Road Crew

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Single Girl's Guide to Thanksgiving

It’s thanksgiving.  My day looks like this:

Yes, I have paired it down to the essentials because if you are celebrating solo, no one will know if you bought cheap wine and pie from the store. If you are feeling indulgent, add a rotisserie chicken and a can of potato soup.  After the bottle of wine, you won’t even taste the difference!
The question you are all asking is, how did it come to this?  Like any holiday, there was some good old-fashioned maneuvering for a place at the table.   This shifted a good number of times this year in my family.  The only thing I was committed to was making myself available to the family for the first time in many years for ALL the holidays, wherever they might be.  Travel to the East Coast during the busiest travel time of the year? Sure, why not? Stay in Sedona to keep parents company? That’s fine!
 For various reasons, all these options caved in front of me with less than two weeks to go.  It didn’t help that I threw a little poorly timed dynamite into my relationship to watch it explode right before Thanksgiving as well.  That left me with exactly no place at any table.  Honestly, I am a little relieved.  I still appear young and hip enough that I have not yet reached the level of spinsterhood that warrants a pity invite.  Cheers!
Face it: a good 50% of America would love to be in my shoes.  This year I will not be groped by TSA.  I will not have to politely listen to Uncle Cracker toast America’s new found greatness.  I will not have to share a bathroom. Grandma’s dinner rolls were always a little dry and Aunt Jane’s salad never did much for me anyway.  This year I won’t have to lie about it.  There is much to be thankful for!
Fortunately this year has left me well practiced at wandering by myself. I planned on Utah to nab Capitol Reef National Park but at the last minute, even the weather turned uninviting.  Undeterred, I headed to Death Valley.  This way I could say that I was in the lowest and most desolate place I could be on Thanksgiving just to layer on the guilt to anyone that asks.
I had the privilege of being present for one of the three days it rains here.  I lay in bed at night listening to it ping off my aluminum roof while thinking of the blanket I left out on the picnic table. I imagined a sopping mess in the morning and worried how I would get it dry before having to pack it away.  No worries.  As it turned out, it evaporates at the exact rate it rains, which means that while it was raining, I folded and stowed a perfectly dry blanket.  I am still entranced by this bit of magic.  Perhaps this explains the price of ice. Death Valley will be memorable for several things not the least of which is the premium on any frozen object.  At twice the price of a gallon of California gas, it is hands down the most expensive ice I have ever purchased. I suppose trying to keep ice frozen while hauling it through one of the hottest places on earth will do that but, damn, it’s not like it turned to wine once it melted.  Ice cream might as well be gold.  Good thing I brought pie!
So raise a glass and a fork! It’s Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Mesa Verde

You are much more likely to find me out on a trail than a museum but one thing I can say for the parks is that their ranger programs have been universally excellent.  Each time I walked away feeling like I had a much greater understanding and appreciation of the park.  They are really able to pull together the history, geology, climate, and ecology that makes me think, yes, I definitely picked the wrong profession.  I have never wanted to wear poorly fitted, forest green pants so much in my life.
In some parks like the caves or Mesa Verde, a tour is almost required to get up close and see the best stuff.  I always have mixed feeling about this.  It reminds me of middle school or high school when you love the book you read for English class but then discover you have to do a group project on it.  To compound the problem, the teacher would assign the groups so you knew she would pair you with one of the “under performers” to even things out, as if my spending time with these students would suddenly inspire them to crack open the book and want to dissect the symbolism rather than just reduce me to spending a class period explaining the plot to those that could not be bothered with Cliff Notes.

Tour groups in the parks have a way of attracting the same range of abilities, intellectual and physical. First you have the many retired couples.  They are usually active if not fit types that I am accustomed to from the campground circuit.  They are quick to strike up personal conversations that usually border on the intrusive.  “Alone?  Why are you here alone?  What happened?”  
There is a least one person that has been there before and tries to impress the ranger with her extensive, if questionably accurate, knowledge based on their one visit 15 years ago. 
There are two families.  One has the bored looking teenagers with glassy eyes and headphones on. The other has the 3 children ranging from 10 to infant.  The only thing interrupting the 4 year-old’s chatter is the intermittent screeching of the infant which we all pretend is not making it hard to hear the ranger. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how active and fit everyone is in the group, if there is that one person with a cane or oxygen, you will not be going any faster than that. 

This became a critical factor in Mesa Verde. Unlike in the good old days of 1280, they don’t make you free climb the rock walls to get into the houses.  Instead there are a series of ladders and steps to get up and down.  I am not great with heights.  This means, yes, I have been known to panic when given time to contemplate the possibility of failure.  I do okay when I just go for it (See Crater Lake).  However, being in line with 40 people climbing a 32 foot ladder means being stuck 20 feet in the air while someone else has a panic attack.  Those seem to be infectious.  It starts taking a lot of will power to not grab the ankles of the guy above me to pull him off so I can just get to the top already.

The experience gave me a lot of respect for the Indians.  I barely survived 2 hours with my groups and they made it almost 100 years!

