Monday, June 18, 2018

Close Encounters of the Beary Kind

I have a confession.

I am unreasonably, irrationally afraid of BEARS. I managed to get this fear under control when I worked as a wilderness kayak ranger in Alaska. After all, we would sit eating our rice in our remote backcountry campsites, we would count the bears we saw strolling past our tents (seven at one time was the record).  Then myself and five companions were charged by a coastal grizzly in 2009, somehow escaping injury. The fear came back. Now that I live in a place where they are rarely seen, I'm more nervous than ever.

However, this nervousness is confined to the night, when I'm in a tent. For some reason, I don't get scared hiking. I realize this makes no sense.

Even though I'm afraid of bears, I still go out. This summer, if you can call this desperately rainy, cool weather as summer, I've been out a lot alone. The trails are deserted in direct contrast to prior seasons. People are going to warmer, dryer places. This has led to some long and beautiful hikes and runs in solitude.

Yesterday I headed up from the "green gate", a typical running and walking route that gets you up to the moraine quickly. It's a local favorite that gains only 800 feet to a beautiful plateau. Due to the record-setting rain, the grass was nearly higher than the dogs.

it's all fun and games until a bear crosses your path. I don't have any pictures of the bear.

I heard a stick break in the woods and thought it was Ruby, so I called her (I try to keep her in sight at all times). To my surprise, a large bear emerged from the woods and loped across the trail, just feet away.

When you're not used to seeing bears anymore, there is a second of disbelief before your mind can process what it is. The dogs were up the trail, between me and the bear, so I decided to go after them to make sure there weren't any bad outcomes. As I cautiously moved up the trail, I came upon a recently dead fawn, still warm. It was obvious the bear had been lurking near the carcass.

This is pretty dangerous, and it seemed prudent to withdraw.

Even though it was a nice day on the moraine. Sort of.

Typical views. So many clouds, so little sun.
I really don't know how to get over the fear of night time bears. I'll continue with immersion therapy and hope it somehow goes away. In the meantime, I guess I'll dig out the bear spray and start carrying it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How to look good in the woods

JUST KIDDING! Whose blog do you think you're reading anyway? During the course of my outdoors life, I've heard things like this:

"Whoa, you look like a volcano blew up in your face." (Actually, I had been cleaning fire pits, so perhaps this one was justified.)
"Where have you BEEN?"
"You look like you've been out a long time."
"You look a little rough from your travels."

Side note: do random strangers say things like this to men? I also once had a man say, "Stylish!" as I hiked past. I was wearing a sun shirt and a hiking skirt. Apparently hiking skirts have not made it to the Grand Canyon yet.

"Stylish" on the PCT in 2015.
Here's my advice: Don't worry about what you look like in the woods. Worry instead about how your senses are being dulled in the "real world." Don't believe me? Go out for a week. Walk back toward the trailhead. Guarantee you will be able to smell the laundry soap on day hiker clothes.; it wafts well in advance of their approach. If only a week in the wilderness allows you to smell this, what is happening to you every day in civilization?

Worry about how wilderness is vanishing in the world. How it's becoming no longer relevant to a whole generation. How attacks on it are shrinking our public lands.

As for me, I don't know what it is, but the minute I step on a trail I become a hot mess. Hair everywhere, scratches on my legs, dirty clothes. Do I care? Nope. I even found a hat that sums up my attitude.

In fact, I look remarkably similar on trail and off. Hmm...Above, the showered version...

After a week (100  miles) on trail
I found an article for women (of course) on how to look good while backpacking. Dry shampoo? Foundation? Um, nope. Ain't nobody got time for that! I have had hiking partners that will veer off trail for a shower. Me, I'd rather keep hiking and get a shower at the end. The contrast to ordinary life is what I crave. Why do the same things you do at home? Jumping in a lake (no soap!) is just as good.

