Saturday, December 7, 2019

Resilience (losing callie)

Trigger warning: if you've lost a pet, you may want to skip this post.

I lost an anchor this week. I've always known that my pets are why I don't go off on long adventures lasting several months. It's hard sometimes to go places and find people to take care of them. But it is also impossible to imagine life without them.

Callie was the world's biggest scaredy cat. For years, everything frightened her; loud noises, dogs, the outdoors, people. She was a tiny shelter kitten who endured several moves, including a three day trip on the Alaska Marine Ferry, which is not fun for pets. In the final move, she decided she preferred staying upstairs and so she did, sometimes looking over the railings as if she wanted to come down. For special people, she would timidly venture downstairs.



In the last year of her life, Callie found bravery. She marched downstairs, hung out with the dogs, and even went outside to the garden. Sometimes I was annoyed, because treating her hyperthyroidism took expensive medicine that had to be administered twice a day, hampering my adventures. The vet couldn't figure out why she threw up so much, and of course she always chose the one rug in the house. But even though something was obviously wrong, she rallied several times.

Until she couldn't. Her last night she came and laid on me like she used to do, and I think she was asking for help. I won't write much about her passing because it's too painful, but it took a long time for her heart to stop. "She's a fighter,* the vet said, which made me sad but it was true, she always was. Finally she let out a sigh like she knew she could go.

Despite the challenges she endured, dogs, a pushy young cat, being poked and prodded with medicine and fluids and pills, she was resilient. She taught me a lot. And one thing was true to the end: she had a strong and brave heart. I'll miss her.

The view from Callie's grave, where she is close to her buddy Smoke.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

White Friday

I didn't shop on Black Friday, in fact, I hardly shop unless it is for outdoor gear. Living in a cabin, there just isn't room for stuff, and most of the stuff I see, I can do without. I mean, who really needs a shower beer holder? Even if I drank beer, would I really need to have one for the three minutes I'm in the shower? 

So since shopping was out, we decided to make it a White Friday. Skiing, that is. After a season off, it was hard to wrap my brain around skiing again. It's amazing how, after not skiing for six months, the skiing stuff is hard to find. Where's the gaiters? The Musher's Secret for Ruby's paws? What do I even wear?  

In the end, I wore everything. It was clearly time to embrace winter.


As we drove into the mountains, the situation became unnervingly close to those you read about--Couple follows GPS onto an unplowed road, one unwisely leaves the car to walk for help. Only, we knew where we were going, and we did an inventory: Snacks, firestarter, emergency beacon. Others had given up, seeing the fifteen inches of snow on the road. Bravely, or unwisely, we continued on. The parking lot was bleak and deserted, as if nobody but us was left on earth. An unlucky rancher had abandoned a trailer right in the middle of the road. It was likely it would be there all winter.

I stared glumly out the window. "Why is winter so cold?" I whined. But ultimately, I got out. My Patagonia windstopper coat, circa 1990, stood up admirably to the bitter wind. It was time to ski, or rather, shuffle through two feet of snow on skis, a human groomer.



We reached the Hill of Terror, and I skied down it happily, the deep snow slowing my descent in a way that never happens if I follow a broken track. I have had many a meltdown on this hill, but today was perfect. Not so for the steep climb back up to the top of the divide. I huffed my way toward the top, each step like walking in deep sand.  I refused to concede the lead until I reached the trail junction.  I'm stubborn like that.
It's so cold that I never removed any layers. So pretty though.
Reaching the parking lot, I stared wistfully back at the track. Once again, we had broken trail for someone else to enjoy, but it had taken all of our energy to do it, and the weather was closing in. Live to ski another day, I thought. Staying up here any longer greatly increased our odds of participating in a winter campout. 

"Why is cross country skiing so tiring?" J asked, bent on a nap. I don't know why either, but it is. "Let's go out tomorrow!" he says. "Yes!" I say.








Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Ten Year Challenge, re-imagined

On Facebook, there's the same dumb "challenge" going around: post a photo of yourself from 2009 and one from today. Despite it not having the same ageist title as last year ("how hard has aging hit you"), it is just as biased toward looking the same as you did ten years ago, or looking young. The only people really participating are those who ARE still young, or those who have flattering photos from 2019.

Because this challenge annoys me, I've decided to flip it. For those not in the know, I've decided that for me, this will be the year of flipping things. It's easy for me to get irritated about not being able to be free to do whatever I want, not pinned down by work or lack of cash, frustrated by getting older, the list goes on. But I don't want to live like that. To the best of my capability, I'm going to try to flip the situation to a happier light. (Example is a friend complained about her heinous inbox. She works for herself, so this means people want to hear from her, or get advice or business from her. That's a good thing!)

So I am flipping the ten year challenge of how you look (superficial) to what did you accomplish? Most people should have something they are proud of having done. And because this is an outdoor blog, what adventures have  you accomplished? Those are what matter, not how you look.

