Balance (Or, I’m Still Here)

I’m still here. I know I haven’t posted about a hike, a run, or even a Sunday Sermon in weeks. I’ve been sprinting towards both Thanksgiving Break (yay! it’s here!) and towards actually breaking ground on a house in the spring. The funny thing about being stubborn and wanting to do everything yourself is that you actually have to do everything yourself.

Roadtrip

I’ve had just a couple days off since I went exploring in Utah over Labor Day weekend and I can feel it. I hiked Saturday and am still feeling it a little bit on Monday morning (of course it didn’t help that Sprocket and I averaged 19 minute miles for 16 miles on that hike…). Despite trying to keep up a regular running schedule, I’ve had to forsake that much needed run more that I would like to keep up on grading, driving to Ridgway to meet with potential builders, on top of working at the day job (teaching) and being a barista (at Mouse’s).

Chocolate shop

One of the hardest parts of being an adult is finding balance. Whether that is work-life balance, balance in your workouts (flexiblity? strength? cardio?), sleep-good book balance, or anything else you can think of it’s hard. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much energy in the tank. I know that working out spiced with hikes is key to my happiness but I also know that stressing about where to live in a mountain town also takes a toll. I’m on a path to where that would be less of a concern in the future and that’s probably a great sacrifice to make but it also just sucks when you’re just tired.

I headed out for Saturday’s hike later than I’d like (more on that soon) but I needed to move along the trail quickly. I needed to feel the elevation straining my lungs (which, even though we made it up over 11,000′ wasn’t too bad). I needed to feel my quads and my glutes burn. I needed very desperately to remember that I’m someone who loves hiking and exploring. So we went and we went fast.

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But that’s all there was in the tank. Week after week of working 7 days a week caught up with me and yesterday I was tired. So we drove a lot yesterday. We drove roads new to me and just were. Thankfully, the weather gave me a bit of an “out” today and I’m sitting in a coffee ship in Tucson blogging, writing, planning future trips, and shopping for appliances.

Tomorrow I’ll set out on another hike, perhaps taking it a bit slower, looking around and drinking in the scenery.

The (Few) Happy Valentine’s Days

Valentine’s Day.

I honestly have had, in my 29 Valentine’s Days, two, and perhaps a third, that made me feel like this day of love really is okay.

1.

I was about eight. My family went “camping” (we were in our motorhome) at the ocean. I took my pink Minnie Mouse suitcase and packed it with “books and my stuff” but really, I squirreled away the last few heart shaped sugar cookies my mom had made (no one questioned whether I’d actually eaten them all), made Valentines for my mom, my dad, and my sister (I might have even made one for the dog…). I stole some of the Valentines decorations out of my room (yes, our rooms were always decorated for holidays) so I could decorate the motorhome on Valentines day, and not before.

My family was so delighted that I’d taken the time to make them feel special. I still remember my mom and dad just kind of tilting their heads and laughing a bit at the holiday exuberance of their oldest daughter.

2.

I was a sophomore in high school. Neither my friend or I had Valentines but we had planned an evening to watch Bridget Jones’ Diary and eat pizza. I had already established to my friends and family that I hated Valentine’s Day and that it was a stupid holiday designed to make single people feel dumb. (The prior year I’d wore a Maleficent t-shirt to my friends red-pink-and-white party.) We’d both read the books and in our own sixteen year old way, identified with the thirty-something “singleton” Bridget.

That morning, flowers had been delivered to my house from a “Bellarmine freind” (Bellarmine was my high school and, yes, it was spelled “freind.”) We spent a good chunk of our evening speculating who the “freind” was and giggling. Her mom had bought us pizza and had brought us a Papa Murphy’s heart shaped special. We gleefully tore into it with kitchen shears, ripping the heart apart into pieces we felt symbolized our young, tortured, lonely hearts.

When I got back to my house that evening, my parents had Valentines Day gifts for me. I had gotten a small potted rose, but the part that really made my day was the “necklace” of pickle balls on red curling ribbon. (My dad used to spend hours on spring and summer evenings “pitching” to me in the backyard. I was one lucky kid.)

I went to bed that Valentine’s Day feeling lucky to have a friend I could talk to about anything and a family that loved me and was able to poke fun at a holiday that had made me feel sad.

3.

It was my first Valentine’s Day with F. It was my first Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend ever.

