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

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.

Doggie Math: Mutts Cost Money.

The mightly Lab(ish) dog known far and wide as Wendell.

While maximizing my internet time by remaining highly focused on the task at hand (yeah, right), I came across a Bloomberg article regarding the exorbitant cost of canine companionship. “Tally up the lifetime costs and it’s more than a few college tuitions,” touted the article. They compared “a top-of-the-line Australian Labradoodle living the high life vs. owning an equally-loved mutt or rescue dog whose owner has a more down-to-earth approach.” The items and prices for the Labradoodle were beyond ridiculous, so I threw them out the window and decided to stack my beloved mutt lab Wendell against their hypothetical down-to-earth 50-pound dog in New York City (with a 12-year lifespan, in case you were wondering).

While this isn’t a dog about blogs (there are enough out there already), longtime Mountain Kidd followers know that over the years there has been one constant companion for adventures long and far: Wendell, my black Labrador Retriever mutt. But the article made me wonder – while I couldn’t put a price tag on my dog, just how much does he cost?

Basics

Mutt

  • $100.00: Cost of dog (includes spaying or neutering, microchip)

Wendell ‘cost’ 500 pesos that I donated to the lady in Mexico who was helping launch a vet clinic and ran a very, very informal pet adoption program. That’s roughly $50US, and I did get him microchipped so I’ll let this cost stand. Yup, Wendell was a street dog in Mexico. How much more “mutt” or “rescue” does it get?

  • $102.00: New York dog license

That would be $10 in Wyoming. Clean air is free, too. But I digress.

  • $35.00: Collar, leash

Yup, gotta have these.

  • $4.95: Metal dog tag

Those too.

  • $22.99: Petfinder.com: The Adopted Dog Bible

Wendell never asked for a Bible.

  • Free: ASPCA Pet Safety Pack with window decals

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $264.94
  • Wendell: $149.95

Bedding

Mutt

  • $129.99: Basic one-door crate ($110.00), with quilted crate mat ($19.99)

Wendell’s crate was $20 at a garage sale. Incidentally, the best garage sales in the universe are in Jackson, Wyoming. Don’t say I never shared my top secrets with you. As for the quilted crate mat, I just move the blanket that was his original bed… genius, right?

  • $99.00: LL Bean Premium Denim Dog Bed

Swank bed was free, courtesy of the owner of The Blue Lion in Jackson, Wyoming. It was too small for his dogs. I did spend $10 on a small fleece throw for Wendell that functioned as his bed prior to this windfall.

  • $6.00: Ticking clock to “simulate heartbeat of puppy’s mother and calm it down”

Wendell came to me at age two, thus saving me this $6 and countless pairs of unchewed chews. It’s easier to not adopt a puppy.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $499.93
  • Wendell: $179.95

Training

Mutt

  • $16.99: Housetraining for Dummies

Wendell was two and was never tried to go in the house. If he’s sick (rare), he even scratches at the door to go outside and vomit. That’s a good dog and again, it’s easier to not adopt a puppy.

  • $99.00: “Mutt Manners” five-week class

I taught Wendell his manners.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $615.92
  • Wendell: $179.95

Poo

Mutt

  • $37.99: Cost of 300 “wee-wee” pads

I don’t know what these are. Nor do I want to.

  • $127.80: Lifetime supply of Resolve Pet Oxi Advanced Carpet Cleaner and Nature’s Miracle Deep Cleaning Carpet Shampoo

I’ve bought two pet cleaners, mostly to clean my house up after other peoples dogs. I’ll put $40 in this column.

  • $802.50: Pooper scooper and biodegradable pick-up bags

Pooper scooper? How about “the shovel that you already own”? And I get pick-up bags from the station on our daily walk. My taxes pay for them, anyhow.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $1,584.21
  • Wendell: $219.95

Food

Mutt

  • $30: Two large white dog bowls
  • $5,342.00: Pedigree dog food
  • $900.00: Treats including Beggin’ Strips and Cloud Star Buddy Biscuits

Alright, these are fair. I buy Wendell the good food, too.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $12,382.56
  • Wendell: $6491.95

Doggie Doctor

Mutt

  • $3,120: Routine veterinary care

Checkups and stuff. It’s the responsible thing to do.

  • $672.00: PetArmor Plus flea and tick protection

No fleas or ticks in Wyoming. There are pluses to living in a bitterly cold climate.

