Wednesday, September 26, 2018

hanging around Lake Superior

I grew up in Northern Michigan and couldn't wait to leave. I knew mountains were where I belonged. So it was with interest that I observed last week that my hometown is now a happening place. Back in the day, my friend Laura and my sister and I were the only people running on the few, unmaintained trails, besides our dads (people thought we were deeply weird). Now there's ultra runs on these trails and new trails have proliferated. There's a huge mountain bike presence. In the place where we ran many lonely 10Ks, starting from the arena, onto the bike path and around "the Island", people thronged in large numbers. I haven't been back in the fall for years, and it was very strange to reconcile this place with the place I grew up.

The beautiful Harlow.
It was oddly hot, with temperatures in the 80s, and people were swimming in Lake Superior. They weren't just running in and dashing out; they were fully immersed. At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, fleets of kayaks dotted the water. Kayaks weren't really a thing when I was growing up. Now they're everywhere. I kayaked up a peaceful river, dotted with strange and mysterious dwellings. Nobody appeared on the banks of the river, but the evidence was there: little gazebos, a boat here and there.

Kayaking up the Chocolay River
We hiked a five mile section of the North Country trail, stopping at the frighteningly named Mosquito River. In June, this would be a horrific place to camp, but in September? It was perfect. Two days later, a woman hiking a section a bit further fell to her death as she stopped to take a selfie. Horrifyingly, some kayakers witnessed her fall. Death by selfie is not a good way to go. Stay back from the edge, people.

On the last day, a wind whipped up the lake to a frenzy. It really seemed like an ocean then, too wide to see across, impossible to understand.
It's a little windy
It dominates life here, just like the ocean does in other states. Living in the inland west, I miss the abundance of water.

My high school years were an unhappy time; I always knew there was something else I was meant to do, different people to meet. It was good to return to my stomping grounds as an adult and see how far I have come. And I can understand now why people want to come here.

OK, this is just as good as mountains. Almost. If only it could be September all the time.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Swimming outside the lines

I step into Mill Lake, expecting to feel the cold bite of glacial water. But I've forgotten: I'm not in an alpine lake. I'm in southern Michigan, on a small inland body of water. I

I swim and I swim. I swim across the lake, aiming for the white lawn chairs of the Chicago people's house across from our cottage. I turn and aim back toward the float plane on the other side. Unlike where I live, I can stay in the water.

It's like that here, a gentler side to life that I've forgotten. It seems easy here, a September without nights of frost or hint of snow, a season where I usually have to carry a puffy jacket wherever I go. Not here. Life feels easy here, without an edge.

Of course I'm wrong. Winter is coming and lake swimming won't be possible. I'll be gone by then. But for now I swim farther than I ever have, outside of a pool confines.  This is why travel is good. You step out of your bubble.
Plus, you do things you never thought you could. Like swim farther than you ever have.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hiking to the sky

The stars aligned this summer. Unlike the rest of the West, we remained smoke-free. No big fires loomed over us. Thunderstorms were minimal. Day after bright sunny day dawned. While too many of them were spent at work, there were still endless possibilities on weekends. It was also the perfect mix of solo and togetherness. I had worried a little when a long term hiking partner had broken up with me--was there something deeply wrong with me? But I quickly found a group of great friends to hike with.  Sometimes you have to let things go and not know the answers why.

I've hiked the trail to Legore Lake a few times in the past nine years. Each time I wonder why I do it. It gains 4,500 feet in four miles, and they aren't any easy four miles. They consist of a) steep, eroded pebbles; b) a steep boulder field; and c) an uneasy scramble up a talus slope. I wouldn't have done it at all unless a friend was going too. So upward I slogged, hoping for a good outcome.

This trail is one that the tourists generally don't attempt. T and I catalog our many falls along it. "I'm on an every other year cycle," she confided. "Enough time to forget the pain but remember the joy." There's something wise in that somewhere.

I started out before the 30 year olds, certain they would catch up to me, but they didn't. We encountered each other at 9,000 feet, a few dark clouds whipping by, too cold to swim. We were overlooking the highest lake in Oregon. When I first arrived, a bighorn sheep and baby were drinking from the outlet stream. The answer to crowded trails is to find harder ones.

There's something both marvelous and ominous about being at such a high elevation. You are acutely aware of how close you are to the sky. You feel the breath being exchanged between the canyon below and the lake above: cold air sinking, warm air rising. It doesn't feel like a place you are meant to stay long.

So I didn't, heading back to the hardest part of the route: the descent. The 30 year olds didn't have trekking poles, to my deep amazement. But then, when I was 30, I didn't use them either. I slipped and slid down the goat trail and through the boulder field. Even Ruby whined a time or two there.

Before too long, though, we were hurtling downhill, bound for saner elevations. I'll be back--maybe in another couple of years.

I'm sad summer is ending; it's been so perfect. I can't say there is anything different I would have done with this one. I did just about everything I wanted to do. I guess that's a good way to end it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

when your town gets discovered

Granted, it was Labor Day weekend. But we shook our heads in disbelief as we were forced to park a quarter mile away from the trailhead. I am not considered a local after only nine years here, but I feel safe in saying I have never seen so many cars at the trailheads as this summer.