He planned a trip for us to a friend’s beach cabin for the weekend. Weeks before Valentines Day I started shopping for a card and couldn’t find anything that I liked. I ended up making The Best Card Ever and having it printed online. It was the front page of Craigslist on the cover and the text of the personal ad that brought us together inside. I think I bought him a book I thought he’d like to go with it but I’m not really sure.

We spent the weekend hanging out in the Northwest winter damp. I didn’t feel the sense of romance I thought I’d feel but it was mostly nice. We’d get the hang of this, I thought.

We never did have an excellent Valentines Day.

 

 

This year, I’ll be out, hiking, alone for Valentines Day.

Not Invincible… And That’s The Point

“The good of going into the mountains is that life is reconsidered.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

When I was growing up, my mom used to say, “Oh teenagers, they think they’re invincible. Someday you’ll understand that you’re not.” She meant this in the “Please don’t drive too fast and take chances” sort of way. Rarely did I drive fast or take chances—my identity in high school was wrapped up in being the “good kid.” I thought this was just something that moms like to say so I just smiled and kindly ignored her.

As I entered my 20’s, she would occasionally ask me, “Do you still think you’re invincible?” I’d sigh and shake my head because I didn’t think I was invincible. Death was a long way from my mind but I knew that it was possible that I could die. However, doing risky things was still not part of my lifestyle. Sure, I’d found a boyfriend who took me on motorcycle rides which was something I swore I’d never do (although my now-husband would counter that they’re less risky than I thought). I also realized cars weren’t quite as safe as I’d always thought when I was in a car accident (that was entirely my fault) where I was extremely lucky to have not been seriously injured or killed. I understood that my life could easily be extinguished but it was something I only thought about when she asked.

Summit of Mt. Washington

When we climbed Mt. Washington in 2009 perhaps we weren’t as prepared as we should have been and found ourselves sort of “rappelling” off the summit with only a rope and no harnesses. Our entire party made it down safely but, looking back, that was probably the first time I experienced the “I’ve got this but if I mess up, I’ll die” feeling. Eating ice cream at Dairy Queen following the hike I was happy and content. The risk had been worth the reward and lessons had been learned.

Embracing risk has become part of how I approach adventures. The heightened sense of awareness is part of what feels so amazing about being in the outdoors. Finishing hikes that push my endurance and fears leave me feeling singularly exhilarated and alive.  My conception of what a “long” hike constitutes has changed as as has willingness to tackle serious elevation gain. (One of the reasons I love peakbagging is that I can’t ever call it “good enough” until I’m on the summit; there’s no mental wimping out with a goal to push myself towards.)

Scrambling around a summit in Arizona, I found myself pondering my mother’s question once again, “Do you still think you’re invincible?” Just recently she’d asked the question again—I think her point was that I’m 28 and should have accepted my mortality and settled down by now and  instead there I was crouched above a cliff wondering if I could in fact make it down this way.

On that cliff, I paused in my thoughts to take a deep breath and evaluate whether the next move I was going to make was wise or worth making—it wasn’t. Instead, I headed back around the peak to find a different route down.

Back at the relative safety of the summit, I realized that the whole point of living the adventurous life was that I liked remembering that I’m not invincible. Traveling, hiking, climbing, exploring, and experimenting reminded me that my life is short and its up to me to make it one worth living.

Beth & Sprocket, summit of Cardigan Peak

To be clear, it’s not that I like to do horribly risky things. I like to be in control yet know how cautious I need to be. My favorite moments are those scrambling moves that aren’t hard, they’re just exposed and a little heady. They’re the moments that remind you that life is precious and short. They’re also the moments that remind you that really should be getting outside more often and that you’ll remember your adventure a whole lot more than your freshly cut grass, clean house, or whatever it is you thought you should be doing.

There are times when my own mortality is almost palpable. Sometimes it’s the last few feet to a summit that are really exposed and sort of scary. Other times, it’s simply when I’m walking down a pathless canyon or mountain ridge with my feet safely on the ground. I feel so small and so finite in comparison to the rocks and the sky. Being surrounded by things that will last so much longer than me and are so much more sturdy, my tiny place in the world becomes that much more clear: I’m just a speck on this big world and that is an absolutely amazing thing.

To my mother: no, I don’t think I’m invincible. I know it can seem like I must think that what with adventures on the mountains, in the deserts, the canyons, and in the back-of-beyond that I must think I am. Instead, I peruse maps and trip reports and am humbled and a bit saddened the number of places I’ll likely never venture no matter how hard I adventure. I stand on summits and scan the peaks around me making mental lists of how many more I want to climb. I’m not invincible or immortal: that’s the whole point.

