Monday, May 28, 2018

Looking over my shoulder

I ran up the forest access road, Ruby in tow. There was nobody in sight. While maybe 50% of the people I know wouldn't run in such an isolated location alone, I usually just hope for the best and try not to think about all the pitfalls that could occur. However, I couldn't stop thinking about this fatal mountain lion attack. As I ran, I kept looking over my shoulder.

It's easy to say what you would do in this kind of situation. I would hope that I wouldn't run, or that I wouldn't leave my friend if they were being attacked. But I know from personal experience, when a coastal brown bear charged a group of us in Alaska in 2009, how difficult it is not to run. How hard it is not to think about yourself and not others. The instinct for survival is strong.

It turns out that there are creatures lurking on that forest road. The next day as I ran with another person, Ruby spotted something high on a ridge and started to chase it. I didn't see it, but the other runner said it was a wolf. (Wolves don't typically attack people--I once ran right by one and once I hiked down toward one at a lake. But they still give you pause).

The wilderness is beautiful and brutal. This part of Montana, where I was visiting family, was experiencing a 100 year flood. The Clark Fork was incredibly high.

Huge river from the Cascade Falls overlook  near Plains.
Guess we aren't going on this trail!

We drove up to an alpine lake, which we later discovered was the scene of a murder in 2003. Today it was peaceful, with kayakers floating around.

Corona Lake--difficult to find but worth the drive.
I'm still going to run in the woods, but it's going to take awhile to feel comfortable with it again. No matter that this was almost as rare as the Montana floods; it just takes a grisly story to make you think about what is watching you. But then I remember when I worked on a mountain lion refuge. We ran daily on a two track road, and the interns whose job it was to conduct telemetry on the collared cats told us how often one sat just one hundred yards off the road, watching as we ran past. We could have been lunch at any time. But we weren't.
Ruby is fearless.
Any of you sometimes afraid in the woods? Any scary encounters?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bitter. Sweet.

When someone leaves us, there is a time between grief and when memories make us smile more than cry. For some people we have lost, this is a long stretch of road. Just like hiking a trail, it takes time to get to the point where you can think, I'm glad for the years we had more often than I'm lost without you.

Every year a small group takes the gondola up to Mount Howard on the first day it runs for the season. This was something Ken and some of the guys used to do each year and now it's become a tribute to his memory. Even though I was on snowshoes and not skis, I was part of the group by default--I had loved Ken too. Skinning up a mountain, in fact, is slower than snowshoeing, especially if it is nearly summer and you have to bootpack.


This time we had A. R., who is in fourth grade. This trip is hard for adults, not to mention a ten year old. First up is the tram ride, where we were uncomfortably aware that we were in gondola cars built in the 1970s. The top of the mountain was still shrouded in snow, and we donned our skis or snowshoes to ascend the approach to Easy Peak. Passing my favorite campsite in the world, we then climbed to the top of Easy.

The view, as always, was spectacular.

Ken was one of those rare souls. He was the most non self-absorbed person I have ever known. Talking to him, you felt his entire attention on you, like a bright light. Even at the end, he asked how I was, gave me a hug. How he could be so graceful at that point I have no clue.

The clouds are coming in
We paused on top of Easy Peak. In front of us, the wilderness, places we had yet to go. Behind, places we had been. Always a great divide. Going forward, we leave the familiar, the loved. But you can't stay in the past. At some point, you have to leave those people, those memories, and move on.

In fifty years, A.R. will still be alive, but none of the rest of us will. In fifty years, nobody will remember me; I have no children, no close young relatives. It's always something sort of lonely to ponder. All of the drama, all of the struggle, none of it will remain, nothing to say I was here (except the books, if they are still in print). There's nothing like the mountains to make you realize that even though you see your life as a blazing meteor, it really is insignificant. It only matters to you, so you have to make it good.
The ski route down from Easy Peak.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Working Indoors (for the outdoors person)

I've had an "office job" for almost seven years now. And yes, I was one of those people who said they would never come in from the field. But you know, years of toiling on trails, on the fireline, and wilderness rangering take their toll. Besides being sort of low pay, they can eventually wind you up with health issues that could prevent you from doing the things you love. (For example, I never thought that leaving a 70 pound pack on while digging out hundreds of waterbars would catch up
with me. My knees don't agree.)

