Monday, February 22, 2021

Not the journey, it's the destination

 Subject of many sappy memes, but I've always been a destination person. It's not that I don't enjoy the journey, but there's something about getting to a place that I like. It's why I slogged through some of the not-so-pretty sections of the PCT when others (perhaps wisely) called BS on the hot, power-line and windmill-filled parts (to be honest, I liked every part of the PCT, except the windy, hot, sandy hike to Interstate 10 in Section B California, or perhaps the endless descent into Belden Town.). It's also why in the past, I perhaps pushed on when conditions weren't right to do so (I'm better now). 

One of the more challenging PCT moments.

I don't mind being a destination person. It's gotten me to some amazing places. However, I've been humbled in the last week, and had to turn around twice. The first time was after work, when we optimistically headed out for a quick ski. We settled on skiing up the Target Springs road, which entails a steep climb, but promised a fun descent. Arriving at the road, I was delighted to see that nobody had been on it. Fresh tracks! 

It had warmed up and the snow seemed heavy, but I charged ahead with the enthusiasm of the destination focused. I was hoping to reach the high point, only about two and a half miles, but a worthy effort with the elevation change. I was happily breaking trail when I looked back. The dogs were covered in huge snowballs and could barely walk, but were gamely following.

I felt horrible. A few years back, my employer started what was often hilariously called either the "Safety Journey" or, even funnier, "The Safety Engagement." As with most efforts, it has faded into oblivion, but for months we had to earnestly sit in meetings discussing safety. One of the products of this effort were "Safety Cards". If someone in the group felt unsafe in an endeavor, they could pull the "Safety Card." Naturally, we adapted this to the "Safety Dog." If something seemed unsafe for the dogs, it was probably unsafe for us. Feeling bad, I retreated to the car with some snowy dogs.

The next time I turned around was a few days later. Hiking up Mount Howard is always a slog, and I've written about it before. I decided I was ready to take it on, having forgotten once again how hard it is. Setting out at the crack of dawn, I snowshoed happily on the first part, which had been beaten down by snowmobiles. At about the mile and a half point, the tracks ended. Deep snow ensued. 

So close, yet so far.

My snowshoes sank half a foot in the unconsolidated snow with each step. I slowly moved up the mountain at the blistering pace of a mile an hour. I ran out of water. A light snow began to fall. I trudged up to the first emergency phone box and stared up at the hill ahead. In normal times, this would have only taken an hour, but it had taken me two. At this rate, it would take two more hours to reach the summit. That wasn't the problem--it was facing darkness on the descent, and nobody was around for miles. I sighed. I was going to pull my Safety Card.

Turn around point, that next hill was a nope.

On the way down, the sun briefly appeared. The snow sparkled in the trees. I was disappointed that I had turned around, but I was actually enjoying the journey. Next time, I would make it up there.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Snow binge

 I looked at my work outlook calendar in surprise. A three day weekend! I had forgotten all about Presidents Day (kind of a weird holiday anyway). Because I had forgotten, all of the Forest recreation cabins were booked, and our backcountry ski hut has been unreachable due to the surge in use due to Covid. What would we do, I fretted. Three whole days off! We had to do something!

"A staycation," J said hopefully. "Haven't we been on a staycation for a year?" I whined. But then: a miracle. The snow began on Thursday and hasn't stopped. And it was the best kind of snow: light, fluffy, perfect. Several feet have fallen.

Spruce is buried in snow on Mount Howard

This, of course, brought all sorts of dilemmas. Snowshoe? Ski? I wanted to do all of the things!

One day we ventured up Mount Howard with two friends I haven't seen in a year. They live only 15 miles away, but haven't been wanting to meet up, even outside. In 18 degree temperatures, we skied steeply uphill. My friends had those combination ski/snowshoe hybrid things, which I've been deeply curious about. They have skins on the bottom, so you can climb easily, and you can wear hiking boots with them. They didn't glide as much as my skis did though, so I decided I can live without them. Maybe if I did more backcountry skiing, I would see their purpose.

I do have skis on.

I never thought I could ski down the lower slopes of Mount Howard, but apparently I am getting better at skiing (it's about time). In our two hour tour, we saw no other people. Sometimes I wish I lived in a place with more amenities, but at times like this, I appreciate living in the outback.

