Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Eat The Food

It's the holidays apparently! And people are freaked out!
About food. I see it all over the internet. Sugar is the enemy! Bread is evil! Eat primal (whatever the heck that is. Are you spending twenty hours a day chasing down deer too?)...

I'm glad I don't feel that way.

I have five great outdoors food memories.

1. The Little Debbie chocolate-covered granola bar that Trail Crew Rob gave me when he picked Jon and me up from a wilderness ranger hitch in which we had been out of food, basically, for two days. The. Best. Ever.

2. The PBR that I found in a stream on a hot day when on my fourth day of solo trail work.

3. The bagels that Juls and I used to make and slide across to each other on our kayak paddles while on a river. Bagel, red pepper, tomato, sometimes cheese.

4. A sweet, feral orange from a tree sprouted by a logger's lunch on a wildlife refuge in Florida.

5.  Sweet sun-warmed blueberries from a hillside in the tundra while on a fire near Russian Mission, in the Alaska interior.

People! Take a big bite of a calm down sandwich! Food is fuel. It gets you up mountains and across rivers. I don't run with food (I ran two marathons just on water) but I do hike with it. I munch, I nibble, I chomp. Without food, I bonk.

Happy holidays and eat the food! What are some outdoor food memories you have? What is your anti-bonk food? (Mine is M&Ms. Not the healthiest but they do the job).
Photo by Scout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Scout saved me on a big downhill with black licorice jellybeans. I won't be able to eat those without thinking of hiking down towards Hopkins Lake in the rain!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Porcupine Diaries

I'm going to buy a ticket to Bali, I snarled to myself. A ONE WAY ticket. And then I'm gonna lie in a hammock far from an Outlook calendar, and a to-do list, and people! And I'm just gonna lie in that hammock and DO NOTHING!

As I type this the world outside is white. I think it's safe to assume I'm not in the tropics.

There comes a time in mid-winter (it's not even mid-winter. There's at least five months left!) when I just feel...prickly. I never get like this in summer, mostly because I can look up from my work and see my trusty backpack, ready to go. Lately I've been confined to front country adventures and it's making me...not so nice.


But I know what the remedy is. Even though my inner coach protested ("Slog up to the dam? Just that? That's not enough exercise! And how come you ate all those dark chocolate peanut butter cups, Fatty?") I decided it was time to go into the woods.

The thing about the East Fork Wallowa trail is, you need to work for the good stuff. It's five miles to the place where the trail opens up into big meadows and bigger mountains. In winter, that little five miles can take five hours, especially when you are breaking trail. To go less far is to mostly mindlessly slog for no real reason. Except for the reason that you feel like a porcupine and that you might kill somebody if you don't go.


All the time I had today--because of all the obligations. Grr--was to go two miles up to the dam. Here the creek is contained in a small pool which then tumbles back down into the woods, some of it used for hydropower. It almost didn't seem worth it to only hike four miles, but it is a worthy slog in itself, pointed straight uphill through a deep, dark forest. The snow was much deeper than I expected and I churned along in slow motion.

It didn't take long for the magic to work. All the obligations vanished. It was silent, just the crunch of my boots. And somehow I had forgotten about the mystical views of the lake from this hike.

You can totally see the path of the glacier. See the moraine?

Snowmaggedon is coming, maybe 16 inches, maybe more, and I saw it start to arrive.

I feel much better now. Though I'd take a ticket to Bali, if anyone's offering.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Nobody Threw Tomatoes

Sometimes I wish all of life could be one way, that perfect alignment of activity and desire, that I could wake up thinking: I can't wait to go to work! Or: Vacuuming sounds awesome! Conference calls rule! Going to get snow tires put on is gonna be the highlight of my day!

But, no. The rest is all background. The times I live for are little ones from this week: the blue light you only see in winter from a mountain. Racing after my friends who made the better choice, skinny skis instead of fat. A run along the lake with the mountains reflected in slate blue. Reading my story in front of a standing room only crowd, words I had churned through in isolation given wings.

The three of us who were the featured writers all read about the outdoors. Rick read about his Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Cam read poems about rivers and cats and love. I read about changing from a gypsy to someone with roots in a deep canyon. I wore a lace skirt. I read to ranchers and hippies and free-heel skiers and people who hate winter. Just your typical mountain town audience.

If you've read this blog for very long you have seen versions of my essay before. For old times' sake, here it is. Please don't steal it (I always hesitate before putting things out there for free).

