Wednesday, March 28, 2018

today is not that day

Around here, if you mention the word snowshoeing, most people regard you with horror. I think those people just don't realize that snowshoeing extends your hiking season. There are some places that it is very hard to visit on skis, even if you are an expert. I try to understand, but what is there to hate? I just don't get it, and I am not sure I have a lot in common with those folk.

So I headed out solo along the West Fork Wallowa trail. The snow was spring crust, perfect for maintaining a good pace. There were no other tracks, and nobody was around. These mountains are known for avalanches, but here on the river bench it was relatively safe. I could see old slides farther up on the peaks, though.  While it was relatively calm on the trail,  banners of snow were blowing off the peaks--high winds aloft. Not a day to climb high.

For some reason, the snowshoe hike seemed difficult. I thought over what I had done on previous days, but I had taken a rest day just two days before. Was I reaching that dreaded place where I would have to slow down?

There's a quote I read on a blog that I really like: "Someday you may not be able to do this, but today is not that day." So far there is relatively little that I can't do that I used to be able to, save perhaps running a marathon on pavement (my knees hurt just thinking about it). It's easy to proclaim that you will always be able to do the long hikes or runs that you do today, but it is also wise to know that someday this could change. In this valley, there are many outliers, men and women in their 70s and 80s who still ski and hike with vigor. There's one 72 year old who regularly beats us all down the trail. Of course I hope for this. I don't know how to give up anything with grace, not yet.

I reached the Ice Lake junction. I had harbored thoughts of going past this, perhaps across the river towards Ice Lake. But the sight of the bridge, piled high with snow, made this a big fat Nope. And continuing up the main trail meant being shrouded in trees without a view. So I decided to hang out by the river for a bit and turn around.

I don't usually stop on my solo adventures. Often I eat a bar while I hike. But in the spirit of today is not that day, I decided to snack in the sun. It was one of those warm late winter days when you can almost feel the seasons in a tug of war.

I might have to slow down someday. I hope not. I'm not very good at giving things up. Giving up marathon running was immensely hard. But in the end I replaced it with shorter runs on trails, and that's been a pretty good trade. I no longer race the clock; and though it took awhile, pace per mile was replaced with enjoyment of just being able to run. I have no idea how fast (slow) I run now and I don't care. I guess all it takes is figuring out what you can still do and going after it. That way even if you aren't able to do something you once did, you can still do something. That way, today will never be that day.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Life lessons from Ruby

Ruby's almost two! And after exhaustive training, treats, and "RUBY COME" screamed at the top of my lungs, she's turned into a good trail dog. I can't believe how different it feels to have a furry running and hiking companion. I know not everyone likes dogs, and I wasn't a real fan of them until I got her. But I think we can all agree that when you're outdoors, encounters with dogs are often fraught with peril. Not my dog though!

For her birthday (in May, so a little early) I was thinking how much she has taught me, too (after all, obedience training is really about training the owner). So here you go:

Sometimes, you have to stay on the leash. Even if you really, really want to run free. Example, I'd love to quit my job and be free to adventure, and there are people who advocate for this. Just take the leap! Deal with finances when they become a problem! Sadly, I feel unable to do this. There are times to stay on the leash, as Ruby knows.
But then....question the rules. People will tell you not to get on the couch. But maybe you have to be the first dog to broach the couch. For me, it's sneaking some fun into my work trips (this isn't bending or breaking rules, but you do have to make the effort. In my case, it's lots of official forms and making sure the cost isn't more than the shorter trip). 
And of course...get outside every day. Even if it's raining. Even if it's cold. Even if it's a 52 mile drive to the trailhead, and wouldn't it just be easier to stay home? It's always worth it.

Do your favorite things. Ruby's are simple: running, playing, eating. Sometimes I wonder if my list is becoming kind of narrow. Hiking, camping, some kayaking, running, skiing, snowshoeing. Shouldn't I learn something new? But, I really like those things. I want to keep doing them. 
Be kind. This one is hard. People seem to be getting meaner. It's hard to let things go. Or to comprehend why friends I had on the fireline now hold such incredibly different beliefs than I do. I'm still working on this one. Ruby's pretty good at it though.

Carpe diem. If there's snow, embrace the snow. Don't let a day be ordinary. Ruby embraces every day. I love her enthusiasm. Here, she is high-centered, but she doesn't let that stop her.

And finally...have someone to love. If that's not your thing, love an animal or a plant or anything, really. In the end, that's all we have. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

escaping the fergi vortex

After several hours, I thought that we were about to make a break for it. The T had shut down, and nobody had been caught sledding by the rope tow. Nobody had gotten stuck in the parking lot.  All dogs were accounted for. We had done a successful retrieval of our shuttle vehicle, left several miles away at the start of our long ski that had ended here, at Fergi, the local ski area.

