Saturday, December 28, 2019

Strangers on a plane

The worst part about traveling for a fun trip is the airline travel! I meet my friend P in Phoenix. "I'm driving everywhere from now on," he says. I nod, having just experienced being cooped up way in the back of two planes with people who don't move until the row in front of them has stood up.

Sometimes I meet interesting people on planes. And sometimes there's nice views, like this one.
This summer, a couple friends will be climbing this mountain. I've never been compelled to do the ropes and crampons thing. I'd like to hike the trail around this mountain though.

At least, air travel gets you to fun places relatively quickly, and so here we are, on the Grand Canyon rim in the midst of a winter storm. Optimistically I pack my hiking skirt. I wonder if I have enough layers. I look at the woman in front of me on the plane. She has false eyelashes that look like caterpillars. Why? But then I tell myself not to judge. She probably gets as much joy from those eyelashes as I do from hurtling myself down an icy trail to camp in 40 degree temperatures.

See you in 2020, friends. Do the things while you still can.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

I don't look like that

Before the days of social media, I only saw them occasionally. Women in the backcountry with perfect hair, wearing white (!) T-shirts, looking immaculate. Meanwhile, people accosted me with, "You're looking a little rough from your travels," or "Did a bomb blow up next to you?" Much like in real life, I have never been able to achieve a smooth ponytail or a model-like appearance.

I laughed the other day as I slogged up a road in the snow, realizing that everything I had on dated from the late nineties or early 2000s. I often hit the post office in a puzzling combination of shorts and Uggs knockoffs, because I have come from the gym and forgot to bring clothes to change into. My hair doesn't have highlights. I'm a backcountry disaster!

Does it matter? No.  But sometimes seeing posts of women hiking with their hair down and rippling makes me wonder. Because I'm interested in the Tanner Trail and the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon, I watched a video two women shot over four days of hiking. They had their hair down the entire time. Fifteen minutes of that and I would be reaching for the scissors, or end up with a bad case of dreadlocks.

I'm not writing this because I feel inferior. I probably could keep up with most of the women I see posed artistically before a nice view. It just seems like such a divide though. Where are my rumpled sisters? Am I the only one who can step on a trail, fairly well hairbrushed, and immediately look like I have been out for days?

I don't lie awake at night thinking about this, honestly. It is just an aspect of the outdoors that I am starting to see in more profusion lately. I've always gone to the wilderness because it doesn't matter what you look like there. Not like in real life, where women always get silently or not so silently judged for their appearance.

So don't worry, my selfies will always show a mess. But, an incredibly happy mess.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The tyranny of planning

TC and I email back and forth.
"Passage 19 is out. The trail has been destroyed by fire."
"You need 4WD to get to the end of Passage 19."
"Passages 20 through 23 look beautiful, but what about snow?"
"Maybe we can skip over 19, and 18 but that would take two shuttles..."

We debate, and it becomes clear that section hiking is way more complicated than just doing the whole Arizona Trail at once. But we have jobs, and I'm also not convinced I want to section hike another entire trail. To do that, you have to be incredibly committed, focusing just on that trail, and walk sections that are...well..not so great.

So maybe not the whole trail. But perhaps I will become more like my friend Beekeeper, who because life is short, chooses trails that are "cherry picker delights". Thus the debate raging over the interwebs, while TC and I try to find someplace to hike in February.

What it looks like here. It's beautiful, but I will need a mid-winter break. My young retired friends are going to Hawaii for two months. Me? A week in Arizona.

Losing Callie has reinforced that I need to live a life of adventure, as much as I can. Who knows how long we have left?  I'm reminded of a friend who refused to plant trees at his house, reasoning that he hated his job and planned to move soon. Ten years later he was still there, hating his job and with no trees. Another friend wanted to travel, but said he wanted to wait until he had a partner. Thirty years later, he hasn't gone anywhere.

When I hiked the PCT, it became apparent that there were two main types of people. There were the planners, who created elaborate spreadsheets of how many miles they would hike each day, how much water they would acquire at desert streams, and where they would send resupply boxes. Then there were the Wing Its, whose mantra was "the trail provides". (Interestingly, it often did) These people rarely consulted maps, had  no plan beyond the day in front of them. Useless to ask where they planned to camp that day. The result would be a confused look, and a "I'm just going to walk until dark."

I fall somewhere in the middle, mostly because my work schedule dictates it. If I had a free six months, it might not matter and TC and I could just fly to Arizona and figure it out. We go back to the guidebooks. We email anyone who might know the answers, who could possibly predict snowline in February. It's all kind of ridiculous, but it is the fate of a section hiker.

Are you a Wing It or a planner? Do you cherry pick the best locations?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Resilience (losing callie)

Trigger warning: if you've lost a pet, you may want to skip this post.

I lost an anchor this week. I've always known that my pets are why I don't go off on long adventures lasting several months. It's hard sometimes to go places and find people to take care of them. But it is also impossible to imagine life without them.

Callie was the world's biggest scaredy cat. For years, everything frightened her; loud noises, dogs, the outdoors, people. She was a tiny shelter kitten who endured several moves, including a three day trip on the Alaska Marine Ferry, which is not fun for pets. In the final move, she decided she preferred staying upstairs and so she did, sometimes looking over the railings as if she wanted to come down. For special people, she would timidly venture downstairs.

