Monday, June 17, 2019


Greetings, friends. I just finished another 150 miles of the PCT. And as usual, it didn't go according to plan, but none of it ever has, so why should it this time?

Anyway, today I was met with two extremes. At Hikertown (wait. Wasn't I supposed to be in the Sierra? I'll explain next time) I sat with Silver, who is 68 and well on his way to a Triple Triple Crown (a Triple Crown is completing the Appalachian, PCT and the Continental Divide Trails. No easy feat). Silver looked many years younger than his true age. Then on the way to Mammoth, I gave two hikers a ride to Bishop. Rocketman is 19, and hiked the AT last year when he was 18.

Both of these hikers had what I think of as the spark. When someone has it, they glow from within. They are just interesting to be around. I'm sure we can all name people who are like this. The trick is to never give up yours, whatever it is that creates it for you.

I will miss the camaraderie of the trail. Silver and Rocketman, if by chance you read this, let me know how the trail treats you.
More to come...

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Gait Analysis

I nervously watched the video of me running barefoot on the treadmill. In my experience, watching myself on camera is not pleasant. I usually expect to look much better than I actually do. But to my surprise my running actually looked pretty good. A long ponytail swished back and forth. There were actual muscles in my legs. I was striking mid foot instead of heel. Not bad!

Well, except for the fact that one hip drops a lot lower than the other. Ann pointed it out. "There's supposed to be some drop," she said. "But not this much."

This could be the elusive reason why I am getting so many aches and pains on one side of my body. And it is likely tied to the trail running fall I took in 2012, where I hit my back on the same side as the hip drop. Darn! What to do?

The answer is nothing fancy. Strengthen the adductors doing leg lifts and lurching around like Frankenstein with a band circling my legs. Core work. Side planks, and side planks with a leg lifted (this is really hard). I would be lying if I said I really don't want to add more stuff to my exercise routine. I already find it hard to keep up while working a full time job. But I don't want to get injured anymore. So there you go. Frankenstein it is.

My tendonitis cleared up after I week but I stuck it out for three more, gritting my teeth when the weather turned nice and people started talking about all the hikes they were doing. Instead, I rode my bike and showed up at the gym way more often than I usually do. I'm ready to hike again! So I am heading down to Walker Pass to do a section of the PCT (my last long one!). The fear mongering is high this year, since there is so much snow. I hope I finish, but the conditions will dictate how far I go.

At PT, there was an older woman who was struggling to do a few exercises. She watched me run for five minutes on the treadmill. "Are you training for a marathon?" she asked.

Hardly. But I had to take a minute to be grateful that despite the aches and pains I sometimes have, I can still do this. Someday, I may not be able to. Today is not that day.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Hiking the PCT, Southern California Section E: Foiled again by the Sierra Pelona

Flash and I left Hiker Heaven under the cover of darkness, because that was how we liked it. Hiking as the sun rises has got to be the best thing there is. It was a good thing we left so early because the heat was on. The trail in this section climbs and then drops steeply, the climbs again as we headed toward Green Valley. Shade was a sparse commodity, and we leapfrogged Rampage, True Grit, and others.

Most everyone was headed for the next trail angel house, Casa de Luna. Rumored to have taco salad and a magical manzanita forest, it held some allure, but we decided to skip it. Here is where I chose to ignore my intuition (foreshadow alert). We really didn't need to hike 24 miles, but when we passed the campsite we had planned on, it was in full sun, it was early, and we didn't have enough water to sit there the rest of the afternoon. What harm would it do to descend to the fire station, get water and find a place to camp there? It turns out that this decision cost me the rest of my hike.

We saw Mark several times. We liked Mark. We shared our ice cream with Mark.
The PCT here, and in many other places, contours endlessly around hills, in one direction. The trail is not level, having eroded out, and so one foot is always at an angle. I had started feeling a nagging pain where the ankle met the foot, and if I had stopped early, it might have resolved. But, as a person with a tendency to push on, and since most nagging pains go away, I tried to ignore it. Mistake #1.

My ankle felt good while climbing, so the next morning all was well. We woke to fog that eventually cleared off as we headed upward and down to the Lake Hughes Road. I started seeing the familiar sights from two years before, when snow forced us off the mountain. The trail wound through an enchanting oak forest and a trail angel gave us water and matzoh. It would have been a good day, except that my ankle started hurting even more. We dropped down to sit at a nice campsite and were tempted to stay there. However, there had been reports of bear activity in the area, and I was convinced that if we moved up to the nearby campground, we could store our food in bear boxes and it would be better. Mistake #2.
Pretty oak forest
There followed one of the most miserable camping experiences I have yet to endure. Arriving at the campground, we were buffeted by intense winds. Flash set her tent up on the lee side of the bathroom, but mine flapped too much to consider it. Finally I spotted some bushes halfway up the hill. They didn't appear to be moving, so I wedged my tent in between them. I clung to the slope, barely able to move. Several other hikers trickled in, facing the same predicament.

