Sunday, December 27, 2015

What it is like on the South Rim

True confession: I stopped at REI and bought a fleece sleeping bag liner. Even though I'm pretty sure I have one at home. Even though I feel desperately mummified in them. Panic packing is never a good thing. But...
Here on the rim it is about 8 degrees. Peering down the Bright Angel Trail, I can see snow and ice for a good long ways. Down at the river, the highs will range from 40 to a low of about 20. There is even a possibility of snow. So...
Packing for winter backpacking is so hard. If I did it more, and was a warmer person, it might be easier. But I am colder than most. Well...
In the end, I am packing a surfeit of clothes. I paid more attention to clothes than food. We will see how this strategy pays off.
The canyon rim is, surprisingly, packed with people. Most will not set foot below the rim. You can tell who will and who won't.
Will I have enough clothes? Will we make it to the north rim (snow reports range widely)? What have we forgotten, and what do we wish we had left behind? Soon, the truth will be known.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Carrying my fears in the Grand Canyon

There's a saying in outdoor adventuring: "You carry your fears." I have seen it in others: people so afraid of running out of food that they have to hang an extra bear bag AND use a bear canister for five days. Other people carry guns strapped to their waist for a day hike on a popular trail with five other hiking companions. Still others carry several changes of clothing and deodorant (maybe not a fear, but in my opinion certainly unnecessary). And others carry way more water than they could possibly drink.

I'm getting ready to backpack in the Grand Canyon for five days, and here is the fear I am carrying:

Look like a burglar, or be cold? You decide..
In 2013, we did this same trip (RTRTR). I shivered all night, sleepless, in a borrowed synthetic sleeping bag that was too big for me and had long since lost its insulating properties. I had insufficient camp shoes and one of my layers was rain pants, good for rain or wind but we had neither. Cold cut right through those babies. It was a great trip, but every night I would feel panic about the many long hours of cold to come.

It's not that I haven't camped in cold weather since, but a bad experience tends to stick with you. This is what makes you pack multiple toe tubes if you had debilitating blisters on one hike, even if you never got them again. Or buy several books for your Kindle if it broke during your last GC trip and you were left with a book you borrowed from your hiking buddy on how to be effective in the workplace for several 13 hour nights in the tent.

The current forecast for the Phantom Ranch area (we will camp above that on all of the nights but two) isn't too bad: high 40s for the day, low 30s for nights. This is a little bit warmer than last time. Still, I fear the cold. My duffel is stuffed with "maybes". There will be a Packing Palooza on the night of the 26th at the Maswik Lodge! Balaclava or hat? Both?! Mittens and gloves?! Or just mittens, which will quickly get too warm for hiking, but would be good at camp, while thin gloves are great for hiking? Heavy down jacket or light one? Fleece pants?! You can quickly fall down a well of indecision in winter.

We are sticking to the main corridors this time, South Kaibab--North Kaibab--Bright Angel. I know there are people who run this route in a few hours, but I have no interest in that. I need five days in the canyon, to breathe it in, to become peaceful after a really stressful season. No internet, no phone, just time. And a ton of warm clothes.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Parallel Life

If you're in a bad mood, get yourself to a ski town that has suffered from lack of winter for several years, and been terrorized by wildfires due to same. Plan to arrive on the day before the biggest snowstorm anyone has seen there in at least eight years. Wander the streets, helping push cars out of ditches. Instead of being mad about their predicament, everyone will laugh instead. Snow is magic in a ski town.

The view from a winter storm.
 Then go skiing. Because here, there are groomed trails. Yes, really!  Here you don't slog through feet of unconsolidated powder, hunting in vain for the elusive blue diamond. Here there are so many trails to choose from that you feel slightly manic.

I still like wandering through the woods though, so we veered off to ski by the river.

I was in town for a book signing (only my friends braved the storm) and a book club meeting (composed of women who obviously don't live in tiny houses). I used to live over the pass from this town, in a mountain valley where I almost stayed. One winter, a friend offered me a caretaking job there. "You'll have to fix fences and there's no running water," he said. "Also, to get there, you'll have to winch yourself across the Salmon River on a cable car." There's been many times I've regretted not doing this. Instead, I packed my car and drove on to an uncertain future.

Back in those days, we would drive over the pass on our days off in search of pizza. Sun Valley was a glittery place full of things we couldn't afford, and it hasn't changed all that much. It's also full of people who are constantly outside. It wouldn't be hard to find adventure buddies here.

Most of my friends from the mountain side have migrated over to the valley, where life is undeniably easier. It doesn't get to thirty below there, there are schools for the high school kids, an airport, more kindred souls. Maybe I would have too, if I had stayed. The beauty of pondering your parallel life is that you will never really know. Maybe I would have cursed the cable car. Maybe I would have wanted a hot shower. Maybe it would have all turned out fabulously and the life I am living now would have been my parallel life. You have to love the life you're in, or why bother? It's still something interesting to ponder.
They have bridges in the valley. We skied across this one.

