The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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Far From Somewhere

I’m not exactly sure where we were, but it was an hour from Wheatland, Wyoming and stunningly gorgeous. The topography was dramatic and very un-farm like (which is what Wheatland is known for. You know – wheat + land. Clever clever.). Sloping granite and stony hillocks abounded with rumors of a while marble ridge somewhere in the vicinity. And naturally, a river runs through it. Well, more of a creek or mountain stream, but let’s not split movie title hairs.

While there was plenty of rifle powered adventure, I choose the activity with a start time later in the day for a little fly fishing and found the entire expedition a bit “more” than I had bargained for.

To empathize, I suggest you try the following exercise:

1) Sit down and puut a soccer ball in your lap against your tummy. Yes, a real, full-size soccer ball.

2) Bend forward and fiddle with velcro straps on fly fishing sandals making them secure enough to close up bulk over water booties but not so tight you can’t feel your feet.

3) Find a jacket to zip over you and soccer ball. Bear in mind the “activity” hasn’t started yet.

Luckily, my husband is part giant and I could steal from his outdoor apparel stash. The next complication cannot be blamed on the impending baby. Nope, this one is all on my shoulders. While I may skate in other athletic arenas based on the sheer number of hours I have logged at some point in my life, this situation does not apply to fly fishing. It would appear that my several yearly attempts just aren’t quite enough to get “good” at the sport. Heck, I would settle for decent.

I started with a dry fly, which is infinitely less stuff to get tangled up. Alas, that pesky sage brush also managed to hang me up more than a few times. I would say at the start of any fishing trip, I have about 10 – 20 truly terrible casts before I begin to remember what the heck I’m supposed to be doing. Naturally, by this time all the fish have sent up the “something is not quite right about that fly” alarm and have decided to smugly circle my fly in a taunting manner. This is where one being able to partake in adult beverages is a helpful state of health.

Also, I cannot partake so I merely toddle on to the next fishing whole to spook some more fish. While I won’t reveal my final count, let’s just say I’ve had better days. And luckily this stream had a super healthy population, allowing us to keep a few appropriately sized rainbow trout  (that I didn’t catch…) home for dinner that night. Which makes the trip a success overall, I suppose.

 

 

Fire Fire Everywhere

Fireweed, which appears just days after a fire is extinguished.

Two weekends ago, my old hometown and new hometown both sprouted wildfires – and they weren’t little. The Horsethief Canyon wildfire in Jackson is currently at 3,373 acres (82% contained) while Casper’s Sheep Herder Hill fire is at 15,556 acres (100% contained). Firefighters are still battling other blazes around the state. And while losing a home, pets, or worse in a fire is a tragic and life-altering circumstance, I can’t help but be reminded that a healthy forest is a forest that burns every now and again.

No place is this more obvious than Yellowstone National Park. In 1988, a number of smaller fires combined into one massive blaze to close the park for the first time in history. The end tally was 793,880 acres, or 36 percent of the park affected by the fire. On top of NPS staff, it took 4,000 military personal and $120 million to extinguish the flames. But what happened immediately after the fire (and is still happening!) is amazing nature in action.

To paraphrase from a surprisingly well annotated Wikipedia article on the Yellowstone fires of 1988: Just days after the fire plants such as fireweed began to appear.  No replanting was attempted as “the vast majority of plants regrew from existing sprouts which survived the heat from the fires. There was a profusion of wildflowers in burned areas, especially between two and five years after the fires.”

And the lodgepole pine, which dominates the Yellowstone wilderness, actually needs fire. The pinecones it produces remain closed unless subjected to fire. The article notes that “the best seed dispersal occurred in areas which had experienced severe ground fires, and that seed dispersal was lowest in areas which had only minor surface burns.” Not coincidentally, the lodgepole pines in the park were at 200 – 250 years old and approaching the end of their 300 year life cycle.

A beautiful “weed” that magically appears in burn areas and a tree uniquely suited to the Yellowstone ecosystem depending on fire to perpetuate its life cycle? There’s a silver lining in every cloud.

