It takes me longer to go down than it does to go up. But eventually I arrived back at the base of the hill.

Fergi is usually the site of much revelry, but today nobody was around. Fat bikes have been ridden down it, and on one occasion a guy tried to take the T-bar with a kayak, in order to kayak the snow back down. Neither attempt, up or down, was very successful. I'm pretty sure I am the first and only snowshoer to hike the hill, though. It's good to be a record holder.

Still winter up here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

wild enough

I finally got out of town. It's been five months. I had a book reading on the west side, so I went a couple of days early and drove to the ocean. There's just something about listening to the waves that I had been missing. The coast has a peacefulness I needed. Sometimes I think I could just go and live in a remote cabin and never talk to people again. When I start feeling that way I know I need to go someplace wild. Or at least, semi-wild.

When I first pulled into Newport, it was an uncharacteristically sunny day. People were everywhere! Oh no, I thought. But despite all the people, I had to get out there.

 There were endless views in each direction. Time to go for a run!
Beach running is so easy. So flat! So sea level! No rocks, no bears, no mountain lions! You can look around without the possibility of a face plant. I ran toward the lighthouse, and then turned around to run in the other direction. 

The next day the weather returned to its normal self. Agate Beach was completely deserted, with torrents of rain and a biting wind. Driftwood had been tossed onto the sand. I still made myself go out, stalking the abandoned coast. Nobody else was out there, unlike the day before. This was more like it!  I am a fan of extreme weather--the years I lived in Florida with its endless sameness were hard to take.

I have to say that this has been a difficult time lately. People are so mean to each other now. There's a lot of superiority about lifestyles and how much better they are. Not knowing if we have to move (we still don't) has been hard. What helps is to get out, to realize that nature endures. This beach will be here long after I'm gone.

It rained so much that day that big rivers ran across the beach. The waves were huge. It was wild enough. I had my fix of the coast and could head back to my landlocked little mountain town. It'll be backpacking season soon. I can hang on until then.

Running on the beach, yes or no?
Are you a beach person?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Need for Speed (Not)

I've never been drawn to high speed activities (running and hiking aside, but those are different). My skydiving career ended prematurely on the third training jump when things went spectacularly wrong (we all lived). I was never one of those kids that wanted to ski fast or jump off high things. I liked the meditative pace of canoeing instead.

Cross country skiing as I grew up with it consisted of gliding serenely through deep woods, occasionally facing small hills, but nothing too extreme. I moved to Florida for a time, where skiing was referred to as "snow skiing" (which is just wrong) and then to Southeast Alaska, where snow rarely stuck to the town level and we went out in kayaks instead (I also had to drive motorboats for work, and didn't like driving fast either).

Where I live now, either you hole up and hate winter, or you adapt. Since I love cross country skiing, I adapted. But I'm not sure you can really term this "cross country". It's more "climb big hills and ski down them with Nordic gear." There's rarely anything flat about it.

"Enjoy the speed!" J yells as I pause at the top of the Hill of Death. I used to sidestep down the hill, and now I mostly ski it, which is a victory of sorts. However, my passage is a blur of fear, occasional giggles, and muttering a mantra of "oh no, oh no, too fast, help." I wish I could be a person who enjoys speed, but I doubt it will ever change at this point.

This is what cross country skiing should look like! Sadly, too brief of a flat interlude. BTW this is March, not December.
Sometimes conditions align. This past weekend, enough snow dumped to make the dreaded climb and subsequent plunge down from RY Timber lands joyful. Fast enough to glide, not fast enough to face plant. I arrived back to the ski area feeling confident. Maybe I was better, I thought, as I negotiated the last (mostly flat) approach. Maybe....

Thump! A small hill appeared from nowhere and my skis slid crazily down the strange concrete-like mix of snow. I thought I had survived until the last minute, when I plowed to a stop face first. Yep folks, still not ready for speed.

Pretty obvious what happened here.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pushing a Sofa Uphill

We pushed through a strange mosaic of snow. You never quite knew what you would get. Sticky as melted butter, an icy crust, or fluffiness. It all depended on the sun: where it had been, where it could reach. It was hard to get a good ski going with this inconsistency. That was March skiing for you.

