Tuesday, March 31, 2015

lone survivor

This is how it goes. Climb in the back seat of the helicopter behind the pilot.  There's not a lot of room there with the machine there and the eggs you feed it, spheres that will drop fire onto the forest below.  Make sure the tether on your harness is connected, because your door will be off.  Fasten your seatbelt.  Check the machine, and check it again.  You're ready.

The flight is low and slow, but you are used to it.  You know it's hazardous, but you've done it so often.  Even though there are only thin layers of metal between you and the air, even though you've lost friends to accidents, you never really expect anything to go wrong.  And usually it doesn't.  Until it does.

The details are slow in coming, but the person in the back survived Monday's crash in Mississippi.  The pilot and the front passenger did not.  I know the survivor, so I won't share too much here.  But all his brother and sister firefighters are thinking of him tonight.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hey, Bears

On Sunday the hills were alive, not with the sound of music, but with yells of "Hey Bears!" as I hiked somewhat nervously toward an alpine lake (note: the usual call is "Hey Bear," but I prefer the plural, in case there is more than one bear).  The hike is short, and usually attracts other hikers, but today, early in the season with snow blocking the parking area and covering much of the trail, there was nobody else.

Stay or go?  This area is known for bears.  I know people who won't hunt here because there are so many.  But I had driven an hour to get there, and it was normally a popular hike.  Surely the bears were wary.  I forged on.

It was worth it.  I've been to this lake several times, but never this early.  Without other hikers, it was quiet.  The ice was just starting to melt out around the edges of the lake, and the sun lit up the snowfields on the mountains to the south.  The bears, if they were there, stayed hidden.

If you live here, you live with bears and mountain lions, and wolves.  You think about that here.  If you see a group of ravens in the trees, look around: there may be a carcass nearby, with a bear guarding it.  Carry your bear spray in a place where you can get it.  Look behind you too; sometimes mountain lions follow people.

But don't be too scared.  Go on the trails.  Take a buddy if you can.  Yell "Hey Bears" and sing, even if you don't sound like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.  Don't miss out on seeing a mountain lake slowly losing ice to the sun.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Meeting up

There are a lot of advantages to being a lone wolf when it comes to outdoor activities.  You can wake up in the morning and spontaneously decide to go hiking, toss a few things in a pack and be out the door, without coercing anyone to go or waiting on someone.  Conversely, you can plan to snowboard, wake up in the morning and think "nah..." without disappointing anybody. You don't need to worry about other people keeping up, or whether they are having a good time.  Your friends are busy or don't have the same days off?  No problem.  You'll just go alone.

But I was in the mood for hiking with some outdoor buddies.  My friends were out of town or busy, and it was raining, so it would have been easier to just stay home or go to the gym.  But it's good to get out of your comfort zone sometimes.  So with trepidation I drove to a local park to join a Meetup group on a short hike.

Meetup groups (link, just change to your city) exist all over the country (you can even start one!) In my area, there are meetup groups for gamers, singles, hikers (the one I joined) crafts, and fitness (I joined this one too).  There are over 200 people in my hiking group, which shows that others are looking for outdoors buddies too.

About 10 people showed up.  Some were in their 20s, others in their 50s.  There were two dogs, one a bulldog named Ron, equipped with a reflective vest.  It rained and tried to snow.  We walked on a muddy trail to an overlook, looked out over the valley and talked about our lives.  A couple people were retired military. A young guy was taking a break from college to help his grandparents.  One of the dogs was retired from search and rescue.  I probably would have never met these people any other way, yet I plan to see them again on other adventures down the road.

I'll never give up exploring the outdoors on my own because of the freedom and spontaneity of it.  But like any successful wolf, it's good to have some packs to join if you feel like it.

View of a frozen lake from the overlook

Friday, March 13, 2015

In between seasons

Around here it seems like summer is coming this way about a month ahead of time.  We hesitate to say it's spring yet, because all of us have seen snowstorms in May, but all the signs are there.

You can still ski and snowboard, but there are bare spots on some of the runs.  Vegetation is sticking up through the snow in a lot of places.  The snow is a mix of ice in the mornings and mashed potato consistency by noon.  There are signs at the top of some of the runs warning of spring like conditions.

This statue is at the top of one of the ski runs.  Turns out it's harder to take a selfie with Jesus than I thought.
The lake is still frozen, but it was 60 degrees out today.  Not seeing anyone else out there, I chickened out and didn't walk too far out on the ice.

There's still some snow on the trails by my house, but it's warm enough for shorts!

There is already talk of prescribed burning, about a month ahead of normal.  Some rookies think we will have a busy fire season, but it all depends on the spring rains, or lack of them. 

It was a very mild winter here.  No extended below zero cold snaps and very few big snowfalls.  I didn't briefly want to run off to Hawaii.  I never wore more than two layers while running.  And I didn't hate it.  It would be nice to have a little more snow for the three more weeks the ski area will be open, but we should get to hike in the mountains a little earlier this year.  I'm looking forward to it.

How was your winter?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Into the fire

While trying to think of a blog post topic, I clicked on "Dateline" to see if it was showing an interesting murder mystery.  Instead, people were talking about their escape from the largest wildfire in California's history, the Cedar Fire in 2003.

These survivors being interviewed barely made it out alive.  In fact, 15 people didn't, including Steve Rucker, an engine captain who was overrun by fire while trying to defend a house.

Their stories are compelling and tragic, as some of them lost family members while trying to escape the flames.

This is the place where my co-workers and I live.  Not on every fire, not every day, sometimes not even every year.  But enough.  We go in while people are evacuating, and try to save their property, their animals, and their lives. 

I'm proud of us.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I'll be in the gym: confessions of a hotel exerciser

Confession #1.  When I go on work trips, I don't choose hotels based on the room, proximity to restaurants, or how far away the local sights are. My first priority is: does it have a workout room?

Confession #2.  I'm a workout room snob.  Of course, I'd rather run outside, but if it's dark/sketchy/really urban, I'll pick the exercise room.  If there's only a wobbly bike in there, I will judge. Hotels that give you passes to a real gym, or have free weights and several ellipticals? Who cares what the room is like!

Confession #3.  Sometimes I skip dinners or social functions with coworkers so I can exercise.  I know, this sounds a little, well, obsessed. But it's so hard to sit in classes or meetings all day and then go out, eat restaurant food, and sit some more.

Confession #4.  A hotel in southern California gave us free passes to a gym. A gym we could walk to. A real gym, with weights and machines and a Cross Fit area.  I was so grateful that I bought a t shirt from the gym (probably negating the free pass).

Confession #5.  While not technically a hotel, I picked the ship I took to Antarctica partially based on the fact that it had a tiny workout room. And while the ship was rolling in the waves traversing the Drake Passage and other passengers were miserably seasick, guess where I was? That's right! The ship was moving side to side too much to run on the treadmill, but there was a bike!

Anyone else choose hotels on work trips based on workout options? Or am I just an exercise weirdo?

The gym at the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas. Picture from Oyster.com