  • $1,079.00: Heartworm treatment

It’s only warm enough to do this half the year, so I’ll add half this number.

  • $1003.02: Super VitaChews multivitamins

They make vitamins for dogs? Really?

  • $49.99: ASPCA Pet First Aid Kit

Umm, no.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $18,306.57
  • Wendell: $10,151.45

From here, the article starts to get just silly in my eyes. $4,348.00 in premiums on catastrophic pet insurance? Really? And Wendell’s grooming category falls under sunk costs such as “the garden hose” and “the dish soap”. Don’t even get me started on the doggie clothes for the dog and the doggie-related clothes for the human. Buying a dog that is comfortable in your chosen climate is a lot cheaper. Pugs get cold in Wyoming, Huskies get hot in Arizona. Is this really a surprise to anyone?

The lifetime total for the hypothetical mutt was (are you sitting down?) $59,668.88, but as you can see there are a number of costs that my mutt doesn’t incur. However, even with my fairly minimalist approach (my dog doesn’t even like toys), I’ve ran the cost of Wendell up to five digits. For this, I get constant adoration and a willing mountain bike and ski buddy 365 days a year, which is a pretty good value in my eyes.

Read full article: Labradoodle vs. Mutt: The Real Cost of Owning a Dog.

Michelle’s Famous Healthy Banana Bread

For years I’ve been making this banana bread for road trips, ski trips, ski tunes trades and other various thank yous. It’s a variation on a classic wholesome banana bread with a few more nutrients and a little less sugar. I always make a double batch, usually one regular size loaf for home and two mini loaves for neighbors/friends/etc. If you just want to make one regular loaf, cut the recipe in half (duh).

Michelle’s Famous Healthy Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

about 6 mashed ripe bananas
(3 1/3 cups)

1/2 cup milk
(soy, rice, cow, whatever!)

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 large eggs (or 4 egg whites)

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup combination ground flax/wheat germ/oat bran
(feel free to experiment!)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

cooking spray OR Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch® Nonstick loaf pans

1. Preheat over to 350°.

2. Cream butter and sugar at medium speed until well blended. Add banana, milk, yogurt and eggs; beat well.

3. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt and flax/germ/bran mixture) and stir well. Add to banana mixture and beat until blended. If you want to add some walnuts or chocolate chips, this is your chance to stir in a handful or two.

4. Spoon batter into loaf pans, coated with cooking spray if they’re not nonstick. Bake 1 hour 10 minutes for 9 x 5 loaf pan, 45 minutes for 5 x 2.5 mini loaf pan OR until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

 

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

 

Why Michelle Loves Prana, existentially.

Vote for Michelle! Just kidding, it’s not that kind of contest. But I did make a video in an attempt to win 5 personal training sessions from my indoor fitness place of choice in Casper, Prana Yoga & Fitness. Did I win? Nope. But the video got me thinking all existentially. Here it is: I think to be truly successful in our highly varied society, the ability to adapt is key.

I have seen extreme athletes succumb to their demons when their human bodies aged or injured and refused to perform as they had in years past. These individuals suffer a severe identity crisis which can manifest itself in really unhealthy ways. In my humble opinion, the key to avoiding this inevitable demise is being able to bob and weave with the changes life throws your way. Changes like not having two national parks in your backyard and moving from five minutes to five hours from the best skiing in the lower 48. A snapshot of my personal evolution in this sense is in the video below (along with shameless plugs for Prana).

Untitled from Michelle Drechsel on Vimeo.

Need more gear? Of course you do. Patagonia stuff is hard to get on sale (seriously hard), and the following sale is for the next five days. It just started today, so you’ve got a good chance of getting your size if order sooner than later. Click the ad to go right to their sale page.

 

Be-safe-article-of-the-day: This is why you don’t duck lines at a ski resort. Closed means closed, not because ski patrol is mean but because they want you alive. Read Colorado avalanche article.

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.

Avoiding Avalanches & Snowmobiles

Scenery to Skin to - Pinnacle Butte on Togwotee Pass, Wyoming.

To be clear: I’m not trying to avoid avalanches on a snowmobile, because taking a snowmobile out in dangerous snow conditions on avalanche terrain is just plain stupid. No, I’m trying to avoid the snowmobiles altogether, as well as avalanches.

