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?