Monday, October 15, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Ashland to Crater Lake: Section Elusive completed!

I stood shivering at the intersection. The rain showed no signs of stopping. The trail from here on climbed two thousand feet, where it would likely be snowing. To my left, salvation in the form of Fish Lake Resort. To my right, the claim to be tough and continue.

 Oh the heck with it. I turned off to Fish Lake. Even though it was a holiday weekend, the weather was miserable. The dining room wasn't all that warm either, and the guy at the cash register didn't seem too excited about me spreading out dripping gear in there. But. There were two types of cabins available, the rustic one with cold running water and no heat, and the luxury one with heat. Of course I picked the one with heat, laying out all of my wet gear and watching it dry with satisfaction.

I love you, Fish Lake Resort, and you saved me. But, I had to turn on the oven to get it remotely warm in the cabin. About your heat...I think you need to turn it up.

I had been 90% sure I was going to quit. If it wasn't fun, why would I keep doing it? But when I texted my enabler, Beekeeper, for the weather, it looked like I had a window. Cold days, but clear. It was only 54 miles to the end. It looked possible.

The next morning dawned cold and clear. I headed out, meeting a few southbounders along the way. All of them were thru hikers who had had to skip this section because of smoke or because they had flipped up to Canada to make sure they stayed ahead of the snow. All of them agreed: the last two days had been awful.

There's lakes down there.

The trail climbed steeply to a high point where the wind whipped mercilessly. Below me I could see a myriad of lakes: the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Sadly, the PCT stays high on a waterless ridge, missing the lakes entirely. At 27 miles, I was ready to camp, but the wind precluded that possibility. Gritting my teeth, I ground out another two miles to an exposed but windless viewpoint. Diving into my tent, I shivered for hours under my sleeping bag until I finally warmed up. It was too late to be out here, I realized.

view from campsite
The next day I awoke to....rain. No! Looking at the map, I realized that if I pulled off another long day, 26 miles, I could make it to Crater Lake and be done, versus another night in a wet tent. I'm not usually one to cut a trip short, but I was over the cold weather and wet gear. It was time to call it.

The trail stayed mercifully flattish, coming through the Blanket Fire of 2017. I had been on this fire, though I had been stuck at the helibase and didn't comprehend the devastation. Hardly anything had come back in the intervening year. The misty rain continued as if it would never stop.

Spooky fire landscape
There is a Rim alternate trail that nearly every hiker takes. Why stay in the creepy woods when you can hike along the caldera? Unfortunately, the last mile I had to hike, reaching Rim Village, was straight up. I may have whimpered a bit as I crept upwards. After all, this was mile 26, after a 28 mile day yesterday. Turns out, maybe you should train a bit before you do that. And I don't mean just random trail running or occasional 16 mile hikes.

However, not even the chilly wind and rain could dampen my enthusiasm as I stood on the rim, surrounded by a few hardy tourists. I had done it, finished the Oregon portion of the PCT! In many ways, this was the most mentally challenging section so far, save the snowy bail-out in the Sierra Pelona last year. When I thought about it, safe and warm at my friends' house in Bend, I realized it was because of the trail being empty. There are some trails that I want to be empty, but part of what I like about the PCT is talking with other hikers, knowing they are experiencing the same conditions, knowing they are in love with the trail also. Hiking the PCT off season isn't for me; I like people too much (at least, this kind of people).

Plus, there's too much pushing daylight. It got dark at 6;45 and didn't get light again for twelve hours. I'm not a fan of night hiking--what's the point? I want to see where I am hiking, and there are too many potential predators out then. Twelve hours in a small tent is a long, long time.
Brief view.
It was with great satisfaction that I drove away from Section Elusive. It would have been easy to quit, and I almost had. Why I keep pursuing this PCT thing is sometimes beyond me. But now--with less than three hundred miles to go--I am going to see it through.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Ashland to Crater Lake: in which I reach a new low

The first hiker I had seen in two days was quitting. "I'm done!" he said, standing on Indian Memorial Highway. A pretty woman leaned out of the car, waiting to pick him up. We stood in the torrential rain, darkness closing in. "Do you need anything?" he asked.

I contemplated this. I was soaked, my feet freezing. I had already hiked 25 miles, and I was pushing to make two more to reach a three-sided backcountry shelter so that I didn't have to set up my tent in the rain. It was tempting to get in their car, be whisked away to a town, and quit this foolish late season endeavor for good. What was I doing out here? The trail was virtually empty. The hiker had told me it was snowing above us. I had read enough missing hiker stories to know this wasn't a great situation.

