Monday, December 26, 2016


I have several friends who do not have pets, mostly because, they say, they travel too much. Some of  them really do travel. Others travel less than I do. I think they just like the idea of being able to pick up and take off without responsibilities, even if they never really take off.

I used to be like that, more by circumstance than desire. As a seasonal worker, I was never allowed to have pets in the bunkhouses, and I was on patrol five days a week anyway. When I finally got a kitten, I thought this was the best of both worlds. I could still travel if someone checked in on the cat, and I had something fluffy at home that always wanted to see me, unlike the bad romances I found myself in.

Dogs? Meh. They were cute, but they required a real commitment. I loved the ones I inherited by marriage, but they weren't really my responsibility. I could leave them behind. My friends who had dogs had mixed bags. For every dog that obediently trotted after us, there was the Problem Dog, the one that disappeared, got bit by a rattlesnake, or lunged at other dogs.

Cale has a skin condition where he is losing hair. He looks pretty cute in his ruffwear jacket.
But then there was Ruby. Now I get it. Talking about your dog to people who don't like dogs is probably as irritating as those who talk about their kids to childless people. But I do love having a dog on the trail. It bridges the gap between solo and accompanied. There are times I don't feel like taking anyone along, but don't really want to be completely alone.

Not that there aren't issues. Yesterday, on Christmas Day, foolishly left leashless, she bolted and was nowhere to be found. We traipsed the back streets to no avail. I decided to drive around in hopes of spotting her. Flashing red and blue lights ahead plus dodging cars led me to believe she had been spotted. Here came my puppy, cheerfully cruising Main Street.

"Dog in Winter Shadow"
"You know, this is a fifteen year commitment," a friend said when I got a kitten a couple years ago. A dog is even more of a commitment. For years I was bad at commitment. I couldn't even commit to a town, much less a husband or an animal. I think back to what a former bad romance told me: "I'm just wired this way." At the time I felt despair because our wires certainly did not cross. But now I know: people can change. I may no longer be my footloose self, but I have a lot more love.

Dogs don't pose.

Monday, December 19, 2016

skiing below zero

Mist rises off the lake.  The campground is deserted. Our fingers freeze as we step into our skis. The day before, at minus twenty, I punted and went to the gym. It was slightly warmer today, and I enlisted a friend who was up for the adventure.

We get a cold snap like this every year but people seem to forget it. They seem personally affronted by the temperatures. There are very few people out on any trails, even though the snow conditions are perfect. 

We glide along the deserted lakeshore and campground, speculating if this is the year that the entire lake will freeze and we will be able to skate. This used to be a regular occurrence, but has only happened once in the past seven years. 

Leaving the campground, we venture up into the summer cabins. Only a few souls live here year round: it is dark and frosty, suited only to a certain personality. I could do it, I think. 

We crawl up a snowy closed road, our skis protesting and sliding backwards. The water below us is encrusted with ice. The ski down is perfect, not too fast but not slow either. We have wings.

One of my hiking partners has moved to the Southwest, where she extols the warm days and the ability to hike year round (except perhaps at high noon in summer). While I am no fan of the cold, I think I would miss that incomparable warmth that comes when you have been exercising in it and you suddenly glow with self-created heat. I would miss skiing like this, in a world gone quiet and muffled by snow.

We see the car in the distance and I want to do another loop but with friends, you must compromise, so I do. Another storm is coming, promising much more snow. This is the biggest winter in years so far, but all of us are gun shy, remembering January thaw, flooding in February. Keep snowing, I think. Bring it, I think.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When the snow is too deep for the dog....

Since we have All the Snow, I have been skiing for a week straight, completely ignoring the gym or running or anything else. My truck has been locked in 4WD for several days. I have had several ski outings with friends, breaking trail (nothing is groomed here) and other trips on my own. We are supposed to get another foot tomorrow. I am not going on my annual Grand Canyon backpacking trip this year, so here it is. It's been four years since I was home for Christmas.

The windswept and deep Devils View trail.
 We trudge along taking turns breaking trail, following blue diamonds. I realize I am skiing with three people who are all retired. I am the young one in the group. That's weird. Because they are retired, they don't have the same urgency to do All The Skiing in one day, but we do make two loops out of it. By the second loop, we can even glide. It's hard work, but I'd rather have this than a groomed, Lycra-clad playground. We don't see a soul on our trek.

I take T up high the next day when she wants to go low, and we are pummeled by stinging snow and wind. and must retreat to the place she wanted to go all along. And it's okay, another trudge through unpopulated woods, climbing over fallen trees.  The next day I travel high again, finding our track completely blown in. Ruby and I travel for a ways before I notice a strange phenomenon-the snow is too deep for the puppy! It is time to turn around.

