Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Manly Man Hike, Goats, and after-thoughts, Part Three

I must say that Twin Lakes in eastern Oregon is not the prettiest spot I've ever seen.  The other lakes that we visited had less of that dry, rocky terrain and, sad to say, that awful night with the flapping plastic "lanai", raging wind, and surprise snow, has forever scarred my memories of Summit Lake, which was probably the most scenic.  The two nights we spent at Twin Lakes were the best of the trip.  The rain and snow were over, with only blue skies ahead.  Ah Weather.  You hold all the power.

We spent one whole glorious day there.  THIS, in my opinion, is what backpacking SHOULD be about.  Husband and I did an easy little pack-less(!) hike around the bigger lake.  We ran into Garth and the two guys managed to scoop up some ungrateful trout, that were trapped in a small pond, and release them into the lake.

It was a day to nap, read, wander, and ..... to my delight and relief ... shower and do laundry!  Yes!

Oh, let me tell you about my shower, for it was a triumph.  Awesome Brother Larry gave me the idea to bring an empty milk jug.  It's weightless, free, and works for splashing on just enough water.  And a small shammy .... the fake-leather type of cloth that you dry cars with .... makes a perfectly adequate, and quick-drying towel.  I even practiced at home and found that a half-gallon size jug is big enough.  I carried that milk jug tied to the outside of my pack for three days anticipating this shower, but when I arrived after our last long hike, I discovered I had lost it somewhere on the trail.  No problem, our water bladder worked just as well.

Using clothes pins, I attached one of those foil emergency blankets to some tree limbs so that the breeze blew into it forming a semi-circle enclosure.  The foil reflected the sun rays, creating a solar-heated shower stall.  Obviously I set it up well away from camp, and then planted Husband nearby as a guard.

I'm dwelling on my shower-in-the-woods here, to make a point.  Many die-hard outdoorsman might scoff.  But in many of my late-in-life, out-in-the-wild adventures, the ONE thing that causes me angst, is no shower.  To me, it's a darn important morale booster and worth the effort.  I am willing to try just about anything hard ....  almost  .... if I can clean up afterwards.  And if there is absolutely no way, then THANK HEAVENS for baby wipes.  And that's all I'm saying about that.

So let me introduce you to the goats.

We started seeing them in the distance several miles before reaching Twin Lakes.  At first they were just little white dots on the hillside.  But they became a constant presence while we camped.  They wandered into and through our camp regularly, too timid to get very close to us, but very interested in what we might have for them to eat.  One goat didn't notice me as I sat on a log working a crossword puzzle.  It came within a few feet of me, so I said hello.  It stopped, looked at me with alarm, and ran off.  They frequently liked to appear when someone was cooking.  Dinnertime brought the whole herd.

We were told to heed nature's call a good distance from our tents and to not leave anything sweaty, like socks laying about, because the goats are attracted to salt .... take THAT thought wherever you choose.  And at night, after we were bedded down, they would romp and cavort through our camp, while I worried about what items I had left outside that they were probably eating or carting off.

"Great!" I thought.  "If it's not wind and snow at night, it's goats!"

But after the first goat-night, I learned they weren't interested in our non-sweaty, non-edibles.  So after that, they became a fun novelty.

It's quite something to behold when rational, grown men turn into school boys when given the opportunity.  In a remote, non-civilized and far-from-home environment, mature men can somehow lose all good sense and think that when you're among wild mountain goats, there simply MUST be goat-roping.  Now I won't say whether or not it happened, but there are some goats that frequent Twin Lakes that may never forget that day in September.  I WILL say that neither man nor beast was injured while we hiked and camped along the Elkhorn Crest trail -- other than some minor, but well-deserved rope burns for one un-named hiker, and a possible, but temporary, loss of dignity for one goat.  For all we know, that goat is probably milking the excitement of that one brief but lively evening, and bragging for all it's worth to the other goats.

I knew what lay between me and the end of all life's hardships, were those switch-backs-from-hell, that had to be ascended that final morning.  At the top, and a few miles beyond, was the truck.  The TRUCK.  A soft seat that would carry me to actual toilets, to a non-dehydrated meal including ice cream, and to home.  The hike that day was quick, enjoyable, and the views were killer.  Conversation was good and it was soon over.  I even ran, with my pack, the last twenty feet to the truck.


Post MM hike thoughts:  The night I got home, my words were, and this is a direct quote ....

"Over my dead body will I do that again."  (A totally illogical statement, but you get the point.)

