Sunday, January 31, 2021

trying new things

 One of the things I like about winter is that it gives me a chance to do different things. I feel like my body needs to be surprised once in a while; when I used to run as my sole source of exercise, I got really good at running, but nothing else. As one of my goals is to do a partial thru-hike when I can retire, and be able to do it without artificial limbs, I need to be careful (another goal is to pay off my house in three years. We'll see if that can happen.) 

I know I "could" ski year round; there are those Nordic Trak machines, and my friend Roger takes to the roads with roller skis in summer. He almost went to the Olympics though, so there's that. However, the fun is in the snow! Luckily we got some this week. 

Going up the 3910, the snow was up to my knees. I slogged along at the blistering pace of about .5 miles an hour. Of course we were going to the top, no matter how much my skis slid back with every step, no matter how the puppy kept stepping on the back of my skis. Why I do these things, I don't know, but the snow was perfect for climbing up a hill and practicing turns on the way down. Since my skinnier skis broke, I only have my fat ones, and I started thinking maybe I have a backcountry skiing future after all.

It isn't technically new, but I was able to break out the ice skates for the first time in a couple of years. The snow in the valley has not been forthcoming, which means you can drive carefully to Kinney Lake. If you have been reading awhile, you might recall that I discovered this little ranch lake for swimming last year. Turns out, it froze with really good ice. Dodging the ice fishermen, I ventured onto the lake to find a smooth surface, perfect for a Scaredy McScarederson like me. After a few minutes I even felt like I was actually skating. 

I'm also perfecting the little-known sport of snowshoe-joring. What is this, you ask? You hook up an untrained puppy who is an escape risk to a belt around your waist and go. It is full of boredom (when the puppy sits down and refuses to move) and terror (when the puppy decides to break into a run and pulls you off your feet). An Olympic sport, this will never be.

One of my FB friends excitedly posted that spring was coming. Oh, honey, no. I think people forget that February and March tend to be the biggest snow months. At least, I hope so.

Have you tried anything new lately? Tell me about it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

return to the ridge

I skied angrily up the road toward the Wenatchee Guard Station. I had been hoping for a miracle in the form of better snow than the last time I had been there, but alas, the snow was even worse. A hard crust churned up by snowmobiles, it was difficult to navigate while skiing with a backpack. 

This time we had a pulk with us, though. I gleefully jettisoned my sleeping bag and most of the food. Pulks rule, I thought, though I was secretly glad I wasn't the one pulling it. Near the cabin, we had to negotiate a big snowdrift and a steep climb. How do people pull these for miles? I don't know, but I was happy to be only responsible for my old skis; it was one step forward and one step back as I inched toward the cabin.

But what was happening? I eyed my skis with horror. One was delaminating. I hovered on the verge of a meltdown, but I had the foresight to pack snowshoes, so all wasn't lost. This wasn't how I thought this trip would go, but bad snow and equipment failure were out of my control. Plus, I had brought Oreos. Oreos make everything better.

We traversed the ridge nearly to the campground, opting to turn back to explore the woods near the cabin in the afternoon. To our surprise we found an old barn. I thought about the glory days of the Forest Service, when crews were living at all of these guard stations. I lived the tail end of those days. Feral creatures, bound only to management by a radio that never really worked, we were free to roam the wilderness with our trail clearing tools. We were trusted to complete our work without paperwork, endless safety meetings, or  helicopter supervision. It was a better time then. People were nicer without a keyboard to hide behind.

That night the wind rose to a howl. A golden sun slowly set. The Seven Devils looked almost close enough to walk to. Once again I made the same vow: next summer, I'm hiking there.

 The next day I would have to snowshoe out, attaching the skis to the sled.  Two snowmobiles lay abandoned on the route, victims of breakdowns. Trees lay scattered, victims of the wind. This is a harsh place, but so beautiful.

I vowed not to come back until the snow was better, but it is hard to resist the lure of a close-by getaway. This is still within striking distance of where I live to feel like I am not violating the stay at home order, but far enough that it seems like actually doing something. I recalled the early days of the pandemic when none of us drove anywhere, when everyone just walked in their neighborhood. We were so innocent then.

I decided to come back in summer, when I can hike the trails down into the canyon. It'll be different then, I hope, but the cabin will still be the same. It's been here since the 1930s. I like that kind of permanence. And maybe these are the good old days, but we don't really know it.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Dreams of Driver's Ed

 I was about 16 and in driver's ed. The instructor, a teacher reluctantly forced into the job likely due to the extra income, sat grumpily in the sedan. Suddenly, something one of us did (I don't remember now, but I think it was turning left on a red light) set him off. He commanded us to return to the school. Getting out, he stomped away, never to return.

This is the reason I never learned to back up very well, or parallel park. He didn't have the patience to teach us. Somehow I got my license, but have tried to avoid both actions ever since.

The worst part about hiking the Imnaha River Trail is the road in. Calling it a road is incredibly generous. Rock-studded and steep, it is only one lane and hangs over a deep canyon. The 13 miles to the trailhead takes almost an hour.

I drove along, thinking about the prize. Our awful winter continues, resplendent with ice everywhere. Even the trails I can usually access in winter are slathered with it. I was feeling a little desperate.

Thus the trip to the canyon. I knew that, three thousand feet lower, there wouldn't be ice. I could actually hike without clanking along in spikes. It would be worth it.

Suddenly a horse trailer loomed into view, coming the opposite way. Crap! It was in a terrible place too, right where one wrong move would mean a one way trip down to the river. 