Bad phone picture, but you get an idea. Even the dog gave up.

I snicker as I see my co-workers on the west side excused from work for 1-3 inches of snow. We don't get any such exception.  I also don't feel jealous of my friends who don't live in snow. I need a change of pace and activity every year. As much as I love hiking and running, it is good to change things up, to challenge myself in different ways. Besides, skiing is about the best workout there is.

The puppy and I trudge back to the car. We are the only ones on the trail. It would be hard to give this up. Even for the Grand Canyon. It will be there next year.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Notes from the deep end (of the pool)

There is a whole culture to lap swimming that I never noticed until now, even though I used to go regularly when I lived in a town with a pool. The serious people, the ones who go all the time, bring little carpet remnants to stand on while changing back into street clothes. They bring locks for the lockers. They have their own lane! (One time a woman saw me approach an empty lane she was heading for and actually said, "No! Oh no!" I backed off to a different lane).

I'm an opportunistic swimmer now, since the nearest pool is 75 miles away. I go when I have dentist appointments or when some other reason compels me to be in town. The pool I haunt is nice because it is never crowded. You never have to do the dreaded circle swim (you find out how bad of a swimmer you really are when you have to sprint to stay in the circle). I have never had to split a lane. Instead, it is usually me and a handful of older ladies.

"Swimming is SO BORING," other people say, but I don't really find it so. I like the meditative state that long runs, hikes or swims can bring. I feel like people are used to being constantly entertained and distracted but there is value in free thought. You can definitely get into free range thinking while swimming. You know, sometimes it is good to be bored.

I took this image from the City of LaGrande Webpage. Don't go in lane 1, whatever you do!

As I swim, I see two guys doing pullups on the diving boards. Other people, less serious, hang on at the deep end and talk. A woman does the butterfly, the hardest stroke. There's a woman jogging down the lane. I swim a mile and all the hard things I have been thinking evaporate. I am left with a clean slate.

Do you swim? Ever fought anyone over a lane? Circle swim, yes or no? Can you do the butterfly?

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I'm a planner. I'm not as much of a planner as some of my hiking buddies are. I don't plan ahead on how many liters to carry from each water source or where I will camp every night. But I do like to have a basic plan in place. Unlike the guy we met on the PCT last year, who cheerfully admitted to "winging it" (and thus accepted our gift of Wing It as a trail name), I like to have a general idea of what my life will look like a few months down the road. I think this springs from being a seasonal park ranger for years. We boomeranged across the country every few months, enroute to a new bunkhouse, never certain exactly where we would end up. It was fun, but definitely had an expiration date.

So since I now have no idea where I will be living in six months, I can drive myself crazy with Zillow in selected cities, gazing in terror at a house I might have to sell, or backing away from obligations. That's not a good path to take. I am practicing living in the moment. It's not an easy thing for a planner.

Fortunately, winter arrived, bringing with it activities I had not done in a long time. I met T slogging up the ski track I had laboriously punched in after we got a foot of snow today. "I forgot how to ski," she moaned. I feel the same way. It is always learning things over again.

 One day I snowshoed up to the politically incorrectly named Papoose Lake, carrying my skates in a backpack. Though a few inches of snow covered the "lake", the skating was fine! A multi-sport day is just the thing to remind you to stay in the moment.
Okay, so it is more of a pond, with a few obstacles.
 Another thing that helps is to have a puppy. Dogs truly live in the moment. They don't ponder the possibility of life changes. They are just happy to experience what is going on now.
Ruby is six months now and getting very dark. I tell her not to get any darker! But it is interesting to see what she is becoming.
I was deliberately vague in the last post about why we are going to move. It is a result of the declining budget for the land management agencies--apparently people are recreating even more but Congress does not recognize that fact. I will extend the same invitation I have for years: President Trump, come backpacking with me for a week. No cell service, and yes, you have to carry your own stuff. See how changed you are when you come out. Strangely, no presidents have taken me up on this. I wish they would. Not that I would really enjoy spending a week with a politician, but because I think they are so removed from nature that they really need to be reminded.

But I digress. I will continue to unplan as much as possible. A big snow dump? Grab the skis, even though I had been planning to hit the weights. My friends are going to the Grand Canyon after all? Maybe there's a way to meet up with them. Eat kibbles with abandon! Okay, maybe that is going a bit too far. But you know what I mean.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Home for now

After ten days away from home, my theory is this: you can get so immersed in a place that you can think it is the only place you can ever live. I never used to feel that way. I wanted to roam. I didn't understand settling in. But the road wasn't always easy, and after over ten years of it, I wanted out.