In the last year of her life, Callie found bravery. She marched downstairs, hung out with the dogs, and even went outside to the garden. Sometimes I was annoyed, because treating her hyperthyroidism took expensive medicine that had to be administered twice a day, hampering my adventures. The vet couldn't figure out why she threw up so much, and of course she always chose the one rug in the house. But even though something was obviously wrong, she rallied several times.

Until she couldn't. Her last night she came and laid on me like she used to do, and I think she was asking for help. I won't write much about her passing because it's too painful, but it took a long time for her heart to stop. "She's a fighter,* the vet said, which made me sad but it was true, she always was. Finally she let out a sigh like she knew she could go.

Despite the challenges she endured, dogs, a pushy young cat, being poked and prodded with medicine and fluids and pills, she was resilient. She taught me a lot. And one thing was true to the end: she had a strong and brave heart. I'll miss her.

The view from Callie's grave, where she is close to her buddy Smoke.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

White Friday

I didn't shop on Black Friday, in fact, I hardly shop unless it is for outdoor gear. Living in a cabin, there just isn't room for stuff, and most of the stuff I see, I can do without. I mean, who really needs a shower beer holder? Even if I drank beer, would I really need to have one for the three minutes I'm in the shower? 

So since shopping was out, we decided to make it a White Friday. Skiing, that is. After a season off, it was hard to wrap my brain around skiing again. It's amazing how, after not skiing for six months, the skiing stuff is hard to find. Where's the gaiters? The Musher's Secret for Ruby's paws? What do I even wear?  

In the end, I wore everything. It was clearly time to embrace winter.

As we drove into the mountains, the situation became unnervingly close to those you read about--Couple follows GPS onto an unplowed road, one unwisely leaves the car to walk for help. Only, we knew where we were going, and we did an inventory: Snacks, firestarter, emergency beacon. Others had given up, seeing the fifteen inches of snow on the road. Bravely, or unwisely, we continued on. The parking lot was bleak and deserted, as if nobody but us was left on earth. An unlucky rancher had abandoned a trailer right in the middle of the road. It was likely it would be there all winter.

I stared glumly out the window. "Why is winter so cold?" I whined. But ultimately, I got out. My Patagonia windstopper coat, circa 1990, stood up admirably to the bitter wind. It was time to ski, or rather, shuffle through two feet of snow on skis, a human groomer.

We reached the Hill of Terror, and I skied down it happily, the deep snow slowing my descent in a way that never happens if I follow a broken track. I have had many a meltdown on this hill, but today was perfect. Not so for the steep climb back up to the top of the divide. I huffed my way toward the top, each step like walking in deep sand.  I refused to concede the lead until I reached the trail junction.  I'm stubborn like that.
It's so cold that I never removed any layers. So pretty though.
Reaching the parking lot, I stared wistfully back at the track. Once again, we had broken trail for someone else to enjoy, but it had taken all of our energy to do it, and the weather was closing in. Live to ski another day, I thought. Staying up here any longer greatly increased our odds of participating in a winter campout. 

"Why is cross country skiing so tiring?" J asked, bent on a nap. I don't know why either, but it is. "Let's go out tomorrow!" he says. "Yes!" I say.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Ten Year Challenge, re-imagined

On Facebook, there's the same dumb "challenge" going around: post a photo of yourself from 2009 and one from today. Despite it not having the same ageist title as last year ("how hard has aging hit you"), it is just as biased toward looking the same as you did ten years ago, or looking young. The only people really participating are those who ARE still young, or those who have flattering photos from 2019.

Because this challenge annoys me, I've decided to flip it. For those not in the know, I've decided that for me, this will be the year of flipping things. It's easy for me to get irritated about not being able to be free to do whatever I want, not pinned down by work or lack of cash, frustrated by getting older, the list goes on. But I don't want to live like that. To the best of my capability, I'm going to try to flip the situation to a happier light. (Example is a friend complained about her heinous inbox. She works for herself, so this means people want to hear from her, or get advice or business from her. That's a good thing!)

So I am flipping the ten year challenge of how you look (superficial) to what did you accomplish? Most people should have something they are proud of having done. And because this is an outdoor blog, what adventures have  you accomplished? Those are what matter, not how you look.

Here's mine:

I hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail!
I learned how to swim!
I learned how to ride a bike!
I got to be a much better hiking partner (this was a tough one! I'm very independent and focused on my own goals)
I published two books!
I tried a new sport (river rafting)!

Isn't that better than how my face has changed?
OK. OK. Here's 2008. I don't think I look this young anymore. Which does make me sad. But no need to dwell on it, because there isn't anything I can do about it.

Okay, this might all sound braggy, but who will brag for you if you don't do it for yourself? Respond below in the comments about your own ten year challenge! What did you do from 2009-2019 that you are proud of? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

When would you turn around?

As I hiked toward Ice Lake, the first people I had seen all day were coming down. "It gets worse," one of the twenty-something men warned. "But we did it without snowshoes," they added helpfully.

It was November, the latest I had ever attempted to reach the lake. I hadn't expected to make it this far, so although I was carrying all the winter survival gear, I had only a couple of protein bars. Who ever heard of making it to Ice Lake in November? But here I was, trudging through a few inches of snow.
Way better than August. Zero people.
I was the only person up here, and as I climbed I thought about Rachel and how the last people to see her alive told her to turn back. Would you have? I've encountered people warning me about all sorts of hazards ahead, and mostly they turned out to be benign (to me at least).  A couple of guys said the way ahead was impassible near Canada on the PCT, and Flash and I found it to be not bad at all. On the same stretch, a woman said there were big holes in the trail, holes we never found. I probably feel more comfortable than most people on the trail, but I still weigh what others say.

