Sunday, December 29, 2019

Hiking through winter

On the surface, winter hiking can seem like a hassle.  There's a lot less daylight, so you have to get going early when it's cold and sometimes still dark, or pick shorter trails.  There's many layers of clothing to consider. You toss out the bear spray, only to reconsider when you find tracks from a rogue, non-hibernating bear.  Several trails are off limits, because roads to get to the trailheads are closed.  Then there's the question of footwear.  Lately, we have been bringing snowshoes, microspikes, and even skis, and then rolling the dice on what to carry when we start out.  It's been a low snow winter so far, so the snowshoes have stayed in the car, but there have been times when I've carried snowshoes 10 miles and not used them.  Yesterday we ran into people hiking in downhill ski boots, their skis on their backs; they didn't find much snow.

But despite the drawbacks, there's some amazing things about hiking in winter.  Around here, the main advantage is meeting less people on the trails.  When you live next to a national park known for hiking, it's not unusual to see hundreds of people on the popular trails in the summer.  In winter the park largely belongs to the locals, just the way we like it.

Winter changes the mountains and the trails.  Waterfalls freeze on the cliffs, and the lakes are covered in ice.  The familiar peaks are covered in white.  You can see where the animals have walked: wolves, bobcats, moose.  It's quiet.  Places you think are sort of ordinary become magical.

You feel more accomplished hiking in winter, when you've traversed ice, postholed in deep snow, and had lunch on the shore of a frozen lake at 10 degrees.  And there's always the element of uncertainty: was it a mistake the leave the snowshoes behind? will the lake be frozen? will we make it to the peak?

Summer is easy.  You can run outside in shorts and a tank top, throw a puffy jacket and a few snacks in your backpack, and you will probably be okay.  Your water won't freeze, and the air won't hurt your face.  It's a lot easier in the summer.  But the winter trails call to me too.  Come out, they say.  Come see the world in a different way.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

In which I don't go to Australia (again)

If you haven't heard, devastating fires are sweeping Australia, burning homes, destroying koala habitat, and enveloping cities in smoke.  Since their summer is opposite of ours, many of the firefighters over here are available to go help, but this rarely happens.  They have good firefighters already, it's expensive to get people over there and there is red tape involved.

A few years ago I optimistically put my name on a list, but the people who went were of a much higher pay grade than me.  This year I had a better chance, I thought.  I had more experience and more qualifications.  I looked at the regional list; surely I would have a better chance than many. Some people with only basic qualifications had added their names; I admired their enthusiasm.  In the end, only a few overhead folks went.

It's probably for the best.  Taking care of my house and cats for the month commitment required would put a strain on my friends, with the associated snow shoveling and the pampering my spoiled cats require.  Also, some of the fires are burning in places where I, as a 24 year old on my first overseas trip, hiked and explored.  That's always hard to see.

So I'll stay here and enjoy our current mild winter, and start on the seasonal hiring.  I'll watch from afar though, and hope it rains soon.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Age: The final frontier

My former employee asked me when I had worked at a particular park.  When I said, "1991," his response was "Oh wow, I was one year old."

I was immediately annoyed.   "Wow?"  Was this necessary? Pointing out how young you are (or how old someone else is) doesn't seem to have a purpose to me.  This made me think a little more about one of my pet peeves.

Maybe I'm a little sensitive about this because I'm not a young person anymore, but it seems to me that, in a society where it is not okay to remark on someone's weight, mental ability, ethnicity and a host of other things, it is still acceptable to put someone down or describe them using their age when it has no point in the story.

Recently someone in one of my Facebook groups asked about getting into personal training after a career change.  He stated that he had worked in the corporate world for 21 years, and then added, "I know, I'm old." We do this to ourselves! I've been guilty of this myself: why do we do this?  Why do we discount ourselves?  And why do we use "older" or "elderly" to describe someone if it doesn't further the narrative?

I took a deep breath before I responded to my former employee.  Then I typed, "Don't worry, the universe willing, you'll get here too."

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Everyone's heard of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  But what about its relative? I've decided to name this Dread of Going, or DOG for short.

As much as I have loved every trip I have taken, from Antarctica to Iceland and many in between, there was a moment of DOG involved in each of them, a time of not wanting to go.  Usually this happened while blearily driving to the airport at 4:30 am, or while second guessing my packing list the night before.

DOG sometimes crops up when local events happen too.  It has nothing to do with how much I love my friends or how fun the day or evening promises to be.  The couch looks so comfy! The cats are especially sweet.  My book is really good, and Survivor is on! That's when DOG appears.

Work trips, even fire assignments, are a good source of DOG.  "Why am I doing this," I think as I drag my heavy bag into the car.  This is also a phrase that would go through my mind as I lined up at the start of the many road races I used to run, also a prime time of DOG.

Why do I get DOG? Am I the only one? Maybe it's fear of change or of the unknown.  Whichever it is, I recognize it as an old friend.  I know it's seldom real.

If you power through your DOG moments, the event or trip almost always turns out to be fun, and you're glad you didn't miss it.  That is, unless it turns into SAHG, or Shouldn't  Actually Have Gone, but this is rare. 

Maybe DOG isn't that bad.  It allows you to recognize that you may be stepping outside of your comfort zone, which is often a good thing.  The thing you're about to do might be hard, or make you uneasy at first, but it will most likely turn out great in the end.
Skydiving = a lot of DOG, but I did it!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Embracing the lull

"This is winter," I tell my minion, who normally doesn't work this late but who is helping out since my assistant took another job.  "I don't need to know where you are at every minute of the day," I continue.  "Also, this is a good time to get any doctoring or dentistry done."

He is adjusting, but I can tell it's a little difficult.  He is used to the frantic pace of summer, or the shoulder seasons, when we still have crewmembers around to supervise and a finite amount of time to get things done.  He still attacks projects immediately, which means he is now stuck with the less interesting tasks, such as the dreaded "updating employee folders" and "required online training."

We had a slow fire season this year, followed by a slow fall.  It doesn't always happen this way: often, the seasonals depart while we are still cleaning gear, maintaining trucks, and even fighting fire.  Sometimes temporary hiring starts in November, with its accompanying challenges of tracking down applicants and persuading them to decide what they want to do six months from now.

Not this year.  There isn't even enough snow to shovel.  Instead, we start on aerial ignition plans that we wouldn't normally tackle until at least January.  The hotshots puzzle how to transform one of their buggies into a reindeer for a city parade.  J. buys a red plastic bucket for the nose, and then agonizes that it's too small.  "Come look at it," he says.  "Does it look stupid? It looks stupid!" I reassure him that it doesn't, while S. regrets that he has committed to making some antlers.  They ponder the wisdom of driving the buggy, covered in brown paper, through the notoriously windy canyon on the way to town.

