The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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Learning Humbleness

Ice

Image from my photography class, offered through the Continuing Education department of Casper College.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re an ‘expert’ at, well, anything, and find yourself in the teaching capacity (even if it’s an informal situation), you owe it to your students to learn something new. Why? Because it’s incredibly humbling/frustrating/rewarding AND it will make you a better teacher.

So what have I been learning? Oh, where to start? I took my first Pilates class a few weeks ago. It was a mat class, which means that the only equipment used was a yoga mat and, of course, our bodies. Confession: I kinda expected to be “good” at it. After all, I’m relatively young, in very good shape with a strong core and I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years. I was wrong. From my limited, one-class experience, Pilates is an exercise in subtleties and micro movements that are learned, not inherent. While the same could be said of yoga, I’ve committed much of it to muscle memory to the point where many of the less-obvious yoga movements are blissfully ‘built in’. It will take a while to get there with Pilates.

And I’ve blogged about my recent escapades skate skiing. It still strikes me as odd that I can transition from a scenario where I’ll turn around, fish out chapstick or generally not pay attention to an adrenaline-inducing OMG-please-don’t-fall-scenario based merely on the type of skis underfoot.

Now, there’s a third scenario on the scene. It’s a sport I know and love in a new format. My favorite sports (skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, etc) are decidedly individual, but I’m struggling in my new home to find places to bike (I get lost) and trails to run (again, I get lost). Enter Windy City Striders and Fat Fish Racing. The Striders have running races pretty much every Saturday and I enjoy having a preset distance to run and the subtle peer pressure from running in a big group, as opposed to my typical “run until I feel like turning around” style. Fat Fish Racing is a group of mountain bikers with a monday night race series running throughout the summer, and quite frankly I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. My biggest rides to date have been in groups of eight friends that typically involve more margaritas than ribbons at the end of the ride. I entered myself in the intermediate “sport” category based mainly on the intel that the people in the beginner “rec” category can get a little agro. I am opposed to agro, unless it’s me versus hill. But me versus other bikers sounds like a losing proposition based on body mass. I’m just hoping my times will be a mild lesson in humbleness rather than a severe smack in the face. The first race is May 21, so stay tuned.

Over and out.

 

All’s Well That Ends Well

Beware the water bottle that arrives with multi-page instructions. Read them.

I’m not totally convinced that Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. Although my last foray into the wonderful world of skate skiing did end well, certain body parts are not screaming “all’s well”.

My first “not well” clue came in the form on an innocuous water bottle. I won a handheld, Ultimate Direction water bottle from a raffle of a 10K I ran on Saturday and brought the bottle along based on the fact that it was sitting on the counter. Halfway up Casper mountain, with a manual transmission and 10 mph switchbacks, I was screwing the entire lid off to get a sip of water. Beware the water bottle that comes with instructions.

I didn’t bring the bottle along for my ski or I would blame the water weight for what happened next. The flat-ish area where I first learned how to skate ski was a bit melted out and some incline was obvious, but not enough to concern me. I started down the incline and gained more momentum than anticipated. Focusing on my form, I over weighted my right ski and crashed hard. Naturally putting my hands out to catch myself (note to self: work on “tuck and roll” form), I luckily kept my semi-injured thumb in close to my hand to no avail. Instead of hyperextending my UCL (ulnar collateral ligament, aka “skiers thumb), I jammed it back hard. Too hard. It’s super sore today and a little swollen – just enough to remind me to wear the thumb brace I bought a while back to prevent such an injury. But I digress.

Pull HARD on the red nipple to drink from said water bottle. It's not intuitive.

Since my beginner area wasn’t seeming so beginner, I set off to explore. To me, “exploring” is roughly defined as “attempting to get lost while meandering in whatever direction seems like the most fun”, and is really easy and maybe more exciting if you’re directionally impaired. And this was the best kind of exploring as following a groomed track ensured that it wouldn’t escalate to a survivalist situation.

Setting off on Bishops Loop, I was pleasantly surprised at the occasional scenic overlooks and snowed in A-frame cabins sprinkled throughout the forest. Intense cardio ensured I got several lungfuls of a heady pine scent and eventually, my route dead-ended into a T. One thing was certain: the left trail went one way, while the right went the other way. I went left, ended up spotting a “Braille Trail” sign posted by the Lion’s and the irony of my semi-lost state hit rather heavy.

Eventually, by looking 360° around me at every intersection, I made it back to the car. I had spent an entire hour in cardio land and actually enjoyed myself. So maybe Shakespeare was right after all.