It turned out that while the trail did get snowier, it wasn't really "worse".  I was glad I kept going, and made it to the lake, probably one of the last people to do so before winter brings too much avy danger. However, standing at the lake, I could feel the mountains' indifference. Just as easily as this nice sunny day, a winter storm could blow in, obscuring the way down. Part of the bargain you make with wilderness is that you aren't in charge.

I didn't stay long at the lake. It gets dark so early. Feeling chased by winter, I bounded down the rocky switchbacks and felt relieved to be at the car three hours later, feeling tired and "hangry". That was sixteen miles I hadn't expected to be hiking.

Being able to hike through November has been the one thing saving me from being grumpy about the change of seasons. Though we didn't have a fall in September, we are having one now. I am trying to get to as many places as I can.

Have you ever turned around when someone else advised you to? Or did you continue?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Weightlifting and me: a love/hate story

I stride into the gym, optimistically named "Motivations." I can't recall the last time I was motivated to be here. Maybe never? Randy, the owner, looks up from whatever he does on the computer. Writing a novel? I don't know. It would be the perfect venue for it: I am usually the only one in here.

Here's the thing: I really hate lifting weights. It's boring, it's not cardio (really, though it can be a little) and it's not functional fitness. I'd rather be strong like I was back in the day, from clearing trails with axes and rock bars, or digging fireline, than from hoisting dumbbells. And I guess if I had more time, I could design a fitness program like that. But for now, the weights will have to do.

Here's my gym. Somewhat old school, but I am glad to have it. I don't have room in my house for a gym.

My weightlifting career began at a Golds Gym, where the women wore makeup and kept their hair down. I skulked around in a T shirt and shorts, going to the free weights where the other women never went (they stuck to the cardio machines). In order to do pull-ups with the rest of the fire crew, in order to haul the cubitainers of water, the chainsaw, I had to be strong. I worked a full day on the crew and then at 7 pm, I went out to lift weights. It wasn't anything special--everyone on the crew did this. We didn't get paid to do it, but we all knew that if we couldn't do the work, we would be off the crew.

After I left that crew, I still kept lifting, in small gyms in rural counties of the west. These were populated by the more serious, sans makeup. None of the gyms were fancy--they were one room affairs, with older equipment. When I spent a month in DC, I joined a gym and was amazed by the three floors of equipment and the bouncer who paced the rows, kicking people off the ellipticals when they had exceeded their half hour limit. Actual lines formed by each machine. No thanks, I thought, one room gyms were just fine with me.

I've now been a member of my gym for ten years. Ten years! That's long enough to pick out the regular characters--the woman who uses the elliptical with a purse strapped to her body, the lady who yells the number of repeats, the doctor who does such intense workouts that the rest of us feel lazy just watching.

Today it was just me for the entirety of my workout, and Randy, who was still working on his novel or whatever. I am always glad I did the workout, even if I dislike every minute of it. I close with some quality time on the elliptical, because I'm here. Then it's time to go back to work. I feel virtuous. Even though I don't like it, I've still powered through. Maybe I am motivated after all.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Facing my nemesis:Running the Green Gate route

Here in this county, like everywhere, we have our own shorthand. We know what is meant by "the North Highway", "the canyon," "the Devils", or "Housewife Beach." So it is with the "Green Gate." A mile and a half in which you gain 800 feet, it should not be that hard to run--but it is.

I should stop here and note that the area this run goes through is not public land, but many of us hope it will someday be. It is through the grace of the current owners that we are allowed to access it. You can read more about the effort to preserve this area here

I like to run in the winter, and trails are few and far between that are not shrouded in snow. This moraine trail does get covered eventually, but in late fall it is a good place to go. I stare it down--the hill begins immediately without much of a break. You might not think it is that bad until you reach the switchback, where the true climbing begins. My pace slows. I pass a hiker, and have to struggle to stay far ahead of him--I can probably walk this almost as fast as I can run it. Some hikers coming down say to each other: "See, I told you people run this!"

No way I can stop now. I glance back: the hiker is fading into the distance. Ruby is out ahead, tail flopping. She loves this run. Sometimes, there are cows. 

People ride bikes up here too, but that is unimaginable to me. I'd be hiking a bike, for sure. 

Once, a bear ran across the trail ahead of me, but today there is nothing but the unrelenting climb. Why do I do this? Every time I run this route, I wonder if I will make it to the top without walking. I usually do, but I doubt myself. Never has a mile and a half taken so long to run. When I run down, I can do it in half the time. Still, it feels good to try.  

Ever since my Grand Canyon trip, I've been in sort of a slump. It's been hard to summon the enthusiasm for exercise. The cold I have been suffering since the plane ride doesn't make it any easier. Usually if I go, I feel better, so I do.

I break it down into small sections: the first side trail, then the second one. The white rock. Where the trees end. Huffing and puffing, I finally reach the top. I've made it, one more time.