This picture does not fully capture the situation.

The rain began at one am, heralding in one of the most miserable days on trail I have yet to endure. Along with the joy of taking down a wet tent, the rain and wind made it impossible to stop. I marched on, leg throbbing, getting wetter and colder by the minute. Only the foggy oak forest made the death march halfway bearable.
I normally wouldn't post a picture where I look so bad, but I had to convey the Type II fun we were having.
Finally after 17 brutal miles, we arrived at the highway and Hiker Town. A former Wild West movie set, Hiker Town is perched on the edge of scary and fascinating. A former hiking partner refused to stop there due to its reputation as being sketchy, but we found the owners to be helpful and nice. We scored a room for $20 (in the School House) that hadn't been cleaned in the last decade, but it beat the experience of the other hikers, who had to set up tents in the wind. I lay on the foul smelling carpet, wondering what to do. A test hike in the morning revealed that the pain had crept up my leg, and I couldn't put Flash in the dubious position of being out in the mountains with no bail out, with an injured partner. Plus, the forecast was abysmal, with rumors of snow, and my raincoat wasn't getting any better. For all those reasons, we decided to bail. The owner gave us a ride to Lebec and we caught an Uber to Bakersfield.
Not as happy as I look at Hikertown
In town, I was feeling all of the emotions. I obviously had an overuse injury, which I could have prevented by doing less miles. I've always been able to jump into high mileage right away, so this made me wonder if age was catching up at last. And if I want to finish the PCT, I have to go back and get those 50 miles, which really can only be done in fall or spring. It gets logistically challenging and expensive. I felt like a failure, spending money to change my flight for the second time, and Flash had to also, which made me feel worse.

But as a wise person once said, life sometimes gives you a Plan B, and what is important is how you respond to it. I'm really lucky to be able to do this crazy thing called section hiking. The trail isn't going anywhere. I'll be back.
The tent city near the outhouse. This camp rivaled Desperation Camp from Section A of the PCT.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Hiking the PCT, CA Section D: Sleeping in a horse corral and other life choices

The sad truth of life is, you can't stay forever in an outhouse, even if it is pouring and cold outside. Flash and I dragged ourselves out and into the storm. The trail inexplicably climbed to a point above Highway 2 and back down again, and we were at the Endangered Species Closure. This was a two mile slog along the highway because of an endangered yellow-legged frog. I'm all for saving the frog but this closure has been in place for years. It was time for a reroute, I thought resentfully.

It was only three when we stumbled into the closed Buckthorn campground, but we felt sufficiently wet and traumatized enough to stop before the rain began again. A lucky moment of sunshine along the trail had enabled us to dry everything out, a trick we had learned in rainy Washington. If the sun appears, you don't wait. Our tents were dry and we didn't relish setting them up in the rain.

A thunderstorm moves in our direction
We woke to more rain, but this was tempered by a delightful stroll through the Pleasant Ridge View Wilderness, a steep set of ridges with a clear stream running through it. The weather steadily improved as we hiked, enough for us to stop at a creek to soak our feet.
This tree lived a long time. Photo by Flash.
A thunderstorm flirted with the peaks and we hiked on long after we felt like stopping, clocking out at 23 miles on a large, flat plateau with the French hikers, an Israeli named Songbird, Vox, and "the girl with the braids" that we were secretly calling Pippi (though she was too young to get the reference). A thunderstorm blew in, buffeting our tents, and just as quickly left, providing us with a spectacular sunset.

International hiker camp

A room with a view
The next morning Flash and I left at dawn to the sound of coyotes, dropping out of the mountains to Mill Creek fire station and back up into the mountains on the other side of the road. We climbed steadily, leapfrogging the hikers from the night before, and dropped into the North Fork ranger station, one of those old school ranger compounds that are falling out of existence. This one was staffed by a volunteer who had come for one summer and had stayed for 20 years. "Sometimes people sleep in the horse corral," Todd said, pointing down the hill. Sure enough, the corral was protected from the wind and free of horses.

Todd the volunteer. I'm pretty sure there is a novel in here somewhere.
The North Fork Hilton

One of the oddities of the PCT is that you hike forever in what seems to be wilderness and then you are suddenly spit out into relative civilization. So it was the next day when we arrived at a parking lot to find, strangely enough, an RV and a woman chomping down on Reese's cereal. Just past this scene began familiar ground: I had hiked most of this section two years before. We climbed far above the town of Acton through dry hills, dropping finally to walk through Vasquez Rocks, where a Star Trek movie was being filmed. Not caring too much about Star Trek, we continued on to road walk into the town of Agua Dulce, where I looked in vain for items I wanted (a bandanna, lip balm). A woman leaned out of a car. "Want a ride to Hiker Heaven?" she asked, and we seized the opportunity, since it is a mile off the trail on pavement.