But in a day or two, I was already thinking of a few things I'd do differently next time .... mainly I want a bigger tent for the two of us.  Husband's respect for me and all my preliminary homework had grown ten-fold.  I insisted I needed a trowel.  He said to just use a stick.  But guess who used my trowel?  And guess who also enjoyed my outdoor shower?  And guess who has asked me to look for a pair of weightless Croc-type shoes for him, like the pair I brought for me, so that I could escape from my boots now and then.  One of the guys came to me for advice on how to reduce some of the weight in his pack and kidded about me teaching a class.  Husband even said he will make a light weight backpacking latrine for me!  And I have already sewn some new stuff-sacks and a hammock-type chair that uses campsite-gleaned sticks for support, that I plan to bring next time .....

..... yes.  Next time.  I cannot let all this new and hard-earned expertise go to waste.  And besides, I have a WHOLE YEAR to plan, prepare, gather and test new ideas, and hang out at REI.  It just doesn't get better than that.

P.S.  Thank you Steve, Allen, Garth, Michael, Tom, and Rob, for allowing me to tag along.  I felt welcomed and included, every step of the way.  And thank you to the LOML for carrying our tent, filtering our water, and keeping me warm on those shivery nights.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Manly Man Hike, Part Two

The trip began obscenely early before daylight.  The guys loaded the truck and I tried to retrieve our cat that had slipped out the open door.

Our group consisted of Awesome Friends Steve & his son Michael, Allen, and Garth and New Awesome Friends Tom and Rob.  Plus Husband and me.  I was duly dubbed a man-ette and was told, at the rest stop, that I had to use the men's bathroom, quickly followed by "Just Kidding".

We arrived in Baker City in eastern Oregon, at the home of an endearing older gentleman named Farrell.  I'm guessing on the spelling.  We sat in his lovely back yard and ate our lunches while he talked about his vast camping experience in the nearby mountains where we would spend the week.  I asked him to please come pick me up if he sees storm clouds in them thar hills, but I doubt he thought I was serious.  I kind of was.

We paid Farrell and his friend to ferry us to the head of the Elkhorn Crest Trail and then leave the truck parked at the end of the trail, at a spot where I swear I heard Heavenly choirs singing five days later.

The weather was perfect.  We immediately settled into a pattern that typified the week.  Michael launched ahead and we would all catch up to him at either a fork in the path, or at the end of the day's hike.   Several others would follow Michael, then, generally I'd be in the next group, or by myself, or with Husband, and a small group brought up the rear.  We all hiked at our own speeds, knowing we'd end up in the same spot eventually.

I discovered on this first day that, after several hours, when I'd take off my pack, my body seemed to propel forward awkwardly trying to adjust for the balance shift.  And I quickly learned that I had to be careful where I took it off, needing either a stump or a rock to rest it on so that I could climb out of it without wrenching a shoulder.  Same for putting it back on.  This is one of the few times I gratefully accepted help.  The first day was a little over six miles, or so we were told.  It always felt farther than it was.

The first night we spent at Lost Lake.  It was, thankfully, uneventful.  We knew the next day would bring some rain.  40% chance, the forecast said.

We woke up to perfectly calm weather.

With less than seven miles to do that day, we were in no hurry to break camp; however, as we sat around with our breakfasts, suddenly we heard a curious low roar in the distance.  Then Allen's astute and memorable words:

"Weather's changing."

We sprang for our tents, Husband and I thinking to take cover, but quickly realizing we were all to pack up before our tents got wet.  I was amazed how fast the elements changed from calm to threatening in a matter of minutes.  The wind picked up and the sky went dark.  We were packed and on the trail in impressive time.  Fortunately the rain held off for hours, but as we hiked we could see it coming, like a huge approaching gray blob.   This was no time to dawdle.

We finally got to our next campsite at Summit Lake and got our tent up before the rain hit.  At my brother Larry's suggestion, we had brought a thin plastic sheet that Husband and I stretched across our tent site, naming it the "Lanai".  It kept us dry for a few hours ....  The rain came and went and came and went.  We hovered around the campfire until the rain sent us back to our tents.  Then we'd emerge again.  Here is one problem I discovered about backpacking:

Since it was September, it was dark by around 8:00.  Then what do you do?  I attempted to sit around the fire, but the smoke kept me on my feet as it chased me from one side to the other.  And although there was usually a log or rock to sit on, the smoke quickly chased me off it.  Some of the guys just went to bed, but I knew if I turned in that early, I'd be awake at 4 a.m.  So I tried to stay by the fire until at least nine.  Allen was always there attempting to dry some piece of clothing.  Then I'd give up dodging the smoke and head off into the dark trees to take care of business with the desperate hope that there would be no need for similar visits to the trees at 2 a.m.  Thankfully, there never was.  This, I figured, was due to my conscious effort to limit water-intake, and tender mercies from heaven.  Husband was asleep before I got to the tent and I discovered the wind had nearly dismantled our plastic cover.  I feebly tried to reattach it, knowing my effort was futile.  I pulled most of our supplies into our crowded little tent, and settled in for the worst night of the trip.

