Road Crew

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.

Monday, June 6, 2016


I planned Glacier to be short and sweet.  I have many great memories there but they are all from my pre-park obsessed days so I didn’t have a stamp or a magnet to prove it.  I also worried that the park would still be snowed in, which in fact was the case.  The Going to the Sun Road was closed, as the pass had still not been cleared of snow.  I was profoundly disappointed.  Logan Pass provides some of the most dramatic views anywhere from a drivable vantage point.  Unfortunately, the stop was complicated by an ever increasing anxiety over bears.  I really hadn’t gone to Yellowstone expecting to see so many bears whereas I expected bears in Glacier.  30 years ago a family friend was killed by a bear there.  So whatever I may say here, I do not take their danger for granted.
            With this in mind, I once again found myself running on the road both because I felt this less likely to surprise a bear as well as well to have increased traffic to ward them off.  However as I ran, I realized that lining the road, these were the exact sorts of foliage that the bears like to tromp around in.  They could remain well camouflaged and cool down there next to the streams.  Indeed, 12 miles into my run, I had the joy of looking over to find a bear on the other side of the road watching me.  As I ran off, he walked out and continued to stare at me.  It was much closer than I cared to see him without the reassuring glass and steel of my car encasing me.  Paranoid that the bear would suddenly break into a trot and join me for my final miles, I flagged a ride back to my car.
            Later when I was told that Logan Pass was open to those willing to go on foot, I was determined to go.  With the morning’s bear encounter fresh on my mind, the real problem was the 8 bear infested miles to make it happen.  This was one of those moments that I really had to step outside of myself.  I am not one to strike up casual conversations with random strangers.  This trip has forced me at times to engage with people when I would otherwise shy away.  Fortunately, when you are out in the woods, you tend to meet like-minded people that can appreciate your na├»ve questions and your occasional dependency on each other.  It was with that mind set that I raced to catch up to two cyclists, Dennis and Donna, who graciously allowed me to accompany them to the top and back.  I am incredibly grateful for their generosity in allowing me to crash their party and then inviting me over for drinks, too.  It was much needed conversation and community after what had been a long stretch without any socializing. 
            Logan Pass delivered.  In fact, I would count it as one of my most spectacular experiences of seeing the pass. Normally it is mobbed with people.  With only a few cyclists at the top, it was possible to get a sense of how this place probably felt for thousands of years: silent, solid and stately.  It is heartbreaking to know the glaciers will all be gone in just a few years, but their incredible power has certainly left a stunning legacy.
            So in spite of the very short visit, it was nonetheless, once again, memorable. 

Sledding on a glacier!

No really, I can take a picture of a moose

St. Mary Lake

Friday, June 3, 2016

Life up close

Yellowstone is an odd collection to say the least, an eclectic geology show and safari all rolled into one, overlaid with rich historical accents and a dash of horror show.  I mean what else do you say when you swerve to avoid a branch in the road only to discover it is a partially gnawed leg.  For the nerd in me, it doesn’t get much better than this.  Yes, when your last two book purchases consists of a field guide to birds and Theodore Roosevelt’s biography, you might be a nerd.  I’m embracing it.  I even bought a pair of binoculars.  This consisted of an uniformed visit to a local sporting goods store that went like this.  “Um…yeah…everything looks way closer.  I’ll take these.”
            Over the course of five days I watched water go up and water fall down.  The earth steamed, boiled, burbled and crackled.   I climbed mountains, cruised the valley, and chased rainbows.  Yellowstone has it all.  Except oxygen.  Above 8,000 feet, it could really use a reintroduction of oxygen.
             I have always been a fall girl.  Blame it on the name.  I held a strong bias that the parks should be seen between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Yellowstone showed me that there is really something to love about spring thanks to Doug McLaughlin. By pure chance and curiosity I met this man who generously shared his high power scope with me and took me on an impromptu tour of the Lamar Valley.  I have not endorsed products or accepted sponsorship for this trip on purpose.  I am not out here to sell myself or anything else.  I do recommend good people and Doug McLaughlin is good people.  If you care to really see details of Yellowstone up close, buy or rent one of his scopes (  His generosity with his lens as well as his intimate knowledge of the park literally opened up a whole new world. There were babies everywhere! Baby moose, baby elk, baby bison, baby owls, baby goats, baby geese, baby bears and even baby wolves!  In a moment in my life when there are nothing but earthquakes, it is good to know that life goes on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bear hunting

While Yogi Bear and Boo Boo got famous stealing picnic baskets in Yellowstone Park, my knowledge of Yellowstone history would suggest that there was no actual need to steal as food was frequently and freely given. Even my father has fond memories of walking next to a bear and taunting it with a fishing pole back in the good old days. That was when bears were still considered cute and cuddly.
            They have since changed to Floyd Mayweather's PR firm to toughen up their image.  Now bears are vicious and ready to attack you at a moment’s notice.  Signs are posted on how to avoid bear attacks: Go in groups (challenging, as I am traveling alone), make noise (I would sing but at 8,000ft, I feel like I am doing well to breath), don’t run (failed again), and carry bear spray (easier said than done).  You might as well dress me in huckleberry garland and ring the dinner bell.
            My first bear sighting was such a thrill, a brief passing moment of momma and her cub.  I savored it.  You never know how many you will get.  This was where I was terribly wrong.  What unnerved me about this is that I had been running in that very spot only an hour before.  I tried to keep my anxiety in check.  Bear sightings are rare overall.  Many people come to the park and never see one. The second bear sighting was a pleasant one I got to enjoy in the early morning all to myself.  Again, it was in a spot I considered running but promptly altered my plans.  Then for the third day in a row, I had the pleasure of six bear sightings.  These are easy to spot because of the traffic jams and people mobbing the road way.  The bears are harder to find as they prefer the bushes.  Four of these sightings included adorable playful cubs.  This sounds like such a treat but it makes me nervous.  Momma bears are notoriously grumpy and the last animals you want to meet on the trail.  It’s probably all those late night feedings and sore nipples.  Plus, dad is a slacker and contributes nothing.  By the end of the day, my paranoia had officially grown eightfold.  I had originally avoided the trails thinking that I would be more likely to run into a bear in the woods, but all these bears were taking their act on the road.  So while I had child like enthusiasm for my first bear encounter, by the end of the day I was buttoning down the hatches against the invasion crying, the bastards are everywhere!
            There have been many well meaning suggestions of bear spray, as if you just spray some on and poof, bear be gone.  Let’s think about this.  It really means that you have several hundred pounds of teeth and claw coming your direction and she isn’t even going to get a whiff of the stuff until she is within 30 ft and that’s presuming that you have it pointed in the right direction and haven’t just coated yourself instead.  I did look into buying a can but it runs $50 in the park.  It comes with the most stylish of hip holsters to keep it handy, none of which were going to work on a run and I couldn’t figure out where to put it in my pack.  Apparently it takes a canister the size of a fire extinguisher to stop an angry bear.  The park clearly realized that most people were unwilling to buy $50 of insurance considering that visitors are dangling their children in front of the bear to get that classic Christmas card photo op.   Now Yellowstone has bear spray kiosks where you can rent a bottle for the day, but do you really want to put your faith in a used can of bear spray?  Why not just reuse your condoms?

            In an ironic twist, I am now searching out the busiest places to run.  Come out screeching children.  Hurry along in your sandals and heels.  Bring on the slow and plodding.  When Yogi Bear comes calling, I can out run you all!