Saturday, April 30, 2011

Barefoot Running

My life can be divided into two parts: Before Knee Troubles and After. Before, I ran marathons. I never stopped to wonder if a hike was too steep. I never worried over an unexplained twinge.

It's all different now. I don't run as much, or as far, or as fast. I use trekking poles when I hike. I worry.

Ever since I developed plantar fasciitis awhile back, a horrible hurtyfoot that lingered for eight soul-destroying months, I've ben curious about so-called barefoot running. One of the theories surrounding PF is that we wear such cushioned shoes, our feet , arches and ankles get weak. Wearing minimalist shoes helps avoid heel strike and lets us run the way we were built to--barefoot. This strengthens the foot, takes less energy and by avoiding heel strike, which very few of us would do without cushioned shoes, may prevent injuries like PF or collapsed arches.

I decided to get on the bandwagon. I bought a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves. The first thing I noticed was how light they are.

I picked a route: Lakeshore Drive, three miles.
Feeling a little nervous about this endeavor.

I started to jog slowly. It felt--different. I didn't feel the heavy plop of shoes.  I think I'm a heelstriker, and with these, you just can't. It was almost like running on my toes.

I could feel the ground under my feet, every little ripple of it. I don't know how running on rocks would work. On a smooth dirt road, it felt different, but not uncomfortable.

The outcome? I wasn't any faster. But it felt easier, less effort. Because I landed on the ball of my foot, I was propelled forward.

When I had PF, the PTs insisted that I needed orthotics to correct my "biomechanical problems." I tried the  expensive, stiff soles for a couple of weeks and gave up. What if all I've been told is wrong? What if you are really meant to run as close to barefoot as possible? What if your feet know what is right all along?

After the run I went online and read some tips. First of all you are only supposed to start out with a quarter mile at a time. Oops. No wonder my calves feel like I've climbed Mount Everest.

I think I'll stick with it and see what happens.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Breaking Rules

In my old, fiercely independent, road warrior life, I had a set of rules. Here are some of them:

1. Don't buy any furniture that you can't move by yourself. Better yet, don't buy furniture. Have a folding helitack-type chair that you use to sit on. Sleep on a thermarest, wrapped in a sleeping bag. Have one pot, one spoon, one fork.

2. Make sure everything fits in your Chevette for an easy escape.

3. Never give a man a) money, b) your heart. You're just moving on anyway.

4. Don't ever take a desk job.

5.  Climb every mountain, ford every stream.

I also had rules I thought were true of myself, usually starting with "I'm not a." Not a bike rider. Swimmer. Person who owns a lawnmower. Marrying Type.

Yesterday my enormous new amoire was delivered. It weighs 225 pounds. I bought it because I somehow neglected to notice that my cabin has no closets (or a kitchen. Another story).  I love my armoire. It was made with dead standing lodgepole and draw knives, which I have had the (dis) pleasure of using and know it's hard. I need an army to move this armoire.

Today I sat at my desk all day.

I own a lawnmower.

I don't climb every mountain anymore, though I try my hardest. I for sure don't ford every stream, not the ones raging with snowmelt, the ones that could take me down.

 I'm a bike rider. A swimmer. And, I'm getting married in 72 days.

I guess you just never know.

My new rules:

1. Stick around long enough to know a place and a person.

2. Only have the stuff you really need (and a cool armoire or two)

3. Never give a man money but do give your heart, if he deserves it.

4. If you take a desk job, have an escape plan so you don't grow old at work.

5. Climb the mountains you want to climb, not the ones others want you to. Same for streams. If you don't feel like it, don't. But keep going, don't sit around too long.

I'm trying to replace the "I'm not a" with "I am." I'm a writer. Trail runner. Baker of bread. Backpacker. I'm not a lot of things, but why focus on those?

Have you ever had rules that changed? Let me know. Click that comment button below. Yes,  I know you need a Google account. I know it's a pain. Humor me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Novel Envy

The truth is, I was a lousy panther capture assistant. I fumbled with the crash pad. I cringed when Rowdy, the tracker, let his hounds loose. When the cat was treed and darted, I just wanted to let it go instead of help the vets pull teeth and take blood.

