Monday, June 21, 2021

Time warp

As we drive into the town where I was the most lonely, I texted my friend a picture of the high school mascot sign. 

"Why, Mary, why?" he texted back. We both were there at the same time, suffering through life in a conservative town, where summers were scorching, winters freezing, and the dating pool shallow. To endure it, I used to escape to anywhere: north to backpack, west to visit friends, south to camp. I never, ever stayed home.

But my friends were riding a brutal bike race, and we were there to support them. We weren't a lot of support, basically watching them start, and then meeting them at one point to offer up Oreos and dried mangos. The race is remote and difficult, and it took them hours to complete. There was a 12 hour cut-off time. "Do you think I could do the 120 in twelve hours?" I asked J as we drove up in search of a trail to hike. He had done this race before, so he knew how hard it was, and how bad of a bike rider I am.

"Nope," he said.

"The 60?"

"Nope."

"The 30?"

"Yes."

Since bike racing isn't on my list of ambitions, every other competitor was safe.  

My friend T and I gathered up five dogs and went for a pleasant walk by the creek. We had a much better day than our suffering friends, whom we caught up with at the base of a big hill. They laughed as some of the 120 racers sped by-these people seemed like a separate species, especially as it was nearing 100 degrees. The race had drawn all kinds--the extreme athletes and the cruisers.

The next morning I went for a run past my old house. I almost didn't recognize it--had it really been so close to the neighbors'? And I had no memory of the neighbors. I must have known them, but was I gone so much that I never really did? 

I ran up into Garland Acres, most likely much slower than I used to run in 2002. Though there are new houses, the town basically looks the same. Businesses have somehow hung on, and there is still the strange lack of movement from the residents. I think of the time I lived here as the Lost Years, but they taught me resilience, independence and strength. 

As we drove through town on the way home, I noticed some changes. Yes, the Central Pastime bar was still there. The Thai restaurant where you'd better not show up hungry and also bring a deck of cards to pass the time. But there was a day spa, something that would have horrified the locals two decades ago. A couple of brewpubs. But there was also a I stand with the Hammonds sign (refer to the Bundy occupation if you are unaware) and the $39 a night motel. Some things never change.

Dear younger me, I thought. Hang in there, but don't run on so much pavement, your knees won't like you later. Don't date that firefighter, he will only move away and cause you heartbreak. Maybe stay home once in a while? Or not. Trust me on this, you will leave this place, and then you might come back, just for a visit. It will seem like twenty years went by in a blink. 



Monday, June 14, 2021

sleepless on sleepy ridge


Hikemike.com is still stealing my posts. Should I be flattered that a bot thinks they are interesting enough to steal? Well, if they steal it, I will say it: the real site is http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com and buy my books while you are at it. http://maryemerick.com.

 We pored over the Hells Canyon map. Where to go? An unknown group of trails spiraled out from the Hat Point road, all on ridges. You never know what you are going to get from Hells Canyon--typically trails have vanished, swallowed by tall grass and time. You end up guessing, and finding pieces of them. But we were game to try.

I gutsily drove to Warnock Corral, to be greeted with a "4WD road" sign. If the road I had been driving wasn't classified as a 4WD, there was no way I was going further. We ventured out onto the Western Rim National Recreation Trail, which hugs the rim of Hells Canyon. Though this is an NRT, it gets way less funding than others, and is fairly obscure. The number of people who have hiked its entire length probably is less than 100.

Though it was tempting to stay on the rim, we decided to veer off toward Sleepy Ridge. In the distance, the rim looked treed, and we debated: we didn't want to deal with inevitable blowdown and no views. We could bail if we didn't like it, we determined. You should always have a backup plan in Hells Canyon.

Elk ran off in the distance as we traversed along singletrack that I could actually ride with a bike. On foot, though, we emerged into glorious ridgewalking. After about five miles we reached a spring, and a flat place to camp. You don't take water lightly in the canyon, so we decided to seize the spot and day hike from there.

The trail contoured across the ridge, where it disappeared. We had been expecting this, so we weren't fazed. But a mystery revealed itself. My map showed no trail continuing on Sleepy Ridge, while the USGS map did. Which was right? Deciding not to flounder, we headed for Jakey Ridge, crossing Medicine Creek and climbing up. This trail was less used, with numerous blowdowns that we had to push our way through. Short on daylight, we conceded defeat and returned to our camp for a satisfying twelve miles of effort. Twelve miles is pretty good for the Canyon, even if we were on the rim and not in the depths.