So if you've somehow navigated here looking for wisdom on how to look put together while backpacking, sorry, this is not the place. My only advice is: Hats. Hats cover a multitude of sins. Clothes can be rinsed out, no need to carry a metric ton of them. Small gaiters are miracle workers in keeping your feet clean-ish. Sunscreen is the only "foundation" you need. One concession: I pack a tiny hairbrush, otherwise I'd end up with dreadlocks.

Guys, none of this probably matters to you. Looking like a mountain man is generally considered a good thing (I have seen guys who shave every day. Unclear on why).  However, baby wipes can be your friend (pack them out). 

There concludes my unhelpful advice on how to look good in the woods. Basically: I have no idea! How do some people sport white T-shirts that stay white? How do some people look like they stepped out of an REI catalog? For the love of everything holy, how do people manage to not sit in sap, get clawed by bushes, or face plant into poison ivy? You've got me. 
****Edit! As Jill pointed out, there are moments where hygiene must occur. Not only for your own sanity, but for your own health. Only you can decide when that is. But please! Do not do as some backpackers do and lather up and jump in the water. Yes even with biodegradable soap.

Friday, June 8, 2018

trick or treat in the mountains

I refreshed the weather forecast obsessively. 50% chance of thunderstorms. It could be all right at almost 9,000 feet or it could be frightening. This spring we have had an unprecedented amount of intense thunderstorms, and I didn't relish the thought of cowering in a small tent during one. The forecast for the following day looked even more grim--90% chance of snow, 2 to 4 inches possible. Oh and to make things even better, "maybe some thunder."

When I lived in Southeast Alaska, a 50% chance of rain was a "good day". Here, not so much. And, honestly, did I really have to be a badass all the time? I feel like since social media came along, people are taking more and more risks and/or doing more epic things just so they can post them. Maybe that's a cynical viewpoint, I don't know. Luckily, only a few people read this blog (Hi! Thanks!) and I don't feel like I need to impress anyone. If a storm comes along in the middle of a trip, that's one thing, but heading out into a certain one just seemed kind of...dumb.

At some point, dithering over a decision needs to stop. Glaring at my packed backpack, I downscaled to a day hike. Grumpily I hit the trail. Stomping up the 3,000 foot climb, I had an overwhelming sense of outdoors FOMO. What if the forecast was wrong? Did I give up a precious, rare Friday off when I could be staying overnight?

The trail was pretty wet and muddy
But eventually you have to let wrong decisions go. My spirits rose as I realized that, inexplicably, I was going to be able to make it to the lake without a lot of snow. A half day outside was better than no days outside, after all.

There are a few constants about this hike to Aneroid Lake. One is that there's few places to hang out at the shoreline, since there's a private inholding with cabins on most of the prime real estate. The typical campsites were shrouded in snow. I settled for some views obscured by trees before a chilly wind sent me heading back.

There are campsites under the snow
Looking around for a good photo view point, I found this. What is it?

Unfortunately, doing day hikes instead of camping means you have to leave before you are ready. See you soon, Aneroid Lake.

There is a point on this trail where I begin to be extremely annoyed by the rocky tread. Rocks stick up like teeth, requiring ballet-like moves in order to stay upright. Some people run this, though that doesn't seem like a good time at all.  I lurched down the trail, a day hiking Frankenstein, my pace considerably slowed. Still, the woods were an intense green, and the trail lacked the powdery dust it soon would become.                         

When I skidded to the parking lot, it was half full of cars. Where those people were was anyone's guess. I'm reluctant to give up my empty spring trails to the summer people, but that's how it goes when you live in a beautiful hiking paradise.

I headed home to eat all the food and to stare obsessively at the sky, which remained impassively clear. A beautiful sunset mockingly appeared.  At the pub, Tim talked about a time in August  of 1991 when it snowed 36 inches at their camp. Though this seemed like a bit of a tall tale, I knew the mountains had their tricks. Fortunately, there's enough treats to keep us going there.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Proceed to the route

"Turn on the bridge," the Iphone voice insisted. Apparently the new roundabout confused it, and when I stubbornly headed toward Lewiston instead of the convoluted route that the GPS was trying to send me on, it fell silent, seemingly disappointed. Then it perked up. "Turn on Snake River Avenue!" it insisted. Why would I turn there? I wondered, I passed the turnoff. "Proceed to the route," the automated voice said meekly. 

