Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Listening to your body (page 1 of 2)

Copper Ridge Loop — Final Day

Egg Lake to Hannegan Pass parking lot  (8.6 miles) — 9/14/17

Egg Lake, morning view

Morning at Egg Lake was crisp and magnificent! Stiff breezes the night before blew out the few remaining clouds, and cool gusts still swirled around my campsite.  I put on all my layers, including down hat and gloves with hand warmers, ready to embrace my last morning of the five day Copper Ridge loop. When I backpack, my fear of cold usually causes me to bring too many clothes. But on this morning, it felt great to be all bundled up against the cold but clear morning of what was sure to be a fantastic bluebird day ahead.

I sat suspended in time as I watched the first rays of sun come up. Mornings are my favorite time of day, regardless of where I am. But my ‘outside’ morning routine of 3 cups of steaming hot coffee, oatmeal with an abundance of toppings, writing, and meditatively gazing at the trees, mountains, and lakes, felt especially significant.  I knew it might be the last morning I’d wake up and immediately commune with mother nature for awhile, at least in the belly of the North Cascades. Fall was just around the corner, and I wanted to fully embrace the exquisiteness that surrounded me.  It reminded me of the last morning of my solo hike of the John Muir Trail in the summer of 2016. The reality of a time of solitude in wilderness coming to an end, the strong pull and desire to capture the peace and integrate it into my very core, my deep reluctance to return to ‘real’ life.

But eventually, I had to get moving.  The day held 8.6 miles of hiking, and I had an evening commitment that I had to be home for.  Reluctantly, I performed the mundane duties of breaking down camp, stalling often to feel the sun on my face as it streamed it’s way into my campsite. For this I was grateful. Warm sun on a cold morning makes the actions of camp break-down ever so much more pleasant.

I headed out at 9:30. The couple from Virginia was gone, I noticed as I passed through their empty site. After climbing out of Egg Lake basin, the 4.6 miles to Hannegan Pass continued it’s ups and downs. I was tired from the previous days elevation gain,  and struggled each time the trail went up. Thankfully, there were enough views to keep me entertained, and I worked myself into a satisfactory hiking rhythm.

Left to Right, Icy Peak, Ruth Mountain, Mt. Shuksan

Mt. Baker (r) and Mt. Shuksan (l) paying last respects

I reached Hannegan Pass at 11:30, and decided on an early lunch. Why carry food in my pack when I could consume it and use it for fuel? At the pass, I encountered the same two folks I’d seen coming down Whatcom Pass, who’d camped at Middle Lakes, when I was heading up. They introduced themselves now as Walt and Haley. Haley was Walt’s niece from New York, who’d come out to hike with her uncle for a week. I thought that was pretty cool! Walt and I had a great time sharing stories of our respective trips, while Haley chatted with another woman, resting with her elderly dog at the base of Hannegan Peak, while her partner ran up the peak with their younger and more ambitious canine. The sun was out, the day was warm, and it was hard to leave the comfortable social scene.

But I had a schedule to keep, and I took leave just after noon. It was 4 miles to the car, and I wanted to be there by 2:00. I picked up the pace, now that the trail was flat or down hill. There were a TON of people coming up the pass, especially for a mid-September weekday. Albeit a sunny one. I only had one incidence of drama on the way out, while observing three middle-aged women with backpacks by the side of the trail.  Clearly, they were headed in for some female backpacking bonding, something which I have a desire to do, but never have. As I watched them with interest,  I tripped and fell, again, landing hard on my butt, practically in the lap of one of the women!  My legs were too tired and my knees too sore to catch the fall. And I couldn’t get up for the same reasons. One of the women asked if I needed help. “Yes please!” I said, relieved. A brief discussion of the knee replacement followed, and all three were impressed that I was backpacking alone with the knee issues. I didn’t tell them about all the foot and ankle surgeries. 🙂

After that, the remaining miles flew by, even with my trail hyper-vigilance. I arrived back at the car by 1:50 — ahead of schedule for once! I was supremely glad to dump my pack, this time for good. I counted 39 cars in the parking lot as I drove off. It was amazing how few people I’d seen on the whole loop hike, then to see so many on the last four miles of this last day. Inevitable reintroduction to society, I suppose.

Highlights of the Trip

There were so many positives about this trip, it’s hard to choose. But here are some highlights that come to mind:

  1. Getting out on a good backpack for the year. I’d just done the one overnight earlier in August, and I wanted to get in at least one long backpack trip for the year. The broken finger and subsequent time off provided a perfect opportunity to take a longer trip to a place that’s been on my list to revisit for years.
  2. The variety of terrain and campsites. Peak climbs, dense forest walks, river crossings, miles of ridge walking, a mountain pass, mountain lakes, a lookout tower with splendiferous views — what more could anyone want? Two campsites in forest, two with expansive views, few people at any site.  It made me appreciate that this place is so tightly permitted, as the trail was never busy, and the most company I had in any camping area was just two other people.
  3. People showing up at the right times. With the exception of having to do the cable car crossing by myself, I was struck by how well things worked out with this. Steve keeping me company on Whatcom Pass, Brian and Sarah at the dual river crossings, Walt and Haley going up Whatcom pass and again at Hannegan Pass. As any of you who followed my JMT trip know, I crave a combination of solitude and being with others when I backpack. This trip had a perfect balance of both.
  4. Knowing I still got it, and getting affirmation for that.  Yeah, it felt good to have atta-girls out there on the trail. I forget that many people don’t hike or backpack at all,  let alone solo, or with as many physical ailments as I have.  Don’t get me wrong — I KNOW there are those out there doing it under FAR more challenging circumstances! Or facing something different all together. We all have our own adversities to confront and obstacles to overcome. But this was my first real backpack post knee replacement, and I was grateful it went well. My favorite way to stay sane and happy involves immersing myself in an outdoor environment that brings huge reward, and sometimes has risk associated with it too. I will go there for as long as I can, ever mindful of the risk/benefit analysis. On the whole, this trip went as well or better than expected. Although, I could have done without the falls. Which leads to my last introspective thoughts…

Reflections on Falling

My sum total of falls, counting the broken finger before the trip and the four on the trail, could have stayed at five. But apparently things DO come in threes, or multiples there of…

A couple weeks after  my return, I fell in the bathroom, slipping on the wet floor while trying to steer clear of one of my cats who loves to race me to the bathroom. I hit my left rib cage on the corner of the bathroom counter, and fractured  the sixth rib. My sixth, most painful, and hopefully last fall for a good long while.

Another three weeks off of work, and a whole lot of reflection about why all the falls, why now, and what’s the learning here? Space, time and patience of readership all prevent me from getting too deeply into this, but here are a few reflections and explanations I have come up with:

  1. I am no spring chicken and must adjust my ambitions (and pack weight) accordingly!   Let’s face it, getting older makes it harder to act young.  At age 53, I can’t get away with carrying as much weight as I could when I was 33. When I did this loop 20 years ago, I carried over 70 pounds and it did not phase me. This trip, my pack weighed around 50 pounds, and that was, apparently, too much.  Simply put, when I tripped or fell, I couldn’t pull it together to implement the correct musculature to catch the fall, and instead, landed quite spectacularly. Four times! Two face plants, two on my rear. Something to pay attention to. What brought me a sense of accomplishment 20 years ago,  the success of carrying of a heavy pack, must now be replaced by the satisfaction of staying on my own two feet! There is an undeniable link with packing lighter and staying upright that I can’t ignore anymore.
  2. Balance is affected as we age. Duh. We all know this. BUT to hear it and live it are two different things. Everyone, including me, says “Work on balance as you age.” Great advice, but what does that look like from a person to person perspective? Standing on one foot? Doing yoga? Walking on a balance beam? Crossing log bridges? Working on balance is HARD, and, admittedly,  I don’t like it. After surgeries, I will work on balance for awhile to strengthen my feet and ankles. But it’s a discipline I am not drawn to, and too soon, I assume I’m fine to jump back in, full steam ahead.  Next thing I know, I’m doing a crazy thing like carrying a heavy pack through brush on soft ground that I can’t see. With balance already compromised, a small trip turns quickly epic when I can’t catch the fall. Time for some more balance work.
  3. The brain has to catch up to the body.  In the aftermath of all these falls, I spoke with several other people who also experienced excessive falling in their early 50’s. Then it stopped by the time they reached 55, and the falling prevalence did not return, even into their 60’s. What’s up with that? My theory is that it takes awhile for the brain to accept what the body is already saying. As we age, we develop compensatory patterns to deal with whatever life throws us. Those compensation patterns can be quite complex, and effective. But it takes time for the mind to integrate the changes in status of the aging body. IF we are going to pursue the activities of a 30 year old at 50 and beyond,  we must adopt an attitude of vigilance about what are bodies are telling us. Or risk continual face plants.
  4. Slow down, take it easy, life isn’t a race!  Is there any better way to get someone’s attention than by tripping them up on the fast road of life? Generally I move quickly, on trails and through life, and, for whatever reason, universal forces decided to throw me a powerful lesson, or two, or six, about slowing down. And breathing. That’s hard to do with a broken rib, but talk about an opportunity to practice mindfulness of movement and breath! I’ll take it, learn from it, and share my takes on Falling as Great Teacher about Life.

We all have similar, powerful examples from life.  What are yours? I would LOVE to hear your stories of getting slammed down only to pick yourself back up with new perspective. PLEASE DO SHARE! 

Last shot of Mt. Baker

 

 

 

Pre-Wedding Hike

Me and the boys on Dickerman

Mt. Dickerman, round two, with the three stooges!  (9/1/17)

My daughter got married two weeks ago, and what a celebration it was! She and Kevin tied the knot on a sunny Sunday at Marine Park in Bellingham. What timing — it was the day before smoke from more forest fires descended, unfortunately and again. Such a glorious occasion, and the day could not have been more perfect. As were the days leading up to the wedding…

Set up for the hike

The Friday before the wedding, I had the opportunity to hike with my son Kyle (in town from Atlanta with his girlfriend Lauren, both in the wedding), and two of his long-time buddies, Jack and Elijah. This adventure was similar to the one Kyle and I took last time he was in town in June (see Green Mountain trip report). Not so much in terms of epic-ness, but with regard to taking full advantage of a very small window of time to get out into the mountains for some fast hiking and quality relation time. This time with three young bucks, as Kyle had invited along long-time friends Jack and Elijah.

I picked Kyle and Lauren up at the airport very late Thursday, about midnight. We drove to the Lake Goodwin summer home for some quick sleep. In bed by 1:30, I was up at 5:30 Friday morning, energized and ready to start making pies for Shannon’s rehearsal dinner. I had to make five pies that day, with the hike sandwiched in between, in preparation for the weekend of wedding festivities.

I made four pies before we even left the house at 8:30. Two cooked, two in the oven. Lauren, unfortunately, couldn’t hike with us, as she had Shannon’s bachelorette party that late afternoon (Kevin had already had his bachelor party). But fortunately, she COULD and DID take the second round of pies out of the oven for me after we left, while waiting for a ride up to Bellingham. Already by 8:30, then,  I had a huge sense of accomplishment as we drove to meet Jack and Elijah (coming down from Bellingham) at Starbucks to carpool the distance to Mt. Dickerman. I had recently done Mt. Dickerman with Doug, and a previous Trip Report details the hike. I chose Dickerman this day for it’s distance (8.2 miles RT), elevation gain (about 1000 feet a mile), and views from the top. I knew all three young men would love it as much as I had a month earlier.

The Three Mountain Men

Kyle, Jack, and Elijah (and me) go way back. I’ve known Elijah since he and Kyle started playing Cal Ripken baseball back in fourth grade. They played competitive basketball and baseball together all through middle and high school. I’ve known Jack since the summer before high school, when he and Kyle formed a fast friendship that continued all through high school and attendance at the same college. Jack had been on previous hikes with us, including the fogged in Vesper Peak trip of 2015. He had hiked the entire El Camino trail in Spain earlier that summer, and it turned him into a major hiking advocate.  I hadn’t seen Elijah since high school, when he and Kyle played one final summer of baseball. Back then, Elijah wasn’t a hiker type. Always an athlete, he’d been much more of a gym guy.  But I knew from Facebook that he’d turned into a true mountain man since I’d seen him last, long hair and all!