A stream of job applicants show up at our offices, hoping for a seasonal position next summer.  They leave either encouraged or with their hopes and dreams crushed, depending on the supervisor.  The smart ones start building a plan to eventually land a job, while the less intelligent ones do things like call our cell phones on Saturday.  Not having our lists till January, we can't tell them much, but we appreciate their earnestness.

I'm all right with the lull.  We don't get a lot of them.  Some years there are fire assignments all year round, a plethora of workshops, classes to take and teach.  January will be busy, with seasonal and permanent hiring happening at the same time.  Managers, energized by holiday time off, will fill the calendar with meetings.  Even my minion, eyeing the snowline on the ski hill, is starting to get used to it.
Image from Imgur

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

How to be seen

A helicopter is my office.  I sit in one for many hours every summer, looking for fires, landing spots, and occasionally, people.

People get lost a lot.  There are those who would like to believe that it is some vast conspiracy involving the land management agencies when someone goes missing in the wilderness.  As a veteran of many searches, I can tell you that is impossible.  With all the people involved in search, such a conspiracy would never happen.  Someone would talk.  Also these agencies don't have the time, the motive, or the budget to "disappear" people.  Lastly,  search and rescue personnel want to find you.  They put their lives on hold and at risk to look for people they don't even know.  But they have to be able to see you first.

A lot of lost people, when found, say something like "I saw the helicopters, but they didn't see me."  Most people don't realize how hard it is to see a person on the ground, especially when they are wearing earth tones and standing in a forest.  There have been times when the pilot and I knew exactly where the firefighters were supposed to be, but just couldn't see them (and they were wearing yellow shirts and were out in the open). 

When we search by air, we aren't necessarily looking for a person or a body.  Those can be pretty hard to see.  What we are looking for is something that looks out of the ordinary: something man made, movement, or a color that doesn't fit with its surroundings.  Some things that work:

-Get out in the open.  It sounds obvious, but some lost hikers don't do this.  Even a small meadow in a sea of trees will catch the eye of the helicopter crew.

- Have something shiny.  A space blanket, silver colored tarp, signal mirror, or strobe light works really well.  Yes, it's something extra to carry, but it may make a difference.  On my crew we carry Fenix strobe flashlights.  They can be seen for miles.

-Wave a bright color.  You can tie a shirt or jacket to a stick or a trekking pole.

- Build something that looks unnatural.  A lost hiker was recently rescued when the SOS she made out of rocks was seen.  Just make sure it is in an open spot.

-Tie something white to a tree.  This helped us find a fallen climber once.  The white against the dark green was very obvious.

-Fire.  You ARE carrying matches, right? I hesitate to mention this, because lost people have started fires that ended up having devastating consequences.  If a fire is your last resort, remember that smoke can be seen much easier than flames.  Once your fire (in a cleared area) is going, pile on punky, damp wood; this will create thick smoke.  Here, we have commercial airliners calling in fires to us as they fly above the wilderness.  Chances are someone will see it.

-Lastly, try to stay put.  Search aircraft will start at the point last seen and move out from there.  Many people, and bodies, are found well outside the search area, where nobody thought they would ever be. 

It's devastating to search vast sections of wilderness and never find a missing person.  It's worse than finding their remains, because then at least you know what happened.  When someone vanishes and can't be located at all, you always wonder:  did I look hard enough? what if they were below me and I just didn't see them?

If you get lost in my area, we will look for you.  We will look even if you didn't carry a beacon, didn't tell anyone where you were going, didn't want to be found, or made foolish choices.  We want to find you.  Please help us.

This was a tiny fire, started by lightning a long way from the nearest road or trail.  It was really just one log burning on the ground.  But very visible.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The regrets of fall

I looked out the window of my office as snow piled up rapidly.  I didn't have my snow tires on yet, I realized.  I still had a weight plate on my rood holding down a patch repair.  My denial about the approach of winter was about to end.

Summer here seemed really short, not for the usual reasons of being busy with fires, because it was very slow in that regard.  A rainy spring charged into a rainy, cool summer.  Then it snowed early, and rainy days were interspersed with brief sunny intervals.  Now they are making snow on the ski hill, and the tire shops are crowded with procrastinators.  It's undeniable that summer, and probably fall, are pretty much over.

This time of year, I tend to think about what I didn't get done.  My kayak reproaches me from the corner of the garage.  "You didn't take me out very much!" it seems to be saying.  My hiking shoes seem to glare from the shelf.  "Once again, no trip to Heavens Peak Lookout!" they might be thinking; my backpack agrees.  Even my garden looks sad; I should have bought more trees this year, but waited till the last day the nursery was open; of course none of the ones I wanted were left.

This is silly, obviously; a sort of delayed FOMO.  Sometimes I want to do it all: see all the countries, hike all the trails, and just do more.  That's impossible, so I look back at my pictures.  This summer I hiked to many fire lookouts, and stayed overnight in three of them.  I spent time with friends on the trail.  I saw some new places.  And, with a demanding job, that's pretty good.

For now I am grudgingly accepting winter's arrival.  There will be snowboarding and snowshoeing to do.  The mountains look beautiful with white tops.  And now there is time to think of all the trails and all the trips that wait in the future.  Get ready, elusive fire lookout! I'm coming for you.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Still running

The sun wasn't up yet as I started up the hill that marked the beginning of my running route around the island.  It's not really an island; it's a peninsula, but everybody called it that when I was growing up.  "Let's go to the island and have a picnic," we would say.  Or, "the race goes around the island."

A cold breeze blew from Lake Superior and it rustled the colorful fallen leaves on the empty road.  Nobody else was out.  I felt like I as running back in time.

This is where I grew up, and where I started running at 14.  I ran so many miles here, in all kinds of weather (I didn't set foot on a treadmill till sometime in my 30s).  I sported the first pair of running tights in town, which had to be custom made.  I even got recruited for the university cross country team, and spent hours on sand hills and trails.

The younger me would have cruised by the me of today at least 2 minutes a mile faster, and would have barely noticed the hills.  The younger me ran all the time.  She did speed work on the track, and hill repeats.  She ran lots of races.  Sometimes she won them.

I ran past the site of the old zoo, now gone, and the summer ice cream stand.  I couldn't shake the feeling of running in my old, ghost footsteps.  So much has changed since then, and yet here I was, still running.

As I followed the familiar path, I felt like I was chasing my younger self.  I couldn't catch her though; she stayed just ahead of me, her feet in the same Nike model I wear now barely skimming the ground.  That girl had no idea of what lay ahead of her, but she was determined to keep running.

 And I have kept running.  Not as fast, as often or as far, but I'm still out there.
I also ran on this beach.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Larch Madness

You might be forgiven for not noticing them most of the year.  In the summer they blend in with the other evergreens, contributing to the sweep of green on a mountainside.