But escaping Fergi is never as easy as it may seem. Who needs Sedona? We have our own vortex. Completely volunteer-run, the place is the center of the universe for all the skiers. There's a comfortable lodge with food, a ski shop to hang out in, and a deck to sit on. There's always something going on here and tearing yourself away is not easy. You see all your friends here. You get talked into staying.

We had finally started driving out when we saw one of the regulars hiking back up the road. Stuck, he was walking back for his snow cat. There ensued a comical shuffling of vehicles. One more hour spent at Fergi.

There are some good ski loops that leave from Fergi, which allows you to start and end there. I chose one today, a route that requires sufficient snow or else you scream down the hills in abject terror. Since our March Miracle continues, with so much snow that we have completely gotten back to normal snowpack, I can ski on advanced terrain without fear.

It had been days since anyone had been back there, and I saw nobody.

A lot of skiers like tracked trails. It's true you can go fast, but I prefer the deep snow, even if you end up shuffling for several miles. This town is changing fast--houses have gone up in price $200,000 over the last nine years, and there are many new people here--but I hope this always stays the same.

After a couple of hours of peaceful quiet, I descended into Fergi, immediately seeing several friends. A couple of them unsuccessfully hunted for a hidden keg of green beer. The vortex seized hold and I found myself hanging around the deck, where the sun made it feel about sixty degrees. Snow and sun is a great combination. Only a scheduled book reading tore me away. We all need our little vortexes, places we feel most ourselves.

The results of the poison ivy experiment are in--and no rash! Treatment in the Golden Hour is key.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A shot of spring

I'm conducting an experiment. If you are crossing a stream and trying to keep your balance on the rocks, and you reach out and grab a branch to steady yourself, but you break the branch and fall in anyway, and then you look and see that the branch you grabbed with your bare hands is poison ivy, that is dormant, will you then get a poison ivy rash?

Check back in next time and I will let you know.

Sadly, there is no such thing as paradise. Three spring-seeking friends and I sat on a new beach near the Snake River (new because the high water flows have created new beaches and cleared out prickly vegetation on others) and basked in the sixty degree sun. The only lingering threat was the possible PI that was awaiting in a few days. I had rinsed my hand in the ice-cold Snake and used an antiseptic wipe from my first aid kit, but still. Unless you are susceptible to PI, you are immune also to the deep-seated fear that arises when you realize you may be contaminated.
 As we sat there, marveling in the magic of spring, while "up top" in the mountains where we lived, it was still full-on winter, I felt a creepy crawly feeling. "A tick!" I exclaimed. Everyone leapt to their feet. Time to go!

There's no such thing as Paradise, but this place comes pretty close. I've hiked this trail (and written about it) many times before, but it's one of those that never gets old. It's where you go when the flat white of the landscape fails to inspire. It's where you go when you need a shot of spring.
Someone wrote their initials on the sand, but now I wonder if the T stands for "tick". We only found two though. Not terrible.
Two thousand feet below our houses, the flowers are beginning to come out. Once again I felt grateful to live in a place with such diversity. Canyon, mountains, rivers, all within a small radius. You could ski and hike in the same day, if you had enough energy.

Can you see the bighorn sheep? Not a great picture, but exciting to see the herd.
I'm not much of a drinker, but the shot analogy seems appropriate. I drank in the sun, the dirt under my feet, walking without a coat.

A ton of people were camped near the trailhead, but most were sitting around in lawn chairs, not even attempting to walk very far. You can tell spring fever has hit. Sadly for them, we have one more month of snow and sometimes two. Or three! Even if you love winter, sometimes you just want to see green. Back when I used to work at the forest, we used to fight over who got to drive an hour of bad road to clean the stinky outhouse down here. The call for spring is powerful around these parts.

One of my friends has lived here for forty years. On the narrow, exposed road driving out, she knew everyone driving in. She knew where the "hippie camp" had been in the 1970s. She knew where all the old trails went. This is a kind of history of place I won't ever have, and while I don't regret my rootless years, I admire the dedication to sticking it out somewhere.

We arrive back in the snow at the end of the day. The skiing will be good, and there's no need to hurry the seasons. The canyon waits; it's always there when we need it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Recalculating a goal

Since I came home, I've had a lot of time to reflect on the failed PCT hike. It's easy to armchair it and think, why didn't I just get a motel room and regroup? I could have at least day hiked some of it if the weather wasn't too terrible. I could have made it through the snow. I even started to think about if I even wanted to hike the PCT anymore. I'm of the philosophy that if an optional activity isn't fun, why do it?

Except not really. I mean, the gym isn't super fun, but I know I need to weight train or be a weenie, so I go there. So there are exceptions. But why throw a lot of money and time at a goal if it isn't worth the adventure anymore?

I spent a lot of time skiing this week. We had a March Miracle, and got about three feet of snow. This will save us. I thought about the PCT and long distance hiking in general as I traversed the quiet forest.