Mountain Man Elijah
From Elijah Christie photo library

After a round of vigorous hugs in the Starbucks parking lot, we piled into my car and were on the way.

I loved listening to the buzz of conversation as we drove. Jack had just returned two months ago from a year-long stay in Spain. He didn’t just love the El Camino trail, he fell in love with the whole country and made arrangements to go back and teach English abroad for an entire year! Elijah had just returned from a solo trip to Thailand, where he’d hiked and explored the country. All three talked injuries, physical bodies, and recoveries. They bantered back and forth, each coming from a different perspective. Jack, the most soft-spoken of the three, was just getting his bearings back after returning to Bellingham, and was still nursing a long-time groin injury. Elijah, a personal trainer working and power lifting at a gym, offered a different perspective on all kinds of things I never even think about. The conversation about the intricacies of the grab and snatch (at least I think that’s what it’s called…), lasted at least ten minutes! And Kyle, having just finished his first year in his doctorate program for physical therapy, asked questions and offered insights on everyone’s physical well-being. The hour drive flew by.

The hike up

We were on the trail by 10:30. I psyched myself up properly, as I knew these guys would be fast. The starting hiking order was Jack, Elijah, Kyle, then me. Some relief in that, as if I couldn’t keep up, I could trail off. But I was determined to do my best,  and was looking forward to the inevitable physical effort required to do so.

After a fast 15 minutes, Jack called back,  “Pace Ok?”

“It’s great!” I replied, trying not to sound winded. As long as I didn’t talk too much, I could keep up. My only conversational need was to answer direct questions or insert the occasional anecdote as appropriate. Mostly,  I listened, and concentrated on how my body felt as I put one foot in front of the next, alternating feet and poles as I powered myself up. I felt the burn in my quads and loved it.

Kyle turned around periodically to check on me. “Doing OK, Mom?” He’d ask. I’d nod and smile. I was doing great, loving the work out, and being in the presence of that much positive physical energy.

We passed people as we went, though not too many for a sunny Friday. In seemingly no time we broke out of the forested switchbacks. Right at the first meadow, conversation and hiking ground to a halt as Elijah suddenly said “Whoa, dude, there’s a bear!” Jack hadn’t seen the black bear feasting on berries a mere 30 feet in front of us. We all stopped and stared.

Kyle looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Mom, should we be worried?” Suddenly I was the bear expert! I’d seen a few, and  I’m the first to admit that the idea of bear encounters makes me very nervous. But with this guy? He (or she) looked innocent enough, adolescent age, not huge, but certainly no cub. And he was just minding his own business, just feasting on berries.

“I think he’s fine.” I answered, trying to sound confident.  “Let’s just hang for a sec.” We stood and observed, talking in hushed tones, like we were on safari watching lions court.  Soon the hikers we’d passed caught back up, and it was a regular bear watching party. But then we heard people coming down the trail, loud to our quiet,  it was evident they had a dog.

Kyle looked at me again, concern in his eyes. “Don’t you think somebody should warn them, Mom?” I didn’t necessarily want to send my son into the path of a bear, but he seemed up for the task.

“Sure, Kyle, go for it. Just move slowly.”

Once Kyle started walking, the bear lumbered in front of him, across the trail and off to the other side, He was out of sight in a second. But not out of mind. We told the group coming down they’d just missed the bear, and they were relieved. So were we.

Kyle and the bear…photo courtesy Elijah Christie

A bit farther along, Elijah announced “Hey guys, I need to consume calories. Very soon.”

At this point, I was in the lead. “OK, there will be a spot up here.” I answered. The open area I was looking for didn’t come quickly, so we stopped mid-trail for a quick calorie break. “Do you keep track of how many calories you eat every day?” I asked Elijah, as we dropped our packs and food came out.

“Yes. It’s mostly 3600, unless I am training for something specific.”

“Wow. That’s precise!” I answered, impressed. “How do you do that?”

“With an app, of course.” He smiled, chowing down.

Jack, meanwhile, pulled out a huge burrito. “Hey, I bet nobody can top this monstrosity! Beans, rice, cheese, onions, even brussel sprouts! Made it myself.”

“That’s impressive.” I observed. “Too bad it’s not gluten free.”

After a few minutes, Elijah commented, “Just 300 more calories and we can go.”

Calorie consumption break — L to R, Elijan, Kyle, Jack

But just at that moment, all the people we’d re-passed after the bear caught back up. The boys re-shouldered their packs with a haste rarely seen among my-age hikers. They were gone in a flash, leaving me scrambling, as they headed off merrily toward the top, Elijah munching his 300 calorie bar on the fly. I looked at the emerging hikers, shrugged, and pulled myself together as quickly as possible. Now I was behind.

For that final stretch of trail, I scrambled to catch back up. The views were magnificent, and I’d call ahead “Hey, guys, don’t forget to take in the views!” I wanted them to stop and wait for me, as I was going just as fast as I could, but I could never quite catch up. At one point, Kyle, aware of my challenge, glanced back.  “You hanging in there, Mom?”

“Oh yeah”, I panted. These boys were booking it, sensing they were close. And that’s how the last 3/4 of a mile went. The three of them flying, with me a tad behind, behind, breathing hard, trying to close the gap before the summit. A matter of challenge and pride.

And I did. Barely. We all four summited together, coming out to the broad opening with views of Baker, Shuksan, Glacier Peak, dozens more, even Mt. Ranier off in the distance. Glorious sunshine, circumferential views, and only a few people adorned the vast base of the summit.

Top of Dickerman (Photo EC)

At the top

Elijah and Jack stayed on the highest level taking photos, and Kyle and I dropped down then popped back up to almost just as high. We pulled out sandwiches made that morning, and relaxed in the sun, gazing around and watching Jack and Elijah revel in the surroundings.

Sweaty Kyle settling in for lunch.

Soon they came to join us, and pulled out their lunches too. We all compared our stash. The bulk of Jack’s burrito, something densely caloric for Elijah, my mostly spinach sandwich with some turkey, Kyle’s pile of turkey and no spinach. I pointed out my mound of spinach to  Jack.

“Your brussel sprouts ain’t nothing compared to this greenery!” I said, munching happily.

Elijah, the photographer, zoomed right in on my sandwich consumption, and we all talked, ate, laughed. I felt surrounded by goodwill and positivity, and like I could hike with these three anytime.

The spinach sandwich. Photo by EC

Quality time and views with Kyle. Photo by EC

Candid lunch photo. By EC

As we chatted, I learned more about Jack’s job at a brewery, cleaning kegs. He’d just taken it upon his return. I asked him how that could utilize his chemistry degree. For the record, Jack was a 4.0 student through high school and college, but he marches to the beat of his own drum. He laughed. “Not sure yet, but maybe brewing my own at some point in the future. For now, it’s a job, I get to sample beer, and it’s low stress.”

L to R — Jack, Elijah, Kyle

I watched Jack and Elijah, room mates since Jack’s return, posing on the top of the highest rock, hamming it up, Kyle eventually joining in too. All three took off their shirts, asking if it was ok to get topless on a summit. “Of course!” I said, taking photos. “Better you guys than me!” The three looked so comfortable, compatible, and cohesive. Like three souls come together again on a mountain top.

The hike down

A plan was hatched for all three to come back to the lake to swim, then Kyle would catch a ride back to Bellingham for dinner with his Dad while I made the final pie. Reluctantly, but with the promise of cool water on the unseasonably warm day, we headed down.

Love this shot with Kyle…he’s really not that much taller! Photo EC

At first, they all flew, and I struggled, again, to keep up. Going down is harder than going up for this aging body, and I really had to focus on my footing.

At one point, Elijah asked me a question about my experiences in the mountains. At first, I answered vaguely, but then, realizing his interest was genuine, more intricately.  That led us into a conversation that lasted for miles, on topics of our mutual passion for fitness and the outdoors, how he got into backpacking, finding our solace in the mountains, meditation, ways to enhance life experience, and a variety of other related topics. Talking to this 25-year old, insightful Elijah proved to be a highlight of the trip. I didn’t realize what a deep thinker he had become, or that we connected on a multitude of levels. The conversation was inspiring, informational, and fun. And it made the miles fly by. Kyle and Jack, perhaps tired of our conversation, moved ahead while Elijah hung back with me.

Eventually, we all regrouped a half mile or so from the trailhead, and continued our fast and furious descent. We made it back to the car in 1.5 hours, not bad for 4+ steep miles.

Finishing one adventure, and on to the next…

Back at the lake, we jumped in the water, ate chips and salsa on the diving board, and discussed our day. We agreed we’d all had a blast, we all liked the bear, and the company as well.  I felt a part of this group, and I knew on some level they admired that I kept up so well. It’s nice to be THAT MOM, the one that can still keep up with a group of 25-year olds.

With some sadness I watched them leave. I launched into my final pie and ate a solo dinner. I knew I’d be surrounded by family over the weekend, and focused on Shannon’s needs for the next two days. I let myself move in that direction. Hiking puts me in a great frame of mind, and I knew I would be centered and ready for all the events in the two days to follow. What a perfect pre-wedding adventure we’d had.

A big thank you to Kyle, Jack, and Elijah for such a great pre-wedding hike!

And a HUGE congratulations to Shannon and Kevin as they embark on the next stage of their life!

 

The happy couple!

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenge of Vesper Peak — Take 3!

I have a complex relationship with Vesper Peak, located off the Mountain Loop Highway in the North Cascades. I am repeatedly drawn back, but each time I go, I am astounded at how physically and mentally challenging it is. It’s been nearly two weeks since I last visited Vesper (July 19), and I’ve spent that time reflecting on the difficulty of the hike, and what it may mean for my hiking future. The Vesper Challenge carried on after doing the doing the peak to processing the impact to now, finally, trying to capturing the Complete Vesper Experience in words. I’ve attempted Vesper three times, summited twice, and at last I think I am done — at least with the peak. The lessons learned will stay with me, no question about it.

Stats on Vesper Peak

A quick digression: Sometimes, the reported length of a summit trail varies greatly, depending on which information you look at. Vesper is one of those.  WTA (Washington Trails Association) calls it 8 miles round trip;  AllTrails calls it 5.5 one way;  Wikipedia calls it 10 roundtrip.  Which to believe? Based on what I know about my sense of distance and hiking speed, I am going with Wikipedia’s 10 miles RT.

 LOCATION— Off Mountain Loop Highway, 18 miles South of Darrington and 21 miles East of Granite Falls.    TRAILHEAD — Sunrise Mine trail #707      DISTANCE — 10 miles (give or take)      SUMMIT ELEVATION — 6214 feet      ELEVATION GAIN — 4200 feet     DIFFICULTY — Rated as Difficult

Previous Vesper Hikes

A current trip report would not make much sense without a mention of my two previous Vesper hikes…

First failed attempt, June 2015

On a cool summer day in mid-June of 2015, my son Kyle, his girlfriend Lauren and I made an attempt on Vesper. It was a low snow pack year, and the hike seemed doable even that early. Several things happened that day, however, such that we failed in our summit attempt:

My hiking companions, Kyle and Lauren

First, we lost the trail soon after breaking out of the forest and brush — about a mile in. I have since learned that this is very common on this unmaintained trail. Before this first attempt, I didn’t put much stock in WTA trip reports, and I rarely, if ever, took the time to read them. Now, two years and a few attempts later, I have read dozens of trip reports for this hike. It’s amazing how many hikers report losing the trail in this same rocky section!  What happens to others, happened to us, and Kyle, Lauren and I lost track of the trail going up the steep rocks. We got up high, then had to work our way back over to the trail on loose, unstable rocks.  Lauren took a fall, which made us all nervous. Once we got back on trail, we kept going, up to Headlee Pass (4600 feet). Confident again once we were en route, we continued our summit quest.

However, our second problem occurred because we had not taken time to read the route description up to the summit. I take responsibility for this — I was designated “trip leader”.  Instead of crossing Vesper Creek and heading up the rock face to the summit, Kyle, Lauren, and I innocently waltzed along the trail to beautiful Vesper Lake. Beyond the lake we could see something of a trail heading up to what we thought was Vesper Peak. We followed that “trail” as best we could, Kyle leading, but the going was hairy and challenging, sometimes in snow, and always steep and vague.  Lauren and I didn’t like it much, and, while Kyle did his best to be the cheerleader, I could tell he was a bit nervous and unsure too. We finally topped out on a pass, with a grand view, and we could see people progressing upward to what we thought was the summit of Vesper.