Monday, October 10, 2016


Most of the time I have no idea what day it is on these trips. Weekends and weekdays blend together.  The only indication that something has changed is how full the campground is but given that it is late in the season and the crowds have died down, even that isn’t much of an indicator.  Another issue is that I am covering a lot of new ground, meaning that sometimes (often) I am not sure where I am or where I am going exactly.  I have some glimmer into the lives of the retired.  I can only conclude that as a physician I have been blatantly unfair to every disoriented old man I have ever evaluated.  Instead of trying to assess if someone is oriented to person, time and place, perhaps it would be better to ask how many holes on a golf course or who is your golf pro? Not exactly verifiable but probably more accurate given their day to day activity.
I say this because today felt like a Monday and as I belatedly discovered, it is!
This morning I woke up on the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  The sunrise was golden and deer were nibbling on grass outside of my camper.  It was so perfect and, yet, I could not drag myself out of bed.  Even a run had no appeal. I had no need to rush out of the park but after giving myself vertigo just looking down into the abyss and lacking the proper equipment to play Spiderman along the shear walls of the canyon, I had little left to do but move on.  But where?  After years of training in scientific study and logical analysis, this is where I look at a map and say, well, that sounds nice.  Durango it is.
Then Garmin happened.  That bitch insists on the most direct route even if it happens to completely avoid the place that I would like to casually eyeball on my way through to evaluate for fine men, good breweries and cozy camping spots.  Nope, the General is all business.  She has one directive.  Get there as quick as possible.  With that I found myself in Cortez, just 8 miles from Mesa Verde but an hour from Durango.  At this point I had a small melt down.  I admit, I may have been  “hangry” given that I had skimped breakfast expecting to run just a few hours down the road and now it was well beyond lunch, but admittedly this was an all out temper tantrum.  I had a hastily made plan and it had been completely obliterated by a heartless electronic device.  To make matters worse, in the back ground was a series of arm twisting texts and emails from desperate managers to come back and work for obscene amounts of money.  I was feeling both guilty and greedy.  I sat on the side of the road shedding a few tears out of general anxiety and indecision.  Just go home, take a hot shower and make some money, I told myself.  Fortunately my inner B*$# calmly took a swig of wine, raised one eyebrow and said, “what the #@%*?  Where are your priorities?” I do know my priorities and work is definitely not one of them.  I headed into the park.
After settling in, I dutifully headed out to run.  It just happened to be 5 hours later than planned and it took about a mile to figure out that there was simply no gas in the tank.  No worries.  I kept going.  At least I did until I found myself on top of a deserted mesa with fresh bear scat and paw prints.  Given my hypoglycemia and general anxiety throughout the day, paranoia set in.  I only had another 5 miles to go.  I could do it. Finally I was hallucinating hippos and bears. THEN I headed home.

All this to say, you know it is Monday when after all that, the highlight of the day was the campground shower which was in a dark, tiled closet that smelled of urine but I could stand up and had unlimited hot water.  Absolute bliss.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Great Sand Dunes

I have probably said it before but I will say it again.  I hate sand.  It gets into everything: your shoes, your clothes, your food, small crevices that are impossible to clean.  You can reminisce about trips taken to the beach literally years later as you once again hopelessly vacuum the car.  So of course I would find myself in the nation’s largest sand box, Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It is quite possibly the only sand box large enough for us to all play nice in.  We are not talking a beach here.  It is sand piled hundreds of feet high, demanding to be climbed and with the instinct of a retriever, I dutifully climbed.  One purpose of seeing all the parks is to appreciate their great diversity but diversity does not come without challenges.  It sometimes means doing things that I would rather not do.  That said, I am pleased to be done with the caves and gave a small prayer of thanks that beaches are not the prevailing ecosystem of the national parks.
I set out for the top of the dunes shivering.  It had been a good many months since I had seen 32 degrees.  I was not well dressed for this adventure.  I admonished myself again for poor planning.  It seemed to be the theme for this particular trip.  I had pushed it off from August to September and finally to October.  I probably would have pushed it off once again except for the imminent threat of snow got me a bit motivated.  As cozy as the teardrop is, hauling the thing over an icy pass seemed suicidal.  Even then, I had doubts and guilt about leaving.  Maybe I shouldn’t go or maybe I should shorten the trip? It is hard to ignore the responsibilities of adulthood but as it turns out, this, too, can be overcome with diligent practice!  In one last burst of will power, I threw everything into the car and punched the gas to get as many miles as possible between me and a reasonable chance of turning back.
In my haste to leave as well as complications due to camper repairs, I had not charged the camper and so the fridge had not cooled.  This meant there was no point in going to the grocery store before leaving but that also left me without dinner the first night.  I also failed to refill the water tanks before leaving my first camp.  This left me with about 5 gallons with which to shower, flush and wash dishes.  The dishes are very dirty. I also failed in my pick of camping spot.  My habit is to pick something with plenty of shade and privacy but with a new solar panel, the mantra is now “expose yourself.”  I’m sure I will be making new friends in no time.