This country, it breaks my heart. It holds its secrets close. It wraps itself up tight in prickly blackberry branches and oily poison ivy. You have to want it, more than anything.  It is all stony indifference. It could care less how badly you think you need it.

You need to live here longer, this country seems to be telling me. Four years and you expect everything from me? You need to earn it. A lover of instant gratification, I am forced to take it slow. I search for the old trails braiding the landscape, trails that are melting into the wrinkled folds of the canyon an inch at a time.  I look for the old homesteads, crumbling into dust and rotten boards. I piece it all together, a little bit at a time.

For years I made up my life as I went along.  I had no use for maps, floating like dandelion seed across the country each season, seeing what would stick. Slide in, suck the sweetness from a place, and move on. That is what I have always done. Everything I owned, everything worth keeping in the backseat of a Chevy Chevette, I was the girl driving barefoot high on Vivarin and cinnamon gum, nothing slowing her down. Old lovers in the rearview, a stew of regret and anticipation in my heart, an endless clock ticking, move on, move on, don’t stop. For years I followed the fire season from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between, living in squalid bunkhouses with mattresses pressed flat from bodies before me. I rode the crest of a wave I thought would never end.

But everything ends. My friend Roger died high on a mountain called Storm King, trapped in a fire he could not outrun. I was luckier a month later, on a different fire, in a different state, making it to a road in time. Later still a doctor shook his head, saying, “You are so young to have knees this bad.” When I decided to trade in seasonal migration for someone I could love for more than just one season, for a dog, and a vacuum cleaner and a library card, I picked one of the most remote places I could find and still set my feet on pavement if I needed to. I wanted an escape route, just in case.

Four years here and I feel only a little closer to belonging. I am still a hesitant searcher. I am slow to open my guarded heart. I let people in with a trickle not a torrent. There have been too many years of moving, eleven states in twenty years, too much left behind. When you leave a place a door slams shut, the mountains move to fill the gap you have left. I have tried to go back to places I have left and there is no room there.  I tell myself that I am done with moving, done with giving everything away to the thrift shop and starting blank-slated in some new town, some new state. Instead I plant trees that will take years to reach my shoulders. I seek permanence. I seek home.

This country, though. it tricks me over and over. Like a man you can’t quite forget, it keeps me coming back for more., forgetting the desert-dry of my mouth and the desperate hope that there will be water in Somers Creek to save me one more time.  I forget the rattle of a fat-bodied snake near my ankle. I forget the icy breath of a sudden April snowstorm and the hiss of lightning as I climb high to the canyon rim, exposed. I remember only this: the blush colored kiss of last sun on the high rim, the endless silence.

When I got married for the first time, a brief and painful interlude when I was still on the road, or trying to be, my old friends in the seasonal tribe laughed and laughed. “The last of the great ones falls,” they said. The marriage didn’t last and neither did my resolve to stay put. The rest of my friends had all been married years ago, falling like bowling pins in a flurry of white dresses. They quit the road until it felt like I was the only one left out there.

This country, it has crept up on me without me noticing. Whatever you were before means nothing here. You can reinvent yourself, fall deep into the rythyms of a place ancient as time. I want to know what this old country knows. I want to feel its bones. I want to listen to the slow pulse of its heart through the canyon walls. I want to learn its language of summer wildfire and slow river carving deep into stone. There seems to be a truth here that I cannot quite grasp, something real and honest and plain, something lasting, something I have been missing in my headlong flight. It might be community. It might be refuge. It might be hope.

When I used to drive across the country, safe in my cocoon of turning wheels,  the  lights from the little towns spread out like glowing embers on the Texas plains. I could see them for miles, each little spark a house with people inside. I used to feel sorry for those people. They were like birds that had lost their wings and did not remember flight, I thought. Far better to be me, a wind-touseled girl with no attachments, slipping easily from one skin to another.

Now I am one of those kinds of people, my light burning brightly against the darkness. The years have piled up like snow. I know just enough to believe that I might be here forever.

I won’t lie. There are times I page through my tattered road atlas and think about trying it again. Filling up the truck and heading west, or east, or south. I remember the road, a quirky and beautiful place. I saw strangers like me at the rest stops, their cars stuffed with bicycles and boxes. We were brothers and sisters traveling the major arteries of America. To each of us, the road was as familiar as a neighborhood. It was a river, carrying us to freedom, away from anything that might want to tie us down. In the end, though, I take a breath and the thought passes. Another day goes by to stack up to forever.

