Thursday, June 30, 2016

How much food do YOU eat in 8 days?

I sit surrounded by Kind bars, peanut butter packets, shelf stable hummus, apple chips, and, because it can't all be healthy, M&Ms. It's that time of year again, when I start out carefully calculating how much food I need for a PCT section hike, lay out each day carefully, and then give up and shove it all in the pack, only to unpack and take things out.

My pack right now with everything (food and water too) weighs about 32 pounds. Which seems like a lot, but then again, when you consider I am hiking 155 miles before a resupply, isn't that much. Is it enough?

Eight days. How much do you eat in eight days? How much would you eat if you were walking all day, every day? I have everything else in my pack figured out. I still haven't gotten the food right. Probably because I don't really eat like a normal person. In a perfect world I would never eat meals. I would just graze, like an elk. This where long distance hiking approaches the perfect situation for me. I keep snacks in my pockets and I eat whenever I feel like it, not when the clock says I should eat. If I am not sharing meals with a buddy, I don't eat real dinners either, not the kind you crouch around a stove stirring, anyway. A lot of people make a big fuss about food in every day life, it seems like. What to make, how to make it, when to have it. I was once on an overseas trip with someone who "needed to have a hot meal" at dinnertime. I was once horribly entangled in a relationship with someone who needed to have the ADA pyramid at each meal and even referred to needing to have a "starch".

But back to food. Hikers get a little wrapped around the axle on this one. Some people meticulously dehydrate their own food prior to the trip. Some people calculate ratio of fat to carbs to weight. Way too much work for me. I pick what sounds good and throw it in the bear bag. This has sometimes worked out great (yay protein shakes) and bad (I never want to see a Builders bar again). To this day I recall the deliciousness of a bag of kettle chips in the Emigrant Wilderness and  the sad disappointment of a freeze dried ice cream sandwich in the Alpine Lakes.

I am going stoveless on this trip, which I have done before, but not for this long. Not having a stove makes life easier, but can make food more complicated to figure out. Some people cold soak their beans all day in an empty plastic peanut butter jar. No, just no. I am hoping the tortillas, tuna, and cheese work out like they did on the last stoveless trip.

In the end, all will be fine. I used to carry a 70 pound pack back in the day, and it didn't slow me down any. If I get too hungry, I can probably yogi* some food. If I have too much food, I can give jellybeans to thru-hikers. If history serves right, though, I have way too much food. No Donner party here.

* Yogi=lurk looking hungry/in need of a ride/in need of an essential piece of gear you left behind because it was too heavy

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Walking the line at Legore Lake

Legore Lake, highest lake in the state. You have to work to get here.
I slid on the snowfield, wondering if I had reached the line. You know the one: it divides pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable and what, actually, isn't very smart. Some people never learn this line, and get in trouble over and over again. Some people don't get very close to it, and never learn what they can achieve.
I knew I could climb up this snowfield, but I wasn't sure about getting down. It was steep and angled right toward some rocks. You could pick up a lot of speed if you fell. It probably wasn't a YFYD* snowfield, though. I made a bargain with myself: I'd climb to the basin, and if the remaining trail to the lake was covered in snow, I would turn back. When I pulled myself to the lip of the basin, a mostly snow-free path waited.
Lookin' over at the Lostine drainage over the saddle.
I've been to this lake, the highest lake in Oregon, a handful of times, and each time I tell myself I won't ever go again. The trail is a nasty mess of eroded pebbles, and there's no breaks, just a steep climb, 4,000 feet in as many miles. It's easy to face plant, and you are reduced to a slow trudge. 

I keep going back, though. I've never seen another person at the lake, and it's a peaceful little place, under snow most of the year. On June 25th, it is still partially frozen. I have never encountered the infamous boulder field in this much snow, and while it eliminated the tedious picking through shifty rocks, I'm not a big fan of the uncontrolled slide. 

But still. This was a time when bumping up against that imaginary line worked. The climb down the snowfield wasn't as bad as I feared, and I even glissaded a little. The mountains were big and deserted, everyone else choosing to stroll to a waterfall on a level trail. I love it when things work out like this. 

Looking down the boulder (snow) field. Yikes!
Whew! Made it.

*You Fall, You Die.

Guys! I don't talk much about my books on this site--I have another one, http:\\ for that purpose. But this news is so huge I must share it. My second book just got accepted by a New York publishing house. I never thought I would get one book published, much less two. This one is a memoir about fighting fire from Florida to Alaska. I don't really fight fire anymore--just help at the helibase--because it just isn't the same as it used to be. But those times were some of the best of my life. I can't wait to see it in print.

