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

Thursday, August 2, 2018

you can't always get what you want--a tale of non-solitude at Bear Lake

At last, freedom! I raced up the trail, elated to be done with work travel and to have an unscheduled weekend. Some friends were hiking elsewhere, but this was to be the 24 hours I needed, lots of solitude, swimming, and reading. I had picked a lake where hardly anyone went just for this purpose. I needed to talk to nobody (except Ruby).

The parking lot, crammed with over 20 cars, gave me pause, but I knew all of the people were at the popular lakes. Still, use has significantly climbed in this wilderness in the last ten years. Though it's great to see people out and enjoying the woods, it's not great to be sharing campsites with them.

For a hike that is probably about 12 miles, the climb to Bear Lake seems relatively brutal. It seems to take forever, climbing relentlessly. We were gripped by a heat wave too, and I worried about Ruby, who kept sitting down in the shade. I had somehow lost a water bottle and only had one liter with me, a rookie mistake. I gave most of my water to the dog, rationalizing that she was wearing a fur coat. We found some streams to water up in, but it was a relief to finally reach the final trail junction. It's not marked, and the map shows it in the wrong place, so we stumbled around for a while before finally finding a few cairns to mark the way. The beautiful clean water of Bear Lake came into view, and we wasted no time in jumping in, five and a half hours from the parking lot. We had definitely not blazed the trail very quickly--all the water stops took their toll.

Bear Lake with happy fishermen

I set up my tent in blessed silence. Then  I saw something. Was it a mirage? No, it was a large naked man heading for the water. I sighed in irritation. So much for a night of solitude. After I had discreetly hidden behind a rock, the man reappeared, thankfully clothed. He revealed that he and four other buddies were camped with mules just beyond my site.

Darn it, I thought.  Should I move on? But then I was surrounded by the buddies. Three of them dragged a blow-up boat to the lake and attempted to fish. Another appeared with Coors. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but it was a nice gesture. "We don't want to ruin your solitude!" they exclaimed, although they kind of had. "We're all grandpas," one of them declared. "We're harmless."

Why not be friendly? I didn't own the lake. While I will never be one of those people who need to constantly be with others, there's something to be said for allowing for new experiences. For trying not to be a person who says, "I never..." or, "I'm not doing that." You can get so closed up that you miss out. I have often gone along with companions who set down the law like that. And I have regretted it.

I went up to their camp later. They were friends who went to the mountains every Chief Joseph Days rodeo weekend--"Because if we didn't, we'd probably be in jail."  They showed me a plunge pool where they swam. The original swimmer stared at the sky. "I like coming out here," he said. "I feel like I can be me."

Who couldn't love that? Though I usually get the typical response from this demographic: "You're out here ALONE? Do you have a GUN?" Instead, they said, "We're starting to see a lot of women hiking alone. Good for you." (Though I don't really like being praised for something that isn't challenging--it's not going to the moon for Pete's sake--it was refreshing not to be lectured about it.) We sat around in chairs (!) watching the sun go down and a big moon rise. I had basically nothing in common with them--I don't like riding horses, and I don't haul in copious amounts of food and alcohol, much less a boat--but it's nice to broaden your horizons and find common ground. Maybe this was what I needed--some acceptance, some companionship that was temporary and didn't ask for anything more.

The next day I left before dawn and climbed up the goat trail to complete the loop--past little Hobo, Chimney and Laverty Lakes, where all the people were.  I had to hunt for the trail in spots.
Little Hobo Lake. Nobody here!

Chimney Lake. Plenty of people here! it's only five miles, so tends to get hammered.

A regular pack train of people moved slowly down the mountain. Now that would have been horrific and I was glad I had only my buddies to camp beside. Though it hadn't been the weekend I wanted, it was the weekend I got, and maybe the one I needed.

I swear sometimes she stops to take in the scenery just like a person.

Friday, July 27, 2018

running in Duluth

I traipsed onto the plane, already hating people. There's nothing like flying, cramped in a tiny seat next to McDonald's food eaters who take forever to stow their luggage to make this happen. I fly way too much for work, and while I try to establish a Zen-like demeanor, it almost always crumbles under the reality. Why doesn't anyone take the stairs in airports? Why do they stand on the moving walkway? Why do they stay firmly planted in their seats when the plane arrives to the gate, only getting up to tug their luggage from the overhead bin when their row is on deck? Why do they walk so slowly in airports?

