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

Urban Adventure

The L train in downtown Chicago

With nuclear winds in Casper, a few urban trips and a general sickliness about me, the outdoor adventures have been a bit short. However, it has recently been brought to my attention that adrenaline-pumping adventure can also be had in a large city such as Chicago.

On my last weekend in Chicago (last weekend), I thought, ‘This is the most comfortable I have ever felt in a city. What a nice, clean urban environment.’ While my extreme comfort may have been due to the short duration of my visit, my feeling were a welcome change from my usual ‘caged caffeinated rabbit’ syndrome where a search for open space is met with a frantic dash from gate to fence to ‘Private Property- NO TRESPASSING’ sign.

These feeling remained until I got a call from ‘B’ last night.

B, being a conscientious consumer who often utilizes public transportation, was riding the famous L train around 11pm in the evening. Happily reading her Nook e-reader, she noticed a 14-year-old male occasionally staring at her. Aware but not concerned, she continued reading until the Punk jumped up from his seat and grabbed the Nook from her hands and dashed out the open doors. Unthinkingly (obviously), B also darted out the train doors and chased said Punk down while screaming, “You little (expletive)! I’m going to catch you! I’m calling the cops while I run!”. In heavy boots and a few years past 14, B was no where near catching the Punk. But the fact that B had given chase combined with her stunning intellect caused Punk dropped the Nook and B is happily reading it again today. But not on the L.

Disclaimer: B would like to make it clear that chasing petty thieves is generally not a good idea.

80’s throw-back link-of-the-day: 8-Bit Boulder (other cities available, too)

Junkshow Backcountry Weekend

A typical day on Teton Pass- not a space to spare.

A long January weekend in Jackson has a relatively narrow list of outdoor activities and most involve skis of one sort or another. Fully prepared for this reality, I armed myself with the full backcountry arsenal of an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, AT gear and snacks and headed out to Teton Pass.

But Teton Pass was a junkshow. I was punished for the none-too-early nine a.m. start with a ridiculous parking lot scene. The already limited parking on the pass has recently been reduced, resulting in a number of cars lingering in the lot waiting like vultures for earlier skiers to vacate a spot. On this particular day there was an extra bright spot- a large RV parked sideways across the middle of the lot. Staring at the RV with disgust, I was rewarded with the gratifying scene of a state trooper knocking on the RV door and a rag-tag ski kid poking his head out with a quickly evaporating smile as he eyed the man in uniform.

Eventually the troopers (there were two at this point) got the RV parked properly and four of the five circling cars were rewarded with spots. I was in car number five.

With a cursing companion, we backtracked to a midway parking lot with milder terrain and thus, less people. The small drop in elevation got us out of the cloud cover and into full, beautiful sunshine. The mild terrain was exponentially safer and while I had no regrets, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had played into “their” plan.

“They”, meaning the Wyoming Department of  Transportation (WYDOT), “considered not plowing the parking lots during storm cycles to decrease the number of skiers and snowboarders heading into the backcountry on days when the avalanche danger is high.” (according to Jackson Hole News & Guide on Dec. 3, 2010) While this obviously didn’t happened, the discussion did result in a reduction of the number of total spaces plowed. But how do they make sure only the smart kids park in the remaining spots?

When I took an avalanche safety course with the epically qualified American Avalanche Institute, there was some blame placed on the extreme sport film company TGR for exciting the uneducated (in terms of backcountry safety) masses to head out on Teton Pass and start hucking themselves off cornices and snowy cliffs. This is where I depart from the US government court rulings over the last 50 years and become a bit more Darwinistic in my thinking.

If people want to throw all logic to the wind and chug that just-poured cup of coffee or ski that dangerous slope, is it our job to stop them? I like the modern interpretation of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. quote, “Your rights end where mine begin” (his exact words were “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”). I had heard the above WYDOT quote in casual conversation around the valley but realized that many failed to consider the rest of the story – which was that “WYDOT has become concerned with motorist safety on Highway 22 over the pass due to the potential of human-triggered avalanches reaching the road.”

Your rights to be stupid skiing in avalanche terrain end when your avalanche buries my car. The pass remains plowed, but if catastrophe strikes, access could be compromised. Be smart- check the avalanche report before you go out, dig snow pits and make wise terrain decisions.

Cool house of the day: It really is a Stone House (in Portugal!)

Hogadon – better than Michigan!

