Monday, September 30, 2013

is this strange?

So, do you ever do something for years, and think everyone else does too, and then you realize: No. No, they don't.

I name a lot of my running routes.   Doesn't everybody?  Well, apparently not, because I follow some running blogs and there's no mention of anything like this, and you'd think they would, because they are all running something like 16 miles all the time.

I've been naming the places I run since I started running at age 14.  We were a running family, and it was a kind of shorthand for us.  We instantly knew what a person meant when they said they were running Mr. Barry's Ski Trail (so named because we once saw my friend's dad cross country skiing down it), The Bear Road (because the afore-mentioned Mr. Barry had once seen a bear on it while running), and the Dreaded K (a straight, boring country road that was often the last resort when it was too slippery in town).

Since then, I have named running routes all over the country.  Sometimes they are named for a person once seen on it (the Murray Route, Tom V's Loop), even if they never traverse it again.  Other routes are named for landmarks (Bad Boys goes by a former juvenile detention center; Dammit! is an out- and-back run to a dam).

Picture from here
 I currently live near a network of trails and have, of course, named them.  There's On the Outs, which traverses around the outskirts of the trail system, and incorporates shorter trails such as Mountain Bike Jump and the East Side Ramble.  If I'm feeling lazy I can run Main Street which is short and flat.  Saying the names of these trails instantly takes me there, to every turn and incline, to frosty silent mornings and green spring days.

Does anyone else do this?

What other weird thing do you do that you think is normal?

This trail is part of the Motocross Complex; bears like it too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Survivor: The Fire Edition

OK, if you've never watched Survivor, you can skip this post and even feel vaguely superior that you don't watch reality TV.  However, I'm not ashamed to say that I have watched Every. Single. Season. and find it pretty fascinating, especially the group dynamics.  I have to add, though, that while these people think they have it tough, it could be a lot worse.  Sure, they are stuck in a tropical location without much food, and have to build a makeshift shelter and deal with bugs and rats (in some third world countries, this is called life).  But it's only for 39 days (if you make it to the end) and there are camera crews and a medical team ready to leap into action if you hurt yourself.  The contestants do have to compete in "challenges"; if they win they get some kind of reward or immunity from being voted off for one more day.  If you asked me, though (I don't know why nobody has) these challenges could be a lot harder.  Like my job, for example.  Hence, Survivor, the Fire Edition:

The Physical Challenge:  Survivor has a lot of these at the beginning, to flush out the weaker competitors.  Usually you have to swim, untie stuff underwater, push heavy objects along a beach, etc.  Boring!  In Survivor: The Fire Edition, you have to put on a backpack pump (45 pounds) over your backpack (25 pounds) and hike rapidly up a hill.  If you slow down, someone on your team yells loudly, "Close the gap!"  Once you get to the top of the hill, the fire version of the TV host, Jeff Probst,  announces that the water is needed back down at the bottom, and pick up the pace this time.  If you fall going down the hill, your penalty is to have to fill out a series of redundant accident forms in triplicate and explain how this incident could have been prevented. Obviously, in this case, you lose.

The Puzzle Challenge:  Survivor is big on puzzles, mostly ones with big wooden pieces that form a picture or spell out a phrase.  Not so fast, Fire competitors!  Here's your puzzle:  You are stationed at a portable pump which quits working.  Your job is to troubleshoot the pump; meanwhile people at the hose end are screaming for water because they are losing one flank of the prescribed burn.  Better hope you paid attention in your pumps class.

The Memory Challenge:  Survivor contestants often are tested on how much they can remember, either of local lore, or by looking at objects briefly and then trying to recall what they were.  In the Fire Edition, your challenge is to translate as many fire acronyms as possible.  NIMO?  AOPC? HOGE-J?  Remember EUSC?  You get the idea.

The Food Challenge:  Sometimes Survivor players have to eat stuff like bugs.  Admittedly, gross.  But the Fire Edition could be almost as bad.  Grab a random MRE, or a veggie lunch on a caterer's bad day, and attempt to eat the whole thing, without the heater.  Yuck!

