Saturday, January 28, 2017

Getting Out

No matter how much you might love where you live, there are always times you must leave. In my case, it seems like in spring, people sit up and realize that holy wah, there's a ton of work we need done and it must be done immediately! This sets the travel machine in motion. This year, if all works out, I will be traveling to Alaska, probably Florida, possibly Arizona and please, oh please, Puerto Rico. In addition, I have associated book signings and my novel got nominated for an award. Plus, my annual PCT treks. The point being, sometimes I need to get out.

This isn't the hardest place I've had to get out of. That dubious honor goes to Baker, Nevada, a hamlet of 50 souls in the middle of the Great Basin. To reach an airport took at least four hours in either direction. Or perhaps it would be Sequoia National Park, the egress from which took nerves of steel as I drove down through the mountains and later the tarantula flats (you see a tarantula crossing the road and it gives you pause). Then again, it could have been living on an island in the middle of Lake Huron, where you had to park your car on the mainland, three tumultuous ferry riding miles away, then drive said car to catch a tiny commuter plane a couple hours south. 

So I guess in the scheme of things, having to drive two hours on a two lane in the middle of nowhere with the ominously named "Rattlesnake" section doesn't seem all that bad. You might ask why I don't head to Boise (four hours) or Portland (six) but this winter, the major interstates have been closed for days on end. Better to go with the Rattlesnake. By now, I know its curves well. This road is never closed (although sometimes it should be). Recently, all means of getting to my town were closed down except guessed it, the Rattlesnake.

Getting out requires some planning. Most often, the flights are at five in the morning and returning at midnight, neither of which are conducive to the Rattlesnake. Often it requires an overnight hotel stay coming and going. You have to, I've found, really want to go. Unessential trips get weeded out pretty fast. You also pack extra stuff, just in case the flight does not go, or if a landslide or some other event slows you down. Often you end up with the least desirable flight, with thirty minutes of all out sprinting to the next connection.

Of course, driving instead of flying is always an option, but time is often not on my side. Tucked way over here in the corner of the state, it takes forever to drive anywhere. Often, it's easier just to stay.

But that's not good either. You need to bust a move to shake off the cobwebs of living in isolation (at least I do). See other places, do different things. Then come home.

Is it hard to travel out of where you live?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Splitting your own wood

Time: Summer 1991
Location: "Old Maintenance", Grant Grove, Sequoia National Park

I furtively lifted the maul. The hazard tree crew were lurking about somewhere, and I didn't want them to laugh at my attempt to split some rounds. I had been fortunate enough to score a cabin for my seasonal job, and it was only heated with wood. Since we lived at about 7,000 feet, it was either learn to split wood or freeze.

Since then, I have split a lot of wood. In this county, I have yet to find a woman who splits her own, though I am sure they exist. It would be easy to defer this task to a partner, but I feel like if I give up all the chores I don't want to do, because they're hard, I lose something in the process. And there's something satisfying about lugging an enormous round (or rolling it, because it's so big) to the chopping block and seeing it split in several pieces.

Wood, split by moi
I feel like every woman without health limitations should be able to a) split her own wood, b) deal with frozen pipes, and c) not freak out skiing alone below zero. At least, those are a few things that I won't give up doing myself. Last week I had all three of these situations. The bitter cold that allowed us to play on the lake also created some impressive scenery (the pipes thawed after I crawled under the house with a heater)

Hurricane creek, with puppy in the distance

Looking down at the frozen lake from the East Fork trail

The first fat bike on Wallowa Lake. Those are my ski tracks

Our winters here are long and I have to laugh when I hear people wishing for spring. That's at least two months away, folks, and most likely three this year. My cabin is small, and I usually go through about four cords a winter. I do sometimes get help. But most often, every piece I burn is split by me. I could probably get a different form of heat, but this way it ties me to the source. I can't just flick a switch. I have to wake up cold, trundle outside to get more wood, crumple up paper, and light a match. I like that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

doing hard things

I snarled along on snowshoes. In case you haven't tried it, sidehilling on snowshoes with a backpack full of overnight gear on unconsolidated snow is hard. "Why do I always do hard things on my birthday?" I whined. Granted, it wasn't my actual birthday, but that day is on a weekday. so there it was, my birthday trip, my idea. I had only myself to blame.

Honestly, I would rather have a birthday in July, because swimming in an alpine lake would be pretty much ideal. But since my parents didn't take this into consideration, I am stuck with January. Which, once I cheered up, can be pretty good. When we arrived at the backcountry shelter, I decided some more climbing would be all right.
Looking into Idaho from almost 8000 feet
The truth is, the things I consider hard would be an easy day for some of you. For other people I know, it would be impossible. I have seen some friends who have no health limitations just stop doing anything hard. That's their right. But I think when you give up, that's when things really get difficult. So I'll keep it up, snarls and all.

