Monday, February 22, 2021

Not the journey, it's the destination

 Subject of many sappy memes, but I've always been a destination person. It's not that I don't enjoy the journey, but there's something about getting to a place that I like. It's why I slogged through some of the not-so-pretty sections of the PCT when others (perhaps wisely) called BS on the hot, power-line and windmill-filled parts (to be honest, I liked every part of the PCT, except the windy, hot, sandy hike to Interstate 10 in Section B California, or perhaps the endless descent into Belden Town.). It's also why in the past, I perhaps pushed on when conditions weren't right to do so (I'm better now). 

One of the more challenging PCT moments.

I don't mind being a destination person. It's gotten me to some amazing places. However, I've been humbled in the last week, and had to turn around twice. The first time was after work, when we optimistically headed out for a quick ski. We settled on skiing up the Target Springs road, which entails a steep climb, but promised a fun descent. Arriving at the road, I was delighted to see that nobody had been on it. Fresh tracks! 

It had warmed up and the snow seemed heavy, but I charged ahead with the enthusiasm of the destination focused. I was hoping to reach the high point, only about two and a half miles, but a worthy effort with the elevation change. I was happily breaking trail when I looked back. The dogs were covered in huge snowballs and could barely walk, but were gamely following.

I felt horrible. A few years back, my employer started what was often hilariously called either the "Safety Journey" or, even funnier, "The Safety Engagement." As with most efforts, it has faded into oblivion, but for months we had to earnestly sit in meetings discussing safety. One of the products of this effort were "Safety Cards". If someone in the group felt unsafe in an endeavor, they could pull the "Safety Card." Naturally, we adapted this to the "Safety Dog." If something seemed unsafe for the dogs, it was probably unsafe for us. Feeling bad, I retreated to the car with some snowy dogs.

The next time I turned around was a few days later. Hiking up Mount Howard is always a slog, and I've written about it before. I decided I was ready to take it on, having forgotten once again how hard it is. Setting out at the crack of dawn, I snowshoed happily on the first part, which had been beaten down by snowmobiles. At about the mile and a half point, the tracks ended. Deep snow ensued. 

So close, yet so far.

My snowshoes sank half a foot in the unconsolidated snow with each step. I slowly moved up the mountain at the blistering pace of a mile an hour. I ran out of water. A light snow began to fall. I trudged up to the first emergency phone box and stared up at the hill ahead. In normal times, this would have only taken an hour, but it had taken me two. At this rate, it would take two more hours to reach the summit. That wasn't the problem--it was facing darkness on the descent, and nobody was around for miles. I sighed. I was going to pull my Safety Card.

Turn around point, that next hill was a nope.

On the way down, the sun briefly appeared. The snow sparkled in the trees. I was disappointed that I had turned around, but I was actually enjoying the journey. Next time, I would make it up there.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Snow binge

 I looked at my work outlook calendar in surprise. A three day weekend! I had forgotten all about Presidents Day (kind of a weird holiday anyway). Because I had forgotten, all of the Forest recreation cabins were booked, and our backcountry ski hut has been unreachable due to the surge in use due to Covid. What would we do, I fretted. Three whole days off! We had to do something!

"A staycation," J said hopefully. "Haven't we been on a staycation for a year?" I whined. But then: a miracle. The snow began on Thursday and hasn't stopped. And it was the best kind of snow: light, fluffy, perfect. Several feet have fallen.

Spruce is buried in snow on Mount Howard

This, of course, brought all sorts of dilemmas. Snowshoe? Ski? I wanted to do all of the things!

One day we ventured up Mount Howard with two friends I haven't seen in a year. They live only 15 miles away, but haven't been wanting to meet up, even outside. In 18 degree temperatures, we skied steeply uphill. My friends had those combination ski/snowshoe hybrid things, which I've been deeply curious about. They have skins on the bottom, so you can climb easily, and you can wear hiking boots with them. They didn't glide as much as my skis did though, so I decided I can live without them. Maybe if I did more backcountry skiing, I would see their purpose.

I do have skis on.

