Friday, August 7, 2020

Empty Nest

Operation CSI: Bird was in progress. The perps were apparently using the side of my house as their personal restroom, but where were they?

I looked up and saw it. A small, delicate nest perched on a wind chime. In it, two little long-beaked babies sat, watching me quietly. Hummingbirds!

How had this whole operation been going on above my head for so long without me seeing it? The adult bird must have come and gone, collecting fluff and twigs. Then she sat on the eggs, while I went in and out of the door.  Now the babies were fully feathered and bright eyed, almost as big as their mom.

I obsessively watched them for the next few days. I worried if I didn't see the adult. When one baby walked out onto the wind chime, I kept checking on it until it returned to the nest.

One night I came home from work and checked on them as usual. One bird was gone from the nest! I anxiously looked around on the ground, fearing the worst. Not finding anything, I went to turn on the sprinkler. When I came back, the next was empty. I missed seeing the final bird take its first flight by only a few seconds.

When hummingbird babies leave the nest, they don't return. The parents may use the nest the next year, but often it is so fragile that it falls apart over the winter.  I knew the babies were around somewhere, but they were hard to see, although I kept looking.

I felt sad. I missed them and wondered if they were all right.  Although I knew they might leave the area, I bought a hummingbird feeder and hung it up in a tree.

The next day, a flash of brown caught my eye.  One of the babies swooped down onto the feeder.  Then it disappeared into the woods.

While I still wish I had gotten to see their freedom flight, I was glad to see the little bird flying around. It made me happy.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Great Mask Quest of 2020

Two words  I never thought I'd see in the same sentence: Fashion and Mask.

Back in February, when most of us were innocently planning travel and thinking all was normal, I had a sense of unease. Surely my trip to Greenland wouldn't be affected, but I started feeling some concern. "Hey," I said to a coworker, "I have an idea. We should start making custom masks, with designs on them and stuff." He laughed it off, and yet another money making opportunity passed me by.

When all this started, I thought I could get by with a buff as a face covering. For those not familiar, these are often called "neck gaiters" and are worn by hikers, skiers and climbers and used for a variety of purposes: warmth, impromptu towels, and head coverings. I had a few of them. They should get me by.

Also, results of no haircut for almost 7 months.
We even bought some fire resistant ones for the flight crew to wear.

But as the mask orders became more prevalent, the buff didn't really cut it. They slipped down and didn't stay in place. I also felt like an out of place cowpoke who had lost the herd. I tried out a mask that we got at work. It was made by Hanes, so we called it the Underwear Mask.  It was comfortable enough, but bore a strong resemblance to tighty whities.

I also acquired a disposable mask, but it wasn't meant for the long haul and sort of looked like a feminine hygiene product.

Finally I broke down and ordered one. I considered all sorts of designs. Sparkly? Cute sayings? Flames? I found one on Etsy with a cat face on it. Sold!

Now that my state has a mask order, I have masks stashed everywhere. The Underwear Mask is in my truck along with a disposable one. The buffs reside at work, although I forgot one while following a helicopter around and had to do a walk of shame through a gas station (although there were a lot of people not wearing theirs either, ahem people, do better). I carry the kitty mask everywhere, occasionally succumbing to the same momentary panic as when I can't find my keys or wallet when I don't know where it is.

Any interesting or cool masks out there? (Bonus points for cat themes).

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The missing blogger: a solved mystery

Where have I been? Not writing blog posts, obviously! I wish I had something interesting to say, such as I snuck into Iceland, or was undercover investigating all the fire lookouts in America, but alas, it was nothing so exciting.

File it under the "lazy blogger" category. Time seems to be flying by. Although I've been working and hiking a lot, it still feels like summer is slipping through my fingers and will soon be gone. That is sad, because it's my favorite season, the one I wait for all year. I endure winter here because summers are so magical. I'm not ready! There are so many more trails to hike, lakes to kayak, and mountain goats to see!