Just wait till fall.  The larch is an evergreen tree that loses its needles for the winter.  But before that, they turn golden.

My employee and I drive out to clear a non-ambulatory hunter road.  Knowing the larch will be spectacular, I make him stop at strategic points where I can attempt to capture the blazing hillsides.

Some of us think the larch are more spectacular this year than usual.  Is that possible? We aren't sure, but it seems that way.

We might not have the fall colors of the Midwest where I grew up, and the needles are already beginning to fall.  In my yard they are everywhere: on the porch, in the hot tub, in my house.  But there is usually a price to pay for beauty, and I'll gladly pay it, to see the mountains full of golden fire.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The importance of doing (almost) nothing

If you were to believe some people's social media feeds and blogs, they never sit still. They're certainly never home.  They're out having big adventures all the time, traveling the world, running ultramarathons, hiking up mountains.  The phrase "home on the couch" is disparaging, meant for the weak and lazy.

This weekend I was felled by an awful cold.  Blaming one of my minions, I shuffled home on Friday and collapsed into some blankets.  In the past, I've tried to ignore these symptoms.  Sometimes it has worked out okay; most times it has prolonged the illness or led to bronchitis.  This weekend I gave myself permission to not do much at all.

The truth is, I like my house.  It's cozy.  When I look out I see my garden and larch trees that are now turning yellow.  There's a hot tub.  There are even trails down the street, if I want to go for a walk.

I might feel differently if I worked from home, or if I were retired.  Then I might want to get away more, even when sick.  But with the job I have, I'm gone for a minimum of nine hours at a time, and sometimes sixteen days if I'm on a fire assignment.

On Sunday I was ready to venture into the world, and back to the gym.  I didn't feel bad about staying home though and having no spectacular mountain pictures to show.  I needed the downtime.

It's okay to be "home on the couch" sometimes.  There might be nice dogs and cats there who miss you.  Maybe you're sick, or just tired, or have a good book to read or a friend to catch up with.  Everyone needs some balance.  Now I'm ready to get back out there and hit the trail.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Transition Season

It's allegedly fall, but it feels more like pre-winter here.  Recently the east side of the park received about three feet of snow in a winter storm! The tops of the mountains here on the west side are white; some trails are snow free and others are covered by about a foot at the higher elevations.  Here, fire season is over, not that it really began.

This time of year can be hard.  There are a lot of endings.  The helicopter flies away, and most of the employees leave.  This isn't a bad thing, just a change.  Meetings and conference calls replace smoke patrol and lookout projects.  There's more time available for hiking and to see friends, but the weather has taken a hard turn: no more shorts and tank tops, more rain and snow showers.  Some people I know even hauled snowshoes on a 12 mile trail just in case; they didn't end up needing them, but it's always possible.

I'm always cold during this time, my body not adjusted yet to the chillier temperatures.  It was 13 degrees at 8 am.  That's not terribly cold in January, but it is in early October.  "It's so cold," is often heard at work as we rush through our uninsulated building toward a room with a space heater.  N., a seasonal employee from California, bundles up like Nanook of the North his last week of work.  Not having brought a parka, he buys one from the thrift store before he flees for warmer climates.

It's time to take a step back, to move from being constantly alert to a slower pace, from being outside to being at a desk doing administrative work.  It's always an adjustment, but a necessary one.   Now it's also time to think about travel.  Arizona? Hawaii? I dream about warmer days, as summer turns into winter in the mountains.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The people you meet at meetings

By remaining in a field-going position, I manage to avoid most meetings, but there are times when they are unavoidable.  When this happens, I sometimes amuse myself by observing how the cast of characters never really changes, even if the actual people are different.  Here are a few of the regular players:

The pot stirrer:  This person is mostly silent, and rarely engages.  However, out of the blue he will suddenly speak up, usually on an issue that everyone has mostly agreed how to resolve.  He will put his two cents in and then sit back and watch the resulting drama unfold.  Does he really care about the problem or does he just enjoy watching the show? Nobody really knows, because he rarely speaks again.

The big cheese:  She is way too busy and important for your little meeting, but she shows up, at least for awhile.  The whole time she is looking at her phone, stepping out to talk to someone, or flipping through paperwork.  Finally at a crucial moment she flees, saying she has to get on a conference call.  Yet if decisions are made without her, she gets annoyed.

The space case:  This person just can't seem to get it together.  He shows up late, or has to be rounded up from somewhere he has wandered off to.  He's the one who forgets to mute his line, hasn't brought critical documents, or isn't really listening.  He's sort of lovable though so nobody really gets mad.

The backstabber: She has all the critical information on an important issue before the meeting, and could easily head your proposal off at the pass, but chooses not to.  She has lulled you into complacency by being your buddy, but as the meeting continues, it's clear that a buddy she is not.  She crushes your hopes and dreams and makes you look like a buffoon, just because she can.

The folder:  This person always has your back, until the chips are down.  Then when you look over at him in the meeting, he studiously avoids your eye and says nothing, or sides with the majority.  Suddenly you are out on a limb with no backup, and the limb is cracking beneath you.

The subject matter expert:  You think you know your stuff going in, but then you get a sinking feeling.  There sits the SME with her elephant like memory.  "Well, actually..." she corrects you on your faulty facts. You just can't win with the SME, so don't even try.

The overachiever:  This person lives and breathes the job.  She schedules meetings for Fridays at 4 pm, the week before Christmas.  She can't understand why people want to break for lunch, because she's fine with eating a granola bar and continuing.  Worse, she likes "working lunches." You can hide out in the bathroom, but she will find you, and volunteer you for a committee.

The reluctant warrior:  He would rather be anywhere else.  He stares out the window when it's snowing and says, "Powder day!" In fact, his skis are in the car for a quick getaway.  If he can get away with it, he will sneak out at lunch, never to return.  Reluctant warriors are great to have in your meetings, because they will agree to writing papers and "looking into it" just to be able to leave.

Do these characters seem familiar? Did I miss anyone?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Where's the beach?

Florida! I think, scheduling my trip for work.  I have visions of the beach as I pack my swimsuit.  Not during work hours, of course, but surely there would be some time to run in the sand, or watch a sunset, maybe.

My hopes and dreams were quickly dashed.  The beach was too far away to legitimately go on a work trip.  What's more, we arrived to a freezing conference room in which we sat for eight hours a day.  Wearing a sweater, I looked at the palm trees waving in the 90 degree breeze outside.  I guess the beach was nice, but I never made it there.

There are probably many occupations where employees could cheerfully tool around the state in the rental car and see the sights while on a work trip.  Mine isn't one of them.  As  government employees, people look at us mistrustfully all the time.  We have even had people yell, "My tax dollars at work," when they see us waiting in a field for the helicopter to return from dropping water on a fire that otherwise might threaten their homes.  