 

Crazy Casper Backcountry

The Bighorns are highlighted in the salmon color.

Did you just spit out your coffee wondering if Michelle had finally, really gone all the way over the edge? Casper has WHAT country? That’s right – I said it. Casper has backcountry. And it rocks.

This town continues to amaze me. Just when I stuff it in a neat little box I find a whole new way to be active (like Prana) or have a totally unexpected powder day, right in my own backyard. Mind you, my definition of backyard is pretty big – just like my state.

Teton pass backcountry users: riddle me this. If you have a leisurely Saturday breakfast at home and eventually make it out mid-day, what will the parking situation be? The correct answer, assuming the avalanche danger isn’t crazy high, is ‘absolutely dismal’ and you my friend had better start warming up that thumb to bum a ride from the Stagecoach parking lot. In Casper? Not so. But here’s the trade-off – the backcountry isn’t swamped because it’s roughly located in the middle of nowhere.

Located about 1.5 hours from Casper, the Bighorn National Forest is 1.1 million acres and spans into Montana, but the biggest peaks are in Wyoming. Not that we were peak bagging – this was just a Saturday ski.  Lap after lap we explored new lines and enjoyed 18″ of new snow, all to ourselves. Our chosen spot sported less vertical than Teton Pass, which suited my short attention span quite nicely. As an added bonus, we didn’t have to worry about anyone ski cutting the slope above us and causing a massive avalanche, or about beating the 15 parties we saw in the parking lot. Nope, this was backcountry skiing in its purest from – just set a skin track and enjoy the ride down.

So where exactly is this almost epic backcountry? I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you (not really… but I’m not telling so it’s a moot point).

Actually-helpful-ski-video-of-the-day: How to dress while skinning in the backcountry.

Just Sign It – An Argument for Access

Beartrap Meadow County Park as seen on Google, otherwise known as "where you get to play" on Casper Mountain.

When people in Casper learn that I moved from Jackson, they often ask how I like it. How much I lie depends on who I’m talking to, but most of the time I give a vague yet honest, “It’s different. I miss all my recreation options but I’m finding things here that I like.” At this point, they usually (with good intentions) start telling me about Casper mountain. Here’s the thing about Casper mountain – there are trails (but not near the acreage that I’m accustomed to) but there are NO SIGNS. No mileage markers, no named loops, just parking areas and aggressive “NO TRESSPASSING” signs ringing the parameter. For a directionally challenged person such as myself, this presents a problem.

While we traditionally think of access to nature being limited by park fees or geographical location, but it can be as simple as poor roads leading to the area or a lack of signage directing folks around the various trails. When I point out to frequent Casper Mountain users that trails signs would increase the number of people who can enjoy the mountain, I typically hear something like “we don’t want them” or “go back to Teton county”. And to be fair, I don’t want to hike masses, either. But there is a line between an elitist attitude and depriving your fellow population of something as incredibly beneficial as nature.

Over and over we see studies that show humans are designed to move. Walking in the woods, whether it be with sneakers or snow shoes, lowers stress and helps maintain healthy body weight. And healthy people are generally happier, meaning the women serving you coffee may be a little friendlier and a few less folks may need public assistance (that would be your tax money) to help with the various disorders caused by obesity.

Obviously, the next step is to find a public meeting and figure out how to get these signs up. Is it too much to hope that there will be intelligent people present who won’t shout me back to Teton county?

Feed-your-body-recipe-to-try: Portobello Mushroom Strognnoff from Clean Eating

 

An Ode to Dogs (and walking)

Wendell, my Lab, up close and personal.

This post is exactly what you think it is, because what animal is as wonderful as that sweet fur face with four legs, the canine?

Yesterday, my neighbor commented when I walked outside, “boy, we were just taking about how dedicated you are to your dog walks. This sure proves it!”. Sure, it was 4° with 20 mph winds, but if I let silly things like ‘wind’ and ‘cold’ stop me, I would never leave the house. And bodies need movement, be they canine or homosapien.

Lately I’ve been struggling with some sinus issues that sap my energy. Do I still walk the dogs? Yep! Here’s why: I’m very rarely too sick to walk. By getting light to moderate exercise outside, I’m avoiding spreading my germs to my wonderful friends at the gym AND my all-important lymphatic system gets a boost. One of the main functions of the lymphatic system is immunity, and the way to get it going is to move your body. It doesn’t have a circulatory system and depends excursively on skeletal movement and breathing.