We took on the Mountain View loop the next day, following faint tracks of some other intrepid skier. "Didn't these hills use to be bigger?" I asked; the loop seemed so easy. I recalled past meltdowns on the hills, which were hardly worth fussing about now. I will never be an expert skier, but years of practice can yield some rewards. On our way down the two-mile hill, we encountered some hapless snowshoers. Because snowshoers out here are often lost, we asked where they were going. "Just walking around," they said. We warned them they had about three miles to cover if they kept going the way they were; they already had three miles to hike back the way they came.

They shrugged, unconcerned. "We'll just cut up through the woods," they asserted. With trepidation we left them, hoping a rescue wouldn't be needed later. 

The snow continued through the night and I realized with glee I could ski up the Hurricane Creek road. It's not always that snow closes the road, and yahoos try to drive it, inevitably trudging back down the road to ask for a shovel. When they do drive it, it messes up the ski track, which annoys me considerably. But today looked like the day, and I struck out for the trailhead, 2 miles distant. Again, nobody was around, and the snow sifted around me like sugar from the overcast sky. Once at the trailhead, I couldn't resist skiing up further, until the threat of avalanches turned me around. Feeling smug about navigating a steep trail, I headed back to the car...where it was now time to snowshoe.

You know it is a snowy day when I break out the serious hat and parka.

Unlike almost everyone living here, I enjoy the mindless slog of snowshoes on occasion. I cruised along the trails, sinking deep into unconsolidated powder.  As I rounded a corner on the Fergi trails, I encountered another snowshoer, uncertain where she was (we really need good maps). I showed her the loop I had stomped out a couple of times and headed back to the car. I had wanted to go to the gym over the weekend, but I had to call it. It was time to quit.

I'm tired; I need to go back to work to rest!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Making it Work

 When I used to have a TV, I would sometimes watch Project Runway. Not being a crafty person, I was always interested in what the designers came up with. There was always a point in the show where someone would be faced with a hot mess, their idea not turning out like they planned. Tim Gunn would magically appear in the room. He would inspect the disaster. "Frankly, I'm concerned,"  he would say. Then: "make it work!" Somehow, most of the designers did.

I feel like I am living the "make it work" life right now.  I often struggle to find a balance. How to stay fit when you work dawn to dusk, how to stay sane when your whole day is video conferences, when travel is off-limits, how to feel like life isn't passing me by?

But, just like those designers, I have to work with what I have. Case in point, I decided to venture to a cabin at Fields Springs State Park--on a weekday. Gasp! The horror. Here is how I did it: I got to work bright and early at 6:30, working straight through until 2:30 (Generally, we are supposed to stay later, but with a number of parents home schooling, we have a little more leeway). The moment the last person clicked off the videoconference, I leapt for my car, where I already had overnight gear and skis packed. Luckily, the often treacherous North Highway was pretty clear, and I was snowshoeing by 4. Ruby and I headed for Puffer Butte, which was supposed to be only a mile away. A half hour later, I knew we had to turn around before it got completely dark. Reluctantly, we abandoned our quest and headed down to the cabin to put in a couple hours of work.

The cabin at Fields Springs is small but cute. It costs $77 a night and allows dogs.

The next morning I put on a headlamp and hit the ski trails. There wasn't a soul about. The sun slowly rose as I skied through the frozen trees. I knew I would have to pack up and go back to work, and then work a long day on Friday and some on the weekend, but it was worth it for a tiny escape. And to feel like I'm doing something--anything--in a world that doesn't make a lot of sense right now.

At home, I typed happily to a work friend. "I put on some pants from the 90s and they were too big!" 

"I know!" he wrote back. "I have to go shopping for pants!"

Small victories. So I'll continue on Making it Work. Headlamp, making up hours on the weekend, whatever it takes. I bought a mini stepper and on those conference calls where I don't need to show my face, I am there stepping. My motto: Better than Nothing. Or maybe this is better: 

Make it Work.

Ruby doing dawn patrol at Fields Springs.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

trying new things

 One of the things I like about winter is that it gives me a chance to do different things. I feel like my body needs to be surprised once in a while; when I used to run as my sole source of exercise, I got really good at running, but nothing else. As one of my goals is to do a partial thru-hike when I can retire, and be able to do it without artificial limbs, I need to be careful (another goal is to pay off my house in three years. We'll see if that can happen.) 