So there are many places I have been on work trips yet not really seen.  Several national parks.  Cities like LA and charming small towns.  When people ask, "did you go to..." I have to sadly say no.  Even parking an agency vehicle at a trailhead for a run or hike is not always considered okay.

Still, I at least get to go to some of these places.  So I make the best of it.  I nag whoever is driving to pull over briefly so I can take a picture.  In Florida, I made a beeline for the pool when the meeting was done.  It was supposed to snow when I arrived home, so I joined a snorkeling child in the water.  The water was warm and there were no sharks.  It was almost as good as the beach!

I'm told there's a beach.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A good trade

"I wanted to offer you a stay in one of the rental lookouts in exchange for cleaning it," the recreation manager said.

"Yes!" I yelled, not even bothering to ask when.  Fires could wait.  A night in a lookout was available!

There are only two rental lookouts close by, and they are always booked solid for the entire summer, usually months in advance.  I can't plan like that, with the fire season being so uncertain.  I will haunt the website at times, hoping for a cancellation, but it rarely happens.  Cleaning? I could do that!

I hiked warily up the trail, looking for bears, but it was open, due to a fire having swept the area about 15 years earlier, and any foraging animals would be easy to spot.  The trail was only a mile long, but gained 800 feet.  The lookout came into view in about 20 minutes.

Darkness fell fast and I built a fire in the woodstove and listened to the quiet.  I could see into Canada, and there were no other lights.  I imagined what it would have been like to work up here, and to see the lantern from other lookouts on the mountaintops.

In the morning the lookout was wrapped in clouds.  I attacked the windows, floors and shelves, discovering evidence of a resident mouse.  I climbed up into the cupola, where the firefinder still stood, and looked around.

The lookout was sparkly clean as I closed it up and hiked down.  I looked back and wondered how many fire watchers had turned to watch the building disappear as they left for the season.  It has stood on the peak since 1922; surely it has seen its share of drama.  Later I learned that some believed it's haunted: I don't blame the ghosts; I'd hang out here too.

So, deep cleaning an almost hundred year old building in exchange for spending a night in the sky? I don't think that's an even trade.  I think I got the best deal possible.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The sunset of blogging

When I started this blog, there were so many interesting blogs to read that I didn't have time for them all.  There were so many people blogging, and commenting on each other's blogs, that it felt like a connected community.

Over the years, most of the blogs I used to read have disappeared.  Some of the authors declared their intent to stop.  Others just fizzled out, spacing posts far apart and then just disappearing.  Still others became mostly sponsored posts, losing their previous character.

Has blogging, particularly the kind I enjoy, about people's lives and adventures, without a lot of filters or ads, had its heyday? I notice, when I care about these kind of things, which is rarely, that I have less and less comments and page views.  Maybe I've come to the end of interesting things to say, or maybe people are more interested in social media pictures and not in reading anymore.  I know I always mean to comment on the blogs I enjoy; I often just forget to, putting it off until later.

I've had this blog for eight years; it may soon be time to let it go.  Until then, I've enjoyed being a part of this somewhat odd, but always interesting community.  Write on, friends.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Around the next corner friends

We stood at a trail junction, pondering our next move.  We could bail out here and take a side trail back to the car, making it a respectable 10 mile loop.  Or we could keep going and come out on another trail, for a total of 16 miles for the day.

I knew which way this would go.

While there are times I'm perfectly happy to hike four miles and call it good, especially if it's a beautiful four miles, I often suffer from a trail disease.  It's kind of like FOMO (fear of missing out), but I like to think of it as "around the corner-itis."  It's where you keep going because you really want to see what's on top of the peak, down at the lake, or around the next bend.  You know this will make your trip longer and you might suffer later, or get rained on, but you just have to see.

I followed my friends along the trail.  I knew I would be hiking many miles the next day too, some of it off trail, but I had to go along.  And it was worth it.  The trail hugged a contour line high above a valley and below some cliffs.  In the distance were mountain peaks everywhere.
 We eventually descended to a lake and back to the car, wet feet from falling in a stream resulting in squishy socks in the first mile mostly forgotten.  And I was grateful for friends who would always go the extra mile, just to see what was out there.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Secret places

The lake isn't truly unknown.  There's no trail to it, but it is on the map, without a name.  There is a fire ring there, and locals undoubtedly visit more than I know.  It's not in any guidebooks, and it shouldn't be.  The delicate alpine vegetation around it could be so easily trampled, and the slow growing trees cut for firewood.

I went there with someone who had wanted to visit it for years.  Some of us tagged along, drawn by his description of the sparking lake he had seen while high above it.  The trail was steep, and some of the hikers were fast.  It started raining before we even got to the trailhead.  Still, the huckleberries were plenty, and the miles went by fast, until we saw the lake below us.

We carefully made our way down a boulder field into a magical land.  A second unnamed lake gleamed around the corner and a hundred feet below the first one.  It rained, the sun came out, and it rained again.  We lingered, reluctant to go.

One of the hikers related her friend's recent experience on a popular trail in the national park close by.  "She said they saw 500 people on the trail," she said.  FIVE HUNDRED.  It seems exaggerated, but possible, and even if they actually saw half that number, it is staggering.

Our little group was alone.  I was grateful.  Some places should remain relatively unknown, just discussed among friends. not broadcast on social media or written about in guidebooks.  Sleep in peace, little lake.  I'm so glad I saw you, and I'll keep your secret.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The (not) lonely fire lookout

I knew when I agreed to staff the lookout for a couple of days that it wouldn't be a true wilderness experience.  It was reached by a short 2.5 mile hike, and wasn't too far from a popular mercantile that draws crowds in the summer.  It was a lookout, though, so I couldn't turn it down.

Some people work at fire lookouts that are very busy.  They are more like rangers than the stereotypical, solitary fire watcher deep in the forest.  They are better people than I am.  To me, the whole point of living in a small glass house to look for fires is to be alone.

I peered out of the tower.  Hopefully it was too early for the first people to arrive, but I saw something moving down below.  A deer, I thought, but then looked closer.  A cinnamon colored black bear was wandering around in the meadow.  I watched it for awhile, until it turned and waddled down the trail.

Soon, hikers arrived, accompanied by dogs.  There really weren't that many, maybe 10 in all, but their visits were spread out throughout the day.  A sign at the base of the tower invited them up, so I showed them around, and had the kids look through the firefinder.  They were all interesting, and I wasn't annoyed to see them arrive, but I looked forward to sunset.

At night the tower was mine.  I watched the sun go below the horizon and the other lookouts I could see on the other mountaintops vanish into the dark.  I sat on the catwalk and looked at the lights far below.  I didn't have to talk or answer questions.  This was why I had come here.

