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.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Stay at Home Diaries: Telework Edition

My state is opening back up, which means I'll return to the office soon.  For the past five weeks or so, I've been working from home.  What's it been like? Apart from a few issues (employees with computer problems, endless video calls), it's been pretty great.

At first it was a little hard to get used to.  I slouched out to the kitchen table wearing yoga pants and a hoody.  Why was everyone sending so many emails? What was this video chat nightmare, and how was my cat able to create a new folder on my desktop by merely walking across the keyboard?

Soon, though, I got used to it.  I surveyed my closet and decided to start wearing dresses and skirts. After all, I can't wear them to work.  There are no dresses in firefighting!  Without the distractions of the office, I was able to get a lot more done.  My hour commute became a few seconds.  Since everyone else was sheltering in place, they were less likely to flee to the field, leaving calls and emails unanswered. 

I had a real kitchen (we don't have one at work)!  My cats happily "helped" by sending instant messages to people.  I looked outside and saw my trees and the green grass starting to come up.  I spied on the weird neighbors who appear to be building an illegal camping facility with outhouses on their property.  I sat in my hot tub at lunch time!

Yet the office awaits.  It somewhat resembles a hoarder home with the stuff that would freeze during the winter jammed in the only small room with heat.  Projects that we would normally have completed by now will have to be frantically done in a few days before the seasonal workforce starts.  But it has to be done; fires won't fight themselves, and we have already had a few. 

I hate the reason why I spent the last five weeks working from home, but I loved being there. 
I like this kind of coworker!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Return of the Lone Ranger

Once upon a time, I was mostly a solo hiker.  I love hiking alone.  I can walk at whatever pace I want, stop where I want to stop, and change my mind about where I want to go.  I can wake up in the morning and decide I want to go to a lake, or scrap my plans entirely and go kayaking, without anyone else getting upset.  I hiked and backpacked mostly alone for years.

But then I moved to a place with lots of grizzly bears.  It's much safer to be in a group if there are bears around.  More people can make noise, and a bunch of people look more intimidating to a bear than just one person.  I figured I had better become more social.

I met some nice people.  Some I met in a meetup group, but most through others.  I met a couple of them sitting by a waterfall.  Some I see more often than others, but when we hike we pick up where we left off.  Although I can't be quite as spontaneous (turns out other people like to plan ahead), it pays off in other ways.  If I wake up and it's cold and I feel lazy, I still have to go so I don't let them down, and I'm always glad I went.  I get to see places I didn't know existed, and to share beautiful spots with others.

Now, because I'm trying to be a responsible public lands user and social distancer, I am alone again.  The national park is closed, but the enormous forest is still open.  The bears are awake now though, and can be somewhat surly this time of year.  They're hungry, and they have young cubs.  So I'm limiting myself to safer places.

Right now that means a weekly jaunt up the ski hill.  They were forced to close early due to the virus, but there is an enthusiastic contingent of locals who hike up and ski down.  The snow conditions are too rough for me to haul my snowboard, but I bring my snowshoes.  Alone, I set off up a lesser used route to the summit, 2000 feet above.  There is usually nobody there.  Last weekend it was a brisk 11 degrees.  I look longingly at the peaks in the park in the distance.  It's too cold to linger, and I take another route down, one that winds past a statue we call Mountain Jesus.  Far below, a blue lake sparkles.

I know a lot of people are hiking with others.  They say they are staying 6 feet apart and carpooling, or they just aren't worrying about it.  As the snow melts, and we get fewer cases in my town, I may start venturing out with my friends again.  I miss them, and I miss getting into wilder territory.  But for now I walk alone in familiar places.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

It's all OK

I don't know why a pandemic has brought out the judgey people (never mind all the conspiracy theorists in my town), but here they are.  There is a smug meme going around proclaiming that if you don't come out of this stay at home order with a new skill or more knowledge, you're just lazy.

Oh, shut up.  First of all, a lot of us are still working.  Many of us are essential workers.  Some are parents trying to home school their kids.  Most of the people who are laid off are worried about making ends meet or when they can open up their business again.  Nobody needs to hear that they are lazy for doing the best they can.