What is your parallel life? Tell me in the comments!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Scared of Headstands and other Yoga Woes

When I first started doing yoga, years ago, I fretted. What was all this breathing carp*? Where was the cardio! Bring on the cardio!

I'm not as cardio obsessed anymore and I have come to realize I really need to do yoga. A horrible fall while trail running has haunted me for the past four years. Periodically one side of my body rebels and decides to hurt, and according to my physical therapist, I get out of alignment every so often. "Your kidneys and liver are really compressed," he said thoughtfully at my last appointment. And, possibly a lingering effect of the knee surgery after my last marathon, I've noticed a knee clunking if I bend it beyond a certain degree.

So yoga it is. I will never be "good" at it, though. Most hikers and runners are not all that flexible and I'm no exception. Leaning my forehead on the ground in a seated forward bend is an impossible dream. My heels are still not flat on the floor in downward dog.

And then there's the headstands. Most of the people in my class pop right up and stay there. Not me. I waver at the important step of kicking up. Once I am up, I just want to be back down. It feels scary and wrong. "I like headstands," one of the other yogis says cheerfully. "Not handstands though."


Even though I suspect I am the worst yogi my teacher has ever seen, I still dutifully trundle to class. I still can't quite get the breathing, and what does it mean to move my gut tube? I have no idea. But I keep trying, because I know after decades of pounding down the trail I need something that balances out. I hope that my knee will get stronger and my body finally will release all the problems it holds from the fall. Turns out, cardio isn't what I need to be doing all the time.

*Yes that is carp. Because it makes me laugh.

Do you do yoga? Can you do a headstand? What about a handstand?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ice, Ice, Baby

Here I was hoping we would skip the ice season and go straight into full time snow. It appears I was wrong.

Apparently there never used to be an ice season here, but climate change is real. What happens is this: super cold temps. Snow. Then, big wind, warming and rain. The result is a hot mess (cold mess?). To get to the Hurricane Creek house requires 4WD, studded tires and nerves of steel. The trails are pock marked with frozen footprints, impossible for running and hiking. I drove carefully around to a bunch of trailheads before giving up. What this means is that I've shown my face in the gym more often than ever before, much to the owner's chagrin (we have a running joke where he pretends to be annoyed by the sight of me, saying things like, "and my day was going so well up to now.") Also, the bike trainer. I'm here to ask you, is there anything more boring? I've almost broken down and gotten a TV just because of the sheer desperation I feel while riding it with no entertainment.

The worst part of it is, the same dumb song keeps going through my head. It's a truly terrible rap "song" from the nineties. I can't remember anything but the chorus:

"Ice Ice Baby
Too cold too cold"....

After days of this, I could take it no longer and went out walking through crusty snow with a friend. She lives at the end of the road, and is able to walk right into the forest for miles and  miles. We talked about the idea of acceptance, which doesn't mean that you give up on trying to fix things, but that if a bad thing happens that has no fixing, your reaction can be to accept it and figure out how the rest of your life will be, or to sink into a miserable, negative existence. We have two friends, one of whose life will be forever limited from what it has been, and another who has been inexplicably struck with chronic fatigue, a mysterious and terrible illness. Both of them need to redefine their image of themselves and move on. I don't think I could deal with their setbacks with as much grace as they are.

I'm very fortunate, I thought.

So in the scheme of things, a little ice is not a lot to deal with. If only this darn song would get out of my head!!

The lake isn't frozen...yet.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

fog magic

It's creepily beautiful.
As a little girl, I was enamored of a book called Fog Magic. In it, a young girl named Greta found a whole world inside the fog. Once she passed a certain age (twelve?) she could no longer go inside that world but must grow up. 

I hadn't thought about that book in years, until a dense, freezing fog descended upon my town for days. This is sometimes the hardest weather to deal with. It's damp and icy and miserable. On the positive side, it can be quite beautiful. Trees and bushes get frosted with white, and every so often the dense curtain lifts to reveal what is hiding beneath.

I lingered in my cabin, talking myself out of running. It was eight degrees, but felt much colder than that. Did I have to? Couldn't I just ride the bike trainer? But then a mysterious sight appeared. No, it wasn't another world in the fog. It was three runners, making their way carefully down my street.

Few people run here, and I know most of them. I didn't recognize this intrepid bunch, but the outcome was clear: if they were out there running, I had to also! I couldn't let some Thanksgiving out of towners show me up.

I actually ran in a down skirt over tights. I felt slightly ridiculous but it was warm.
Putting on all the layers, I drove carefully to the closed campground, where I had seen a packed down vehicle track. Donning my microspikes, I was off. And as I ran the loops, I found an unknown gate to some roads I had never seen before. I ran slowly along a route I had never run. Was this route here all along, these cabins, this road? Or had I stepped into an alternate fog world?Hmm....

How do you endure the fog? Do you go out in it? Maybe you live someplace where fog never happens.