Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Ma'am Years

I am past my "miss" years and into my ma'ams. Ahh... this golden age preceding my golden years. I have received the news in a series of little things that one wouldn't necessarily notice, like being addressed as ma'am instead of miss. I have noticed other signs.

Most 20ish year olds make me crazy. Was I that smugly self-assured? And as annoying-ignorant of the aura? I repent! On the other hand, if I ever need advice on how to better pack my pack, how to treat altitude sickness, or how to land a high-paying sales job (ma'am!), I know three 20 year-olds I can ask.

My parents are letting my boyfriend and I sleep together when we go back to visit them. An unmarried couple in the same bedroom?!? This has never happened under their roof. Have they surmised I'm not a virgin? Am I old enough that they have given up? Am I so old that they think we can't get it up?

There are perks to the ma'am years. To paraphrase the old country song, older women do make beautiful lovers. Or at least brassier ones. I can walk through the door after a long hike and hand boyfriend the massage oil, and dare him to find a spot on my body that doesn't hurt. After an hour, all my nerve endings are tending in quite a different direction.

My friendships are deep and true, hilarious and validating. We are all off-route together -- in climbing and in our unconventionality. We intuit when to spew beta and when it's best just to shut up and let the other flail.

Finally, I have a visceral response when I see a good bottle of wine, just sitting there, improving with age.


The ones under your bed
rapping at your window
beating down your door
big teeth dripping green slime
ready to bite your neck
suck your blood

The ones in your fears
of love lost
romance fading
loved ones dying
Big teeth dripping green slime
Ready to [clamp] down on your heart
Drain your life blood
and replace it with salty tears.

Written June 2, 2007

Trial, Error, Triumph

Alpine meadow
Trial -- Last week I stashed my mountain bike at trailhead B and drove to trailhead A, setting up a nice through-hike to bike to car. Pretty brilliant and exciting, but alas thwarted by a snarl of blowdowns. After evaluating the carnage and trying to spot trail signs for 45 minutes, I decided it was impossible. I headed back to the last water I'd seen, set up camp, and hiked back out in the morning.

Yesterday I hiked in from trailhead B to see how far that carnage of trees stretched. Could I complete the loop from the other direction? The answer is no: I found carnage's twin on steep terrain about two miles from the spot where I'd turned back last week. Yesterday I could hear a river I knew the trail crossed. I gave myself six minutes to go off trail and find it. I found willows. Willows mean water. You just can't always get to it. I exhausted my six minutes edging around the pokey buggers. Turning back, I worked my way back to the trail, surprising myself by striking it within 10 feet of the rock cairn from which I'd left. I may be becoming something of a woodswoman.

View from a pass, 11950 feet

There is one more way to access this mess of trees. There is trail C who, handily, intersects my two right between the snarl. I have trips to Wisconsin and New Mexico in the next two weeks, but when I return, the carnage is all mine.

Roosevelt Lake

Error -- Each of my toes feels like a swollen little sausage, a microcosm of throbbing. In an effort to cut weight yesterday, I wore a pair of hiking shoes that, now that I think on it, were recommended for casual use, not hiking. I concur.

Triumph -- Reconnaissance missions in the Colorado wilderness are pretty. And the true bonus: those loaded clouds gave us some much-needed rain!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Day I Got Through

I got through my divorce day by making promises to myself. They were not pretty promises. There I stood, head against the stall of the bathroom at the Green Lake County Courthouse, squelching tears, clenching fists, breathing deep -- all the over-the-top stuff you don't think is real until it is your heart on the floor. I hoped when I walked out that he'd take my hand and lead me out the door, that he would have realized that this was wrong.

I did not want the divorce. I regretted everything I'd done to hurt him, to lose him. I had the job in Colorado. My bags were packed. This was a formality. But it was so real. We walked into the courthouse on a sunny May Monday, holding hands. He spoke to me in gentle tones. I couldn't speak. We were going to be friends and maybe more again someday.

Afterward we went out on the lake together in the boat. We ate the gourmet cheeses and crackers I'd brought. I had vowed to give him this, to do this graciously. He would not see me cry or shake. I would not plead. I would give him this. He was never to know the price. I sat in the boat, holding my feet in Wisconsin water. I studied their blueness. I studied on my promises. I would keep them. I chewed cheese and made conversation.

The lawyer was there and did most of the talking. We had ended amicably, had agreed. The lawyer had congratulated us on our equanimity, wished all people would end like this. I had to agree once, twice, I don't know how many times. I summoned a voice from underneath the knot, beneath the beating ribcage, forced it past the corrugations in my throat. We'd had to sit apart. I felt him there. I hoped he'd say "no." He said yes.

I would give Colorado a fair shake. I would give it two months and if I still couldn't breathe without pain, if every thought was of him and loss and cyclical regret, I would go into the mountains and keep walking. Or get in my car and drive to Denali and walk there so that my sister would have no shade of responsibility for the sister under her wing. The promise gave me courage. I would give this to him, this freedom. I would do it well.

Leaving the courthouse, he took my hand into his, that big mitt that I loved. He squeezed. "I'm so proud. You didn't even cry."

Friday, June 22, 2012

You know you've been hiking a lot when...

