Thursday, December 27, 2018

Non Essential.***

So, I am non-essential as determined by the federal government, and I have been on furlough for the past week. It was supposed to be my paid vacation time, but paid time off is an obligation to the government, so since the "discretionary" agencies have no budget, I am on furlough, not vacation. Following so far?

It seems like the average American doesn't care much about a partial shutdown. Most national parks are still open and so are the forests. I've seen people giddy with the realization they don't need to pay an entrance fee. Right now the only people working in my agency are law enforcement, firefighters (if it's fire season there) and the few that are contractor representatives. Which makes me wonder.: if most of us, the toilet cleaners, the trail builders, the planners, the water testers, are not essential, maybe the parks and forests should revert back to wilderness, with no services.  


But I am essential in the cosmic sense. That's all that really matters.

Anyway. I haven't had this many days off in a row when I haven't been on a hike. And what I have discovered is what those who are able to avoid work have known for years: Time! So much time! I've been able to snowshoe and ski with friends who have no work limitations, when usually I have to beg off with a sigh if it's during the work week. I also realize: I would be in such great shape if I had this much time, all the time!

And we have been blessed by soft, fluffy powder snow! The kind that your snowshoes sink in deep, the kind that forgives your clumsy skiing. The dog is getting spoiled too by all this activity. No more lying sullenly in the house while I work. It's play time all the time!

This makes me realize why some less fearful friends retired early, with the opinion that the future is not guaranteed. I get it! But I still can't quite make the leap. There's been too much time invested, and so little to go. I do dream, though.

***Speaking as a private individual. These opinions are not expressed for my agency, or on official work time, or in my professional capacity.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Confessions of a Terrified Cross-Country Skier

I desperately snowplowed down the steep slope. Oh no! Obstacle! Obstacle! A fallen tree loomed ahead. For Pete's sake, what was so easy about cross country skiing?

Dang! An obstacle on a hill. Trust me, this may not look like a hill. But it is.
Despite this being a dismal winter in the valley, I was gratified to find plenty of snow up high. Accompanied by my friend T and a little yipper named Molly, I ventured out to the trails to see if I remembered how to ski. Turns out, I do, sort of.
She's little, and she tends to yap a lot, but she's cute. Not a great photo because she wouldn't stay still.
The next day I went out solo to check conditions on the Canal Road. This is a summer road that is only open to oversnow vehicles in the winter.  As you may surmise, it parallels a canal. You can travel ten miles one way, but I didn't have time for that. Darkness began to fall and it was time to retreat. Conditions were fine, once I avoided the tire tracks (the memo about driving on the road in winter must have been lost to some). The dogs were pretty happy about the two hour ski. So was I.

The third day I had a couple of hours to spare between work obligations. I returned to the Canal Road, but took the skier trail down through the forest. This is a route I can only undertake when there is plenty of soft snow to slow me down--it's quite the elevation drop. Today there was just enough snow for it to work. I only had to sidestep down two very steep hills, and never sunk to the low of hiking with skis.

I always feel like I'm starting over each winter. I have to accept that I will never be graceful on skis. Therefore, my confessions:
 1. I cried once on the Hill of Death (not to be confused with the Hill of Terror)
2. I may have had a meltdown on my birthday one year on a "most difficult" route. Thus the new saying by J: "it's not your birthday if there's not a meltdown".
3. I have uttered "oh no, oh no, oh no," more than once.
4. I have walked quite a few hills.
5. I once fell over a dog when I couldn't stop in time.
6. I'm always grateful when I get back to the car with all limbs intact.
7. I am secretly glad when it is a slog rather than extremely fast downhill.
8. I'll ski up the Hill of Terror to avoid skiing down it on the Summit Divide loop.
9. My attempt at skijoring ended in disaster when the dogs ran too fast for me.
10. I once fell over when standing still on cross country skis talking to a friend.

I'll keep at it, though. Maybe this will be the winter when the Hill of Terror gets downgraded to the Hill of Mild Fear. (The Hill of Death will never change, though. Miracles are not going to happen.)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

(almost) the end of the PCT

J stared in amazement as I tapped on the keyboard. "How can you even make a flight reservation for MAY?" he asked, horrified. He is from the Wing It school of adventure. He doesn't even start packing until the day he leaves, something that horrifies me. In contrast, I start building a pile of gear at least a week in advance. Then I revisit it, taking stuff out, adding stuff in. Invariably the forecast will change, leading to panic packing the night before. I am guessing this approach isn't much better.

Getting ready for Washington PCT, circa 2013.
I'm working on my last two PCT section planning. It is amazingly complicated when you are hiking between two 200 mile points. For one, the most efficient way to do it is buy two one way tickets, one to one town and the second from another. You have to calculate how many miles you will hike in order to meet the departing flight, hoping that a trail angel will appear to take you past some miles you already hiked. You have to mail a box of clean clothes to the last town so that you don't offend your fellow plane passengers. You have to figure out where you will resupply and when you might get there (I tend to go 100 miles between resupplies). For the last section, in the Southern Sierra, you roll the dice on a lower snow year and hope it will be accessible in June.
I don't think I bring this much stuff anymore. For one,  I have ditched the sleeping bag stuff sack and now pack the bag loosely in the bottom of the pack.
I've downloaded maps and studied them. I won't go as far as some infamous former Sierra trail partners who made spreadsheets of where camp would be every night. Going solo gives me a lot more freedom. But still, there are some parameters. I have to hike 20 miles a day, pretty much. I need to figure out where the big water carries are and to bring enough capacity to deal with those. I need to invite some trail friends to Horseshoe meadow to PAR-TAY at the very end ("party" being a relative term and probably consisting of cookies and maybe a toast). I must start planning now!

