Sunday, October 7, 2018

It's over (kind of)

Fire seasons used to have a beginning and end. You could count on taking a break and hanging up your boots for a solid few months every year.

That's not the case anymore. There are fires somewhere all year round. If I wanted to, I could be on assignment every month. Fire seasons have become fire years.

That being said, it's pretty much over up here next to Canada. Days are shorter and nights are colder. Also, it snowed!

The helicopter is off contract. The minions are drifting away to wherever they spend the winter. The paperwork and cleanup season has begun.

It's time for a break.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lookout person

There aren't only two kinds of people, as many memes and sayings try to attest.  People are much too complex for that.  If I were to say there are people who could be fire lookouts and those who can't, that wouldn't be true.  There are plenty of people who could do the job, and like it okay.  There are people who absolutely would hate it.  Then there are people who love it.

I'm a lookout person.  As the regular lookout hiked away down the trail for her days off, I felt happy.  Six days in a fire lookout, alone! This was just what I needed after a busy season surrounded by people.

At the lookout, I'm never bored.  There's always something to look at: the fires in the distant hills, deer and grouse beneath the tower, clouds racing overhead.  One night a black bear climbed the summit south of the lookout, paused and looked around, and continued south into the wilderness. I climbed the ladder onto the roof and did some exercises up there.  I hiked around, collecting firewood.  Sometimes I just stoked up the wood stove and read a book.  At night I went to sleep when the sun set, sometimes waking up startled by the moon.

Every morning I climbed down to the rain gauge and collected weather observations. At over 7000' elevation it was already autumn. Mornings were cold.  On my last day I woke up to a snowstorm.  I put on layers and locked the tower, heading down the seven mile trail.  It was time to go; I met the regular lookout at the snow survey.  Armed with extra clothes and food, she was either staying for 6 or 12 days.  She wasn't sure, but she was prepared.  I continued on into warmer temperatures, back into the real world.

I don't always like what goes on in the real world.  I'm glad there are still places to go to get away.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The fire camp life

What's it like to live and work at a fire camp, you (didn't) ask?

As a new firefighter, my first glimpse of a camp was sort of overwhelming.  Our school buses rolled to a stop outside a miniature city, complete with a caterer, showers, and 3,000 people in it.  It was bigger than the town I lived in.  Little did I know that I would experience many such camps in the next 30 years.

I soon learned that camp was not a place most people desired to be.  "I had to get out of camp," people on overhead teams are often heard to say as they escape to the fireline.  "They're moving the camp to the helibase!" helitack people often exclaim in dismay.  Camps can be noisy, with generators, vehicles, and people talking loudly on their cell phones.  They are often a hotbed of disease: the "camp crud" is well known and feared, sending sniffles and hacking throughout the crew.  Someone always seems to set their tent up right next to yours and inevitably begin snoring.  There are porta potties.  You hope the food is good, but sometimes it isn't, or it's so late you have to choose between sleep, food, or a shower.

Meetings start early at camp, sometimes at 5:30, and if you're part of the overhead team, they can go late into the night as you rush to get paperwork completed for the next day's operations.  There are meetings to plan meetings.  If you need something like batteries, there is generally a supply unit.  Beware to the crew that tries to keep a returnable item though, because they will track you down and make it difficult for you to leave until you produce it.  These days there is usually a weed wash station to prevent the spread of noxious plants, and sometimes an enterprising T shirt vendor encamped outside the gate.

For me, the best fire camps are at the helibase or on the fireline.  You miss out on hot food much of the time, and there aren't any showers or medical tents to grab moleskin or bug spray, but in exchange you can pitch your tent far away from other people and look at stars at night instead of the lights outside of the mess tent.
I was fortunate to find this place to camp once.  I jumped in the river after every shift.
 Camp has its fun moments.  When you're in charge of something on the fire and people listen to you, it's good to be there.  You often run into people you haven't seen in years.  Also, there's sometimes chocolate milk.  Fire camps are also necessary to support the operation, consolidate supplies, and feed the firefighters.  But don't look for me there! Most likely I will be as far away as I can get.
Camping by my helicopter.  I was the only person out there at night.

Friday, September 7, 2018

lazy blogger update

Except, it's now September; how did that happen?