I've driven 1300 miles in a week, driving through four states. While the scenery was lovely, the company good, I was ready to be myself. With only one day off, I decided to carpe the diem and head to Bonny Lakes, typically a fairly easy stroll that can be done in a few hours.

Almost to the trailhead, I was stopped abruptly by a large tree across the road. Darn! But no worries, I would just park here and walk. I really need to start carrying a saw, though.

This trail has several significant river crossings, but all were doable. The real challenge came from finding the trail. I had been following a lone set of melted out tracks, but that person had missed the junction at 2 miles, so I was the first person to make it in here. Solid snow stretched as far as I could see. Even though I'm pretty good at route finding, there's always a sense of urgency when no trail can be seen. 

One of the river crossings

But if you've done any trail work, you can look at a snowy forest and start to see the pattern. You can hunt for the ends of cut trees sticking out from the snow. You can instinctively see where a trail leads, through the open corridors, not through the brushy thickets. Very rarely is a trail unpredictable. It makes use of the landscape it traverses through.  I know a lot of people rely on a GPS app, and I can see where it would be valuable, but I like learning the land on my own instead of looking at a screen. (Driving is an exception. I drove across county multiple times with a road atlas. Even when GPS is wrong, it is still easier than trying to read that atlas at 70 mph).

Ruby doesn't care about route finding. She just wants to roll in the snow.

There were a few points where I almost admitted defeat, as I began to posthole through soft snow. But I'm stubborn, and my bar for feeling uncomfortable on the trail as far as safety had not been reached (we all have our own bars. One of the reasons I didn't take anyone with me was because I thought others might want to turn around. That's not saying I'm better than anyone, I'm just more stubborn). 

This is a look of, I can't believe I did that, but I'm glad I did.

My patience was rewarded as Bonny Lakes, still partially frozen, came into view (and my hopes for backpacking there next weekend were dashed, as there was no snow free place to camp). There were no other souls all day, just my puppy and me. It was the perfect way to recalculate. I'm okay with proceeding to the route, for now. I'll go off the map again as soon as I can.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Looking over my shoulder

I ran up the forest access road, Ruby in tow. There was nobody in sight. While maybe 50% of the people I know wouldn't run in such an isolated location alone, I usually just hope for the best and try not to think about all the pitfalls that could occur. However, I couldn't stop thinking about this fatal mountain lion attack. As I ran, I kept looking over my shoulder.

It's easy to say what you would do in this kind of situation. I would hope that I wouldn't run, or that I wouldn't leave my friend if they were being attacked. But I know from personal experience, when a coastal brown bear charged a group of us in Alaska in 2009, how difficult it is not to run. How hard it is not to think about yourself and not others. The instinct for survival is strong.

It turns out that there are creatures lurking on that forest road. The next day as I ran with another person, Ruby spotted something high on a ridge and started to chase it. I didn't see it, but the other runner said it was a wolf. (Wolves don't typically attack people--I once ran right by one and once I hiked down toward one at a lake. But they still give you pause).

The wilderness is beautiful and brutal. This part of Montana, where I was visiting family, was experiencing a 100 year flood. The Clark Fork was incredibly high.

Huge river from the Cascade Falls overlook  near Plains.
Guess we aren't going on this trail!

We drove up to an alpine lake, which we later discovered was the scene of a murder in 2003. Today it was peaceful, with kayakers floating around.