This country, it breaks my heart, but only a little bit. It cracks my heart’s solid core enough to know what the fuss is all about. Love and community and staying in place. Potlucks and fundraisers for people in trouble. Someone who will feed your dogs or humor you with a mindless slog through knee-deep snow just because. That quiet, good feeling you get, safe in your house on a night crusty with stars and new snow when you hear restless tires passing by, all of the cars, all of the cars with people inside them looking for home.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The pail list

Recently I came to a startling realization.

I have no bucket list.

Doesn't everyone have a bucket list? I don't mean goals, like run a marathon, or get to some elusive weight, or publish a book. I mean, a destination/adventure travel bucket list. 

I don't have one!

Why? I can only wonder. Perhaps it is because for most of my career, I have been unable to take much time off in a row. Working in wilderness and recreation, you're pretty much chained to the season. It's one crisis after another, search and rescues, avalanches, messy toilets--whatever it is, you have it. I didn't have a lot of time to dream about jetting off to exotic locales.

Or...is it because I'm boring?


My bucket list is more like....a pail. A kid's pail that they use at the beach. 

First of all, in my world a bucket list is just that. It's not something you might like to do if conditions aligned--say if someone showed up with a plane ticket and said, "Hey, Monkey Bars, you can stay in my castle in Scotland for free!" Nope. To me, the items on a bucket list are there because they claw at you until  you give in. You absolutely must do them before you die.

If I had to make a pail list right now, there would  only be a few things on it:

1. Section hike the PCT. A month at a time. None of this must hurry back to work stuff!

2. Hike the Colorado Trail (500 mi-Durango to Denver) Preferably in one go.

3. Belize.

4. A multi-day kayak camping trip, preferably not  in endless rain. Haida Gwaii, Broken Islands, Salt Spring Island. Or somewhere warm and tropical.

5.  Iceland.

6.  Kepler Track, New Zealand. Or, Tasmania to see the places I didn't. With someone who wouldn't dump me in a few months after I used all my frequent flier miles on him. (I'm not bitter at all).

8. Brooks Range.

9. Northern lights, skiing, hot springs, Whitehorse?

10. Hot air balloon ride.

Actually ten isn't bad! Now all I want to know is..who wants to go with me on some of these?

What's  on your travel/adventure bucket list?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In the Deep Freeze

It is -2 F when I happily step outside for a run. What am I thinking, exactly? It's hard to say. The gym called seductively: It's warm in here. You know you can run faster on the treadmill. You can wear shorts! You can't watch TV because the only TV is mounted right above  your head, and some doofus will have it turned to football, but you can look out the window and see people going into the bank! Doesn't that sound like fun?

We've entered a deep freeze, the kind that comes every year, but seems to always take people by surprise. Maybe they think they live in the tropics. My house is consistently 55 degrees because while log houses are great, they don't insulate all that well. I said, "But pioneers lived in them!" My husband said, "Pioneers froze."

For  my run, I layer up: tights, silk long underwear top, wool top, fleece top, jacket, hat, mittens. I look sort of ridiculous and if I have suddenly gained 20 pounds. There is nobody else out there. But it's going to be okay. I trot down the road towards the park, which would be an icy mess but it is too cold to slip. In the park I realize that only a couple of brave souls have forged a path on the trails. I flounder in the fluffy snow.

I am warm. Except for my feet. My feeeeeeeeeeeeeet. For the first time in all the decades I've been running, I almost turn back. The thought of changing clothes and driving to the gym forces me on. I'll cut out to the road and see if I can run faster to warm up. Reynaud's Syndrome, a condition where circulation ceases to the extremities, sets in. My feet ache. I could never climb Mount Everest or run the Little Su ultra, even. I wouldn't have toes left.

When I reach the road, despite my freezing feet, the lake is so beautiful I have to stop to take a picture. Steam rises from the calm surface. The mountains float above. It is so beautiful and so cold, almost like the air itself is going to crack.

I run for a little while longer and it works, despite the weak sun. By the time I return through the park my feet are wooden blocks, but they no longer hurt. I trot up the street proudly.

Winter is always my nemesis. I am intimidated by deep cold. I feel a sense of urgency that I never do in summer, something lurking just beyond my shoulder. It keeps me inside more than I like. I want to get better at winter.

Do you have a cut-off temperature? I think mine might be zero. Anyone have warm running shoe ideas?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hanging with the Yes Girls

T and I hiked up Devil's Gulch, farther than we had ever been, finding little pieces of the old road that had once been here before the big floods of whatever year that the locals still talked about. We both burned to find the end of the canyon but after two hours of fighting through the brush and slipping on the frosty stones we either had hours to go or were almost there. We weren't sure.