Natural-tip-of-the-day: Uses for Vinegar

 

Mountain Baby on the Way

Have you noticed that the adventures have been a little light-core lately? That’s because there’s a bun in the oven. Yup, I’m pregnant.

“But pregnant women can still be hard core!”. Of course they can. But not everyone, and especially not in first trimester, otherwise known as the exhausted puking days (at least for me).

Clearly, this was not “normal for me” and to make matters worse, some women couldn’t wait to tell me how they “were never sick a day of their pregnancy”. This fueled a myriad of not great emotions. If I was completely honest, I would say I felt lazy and had guilt about my laziness, but my body left me no choices. Then I had a heart-to-heart with an ultra-runner mom.

For those of you that don’t know, ultra-runners run 50 or even 100 miles at a time, and not on nice smooth pavement. They run up mountain passes and through mud. For one. hundred. miles. This friend had ran 50-miles when she was unknowingly 4 weeks pregnant. But a few weeks later, symptoms like mine started.

To quote her awesome blog post: “I found myself completely and constantly exhausted. For the first time in my life, allergies seemed to be an issue, making the simple act of breathing laborious. Food also became a difficult teeter-totter between consuming enough of it to sustain myself and my rapidly growing baby, while not taking in too much at once, which inevitably ended in a horrible sprint to the bathroom… Life became a bleak routine of waking up in the morning, going to work, coming home, falling asleep by 7 p.m. and taking care of the most urgent matters on the weekends… I basically abandoned thoughts of sneaking out for a run or taking a week off to backpack in the Wind Rivers. Sometimes I would have to sit down to take a break while walking our dogs around the block.”

Whoa. I couldn’t have said it better. I did occasionally hike and practiced some Pilates and yoga, but I spent a lot more time in bed than ever before. And while I’m feeling better now, it’s not normal Michelle and won’t be for a little while. But not to worry- I’ll just have to get a little more creative with the outdoor adventures while a big new adventure grows in my tummy.

Hurt-Yourself-Product-of-the-Day: It’s a motorized snowboard… for the streets. Probably as much fun and dangerous as it sounds. Check it out here.

Humbled at a Biathlon

Last weekend I watched my hubby participate in sport that had never really entered my radar: the biathlon. But it appears it isn’t nearly as obscure as I once thought.

While every athletic endeavor requires body awareness and control, my new found belief is that biathlons take this to a whole new level. At its core, a biathlon is a sporting even made of two very different disciplines. Classically, it’s nordic skate skiing and rifle shooting, but summer variations substitute running, biking or swimming for the cardio portion of the event. My current home of Casper, Wyoming happens to have its very own biathlon club (check them out on Facebook here) and I was blown away by some of the athletes at this event.

One cool thing about being in a “regular” town like Casper, versus a town where every block has a sponsored skier (Jackson) is the variety of people at athletic competitions. There were overweight  40-year-olds and gangly 11-year-olds having a genuinely fun time. But the guys that blew me away came from the club’s association as a US Paralympic Sport Club.

Most of the athletes with disabilities were injured military. I believe this was 7 guys at an event with a total of 60 people. That’s a noticeable number and it hit closer to home than any newspaper article or statistic I have seen. This is my generation and younger, with men and women missing limbs and having other less obvious impediments due to war. How have we not evolved past this?

Of course, the sport did originate as military training for Norwegian soldiers. In 1861. That’s a long time ago. And sadly, the skills it promotes are still relevant in today’s world as evidenced by the former men in uniform participating for the fun of it. And it was even fun to watch. Between the shooting and multiple laps, there’s a lot of action happening in one spot for spectators like me. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll be a participant. Because running and shooting an electronic rifle sounds like a neat challenge. Running and being shot at while trying to return fire sounds less fun. Thanks to the men in uniform that choose to do that so I can have enough adventures to blog about.

Comic-relief-of-the-day: Whew! You need it after that blog post, right. Get your Calvin and Hobbes fix here.

