Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bright Spots

1. Mountains reflected on lakes - Rocky Mountain National Park


2. People who tell it like it is... namely, the Katmai National Park dispatcher that I phoned today for information on packrafting in the park. I was referred to her by a ranger who said, "Um. Not sure. There are bears on these rivers." Yep, got there ahead of you, slick. Katmai is famous for bears.  But at least Slick gave me the number of the dispatcher who knew more about the wilderness rivers.

Her first statement was, "I don't think much of packrafts."

Okay. Proceed delicately. "Is it because of the rivers in your park -- like they don't lend themselves to packrafts -- or something else that you don't like?"

"It's packrafters. They tend to be hikers who buy a raft because they think it'll be cool to float instead of carry a heavy pack. They're not boat people, you know..." And they end up needing rescues.

I laughed because she had nailed it. "Yep, that's pretty much me and my friends.  So, are there any rivers in Katmai that my friends and I could safely do?"

And then she told me about three that were potentials -- or maybe there were four in there. Laced with comments like "The rangers do this one, but make sure you get out before that waterfall, because if you don't, you won't be getting out of anything ever again," and "The Katmai lodge people might take you to the put-in, or they might not," and "That one's mostly flatwater, until it's not. There are parts that will cause you some consternation," and "If you have a lot of money to throw around, you might try..."

She concluded by wishing me well. I might throw some money toward a beer for her when we get to Katmai.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Three Cupcakes, Two Bowls of Ice Cream

There are days and weeks and months when I don't even remember my addiction to sugar. When life flows along smoothly and I hardly think of cookies at all.

Then there are weeks like these. Where I'm clinging to my food diary, clawing for willpower to stick to my recommended daily caloric intake, but I can't stop thinking about cupcakes and as an amputee misses a limb, rolling my tongue around imaginary ice cream. Chocolatey. Creamy. With brownie chunks. In an attempt to see it but not eat it, I google "pastries" and look at the images. I think, "I would buy five of those, two of those, sample that one. Oh, with coffee, or no - with milk, I think."

The google night, only my laziness saved me. I loathe running out to the store. It would mean getting out of my pajamas. And even if I could go through a drive-thru, it's so light out at night that yes, I'd still have to change out of my PJs or risk being seen. I contented myself with images and toast.

But yesterday... I had a bazillion errands to do. PJs already shed. Already in car and on road. Plus I needed legit groceries. So, as a reward for accomplishing my bazillion errands and it must be noted, changing out of my PJs, I purchased cupcakes and ice cream. I have thrown in the towel, surrendered, and retreated to my couch to lick my wounds - and my ice cream spoon.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

First Descent: Obstruction Run

I am claiming a first descent of the creek behind my house. If anyone else has done it, I am betting they'll be too abashed at their foolishness to own the feat. In the spirit of first ascensionists naming routes, I have christened it Obstruction Run. It deserves just shy of one star.

Before I went, I knew there would be obstructions. I have walked the path along that creek hundreds of times. But. The extent of the downed limbs, sticking-up rocks, sandy bottom just inches from my boat -- that I did not anticipate. Nor did I anticipate how quickly it would rock my cool. I found myself dragging my boat. Not a great idea when your boat is made out of rubber. Strong rubber, but puncturable rubber that cost me $800.

It was so bloody heavy, I wanted to drag it. It was weighted with my soggy PFD that I didn't need in two foot water, with my tow line that I did need but that soaked up water, and with water I'd onboard every time my optimism would claim me and have me jumping in for a 20 foot ride down the creek. I think I got 20 feet twice. And then I got 200 feet in 5 foot segments before I'd hear the disheartening scrape of rubber on rock. Ugh. At which point, I'd hop out and coax the boat to glide in a channel that would carry it, but sadly not me in it.

Those were the easy hauls when I could lead my boat down the stream, an obedient pony on a string. The hard stuff was when I'd come upon a downed tree or, at one point, a barrel that blocked the width of the creek. Sometimes I could step over it, raft on my shoulder. Other times - and these would make your mama cry - I had to climb the steep bank, thrashing through ever-pliable and ever-snappy and poky willows, careful to protect my $800 rubber and sacrificing my skin in its place. Those areas quickly lost their charm.

What was charming was seeing my trail from the creekside. Hiking partners and I have always noted how a trail looks brand new when you turn around and do it in reverse. Same with this. It was a new neighborhood to me. I saw a homeless shelter erected along the trail and heard some man clearing his nasal passages inside the blanketed tent. A deer was agog with curiosity to see me and my big yellow raft and watched me for several minutes. (It then had the sense to take a drink, and follow a trail back to where it had come from.) A skinny little water snake wriggled its way upstream. Flax and leafy spurge cupped their faces to catch the sun in the meadow where I stopped to catch my breath and dump water from my waterproof socks and boat, then submit my face and sodden self to the sun.