Vasquez rocks

We had made it to Hiker Heaven at last. I had heard about this place for years. An outdoor shower, laundry, charging stations, and resupply. I eyed the mountain of flat rate boxes in dismay. My resupply box hadn't shown up! After a mini meltdown, I realized that there was a grocery store a mile away, so all was not lost.

Loaner clothes while my laundry was being done. Thanks volunteers!

Donna, the owner of Hiker Heaven, knew Flash's mom, so she gave us a room in the hiker trailer, sparing us from the snores of the multiple tents set up in the yard. I lay in a small trundle bed, thinking about the strangeness of the PCT. One night in a horse corral, the next in a bed. Cowering in an outhouse and taking an outdoor shower.

Many people get sucked into the Hiker Heaven vortex, and it was easy to see why, We, however, were on a mission. Of course, if I had known what was in store for us, I might have reconsidered hiking on....
To be continued...

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hiking the PCT, CA section D: Seems it (never) rains in Southern California

Flash and I trudged up the switchbacks from Cajon Pass in the late afternoon. We had long heard about this steady 22 mile climb, often bereft of water and intense of heat. We had lucked out though; there was a pleasant breeze, and as our trail angel who gave us a ride (Swingman) had told us, the grade was not steep. Because this has been a flower explosion in the desert, we walked through tiny aromatic gardens. This 225 mile hike was starting off in a good way.
Blooming century plant!


At the Swarthout road cache, we didn't need much water, so we pressed on, leapfrogging a happy couple we dubbed The Brits. Finding a protected campsite at the 12 mile mark, we set up camp, soon joined by a couple of German girls (whom we never saw again. The trail is like that).
Camp, night one! Successful pitches after 12 miles.
Everyone around us was debating about Mount Baden Powell. At nearly 10,000 feet, on a typical year this mountain was no problem in May. This was not a typical year. There had been multiple rescues already, and people said grimly that spikes and ice axes were still needed. Flash and I had neither, and we were contemplating the alternate, a ten mile road walk. We weren't overly excited about the prospect, but slipping in the snow didn't sound too fun either. We would wait, we thought, and see what happened as we got closer.
Morning. The Brits tried to explain to us these were clouds, when it was really fog.

On the way to the next water source, a spring at Guffy Campground, we came upon a mansplainer. Sadly, trail life is not exempt from this species. "I was going to camp where you did," he pontificated, "but I decided to go farther." He proceeded to tell us how to hike, and how to approach snow in the mountains. At Guffy, he showed up to tell us that there was snow on the way to the spring. (Spoiler alert: we never saw him again either).

Passing by a closed ski resort, we noticed the weather getting colder, with some ominous clouds in the distance. After 20 miles, we came to a closed campground and decided to park it there for the night, due to the convenience of bear boxes. We were all alone as the wind howled above us. Surely it would warm up, I thought as I huddled in my tent. Previous year hikers had moaned about the heat, and how they had to night hike to survive.

An unwelcome noise awoke me. Not a bear, but the sound of...rain. Flash and I are used to rain, and so we packed up and headed out, bound for Highway 2. The rain and fog made it clear that this was not a day to summit Baden Powell. Up there, it would surely be a whiteout. Our only choice was walking Highway 2.

There are moments in everyone's life when they wonder just why they have signed on willingly for something, and this was one of them. The rain and wind buffeted us without mercy, and I could feel myself getting more wet and frozen by the minute. To my horror I realized my rain jacket had failed, and I was completely soaked. Miserably we fought hypothermia, walking the road until a beacon of hope shone forth in the form outhouse.

We ran for it, and fell inside. Away from the rain, there was a superficial feeling of warmth. I struggled to open a bag of crackers. I had sunk to a new low: eating in an outhouse. Would this rain ever stop? Would I ever be warm again? Could this really be Southern California? Huddled in a toilet, I pondered my life choices.

To be continued...
I was still smiling at this point. That did not last. Photo by Flash.

Monday, May 13, 2019

112 down, 112 to go

HI friends, still alive and hiking. We have had brutal cold rain, beautiful sunsets and now hot weather. More to come.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Off to chase the dream: PCT 2019

Lately, the conversations between myself and Flash have included the following:

"Can you bring trekking poles on a plane?"
"I really don't know how all this is going to fit in my pack."
"I'm worried I don't have enough food."
"So. Much. Food."
"Are you bringing microspikes?"
"I'm putting my poncho in my Bag of Indecision."

You've guessed it, we are off to hike another two sections of the PCT. For some reason, I have packed and re-packed, second- and third- and fourth-guessed. One reason is because the trail ascends Mount Baden Powell, a trail so snowy that people have fallen and broken bones and had to be rescued earlier in the season. It is allegedly better now, but hikers are still road walking around it. Do we bring our microspikes and then have to carry the darn things the next hundred miles? Also, we are carrying seven days of food rather than spend the time it would take to hitchhike into Wrightwood, which 99% of hikers do. With a big water carry at the same time, I am eyeing my pack to figure out what I can dump.

