Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oregon Stories

One of the anthologies I'm in came out. It's called oregon stories, published by ooligan press. I'm pretty sure they took everyone who sent in a story and they didn't pay anything. I am trying to shy away from those because I feel you should be paid for the work you do.(After all, writing is easy, isn't it?) Anyway, it's still pretty cool.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

wilderness and honesty part two

Sometimes your wilderness companions turn out to be completely different than you expected. I tend to think if someone loves the mountains as much as I do, they must be a true and decent person at their core. Obviously this is simplistic and not true. All sorts roam the wilderness, and they bring their issues and problems in with them. There is no magical cure from mountains, no prescriptions from the sea. Just because you like to hike does not mean that in real life you don't lie, steal, do bad things.

I am pondering this because someone whose wilderness company I enjoyed is turning out to be different than I thought. Details are unnecessary; it involves disruption in the lives of friends for his own gain. It doesn't matter much because I don't live there anymore and we will never hike together again, but it makes me wonder. To be in the wilderness to some degree you have to be selfish. I am, anyway. I avoid obligations like joining the fire department because it would cut into my outdoor time. I choose friends who like to camp, not those who go to malls. I chose not to have children in part because I didn't want to slow down. I would never marry a couch potato.

I think that is okay though because I am upfront about it. Like my friend Laura said once, "The first fifty years were about pleasing other people. The next fifty is about doing what I want."

I admire this and am trying to emulate it. Be selfish in your hikes. Go far and fast. Skip the office party for a camping trip, if you want. Love the mountains so much that you carry your own wilderness soapbox. But sadly wilderness does not weed out the angry, the untruthful and the self-absorbed. I wish it did.

But life is like that. Ponderosas self prune. Rivers change course. Landslides take down trees. You lose companions along the way. You learn. You accept.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

update on Big Adventure!

The votes are in...ding ding ding..and I will be hiking the John Muir Trail! Thanks to all who voted. It's exciting: I hiked a portion of it as a young biotechnician at Kings Canyon National Park in the early nineties and vowed to come back. 220 miles, one resupply, mountains, lakes, snow. I'm not sure I can pull it off this year but am looking into it. Stay tuned!


You know how with some people, an ordinary outing turns into something epic? I don't mean epic in the miserable, survival mode where you struggle to build a snow cave and fend off predators. I mean epic in that you are pushed to greater distances and higher destinations, because neither of you have the common sense to turn around.

Such was the case this weekend with my friend Amy. We had planned to snowshoe, with some skiers, into a backcountry hut for a couple of days. People dropped out for various reasons, including illness and dog issues. Amy and I soldiered on under heavy packs and in rotten snow.

During our pretrip meeting, Jerry had mentioned that a nice day trip was to travel to Bonny Lakes, a five mile journey from the hut. Of course, travel is easier on skis than it is on snowshoes, falling in deep holes of tree wells and stumbling through regen from the big fire of 1989. Undaunted, Amy and I pressed on. Aware of the coming darkness, we agreed to a turn-around time of three. At three, I broke out into what I thought was the lake, a wide snowy expanse ringed by cliffs. "Yahoo!" I screamed, but Amy's GPS showed we were only in a swampy meadow, a half mile below the lakes. Half mile? How long could that take? Like illogical Everest climbers, we discarded our turn-around time and climbed upward, avoiding an obvious avalanche chute and slogging through the snow. Each time we stopped we agreed that this was far enough, that the lakes would be buried in snow anyway. Each time we continued on a bit farther.

Finally we came to a windswept point above the lakes, which were indeed buried in snow and looked just like the meadow we had mistaken for a lake earlier. It was 4:15 when we turned back. It had taken us 5 hours to go 5 miles. Luckily, it only took three hours back, even with a misguided detour through fallen trees where I had to pry my foot out of my boot to pull the snowshoe out of a deep hole.

Epic indeed. Without Amy, I would have turned around much earlier, and stomped disappointed back to the hut. We should all have friends who don't want to turn around.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

those unclimbed mountains

Yesterday I got some disturbing news. One of my co-workers at my former job back in Alaska has suffered a stroke. He had perhaps one of the crappier government jobs, the mailroom gig, but he was always cheerful despite the fact that perhaps we took advantage of him, swooping in with our manufactured crises of having to get certified letters out ASAP.