I know I "could" ski year round; there are those Nordic Trak machines, and my friend Roger takes to the roads with roller skis in summer. He almost went to the Olympics though, so there's that. However, the fun is in the snow! Luckily we got some this week. 

Going up the 3910, the snow was up to my knees. I slogged along at the blistering pace of about .5 miles an hour. Of course we were going to the top, no matter how much my skis slid back with every step, no matter how the puppy kept stepping on the back of my skis. Why I do these things, I don't know, but the snow was perfect for climbing up a hill and practicing turns on the way down. Since my skinnier skis broke, I only have my fat ones, and I started thinking maybe I have a backcountry skiing future after all.

It isn't technically new, but I was able to break out the ice skates for the first time in a couple of years. The snow in the valley has not been forthcoming, which means you can drive carefully to Kinney Lake. If you have been reading awhile, you might recall that I discovered this little ranch lake for swimming last year. Turns out, it froze with really good ice. Dodging the ice fishermen, I ventured onto the lake to find a smooth surface, perfect for a Scaredy McScarederson like me. After a few minutes I even felt like I was actually skating. 

I'm also perfecting the little-known sport of snowshoe-joring. What is this, you ask? You hook up an untrained puppy who is an escape risk to a belt around your waist and go. It is full of boredom (when the puppy sits down and refuses to move) and terror (when the puppy decides to break into a run and pulls you off your feet). An Olympic sport, this will never be.

One of my FB friends excitedly posted that spring was coming. Oh, honey, no. I think people forget that February and March tend to be the biggest snow months. At least, I hope so.

Have you tried anything new lately? Tell me about it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

return to the ridge

I skied angrily up the road toward the Wenatchee Guard Station. I had been hoping for a miracle in the form of better snow than the last time I had been there, but alas, the snow was even worse. A hard crust churned up by snowmobiles, it was difficult to navigate while skiing with a backpack. 

This time we had a pulk with us, though. I gleefully jettisoned my sleeping bag and most of the food. Pulks rule, I thought, though I was secretly glad I wasn't the one pulling it. Near the cabin, we had to negotiate a big snowdrift and a steep climb. How do people pull these for miles? I don't know, but I was happy to be only responsible for my old skis; it was one step forward and one step back as I inched toward the cabin.

But what was happening? I eyed my skis with horror. One was delaminating. I hovered on the verge of a meltdown, but I had the foresight to pack snowshoes, so all wasn't lost. This wasn't how I thought this trip would go, but bad snow and equipment failure were out of my control. Plus, I had brought Oreos. Oreos make everything better.

We traversed the ridge nearly to the campground, opting to turn back to explore the woods near the cabin in the afternoon. To our surprise we found an old barn. I thought about the glory days of the Forest Service, when crews were living at all of these guard stations. I lived the tail end of those days. Feral creatures, bound only to management by a radio that never really worked, we were free to roam the wilderness with our trail clearing tools. We were trusted to complete our work without paperwork, endless safety meetings, or  helicopter supervision. It was a better time then. People were nicer without a keyboard to hide behind.

That night the wind rose to a howl. A golden sun slowly set. The Seven Devils looked almost close enough to walk to. Once again I made the same vow: next summer, I'm hiking there.

 The next day I would have to snowshoe out, attaching the skis to the sled.  Two snowmobiles lay abandoned on the route, victims of breakdowns. Trees lay scattered, victims of the wind. This is a harsh place, but so beautiful.

I vowed not to come back until the snow was better, but it is hard to resist the lure of a close-by getaway. This is still within striking distance of where I live to feel like I am not violating the stay at home order, but far enough that it seems like actually doing something. I recalled the early days of the pandemic when none of us drove anywhere, when everyone just walked in their neighborhood. We were so innocent then.

I decided to come back in summer, when I can hike the trails down into the canyon. It'll be different then, I hope, but the cabin will still be the same. It's been here since the 1930s. I like that kind of permanence. And maybe these are the good old days, but we don't really know it.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Dreams of Driver's Ed

 I was about 16 and in driver's ed. The instructor, a teacher reluctantly forced into the job likely due to the extra income, sat grumpily in the sedan. Suddenly, something one of us did (I don't remember now, but I think it was turning left on a red light) set him off. He commanded us to return to the school. Getting out, he stomped away, never to return.