Reluctantly we turned around and I was meandering on aimlessly about how hard it sometimes was to find outdoors partners. Many came with conditions. Many were often unavailable. Others lived far away, too far for a spontaneous afternoon jaunt.

"I just go with the Yes Girls," she said.

I love that. What she meant were the people who were generally up for an adventure, and didn't fuss about it. It was easy. Uncomplicated.

I know I'm not always a Yes Girl. I get focused on a goal, a destination, or a certain level of fitness. I don't like to run with other people. Sometimes I want to hike faster or farther than others. Which is okay, but I realize that in keeping the focus strictly on me I can leave out people who might want to come along, that bond you can only create through shared adventure.

I'm going to try to be a Yes Girl more often.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shouldering through the shoulder season

Oh shoulder season, I want to love you. You hang around for so long, and you keep coming back. In November, you're ice, coating the trails with a treacherous rime. In May, you are sloppy with mud. In between you winter slices through, but winter is a careless flirt, coming and going, not something to count on. Summer too, ephemeral summer, easily broken by a cold north breeze.

In the shoulder season, we have to change it up. That's when you see people on the moraine, because the snow is often blown clean off the top. A few brave souls punch through the early season crust, but most trails are accessed by roads blown shut by snow and ice. Your choices narrow down.

Still, it's a beautiful season, if you open your mind to it. I hiked three miles up the West Fork Wallowa Trail before the effort of postholing became too arduous. The bushes lining the trail looked like white flowers and the river was nearly invisible under a coat of snow and ice.


I'm writing a lot more now, retreating into a shell. The hermit of Hurricane Creek, perhaps. I'm diving deep into my memoir, remembering things I had forgotten. Andy's fire boots, tossed up on the power line as he departed the park in disgust, quitting firefighting for good. Mike, lying under the swamp buggy with tools scattered around him, pretending to work but really napping: "I'm just lying under this buggy until someone tells me different." Roger and I hiking through the swamp, surveying burn units for endangered woodpeckers, birds we never found.

Last week, coincidently, a reporter called me to talk about the last twenty years of firefighting. She wanted to know more about my friend Roger, killed on Storm King Mountain in a firestorm almost twenty years ago. She told me about visiting the residents of the development that the firefighters were trying to save, and that, twenty years later, those people wept, remembering. Some things leave an imprint on your soul.

I've been writing, and running more than I do in summer, trading out backpacking, reluctantly. I pass one of the seasonal trail crew as I puff my way up a hill. "Just trying to get to the top of this hill," I say. I don't follow a training plan. I just run. Most of the time I have no idea how far or how fast I have gone. Years of  running logs later, I'm happy just to run.

The days click by during shoulder season, and I can't deny that I am dreaming of the PCT and the other trails that wait. I have to admit that I scour the internet looking for a winter (warm) backpacking destination. But perhaps it's better to broaden my interests. Snow biking? Skijoring? Soon ice skating will begin.

I've promised the editor I've hired a manuscript by the end of January. I work best under those kinds of constraints. One hundred good pages, one hundred fifty to revise. Diving deep in the past is a good endeavor for shoulder season, which is a time of reflection anyway. Want to find me? Look for a runner on the moraine. Or a writer in a little cabin up Hurricane Creek.

Do you have a shoulder season where you live? What do you do to enjoy instead of cursing it?

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to set up a new tent

1. Pick a day when it's four degrees outside. Retreat to the living room with frozen fingers. Neighbors sigh in disappointment to miss the show.

2. Because you obviously can't stake it in the living room, use a vacuum cleaner, boots and chairs to stake it. Realize that this is less than optimal.

3. Make sure cats are in the room. It always helps when they are in the way.

4. Puzzle over obscure directions. "Put pointed end toward wind?"

5. Cut the stake rope too short. Get mad. Then realize you can always get new rope. Also realize that your math skills might need work.

6. Talk to yourself. "Where's the pocket? I don't see a pocket. Am I really going to have to resort to Youtube?"

7.  As each "stake" comes loose, contort self into acrobatic poses to fix while holding up the trekking poles that form the frame.

8. Think that maybe you should have stuck with the seven tents you already have. 

9. Hold breath as tent stands up.

10. Imagine the possibilities.

Tent: Skyscape X from Six Moon Designs. Sets up with two trekking poles and five stakes. Weighs 15 ounces. I can sit up in it and bring my pack inside. It has two doors and a vestibule. According to reviews it does well in rain and wind (I would  not try it in snow). I most certainly did not receive this tent for free. Will write a review if summer ever comes.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My first reading!