Before you scream, “Hypocrite! You own your own personal snowmobiling helmet!”, let me clarify. I love the smell of 2-stroke in the morning. However, when your goal is a peaceful, quiet tour with great scenery, it helps to avoid the ‘whah-WHAH’ of snow machines. And if there’s one place sled necks like to go, it’s Togwotee Pass (pronounced toe-go-tee). Which also happens to be on my way home from Jackson.

As you can see in photo above, Pinnacle Butte (pronounced “be-YOOT”) is a gorgeous fortress of breccia cliffs, peaks, and spires in the far southern region of the Absorka Mountains.  We parked at the Deception Creek Cross Country trail, but as we wanted to be in the trees, we headed across the highway from the official trails and up towards Pinnacle.

We had our backcountry ski setup with no intentions of making actual turns, which was a good thing. The snowpack was so unstable that the “whomp” of settling snow was a constant on near flat terrain. To a seasoned backcountry skier, this is a very spooky sound. It is not unlike the thump from an actual bass drum compressed into a terrifying second. To explain what causes the sound (and avalanches), I’ll launch into a horrifyingly simple overview of snow science.

Snow falls in many, many forms which is why 12″ of new snow can be slushy gloop on the Pacific coast and a dry, fine powder in Utah. And of course, the snow may fall in many different forms in the exact same place depending on the air temperature and humidity. So maybe you get a wet, heavy snow in November followed by fluff in December. This would be a good snowpack, since the heavy stuff is on the bottom. But what about when the scenario is reversed? This is what skiers mean when they say that the snow is “upside down”. The heavy stuff is on top of fluff, or worse yet on top of a rain-crusted icy layer. In this scenario, picture a few feet of fluff falling on the side of steep, ice-covered slope. The fluff is going to slide down, right? But maybe it doesn’t slide down right away; it may stick just a little bit until somebody or something weights a certain spot on that slope- and the fluff is released.

To access Pinnacle Butte, park at the sign for the Deception Creep cross country ski trail.

Anyone who has experienced an avalanche burial (thankfully, I know this second-hand) will tell you that fluffy snow ceases to feel like fluff in an avalanche. In fact, the process is very un-fluffy.  Skis, packs, and even clothes are ripped from the skier as a concrete sludge tumbles the body in a hyper-active spin cycle. If conscious, the skier tries to swim up in attempt to be towards the top of the pile when everything stops moving. This assumes the skier knows which way is up. Skiers have reported been partially buried up to their chest and if their hands aren’t free when the pile stops moving, they feel as if they have been cemented in concrete and must depend on their friends to dig them out. This is why you don’t ski alone, and also why you MUST wear a transceiver, carry a shovel and probe (a big expandable stick to find the body) and know how to use them to travel in avalanche terrain. Going without any of these four items (the knowledge to use the tools and evaluate terrain being a crucial item) is Russian roulette.

And this is why we weren’t making turns. The snow pack was so unstable that it didn’t even need the gradient to settle onto itself. There is little question that had we ventured onto the prime avalanche angles, we would have caused an avalanche. And the prime angles are 25° to 45°, which is the same angle as blue and black slopes at a ski area – in other words, the fun stuff. If you absolutely have to get out in dangerous snow conditions, take a cue from us and go for a cross-country tour. It’s great for the dogs, too.
Find an avalanche class by clicking here.

Holiday-detox-of-the-day: 7-day Portion Control Challenge from Vegetarian Times. I would make some substitutes for additional protein of the meat variety but they make it easy with shopping lists and recipes.

Skiin’ the ‘ghee: Grand Targhee Resort

To understand crossing into Idaho from Wyoming to get to a Wyoming resort, note the lack of roads over the Tetons.

With low levels of snow and high avalanche danger, skiing around the Teton Valley last weekend required careful decisions. We settled on Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming and it proved to be an excellent choice.

To get to Targhee (or, the Ghee, as the locals say) from Jackson, one must drive over Teton Pass, into Idaho in order to cross back into Wyoming. If you’re coming from Jackson Hole Airport, the drive will take you 1.5 hours, but only about an hour if you’re coming from town, which can be totally worth it.

Grand Targhee gets a lot of snow – as you have to if you’re so bold as to mark the POWDER AREA on your trail map. That’s right- grab a trail map and locate the POWDER AREA for likely powder. While Sunday wasn’t exactly ‘blower’ (as in so much powder snow in blowing in your face), the snow was actually good.

