Sunday, March 29, 2015


"Hike Your Own Hike" is a phrase that is rampant in the long distance hiking community. Usually it means, don't pay too much attention to what everyone else is carrying or not carrying, how much their pack weighs or doesn't weigh, how many miles she is hiking, if someone decides to GASP hitchhike around a fire closure rather than walk the road. Sometimes HYOH is used in a passive aggressive way, as in:

"Well, that's not what I would do. Or any other rational human being. BUT--HYOH!"

I find it much harder to HYOH these days because when I first started, there weren't forums online where people posted base weights of their packs or asked strangers what kind of shoes they should wear. Back in the day, we just figured it out. I can't help but think this was better. We didn't rely on extensive reviews of tents, we just bought what we thought would work. We didn't watch a movie about hiking and decide to do it. Sometimes we would see other hikers and talk about our gear in the real outside, instead of reading about it in a magazine. We learned from our mistakes.

I used to belong to some online Facebook forums about the PCT, but I decided to delete them. It's time to spend more time hiking and less time being drawn into internet drama. On Saturday my friends T-N-T and I drove the long road down to the canyon to hike up to Freezeout Saddle.

Looking back the way I came

This hike is shaped like a snake, with switchbacks endlessly reaching to the sky. But it doesn't take long before you are up there and looking down into the deepest gorge in North America. The wind whipped across the saddle with a ferocity that made us seek shelter behind a rock outcrop. We perched there talking about hiking plans we probably won't execute, the same plans we had last year.

I'm faster than T-N-T on the uphills but they are faster on the downhills, and these types of friends don't throw a fit if I pull ahead, climbing. They don't snark later about how they never see me on the climbs. These make them good friends to have. They let me HYOH. That's all you can really ever ask.

Waiting at the saddle

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Confessions from the gear shed

I've lived in this cabin for five years, the longest I have lived in any house since I was 17. I knew it was time for a purge. After all, J had been nagging me having a lot of stuff around makes me anxious. A hoarder, I am not.

Except for gear. And with a house with only one closet, no garage and one shed, it was time to visit the Land of Unwanted Gear. It was raining, so there was one thing to do: wade in.

As a backpacker of many decades, I have accumulated considerable amounts of gear. It's always tempting to reach for the next shiny thing, and over my years of hiking, newer, better things have emerged. I'll never go back to using a water pump filter, for example, so I added two of these to the pile. This backpacking stove was purchased in a fit of stove envy, but as it turned out, I really didn't want to fiddle with priming and fuel bottles. A mystery tent pole emerged from the depths. What was it, and where did it belong? The mysteries continued. It was almost like an archaeological dig.

The neighbors approached and left happily with a backpack and two tents. Briefly I was consumed by reading a journal from my time in exile in a small sagebrush town. Had I really been that lonely and heartbroken? I found old pictures. There were my Alaska co-workers, carrying our required rifles by the biggest waterfall I have ever seen. Oh look, there's my first backpacking stove. So heavy! There was my first tent that I bought with my own money, that I carried all over the Sierras. I was awash in memories.

Time. It goes so fast.

I found three sleeping bags I had FORGOTTEN I EVEN HAD. How does that even happen?

I found my new bike helmet.

Here's the shameful tally:

Tents sold: 4.  Tents kept: 4. (Well....)

Water filters sold: 2. Filters kept: 1.

Stoves sold: 2. Kept: 1.

Sleeping bags sold: 2. Kept: 5. (I KNOW)

Backpacks sold: 4. Kept: 5. (I know. I know!)

Room in shed for more gear: Infinite!

Are you a gear hoarder for a certain activity? Do you ever get rid of stuff?

Next, the old running shoe shelf!

(sorry no pictures, it's too shameful!)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This is what normal looks like

Crikey! I haven't gone anywhere exciting for a month! All of my fellow bloggers are in some weird little town in Alaska pushing bikes through snow, hiking the Arizona Trail, training for, work and other boring things have kept me at home every weekend. I know, who is this person?

But you know, you can find pretty nice places even close to home. My running route today is a mile from my house (Yes. I drove to it today. Shoot me. I don't like pavement). I thought, I'll take my camera! And take pictures! And maybe cross the elk fence for once! 

Back in the day when I ran competitively (not for a team, just trying to beat everyone I could), taking a camera on a run meant I wasn't a real runner. Now that I don't pay to run, and since I've been running longer than some of you have been alive (ahem..Karen) I don't take things as seriously. I want to run forever, so I need to switch it up once in a while. So here's my moraine run for today. Come along...

First, you climb. Puff puff puff.

It's pretty rocky. Give up those PR times. This first fence is a step-over...

 Here's the elk fence. It's very very tall. If I ever can't fit under it, I know it's time to diet.
The view as you slide under fence #2, wishing it was smooth strand...

There's actually a flat section  in the middle and a lone tree.

The view is pretty nice....

Before my run, I was feeling a little cranky. I had a brief window of time when I could have gone to the canyon for an overnight trip. I had to be back for a conference call (Seriously. Who schedules calls for late in the day on the last Friday of a pay period? But my purpose is to serve, so I will be there, with more comp time), so that meant most accessible areas were out of reach. I wasn't feeling very zen about life. But as it happens after a run, or a hike, or some kind of exercise, things get put into perspective. I mean, who needs to enter a Tough Mudder? Here I have four fences to negotiate, plenty of mud, maybe even a cow or two to dodge. You can't really beat the scenery. If this is what normal looks like, it's pretty great after all.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Twenty. Five.