Big news people! I was invited to be one of three writers reading their writing by Fishtrap, which is an organization here that promotes writing by hosting workshops and events (I've been to their writer's retreat twice). This is a big deal because I really don't strut around town bragging about my Pushcart nomination (people here might think it's something to do with wheelbarrows anyway) or about my published essays. It is also the first time I have read for an audience (except for writing groups).

The piece I am planning to read is an essay I dashed off a couple of days ago about transitioning from the gypsy life to a more settled one, in the context of trying to understand a piece of land (Hells Canyon). It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I have a love/fear relationship with the canyon. It keeps me on a ragged edge. At first glance, why would anyone want to go there? You can get lost. You can get cliffed. You can get bitten, chewed on, break out in an oily rash. But there's something about the canyon that keeps me going back.

But the big question is...

WHAT DO I WEAR?! Choosing an outfit to run, ski or hike in is so much easier!

 I would love to wear this long lace skirt. It could be a bit too over the top?

Or, I could wear one of these:
Not me, sadly.

Mine is black.
  Or, a sweaterdress...

This pic is from cameocollection's sale on Ebay. You have to not eat in order to wear it.

While most folks' everyday outfits are fleece, wool and Carhartt related around here, there are some women who can break out a stylish outfit. I so rarely get to wear cute stuff. What do you think? A, B, C or D?

But wait! Isn't this supposed to be an outdoors adventure blog, Monkey Bars? Yes, yes it is. Lately though I have been eating brownies doing a ton of writing on my memoir, baking artisan bread, and sticking closer to home. It's been good to slow down a little bit, but I will gear up again--it snowed enough overnight that skiing is no longer just a dream. And it begins....

Winter camping! I ordered the winter version of the Neo Air and got a foam pad to cut to torso length. I'm ready, people! Unfortunately I cannot find my snowshoes! J thinks I left them at a trailhead, but would I really have done that? It's hard to lose something like snowshoes in 1,000 square feet of house. However, I bought them in 1997 and there are a lot of better ones out there now. I'm using J's in hopes he gets tired of that and buys me some for Christmas....

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Adventures of a Week Day Warrior

Until now I  haven't posted much about my weekday life because it doesn't feed my soul the way the precious jewels of the weekend do. The truth is, I have a job that lives and dies by an Outlook calendar. During the furlough, I got to taste the bliss of not being employed--but with savings. Typically if I have that much time off, I am doing something like hiking the PCT. This time, I couldn't really go away anywhere, since once the furlough ended we had to leap back to our computers immediately. Let me tell you, the ability to wake up and make a plan of when to get outside, what to do, was AMAZING! SIGN ME UP, GUYS! If you have this going on in your life, DO NOT TAKE IT FOR GRANTED!
Yep, I have to add it in or someone will schedule a meeting.

But I digress. How do we weekday warriors manage? I see people in the office who slump sadly to the break room to eat and then back to their computers. There are others who never break but spew crumbs onto their machines because "I'm too busy to exercise." No, no, no! That will NEVER be me.

I have to admit, I have two big things going for me. 

1. I can work from home if I want. That means I can sit around in my running clothes all day if I want! I can take a SHOWER! (In Alaska, the few, the brave of us who ran at lunch in the rain shivered as we wiped ourselves off with paper towels in the bathroom. Gross, I know, but better than not going at all. It was dark when we got home). Some people are horrified and say they couldn't focus. Not me! I kind of love it.
I do have to fight the cat for the chair. Kind of blurry because he can't stay still.

2. My schedule is pretty flexible. Sort of. On days where there are no big meetings, I can run or bike pretty much when I want, and make up for it later. This is huge! I know I am fortunate, and this makes up for the bitterness I swallow when I see the field-going employees happily heading out to the woods.

I get to check in on the neighbors when I run up towards the closed campground.
This goes through a closed (in fall and winter) campground.
Doesn't this make you want to run it?
So what do I do? Mostly I usually only have an hour. Since I avoid pavement, I have a few choice running routes: The Park of Dog Walkers, the Lakeshore Deep Freeze, The Slow Moraine, and the Closed Campground. These are nicer than they sound. If I want to get crazy, I can take a few extra minutes to drive to a trailhead. The trails here snow over pretty quickly though, or are icy, so I run carefully in my spikes.

Biking also works. I have Brian's Loop (named for my friend Brian who lives along it), The Hill of Death leading to the Lakeshore Deep Freeze, the RV Dodge, and the Farmer Backroads. (Yes, I like to name my routes). 