Third, as we ate lunch, watched and evaluated, several things became clear. The day was cool, some clouds had come in, and it was quite windy. None of us were dressed warmly enough for the conditions. And the route the climbers were taking was steep and snowy, and looked treacherous. We only had lightweight hiking shoes and no traction devices. Kyle and I wanted to continue, despite our lack of preparedness. But Lauren, thankfully, was the voice of reason. She said she would not go, but would wait for us there if we wanted to proceed. I didn’t feel right about leaving her waiting on a cold and windy pass, and deep down, I knew she was right in her assessment. So we all turned back.

Later, Kyle and I looked carefully at the map, and learned that we were going for the wrong summit! The mountain we were actually attempting to climb was Mt. Sperry, Vesper’s next door neighbor. It’s much less popular, and is even more of a “climbers route” than Vesper.  I am grateful to Lauren (and eventually common sense) that we turned back on that day. Vesper stayed on the brain, though, and I wanted to go back…

Second (successful) attempt, July 2015

Ready for conquest, Kyle and I returned to Vesper a month later. This time, Lauren bowed out, and instead Kyle’s buddy Jack came along. Many things went right on this trip — unfortunately,  weather was  not one.

This time, we learned from our previous mistakes.  On the steep rock slope, we paid careful attention and followed hard to see cairns (rock piles) along the way to the more obvious route up to Headlee Pass. It was a struggle for me to keep up with mountain goats Kyle and Jack, but they were nice enough to wait for me at regular intervals. I noticed the challenge of the trail more this time around, as the faster pace combined on the loose rocks required constant vigilance. But  I fed off Kyle and Jack’s youthful energy and enthusiasm, and we reached Headlee pass quickly. Beyond the pass, we did not make the same mistake in heading to the lake, but crossed Vesper Creek and headed up toward the summit.

Kyle foreground, Kathie background, headed up Vesper Peak

Vesper in the fog

The summit approach was a bit of a challenge, somewhat increased by our weather conditions of drizzle and fog. It wasn’t an ideal day for a summit bid, but I am not sure any of us cared. We were all on the same mission! The rock slabs were snow-free but steep,  and I followed the boys as they picked their way up. Thankfully, I only had to focus on my footing, not route-finding — as long as I could see one of them, I just headed in that direction. I’d requested they keep me in sight, and, with the fog, that meant they couldn’t get too far ahead.

We made the summit,  but, unfortunately, couldn’t see a thing from the top.  It was cold, and this time I was prepared but Kyle wasn’t. He put on a shirt of mine to keep warm. He termed it “feminine green” in color, and his hefty arm and shoulder muscles nearly burst it’s stretchy seams!  We stayed on top long enough to eat a quick lunch, then headed down as fast as we could. The entire hike down was just as hard as going up for me, with lots of loose rock and uneven footing. I tried to keep up, but constantly fell behind. Kyle and Jack were patient with me, and we all had a grand time, even though the weather was poor and the path challenging.

Kyle in “feminine green”, after Vesper at Lake 22

Fun loving Kyle and Jack!

Back at the car, our spirits were high. We’d done it! None of us felt ready to call it a day. So we drove the several miles from the Sunrise Mine trailhead to the Lake 22 trailhead, and whipped out that hike too. The whole thing made for a 16-plus mile day with lots of elevation, and the whole adventure was fun and invigorating, despite the dreary weather. I felt good and strong throughout, even though I was bested by the boys. Together we’d bested Vesper, and pulled off a phenomenal hiking day, and I got to feed off the energy of two of my favorite hikers for a day.

But still I couldn’t rest on the Vesper desire. I desperately wanted to be on the summit with sunshine and a view, and so I went back…

Vesper Take 3 — July 19, 2017

Two weeks ago, I went alone to the family summer home at Lake Goodwin planning for a couple days of writing. Proximity to the Mountain Loop Highway and nice weather prompted me to say “WTF, I think I’ll take a hike!”  for one of those days. I decided on a solo bid of Vesper, on what promised to be a sunny Wednesday.  I was confident I would succeed, and drove to the trailhead in good spirits.

The way up

There was a road washout leading to the trailhead, but reports said it was easy to navigate around. It was doable enough, and I arrived at the trailhead at 11:30 am. I had an online class at 6:00 that night, and figured I’d have plenty of time to whip out Vesper and drive the 1.5 hours back to the lake in time for my class…ha!

From the get go and as I remembered, the Sunrise Mining trail required careful footing. At first it was roots, rocks,  and careful stream crossings (four) for the first mile, until I broke out into the opening. Then I was into brush so dense and overgrown that at times I couldn’t see the trail. Always, the footing underneath was uneven and tricky and required that constant vigilance I remembered from before.  I knew and expected this, but it still gave me pause and kept me going at a slow enough pace to keep from turning an ankle or twisting my knee. The unfolding views across the valley to Mt. Dickerman and up the valley towards Morningstar and my old friend Sperry kept me moving.

Looking up toward Headlee Pass

Looking back down…

Once onto the rocks, I made sure to follow the cairns. The path was an often vague traverse and upward progression on small boulders and loose rocks. Sometimes the rocks held, and sometimes they did not. Since my last time here, I’d had knee replacement and bilateral foot and ankle surgeries. That brought my total to five knee and eight foot and ankle surgeries, and, frankly, I felt tentative and cautious as I worked my way across the boulder field. I had to keep a frustratingly slow pace,  and anything resembling a hiking rhythm eluded me. I greatly missed my younger hiking companions, Kyle, Lauren, and Jack.  I felt lonely on my vigil, despite encountering a handful of other hikers.

Headed up to Headlee pass, I encountered the first snow. Most times, the trail went around it with ease, but sometimes a bit of scrambling was required to skirt the snow fields. I was amazed that we had done this route in June and early July of 2015, since in the second half of July this year I encountered more snow than on either previous trip.  Once at the top of Headlee Pass, the views start to really open up, and I felt rewarded for my efforts. Again, I was amazed that the trail never eased up, as the route continued across loose rock. Brave Penstemon bloomed right out of the rocks, and the beauty of that was inspiring.

Rock Penstemon

Rocky trail continues….

Crossing swift Vesper creek was relatively easy. Very quickly I was into snow, and I stopped to put on traction devices. I enjoyed the views down to mostly snow-covered Vesper Lake, again reflecting on how different it was two years ago when it was snow-free.

Then “the trail” was in and out of snow all the way up. I followed foot prints, as at least four people I’d seen on the way down had been on the summit that day. Sometimes the route went up through tree gullys, slick with mud, and was barely discernible. I remembered this from the previous time, and knew I was on the correct route. The snow towards the top got alarmingly steep, and I looked at the multitude of glissade (“sliding on your butt”) paths right down the mountain. Clearly, people were just letting it fly once they were up, but I knew I would not do that. I felt cautious going up and knew I would need to be more careful coming down. The idea of losing control on snow freaked me out.

Vesper Lake in fog, 2015

Vesper Lake in snow, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Carefully and meticulously I worked my way up. I could see a couple leaving just as I was approaching the summit, which meant I would be alone. Normally, I crave solitude on the trail, but this time, I was hoping for company to share the victory with. I arrived at the top at 2:30, three hours after I started. A slow pace for me, and I knew it was unlikely I would make it back in time for my class. I tried to relax with this reality, enjoying the truly spectacular summit views. I could see Mt. Sperry right in front of me, Mt. Pugh, Sloan Peak, and Mt. Baker to the north, Glacier Peak to the east, and Mt. Stuart, Mt. Daniel, and even a glimpse of Mt. Ranier to the south. Perhaps most spectacular was the sheer 1000 foot drop on the north side down to Cooper Lake below. I enjoyed circumferential views and took a few selfies, but I was nervous about going down the steep upper section of the snow. I wanted to get down before shade or cooling temps, and kept my summit time to thirty minutes.

 

Glacier Peak!

Looking down to Copper Lake

Vesper Selfie

Peaks — Gothic Peak (right), Morningstar (foreground)

Looking across Sperry toward Mt. Baker

The way down

As expected, going down the snow was more challenging than coming up. I stuck to my own foot prints as best I could, one at a time, using my poles for added braking. As mentioned, multiple glissade paths indicated others had simply slid down on their butts. They must have had ice axes or been more risk takers than me, or both. Not willing to risk a fall, I picked my way down like I came up, slowly and carefully, checking each step to make sure it would hold. Once off the steep stuff, I breathed a sigh of relief and took off my YakTrax.

But I still had to get down all the rocks that I came up,  and it seemed to take forever. Slowly progressing down, I vacillated between frustration and amazement with the effort involved to secure each step.  I could never relax and just cruise along. Literally, there was not one section of this trail that didn’t require precision with foot placement.  Descending the endless rocks was tedious, and, even with extreme caution, I still tripped and slipped at least 15 times. I stopped counting at ten. This was not a reflection of fatigue or carelessness — it just happened. I had to remind myself to slow down with each slip, and this took a mental and physical toll. When I arrived back at the car 2.5 hours after leaving the summit, I felt completely drained. And late. I knew I wouldn’t make it back for my class in time, but I was relieved to at last be done.

Why was Take 3 SO DIFFICULT?

That night I was completely wiped out. I felt utterly mentally and physically drained. Not from the cardiovascular output, as I couldn’t go fast enough to get that. But from the constant vigilance required to manage the perpetually challenging footing. My right arthritic ankle hurt more during and after this trip than at any time since surgery, and I couldn’t walk without sharp pain.  My replaced knee was fluid- filled and sore, although it mostly recovered after a day or so. But overall, that ten mile endeavor seemed, frankly, all my orthopedically challenged body could handle. I struggled to accept this, and my feeling of near-despair lingered. This hiking experience, instead of uplifting me, put me into a week-long funk! That doesn’t happen often, so I paid attention.

I kept asking myself, Does this experience mean that my hiking future can only be on established trails,  that I can no longer go to places that are only accessible off the beaten path?  I felt intensely conflicted even thinking about this, as there are still SO many hikes I want to do that are like Vesper, and the idea of having to give that up made me feel old, defeated, and on the way out. But I also don’t like to suffer, and there was a fair amount of suffering on this last Vesper excursion. How do I balance my strong desire to go with the reality of my current physical being?

As I grappled with these questions, I went back and looked at each of my three Vesper excursions. How could I take what I learned on each trip, successfully apply it to my current processing, and let those lessons serve as a guide for the future?

The Vesper Lessons

Trip One

The most obvious lesson here is know the route and nuances of the trail. I have gotten much better at this, and, as mentioned, I have become a huge fan of WTA trip reports. Both errors, getting off trail and heading to the wrong summit, could have been avoided if we had paid more attention. The extra time and effort spent getting off trail and  then back on is sometimes immense. Lauren’s fall and recovery not only cost us time, but also emotional energy. And going for the wrong summit actually prevented us from making it to the top of Vesper. As trip leader, I felt responsible and worried, and like our errors could have been avoided.

Second, it was great to have Lauren as a voice of reason. I have learned from that experience that I can say no, can turn around, and it can be OK. That was the first time I can remember NOT going for a summit, and I am thankful we did not. Lauren’s common sense eventually filtered into mine, such that I KNEW without question that we made the right choice. Since then, I have backed off on my need to always push on to the summit.

Kyle and Lauren at Mailbox Peak, near Seattle. Thanks Lauren for your presence of mind and keeping us sane!

Trip Two

The lessons here are mostly all positive. Simply put, I felt less pain, discomfort, angst, and displeasure with the weather and trail since I was hiking with Kyle and Jack. I love to hike alone and do so often. But sometimes my head space gets more cluttered with negativity and what’s not going right when I’m alone. This trip, while not favorable in weather, was successful and fun despite conditions. Under those positive circumstances, going on and pushing the limits like we did, had a huge pay off. And it was great to share in it together.

Trip Three

Trip three taught me about time. I put pressure on myself by starting late, and trying to knock this one off too quickly. Once I realized the difficulty I was having, I could have slowed down, enjoyed my surroundings,  and not felt so frustrated by slow progress. Had I done this, my whole trip might have gone differently. Racing the clock, trying to make the summit in a certain amount of time such that I could be back in time, affected my enjoyment.