Despite all this, I am looking forward to just walking for two weeks. As my PCT adventure winds down (I only have one more section after this), I want to think about all the different miles I've walked, and all the companions along the way, people like Cherry Pie, Short Cut, Man in Black, Beekeeper; and then all of the others whom I met briefly but won't forget for the moments in time we intersected: Continental Drifter, Diesel, Shepherd. I never set out to hike all of the 2,650 miles but somehow, it looks like I am going to.

I am rehiking about 60 miles I have already hiked, because Flash wants to and because it's challenging to bridge the gap up to the dirt road where Triscuit and I bailed in a snowstorm. It will be good to hike them; I still wish I had holed up in town to let the storm pass and hiked on. But there should be no regrets.

We have sent two resupply boxes and have a box to check at the airport (because the TSA says trekking poles are banned, although numerous accounts of those who have succeeded exist); I have a cork ball for foam rolling, KT tape for stuff that might hurt, two sets of insoles, camp shoes and a Kindle. Ultralight I am not. I plan to treat this section differently. Usually I rush through on a mission. This one I will savor.

I'll be back, friends, with desert stories to tell.

Elevation profile of the first 112 miles,

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Annual pilgrimages vs. discovery

I can't believe it, but I have lived in one place for ten years. The old me would have been horrified by this. Keep moving, see what is around the next bend, was my mantra. People who stayed in one place were..boring. (They really weren't, but I was young. Forgive me.)

Part of this incessant traveling was based in my line of work, which was largely seasonal, and necessitated leaving when I was thrown out of the bunkhouses. Plus, there was an always changing cast of characters who gushed over the exciting places they had been over the past season. Who wouldn't want to be part of a migration like this? It was an incredible experience that I wouldn't trade on most days, even those when people younger than I am can retire (we can have amazingly young retirements in this agency) and who come into my team at the same level as I am but are twenty years younger. Life choices, but I feel as though I made the right ones.

On Sunday, L and I made an annual pilgrimage to Freezeout Saddle. Some of us go there every spring. It is how we mark the beginning of renewal, and register the differences between the years. "The balsamroot isn't even out," she observed, unusual for this late in the year. Down in the canyons, we snagged boughs from a blooming feral apple tree. We climbed up the switchbacks to the saddle, where it lived up to its name as we burrowed in down jackets and hid behind rocks. It is never warm at Freezeout, but that is part of the ritual.

some snow over in Idaho
As we descended toward the sun, I missed my discovery days fiercely. It isn't the same, going on short jaunts away from the county. Back then, I moved to whole new ecosystems, exploring blank spots on the map. It is hard to admit that part of my life is over. At the same time, I listened to L as we drove down the somewhat creepily fascinating access road. She pointed out all the abandoned cabins. Who used to live where, the scandals and mysteries that made up this part of the landscape. "I've known Pam since the 1970s," she said. "She used to live over here." What would that be like? Here in a place with so much history, I am caught between two extremes--no longer a traveler, but not a local.

"If I were single, I'd be going to Greenland too," I whispered to Big Spindrift, who travels the globe doing temporary jobs like this. But would I? I don't know. He has a house, but he is never in it. Others take care of his dog. While we all flock to see him on the infrequent times he is in town, he can't maintain the same level of friendship as if he stayed. I've left really good friends and we promised to keep in touch--but invariably, distance separated us.

Maybe I'm always wanting what I can't have? I think about the canyon and the people who fought hard to stay there. The books I write, that are always bound to landscape. There's something to be said for familiar pilgrimages. There's also something to be said for adventure. How to merge them both, that is the question.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Scar tissue part two

I trooped into the physical therapy office. All around me people moved slowly with canes, and I felt a little out of place as I bounded along on the elliptical trainer, "warming up." I would be remiss not to speak of adventure's darker side, which are the little, non-surgery-warranting issues that can crop up. Mine are the result of a trail running fall years ago, which somehow convinced my glutes to "not activate." Why things don't activate is a result of stronger muscles taking over when they shouldn't, and also, scar tissue.

My PT approached me with the dreaded Graston tools. These instruments of torture, which I have written about before, break up scar tissue. She ran one tool along the side of my hip, and I could feel it, a crunchy sound. Scar tissue can help a person initially but, ultimately, it's bad. Graston tools, foam rollers, little cork balls--any of these things can break up scar tissue. Then the affected part can move more freely.

"Your IT band is the victim here," she said. I had always thought the opposite--that the problem originated there. Dumb IT band! I had spent hours torturing myself with foam rollers and stretching, when instead it was my hip. Armed with a resistance band and some stretches, I bounded back out of the PT office.

To take this into a tenuous metaphor, I think all people of a certain age are walking points of scar tissue, although they may not know it. The scar tissue that is emotional can't be scraped away with a Graston tool. How does it hold us back?