The Tenacity Challenge:  On the show, participants often have to balance on posts for a long time until everyone falls, or hold up something heavy until everyone else drops it.  It looks like it takes a lot of patience.  But that's nothing, compared to the fire version!  In it, you have a position on the overhead team managing the fire.  You must attend meetings at the following times:  0530, 0600, 0800, 0930, 1400, 1600, 2000, and 2100.  You must be cordial while attending these meetings.  You must not imply, by word or action, that you have already discussed these topics at every previous meeting.  You must stay awake.  You must carry paper around and look important.  You must not think it is funny that one of these meetings is called the pre-planning meeting and its purpose is to plan the planning meeting.  If you can't do these things, you will be voted off the team and have to go to your own version of Redemption Island:  the dreaded Staging Area, where you will sit and wait for a chance to get back in the game.

Survivor:  The Fire Edition could really catch on....oh wait.  We can't pay the winner, what with the government shutdown and all.  I guess you better stick to tropical paradise after all.

"The tribe has spoken.  It's time for you to go...and be furloughed."

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Rain rain rain.  Don't get me wrong, I like rain.  I like running in it when it's light and misty.  I like big storms with thunder and lightning and brief torrents of rain, unless I'm out on a trail in it. I like a rainy day when you don't have to feel guilty about not being outside, and you can make chocolate chip cookies and read a book, preferably with a cat or two or three.

Rain during fire season...well.  That's different, unless you're sick of the fire you're on and you just want it to be over with.  Rain during fire season is demoralizing, especially when you can't go anywhere else. 

It's been raining here lately, with more to come.  The fire lookouts, at least the two who are still up, sticking it out for at least one more pay period, report snow flurries.  It's obviously time for other things.  Things like filling up the hot tub that I have to drain in the summer time because I might leave at any moment for two weeks or more, without time to even go home and grab what I might have forgotten that day.  Things like pondering whether to buy a ski pass, planting trees, and driving up to the pass in the park for one more time before the road closes.  Everything changes eventually, but it can be for the better.  It's best to remember that.

It looks like fall on our running trails

This trail goes by our warehouse. Doesn't it look haunted?

Rainy running trail

Saturday, September 14, 2013

something dark

Just a few miles down the road from here, there is a trail called the Loop.  It's short and steep, and climbs for almost four miles to Granite Park Chalet in Glacier Park.

The chalet
Jordan Graham and her husband of 8 days, Cody Johnson, went for a hike on this trail on the evening of July 7, 2013.  

Only one of them came back.

Supposedly, Jordan hiked out the way they had come.  Maybe she looked down and saw the footprints they had made in the trail dust a few minutes earlier.  She got out her keys and drove home.  It must have taken her at least an hour; lots of time to think about what had happened.

One of Cody's co-workers reported him missing the next day.  Of course the police came to their house; she must have known that they would, that it was the first place they would go.  She told them that Cody had gotten into a car with people she didn't know that night.  The car was dark colored, she said.

A few days later Jordan drove back there, to where it all went down.  She parked in the lot for the Loop Trail and started walking.  She reported to the rangers that she had found a dead body.  The man was lying at the base of a steep cliff.  It was her husband.

When asked about the apparent coincidence of finding him, she said that Cody had always wanted to see that area before he died. 

Eventually she crumbled.  They had had an argument, she said.  He put his hand on her arm.  She removed it, but instead of walking away, she had been so angry that she had pushed him, put both hands on his back and shoved him off the cliff.

Jordan is 22 years old.

Friends came forward.  Jordan had second thoughts about the marriage, they said.  She had been planning to talk to him about it that night.  One of Cody's groomsmen chimed in.  He had warned him not to marry Jordan, he claimed.  He thought it was strange that she did not look her groom in the eye as she recited her vows.

But beyond all that, regardless of motive, or how it actually happened, what I want to know is this:  what was she feeling as she walked back down the trail, one returning when two had gone out?  Was she scared, or numb, or just relieved?  Why didn't she go screaming to the rangers, saying he had tripped, or that he was hitting her and she fought back?  What did it take, or did it take anything, for her to drive away down that winding road out of the park, and return to a dark house?