In truth, so too did the terrain. There is nothing I can do to change that. But I can change my approach for the future, if I choose to go off the beaten path, I have to plan for, and accept psychologically, that it’s only going to happen slowly and carefully. When I encounter tricky terrain with a Kyle in my future, perhaps I can turn it on. But for now, I will be content with slowing down on trails that are less than straightforward.

However, I know now I won’t give up. That first week following Vesper, I thought that was it. That I would have to put my ambitions of other such endeavors to rest. Now, 12 days after the fact, I feel confident that I can slow down enough to have the enjoyment of such a hike take precedence over the discomfort involved with doing it.

Know if you go…

Vesper is very worthwhile if you are willing to pay attention to every step and take care with route finding. It’s not a trail for beginners, or those wanting to zone out. WTA calls it a step beyond…I would say it’s many steps beyond. Worth it? Yes, if you are physically in good shape, and don’t have an abundance of lower body ailments. And don’t do it on a tight time schedule. My six hours was as fast as I could go safely, and it would have been even nicer to have had more time to relax and enjoy the spectacular views once I reached the summit.

Snowking Mountain and Mt. Formidable, background, Mt. Pugh and Sloan Peak foreground

Sperry Peak (foreground), Glacier Peak in back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more note: by the time this post gets up, snow will all but be a memory for most of this route. It’s melting quickly, and subsequent hikes I’ve taken have all been mostly snow-free. Yep, I’m still out there hiking! Stay tuned for more posts to come.

 

Back on the Bike!

Trees were calling me to ride…

I told myself this year I would wait until I was ready.  Normally, I pull my bike out of storage sometime in March, regardless of physical health or weather or anything else. But this year, March came and went, and my bike sat in the garage, still waiting patiently for that first ride of the season.

I came close a month ago. It looked like a friend and I were going to form a woman’s Ski to Sea team, and I would do the bike leg. With that race at the end of May, I started feeling anxious and pressured to get on the bike. After recent knee replacement in November and foot and ankle surgery in December, I was still feeling cautious, and that added to my anxiety. I’d been on the stationary bike a handful of times at the gym, but it’s definitely not the same as getting out on the road.

Then, several things happened that made me stop and re-think everything.

Second Thoughts

No Ski to Sea

Come late March, it became evident that Ski to Sea was not destined to happen this year. I absolutely love the Ski to Sea race and all the festivities associated with it,  and I have been involved dozens of times — as participant, support crew, and spectator. However, after losing several team members, and not finding replacements, my co-captain and I made the decision that it was not going to happen this year. Frankly, I was relieved! I was still not feeling ready to ride.

The Fatal Bike Accident in Fairhaven

Right about the time we were debating Ski to Sea plans, a cyclist died in a collision with a car a mile from my work. Not only did this hit close to home proximity-wise, but it was also at an intersection that I have ridden through more times than I can count.  I used to live at the top of the hills that the biker was coming down, trying to make the light, just as a left hand turning car was also trying to make the light. They collided, and the 51-year old biker died on impact. He left six kids behind. I have done that exact same thing at that exact same intersection, pushed the light from yellow to red, carrying a lot of speed coming down those hills. But I have never been hit by a car. There or anywhere else.

Bike at Memorial Site “Bicyclist and Vehicle Collided here – March 23, 2017”

To make matters worse, the cyclist that was killed was a huge proponent of bike safety, teaching classes and such. How much more tragic can this story get? I did not know him, but I can totally imagine the mindset that caused this to happen. As a fellow biker, I admit that I have pushed lights, not wanting to stop at intersections, especially when speed was in my favor. But one mistake can be ever so costly. And now, the cyclist leaves behind a confusing legacy, as he was such a proponent of safety, yet met his end with a seemingly innocent misjudgment.

This accident gave me huge pause. I decided to wait on getting on the bike…

My Ex-Husbands Shoulder Surgery

Also right at this time, my ex-husband, the father of my kids, had shoulder surgery for injuries related to two serious bike accidents in the last year. A committed bike commuter, from Bellingham to his job in Ferndale, the first incident occurred when he was struck by a car last Spring. He broke his leg and injured his shoulder in that incident. After much rehab, the leg healed, and it seemed he might be able to resume activities (including riding) without surgery on his still-iffy shoulder.

Then last winter, during a cold snap, he was again riding to work, when he hit some ice. Another fall on that same shoulder, and surgery became necessary for a torn rotator cuff. He had this surgery a couple of weeks ago. These two were just the most recent in a series of bike accidents for him. Each time the kids report to me “Dad had another bike accident…”, I wonder if I should stop riding.

I know people who ride regularly increase their odds of getting in an accident. I have been riding regularly for 15 years, and thankfully, have never had an accident with a car. But still I had to wonder, was my number coming up?

Bike Accident of Other Family Members

My brother, also a bike commuter in Seattle, has been in many serious bike accidents over the last 15 years. Four of those accidents involved collisions with cars, one involved a slip on ice, and one involved him hitting a pedestrian in a cross-walk. He has suffered multiple injuries, including a broken hand and arm, and still has the litigation pending from that most recent accident with the pedestrian. That incident involved him coming down a hill fast, trying to make a light, and not seeing a pedestrian who started walking just as the light was getting ready to turn. My brother collided with him, flew off his bike, and the kid suffered a major head injury. Terrible all the way around. Brad will admit that in some of his multiple bike accidents he shared fault, but some were clearly cars not paying attention to what bikers are up to.

My niece’s long-time boyfriend was also in a bike accident last June, while riding his bike to work on quiet Bainbridge Island. He was broad-sided by a left turning car who did not see him, and was thrown 20 feet. He hurt his foot badly, and incurred $5000 in medical bills which the driver’s insurance still has not paid. He finally had to borrow the money to pay the bills, and to hire a lawyer to try to recover his medical costs. A huge price to pay for an accident where he was clearly not at fault, and there is still no resolution.

Was I ready to get back on the bike after all of this??

All this presented a serious dilemma, as March turned into April and I continued to feel uneasy. I asked myself, over and over, To what degree do I let fear interfere with things that I am passionate about?  I had asked myself that question all last spring and early summer in preparation for my solo JMT hike last August. There, I methodically went about naming and confronting those fears — then went out and had a fantastic three-week trip!  But on the bike, the fear is more widespread, as the variables and possibilities of accident or incident are only so much in my control. I look at all these people I know, and those I don’t but feel like I do now, who have been in serious bike accidents, and I have to ask myself is it worth it to keep riding? Is it just a matter of time before it’s me, or can I continue on in my safety bubble if I continue to be as vigilant as I can when I ride?

Deciding to ride.

Daffodils bring promise of sunshine

I’d be lying if I said weather wasn’t also a factor in my procrastination getting back on the bike. It’s been a cold, wet spring, and I don’t like to ride in wet and windy conditions, or below 50 degrees. But last weekend the forecast provided a favorable weather window, and I decided it was time to get over myself and all my fears and just do it! I brought clothes and food to work on Friday, in preparation to ride to work Saturday. I brought my bike in from the garage Friday night, and we had a stare down as I went about my evening. Who would win? My fear, or the bike’s desire to be ridden? The bike of course, because I wanted what it wanted. Just before bed, I confirmed my decision by pumping up my tires in readiness for the following morning.

I live up such steep hills, that I can’t make it back up if I ride from my house. Instead, I drive my bike down all the Sudden Valley hills and start my ride on Lake Louise Road. It’s still an iffy ride no matter how you dice it, as the roads to and from Sudden Valley are not bike friendly. When I first moved here, my landlady told me she strongly recommended that I not ride at all, as there have been many documented accidents on these roads in which the biker did not come out well. I made my decision to ride anyway, and did so last spring, summer, and early fall without incident.

But with all the bike accidents and the fatality so fresh on my mind, the nervous anticipation of the first ride was higher this year than ever. Plus I was worried about my knee, which still does not feel like a part of me, and does not bend well without pain.

The First Ride Happened!

I threw my bike in the car, dressed in warm clothes, and headed out Saturday morning. It was cool, and still drizzling. But the weather promised clearing later in the day, which would be good for the longer anticipated ride home.

A Biker’s Memorial

There are many ways to get to and from my house to work, but I chose the most direct one to get there. It’s about ten miles, give or take, and it’s mostly downhill. The ride went smoothly enough, although my knee felt like it was completely not mine for the first several miles. But with persistence, patience, and paying attention to what was really going on, the knee became less of a nuisance as I rode. Instead, I focused on the rain stopping mid-way, the clouds lifting, and the freshness of the morning air. I arrived at work, without incident, under partly sunny skies. A good omen, I figured. I’d purposefully ridden a different way so as to not pass the biker’s memorial. But he was on my mind, and I said a silent thanks to the biking gods for keeping me safe.

The Longer Ride Home

Lake Samish

Like some hikes, there are some places to ride that I am very drawn to. One of those is Lake Samish, about 7 miles from my place of work. For years I’ve combined a ride to or from work with a ride around Samish, as it makes me ecstatically happy for some reason. Now that I live farther away, to bring Samish into the bike commute makes it about a 22 mile ride. Not an easy task at the end of a long work day, and as part two of the first day’s ride.

Ready for the ride home

But I was committed and ready. I got out of my office by 5:45, with what I hoped was enough time to make it back to my car before sunset. The sun was out with conviction, although temps were still cool.  I’ve done this ride dozens of times, but I still never know exactly how long it will take.  I wanted to stop for pictures of the inevitable spring flowers and trees I would see along the way. In early spring, I just can’t get enough of the progression of blooms that takes place — from the earliest flowering plums and daffodils,  to the later tulips,  rhododendrons, and  flowering cherry and apple trees that line the route. It’s a flower-lovers paradise for sure!

First Rhodies on my favorite stretch of Samish

Lots of stops and starts, but the ride went smoothly enough. Over the course of the ride, I passed five lakes, including Samish. All were glittering with late afternoon sun, their very presence implying peace and serenity. My only troubles were that I was freezing in the shade, and had to pull out my hand-warmers six miles from home. My knee admittedly struggled with all the uphills, and my back made me feel 100 years old!  With two previous back surgeries, it takes time each year for my back to acclimate to riding.

 

Last sunlight…

But with sun glinting through the budding and occasional flowering trees, I had plenty of things to distract me from pain. A curvy road high above Lake Whatcom finishes off the ride. It’s somewhat risky, with little shoulder and so many wild turns. But, what views! Mossy trees, huge gullies, spectacular lake views from high bridges. My turn off came at Lake Louise, with one very steep hill to master, then I was back to my car. I arrived at 7:55, five minutes before sunset. Relieved to be safe, happy to be done.

Driving home, I again asked myself the question, How can I experience these types of things if I stay home from fear? I don’t have the complete answer. I only know I am drawn to do it again and again. I love being on the bike, and I especially love the long ride home, even with it’s rough, curvy roads with high speed limits and little shoulder.  Many say I am crazy to do it. But I always feel safe. Enough. So far…

Did the ride help me to solve my dilemma?

Yes. And no. There is no definitive resolution when the question of personal safety is involved. I never go on a ride without proper clothing, a helmet, and extreme vigilance. It’s the only way I know to do it, and, so far, it has worked. It was a hard decision this year, and one that I chose to think on for a month before I acted. Now, my bike is ready for action, and I am too. I will keep riding.

When I ride, I will do everything I can to be careful and cautious. It’s the best I can do. And I will remember all those who have not been so lucky — and hope my luck holds. With that in mind, I look forward to six great months of being on the bike!

 Ride Happy and Ride Safe!

 

 

Snacking on Humble Pie

I originally intended to call this post “Eating Humble Pie”. If I am fully honest with myself and my readers, however,  I realize I am not ready for a whole pie or even a whole piece. But I know I can handle a few bites. Let me explain…

The Humbling Situation

I’ve had complications from recent surgeries, as many of you know. Some of this I’ve said before, but in this recounting, I am being honest as to my responsibility in pushing too much too soon, the part that is hardest for me to admit — to myself and to others.

Right knee replacement, 11/14/16.