At the top of the dunes, my shoe was full of sand to the point it felt two sizes too small and was rubbing.  I stopped to empty it.  Was this really what I wanted to be doing, shivering in the sand?  I have always been a goal oriented person.  I like big projects but occasionally half way through I think maybe I picked the wrong project (i.e. medical school).   Maybe I should have brought someone along to share the discomforts?  I returned from my wonderings to comfort myself with a bowel of chicken noodle soup and a cider.  I felt even better after a hot shower. I considered having to share my five gallon shower and maybe being alone wasn’t so bad after all.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Grand Canyon

My parents called me in June with a plan to float the Grand Canyon.  Did I want to join?
Of course!  That is certainly the ultimate national park adventure, is it not?  When are you thinking?  Next year?
Nope.  Next month.
What can only be described as a miracle, there were seats available on a trip in July.  People wait for years for this opportunity and in 24 hours I was looking at a packing list for a week of rafting.  It took another 24 hours for it to sink in that I had just signed up for my worst nightmare: camping (the poop in a bucket and sleep under the stars type) on sand (I hate the beach) with a bunch of strangers (there is a reason I travel solo).
I also knew how very important this was to my mother.  I suggested that we take a tour of all the gorgeous historical lodges of the parks where there would be flush toilets and fine dining but this was her choice.  So I buckled my life jacket and prepared to be soaked.
Clearly Hollywood producers are not the outdoorsy types that have discovered the Grand Canyon because otherwise we would have a reality show about 32 strangers that decide to spend a week floating down a river, shitting in the same bucket and attempting to get along under primitive conditions.  The material would be rich and endless. 
First, you would have to contemplate the type of people that would choose this sort of adventure in the first place.  Athletic, nature lovers? As it turns out, not really.  From a well-known blue grass singer to a house cleaner and from families to singles, it spanned a remarkable range of backgrounds, ages and reasons for taking on the challenge.  They were not exactly the people I would choose to have should a true emergency occur and be forced to depend on their capabilities. Fortunately we had four grungy, bearded, alcoholic guides who I developed complete faith in to get us through.
Days were spent alternating between shivering from the cold water and baking in the heat.  There was no happy medium.  A shower consisted of a dunk in the dirty water.  Sand was ubiquitous: in your clothes, between your sheets, flavoring every bite. 
But for 6 days we rode a roller coaster Disney could never match. In between, there was 24/7 viewing of the most stunning scenery I have ever encountered. It is so hard to grasp what Grand means until you have experienced it at that level. I am beyond privileged to have the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon in such an intimate way. 
After a shower and with ice in my beverage, I contemplated the trip. We laughed and ate and let the world spin on without us for a week.   It was awesome.  I am so glad I did it.  I am so glad it is over.


After two surgeries, chemo and radiation, my father had no evidence of cancer for a year but every three month check up we held our breath and hoped that our luck wouldn’t change. In June we received official word that my father’s cancer was back.  Like many patients and families with cancer, it was a hard dose of reality.  We did not win the cancer lottery.  The odds were never in our favor.
            I received this news in June sitting on the pier in Port Angeles, Washington while visiting Olympic National Park.  I was in the midst of an epic journey that I had given everything up for including my running and my job and the only place I really wanted to be was home.  In part, my father’s cancer had inspired and prompted the trip.  So many people I met along the way waited until retirement to do this but cancer had not waited for my father’s retirement so there was clearly no guarantees that I was going to make it that long. I also knew that the risk of reoccurrence was sooner than later.  I took my trip with some urgency hoping to complete it before cancer might make its appearance again.  I do a lot of racing but never before have I lost a race with such significant consequences.
            The reality was that there was no point in rushing back. There was a lot that needed to be done before any treatment could start.  My job was to be home in time to join my parents on a trip down the Grand Canyon, one last adventure before chemo threw our lives into uncertainty.  During the long drive home, I could already feel the anxiety creeping in, the same suffocating feeling I got before every shift.  The spontaneity and freedom I allowed myself on the road was wiped out as I considered where to live and work when I returned while supporting my parents.  There was no question that I wanted to be there for my parents but with it was a cold plunge back into the life I had tried to escape from.
            Doubt crept in that I would be able to complete my task.  I was stuck at 33 parks.  Would the remaining 26 remaining parks be mysteries forever?  I gave myself a deadline to see them all because I never wanted this goal to be left to “someday”.  I fought a feeling of failure.  My grand plan was crashing down.  With it, I lost my voice and my ability to write.  I could find no words sufficient to express my anxiety, frustration, and more than anything, my fear of losing my father. 
            Chemo has started.  With it have come complications, both expected and unexpected. I have spent a lot of time over the last month sitting, waiting, and thinking, not unlike how it was in the parks other than this time I am in a gorgeous place called Sedona and hanging out with my parents.  Oddly, I find myself feeling the exact same thing I felt in the parks: I am right where I need to be right now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The teardrop tour has returned to Tucson after 15,000 miles and 20 parks visited.  It has been quite the adventure.  I am grateful for the many people that helped out in big and small ways along the way.  More than anything it has been such a pleasure to catch up with old friends.
As much as I planned, the tour always threw in a few unexpected twists and now that thing called Life just threw in an even bigger one.  I plan to continue to check off the parks but will need to do it in smaller chunks for the next few months.  Stay tuned!  I will continue to be posting reports but will not be as frequent.  Sign up for an email alert to tell you when something gets posted.
Thanks always for following along!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Home field advantage