Anyway, at least the physical part we can fix. I now am walking around with activated glutes, some KT tape along my IT band, and a happier outlook. Bring on the adventures.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

On (not) redlining

"Okay," Ashley said. "Everyone can hike their own pace from here to the rim." She glanced at our twitchy faces. "But no redlining!"

I had been on this otherwise great guided winter guided trip in the Grand Canyon (back in 2013), but the one thing driving me crazy with a guided group was the need to hike at someone else's pace. Don't get me wrong, the other hikers weren't slouches (I still hike with three of them to this day), but your pace is your pace. I eagerly booked it up the trail, free at last.

Not redlining at the Canyon

I've often thought about that comment though. Obviously, Ashley didn't want us to hike so fast that we would collapse and die (that wouldn't look good for their company). But there's a time and a place for redlining (which I define as pushing yourself as hard as you can, staying just on that edge). I tend to try to redline fairly often, though not for the whole hike, or run. And there are definitely days when I take it easy.

This week I decided to do some bike trainer rides and some walks. It's hard not to feel guilty about not pushing it, but a scratchy throat and sleepless nights persuaded me not to be a hero.  In the past, I would have ignored all those things and pushed on regardless. I like to think I am wiser now. It's not like I'm training for anything but life.

Instead, I lumbered along behind the dogs, feeling sort of like a big blimp but also enjoying the chance to just look around. For example, here are some hard core pioneers in the campground:
 And I discovered the joy of an easy run. Back in the day, I wouldn't have been seen dead running this slowly. But you know what? I don't care anymore! I even stopped to take a picture on my running route. The horror!

And wondered in vain what these tracks were from (below).

I can't make every day an easy day, but when I do, I really enjoy it. The redline will return when I'm feeling better.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Colorado Springtide Gold Face Cream (for outdoors enthusiasts)

Please bear with, because in the ten years I have been writing this blog, I have had many offers to put ads on it, have guest posters, and review stuff. In those ten years I've only allowed two products on here, and I don't have sponsored posts, because if someone pays me to write, how can I say if I don't like it?

So when Colorado Aromatics approached me about reviewing their face cream, I hesitated. But I went to their website and looked around. I read that their products are herb-based, and they don't test on animals or use animal products except beeswax. Also, they participate in farmer's markets and their skin care is meant to help those with "outdoors skin." Those things I can get behind. However, even if they sent me a free jar, I wasn't going to say glowing things unless I meant it.

Oh, how I rue the days when I "laid out" on the back porch, reeking of Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil with 2 spf (2!). Later, I worked at high elevations as a wilderness ranger, not putting on sunscreen because I thought I looked better with a tan. I worked outdoors most of my adult life and as you all know, I love to be outdoors. Now I slather myself with sunscreen but the damage is done. Plus, I live in a severely dry climate, in a house that is heated with wood. My poor skin. I have spent a small fortune on hopes in jars.

Which brings me to Colorado Aromatics. So far, I'm a fan. The cream isn't one of those heavy ones where you feel like you are putting spackle on your face. It's light and my skin drinks it up. It has a light scent, which might bother some people, but to me it smells "herby" and nice. I've been also putting it on my hands, which are severely dry and awful looking, and I've seen a difference; the dry patches seem to be improving. The ingredients are actually real extracts like green tea and fennel and raspberry seed.

I have a lovely red "solar spot" that I raced to the doctor in concern about, only to have her say it's from the sun. I've been putting the Springtide Gold on it and it seems to be fading. As far as my wrinkles, I still have them, but nothing topical is really going to change that.

The only downside, if there is one, is that I try to wear a moisturizer with sunscreen during the day, so I can only use this at night. But sunscreen is problematic as well, because who knows what's in it? Colorado Aromatics, make a natural sunscreen!

Mainly what I love about this cream is the mission and the commitment to natural ingredients. And that they make it for outdoor skin. The price isn't bad either. So, if you are in the market for a face cream, check them out.  They have tons of other products too, not just face cream. I'll report back after I finish the jar.

Thanks for reading this product review. There won't be many of these--three in ten years isn't too bad. If I do it, you know I like it.

Younger peeps--do not use tanning beds! Use sunscreen! Trust me on this one.

My attempt at an artsy shot with product.

Friday, April 12, 2019

leaving fire (for real, this time, for sure, positively. I think)

"You don't need to take the pack test," the coordinator said. "Not if your highest fire qualification is ABRO. In fact, you're not allowed."

I sat there feeling a little tearful. Not take the work capacity test for firefighting? I had taken one every year since 1986. (Now is the time to say that when I was a lot younger, I used to think it was cute and adorable to chirp, I wasn't even born then! when people would bring up a date far back in history. Sadly I now see how annoying that is. Please don't do this.)