I'm not against people climbing lookouts to talk to the person there; I've done it many times myself.  It just wouldn't be the job for me.  I need the remote towers, the ones that see maybe five people a summer.  I wouldn't be as crazy as Jack Kerouac on Desolation Peak, but I might end up a little bit feral.

On my last day a herd of visitors and dogs arrived, along with the regular lookout.  I packed up and headed down the trail.  Even though it hadn't been the solitary experience I was used to at other towers, it was still worth every minute, and I would miss my house in the sky.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Going back

I've worked and lived in some incredible places, but once I leave, I rarely return.  Usually this is simply because there are so many wonderful places yet to see.  But sometimes I'm afraid to go back: afraid to see crowds where there was once solitude,  hotels where we used to camp, places now ruined by discovery.  Hordes of people now trek to the solitary table set in the rocks that once was the haunt of locals only; vandals scratch their names in the walls of fire lookouts; would-be "influencers" stomp on fields of poppies to take the perfect photo.

On my one day off, I ventured hesitantly to a trail I used to love.  It was only two hours away, near a town where I used to live, yet I hadn't hiked it in eight years.  I didn't know what I would find.  Would there be room to park at the end of the dirt road? Would there be a steady stream of hikers where I used to see nobody? I anxiously approached the trailhead.

Only two cars were parked there.  One had a strand of spiderweb on it, indicating that its owner was probably out on an overnight backpack trip.  I felt better as I headed through the forest.  It was a hot day, yet I saw nobody at the two sparkly lakes I passed.

I climbed to a high pass and around a corner to view another lake in the distance.  There was nobody in sight.  There were parts of the trail I didn't remember, but others came back to me like I had just hiked it the day before.  So much in my life had changed, and yet this place was still the same.

 I hiked back down.  The trail was quiet; one of the cars was gone.  I took a last look in the rear view mirror as I drove away.  This magical place hadn't changed.  I was grateful.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Hiking for dollars

Firefighting has ruined hiking for some people I know. Because in their everyday jobs they plod along wearing hot clothing and carrying heavy, uncomfortable packs, going for a hike on days off is the last thing they want to do. 

I definitely get it.  Although I love flying, I wouldn't go on a helicopter tour on vacation.  But if the opportunity to hike while at work arises, I'll still jump at the chance.

The helicopter touched down on a remote, trailless ridge in the national park.  I had been excited to go there with the radio technicians, thinking we were landing next to a fire lookout.  I was disappointed to learn that the lookout was 900 feet below, and all that elevation was lost in less than a half mile.

"I kind of want to go," I said to the pilot.  "So do I!" he said.  So we set off cross country down the ridge.

Even though we then had to scramble back up those 900 feet, it was worth it.

Two days later, a different radio tech wanted someone to help scout a location for a radio repeater.  "I'll go!" I volunteered.  As we clawed our way up what I later called The Rocks Of Death and bashed through The Brush of Doom, it was still better than being in the office.  We emerged on an airy ridge.

Although it was later determined to be too dangerous to move the repeater there due to the approach technicians would have to take hiking to it, it wasn't a wasted day for me.  I got to hike and see views most people never see, without having to deal with a fire at the same time.

Have a project that requires a hike? Just ask. I'll go.  

Monday, July 22, 2019

Keeping up with the crewmembers: A failed reality show

Scene 1:  The camera pans over a quiet helibase.  It is a beautiful sunny day.  KIP, a new hire, is on the riding lawnmower.  He weaves between the trees, gaining confidence.  Suddenly a loud screeching noise occurs.  KIP stops mowing and looks worried.  "I think I ran over a stump and bent the blades," he confesses to the camera.  Suddenly SALLY the boss, an attractive brunette, appears.  "Oh no!" she exclaims.  "We have already spent all of our supply budget!"

Scene 2:  GAVIN, a rookie, is packing his bag for a crew assignment to Alaska.  "How many socks should I take?" he asks RHETT, a somewhat cynical crew veteran.  "You might be out for 21 days," RHETT answers.  "I'm taking 21 pairs of socks!" GAVIN declares, throwing other gear out of his bag to make room.

Scene 3:  ALLEN, a young military vet, stares morosely at the van he recently bought and hoped to live in for the summer.  It appears broken down.  "I chose the van life, but it didn't choose me," he laments.

Scene 4:  SALLY is seen alone at the helibase, staring out the window for several consecutive days at torrential rain.

Scene 5: The camera crew is shown packing up their gear and bickering. "I told you these people were too boring," one says.  " No fistfights, rumor spreading, or even bullying.  Let's go try the hotshot crew.  There must be something we can use there.  Some random yelling, or anything."

Monday, July 15, 2019

Looking for Mark

Mark set off down the trail, just one person in the hundreds who hiked that day.  He got a late start, but it stays light until after nine, and there are plenty of places to call it a day and turn around.  He was alone, but hundreds of people hike there: on a July afternoon on this trail there is not a lot of solitude.

Witnesses place him along the trail at a couple of spots.  But Mark didn't come back to the trailhead.  He seemingly vanished somewhere among the flowers and sunshine.

So we look.  Because our helicopter is still in the southwest, a visiting crew is here.  This means I stay on the ground doing logistics and answering phone calls, as much as I would like to be up in the air or on the ground.  They fly for hours every day, inserting searchers and doing grid patterns.

As days creep by more questions arise.  Perhaps he didn't want to be found.  Maybe he is far outside of the search area.  Nobody knows, but we continue.

These searches take away a little of my heart when they end without resolution.  To disappear is the strangest, loneliest thing.  We don't want to stop looking, but we know at some point we will have to.  Meanwhile, other hikers step onto the trail, unknowing of the story that may have already played out here in the flower fields and mountain cliffs.  They walk on his footsteps and see what he saw.  Everything continues on, like it is supposed to. 

I never met Mark, but I hope somewhere he is hiking along a beautiful ridge, with only hope and happiness and blue skies ahead of him, walking into an unknown but infinite future.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Fire lookouts: An obsession

I perched uncomfortably in a glass-windowed fire lookout.  It was in  Mesa Verde, in the early 90s.  For some reason I've forgotten, there were two regular lookouts who weren't related, and they were fighting.  To give them a break from each other, the fire crew was taking turns filling in as lookouts.  

As great as this might sound (no pulling weeds or cleaning up the rifle range!) there were some serious drawbacks.  Instead of being isolated on a peak somewhere difficult to get to, this building was reached by a short, paved path (we are talking a few yards here).  A large sign helpfully directed the tourist hordes to the lookout, which was a cabin on the ground, not a tower where the besieged fire watcher could lock them out below the catwalk.  In fact, we weren't allowed to lock anyone out at all, except during our half hour lunch break.  This sounded okay in practice, until you sat there eating your tuna fish sandwich while visitors peered in at you through the windows.