And then there's the knowledge that I had to do it. I had to know if my backyard was navigable. It is not. I see no reason to carry my boat its length again. This first descent of the Obstruction Run will probably be the last. If people have any sense.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Diana & Buddy For Today

I want to know so much more about her. And her little dog too.

I've been biking past her for two months, wondering how cold she must be on that bench. Wondering why she's there at all and not at the local shelter. Hoping she'll be there another day, the next day, when I screw up my courage to finally talk to her. Two weeks ago I worked up the courage to say "Hello" as I rode past, and I've been doing that every time since. I had a twenty in my pocket one time when I went to the store close to her bridge, but I couldn't do it.

Today I did it. I set out from my house and walked to her bridge, hoping against hope she was there. Then seeing her and feeling ebullient. Then deflated as I worried that she'd yell at me if I tried to talk to her. But determined. I had to try.

My parents' message about homeless people was "Look away. Don't make eye contact. Keep walking." We only saw homeless when we went to Minneapolis or Milwaukee. In my little hometown, there was no such thing. Is that why my normally-humanitarian parents had such a harsh message? Because the strangeness and overwhelming nature of the big city intimidated them too? Was it only a childhood message that they would now change to me as an adult child?

Two bikers rode under the bridge as I got within hailing distance of her. I almost lost courage. I felt shame that they would see me approaching her. I let them bike by and then called out to her.

"Hi. I was really hoping you'd be here today. I've been riding by and saying hi to you."

Murky eyes turned my way, and her little dog lunged toward my voice, peeling his way out of her sleeping bag.

"Hi. What's your name?"

And like that, I told her. And she told me - Diana and Buddy. Everyone calls him "Buddy Love" because he loves everybody. Did she need anything? Some chicken and a Pepsi would be nice, because she's blind. She can give me money. Could I get it?

I did. I walked to the store and returned to then help her unstick her sleeping bag zipper. "It was new when he gave it to us to use." Because of it, she's warm enough at night. But she would like a radio. "Can you find me a radio to listen to?" Am I sure I don't want money for the chicken and pop?

I will find her a radio. And maybe I'll move in closer and find out her story. I have so many questions. Why is she there? How long has she been homeless? Who else is giving her things? Are people good to her? Does she feel safe? Was she always blind? Is that why she's homeless? Where is her family?

But today, I got in closer. They are Diana and Buddy.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Attaboy, Atalaya

I saw Atalaya Mountain like this.

Unusual for Santa Fe. One local commented that we received more snow in two days than the total for last year's winter. So. I hiked in the snow. And I needed it!

I left my indolence at the spa resort and drove to the trailhead, itching the whole way, chanting in my head, "Please let it be long enough." When I started, I promised myself that if it was too short, I'd repeat part of it or walk down another trail to get in at least three hours of sweaty indulgence.

When I got to the "Steeper - Easier" decision, I chose "Easier" because I figured it was longer. Though tempted to take pictures when I reached 8100, and got a view of the peak, (I hope I'm going there), I resisted. Save pictures for the way down. Indulge and sweat now!

By around 8400 feet, I was like, huh, who stretched out the mountain? The boot pack diminished to boot track, the snow deeper and not trampled by as many people. I hoped the trail would "go," -- reach the top of what I had viewed earlier and resolved to make my own way if I had to.

I slogged on, happy to greet a single guy descending with his dog, and later a couple who I quickly pinned the snow-drawn heart I had seen earlier on the trail on.  I didn't ask if they'd been to the top. I didn't want to jinx it.

At two hours and 17 minutes, sweaty and sated, I topped out and enjoyed the views.

Atalaya Mountain, 9121 feet. Seven miles, 1800 gain. 2:17 up, 4:00 total for the hike.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

That’s Me

“That’s me!” I yell up to John. I have felt the rope tug at my navel that signifies he’s pulled up the slack between us and can now set up to belay me. Shoed and helmeted, I climb the pitch.

“That’s me!” I yell inside my head. I am walking down a New Mexican road as the sun would be rising. There is no sunrise today - just a moisture-laden sky. New Mexico surrounds me: roosters crow, dogs bark, a hare - with those disproportionate ears - shuttles down the road, faster than I would have believed possible.

Snow pellets sting my eyes. I pull my mountaineering cap down and my buff up, covering as much skin as I can. My eyes can’t be helped.  Yet, I feel ten feet tall in my Microspikes, owning this road that has been tracked by only one vehicle.

“I’m better than the cars,” I think, as I stride down the icy rills. I see the vehicle had to arrest a skid and right itself to come back to center. I, on the other hand, stay right on center. Ha.

