Saturday, February 24, 2018

Freezing at an RV park

And I'm pretty sure the guy on the street outside the Seattle airport thought I was homeless, as I walked by with my backpack and he tried to give me a muffin.

PCT section hiking. Not always glamorous.
More later friends.

Monday, February 19, 2018

I can ski anything

To everyone's surprise, a huge storm blew in this weekend. One day I was running in my spikes to the trailhead, something completely unprecedented (usually it snows itself shut), and the next, I was breaking trail in skis at one mile an hour. This is sort of ridiculous, I thought as I plowed along uphill, why am I putting myself through this exactly? 

But. Nobody was in sight. The trees were completely shrouded in snow, the forest a delightful snow globe. I could have called it and gone to the gym, which I have been shamefully neglecting in favor of outside activities. What was slogging uphill in cross country skis with nary a glide to be seen proving?

"We went up to the top of the ski hill and somebody had broken trail up there," J said later. "We couldn't believe it!" He wasn't overly surprised that it was me. I seem to have that reputation around here.

I nervously turned my skis downward on the Fergi trail. This is a place of steep drops, where I have had to shamefully walk my skis on occasion. But today, skis could go anywhere. I skied down hills I have rarely skied, thanks to the lovely powder snow. I emerged victorious at the ski area, where all the skiers were ecstatic over the new snow. "This is as good as it ever gets here," they enthused. After the lifts were shut down, a few of the guys were sitting around and decided to open back up to ski some more.

The next day, L and I skied the same route in my old tracks. It was a lot easier (first tracks on cross country skis aren't as desirable as in downhill skiing).  Our dogs, the Gems (named Topaz and Ruby) bounded around, high-centering in the snow. This wasn't the red-lining slog of the day before, but it was a day to marvel at the fresh blue sky and the foot of new snow that will save us from the fires of summer (or so we hope). Just in time, the snows of February have come through.

We emerged onto the canal road to discover a pleasant surprise. The snowmobile club had groomed the road! A mystical corduroy, it is a draw to skate skiers, fat bikers, and skiers like us. Usually the downhill section of this route is one I approach with fear. You can get to whizzing along on icy terrain way faster than you want to and have to steer for the snowbanks to stop. But today was different, again.

Once when I lived in a small town of fifty souls, a man in the bar unkindly expounded on a woman he had known there. "She might think she's beautiful here, but once she gets back to Seattle, she won't be anymore." (Supply and demand, he meant. I later wrote an essay about this called "Beautiful in Nevada.") As mean as this was, and untrue, fresh snow is like this for me. I am a good skier in fresh snow. Fresh snow makes me feel like I can ski anything, anywhere, all of my fears forgotten. Inevitably, it will warm up. Crust will form. I will cautiously side step the hills. But not yet. For now, I can continue to believe.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Revenge of the Slow Shoes

"oh no, slowshoes," Scott groaned when he spied Jean and I carrying our snowshoes. "I need to be back by three," he went on, clearly doubting this would happen if the ski party contained us. We were headed for a day trip to the ski shelter, a steep climb that required skins to navigate, and one that caused a major meltdown on my part, years ago, trying to ski down. Snowshoes are my weapon of choice for this climb.

Curses! A low snow winter.
Snowshoes don't get a lot of love around here. Skiers will slog up mountains for hours with their skins, refusing to touch the things. Granted, slow, I mean snow, shoes aren't fast, but on the two mile climb in, Jean and I easily kept pace with the skiers. They slipped and slid on the Hill of Death while we marched casually up, and they cursed the sidehills while we strode along.

Of course this wasn't matched by the descent. Jean and I had to leave early in order to beat them to the car. While I am not a Strava fan for many reasons, I was intrigued by the stats that she had on her phone. Our top speed was four miles per hour! In snowshoes. (Scott's was 31 mph. But we did all leave before three pm.)

It's hard to find kindred snowshoeing spirits. One of my local buddies escapes to Hawaii for almost two months. The conditions aren't always right. But sometimes I do see the tracks of my people. The other day I was snowshoeing along and saw an unfamiliar track. "What's that?" I mused to the dog. Bigfoot? Then I realized: Snowshoes! The hiker was long gone, but I turned into the woods to follow the track, feeling a warm fuzzy at the fact that others appreciate the meditative, slow progress through quiet woods.  Basically: snowshoeing extends the hiking season. Who could be mad about that?

The tracks of my people!
Scott appeared at the trucks, eyeing our snowshoes. "This was probably great conditions for that, wasn't it?" he asked. We agreed. "You'll come to the dark side someday," I said.


Oh well. Some people aren't going to be snowshoe converts. They'll keep dissing our slow shoes and be convinced they have chosen the best method of transport. I know differently.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Great Supermarket Slink, or, Buying Trail Food

Ahh, the time is here again. The time when I slink into Safeway, praying nobody I know will see me and the cashiers won't judge. It is even worse than usual, because I used to be able to divide my trail food buying between two stores. Alas, we no longer have a grocery store in my little town so I have to drive to the Safeway the next town over.