The aftermath of this has been pretty good, although I still have significant pain at times. Never having had a joint replaced, I don’t know how much of this pain is “normal” and when I should be concerned. I also have a distinct “clunking” noise and feeling in my knee each and every time I move it in a particular way. Part of the plan, or something awry?  I don’t know. I have been assured and reassured that my knee replacement is solid, and that I can’t hurt anything. Those are dangerous words for someone like me, who can and will put up with a lot of pain to do what I love. I was out on trails and walking as early as 3 weeks after this surgery. The  complexity of  the knee replacement was furthered when, at just 5.5 weeks post op, I had foot/ankle surgery on the left side.  I was on crutches in various capacities for 5 weeks after that surgery, using the right leg for full weight bearing. That was, simply put, hard on the new knee. Now, 3.5 months post-op, I am still with pain and uncertainty about the status of my knee.

Left foot/ankle surgery, 12/22/16.

This recovery started out fantastically, the best yet of all eight foot/ankle surgeries. I was walking without crutches early, and taking long hikes in the post-op boot —  feeling on top of the world and certainly my recovery. Then, a fall in the snow over three weeks ago caused an initial setback, from which I recovered quickly after five more days in the boot.  I took myself out of the boot and started walking again, believing I was ready. On each of my first five days post-boot round two, I walked. The mall on day one, Lake Padden on day 2 (2.6 miles),  the interurban trail on day 3 (4 miles), adding slightly more miles each day. Each day I noticed a bit of pain in my forefoot, but told myself it was nothing. On day 4, I walked Lake Padden before work, worked all day, then walked it again after. A very normal activity for me, usually.  But by the second walk, I could barely do it and hobbled all the way around. I knew something was up. Again, I told myself it was just muscles in my foot getting used to working again after being on vacation for 7 weeks…but deep down, I recognized that the pain was different. Stubborn as I am, on day 5, I took a scheduled walk with a friend, but I was limping so badly I could barely walk. I am embarrassed to say I walked five miles like that, each step a painful reminder that I shouldn’t keep going.

It was all I could do to keep a shoe on after that walk. My foot was swollen and very tender. But I  went about the rest of my day, which involved an outcall massage, all the while trying as hard as I could not to limp. It was almost impossible, but I am good at compartmentalizing pain and discomfort, physical and emotional, and did what I needed to do. The massage finished and back home, I took my shoe off to rest my poor foot. It was inflamed and exquisitely alive with pain, the kind where you don’t even want to touch the affected part. I hoped and prayed it would recover overnight. That wasn’t completely out of line, as many times on long hikes or after intensely physical days, I go to bed with significant aches and pains that DO almost magically go away overnight….or at least move again to a manageable level.

But this was not a normal ache or pain, I could tell. Tuesday morning, day 6 out of the boot, I still couldn’t walk without a significant limp. The pain was intense with every single step. Fortunately, I had my six week post-op check that morning. (I was actually almost eight weeks post-op: for various reasons, all related to weather, either the office or I had to cancel two previous appointments). The reason I mention this is because I had to, or chose to, make decisions during this two week time frame about how and what I would do. I even went so far as to email the PA and tell him after the first appointment cancellation that I was taking myself out of the boot, and I hoped that was ok. To his credit and my discredit, he replied that he could not medically authorize that without seeing me and getting x-rays first. I chose to be rogue and go AMA (against medical advice), and I paid the price  — twice. First with the fall on my first day in round one without the boot, then with the whole episode of progressively worsening pain in round two walking in shoes. THIS was my first inkling that there was pie to be eaten…

The current reality…

I hobbled to my visit with the PA, on day six of round two AMA. I told him the whole story, and confessed all my transgressions. I’ve seen the same PA for most of my post-op visits, and he has been involved in at least two of my four foot/ankle surgeries with my foot surgeon, Dr. T.  Both Dr. T and the PA know my feet, ankles, and psychology well! Including my desire and need to get back out on the trails as soon as possible after surgery. To a degree, they both endorse this, as long as it doesn’t jeopardize their surgical work and my recovery in any way. This time, though, the X-rays showed a new stress fracture in my foot, and that really put me in my place. The surgical sites and structures were well healed, but this new problem had crept up quickly. In short, my walking too much too soon once out of the boot led to the development of a stress fracture in the third Metatarsal bone.  Perhaps the bones were softer from not being used, and apparently I went at the walking too aggressively, relieved as I was to finally be out of the boot. I have had a stress fracture before, and the pain and symptoms certainly fit with his diagnosis. The way I left it with the PA is that I would rest the foot for four more weeks, then return for further X-rays. And no more walking of any distance without the boot. I left the office humbled and depressed.

The aftermath…and a few words about my psychology.

End of the Lake Whatcom Trail…this is why I walk.

I lasted three full days without a walk. During that time, I sunk deeper into depression. Here is where things get interesting.  I write this believing that some of you can relate to my struggle for balance. Sharing and being honest and forthcoming about this part of my psychology is both an attempt to explain WHY I continually push the limits of what my body will allow physically, and an exploration into the whole question of “how much is enough, and how much is too much?”  I am not ignorant or unaware of the risks or trying to put my recovery in jeopardy. I do these things because, deep down, my NEED for some type of physical movement and especially contact with the outdoors is deep seated and real, such that I will go to extremes to make it happen. THIS particular struggle and balancing act, how much I can do following injury, surgery, or some other medical issue, has been a constant companion in my life for over 30 years. My stories about getting out too soon following something run round in my head like a broken reel tape. Why, then, don’t I stop pushing so hard? Why not just sit around and do nothing for days or weeks on end, letting my body heal and trust that things will take their course? To my credit, I can and do usually do that for at least a week following surgery. Then, my restless nature gets to me and I start scheming ways to get out and about.

It’s always the same, the struggle to know how much is enough and what is too much. I tend to err on the side of the latter, yet my ongoing quest is to find the former. Exercise and endorphins are addictive, yes, but I don’t need that so much. What I need is to be outside. Some part of me dies when I can’t be. For me, walking trails and being in nature feeds my soul to an immense degree. Hence the name of this blog, and my whole pursuit of walking, hiking, and backpacking. I am driven to go and to be there, in whatever capacity I can, and as soon as I can. So, after three days of no walks, being inside and sinking further into depression, I decided to go back into the boot for walks and hikes outside. The boot was and is trashed and duct taped almost beyond repair, and had to be retrieved out of the garbage.  But I made a decision on that Friday, three days after my visit and diagnosis, to go back into the boot and hike for the remaining weeks until I return to the PA for x rays. I had to restore balance.

The next steps…

Lake Padden with recent snow…

It’s been two weeks and a handful of days, and the hiking in the boot strategy is working! My foot is much better, and I have stayed 100% true to my pledge and promise not to hike in a shoe. I have taken hikes to places and in conditions that I would have missed had I not gone back to the boot. I am working and doing daily life in street shoes, a compromise the PA and I agreed upon. I can say with conviction that healing is taking place, and I am happy about that. And I know I will stick with the protocol. My knee, always troublesome, is another story. In the spirit of non-denial,  I made an appointment this week to see the knee surgeon, to determine if the pain and clunking is normal or something to be concerned about. I will take his advice to heart, and that’s a promise too.

But here is what I know. I know this “enough/too much” battle will continue. I am not out of the woods yet, I may never be completely. I get humbled by these experiences, and I do learn my lessons. I do take bites of that humble pie, and I think about what it would take for me to eat the whole thing.  But even as I do so, I know my tendency will always be too get out just as soon as I can, and sometimes that will be sooner than ideal. SO many people in my life have told me to be careful, to slow down, to not be so driven, to cut back. For all of those, I take a bite.  I am aware I “use” exercise and movement as tools to keep myself sane, no question about it. I am reliant on that, and it is hands down may best coping mechanism for dealing with stress. Sometimes it’s too much and too soon.  What I want to say is that I AM listening, and that I am getting the message!

It’s a work in progress, and a repetitive theme of my life — not just with exercise, but in all areas. As I work on writing my memoir, I am exploring this theme of how much is enough and what is too much, in depth. I have settled into my exploration, with full awareness of my tendencies, and full commitment to discern for myself my own boundaries in this area. I will continue to share on this topic, and would welcome your thoughts. EVERYONE has an area of life in which they must ask themselves these same hard questions.  I believe that by getting open and honest about our deepest areas of struggle we can make headway into dealing with them.

My hope is that, by writing this post and laying it out there,  you may be inspired to ask yourself the same hard questions. Where in life do you push too hard and pay a price? Work? Over commitment? Lack of sleep? Poor nutrition? Substance use? Care-taking others over yourself?  Too much electronic escape? When is it all enough, when is it too much?  Unquestionably, life is a long , sometimes arduous, complicated journey filled with ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s only about surviving and making it through one day at a time. We all have our fallbacks and coping mechanisms that we use to get through these times. Some are clearly more destructive than others. I am the first to admit I have dabbled and jumped head on into far more dangerous territory than reliance on exercise in my past.  I have conquered significant mountains of overcoming, the specifics of which I am currently reliving as I write my memoir. On the whole I feel quite satisfied with where I am in my ongoing quest to find balance in life. Right now the exercise vs. rest is my biggest challenge.

What is yours?

 

Feel the Reluctance and Do It Anyway!

A rough morning leads to a worthwhile experiment…

Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems a struggle from the get go, making you feel like crawling back into bed instead of getting on with the day?  I am sure you have, because we all have them. How do you manage to stay on top of yourself and your game when it seems nothing is working and difficult circumstances keep flocking around you? What are your coping strategies during those times when you can’t exactly pinpoint what’s wrong, but life feels overwhelmingly challenging? In my experience, when the chips are really down, and I am in a full on crisis, it’s easier to take the steps necessary to problem solve the immediate concern. But when I am feeling just OFF, and I can’t seem to make my life work, even though no major catastrophe is at hand, those are the hardest days. At times like that I feel like giving up, giving into past destructive habits, or just completely blowing off my responsibilities…AND the things that I know will ultimately help me to feel better about myself.

Today started out as one of those days. Nothing disastrous, but for various reasons I couldn’t seem to pull my usually positive and motivated self together. Instead of giving into it, I decided to approach my day very intentionally. I wanted to see what would happen if I openly made a commitment to myself and a handful of people (for accountability purposes) to show up in life no matter what, keep all my scheduled plans even if I didn’t feel like it, and keep an open mind about the day. I wanted to see if I could turn the tide around by going with the flow, and doing everything I intended, no matter how difficult it was.

The Contributing Factors

There were several things going on in my life that contributed to my morning feeling of depression, discouragement, and despair on this Wednesday in late February.  The day’s problems weren’t earth shaking, but health challenges and financial concerns were at the  top of my list when I awoke this morning.

Health Challenges

I had foot and ankle surgery on 12/22/16, to repair completely torn out ligaments in the ankle and improve an overcorrection of a previous Bunionectomy. I had an easy initial recovery, walking in the boot  less than four weeks after surgery and doing many ambitious hikes, including a challenging half marathon course, while still in the boot. I told everyone it was my easiest recovery yet. I even did three blog posts on exercising post op with crutches and in the boot.

Then, on my first day out of the boot and in street shoes,  I took a fall in the snow (three weeks ago). That put me back into the boot again for another week. I was so excited to get out of the boot after that setback, two weeks ago, that I immediately started walking. Not anything major, no 14 milers, but I did head to the mall for several loops my first day in street shoes, then to Lake Padden on my second day, and so on. I walked five days in a row without the boot, and each walk got progressively more difficult and painful. I tried to ignore the pain (BIG MISTAKE!), thinking it was just my foot readjusting to being out of the boot and that the aches and pains would pass.

But they didn’t. After five days, I couldn’t walk at all without severe pain and a significant limp. I knew something was up. I had a doctor’s appointment last Tuesday, at the end of the five days of regular shoe walking. The PA diagnosed me with a stress fracture in the third Metatarsal bone of my post-surgical foot — nothing directly related to the surgery, those sites were good and healed. But somehow, getting out too much, too soon, even though the walks were short, did me in. My foot was vulnerable, the bones maybe softer from non-use, and I did a number on my foot without realizing it. UGH. It fit, though, as I have had a stress fracture before. And I know they don’t heal unless you back way off, exactly what I don’t want to do.  It’s 4 – 6 MORE weeks of rest, with no walking without the boot, no swimming, no anything that will stress the foot. After the doctor’s visit, I felt defeated, discouraged and very frustrated,  states that have persisted to varying degrees over the last week.