In summer, I can sometimes get out for a quick hike after work. And there is always the gym, but the trip there and back plus a workout takes more than my allotted time, so I have to make it up. My gym is small, and if one person dominates the weight bench, you're pretty much done. I hear about gyms with multiple floors and more than one TV that isn't tuned to baseball at high decibels..but that's not what we have.

The views are okay, I guess.
Big news though! The  Motel with the Pool of Unidentified Floaty Objects has reopened! So far the new owners say they are looking into the liability of letting non hotel guests use it. You can stroke across it in three strokes..but it is better than nothing, so cross fingers.

I try to mix it up and do something different every day. Run, bike, gym, maybe hike. I mostly decide in the morning what I will do. That can change if the weather does.

There you have it. I know, you wish you were me. But since you're not, let me know how you exercise/get outside with a full time job. If you don't have a full time job, let me in on your secret.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Change. It's Good.

NOTICE ANYTHING DIFFERENT? Depends on how you get here, from another blogroll (thank you bloggy friends), stumbling in here lost, or signed up, you may notice that I've changed the name. "Inside the Mountain's Skin" was the title of a failed memoir and it's time to move on. The new title reflects more of how I feel now. The mountains are not an escape from the world anymore but a calling. The old picture, with tents on the ridge above Bear Lake, was one of my absolute favorites. It was a time when all was finally right with the world after a long period of darkness. But in that time, I've moved away from Alaska, left that man behind because his heart was not where he said it was, sadly lost touch with the other people on that trip, and found what I was looking for in another set of mountains. The picture that is on there now, of me on Forrester Pass, was one of the best days of my life. After 15 days on the JMT I felt so strong and unstoppable. I started this blog in 2009 so it was due for a big change! No living in the past! So what's up for the future? Well, that's up to you (kind of)! I wouldn't keep this blog up if nobody read or nobody commented on it. My writing life is lonely enough as it is! I labor for years on a manuscript that may never see the light of day. So let me know! What do you like to read about? What makes you come back to certain blogs? As for me, while I will probably still write a lot about hiking and backpacking, I hope to expand a little to other outdoor explorations, both big and small. This will never be a "here's my gym workout for the day" or "Here's what I ate today" type blog. But I am feeling the need to mix things up. Any suggestions are welcome! Here's a question: What's the best change you ever made? For me (the big stuff) Ditching an expected path that was becoming too miserable to contemplate. (The little stuff) Hiking more and running less. I just feel better!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Monkey Bars(will be) back on the trail!

Let me tell you, it is one wild party at our house. As I type this, two dogs are  lying like rugs in front of the fire. J is looking at gear on the computer. One dog is on the porch. The cat is the only thing showing signs of life, racing back and forth through the house.

Here's a sample conversation:

J: "We've got chores to do tomorrow!"
Me: "Groan. CHORES..I hate chores.."
J: "You are NEVER going to live on a farm."

 It's Saturday night, party people.

I don't have any big things to report.  Except...Monkey Bars lives in 2014! I've come up with a PCT plan for 2014. But first, two scenes from this week:

I mean, seriously, Why leave? 

I was the Only.One.On.The.Lake. Unbelievable.
When I emailed Scout about my PCT plan, she wrote back: "Are we like the women who have a baby and then forget about the pain of childbirth?"

Well, perhaps.

I've forgotten about the bonk as I stumbled down towards Milk Creek. Sleeping on a trail bridge. Golf ball sized hail. Shivering at Hopkins Lake, everything soaked. The Achilles, completely spaced on that. I forget how I vowed to spend August at home since it is the best month of all.

Want to hear it? Of course you do! My plan is to start at the Washington border and hike to Snoqualmie Pass, thus finishing off Washington State. The trail passes through several wilderness areas including the sublime Goat Rocks. This section is 247 miles, so about 30 shorter than last year. Theoretically it ought to take somewhere around 15 days at 17 miles/day. However we blazed through the last one in 17.5, so you just never know. Twenties may become the rule. The only wrinkle in this plan is that resupply is difficult. The last 99 miles are easy for that because you can mail yourself a box to White Pass. The first 147, not so much. Most hikers hitch to Trout Lake, which sounds like a very cute little town, but would also take too much time (got to get back to work, you know). But--nine months to figure it out. I think I've tempted Scout into it. We will see...