We wandered up the big canyons: Hovenweep, Sand Canyon, the ruins of Cajon. People lived here once, then had to move. It happens to everyone. Or it doesn't. Life is uncertain.

As much as I disparage road trips, they do open my eyes. I travel for work frequently, but those are quick, conference room trips, with occasional weekends to dip into the wilderness. My vacations in the past four years have all been spent hiking on long trails. It's been a long time since I drove through a town and thought: You know what? I could live here.

Hovenweep. Life centered around water and the lack of it.
The big Utah landscape. You can see forever, a fact you forget when you live in a place with bountiful trees.

Bighorn sheep at a deserted campground near Flaming Gorge.
 Lingering over this road trip is a heartbreaking fact: there is a very good chance we are going to be forced to move from our little mountain town. I hope against hope that this isn't true. If we do, where will we go? The choice is not up to us. I try not to think about it.
Looking off the edge of the world
We walked the ancient trails of people who were forced to move when the climate became inhospitable. There's still water in the spring at Cajon but that must not have been enough. At Hovenweep the old check dams are dry. It's a warm day until it begins to snow. It's time to go home, our home for now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Outside Air

I have forgotten how to trust slickrock. I inched my way down the "practice loop" of the Slickrock Bike Trail, on foot. There was no way I would ever ride this, I thought. I needed a practice loop just for the practice loop! I learned to ride a bike too late. Fear is too hard to overcome.

So I decided to hike it instead. I am on a road trip, and it's hard to follow any kind of healthy eating plan or enough exercise when you have to cover this many miles. Still, I try. This loop is only about two miles, not really enough outdoors time for me. This week I was at a book signing, and a fellow author appeared. She is 83 and glowing with life. She does farm chores every day. "It's the outdoor air," she said. "Indoor air isn't good for you."

There's also genetics and good luck, but I think she may have something there.

The start of the trail. This doesn't look too hard.

You can hike (not bike) from this overlook to a trail in the canyon bottom. 
All too soon, we had to pack up and head back out. Too many hours in the car, too many "Crack Chips" (Juanita's chips, you can't stop eating them), not enough exercise. Road trips just aren't fun for me. Plus I drove across country solo more times than I can count as a seasonal ranger. 

Still, when you live in the west you have to bite the bullet and drive (it's two hours to the nearest airport and an hour and forty minutes to the dentist from where I live). Recently an Alaskan friend came to a place near me. "It's only four hours away!" I exclaimed. "You're really close!" However, he decided it was just too far. "An hour's drive is too far," he said.

It's funny what you get used to. But I am looking forward to some outside air.

Road trips, love or hate? Good road food?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Into Thick Air

Where are you, Kris Fowler?

I can't say what it is about this story that has obsessed me. Maybe because I am a PCT hiker too. I remember White Pass in August, a nightmare of the worst mosquitoes I have ever experienced. We pushed our hiking speed past three miles an hour on the flat, boggy sections, and two southbound hikers were right: after Snow Lake the bugs inexplicably let up. There was also a maze of connecting trails where we had to remain vigilant to stay on the main path. Easy, in August.

Climbing up from Chinook Pass, the worst camping night of my life at Sheep Lake, hurricane force winds bending the trees. An exposed ridge with brutal wind as we came around to see Mount Rainier staring us in the face. But as the PCT goes, a relatively benign section. Except in air thick with rain. There are so many things that could go wrong.

There are more questions than answers. Why didn't a southbound hiker, camped less than 20 miles away from White Pass, run into Kris the second day? If the sightings are real, why did it take 10 days to hike 63 miles? Where are you, Kris Fowler?

The snow is piling up in the Cascades.  I think of all the chances I have taken.

I remember what it was like when I first started hiking solo. There were no cell phones. No beacons. The GPS technology, when released to the public in the 1990s, was inaccurate. What I learned was that if I got myself in a fix, I had to get myself out. I still have that mentality. It's why when my friend shows up with a fanny pack for a hike I am lugging a backpack with essentials.

The good thing about long trails like the PCT is that you can temporarily disappear. The bad thing is that you can permanently disappear. Circumstances prevented me from joining in on the search, but I wish I could have. The pictures some of the last finishers shared were breathtaking. They crossed slopes that clearly were ready to avalanche. There is such a thing as wanting something so much that you disregard the weather.

I try to fill this space with reports about fun adventures, but I just don't have the heart for it today.

Come home, Kris Fowler.