Does this mean you should run a marathon with a cold? Of course not. Overexertion when your body is already stressed can be a bad thing.

It’s gusting up to 55 mph as I write these words, but I still took the dogs out this morning. The value of good outdoor gear cannot be underestimated and a windproof shell with a solid hood with a good audiobook through earbuds can be a good defense against the misery of high winds. But do the dogs mind? They sure don’t! And a 30 – 40 minute walk every morning is the least I can give them for their unconditional love and support. Besides, it does my body good, too.

NOTE: Our litigious society has me paranoid that I should insert “I’m not a doctor so consult someone with an MD behind their name before beginning any exercise regimen.” There, I said it.

Shooting in the Dark

Reason to get out of bed: early morning light on the Platte.

Mornings are a difficult time for me. When I was little, my two sisters employed wildly different tactics to wake me up. One would open my door, turn on the light and shout, “Mom and Dad said to get up.” I promptly chucked whatever was closest, usually a paperback, in her general direction.

My youngest sister, however, would crack open the door so the light would gently fall into my room, and then snuggle with me in bed while whispering, “It’s time to get up!”.

Although I awoke like an angry grizzly bear, my first sister had more success.

Action Lab with Sports Mode on camera! He's more of a snuggler than a duck retriever.

Fast-forward to the present, when my husband has the privilege of prying me out of bed to engage in an activity that I participated in planning. It always seems like a better idea the night before, less so when the alarm goes off and it’s still dark outside.

I tried “I don’t want to go anymore.” At first, he was surprised and then realized it was just a stalling tactic. A few minutes later a bowl of oatmeal was plopped down by my head (which I will admit is very sweet and sneaky tactic). Because I wake up famished every day of my life, I woke up to eat.

The mighty hunter with the duck. Look hard for the duck - camo works! (click photo for larger view)

Fast-forward again to the great outdoors, both of us shooting. My hubby with a gun, me with a camera. It wasn’t dark anymore but it makes a catchier title. I alternated reading the Nikon D3100 Digital Field Guide (v. helpful) and taking pictures of slightly annoyed canines and a much more willing landscape. The husband shot a beautiful Mallard drake (that’s a boy duck). We’ve learned the hard way that plucking the duck and cooking it whole is far tastier than breasting it out, and a 350° oven for a little over an hour rendered Mr. Duck quite delicious. As for a camera trick, my very non-technical advice is that the sports mode works great for pets, too.

Being a Skiing Student + Announcement

People (not me) skate skiing on Casper Nordic Center.

So I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good at most of the sports I do. I only fall over in yoga every now and then and haven’t hurt myself skiing in more than two seasons. I didn’t even hook my dog last time I went fly-fishing, so I was a little nervous when my latest gear came with a lesson from the sales person.

And exactly what gear comes with a lesson (or should, at any rate)? Skate skiing gear. For those of you that need a refresher, cross-country skiing has two types- classic and skate skiing. When doing the classic style, the skier appears to be on a Nordic track and their skis are indeed often in tracks. For skate skiing, imagine ice skating on really narrow skis and add in poles that come up to your nose. If that sounds incredibly awkward, then you have the correct mental picture.

I met my instructor at the Casper Nordic Center, which has 42 kilometers (26 miles) of groomed trails. This is exceptional. The alpine skiing in Casper is less than exceptional, hence the reason for my new sport. He first had me bumble around without any poles, practicing the basic skating motion, which is a great first step in all skiing disciplines. Shortly after, I added the poles in and learned the various V1 and V2 techniques. I won’t bore you with the details here, but suffice to say I felt like a torso barely held upright by four randomly flailing appendages.

After jaunting up and down a straight bit for a while, we went for a ski. The downhill sections didn’t worry me much since I’ve been flinging myself down steep slopes for too many years to remember. This was a gross oversight. I had one fantastic spill when I knocked my jaw with the handle of my pole, all because I tried to turn on the edges of my skis. Downhill skiers, Heed My Warning: skate skis do not have edges. You must step turn. Noted.

By the end two intense cardio hours, I was more or less gliding with gradual but significant weight shifts over the active ski. I even feel confident in several of the poling techniques. But the biggest lesson was how awkward my new gear felt and the ensuing trepidation which resulted from said awkwardness, which is a great reminder for any instructor. We get so comfortable in our chosen vocation that we can forget the sheer terror that is a perfectly normal response for most students, which is why I recommend that all instructors learn something new every now and then for a healthy dose of empathy.

