Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Boy and His Snow Bike

It was the weekend, finally, but I was mired in the start of winter blues. Not enough snow to ski, but too deep to reach the lakes, bitter cold, ice, horrific wind. "Let's go up the backside of Mount Howard," J said. "I'll ride my fat bike and you can hike."

Captain Crankypants made an appearance. "I don't know if that will be enough exercise," I whined. I know, I can be really annoying. Pity the fool who married me.

But in the end I went, having no better ideas and wanting to spend time with J (see, I do have redeeming qualities). The road up Mount Howard winds steeply into the sky, eventually culminating at about 7,000 feet. You can get there by gondola in the summer. In winter, the road is unplowed and generally deserted, as it is a major slog.

 This is J's first winter with his hand-built snow bike. It's the first one in the county and a lot of people have never heard of this kind of bike. He hopes to start a trend. Even though the snow was deep and I could almost keep up on the hills while he rode, he was smiling the whole time and refused to turn around, even when he had to hike a bike.

Spoiler alert: we didn't make it to the top of the mountain. Not so much of a spoiler: I really, really wanted to. But we would have needed snowshoes, camping gear, and all sorts of stuff we didn't have. It's always a little hard for me to transition to day adventures instead of overnight. They seem so...short. And hurried.

But...because I only do day trips, I have time to write, and time to catch up with friends, and time to make bread. Those things might not be as exciting as backpacking in the alpine, but they provide a balance. If I could backpack all year round, would I get sick of it? I guess I will never know.

J had a great day on his bike. He is in love with it, so much so that it lives in the main room of the cabin. The fat tires do add interest to the room, so I haven't complained...much. As we drove down from the trailhead, I noticed an uncontrollable fit of giggling.



I've married someone the opposite season as me. But seeing how much he loves winter makes me like it too, most of the time.

Who is the elf?
A couple things:  People! Those in the know: Hiking in the northern Sierra, when can I avoid massive clouds of mosquitoes? Do I have to wait until August?

Also, if you want to know more about what I am writing, the book coming out and the next one, I keep most of that stuff on here: Check it out!

Monday, November 24, 2014

We like the desolation

Going to Maui reaffirmed things I already knew. Given a choice, I like the wild, the windswept, the remote. J and I cavalierly drove the "back road", one that many forums warned against, that the rental car agreement would not cover. And the wild landscape was my favorite part. The good, along with the hours of snorkeling among multi-colored fish and green turtles. "But we like the desolation," J said, and it's true, we both do.

Great beach to walk to, not so great for snorkeling!

The not so good? People, so many people. So many resorts, so much development. Maui has a completely different vibe to me than the Big Island, which I prefer. And there were so many people desperately in need of a jog. Perhaps it's because I come from a fit community (a third of the people because they exercise, another third are fit because of their job and the last third are ranchers) but it was shocking to see what the average American now looks like. Don't get me wrong, I empathize greatly with people who struggle with their weight. I'm really only the weight I like to be when coming off a long distance hike, but that's not sustainable, because in real life, only the unemployed and retired could exercise 10-12 hours a day. But honestly, I did 
not see a lot of struggling. I saw a lot of sitting and a lot of eating. And I know that sounds really judgmental. I'm sorry. I just wish people knew how good it feels to be in shape.

Also? I'm not a beach sitter. The best beaches were the ones we stumbled to over lava rocks and slippery cinders.

Red Sand Beach. Not easy to get to, but not that hard either. A little hippie encampment was set up here.

Another thing I learned? I'm a vacation snob. My time off is so precious and hard earned. For each hour spent in an airport there's an equal hour of work time. Honestly? I can't keep at this pace much longer. The mountains--and sometimes the ocean--are calling. I don't know how much longer I can resist. But relying on my husband's income? Never been an option for me. Besides, how could I go play while  he was working? Unemployment? No. So here I sit, trying to figure it all out. Again.

Maui turned out to be mixed for me. I could get used to swimming in tropical water. And I'd save a fortune on clothes. No puffys, no boots, no gloves, no hats. Also, no pants. My hair looked great on Maui (darn you, hard water of Eastern Oregon!). In the end, though, it wouldn't be enough for me. Not enough hiking, not enough solitude. You don't really go to Hawaii for that. But where? Time to move on!

Except here. Hiking the Kings Highway. Not a tourist to be seen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Look....Really?

First of all, you must read this:

It seems to me that camping and hiking are activities where you can forget about the pressure to look good. FALSE EYELASHES?

Half the time, I roll out of the sleeping bag, shove a hat on my head, wearing the same non-cute clothes as yesterday I might add, and head on down the trail. I feel the same way about running in winter-who is going to look cute if they are trying to stay upright in the ice and make it up a big hill? Is it really all about looking feminine in the outdoors? Please tell me it isn't so.

