Sunday, April 28, 2013

fatty challenge update!

I drove to the gated road, feeling uninspired.  I was pretty sure the hill that had thwarted me hadn't gotten any less steep over the last week.  I didn't even feel like running at all.  As I jogged slowly toward the Hill of Pain, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment.

The incline swiftly steepened.  The round rocks rolled annoyingly under my feet.  The false summit looked impossibly far away.  This was normally the point where my inner critic would have loudly spoken up.  (Her name is Gretchen.  I don't know why; I don't know any Gretchens).

"You're barely moving!" she would typically say at a time like this. "Can't you go any faster? People might be able to see you.  You're going to have to stop and walk.  What's the matter with you?  You used to win races. This isn't even that hard!"

But Gretchen was strangely silent.  Instead, an unusual thought drifted into my mind.  It was this:  "It's ok if you have to walk.  This is pretty steep.  Try to make it to the top, but if you can't, it's all right."  The pressure was gone.  I continued trotting up the hill, slow but still moving.  Soon the first summit was under my feet.  I was halfway there.  Now there was a slight downhill before another hill and the trail's end.

I kept going. At the top I felt like this:

In fact, I may have run around up there in this manner, but you can't prove it.

The fatty challenge had been conquered!  And so had my harsh inner judge (for awhile, anyway).

Until next time, Hill of Pain!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

7 weird things I did at work (that I thought were normal at the time)

1. Cleaning up after the rangers.  After the law enforcement rangers practiced at the rifle range, the fire crew had to go in there and pick up their shell casings.  Why didn't the rangers have to do this?  We never got to shoot guns.  To this day I have no idea.

2.  Dancing in fire camp.  On my first fire, the overhead team brought a band into camp and we danced with the Plumas Hotshots for hours.  I thought all fires were like this.  Sadly, they are not.

3.  Rafting for teddies.  After a carnival trailer fell into the river, we jumped in a raft and picked up plush toys from the water for several miles.  Serendipitously, we also named several river features ("Teddy Eddy").

4.  Drinking for dollars.  The law enforcement rangers needed to practice giving breathalyzers and field sobriety tests, so they paid several of us to drink wine and beer for hours.  They got some good practice.

5.  Attending a fire camp wedding.  Skeptical that her groom would make it back home in time for their wedding day, the bride tracked him down at the fire and had the ceremony there.

6.   Enlisting a dog.  We needed to run a fire hose from the pump by the river over to the helibase, but a busy road was in the way.  Discovering a small culvert under the road, we tied one end of the hose to Melanie's dog's collar and encouraged it to run through, dragging the hose along.  Dogs must think people are pretty strange.

7.  Protecting the pilot from drug runners.  Our fire on the Mexican border was at the intersection of two major drug trails.  Too nervous to wait for us alone at the helispot, the pilot tagged along with us to the fire, apparently forgetting that at least with the helicopter he might have a chance of escape.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

the fatty challenge

It's not that long, this hill; about a mile and a half one way, and it only gains a few hundred feet.  But the parts that are steep are really steep.  I mean the kind of steep that you have to walk back down instead of run.  There are round gravelly, irritating rocks the whole way.  There is always the possibility of running into a bear.

I call it the Fatty Challenge, because I like to name my running routes.  It's a narrow road carved into a hillside, following a powerline.  I've attempted to charge up it without stopping twice now, and both times I've ground to a halt before the first, false summit.  A power walking grandma could probably have passed me as I inched along, trying to draw on strength gained from decades of running.  Patches of snow crunched under my feet as I tried not to look at the top, seemingly miles away.  I slowed to a walk, annoyed with myself when I realized how close it really was.

At the trail's end, I turned to run slowly downhill.  From there I could see the ski area, closed now because grizzly bears are starting to come out of their dens and need their privacy.  To the northwest, a wave of snowy peaks marked the park's boundary.  The river sparkled far below.  Even though I didn't run all the way up the Fatty Challenge, it was still a good day.