This photo was taken by the people who dropped Kris off at White Pass October 12.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Indoor Hobbies

Years ago, in the Florida swamp..

I bounced about like Tigger in the FEMA trailer that three of us firefighters shared. A single wide of dubious stability, it also bounced with every step. It was raining outside and I needed something to do. Mike looked up in annoyance. "You need a hobby!" he proclaimed.

But..I had plenty of hobbies...didn't I? I ran...I hiked...I kayaked... In thinking about it, I realized that most of my hobbies had to do with the outdoors. And that is still the case.

I've been confined lately, due to this never-ending cough and because the puppy got fixed and isn't supposed to run (even though she really wants to). She can't really be trusted on her own inside for a long period of time, so even though we are having the warmest November I have ever seen, I am stuck..inside.

source: youtube Andrea Michelle
There are those who have a whole suite of indoor hobbies but I am not one of them. I can't crochet, sew or knit, and don't really have much interest in learning (I have enough stuff, and most of the people I would give gifts too have as well). Food is fuel and I am not that into cooking elaborate meals. I do bake bread sometimes, but that isn't really a hobby. I read, and I write, though that is more my business than a hobby, at least in the eyes of the IRS.

The main problem with indoor hobbies is that they mostly involve sitting. That is fine for people who have active jobs or who don't work full time, but in my job I tend to sit. That is the last thing I want to do when I'm not working.

I've run into people who have myriad indoor hobbies. One of my friends is building an airplane. (Yes, one that flies)  Others do pottery. Glassblowing. And so on. Some of these things sound interesting, but involve space, which is a premium in my cabin.

It's taken enforced confinement for me to realize I still don't have many indoor hobbies. I think that's OK though.  In some sense, hobbies keep me from writing, and my agent has been patiently waiting. The next novel won't write itself while I am doing other things. (HELP! I need a plot idea. What is a secret that a friend  (early twenties) might keep from two others about her past that they find out years after her untimely death?. If I pick it, I will send you a free book when it gets published. Don't hold your breath, publishing is slow. Think 2018 at best). Winter's coming, people! You can't snowshoe all day!

Wait! Yoga! Does yoga count? When is the last time I did yoga? Um...

Do you have indoor hobbies? What are they?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Everyone's at Freezeout

I haven't been sick for four years and this year alone I caught two colds. It's hard not to be annoyed at this. However, my choice was either to cough uncontrollably at home on a sunny day or go for a hike. Spoiler alert! Hike it was. I always feel better when I'm moving.

T-N-T and I pulled up to the Saddle Creek trailhead to find an uncommon sight. It was completely packed with hunting camps. It was the second day of elk season, and apparently everyone had decided to come here. Most of the hunters were hanging around camp, not doing a lot of hunting. So we set out. Since all three of us were afflicted with varying degrees of the same malady, we took it slowly.
See the hikers? This shows the scale.

This hike will eventually bring you to the Snake River, but we were only going to the saddle. It's about three miles, and is all uphill. Everything here is uphill, it's just a matter of how steep the uphill is. This isn't terrible as far as elevation change goes--about 2000 feet gained.

On the saddle at last, there's a great view of Hells Canyon and Idaho, under the clouds.

Strangely enough as we sat there a mysterious convergence of diverse users showed up to this one place in time.
 Some downhill mountain bikers...
 some hunters on foot....
 And some horse packers (no photos of them).

It was a coincidental merging of very different people in one small place. And even though we were all doing our own thing, we could agree on something: the place where we stood was important to us. Keep public lands public!
As we descended the trail, T said, "Now all we need to see is Jordan," referring to someone who always seems to appear in the wilderness. We arrived at the trailhead and...there was Jordan. Coincidence? I think not.

Sucking on cough drops, we made our way home. Sleep without Nyquil was doubtful. But it had been a good day. It was good to see everyone out there enjoying a beautiful place. There was plenty of room for everyone to get along.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I got caught in a rain storm. The End.

When I lived in the rain forest, in a town where 110 inches of rain fell each year, where over 300 days of the year were overcast, it was just a given that the sun would be a stranger. I owned several types of rain gear: "town gear", which was good for the scurry from the pool to the office, the grocery store to the car; "fishing rain gear", which encompassed the heavy rubber, serious overalls and jacket;  and "hiking rain gear", the most expensive and best rain pants ever manufactured (I tore them fighting fire. Yes, I wore rain gear on a fire, against all safety rules. We all did, when it would start to pour. We couldn't leave the fire until it was out, and since we had been dropped off by floatplane, we had no viable shelter except our tents. Hypothermia was a real threat). There was also "kayaking rain gear", typically a dry suit. Regardless, the rain eventually soaked any gear through.