            I am sure that there are many who would turn up their nose at living in my little camper.  Indeed, many snide comments have been made about just how claustrophobic they would be if they had to be in there even one minute.  Sure there are drawbacks. There is the limited storage space so, gosh, you can only carry what you actually need and not what you kind of like, want, might need, just in case and for an emergency bring along.  There is the risk of being exposed to temperatures outside of the range of, say, 72-76 degrees Fahrenheit.  There is the occasional inconvenience of figuring out where to park your house.  There is no squeezing into a tight spot or subtly leaving it somewhere hoping that no one notices.  Of course, it has limited guest rooms so that may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on who’s invited.
            But there are so many advantages to carrying your own house with you.  Housekeeping is greatly abbreviated.  I require neither vacuum nor ironing board. I simply haul it over to the car wash and spray it down once a week just like the car. I am greatly enamored with the benefits of a high-pressure wash.  I feel like more things could benefit from its thoroughness including bathrooms and small children.
            Second, you never have to check into a hotel and wonder how clean the sheets are.  How many studies have been done now showing that this is one of the most disgusting things we expose ourselves to on a regular basis?  We all go in with the delusion that this is a private room and, thus, it must also be sterile. And this is coming from someone whose favorite things to do is pop abscesses.  At least in the camper you already know it has been a month since the last time you were willing to part with 16 quarters but you also know no one else had been dirtying the sheets.
            Finally and most important, there is the bliss of having your own bathroom.  Yes, you can sit there as long as you want without arousing suspicion or wondering if the person next to you will leave first.  If you run out of paper, it is your own damn fault.  The only person that peed on the seat was you.  And of course the big bonus is that when in North Carolina you can skip the genital exam.  But really it comes down to not having to wait, for anyone or anything.  Let’s admit that the last thing you want to do when you have to go to the bathroom is wait in line, find out you need a key, wait in another line to get that key, wait in line with the key to have some mother with three kids beg to go in front of you because her 4 year old can’t hold it any longer so that when you get there you have a wet seat where her three toddlers missed and the bathroom looks like it has been toilet papered by teenage hooligans so that there is none actually on the roll.  I no longer participate in the bathroom circus.  I have peed in rest stops. I have peed while pumping my gas.  I have peed in the parking lot after getting my groceries.  I have simply pulled over to the side of the road and peed.  I consider this a HUGE upgrade from the tree that I have historically settled for.

            While I probably won’t make it onto MTV’s Cribs or be the highlight of the historical home tour, I will never have to stand in line for a dirty throne and that, my friends, is living large.   

Friday, July 1, 2016

Elk crossing

I assumed I had left the zoo behind.  The quantity and diversity of wildlife in Theodore Roosevelt, Tetons, and Yellowstone spoiled me.  By the time I left Montana, I resigned myself that nothing else would offer up quite as much excitement.  This was reinforced by the relative paucity of animals I saw in North Cascades, Olympics and Rainier.  The good times were behind me and ahead lay California, which has no shortage of wildlife but none that I regarded as warm and fuzzy.
However, checking into the camp near the Redwoods, I was asked to sign a waiver.  This is not such an uncommon practice as the national parks are quite adamant about keeping a clean camp so as not to attract hungry wildlife that would turn the campground into a buffet.  All those had been for bears.  This waiver was regarding the elk, oh and yes, sometimes a bear or mountain lion wanders by, too, but her great concern was for the elk.  I don’t exactly think elk when I am at the beach but I took her for her word.  She also advised me that people “fight” over my campsite because it gets the most elk traffic, so I was to be sure to look out my camper before stepping outside in the morning so as not to step on any elk.  My campsite had plenty of evidence of hoofed beasts and the place smelled like a barn so maybe this wasn’t so far off.
Indeed there were 40 elk hanging out the next morning.  And you can imagine my disappointment that they had not chosen my campsite, making them the only people that have expressed no interest in the teardrop.  They were clear across the gravel path in the site directly opposite of mine, probably avoiding their own piles of shit as I am attempting to do with varying success.  They settled in like they owned the place.  My return from my day of sightseeing found them in very nearly the same spot.  All was going well until 4 large bulls decided to saunter through.  This had the ladies all up and prancing.  It is good to know that flirting has no biological boundaries.
What was most disturbing was watching the herd attempt to cross a busy highway to get to water.  National parks have a slow speed limit for a reason.  They say they want you to slow down to see the animals but really they want you to not hit them.  I have learned to enjoy going a bit slower and it makes it one of the more challenging parts of returning to civilizations.  Unfortunately, the Redwoods were cobbled together through an accumulation of land donations, state parks and national park designation in a sad scrambled to save the last of the trees.  However enough development had occurred that the end result is a narrow, winding highway through the park areas with a 65mph speed limit.  The herd is left playing leapfrog through a race course. I was shocked by the impatience of motorists who would honk and accelerate by frightening the poor animals who really just needed a drink of water.  Even the police vehicle, who had the power to really hold up traffic and just let them cross, did the same.  I was subject to this same impatience this morning when I stopped for a herd crossing the road.  Trucks behind me blared their horns and attempted to maneuver around me.  It is amazing how brave they can be up against these animals as they sit behind one ton of steel.  Somehow I don’t think that they would be quite so aggressive without it.  It is a little disheartening to see so many people with so little regard for magnificent wildlife that they saw it as a hindrance to their day instead of a special addition. 