I didn't love lookouts then, not like I do now anyway, especially when I spotted a fire and there were 50 visitors crowded inside the small building.  That came later, when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, a treasure trove of fire lookouts.  There was Sourdough, once inhabited by the Beat poet Gary Snyder, Park Butte with its amazing view of Mt. Baker, and the best of all, Desolation, made immortal by Jack Kerouac in Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels.  I fell in love.

Now although I love lakes and mountain peaks, I would rather hike to a lookout than anywhere else.  I've been lucky (and perhaps annoyingly persistent) enough to fill in for the regular lookouts on the forest where I work.  The moment when the lookout trudges away toward civilization for days off and the silence settles around me is the best, although the sunsets and sunrises, and fires burning on distant ridges are close rivals.

There is a lookout rental program around here, but they are booked up months in advance (how do people know what they will be doing so far ahead of time?) so I have to mostly be content with hiking to these sacred spots, visiting for a time, and then reluctantly leaving.  I dream about summers spent in one of these places, until reality intrudes: what would I do with my cats? my house? who would pay me? 

It will probably remain a dream.  Still, as obsessions go, it's not a bad one.  And recently I was asked if I wanted to spend a couple of nights in one of the lookouts later this summer.  You know what my answer was.

Monday, July 1, 2019

ISO: Solitude

Living in a place that tourists flock to year round has some advantages.  We have an airport, for one.  We have lots of restaurants and services and bike paths.  There is a ski area and there are farmers markets.  Plus if people want to come here, you know you live in a pretty nice place.

There are plenty of downsides though. Traffic is increasing every year.  There are people everywhere downtown.  Probably the worst impact is how visitors are crowding the local national park. 

They arrive in hordes.  An enormous parking lot at an alpine pass is full by 9 am most days.  The popular trails are mobbed.  Cars are bumper to bumper on the park road.

While I appreciate that so many people are enjoying the natural beauty (maybe some will be moved to support efforts to save and protect public lands), it makes it difficult for the locals sometimes, especially those who remember more tranquil times.  

Seeking solitude, we flee to places outside the park that are less known.  Here we hike for miles, in scenery that rivals the spots the tourists flock to, seeing hardly anyone.  

Are they welcome here?  Sure, but do your research: don't post looking for advice on Facebook; that's lazy.  Don't geotag.  Leave these beautiful places as you found them.  


Friday, June 21, 2019

When (not) to call it

"Ugh," I whined while climbing through a pile of downed trees across the trail.  "It's ok with me if we go somewhere else."

The trail was seldom used.  Barred from accessing the flatter, maintained one because of a road closure, we had opted to hike this one.  It had not been cleared for a few years and was brushy and faint in places.  Our feet were soon soaked by the wet vegetation.  We scouted for the trail in spots, finding it by locating cut log ends.  We dragged ourselves over large fallen trees.

We kept going, buoyed by the hope that it would probably get better, and eventually it did.  The trail broke out onto open slopes full of flowers, at one point bisected by an active bear den (although the resident was gone for the summer, we hoped).  Eventually we arrived at our goal, a former lookout cabin high on a ridge.

None of us really wanted to turn around.  It's always hard to do, on a run, a hike, a career, a relationship.  You've already invested so much; it's bound to get better, isn't it?  Usually it does, and you find yourself in a beautiful place, the struggle to get there mostly forgotten.  Other times you've gone a little too far, and end up injured or near hypothermic or heartbroken.  When in doubt I've mostly rolled the dice and taken the chance.  A few times this has led to spectacular failure; most times it's been worth it.

We didn't turn around.  We knew we probably wouldn't, that the whole five miles couldn't be as bad as the first, that the trail climbed so steeply that it was bound to ascend above the big trees quickly.  We sat in the cabin, enjoying our good fortune.  And the way down wasn't so bad after all.

When do you call it? Is there a time when you should have but didn't, or when you did, but regretted it?  Tell me a story!

Friday, June 14, 2019


As I hiked up the switchback, I spied two hikers ahead of me.  Oh great, I thought.  I reeled someone in, now I have to either walk behind them or awkwardly pass and make sure to keep ahead (yes, I'm weird about this).  As I got closer, I peered at one of the women.  "Tracy?" I asked.

There are hundreds of trails around here.  While the cities in the valley aren't large, we get a lot of tourists.  But I had managed to randomly run into someone I knew.  As I joined them on the trail, I realized I've managed to finally plant myself someplace.

I used to move every six months or so.  For many years it was because I was a seasonal employee, chasing fire season across the West.  Then I was in a restless marriage, where one or the other of us thought things would magically become better if we took different jobs, went to a new town.  I told myself I was just a gypsy at heart, and I really believed it, even after I was no longer a seasonal or a wife.  I needed to be on the move, I thought.

I've lived in this valley for eight years.  I've managed to make a few good friends who forgive me for my firefighting absences in the summer.  I bought a house and planted trees and flowers, and have actually stayed long enough to see them grow.  I run into people I know on the ski hill and on trails.  I'm in a book club.  I actually get to the end of punch cards.  People think I know a lot about the hiking trails.

Of course, there's parts I don't like.  Tourists swarm the national park.  Traffic is increasing.  Winters are long and cold and summers are too short.  There's a resort tax.  And every so often, I get the urge to go, to see what it might be like to live somewhere else, somewhere without grizzly bears in the woods, maybe a smaller town, more remote.  

It might still happen.  But my gypsy days are behind me.  The thought of packing everything up and hitting the road every year isn't appealing.  Instead, I got to spend an unexpected afternoon with friends on a hiking trail.  So I guess I have some roots after all.  They might be shallow, but it's enough to bloom.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Rainy day, full hearts

We sat in the car at the trailhead, looking out the windows.  We said hopeful things like, "It looks like it might  be clearing up a little."  It rained, and rained some more, but we weren't the quitting kind, so eventually we got out, and started walking.

The trail was really a closed road.  We passed several piles of bear and wolf scat.  The clouds hung low over the mountains, only affording  glimpses of the normally expansive views.

Still, we were outside, not stuck in a gym or sitting on a couch.  We laughed and talked, and soon, past some snow patches, the fire lookout came into view.

On a normal rainy day, we would probably tag the lookout, take a few hasty photos, and head back down.  But today I had the key, being given permission to go inside and check the facility.  In the fall, some lowlifes had broken into the lookout and stolen some things.  In return for being able to go inside, I would return with a condition report.

One of my friends had never been inside a fire lookout, and the other had staffed a few, now vanished, lookouts in the past.  They happily climbed the stairs.  We removed some shutters so we could see outside, and built a small fire in the woodstove while we ate lunch.  Spying a large flag in the corner, D. decided to fly it, since the next day was Memorial Day.