Monday, June 20, 2016

We fought the law, and the law won

I'm an outdoors rule follower. As someone who has sat on the other side of the desk making the rules, I know most of them are for a good reason. (Some are just dumb. A 200 foot setback at camping at lakes, when people are just going to drag their stuff down there and do everything but sleep there? Dumb. But I follow it anyway). I dutifully stick to the switchbacks, even if you only go about five feet up in elevation each long-ass turn (erosion). I didn't bust the fire closure on the PCT this spring even though other people did. I don't build fires when they aren't allowed, ride a bike where it isn't permitted, or avoid LNT.

So when my intrepid friends suggested a hike up the evacuation route of the tramway, I hesitated a little. "I don't think they allow you to do that," J said thoughtfully as he prepared to (legally) take the gondola to the top. But after the first small piece of tram property, it was all Forest Service, I argued. There's no closure order. It has to be legal!

So we headed off without anyone stopping us. We skirted around tram property and gained the trail. The trail was extremely steep, but we were doing it, climbing several thousand feet in an hour. It was a great occasion to be on a trail I had never been on before. Until we passed under the gondola's path.

A man opened the door of the gondola (!) and screamed at us. "YOU CAN'T BE HERE! I'M THE TRAM MANAGER! I'M CALLING THE POLICE! GET OFF THE TRAIL NOW!"

He only had a few seconds to make his point as the cable car drifted out of sight. We looked at each other. Was this an empty threat? If we kept going, would they be waiting for us at the top? I knew we were in the right, because we were on Forest Service land. But it wasn't worth it. We reluctantly descended. There were no police in sight (I think they have better things to do).

Later, at a party, my other friends were not divided. "We would have kept going," they announced. Of course, it is easy to say when you don't have a gondola car full of crazy. It's hard to stick to your guns when someone is so angry. Even if you are right.

Disappointed, we gathered at the parking lot and pointed out the lack of signs indicating the grave wrongness of our actions. But in the end none of us wanted to end up in the Police Blotter. I trudged over to pay for a gondola ticket. I had to salvage a failed hike, and it was worth the exorbitant price to see some skiers dedicated to finding the remaining snow.

Determined skiers.
I recalled all the times I had hiked into someone's camp and avoided giving them a ticket for egregious wrongs like building a fire in a fire restricted area. I never made the rule breakers feel scared or stupid. There's a way to make your point, and a way to do it wrong. With them, I carried ziplock bags of water from the lake and we put the fire out together.

What's my point? Be nice. Even if you think you're right. I see so many people these days lashing out immediately without taking time to think. It can be such a mean world; let's not perpetuate that in our own little circles. (And: if you hike up the evac trail, sprint between the tram lines. You are on public land. Don't let anyone tell you differently.)

Monday, June 13, 2016


I sat beside my packed backpack. Stay or go? It is a constant tug of war, the lure of the wild and the comfort of being home. I've never really faced this before, because I was always about the adventure. Now, though, I hesitate. My workdays are long, ten hours at the least, in a usually futile attempt to have a three day weekend, but something always comes up on Fridays so I end up working. I love the cabin and never have the time to hang out on the porch, bake cookies, or write. There's the pets, who look betrayed at my absence. And J, who isn't much for backpacking these days; it's hard to leave him too. 

But the adventure. It balances out, as much as it can, those ten hours sitting at the computer. I want to come back to work with memories. I want to see things, not just the space in front of the house, or a few hours of a day hike. I want to be away. Luckily, J gets it when I say, "I want to do these things while I still can." "Why do you think I bike so much?" he asks.

In the end, I decided to go. I drove for an hour up a road that led to a fire lookout, and hiked a trail I hadn't been on. It plunged downward into the canyon with twenty-nine switchbacks. It was apparent nobody had been on this trail for some time. I bashed through a thick forest of brush, praying tick season was over, and climbed over and under 32 fallen trees (I count them for the trail crew). The views were outstanding. This canyon is every bit as amazing as the Grand, but lack of money to maintain trails and its relative unknown status keeps people away. I feel kind of sad about that, even though I can count on not seeing a soul.

Rush Creek Rapids, 6,000 feet below.

The hills are alive.

I found a bench to camp on. The silence was incredible--just the wind and little buzzy bugs. I don't think most people get enough silence.
This ranks right up there in top tent sites.
I don't know why I have it, this ticking metronome that makes me want to go instead of stay. I don't know a lot of other people who are this way. They still have full weekends, with some outdoors stuff, but are content to be home every night. It would be easier if I didn't feel so driven by the need to step outside a routine. But I do, and I can't believe it is wrong. 