I never thought I could ski down the lower slopes of Mount Howard, but apparently I am getting better at skiing (it's about time). In our two hour tour, we saw no other people. Sometimes I wish I lived in a place with more amenities, but at times like this, I appreciate living in the outback.

We took on the Mountain View loop the next day, following faint tracks of some other intrepid skier. "Didn't these hills use to be bigger?" I asked; the loop seemed so easy. I recalled past meltdowns on the hills, which were hardly worth fussing about now. I will never be an expert skier, but years of practice can yield some rewards. On our way down the two-mile hill, we encountered some hapless snowshoers. Because snowshoers out here are often lost, we asked where they were going. "Just walking around," they said. We warned them they had about three miles to cover if they kept going the way they were; they already had three miles to hike back the way they came.

They shrugged, unconcerned. "We'll just cut up through the woods," they asserted. With trepidation we left them, hoping a rescue wouldn't be needed later. 

The snow continued through the night and I realized with glee I could ski up the Hurricane Creek road. It's not always that snow closes the road, and yahoos try to drive it, inevitably trudging back down the road to ask for a shovel. When they do drive it, it messes up the ski track, which annoys me considerably. But today looked like the day, and I struck out for the trailhead, 2 miles distant. Again, nobody was around, and the snow sifted around me like sugar from the overcast sky. Once at the trailhead, I couldn't resist skiing up further, until the threat of avalanches turned me around. Feeling smug about navigating a steep trail, I headed back to the car...where it was now time to snowshoe.

You know it is a snowy day when I break out the serious hat and parka.

Unlike almost everyone living here, I enjoy the mindless slog of snowshoes on occasion. I cruised along the trails, sinking deep into unconsolidated powder.  As I rounded a corner on the Fergi trails, I encountered another snowshoer, uncertain where she was (we really need good maps). I showed her the loop I had stomped out a couple of times and headed back to the car. I had wanted to go to the gym over the weekend, but I had to call it. It was time to quit.

I'm tired; I need to go back to work to rest!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Making it Work

 When I used to have a TV, I would sometimes watch Project Runway. Not being a crafty person, I was always interested in what the designers came up with. There was always a point in the show where someone would be faced with a hot mess, their idea not turning out like they planned. Tim Gunn would magically appear in the room. He would inspect the disaster. "Frankly, I'm concerned,"  he would say. Then: "make it work!" Somehow, most of the designers did.

I feel like I am living the "make it work" life right now.  I often struggle to find a balance. How to stay fit when you work dawn to dusk, how to stay sane when your whole day is video conferences, when travel is off-limits, how to feel like life isn't passing me by?

But, just like those designers, I have to work with what I have. Case in point, I decided to venture to a cabin at Fields Springs State Park--on a weekday. Gasp! The horror. Here is how I did it: I got to work bright and early at 6:30, working straight through until 2:30 (Generally, we are supposed to stay later, but with a number of parents home schooling, we have a little more leeway). The moment the last person clicked off the videoconference, I leapt for my car, where I already had overnight gear and skis packed. Luckily, the often treacherous North Highway was pretty clear, and I was snowshoeing by 4. Ruby and I headed for Puffer Butte, which was supposed to be only a mile away. A half hour later, I knew we had to turn around before it got completely dark. Reluctantly, we abandoned our quest and headed down to the cabin to put in a couple hours of work.

The cabin at Fields Springs is small but cute. It costs $77 a night and allows dogs.

The next morning I put on a headlamp and hit the ski trails. There wasn't a soul about. The sun slowly rose as I skied through the frozen trees. I knew I would have to pack up and go back to work, and then work a long day on Friday and some on the weekend, but it was worth it for a tiny escape. And to feel like I'm doing something--anything--in a world that doesn't make a lot of sense right now.

At home, I typed happily to a work friend. "I put on some pants from the 90s and they were too big!" 

"I know!" he wrote back. "I have to go shopping for pants!"

Small victories. So I'll continue on Making it Work. Headlamp, making up hours on the weekend, whatever it takes. I bought a mini stepper and on those conference calls where I don't need to show my face, I am there stepping. My motto: Better than Nothing. Or maybe this is better: 

Make it Work.

Ruby doing dawn patrol at Fields Springs.