Here, rain is a mystery. It sometimes falls, but when it does, it rarely lasts. When it lasts for a week, like it has this week, we all feel a bit put out. People stomp around looking less than cheerful. It's funny how quickly I forgot the daily rain existence.
Ruby doesn't care if it rains. I should be more like a dog.
I tried to overcome it. I'd go out anyway! Friday I went on a trail run in the rain. It was moderately successful, but when running on a rocky trail in the rain, the prudent runner slows way down. Saturday a group of us hiked up to the backcountry ski hut to cut firewood and fix the latrine. It rained and the wind blew with such fierceness that I thought to myself: this really is miserable. The newcomers that I had dragged up with me looked perplexed. Time will tell if they go with me on any hikes again.

Our lovely latrine. We decided we could start a company called Hillbilly Crappers R Us.
Today I awoke to an unfamiliar sight--sunshine! I dawdled around the house, counting on it to last, and finally emerged in bike shorts, ready to take on the ride to the head of the lake.

At first, all was fine. October 30th and I was wearing shorts, I marveled. Life was good!  The hill near Chief Joseph's grave felt easy for a change. I passed mile marker 3, then 4. All was still good. Then an ominous cloud appeared over the mountains. Uh-oh, I thought. But then: I was so close to the turn-around point. I had to keep going! Surely it wouldn't....

Suddenly a few drops of rain pelted my helmet. A storm was bearing down. What ensued probably looked hilarious to the car-bound occupants who passed--a lone biker, pedaling for all she was worth, but being overtaken. The sprinkles became a downpour. Soggily I wheeled up to the house.

I pondered my seven year tenure in the rain forest. Maybe I was just tougher then? I used to run in the rain all the time, just wearing a T shirt and shorts. We hiked too, and camped all the time. More likely it's just that you can get used to almost anything.
Our tent in Endicott Arm (near Juneau). After this photo, it rained so much that the floor of the tent soaked through. Good times!
Does it rain a lot where you live? Do you go out anyway?

Monday, October 24, 2016

On not giving up

After being gone on a work trip all week, I optimistically headed for Bonny Lakes, only to find snow. Tons of snow. Enough snow that I decided to turn around. How can there be so much snow in October? I was REALLY MAD at myself for turning around (feels like being a wimp) but later learned that there was 2.5 feet of snow at 7,800 feet, which was where I was headed. So it turns out I made the right decision after all.
Ruby discovered snow for the first time and she wasn't quite sure what to do with it.
On Saturday I armed myself with a saw and loppers and went off to join a trail crew work party. If you hike or run trails, please help maintain them! I don't know if everyone knows that the funding for trail maintenance for federal agencies has gone down every year. I see a lot of people complaining and not enough lopping!
Sunday it was time for a fun hike in the lowlands. T and I mapped out an ambitious plan: descend 800 feet into Davis Creek, climb an unknown but high number of feet to Starvation Ridge, descend a ginormous amount of feet into Swamp Creek and then head back! It's not climbing Everest, but I have to admit that as we took a break on Starvation Ridge I peered down into Swamp Creek and secretly hoped she would say this was enough. She didn't, though, and I knew if she was up for it, I was too.

It's my experience that the older you get, the easier it can be to throw in the towel. Sometimes the thought of lifting one more weight is discouraging. And what people don't tell you is that there are random pains that come and go. These mean more now than they did when I was twenty and just shrugged them off.

When you don't do something for awhile, getting back to it can be even harder. As I lugged the Stihl down the trail on the work day, I wondered: how did I ever cut down trees all day long on the fire crew? Even running, which I used to love above all else, can feel like a chore. Haven't I done this enough? When do I get to quit? But as we slogged up from Swamp Creek, I knew that if I gave in to the siren call of the couch, I would regret it. I think it's like anything else: after decades of activity, my body needs it for everything to work right. It might not be climbing Everest, but it's still something.

We saw a pop up hunting camp at the trailhead when we returned. A bunch of older guys were puzzling over a framework of poles that would eventually hold their tent. "There's no way they will walk down in there," I guessed. "Probably road hunting," T agreed.

But maybe I'm wrong. I've seen all sorts of unlikely characters push on well past what I thought their limits to be. I remember back in the day when the fire crew guys were reluctant to give up the saw, or when Trail Crew Dan was shocked I could keep up with him hiking. Something kept me going then. Something keeps me going now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Prudent Mariners

When I lived in Alaska and perused the Coast Pilot, a huge handbook to all the bays for boaters, I would laugh when it would occasionally prissily state that the "prudent mariner" would avoid a certain area. Sometimes we were prudent mariners. Sometimes we were not.