So as it turns out, it’s a zoo in California, too, but at they have some nice animals at least.

Taking the plunge

As I said before, getting to Crater Lake is no cakewalk.  I am not talking about the lovely scenic drive.  I speak of the shear cliffs that guard the circumference.  There is a reason the water is so clean.  Only a few fools can manage the steep trail down and fewer still find motivation to soak their dirty bodies in the ice water.  And that is exactly the spot I was in as I sat contemplating the blue water: unmotivated. I can assure you that not every day is a high but every day seems to have and unexpected twist and today was no different.
            My visit to Crater Lake has been longer than absolutely necessary to see the park but with the extra time, it has become an odd vacation within my vacation.  It is a rare place that I am content to simply sit and watch the water be blue.  And I keep going back to do that for hours at a time, sometimes twice a day, just to watch the light change over the water.  It soothes me as I tend to the darker, dusty corners of my mind.  With increasing pressure to return home, there is the increasing anxiety about what to do next with my life.  I had wrongly assumed that becoming a doctor meant I had a career that had intrinsic meaning.  I learned much too late that there is a great difference between taking care of someone and caring for someone.  How do you create a meaningful life?  And why is it that I struggle to keep relationships glued together?  People do it all the time.  Is there something wrong with me?  And what happens if time runs out before I am ready to say goodbye to the man that means the most to me?
            I sat and watched a large family jump off the cliff into the icy water.  Some went with little prompting while others stood for long periods worried about all the possible outcomes.  At over 1900 feet deep, there is certainly plenty to consider.  It would take me 2:06 minutes to run that depth on a really good day and there haven’t been a lot of really good days lately.  But the reality is that no one was going down that far and the only real guarantee is that you are going to get wet.  
            A man finally walked up next to me with his lunch.  We watched the antics and discussed the variations of technique.  He is a ranger in the park and I invited him to have lunch with me.  He excitedly told me of his plans to come fish and jump off the same cliff tomorrow.  I expressed my fear of heights and the fact that I had been sitting there for over an hour and had pretty much made up my mind that this was just not going to happen for me.  I had hoped to simply wade in slowly.
            “It will always gnaw at you that you never did it and it will be unfinished business.”
            He was right. Maybe the future does not work out as I want but right then I had the chance to be sure that when I look back, the past was as good as it could be.  Life does not always give you the option of wading in.  You might as well choose to enjoy the rush. I ran and jumped off, unwilling to look down into the endless blue and depths of possibilities I cannot imagine.  There will always be the hard, cold truth in the end but there will also be the pride of taking a chance and flying, if only for a moment.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Crater and Critters

Crater Lake is known for its perfect blue waters and there really is nothing quite like your first view of it as you peer over the edge.  It is like looking into God’s own swimming pool. As tempting as it is to jump in, the 1000 foot cliffs tend to keep out the unwashed masses. It is also amazing to thing of think of what it once was and what sort of explosion took it down. Morbid curiosity has me wondering what would happen should it ever get bored and decide to explode again. Portland could start a whole new industry in steam baths.  For now it is still under snow so unfortunately running at 7000 feet was not in the cards for me.  Shucks.
            Crater Lake is not without its wildlife and they are known to be aggressive. I have yet to experience Alaskan Mosquitoes, which are supposed to be as big as their bears, but I will give the Oregon Mosquitoes credit for drawing a lot of blood.  I may need a transfusion by the time it is over.  It is probably a good thing I don’t want kids because it will be a miracle if I don’t have Zika by the time this is over.  I finally broke down and went to the camp store looking for a (final) solution for the little bastards.  I selected a large citronella candle and considered various ointments, lotions and potions.  The clerk was an overly helpful, up-in-your-business type.  This was tolerable while we were discussing my fire making skills and his suggestions for improvement.  However, when it came to the mosquitoes, he deemed my strategy all wrong.  Outside of an oncologist office, I have never seen someone so adamant about bathing yourself in poison.  The only solution is DEET, according to this man.  When I expressed my reluctance, he rolled his eyes and told me I would be back tomorrow for “the real stuff” because the DEET is fine, “just” as long as you don’t eat it or breath it.  It desperately made me want to know what he did for a living before he retired to be a summer clerk in a national park.  Marketing?  Sales?  Torture?
            I’m sure he meant well since Oregonians believe in helping each other.  For example, at the gas stations, there is someone there to pump your gas.  This is something I find incredibly awkward when I pull up so the tank is on the wrong side of the car.  You would think 12,000 miles later I would have this down. I am sure they sold this law as job creation and an important service to little old ladies who never learned to pump their own gas but it just tells me that someone in the Oregon legislature didn’t like getting his suit wet while pumping gas in the rain.  They also believe in helping each other die so maybe that explains the DEET.