This is an unprecedented situation.  I personally think that whatever people can find to do right now, as long as it isn't illegal, unethical or immoral, is all right.  Work out a lot, or take a break.  Feel free to ignore all those "home workouts" that people keep posting; most of them aren't certified trainers and I think we all know what a squat is.  Hike if you can: follow social distancing and please be prepared; now isn't the time to put rescuers at risk.  Try to eat well, but if sometimes you eat more candy than normal, don't beat yourself up.

It's not selfish to mourn trips you can't take, or events you have to postpone.  It's all right not to miss the gym, or to be relieved that you have more time alone.  If that work project takes a little longer than it would have two months ago, give yourself some slack.

I'm not learning a new skill.  My house is only marginally cleaner than when I worked all day in an office.  I still eat too much chocolate.  But I go trail running in the woods by my house and lift some dumbbells.  When it warms up a little I'll work in my yard.  I message my hiking friends to make sure they are ok.  I'm reading books.  My cats are happy that I'm home more.  And that's enough.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


I keep typing new posts, but erasing them.  Nothing seems interesting or appropriate right now.  I'm teleworking; however, eventually fires will need to be fought and we will have to go out into the world to do so.  My current coworkers, two fluffy black cats, are doing their best to send out gibberish skype messages on my work computer and otherwise distract me.

If you can hike, bike, run or just get outside safely, do it.  Otherwise please stay home and stay healthy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Please don't come here

I live in a resort town. There are always tourists here.  In the winter they come for the skiing; in the summer they flock to the famous national park down the road.  It gets so busy that most locals avoid the popular trails and viewpoints.

But we are still a small community, as are most towns outside of national parks.  We have limited hospital beds and ventilators.  The virus cases that we have here seem to have come from people traveling and bringing it back.  The hospitals can't absorb a high volume of patients.

I went up to the park.  I walked on the closed road, staying far away from others.  Many people were practicing social distance, hiking and biking in family groups.  But there were lots of out of state license plates.  People were parking close together and chatting with others only a couple feet apart.  I watched somebody use a stranger's phone to take their picture and then hand it back.  People were going in and out of the restrooms, touching everything.

Please don't come here right now.   Enjoy your own area and your own outdoor spaces if you can.  The mountains will be here for you in the future.  Please stay away.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Social distancing status: expert

When I read about how people are saying their lives have changed drastically and how devastated they are that they have to practice social distancing, I have to wonder:  is there something wrong with me?

Was anyone else a "social distancer" before there was a word for it?

I like wide open spaces with no people in them.  If there are people rummaging around in their cars getting ready when I arrive at a trailhead, I hurry to get on the trail so I don't have to walk awkwardly behind them or attempt to pass.  I've been known to abandon a hike when there are "too many cars" at the trailhead, and go somewhere else.  I dream of working from home instead of going to the office.  My ideal snowboarding day would be a chair lift all to myself.

I rarely go out to restaurants, mostly to save money but also because I don't live very close to any (if I could walk or bike to one I might).  I like being at my house; it's cozy and there are sweet cats there.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not a Billy No Mates (a term I learned from some British people on a trek in Nepal; it means someone with no friends). I have a small group of friends: they are mostly the kind of people who want to go for hikes instead of to coffee shops or bars.  They also understand the need for alone time.

If nothing else, this virus has shown me once again how different people are.  Where I live, there is a vocal majority that insists it's "just a cold" or "a conspiracy" and refuses to change habits, day drinking at the bars and proclaiming that because schools are closed they are still going to take their kids everywhere in the community.  Then there are the usual TP hoarders.  Interspersed (but not too close, 6 feet away please) are the people more like me: cautious but not panicky, using this time to get out in the woods and enjoy the solitude.

Are you a social distancer or more of an extrovert? Have you changed your routine at all? Please stay healthy, everyone.

P.S.  If you are in danger of losing your job or getting sick, that's a whole different story and as someone who has been unemployed/furloughed before, I'm empathetic! What I'm talking about here is having to stay home more...which to me is not a hardship.