Corona Lake--difficult to find but worth the drive.
I'm still going to run in the woods, but it's going to take awhile to feel comfortable with it again. No matter that this was almost as rare as the Montana floods; it just takes a grisly story to make you think about what is watching you. But then I remember when I worked on a mountain lion refuge. We ran daily on a two track road, and the interns whose job it was to conduct telemetry on the collared cats told us how often one sat just one hundred yards off the road, watching as we ran past. We could have been lunch at any time. But we weren't.
Ruby is fearless.
Any of you sometimes afraid in the woods? Any scary encounters?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bitter. Sweet.

When someone leaves us, there is a time between grief and when memories make us smile more than cry. For some people we have lost, this is a long stretch of road. Just like hiking a trail, it takes time to get to the point where you can think, I'm glad for the years we had more often than I'm lost without you.

Every year a small group takes the gondola up to Mount Howard on the first day it runs for the season. This was something Ken and some of the guys used to do each year and now it's become a tribute to his memory. Even though I was on snowshoes and not skis, I was part of the group by default--I had loved Ken too. Skinning up a mountain, in fact, is slower than snowshoeing, especially if it is nearly summer and you have to bootpack.


This time we had A. R., who is in fourth grade. This trip is hard for adults, not to mention a ten year old. First up is the tram ride, where we were uncomfortably aware that we were in gondola cars built in the 1970s. The top of the mountain was still shrouded in snow, and we donned our skis or snowshoes to ascend the approach to Easy Peak. Passing my favorite campsite in the world, we then climbed to the top of Easy.

The view, as always, was spectacular.

Ken was one of those rare souls. He was the most non self-absorbed person I have ever known. Talking to him, you felt his entire attention on you, like a bright light. Even at the end, he asked how I was, gave me a hug. How he could be so graceful at that point I have no clue.

The clouds are coming in
We paused on top of Easy Peak. In front of us, the wilderness, places we had yet to go. Behind, places we had been. Always a great divide. Going forward, we leave the familiar, the loved. But you can't stay in the past. At some point, you have to leave those people, those memories, and move on.

In fifty years, A.R. will still be alive, but none of the rest of us will. In fifty years, nobody will remember me; I have no children, no close young relatives. It's always something sort of lonely to ponder. All of the drama, all of the struggle, none of it will remain, nothing to say I was here (except the books, if they are still in print). There's nothing like the mountains to make you realize that even though you see your life as a blazing meteor, it really is insignificant. It only matters to you, so you have to make it good.
The ski route down from Easy Peak.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Working Indoors (for the outdoors person)

I've had an "office job" for almost seven years now. And yes, I was one of those people who said they would never come in from the field. But you know, years of toiling on trails, on the fireline, and wilderness rangering take their toll. Besides being sort of low pay, they can eventually wind you up with health issues that could prevent you from doing the things you love. (For example, I never thought that leaving a 70 pound pack on while digging out hundreds of waterbars would catch up
with me. My knees don't agree.)

So here I am, tap tap tap on a computer. But, now when I go outside it's to do the things I want to do, not the things some manager thinks I need to (dig a waterline anyone?). Is it easy? Nope. I see my former co-workers heading to the field and I am envious. Rain, snow, beautiful sunny day, it makes no difference--I'm stuck inside.

A quick lunchtime walk that takes five minutes to reach

How to deal? Maybe you aren't in this boat and are independently wealthy, or are lucky enough to be able to balance an outdoors life with work. If so, stop reading and go outside (but leave me a comment. I love comments. And I am always looking for new blogs to follow). If you're like me, though, here are some survival tips.

1. The obvious: Put a block of outdoor time on your calendar. Everyone should get a lunch break. If I don't put it on my online calendar, someone will plop a meeting in there. It's easy to fall in the trap of thinking that if I only have time for a 30 minute run, then it's not "enough." But it's something. I sometimes change into my workout clothes a few minutes early--that signals to me that I am actually going to go.