We are flooded with tourists, despite covid-19. A huge parking lot in the national park was full at 5:30 am the other day. FIVE THIRTY.  Keep in mind that to even get to this parking lot from the closest town takes at least an hour. Who are you people?

Anyway, thanks to my readers (my mom, mostly) for still coming by here. Real posts to follow! Leave a comment about what you've been doing!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

A meeting with the young me

We hiked and scrambled along the ridge. At over 8000 feet, we weren't moving very fast, mostly because we had to keep route finding so we could stay up high on solid rock instead of descending onto the scree of doom, like many of the social trails did.  Behind us we heard a voice, and turned to see a solo female hiker.

She was in her early 20s, moving quickly.  "Can I climb with you?" she asked. Despite her confident appearance, she hadn't done this route before, and wanted company on the last bouldering pitch.

We gladly accepted her into our ranks, and she stayed with us for the rest of the ascent and part of the descent. Then she said she had to meet some friends up north, and took off rapidly down the trail.

As I picked my way do through the rolling rocks and steepness, I thought of my former self. When I was Brie's age, I was carefree and footloose. I would head off on an unfamiliar trail or peak solo, throwing my pack in the car and sometimes sleeping at the trailhead. One time, approaching the summit of a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado, I encountered a group of bros descending. "There's a burly girl, doing this solo," I heard one say.

I was never unsafe during these travels, but I had less worries. I had yet to have knee surgery, and bounded down steep paths without thinking about injury too much. I had confidence I could descend anything I climbed up. Despite wearing cotton, running shoes, and leaky rain gear, I knew I would always be okay.

I'm not sure if it's age, a few injuries, a couple bear encounters, getting temporarily misplaced a couple times, or a combination of all of those that have changed me. While I will still hike solo, especially in places without grizzly bears, I do more preparation now. I check the weather forecast. I tell somebody where I'm going. I try and find out trail conditions. I hike with other people more often now.

I have to admit, when I saw Brie gaining on us, I felt a little sad. That used to be me, I thought. But then I thought about my friends, who put up with my whining about mosquitoes and were encouraging when I was apprehensive about a climbing move. I thought about the times I had to abandon a trail because of getting lost or snow conditions and had to stomp back home feeling annoyed rather than laugh about it with someone else. I thought about all the hikers who have gone missing, people who were young like I was, doing the same things I used to do, but who had one misstep or fatal miscalculation.

Hike on, Brie and others (and me). I would never want to change those days of roaming solo across the country, picking a trail on a whim and going to explore it. I will still do that, only with more caution. There is a woman in her 80s I see a lot when I hike up the local ski hill. She climbs alone, accompanied by her dog. This is a 2000 foot ascent, yet she does it often, arriving at the top unwinded and calm. She has it all figured out. I like to think that she, too, when young, walked all over these mountains, happy and free.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sometimes it's the destination

We slogged up the trail. It was a steep, viewless climb of almost 1,000 feet elevation gain per mile through thick forest. The bushes were wet, and my companions put on gaiters that then became muddy. Several trees had fallen across the path. A group of hungry mosquitoes joined the party.

Then, finally, we broke out into subalpine meadows. Snow-topped mountains surrounded us. We stopped at a saddle and looked down into a wild, trail-less basin where two lakes, still partially frozen, gleamed in the sunlight. As we continued on to climb a small nearby peak, the views only got better.

There are popular sayings, embraced by many, that state that "it's not the destination, it's the journey." Miley Cyrus sang that it was the climb that was important, not the mountain itself. Even getting fit is often referred to as a "journey." These memes, quotes and thoughts celebrate the way to something as the most important part. The ending point is often portrayed as irrelevant.

This can often be true. I struggle with being end-focused when hiking or climbing. I dislike turning around or abandoning a trip due to weather or other problems. To combat this, I try to be conscious of the delightful things along the way: flowers, rushing creeks, the satisfaction of feeling fit enough to tackle steep inclines. It's important to enjoy it all.