Most of this summer has been nonstop work.  Luckily, a lot of it has been pretty fun: flying around finding fires and sizing them up, landing at fire lookouts, and getting to see some places that most people never see.
Some communications techs working at one of the lookouts we visited
The crew is hanging in there, although some of the minions are starting to dream about skiing and time off.  Although this month is also known as Snaptember, there have been no real brush fits or meltdowns (a few safety naps have been observed).

We fit in workouts when we can; sometimes it's only a short, bear-dodging run.  B., when told he had to stay in the area, puts on a weight vest and attacks an ancient elliptical machine. K. watches a ski movie and does box jumps.  The mechanic goes for a stroll; when he returns he finds bear tracks on top of his footprints.  The huckleberry crop in the high country was poor this year; the bears are staying low.

A couple trainees join us, and we send some regulars away on assignments.  It's stayed smoky most of the summer, but there are persistent rumors of rain coming.

We are all hanging in there.  Thanks for the support!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


Almost every summer this happens: the time when I have to give up on most hiking, running and gym plans because of my job in wildland fire.  I don't make it to the fireline as much as I used to anymore.  I tend to end up managing helicopters and helibases, a position which could lead to the dreaded "helibutt" if you let it.  I'm not letting that happen but what is a person working 12-16 hour days to do? Enter the maintenance phase.

When at home, fire crews allegedly get an hour a day to work out.  However, it often doesn't happen, because the phone is ringing, pilots are showing up, and fires are lurking.  If I get to exercise, it's more often than not cut short.  Some people just give up, and it would be easy to do.  If you are used to exercising for an hour or more, it's hard to adjust to half an hour or less and feel good about it.

This is where I have to take a step back and look at the big picture.  Sure, a 3 mile run isn't going to burn a lot of calories or improve my fitness at this point.  Lifting weights sporadically instead of on a schedule won't build muscle.  But if fitness is a journey, this is just a little while spent at the station.  As fall approaches and then as winter comes, there will be time to get on the workout train again.

So if you need to, embrace the maintenance phase.  If you can only run for half an hour, really enjoy that half hour.  Look at everything around you (I surprised some bears the other day on my run).  If you can only lift weights once in awhile, try a new exercise.  There will be time to go back to more intense exercise when you can.  Enjoy the break!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

RIP Mollie

Run free, Mollie. I'm so sorry that this is the world we live in now, where a young woman like this can't go for a run and be safe.

Mollie found

Mollie Tibbetts

Friday, August 10, 2018

Cissus what?

I looked at the web page skeptically.  The joint supplement on it had great reviews, but would it work for me?  What was cissus quadrangularis, its main ingredient, anyway?

I turned to Dr. Google.  Apparently I was late to the party on this plant.  It's a vine that grows in parts of Africa and Asia, and has been used for years in traditional medicine for speeding up healing of fractures, reducing inflammation, and pain relief.  Some studies suggest it also helps with menopause symptoms and with weight loss.  I clicked and bought it.

I've been pretty lucky; with my career and all the hiking and running I do, I've had relatively few joint problems.  Still, I've had two knee surgeries, and I get aches and pains here and there.  I've tried glucosamine and MSM in the past, and I *think* they worked, but I could never be really sure.

One day this winter I limped home from a short hike in the snow.  An odd knee pain had surfaced.  It was intermittent, never showing up when I ran or used the elliptical, only during hiking, and not every time.  Some people would go to the doctor, but I like the wait and see method.  I took some of the supplement, not expecting anything. 

In about 3 days I could tell the difference.  I went hiking and backpacking.  My knee didn't hurt.  In fact, my whole body felt a lot better.  When I stopped taking it for awhile, I felt the twinges return.  

Now I have some other firefighters taking it, and they report the same experiences.  I give out samples from my stash, because I believe it works.

The supplement I use is called Joint Mobility, from 1st Phorm.  I'm a rep for this company, but this isn't a sponsored post.  If you buy from this link here I may get a small commission from your purchase and you will get free shipping.  

If you start using cissus quadrangularis, let me know what you think!
this is what the plant looks like.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Trainer Tuesday: Working out (when you really don't want to)

I get it.  Some days I just can't face the gym, and a run seems much too arduous.  Excuses are easy to come up with: it's too hot, too cold, too rainy, something hurts.  Sometimes it really is time for a break.  Other times, it's just laziness and inertia.  Here are some ways I work through it.