Luckily, some hiking pants can look like "work pants"
2. Use conference calls wisely. Ah, the four hour call, where people blab on about "taking deep dives" and "unpacking this". If you aren't presenting, there may be time to go walk briskly around the block or even sit outside, as long as you are ready for the inevitable, "So....what do YOU think about Brad's idea?" I have a co-worker who even goes for runs during conference calls. I'm not sure I could pull that off (don't breathe heavily into the phone) but mute is a wonderful invention.

3. Don't let co-workers guilt you. Once, someone I supervised loved to snark on the fact that I left "Early" (4:30) to go outside and exercise. One day I was still at work and he said, "You're still here!" There will always be these people, those who feel married to the job. Don't marry the job. There are people in my workplace who lose their vacation time! Don't be them. Ignore the haters and stand your ground. To me, planning little mini-hikes throughout the year is much more rewarding than taking all my time off at once. And as the saying goes in my workplace, if you can take 30 days off, your job isn't really necessary. (I know, I know..)

4. Pack the weekends/after work. After a day of the computer, the struggle is real. I want to just sit and stare blankly into space. Darn you, Excel formulas! But move you must. I try to reserve the (boring but necessary) gym and bike trainer for weekdays and do longer adventures on the weekends. I've been known to backpack on a Sunday and run down the trail at four in the morning to make it to the office on Monday morning. It's good to show up at work kind of tired from the weekend's activities. The gym, though tiring, isn't as good of a feeling.

5. Avoid adventure envy. This is a hard one! There's nobody else's life that I want, but there are times when I read blogs or see posts about multi-day or even day long trips people are able take on a random Wednesday. Some are my local friends, too. What I do is count up the things that I am lucky enough to do. I have weekends off. I have a living wage. I probably won't have to work as a Walmart greeter. I can retire at a (relatively) young age, unless Congress adopts the current budget proposal. I'm not suffering from a terminal illness. And so on...

I get to hike about 300 miles of the PCT a year. That is not a bad thing.
6. Rig up an outdoor space. This can be difficult unless you work at home, but there may be chances to take a laptop outside and work. I have a contraption using my trekking umbrella, but it can be tricky to see the screen. But if you have to review a hard copy document, go outside to do it! (Just beware of distractions. The neighbors are having happy hour on their porch! Oh look, a kitten!

7. Walk around! In a cubicle prairie, this may be hard. Someone may be waiting to trap you into a fascinating conversation about rivets. But try to get up once an hour at the very least and pace. Maybe do a walking meeting; I have been known to entice co-workers outside for this. No need to sit in a conference room!

This is my office burning down. As much as I hate office work, this was not a good thing to see.

8. If all else fails, quit. Nope, I am not brave enough to do this either. But you might be. I am not willing to go back to bunkhouses with 20 year olds, paying rent, and worrying about running out of money at 75. I have friends who think social security is going to save them. Oh honey. No. But if you can overcome financial woes to go back outside, more power to you.

Despite this list, I still suffer. There are tradeoffs to everything. Would I rather wake up with a backpack to grab for the day? Of course. But eyes on the prize. Or, pick a lane, as my friend Ellen would say. Make a choice and make it work.

Any indoor working tips to share?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Trail family

Thru hikers call it "trail family" or "tramily." It's a group of people that are your tribe, the ones who love you even if you have quirks like wanting the perfect campsite or seeing what's around the corner. These people are rare and you have to appreciate them when they appear. Living in a very small town, it was difficult to collect these people, but I have managed to find some.

That being said, I still like my solo adventures. A perfect week is a hybrid of both. During the work week, I am more often solo. On a rainy day, I went for a run in the park:

It was raining, and way more tempting to stay inside. But I had spent all day inside! To the park I can't pronounce!

A test of the Leave It command ensued. In the end, the deer were safe.

An after work hike on the Hurricane Creek trail and a scout of the river crossing. Still too high.

Finally the weekend came and I cast a net for day hikers. My friend could only hike for a couple of hours, so she turned around at the Ice Lake bridge and I continued on to see how high I could get.

Lots of snowmelt was making the waterfall huge.