But as we sat on the pass looking at mountain peaks and hidden lakes, we thought: sometimes it really IS the destination. It's what makes the hard climb, the obstacles, and the annoyances worth it. Yes, the journey is important. It shows you what you really have in you. It's necessary. But sometimes your end point is what matters the most: when you get to a beautiful, serene place and look around, and think, that was tough, but being here makes it all worth it.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Don't wait

First of all, I'm still here. Thanks to everyone who commented and wanted to keep reading. I didn't even know some of you read here, so that was a nice surprise. I haven't yet pulled the trigger to go private, but I have your emails when I do, and will make sure you are included in the invite.

Recently I got an email from one of the hotels where I had made a reservation in Iceland. "Thanks for staying with us," it said cheerily. I felt grumpy. Not only had I NOT stayed there (because the border is closed due to covid), but they had also kept my money. While I had accepted the loss of my trip, this was just another reminder of how impossible travel is right now.

Still, this made me think of my past travels. It would have been easy to put them off, to say I didn't want to spend the money, the logistics were too hard, I didn't speak the language, it was too scary. But I went. I went to places like Nepal, Tanzania, New Zealand, Antarctica. I climbed mountains, trekked deep into the wilderness, saw amazing animals, and went sailing with locals. 

If I hadn't done these things, if I had told myself I would wait till later, I might never have gone. Travel is going to be very different now, maybe for years. I wouldn't trade those memories for anything. I'm so glad I didn't wait.
On the way to climb Kilimanjaro

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


B. wanted to walk her dog. An enthusiastic puppy, he was too young to go far, so we settled on a three mile round trip trail to a small lake. I've been there many times over the last nine years; there have never been more than three cars at the tiny trailhead parking area. But as we rounded the bend, we were shocked to see about a dozen vehicles lined up along the road.

We fled in horror. To people from more populated states, this might not seem like very many folks to deal with on the trail. But here, at this pretty but not spectacular trail, not really close to any other attraction and with no sign on the road off the highway indicating its presence, it was too much.

Luckily, B. knew of another trail in the area. We drove there anxiously, but there were only two cars there. Bonus, it was twice as long and would tire the rambunctious dog out. While I was disappointed at not seeing the lake, the solitude of the new trail made up for it. Wildflowers dotted the hillsides, and we looked down at the valley from a small overlook.  On our way back to town, we glimpsed another trailhead, and saw cars parked half a mile along the road.

I'm not sure what to make of this trend. Even the woods in my neighborhood are crowded, when I used to be able to have them to myself. (Yes, I realize I'm contributing to the crowding). My theory is that while the gyms were closed and people working from home, they discovered some of the trails. Also, tourists are here, fleeing their more restrictive states. Some don't seem to get trail etiquette: bikes race toward hikers, their riders not even saying thank you as we leap off the trail. Even more unruly dogs jump on strangers than normal.

Now that gyms and all businesses are open again, maybe the crowds will lessen, especially when they can access the national park. I really shouldn't be surly: I'm out there too, and I should be glad that people are enjoying the outdoors. And soon the snow will melt, and I can get into the high country, and leave most of the people behind.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Pity, Party of One

In January I decided to take a trip at the end of May. I didn't tell very many people. I didn't even ask for time off work; there would be plenty of time to do that. Unlike the other trips I have taken, I had a weird feeling about talking about it. I almost felt that I would "jinx" it.

Well, I didn't jinx it, covid 19 did. By the beginning of March I could tell it probably wouldn't happen. So instead of packing for the flight that was supposed to take off in thirteen days, I'm cancelling reservations and filing a claim with my travel insurance company. And while I understand the need to cancel, I'm sad.