Let me explain(long backstory, skim or skip if you know this). My first "permanent" job was as a wildland firefighter. Before that, I worked seasonally as one. I also mixed in some years on a trail crew and as a wilderness ranger, but back then it was all hands on deck. If a crew was going out, everybody who could swing a tool went out, whatever your job label was. (This has changed now.) For the years that I was in "full time fire", I worked on fires twelve months out of the year. Even after I jumped ship to recreation management, I was recognized for having lots of experience, so I went out a lot. It was only when I moved to my current location things changed. A combination of my job situation (not a ton of support for it) and the fire organization here (heavy on the men component, not very interested in outside help) that it changed. I lost a lot of my qualifications, keeping a handful, one of which is ABRO (aircraft base radio operator), but I always had line qualifications, where you actually trudge out on the line and dig, until now. In order to do that, you have to take a work capacity test: walk 3 miles in 45 minutes or less with a 45 pound pack (harder than it sounds).

We're all caught up? Good. Anyway, this would be the first year in (gasp) 34 that I wouldn't be taking the test. And I am thinking of not keeping the ABRO; it's interesting but mostly sitting with a bunch of radios. I do a lot of sitting in my real job. So that would mean no qualifications in fire at all. Giving it up. For good.

When I mention this to people, they say things like, "you haven't really gone out in a long time." "That was a long time ago that you did fire." "You have other things you like to do with your time." All true. But it feels strange to let it slip through my fingers. Something that has woven itself into your identity, even if you no longer actively pursue it, is hard to let go. My letting go of marathon and half marathon running was the same, even though I knew that in order to still run in advanced age, I had to do it.

Another thing is that in letting go, I feel like I am leaving Roger out there on the fireline. Which is silly too, since he died on the line in 1994, a lifetime ago. If he were alive today, he would be happily retired. Staying tenuously connected to firefighting feels like I can still see him, that he is not fading from memory. 

Letting go of things you used to do feels like a retreat, a concession to aging that I don't want to admit. At the same time, you have to know when to call it. I don't know why fighting fire was so important to my identity, I wrote a whole book about it and I'm no closer to the answer. I don't know why it still feels so relevant even though it's been years since I hiked on the line itself. I don't know why I still feel like that girl with a braid carrying a pulaski, a girl who would rather be nowhere else than where she was.

But still. Part of life, if you are going to stay interested and interesting, is evolving. Getting out of ruts. Getting away from "used to be" to "am." I'm fascinated to see where I decide to go.
Into the future, my friends.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Better than Nothing Mantra

As I sat to write this blog, my cat Puffin plopped himself on the keyboard. When I had to reach around him to get to the keys, he growled. I get it, Puffin, I do. 

If you look around you on social media, it will seem like everyone but you is constantly on the move, having amazing adventures. Nobody really writes about the times in between, when it's all kind of...ordinary.  When you just go to the gym, and to work. Please tell me you have those days too.

Now this would be something interesting. My gym just has people lying on the floor doing exercises by the machines I want to use.
I've been in this space since returning from the tropics. Winter has lingered on, but the snow isn't great for skiing. It's been burnished to a hard sheen, perfect for catastrophic falls. The trails aren't giving up their snow either. You posthole and slide on ice, neither condition good for running or hiking.

It's at times like these that I'm glad that my life doesn't revolve completely around the outdoors. Every day doesn't have to be an adventure worth documenting for others to like. What have I been doing? Revision, mostly, trying to decide if my kayak ranger memoir is worth publishing. Finishing up my latest novel to send to my agent. This is mostly a seesaw of despair and elation, a one person, solo ride that nobody really cares about, much. My other books continue to sell, slowly, not at a rate I would like but better than nothing. 

I've been getting out as much as the country will let me. Ruby and I made a couple of brief forays, one to the lake, where we walked along the edge and dreamed of swimming someday (well, she swam, but I'm not that brave).

We also attempted a hike on the East Fork Wallowa trail, but the snow was impossible (though not for the dog), so we wandered through the closed campground instead. It wasn't incredibly satisfying, but better than nothing.

I've also been slowly prepping for my next PCT hike which will take place in about a month. Much to my surprise, Flash has decided to go with me. That makes me happy. I've agreed not to charge up the hills (my superpower) as long as she doesn't leave me too far behind on the downhills (her superpower). When I first decided to do this section in May, the locals there had dire warnings of how hot it was going to be. "You should go in the winter," they warned. But this has been a snowmageddon in California, and people are currently skipping parts of that section. So it was the right decision after all. Since the section begins at a McDonald's, I've decided to pack out a milkshake. I rarely darken the door of a McD's, but 20 mile days are the exception.

It is easy for me to get grumpy at the current conditions, but I keep telling myself to do something every day, something is always better than nothing. Maybe it's someone telling me they loved one of my books, or a stroll along the moraine with a friend. It's not exciting, but it's still good. Hang in there friends, summer is coming.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Hiking El Toro Wilderness, Puerto Rico

I strolled out onto the tropical beach. Palm trees swayed in the tradewinds. I was going for a run barefoot, the surf as warm as bathwater. I still couldn't believe my good fortune. This, I thought, makes up for all the endless desk sitting, the conference calls, juggling twenty projects at at time with twenty bosses. I was in Puerto Rico for work.