Sierra Estrella Highpoint, Part 2: A Weird and Grisly Outdoor Experience…

This post is the continuation of my Sierra Estrella Highpoint experience (be sure to check out Part 1). It describes an experience in the outdoors that may be disturbing to some readers.

Heading down the north side of the mountain just to the west of where I’d come up, I found the going pretty easy and fun. I faintly caught a whiff of something dead and thought nothing of it. There were plenty of places where a bird or small mammal could wedge themselves under a rock. I continued down the mountain the smell disappearing and I forgot about it nearly as quickly.

And then my senses overloaded. All at once, the smell was back much much stronger, I saw a man laying on a ledge. And I was scared. Immediately I began to think I was in danger. I hadn’t rationally processed that he was dead although my more primal instincts seemed to understand and I screamed. I tried to take in what I was seeing and make rational judgements and observations but all I wanted to do was get away, and fast. He was lying prone, shirtless, and had removed his boots. One of his heavy leather boots sat next to him and I didn’t see a pack or any personal belongings.

I scanned around the ledge from my position hoping I wouldn’t have to get any closer to continue down the mountain. I was able to proceed pretty much directly downhill before traversing east to the saddle. The whole way there I had to force myself to focus on the descent; I still wasn’t on flat ground and although the going was fairly easy, the terrain was steep and I didn’t want to fall.

At the saddle, I briefly allowed myself time to freak out a bit. I called F and talked to him while I brought my breathing under control. Once I could speak calmly, I called 911. Despite my proximity to the highpoint with its radio towers, explaining my location to the dispatcher wasn’t that easy. Eventually we were on the same page and I gave her directions to the van (I also explained where to find the SummitPost directions for a second source). She told me that deputies would meet me there. Happy to be moving, I explained that I would be several hours but was headed in that direction.

My descent from the saddle was as rapid as I could make it. I wanted to put ground between me and the grisly sight. I tried to rationalize that it was simply a dead body; someone who had likely died of exposure but I was still nervous. Nearly two miles down the hillside my legs were still a little shaky and I jumped more than once at a bird call.

Finally, I was on the flat ground of the valley floor walking as fast as my tired legs could take me. Just as I started to think I should be approaching the van, a helicopter appeared from over the peak. I breathed a sign of relief, the presence of other people (not to mention some so clearly official) really made me feel better.  I tried to provide the best description of the area that I could to the officers. They seemed a little bit astounded that I was out alone for that many miles in an area with no roads or trails.

Darkness was falling quickly and the helicopter soon called off the search for the night. I provided the deputies with my information and assured them they could call me with any questions as they tried to locate the corpse. I was tired, dirty, hungry, and emotionally exhausted. I just wanted to get home, showered, and cuddle with my boys.

All evening I felt cozy and safe but still slightly unnerved. What had happened to this man? How long had he been there? What was he doing there? (The side of a remote, rarely climbed peak isn’t somewhere you just find yourself, you know?) It’s strange to think that I could have just climbed the high point and continued down, never knowing I was within a half mile of him. Or, I could have climbed down from Peak 4232 the way I went up, passing within yards of him.

The next day, I received a phone call from the Gila River Indian Community Police department. As it turns out, Peak 4232 is in their jurisdiction. They asked me to clarify a few points I’d shared with Maricopa County Sheriff and said they’d call if they needed me. Several hours later, the phone rang again. They wanted me to come out and join the MCSO in their helicopter. I’d told deputies several times that I remembered him being somewhere that would be difficult to see from the air but that I was willing to come help.

We weren’t able to locate the corpse from the air and also weren’t able to find a place to land where I could exit the helicopter with a mountain rescue trained officer to look on the ground. I was able to better help them constrain their search area before we returned to the landing zone.

I did the best I could to answer all of their questions about what I’d seen. The question I didn’t have a very good answer to was “What were you doing up there?” I babbled a bit about highpoints and fun rock scrambling. Then the Gila River detective looked at me sternly and said, “You know, it isn’t safe to be hiking out here alone.”

My blood boiled. And then he continued, “Do you carry anything out there for protection? A gun? A knife?”

Annoyed I flippantly responded, “A pocketknife?”