The end of the line unless you are a fan of postholing. Still another month perhaps until the lake is accessible.

It's good to see there is still this much snow at higher elevations. We will need it this summer.
On the way down from the hike, I happened upon two other friends and we hiked out together.

On Sunday I gathered up two friends and proposed a hike to Freezeout Saddle. They agreed cautiously, because I have taken them on some unintended epic adventures. I also invited a stranger, a woman I knew only from professional email, because why not? We climbed up through beautiful views and wildflowers.

Hiking with friends has caused me to compromise. A slower pace sometimes, adjusting the destination, or turning around when they wanted to, not when I did. It's made me a better person, actually. I think. You would have to ask them!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Notes from the Vortex: a week in Sedona

"I don't feel any different," I said doubtfully as A and I stood in what he said was a vortex. We looked back at where we had come. A rare thunderstorm, strange for spring in Sedona, was slowly making its way toward us. We had just been caught in a brief rainstorm. While other hikers vanished from the trail or frantically put on rain jackets, we had marched serenely onward. Rain in the desert, it never lasts too long.

View from a vortex
Another work trip, another chance to put a life philosophy into practice. Unless you are very lucky, you have to work thirty to forty years. That is a long time. I work hard at trying to fit adventures into my work travel. It isn't always easy. There is paperwork to process if you want to stay over a weekend, and sometimes you can't if it costs more to fly back later. There's inertia to overcome--after leading a meeting, all I want to do sometimes is sit in the hotel. But I never regret making an effort.

Luckily, in Sedona it doesn't take much effort. The national forest surrounds the town, and trails are plentiful.
I found one for an early morning run. I had local intel because you had to walk on a right of way through someone's gate. Once I passed through, the options were endless. So many trails, so little time.

After a week of sitting at our computers, we were done. It was time to get out for a hike. We earnestly said we would be discussing wilderness character monitoring on the trail, and we did for the most part. This trail traverses the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.

An easy three miles one way was enough to get me dreaming of off-trail scrambling. There was so much to discover. Alas, there was not enough time.

Reluctantly we headed back. "Where's the next basket!" a flustered looking man asked. He meant the large cairns enclosed with wire, meant to keep people on the trail. They seemed obvious to us, but he appeared frightened of getting lost. He was headed for the vortex, and it seemed like he really, really needed some healing powers, or at least a bite of a calm down sandwich.

So what is a vortex, exactly? I looked it up: Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form 'vortices' is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy.

Hmm. I'm not sure I believe in them, but can't we all use all the help we can get? Maybe I will end up feeling healed and meditative in the coming work week. I can always hope.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My short-lived modeling career

 This will surprise exactly nobody, but I don't really shop. The clothes I buy are multi-taskers. The pants can be used for hiking but also in an office, should I need to travel to one. My dresses are all the "outdoors" type (even my wedding dress was a "beach dress"). So I don't really spend time perusing catalogs, but when I do, I notice that all the women in them seem to be about 20 years old and weigh about a hundred pounds.

I get that the companies have a product to sell. Maybe if you buy this, you will look like this! Does anyone really fall for this? I don't know. But when a clothing company came to town, wanting "models of all ages and sizes", I decided to test them out. Did they really mean it? I looked them up online, and they appeared to mostly have young women and kids, not a woman over forty to be seen. In an uncharacteristic move, I sent them my picture. To my surprise, they told me they wanted me to show up to their casting call.

Casting call? I cringed. Would I be lined up with flawless others, scrutinized to see if I passed? But in the end I couldn't resist. Represent for the older ladies! I showed up.

In the end there was only me...and a sea of moms with kids! Very, very dressed up kids. Their shot at fame, perhaps? The kids had to be measured, but thankfully I didn't. We all lined up with little flash cards with our names on them, so "they'd remember who we were". Then we were dismissed.