I've read a rash of articles lately by young women who state that they are "choosing adventure over the daily grind." They blithely state that they will bankrupt themselves for the present, and will not worry about having to work at checkout stands at eighty. While I understand that desire, I can't subscribe to it. That's why I'm living my life as a hybrid of this. Work and save during the week, adventure (as much as possible) on the weekends. Is it perfect? Of course not. I still want a home, and pets, and not to live out of a storage unit or my car. I also want to be in the wilderness. I don't want to work at eighty years old. So I do what I can. I will almost always choose to go.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The great hurricane creek campsite hunt

I slogged across a snowfield hunting down a campsite. Not here, I thought. In the best of times, this narrow canyon is difficult to camp in. Steep walls, thick vegetation, and a big river make it challenging. Relatively few people camp here because most are bound for the lakes basin or hiking/trail running up only a few miles for the day.

Nice views on the hike in.
But I wanted to do some solo backpacking, and this trail was the closest, and most likely to be clear of much of the snow that still blankets the higher elevations. It might be disturbingly weird, but solo backpacking is how I recharge. Day hiking isn't quite enough. Too much time indoors in summer isn't good for me.
I'm pretty happy in my own company.
Which leaves me with the ability to make my own decisions, such as where to camp. I admit it, I am picky about campsites. This probably comes from years of being a wilderness ranger, when we were told to pass up the choice spots for visitors to take, and also to hide our campsites so that the person we had just ticketed for having an illegal campfire wouldn't come get us. We were often forced into brushy, slanted sites with no view for the sake of safety. Once we repeatedly fell into the lake outlet because we were camped on the other side and had to cross slippery logs to get to the toilet (this lake had a backcountry toilet). I would hear a splash and a curse, and know the intern had fallen in again.

Part of the hurwal divide. Hurricane/Walllowa, get it? Nowhere to camp here.

too steep to camp here.
I passed some possibilities. But none were quite right.

Hiked up to this waterfall hoping to find a flat spot, but no.
Finally I reached the perfect spot. Perched on a dry meadow above the river, it had a great view of the Matterhorn, arguably the highest peak in the Wallowas (Sacajawea may be higher).

Campsite view!
There's something great about finding the perfect campsite, even if you only occupy it for a few hours. You can pull out a book, take a short walk, nap, or look at the scenery. It is very peaceful.

On the trail the the next day, I passed a meadow with a waterfall. A tent was perched high on a bluff. I looked admiringly at it. The people had to traverse a steep, brushy slope to get there. They were, I decided, people after my own heart, fellow perfect-campsite hunters.

Am I the only weirdo that needs the perfect campsite? Anyone else out there like solo trips?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Going Home...Sort of.

Waiting for my book signing to begin in the library of the town in which I grew up, I paged through my high school yearbook (yes, the library keeps them, in a prominent place). I'm not one of those to reminisce happily about high school. It was a prison sentence to slog through, where I never really felt like I fit in, and I was ready to go out into the real world rather than cling to being a kid. The few classmates who find me on Facebook always seem amazed at how I have turned out, as if you are doomed to be the slightly awkward, quiet person you were in twelfth grade. 

I've lived two-thirds of my life away from my home town, and it has changed so much that it doesn't really feel like coming home. My home is in the mountains now. But as I hiked the North Country trail, I wondered what kind of person I would be if I had stayed. I would have different hobbies, I decided: with so many lakes, I would be a kayaker for sure. I wouldn't do all the mountain hikes and runs I do now, but I might bike more. Maybe I would have taken up sailing. It's really hard to say. Instead of hiking the entire PCT, maybe I would have wanted to circumnavigate Lake Superior.

I always feel a little uneasy going back to places I have lived. I come face to face with the person I was, and realize all the roads I could have traveled. What if I hadn't decided to take an unpaid internship with the Park Service, which launched me into the work I do today? What if I hadn't copied my dad as he started running? What if I had married the boyfriend I had when I was sixteen? I'm not one of those who believes everything happens for a reason, or that our lives are laid out according to some kind of plan. I can't look at the rivers and the mountains and how they change through entirely random events and believe the same isn't true for us.

My fourth grade teacher came to my reading. How old are you in fourth grade, ten? At the time, she seemed so old, but she probably wasn't, because here she is. The mother of two boys I went to school with was there too. It must be strange to see how former students change into butterflies. I started to run here, and if it hadn't been for those long runs from the arena and around the island, I might never have graduated to marathons. If I hadn't grown up in nature, I wouldn't have been comfortable in the woods from a young age. While there is nothing wrong with it (live your own life), I feel glad I never became one of the people who need fancy stuff and never set a toe in the outdoors.

I found my home town to be lovely and full of things I never remembered: so many trails! So many lakes! I would not want to live here again: I belong in the mountains. But sometimes I think it is good to go back to where you came from, just to see how far you have indeed come.