I was going to fly to Iceland and then on to Greenland for a few days. Amazingly, everything lined up perfectly. I booked a few nights in Iceland, one at a fancy hotel with its own hot water lagoon, as a treat. In Greenland, I was going to a tiny town that overlooked a fjord full of icebergs. One of the places I was staying was a wilderness hut where I would be dropped off by boat and then hike back to town. The flight from Iceland to Greenland was more expensive than the plane from the U.S. to Iceland, but this was a trip of a lifetime, my last big international travel before I have to leave my job due to age limit rules. 

Iceland and Greenland's borders will still be closed. They are set to open soon, but after my trip dates have come and gone. Even then, testing and self quarantine will be required. The airlines cancelled my flights. Some of the hotels refunded me; the others refused, even though some of them aren't even open. "We're a small business," one of them said. Listening to the weird feeling when I booked, I bought Cancel for Any Reason travel insurance (most travel insurance companies will not refund you for "fear of coronavirus"). I should recover most of my money.

Will I ever get to go? Maybe not. I won't have the income I have now next year at this time. The virus may return to Iceland and Greenland, causing them to close borders again. Airlines may go out of business (I hope not, because I'm waiting on a refund). International travel may be changed forever, or at least for a long time.

I know it's not all about me. There is a greater goal here. But it's okay to be sad when you have to let go of plans, of seeing friends, of travel. Maybe I can find somewhere to go this summer locally and feel happy about it. Until then, I'll throw away my packing list and tear up my confirmation letters. Maybe someday, after all this is over, I'll be walking down a trail in Greenland. Or maybe not. Despite all the plans we make, we are never really sure what is waiting for us down the road.
Picture from my last trip to Iceland

Friday, May 8, 2020

These dreams

There is a trail I know about. It's sort of a secret. There's no sign and it's not in any guidebooks. It passes through some private land, but the landowner is tolerant so far and hasn't put up any gates or signs.

At one point the trail crosses an old road that is slowly being reclaimed by the forest, although it still looks driveable. Along this road at several scenic overlooks are building lots carved out of the trees. Piles of wood lie here, some covered by tarps. My friend who showed me the trail says the wood has been here for at least ten years. He thinks someone bought the land to build some luxury homes, but either ran out of money or found some problem that made building impossible.

The lot I would choose is the highest one, near the top of the ridge. You can see a lake from there, far below. Wildlife would visit up there. It would be quiet. If the other houses were built, you wouldn't be able to see them. You could hike and run the old roads and trails.

When I pass the piles of building material, I think about dreams. This was someone's dream that they had to let go. I wonder if they ever go back there, if it's too painful, or if they moved on long ago. Some dreams are easy to release and others stay with us always.

People are starting to find the trail and my days of hiking it may be numbered. For now it's still mine, to walk and listen and dream.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Stay at Home Diaries: Workout Edition

The ski hill closed almost a month early. The gyms soon followed, and then the national park. It was time to get creative.

Fortunately, I wasn't bothered. I've spent much of my career working where there were no gyms, or mediocre work ones with a rickety bike and a dumbbell or two. I also go on the road for work which means searching out hotel gyms or places to run that won't kill me. I've always liked exercising outside much more than in a room surrounded by strangers.

I borrowed some dumbbells and started using my old, but good stationary bike more. I run on the trails by my house. I find myself walking and hiking a lot more, even if it's only an hour at a time.

I started hiking up the local ski hill. Absent the usual crowds, it's easy to find a deserted run to snowshoe or walk up. From there I can gaze out into the forbidden park or at the lake far below. No bears lurk there, so I can hike without yelling or having bear spray at the ready.

Lifting weights at home, when I can watch Survivor  educational programming, and not try to work around the bros who sit on machines while scrolling social media or tie up two machines at a time, has been much more enjoyable, as has eliminating the commute to get to the gym. Going out for a hike on a day when I might have defaulted to the elliptical makes me feel better.

Some people are having a hard time with their gyms closed. The gym is their comfort zone and their therapy. But it's good to get out of that zone and to challenge yourself in different ways. Your body wants to be outside and moving in the fresh air. Take it there!

I don't miss the gym at all. I might not go back.