Places Less Known

Until recently, I’ve made my adult life about living in truly amazing places (now it’s about love… insert groan here). At least, places that were amazing to me and other like-minded people. These people would not include those that value big box stores and convenience, but rather huge ski bowls and epic whitewater (Vail), endless mountain bike single track with incredibly steep ski terrain (Jackson) or amazing and accessible climbing (Bouder). Not shockingly, these places were also frequented by tourists – lots and lots of tourists. But now I live in a decidedly non-tourist town, yet we just had the biggest friend gathering in any one place to-date. What gives?

I think the answer would be good friends. We hosted a backyard BBQ to celebrate our nuptials last winter, which was an immediate family only affair. But last week, an almost overwhelming number of friends and relatives flooded Casper from Seattle, Virginia, Michigan, Telluride, Boston and reason driving distances such as Denver and Jackson. While this may not be shocking to you, it was a valuable lesson to me. It’s relatively easy to see friends and acquaintances when you live in a place like Jackson, where 4 million people visit a year just because it’s that awesome of a place. And while Casper does have a few merits (many of which have been previously highlighted by this blog), it mostly takes a strong desire to spend time with people and a concentrated effort to get here. Which is why we extra appreciated the effort. There has to be a lesson somewhere in here about the important things in life being people over skiing/climbing/biking. Maybe?

A Stick and a Ball – A Golfing Adventure

Paradise Valley Country Club Golf Course in Casper, Wyoming

Lest you doubt our creativity as a species, take a moment of ponder the wide variety of activities we have invented involving nothing more than a stick and a ball. My latest undertaking into these “games” was one of the odder experience of my adult life: golf. Simply put, I hit a small white object around an impossibly large lawn with the goal of getting said ball into tiny little holes in the ground. But that’s not all – you have to get them in the hole in the right order. And to expedite the whacking of the ball, you drive around the lawn in a funny little underpowered open-air car, even though the distances between the holes in the ground aren’t really that far. Weird, just weird.

Given my attitude, it’s not surprising that a few words of wisdom from George Carlin came to mind, to the effect of “so the goal is to hit the ball as few times as possible, right? So when you find the ball, pick it up and put it in your pocket. You’re a winner.” I think George was on to something because the ‘other’ way of playing, where you continue hitting the ball, wasn’t really working out for me.

The scene of this melee was just minutes from my house and their website offers the golf-speak, “the par-71 golf course at Paradise Valley Country Club in Casper, Wyoming measures over 6700 yards from the back tees.” I had taken exactly two golf lessons in preparation for the 18-holes, which was woefully insufficient. I probably only connected with the ball on about  60% of my swings. The good news was that when I did connect, I hit the ball fairly straight and pretty far. The other good news is I was playing with my husband, a much more accomplished golfer, and we played “best ball”, meaning whichever ball went the furthest towards the little hole we were aiming towards. This really helped keep the game moving.

All in all, I can’t say I discovered a new passion, but I’ll probably play again. I will probably try to spend some more time on the driving range in the meanwhile and maybe play a 9-hole next time. Then again, maybe I’ll stick to my bikes and sliding down snow on two sticks.

 

 

Decisions – Empowering or Debilitating?

There are some overwhelming stats out there regarding the number of decisions we make each day – some estimates are as high as 35,000. While some are easy (where should I sit at the table?), others are not (where should I live?). And the more affluent we are, the more decisions we have to make as our consideration set expands. Should we give to charity and if so, how much? Which one? Or should I just volunteer? In comparison, tight budget constraints may narrow the decision making process down to chicken or beef flavored Ramen noodles for dinner. But certainly we would be more miserable if people (or *gasp*, government) told us what to eat/wear/do. Or would we?

As a lifelong public-school attendee, I was always fascinated by those that were forced to wear school uniforms and I often polled their feelings on the matter. Across the board, the guys almost always said “it’s awesome” while the girls were split – the fashionistas said they hated it, while the more pragmatic (sorry, fashion is rarely pragmatic) emphasized the amount of time it saved them each morning. This, combined with a healthy dose of dystopian fiction as of late, has me wondering about a world with less choices.