But still. This was my window. This section, which some of us had named Section Elusive, was nearly always on fire, choked with smoke, in snow, or filled with vicious mosquitoes. If I didn't hike this one hundred miles now, it felt like I never would.

I forced a smile. "I'm good." I watched the car drive away. Had I made a huge mistake, I wondered as I dashed through spooky woods to reach the shelter. Inside, I gratefully rolled out my sleeping bag and clicked on my headlamp to reveal a large rat eyeing me hopefully. But in the contest between hypothermia and a rat, the rat won out.

The section had started out the day before in warm weather, passing near Ashland through tawny grasses and views of Pilot Rock. My only pause was when I happened upon a dead deer in the trail. No apparent wounds showed a cause of death, but I spotted mountain lion tracks further up the trail. Glad now that I had brought my heavy can of pepper spray, I hurried on. Making 17 miles before dark, I hastily threw up my tent and crawled in. Twelve hours of darkness awaited.

Nice tawny fall scene
The next day the rain began. At first it was just a light mist, and I happily whipped out my trekking umbrella. I hadn't used it before, not sold on it, and it became apparent that the lashing mechanism I had hoped would tie it securely to the pack wasn't going to work. I sighed, collapsing my poles and holding the umbrella with one hand. At first I congratulated myself for bringing this nine ounce item. I didn't even have to wear rain gear! But reality set in. Umbrellas are great in light rain but in heavy downpour what is sticking out--arms and legs--are going to get wet. Just a little less wet.

Pilot Rock

Sharing a shelter with a rat was a new low, but it turned out to be the right move. It was still raining heavily the next morning, and I thought about just staying there, waiting it out. But there was no guarantee the rain would stop. It had been forecasted to last only one day, but obviously someone had gotten it wrong. With a sigh I shoved my feet into wet shoes and headed out.

Someone left this book with many pages of a continuing story. Hikers had added to it as the summer went on.

These were the absolute worst conditions for hypothermia: forty degrees, a wind, and rain. I sloshed along in misery. Why was I doing this? What drives me to complete this darn trail? After ten miles I came to an intersection. Two miles downhill lay potential salvation--Fish Lake Resort. Ahead lay more miles of rain-soaked trail, the trail now a river, deep, deep puddles. Which would I choose? And if I did go to Fish Lake, would I quit right there? I thought about it. Maybe this section Elusive wasn't meant to be hiked. I could quit gracefully and just go home. I stood there for a minute, deciding.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

the spine of the imnaha divide

I dragged myself toward Dollar Lake. I had hiked many more miles than I had planned, the result of not taking a map seriously when it looked like a long climb. Water had been scarce and the side trails unmarked. When I had approached my originally determined camp spot, the lovely and remote Jewett Lake, I had that feeling.

Dog above Jewett Lake
You know the one. Or, maybe you don't. There are some people who can just plop down anywhere without a care. Unfortunately, I am not one of those. As much as I love Jewett Lake, it just didn't feel "right". I can't explain why, but Ruby looked at me with a puzzled expression as we retraced our steps back to the trail. Dollar Lake it would be, another hour and a pass away.

I had already climbed up the North Imnaha Divide, not seeing another soul as the trail wrapped around magnificent tawny and gold vistas, the North Fork Imnaha River glinting far below. This part of the mountain range sees few visitors. It feels ancient and wild. I passed a small wildfire, smoldering in some trees, and stopped to call it in. A small spring, the only water for miles, glittered across the endless flat. It is a magical place.

Tenderfoot Pass, not a soul in sight
But I had miles to go. At Dollar Lake, a couple, the only people I saw for two days, regaled me with their weeklong adventure. They had been places few tourists go, the best kind of people to talk to. Although, they asked me if I were retired. Granted, I probably looked like I had been on a rough journey, but did I really look like I was retirement age? Retreating, I set up my tent on the sandy beach rimming the lake. A stiff breeze buffeted the tent--a major backpacking fail. I had pitched my tent in the only windy place in the whole area. Too lazy to move, I huddled in my backpacking quilt and waited for morning.