Announcement! In a hopefully brilliant attempt to boost readership, MountainKidd will now post every Wednesday. Ideally sometime in the AM hours, but hey, I’m human. Feel free to forward this blog onto anyone and everyone who might marginally enjoy it (or just read it, even if they don’t enjoy it).

 

 

Regulation & Wendell

Beartrap Meadow County Park as seen on Google

My poor lovable pup has two strikes against him in the weight-management category: 1) His background as a Mexican street dog means he eats whenever and wherever he can get food. 2) He is primarily a Labrador and thus has no portion control. This also means he Hoovers rather than chews.

But now, I’ve added a third: 3) I, his owner and primary playmate, work out in a gym more often than outside.

These three factors add up to one thing: Wendell is chunky.

I didn’t want to believe it. Sure, he seemed a little bigger but it wasn’t until a friend visited last week and commented that I really accepted his growing waistline. So with summer quickly fading, I’ve been neglecting my gym membership in favor hiking around the woods while my dog unknowingly gets his heart rate up with me. However, these woods are new to me and on Saturday our hike became an interesting introspection on regulation.

I parked at the top of Casper mountain at the Beartrap Meadow trail head, and the first thing that struck me is how odd it is to drive up the entire mountain. Nevertheless, I started out on the Nordic trails eager to spend some time in tall trees. But then I got sick of going in circles.

Don’t get me wrong- I love loop hikes. But the 26 miles of Nordic Trails present themselves in a variety of small loops, and I wanted to hike in one direction for at least an hour. Roughly picking my way though various trails, I found myself confronted with “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs just under an hour into the hike. While Wendell merrily trotted past the signs, I recognized my gun-loving county for what it is and turned towards technology for an explanation. The Google satellite with my GPS location pinpointed showed that I had l hiked to the far end of the park had nowhere to go but back. Sigh. And which way was back, exactly? Luckily, the magical arrow on my phone pointed in the right direction and I started choosing random, unsigned single track trails that would hopefully lead me towards the car.

Glimpses of fall on Casper Mountain

I know someone who is ‘building trails’ for biking on Casper mountain. I’m not sure if this is entirely legal (my guess is not), but the county doesn’t exactly swarm this park with enforcement agents. Add in a healthy red-neck population who will squeeze a 4-wheel-drive vehicle any place said vehicle can fit, and the trails in this park have more variations than a Mexican climbing route. While I enjoy being able to bring my dog with me (something not allowed in National Parks), I resented the lack of clear trails and complete lack of signage. In Jackson, the National Parks in my backyard offered hiking for eight hours plus in one direction without encountering a road (dirt or paved) and only a few well-signed junctions. I loved that I couldn’t get too lost inside my head before a stunning vista or bear would jolt me back to the now. Now, my ‘now’ has too many marks of civilization, which is what happens when a place doesn’t have the supreme protection status of “National Park”. But having a National Park in your backyard is the exception, not the rule. And I’m no longer an exception. With ‘wild’ places such as this, it’s no wonder that life spans are shortening and obesity is on the rise.

Sewing how-to of the day: Make your own Pin Tucked Duvet Cover

 

No Fish were Harmed

Dogs Like Fishing

In what appears to be an annual attempt at fishing, I stacked the odds in my favor by going to the holy grail of fly-fishing: Grey Reef.

Located only about 30 minutes from my home in Casper, Wyoming and four hours from Denver, Grey Reef is renowned for lots and lots of fish. In researching this blog, I came across a blog posting from Grey Reef Anglers and Wingshooting reporting that on 9/8/2011, “one of our guides Tyler broke in his brand new boat today in style, 45 fish to the net and 4 fish over 20inches.”. American Angler Magazine also named the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River the #1 big fish destination in the world. Let’s just say Tyler and American Angler all have distinctly different experiences than Michelle.

I should start by explaining that we didn’t start our day at Grey Reef- we started in much faster water with this incredible sticky mud bottom. Since a large part of my fly fishing experience is looking at the pretty rocks in the river, this was not ideal. We loaded up the wet, happy dogs and headed upstream. After some very nice help from a guy at The Reef Fly Shop, we waded into the river again with a new and improved nymphing setup. Apparently, I shouldn’t have been dry fly fishing at all. The reason I resisted nymphing initially is a simple math equation: with one (dry) fly, there is less to get tangled than with nymphing, where there are two flies (although one of mine was a ‘purple worm’- what?) PLUS weights PLUS an indicator (small plastic ball thingy). Part of this setup is supposed to be underwater and part above. That’s a lot to get tangled. And it did.