I recently found myself with a whole weekend in Casper. While I do live here, the trips to Denver and Jackson have been plentiful with few ‘home’ weekends. I evaluated the situation and decided to see what Casper has to offer in terms of skiing- that would be Hogadon.

Located on the summit of Casper mountain, Wyoming’s tourism website calls Hogadon, “an intimate resort”. I’ve played this game before- “intimate” means “small”.  But I knew that going in. After all, I have a certain intimacy with small resorts afforded by growing up skiing ski resorts in Michigan. I was curious how Hogadon would stack up in comparison to Michigan. But I haven’t skiied in Michigan in over 10 years now and I didn’t want poor memory to contribute to belittling Michigan skiing.

While my initial feeling was that Hogadon was more fun due to more vertical and more varied terrain, I decided to put my feelings to the numbers test.

I used Crystal Mountain Ski Resort as my Michigan indicator as it was the #1 designation for my family. The resort was also voted the #1 ski resort in the Midwest by SKI Magazine in 2005, making it a fairly good representative of Michigan skiing. So here are the numbers (and you know what they say about the numbers):

The numbers don’t lie- Hogadon is officially ‘more fun’!

Really cute dog pics of the day (I especially like the ‘big dog’ shadow): Puppy Love

In Awe of Warmth

Barton Springs (admittingly NOT in December)

I certainly haven’t been blogging a lot lately, but I have been enjoying myself immensely- Texas style. Oh ye doubters, you have read correctly- one can enjoy oneself thoroughly in Texas.

Our holiday journey began in San Antonio, where it promptly poured down rain for the first time in 60 days. On a misty afternoon jog, I noticed a tall gauge in the bottom of arroyo. While I spent a month in Mexico to learn the term ‘arroyo’ (a deep gully cut by an intermittent stream; a dry gulch), those born in Texas know it as an everyday word. Beware the arroyo- it can fill quickly. Hence the taller-than-me gauge. Luckily that particular arroyo did not fill at the particular moment, but much like signs for a ‘monsoon evacuation route’, it does impart a sense of the meteorological possibilities.

For an outdoorsy person like myself, San Antonio does have one major asset- and that would be Austin. An hour and twenty minutes from San Antonio, Austin throws everything you thought you knew about Texas right in your face. Organic cafes, live music (and not just the twangy kind) and outdoor adventure abounds. Barton Springs Pool is just one in-town example. At a massive three-acres, the pool is fed from underground springs and stays a 68 degrees year-round. To a Michigan girl, this is a downright pleasant temperature. Texans tend to think it a bit cool and I initially thought its official name was “Barton Cold Springs”.

We then moved on to Houston, which totally surprised me with a vibrant sailing scene. A few days after Christmas I found myself on my future father-in-law’s beautiful 41′ Morgan sailboat with 20 knot winds. The sheer concept of sailing in December took a while to wrap my head around, but it proved yet again that there is adventure in unexpected places- as long as you can adapt to your environment.

Cool shopping bag design of the day

Dear Columbia – Welcome to Cool.

Checking my avalanche transceiver before heading up the mountain in the background. If you look closely at my right hand, you can see the inner cuff with thumb-loop on the jacket- which I LOVED for situations like this.

While gear testing wasn’t a stated goal when I started this blog, a cool thing happened. Columbia Sportswear Company stumbled across little ole’ and decided that I’m the kind of person that could test their new techy gear. After a three-second contemplation, I decided they were absolutely right and received a pretty sweet jacket system in the mail last week. In exchange, they wanted my honest feedback. While they didn’t stipulate that I blog about it, I actually had a great time putting it through the rigors with some pleasant surprises.

In my book, Columbia didn’t rate as anything approaching ‘technical’. Would it do the job? Kinda. Are there much better options? Absolutely. However, it would appear that they are sinking some serious dollars into R&D these days. The $270 Black Diamond Dash Parka™ I received was actually comprised of two pieces: a black, insulated layer and a waterproof/breathable shell. On first inspection, I was impressed. Actually, I thought, “THAT’S a Columbia??”. It has taped waterproof zippers, a beefy and functional powder skirt, and a ridiculously soft and cozy high collar with a functional freestyle fit. I had no idea that Columbia was so with it. But I still had to take it outside.

If you find yourself on a skin trail at this angle, consider setting an alternate, more sane trail.

Sacrificing hugely, I concluded that a true test would involve driving  over to Jackson to do some backcountry skiing. In the backcountry, the skier huffs and puffs up a mountain, sweating all the way, then virtually flies down all that hard-earned terrain in no time at all. Reasoning that this would be fairly rigorous conditions for a gear test, I set off to experience Jackson’s record-breaking early season snow in the name of work. Right.

