Monday, February 24, 2014


In Alaska, some of the people who were passionately in love with our work safety program used to reference lemons. Each red flag was a lemon, and if you had three lemons, you could make lemonade...which was supposed to be a bad thing..I don't know..I like I'm confused.

At any rate, this weekend I was thinking about risk tolerance, and how it is higher for some people than others, but is also dependent on what adventure you are pursuing. For example, my tolerance for lightning is a lot higher than the Freak of Nature's, but she is more tolerant of scary winter driving. I can feel comfortable in a kayak in an ocean swell, but the volunteers I used to bring along weren't quite as happy about it. And so on.

On Saturday I trudged up Hurricane Creek on my snowshoes, avalanche hunting. Now that conditions have moderated some, it was a good time to see what wild weather events had occurred in my backyard. Sure enough, there's this one:

But to my surprise, this one, in a place where I had imagined was safe to travel.

Doesn't look as impressive as it is. This one made a whole new path through the woods.
At that point I decided to turn around. Two avalanches in less than a mile was enough for me.  As I reached the trailhead, two snowshoers hove into view. They were heading up the trail to ice climb, and the man said, "Oh, I don't think an avalanche would propagate today."

Immediately I felt lame for turning around. Grumpily I hiked back down the snowy road, pausing to help some people get their truck out of the ditch (Note: Who doesn't bring a shovel when attempting to drive a non-plowed road with over a foot of snow on it? Who?!) Why hadn't I kept going? I don't think an avalanche would propagate...Had I been too cautious, lost my outdoor edge?

Later, a friend implied I should not have gone alone. "What about the buddy system?"

So there you have two extremes, a man who thought all was fine and a woman who thought I had been unsafe. In the end, you can always find detractors, those who say you should not have climbed that peak or camped alone or wait, I've done it a million times, why wouldn't you...

We've all turned around because someone in the group wanted to (and you have to, sometimes, if you want to keep outdoors friends going with you) and we've all kept going when that voice has said, You know, you really shouldn't...One of the benefits of solo travel, though, is that you can develop your own inner voice. If you always go with other people, you won't learn what it has to say.

Or not. I don't know. All I know is, now I want some lemonade.

Sacajawea in the distance. For another day.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Workout Indecision: A Play in Five Acts

Director's note: This is a fictional account of what my retired neighbor may have said, based on real-life events.

Act 1. 9:00 AM. In the manufactured home next door. "Hey (Domestic Partner)! Looks like our obsessive neighbor is at it again. She's got her backpack and some mud boots. She must be heading down to the Devils Gulch trail today. Heck of a drive for what  might be a soggy mess, but she works all week on the computer, can't blame her. I'm glad I don't work anymore, so more than two days of the week are precious....Whoa there partner, it looks like she's checking out the clouds. There is a 70% chance of rain down in that Imnaha country. Might be a risky move. Looks like she's going back inside the cabin!"

Act II. 9:15 am. "There she is again, with her Katoohla micro spikes. Uh-oh, looks like she's decided to hike the lake trails. Not a good idea. With this recent rain and freeze, it's bound to be a sheet of ice up there. I'm betting she'll be back in five minutes. Set the watch, honey!"

Act III. 9:20 am. "Heh heh heh. Can I call it or what? She's back with a depressed look on her face. And what's this? She's heading for the car in a running skirt? Ah, it's the last resort, the gym treadmill. Her gym is called Motivations, but she sure doesn't look motivated to go there! Wait, what's this, she's taking her gym bag back inside!"

Act IV. 9:30 am. "Hello! Now she's got running tights on. She must have decided to save the gas and just run from here, even though she's got to pound the pavement because the trails are ice city. Sure hope that mean dog isn't sitting out there by the Hill of Death, heh heh heh. Oh but look--she's wavering! That cabin door is getting a workout even if she isn't!"

Act V. 9:45 am. "Sure hope she isn't fixing to ride that bike trainer again. That thing can raise the dead. Whoops--there she is with snowshoes! She must be heading to Fergi ski area to snowshoe to Papoose Lake. Well, I could have told her to do that hours ago! Man, this has been so much excitement that I'm ready for a nap!"

(Curtain falls).

just for the record, snowshoeing was the perfect thing to do. It was sunny and warm and crusty snow. Even if it did take forever to decide.

Friday, February 14, 2014


I was going to write about how this week the mountains I love exploded. Two people will never go home again, killed in a massive avalanche in the deep backcountry, and two others face a long road to recovery.. As I write this, the bodies remain on the mountain; it is still too dangerous to retrieve them.

I was going to write about how easy it is to forget that the mountains have teeth, but I don't want to write about  it. Instead I will write about this:

Last night I heard howling and I went outside. Darkness enveloped the steep-sided canyon. The mountains did not sleep. From behind the fence, our dogs were howling back to the wolves across the river. Their voices volleyed back and forth in some secret language I can't understand.