I have another plan I am chewing on. I'd like to spend 50 nights in a tent, reached to that tent under human power, in 2014. This year coming up is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and I think it is fair to say that wilderness has changed my life. I don't know if I can do it. This year I had 32 nights, with 4 more nights car camping, which doesn't really count. I'll start the 50th challenge in January and run it through the whole 12 months. It means I have to embrace winter camping or quit my job. Ahem. I guess I'd better get that winter gear out...

So, you see these aren't huge plans. They aren't plans to run  50K in the frozen Alaska wasteland like some of my bloggy friends, or to push a bike to Nome or whatever craziness they are coming up with. No Ironman in my future either. Just this. With full time work, this is all I can do, but it is what I want to do. And that's what it's all about.

What little or big plans do you have for the next year? 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Women on the peaks

As I type this, the temperature outside hovers at eighteen degrees. I know this because I just shuffled outside in my robe and Acorn boots to gather what little kindling I could find, since I haven't had the time or the daylight to split more recently. I know that the robe and the boots aren't a good look, but the world is dark outside, lit only by a few pale stars. Winter truly is upon us. As if I didn't know it, my late afternoon bike ride yesterday. up the Hill of Death and along the lakeshore drive was an endurance ride, my feet and hands slowly numbing due to the early loss of sun. "You have to get your bike ride done by noon," J helpfully suggested when I returned, a chunk of ice.

It has been sort of a long time coming. September was a wild one, full of snow and rain, but our October has been a fall of dreams--warm, sunny, with the yellow of larches, perhaps my favorite tree, shining on the mountains. It was a perfect time to try the peak that has always eluded me.

Pretty views from Dug Saddle.

Oh pretty mountains, I already miss you.

To be honest, Dug Peak, which isn't that big of a mountain, always seemed a bit out of reach. I don't like slippery, shifting talus, and I've never been much of a peak bagger. There's only a goat trail. Lakes are my thing. I don't  mind a little exposure, but I definitely don't like picking my way down from someplace high in uncertain footing. But there it was, only five minutes to the trailhead and it was the last nice day of the year. It was time to go.

The first two miles before the turnoff to the peak are on a "trail". This trail has been eroded due to its location and terrain, and consists of those little slidey pebbles that I love so. It also climbs relentlessly, and I slowly puffed my way to the smaller path that goes to the peak itself. Not a system trail, it was carved out by people walking, taking the most direct route. Basically you stay on an ascending ridgeline and just keep climbing.

I overtook a man in Five Fingers who wasn't sure about the exposure and continued upward. I could see the outlines of two other hikers ahead and fumed to myself. It isn't unusual to have a hike to yourself here, and I was hoping for that. But as I crested the last rocky spire, I was delighted to find two of my favorite mountain climbing women in residence.

I can't describe how great it is to see other women out in the wilderness. It shouldn't be unusual, but it still is. One of the women here had just started doing long peak hikes this past year and she loves it. A convert to the mountains is always refreshing. We sat on the narrow spine and realized how lucky we were to be here.

Legore Lake, the highest lake in Oregon, is over there somewhere.

I really wish I had kept a log of all the miles I've traveled in the wilderness this year. It's probably at least a thousand. I think?

Get out there while you can! I'm off to chop kindling, though not in my robe.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Falling off the wagon (again)

Um..it sure looks like me. Hmm.

Like Brett Favre, I announce periodically that I am quitting. I will never fight fire again, I say. It's not the same, it's changed, all of the reasons are stirred and trotted out each winter. I even wrote an article that was syndicated around the country. You can read it here.

I really thought I meant it at the time, but you know how addictions are. They pop up when you think you've kicked it and there you are, back on the fireline again.

 We were setting the woods on fire to reduce fuel loads but honestly I didn't care why. It was just something to drag a steel canister of diesel and unleaded through the woods again. All of the other times I've done this added up in my head: the prairies of Florida in particular, me and Roger and Jen, a trio that I always thought could never be separated.

In the years since, I've gotten older and the boys have gotten younger. I trotted at a frenetic pace trying to keep them in sight. When you burn strips like these, you spread out parallel in deep woods, laying down lines of fire that you hope will gather strength from each other and burn together. You want to be able to keep the pace.

My pack was too heavy, heavier than my backpacks are now. My boots were all wrong, the old style logger kind, and they skittered uselessly on the steep, rocky soil. I bashed through trees and rocks and cliffs. For a moment, I wondered if this was that day. You know, the day when you can't keep up, when it all catches up with you and you realize you are never going to be young again.