Every so often, ferocious winds rake this place. When this happens there is no sleep to be had. In the morning, you can spot other citizens of the county walking through their yards, picking up souvenirs from other houses and realizing what has blown away. This storm also brought snow. There's a foot up by the high lakes now. Unfortunately it is an early start to winter. I was hoping to have a few more weeks of hiking.

A huge storm? We need a Hiking Pilot to consult. Probably a prudent person would stay indoors, build a fire and read books. But...we have a puppy. A tired puppy is a good puppy. We decided to hike up to Murray Gap. This hike starts up an awful road at an  obscure pullout. You wouldn't even know how to find it unless someone showed you. You climb steeply, second guessing your desire to go there. But once you turn the final corner, there is this:

Murray Gap is where the climb to Ruby Peak summit begins. Today was not the day to go up there. The wind was howling. A prudent person would have turned around, but we had heard there was a waterfall to be found. We didn't know where it was exactly and we wandered through the woods, telling ourselves we should turn around. But we found it. This whole basin, Silver Creek basin, is a wild and mysterious place.
Ruby in snow below Ruby Peak.

Finally we had to admit defeat. We didn't have a lot of survival gear and the snow was getting thicker. It was time to go. And time to retrofit our packs with winter gear. We should have known, but it is still a surprise. A prudent person would retreat and declare hiking season over. For now, we decided to be prudent.

As we descended, the storm turned to rain. J had to admit that Carhartts were probably not the best hiking attire. I looked back at the gap, now shrouded in snow. Prudent though we were, a part of me wanted to be back up there.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

the way we change

It's been my experience that as most people grow older they become more set in their ways. I've hiked with people who firmly state their preferences, from food to men to climate, with no intention of bending any of them. Which is fine; one of the few perks of getting older is to know what you want and not waste time on things that you don't like or appreciate. But for me, I think it's good to leave a little room for change. I was recently thinking of all the ways I have evolved in the seven years since leaving Alaska:

1) I didn't like dogs.

I LOVE her.

2) I didn't ride bikes

I was missing out on a great activity.

3) I said I would never get married


4) I was fiercely devoted to running as my main activity, with kayaking a close second

I've discovered how much I love long distance hiking. It gives me way more than running ever did.
5)My house had to be neat at all times
No pictures of this. I will spare you. I spend more time outside than cleaning.

6)I said I "couldn't" work at a desk all day
Turns out, you can do a lot of things you think you "can't" do if it will get you closer to a goal.

7) I said I wouldn't "settle down"
You can find adventure anywhere. You don't have to have a passport full of stamps and be on the road all the time. It's all in your attitude.

The trail to the top of this mountain is only ten minutes from home.
I'm curious to see what the next seven years brings. I can safely say that I won't telemark ski, do a cleanse, or write a romance novel. But otherwise? I'm open to possibilities.

Have you changed in the past few years? Done a sport you said you would never do? Stopped doing one you loved?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Does Not Share Well With Others

 It was an unsettled fall day, with a light rain falling, but the forecast promised better. I decided to strike out for Ice Lake, a place I have been often, but one that never fails. Unfortunately, this lake has been discovered. A steady, but relatively easy climb, if you bust a move you can make it in less than three hours. It used to be that in October, I had it all to myself, but we have all been noticing that there's been an explosion in people, not just in summer but in spring and fall.

I saw mountain goats on this mountain.
I tagged the lake but couldn't stay long. A brutal wind swept off the mountains. Across the outlet three backpackers huddled in down jackets, looking miserable. Without taking a break, I headed down. 

Backpackers loomed into view. Not just a few of them but...36, in several groups. They all looked to be in their twenties. I wasn't sure how I felt about all these people. On one hand, wilderness needs younger supporters. It's a fairly even statistic across the country that the largest age group to visit wilderness is the 50-59 year olds. So it's good to see younger people away from their phones and in the woods.

But couldn't they spread out a little?

Perhaps I have an unhealthy obsession with pooping, but I cringe to think of all these people wandering this high elevation lake with toilet paper in hand. Most of the lakeshore where you can camp has become one big campsite. You aren't supposed to have campfires here, but people invariably do. The chipmunks know they will find food, and every time I've been here I've found microtrash, the small droppings people always forget. A tent stake here, duct tape there. 