To me looking feminine is looking strong. I admire the women who blaze by, like one whose trail name is Notachance. We saw her on the PCT on a long waterless stretch, her hair loose and tangled, her clothes obviously trail-worn. She was in her element. It was her fourth time thru-hiking. I also remember a female firefighter I saw on one of my first fires. She had her pack on, carried a tool, and also had two bladder bags (40 lbs each) hanging off her shoulders. This was on some mountain in Wyoming, and she smiled when she saw me, because women were rare then. To me, she was beautiful. False eyelashes? Mascara? I don't think so.

Then there's Anish:
Fastest known unsupported hike on the PCT! And she looks amazing!

This is a picture where I had on no makeup. It was day fifteen and I had just crested Forrester Pass, at 13,000 feet, in the Sierras. I had been wearing the same clothes for two weeks. It is my favorite picture of me, ever.
I think I look pretty darn cute.

So, I am not going to post for a week or so because I am heading to Hawaii, or as I like to think of it, "Two Hippies Visit Maui." I haven't had a real haircut in two years, and I doubt I will be wearing mascara (much less false eyelashes and a headband). But I think I'll manage to look feminine in the outdoors anyway. Aloha!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The last one to Sky Lake

"I should go to Hells Canyon this weekend," I declared. Pretty soon the road to the lookout would be snowed in, and I had never hiked down into the canyon from there. Also? The temperatures would be about 60 degrees or more lower in the canyon. The poison ivy has died back. Then J had to bring something up:

"It's opening day of elk season." Also? "There won't be much snow in the mountains. The snow we were in last weekend, it's all melted. There might be 3 inches, but that will be it."

I listen to him exactly why?

However, this is my favorite place in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. It's a remote, wilder place than a lot of the heavily traveled trails, and you have to work for it. You climb steeply to these small basins and eventually over the pass you can see in the background. From there you can drop to some lakes that are rarely visited.

Nobody had been here in a long time. The snow got deeper as I reached 8,000 feet, about a foot, and I knew I wouldn't camp here. It was just too cold, the snow too deep, the forecast too uncertain. I had to descend. There's nothing like a basin completely covered in snow, with nobody else around for at least twenty miles, to make you feel small.

I had asked over six people to go hiking with me, and nobody wanted to go. Nobody is thinking about hiking anymore. After all, the lakes are frozen. You have to haul winter gear. It's hard work, and people don't want to do it.

I don't know if that makes me brave or crazy. Maybe a little bit of both.

Sky Lake is frozen!

I found a place far below that was free of snow and dove into the tent. It was five, and completely dark. Fourteen hours in the tent? I would read, I thought, and then eat dinner. I ended up falling asleep at five-thirty and never waking up until five in the morning, except to briefly turn over. I guess I needed to sleep! All in all I hiked 12 miles just to camp three miles from the trailhead! It was worth it, though, to see this magical winter world, all to myself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


If you know what swamping is, you have probably done it. And you know that it is not an easy task, none of the glory of the sawyer, though part of your job besides throwing limbs and bucked up trees off the trail in the sawyer's wake is to look out for him (I've never seen a female sawyer on a fire or trail crew) and make sure that tree he is cutting doesn't fall the wrong way. For the record, of all the jobs I've done, trail crew with "traditional" (non-motorized) tools is the hardest job on the planet, but swamping ranks right up there. You wade through a mess of cut stuff, trying to punch it off the trail into places where there isn't room for it. You have to keep up with the sawyer and gauge just how close you can get to the saw to be helpful and remove cut stuff that he can trip on, but far enough away that you aren't endangering yourself or the whole operation. You have to tote the extra saw gas, oil, saw fixing stuff, and the sawyer's puffy jacket (or whatever else he wants you to carry). See? Not easy.

We backpacked to the nordic ski hut this weekend, dragging our stuff up the Hill of Death. I had imagined a lazy afternoon of reading by the wood stove, but J had other ideas. He was going to cut out a path to where the skiers started skinning up the mountain, and I was going to swamp!

melting snow for water
Yippee, I thought. It was snowing. But then I thought of all the people who use trails and never once pick up a tool to help maintain them. I don't know who they think does the work, the Trail Fairy? Yes, you pay taxes, but Congress decides where the money goes and it's not to the forest service. The least I could do was give a Saturday to the cause, even though I've spent most of my life swinging a tool. Isn't it time to let someone else do this, I wondered, as snow drifted down my fleece jacket. The problem is, nobody else is interested, not younger people anyway. All of the volunteer work parties I've led, and the ones I've seen, are people my age and older.

Swamping in the snow adds a new level of delight to the activity. You forgot about winter, so your socks are thin, and your feet are cold. Everything is covered in white. In no time everything is drenched. In two hours we might have gone a mile.

We trooped back to the cabin to warm up. During the night, snow fell unforecasted, so that when we stepped out to re-tarp the outhouse (yet another thankless task, but necessary), our feet sank in about a foot of new snow. There's no denying it: this snow will stay until June, maybe July.

There's a ton more swamping to do, but it will be on snowshoes.