            In the mean time, I am having romantic candle lit dinners with myself as the beasts feast on my flesh.  Time to try out the bear spray.

Friday, June 24, 2016

First world problems

One would think that my life is one endless Disney ride since I am fancy free on my trip but unfortunately every few days I must do chores like anyone else and this is no small challenge when on the move.  The things I used to take for granted like, laundry are far from simple.  First I have to think of every last piece of thing that must be washed because it could be days before I see another washer and besides I’m not paying $3 just to wash the one sock I forgot.  Then there is the digging for quarters underneath the seat of the car and checking every last pocket for the precious coin and still needing to go to a change machine.  Then I go to find some soviet era machines that leave me wondering if I will get my clothes back after it is done shredding them.  Finally I get to live with my clothes hanging on every hook and corner until they dry.  I’m sure my Lululemon makes my trailer trash yard sale look real upscale.
            Then there is the shopping. I can only stock the fridge for about three days so I spend a lot of time wandering up and down aisles at grocery stores wondering why, dear God, can't they just put the chocolate Milano cookies next to the ramen to save me some time? Cooking for one person has always been a challenge but can be navigated with utilization of a freezer and microwave.  It makes the two for one sales slightly more manageable.  Now instead of having the meat rot in your fridge it becomes unidentifiable dinosaur meat in your freezer that for inexplicable reasons I have less guilt about throwing out.  The microwave was necessary for the three endless days of leftovers all cooking seems to generate. Now lacking both, plus limited space, the family fun packs have not become any more amusing.  To top it off, the butcher looks on with such pity when you ask for one, yes, just one (because he always asks twice), of anything.  After eliminating an oven, a microwave and having two small burners, plus a fridge that is smaller than the one I had in my dorm, I feel like my cooking options would be no less limited as a gluten free vegan with a tofu allergy.
Let's not forget I have to catch up with the rest of the electronic world, which means digging through a lot of junk mail and deciding to ignore most of it until it becomes irrelevant.  This gives me plenty of time to catch up on pressing issues like who Trump insulted today and if we know the color of Hilary’s panties when she deleted the email.  I post the backlog of blogs to appease those living in the land of ubiquitous wifi who think it has been “forever” since I put anything up.  Finally I call my mother because I have Middle Child Syndrome and I worry she might forget me.  Obviously no self respecting, jobless, homeless Millennial risks having that happen.  After a long day in civilization, there's no place I would rather be than back in the park.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

ET phone home

            Mount Rainier finally decided to take off its crown of clouds long enough to get a full view of it today.  Wildflowers added a nice dash of color.  I even watched a whole herd of mountain goats crawl over the rock face.  I was anxious to share this with everyone but Mount Rainier is a communication black hole.
            The trouble started in the North Cascades when my satellite radio seemed to sputter out.  This was frustrating for me as I have become quite addicted to flipping through channels as my mood changed and that can be two or three times during just one song.  I have very nearly worn out the buttons on the steering wheel changing stations and adjusting the sound and I am not yet 6 months into owning the car.  I am not so sure I bought a car as a $30,000 mobile sound system.  But now I hear a few words before long stretches of silence while the radio goes searching for a signal.  I am forced to fill in the lyrics making it one of those times that it is probably just as well that I am traveling alone. Initially I blamed the interruptions on the mountains, but even as I hit the coast, with nothing obviously in the way, the problem persisted.  I then blamed the weather.  Maybe the clouds were blocking a clear reception.  This was concerning to think about.  If Hollywood is right and nuclear bombs are triggered by satellites, we may need to rethink our defense strategy.
            Then the problem spread to my GPS watch in the Olympics.  My run was long delayed as I walked around waiting for my GPS to connect with my arm to the sky expecting those extra 18 inches to make all the difference to the satellite thousands of miles above my head. I watched the indicator as it processed the satellite signal.  The only thing slower was the line at the DMV.  As if sensing my impatience and risk of dismemberment with further delay, it finally said, close enough and beeped at me to proceed.  Still it lost signal as I ran. It seems Garmin is a product of the participation generation and was expecting some sort of trophy for effort as it settled for spitting out random numbers for my elevation and distance.  I would like to think it was because I was going so fast it couldn’t keep up, but in reality I was battling it out with the banana slugs.           
            Then like a disease, it spread to my Spot.  The Spot is a little device that allows me to send a signal when I am out running or have otherwise lost communication that I am alive and well.  It is also a back up in case I am not doing well and maybe even dying.  Given my recent mishap at Deception Pass, I decided that I would be a bit more vigilant about taking it with me, especially since I have zero reception in Rainier National Park.  So it was quite disappointing to discover that the Spot had apparently not located me and, thus, not bothered to tell anyone where I was.  It didn’t even try for the participation award and went straight to drop out status.  I guess that’s what you get for visiting a stoner state.