I'm not above jumping out and making the rancher back up for me, but I decided to face my fear. Gingerly I inched backward to a miniscule wider spot. The ranchers drove by with a cheerful wave. Collecting myself, I drove on.

The hike was worth it. I heard birds! I saw green grass! And the confluence was magical as always, bathed in a sun that quickly went away. I was inspired to run out instead of hike, even though I was wearing a backpack and old shoes. 

So driver's ed teacher, wherever you are, even though you got mad and didn't teach us how to back up, I've figured it out over the years. My friends refuse to drive the road due to a similar backing experience. I think they are missing out.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Building the adventure list

 "Working sux," I texted to my friend.

She responded immediately. 

"OMG, you read my mind."

I love my friends. They get me, and are a bright spot in a world that seems completely insane and mean. (New Zealand, are you sure you won't take an old gal with no marketable skills?)

I fumed at my desk, trying to find gratitude. This year, an immense number of my co-workers were able to retire at very young ages, thanks to being hired in their early twenties and completing the minimum years. While I would not trade my twenties for anything-they were adventurous and so, so fun-I admit to some jealousy when people take to Facebook to ask snarkily what day it is, concluding "Every day is Saturday!" and stating that they can hike whenever they want.

"Your quads are really tight," my friend the physical therapist pronounced. "That could be your problem. Also, your back is weak." I felt a little outraged. After all, I lift weights a lot! I stretch! But although no other problems have emerged as a result of getting older--I can still hang with the best of them--it is this: your body can only compensate for so long, some muscles uncomplainingly taking over the roles of the lazy others. The truth is, my job is sendentary most of the time. Sitting still, or even standing still at my standing desk, is really, really bad. 

With the above factors in mind--surviving more years of the 9 to 5 (or, more accurately, 0630 to 1630), I decided there was only one thing to do--build a 2021 Adventure List. I needed things to look forward to, and make all the stretching and strengthening worth it.

In a normal year, my Adventure List would have more long distance trails on it. But since I won't be able to get a vaccine until the dregs of the barrel, I had to think about more local pursuits. There are about six lakes left on my Eagle Cap Wilderness named lakes to visit. These are the hardest, the most out of the way, the ones needing GPS and maps and a buddy. It's on, lakes!

I studied the maps to stitch together a couple of routes that would encompass a 100 mile hike in the wilderness. This wilderness is narrow, and our common saying is, "if you want to go long, you need to include the Minam." That is a long river corridor from which you must climb on little-used trails, cursing the day you ever had that idea. But I really miss those longer trips, where you can completely escape. Bring it, Minam!

Because the mountains will be shrouded in snow for months, I had to come up with some winter pursuits as well. There's some cabins to ski into, and the canyon opens up early enough for some spring backpacking. And just in case, I sneaked the Arizona Trail and the Grand Canyon on there. Might as well dream. Friends flew to Hawaii--maybe I can go to Arizona safely?

So nothing epic, hyper-local mostly, but if this year has taught me anything, it is to re-evaluate my surroundings, take in the the little things, and be grateful for what I have. To let go of what doesn't work anymore.

This was me on the PCT in 2014. Someday the world will be open again.

As for work, there is no getting around it. I'll keep stockpiling my salary for big adventures, should they ever return. The other day I saw a woman on video camera who was obviously using a mini stepper. A lady after my own heart. Keep on rocking in the free world, workers! We will all make it to the other side.

Do you have an adventure list for 2021? 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Guard Station Getaway!

My covid bubble buddy and I struggled under the weight of our overnight gear and skis strapped to our backpacks. The promise of a pulk to haul in our stuff had not materialized when the pulk was not to be found. So we were hopelessly unbalanced and praying that the 3.5 miles into the forest guard station we had rented were not all uphill.

We had turned a lot of ideas over in our heads. Our original plan--to hike 100 miles of the Arizona Trail--wasn't looking so good. In the spirit of going where we could on one tank of gas, I perused for alternatives and found this sweet little cabin.

We arrived at the snow park to find that we couldn't quite drive to the snow park. Having paid for a snow park pass, I was annoyed by this, but the warm weather and lack of snow had contributed to icy ruts that were not navigable. Skiing didn't look so good either. Visions of having to snowshoe the whole way in, skis clanking overhead, went through my mind. Fortunately, about a mile into our slog the snow improved enough to ski. (If you haven't skied with a huge pack and snowshoes, you haven't yet experienced the balance and skill it took not to fall over.)

The guard station appeared on top of a large hill. It was three rooms, perched on top of a canyon. The setting was magnificent. In summer, you can drive here, and I imagine it is a busy place, but for the two days we stayed here we didn't see a soul.

People don't know it, but these guard stations are a great getaway on the (relatively) cheap. We paid $100 for two nights, and that got us shelter with a propane heater and lights, much better than trying to camp in the bitter cold. We could melt snow for water on the stove and there was even a refrigerator (not that we needed it). We skied in both directions from the cabin and attempted to find the trail that went into the canyon. If there was more time, we could have done some long loops.

One of the days, it got warm enough that we dragged lawn chairs outside and sat in the sun. The snow wasn't perfect--in some places it had baked to an icy sheen, which challenged our ability. But we could see a hundred miles to the south, and the sunsets were a blaze of fire across the sky.

"I could easily stay another night," I said, perusing the contents of the cupboards. People had left soup, and, inexplicably, dry shampoo. I knew someone else was skiing in the next day, so occupying wouldn't work, but it didn't hurt to imagine staying forever.