Paradise. Seriously.
The only thing better would have been to be in PR for fun. But because I was there to help write a wilderness plan, I was able to hike in the El Toro wilderness, which felt like fun anyway. It's 2.5 miles one way to the top of the peak, and the first mile was effortless, though uphill. "This is easy!" I exclaimed. Then we hit mud. And more mud. The kind of mud where you think you are going to lose your shoes. Mud that has gullied out the trail, making you crawl up to the next step. A tropical rain fell, and I put on a rain jacket. Mistake! Better to just let it fall, you will dry out in minutes anyway.
Side note, it took us two hours to hike that 2.5 miles.
One of the many dogs that hang around as forest greeters.
We were in the dwarf forest, and it was obvious that the humidity pyramid plays a role here. The different levels of elevation and humidity determine how plants grow here. There's an orchid that's only a fingernail in size that only grows here, in this 10,000 acre wilderness. It grows on the lee side of the trees, because if it grew on the windward side, it would dry out too much.

My companion pointed out the damage from hurricanes Maria and Irma--landslides and topped off trees. The palms are flexible, she said, so they survive. The people I met were much the same. They had stories of riding out the hurricanes, but, "life goes on. You have to look ahead." Another story from a long-ago hurricane was that two people had to chain themselves to trees in order to survive.

Up in the clouds on El Toro peak.
But my impression was that the wilderness, and the people, are resilient. Everywhere I saw cheerful smiles and greetings, even to "gringos". People enjoy life here. The whole mood was so different than what I have experienced in the States as a whole--a kind of simmering anger and impatience. Here in PR, life still seems good.

Of course, as a privileged tourist, I didn't see it all. As we retraced our steps, my shoes full of mud, I knew that the one trail we hiked represented only a fraction of the wilderness. As does what I experienced here. All I know is, I was sad to leave. I will have to come back.

This sign says "end of trail". But it's not, not really. Another 4 mile trail connects here.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Idaho side of the Snake

I hurried along the rocky trail, trying to beat the sunset and failing. I'm not a big fan of night hiking. Some people love it, but it's kind of scary to do solo. The light from my headlamp revealed a long, flat bench far below. Kirkwood Ranch at last! Safe from mountain lions!

It had been years since I had backpacked on the Snake River National Recreation Trail in Hells Canyon, high time for a return. I had been stalking the weather, waiting for the perfect window, because to get there you must drive high on a winding road that could be treacherous if snowy. Luckily, the perfect time arrived.

It's about a five hour drive from my house to Pittsburg Landing, plenty of time to think about life choices, and when I arrived I knew I would have to beat feet to get there in daylight. The six miles only took two hours to complete, but it was dark, and I set up my tent in an empty campground, accompanied only by a herd of deer. Lights beamed out from the historic ranch house, occupied by caretakers who stay there a month at a time as volunteers. (That would be fun to do.)

Spring views along the trail
My next day's destination was to day hike to Pine Bar, a place almost mystical in that it has actual pine trees and a sandy beach by the river. It would be a 16 mile round trip, well within possibility.

The trail meandered upriver, climbing to Suicide Point (which I renamed Life is Good Point) and wandering over wide open fields which were once grazed and irrigated. History is everywhere in the canyon; you can see it in remnants of old plows slumbering in the tall grass and old buildings near the creeks.

These people were smart. They built their cabin into the side of the hill and used stone. There are still two bedframes inside this cabin.
"If the day temperature and the night temperature together equal one hundred, the new grass will be growing," Joe had told me. It was, he said, an old rancher's saying. It was just about there, though the canyon hasn't exploded into spring yet. The flowers were just barely starting, and there was frost at Kirkwood each night.

The loveliness of Pine Bar.
I sat for a long time at Pine Bar before making the trek back. Some Canadians drifted over to my campsite, moaning about the lack of shade. Just wait another month, Canadians!  It'll be much hotter! They and one other backpacking woman were the only people I would see in three days. We sat around and talked about gear. I recognized a kindred soul when one of them started listing off how many tents he had.

At Life is Good Point
If you are not pressed for time, the trail is about 30 miles long and ends, mostly, at Granite Creek. It is an out and back unless you plan ahead and have a jet boat drop you off so you can hike back to Pittsburg. Someday, I thought, someday I will do that. Someday I will have unlimited time. But for now I seize the day when I can.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Skating on a (Possibly) Frozen Lake

The lake froze! The lake froze! This is a big deal!

Okay,  maybe not for you. But since I don't live next to an ocean (and I miss that every day), Wallowa Lake is the next best thing. It's my swimming pool in summer (kind of a cold one), my view when I run along the moraine, and a good place to just hang out at any time. I've lived here for eleven winters, and the lake has frozen four times in its entirety.

Some years we get an icebox in December and the surface stays frozen for months. In the best winter of all for ice, 2017, we skied and skated on the lake most days. Most winters, it's disappointingly cold but not enough to make the ice.