The view from the top, though:

I've run the Green Gate one more time, but I wouldn't call it "conquering". Maybe surviving?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Way out on the west Tonto, Grand Canyon National Park

I was the only one on the shuttle bus as it chugged toward Hermit's Rest. The only one on the steep, rocky trail for hours, until I met some rugged adventurers heading up. They didn't look like the typical Hermit Creek campers, the ones who put rain flies on their tents (a sacrilege when the nights are so brightly starred), so I asked, "Have you been west of Boucher?"

"We went to Slate Canyon," one of them said, the place I had been hoping to reach. They said what I had guessed: there was no water in Slate. It would be a big water carry. "You'll have it to yourself," they said as we parted.

Slate Canyon. I have heard you can climb down from one of the rims and hike to the river. I wasn't brave enough to try it.
It was true. After I left the civilized confines of Hermit Camp (it has a toilet), the next four days brought encounters with only three people, and these were in a group in the same place. The rest of the days passed in complete solitude as I marched westward, sometimes losing the trail momentarily as it grew fainter and fainter.

This is the best campsite at Hermit. It is under an overhang and away from everyone else. Get here early if you want to snag it.
Few people come this way because of the lack of water, the blazing sun and unforgiving terrain. The Corridor this is not. But as the Corridor becomes more and more crowded with the social media fueled Rim to River crowd, I find myself seeking out places like this more and more.

Campsite at Slate. Waterless, and solitude for miles.
The mileage I did every day was not far, hovering around ten to eleven miles. But this can be an eternity on the West Tonto, as you attempt to avoid the prickly pear spines, cross into and out of crumbling canyons, and inch along just above the Inner Gorge. I lugged six liters of water into Slate Canyon, then had time to lie under the scrawny shade of a juniper looking at the sky and the canyon walls. I wrote a novel in my head.
Smiling even with a cold and lack of sleep, because look where I am.
Saving two liters of water for the return, I hiked down a desert wash to Boucher Falls and perhaps the most enchanting campsite I have ever had.

Of course I had to stop and watch these brave souls go through Boucher Rapids.

People often seem puzzled by why I hike alone, and this trip was not supposed to be, but it is difficult to find others who want to do some of these more challenging hikes that aren't always immediate gratification. It can be lonely at times when you realize nobody is within many miles of you. But there's also something good about figuring it all out yourself, and knowing that you like your own company enough. What I liked about running long solo miles also holds true for hiking: with that much time to think, you don't end up with a lot of unresolved issues. You work them out, wear them down, mile by mile.

After five days, I arrived back at Hermit Camp to the usual curious combination of REI-outfitted people and the Walmart tent crowd. Everyone was carrying Nalgene bottles and sporting astonished grins, as well they should, since Hermit is not an easy trail to go down. While it's hard for me to understand why someone would lug a camp chair or sleep under a rain fly on a gorgeous night,  I have to admire the persistence. They're still experiencing the Canyon.

The mileage I can cover typically in six days was nothing near what I did here. I had time for lengthy siestas and swimming once I got near water. Yet as usual I felt somewhat beaten up by the Canyon. An intense cold I must have gotten on the plane made hiking difficult. Because I stubbornly refused to wear plants, my legs were attacked by catclaw, making it look as though a mountain lion had attacked. The last few miles out of Hermit, I slogged along at a snail's pace. But as I got to the top, I knew this wasn't the end. I'll be back.
Hermit Rapids from the West Tonto

Friday, October 18, 2019

The dartboard

I asked four different people.
"I have a painting class."
"I'm going to a bike race."
"I'm in Portland."
"I'm on the coast."

I have an adventurous set of friends. Not one of them were home sitting on the couch. I think of friendships as circles on a dart board: you have the close ones, the ones you can count on. Then on outer rings, you have the ones who occasionally show up due to other obligations, then the ones who show up when the adventure sounds good enough to justify it, and then finally the ones who vaguely say that they want to go, and to keep asking them, but never actually go. Then there's the ones who don't like dogs, or whose dogs don't get along with others, and the ones who won't drive because you are bringing your dog, and so on. You almost need a spreadsheet.

news flash--we are actually having a fall after all. This dog is 13 and can't go on long hikes anymore.
I wasn't going to sit around because nobody could join me on my 12 mile hike, so I packed up the dog and took off. The hike up to Aneroid Lake is never assured: I have had to turn back due to avalanche, deep snow, and once, lack of snacks. So I never count on actually getting there. Today, it was perfect; the fall I never thought we would get, and an empty trail. The slog, littered with boulders and ice, wasn't easy, but it never is. Just one foot in front of the other for six miles.

Almost empty trail. I encountered a backpacking couple coming down and asked them about the snow. Perhaps foolishly, I had worn trail runners. "I made it in Vans!" the man said. The other family coming down, swathed in puffy jackets, said there was a "fair bit of snow." You can't always take what other people say to be true. Some snow appeared, but nothing too deep. Before long I had arrived.

I keep trying to take a good selfie with the dog, but it never quite works.
I often avoid this lake because it's just not as great as some of the others. The water access is problematic, involving a scramble, and people often perch their tents in the few nice resting spots. It's hemmed in, without some of the grand views that you can get at other lakes. But today, it was a lake transformed, with a greenish tint to the water, nobody around, and just enough snow that you knew winter would soon close it off for good. It was perfect.