As I skied, a familiar feeling crept over me. I was redlining, on a ski that should be somewhat easy. "You should go ahead," I snarled, stepping aside. When this happens, akin to pushing a sofa uphill, I am inclined to blame a lack of physical fitness or sheer laziness. I get mad and try harder. But this time I paused. I remembered what some friends are going through lately and it has made me think. Though I try to deny it, I do have an incurable, lifetime auto immune disease. 

Why am I writing about hypothyrodism on an outdoor blog? Because we all have our challenges. I tend to discount mine, and truthfully I'm lucky. I haven't had to change my medication in ten years. I breezily tell people it's no big deal. Most of the time I feel pretty good. But, puffing along in the wake of a speedy skier, I had to admit that it has affected my adventures.

There's that feeling that my eyes are just going to close on their own. The endless calorie counting no matter how much exercise I get. The times when my mind knows it can still do a seven minute mile, but my body says differently. Never waking up feeling refreshed. And days when the sofa is pretty hard to push. I realized that I've ignored all these because I didn't want to admit weakness. Better to ski harder, hike faster. Better to get mad.

But you can't ski mad. It just doesn't work. After awhile you just feel ridiculous. That's the benefit of being outdoors. There's really very little that mountains and snow can't fix, at least in terms of mood. I can tell when I haven't gotten enough, and that's been especially true lately. The changeable nature of March around here means that you stare anxiously at the sky. The forecast calls for 80% rain! But it's sunny? Do you dare go for it? You can try, like I did the other day, and discover to your joy that the park trails have been stomped down enough to run. Or you can drive up to the cross country ski parking area only to find a mean ice crust.

 So while I have an incurable autoimmune disease, and it can affect what I do, I'll just keep pushing that sofa. Some days it's not even a recliner, and others it feels like a full-on sectional. Fortunately, I am usually able to push through it and find some other plane where it's easy. I intend to keep doing that.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

jumping the fence

Yesterday Ruby jumped the fence. She was off for a wild runabout, reappearing later without remorse. She was so excited when she returned that she could  barely breathe. She raced about in a state of delight (At least she came back). I'm sure she wanted to tell me all about her adventure, but also how much she missed me and wanted to come back. Oh, Ruby. That is a dilemma us fence jumpers have to live with all of our lives.

Good thing she's cute.

Obviously she can't be doing that. There's so much snow that it's easy for her to get out. We'll have to shovel.  But this started me thinking about fence jumping in general. Breaking out. Doing the unexpected, even if you "should" be doing something else. We did this on Friday. I worked longer days so Friday afternoon was free. Sort of.

I had deadlines. I should have been at work. But winter decided to reappear. The snow was the best I have ever seen it. It looked like December. Because of all the fluffiness, I was able to ski down slopes that I usually have to timidly walk down. It was not to be missed. Well worth jumping a fence or two.
I skied the next two days in a row. Snow like this comes only a few days in a lifetime. I dragged some friends on a windswept traverse one day, and the other day we sped silently through the woods, successfully navigating the Hill of Death with no falls. This winter is the one that never seems to end.

What makes some dogs fence jumpers? I don't know. The lure of the unknown must finally overcome safety and home. I get it, Ruby. I was a fence jumper when I was younger too.

Now I just ski. But there's freedom in that. With snow like this, I can go wherever I want. Sick of winter perhaps, the others have abandoned the trails. I haven't skied a groomed trail in years. Instead I hunt for passage through trees. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not.

Apparently, it's been a hard winter. At least that's what people are saying. It doesn't seem that way to me. We had a brief February thaw and people appeared in shorts. They took studded tires off. They were fooled. You don't turn your back on winter here. We have two months at least to go.

The thing about fence jumping is that sometimes you can't find your way back. That's why Ruby has to learn to stay home. That's why I don't pack up and go hike the Pacific Crest Trail in its entirety, in one season. Or go sequester myself in a waterless cabin and write novels for a year. Other people don't subscribe to this. "YOLO!" they exclaim. They all have tales of people who died too soon, reminders that life is short.

It is short. As we skied today, the blue diamonds we followed were put up by a man who left us way too soon. If he had known, would he have jumped the fence? Was there something he passed up, thinking he would have time later? It's impossible to say. The only thing I can think of is this: jump a few fences, don't miss the adventures that would break your heart not to miss. But come home to the people who stay behind, waiting for you.