Dog on horizon

Dog in water
As I hiked down Dollar Pass and toward Bonny Lake in the early morning, elk bugles split the air. Bonny Lakes themselves were much more gorgeous than they ever are in the middle of summer. In summer, you are plagued with mosquitoes and swampland, but now it was an autumn paradise. It was hard to leave, but as usual I had places to go, things to do. You need to leave a place while you still love it, so I moved on, only to discover a herd of illegal cows munching their way through the wilderness. Herding them along, I made quick time.
Bonny Lakes, why do you make it so hard to leave?
There's places you go when you need wide open spaces. This place is one of those. Luckily, the lack of water and of alpine lakes (these are mainly ponds) will keep most people out. They'll never know what they are missing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

hanging around Lake Superior

I grew up in Northern Michigan and couldn't wait to leave. I knew mountains were where I belonged. So it was with interest that I observed last week that my hometown is now a happening place. Back in the day, my friend Laura and my sister and I were the only people running on the few, unmaintained trails, besides our dads (people thought we were deeply weird). Now there's ultra runs on these trails and new trails have proliferated. There's a huge mountain bike presence. In the place where we ran many lonely 10Ks, starting from the arena, onto the bike path and around "the Island", people thronged in large numbers. I haven't been back in the fall for years, and it was very strange to reconcile this place with the place I grew up.

The beautiful Harlow.
It was oddly hot, with temperatures in the 80s, and people were swimming in Lake Superior. They weren't just running in and dashing out; they were fully immersed. At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, fleets of kayaks dotted the water. Kayaks weren't really a thing when I was growing up. Now they're everywhere. I kayaked up a peaceful river, dotted with strange and mysterious dwellings. Nobody appeared on the banks of the river, but the evidence was there: little gazebos, a boat here and there.

Kayaking up the Chocolay River
We hiked a five mile section of the North Country trail, stopping at the frighteningly named Mosquito River. In June, this would be a horrific place to camp, but in September? It was perfect. Two days later, a woman hiking a section a bit further fell to her death as she stopped to take a selfie. Horrifyingly, some kayakers witnessed her fall. Death by selfie is not a good way to go. Stay back from the edge, people.

On the last day, a wind whipped up the lake to a frenzy. It really seemed like an ocean then, too wide to see across, impossible to understand.
It's a little windy
It dominates life here, just like the ocean does in other states. Living in the inland west, I miss the abundance of water.

My high school years were an unhappy time; I always knew there was something else I was meant to do, different people to meet. It was good to return to my stomping grounds as an adult and see how far I have come. And I can understand now why people want to come here.

OK, this is just as good as mountains. Almost. If only it could be September all the time.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Swimming outside the lines

I step into Mill Lake, expecting to feel the cold bite of glacial water. But I've forgotten: I'm not in an alpine lake. I'm in southern Michigan, on a small inland body of water. I

I swim and I swim. I swim across the lake, aiming for the white lawn chairs of the Chicago people's house across from our cottage. I turn and aim back toward the float plane on the other side. Unlike where I live, I can stay in the water.

It's like that here, a gentler side to life that I've forgotten. It seems easy here, a September without nights of frost or hint of snow, a season where I usually have to carry a puffy jacket wherever I go. Not here. Life feels easy here, without an edge.

Of course I'm wrong. Winter is coming and lake swimming won't be possible. I'll be gone by then. But for now I swim farther than I ever have, outside of a pool confines.  This is why travel is good. You step out of your bubble.
Plus, you do things you never thought you could. Like swim farther than you ever have.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hiking to the sky

The stars aligned this summer. Unlike the rest of the West, we remained smoke-free. No big fires loomed over us. Thunderstorms were minimal. Day after bright sunny day dawned. While too many of them were spent at work, there were still endless possibilities on weekends. It was also the perfect mix of solo and togetherness. I had worried a little when a long term hiking partner had broken up with me--was there something deeply wrong with me? But I quickly found a group of great friends to hike with.  Sometimes you have to let things go and not know the answers why.

I've hiked the trail to Legore Lake a few times in the past nine years. Each time I wonder why I do it. It gains 4,500 feet in four miles, and they aren't any easy four miles. They consist of a) steep, eroded pebbles; b) a steep boulder field; and c) an uneasy scramble up a talus slope. I wouldn't have done it at all unless a friend was going too. So upward I slogged, hoping for a good outcome.

This trail is one that the tourists generally don't attempt. T and I catalog our many falls along it. "I'm on an every other year cycle," she confided. "Enough time to forget the pain but remember the joy." There's something wise in that somewhere.