On the drive over, the snow on Togwotee Pass was too good to pass up. Temps were in the teens with a breeze but the insulated layer with their much-touted omni-heat technology seemed to do its job. You’ve probably seen the advertisements for the “tiny silver dots that keep you 20% warmer”. I personally don’t think 20% sounds like a huge number to brag about, but whatever the silver dots were doing, I stayed plenty warm and appreciated the full pit zips in an insulated under layer (not that common).

The great thing about skiing on Togwotee is that not many people ski there. The horrible thing about skiing on Togwotee is that not many people ski there, which means you’re pretty much always breaking your own skin trail. With little pride in my early season ski fitness, I let the fiancee set the skin trail. I had no idea that he would set it so steep. Really, really stupid steep (see picture at above left).

Oh right, this is why I climbed up the moutainside...

The trail was so steep that the dogs actually spun-out and buried their hind legs. Twice. Like a rear-wheel drive pickup in soft snow, they tried to run faster and faster to get up past the steep corner of the skin trail. This only succeeded in digging their hole deeper and deeper. The 40-pound dog could be easily assisted, but my 60-pound Lab was another story. After the second time I made him ‘stay’ (demonstrating the value of a well-trained dog) to pass him and pack down the snow so he could leap onto an area that wouldn’t give way, I offered some helpful tips to the man setting the skin trail. They may not have been said in a helpful tone.

Soon, all was forgiven as we reaped the rewards of our labors- the sweet, sweet down. The snow could be lighter and fluffier, but it wasn’t bad. I zipped my shell over the insulated layer and had a happy ski down. See the snow piling up around my downhill knee? That’s a beautiful thing- no ‘cheese’ for the camera required. And I’ve concluded that Columbia makes some pretty cool gear- sure, the insulated piece could use a few improvements (like a zipper garage and a zippered pocket on the inside where a velcro one now lives) but the shell is pretty close to perfect and I didn’t freeze or get too hot and sweaty (quite a feat). Overall, the system passed my test with flying colors. And flying downhill is quite the place to be tested.

Life-Saving Avalanche Shoveling Technique: Make your friends watch it too… because it’s hard to shovel yourself out.

Don’t Look the Turkey in the Eye

Michelle is learning that a small head may not directly correlate to small brain size.

Anyone that knows me would not question my motives for hunting. I believe it is the ultimate sustainable, organic and free-range meat. Assuming that populations are healthy and it is done responsibly, I am absolutely in favor of shooting a wild turkey versus buying an animal that was bred with too-big breasts to walk and lived a short miserable life inside a dark box. However, with hunting, you have to be able to shoot the turkey first.

I blame the calendar. My friend swore that the turkeys that frequented his property would amicably wander around next to the barn and their cars while they conducted their daily lives. He said we could literally shoot from a rocking chair on the porch. However, I am convinced that someone slipped the turkeys a Blackberry or, at the least, a pocket calendar, because the turkeys had issued a red-alert for the day we went on their property.

Dressed for a 10 minute expedition, three not-so-mighty hunters snuck around the corner of the barn with all the stealth of an elephant. The flock activated the alarm and set off at a brisk run. But one turkey had a badly injured leg and hobbled in the back. Reasoning that he couldn’t make it through the winter injured, I took aim while the fiancee shouted a none too helpful, “take the shot, take the shot!”. Is this turkey sniper or what? He had also given me a helpful pep-talk on the ride over about not looking the turkey in the eye before I pulled the trigger. Flustered, I pulled the trigger and missed. By a lot, which is better than injuring but not killing the turkey. I tried to chamber another round but the shell jammed in the gun on ejection. Fantastic. By the time I nudged the shell out with my finger, the turkey had flown away.

Have you ever tried to chase a flying object? As a land-bound mammal, we are at a distinct disadvantage. The turkey crossed a ravine while the bipeds had to walk all the way around the ravine to get to the other side. By the time the bipeds were on the other side, the turkey just flew back to the original side. This was frustrating. So frustrating that us bidpeds decided to put our oversized brains into action. If one of us circled around the flock from the high side and pushed them towards the other two, we could probably have another try. I was lucky enough to be in the group waiting for the turkeys to come to me, which we did in enviable style.