The groomers were fast and grippy with the only speed limits imposed by how adept your are at dodging tourists, and there weren’t many of those. In fact, we skied on to every lift all day long. The only crowds worth noting were in the Trapper Bar, but given the calendar (it was New Year’s Day) and the amount of ball games on, that’s not exactly a surprise. They’d had 12″ of new snow in the last two days and the rocks showing were equivalent to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on any given heart-of-winter powder day.

And the best part was the lack of rush. On a really blower day (see above for definition), there’s an underlying push to get in as many laps as possible in order to find the best, deepest snow on the mountain before everyone else. Since 11″ of the new snow fell the day before and 1″ overnight, the rush was off. We could cruise groomers or soft, pillowy snow and eat a leisurely, full-service lunch instead of horking down Cliff Bars on the chair lift. We were in such a not-hurry that we left before the lifts closed to stop for beers in the driveway of a good friend living in Victor, Idaho and again for wine in Wilson. It was a very, very slow drive back to Jackson (lest you worry, I was not driving). As I get older and dare I say wiser, I am beginning to suspect that it’s all part of the fun of skiing.

Targhee-tip-of-the-day: There’s a new shuttle from the town of Jackson to Targhee! At just $94.88 for shuttle and lift ticket, it’s a must for apre lovers. For more info on the Targhee Express, click here.

 

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.

40 Miles Feels Like… 40 Miles

The first half of our ride, more or less. The rest is a blur.

I’m guessing that you’re curious as to how I traveled these 40 miles, so I will keep you in suspense no longer – by bike. While I’m well aware that certain die-hard road bikers do “century club rides” (that would be 100 miles) with alarming frequency, this 40 miles trek was my longest to date. And boy, did it feel like long.

We started out strong from south Boulder with temps in the low 40’s. I was nervous. My heart is with my mountain bike and on single track it’s you versus trail, rock, trees, etc. But suddenly I was facing a much bigger, scarier foe (cue dark, gloomy music): cars.

My fear can partially be attributed to the results of an informal poll I have conducted that past 5 years or so. Every time I meet someone who is really passionate about road biking, I ask if they have ever been hit by a car. The answer, without exception, is “yes”. This is not a comfortable margin for me.

So, with the fear of Not Being In Control in my heart and two Boulder locals, we wove through the intricate system of Boulder bike trails before striking out on highway 36 north towards Lyons. For the first few minutes, I had an odd feeling I can only describe as anxiety. The cars passing by were too loud and disruptive. What if someone reached down to change the radio station and swerved? However, finding that level of anxiety too high maintenance, I soon settled into a happy peddling rhythm and watched the colors fly by.

And by colors, I mean bikers. In matching colors. As my friend Aaron pointed out, if you see a biker with a jersey that matches their shorts which match their bike, you’re about to get your butt kicked. I can further simplify that to if you see a biker with a matching jersey and shorts, they are passing me, which leads me to this solid hypothesis: matching makes you go faster.

I did not match. In fact, I didn’t even have slick tires. I was laboring away (happily, I might add) on my Jake cyclo-cross (see this post for more info on Jake). While I appreciated the margin of comfort provided by the tread, I do believe I had to work a bit harder than if I had outfitted my bike with slick tires. But it was all worth it when our posse veered off 36 North to Hygiene road and the Crane Hollow Cafe.

The Crane Hollow Cafe is tucked in the sleepy town of Hygiene and has some truly delicious eats. So delicious that I could have ordered a second sandwich after the first tuna melt went down incredibly easy and just started to ebb the hunger of a 20 mile pedal. Alas, it was not to be – someone (not me) had only brought $20 cash for our duo to dine at the most excellent cafe. This proved to be a problem.

I had no juice left for the return ride. Luckily, our brilliant Boulder friends had stacked the odds distinctly in my favor – we looped back on a shorter, 17 mile road with less hills (okay, okay, I know you’re doing the math and it’s only a 37 mile ride. But 40 sounded better for the title, so just relax). My quads just felt empty. The sandwich didn’t make it past my belly. While I had chowed down before the ride, I had forgotten my #1 rule of long hikes/runs/bike rides – bring lots and lot (and lots) of food in many forms. A Gu shot or two would have made all the difference. While I know this to be inherently true for me, I still found myself without. Is life just a big repeating loop after all or will I someday get wiser (provided I don’t get hit by a car first)?

Yummy-recipe-of-the-day: Whole Wheat, Rosemary & Caramelized Onion Bread from Simplyscratch.com

 

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