I started out before the 30 year olds, certain they would catch up to me, but they didn't. We encountered each other at 9,000 feet, a few dark clouds whipping by, too cold to swim. We were overlooking the highest lake in Oregon. When I first arrived, a bighorn sheep and baby were drinking from the outlet stream. The answer to crowded trails is to find harder ones.

There's something both marvelous and ominous about being at such a high elevation. You are acutely aware of how close you are to the sky. You feel the breath being exchanged between the canyon below and the lake above: cold air sinking, warm air rising. It doesn't feel like a place you are meant to stay long.

So I didn't, heading back to the hardest part of the route: the descent. The 30 year olds didn't have trekking poles, to my deep amazement. But then, when I was 30, I didn't use them either. I slipped and slid down the goat trail and through the boulder field. Even Ruby whined a time or two there.

Before too long, though, we were hurtling downhill, bound for saner elevations. I'll be back--maybe in another couple of years.

I'm sad summer is ending; it's been so perfect. I can't say there is anything different I would have done with this one. I did just about everything I wanted to do. I guess that's a good way to end it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

when your town gets discovered

Granted, it was Labor Day weekend. But we shook our heads in disbelief as we were forced to park a quarter mile away from the trailhead. I am not considered a local after only nine years here, but I feel safe in saying I have never seen so many cars at the trailheads as this summer.

It's a balance I struggle to find. On one hand, I love that people are enjoying the wilderness. But. There are areas I have to avoid now if I want to be alone, trails I have to give up on for a lot of the summer. And the people who are coming from urban areas, while mostly nice, occasionally expect things we are not used to doing. A group snarled at us for not having our dogs on leashes, even though our dogs were sitting calmly next to us. Trail runners expect us to leap out of the way for them, even if we are the ones going uphill and they are coming down. My favorite campsites are often taken. It's hard to adapt to all of this. Plus, where is everyone pooping? (I admit to a certain obsession about this).

Clear water of the Lostine River
"Maybe we should pick a different weekend for our camping trip," L said as we hiked toward Blue Hole. This camp-out had been happening for thirty years. But the campground, once our sole property, was crowded with others. We couldn't even stop at the Blue Hole, a deep swimming hole, because it was packed with people, llamas, and goats.

On a day hike to another lake, it was the first time I had been glad to be leaving rather than staying. An endless tide of backpackers rolled by. Two guys flagged us down looking for fuel, and were visibly upset when we said they would have plenty of company.  There were more people than campsites.

The calm before the storm

We aren't at the level of a Sawtooths, or Bend, or Rocky Mountains National Park. And having lived in a place where massive cruise ships disgorged thousands each day, I admit I may be a bit spoiled by insisting it's busy here. The week after Labor Day, I climbed to a lake devoid of any people. For the most part my 19 mile loop was empty. But for me and others in town, there's a growing uneasiness about all the publicity we have had lately. As it is, you can't find a house with a few acres for less than half a million dollars now. A house I looked at in 2009 that was listed for $289,000 is now listed for almost 500. If you want to rent, you need to haunt the real estate offices for months, ending up paying over a thousand a month for an apartment. Things are definitely changing.

On the plus side, it's a long, long drive to an airport. The winters chase people out. We don't have a movie theater or a pool, and if you want night life, you'd better be prepared to end it by nine at night, when the streets roll up. It's still quiet, even in town. Maybe the thrill will be gone soon, people off to discover new spots.

In the end, I guess I'd rather live in a place people want to come to, not one they can't wait to leave (been there). I just wish it wasn't so concentrated in about a two month span. So if you come here, please don't snarl at the locals. And dig a good cathole.

The only person at Blue Lake!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon section F (partial); to Santiam Pass, Day 2-2.25

Part of the trouble of camping near water is the inevitable condensation that occurs. As I stuffed a damp bag into my pack, I glanced over at the two thru-hikers who had cowboy camped within steps of the river. They had to be totally soaked. Bad life choices, I thought.

As is typical, I left camp before anyone else was even awake. I don't know how this happens, but it's impossible to me to sleep in, ever. Might as well get moving!

The trail meandered through a restricted camping area, where you need special permits. One of these was Shale "Lake", which in better times probably is really a lake. Now it's a stagnant puddle. Glad I hadn't made the effort to get a permit for that place, I continued on, spotting several intriguing lakes far below. A dog barked from the depths of the canyon, although I couldn't see any tents. A mystery.