I have to admit I am sometimes on the other end of the invite. It's common for me to say things like, "I'm in Minnesota." Fortunately, my friends at the center of the dartboard keep asking--and I will too. Until then I will continue my solo adventures. I'm glad I'm not afraid to go it alone.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Seven Years Without Winter

In my twenties and thirties, I spent seven years in perpetual summer. On a Florida fire crew, we never saw snow unless we traveled to it. The closest thing was when the Gulf Stream dipped low enough to bring the temperatures down to a manageable level, but for the most part, shorts and T-shirts (outside of work) were a constant thing. 

At the time I mourned the loss of the seasons. Every day, the sky a bright hard blue, only interrupted by the summer thunderstorms, which brought momentary relief from the oppressive humidity. It was...kind of...boring.

We made fun of the snow birds who escaped their winters in New Jersey or Michigan or wherever they were from, thinking they couldn't hack the cold weather. We, of course, were just there for a job. Seasonal winter work was hard to find and we took it, even in a flat land in which we felt like strangers.

Now though, I wonder. Where I live, we had no real summer this year. I hauled out my summer clothes and wore them for maybe four weeks. The snow lingered into June, rainy and cool weather keeping the mountains from us. Winter has roared in early, depositing snow on the hiking and running trails. I knew I had to get out now, before it was on skis or snowshoes.

This is early October? Hmm..
Ruby and I slogged up Mount Howard, which is only four miles one way, but feels like more, because you gain about 4,000 feet in those miles. I could only reach the top without postholing because a snocat had been up there a few days ago. There was nobody for miles, a benefit of living in a town that has a long winter.

Ruby has decided she likes riding in the front seat. She is too cute to kick out.
Another day I decided to trail run on the West Fork of the Wallowa, a trail I avoid in summer due to all of the tourists. As I started out, I recalled another reason why I don't run there very often. So many annoying boulders.  I could walk as fast as this, I thought as I "ran". It took embarrassingly long to reach the turn-around, but who cares, nobody knew my time but me. The sun shone deceptively but I knew that if I stopped for too long I would be shivering.

It'll be full-on winter soon even though the larches haven't even changed color yet. Time to put the backpacking stuff away and find the ski wax. Backpacking season is over and swimming season never started. It's hard not to feel cheated, but the weather doesn't care.

How to deal with it? Embrace the brutality of a northern winter. I want to take more hut trips, ski more, maybe learn to skate ski. Write another novel. If all else fails, I'll sneak away to someplace where it is always summer. Call me a snowbird, I don't care.

I probably take too  many pictures of my dog. This is the last gasp of sort-of fall. Very cold at night, tolerable during the day.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

so many trails, so little time

I ran down toward the waterfront trail, the flashlight app on my phone lighting up the dark street. I would rather run in daylight, but I had to be at the office early, and I were going to work a thirteen hour day with no chance to get outside. So dark it was, although I saw hints of the future sunrise.

Because I was staying at a hotel without a gym, and because there was no time to go to a gym, I was going to have to run a lot while I was traveling. Which was fine because Duluth happens to have hundreds of miles of trails. You can take your pick, and I did; the waterfront, the flat gravel trail behind the zoo, the Superior hiking trail, a series of biking trails, and even a hawk reserve.

One of the many trails near the Hawk Reserve.
The sun began to rise as I ran back toward the hotel. Two older guys were parked in lawn chairs below the campground. "We're just watching traffic," they announced. "Am I winning?" I hollered back.

"Keep going, kiddo!" they yelled.

Back in the day, before knee surgery, before I fell on a trail run and things seemed to hurt more after, I used to run six days a week. I think it's healthier to cross train, but I miss the feeling that running gives me. There's nothing else that compares, except perhaps cross-country skiing. Still, I'm glad I CAN run, even if it's slow, even if stuff hurts, even if people pass me.

The time and pace I run now would have horrified me, but I don't care. There comes a time when you're just grateful you can still do it. That doesn't mean I don't push it sometimes, but I also try to take it all in while I'm out there.

There was also hiking to be done!
I drove over to Michigan where my parents live, and we hiked on the North Country Trail. Here is a cute shelter for hikers.

The locals call this Top of the World and it sure seems like it. That's Lake Superior in the distance.

While marathons and a 6 minute pace might be behind me, whether by age or desire or a combination of both (I mean, I don't really want to hit up the track anymore), I just keep on trucking. This past week was a good opportunity to revisit the every day running. I didn't experience any ill effects, but I think I'll continue to cross train, just because it makes me feel better to challenge myself in different ways. When I ran all the time, I was really, really good at one thing--running.

I'm home  now, where an early snow has basically closed off all the running trails. I'm sad about that, but it means one thing--skiing!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The downside of adventure travel

I have a friend I text whenever I travel, because lately every trip I have taken has included airport delays. Not just one but multiple delays, resulting in cancelled flights and nights spent randomly in strange cities. You're going to laugh, I texted her today. But, DELAY! And then, another delay! WHY, WHY WHY!

As I write this, I have been delayed in Duluth and now in Minneapolis. Getting out of Minneapolis seems like an impossible dream at this point. The ticket agent talked me out of an earlier flight that would have had another connection, instead of this direct flight, and so I am stuck with my decision.

In multiple hours in a freezing airport (air conditioning, MSP? really?) I have taken the tram randomly, done a ton of work, had a couple conference calls, eaten M&Ms (because at some point you just give up on a healthy diet), and felt like joining a little kid in a meltdown. Because really, traveling would be so much fun without...well, traveling.