Suddenly back in fighting form, I wondered if he would have told me it was unsafe if I were a man. After flying over the beautiful country I’d hiked the day prior, I was convinced that despite my extremely rare experience, being outside is completely worthwhile. Sometimes it’s not possible to find someone to hike with you, so you go alone and it’s better than not going.

Beth in helicopter

On The Page: You Can Buy Happiness

I picked up Tammy Strobel’s You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) at the library. I was drawn by the play on “you can’t buy happiness” and figured that if I picked up just one new idea that reading the slim volume (about 200 pages) would be totally worth it.

You Can Buy Happiness

You Can Buy Happiness relates the story of Strobel’s journey (along with her husband Logan) from a paycheck-to-paycheck corporate job life in California to living a simpler life in a tiny house in Portland, Oregon. The book begins, as does Strobel’s journey to living simpler, by discussing “stuff.”

Discussing how much “stuff” we own is a complicated topic. Depending on my company at any moment, I vacillate between feeling like Forrest and I don’t have any “stuff” at all and feeling like we have entirely too TOO much stuff.  A lot of the book focuses on Strobel and her husband downsizing from a 1,200 square foot apartment full of stuff and to an 800 square foot apartment and finally into their 128 square foot house. Along the way, she examines how “stuff” actually can have a detrimental effect on our happiness

The part I was most interested in was the section on “Buying Happiness.” This section seemed to be the place I would learn how to “buy” happiness (as promised in the title). As expected, it was a purposely-misleading title, however not in a dissatisfying way. “Buying” happiness, according to Strobel, can be accomplished by “investing” in those things actually make us happy: relationships, experiences, community, and appreciating the small things. Remembering that “stuff” and money can’t ever outweigh these things is so incredibly important being reminded never hurts.

Perhaps the best thing about Strobel’s structure of the book was the mixture of personal and interview anecdotes combined with “mini-actions.” The mini-actions found at the end of each chapter were designed to allow the reader to have small, concrete steps towards making their life simpler and happier. Some mini-actions Strobel suggests include the common sense (“eliminate non-essential spending”), others are more thought provoking (“evaluate how much time you spend managing your stuff” and “track your time for a week”).  At first, the mini-actions seemed a bit cheesy to me but the concept grew on me as I read through the book.

Since we structure our life with a focus on so many of the same concepts that Strobel argues for in You Can Buy Happiness. (fewer possessions, less debt, more focus on free time and relationships, etc.), I was surprised that I was left feeling somewhat confused by my reaction to the book. I found myself feeling that while I hadn’t necessarily gone the most radical route possible, that Forrest and I, more or less, are actually practicing a lot of what she’s preaching. It made me wonder where I could go further and try harder.

I would recommend You Can Buy Happiness for anyone looking to start along the path towards a more simplistic life. If you’ve already done some reading on the topic, this book may be a little bit repetitive of the same ideas you’ve read elsewhere (although you may, like me, find going back to basics to be food for thought). If you read You Can Buy Happiness (or already have), give me a shout, I’d love to hear about what you thought!

Behind The Rocks

About a week and a half ago I had the opportunity to shoulder my pack and head out into the “back of beyond” for a couple of days. For the first time ever I didn’t take Forrest, Sprocket, or anyone else with me. I was on my own for 72 hours (I actually woosed out a bit and came back to the real world at about 68 hours but good enough).

Behind the rocks

Behind The Rocks

I’m much more of a “goal oriented” hiker and I floundered a bit my first day or so out. Making your way cross-country in the maze of rocks is absolutely amazing but also sort of daunting, especially with a pack on your back. I eventually gave in and picked a destination down a jeep road so I could start putting down some miles. (Perhaps this trip was about breaking through being alone and the next will be about having a more exploratory attitude?)

Behind the Rocks

Behind The Rocks

As a bit of an experiment on traveling alone, I would say it was successful. I was never scared or worried about myself and I got to do lots of thinking, hiking, and sleeping. On the other hand, I did learn that for me “solo” is better served with a side of canine companionship: Sprocket isn’t exactly talkative but he is an awesome listener so he facilitates thinking quite nicely. (Besides, he’s an awesome tent cuddler.)

Another awesome thing about my hike was seeing the La Sal Mountains, the Abajo Mountains and the Henry Mountains from amidst the red rock.

Here’s the La Sal Mountains just peaking out from Behind The Rocks (I had a better view of them from the rim but apparently I was too struck by their beauty to take a picture):

La Sal Mountains

The Abajo Mountains, to the south:

Abajo Mountains from Behind The Rocks

The Henry Mountains, to the west:

Henry Mountains from Behind The Rocks

In the end, I’d say I was pretty lucky to have those three days, wouldn’t you agree?