The cool air that had blown out the smoke made for good hiking, but not for good lingering at breaks.  A few thru-hikers passed going north, bundled in hats and looking miserable. At almost 20 miles,  I turned the corner to encounter a tall man with an unusual belt--one I recognized.

"Um, are you a smokejumper?" I asked.

He looked puzzled. "Well, I was one. How did you know?"

"Your belt." Yep Yep was wearing an airlock belt buckle, one that smokejumpers use from old gear. We hiked along together for a little while, talking about the old days of firefighting. We hadn't overlapped--he had jumped in the 1970s and mid 1980s--but we knew a few common names. The trail is a strange and magical place, where you meet people you never would otherwise.

As the trail wound up over Three Fingered Jack, YepYep decided to go on ahead while I sat in the sun. At that point there were only seven miles to the trailhead. It seemed foolish to stop and camp; it was only 3:30. But then I found a perfect spot; it was foolish not to stop. With 21 miles done for the day, why not?

I've never had a lot of patience with people who say they get bored in camp; these are the same people who have to be doing something every minute and can't just be still. There is so much to do in camp. You can watch mountain goats:

You can read a book. You can look at your maps. You can explore your small stretch of real estate. I never get bored in camp. But I am pretty self-entertaining, a skill that I fear is being lost, even by me sometimes. So, it's always good to get practice in doing nothing.

The next morning I woke in a cloud. Stuffing a wet tent in the mesh pocket of my backpack, I threw on rain gear that I hadn't worn in months and headed down the trail. It felt like nobody else was out there in the fog, until I saw my good friend A headed in my direction.

Foggy morning on the PCT

She had come to provide me with a sign of celebration--almost finishing the Oregon section of the PCT.
The pesky Ashland to Crater Lake section remains. It seems to either be mosquito hell, on fire, or choked in smoke. Someday it will be mine. For now, a minor 350 miles remains on my PCT journey.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon Section F (partial): Olallie Lake to Santiam Pass, Day 1

Trail angel Uberducky stopped the truck where the pavement ended, just as he had declared he would. It was still an eight mile hike to the PCT trailhead, but he didn't want to negotiate the potholed gravel. Reluctantly I embarked on the road walk. Road walks are the worst, because they don't count. I added up mileage in my head. If I had to walk all the way, this would increase this small section's mileage to 53. Still doable in two days, but not easy.

After I had walked two miles, a car pulled up. "Need a ride to the trail?" the people inside asked. Success and I hadn't even had to hitchhike! This trip was getting off to a good start.

This 45 mile section of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness was closed last year due to the Whitewater fire, and I seized the opportunity to hike it when I was in Bend for work. During the workweek, my co-workers and I stared glumly at the brown sky and checked the air quality index: unhealthy. Foolishly I ran in the mornings, passing other obsessed souls. This condition was prevalent last year, too. I feel like some areas of the West are basically becoming uninhabitable.

But by some miracle, by Friday the stars aligned. A brisk cold front swept the smoke away. I trotted along the trail feeling exuberant. There is just something about this ribbon of trail that does it for me. I am at the point where I am counting down the miles left instead of counting up. After this section, I would have only 350 left.

I passed numerous small lakes, taking a lunch break at a windswept View Lake. Waves of northbound thru-hikers passed, all smiles because of the improved air quality. With about six hundred miles to go, they are on the homeward stretch, but they also know they need to beat feet to get to Canada before the snow sets in.

Lunch spot

And it feels like fall. Though the lakes were beautiful, it was much too cold to swim. I climbed up over Peak Ridge and down into Jefferson Park, a place of such magnificence that it was hard to keep eyes on the rocky trail. There's a permit system here, though, to camp near the lakes. And I had only come 12 miles, so onward I had to go, though I hated to leave.

The intriguing Mount Jefferson

Glacial runoff.
Near Russell Creek, a notoriously dangerous crossing, I encountered both the rumors of a horse carcass and Scratch, a Oregon thru hiker who kindly waited to watch me tentatively cross on slippery rocks. I hate crossing on rocks or logs, but the alternative, a swirling mass of whitewater, didn't look safe at all. We then entered a completely burnt forest, casualty of the Whitewater fire. The fire had completely cooked this area, and former campsites were guarded by standing dead trees. Back in Jefferson Park I had asked a thru hiker if there was anywhere to camp outside of the burnt forest. He shrugged. "No trees fell on me," he said. After three months and change of camping every night, thrus are somewhat cavalier in their campsite choices.