The struggle is real: it is hard to have healthy food on trail. Especially if you aren't bringing a stove, or any dehydrated food at all, because California is in a massive drought and you are pretty sure you will be doing 40 mile water carries. That leaves no room for extraneous water. I see newbies all the time stating they will eat healthy on a long hike, only to devolve into the tortilla-peanut butter-salami--Oreo wrap. At the same time. Turns out, hiking twenty plus miles a day carrying six liters of water means that a steady supply of calories is necessary, and high calorie at that.

So I load up my cart with stuff I never buy in real life: Bars. Peanut butter pretzels. M&Ms. And also, a stab at being sort of healthy: Tuna. Almond butter packets. Shelf stable hummus. Nuts, even though I don't really like nuts all that much. Cheese. You also have to consider the relative weight versus benefit. Hiking a long trail is pretty much the only time you will see a woman, any woman, look at calories of an item and discard it because it is too little calories.

I used to bring turkey pepperoni (I'm not really a beef fan either) but it was always so salty and seemed too processed. Salami and jerky are faves of other hikers, but, not a big meat eater in real life, I couldn't stomach these after a few days. Also, I never eat jelly beans anywhere else but on the trail: but when you need a quick boost to go the last four miles, jelly beans do the trick. Dried fruit, if you can find it without added sugar (really hard to find at Safeway) can also help.

You can ask Good Stuff about the time I ambitiously decided I was going to bring kale for dinner. Kale in a wrap! After day three, it didn't seem like such a good idea.

Inevitably, someone I know will appear in an aisle, their cart full of organic produce. I sprint on by, hoping they don't judge my snack-full cart. It looks like I'm settling in for a month of Super Bowls.

I'm sort of kidding. I don't worry that much about what people think about the food I'm getting. Sort of. Wish me luck, I'm going in.

Trail food! What's a favorite of yours?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Monkey on my back

"So, you're almost done with the PCT," friends say. "What are you going to do next? The Continental Divide trail?"

Only on a long distance trail can having about 650 miles left to hike be "almost done". But I digress. When I am asked this question, I'm really torn.

I never expected to complete the entire Pacific Crest Trail. When I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2011, I didn't realize how much I would come to love long distance hiking. There is something about the simplicity of being in the woods for multiple days, of being truly disconnected from anything but the ribbon of trail under my feet, the only questions being where the next water source is, where to find a campsite, what to eat. At the risk of sounding old, it reminds me of when the world was a more innocent place, before school shootings, before people were fastened to their phones, when kids could be free range in the neighborhood. On the trail, it doesn't matter what you do for work, how old you are, what you regret.
Yikes! I bring a lot less stuff now.

I was hooked. Over the last six years, I've tramped through much of California, all of Washington, and most of the Oregon section of the PCT. Most days, I don't want it to end. Others, I do: I am ready to get this monkey off my back and do something else. Another long trail? Probably not until I retire. This section hiking is challenging. You have to be able to jump from your hourly workout (all I really have time for right now) into 20 mile days, sometimes more. Logistics are a killer. You can spend hours combing the internet for shuttles, for road locations, reading the water report. I am almost at the end of sections that can be hiked in summer heat. Soon all that will remain are the ones that require cooler temperatures. Fires can close your route, and unlike thru-hikers, who can skip ahead, you may have plane tickets for that section only. Once you're there, you can't just hunker down and wait out that rainstorm.

Not that I'm complaining. My PCT hike so far has given me a reason to dream. In the middle of a terrible winter (not enough snow and widespread ice) it gives me hope. While I sit at my computer for work, I can think about the section that is coming up. And when I am done, I can say I walked from Mexico to Canada in entirety.

So what's coming up? In three weeks, Triscuit and I are going to take on one of the more hated sections--Section E, the dreaded LA aqueduct section. In this section, there's a long stretch of flat, enclosed pipe, the channel that sends water to Los Angeles. It is reportedly monotonous and sometimes blazing hot. But I'm not a skipper--I am all in with this PCT thing.

Love. Washington in August 2012.
My summer hike depends on snow. Frighteningly, the section I am thinking about, from Truckee to Chester, is seized by a drought. While that might bode well for a hike in June, I am not so selfish to think that this is a good thing. Without snowpack and spring rain, this area could be ripe for a catastrophic fire season.

The fall signals the possible return of Flash, my erstwhile PCT companion. I think Triscuit and I have her talked into California Section D, home to some intense elevation change and Mount Baden Powell. If all of these hikes go as I hope, I will have only about 250 miles left. We could be looking at a 2019 finish.

As with all monkeys, I am sure I will feel a sense of relief and regret. The PCT has consumed my life for so long that I will feel off balance without it to plan around. I'm not sure that weekend backpacking trips can fill the canyon I am sure I will feel. Luckily, I have 650 miles before I need to find out.

Plenty of people have monkeys on their backs--goals they both crave yet sometimes seem like too much work. Whether it's a sub 3 marathon or 50 hikes in a year, they have some similarities. If you have a monkey on your back, what is it? What do you plan to do when you finally lose that monkey?
the path feels endless, until you come close to the end