Wolves! Oh wait...dogs.
We spent a starry, near-full moon night in the cabin and climbed some more the next day before heading out. J likes to remind me that snowshoes don't have much reward. You climb to a high point and then you have to just hike down, unlike skiing. But I don't mind. There's something contemplative about snowshoeing in deep powdery snow.

It's so simple up there. Melt water for snow, chop wood for the stove, go to sleep when it's dark. The cabin is tiny but whenever I'm up there I think of how I could really live there. I imagine where my gear would go, and how I would stomp out a snowshoe track to run on, and how much easier things would be.

But maybe not. Who knows? It was time to descend. Another successful birthday weekend, doing hard things. May it always be so.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

testing the ice

I cautiously inched out onto the ice. It looked like it would hold. There were a few boot tracks in the snow and no large gaping holes, so obviously the walkers had made it back to shore. Our five mile long lake had frozen! It was a January miracle!
Near the boat ramp, the ice had frozen bumpy, the bane of skaters. Wind is the enemy of smooth ice formation. You want a cold, calm night for the best ice.  I almost gave up, but since this is only the second time the lake has frozen since I moved here, I decided to keep trying. Looking like an ungainly bird, I hobbled out past the boat dock supports.
Bumpy ice!
At least the ice seemed solid. I decided to venture out farther. A thin layer of snow covered the ice so it was hard to tell what was bumpy or smooth. I had to go on faith alone. But then I found it. Smooth ice! I circled around, getting braver.

A couple of onlookers appeared. "How do you know it's safe?" they asked. Well, you never really know. You can dig a hole in one place and it might not be as thick in others. "We'll pull you out if you fall in," they suggested, which emboldened me to go out further. Perhaps not a wise plan, but it worked. In fact, as we explored, we discovered a slushy area from which we retreated rapidly (it could have just been snow melting). All I could go with was my  instinct, which is usually right in these situations. And sometimes you just have to try.

First tracks!
The onlookers left, so I decided the better part of valor was to come in too. A skater must know her limitations. People here are complaining about winter and all I can think is: move away then! I hope this ice sticks around for awhile.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

No margin for error

"'s sixteen degrees!" J said in tones of happy surprise.  We geared up to ski. This was a heat wave compared to our usual temperatures. I haven't been in -20 in quite some time but it is common this winter. The last time I ran, I wore a down skirt (it worked!) and the other day, snowshoeing, I wore a down puffy the whole time, despite climbing some significant elevation.

I've had to scale back in some of my adventures. The day I took the picture above, Ruby and I were going to head up to Aneroid Lake, a 12 mile snowshoe. Ruby doesn't care; she loves the cold and even sleeps outside some nights (the house, even at 60 degrees, is too warm for her). But I realized that  hiking in snowshoes to 8,000 feet, on a trail that nobody else would be on, left just no margin for error. We headed out closer to home instead.

I haven't always been so cautious, but just because I want to hike up to a frozen lake in winter, when the wind chill values are -34, doesn't mean I should.

However, these cold temperatures are making some of us cross our fingers. Back in the old days, I hear that the entire Wallowa Lake froze solid enough that people drove cars across it. It's only frozen once since I lived here. This could be the year! Full of hope, I drove there today to check.

A couple of skinny guys were on the ice, one with a rope that the other guy had tied to himself (safety first). They were eagerly checking the ice thickness. Sadly, it is only about three inches--not safe yet. But there is always hope. There should be a payoff for this brutally cold weather!

Except for feeling tough, though. That's something. And if I lived in Arizona, how would I ever wear my cute down skirt?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Burn your candles

Greetings on the first day of 2017. We are having what one of my friends calls a "burly winter." The mail has not gotten through, and the interstates have been closed. The trails look like the picture above. Yes, that is a trail. I sank to my waist. In snowshoes.
I like it, though. This is the first time I had a few days off from work (5) and I didn't travel anywhere to go on a hike. I tend to think I am wasting vacation time if I don't travel. Weird, I know. While I cursed the irony that made Phantom Ranch a balmy 60 degrees this year (last year we shivered through 20 degree temps), it's been actually nice to stay home. I have recruited several friends to snowshoe and hike. Like I have mentioned, many of them are retired or underemployed, so they have time during the week to get out.
It's back to work next week, but it has been a glimpse of the holy grail, retirement. Someday!

The other day I skied with a friend who is battling cancer. When people complain about how awful 2016 was (I don't really think it was), she just smiles and I can tell she wants to say something, but doesn't. She is too nice to remind us that we are lucky to be here. How can a year be bad if you made it through, still on the planet?

I have been eyeing my possessions in preparation for a big purge, and I came upon a candle I love. It shows the Round Island Light, a favorite lighthouse of mine. It sits on a spit of land near an uninhabited island near where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron  mix. I spent many summer days canoeing or boating to this place. There are a lot of memories with this lighthouse. I never burned the candle because I liked it so much. But...

Life can be short. Burn your candles, friends.