The burnt forest went on forever, and the hours ticked on toward nightfall. I began to worry about finding a campsite. Night hiking is not my favorite. The trail wound down to a large stream crossing, and I was elated to find a ledge next to it. A private spot, the sound of a river, and it was still light enough to wash up. The perfect trifecta.

Scratch appeared and set up next to me, with several other hikers tucked into the bushes across the river. Thru hikers kept showing up and most continued on through the night, into the burnt forest. Not my idea of fun.

Eighteen miles plus two on the road walk. It had been a good first day. I couldn't wait to see what was coming up. I haven't hiked solo on the PCT for a while, and I was really enjoying the freedom.  With the exception of Flash and Beekeeper, two great hiking partners, I couldn't think of a better way to do this section. I was meeting more people and having more fun than in years. This was turning out to be a perfect hike.

Perfect campsite by Milk Creek with Scratch in the background. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Trail Legs

Approaching Maxwell Lake
Long distance hikers call it "getting your trail legs"--that moment when you can march along feeling invincible. In California. a hiker named Breezy sat with us on the PCT this year, and mused about it. "In the beginning, I used to see hikers on a switchback and know I could catch them," he said. "Now I can't catch anybody. We've all gotten so fast."

Though I don't feel slow, there have been times when I have definitely gotten my trail legs. All those times, it took at least ten days of hiking, every day, all day, to feel the change. Once was on the John Muir Trail, and I strode up Forrester Pass at a rapid clip, unstoppable. The other two times were also on the PCT, in two separate Washington sections. On one, we had just completed a 23 mile day and I felt like continuing on forever, not wanting to stop. The other time, Flash and I had resolutely stuck to our 16 mile days, until we didn't--we were getting to our planned campsites by two in the afternoon, and heading on, our new normal becoming over 20 miles.

It was the same way when I used to run long distances. "Let's do twelve miles and see how we do," B proposed one day to three of us. Twelve miles! It had been forever since I had run that far. It was daunting, and we shuffled through. By the end of marathon training, we were ecstatic at the thought of running "only" 16 miles. Things had clicked, and we floated along on our marathon legs.

As a weekend warrior, it's hard to keep your trail legs. On a good work day, I might have an hour to exercise.  I throw myself out the door with abandon, trying to see how far I can run/bike/hike before I am called back to a conference call. So the weekends are it, and I make the most of them.

Lately I've attempted a few difficult hikes. I embarked on the trail to Maxwell Lake, which is only four miles one way, but includes a heart-sinking climb in the last mile. I may have whimpered as I slogged upward, the one hundred degree temperatures not helping much. On the way down, I passed some defeated hikers, the heat and the climb just too much.

The swimming was perfection.
Then I went to Echo Lake, not for the faint of heart either, gaining almost three thousand feet in the last three miles. This is so hard, I thought, didn't it use to be easier?

But of course it didn't. I had just forgotten the steep scree, the trail going straight to the sky. I reached the lake and threw myself in. As I left the lake the following morning, congratulating myself for making it without dying, I encountered a trail runner I knew. We were back on the main trail, and I wondered where she was going.

"Eagle Cap!" she proclaimed. Okay, that was just a 35 mile run. Feeling slightly less badass, I continued on. It's a good thing I am not very competitive. Just with myself.
Some people do this as a day hike. It's a long one, 16 miles. I decided to camp.

And in this, the fourth weekend of successful hiking, I went to Dollar Lake, a twelve mile round trip. This place is wide and empty, with sweeping, long vistas and few trees. It's not a place many people go.
Ruby races at full speed along Dollar Lake. She always has her trail legs.
As I hiked along, I realized the stars had aligned. Trail legs! My legs felt like they were on springs. I reached the first lake, Bonny, in less time than I ever have. Not that I was even trying. But still.
Bonny was looking a little swampy this late in the year, so I continued on, up and over the pass. I left the trail and went cross country to Dollar Lake. As always, the wide open country didn't disappoint either of us. We looked far into the distance, to all the places we couldn't reach, but maybe someday, we could.

