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?