Apparently he is physically fine but thinks he is in another city entirely and that aliens come to visit him. Although he made lifestyle choices that perhaps contributed to his troubles, this whole thing horrifies me. He is in his fifties. So I got to thinking: we all have these secret dreams. For us, there are mountains left unclimbed, rivers left unrun, lakes unpaddled. We put these things off, claiming indispensibility at work, finances, lack of good companions. There will be a better time--someday. When we retire, when we save up a little more, when we meet the man or woman of our dreams.

And there is a kernel of truth to that, because unless we have a trust fund, most of us can't just walk in the boss' office and quit. Most of us don't round a corner and our perfect mate stands there with backpack ready. But what I take from this is that even if you can't pull off the grand gesture (write for a year in a little cottage in the mountains with lots of cats and dogs! Make millions!) you can do smaller things that satisfy your soul. Climb one mountain. Paddle one lake. Live one dream.

So I applied for a remote six month writing residency. The idea of so much solitude, and the risk of failure--what if nothing halfway readable comes out of it--as well as risking my comfortable job, is terrifying. How will I maintain my relationships? How will I resist from turning into a crazy lady who talks to trees (wait. I sort of do that already)?

That is one of my dreams. I'm not putting it off. What about you?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Confessions of a Wilderness Klutz

It’s true. I’ve slapped my face with branches, had to replace a tooth, nearly been swept away by a fast moving stream and now this.

You get to the Wenaha River Trail by driving (quickly) through the ghost town of Flora, with some big creepy abandoned buildings and then spiraling down through many gravelly switchbacks to Troy, a small village nestled in the canyon. This first photo is Troy from above.

The trail happily dips up and down, sometimes kissing the river, other times high above.

I decided to do a shakedown trip of my new backpack (an Osprey) and to get out of town and down a few thousand feet to spring. It was a good choice; the flowers are in full bloom along the trail—arrowleaf balsamroot, pale white lilies, shooting stars and deep purple violets. While it’s obvious this would be a searing hot place in July, in April it was just about perfect.

Some people I knew had been there the week before and had camped at the four mile mark. That wasn’t a very long day so even though their campsite was enticing, located on a point right next to the river, I pushed on to a trail junction, about six miles up. This place had possibilities so I hung out for a little while, gauging the desirability for an evening campsite. Some factors go into this: nice trees? River view? Decomposed elk heads? Bear poop? And the unexplainable: does it feel right?

Then I spotted a small tent set up in the ponderosas. This could go one of many ways. The inhabitant could be weird. Or want privacy. Since I didn’t see anyone and couldn’t decide either way, I elected to head another four miles down the river trail to a place I had read about called Fairview Bar.

I must digress here. On a river, I have learned, any flat area of land, whether it be composed of sand, cobbles or forest, is called a bar. On the ocean we called these beaches. Which could also be misleading, as the commercial fishermen would tell us that their wives weren’t along on the boat with them—they were “staying on the beach”, meaning they had stayed home. Confusing!

Onward I trudged, bypassing a marginal campsite near the Hoodoo Trail junction, continuing with PODs—pointless ups and downs—that were beautiful but tiring. Finally I arrived at the bar, to find it to be a nice open scattered ponderosa forest. This would do . (Although I did find a decomposed elk head, and, in the morning, bear poop, old though.)

The next morning I awoke to find heavy frost on my tent. Any move inside made it snow, with icy droplets soaking my clothes and the sleeping bag. As usual, I vowed to myself to stay in the tent until the sun hit it, and as usual I got up before it did.

So here’s the klutzy part. I hiked the four miles back to the junctions (the tent was gone) and attempted to unfreeze my water bladder. In the process of doing so I accidently sprayed myself with pepper spray! The circumstances are too much to go into here, but in case you have ever wondered or been tempted to do this, my advice would be to avoid it. Luckily, I sprayed my leg only. But in case you are still tempted, let me relate what it feels like.

Burning pain! For hours! If you are lucky enough to have a water source, you can dive in and provide temporary relief. But it doesn’t last long. In the meantime you are forced to hike past smiling floppy-hatted birdwatchers who take their sweet time getting out of the trail.

This is perhaps the time when someone would pipe up to say that you should never hike solo. However, I feel fortunate that I didn’t have a hapless companion. Sometimes having someone along is license to flap your hands in the air and whine, expecting them to take control of the situation. I like figuring things out myself, and I knew the pain would go away. It was just pepper spray! But note to self: Never wonder if pepper spray will stop a bear. It will!