I dream in contour.
  • You can feel when you're off-route.
  • You are uneasy and your legs hurt from all the scratches.
  • Your dreams are laced with squiggly brown contour lines. 
  • You need to do laundry so you have clean hiking shirts.
  • You have shed the deodorant and comb as extra weight. You give toothpaste the critical eye.
  • You refer to "servings" of toilet paper, as in "How many servings of toilet paper am I going to need for this trip?"
  • You have two definitions of hard hiking...
---  23 blowdowns in the space of 40 minutes.
--- Your 24 year-old hiking partner asserting that getting her period is the WORST thing that could've happened on this backpacking trip. She repeats it at least 23 times in a 40 minute period.
Lemme give you the blowdown.
  • My kingdom for a Playtex Super.
  • To plug her mouth with.
  • You are outside to receive the sun's first kiss.
  • It restores you because being alone in the wilderness at night is frightening.
  • You can identify trail by cairn, by blaze, by sawed log ends, and by soil disturbance.
  • You've worked out your own alert system for number of blowdowns along a trail...
--- Pink = Yay! An opportunity for a great ab workout.
--- Yellow = This ab workout expends a lot of energy.
--- Orange = Shit. Shit. Shit.
--- Red = Alright already, hiking gods! My abs are going to scare away my boyfriend.
  • Tapwater tastes funny.
  • A successful trip is gauged by netting more stories than scratches.
  • You appreciate how the help never forgets to freshen the flowers. 
  • Colorado Blue Columbine
  • You can't write down all the reasons you do it.

Alpine meadow beauties

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sweet Sleep Spot

Snowmass Peak towers over Snowmass Lake
A friend and I hiked over 12,462 foot Buckskin Pass to reach Snowmass Lake. We had intended to do three more passes but the snow is still prohibitive up high. I wasn't too bummed though. We got to sleep here.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

I Like What I Did Today

Bridge 1/many
It didn't start out as anything special. Just reacquainting myself with a hiking trail I hadn't seen in five years. But the day felt good. I loved the way the sweat trickled down my back. I loved placing my feet on the rocky trail. I greeted like an old friend the ache in my quads. Three Mile Creek Trail starts vertical and goes up from there. Straight up alongside its namesake creek with a bridge density on the order of four per mile.

Sweat was indeed trickling
While eating lunch (i.e. the emergency can of soup from my car because guess whose delicious quiche lunch was in a refrigerator in Denver), I looked at the map and realized that a through-hike would be doable. I could connect to two other trails -- Rosalie and Abyss respectively, winding between two mountains and getting glimpses of my 14er friend Mt. Evans. The Abyss would dump me four miles from my car, and since there was a hiker behind every rock and tree on this gorgeous Saturday, I figured someone could be persuaded to translate me through those road miles by car.

Velvet revealed
It worked like a charm. I recognized that I was on top of the velvety looking hillsides I'd seen the numerous times I'd hiked Abyss. I swore I'd get back there and bushwhack to check out all that suavity. Turns out there's a trail goes right through the "velvet." Also turns out it's not that velvety. More like a mix of soft grass punctuated & poked through by short, but symmetrical and evenly-spaced scrub oak. Tricky buggers sucker us hikers in every time.

Beaver Ponds
Up on high, traversing a meadow between two 12ers, Kataka and Tahana, I could see the ridge that Sweet Sis and I worked the first time we bagged Beirstadt. I recognized the windy trail where I'd startled a bushy gray coyote and a brilliantly-white snowshoe hare while doing Abyss in April. I looked down on the beaver ponds and willows that bedeviled attempts at getting anywhere in the country. I climbed out of Three Mile Creek's drainage, rounded Kataka Mountain, and dropped into Scott Gomer Creek's drainage. All in a day's work.

Puffy happy
It was short, downhill work to the Abyss TH. Now I had those tricky four road miles between me and my car. I wiped my face on the inside of my shirt and finger-combed my hair, maybe not first date material but convinced I was no longer sporting dirtbag-hiker-style but she'd-be-acceptable-in-our-car-style. With a deep breath of mountain air, I started hiking down the road. I visualized and anticipated that thumb out feeling. I thought maybe I should practice, but just then a car came -- a red sedan with Oregon plates.  My road-facing thumb skyrocketed up just like I'd imagined. And they pulled over! I jogged up to the gaping window and saw four occupants. I explained my situation, emphasizing the scant four miles part of the deal. Ma said they were fully-booked, but daughter in the back was already squeezing over closer to boyfriend and announced that there was room. With that decree, Dad popped the trunk and I stowed my pack and poles.

Meet Scott Gomer; he's
ice bath cold! (Yes, I
would know.)
Today I hiked fourteen miles and got to know another corner of the world. I made four-mile friends with some Tennessee tourists who were a little wide-eyed to be driving through mountain passes on washboard gravel roads while chatting to a grungy hitchhiker who smelled the part but had been to the Grand Ole Opry. I covered a lot of ground, learned a lot of territory. Net sum? I love what I did today.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Jake's a Daddy!

My nephew became a dad this morning in the wee hours. He has a son who was born a month early, who apparently could not wait to get busy living. And I think... his landmark is my landmark. I feel it in my heart, my mind, and the smile I can't keep off my face. He is way too young to be a dad, and I don't mean age-wise. Age is irrelevant. But he is too young. I know that he and his girlfriend and baby will have some trials. It makes me want to be more solid, more reliable, more present for them than I have been. It makes me want to grow up and settle down! I want to be able to offer them money, steadfast warmth, a great-auntie vacation spot. Maybe that's what family is; their landmarks are our landmarks. Their events make us grow up.