I wish I had some cheerful tips on how to deal with this, but really, airplane travel is just something to endure. Like the time we sat on the runway jettisoning fuel because we were too heavy. Or we had to sit in a yurt miles from anywhere because "we need to find a captain." Whenever the captain comes on and says, "Well, folks..." then you know that nothing good is going to occur.

I had fun on my combined work and personal trip, which I will write about later, but now I need to find a puffy jacket, some more candy, and have a meltdown. Thirteen hours so far in airports almost makes me want to reconsider future trips. Almost...

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fall trail running

It is suddenly fall, and it looks like it might be an early winter. There's snow in the mountains, which I'm trying to appreciate.

The truth is, I can see why people hate summer, if they live in a broiling hot place.  In Florida, we breathlessly waited for the cooler weather to come and free us from the stifling humidity. But an alpine summer us nothing like that. In summer here, we have to carry our puffys because the temperatures drop low as soon as the sun disappears. We don't need air conditioning. There are hundreds of lakes to jump in. The only problem is, alpine summers are way too short.

I've been doing more trail running since the fall days have been spectacular. If fall lasted forever, that would be fine with me.

The other day Ruby and I ventured to one of the most popular trails around here. It is one I've had to give up in summer. There's just too many people. But now, in fall, the trail is ours again. The aspens are turning and the larch aren't far behind.

We ran up the trail and it was one of those rare moments when  running felt easy, the way it always did in the past. The dog bounded in front, her fluffy tail a flag.

Sometimes I think about my competitive running days, when nothing hurt and I was fast. That didn't last either.

But right then, I was just glad I could still run, even though my former self would have disdained my short distance and slow pace.

It was perfect. Even if it doesn't last.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Take me to the river, part 2: What really happened at Government Rapids

There are a handful of Class II rapids on the San Juan river, and we run them all successfully, all except one. There are also what are termed "riffles." I run a couple of these in an inflatable kayak, and while I have to dodge a few rocks and ride a few wave trains, they aren't anything too scary. However, the river is low, 1300 cfs, and I learn that makes it "bony"--more rocks showing than when the water is high.

When we pull over to scout Government Rapids, a Class III, we notice we have company. A group we have seen before are taking a packraft up to run it again and again. I've realized that rapids aren't really my thing; I'd much rather just float down a lazy river. But here we are and we have to get through somehow. This rapids looks bigger and scarier, rocks sticking up like teeth. There is a trail around it, and my intuition tells me to walk around. But I don't. However, none of us are up for taking the inflatable kayak through, and a happy member of the other group says he will do it for us. There's no shame in this.

The lead boat makes it through without any trouble, and then it is our turn. I perch on the front of the raft, without much to hold on to, but I've been fine in other rapids, so I should be here. We negotiate the first turn, and then suddenly we are balanced on a rock. I have a sinking feeling, and only have time to say, "Rock!" before it happens.


As the boat bounces over the rock, it hits the trough behind it. I am immediately thrown out. I go deep into the water, my head smashing onto a rock. My PFD brings me to the surface and I swim the rapids, doing what I've been told to do, taking deep gasping breaths for air. Somehow I avoid all other rocks and swim out to the beach below. Somehow, inexplicably, I am fine. My head hurts and I will have a huge bruise, but I am fine.


 I don't blame the rower or the rapids--it was just a  mistake. While you don't need to face a life threatening experience to know this, I am reminded how grateful I am to be this age, with a few aches and pains, but otherwise healthy and privileged enough to do this kind of thing. But there's not going to be a lot of rapids in my future. Been there, swam that. picture. This is at much higher water than when we went through. You could not go down the middle like this, too many rocks.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Take me to the river, part one

The river is a muscle. We float along it in our rafts for nine days, the flow almost faster than I can walk. Faster than I can swim, too: One night I put on my fins and wade out, trying to swim against it. I wind up swimming in place, unable to advance. Once I jump in with my PFD and simply ride the current, swept down through towering cliffs.

The river changed as we floated from Bluff to Clay Hills. Here at the beginning it was wide open. To river left is the Navajo Nation, and you need a permit to go over there.
The sun is unrelenting. Temperatures along the river rise to above one hundred degrees. Some nights, it is too hot to sleep, too hot even for a sheet. We slide into the blissfully cool water as much as we can, spending most of our days soaked. The river canyon bakes, the only relief the water and the occasional hackberry tree.

The ruins at River House, our second nights' camp. True to river time, we only make it six miles in two days.
The silence is a sound itself. We see few other river parties and create river names for them: the Party Barge, the Kids, the Old Guys. We see bighorn sheep, deer, a ringtail cat, and a bird of prey swooping down to capture a smaller bird right in our camp. We slow down to river time.

When I was first invited on this San Juan river trip, I didn't want to go. River trips weren't really what I wanted to do. The rigging of the boats, the unloading and loading of gear--so much gear--seemed interminable. There was a lot of sitting around in camp. I fretted about exercise, not just exercise but an elevated heart rate, which my body seems to need on the daily. I had only done overnight river trips, and most of my paddling has been on the ocean. What did I know about rivers?