So here I am, tap tap tap on a computer. But, now when I go outside it's to do the things I want to do, not the things some manager thinks I need to (dig a waterline anyone?). Is it easy? Nope. I see my former co-workers heading to the field and I am envious. Rain, snow, beautiful sunny day, it makes no difference--I'm stuck inside.

A quick lunchtime walk that takes five minutes to reach

How to deal? Maybe you aren't in this boat and are independently wealthy, or are lucky enough to be able to balance an outdoors life with work. If so, stop reading and go outside (but leave me a comment. I love comments. And I am always looking for new blogs to follow). If you're like me, though, here are some survival tips.

1. The obvious: Put a block of outdoor time on your calendar. Everyone should get a lunch break. If I don't put it on my online calendar, someone will plop a meeting in there. It's easy to fall in the trap of thinking that if I only have time for a 30 minute run, then it's not "enough." But it's something. I sometimes change into my workout clothes a few minutes early--that signals to me that I am actually going to go.

Luckily, some hiking pants can look like "work pants"
2. Use conference calls wisely. Ah, the four hour call, where people blab on about "taking deep dives" and "unpacking this". If you aren't presenting, there may be time to go walk briskly around the block or even sit outside, as long as you are ready for the inevitable, "So....what do YOU think about Brad's idea?" I have a co-worker who even goes for runs during conference calls. I'm not sure I could pull that off (don't breathe heavily into the phone) but mute is a wonderful invention.

3. Don't let co-workers guilt you. Once, someone I supervised loved to snark on the fact that I left "Early" (4:30) to go outside and exercise. One day I was still at work and he said, "You're still here!" There will always be these people, those who feel married to the job. Don't marry the job. There are people in my workplace who lose their vacation time! Don't be them. Ignore the haters and stand your ground. To me, planning little mini-hikes throughout the year is much more rewarding than taking all my time off at once. And as the saying goes in my workplace, if you can take 30 days off, your job isn't really necessary. (I know, I know..)

4. Pack the weekends/after work. After a day of the computer, the struggle is real. I want to just sit and stare blankly into space. Darn you, Excel formulas! But move you must. I try to reserve the (boring but necessary) gym and bike trainer for weekdays and do longer adventures on the weekends. I've been known to backpack on a Sunday and run down the trail at four in the morning to make it to the office on Monday morning. It's good to show up at work kind of tired from the weekend's activities. The gym, though tiring, isn't as good of a feeling.

5. Avoid adventure envy. This is a hard one! There's nobody else's life that I want, but there are times when I read blogs or see posts about multi-day or even day long trips people are able take on a random Wednesday. Some are my local friends, too. What I do is count up the things that I am lucky enough to do. I have weekends off. I have a living wage. I probably won't have to work as a Walmart greeter. I can retire at a (relatively) young age, unless Congress adopts the current budget proposal. I'm not suffering from a terminal illness. And so on...

I get to hike about 300 miles of the PCT a year. That is not a bad thing.
6. Rig up an outdoor space. This can be difficult unless you work at home, but there may be chances to take a laptop outside and work. I have a contraption using my trekking umbrella, but it can be tricky to see the screen. But if you have to review a hard copy document, go outside to do it! (Just beware of distractions. The neighbors are having happy hour on their porch! Oh look, a kitten!

7. Walk around! In a cubicle prairie, this may be hard. Someone may be waiting to trap you into a fascinating conversation about rivets. But try to get up once an hour at the very least and pace. Maybe do a walking meeting; I have been known to entice co-workers outside for this. No need to sit in a conference room!

This is my office burning down. As much as I hate office work, this was not a good thing to see.