And why did she go back?  Did she want to see if, in the light of day, what she remembered had actually happened? Or did she feel sad that he was lying out there alone in the rocks where he might never be found?  Did she want some reflected glory or sympathy for being the one to find him?

Jordan and Cody
It makes me wonder now, when I see people coming down the trail.  Is it a happy couple, celebrating their new life together, looking perfectly ordinary?  Or is there something underneath what we see, something dark and hidden and unknown?  Is everyone capable of some crazy, wild act, given the right circumstances? I can hear some of you saying no, absolutely not.  But think about it.  How do you know?

Jordan Graham

Sunday, September 8, 2013

how I started a feeding frenzy

I charged up the trail with one objective in mind.  No, not to get to the top, not today.  I haven't been around to pick huckleberries in about three years, so I was determined to get some.  I was afraid it was too late, in which case I would have a nice hike anyway.  But soon I ran into a man hiking down.  "You're almost to the huckleberries!" he exclaimed.

Soon I saw them: several acres of huckleberry bliss.  If you've never had one, it's difficult to explain what they taste like.  They look like blueberries but have a tart yet sweet flavor that is all their own.  To me they taste like summer.

With a brief glance around for bears, I dove into the huckleberry patch.  I already had a quart picked when I heard an odd whistling sound.  An older couple dressed in safari wear cautiously rounded the corner, blowing a whistle.  Hearing me rustling in the bushes, they jumped nervously.  "You're here by yourself?" the woman asked, looking around for grizzly bears.  "There's plenty of people on this trail," I said reassuringly, leaving out the fact that I had once run into a bear on this very trail.  "Picking berries," Captain Obvious announced, deciding to do the same.  They produced some Ziploc bags and industriously set to work.

Soon a group of three women loped up the trail.  "Look at the people picking berries!" one pointed out. They lingered at the edge of the patch, eating huckleberries.

Three more women appeared, sized up the situation, and waded into the brush to join the crowd, filling up a water bottle with berries.  Apparently tourists, they had never eaten huckleberries before.  Several exclamations of "These are GOOD!" floated out of the woods.

Several pairs of hiking poles clanked up the path, connected to a large group of Irish and Scottish people.  "Look at all these bears!" one remarked, as they started to munch on berries near the trail.  And indeed, we probably did resemble bears, moving quietly through the huckleberry patch, intent on our task.

Each group slowly drifted away, leaving just the older couple and me.  Eventually they, too, moved on.  I left the rest of the trail to them.  I didn't need to go to the top today.  I headed back down, carrying the essence of sweet summer with me.

These are not huckleberries.
The trail goes under the ski lift, where people can ride to the top. You COULD call them lazy, but they might drop something on you.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

excuse me sir, you forgot your pants, and, Lewis& Clark were tough mofos

The naked hiker trudged toward me, carrying a fishing pole, wearing a hat and shoes and nothing else. "Anybody else out there?" he asked cheerily, referring to the hot springs at the end of the trail.

"No," I answered, resisting the impulse to laugh inappropriately. I've seen all kinds of attire on trails (High heels, traditional Amish dress, a man in a red thong) but rarely someone with NO attire. I wondered about his thought process at the trailhead.  Hmmm. Better bring the fishing pole. OK, got it. Where's my floppy hat? This trail is easy, tennis shoes should do.  I can't find my shorts. Oh well!

The hot springs

Some guys who probably wore clothes as they trekked across the west were Lewis and Clark.  I followed in their footsteps the next day on an ancient trail through the mountains.  The sign said the trail was steep.  How hard could it be, I thought. But it was, kind of.

The first part of the trail traversed open slopes with ponderosas.

After awhile, it became brushy and harder to follow.

If nobody uses or maintains this trail, it will fade back into history, with only these markers showing where it once was.

I realized how difficult it must have been for the early explorers to travel through these mountains.  At least Lewis and Clark gave their native American guides credit, saying they couldn't have done it without them.

I hope this trail doesn't disappear.  Go out and hike! (With or without pants).