Feeling a bit foolish, I went about my normal life. Two days later, I was on a plane to Alaska when I got an email: "We'd like you to show up at 7:30 tomorrow for a photo shoot. And can you bring your dog?" Well, darn! The catalog people hadn't mentioned their timeline when I had showed up. I had assumed I hadn't been picked. Regardless, I would have to decline.

I'll never know if they just photographed everyone that showed up, and then weeded out the old or the unsuitable, or if I really would have been in the catalog. There went our chance, Ruby's and mine, I thought. I was disappointed, not because of being in a catalog, which seems like a silly goal to have, but because just maybe they would have featured someone beyond their norm. I have been called out, even on this blog, for calling myself old and for caring that people have a stereotype of older people. But how are we supposed to "age gracefully" when older people are pretty much invisible? I had been looking forward to see if this company would actually use pictures of someone who wasn't twenty years old. Now I'll never know.
Here's the real model in the family.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Type II fun on the Davis-Swamp Creek loop

You've probably heard about the three kinds of fun. If you haven't, this article explains it pretty well.

In retrospect, going backpacking when I hadn't been able to keep any food down for 24 hours probably wasn't the best idea. But I am always in firm denial over being sick, since it happens so rarely. Plus, several friends were going! And it was going to be sixty degrees! So I ate a banana and hoped for the best.

There's really few options for backpacking this time of year. The Wallowas are shrouded in snow. Hells Canyon has few options that don't involve poison ivy or a super long drive. We landed on the Davis-Swamp Creek loop, a route of either 14 or 16 miles depending on who you ask (or how long you get lost--foreshadowing). I had day hiked this loop once years ago, so I knew that there was a steep descent followed by a steep climb followed by a steep descent, then a fairly level path along a creek. It's not particularly scenic, being in the bottom of a canyon, but peaceful, with big trees and nice water.

Pic by T. I was too busy trying to survive feeling bonky.
Though I felt like I was operating at a lower level than usual, I managed to keep up as we descended into Davis Creek and climbed up Starvation Ridge. A few ticks tried to hitch a ride, though luckily those were the only ones we discovered on the hike. A chilly breeze made me regret the idea of wearing a skirt. It wasn't quite summer, not yet.

As we traversed Swamp Creek, we came upon several cattle fences. The person who built these had an obvious desire to keep other people out. Some of the gates were so tight that we were forced to crawl underneath them. At one such area, the trail disappeared, but it looked like we were supposed to cross the creek. I hesitated. I didn't remember this, but it had been several years since I had hiked the "trail", so maybe I was wrong. Disregarding the sense of unease that usually prompts me to speak up, I joined the group in crossing near-freezing water. 

On the other side, we floundered looking for trail signs until it became obvious there was no trail there. Back across the freezing creek and scouting the other side, until we finally picked up an extremely well-used trail. How had we missed it? We didn't know, but we had spent an hour wandering among prickly bushes, so we had to pick up the pace to reach camp.

Once we reached our intended destination, the confluence of the two creeks, our hearts sank. Cows! Why were they in here so early? Camping with cows is not fun. Retreat! We had to leave the nice meadow (actually, not so nice now that cows have been in there), crawl under another fence, and pick a flat spot nearby. Our evening was punctuated with bellows from bovines. Mine was also punctuated with anger at myself--I had brought the wrong tent poles for my tent, a rookie mistake! I was somewhat proud of my unstable result, though.

Poles for a one person tent used on a two person, plus some help with poles
I had cautiously eaten only a packet of tuna and a slice of homemade cold pizza all day, and that night my throat burned with indigestion. Obviously whatever plagued me wasn't over yet. Sleepless, I listened to the carefree snores of camp mates and contemplated the next day's cold start (the water in the dog's bowl froze solid).

And cold it was. The cows fled at our shrieks as we negotiated two icy river crossings.  "My feet, my feet," I moaned as I hobbled across a frosty meadow on blocks of ice. After some time, they warmed up, but the effects of not eating for a couple of days were beginning to take their toll. I concentrated on my chatty hiking partner's tales of adventure and made myself keep going. Just one more mile, albeit steep, before we got out.