Financial Concerns

On top of this, a trip to the bank yesterday gave me a startling reality that my finances are alarmingly tight. After so much time off work (as a massage therapist) during my various recoveries, bills mounted up. I am back to work now, but with knee replacement in November and foot/ankle surgery in December, things caught up with me, and money is tighter than I realized. I really let this get me down, feeling trapped and worrying all day that I might not be able to keep my head above water. I went to bed last night feeling down, discouraged, and stressed.  No surprise, I woke up this morning still feeling all those things. My usual strategy for lessening the intensity of concerns or frustrations, a good walk in nature, is not a good option right now for obvious reasons.  I felt the heaviness of despair all morning, and zero enthusiasm for the day  ahead. Usually I can shake it; this morning, it persisted with a vengeance.

The Plan

After texting back and forth with my sister early this morning about my mood and feelings of despair, I had to make a choice. Was I going to just give up on the day, call it a wash, or could I somehow turn it around?  There were things I could cancel in the day, but I wondered what it would be like if I did them all with intention and as best I could, despite my reluctance. After all, how many times have I said encouragingly to others, “Just show up and see what happens!” Here was a good opportunity to test this theory out myself.

The Events of the Day

The first thing on my list outside the house was a meditation group at 10:00. Thankfully, my meditation group contains kind, forgiving, and generous hearted folks. Most members have at one time or another shown up down, discouraged, worked up, frustrated, or in some other not calm and meditative state. I knew I would be OK there, and it was nice to get hugs and affirmations. I told the group of my intention for the day.

Next was an outcall massage at Semiahmoo in Blaine. I had about an hour to kill before the appointment. I hastily ate my sandwich in the car, asking myself why was I being so hasty? It’s simply habit, always eating on the go, and running from one thing to the next. I forced myself to slow down and take a breath. Since I had time, I stopped at the Co-op Bakery for a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie and hot water to make a Via instant coffee. I enjoyed both on the drive to Blaine, 30 minutes from Bellingham. I drove without speeding, relishing the fact that I was not in a hurry for once. I wanted to be in a good headspace for the massage.

Once in Blaine, I still had  time to kill, so I pulled off the road right by the water, and sat in my car taking stock. Ten years ago, I lived in Blaine, and where I pulled off was right next to beaches I would walk on in an effort to get my head straight back then. Those six months in Blaine were some of the toughest times of my adult life, and it didn’t take long to realize that, despite current challenges, things in my life today are MUCH improved from the Blaine days. This gave me a wonderful perspective, and I took a moment to text my sister about this.

The outcall massage was with a kind and charming, newly retired woman at her and her husband’s beautiful townhouse. Both were as sweet as can be, and everything about the visit was smooth and easy. I left their house at 2:30 with my mood buoyed, but not looking forward to the hours still left in the afternoon.

Late afternoon and evening are my toughest times when I am feeling down. If I was a napper, I’d go home and sleep. But I don’t nap well, and I KNEW if I went home, I would feel restless and unsettled for the entire rest of the day. I had to do something transitional to get from afternoon into evening, and the gym had been on my to do list. I knew even as I drove there that this would be the hardest part of the day. 50 times on the drive there, I considered bailing. But I steered the car to an open parking spot, where I sat outside for a good ten minutes trying to convince myself to go in. You’d think I would be happy to get a workout in, but I don’t like gyms.  I MUCH prefer being outside, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to convince myself to go. Today, I wanted to bail so badly, but I also knew I would feel better if I went, and I had said I was going to do everything I planned to, and that was on the list.

After ten minutes, I made myself open the car door, drag in my bag with clothes, headphones, stuff to shower, the works. I figured if I could at least get the right clothes on, I might get into it. And if not, at least I could say I tried. Time slowed down, as all my actions became reluctant and unwilling. But I did all the upper body weights, then all my floor exercises and stretching that my physical therapist had given me months ago. That part of the workout took over an hour.

Then came the hardest part, hauling myself upstairs to get on the stationary bike. This, the aerobic workout, is where the best possibility of a mood change would come, as endorphins, no matter how reluctantly achieved, always help to elevate my mood. And riding the bike, while I really don’t like it, is something I can do safely and without foot pain. I told myself I’d do 40 minutes, and I ended up doing 50. It wasn’t my most stellar or ambitious ride, and it took me a long while to settle into it. But I did it, and, not surprisingly, felt considerably better after. The best I’d felt all day, in fact.  I showered, dressed, and returned home by 6:15 pm. I made cookies for a friend’s birthday tomorrow, made myself dinner, and sat down to write this post. I had done the day, everything I said I would, and that felt pretty darn good.

Taking stock, again.

How did it go?  Was my experiment a success? It was, in the sense that I did everything I set out to do. It also did everything with the best attitude I could under the circumstances. I am reasonably sure, no one knew how rough of a day I was having unless I let on. Some folks, like the meditation group, I could tell them I was having a hard day. Others, like the outcall couple, I just did my thing. Still others, like at the gym, I didn’t have to talk or interact with anyone, and I could be off in my own world and trying to sort out my own thoughts. On the whole, my mood did improve, and I proved to  myself that I can successfully do life even when I don’t feel like it. It’s not that I haven’t done it before — for all of us I’m sure, there are times when we just have to put our ‘noses to the grindstone’, as my dad would say, and do it anyway. On this day, however, I had choice to a degree, I could have bailed on some things, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to give it my best shot.  And my best shot ended up being not all that bad. It felt surprisingly good to show up, be present, and know that I did the best I could.

And now, I really CAN crawl back under the covers, and tomorrow IS another day.

 

NOTE: I’d love to hear how you manage days like this. What do you do to get through when you feel like doing anything but? 

 

 

Day 8 John Muir Trail

Rose Lake to Goddard Canyon Junction

Total JMT Miles  —  15.7          Side trip miles  —  3.5      Elevation gain/loss  —  +1450/-3000

Early morning at Rose Lake

Early morning at Rose Lake

I awoke early at Rose Lake after a night of relatively poor sleep. I had set up my tent on a slight downhill slant, and ended up sleeping with my head tilting down.  I had the feeling of a head rush all night, despite my best attempts to bolster with pillows, and consequently it was a rough night. I was ready to leave Rose Lake at 7:30.  I felt some sadness relinquishing my solitude, and took a last lingering look and photo of the lake backdropped by a cloudless morning.  I knew I had a very long day ahead of me. My plan after backtracking to the JMT was to knock off as many miles as I could, including a brief side trip to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR).  I needed to get in the miles, as I had an arrangement to meet my food drop party the following day at 5 pm at a designated spot. I had 27 JMT miles to where I was meeting them, and my logic was that, if I put in a long day on Day 8, about 19 total (counting side trips), that would leave me with just 11 for the following day. I really didn’t want to feel anxious about meeting them on time, and I was willing to push hard on day 8 to avoid that.

The conditions were good for putting in miles. The weather was clear, and, while there was one pass to climb, on the whole it was a day of more elevation loss than gain.

Marie Lake from Selden Pass approach

Marie Lake from Selden Pass approach

But 19 and miles is still 19 miles, and I wanted to stay focused and deliberate in my plan to pull it off. I was bolstered by the fact that the day’s mileage held the promise of several stellar lakes. The first lake I encountered was Marie Lake, and she’s a beauty. Rob and Marcus had camped at Marie Lake, and were still lingering in camp when I came up around 9:00.

I talked with them for awhile, taping my chafed shoulders and shooting the breeze about the backpacking life and our trail experiences of the past 24 hours. We had a relaxed, easy conversation as they packed up their camp, and I enjoyed the camaraderie immensely. I left them still packing, progressed around Marie Lake, and began the ascent to Selden Pass. The climb up the pass was easy, helped by the outrageous views looking back at Marie Lake as I went. It doesn’t get much better than that!

 

Celebrating the top of Selden Pass

Celebrating the top of Selden Pass

I reached the pass with ease.  Marcus and Rob arrived shortly after, and flew right on by. I stayed a bit, as I was thoroughly enjoying the peaceful morning and being on the pass. I didn’t want to rush off, but a goal is a goal, and I made myself get up and at ’em. After the initial steep descent off the pass, the trail passed by several other fabulous lakes and crossed and re-crossed their incoming and outgoing creeks. It’s here one starts to run out of superlatives, as the views in the area are breathtaking. Heart Lake is followed by Upper then Lower Sallie Keyes Lakes. As I hiked,  I felt like Alice dropped into a  wonderland of lakes, creeks, and peaks.  Pictures do more justice than words…

Marie Lake

Marie Lake

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Sallie Keyes Lakes

Sallie Keyes Lakes

Then, rather suddenly, the lakes were all gone and the going got tedious. It’s another long slog down the JMT to the cutoff to MTR, then another steep descent to get there. I had mixed feelings about going into MTR. It’s a strange resort, with a clear tier of acceptance. If you are a guest of the ranch, you pay dearly financially, but get to use all their amenities, including shower, toilet, meals, and a place to sleep. If you are a through hiker resupplying there, you can pick up your food, and peruse the vast food bins that are full of other hiker’s items they didn’t want or need, from food to TP to batteries…you name it, it’s there. You can take what you need and leave what you don’t want. You can also fill your water bottles  and shop in their very limited store as a resupplier, but you can’t use their bathroom.

Ashley and Marcus at MTR

Ashley and Marcus at MTR

Last year, we picked up a large, ten day food supply at MTR, which lasted us the rest of the trip. It was fun and interesting perusing the dozens of food buckets…I am convinced you could live off the food in those buckets for six months! This year, I had not mailed my food there, and my status was reduced to a mere nobody! I worried that I may not even be able to dump my garbage, but decided I would just do it anyway. I also wanted to see Ashley, Marcus, and Rob one more time. I was fearful that the two upcoming days with my friends who were hand delivering my food would put me far enough behind that I might not catch back up to them,  and I wanted to get their emails for future communication. And so, despite the intensely warm day (the temperature at MTR read 87 degrees!), I took the side trip. All was accomplished, as I did see the three soloists turned triad, and I got rid of my garbage. I left MTR at 2:00, to beat a hasty retreat back to the JMT and finish out the last 7 miles of my day.

It was a couple of miles after I returned to the JMT that I started getting “weird in the head” again. This had happened on Day 1, heading up Sunrise Mountain. It’s a hard feeling to explain, but I was lightheaded, spacey, and ungrounded, and felt like my head was almost disconnected from the rest of my body. None of those are good ways to feel while backpacking! This time, I attributed it to the heat more than anything else. Since I had just taken a break at MTR a couple miles before, I kept trying to keep going and ignore my weird head space. But I asked myself, is it worth it to stay mission oriented, if the result is to pass out or fall?  I realized that I just needed to take a break, and abandoned my determination. I dumped my pack, ate, drank, and sat. I still had about 5 miles to go, the last 4 uphill. I began to worry I might not be able to do it. I let myself give up the expectation that I HAD to do it, and decided I would check in with myself again at Piute Junction, a mile or so further along.

Backpackers relaxing at Piute Creek

Backpackers relaxing at Piute Creek

Piute Junction held special significance for me from last year, and I knew I would be STRONGLY tempted to stop there and camp. Piute Creek crashes down into enchanting pools, into which we had dunked the previous year, and it’s very soothing and relaxing. It also marks where the JMT leaves the John Muir Wilderness and enters Kings Canyon National Park. This boundary designates the High Sierras, and, the peaks just keep getting higher and the views more and more spectacular after that. But it’s also an uphill stretch from Piute Junction to Goddard Canyon Junction, where I was planning to camp. At Piute, I analyzed my options. One part of me wanted to keep going, and I knew I would feel better about the next day if I did. But I felt equally as pulled to stay and set up camp and reminisce. Last year after our swim I had done a solo day hike (the only one of the trip) up Piute Canyon while Gregg read in camp. I think in some way, my enjoyment of that solo hike planted the first seed of thought to do a solo trip of the JMT, although it would be four months after my return before that thought took concrete shape. I loved that afternoon hike, and I was drawn to the idea of just hanging and writing and remembering. But eventually my desire for a short day the next one won out, and I re-shouldered my pack and continued.

Soutn Fork of San San Juaquin River

Soutn Fork of San San Juaquin River

Views to keep you moving!

Views to keep you moving!