8. If all else fails, quit. Nope, I am not brave enough to do this either. But you might be. I am not willing to go back to bunkhouses with 20 year olds, paying rent, and worrying about running out of money at 75. I have friends who think social security is going to save them. Oh honey. No. But if you can overcome financial woes to go back outside, more power to you.

Despite this list, I still suffer. There are tradeoffs to everything. Would I rather wake up with a backpack to grab for the day? Of course. But eyes on the prize. Or, pick a lane, as my friend Ellen would say. Make a choice and make it work.

Any indoor working tips to share?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Trail family

Thru hikers call it "trail family" or "tramily." It's a group of people that are your tribe, the ones who love you even if you have quirks like wanting the perfect campsite or seeing what's around the corner. These people are rare and you have to appreciate them when they appear. Living in a very small town, it was difficult to collect these people, but I have managed to find some.

That being said, I still like my solo adventures. A perfect week is a hybrid of both. During the work week, I am more often solo. On a rainy day, I went for a run in the park:

It was raining, and way more tempting to stay inside. But I had spent all day inside! To the park I can't pronounce!

A test of the Leave It command ensued. In the end, the deer were safe.

An after work hike on the Hurricane Creek trail and a scout of the river crossing. Still too high.

Finally the weekend came and I cast a net for day hikers. My friend could only hike for a couple of hours, so she turned around at the Ice Lake bridge and I continued on to see how high I could get.

Lots of snowmelt was making the waterfall huge.

The end of the line unless you are a fan of postholing. Still another month perhaps until the lake is accessible.

It's good to see there is still this much snow at higher elevations. We will need it this summer.
On the way down from the hike, I happened upon two other friends and we hiked out together.

On Sunday I gathered up two friends and proposed a hike to Freezeout Saddle. They agreed cautiously, because I have taken them on some unintended epic adventures. I also invited a stranger, a woman I knew only from professional email, because why not? We climbed up through beautiful views and wildflowers.

Hiking with friends has caused me to compromise. A slower pace sometimes, adjusting the destination, or turning around when they wanted to, not when I did. It's made me a better person, actually. I think. You would have to ask them!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Notes from the Vortex: a week in Sedona

"I don't feel any different," I said doubtfully as A and I stood in what he said was a vortex. We looked back at where we had come. A rare thunderstorm, strange for spring in Sedona, was slowly making its way toward us. We had just been caught in a brief rainstorm. While other hikers vanished from the trail or frantically put on rain jackets, we had marched serenely onward. Rain in the desert, it never lasts too long.

View from a vortex
Another work trip, another chance to put a life philosophy into practice. Unless you are very lucky, you have to work thirty to forty years. That is a long time. I work hard at trying to fit adventures into my work travel. It isn't always easy. There is paperwork to process if you want to stay over a weekend, and sometimes you can't if it costs more to fly back later. There's inertia to overcome--after leading a meeting, all I want to do sometimes is sit in the hotel. But I never regret making an effort.

Luckily, in Sedona it doesn't take much effort. The national forest surrounds the town, and trails are plentiful.
I found one for an early morning run. I had local intel because you had to walk on a right of way through someone's gate. Once I passed through, the options were endless. So many trails, so little time.

After a week of sitting at our computers, we were done. It was time to get out for a hike. We earnestly said we would be discussing wilderness character monitoring on the trail, and we did for the most part. This trail traverses the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.

An easy three miles one way was enough to get me dreaming of off-trail scrambling. There was so much to discover. Alas, there was not enough time.

Reluctantly we headed back. "Where's the next basket!" a flustered looking man asked. He meant the large cairns enclosed with wire, meant to keep people on the trail. They seemed obvious to us, but he appeared frightened of getting lost. He was headed for the vortex, and it seemed like he really, really needed some healing powers, or at least a bite of a calm down sandwich.

So what is a vortex, exactly? I looked it up: Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form 'vortices' is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy.

Hmm. I'm not sure I believe in them, but can't we all use all the help we can get? Maybe I will end up feeling healed and meditative in the coming work week. I can always hope.