The rain finally let out, and tall mountains peeked out through the fog.  I showed R. how to use the fire finder.  We took multiple pictures of the flag flying over the catwalk.  Finally it was time to go.  We put out the fire and replaced the shutters and made our way down.

The rain scared a lot of people off from hiking that day.  We could have changed our minds and stayed home.  But if we had, we would have missed out on the talk and the laughter, and the two hours inside a little sky house, with a warm fire burning, watching mountains come and go and the flag blowing in the wind.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Money and memories

As I ate dinner with B., I observed her furtively.  Only a year older than me and recently retired, she seemed really happy.  She even looked younger.   Was it possible I'd be able to manage an early retirement too? (That being said, I'm going to have to, at least from my current job: they kick you out at 57).

As we talked, though, I became uncomfortably aware that she had a lot more money than me in her retirement accounts.  Some of that could be explained by my having to give my ex-husband money when we parted ways; also she made $40,000 a year more than I do in base salary. 

She seemed puzzled and asked about my fire overtime.  Some years we make a lot; some we don't.  "Where did it go?" she asked.  I  had to think about it.

While I currently contribute a lot to retirement and have other savings, I felt like I should probably have more, given a few good overtime years.  I don't live an extravagant lifestyle.  But then something occurred to me. 

I know where some of it went.  It went to:

New Zealand
Costa Rica
And many destinations in the United States.

I can't be mad about that.  Maybe I'll have to forego some things in retirement.  But I would never give up those memories.  It was all worth it.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Where are you, Amanda?

***update: She has just been found alive, injured in the forest!!!***

On May 8, Amanda Eller woke up in the paradise of Maui.  She was meditating when her boyfriend left for work.  She drove to a small store and bought a few items for a Mother's Day package, then went to the post office to mail it.  Then she vanished.

Amanda's car was found at a popular forest reserve.  Her wallet, phone, and backpack were in her car, with her key hidden under a tire.  Her running shoes were missing.  It looked like she had gone for a trail run, like she had several times before.

Searchers have been scouring the forest.  They have used infrared from aircraft, drones, and tracking dogs.  Depending on which report you read, the dogs either lost her scent in the parking lot or a short distance into the woods.  There was no sign of a struggle anywhere.

I've run solo all over the world.  To me, always having to be in a group would take the joy out of it.  Bad things can happen in the forest, just like everywhere.  You can fall, get lost, meet an ill-intentioned stranger.  But we can't be afraid to live life.

It's been a long time, but I'm hoping she is out there somewhere, trying to get back home, and will be found soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

"You'll be safe with me"

For the first time since my helicopter accident in 2003, I was feeling nervous as I put my helmet on and got ready to get in.  Two recent fatal accidents doing the same mission we were about to do had me feeling a little rattled.  The flight profile was just above the treetops, without room to recover if something went wrong.  Still, feeling like this was unlike me, and I pondered it while the pilot approached.

I've known him since 2006, and he is one of the calmest, nicest, and competent people I know.  Everyone likes him.  Instead of staying quiet like I normally would, I admitted that I was feeling kind of nervous following the most recent accident.

The pilot looked at me.  "You'll be safe with me," he said matter-of-factly.

In the three days since that day, I've been thinking about the people who make me feel safe.  There's a couple of them I would follow blindly into any fire, knowing I would always come out unscathed, no matter what happened.  There's a few people who I would trust to drive me through a blizzard or tornado, and just one or two I whom I could tell anything without judgement.  People like these are like islands in an ocean of those who hurt us, leave us, or are just indifferent.  People like these are a blessing.  Are you one of them?

"You'll be safe with me," he said.

And I was.

Thursday, May 9, 2019


Things that sound like compliments on the hiking trail but really aren't:

"I hope I can still hike like that when I'm your age."

"When I'm older I want to be like you."

"I hope I'm half as active as you when I'm your age."

"She looks great/is really fit for her age."

If you like to hike, run or really any kind of outdoor activity, if you haven't heard this yet, you're probably too young.  You will.

On the surface these sound like flattering statements, and in reality they are usually meant that way.  Maybe it's just me, but it comes across more like, "You're old, but you do okay for your age."

There are plenty of places I feel old.  In places where as a young woman I would be noticed, now I'm invisible.  When I'm around a bunch of millennials.  When I try a new sport and see little kids zipping around having no problems.  When I look at social media and see the wanderbabes and wanderbros,  standing at vistas, hair flowing and in perfect attire, declaring that they could never sit at a desk and that they quit their jobs to travel the world.  These moments are many.  But not on the trail.

I don't feel old on the trail.  Yes, sometimes I have aches and pains, but so do the younger people I hike with.  Being in the wilderness is one place I can escape the cult of youth, and society's stereotypes of how we should look and behave to continue to be valid.  If I didn't know, when I'm out there I wouldn't know how old I am.  I feel like the 21 year old me.

The next time you find yourself saying a statement like one above, try and switch it up.  Say, instead, "You're a fast hiker." "You guys seem really fit." "Let's hike together sometime."  Or don't say any of those things.  Talk about the lake we are looking at, or the clouds in the sky, or the flowers and the reasons you're out there.  Trust us, we know we are older than you, and we know we are good hikers: after all, we just reeled you in on the switchbacks.

Let's leave age behind.  It's everywhere else.  Let's all be the same on the trail.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Run on, Jerika

Jerika went out for a run in February, 2018.  She never came home.

She was 24, and had had some troubles in her life, but was overcoming them.  Running helped, and she loved to run long distances.  That day she headed through town and into a canyon.  Phone pings tracked her in some places; she was seen on park wildlife cameras.  People looked, but there were no other signs of her.

There were theories.  Foul play, of course.  Animal attack.   An accident.  Nobody really thought she ran away from her life: she left everything at home except her phone.  Where was she?

Two weeks ago, a man hiking in a rugged ravine saw something and looked closer.  It wasn't abandoned clothing as he first thought.   He had found Jerika.  After over a year, she could finally be brought home.

No cause of death has been released yet, but she was found with broken bones in her leg.  It appears that she may have simply slipped and tumbled into the ravine.

I followed her story since she disappeared.  I kept checking for updates, hoping that somehow she would be found okay, even though I knew that was unlikely.  As an often solo  runner, I'm well aware of the dangers.  They don't scare me onto the treadmill or make me run with a posse.  The joy of running alone on trails is worth it for me.

I like to think that Jerika was happy as she ran along the deserted canyon trail.  She was young and fit and could run for hours.  I hope the end was swift.  I imagine her, still running, with that big smile she wears in most of her pictures.  Run on, Jerika, and be free.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The minions are coming

The winter quiet is about to end.  The seasonal employees start on Monday, which means organized chaos is about to begin.  Our little gym will be full of crossfitters and enthusiastic weight lifters.  Somebody will forget to bring something vital.  As always, one person won't have computer access despite many forms designed to prevent this.  Somebody's training folder will be missing.  It may snow.  