Behind The Rocks

Rock formation, Behind The Rocks

Behind The Rocks, slot

Arch

Hunter Canyon

Respect For Public Lands: Garbage

I wrote this a few months ago (not so long after another Public Lands discussion)—I’ve tried to let my anger simmer down a bit but it still just astounds me that beer cans and water bottles (and fireworks debris and discarded clothing) don’t distract from some people’s outdoor experience… Then last week I was riding my bike to work and watched an individual toss their Kleenex on the side of the bike trail. I was furious.

Kim Kircher put up a post today called, “Don’t Be A Pig” and I figured now was as good a time as any to put up my post.

We drove by the first can abandoned on the gravel road and then the second. After spotting a few more cans, Forrest started slowing down so I could reach down, grab them and toss the garbage into the basket of the quad. At each passing can…Budweiser…Bud Lite…Coors…Mountain Dew…I got more upset.

Surrounding me were modest mountain peaks presiding over beautiful basins. Creeks full of clear, cold snowmelt rushed down and through it all winds a terrific tangle of Forest Service roads and old mining and timber roads. Harmlessly they sit there and allow for enormous amounts of recreation. A jarring exception to this beauty is the collection of garbage left behind by those who came to recreate.

We turned on to a less well-traveled trail that headed up into a small valley. Marking the entrance of the 4-wheeler trail to the main road was a Solo cup and a disintegrating wad of toilet paper. Just up the trail, more beer cans, water bottles, a blanket, and granola bar wrappers. And lots more toilet paper (it was likely buried in the snow by snowmobilers…out of sight out of mind).

So gross. Whyyy??? (source)

On to our quad when the wrappers, bottles, and cans and as we drove away from the beautiful but toilet-paper-stained-place I seethed. These are our lands. Americans have more space to explore and enjoy the outdoors than any individual could possibly expect to fully know in their lifetime and rather than take the simplest of steps to preserve our abilities to enjoy the outdoors, the opportunities are taken so horribly for granted.

I’m an advocate for wilderness and motorized access. Team 3Up uses both areas for recreation. Those who abuse the land are usually the ones to pipe up most shrilly when gates are put up and motorized access is curtailed. (I almost never see garbage more than a half mile up a foot traffic only trail and really never see it beyond a mile…) Motorized access depends on treating the land well.

The rules are simple, unobtrusive and easy to follow: Pack out trash. Bury human waste (and do so well away from trails). Stick to established trails (of which there are plenty). Pick up the wrapper that may have strayed from its owner.

Is that really so very difficult?

America’s Public Lands: Under Attack

Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. -Teddy Roosevelt

America has a lot of public land—in fact, more than 30% of our land area is public. In August of 2010, I heard Tim Egan speak in Wallace. He spoke about Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, the Fire of 1910, and his book The Big Burn. The thing I remember most, and that I scribbled in my notes from the evening, was his comments on the importance of America’s public lands, “‘We didn’t have a home on Hayden Lake like the swells,’ Mother said, ‘We’re richer than the bastards! We have the national forests!'” In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, he elaborated: “Not long after I was old enough to cast my first vote, I realized that with American citizenship came a birthright to my summer home.”

The land area of the United States is about 2.26 billion acres. Of that, the Federal Government owns 605 million acres that are administered by the public lands agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Parks Service, and the National Wildlife Refuge system. In addition, state governments own 197.5 million acres. The lands are administered in a variety of ways, they include recreation areas, forest land sold for timber purposes, and the lands in the National Wilderness Preservation System (cited data). Whether it is Tim Egan acknowledging the wealth the lands grant to all Americans (and millions of foreign visitors) or Teddy Roosevelt designating 230 million acres of public lands America’s public lands have been repeated acknowledged as an asset to our country.

Public Lands: BLM

Continue reading “America’s Public Lands: Under Attack”

On The Page: Travels With Charlie

Being one for travel books, I recently consumed Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. Published in 1962, the book recounts Steinbeck’s  cross-country journey with his poodle Charlie. While Travels with Charley in Search of America did not supplant Blue Highways as my favorite travel book, I was enamored by some of his thoughts on travel and how it becomes a part of your soul.

The very first paragraph of the book drew me in (and was read aloud to Forrest):

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.

Continue reading “On The Page: Travels With Charlie”