I've spent most of my career picking up after campers. It's a discouraging and unfun task. I like to think things have improved since the 90s, when I would routinely carry out discarded boots, cans, and grills. Lots and lots of grills. It does sometimes seem like people are bringing less stuff with them, which means less stuff left behind. I can hope, anyway.

This has always been a sort of secret corner of the world and it's been nice to think of it this way, never changing. The quality of life is why I put up with a sub par grocery store, the long drive to the airport, and paying way too much for everything. I really hope these mountains stay wild.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Borrowed Time

There's a saying up here in the northwest: After October first, you are hiking on borrowed time. And it certainly feels like it as T and I drop our backpacks at Mirror Lake. Immediately we put on all of our layers. A chilly wind rakes our camp, but in this exposed basin, there isn't any shelter to be found.

It can snow anytime, and the forecast called for a 30% chance. Three years ago, these lakes were already frozen. It seems so soon. There are so many places I didn't get to this year. As we hastily set up our tents, fighting the wind, I calculate: I've spent 32 nights out this year. Not bad, not as many as I would have liked.

There are a few other hardy souls in the basin, but not many. Inexplicably, several of them hike right through our camp to see what's over here even though there are several unoccupied sites they could have gone through. They are all from Portland. Not to generalize, but city folk seem a bit less shy about galloping through camps instead of skirting around.

We hike up to Upper Lake, just to stay warm and postpone getting in our tents. But by six we concede defeat. It is just too cold to stay out.

It's nice to have an evening with nothing to do but read and doze, even if I never really do get warm. In the morning, T and I agree: our feet were blocks of ice all night long. We have been in denial, because just a day ago it was eighty degrees. Last night it dropped to the low 20s. We don't have our winter gear with us. We have our down jackets, mittens, hats, and the usual survival gear, but not the gear for deep winter. It's time for that, if we go out again.

We climb Ivan Carper Pass and head down the rocky, slow-going path to the trailhead, finishing up a seventeen mile loop. On the second day, we see nobody until we nearly reach the end: a hunter, sitting quietly in the woods with his rifle. Backpacking season is over, but it's been a good run. I hiked 450 miles of the PCT and many more miles in these mountains. My shoes are worn out. I have a weird pain in the top of my foot. I was unusually annoyed by the rocky sections where our pace slowed to less than two miles an hour. "Maybe it's time for a break," T suggests. She is probably right.
Ivan Carper Pass
For about eight months of the year, this basin is inaccessible. That's what saves it, because the rest of the year it gets swamped by the illegal fire building, non TP burying crowd. It could use a break, too.

I can't get as worked up about winter as I can about summer. People holler about skiing, but mostly you come home at night, days are short, lots more time inside. Still, I wouldn't want to go back to endless summer in the desert or swamp, places where you need air conditioning to survive.

I put away my backpacking gear. For the last time this year? I think about how if I had unlimited funds and time, I'd extend the season: Backpacking in New Zealand? L writes our Christmas group about a Death Valley trip. Maybe it's not over yet.

Are you a winter or a summer person? Is it hard to give up your summer hobbies when the season changes?

Blue Lake in the distance

Monday, September 26, 2016

what you bring to a potluck

I went to two potlucks last week. Sometimes I can look back on my life and think that they are measured in potlucks. As a seasonal park ranger, I lived sequestered in mountain compounds, with no TV/movie capability and years before the Internet came along. Potlucks were the main source of entertainment. We would all gather at weathered picnic tables, bearing our creations.

Potlucks were held for memorials, weddings, when people left the area, or just because. Later, when I moved to small communities in the middle of nowhere, potlucks continued. Once a friend arrived at a potluck and set her dish down only to note that she had arrived at the wrong potluck--hers was a little ways away down the lakeshore!

In a highly unscientific study, I maintain that you can tell a lot about a person by what they bring to a potluck. There's the person who does not plan ahead--the guy who shows up with a bag of chips. There's the foodie (I'm thinking of my friend The Freak of Nature) who always has something complex and delightful, needing ingredients not easily found. Two guys I know always bring the same dish--for decades--is there any correlation to the fact that they both like routine and are change resistant? And for the love of god, don't marry the guy who never brings anything to a potluck (Been there. Done that. Divorced it).

Over the years in this small town, some of the same people attend the same potlucks. You get to know what to expect from some. J always brings his "scalloped corn" dish, and people know he will bring it. They ask for it. Everyone knows that I will toggle between a dessert, usually cookies, and some kind of savory appetizer.

The conversation at potlucks is as varied as the food but over the years, it's tended to be focused on the outdoors. What hikes have you done lately? Where are you planning to go?