At first glance, panthers and writing seem to have very little in common, even for me, a person who can, and often does, stretch a metaphor beyond its breaking point. Just remember the panther. It will become important later.

I spent this last week at a writer's retreat on the Imnaha River. Every day I woke in my little cabin,

started a fire (Confession: I stole a coveted shingle to start my fire. The ones Janie and Pam use for the main house. Once. Sorry, Den Moms),  visited the outhouse (there were three. I didn't use this one)

 and ran up Freezeout Road.

The other four women were novelists, poets,and prose writers  who have lists of publishing credits longer than mine. Way longer. Like, you can find their books on Amazon. And they've won prizes. They teach workshops. Every evening when we gathered to read, their paragraphs rich as dark chocolate, smooth and sweet and satisfying.  In contrast I struggled with each word, unsure of each sentence.

I was seriously intimidated. These are women doing what I'd like to do, making that leap, and working hard at it. Every day Molly and Betty sank deeper into the sagging couches, intent on each line of their work. Janie baked sourdough bread and tended the fire (Oops. Right. That shingle) and read us stories so funny we couldn't stop laughing. Katey spun intricate and intense short stories that made me feel like I was in Afghanistan. In my cabin, I paced. I ate raisins. I read a book. I sighed, the framework of a TFN slowly taking shape.

(Small aside. T=That. N=Novel. F=you guess. Said in frustration over a novel that is not going well. I learned this phrase this week. Thanks Molly, I love it)

In South Florida, the panthers were barely hanging on. Their habitat fragmented in a sea of condos and golf courses, only thirty were thought to roam the swamp. Not enough. The Fish and Game brought in Texas cougars in a last ditch effort, removed some kittens for captive breeding. Interns rode on swamp buggies bristling with telemetry equipment, searching for the steady pulse of radio collars.

What does this have to do with writing anyway? Not much, except that one of the writers I admired had looked me up online. In one of my anthology biographies I had self-importantly listed all my various jobs, including panther capture assistant. Betty later told me this was intimidating; I suspect she anticipated some rope-slinging, hard-bodied, flinty-eyed creature.

So how does this all tie up in a bow? Maybe this way: we sometimes think of other people as so much more interesting, more exciting, more accomplished than we are. Maybe they are. In the case of these writers, they have reached pinnacles I have not. But have they touched a panther's tawny fur? Maybe not. We all have novels within us, stories waiting to be read.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sea glass

Marybeth and I lingered in the abandoned Ballard Place, sorting through the remains of a life. Perched on the ocean's edge, the house listed to one side. Rain lashed the empty places where window glass had been. The stairs were gone, the roof suspect. The forest was reclaiming the tracks where carts had been run to extract silver from adits. In the barn, an enormous generator would still turn over.

The house was full of practical things. Cans of food, bulging now from years of dampness and cold. Mouse-chewed wool clothes. But on the windowsill someone had placed a collection of beach glass. White, blue, amber--these jagged pieces were once utilitarian bottles, ordinary, not lovely. But years in the sea, pounded by waves, polished by sand, tumbling over and over in the current, had transformed them into translucent things of beauty.

Down by the skiff, Hans shifted his feet impatiently. "The tide waits for no woman!" he hollered, pushing the boat off the rapidly exposing beach. If we stayed too long, the flood tide would push into Klag Bay like a muscle and we would be stuck, unable to power through and back to our mothership.

But it was hard to leave the Ballard Place; I would visit it again and again over the next few years as a kayak ranger. Always I would sift through the sea glass. Sea glass meant renewal, reinvention. To someone who has reinvented her life time and again, I feel like a piece of sea glass. Once I was one thing, now I am another. I have washed up on one different beach after another.

I admit it: I took one small piece of sea glass from the windowsill of the Ballard Place. It was an impossible blue, the blue of a sunwashed sky, the blue of the eyes of someone I loved and lost. In all my moves I jettisoned many things but I never gave up that piece of glass. It was my link to the past.

A few months back, a woman from More Magazine called me. She wanted to profile me in an upcoming book about women who reinvented themselves. She knew I had left Alaska, and one of her questions was, "What do you do now to find adventure?"