Anyway, I'll be back.  I plan to keep attacking the hill until I can run the whole way.  It's good to have goals, something that isn't easy to attain.  Everyone needs a Fatty Challenge of their own.  What's yours?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"baby got back" and "pachelbel's canon": a playlist

Once upon a time, I was on a hotshot crew, so long ago that people born in that year are now fighting fire.  We had two crew vehicles, the party buggy, in which people stayed awake and played poker, and the sleeping buggy, in which people dozed as much as possible.  We drove everywhere.  There was no flying to fires for us, no matter how far away. 

In the back of the sleeping buggy, we rolled through the night to the sounds of a tape player on an endless loop.  Jenny was enamored of Sir Mix-A-Lot, particularly "Baby Got Back", which she played over and over.  I heard it so many times that sometimes I still spontaneously break out with "So Cosmo says you're fat/Well, I ain't down with that!"  much to the bemusement of my younger crewmembers.

Tammy liked Pachelbel's Canon, a tune that induced drowsiness throughout the bus, so much so that, somewhere in the darkness of eastern Washington, we would wake up, hear its soothing notes, and drift back to sleep, only to wake again hours later to its hopeful melody.

These two songs couldn't be more different.  When I hear them today I instantly imagine our strong young tribe still out there somewhere, traveling through the darkness toward the unknown.  And our summer soundtrack is still playing, the sounds of rap and classical music mixed together, as we move toward the future.

Photo courtesy of the Baker River Hotshots Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

strength in numbers

Dear fire guys,

I appreciate you.  Really, I do.  I enjoy working with most of you.  I appreciate the fact that for the most part, the old days where one woman's poor performance was an indictment of all women, are gone, along with crew bosses who said that sexual harassment should be "taken as a compliment."  However, there is just one thing I'd like you to fix.

Yes, that was me the other day, carrying 112 pounds of gear on my back over to the burn unit.  Go, me!  But when you saw me, you really didn't have to excuse your 56 pound load by saying, "I just have to get warmed up.  When I get warmed up I can carry three of these hose packs."   It's really OK that a woman is carrying more than you. 

That was also me, running up the big hill to the gravel pit, and you and a male rookie were behind me.  I heard you say, "Run faster!  There are girls ahead of you!"  While I applaud the fact that you were trying to motivate him, why is it a given to you that even the slowest guy should be faster than any woman?  That's just wrong, dude.

Don't say, "She's the hardest female worker I know," like you did the other day.  Instead, just say she's a hard worker.  I know, it might seem silly,  but really, to us it isn't.

I realize that a lot of you will always be stronger and faster than us.  You have longer legs, more muscle mass.  But sometimes we can carry more, run faster, do more.  It shouldn't be threatening. We're all in this together.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

no country for young women

"This isn't  a job for women," my male friend S. says.

Wait.  This isn't what you think.

If you've been on the fireline, you've seen them, the women who disappear.  Their arms etched with muscle, they walk in line with the men.  After all these years our eyes still go to them; they still stand out.  And then one by one they vanish, as surely as if they just moved off into the smoke, their outlines becoming blurred, indistinct; look again and they are gone.

They aren't forced to go.  It is easier now to be a female firefighter than it ever was, thanks in part to those brave women who paved the way in the '70s and '80s.  But stay too long in this job and your arms start feeling empty.  For a woman, children and fire are an almost impossible combination, at least the kind of fire that sends you out into the world without a destination, where you wake up in the morning not knowing where you might sleep that night, or for the next two weeks.

It's easier to be a man.  Nobody questions a man who goes off to be a smokejumper, to fling himself out of an airplane toward the unforgiving earth, leaving children at home.  In a fire partnership, it is almost always the woman who gives up her job, becomes a dispatcher or a fire planner or a teacher, or someone with a desk job.  Of the women I know who started when I did and are still out there on the ground fighting fire, almost all are childless.  The few with children who remain have the rarest of support systems.

To be fair, the ones who leave seem happy.  They say they don't miss it, those days walking with fire; a child, they say, or a relationship, is always the best choice.  They are probably right: I chose fire, and most days I don't regret it.  Still, I have seen so many of them vanish from the fireline, the best and the brightest of them.  I hate to see them go.