Grumpily, I arrived, after a $32 taxi ride, at a quirky inn in West Duluth. I had picked it not for its questionable reviews but because it claimed to be located near several trails. However, the desk clerk had a look of confusion when I asked about the Superior hiking trail. He had no idea (it is less than a half mile away!).

Fortunately, the trails were easy to find. I ventured out at five am to find a plethora. On day one, I chose the Western Waterfront Trail, a graveled path that wound along the St. Louis River, some fancy waterfront homes, a sewage treatment plant, and a campground. It was empty of people, and the holy grail, flat! I could run along at a decent pace and actually look around.

 I immediately became aware of the humidity. I can adjust much better to elevation change than to humidity. A sweaty mess, I chugged along for a few miles before returning to the inn to get ready for work.

 The next day I chose the Willard Munger trail. It is paved and 70 miles long! I ran a considerably shorter distance than that.Though I don't normally run on pavement, I sped along with a gratifying pace I haven't seen since my marathon days. I even passed a runner (full disclosure, he wasn't going very fast).  Road and gravel bikers love this trail. There was even a set of bike repair tools at the trailhead for people to use.

The start of the trail looks much less appealing than the rest of it--it passes over bridges and goes through the woods.

I returned to the Waterfront trail the next day for my run, but managed to squeeze in a short hike on the Superior Hiking Trail. My access began behind a zoo and I was immediately transfi xed by the surroundings.
I found a foot bathing spa!
I had forgotten how much I love to run. With recent aches and pains, I had dropped back my running to only a couple of times a week. Whether it was due to the flat trails, the humidity, or my new orthotics, I was blissfully pain free. I could be a runner again, I thought. I could even live here, and reinvent myself as a runner and a kayaker. 

Well, let's not get too crazy. But it was a great break from hotel gyms.
I love this trail!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section N (partial), Belden to Chester: Salty Pushes Us

As we contemplated the long, hot climb out of Belden, we wondered why nobody talked about the ascent out of the Feather River. It appeared to be just as arduous. We concluded: the first rule of the Feather River is that nobody talks about the Feather River. It must be a secret. And: the climb out of Belden wasn't all that bad, just a 12 mile ascent that, except for the first 3.5 miles, was mostly shaded. There was, however, copious poison oak.

The climb was broken up by stops at springs for water and some delicious rivers. One of the pitfalls of being a thru-hiker is that you have to push on without stopping to enjoy things like this, but Flash and I stopped for a mid-day spa at one creek and still managed to make 20.5 miles for the day.

We hiked past a site we dubbed Desperation Camp and found a beautiful meadow full of lupine to be our home for the night. A couple of thru hikers camped near us, but most stayed at the campsite on the mobile app. I'll never understand why people are so wedded to the app. We made a conscious decision not to look at it and use our maps instead. It turned out to be the right choice. With maps, you get a much better feel for where you are in the country. You aren't tied to electronics. Instead, you see the entire landscape.

That evening, a thru-hiker came by without a pack and with empty bottles. "I'm looking for water," he declared. Flash and I looked at each other. There was obviously no water in the future, not for at least seven miles. Sometimes I wonder how some of these people make it.

But, they are obviously hiking machines. Salty strolled by us the next day, having started three hours later than us the day before but only camping two miles shy of our location. Knowing it was "only" 25 miles to the end of our hike for the section, he somehow decided, unprompted by us, that he would stay with us and ensure we made it there today.

Halfway into our day we came upon the PCT midpoint. This is the place where thru-hikers either celebrate (only 1300 miles and some change to go!) or deflate (OMG, we've been on the trail for three months and we're only halfway!). I've hiked over 3/4 of the PCT, so it wasn't a halfway point for me, but it was fun to reach this milestone. I watched a trio of girls in short shorts and dresses, feeling a little sad. I wish I had known about the PCT in my twenties. It's not that I couldn't thru hike it now, but it just would be harder, not just physically but emotionally. It was good, though, to see strong young women on the trail.