The only nibbling that happened was not by the fish... but at least we fish in style. Homemade Cherry Pie.

But first, I lost my shoe. Even though Grey Reef did have my required quota of pretty rocks, there was one sticky section as I waded upstream. The velcro on my fly fishing sandals (yes, I have special sandals as they need to be extra-big to fit the neoprene booties of my waders) got seaweed in it and wasn’t functioning at 100%. I tried to slap the strap down under the water but eventually, the sandal was barely hanging on and in immediate danger of floating downstream. I reached down and picked up my sandal with my right hand while I began to wade towards shore with my rod in my left hand and my sandal in my right. And that’s when I saw him.

He was a monster fish. Definitely over 20 inches. And he was 3′ in front of me and swimming slowly upstream as I bumbled towards shore. Frantically, I looked for a place to set my sandal. But I was still in the middle of a river and there was none. Egad! I finally shoved the shoe in the top of my waders and hurriedly readied my rod for a cast. It was a terrible cast and I think I saw bubbles from the now out-of-sight monster fish laughing, “Hey lady the jig is up. Do you think I got this big by being dumb?”. I fished for another 20 minutes before tangling my setup beyond all recognition and having some (more) delicious snacks back at the truck. Maybe next year, but for now I have the consolation of being part of the age-old story about “the one that got away”.

 

 

Transitioning Lifestyle: The Gym Debate

Yoga at Prana

Last fall I left my beloved Tetons in the name of love and moved to Casper, Wyoming. Just five hours from the valley of Jackson Hole, Casper seems a world apart. Of course, Jackson is a world apart from any town that doesn’t wear the ubiquitous title of ‘ski town’. But the part of Jackson I miss most are my recreation options.

Let’s say I worked on the computer for the morning and early afternoon and wanted to get out with my dog for some quick exercise before the evening (or another job) began. From my home in Wilson (7 miles down the road from the town of Jackson), I could jump in the car and in 5 minutes be at the trailhead to hike old pass road to Crater Lake. The road hasn’t been used since the new highway went in over Teton Pass in the 70’s. Paved on the ascent, the hike is a great loop with a calf-burning up and meandering single-track down. The top of the trail has a small blue lake perfect for thirsty or swimming dogs (mine would be thirsty type only). And if I was really ambitious, I could even ride up to the trailhead safely on a sweet bike path. If I was in the mood for a longer hike, I could opt for picturesque Ski Lake (which I have blogged about before here). Or maybe I was after great single-track biking. Just a few miles higher reside a number of trails like Blacks Canyon, Jimmy’s Mom or the Ridge Trail.

If I was more into a pavement-pounding mood, I could run on Wilson bike path with striking Teton views and horses braying in the neighboring fields. And there was always a chance to see some Wilson flair, like the resident I spotted walking her goat on a rope. What, you don’t have a goat on a rope?

But maybe I didn’t want to get all sweaty but spend some outside time with a girlfriend catching up while our dogs ran themselves silly – then I would go (again, in less than 5 minutes) and walk on the Snake River dyke. And I haven’t even gotten to town.

Seven miles down the road in the town of Jackson another world is waiting and in it another blog, but suffice to say Cache Creek along has a weeks worth of single track. But enough about Jackson – what are my options in Casper?

In Casper, I can hike Rotary Park with Garden Falls and the 4.5 mile Bridle Trail. There are also a number of hiking and biking trails on top of the 8,130 tall Casper Mountain. None of the trails have posted signs for directions or mileage. I’ve heard there are a number of bike trails on Muddy Mountain, but by that point we’re into an hour drive from home and that’s tipping the scale towards more car time than recreating time, which is definitely not MountainKidd style. So what do I do? I’ve been hitting the gym.

Less than 10 minutes from my new Casper home is a great fitness studio called Prana Fitness. I’ve been enjoying classes like Bootcamp, Pylo-Kick, Kettlebells and Yoga Sculpt with some pleasant surprises. In just 45 minutes, I can get my heart-rate up in a major way and work on enough muscles that my reduced mountain-biking schedule doesn’t mean reduced strength. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that even though I’m not riding often, I can ride as hard as I did when I rode four+ days a week. And another advantage? At the gym, you can go HARD. There is no slowing down to listen for bear or moose or terrain evaluation to avoid avalanches. It’s just you and your body – and the guy running the class who missed an illustrious career as a drill Sargent. And while I will always miss my breathtaking Teton views, I suspect this adaptation is the key to lifelong fitness and the happiness that comes with it.

Interesting list of the day: Money Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Live.

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