The wind howled all night, thrashing and whipping our poor "lanai" over our heads and blowing puffs of frigid air through the vents into our tent.   It would occasionally die down and I'd hope it was over, then it would crescendo up with more hair-raising howls and violent assaults on the plastic sheet.  I kept wishing, with absolutely no apologies to environmentalists, that the poor thing would give up the fight and just fly away across the lake.  

We awoke the next morning to Tom's raised voice outside our tent.

"Are you guys awake?  We've got snow."

What!!??  This was NOT in the forecast!  Farrell ..... come get me NOW.

We emerged into a winter wonderland.  Yes, it was beautiful, but it was COLD.  We had another frantic pack-up-and-go morning.  This was our 13 mile day and now we had to do it in snow.  And it was still falling.  We didn't even take time to eat.  We put on every piece of clothing we had and managed, with frozen hands to pack up our sad, mud-spattered stuff.  And yes, I stuffed the shredded plastic sheet into a ziploc and into my pack.  Environmentalists, you're welcome.  T'was this day when I was so thankful that I brought gloves, albeit thin ones, and had good boots.  Good boots are gold, when backpacking.

This was one long day.  Runners, this was officially the distance of a half marathon, and I did it carrying my pack plus the tent of a fellow hiker, in the snow.  I got separated between the faster guys and the slower group on the trail and hiked for hours by myself, following tracks in the snow.  I'd stop and wait, thinking the slower group had to be coming along directly, but there was no sign of them.  So I kept going.  Finally, I came upon Tom waiting on a rock,  Talk about a sight for sore eyes!  Several others were still off ahead, but at least I had company again.  Rob showed up shortly and about a half an hour later the rear group arrived, including Husband who had purposely stayed with the slower hikers.  Tom had cell service at this spot, and he had talked to someone in Baker who said the weather was improving.  He had formulated an escape plan if needed which, fortunately, no one did ..... but I was tempted.

By the time we reached half way, the snow stopped and the world gradually brightened.  But there were still six or so miles to go before our next campsite.  As the clouds lifted, the view opened to some amazing scenery.  I tried to appreciate it ... and I did somewhat ..... but I was focused on my sore feet, sore legs, sore back, and less-than-cheerful disposition.

"I'll hike to that stand of trees at that next crest and then I'll die," I informed Husband .... several times.  Except I didn't die.  It wasn't an option ....  Who, after all, would carry my pack?

We finally came to the view of our destination, Twin Lakes, and began the tedious switchbacks down to the lake.

Those endless switchbacks-from-hell teased us by sending us back and forth, passing by the length of the lake over and over, slowly descending down the hillside for a good hour.  We could see the tents of our faster hikers and strained to see signs of smoke from the fire that I hoped was burning.  When I finally walked into camp, I slumped down onto a big rock and stayed there.  I don't remember how many hours we hiked that day, but I was done.  Husband put up our tent and I sat on the rock.  Thank Goodness the next day we rested and the weather returned to perfect.

Stay tuned for Part Three and ..... The Goats.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My New Obsession, Part One.

I know.  It's been a while.  I've written a few drafts for some new posts, but nothing worth publishing online and my writing mood has dwindled.  But not for lack of topics, which have been piling up.   This too may end up in the draft bin.  We'll see.

Anyway, back to my new obsession.  Like running, I never saw it coming.  And again, like running, my early attempts at it kind of fell flat.  Just didn't love it.  And I still don't love it all by ANY means ..... I just love parts of it.