What were you doing twenty-five years ago? (I know some of you are going to say, I was in kindergarten or worse, I wasn't born yet. I used to be the young one! It goes fast, peeps. Enjoy. Wear sunscreen. Eat that cookie.) Apparently twenty-five years ago I was starting work with the federal government (though not really. I had some partial seasons before that, but they cobble them together to determine length of service). To my surprise I got a certificate saying so this week. You're supposed to get these for 5, 10, 15 and 20 but I never got those, because I have moved around so much. 

Twenty-five! That's a long time! In that time I have lived in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Washington, Nevada, Wisconsin, California, Idaho, Florida, Oregon, Alaska and Oregon again. I've been a naturalist, a firefighter, a biological technician doing restoration, a wilderness ranger, a recreation planner and a kayak ranger. I've cleared a lot of trails. I've cleaned a lot of toilets. I've written a lot of plans and picked up a lot of trash. I've driven a bulldozer, a fire engine, a swamp buggy, a boat, and a tractor. I've had to run from a couple of fires, burn out a safety zone while one went around us, lost a couple good friends to the wilderness, and hauled dying people out of the woods, saving their lives. 

But. Into everyone's life who does this work comes a decision. Do I continue to work outdoors for low pay, sacrificing my body to the punishment, or do I take a higher-graded job and move up into a cubicle farm and still be able to hike at 80? Except for a lucky genetically gifted few, the first choice guarantees future relationships with surgery and physical therapists. I chose the cube and it is challenging. It's hard to feel the same sense of pride in producing a plan as I did when I cut trees out of a trail or saved someone's house. At the same time, I can take time off in the summer. I can pick my backpacking trips and I don't haul eighty pounds of trash out of the backcountry for work anymore. I don't have to go on fires and breathe smoke unless I choose to. 

Will I get the thirty year certificate?  I have four years to go (the certificate was a year late). I don't know. Our jobs are tenuous, tied to the whims of Congress. My book could become a best seller (pleasepleaseplease). Who knows? 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Gone West. Send Chocolate.

Signs you need to go hiking, far far away from other people:

1. You have a meltdown at work before seven in the morning (thankfully you are teleworking); evidenced by statements like, "How many instant messenger files can several different people send me?! No I don't want to screen share! Go away! Go AWAAAAAY!"

2. You start looking at new tents. You deserve a Big Agnes Copper Spur Mountain Glo tent. You do, you really do.

3. You start planning new trips. Cascade Locks to the Three Sisters Wilderness on the PCT in September? Why not?

4. You consider guzzling the Dr. Richard's Pet Calm. It works for the pets!

5. You hide the Trader Joe's dark chocolate peanut butter cups from your husband. Mine. Miiiine.

Clearly, I've spent too many hours driving, staying in hotels, and working. I have massive hours of comp time and I don't even remember my last forty hour week. In the interest of everyone's safety, a long hike is in order.

But not this week. I'm traveling, which means more hotel gyms and sitting. I am at a group hug  team meeting in Portland. As far as cities go, Portland's not bad. There's the waterfront, where I may be able to run. There's food carts. There's TV. There's interesting people in scarves. Ooh there's a rally outside!

These are all things I don't have at home, although we have interesting people in Carhartts. So this week I will try not to snarl. I'll embrace the brutality of the hotel gym. I'll count up my comp time with a smile, because it means one more hour on trail. I've got this!


Here's my book cover. Coming out in Sept.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Recently I came across this fantastic essay. It ranks right up there with the top ten best things I have ever read. It seems like all my life I have struggled with Should and Must. It's why I never goofed off in the winters like the other Park Service seasonal employees. Instead I drove across the country to another job, never having a break in service, never taking unemployment. It's why I hung onto bad romances way too long. It's why I don't quit my job and write. I often wrestle with should, and other people's expectations, which can be a deep well you never climb out of. 

This weekend it snowed! I should  have gone to the gym. I should have cleaned the house. I shouldn't have eaten all those brownies. I should be selling all of my excess tents and backpacks.  I should have called up friends and made plans with  them. But..

It's snowing! Time to get to the mountains!
I decided to bolt. I caught a ride partway up Mount Howard with some backcountry skiers, and snowshoed the rest of the way to the wide, rolling summit at  8,150 feet.
In the summer this place swarms with tourists, killer chipmunks, and cute hang gliders. But today I had it mostly to myself. Here was all the snow I thought I had lost. Deep, powdery snow. Why do people complain about winter?
The Seven Devils--that's Idaho over there.
Mine were the first tracks to the Royal Purple Overlook.
I think I've written this before, but I never forget what a wise friend told me once. We were floating in our kayaks in Sitka Sound. The friend was making a go of it selling her art and picking up other odd jobs, a leap of faith I was unable to take. I was trying to get out of a bad romance. I was much younger and looking for answers. She said, "The first fifty years of my life were about pleasing other people. The next fifty will be about me."

You don't have to  be fifty to start.