At least the pain distracted me from the even more painful realization that my backpack is sadly not all that comfortable. Adjustments are in order.

It was still a good hike, though.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

wilderness and honesty

So an ex-boyfriend of mine just wrote me a long, self-absolving letter about the implosion of our relationship, leaving me to wonder if we really were in the same relationship at all. A lack of self-awareness is something I always wonder about. How do these people function in life as they stumble along rewriting events to make them appear paragons? But because I don't intend to dwell in negativity and because I relate everything to wilderness, this got me thinking.

If people spent more time in the woods, would they be better people? This certainly is the premise of the "wilderness therapy" schools. While I have my doubts about the success rate, I do admit that being out in a sometimes harsh environment and having to rely on your skills to survive can bring out the best in people. How is sitting at a desk going to make you self-reliant, tolerant and flexible? My time in wilderness has done all these things for me (though some would argue with the tolerant part).

Would my explosive co-worker be happier if all s/he had to do was find a good tent spot, filter water and hang a bear bag? Would my ex spend less time navel-gazing and agonizing and be able to be clearer about what he wanted in life if he spent a season just hiking? Many who spend an extended time in the woods--Appalachian Trail hikers for example--seem to come away calmer, having made big life decisions.

Personally I think we need the wilderness to calm us down, reduce us to what is important, to let useless worries drift away. Frankly I would rather worry about a bear than some of the manufactured crises I see at work.

I know my wilderness trips make me a better person. I guess I can only speak for myself. Maybe other people get this same feeling different ways. For me, it works. And it is always an interesting theory to throw out there.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

crust cruising

It's spring (supposedly) and that means crust cruising! If you've never experienced this fine form of skiing, stay with me. Usually it happens when the sun bakes the snow to a hard..crust. Kind of like when you leave a pie too long in the oven. At such times you can glide over the surface without falling in.

Today was such a day. The wind was blowing so fiercely that we quavered inside the car, wanting to head back to town. But I spied Charla heading up to backcountry ski, and darn it, if she could do it, I could too.

On the Devils View loop conditions were blustery, but even the dogs didn't fall in. Mostly they could lope over the top of the snow, tails blowing in the wind.

When you crust cruise you go on faith, because the innocent little downhills become major screaming runs. The flats are fine, though, an easy, sweet ski. It makes you feel like you are a better skier than you are. You feel like you can go forever, just keep skiing through the little pines that are growing back after the big Canal fire. Keep going. Keep cruising over the lip of the world.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

close encounters

Today I headed up the west fork of the Wallowa trail, not too excited about it. I’ve been up there a bunch of times and this hike was just for exercise. I didn’t bring a camera, because I didn’t expect to see anything new. I thought I had seen it all before.

To my surprise there was about six inches of new snow on the trail and I slogged upwards in my running shoes, too stubborn to go back and change into snow boots. My tracks were the only ones on the trail. Until I came upon the mountain lion tracks.
They were fresh from this morning, and they meandered on and off the trail, perfectly formed in the snow. I’ve seen a lot of lion tracks before. When I worked at the Florida Panther Refuge we routinely saw them sunk deep in mud, sometimes overlapping our footprints as though they were following us. Before we were banned from it, we used to run on the refuge, always wondering if a panther was crouched in the palmetto, its yellow eyes watching our every move.

In Idaho a mountain lion came into my camp at dusk, pacing and snarling a few times before it moved away. I still recall the fear of shivering in a sleeping bag, wondering what to do.

I got to the junction of the Chief Joseph and the main West Fork trails. My intent had been to head up to BC Ford and see if, once again, I could try to cross it. But I paused. In the backcountry I usually throw caution to the wind and go where I feel like it, trusting that the things I carry and my common sense will bring me through. But the lion tracks headed purposefully up the trail in my intended direction. If I had been with someone else, it would have been a fun adventure to track it and see if we could find it. It didn’t look like I was that far behind. But since I was alone, I decided to use discretion and go on the other trail.

For whatever reason, seeing the tracks made me look around and soak in the beauty of the trail. Fresh snow flocked the trees. The river rushed busily below me. It looked like a scene out of December, but it was April. Winter keeps its grip a long time here. The sun made the snow sparkle and everything glowed in white and gold.
It turned out to be a most perfect hike. I was intensely aware of every breath, every step in the deep snow. It’s like that sometimes in the wilderness. You see something that shakes you out of the ordinary. One minute you are just slogging along, head down, then you see mountain lion tracks.