1.  I lift weights, but it's not my favorite thing.  Sometimes I get to the gym and try to think of reasons not to do it.  When that happens, I tell myself I'll just lift for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, I know I can keep going and I rarely stop. 

2.  I move to a different part of the gym or use machines I rarely use.  This really helps with boredom and motivation.

3.  I decide to run for 30 minutes.  I know I can do just about anything for 30 minutes.  After that, I allow myself to stop, but by that time I sometimes decide to keep going.

4.  I make plans with somebody.  For a few months this spring until we all got busy, I met two women twice a week to work out.  There were times I really didn't want to go, but I didn't want to let them down.  Once we started exercising, my motivation returned.

5.  I put my workout clothes on in the morning.  If I'm already wearing them, I pretty much have to exercise, don't I?

6.  I do something that doesn't require a lot of space or props, like a circuit or card deck workout.  I don't have to drive anywhere to do this, or commit a lot of time.

7.  I watch TV or read a Kindle book while using the elliptical or stationary bike.  If it's a good book, sometimes I'll go longer than I planned.

8.  If all else fails, I go for a walk.  It's still exercise. I'm doing something, even if I'm not going all out, and it's a good mental break.

Any other good tips out there? I hope everyone has a great workout today, no matter what you do (or don't) do!
I don't feel like running...but I'm going anyway.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

psychic connection

"Be careful of bees today," I told Cindy as our squads parted for the fourteen hour shift.  "I dreamed you got stung by some."

"Whatever," she shrugged, grabbing her pack.  It was early, and we had been working this fire for a long time.  Every day we would dig line, and every day it would blow out.  We would fall back to the next ridge, and do it again.

The night before, I had a fireline dream.  In it, Sean was chosen to run a saw.  This wasn't always his job on the crew; we had three primary sawyers, and he wasn't one of them.  If we needed a fourth saw, there were several guys who could be picked to operate it.  Sean was one of them.  Our sawyers always picked their own swampers, rotating through crewmembers.  This person followed the sawyer all day, clearing the brush the chainsaw cut, and carrying the sawyer's gas and oil. In my dream, Sean chose Cindy to be his swamper.  She turned over a log, and bees swarmed out, stinging her. 

Cindy appeared at the crew buggies at the end of the shift, a glare on her face.  "Don't ever dream about me again!" she ordered.  "Sean ran a saw today and I was his swamper.  I turned over a log and there were a bunch of bees there.  I got stung a bunch of times!"

Coincidence? Or something more?

Recently, a young woman who lived near me went missing in our town, along with her vehicle.  There was a lot of speculation.  Did she run off, or was she taken by someone? "She's in the water," I said to my coworker.  "No, she went off the road somewhere," he said.  This was a far more likely scenario.  There are lakes and rivers around here, but it would take some effort to drive into them.  It was more probable that she had driven off one of our many mountain roads.

The next day, her car, with her inside it, was found mostly submerged in a murky pond.  Coincidence? (RIP Alex).

Everyone is probably a little bit psychic.  I've had other experiences I can't explain, other dreams that have come true, things that I just "know."  I'm sure this isn't too uncommon, but I'm interested: what about you? Have you ever had a psychic experience?
I don't have a picture of me being psychic, so here's a mountain goat.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Trainer Tuesday: The card deck workout

It's that time of year where fire crews can't wander too far from their transport method, whether it's a helicopter, engine, or crew buggy.  We all try to have a quick getaway time, so the days where we could do long runs or go for pack hikes are pretty much over.  But just like circuit workouts, the card deck is always an option, and even if you aren't a firefighter, you can do it too.

Here's how it works:

Take a standard deck of cards.  Discard the jokers.  Give each suit an exercise.  For example, spades = squats, diamonds = crunches, clubs = lunges, hearts = pushups.  Shuffle the deck and perform the exercise on each card according to its number, such as 5 of spades = 5 squats.  Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Aces count for 20 reps each (or 10 if you prefer).  Try to rest as little as possible between exercises.

This is a fun, easy way to get a workout in when you have little space or equipment (i.e. a hotel room) but still want to get some exercise.

It's also harder than it sounds! There's a reason it's also called The Deck of Pain.  Give it a try!