As it turned out, river time is magic. Slowly you begin to unwind. I was able to sleep, the sound of the current running through my dreams, in a way that escapes me in real life. I was able to let go of the thread of anxiety related to work that pursues me in real life. Every day we packed our gear and floated around the next corner, every day we picked a different camp based on its attributes. A riffle for playing in with the stand up paddle board, a sandy beach for sitting, a trail to hike.
The view from the Honaker Trail, that climbs 1200 feet to the canyon rim.
Will I become a river runner? I don't think so. At my heart I am more terrestrial. But I succumbed to river time. "You all look so relaxed," Robert says when we return from the Clay Hills takeout. And we are, eighty-three miles later.
A pool up in Slickhorn Canyon

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

River Time

Hey friends, I've been on a river adventure,  and will write about it in a couple of days. Until then, here's a photo of where I was:

Sunday, September 1, 2019


On September 13, I will have 30 years of working for the government. Thirty! I started pretty young but that still makes me feel exceptionally old. In that time I have;

  • Cleared a lot of trails, using so-called primitive tools. Crosscut saws, axes, shovels, and the dreaded loppers..
  • Told a lot of tourists where the bathroom is and attempted to answer the unanswerable "is it worth it?" (Pro tip: it's always worth it.)
  • Lived in remote places where our entertainment came from sunsets and hot springs.
  • Put out a lot of wildfires.
  • Flew in floatplanes and kayaked in the most magical places ever.
  • Sat at a computer writing soul destroying documents.
  • Filled out reams of forms.
  • Taken the same online security training every year for decades.
  • Cleaned toilets. A lot of toilets.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Digital Settler (not #vanlife)

I have lately heard the term "digital nomad". Apparently this is someone who can work remotely and takes it to another level, working around the country as they travel. I had a moment of fleeting envy as I thought: I could totally do this! And then, reality: I have pets, and a husband. (Some people take both along with them. Trust me, this would not work well.)

And I kind of like not having to find gas station bathrooms, wondering where I will sleep, and having all of my stuff. I lived the nomad life all through my twenties, though I had a job, I just changed it every 6 months. It gets old, at least it did for me.

So, we paid off the Love Shack, or the Chalet, or the A Frame, or the Country Home, whatever you want to call it, last week. Don't get too jealous. This is a very rustic dwelling that inhabits the occasional mouse. We don't have a water bill, but we have to flip a switch when we want running water. I shudder to think what is under the questionable carpet. This place was built by hippies in 1965 and looks it. 

But, it's mine (and his). I've never actually owned a house before; several banks have owned mine in the past. And I still give half a month's salary to the City Home, a slightly more civilized log cabin that serves as my office and other place to store stuff. (Did I mention that the Country Home is supposed to be 640 square feet but I think it is more like 400?)

So I am not a digital nomad. I am a digital settler. I'm not going to be fixing up a Sprinter Van anytime soon. This is not what I imagined my life to be as a twenty year old traveling the interstates of America, determined never to settle down.  

But... I have raspberries. I have a secret creek swimming hole. I have a dog. And someone who likes it when I stay home. The wind in my hair is still a powerful tug, but I'm here. In my paid off shack!
Try not to be too jealous of this fine piece of architecture.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Adventure Fails

Sometimes when I scroll through social media, I wonder if all adventures are as good as they look. I'm here to keep it real, though. For example: this week. I have been in a slump, as I may have mentioned, since finishing the PCT. It's not that I want to jump back on a long trail; it is the end of something that has allowed me to look forward to, plan, and see progress on a goal. I didn't realize how much I needed that.

On Tuesday, I felt like running in the morning, so I went. And a woman passed me. That rarely happens, not because I am fast, but because there aren't many runners here. Being passed felt truly demoralizing, especially because I was struggling along at a sub-par pace anyway. "I hate being passed!" I said, not meaning to say it aloud. The poor woman jogged away, probably wondering how she ended up in crazytown. Sorry, fellow runner.

The rest of the week went all right, but by Saturday I was ready to get back into the woods. The lake I picked to backpack to is busy, but I thought most of the crowds were gone by now. Optimistically I headed up the steep trail, fantasizing about swimming. Arriving, I started to notice something. Tents! Tents everywhere! Tents too close to the water, tents in every spot, even some hammocks strung over a cliff. Surely, I thought, if I walked around the lake I would find a tucked-away place to camp. The lake is big, and I had to struggle over boulders and swamps, but then I saw it. A peninsula, the perfect place to camp. The dog trailing behind me, I climbed up to find...a tent.

Curses! The entire lake was packed. It was time to go to Plan B. There is a bench on the far side of the trail where nobody has ever camped in my knowledge. It wouldn't be close to the lake, but it would be away from the crowds. Optimistically I climbed the bench to guessed it..a tent!

It looks peaceful but....I soon discovered it was not.
I looked at my watch. 5:30. It was eight miles down to the trailhead, and it is getting darker early now. The trail isn't a cruiser either; you have to pick your way through rocky switchbacks. There was only one thing to do: hike out.

I felt like a failure as we jogged down the trail, the dusk falling quickly. It was almost dark when we got to the car. I was aware that summer is closing up shop, and weekends to camp are probably almost done. Grumpily I sulked home.

The dog, who had easily covered 30 miles, didn't care. I realized I shouldn't either. I could see it as an adventure fail or just a long day hike carrying a lot of stuff. And the next day we could hang out at the lake in town and swim.

Too tired to eat, but happy.
I can't recall ever "backpacking" on a day hike before, but I have had other adventure fails. Forgetting a sleeping bag. Hobbling with major blisters. Overdoing it and having to leave the trail. It happens. I'll go back to that lake in the fall, when everyone is gone.
The big lake is quiet now though! Swimming is great.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The good old days

"It breaks my heart," C says. He surveys the sea of tourists in the restaurant. "And I'm really angry," he added. "I miss the old days."