It started with wanting a break from the wind. We walked around to the other side of the barn and somehow ended up sitting on a bench on a covered porch with hot chocolate in hand, thanks to Gina. This helped soften the blow that Gina delivered. She said that about 10 minutes after she heard the shot fired, the entire flock passed right in front of her living room window, “and the one with the bad leg was leading the pack!”. She expected to see us chasing after it, but we were probably crossing the ravine (again). Thanks Gina.

Turkeys: 1. Bipeds: 0. And I ate lamb for Thanksgiving.

Duck, Duck, BANG!

I can now cross “duck hunting” off the bucket list. Or can I?

It went like this. The day before the hunt I purchased a small game license along with all the requisite conservation stamps and a box of game-load steel shells. On the morning of, I bundled up with two pairs of long underwear (one lightweight capiline, one expedition weight fleece), three shirts, two jackets, waders, Everest-worthy mittens and a brimmed wool hat. After a few slugs of coffee, I grabbed my Mossberg 20-gauge, put my head down and followed friends into the swamp.

After placing a dozen duck decoys in the water, the boys in the group set down on the waters edge to wait it out. When I asked if our friends wife was hunting, the reply was, “No, she cries. That’s why I bring her- she brings the emotional aspect.” Since this was my first interlude into shooting anything other than a target, I decided to start by sitting back under the willows and quietly chat with our emotional aspect while I watched how things were done.

Ideally, when a duck is sighted, the barrel of the gun should have a wing on either side, which is to say the duck needs to be close. Besides the decoys, this involves extensive camouflaging and a number of small kazoo-like devices that can produce duck sounds. I found the sounds somewhat comical, but apparently this is very serious business as proper duck hunting should result in one dead duck per shot fired. With this pressure, sitting and chatting turned out to be more fun that sitting at the ready with a gun, so I didn’t move from my place in the willows except to periodically brush the snow off my rifle. I would hate to lose it. It had started snowing shortly after we arrived at the make-shift camp and was coming down hard enough to make the landscape around us look quite different.

At least that’s what I told myself later.

After a few hours, the emotional aspect of hunting and myself decided we were getting cold and wanted to go back to the trucks. Traipsing through the snow, we headed the general vicinity of the parking lot. However, as neither of us were paying much attention on the walk in, we failed to remember the dry path through the marshy cattail maze that stood between us and petroleum fueled heat. With my waterproof waders, I intrepidly decided to wade into it to ‘see how bad it was’. The black manky-mank replied by sucking the Velcro sandals off my feet. I made a mental note that my fly-fishing setup of waders and sandals may not be cross-compatible with duck hunting in the snow.

Once the manky-mank had infiltrated the miniature hooks and loops of Velcro, they were pretty much useless and only loosely stayed on my feet. At this point, we admitted we were screwed. I told the emotional aspect that if we got really lost, I did have three rounds in my pocket. She laughed at my suggestion of using bullets as signal flares, but I thought it was clever. We ended up following our footprints back through the snow to find the boys and admit defeat. They may have been slightly amused when we wandered in and asked to be walked out to the maze entrance. We did have a little hiccup coming out of the maze, but eventually made it back to the cars about 30 minutes before the boys (about 1.5 hours after left them for the first time). We ended up driving away with three small, tasty ducks and a new appreciation for the male directional sense.

Cook of the Day: Ted Nugent is a culinary genius and I highly recommend his book, Kill It and Grill It. His recipe was the first time I genuinely enjoyed eating duck.

If you don’t like the weather…

Every state I’ve lived in has claimed the following phrase as their own; “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”. While I can’t say that I was particularly bothered by kayaking in 71 degree sunshine on Saturday, the following Tuesday certainly brought enough change to make the infamous phrase ring true.

The change was snow. We went from a high of 71 to a high of 38 in three days time. Kayaking at the high was breathtaking. We loaded up the boats and drove upstream to enjoy a leisurely 2.5 hour paddle back to the house. Incidentally, I’ve decided my enjoyment of flat water kayaking expires at the two hour mark, but the real excitement of the trip came from back-paddling to avoid a very large cow crossing the stream directly in front of me. While that would have been a new and exciting experience, I will have to save it for another day. So I settled for my quota of vitamin D and wondered how long the weather could hold out. Not long.

For once, I welcomed the change. Although it is easier said than done, I find life is easier if one embraces the change instead of moaning in futile resistance. The snow was here and that seemed appropriate for November in Wyoming. It was as if my body and mind were ready for the seasonal shift that brings cozy nights reading books. It’s time to leave pots of stew simmering on the stove for the day and warming hands with big mugs of tea. For big puffy jackets and fun winter hats. I’m taking this snowfall as an official invitation to slow down, snuggle in and enjoy the shift.