We thought Salty would leave us here, but he clung like a burr, apparently making it his mission to make sure we made it to the road. And the miles did go by quickly as we talked about his bear encounters, the Sierra, and German politics. Salty is an anomaly, a city person who loves the wilderness. He wants to do the Continental Divide trail next. Also, he enjoys camping alone and hiking alone. I liked that about him. The PCT can seem crowded with bros at times.

Salty with his couscous concoction.

We (except Salty) limped along for the final few miles. "Can't the PCT throw us a bone?" I whined, as I navigated a rocky section. The final stretch was a steep uphill--of course. Having completed 25  miles, close to my record of 26, we broke out on the highway and the end of our section.

Flash remains my favorite hiking partner to date and it is sad to think we won't hike any more PCT sections. I will likely be doing my final 400 miles solo. But that's good too--on these kinds of hikes, it's often better to be able to make your own choices.
Four hundred miles left. I'm not sure what to think! That would only be two to three weeks if I could do it continuously. However, the miles are spread out over two states and some can't be done in the summer. Right now my hopeful plan is to finish up the 150 miles I have left in Oregon this fall and do the rest next spring and summer. It will be strange to finish something I've spent seven years doing.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section M, Sierra City to Belden: The worst six miles on the PCT (and a whole lot of good ones)

Waking early in Sierra City, we resigned ourselves to a late start on the big climb back into the mountains. Rushing the store the minute it opened, we found a disorganized mess in the resupply area. Boxes were piled everywhere, with no accountability. Staring at the unappetizing Kind bars I had optimistically packed, I wondered if somebody else's box had better stuff.

But of course, the store accepts the boxes for free, so there was not much to complain about. We struck out on the road walk back to the trailhead. California tourists zipped merrily by, not caring about our uphill slog. Gaining the trailhead at the alpine start of 1000, we steeled ourselves for the hot climb ahead. However, it proved to be gently graded and tree-lined, much less worse than we thought. A rocky section that traversed along ridgelines slowed us down, and I watched the thru-hikers with envy. After three months of walking, they danced along the rough terrain, unlike us graceless section hikers.

Though this section of the PCT passes close to many lakes, it teased us by staying just out of reach. We could look, but it wasn't worth the steep and long descents to reach them. Plus, many of the lakes in this lake management basin were off limits to camping. We weren't sure why. They looked deserted and appealing.

However, after eleven miles a lake opportunity presented itself, a camping spot we couldn't pass up. It was early in the day, but seize the lakes when you can. We went for a swim and enjoyed the view.

The next couple of days stayed high on ridgelines, providing great views. Until they didn't, and we dove way down into the Middle Fork of the Feather River. I had planned this trip so that we could swim in its mythical deep holes, but after 23 miles we couldn't take it any further, so we camped on an old road instead. Sadly, I looked at the river as we descended into the canyon and again as we took on the seven mile climb out--again, a well-graded and forested climb.


Sierra Buttes, with haze from a distant fire
Our camp that night was not great--a dustbowl shared by many other hikers. PCT camping etiquette is not the same as regular backpacking. In normal life, if you see someone camped at a site, no matter how sweet, you move on, letting them have privacy. In PCT life, someone bounds into your site and commences setting up, often only feet from you. It's hard to understand, but after you've walked multiple 25 mile days, you sort of get it. Hunting for a campsite at those times seems almost beyond capability. Plus, an astonishing number of thru-hikers have never backpacked a day in their lives before taking on the PCT. I am not a fan of the crowded camping experience, but I have learned to expect it. If we wanted to camp away from others, Flash and I learned, we had to make our own sites.

We had heard about the descent into Belden for years. Billed as a torturous, steep ordeal, complete with resplendent poison oak, I had been worrying about it for quite a while. I'd much rather climb a mountain than climb down one. But as we approached the canyon, I relaxed. So far it had been great. How bad could it be?

With those famous last words, I soon regretted my optimism. Short, steep pitches, endless switchbacks, and dense heat greeted us. We could see the river, and some associated techno music, but never seemed to get there. Poison oak grew merrily along the edges, discouraging any stops. Sunk in misery, my feet hurting, I trudged around yet another switchback. Then I screeched to a halt.

