Monday, July 15, 2013


As we hiked toward Aneroid Lake, Indigo and Little Bear raced back and forth between us. They darted through meadows and into streams. Even at the lake they didn't want to rest. Indigo swam laps in the lake and Little Bear just pranced around being Little Bear. Not for the first time I thought about how dogs don't have a governor that tells them to conserve energy, slow down, beware of the bonk. They just go until they drop, trusting that they will be okay.
That same weekend two other things happened that made me muse about governors. As I headed out of the lake in the early morning, everyone else still asleep in their tents, a group of trail runners, all kitted out in fancy tri type gear, passed me enroute to Pete's Point, a high spot overlooking one of my most favorite off-trail lakes. I had been there the day before, hiking fast to avoid thunderstorms. As a day run, it was long and rocky and steep. I watched the lone woman's perfect brunette ponytail bob out of sight. I envied her, for just a moment. A really hard run! Pain and suffering! Um...No.
The next day I was talking with a friend about my upcoming PCT hike. I allowed as how we COULD hike twenty mile days, but were only going to average 14. He looked at me with confusion. "If you CAN do it, why wouldn't you?"
I fumbled around in a quagmire of explanation. Taking in the views! Swimming in lakes! Not running ourselves to exhaustion every day!  Too many years on trail crew beating up my body! I want to do this when I'm 80! He just shook his head. "I like to go as fast as I can, all the time," he said.
Governors. We all have them. They are fed by what has gone before and what we currently battle. On a sleepless night I pondered where I fall in the spectrum. I have friends for whom a short hike is more than enough. Others who will casually run to the summit of  Chief Joseph Mountain and back. I probably lean more toward that camp. I embrace the slog, try to make every outdoors (and gym, sadly) encounter count. I need to feel my heart beating and my breath in my lungs. But I don't feel the need to push past exhaustion every single time.
This weekend I hiked to four lakes, putting in twelve miles. At each lake I stopped for a few minutes to just be. For me this is worth more than any GPS calculation of speed and elevation.
Jewett Lake. Pete's Point is above it.
At least I tell myself that. A part of me really wants to be like my friends who revel in the hardest slogs possible (you know who you are). I admire their athleticism and their drive. At the same time, I know that I go to the mountains for something else, something that is missing in the other parts of my life. Solitude. Peace. Immersion. I don't want to just pass through the country. I want to be the country.
Though everyone has their tragedies, life itself has knocked me flat enough times that I need something else in the mountains. I don't want to suffer--too much. I have enough to live up to in regular life.


Dollar Lake, as windswept and lonely as always. Does anyone ever really go here?

This basin is just one of my favorite places ever.


Dollar, ready for its closeup.

Love, love, love this pass. So much.
Other people have governors that run in higher gear. They have their own reasons. Like a woman named Anish, who is going after the unsupported PCT record, hiking in the forty-something mile-per-day zone each day. If you look at her Facebook page, she appears to be loving it. That just sounds horrible to me. Impressive, but horrible.

Nobody's way is better. I probably couldn't successfully live with someone who had a way different governor, but I think it's good that people are still out there, whatever their motivation. I worry about the future of the wilderness; it is so much different in the world than when I first started going out there. The more people who love it, whether by running through it or just hanging out with their feet in the water--or somewhere in between, like me--the better.

So. Awesome. I could hang out here forever.


  1. Although we differ a lot in our running motivations, I think we're pretty similar when it comes to backpacking. I like to leave the watch at home and just unwind. If I've only made it out four miles and want to stop at a pretty lake for the night, I do. It is pretty freeing. :) I love that you have access to such beautiful mountains right from your door.

  2. I have to wonder why people care if you do 14 miles per day or 20 miles on your trip. Why do you need a reason? It's up to you, not them, right?

    Doing things just to say you've done them or because someone else decided it's an accomplishment is not my thing. It's all about fun and if it's not fun, why bother, that's my philosophy.

    Dogs are so interesting. They can go pretty much indefinitely as long as they have food as fuel. But it is definitely possible to run a dog to death, or to shorten a dog's life by beating up on their bodies too much. A dog on its own will run until tired, then rest. But a dog following its owner will run until it's dead, if the owner isn't smart. I hate seeing that, and seeing exhausted dogs trailing behind their clueless owners. :(

    Sometimes I wonder how much hiking I'll do when I don't have dogs anymore. For me my dog is a big motivator. He's fun to do things with!

  3. Interesting musings on "the governor." I often wonder what physical pursuits would be like if we didn't have a central "governor," and just ran purely on instinct, like dogs do. It's probably not surprising that I fall into the camp who believes people aggressively overthink things. Runners are the worst in this regard. They miss one electrolyte dose or fail to eat a Gu every 30 minutes and think they're going to keel over. I don't exempt myself from this overthinking epidemic.

    We all have what we view as difference reasons for "being out there," but really, it all boils down to experience. We're seeking experiences. Sometimes I find my life-rending moments on the outer edge of perceived limits, and sometimes they come during quiet moments, running my fingers through a cold stream. Like you said, no one way is better.

  4. Great photos, and interesting thoughts. And yes, have been to Dollar Lake--on a hot day, jumped in .....and out, quickly.

  5. Governors: when camped at Jewett Lake, some of the group enthusiastically set out to climb Pete's Point. I, and one other, consulted our "governors" and circled the lake, identified 20 different wildflowers and basked in the sun!

  6. I have found out that after over 600 hikes and climbs over the past 13 years, that only as few others only mildly care about how many and how fast you go. It only matters to me.

  7. Great pics. I need to plan my next hike/backpack trip!

  8. My man doesn't have a governor. His creed: I'll rest when I'm dead.

    I used to try and keep pace with that but when I looked in the mirror I was haggard. So not sexy!

    Lately I try to hike the Middle Path.

  9. Love the beauty of where you hike. In my area the trails are almost always in forest. They are full of wonder but I do envy you Dollar Lake and surrounds.
    For me 'slow' is often still too fast to soak up what nature is offering.


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