Hat site of the day: Splurge for some winter cuteness at Jackson based Halo Hats. Their new skier design is a total 70’s throwback and is beyond cool.
Lift ticket deal of the day: Snowbird (Utah) Early Season Lift Tickets from $43.99 (Save 41%)

Worst. Bike. Ride. Ever.

Not even close to the highway I was on. But the question of what about 'highway' associates with 'recreation' remains.

I thought of this title on the mentioned bike ride, but then realized I was being a bit melodramatic. After all, wouldn’t the “worst bike ride ever” involve major bodily harm to your person or someone around you? So maybe it wasn’t the worse ever, but a couple of items led to my extreme dissatisfaction. The first of which was that fact that I was not on single track.

I know that the term ‘road biking’ implies, well, a road, but I failed to really absorb how BORING a road can be. You’re either sucking exhaust (mmm), pedaling uphill (groan), hoping the 3500 diesel doesn’t hit you or speeding downhill while praying no surprise potholes exfoliate off your face or any other body part that goes skidding along the surface. Surpisingly, none of the aforementioned items are listed as ‘fun’ in my book. And in Casper, there’s one extra little tidbit of joy- hurricane speed winds. I could actually feel alternate surfaces of my tire interfacing with the pavement as the wind gusted me heavily to one side. When I commented that I felt like I was going to get blown over, the reply was, “you’ll know when it happens”. You don’t say. And lest you think the downhill sections are a bright spot, my only thought nuking down a two-lane highway is “great, that’s another hill I’m going to have to pedal back up.”

Which brings me back to the title. On single track, my mind is in the moment. If I’m not paying attention, a crash is very likely. On a road bike, I just pedal and my thoughts wander to subjects like, how MUCH bodily harm is okay for a little bit of fun. As in, would I rather take a 95% safe road bike ride* with little probability of crashing and little probability of a good time OR would a rather incur small amounts of bodily harm like minor scrapes and stiff hips from my topple-over and have a super-sweet fun mountain bike ride? The answer of course, is ‘bring on the pain’. This is how I know I’m not getting old. This is also why I’ll use my road bike for exercise but my mountain bike is where my heart lives. Casper is going to need some more single track to hold me down.

*all statistics are purely speculation and subject to the daily mood changing of Michelle.

Invention of the Day: A bicycle airbag helmet. Yes, I’m serious. Watch the video- it’s rad.

Wildlife before Breakfast

My new backyard

At 9 o’clock at night, getting up at 5:45 am to kayak the river the next morning sounds like a good idea. At 5:45 the next morning, it sounds like I want to throw something (anything) at the person who is waking me up. Did you know it’s still dark then? As in, middle-of-the-night-pitch-black dark? I didn’t. But I did get up, pull on a layers of clothing, hat, headlamp, and pogies (kayak mittens and incidentally, a key invention in the evolution of man) and proceeded to put my tired self into the front of our tandem kayak. Let me tell you what I saw.

I didn’t really ‘see’ the flock of geese as much I heard them. We weren’t 10 minutes into the paddle when a commotion sounding a bit like a Mack truck started immediately on my left. The Mack truck grew louder as we approached and started furiously honking for us to get out of the way before it decided to take flight and relocate downstream. A narrow miss.

The low water allowed for a more leisurely Chai-sipping pace and at one such interlude, I spied something moving along the bank towards an obvious den. The masked critter heard us and froze to assess the new bright orange creature on the river. Not often seen in this area, the raccoon decided we were more curious than threatening and we were allowed to safely observe him in his entirety with a comforting distance of water between the two of us. Cool.

Finally, I saw what I had been waiting for- a beaver! Although their dam-building can make them a serious nuisance for river recreation and to homeowners, it is super neat to see them in action. This one had its head above water and was swimming upstream straight at us. We spotted each other around the same time and he promptly dove underwater to resurface later closer to the bank. By this time we were downstream of him and he boogied to shore with amazing swim skills. He was probably breaking curfew as it was getting fairly light out. If this amazing Fall weather holds, I’ll try to find his dam and see if I can catch him in construction mode. But as that will require multiple 5:45am mornings, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Super Cool Video of the Day: Tagging bears in Canada- the three adorable cubs are worth the watch (it’s funny, too).

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