This is the reason I never learned to back up very well, or parallel park. He didn't have the patience to teach us. Somehow I got my license, but have tried to avoid both actions ever since.

The worst part about hiking the Imnaha River Trail is the road in. Calling it a road is incredibly generous. Rock-studded and steep, it is only one lane and hangs over a deep canyon. The 13 miles to the trailhead takes almost an hour.

I drove along, thinking about the prize. Our awful winter continues, resplendent with ice everywhere. Even the trails I can usually access in winter are slathered with it. I was feeling a little desperate.

Thus the trip to the canyon. I knew that, three thousand feet lower, there wouldn't be ice. I could actually hike without clanking along in spikes. It would be worth it.

Suddenly a horse trailer loomed into view, coming the opposite way. Crap! It was in a terrible place too, right where one wrong move would mean a one way trip down to the river. 

I'm not above jumping out and making the rancher back up for me, but I decided to face my fear. Gingerly I inched backward to a miniscule wider spot. The ranchers drove by with a cheerful wave. Collecting myself, I drove on.

The hike was worth it. I heard birds! I saw green grass! And the confluence was magical as always, bathed in a sun that quickly went away. I was inspired to run out instead of hike, even though I was wearing a backpack and old shoes. 

So driver's ed teacher, wherever you are, even though you got mad and didn't teach us how to back up, I've figured it out over the years. My friends refuse to drive the road due to a similar backing experience. I think they are missing out.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Building the adventure list

 "Working sux," I texted to my friend.

She responded immediately. 

"OMG, you read my mind."

I love my friends. They get me, and are a bright spot in a world that seems completely insane and mean. (New Zealand, are you sure you won't take an old gal with no marketable skills?)

I fumed at my desk, trying to find gratitude. This year, an immense number of my co-workers were able to retire at very young ages, thanks to being hired in their early twenties and completing the minimum years. While I would not trade my twenties for anything-they were adventurous and so, so fun-I admit to some jealousy when people take to Facebook to ask snarkily what day it is, concluding "Every day is Saturday!" and stating that they can hike whenever they want.

"Your quads are really tight," my friend the physical therapist pronounced. "That could be your problem. Also, your back is weak." I felt a little outraged. After all, I lift weights a lot! I stretch! But although no other problems have emerged as a result of getting older--I can still hang with the best of them--it is this: your body can only compensate for so long, some muscles uncomplainingly taking over the roles of the lazy others. The truth is, my job is sendentary most of the time. Sitting still, or even standing still at my standing desk, is really, really bad. 

With the above factors in mind--surviving more years of the 9 to 5 (or, more accurately, 0630 to 1630), I decided there was only one thing to do--build a 2021 Adventure List. I needed things to look forward to, and make all the stretching and strengthening worth it.

In a normal year, my Adventure List would have more long distance trails on it. But since I won't be able to get a vaccine until the dregs of the barrel, I had to think about more local pursuits. There are about six lakes left on my Eagle Cap Wilderness named lakes to visit. These are the hardest, the most out of the way, the ones needing GPS and maps and a buddy. It's on, lakes!

I studied the maps to stitch together a couple of routes that would encompass a 100 mile hike in the wilderness. This wilderness is narrow, and our common saying is, "if you want to go long, you need to include the Minam." That is a long river corridor from which you must climb on little-used trails, cursing the day you ever had that idea. But I really miss those longer trips, where you can completely escape. Bring it, Minam!

Because the mountains will be shrouded in snow for months, I had to come up with some winter pursuits as well. There's some cabins to ski into, and the canyon opens up early enough for some spring backpacking. And just in case, I sneaked the Arizona Trail and the Grand Canyon on there. Might as well dream. Friends flew to Hawaii--maybe I can go to Arizona safely?

So nothing epic, hyper-local mostly, but if this year has taught me anything, it is to re-evaluate my surroundings, take in the the little things, and be grateful for what I have. To let go of what doesn't work anymore.

This was me on the PCT in 2014. Someday the world will be open again.

As for work, there is no getting around it. I'll keep stockpiling my salary for big adventures, should they ever return. The other day I saw a woman on video camera who was obviously using a mini stepper. A lady after my own heart. Keep on rocking in the free world, workers! We will all make it to the other side.

Do you have an adventure list for 2021?