The last four miles were physically some of the hardest of my whole trip. I was tired, not mentally really there, and still feeling dizzy. I had food, water, and resolve, though, and that got me through. Also, the views looking down at the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, as it tumbled over the dark, metamorphic rock kept me satisfactorily enthralled, and on my toes. Drop offs were intense, and I made sure not to get too close in my dizzy head space. Finally I arrived at Goddard Canyon Junction about 6:00 pm. In my semi-desperation to be done with the day, I did not take time to look around, and took the first campsite I found. It was a crowded place, with large campsites shared among multiple users. I ended up camping at the edge of a site taken up by a large, multi-tent party with long clotheslines strung out across camp. Honestly, I was tired enough that I didn’t really care. I set up tent, cooked my dinner, and got in the tent even before dark to read and write. While I was certainly aware of the crowd of surrounding campers, I was spent enough that I didn’t really give them a second thought. I was proud of myself for doing the long day plus the side trip, and I went to bed tired but relieved that I had properly set myself up for the next day.

Highlights of the day

The contrasts of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, solitude and people.

It was unquestionably a day of big variety. I started out completely alone at a magical high elevation mountain lake. I witnessed and hiked past many more lovely lakes and crossed the streams heading into and out of them multiple times. I reached the top of a pass with unparalleled views. Then I headed down, down, down, into the heat of the day and the curious setting of MTR. I got email addresses from my friends, then left them at MTR to continue on alone. I struggled with my headspace and inclinations for the entire next 7 miles. I felt physically challenged but emotionally confident in pressing on. I knowingly slept amongst the masses as I was too tired to look for my coveted solitude.

My sense of accomplishment about the day…

On the whole, the feeling I had at the end of the day was satisfaction and great relief.  It was a bit of a stretch to get the 19 miles in, but it didn’t deplete me.  I didn’t run out of daylight, which of course I worried about, and I still had enough energy to set up camp and eat and do all the necessary end of day things.  I let myself feel the victory of a job well done, managing a day of calculated decisions that led to me being in the place I wanted to be at the time I wanted to be there.

Lessons of the day

Pay attention to the ground beneath you when putting down roots.

I learned a much bigger lesson at Rose Lake than just how to position my tent. Let’s face it, it’s not always flat out there! Sometimes we are forced into “setting up camp” when the ground is tilted or uneven. When that happens, it’s highly beneficial to set yourself up as carefully as possible at the outset, to maximize the possibility of comfort and ease. There are several things I COULD have done differently, both in my choice of site and in how I set up my “house”, which I didn’t realize until I was well into the night of challenge. First, I could have looked for a slightly different site, as there were others just a bit up that were flatter then the one I chose.  I was so happy to be at Rose Lake, I rather impulsively chose the biggest site, although in retrospect it may not have been the best. You know what they say about that…Secondly, in my site, I could have and should have set up my tent to angle down, head higher, feet lower. I simply didn’t think about it, and instead thought of where I wanted my head to be in relationship to the lake. How often in life do we act based on the thoughts and desires of our heads, not our hearts??  And finally, I could have reconfigured myself inside the tent early on in the night, once I realized my mistake. I could have turned around, literally, to reposition myself with head high and feet low. But I didn’t do that either, telling myself it was too much hassle and I should just tough it out. Like in life, a small adjustment early on could have entirely alleviated the following 8 hours of discomfort.

Trust your intuition.

I have a life-long habit of pushing things to the extreme, especially physically. I have trained for 5 marathons, and run zero because I got injured during training every time. I have struggled finding the balance between my desire to be physically active and accomplish great feats, and work with the orthopedically challenged body that I live in. It’s an ongoing day by day endeavor, and I came to the JMT with the resolve to NOT push too hard physically, so as to make sure I was enjoying the process and respecting my body physically. On this day, that boundary was blurred by my strong desire to get somewhere to set myself up for an easier something to follow. I asked myself over and over, should I stop or keep on? In the end, my intuition won out. I strongly felt that the satisfaction associated with being there would be worth the challenge to get there. And it was.

It’s all a matter of perspective…

It’s worth noting here what the range of time frames is in which people undertake the John Muir Trail. Some plan 30 or more days for the 220 miles. The fastest recorded record of a single person doing the trail (with support) is 3 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes! There is a lot of room in between those time frames. The “average” person plans 21 days. I planned 19 or 20, which equals out to about 11 miles a day. Incorporate in some side trips, and the average comes closer to 13 or so. I knew I had to average 14 in the first 9 days to reach my party on Day 9. That’s not counting any side trips. I felt challenged by 19 miles, but 14 felt fine. For some, 20 is a short day. Some choose long days in a very short overall time frame, so as to travel light and fast. Some choose short days in a long time frame, to really take it all in. I chose the middle ground. While intention is always good, flexibility, allowing for variation, and maintaining a positive outlook even when things don’t go as planned is what it’s really all about. I was to keep learning that lesson in the days and weeks to come.

A parting shot of the view from Selden Pass, courtesy of Adobe

A parting shot of the view from Selden Pass, courtesy of Adobe

Third and Final (mostly) Solo Backpack Trip before I go…

Ptarmigan Ridge and Chain Lakes Loop

For my third solo backpack trip, and final trip before heading out for the John Muir Trail, I wanted to get in some “serious backpack miles”. I was hoping to find a loop that would give me 14 – 17 miles on each of two days, with one overnight in between. I told myself that’s what I needed, to feel “completely ready”, and to give my legs, feet, and equipment one final test.  DSCF0187

But once again, some voice of reason inside me said, “No, Kathie, that’s not what you really need. Take it easy, don’t push so hard…just enjoy the heck out of this last experience before you embark on the big one…”  And so I did.

Trip Overview

I started at Artist Point, at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway. I did a straightforward trip to Ptarmigan Ridge with a friend on day one, then played on the Sholes Glacier below Mt. Baker for the remainder of the day. I spent the night at a private and hidden campsite on Ptarmigan by myself after my friend hiked out, with Mt. Baker as my guardian. For day two I did a longer route out, incorporating in Chain Lakes Loop. Back at my car, I did a final day hike of Lake Ann and went swimming.  The weather was absolutely perfect, and I had more views of  Baker, Shuksan, and multitudes of other peaks that I wish I knew the names of but can never recall. I don’t know if it’s possible to get enough of the magic of being so closely intertwined with all those peaks and in that environment, but I was darn close. I immersed myself from 8:30 am Wednesday until 6:30 pm Thursday into pure heaven.

Artist Point to Ptarmigan Ridge and Sholes Glacier

If you have never been to Artist Point, drop everything and go there! You can drive your car to the front row views of Mt. Baker and Shuksan, without having to hike at all. Or you can knock off an easy 1.2 miles on Huntoon Point loop, climb Table Mountain (3 miles steep but worth it), embark on Chain Lakes loop (6 – 8 miles, depending on how you do it), or take off for Ptarmigan Ridge (9 – 12 miles). On a sunny day in summer, anything is possible!

Beginning Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

Beginning Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

My friend and I hit the trail for Ptarmigan Ridge at 8:30 Wednesday morning. I carried both my backpack and some of his gear, as he does measurements on the Sholes Glacier and was hauling in drills and solar panels and other assorted heavy items. Point being, my pack was good and heavy, so I got to test that out. The vistas on this hike simply never disappoint. Neither words nor photos can do justice to the magnificence, but I will give it my best shot.

The trail DID have some steep snow traverses. Early on, I was tentative and felt uncertain. I had poles, but no crampons. Normally, I don’t feel anxious about snow, but with the weight of the pack, I noticed a tendency to feel off balance. I also noticed that the more we hiked on snow, the

One snow traverse at a time...

One snow traverse at a time…

more comfortable I became. Hiking on snow always brings fond memories of being in the mountains, of spring skiing, and multiple positive associations. In no time I was into a rhythm, and stopped worrying about slipping or falling. One step at a time, one snow field at a time.

The 4.5 miles to my designated camp site went quickly. We arrived before noon, and I dumped my backpack and went down to fanny pack for our glacier travel.

The time on the Sholes glacier was fun and informative. My friend measures snow loss and glacier melt by various means. He had been up there merely six days prior, and in that time frame, up to 20 inches of snow had melted off. It was great fun cavorting on the glacier, but sad to think of it’s decline. I enjoyed being there and learning about glacial melt-off, and what it means for the bigger picture. A humbling and awe-inspiring experience.

Sholes Glacier

Sholes Glacier

Glacier time!

Glacier time!

As we returned from the glacier, we were in for a real treat. A herd of 26 mountain goats were munching their way along the route back to my campsite. I have to say, I have seen many mountain goats in my time…but never a herd of 26, and never so fearless and close. What a great way to cap off a great day!

I kept thinking, it just couldn’t get any better. Back at camp, I set up my tent and made food. Each action witnessed by Mt. Baker, standing guard over me. I stayed up until sunset, as I knew the alpenglow on Mt. Baker and Shuksan would be fantastic. It did not disappoint…

Mt. Baker from my campsite

Mt. Baker from my campsite

Last light on Mt. Baker...

Last light on Mt. Baker…

And on Shuksan...

And on Shuksan…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out Ptarmigan and around Chain Lakes loop

I awoke Thursday morning, well rested and beyond content. I took my time packing up, and was on the trail by 8:30. I planned to incorporate Chain Lakes loop into my return hike, both because I wanted the extra backpack miles and because it’s simply a lovely trail. I have run this trail multiple times in my past when I could still run, and I have also snowshoed it one early June with my son. Positive associations and memories abound, and there was no way to go wrong on this beautiful day. I felt strong and capable, and again totally immersed myself in the experience. Here are some views along the way…

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Mt. Shuksan from Herman Saddle

Mt. Shuksan from Herman Saddle

Mt. Baker from top of Herman Saddle

Mt. Baker from top of Herman Saddle

From the trail...

From the trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I hiked the loop, I thought about how I have come to readiness for the upcoming John Muir Trail. I transported myself in my mind to the trail as I went up and over Herman Saddle, and ascended the top. I fluctuated back and forth between full presence in the moment, and visualizing myself on the upcoming trip. I ran into multiple hikers on Chain Lakes loop, some of whom I chatted with and shared my upcoming adventure. All of this helped the trip to take on a new reality.

It hit me that I am ready, and I am there!  I have done the preparations and tested the waters along the way. I have put in the miles, revised and refined the gear, and come to a place of acceptance with my physical self, limitations and all. The only way to describe how I felt as I completed this loop, back up to Artist Point, is to say that I felt at great peace. When I first set out on these solo hikes, I was worried and anxious. Now, completing my third and final, I felt confident and certain that I will be OK on the JMT.  I am ready.

 

For more information on these hikes:

Ptarmigan ridge trail

Chain Lakes loop

Table Mountain

Huntoon Point trail

4 of July Backpack Trip — Day 2

Day 2 — Day hike to Enchantments via Aasgard Pass

I awoke early Saturday morning, as is my normal habit while backpacking. Almost always I am awake before first light, and lie in bed waiting, watching, and listening…for daylight to come and the first birds to sing. At times I wish I was one of those people who could sleep in when circumstances allow for that. But that’s not my pattern, and I have come to accept that I will always be awake early and ready to get into whatever adventures the day holds. This day was no exception.

Retracing Stuart and up to Colchuck

I hit the trail early, before Shannon and Kevin even stirred. I left them a note, wishing them well at Horseshoe Lake, and saying I’d be back late afternoon or early evening. I didn’t have a time check, as I had no watch or phone. I made a mental note to purchase a watch before my John Muir trip in August, as I will be in a similar boat with  no phone reception.  Instinct told me I left camp about 7:00, and I was accurate enough. When I encountered the first hiker on the trail coming into Stuart, I asked him the time. It was 7:30. I knew I would have time to do whatever amount of hiking my soul desired and my body allowed.

The morning was quiet and contemplative, and I felt pretty good. I had doctored my left foot with a blister bandaid and tape to hold it in place, and it felt OK.  The trail out of Stuart is a great warm-up for a long day. Slightly downhill and very straightforward, it’s mindless and easy.  I reminded myself to enjoy it, as it was the last of the easy hiking until I hit it again in return after whatever else took place that day.  I kept a good pace and the 2.2 miles passed quickly.

The trail to Colchuck is a different story. It’s only 1.6 miles to the lake, then .6 around the lake to the base of Aasgard. But it’s somewhat steep, and full of roots, rocks, and obstacles. There is little to distract, although a nice waterfall provided a good picture op.