I tripped over my words. It's true that my life isn't as wild as it once was, dodging coastal grizzlies on my training runs, spending days at sea in a kayak. I felt like I had to defend my new life, even though it paled in comparison to the one I used to have. A sliver of doubt needled its way into my skin. Have I made a huge mistake?

It's all about tradeoffs. As a firefighter in Florida, we were on the line twelve months of the year. You were always leaving someone behind, collateral damage. As a ranger, out in the field week after week, you couldn't know the community, volunteer, spend time with non-ranger friends. I gave up a lot for that way of life, and yes, sometimes I miss it.

It's also an adventure to stay, I am finding. Not the heart-pounding adrenaline rush kind, but as a person living that way, I was impossible to live with. This adventure is in letting people in through the walls you have built up, letting yourself believe you will not have to say goodbye. It's just as difficult sometimes, and just as rewarding. I am turning into someone else; the adventure is in the finding out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

my other lives

It's been a slow week here outdoors-wise. It's typical spring here-snow, wind, rain, mud. A mixed bag for doing anything. (Although I did weasel my way onto an incredible trip--I get to backpack in the Seven Devils this summer, collecting fish for a methyl mercury study. Initial sampling has shown high levels of mercury in the high lakes and we want to sample more locations. I found out a ton about mercury--or HG as I can now loftily call it. Fascinating stuff!)

I get to go in this mountain range and get paid to fish! Yay!

Waiting for my ride to go to a meeting, I decided to google myself. I couldn't believe how many of me there are. That got me started thinking about all the people with my name living their lives out there, so very different than mine. That led me to thinking about how many different paths I could have chosen. Here's a sample of the women with my same name I found:

I could have been a vet in Arkansas.

I could have owned a flower shop in Wyoming.

I could work at a plastic surgery center in Bloomfield Hills, MI.

There were many others. Waitress at a diner. Watercolor artist. Bookstore owner. And even more interesting, lots of women with my name lived in the 1800s. A census listed a ten year old girl, "cannot read or write" in Pennsylvania in 1870 (we've come a long way, ladies). Someone with my name was a "captive of the Indians" in 1783 (no word of her fate).

Seriously I know that just because I share a name with someone doesn't mean much. But so many things in my life have hinged on chance. A summer job at a state park led to a volunteer job with the Park Service which led me in a completely different direction. There are crossroads everywhere you look.

Have you ever googled to see what people bear your name? What did you find out?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Staying Home

Years ago, when I lived in (Conservative Ranching Town Six Hours From Here), I never stuck around. On the weekends I escaped to nicer venues: Crater Lake, Bend, here. I couldn't fathom staying put in a wind-driven, tumbleweed-infested place with no trails, no place to swim, no kindred souls. I used to spot Gary, the only other single person I knew, on our mutual street late on a Sunday.

"They never go anywhere," I shuddered, indicating the neighbors, who labored in their yards, worked on their houses, went to the grocery store. Didn't they know there was a big world out there? That their lives were flashing by at warp speed? Didn't they want to see everything there was?

I would never go back there to live, but now I kind of get it. They liked it there. It was their home. And I was a girl without a home, searching for one.

With that in  mind, I decided to stay home this weekend. Jerry is on his drink beer with the guys Men's Ski Trip and I have a free, selfish two days. Yes, it looks like it might be sunny enough to attempt a backpack to the Snake River. Oh, the Wenaha might be nice! Hmm, Anthony Lakes? But in the end I decided to appreciate my back yard. And it has been great so far.
I ventured over the flume.

Pretty nice view from the State Park a half mile from my house.

Wallowa Lake, only a month or so until Operation Pink Kayak can begin. Not to mention Swimming with Wetsuit While Others Think I am Crazy.

I'm not missing a thing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

up in smoke

Tonight, in my new life, I am burning a part of  my old life. I am burning wedding pictures.

I look at them and I don't feel weepy or nostalgic. I don't feel like I could have done anything better, or that I did not try hard enough. What I do feel is sadness for the woman who looks back at me: for the long, hard road she will have to travel. This is what I want to tell her: It will be worth it. It will be hard, and lonely, and miserable, but in the end it will be worth it, to get to this place, this new life.

