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.