Wilderness is still the only good thing, sometimes. Even if our lives can end there. Like love, the mountains are always worth taking a chance on.

part of the story

Jake Merrill. and Backcountry Essentials

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Plans with Friends

For my day outings, I really don't like to make plans. Instead I like to decide what I'm going to do when I wake up. Commitment is hard. However, this doesn't work out well if I want to do things with other people. Most people aren't so fond of someone who has no need for caffeine chirping in their phone at six am: "Hey! Let's snowshoe to Aneroid Lake! It's twelve miles, and it'll be a brutal slog, but let's see if we can do it!"


No. So I do end up making plans. Lately we have had All of The Snow, so I have been skiing and snowshoeing with friends. And despite my commitment phobic nature, it's been good. Yesterday the Freak of Nature (so named by me because of her inhuman level of fitness) and I skied from my house in the canyon. It's rare we get to do this, because of lack of good snow and yahoos who like to drive the road and get stuck, leaving no room for ski tracks. But the foot of snow we got pretty much shut them down and we had it all to ourselves.

This is a picnic table in the campground. I don't know why, but this picture makes me giggle.
 Going on adventures with friends means you get to do fun things like make snow angels and laugh at your buddy when she pretty much gets buried and can't get up.

Our snow angels look a little deformed:

I balanced out the social time with a solo Slog of Brutality on snowshoes today on the same road. Because I never walk in ski tracks, even if they are mine and nobody else has even come that way, I plodded along at a blistering pace of about 40 minutes to the mile in the deep, unconsolidated snow.
 The trail was completely deserted.

The avalanche danger is very high right now, so I couldn't go very far up it before I had to plod back down the road. Visions of six starving pets if I didn't come back were enough to overcome my usual sense of disappointment at not continuing on.

It's interesting to me how some people always want to be around others because I don't feel that way. I love the time I spend with friends, but there are some things I want to keep to myself.  I need big chunks of time to be silent, write novels in my head, dream about the Colorado Trail. (Someday, my pretty.) 

So rest assured, your phone won't ring at six in the morning with a super annoying Morning Person at the other end. Plans? Okay, I will make them, as long as I have my Brutality Slogs mixed in.

Do you always have adventures with others, or do you sometimes go solo? Do other people think you're strange and include on a list of faults about you? (Oh wait. Ex boyfriend did that. Thankfully long gone!) Want to hike the Colorado Trail in 2015? 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why I haven't been in the gym

Dear nice gym owner: I know you haven't seen my face lately. Dear neighbors: You haven't seen me run by laden with my ice joggers. This is why.

Tiny houses.
And now, winter.

It wasn't that I hated those things before I moved to this county. They just didn't make a top ten list of things I wanted in my universe. Winter was okay, skiing was kind of fun, but in Southeast Alaska it was usually a soggy mess, unsuitable for skiing. I liked little houses, but secretly yearned after a windows-up-to-the-sky, yoga room-having, space for workout-room enabled place. Dogs were fine, but only to borrow. Bacon? Gasp! I had sworn off pork products back in 1990.

As with all resistance, at some point it is good to confront your ideals. Bacon is actually pretty good. Tiny houses are cozy--ours up the canyon is 400 square feet. Dogs are fuzzy wuzzy sweet paws furrballs (Um. Okay, so I love our dogs.) And winter? Summer is my first love. But winter, I have a place in my heart for.

Not the icy, white-knuckled driving kind we've been having up to now. Not the, carp, where are my ice joggers because I'm going to fall and die kind. Not the, Rats, my pipes are frozen because it's -20. I guess I'm still picky about winter. I love the kind that just started this week, the ultra light fluffy powder from the sky. The skiing? It's been superb. I've neglected the gym, running, writing, just about everything, to skiskiskiski.

Don't worry, little chair! Summer is coming--in about four months.

Skiing is sort of like running, I tell myself as I slog along the unbroken trail. And the gym! I'm using my triceps, aren't I? The downside of "training for life" instead of training for a specific event is that you feel guilty if you neglect anything. You can't say, I'm focusing on running because I have this, you know, marathon, because you look at your neglected biceps and think, girl, you need to throw some iron around. Or, hmm, there's that bike trainer gathering dust. There's a sense of urgency the older I get--use it or lose it. Keep going, don't give in like others have.

I ski deep into the canyon where the wolves are, where hardly anyone goes, where the campground used to be before the flood. My skis are completely buried in snow. A layer of white coats my eyelashes, my hair, my fleece vest. Maybe I should be in the gym. Maybe I should be putting on the running miles. Then I think: the whole point of training for life is that workouts are fun. They aren't a grim, put-in-your time affair. And so I ski some more.