Monday, November 23, 2020

Bye, Fire Season 2020

 It was November, and I still had temporary employees hanging on, somewhere in Colorado. "They might want us to extend," one said hopefully, while the other hoped to be done,  seeing visions of hunting season passing him by. Our vehicles had yet to go to the shop for their annual inspections. The pilot of one of our helicopters, out in Idaho, watched the weather closely, worried he would get stuck somewhere by a snowstorm.

What was going on? I shouldn't have been surprised. Like all the other weird things that happened in 2020, a fire season that just wouldn't quit should have been pretty normal. While it was pretty slow at our home base, the crew spent most of the summer all over the country on fires. It rained, and they kept going. It even snowed, and then the fires came back to life. Would it ever end?

Finally the last two employees straggled in. A truck appeared to haul off the extra office trailer we had rented for the summer.  We shoveled snow and winterized the chainsaws. A flurry of paperwork ensued, and the seasonal workers were on their way, to ski or travel or work somewhere else. It was finally over.

My crew successfully avoided covid-19, despite some scares when their roommates and friends came down with it. Nobody got injured. They all mostly got along, and everyone made it home safely. Now it's time for the sigh of relief and the slowing down that comes with the approach of winter. My fire season 33 is in the books. Like all of them, it was definitely one to remember. 

You might be cool, but you'll never be Marilyn Monroe getting out of a helicopter cool. I use this as my online meetings avatar.


Friday, November 13, 2020

The Long Run: The Early Days

 It often startles me to realize I've been running since 1978.  That's the longest relationship I've had with anything except for people I'm related to.  After all these years, we've never broken up.

When I started running, it was to copy my dad. He was the only runner in our neighborhood. People used to say, "there goes the jogger," as he went by.  Back then, being a runner was somewhat of a serious business. If you were a runner, you ran. You didn't wait for nice days, or go every once in awhile. If there were treadmills in town, I didn't know about them. 

We ran outside, in blizzards and rain storms and on ice. We ran races that cost ten dollars to enter; we got a T-shirt, and a medal if you won your age group. The same people were there: you knew who your competition was as you stood on the starting line.

There were no fashion shows out on the roads back then. We wore sweatpants, or shorts over long johns. The sports bra had only recently been invented. For cold or rainy days, we had goretex running suits: jackets and pants that kept you dry but burdened you with an annoying swishy noise as you ran, alerting you to the presence of another runner closing in behind you. There were no microspikes then, so we tiptoed across ice and tried not to fall. 

I got the first pair of lycra running tights in town. I had to get them handmade by a seamstress. Debuting them at a race, I attracted some curious looks. "Your legs are blue!" somebody said. 

 We  didn't wear or carry gadgets with us. A few people attempted to juggle the bulky Sony Walkman, but most of us didn't want the hassle and thought they would make us seem less serious.  We didn't worry about step counts, GPS tracks, calories burned, or heart rate training.  Instead, we thought about shoes, Runner's World magazine, and whether we were doing enough speed work.

There was no social media, so we really didn't care what we looked like out there; our statistics, written in our running logs, were just for us. All we really needed was a good pair of shoes and an open road. We would open the door and just go. 

The world is more complicated now than when I started running, but running really doesn't have to be.  I still don't run with gadgets, except sometimes bear spray. I try not to drive anyplace to run, preferring the trails by my house. I rarely take pictures on the run, and prefer utilitarian clothes instead of fancy workout wear.  Some things should stay simple. I think it's why running and I are still friends after all these years.

I've worn Nike Pegasus since 1983!

Thursday, November 5, 2020


I threw a couple of energy bars into my pack and eyed the winter hiking boots I was wearing. They were probably overkill for the short, easy hike we were planning, but, too lazy to change, I left them on.  There would be other people there on such a nice fall day, but out of habit I added my bear spray. One water bottle should do it, I thought.

R. approached me at our meeting spot. "I was thinking about doing something different," she said tentatively. She named a trail about six miles longer and much steeper than what we had planned. I pondered for a couple of seconds. It was very possible that the area was buried in snow and we would barely make it a half mile from the trailhead, let alone to the top of the mountain.  We didn't even know if the road to the trailhead was open or not. "Let's do it," I said.

We hiked up the trail, feeling fortunate for every mile we made it. The easy going turned to snow at a high saddle. Still, we didn't want to turn around. I could see cut log ends and a slight dip in the snow where the trail was hidden. The sun was out; R. was wearing shorts. We continued on.

Soon we were post holing up the last steep incline to the summit. The snow was up to our knees, with a slight crust on top; it wasn't consolidated enough to hold our weight. It was arduous, but every step took us closer to the sky. 

We topped out near an old lookout site; another lookout that is staffed in the summer was visible on the next mountain. The peaks over in the national park were covered in white. There were no people around.

If we had gone to our original destination we would have loved it; the lake never disappoints. But to have this amazing view and trail to ourselves, on this day in between fall and winter, was an incredible gift.  We soaked it all in and were thankful for spontaneous decisions.