I have been at a spa resort for two days. I have been indolent. A good friend, upon hearing of my break-up, said, “Let’s go somewhere and get you healing.” I jumped all the way in and have been taking yoga and meditation classes, steam showers and massages. We’ve been eating gourmet meals and drinking wine and tequila.

Last night, my navel kicked in. I wanted to be outdoors and off of this compound. I woke at 5AM to four inches of snow coating the icy, packed snow from yesterday. I donned layers, boots, and spikes and climbed the hill out of the compound. I exited the gate out onto the road. Where I now stride, snow stinging my eyes and my arms cold, but with no intention of turning back. The allure of what’s around the next bend tugs. That’s me.

Monday, December 24, 2018

It's Christmas Eve

I wake up at 5AM and I know... it's Christmas Eve. Chills of excitement course through my 47 year-old body. I love this day.

I have awoken in the grooves of childhood when, on this day, I lived anticipation. First we would stomp out into the woods and spend hours debating over and wearing circles around contenders for the family tree. When we reached a consensus, it was turns with a saw and an axe to fell the thing. Then each kid would grab their portion, blue spruce needles poking through knit mittens, and drag it through the snow.

At home, Mom would be a blaze in the kitchen. She'd have every burner going with sauces, sautéing meatballs, and boiling potatoes. The oven could not fit another item. She made batches of rum cakes, candies, and bagels. She was a fury in the kitchen. Yet, while we were out, she had dragged down the boxes of tree ornaments and lights. The tree stand options awaited us in the garage: the green one if we'd gotten a big tree, the white one if a littler one.

We kids dragged the tree into the garage and gave it a prodding glance: "The time to look good is now." Mom would step out of the kitchen and give the tree an appraising look. All that circling the tree and debating was for her. We waited. We watched her face. She would either say, "Oh, that's a nice, full one," or "You'll have to make sure that bare spot is toward the wall," and the first person to have spotted the tree would either own their pick proudly or snap their head toward the tree, scanning for the bare spot.

Ornaments and lights came next. It took the whole afternoon - with breaks to nip into the kitchen for hot chocolate with milk straight from our cows and stirred with Nestle's on a burner that could be spared for five minutes.

Then came chore time, more onerous than ever with Christmas Eve so close. But as I got older, I got smarter and would dress quickly to get out and get chores started. Once chores were done, we were that much closer to presents. Milking the cows took two hours and felt like two days. Peter and I would run to the barn doors to see if we could spy Santa flying through the air, landing on our roof, by our chimney. Sarah would say, "You know he doesn't come if you're looking," causing a conflict that still twists my heart. Do I look and see the Santa of a lifetime, but risk not getting any presents, or do I fight that urge and miss my chance at seeing him?

When the last cow was milked and bedded for the night, we were released. Peter and I raced to the house and straight to the tree. We'd stand on the threshold to the living room and be dazzled by the lights, the pretty wrapping, and the sheer size of the mound of presents. I remember thinking it was a pile of presents on presents and it stopped me, just to gaze in awe, jaw dropped.

Showering was a fast affair, and then Mom's buffet - 18-plus dishes that she'd arrange around the kitchen and that Peter and I struggled to taste, every part of us being tugged toward that tree. The older kids and Mom and Dad tasted their food and talked. Sometimes, if Peter and I were good, we were dismissed and could go sit in front of the tree, but "Don't touch anything until we get there."

And then it came. The family would assemble around the living room and Peter and I could look at the tags and give the receiver their package. We each opened one gift first, so everyone got a chance to see at least one gift another person had received. Then the careful order dissolved as the present unwrapping proved irresistible and paper was ripped in every corner of the room and cries of, "Peter, look what I got!" and "Thank you, Santa!" filled the air.

We played then, driving toy tractors around the linoleum, trying and trading flavors in our LifeSavers books, playing the new family game. At some point, Peter and I might remember our tummies and go back into the kitchen to graze on the buffet that we could now taste. We stayed up late that night. Till our bellies hurt with tiredness and our eyelids grew heavy. But we wanted to stay up, to stretch the day, to make it last forever. When a preponderance of us were crabbing or rubbing our eyes or who-knows-how-they-knew, Dad and Mom hugged us and turned out the lights, allowing one more glimpse of that lighted tree, before sending us to bed.

We dragged heavy feet up the steps and poured heavy bodies into our beds, sated and grateful, having lived every moment of that day.

"Christmas was always a lean time," my dad now tells me. "Mom and I tried to use good judgement about the presents, but sometimes we got carried away." I need to tell him; I never sensed any of that fretting. He and my mom made Christmas fat and fulfilling and wonderful. And I'm grateful. Even at 47, their enchantment remains, singing through my veins when I awaken at 5AM. It's Christmas Eve.