There are many examples of people and governments taking this too far. It generally is a model ending with “ism” and hasn’t worked out well for a lot of folks in modern times. And yet, there are days when I wish my nutritionally-complete meal would pop out of a hole in the wall. Days when I would like a uniform instead of staring bleakly at my many, many MANY clothing options. There is something wonderful about knowing exactly what you have to do and how to do it, but this type of serendipity seems to occur far too little in real life. To race my mountain bike, or to knit? Unbelievably, these are real dilemmas I face. Would I get more “done” if I had less options? And if achievement isn’t the goal, maybe happiness is – would ‘we’ be happier if our paths were a little bit more of a one-way road?

Ski Cheap at Winter Park

While grandma was on mountain to knit and visit, the rest of us represent three generations of skiers.

It’s no secret that skiing is an expensive sport, so any savings can be a big help when it comes to getting a whole group on the slopes. So what do you have to do to get this deal at the ticket window? Ski for a long, long time. As in, be over 70-years-old and still tearing up the slopes.

And how many people make it past age 70 at a level of health that allows them to enjoy alpine skiing? My grandpa, for one. And not just to 70 but 10 years past 70. That’s right – Grandpa is now 80-years-old, riding a train from Holland, Michigan to Winter Park, Colorado and skiing intermediate runs at altitude with enough energy left for an apres Fat Tire beer at the days end.

And if you’re no where near 70-years-old and feeling ripped-off by this blog post, I have a solution for you, too. It’s called liftopia, and I bought my lift ticket for around $70 after tax the night before I skiied Winter Park. Since the tickets typically ring in at $94 during holiday season or $85 during regular season, I thought it worth the effort to hop online and pay for it the night before. And picking up the ticket was as easy as buying one retail – I just went to any lift ticket window, gave them my name (bring your I.D.) and they cheerfully handed it over. It’s not as smoking of a deal as my grandpa’s tickets, but after introducing three kids and four grandkids to the sport (two of which became ski instructors), I’d say he deserves a little street cred at the ticket window.

How to be like Grandpa: Eat whole foods and have a varied, active lifestyle. Drink in moderation. He’s proof that it works.

Get your own liftopia deal by clicking the banner below.

 

 

I Caught a Fish!

Rainbow Trout from Grey Reef, Alcova, Wyoming.

“I caught a fish I caught fish I caught a fish I CAUGHT A FISH!” That was my idiot rant after, you guessed it, I caught a fish. It turns out this is easier to do than I previously suspected.

By main issue (before) was that I was wading, and it’s hard to cover a lot of river on your own two feet. This is especially true if you tend to cast erratically and thus alert the fish to your unnatural presence. But on this glorious day of fish-catching, I was in a drift boat.

I’ve been told that an important component to a successful cast is floating the fly (or nymph, in my case. More discussion on Nymphing on Mountain Kidd post “No Fish were Harmed“) downstream at the same rate as the river flows. This is infinitely easier when you happen to be in a boat that is also  moving downstream. Another bonus: when you’re drifting downstream, you don’t necessarily have to cast over and over. There’s a nifty trick called a roll cast, which I could attempt to explain here but this guy does much better.

Notice how there’s no flinging of the line behind you? This is KEY if you tend to, oh, say, hook yourself in your fuzzy hoody on your head, for example. And that’s just embarrassing. But back to the big catch.

When the fish is bigger and you’re using a fly rod, there is an art to reeling in the fish which includes letting the fish take line and run. If you try to fight this, the fish can snap your line or rod. Luckily, our friend Paul talked me through landing this guy, which involved key tips such as:

  • Keep the rod tip up.
  • If the fish wants to run, let ’em.
  • Keep tension on the line – when the fish slacks, reel him in.
  • Always keep him moving towards shore. He’ll try to run towards deeper water in the center of the river. Don’t let him.
There! Now you too, with the help of a drift-boat, advice from Marge at the fly shop (she advised rusty scuds and egg-sucking leeches) you too can land a beautiful rainbow trout. Just make sure to put it back – Grey Reef is catch and release!
Tip-of-the-Day: Go with a guide and catch more fish. They’re expert rowers and know all the seams where the fish hang out. The North Platte River Fly Shop can hook you up (he he).

 

 

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.

 

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