I had given up on this year. It's been really snowy but not that cold (when I say that, the temperatures have been in the single digits, but not below zero, which is what the lake seems to need). Until one day when I was driving by after a run and I noticed something odd. No open water! This was in March, which is exceedingly strange. I raced home to get my skates.

One thing you should know is that I am a terrible ice skater. I was better in Alaska, where our lovely Swan Lake reliably froze and I was able to skate often. (My friend L got fed up with trying and left her skates on the ice with a note saying they were free.)  I honestly don't know why I keep doing something that I am so bad at, but there's something about gliding over glass, knowing that you are above three hundred or more feet of water...I don't know. It's spellbinding, really.

There wasn't anyone at the lake when I returned with my skates, and I wasn't quite sure how completely frozen the lake was. Something my friend R always said flashed through my head: "If you die in a stupid way, I'm not coming to your funeral." Okay then.

I inched out onto the ice and put on my skates. Some slush greeted me, and I knew this was from the snow skiff melting, but it was still worth avoiding that area. I made my way to a clear patch. And it wasn't pretty, but I was skating on a frozen lake. Though I was still terrible at it, I couldn't help but think that this was the culmination of a pretty perfect winter. I am actually sad to see it go.

Friday, March 8, 2019

How to run happily in winter*

*Are you serious? A better title from me would be: how to run sullenly in winter while postholing through deep snow while the dog disappears somewhere, or how to skitter along on microspikes on sheer ice where a fall would be catastrophic. Or even, how to run on a treadmill without. anything to look at except people going in and out of the bank across the street from the gym.

So no tips here. The reality is that where I live, winter running is rarely enjoyable. I tend to ski a lot more and run less. But since I can't seem to give running up entirely, I've learned to endure.

What makes it worth it are the times when everything aligns. If I hear that the snowmobile club has groomed the canal road, I race out there. It's a grueling climb to the good part, but definitely worth it.

Perfect groomed corduroy.
In winter I also allow myself to slow down. I don't worry about pace, just total time. I even let myself take pictures (the old me would be horrified by this).

The lake is trying to freeze!  I can't complain about this running backdrop.
This year for some unexplained reason the state park decided to plow some little paths, which makes for interesting short loops. I also love running through the deserted campground.

Cute little paths!

They plow the camping parking spots, but I don't think anyone would happily camp here.

The other little park I run in has largely been off limits except for skis, and so have the trails. The snowshoe army just has not been able to keep up.  Sometimes this winter I have headed out optimistically only to flounder in deep snow. Honestly it isn't worth the slow pace--I could walk just a as fast--so I beat it out to the road. The roads are icy and treacherous, but at least they are plowed. On one sad occasion, I went to a road I thought I could run only to find it icy beyond belief. I then went to the state park. A big nope. Onward to the campground. I felt slightly ridiculous, hunting all over the county for a place to run.
The views are nice,  though.
I know a couple of people whose only activity is running, and I feel sorry for them this time of year. I can say that as a person who used to be that way. Branching out to skiing and snowshoeing has allowed me a lot more fun in winter.  But I'll never give up running completely. There's always those perfect moments on trail, crunchy snow underfoot, mountains overhead.

Friday, March 1, 2019


I know I keep talking about this, but we are buried! I've never seen so much snow in our little village. And it's not stopping. Even the dedicated skiers are starting to grumble, except for a couple who say they want to be able to ski through June. No, please no.

Things that make Februburied stick out from all the past Februarys:

I've never skied so many days in a winter!

 We have gone on trails that I would never ski in less snowy times. The dogs peer plaintively over the snow-blown paths. They are dwarfed by the mounds of snow.

Running has been tough. The trails can't get beaten down enough, so it's either the treadmill or the icy pavement. Neither seems like a good idea, so I just keep skiing.

We headed up the Hurricane Creek trail, where nobody had been. Usually, people are convinced they can drive there, and try it. They end up stuck, and walking to our house to get help. Nobody has even tried it this year, which left the trail for us. But spooked by potential avalanches, we didn't stay too long.

Ruby demonstrating the paths she must stick to.
Alas, my faithful skinny skis are at the end of life. They have barely any scales left. They were free, so I can't argue too much with the need to go shopping. They lasted me ten years, and who knows how long they were used before that.

Also, I am out of firewood, a situation that has not happened ever. I had to do the Firewood Buy of Shame. It still seems like I should be burly enough to cut my own wood, but we estimated wrong this year.

One thing doesn't change. I am still a dork. Witness in the picture below.

I didn't realize I had two pairs of sunglasses until I saw this picture. I ran into a friend and skied a ways with him and he SAID NOTHING.  He probably wondered what that was all about.

Currently, we are at 125% of normal for our snowpack. I am worrying about my June PCT hike in the Sierra at this point, but it is too soon to tell for sure. And the snow keeps coming. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying the winter as much as I am.