The old days he is talking about weren't that long ago. I've lived here long enough to know some of them, but not the way he does. "I grew up here," he reminds me. He remembers how it used to be.

This is something we are all struggling with, those of us with a little bit of stake in this place. It is changing rapidly. Last weekend as three of us hiked across the mountain range, something we had wanted to do for a long time, we encountered three women doing the "Backpacker Magazine loop."  Really? Later,as we descended from Horton Pass to the other side, we descended into crazytown. Tents perched five feet from the lake. Many occupied campsites. People with horses. People with dogs. Still less people than in most backcountry places, but still. Too many people for us.

Night number one, though, was at a lake only occupied by one other group, slightly smoky from a lightning fire. My friends slept in, as they do, but we left camp before ten, always a win. We climbed up over the pass to the lake I mentioned before. On the pass, it was peaceful, but at this lake, not so much.

We had meant to stay here but we looked at each other with the same thought in mind. "I can't deal with Mirror," A said, and we headed to a less popular lake, which we had to ourselves. There are still pockets of solitude here, which makes me hopeful.

The next day we headed down the most popular day hiking trail there is here. When I say most popular, I am not talking 100 people or even 50 (I know, I am spoiled) but maybe 25 people, which to me is way too many. We braced ourselves, but the trail was strangely empty. And I know I can't move to a place and bar the door against others. By coming here from somewhere else, I am part of the problem. Not to mention, we all live on stolen Nez Perce land.

But still. The wilderness endures. We completed a traverse of the mountains, south to north, that we had wanted to do for years--thirty miles, three people, two dogs. These are the good old days.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hiking the PCT--THE FINAL STRETCH! Trail Pass to Crabtree Meadow

I slogged upward, all enthusiasm gone. Why was this so hard? It was just hiking. Then I realized: yes, I was hiking, but at 11,500 feet. It was supposed to feel hard. The various John Muir Trail hikers seemed to agree. Because it's so hard to get a southbound JMT permit, many of them were starting from Horseshoe Meadows like I was. Swathed in head nets, enormous packs with stuff hanging off everywhere, sun hats with flaps, a family approached. "The bugs are TERRIBLE!"  they exclaimed.

"I'll just walk fast," I said. "Well, good luck," the dad said, not believing me for a second. When I passed by the spot they had said was so bad, the mosquitoes were almost non-existent. It's all a matter of perspective.

I had just 22 miles left of the PCT, but it would end up being 45, because I had to do an out and back, plus climb up and down a couple of bonus passes from the parking lot. Due to plane snafus (our plane went for a test flight and never came back), I had arrived at Horseshoe Meadows a full 24 hours later than I had planned, which meant the leisurely stroll of my dreams had vanished. But it was somehow fitting. The PCT has never made it easy, and why start now?

Some nice ponds at mile 755. A JMTer insisted these were called Soldier Lakes. Um, no.
The Sierra will always be one of my favorites, and I hiked through soaring towers of rocks and fresh green meadows. "The scenery on this section isn't that great," a JMT hiker complained, and I could hardly believe it, because to me it was spectacular. As I descended into Rock Creek and back up again, all I could think was I was so glad I had bailed out of this section in June. It would have been incredibly dangerous.

Ha ha ha, this gate is not protecting the wilderness.
Not today, though. I selected a camp high above Crabtree Meadow, with a solid 22 miles in for the day. Defeated-looking JMTers trickled past, intent on camping near water. I had forgotten how most backpackers always choose water camps, when in truth you get less bugs, less condensation, and less people at dry camps. It really is simple to carry enough water, and it gives you so much more options.

Crabtreee Meadow. So gorgeous, so full of people.
In the morning, I only had one and a half miles to tag my terminus--the junction of the JMT and PCT. I had been here in 2011 with my surly hiking companions, and never dreamed that this many years later I would return, having hiked 2,650 miles. There was nobody around, it being early, and I tried to take a few selfies, but the sign was short. Luckily two thru-hikers came by. My people! They took my photo, but at the time I didn't even think to pose artistically. What you get is a boring photo.

Ugh. Oh well.
As I was hiking back the way I had come, a sudden wave of emotion caught me by surprise and I found myself fighting back tears. I had done a really, really hard thing. I had stuck to it even when there were troubles with logistics, hiking partners who hadn't clicked, long stretches of monotonous desert, all of it. I had done something big.

I rolled into Chicken Spring Lake, having hiked 18 miles, most of it uphill. The lake was packed with weekenders, noisily clanking their bear cans. One man arrived and pitched his tent right next to the lake, ignoring the regulation of 100 feet distance. He climbed out in nasty red boxers and proceeded to pee right there in full view. People. How I hate them sometimes. I try not to, and then one of them pulls something like this. Come on, folks.

Last light at Chicken Spring.

As I headed down Cottonwood Pass I felt...empty. I didn't feel done. I felt like nothing had really happened. Probably it will sink in later. I think? Probably because I wasn't at a terminus, it didn't feel real. On the way home, plane snafus meant I was stranded in LA for a night. I looked around at all the people partying it up in the hotel. I had never felt so alien, so different. I wanted to be back with my people. That feeling has subsided, a little. But I long to get back on a trail.
Cookie, my friends' cat, celebrated with me.