Waterfall from Colchuck Lake trail

Waterfall from Colchuck Lake trail

Otherwise, I occupied my mind with memories of past trips. This was my 6th time up Colchuck and Aasgard Pass.  The first time was with  my first husband, back in the rock climbing days and before kids. We climbed Prusik Peak, which is a stellar multi-pitch rock climb in the heart of the Enchantments. The second time I day-hiked it from Stuart when I was pregnant with Shannon; the third was a backpack trip with friends and co-workers when my kids were very young, and I left them at home with their dad for the first time ever.  The fourth was another backpack trip in my 30’s with my second husband, whom I almost killed off when he fell on his face at the top of Aasgard Pass from exhaustion; and the fifth was the thru-hike of the Enchantments two years previous. Now, at age 52, I felt good and reflective about how much life has changed since those early days, and yet I am still up to and loving the same sorts of activities. I felt grateful and blessed that I can still do it, and reminded myself again to enjoy each step along the way….even the harder ones to come.

Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass (left of peak)

Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass (left of peak)

One of my favorite views occurs when you first break out at Colchuck Lake. The lake is a deep green color, apparently from all the algae it contains. You can also see Aasgard Pass, and it looks just as intimidating as it is.

After a pause here, I continued around the lake, right by multiple campsites occupied by numerous hikers, and finally through the boulder field that is notoriously challenging. Soon I was at the base of the pass, where I ate, drank, and refilled water for the upcoming endeavor.

Up Aasgard and into the Enchantments!

I vowed to take it slow and steady up the pass. It’s steep, advertised as “2000 feet in 3/4 of a mile”. That distance, I swear, is if you head straight up. The “trail”, for what it’s worth, does not do so. It winds up and around cliffs, waterfalls and other obstacles impossible to navigate. The elevation gain I believe…the distance seems much farther than 3/4 of a mile. But as with so many other things in life, it just  is what it is, and it must be tackled one step at a time.

I stayed with the “route”, as much as possible, which is loosely defined by “cairns”. Cairns, if you are unfamiliar, are rock piles that hikers place to mark an otherwise not so obvious route. The problem with Aasgard is that there are many different “routes”, and sometimes following “lesser cairns” is not helpful and can get you off the “main” route. This often happens to me, for whatever reason, and I end up somewhere other than the most travelled path. This trip was no exception. I was trying to avoid the steep snow traverse on Aasgard, as I didn’t bring my poles. I am not sure why I left them behind…sometimes, I don’t like to hike with poles, and I want my hands free for other things. This trip was probably one time I should have brought poles, to help with the challenges both uphill and certainly down. But I didn’t, and the snow traverse made me nervous without them. So instead I went up and around, and got into some precarious bouldering. It wasn’t really dangerous but definitely not something I would choose again as a fall would have been dicey.

Colchuck Lake from Aasgard Pass

Colchuck Lake from
Aasgard Pass

At the top of my route deviation, I came upon four young guys laughing and playing and having a grand old time. They reminded me of the mountain goats that you see in abundance in the Enchantments…cavorting around, as if not a care in the world. At first I looked at them like they were crazy, then said hello. Their carefree attitude reminded me not to take myself so seriously…at no point had I felt at risk for my life, even when off course,  and sometimes my own  seriousness gets to me. “Lighten up, Kathie!”  was my motto as I continued on. At this point, I was back on the established route, and the route was quite obvious for the remainder of the pass. I topped out at 7800 feet shortly thereafter.

The views from the top are magnificent. You can see down to Colchuck, out to the Upper Enchantment lakes, as well as multiple peaks and stellar rock formations all around. It’s simply other-worldly, as if you have entered a different universe entirely. I climbed to and sat on the very highest rock, and enjoyed it all. I felt on top of the world! The same four guys came up shortly after, still laughing, talking, and now taking photos. I asked them the time (11:15), and where they were from. They were Navy guys, stationed at Whidbey, out on a long weekend.

Sitting on top of the world!

Sitting on top of the world!

We chatted and they took some photos of me and I of them. They were through hikers, headed out via Snow Lakes with a car at that trailhead. They invited me to join them…I felt flattered, and wished I could. But I told them I would have a very worried daughter back at Stuart Lake if I didn’t return that evening.

The Enchantments are, well, enchanting. Words cannot do the magnificence proper justice; nor can pictures. The upper lakes on this day were mostly snow covered, with glimpses of them a deep aqua hue. Mountain goats are always plentiful in the area, and this early in the season, the babies were young, small, and adorable.

Momma and babies

Momma and babies

Mostly snow covered lakes

Mostly snow covered lakes

I dropped down over snowfield after snowfield, getting farther into the Upper and Middle Enchantments basin. I didn’t want to turn around, but I also didn’t want to linger too long as I still had to retrace my steps and do everything in reverse.  I went as far as the overlook to Prusik Peak, and had a hiker take a photo.

Prusik Peak

Prusik Peak

Prusik is beautiful, and seeing it made me nostalgic for the good old rock-climbing days. I felt satisfied enough at this point to turn back, and began the snow ascent back to the top of Aasgard Pass.

Down Aasgard — during a helicopter rescue!

I said a final goodbye to the goats and the lakes before heading back down. I had decided to go across the snowfield on the way down, as it seemed the best route even without poles. I stayed true to the course in the upper half of the descent. I crossed the snowfield using my uphill hand as a balance point, and took it slowly and carefully. The grade is steep enough that a fall would be bad, so I made sure to stay focussed.

Shortly after the snow traverse, I started hearing the distant noise of a helicopter. At first it didn’t really register, but soon it was obvious what it was as the noise drew ever closer. A helicopter in that area can only mean one thing: search and rescue. I was instantly on guard, and soon the helicopter was hovering right in front of me, just a bit down the pass. I watched with amazement as a rope was lowered, and just as quickly a stretcher was apparently tied on and airlifted up and out. It happened so fast, and I found myself wondering what had gone on. An accident of some sort, no doubt, but they swooped in and out with incredible speed. As I was trying to puzzle all of this out,  I discovered that I had gotten distracted and off route — again. This time, I was, perhaps subconsciously, headed towards the side of the pass where the rescue had taken place. I found myself in amongst steep trees with no cairns, and staring down a long and steep snow field to the left of me. I could see the rescue crew down below, and they were clearly not on any established route. It freaked me out, surmising just how such an accident could take place. Get a bit off the trail, think you can keep working your way down, take a fall and off you go!

I immediately turned around and headed back up. Soon I heard voices above me and knew I was almost back on the route. It shook me up, not because I felt I would actually fall and get hurt, but because I could see how it could happen. I paid close attention after that, and continued working my way down.  I felt grateful to be navigating with all body parts intact.

A short bit farther down, I caught up with the rescue crew (three men and two rangers). I asked them what had happened, and learned that a dead body had just been removed from the pass. Apparently, a hiker had slipped and glissaded over a waterfall four weeks previous, and his body had been buried too deeply in snow to evacuate at the time. The three men, all volunteers who did not know the hiker, had hiked in to dig out the body when enough snow had melted. The rangers helped facilitate the helicopter evacuation of said body. Again, this really impacted me, and I kept thinking about it as I finished the descent of the pass. I have hiked for so long without serious injury, and never think something like that will happen. But there was something about being right there that brought it all home, the realization that you can never be too careful in that type of environment.

Down Colchuck, back to Stuart, and straight into the lake!

After the events on the pass, I just wanted to be done with the day. I got my feet wet coming around the lake on the way back, and my tape job worked it’s way off. I had a mess of tape all balled up at the toe, and I stopped to re-tape before heading down from Colchuck. I didn’t use a blister bandaid, though, telling myself it was less than four miles total. My foot complained loudly at each step of those four miles, and the pain really started to get to me. So did my fatigue from the day, and I started to get cranky. There were also tons of people on the trail, which meant lots of starting and stopping to let others pass. I kept my wits about me, but had to work to keep myself from feeling frustrated.

Finally I was at the Stuart turn-off, and into the last 2.2 miles back to camp. At this point, I knew I would make it, and my thoughts turned to jumping right into the lake when I returned. The day had been warm, and I felt sweaty, sticky, and dirty. The image of the lake and jumping in kept me going at a good pace, and I made it back to camp by 6:00, before Shannon and Kevin even returned from their day at Horseshoe Lake. I was truly exhausted after the 15 + mile day, and I jumped in the cool water with all my clothes on. It was refreshing and healing for my tired body and very sore feet.

Dinner followed my swim and Shannon and Kevin’s return. We swapped stories of the day, and made plans for the next one. I told them as much as I could about the route, conditions, and degree of challenge we would all face should we decide to go up Aasgard the next day. Both Shannon and Kevin really wanted to go, and, since I had promised I would go another round, we made plans for an early start that next day. I went to bed with seriously aching feet, a great sense of accomplishment, a sobered sense of what it means to hike in the mountains…and more than a bit of trepidation about doing it all over again the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

The (non-backpacking) Birthday

To me!

To me!

Today is my 52nd birthday. I had planned to go on my first solo overnight backpack trip yesterday and celebrate my birthday somewhere in the mountains today. But I opted not to go, and I wanted to share my reasons why.

Avoiding confronting fear, or listening to common sense?

I had been planning for two weeks to do the overnight Wednesday and Thursday this week. Some reservations started creeping in, and I began questioning my desire to go. By the time Tuesday night rolled around, I knew I had to make a decision whether or not to go on a solo overnight trip. Although part of me wanted to go, and I definitely felt like I should go, I was waffling on several accounts:

At trails end, before the rain

At trails end, before the rain

First, I was concerned about the weather. The forecast called for rain Wednesday night and all day Thursday. My desire to tent in the rain is slim to none, and I avoid it if at all possible. I know it’s likely I will experience rain on the JMT sometime this summer, but I didn’t want to encounter inclement weather on my first trip out alone. And the snow level, while rising, is still relatively low, and I knew I might have a hard time finding a suitable overnight trip that didn’t put me into snow.

Second, I was having some additional trouble with one of my feet, a holdover from December’s Bunionectomy. I had a very painful and discouraging Monday, and questioned the wisdom of adding pack weight onto an already troubled foot. I tried telling myself I could ignore the pain, and that I should go anyway.  But really what I wanted to do was  pay a visit to the physical therapist for an orthotic adjustment before hiking with any additional weight on my back.

Third, I simply wasn’t feeling it. I went into a thought process of really asking myself, “What do I most WANT to do?” I knew no one had a gun to my head telling me I had to go out overnight. I knew I was struggling with the “should” mentality…”I should go, I said I would go; I should test my foot, if not now then when; I should celebrate this birthday in the mountains, it’s the right thing to do”….and round and round I went in my mind.

As I was discussing these things with a friend Tuesday evening, I stated that I wasn’t clear if was reluctant to go because I didn’t want to confront my fear of backpacking alone, or because common sense indicated that it wasn’t the right timing…yet. She simply said “I don’t hear anything in there about avoiding fear…your reasons all sound like common sense to me.”

In that moment, I realized she was right. It didn’t indicate failure or even avoidance if I chose to listen to my intuitive voice and my body. The messages to stay home, chill out, and let myself off the should-hook were loud and clear!

What I did instead…

Trail's getting wet!

Trail’s getting wet!

With the choice made, I enjoyed a very nice two days off.

Wednesday, the weather was nice, and I questioned briefly my decision to stay put. But I enjoyed the sunshine by picking wild blackberries on Galbraith Mountain, one of my favorite summer time activities. I made pie with the berries, and passed it on as a thank you to a good friend. I had an evening hike and nice dinner with another good friend. I went to bed happy.

I awoke this morning even happier when I heard the rain.  The poor weather had delivered after all, and I felt redeemed! I spent a rainy day going to the physical therapist for that orthotic adjustment, and hanging out with my kitties. Inspired by a post on a friend’s website Bellingham Walks about walking in the rain, I ventured out late afternoon for a hike at the  Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve. What started out as decently dry turned into a downpour by the end of my five-mile hike, and I got soaked. It was lovely and peaceful, though, and I don’t mind hiking in the rain, as long as I know I can get dry!

I finished off my birthday out to dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend. We discussed plans for our upcoming backpack trip over the Fourth of July, which looks like it will be my first trip for the season. The solo trip will have to wait…and that’s OK. I know I made the right decision, and that feels good. I showed respect to my body, nurtured my soul, had good friend and family time…and let mother nature get some rain out of her system for sunshiny days to come.

 

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