Here's mine:

I hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail!
I learned how to swim!
I learned how to ride a bike!
I got to be a much better hiking partner (this was a tough one! I'm very independent and focused on my own goals)
I published two books!
I tried a new sport (river rafting)!

Isn't that better than how my face has changed?
OK. OK. Here's 2008. I don't think I look this young anymore. Which does make me sad. But no need to dwell on it, because there isn't anything I can do about it.

Okay, this might all sound braggy, but who will brag for you if you don't do it for yourself? Respond below in the comments about your own ten year challenge! What did you do from 2009-2019 that you are proud of? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

When would you turn around?

As I hiked toward Ice Lake, the first people I had seen all day were coming down. "It gets worse," one of the twenty-something men warned. "But we did it without snowshoes," they added helpfully.

It was November, the latest I had ever attempted to reach the lake. I hadn't expected to make it this far, so although I was carrying all the winter survival gear, I had only a couple of protein bars. Who ever heard of making it to Ice Lake in November? But here I was, trudging through a few inches of snow.
Way better than August. Zero people.
I was the only person up here, and as I climbed I thought about Rachel and how the last people to see her alive told her to turn back. Would you have? I've encountered people warning me about all sorts of hazards ahead, and mostly they turned out to be benign (to me at least).  A couple of guys said the way ahead was impassible near Canada on the PCT, and Flash and I found it to be not bad at all. On the same stretch, a woman said there were big holes in the trail, holes we never found. I probably feel more comfortable than most people on the trail, but I still weigh what others say.

It turned out that while the trail did get snowier, it wasn't really "worse".  I was glad I kept going, and made it to the lake, probably one of the last people to do so before winter brings too much avy danger. However, standing at the lake, I could feel the mountains' indifference. Just as easily as this nice sunny day, a winter storm could blow in, obscuring the way down. Part of the bargain you make with wilderness is that you aren't in charge.


I didn't stay long at the lake. It gets dark so early. Feeling chased by winter, I bounded down the rocky switchbacks and felt relieved to be at the car three hours later, feeling tired and "hangry". That was sixteen miles I hadn't expected to be hiking.


Being able to hike through November has been the one thing saving me from being grumpy about the change of seasons. Though we didn't have a fall in September, we are having one now. I am trying to get to as many places as I can.

Have you ever turned around when someone else advised you to? Or did you continue?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Weightlifting and me: a love/hate story

I stride into the gym, optimistically named "Motivations." I can't recall the last time I was motivated to be here. Maybe never? Randy, the owner, looks up from whatever he does on the computer. Writing a novel? I don't know. It would be the perfect venue for it: I am usually the only one in here.

Here's the thing: I really hate lifting weights. It's boring, it's not cardio (really, though it can be a little) and it's not functional fitness. I'd rather be strong like I was back in the day, from clearing trails with axes and rock bars, or digging fireline, than from hoisting dumbbells. And I guess if I had more time, I could design a fitness program like that. But for now, the weights will have to do.


Here's my gym. Somewhat old school, but I am glad to have it. I don't have room in my house for a gym.

My weightlifting career began at a Golds Gym, where the women wore makeup and kept their hair down. I skulked around in a T shirt and shorts, going to the free weights where the other women never went (they stuck to the cardio machines). In order to do pull-ups with the rest of the fire crew, in order to haul the cubitainers of water, the chainsaw, I had to be strong. I worked a full day on the crew and then at 7 pm, I went out to lift weights. It wasn't anything special--everyone on the crew did this. We didn't get paid to do it, but we all knew that if we couldn't do the work, we would be off the crew.

After I left that crew, I still kept lifting, in small gyms in rural counties of the west. These were populated by the more serious, sans makeup. None of the gyms were fancy--they were one room affairs, with older equipment. When I spent a month in DC, I joined a gym and was amazed by the three floors of equipment and the bouncer who paced the rows, kicking people off the ellipticals when they had exceeded their half hour limit. Actual lines formed by each machine. No thanks, I thought, one room gyms were just fine with me.

I've now been a member of my gym for ten years. Ten years! That's long enough to pick out the regular characters--the woman who uses the elliptical with a purse strapped to her body, the lady who yells the number of repeats, the doctor who does such intense workouts that the rest of us feel lazy just watching.

Today it was just me for the entirety of my workout, and Randy, who was still working on his novel or whatever. I am always glad I did the workout, even if I dislike every minute of it. I close with some quality time on the elliptical, because I'm here. Then it's time to go back to work. I feel virtuous. Even though I don't like it, I've still powered through. Maybe I am motivated after all.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Facing my nemesis:Running the Green Gate route

Here in this county, like everywhere, we have our own shorthand. We know what is meant by "the North Highway", "the canyon," "the Devils", or "Housewife Beach." So it is with the "Green Gate." A mile and a half in which you gain 800 feet, it should not be that hard to run--but it is.