I wasn't the oldest person on the mountain, or the slowest, so there was that. We crisscrossed the unit several times lighting it off. Some of it burned. Some of it didn't. I hadn't remembered how much I missed the whole spectacle of it all.

Any work type or athletic type thing you said you would give up, but just couldn't?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Running on Cannon Beach

I don't write about running very often. I've done it for so many decades that it doesn't seem remarkable, and I don't race anymore. Often it is just a means to an end, a chance to cram some exercise into a busy day. But sometimes everything aligns and I remember why I still run.
Look, rainforesty things.

So, still furloughed, I seized the opportunity to drag take my husband to the coast. I admit to wanting it all--I want to live in a place where the mountains touch the sea, where there are plenty of alpine lakes nearby and there is little rain. I know no such place exists, but luckily I live in a state where you can get to the ocean from the mountains in a day.

Though I wanted to hike, I also wanted to run on the beach. Cannon Beach looks like a snarly nightmare in summer, packed with tourists, but in October it was perfect. The tide went way, way out. Because it was at sea level I felt fast. A man carrying a bowl of cereal (?) said, "Looking strong!" (Nobody says that at home). Cute dogs danced along behind me. There were nice rocks to look at. How lovely it would be to have beach running as an option. When you run on the beach, it's flat. You don't have to watch out for rocks. Or bears. Or mountain lions. You can go as far as you want, or at least until you run out of beach.

We hiked too, of course. I dragged took my husband up to the breathless heights of 1500 feet. Once the fog gave in and melted away we had beautiful views. At times like this I think. I could totally live here. Get a little cottage by the beach and write books and kayak. Sometimes I get a little sad about not being able to try out different lives but still be able to go back to my old one.

Surfers at Indian Beach.

I guess stand-up paddle board surfing is a thing?
It was good to get my ocean and beach running fix. Also, rockfish tacos, a 10 year old's soccer game in Portland, and a stop at Trader Joe's to get the two things I am completely addicted to: Rosemary artisan bread and dark chocolate peanut butter cups. I could live on those two items, I swear.

The ocean for me is the second half of my heart. The mountains are the first. It's too bad that I can't have them both in the same place (without endless rain) but I'll take a visit now and then. It's true that perhaps if I lived on the beach, running there would be old hat. So, maybe once a year or two is the best way to go. See you later, ocean.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Bold Spirit

As the week of unexpected furlough rolled on, I found myself desperate to have an adventure. I had gone for a nice run on the moraine, I had ridden my bike..but now it was time to venture into the unknown. Specifically, into the southern end of Hells Canyon, near the dam. I had never gone here before because it seemed ridiculous to drive two hours to backpack, and because there is a dearth of information on the trails in this area. The meager information I could  find in my guidebook terrifyingly stated "A thick rush of vegetation, including an explosion of poison ivy, may deny access. Often continuation of the tour requires recent trail maintenance or a bold spirit."

Well. I knew there hadn't been recent trail maintenance--the sequestration took care of that. A bold spirit? I wasn't so sure, but I packed a GPS just to be on the safe side. And a hefty dose of Technu.

I was bound for Spring Creek, aiming to hike up onto the benches there, but aside from that I had no plan. On Google Earth I could still see parts of a trail, which is unusual in the canyon these days. I decided to wing it and hope for the best.

The drive was lovely:


And included some slightly creepy houses, in the middle of nowhere and definitely off the grid.

So there's a tower behind this one. Maybe not off the grid.

The first 3 miles cruised along the Hells Canyon reservoir, where the Snake River is disappointingly corralled into a sluggish flow. It was easy going and warm though, and I made good time to the mouth of McGraw Creek, where, my guidebook informed me, a waterspout had obliterated the trail that once ran up the creek. I pondered this. A waterspout? On land? But there was no denying something big had happened here.

I was encouraged to find a decent trail climbing the south side of the Spring Creek draw. It was easy to lose in the teasel, but I always picked it up again. Fortunately the thick rush of vegetation never materialized, and I was able to sidestep the short poison ivy.

In fall the ivy turns a lovely orange and red shade. Makes it easier to avoid...

The views on the bench, two hours in, were amazing.

Four? Four what? Miles? from where to where?

I was getting a little concerned,  but finally found some water.

Pretty, pretty pine grove.

I had planned to stop much earlier but found myself hiking all the way to McGraw Creek, where there is a private cabin and lots of bear poop. As I approached, a bobcat ran away.

Looking down into McGraw Creek.

I camped near the creek and was greatly tempted to bushwhack down it the next day, but decided not to tempt fate and retraced my steps.

My spirit was apparently bold enough.