It's a balance I struggle to find. On one hand, I love that people are enjoying the wilderness. But. There are areas I have to avoid now if I want to be alone, trails I have to give up on for a lot of the summer. And the people who are coming from urban areas, while mostly nice, occasionally expect things we are not used to doing. A group snarled at us for not having our dogs on leashes, even though our dogs were sitting calmly next to us. Trail runners expect us to leap out of the way for them, even if we are the ones going uphill and they are coming down. My favorite campsites are often taken. It's hard to adapt to all of this. Plus, where is everyone pooping? (I admit to a certain obsession about this).

Clear water of the Lostine River
"Maybe we should pick a different weekend for our camping trip," L said as we hiked toward Blue Hole. This camp-out had been happening for thirty years. But the campground, once our sole property, was crowded with others. We couldn't even stop at the Blue Hole, a deep swimming hole, because it was packed with people, llamas, and goats.

On a day hike to another lake, it was the first time I had been glad to be leaving rather than staying. An endless tide of backpackers rolled by. Two guys flagged us down looking for fuel, and were visibly upset when we said they would have plenty of company.  There were more people than campsites.

The calm before the storm

We aren't at the level of a Sawtooths, or Bend, or Rocky Mountains National Park. And having lived in a place where massive cruise ships disgorged thousands each day, I admit I may be a bit spoiled by insisting it's busy here. The week after Labor Day, I climbed to a lake devoid of any people. For the most part my 19 mile loop was empty. But for me and others in town, there's a growing uneasiness about all the publicity we have had lately. As it is, you can't find a house with a few acres for less than half a million dollars now. A house I looked at in 2009 that was listed for $289,000 is now listed for almost 500. If you want to rent, you need to haunt the real estate offices for months, ending up paying over a thousand a month for an apartment. Things are definitely changing.

On the plus side, it's a long, long drive to an airport. The winters chase people out. We don't have a movie theater or a pool, and if you want night life, you'd better be prepared to end it by nine at night, when the streets roll up. It's still quiet, even in town. Maybe the thrill will be gone soon, people off to discover new spots.

In the end, I guess I'd rather live in a place people want to come to, not one they can't wait to leave (been there). I just wish it wasn't so concentrated in about a two month span. So if you come here, please don't snarl at the locals. And dig a good cathole.

The only person at Blue Lake!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon section F (partial); to Santiam Pass, Day 2-2.25

Part of the trouble of camping near water is the inevitable condensation that occurs. As I stuffed a damp bag into my pack, I glanced over at the two thru-hikers who had cowboy camped within steps of the river. They had to be totally soaked. Bad life choices, I thought.

As is typical, I left camp before anyone else was even awake. I don't know how this happens, but it's impossible to me to sleep in, ever. Might as well get moving!

The trail meandered through a restricted camping area, where you need special permits. One of these was Shale "Lake", which in better times probably is really a lake. Now it's a stagnant puddle. Glad I hadn't made the effort to get a permit for that place, I continued on, spotting several intriguing lakes far below. A dog barked from the depths of the canyon, although I couldn't see any tents. A mystery.

The cool air that had blown out the smoke made for good hiking, but not for good lingering at breaks.  A few thru-hikers passed going north, bundled in hats and looking miserable. At almost 20 miles,  I turned the corner to encounter a tall man with an unusual belt--one I recognized.

"Um, are you a smokejumper?" I asked.

He looked puzzled. "Well, I was one. How did you know?"

"Your belt." Yep Yep was wearing an airlock belt buckle, one that smokejumpers use from old gear. We hiked along together for a little while, talking about the old days of firefighting. We hadn't overlapped--he had jumped in the 1970s and mid 1980s--but we knew a few common names. The trail is a strange and magical place, where you meet people you never would otherwise.

As the trail wound up over Three Fingered Jack, YepYep decided to go on ahead while I sat in the sun. At that point there were only seven miles to the trailhead. It seemed foolish to stop and camp; it was only 3:30. But then I found a perfect spot; it was foolish not to stop. With 21 miles done for the day, why not?

I've never had a lot of patience with people who say they get bored in camp; these are the same people who have to be doing something every minute and can't just be still. There is so much to do in camp. You can watch mountain goats:

You can read a book. You can look at your maps. You can explore your small stretch of real estate. I never get bored in camp. But I am pretty self-entertaining, a skill that I fear is being lost, even by me sometimes. So, it's always good to get practice in doing nothing.

The next morning I woke in a cloud. Stuffing a wet tent in the mesh pocket of my backpack, I threw on rain gear that I hadn't worn in months and headed down the trail. It felt like nobody else was out there in the fog, until I saw my good friend A headed in my direction.

Foggy morning on the PCT

She had come to provide me with a sign of celebration--almost finishing the Oregon section of the PCT.
The pesky Ashland to Crater Lake section remains. It seems to either be mosquito hell, on fire, or choked in smoke. Someday it will be mine. For now, a minor 350 miles remains on my PCT journey.