            This leaves me with no other option but to drive for 30 minutes outside the park to find a turnout where some radiowave manages to sneak through so I can download 50 junk emails, a modern comfort that makes me feel as though, yes, random faceless strangers still care about me enough to keep me on their mass email lists.  Complicating this ritual is that reception has not been consistent at any one spot.  I was that annoying car on the highway that slowed down at each turn off while I checked to see how many bars I had.  Clearly the Verizon man did not film his commercials in Rainier because no one can hear me now.  This seems one very small step above a payphone.  I am forced to consider that maybe the universe is trying to tell me something, like no one really wants to hear me.  If I am going to give up on civilized life, then it is going to give up on me.  Or maybe this tinfoil hat really is magic!

Rain dance

There are two things I take for granted living in the teardrop.  First, I spend a lot of time outside. The kitchen is open and the table remains made up as a bed so that most eating and writing is done outdoors. The few times I had bad weather, I simply make a quick cup of ramen and huddle inside with chocolate until it passed.  While I have been fairly content with this arrangement, it occurred to me that this might not be normal or interesting or satisfying to others.  Some might argue that ramen and chocolate are not actually a well-rounded meal.  These people have clearly never gone to college.  Second, I have a lot of rules I live by.  The pleasure of living alone for 16 years is that I get to make all the rules.  The problem with a guest is that suddenly I am expected to provide logic behind the rules.  I consider this grossly unfair.  Because I said so, seems so clear.
These are also some of the reasons I have been reluctant to have people join my trip.  My mother has been angling for an invite for months.  I wasn’t sure how well having a guest would go given her first comment when she saw the camper was a distraught, “Well, I guess you aren’t planning on having any guests!”  Admittedly the camper was not bought with group camping in mind and frankly, it just isn’t designed for it.  First, you have to be willing to spoon and second, you might find yourself peeing six inches from your partner.  This can be stressing on the best of relationships and since I really like my mom, I have been hesitant to invite her to join.
So it fell to Pete to be the first guest.  After a long stretch solo, I was honestly looking forward to some company but it confirmed that while the teardrop is well appointed for one traveler, it gets cozy with two.  After a week in the Olympic Peninsula I can officially say, it is definitely not designed for two people camping in a rain forest.  I am pretty sure a warning about this should be printed in the teardrop brochure.  I imagine it would read something like, Warning: bringing your friend’s wet, soggy mess into your small confined space will make a bear den sound like a five star hotel.  Proceed with extreme caution.
It would of course happen that the moment I picked Pete up from the ferry, it started to rain.  An hour and a half later it was still raining as we sat in the car and stared at the teardrop wondering, what now?  It seemed like a long way to the camper and then once in the camper, what exactly would we do with our damp selves since there is really only room for one to stand at a time? At least in the car, we each had a place to sit down.  We contemplated dinner. There was going to be no place dry to make or eat dinner.  How do you tell a guest that you prefer that they sit on the floor because it makes crumbs easier to sweep up rather than the bed which requires quarters for laundry.  This was complicated by the fact that I have had very good weather on this trip, which should be a good thing but it also meant that I had never bothered to get a raincoat. Living in Arizona, I have somehow lost the ability to even imagine it being cold or rainy longer than 15 minutes. 
            After a couple of damp dinners, I finally broke down and had a rain jacket delivered to the campground.  Later we huddled inside attempting to stay warm.  It was quickly decided that the next teardrop upgrade includes beer and wine bottle holders on the inside so that it can at least be a quality drunken huddle in the rain.  Then we could differentiate the days by the drink: the pinot day or that great chardonnay day.  That said, we didn’t let the rain slow us down.  We ran in the rain.  We cooked in the rain.  We made smors in the rain.  We sat in a hot springs in the rain.  We watched wildlife in the rain. The day I dropped Pete at the airport, it was clear blue sky.  Hasn’t rained since.  Anyone need a small rain jacket?
 I took a ferry!


I sat in a hot spring

The benefits of having someone along that can make fire!