A striped object lay in the trail. A rattle filled the air. A rattlesnake!

We stood in the trail, nobody willing to concede. Whenever I advanced toward the snake, it lifted its head and rattled. The slopes were too steep and brushy to go around. I threw a few rocks, but soon ran out. Would I be stuck on this trail forever?

Finally the snake slithered off the trail and Flash and I scampered across. Several more switchbacks and we were inexplicably walking through...a rave.

What is a rave, you ask? Drunk people, techno music, river floaty toys, and tents crammed together in a small space. Feeling like strangers in  a strange land, we dubiously walked past to the tranquility of a trail angel's house. Asking only a donation, she allows four people at a time to stay at her little cottage, and with the rules of no alcohol, smoking or drugs, eliminates 90% of PCT hikers. We shared our cottage with a German hiker named Salty.
The "town" caretaker
Having hiked 31 and 26 mile days, Salty retreated to his room, vowing not to start the climb out of Belden until 9. We were pretty sure this was a mistake. The climb out was reputed to be difficult, almost 5000 feet with just as much poison oak. We resolved to start by 6, even though the vortex of a quiet cottage, showers, and loaner clothes to wear proved difficult to escape. (Later, having spotted us in our long, homemade-looking dresses, another hiker said he thought a cult was in town. Flash and I preferred to refer to ourselves as sister wives).

We had hiked about 130 miles in a short amount of time, and once again I wondered why I opted for this. Flash revealed that she was done with PCT style  hiking and was ready to go back to regular backpacking. I sort of thought I was too--once I finished the PCT.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section N, I-80 to Sierra City: Walking through a flower garden

As Flash and I set our feet onto the first of 177 miles of the last section I have to complete in Northern California, I had several goals: to have fun. To erase the memory of my last section, where I felt like I could have made better decisions and gone on to finish it even if I had had to stitch together a series of day hikes. And to hike only about 17 miles a day. Two of those goals were met.

It became immediately apparent that we were in the forefront of "the herd", the bubble of northbound hikers intent on making it to Canada. Any time I catch myself thinking I am a somewhat fast hiker, all I need to do is drop myself into a group of people who have been hiking for three months straight. Tanned and dirty individuals blew past us without pausing.

Plenty of water!
While most said hello, it was clear that the majority were suffering from the "northern california blues." This is a common syndrome seen in thru-hikers who realize that after three months they aren't even halfway, and that they aren't even out of their first state yet (California is 1700 miles long).

We,  however, suffered no such phenomenon.

The views on this section (38.5 miles) were stunning. We wove through fields of flowers and gazed out at expansive scenery.  We had hit it just right for no mosquitoes and hordes of wildflowers.We easily covered fifteen miles, stopping beside a seasonal creek. To add to our delight, all the "seasonal" creeks were running, meaning we rarely had to hike with more than a liter and a half of water at all times.

The scenery the next day was raised the bar even more. Both Flash and I are early risers, and we get ready about the same time. So we enjoyed the magic hours between five and ten, hiking in the relative cool of the day.

A spring after my own heart.
As we hiked, we realized that if we beat feet, we could make it to Sierra City that evening in order to retrieve our food resupply boxes from the store. This seemed entirely possible even if  it meant a  23.5 mile day. Our goal was to beat the heat on the large climb out of Sierra City. The trail seemed promising, until it didn't.

Nice trail gave way to annoying rocks, but on we raced. We had until eight, our maps promised us. Until we didn't. Reaching the road, we limped along the pavement until a kind couple stopped for us and gave us a ride into "town" (which mainly consisted of a few buildings). Demoralized to learn that the store closed at five, we collapsed at the only free place to camp, on what had been promised to be the "church lawn." A church it was, but lawn was only a suggestion, as it was hard-packed, slanted dirt strangely festooned with broken glass.

Resigning myself to the fate of being closely surrounded by other tents, I sat and brushed my hair. An Australian hiker commented, "it's nice to see a lady brushing her hair."

"There's some things I can't give up," I replied, to which he said, "There's some things you shouldn't give up."