I happily crawled into my new Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 tent. This is the best tent ever. I am too impatient to mess with trekking pole tents, and what if I want to take my poles for a day hike from camp? I don't really want to collapse my tent while I am gone. I want something easy and quick to set up. This tent is amazingly light and roomy and while fitting in two people could be a challenge, a furry dog is easily accommodated. I love my tent so, so much. (However, now I have at least two other tents I should probably offload.)

In the distance I heard a disquieting sound. Wind! Another thing about Hells Canyon are the strange local winds. An unpredicted gale buffeted us all night, flap flap flap. I thought uneasily about the trees above us, but it was too late to move. There's something terrifying about wind that sets me on edge. The night was long and unpleasant.

 It got light at 4 am, and we blearily crawled from our tents, sleepless. "Good thing we weren't on Windy Ridge," I said, pointing out the aptly named ridge running parallel to ours. My tent had withstood the wind, so there was that. 

Facing a day of chores, I reluctantly packed up to go. There's a lot more exploring that can be done in this place. Hopefully without wind next time. Oh, and we didn't see a soul. There's something to be said for living here.



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Snakes or Snow

 This is the summer of my discontent, when obligations keep me close to home. Nobody reads a blog to hear whining, so I will stop there, but after a Covid summer where we were so slammed with tourists that we couldn't go to the places we loved, and now this one, it's enough to drive an adventurous soul around the bend. How many summers do I have left? Hopefully many, but you never know.

So when I had half a day and part of the next one to bolt, I cast about for options. While the valley is dry (and, disturbingly, we have a 2000 acre fire going..in June!) the mountains are pretty snowbound. I didn't relish the idea of postholing through soft snow again. But where could I go? Snakes or snowere the options: Hells Canyon or the wilderness. 

Because a condition of my escape was that I had to bring a dog, I couldn't choose snakes. There's a dog vaccine for snakes, but I hadn't gotten one for them, and I didn't want to get bitten by one either. Plus, the poison ivy is in full swing. The canyon window has closed shut with a definitive bang.

Snow it was. "You can definitely get up the North Fork of Big Sheep," J said. Why I chose to believe someone who hasn't been in the mountains for months (because of his ruptured Achilles) I don't know. Perhaps I chose to believe. As such I wore trail runners, telling myself that if I found snow, I would turn around.

I remembered the North Fork as being a beautiful basin lying under the McCully ridge, and I excitedly trotted up the trail. I had to park well before the trailhead, which should have told me something about the conditions, but I convinced myself that the trail was west facing and so would be melted out. The first mile went fine, and Ruby and I began to tackle the climb into Big Sheep.

Almost immediately the trail disappeared under snow. My heart sank. But then, how bad could it be? (Asking this question nearly always leads to my downfall eventually. But still I ask.) I decided to forge onward, opening my Gaia app when I needed to. Mostly I try to navigate by knowledge; having worked on trails for a long time, I can usually feel where they should be. But when a trail dives into deep woods and snow is over six feet, it becomes more of a challenge. Nervousness began to creep in. I knew I wasn't lost, but not seeing a trail is always disconcerting.

And the snow wasn't the firm, easy kind. My feet sank deep into the snow, and I fell a few times. Still, I pressed on, gaining two thousand feet. I couldn't give up now. Surely the basin would be melted out., I thought, though I was starting to have my doubts.

After an hour of struggle I gained the basin. A solid white surface greeted me. Setting up the tent on snow would be okay, but then I would be stuck there; my feet were wet and it wasn't worth the exploration to keep postholing around. I would have to melt snow for water, which is tedious at best. I realized the phenomenon: I was tied to an outcome.

I had dreamed of sitting in sun-warmed grass, reading a book, a stream an easy stroll away. This was not the place. I would have to retreat. I should have picked snakes, I grumbled. At least I could hike a long ways without wet feet or postholing. 

The dog bounded down the mountain, always picking the trail even though it was snow-covered. Here's a tip: when you have lost the trail, follow the dog. They know where it is. She didn't care that we were retreating, that we didn't camp in the basin. Be more like the dog, I told myself.

It's hard not to be tied to outcomes when you have very little adventure time. I fumed as we backtracked, the snow already getting icy and treacherous. This trail had very little camping opportunities, and I wasn't in the mood to day hike. I spend enough time at home as it is; I wanted to be out under the sky.

My mood improved as I came to the creek. Here I was, once again a short distance from the car. But it was warm, there was water nearby to wade in, and even a bridge to stretch on. It wasn't the outcome I had wanted, but it was the outcome I got. It was a lesson I need to keep learning, and we didn't get bitten by snakes, always a bonus. I guess I'll always choose snow.