I should stop here and note that the area this run goes through is not public land, but many of us hope it will someday be. It is through the grace of the current owners that we are allowed to access it. You can read more about the effort to preserve this area here

I like to run in the winter, and trails are few and far between that are not shrouded in snow. This moraine trail does get covered eventually, but in late fall it is a good place to go. I stare it down--the hill begins immediately without much of a break. You might not think it is that bad until you reach the switchback, where the true climbing begins. My pace slows. I pass a hiker, and have to struggle to stay far ahead of him--I can probably walk this almost as fast as I can run it. Some hikers coming down say to each other: "See, I told you people run this!"

No way I can stop now. I glance back: the hiker is fading into the distance. Ruby is out ahead, tail flopping. She loves this run. Sometimes, there are cows. 

People ride bikes up here too, but that is unimaginable to me. I'd be hiking a bike, for sure. 

Once, a bear ran across the trail ahead of me, but today there is nothing but the unrelenting climb. Why do I do this? Every time I run this route, I wonder if I will make it to the top without walking. I usually do, but I doubt myself. Never has a mile and a half taken so long to run. When I run down, I can do it in half the time. Still, it feels good to try.  

Ever since my Grand Canyon trip, I've been in sort of a slump. It's been hard to summon the enthusiasm for exercise. The cold I have been suffering since the plane ride doesn't make it any easier. Usually if I go, I feel better, so I do.

I break it down into small sections: the first side trail, then the second one. The white rock. Where the trees end. Huffing and puffing, I finally reach the top. I've made it, one more time.

The view from the top, though:



I've run the Green Gate one more time, but I wouldn't call it "conquering". Maybe surviving?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Way out on the west Tonto, Grand Canyon National Park

I was the only one on the shuttle bus as it chugged toward Hermit's Rest. The only one on the steep, rocky trail for hours, until I met some rugged adventurers heading up. They didn't look like the typical Hermit Creek campers, the ones who put rain flies on their tents (a sacrilege when the nights are so brightly starred), so I asked, "Have you been west of Boucher?"

"We went to Slate Canyon," one of them said, the place I had been hoping to reach. They said what I had guessed: there was no water in Slate. It would be a big water carry. "You'll have it to yourself," they said as we parted.

Slate Canyon. I have heard you can climb down from one of the rims and hike to the river. I wasn't brave enough to try it.
It was true. After I left the civilized confines of Hermit Camp (it has a toilet), the next four days brought encounters with only three people, and these were in a group in the same place. The rest of the days passed in complete solitude as I marched westward, sometimes losing the trail momentarily as it grew fainter and fainter.

This is the best campsite at Hermit. It is under an overhang and away from everyone else. Get here early if you want to snag it.
Few people come this way because of the lack of water, the blazing sun and unforgiving terrain. The Corridor this is not. But as the Corridor becomes more and more crowded with the social media fueled Rim to River crowd, I find myself seeking out places like this more and more.

Campsite at Slate. Waterless, and solitude for miles.
The mileage I did every day was not far, hovering around ten to eleven miles. But this can be an eternity on the West Tonto, as you attempt to avoid the prickly pear spines, cross into and out of crumbling canyons, and inch along just above the Inner Gorge. I lugged six liters of water into Slate Canyon, then had time to lie under the scrawny shade of a juniper looking at the sky and the canyon walls. I wrote a novel in my head.
Smiling even with a cold and lack of sleep, because look where I am.
Saving two liters of water for the return, I hiked down a desert wash to Boucher Falls and perhaps the most enchanting campsite I have ever had.

Of course I had to stop and watch these brave souls go through Boucher Rapids.


People often seem puzzled by why I hike alone, and this trip was not supposed to be, but it is difficult to find others who want to do some of these more challenging hikes that aren't always immediate gratification. It can be lonely at times when you realize nobody is within many miles of you. But there's also something good about figuring it all out yourself, and knowing that you like your own company enough. What I liked about running long solo miles also holds true for hiking: with that much time to think, you don't end up with a lot of unresolved issues. You work them out, wear them down, mile by mile.

After five days, I arrived back at Hermit Camp to the usual curious combination of REI-outfitted people and the Walmart tent crowd. Everyone was carrying Nalgene bottles and sporting astonished grins, as well they should, since Hermit is not an easy trail to go down. While it's hard for me to understand why someone would lug a camp chair or sleep under a rain fly on a gorgeous night,  I have to admire the persistence. They're still experiencing the Canyon.

The mileage I can cover typically in six days was nothing near what I did here. I had time for lengthy siestas and swimming once I got near water. Yet as usual I felt somewhat beaten up by the Canyon. An intense cold I must have gotten on the plane made hiking difficult. Because I stubbornly refused to wear plants, my legs were attacked by catclaw, making it look as though a mountain lion had attacked. The last few miles out of Hermit, I slogged along at a snail's pace. But as I got to the top, I knew this wasn't the end. I'll be back.
Hermit Rapids from the West Tonto