I had somehow foolishly volunteered to drive, so after cramming a wet dog, four backpacks, and four people into a Nissan Xterra, we headed for town, while all I could think about was a nap. Even the thought of chocolate was revolting, so I knew I had been really sick. (Whatever it was mysteriously vanished a day later.)

Type II fun at its finest, but now that I look really was kind of fun. Minus feeling sick, of course. That's Type III at least.

The dog only has one type of fun. It's all fun!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The evolution of a runner

They say that you can improve for ten years once you start running. Does that mean that I peaked at 24?
I'm sure that's not true for everyone, but I did have semi-impressive times at that age. It would be easy to sit around and moan about how much slower I have become, but I'd rather look at it as an evolution.

The other day, with fear in my heart, I ventured down to Devil's Gulch. I say fear because the trail has grown exceedingly brushy, enough so that if you don't wear pants, you regret it mightily. You also have to search for the trail, ending up high and dry on a scree slope, bushwhacking down through willows, or else on a precarious ledge above the creek. Also, once a dog I was with got bitten by a rattlesnake. (It should be noted that dogs aren't allowed on this trail. We didn't see the sign saying so, so we became part of the problem. However, it is also a reason I don't run it much, because I want my running buddy with me.)

Views on a run
Trails that are relatively flat, and by this I mean those that don't shoot straight up to the sky, studded with trippy rocks and logs to hurl yourself over, are very rare in these parts. I think that's why I don't enjoy running like I used to. You can't ever just let go. You are always on the verge of a potentially painful face plant.

But I was pleased to discover that trail work has taken place in Devils Gulch (here is where I make the obligatory plug to join a trail work party if you use trails. Please. I've done my share, I feel, but I will also do more in the future). I was able to (sort of) speed along, and wear shorts! Winning!

Look! Almost flat trail! The holy grail.

As I ran at a pace that I would have been horrified to admit to in my 20s, I thought about how my relationship with running has changed. I used to train intensely, and unwisely, because there were few instructions out there. Run at two minutes slower than your marathon pace? Take rest days? Unheard of! I hurtled along at the fastest pace I could at all times. Races were always intense. Back then, most people were pretty fast. There was no real back of the pack, recreational runner. You went all out. A pace of seven, or even sometimes six, minute miles wasn't enough to garner an age group place, much less win.

As the decades piled on, I ran, but stopped racing, with the exception of a few select races. The Steens Rim Run, where you ran up to 10,000 feet. Avenue of the Giants. A marathon on Prince of Wales Island, where there were only 40 participants. It became about quality, not quantity.

After knee surgery, I stopped racing and quit pavement. I took to trails exclusively. Running became more about the experience than the time. It was freeing to just run without looking at a watch, without having to "train".

Then, two years ago, I got a puppy. The puppy needed exercise. My runs became more like training the puppy and less about me. I (GASP) stopped during runs to call her, or to have her sit when other people went by. I had to pick less popular places, becoming less choosy about where I was able to run. Up a really steep muddy road? Floundering in the snow? OK!

Now that Ruby has become a *pretty good girl* on the trails, I am back to mostly enjoying blissful, stress-free runs (except for that pesky face-plant thing).  Back in the day, I would never have walked during a run, even through treacherous sections. Now I do. I stop and take pictures, sometimes!

I think I look dorky, but I had to show how strong the wind was, blowing my hair out like a flag.
Even if it's not "real running", I am so much happier with it now than I was then. I feel like when your life is really structured, like 40-60 hours of my week is, it's nice to let go of pace and time. I like how my running has evolved.

I finished my non-brushy, non-getting-lost, non-snaky run feeling accomplished. Maybe not as accomplished as finishing a race and getting a trophy, but almost. Who needs more trophies anyway? I don't have the room for them. I'd rather just run. RYOR, run your own run.

Has anything you've done for a long time evolved?