Backpacking.  There.  I said it.  Documented for all the world to see.  Here's the story:

About five years ago, Husband was given a new assignment in our church to work with the teenage boys.  Kind of like a spiritual scouting leader of sorts.  This involved "high adventures" which typically translated into backpacking.  What else do you do with boys without spending a fortune?  But it DID cost a fortune for us, because Husband had to get equipped with a new tent, sleeping bag and pad, pack, and every form of Gore-Tex marketable.  And since he likes to include me in his life, he bought most things in duplicate.  Therefore, I had STUFF.  Expensive STUFF.  Unused expensive STUFF.
I didn't realize until after I put everything away, that this picture turned out fuzzy.  Sorry!  And btw, this is only part of it all. (Excluding the cat, named Jack, btw -- see previous post.)  None of the clothes are included here.

So a year or two later, Husband talked me into a little over-nighter in the wild.  Good Friend Mark, AKA Outdoorsman-Supreme, came along with all his backpacking expertise.  The scenery was beautiful and the weather was perfect.  But it was dull.  When backpacking, you have to pack as minimally as possible, so it doesn't allow for books, board games, or video equipment.  I was left with my acute lack of interest in the flora and fauna and failed attempts at conversation with two of the finest, yet quietest men.  And spiders .... oh yes! ... in our tent.  (Friend Mark was smart enough to have kept his tent zipped.)  And no toilets.  Needless to say, we didn't backpack again for another couple of years.

Enter the annual Manly Man hike.  Friend Steve has been organizing these for some ten years now.  They are, as the title says, Man Hikes.  Meaning, for men.  Husband had been invited over the years, but had never been able to go, until this year.  And I, who was a little too full of myself after all my running adventures, and much to Husband's delight, wanted to go too.

"Sure", said Kind Friend Steve.  "You can come."

Oh Dang.  My brain skipped into overdrive.  Can I do this?  Thirty-three miles, including one 13 mile day, over five days.  And carrying everything I will need for those five days .....  I ran a marathon.  I did a four-day bike trip.  I did the Trek.  I've hauled myself over boulders and endless scree to the top of Mt. St. Helens TWICE.  I've routinely slept outside, on the ground, under the stars, during relays.  I've ran alone on dark and unfamiliar roads at 3 a.m.  And all of this in my fifties!  I know Tough .... sort of.  But can I do THIS?

I figured, in a group of seven men, I would be at a disadvantage.  Even though I am in fairly good shape for my age, I am smaller and weaker, plus I am older than most of them.  So I had to be smart.  I had to do my homework because I was determined NOT to be anyone's burden.

At this pre-hike point, rather than during the hike, I discovered my obsession:  PREPPING FOR BACKPACKING.  I mean I FELL IN LOVE with the planning-for-it part.

I learned about minimizing what you pack.  I learned optimum pack weights for one's size and weight.  I watched YouTube videos.  I read articles.  I practically lived at REI, Sportsman's Warehouse, Dick's Sports, and Big Five, not to mention the camping aisles in Fred Meyer, BiMart, Walmart, and Target.  I talked to experienced backpackers, particularly to Awesome Brother Larry, who gave me encouragement and some GREAT ideas.  I shopped and shopped at resale shops (trying to budget) for the right clothing ..... which is pretty much anything quick-drying and non-cotton.   I stalked every weather site, adjusting for altitude differences so to know EXACTLY what I needed to stay warm .... or cool.  And it's a miracle that I did not drive poor Husband crazy with my constant one-topic conversation.

I also studied backpacking food.  I learned how to make what's called a cozy, which is an insulated container for your cooking pot, lessoning the need for extra fuel.

 I looked up different recipes and experimented at home.  The mac & cheese ended up gloppy, but the chicken pasta was okay.  I came up with a sweet & sour chicken and rice dish that was actually quite good.  I perused grocery aisles and discovered treasures like foil-packed tuna or chicken, pureed vegetables and fruit baby food in foil containers (it's quite good!), and instant just-add-boiling-water rice.  I also raided those trays of little packets of condiments that come with fast food.  I poured over our menus, terrified that we'd pack too little and starve .... or that we'd carry too much and haul half of it back home.

I joined online backpacking forums and asked the tough questions:

"Okay Ladies ..... how do you do IT out in the woods and you KNOW what I'm talking about."

No women answered (probably due to the lack of them) .... but the online men were glibly full of suggestions tinted with a distinct lack of sympathy.  In other words .... buck up.  

Husband (who was well-experienced because of his past outings with the boys and because he's a guy) and I did another one-nighter by ourselves to practice.

I survived, in spite of the ant hill which we discovered under our tent the next morning.  The weather was deceptively good, which did NOT prepare me for what lay ahead.

So with Husband on one side, and with Trepidation on the other side, I embarked on the actual Manly Man 2013.

Stay tuned for Part 2.