I gave up running marathons when it seemed pointless to pound my body on the pavement just to reach an arbitrary goal. Running every day wasn't doing me any favors, and I didn't want to just focus on one thing. I wanted to do all the things. When I started doing a long run in the morning and then rushing, exhausted, to meet a friend to kayak in the afternoon, I started to question my priorities.

After much skiing and contemplation, I decided it was time to go back to basics. The way we had approached this last PCT section was just to get it done. It wasn't going to be all that scenic, it wasn't going to be warm, and my hiking partner had sped up considerably, leaving me at almost a sprint to keep up. The need to do twenty mile days hung over us like impending doom. Whenever we would sit to eat lunch or contemplate going off trail to see something else, the clock continued to tick. Would we get our miles in? We couldn't miss our plane! So not fun.

So I've decided to recalculate. My next section, from I-80 near Donner Pass to Chester, will be much more relaxed. I'm going to drive a car to one end, which will alleviate the airplane woes. Flash has decided to come with me, which will be a joyous reunion--we've always been really good hiking partners. We plan for a leisurely 17 miles a day, leaving the options open to hike more if we want to.

I have about 650 or so miles to hike of the trail. I've been hurrying to finish, mostly because in life you are not guaranteed immunity from tragedy. Just because someone you know can still run marathons at 80 doesn't mean you will be granted that same gift. But I am done with hurrying. Yes, I could finish that 650 miles in a month. But I don't want to. I'm going to enjoy every step.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

escape from the Sierra Pelona

The snow started at nine in the evening. It was a quiet whisper against the tent walls, as if they were being brushed with a broom. It was difficult to tell from where we huddled, our tents pitched right in the trail at the least windy spot we could find, how much was falling and how much would fall. Sometime in the night, though, I woke and pushed big drifts off the sides.

My mind went back to all the missing, people who had been caught by unexpected storms like this one. Some have never been seen again. Even though I knew we were close to a road, a road we could tell would eventually lead us to a place with some houses and cars, it was hard not to imagine how a set of small decisions could lead to disaster.

All winter the southern California mountains have been bone dry. The week before we set out on our section hike, Acton to Tehachapi, the temperatures had soared into the nineties. The forecast for our week had shown a cooling trend, low 60s during the day, 30s at night, which seemed like a good thing. There was only a hint of rain later in the week.

A rare warm campsite on the trail. Yes, our tents are on the trail.
This section, California PCT section E, is not for the weak. It is what separates the cherry pickers from the obsessed, the fair weather hikers from the more determined. Arguably the least scenic of all the trail, it climbs like a rollercoaster into the dry Sierra Pelona, down to the California aqueduct (20 miles of concrete river) and climbs again to the wind-torn Tehachapis. That's not to say that there aren't small things of beauty. In fact, that is what the PCT has taught me: to appreciate small vistas.

Night one camp, on a ridge without wind. Win!

The first two days were benign, save for a biting wind in the mornings. There were no other hikers. We had the trail to ourselves, and even though the trail needs a little love--a lot of washed out and brushy sections--there was a sense of peace on being back on it. The nights were cold and clear.

Vasquez Rocks County Park. Some Westerns were filmed here.

On the third day we got water from a wildlife guzzler and continued higher. The wind was intense and a high film of clouds began to form. I wanted to go higher, to get the climbing done and be closer to the next road, but I could tell my hiking partner didn't, and we set up our tents in bitter cold. That night, it snowed. My chosen camp would have been 1500 feet higher. It had been good to stay lower.

My hiking partner had made up her mind that she was hiking out. While it's good to be decisive--I am sure she thinks I am a big waffler--it was clear that if I disagreed, I would be on my own. Without knowing how much more it would snow, I reluctantly decided that going on solo wouldn't be a great idea. I'm much more of a wing-it person, convinced that something great is around the next corner. I know this drives a decisive person nuts. I think difference in hiking styles is why so many people do long hikes solo. It can be much easier. Though as we geared up for a self rescue in drifting snow, it was good to know that someone else knew where I was.

We retreated. I can't even tell you how hard it was for me to turn my back on the trail and hike down the Forest Service road to safety. It is going to be really hard to connect my steps back to where we stopped and if I don't, I will feel like it's skipping (I told you: obsessed). A little chunk of 60 miles remains, but logistics makes getting back hard.

At the road, a woman and her kids were playing in the snow. She offered to take us to town in her old beater car, wiping off her windshield as she drove due to a faulty head gasket. I gave her $20 and felt good about that. She obviously needed it.

As I shelled out big bucks to change two plane tickets, I wondered why I am so obsessed with finishing the entire PCT.  I've hiked almost two thousand miles of it, shouldn't that be enough? Maybe. But I'm already thinking about where to go next. In the summer.
sunset over the Sierra Pelona