I climbed a tree
An interloper

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Getting lost

There is something about being lost that makes breakfast taste so good. Maybe it’s just that I am well beyond breakfast by the time that I return so that I have had a good long time to dwell on the idea. My fantasy usually starts with just some nice hot pancakes but depending on just how lost I am, the sides have expanded to eggs, sausage, toast, donut, turkey sandwich, yesterday’s lasagna and a slice of pie.
I do have an unfortunate history of getting lost on a regular basis but I protest that it is all my fault.  It is not because I am always alone or ignored directions.  Quite the contrary.  There is a reason I cringe at group projects.  The gift of persuasion and the gift of insight are rarely packaged together.
I headed out to the trails this morning feeling optimistic.  I was in Deception Pass State Park, which is on Whidbey Island.  How lost could I get? Eventually I would hit the water and know it was time to turn around.  Plus, there was a lovely set of well-marked trails and there would be no bears.  Based on this, I saved myself $2 and didn’t get the map.
I ran to shake out my frustration with North Cascades National Park.  It had the unfortunate position of falling after the endless spectacle of the Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier.  Feeling shy the Cascades hid behind clouds and spit on me endlessly.  On top of this, based on some misinformation, I ended up in an isolated campground all alone.  This is one of those things that you don’t mention on your phone calls home to mom. Let’s just say I was grateful to be in a camper with a lock and I slept with my newly purchased bear spray.  But the state park would be nothing like this.  Not only was I near civilization, but I had long time friend Cressey Rice coming to camp with me.
Considering this was supposed to be a quick run and I assumed I could not possibly get lost, I didn’t think of sending out my GPS signal.  I ran into the dense forest following a soft, dirt path.  There were a lot more branch points than I expected and the trail kept getting more and more overgrown.  I finally found myself completely disoriented in the middle of a dense cedar forest with no end in sight and only the sound of rain.  I’m on an island, I reassured myself, I can’t possibly be that lost. 
The disturbing part was the scat.  I told myself that there could not possibly be bears because there were no signs everywhere telling me that I was about to be eaten by one.  Well, that and every garbage can wasn’t on lock down.  But I kept finding giant piles of poo on the trail.  It didn’t look like the pellets of deer or elk.  It was much too large for dogs or even a cougar. Horses were not allowed on the trail.  This was compounded by giant hoof prints I found in the mud.  What animal living in Coastal Washington was that big? I considered a dragon but the climate seemed all wrong.  That pretty much left me with Sasquatch or a unicorn.  I can’t believe I left them off Bingo!

After spending a good long while bushwhacking through dense, wet ferns, I eventually found a familiar looking trail, thinking that maybe I would go find that map after all.  Well, maybe after breakfast.    

Thursday, June 9, 2016


You’re from Montana? So do you think you will go back?
            This is one of the most common questions I am asked.  Do people from, say, Iowa get this? Or Nevada?  Sometimes it is like being from an exotic foreign country and having people wonder why you would ever leave.  I mean, they went there on a vacation and had a great time.  Why wouldn’t you live there all the time?  Well, because life is not a vacation and Libby is no paradise.
            Libby is where I was born and raised.  Certainly it was unique. I took for granted that dead animals should hang in the yard waiting to be skinned each fall.  Heating the house meant chopping and carting wood to build a fire.  The theater only had one screen.  You either worked for the mine or the lumber mill.  I think we barely tipped the scales at 10,000 people for the entire county. I may not have known everyone in town but they knew my father and, thus, they knew me.  It was hard to get away with much.
            These are not the reasons I left as quickly as I could.  It had more to do with the confused looks I got when I said I wanted to go out of state for college. It had to do with the underhanded remarks that muscles were not appropriate for girls.  It was the doubt that I would ever be much of a real runner. Ambition did not sit well there. To this day nothing riles me more than being told I am not good enough. 
            So I left and didn’t go back.  It had been 14 years since I passed through Libby and more since I really lived there. My own family had long since left the area.  I considered skipping it all together for this trip, still not sure I was ready to prod those memories back to life.  Yes, I had done it all: finished college, become a doctor, run in the Olympic trials.  Yet here I am having quit my job and wandering the country and not really sure what to do next.  I’m not sure that is exactly my triumphant return.
            In the end, morbid curiosity drove me home.  Was anyone still there? With the mill and mine gone, was it taking its last agonal gasps?  In reality it had changed very little other than to shrink a bit.  A few buildings had been painted but otherwise little had been built other than a new hospital. Like me, Libby was trying to cover up the grey with a good dye job but it’s hard to cover up the wrinkles. In spite of this, I wound up lost several times.  Apparently, I had succeeded wildly in forgetting Libby. 
            I am lucky that they did not forget me.  No, Libby had not grown.  There were no fancy shops.  The city still struggles but the small army that believed in my dreams and understood that Libby could not feed them also welcomed me home.  My stories are consolation that their investment in me had indeed paid off.  These are the meager returns in small town America.  The hard part was learning how many people were gone.  Death had sadly cut down the cast of characters.

            Going home forces me to confront some very small moments that had a very powerful impact on my life.  Perhaps this is something everyone experiences with age.  Perhaps it is only in moments of great humility that it is possible to acknowledge this.  I will not claim that a truce was declared or a peace pipe smoked, but there is something reassuring about knowing there is a place to call home and that maybe I fit better than I ever imagined.