Potlucks have gotten more complicated with the advent of gluten free people (the ones who really suffer from gluten probably suffered in silence in the past). I'm reluctant to show up with bread or oatmeal cookies anymore. My new standby is a gluten free, vegan spicy ginger cookie.

I wouldn't call myself a picky eater, but potlucks for me can be a maze of future regrets. I generally stick to the salads. In Alaska, someone could be counted on to bring some form of salmon-smoked, baked, broiled, casseroled, always a good choice. The brownies that look so good might be, disappointingly, from a box. Dishes in a crockpot could contain dreaded jalapenos. You need to be cautious at potlucks.

Sometimes, though, like this week, you hit it just right. Steelhead, homemade bread, sweet potatoes, tabouli, salad, huckleberry cobbler. Two great potlucks in one week! It's an embarrassment of riches.

Do you go to potlucks? What is your signature dish?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Searching for Audrey Sutherland

I still remember hiking across a small island in the South Baranof Wilderness of southeast Alaska and finding a small hut made of driftwood. Someone had written its name on a piece of wood and tacked it up at the open door: "The Elves' Hut". As kayak rangers, one of our missions was to dismantle human-made structures like this, but the hut seemed to belong here, a charming, eccentric shelter decorated with shells and flotsam given from the sea.

This time there was a note, left by some paddlers to a woman named Audrey Sutherland. Sorry we missed you, it said. When I got back to town, I asked around about her. Turns out she was well known on the coast, migrating between Alaska and Hawaii like the whales. She always went solo, even as she grew older. Her motto was "Go simple, go solo, go now." As a younger woman, she wanted to explore the coast of Molokai, and so she swam it in jeans, towing her supplies. This was decades ago, long before social media and gear ambassadorships. She wrote books about her trips and a list of things that she thought all sixteen year olds should be able to do. One of them was:
  • Be happy and comfortable alone for ten days, ten miles from the nearest other person
In my seven years as a kayak ranger, I looked forward to finding Audrey. I wanted to meet a woman who did big things before women doing big things was common. As I paddled around the tip of unnamed islands, I wondered if I would see her in the distance. I wondered if I would stumble upon her camp. But if she was there, I missed her in the rain and fog.

I never got a chance to find Audrey. She died in her late 80s in 2015. If she met me, she would probably not approve. I live in a house. I mostly work at a desk. My adventures are pretty tame. I still think we would have lots to talk about. I still remember the bears passing behind my tent on a salmon stream in the old growth forest. I still remember pulling the kayak up on a beach so quiet I could hear the rain. And even though I don't stray too far from home these days, I still try to live by her motto: Go simple. Go solo. Go now.
Paddling North

Is there anyone who inspired you like Audrey has me? Did you ever meet this person?

Friday, September 16, 2016

On loneliness and solo adventures

It was late and I was racing the sun. It sets so early now, and the cold comes with it. I don't really want to admit it, but summer is on the way out.

As I climbed the steep access road to Mount Howard, I was having second thoughts. I had only decided to backpack up there a few minutes before. I threw stuff in a pack and headed out, knowing I could be night hiking, and not really welcoming the prospect (the best way is to take the tramway up, but they stop running at four. Not an option).

I struggled with the effort not to turn around. For years I had nobody to miss, and this made adventuring a lot easier. I thought of all the reasons I could have stayed home. I could turn myself into a day hiker, I thought. You can often cover more ground, and you don't have to miss anyone, or deal with camping alone if nobody else can go. But I knew that isn't who I am. I know that once I start coming home every night, I lose part of the adventurous person I am. This is not to disrespect people who like to be home every night. It's just not me.

Decision made, I gained the ridge. The nature trails were quiet, void of all the day tourists. The nearest person was perhaps ten miles away if at all. I headed over towards the shoulder of Easy Peak, where I have only ever been on snowshoes. A full moon rose over the perfect campsite. There was no water here, but I had filled up at a convenient spring at the top of Mount Howard. I had been tempted to camp near the lift, but due to people feeding them, a legion of aggressive squirrels run in packs there. Better to avoid that area at night.

 I sometimes get lonely on my solo adventures, but by now loneliness is an old companion, who slides in, puts an arm around my shoulders, and then moves on, replaced by the excitement of hiking new territory. Even though I love going back to familiar haunts, I am most excited by exploring. The next morning I waited for sun to hit the tent and got up at the decadent hour of six. I prowled around the shoulder of East Peak for awhile and listened to elk bugling in the valley below.
The people who own the tram want to develop a campground up here. While I understand how great this would be for a lift-serve camping crowd, I hope it never happens. I like it the way it is--wild, quiet, and yes, a touch lonely.