In the way some people have faith to sustain them, I have always had wilderness. Because of that, I will always be all right. Give me a winding trail into the mountains, a river without end, and I can go there to heal from nearly anything. In the calm indifference of the trees, I see that the cycle of life cartwheels on, regardless of tragedy, despite despair. There is something about wilderness that shows me that things change and renew. A stand-replacing fire, a hundred year event, brings hundreds of tentative new seedlings. Avalanches move mountains. Time marches on, with or without us. There is always mystery in the secret life of snow, hope in the wind.

 I loved my wedding, a colorful gathering of many wilderness friends from around the country, representing places where I had worked: Florida, Sequoia National Park, Idaho, and others. They didn't know each other but quickly became friends themselves on a sandy beach at Redfish Lake. There was my history in their faces. They had all known me at different stages: dragging a drip torch through a sawgrass prairie, collecting sugar pine cones in the Sierras. It was my outdoor life, my whole life, right there, each stage of it.

I have a new life now, and am making new friends. I don't think about the other life that much, not the four years of it when things were hard. But the best part of that other life was the one day at the beginning, when hope still floated and we told stories. "Remember when?" we asked, dredging up those memories of hot springs, chasing fires, long hikes. We rolled with laughter, recalling the time Jack and I nearly got hit by lightning near Red Ridge, the time Breck returned to his pack to see a bear eating his peanut butter sandwich supply. We thought about searching for a hidden grove of royal palms and floating the Jeep Buggy way down south. There is a long and winding trail that leads me back to these people. Our bonds will never be severed, not by adversity, not by flame. I will remember them forever.

I don't need pictures for that.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Getting over myself

I threaded through a rock field, trying to run. Up on the moraine, the glacier's leftovers, the trail dipped and lurched, following the curve of the mountain's back. Sometimes I was forced to an ungainly walk, stumbling over hidden boulders, crunching through old snow.

 I used to be a faster runner. Back in the day, when I had an actual running log, I chronicled my failures and triumphs: a speedy half marathon. Intervals at the track. Two marathons. A 22 mile trail run with no training just because I felt like it. The Race to Robie Creek, a tough half marathon all uphill for the first several miles. Age group victories. A group of heavy medals hung in my house. I subscribed to Runner's World. I cared about gels.

I've fallen out of love with running, except on rare days like these when I find a rocky, high lonesome trail and let my expectations go. It's easy to berate my slow, lumbering body (at least it feels like it is slow and lumbering) and recall the way it used to be, easily sustaining a seven minute pace, nothing hurting, feeling limitless. I don't accept the aging excuse: I know I could go back to the track, run hill repeats, just run instead of cross train, and the runs would get easier and faster. But I don't really want to do that. I want my exercise to be fun.

I don't mean that I will always hold a meandering pace. I still like to push myself. But I loved running for so long. My identity became entwined in that one thing. A bad race, an injury: those were enough to send me off the deep end. I don't want to be that way.

When you stop being a person with an identity, it's a struggle to see where you fit. I can't really call myself a runner anymore. Instead, I'm a person who runs trails sometimes. I'm not really a firefighter anymore, or a kayak ranger, or a young woman. All of these things are hard to get over. All of these things conveyed something about me.

But then I think, who really cares how long it takes for me to run a mile, but me? I need to start leaving the watch at home and just running for as long as I feel like. I don't need to tick off the mile markers and think about how slowly I reach them. I need to find other trails that wind through the mountains. I need to fall in love with running again. Not as my identity. Not to prove anything. But just to recapture that feeling of first love, the way I felt at fourteen, running around the neighborhood with my sister and my friend Laura. Back then, it wasn't about times. Or distances. We never raced. We ran through sprinklers and talked about boys. We didn't have Ipods or Garmins or running logs. I want to get back to that.

I dropped off the moraine and picked my way back down to the car. I had no idea of how far I'd gone, or my pace. The lake whipped to a froth with whitecaps. A tentative sun peeked out from the clouds. I might not be a runner anymore. But most of the time, I'm okay with that.