While comments like this on what "ladies" are doing are sort of wrong on many levels, it was still sort of charming, and much better than the American male twenty somethings, who mainly ignored us. We weren't young enough to be their girlfriends yet we weren't their moms. This being true, they didn't know how to address us. I've noticed this phenomenon in younger men on trail: they seem to lack the social skills that previous generations had. Perhaps this has always been the case when confronted with middle-aged women who don't fit the usual mold.

 An injured hiker limped around insisting she could hike out the next day. Others, like us, awaited the store opening, at the horrible hour of nine. It would be hot on our climb out. We had seen other hikers struggling back on the road from town, unable to obtain a hitch. All we could do was wait for the morning and what it would bring.

Friday, June 29, 2018

On the PCT again (and panic packing)

I'm heading out this weekend to close the gap on a PCT section in Northern California. It's hard to believe, but after this one is done, I will have less than 500 miles left of the PCT to complete. That means I have hiked 2000 miles.

Flash and I haven't hiked together since the Great Yosemite Slog of 2015, and I'm looking forward to it. It's a true partnership--the hiking we did in the northern part of Washington stands out as one of my favorite times on the PCT. We get each other--even if we can get annoyed with each other at times, we accept our differences. That is the definition of a true friend!

My pack weighs in at 20.5 pounds without water for the first three day stretch, which is pretty good, even with a few luxuries such as camp shoes and a Kindle (I've pretty much gotten out of the habit of camp shoes, but decided since I am now wearing custom insoles that my feet may need a break. Plus, swimming!)

We are both panic packing. This occurs when you take out or throw in items based on your fears. Do I really need a wool hat in the summer? Rain pants or rain skirt? What if my feet hurt? Should I bring extra insoles? Do I  have enough food? Do I have too much food...and so on.

I should be done about the 11th and this blog will probably go dark until then, unless we pass through a town. I'll be back with many stories to tell.

This graph below from The Trek shows the difference in base weight between section and thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail. (Base weight is everything in your pack including the pack except food and water. My base weight is about 12-14 pounds depending on if I take luxury items or what season it is). You can see that thru hikers often have much lower weights. That's because they are out there for months and jettison anything extraneous. They also tend to take it close to the bone. Some are just one storm away from disaster.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ice Lake is Enough

I heard a commotion at the Ice Lake junction. Suddenly Ruby burst into view, running for her life. Behind her was an angry deer. A dog chased by a deer! It was an unusual start to a perfect weekend.

My friend T and I hiked up to Ice Lake to spend the night. Unfortunately, this lake has been discovered. More and more people are making the trek up there, some just for the day. Nobody used to do 16 mile day hikes in these mountains, at least it was rare, but it is becoming more common. And the trail runners! Now don't get me wrong, I love a trail run as much as the next person, but who let the news out about this super rocky, steep trail? What I don't like about the trail runners are the ones who aren't local, who think that you should step aside for them just because they are running. Generally I try to do this even if I am  hiking uphill, but the grumpiness that ensues when the trail is narrow and the person has to walk a few steps! Please, people. The trail belongs to everyone.

These are only minor annoyances which quickly faded away as we arrived at the lake.  A strange fog lay over the mountains as we looked for a snow-free place to set up camp.

A friendly group of guys stood around one campsite (and were still standing around it in the same spots hours later). A hammock hanger occupied one piece of territory and a couple other groups filtered in. Despite that we were able to find our own choice piece of real estate.

The dogs didn't really mesh which left me thinking about hiking companions. I'm going through an adventure partner breakup right now, and it's for the best even if it's hard. You have to learn to let go when something isn't working. As far as the dogs, Ruby wanted to play and Molly didn't, and poor Ruby kept persisting, and getting rejected. Ruby finally reluctantly accepted that some dogs, like some people, just are looking for a different experience. I'm with you, Ruby: bring on the fun!

So it was nice to get out with a friend who doesn't ask for much but a beautiful lake and your stove to heat water with. We sat on a hillside watching the sun set. The night wasn't cold, everyone went to bed early, and I slept better than I have in a long time. So what if all hiking partnerships don't work out? There are others that do. The way to look at it is that sometimes, what you have is enough.
My all time favorite hiking companion!

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.