This will be a weird year for my crew because on Monday only one temporary employee will appear.  Unbeknownst to him, he will have several bosses just focused on him.  For a variety of reasons, two other minions will trail in weeks later, having to play catch up with required training and fitness tests.  The other one, scheduled to arrive on Monday as well, bailed on the job with ten days to go, fleeing for another position she didn't inform us she was applying for.  As her figurative bridge burns, I cancel her paperwork and computer access, in a surly but resigned mood.  It's a seasonal job, after all.  We try not to expect too much, but in truth with the budget we have we can't do the job without them.  As it is too late to hire a replacement, we will make do without her.

My favorite pilot informs me he won't return, instead going to staff a Type 1 helicopter where he will be able to fly solo and presumably make more money.  We will have a new mechanic/fuel truck driver as well, someone to teach the main helispots and roads.  We are used to this, too.  It's a vagabond lifestyle; every company seems to pay differently and offer different benefits.

From now until late October, solitude will be hard to find.  There will be more people to supervise, teach, and watch out for.  Sometimes it's hard to make that transition and we wish for the cold but quiet winter days when we can come and go, responsible only for ourselves.   It's good though, to see the enthusiasm of the newbies.  It makes us a little less cynical, a little more excited for the future season.  Will there be fires, and where will they be? Will we get some million dollar views as we fly over the park? Only time will tell.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Weather or not

The little girl ran out of the gym as I was walking in. "Rain! Rain!" she yelled excitedly to her mother.  "I love the rain!"

I stopped to watch her.  This was the same rain that had foiled my hiking plans, the same rain that I was hurrying to get out of, yet she was running out into it.

All kids whine about the weather at times, but most of them will play outside in all conditions regardless.  As adults, we complain about it, change plans, stay inside.  Sometimes this is prudent, but often it just takes effort and acceptance, and the day becomes an adventure.

I hope that little girl never loses her love of the rain, and still runs out toward it while other people are rushing inside.
Photographer: Noelle Oliver

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The in between season

R. and I hike toward the hidden waterfall.  Some places we can walk along on clear trail; others we navigate ice and deep snow.  I'm wearing shorts, but at one point we are caught in a passing snow shower.

This is spring in the mountains.  Some people around here don't like it.  And at first glance, it's easy to see why.  Snow sports are pretty much over with, but most summer ones are difficult or impossible.  Bears are coming out of hibernation, hungry and irritable.  Almost worse, ticks lurk on the bushes.

But there are some advantages to the season.  Hiking in shorts, for one.  The majority of the tourists have not yet arrived to create traffic and fill the trailhead parking lots.  Soon flowers will appear.  Spring means access to high trails and peaks is around the corner.  Spring is a promise.

So I'll put up with muddy running routes, snow patches we have to posthole through, and unsettled weather, because it means summer is coming, with its soft air and long days.  Welcome, spring! I'm glad you're here.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Hiking in Paradise

I knew I wanted to hike on Lanai, but there aren't too many designated trails.  I wasn't going to let that stop me, though.

There are a couple short trails near the Four Seasons resort.  One of them climbs up to a viewpoint called Puu Pehe  (Sweetheart Rock).  Named after a Hawaiian legend about two star-crossed lovers, it is a short trip that I didn't really consider hiking, since I did it in flip flops.  It was so beautiful though that I walked up here a couple of times.

For a longer hike, I headed for the Munro Trail.  It's really a single track dirt road, but the jeep rental companies won't let you drive up there anymore because they got tired of people getting stuck.  It's steep, winding and muddy.  Locals still drive it, and I ran into a worker checking cat traps.  But it was mostly deserted, and wanders through the rainforest to the highest point on the island.  It was 13 miles round trip, plus a side trip that made it about two miles longer.

The side trail off this road leads to a viewpoint where on a clear day you can see six Hawaiian islands and the deepest valley on the island.  I also ran to this point as a trail run one day.  I saw nobody except a wild sheep.

There's plenty of beach walking to be had.  Shipwreck Beach is 6 miles long and you could walk the whole thing and not see anyone.

I also hiked by accident on my last day on Lanai.  Having been told that it was probably too muddy to drive to Garden of the Gods, but to "go try it, but don't drive through the big puddles," by the person I rented the jeep from, I set out optimistically, only to be stopped by a muddy mess about a mile and a half from my destination. I knew the jeep could make it, but the rental places are used to city folk who have never used four wheel drive, so they are cautious.  I decided to walk the rest of the way on the single track road.

Some jeeps merrily passed me and I briefly regretted my decision, but it was a beautiful day, and I was about to get on a plane for six hours, so why not walk?  The end result was worth it.

You won't find manicured paths with lots of trail signs on Lanai.  You also won't find hordes of other hikers.  And if you're a little bit adventurous and seek out places to hike, there's beautiful views around every corner.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Life's (sometimes) a beach

I wonder a little about people who make pronouncements like "I could never just sit on a beach. I need to be active!"  Usually these people are wound pretty tight.  Maybe they should try sitting on a beach for a little while.

I'm an active person.  I exercise a lot and my job is often physical.  Maybe because of that, when there is a chance to relax, I'm happy to take it.  The deserted beaches of Lanai were one of the reasons I went there.

Don't get me wrong.  My days of baking in the sun wearing Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil were over by about age 17, and I wish I had known then the damage that kind of thing causes skin.  I also like to get a workout out of the way before I lounge around.  Then there is the issue of crowds.

As a child, I once declared to my parents that the beach we were on was "getting pretty crowded" when two people appeared at the other end.  I don't like towels right next to mine, listening to other people's beach tunes, or being in danger of being hit by a frisbee.  But given the right, secluded beach and a good book, and I can loaf around like it's my job, at least for a couple hours.

The "main" beach on Lanai is located near the Four Seasons hotel, a $1000 a night resort where the likes of me can't afford to stay.  The people who come over on the ferry for the day tend to go to this beach because they can walk there from the dock.  Still, it's never really that crowded.  You can usually find a quiet spot.  In the evening it's a nice place for a sunset walk.

I wanted something more remote though, so I jumped in my rented jeep and headed for Shipwreck Beach.  There are only 30 miles of paved roads on the island, and to get to most of the interesting places you need a four wheel drive.  Sometimes even these roads are impassable after a rain. But luckily I was able to make it to this six mile long beach.

There was nobody there when I arrived.  I walked a couple miles along the shore and found a place to sit across from the abandoned ship on the reef.  Although several ships have gone aground here, this one, a navy fuel barge, was intentionally left there.  I looked at the ship and made up ghost stories, read a book and searched for washed up treasure.

It was the perfect afternoon.