I know my trail legs won't last--I don't have the time to hike all day, and there's no use in wishing I could. It's possible that because I can't, I enjoy it more than someone who could.
It's all right though--I know I can get them back. Give me a chunk of time, a few hard hikes, and they will return.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Swimming with Friends

I step hesitantly into Wallowa Lake. In a shortie wetsuit, swimsuit, neoprene booties, and a swim shirt, I am way overdressed among my friends. MB is unfazed in only her swimsuit and a ball cap. She swims with her head out of the water because she has a fear of fish. I have no such fear, but I do fear cold. This lake is deep, at its deepest 300 feet, and cold. It is a ribbon lake, formed by glaciers, and is still fed by snow melt. In winter, it sometimes freezes. The surface water warms up superficially, but about 140 feet below, it is nearly always 40 degrees. I can feel those pockets as MB and I stroke toward the dock that is our turnaround point.

Even in all my layers, I shiver. It has been a record-breaking summer, with temperatures scraping 100 degrees. Still, I can't stay in the water without my wetsuit, unlike the other swimmers in our loose posse. We dodge the kids and their inflatable toys, the stand-up paddlers, and the occasional water skier, and head for the no wake zone.

As I swim, I can look far, far to the bottom of the lake, farther than I could dive. "You look comfortable in the water," Kim says later, and I am glad to hear it, thinking of all the decades that passed before I learned how to swim. I am grateful to the Sitka salt water pool and the masters swim hour that allowed me to minimally learn enough strokes to get by.

There are so many things we tell ourselves and sometimes we believe them. For years I thought I had bad balance and couldn't ride a bike, ever. Now I do. I thought I couldn't be strong, and I was, working on a trail crew and fighting fires. I thought I couldn't be a swimmer, and here I am, out in a deep lake. What do you tell yourself that isn't true?

MB has perfected her modified dog paddle and she is a speedy thing. I have to work to keep up with her. We pass the summer homes, festooned with kayaks and canoes. Once a dog swam out from one of those, colliding with me in the water. Treading water, I point out the farthest I have ever gone: the buoy past the silver dock. We won't get there today. Commiserating over scheduled conference calls, we head back.

It is so warm that for once, I don't drive home with my heater on or jump immediately in a hot shower. The house bakes in the triple digits, but I feel cool for hours. Pretty soon our swimming will be curtailed as fall comes in. It's a short season, swimming with friends, but a sweet one. I won't think about the fact that there are only a couple of weeks left. I am trying to live in the moment, and this is one of them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


"Did you see the naked hiker?" a couple of women asked. We were all at a stream crossing, taking off our shoes to ford.

Yes, yes I had. Wearing nothing but a backpack, he was spotted at the junction of a popular trail. He has to be wearing tan shorts, I initially thought. But...nope. I was almost sad I had missed the guy in a loincloth with six goats. (I am not making this up)

But all strangeness aside, I headed happily up the trail to one of my favorite canyons. It's a difficult hike, which keeps people out. When I had arrived at the trailhead, more vehicles than I had ever seen greeted me. People had parked haphazardly along the road and the bushes. I sighed with relief that I didn't have the recreation staff officer job here anymore. Someone else's problem! And 99% of those people were in one place--the Lakes Basin--where I have decided I can't go until after Labor Day (and it never used to be that way.)

But I left all that behind in a lush, river-divided canyon. Nobody was in sight except for two day hikers and a couple of pack strings, one packing people in, the other packing people out. Me, I was carrying my own gear (I hope I always can). I passed by beautiful Sky Lake, where I have camped often....

But decided to keep going, what's a few more miles, three to four to be not quite exact, but who cares:

That lake looks like it's a long way down!

Where there was still snow:

and drop down to the horribly misnamed Swamp Lake.

Swimming is the best in a high alpine lake!

While it does boast a swamp on one end, it is a breathtakingly beautiful place to camp. That night it was only me and a foursome, who invited me to their camp (this is becoming a pattern). While we sat around, them in the chairs the horses had brought in, me on a rock, I watched Ruby roam around the lake. She is a FOMO dog, I explained, forever fearful of missing out.

One of the women leaned back in her chair. "I'm a fan of JOMO, myself," she said. "The Joy of Missing Out."

We watched a ferocious storm cloud fortunately track over to the basin next to us, rumbles of thunder heralding its approach. There was something to that, I thought. Instead of worrying about missing out, pick one thing and enjoy it to the fullest. Don't worry about what you should be doing, or could be doing. She said she was planning to sit right in the chair and read the next day, regardless of all the hiking opportunities around.

I kind of love this. I'm going to adopt it.
Dog in sun
Even a FOMO dog needs her rest