PCT completion medal. They put your "trail name" on the back. Can't wait to get one of these!

It's good to have something to do right now. A promising winter has given way to a glum not enough snow/too much ice situation. Adventures have been limited. The treadmill even made an appearance. My neighbor appeared from two weeks in Hawaii and looked depressed, like he wanted to go right back. That didn't sound all that bad, actually.

Monkey Bars and Flash, finishing Washington! 
It'll change. It always does. We just need to wait it out. In the meantime, I'll plan. May will come pretty fast.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Kayaking Black Creek Wild and Scenic River, Mississippi

Things I learned last week:

1. There's a website called
2. If you have to get workout clothes because your suitcase is lost and you NEED to exercise, a 24 hour Walmart in Hattiesburg, Mississippi may not be the best place to go.
3. You are never too old to be creepily checked out by scary looking dudes in Walmart.
4. If you hear a large amount of air coming out of a tire at 4 in the morning at the airport, and you are one hundred miles from home, and your flight leaves in an hour, there is nothing you can do but go inside the airport.
5. Les Schwab tire shop is awesome.
6. Mississippians are the nicest people on the planet.
7. Southern accents are very appealing.
7. Missisippians are also some of the most unhealthy. Y'all, you need to move a little more.
8. Maybe because if you order seasonal vegetables, you will get onions and zucchini drenched in oil even though you have asked for steamed.
8. It is entirely possible to sprint through the Houston airport and get to a connecting flight in 20 minutes.
9. Even in a really built up area, you can usually find something pretty.

Such was the case with Black Creek. We hauled our sit-on-top kayaks to the river at Cypress Landing (one of several access points). Only twenty-one miles of the river are designated Wild and Scenic, and we only had time to float six miles. There were rumors of alligators and cottonmouths, but it seemed too cold for that. Nobody floats the river in December, except us, so it was quiet except for our conversation and the sound of our paddles. The water was tinged a deep brown from tannic acid.

You didn't even really have to paddle. The current moved along at a brisk two miles an hour, and you could float along, just using the paddle to avoid some of the trees and sandbars blocking the creek. The vegetation along the streambank bent over like a canopy, making it seem completely isolated from the rest of the world.

At one sandbar we got out and hiked some of the Black Creek national recreation trail. Stretching 41 miles and often touching the river, the trail looks wild and abandoned. Without a lot of topography to make a difference, it looks to be a fairly easy stroll and a super easy thru hike to add to the resume.

Black Creek National Recreation Trail. It doesn't look very used.
The breadth of the sandbars varies with water flow, and we were floating through at a lower level. The "lunch sandbar" was so wide and warm that I wished we had brought a tent (a common theme of mine). Warm sand in December: it was like a dream, considering that at home, it was well below zero.
sandbar happiness with the river behind me
On this stretch, three pipelines run beneath the river, from one side to the other, a reminder that humans have messed with just about every inch of the planet. Except for those and a bridge, we saw no development until, three hours later, we reached Fairley Bridge landing, our takeout point. 

It was hardly a strenuous outing. "The rednecks put in tubes and float down," one of the forest employees told me. It sounded kind of fun in the summer, except for the aforementioned alligators. In the summer, they explained, you would never want to hike the trail, though. Too many bugs, and way too hot. On the river, you would spend most of your time swimming, not paddling.

I'm not into a place where the summer is off limits for outdoor fun. But paddling in December? That I could get behind. I'm already scheming a return to backpack the trail.
The lunch sandbar.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Sloth Diaries*

*Just kidding.
But, it does seem like more of a fight to get outdoors this time of year. Mostly, I am interested in lying around like this:

But that never works. After an hour or so of lying around I feel incredibly large and lazy, so I propel myself to some kind of activity. This is the time of year that I call "multiple choice adventures." You really don't know what conditions will be like, so you bring everything so you don't have to backtrack. For example, my list today included:

  • Running shoes, in case there wasn't much snow
  • Spikes, in case it was icy
  • Snowshoes, in case there was too much snow
  • Hiking boots, in case there wasn't enough snow to snowshoe but too much to run in
  • Extra layers, in case I had to walk, since there would be too much snow to run in but not enough snow to snowshoe in
  • A book, in case I couldn't do any of those things and had to wait for my snow-biking partner
It was not even by design that I didn't bring skis also, because I thought there was no way there would be enough snow to ski. However, there was. I settled for snowshoeing, the first time this year. It was a good choice, even if I only had an hour.

Earlier this week, I ventured into the state park to run. However, it turned out to be too icy, and I hadn't brought my spikes. Walking it was... (this section wasn't icy, but it got icy pretty fast)
And a couple of days prior, I arrived at the East Fork ready for a hike, only to discover it would have been great for running.

In previous lifetimes, the only activity I really did with regularity was run. I ran six days a week. I don't miss those days. I think a diversity of interests is way better for my body and for keeping my interest up (and making me more interesting). 

So as usual, my adventures are gradually shifting from hiking to everything else. Even though I miss hiking, I know that it is good to take a break from any one thing for a period of time. This year will be the year of more skating. Of skiing down the Hill of Terror (recently downgraded from the Hill of Death). Of more snowshoe loops, and some winter runs.

I'm actually sort of looking forward to a hiking break. When you do long distance hiking like PCT sections, it is easy to fall into the miles per hour trap. I need a reboot. Bring it, winter.

Any new winter things you plan to try? Do you take a break from a certain activity seasonally?