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

Hell is Frozen OR I’m Getting Old

pathfinderThe older I get, the more I realize that the word “old” is completely relative term and highly situationally dependent. Only during pregnancy can a 35-year-old woman be labeled with “advanced age” and 25 seems a little old to be drinking Boone’s Farm wine. But this little blog post is inspired by my birthday and that boring of boringest boats, the sea kayak.

I abhor sea kayaks because they are designed for paddling across flat lakes with nothing happening more than a slow windmill of your arms. If you just sit in a sea kayak, chances are you will just stay in one place. I personally prefer a little acceleration from mother nature in the form of gravity or flowing water. Consequently I find a white-water kayak exciting (and sometimes terrifying). It is designed for dynamic moving rivers and surfing and fun! If you just sit in a white-water kayak, you’re moving downstream and things are happening, for better or for worse. So what was up with my post-birthday fun in a (gasp) SEA KAYAK?

I wanted to take our new camper trailer out to the lake for my birthday. We chose Pathfinder Reservoir along the North Platte, just over 40 miles from our house with 21,000 acres of water. Since I grew up swimming all weekend every weekend in the various bodies of water in Michigan, a camper trailer was the cheapest way we could think of replicating that experience for our little guy (and to be honest, for ourselves). The baby slept on a bed improvised out of the drop-down dinette set and a bed rail, so I slept lightly and checked on the baby A LOT (who was fine, of course) and was consequently sleep-deprived the next morning. Enter the sea kayak.

The boat was already at the waters edge and our schedule was non-existent, so I jumped in expecting to return the boat to the shore in about 10 minutes. But I got into a weird, peaceful trance and kept telling myself that I would go just to the next little opening in the meandering reservoir and before I knew it, I had paddled for an hour and enjoyed it. Naturally, I blame this on the lack of sleep. Certainly an alert, awake Michelle would be bored to tears by this mindless activity. But since consistent quality sleep could be a summer or two away, this may be a looong experiment full of that weird, long and maybe not so boring kayak.

Cool-mason-jar-add-on-of-the-day: the recap for mason jars

The Greenest Grass

Wendell agrees - It's hard to beat our backyard.

In high school one teacher made a particularly profound impact on my life (sadly, he’s currently suspended because of a mismanagement of an allegation, but that’s another story). He introduced me to philosophy books that flirted with quantum physics or touted human supremacy as a cultural myth. My Midwest teenage mind was blown and I once bragged that I was reading it for the second (or maybe third) time. Like any good teacher, he responded with an metaphor, explaining that while he enjoyed his time in the Black Forest of southwestern Germany immensely, he wasn’t sure he’d ever go back because it’s such a big world and there are so many places to explore. The correlation to books was obvious.

I acknowledge there are subtleties in books and places that can only be gained with continued introspection. Also, sometimes you don’t want a brave new world experience – sometimes, you want old comfy pajamas and a bowl of macaroni and cheese. For those times, re-reading an old favorite or visiting a cherished place is exactly the right thing to do. But when do we throw in the towel on our greener grass hopes?

Right now, I have a pretty gorgeous home on the North Platte river in Casper, Wyoming. Wyoming in general is a pretty special place with lots of land, wind, animals and a few people here and there, which begs a question. What do the other people know? Certainly some people have city tastes and value 3 a.m. grocery delivery over hiking trails, but I know that city life isn’t for me. But there are other adrenaline junky mountain biker chicks in other Wyoming places and even other states. For those that purposefully migrated, what did they see in that place? While Wyoming may be home forever, I’m curious what other people love about where they live. Leave a comment below and let me know!

Get-out-there-link-of-the-day: The 20 best hikes in National Parks list from National Geographic

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.


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!)

No Crowds in Cody

Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill

When a friend offered to show me and my sister around Cody this weekend, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to escape the Jackson labor day crowds and explore Yellowstone’s east gate. What I hadn’t expected was the rich history of a small town that felt pretty secure with its real-deal western roots.

Cody is located outside the east gate of Yellowstone that I have somehow managed to miss until this point. I’ve frequented West Yellowstone both by snowmobile and car and even walked several days to reach Gartner, Montana (the journey being the destination, of course) out the northeast gate of the park, but somehow have skipped Cody. And I’m not the only one.

Cody was (gasp!) filled with locals. Wyoming license plates begin with a two-digit county designation that makes it excruciatingly easy to identify where a car is from. Teton county plates boast “22” and are a prime target for small town speed traps all over the rest of the state. Incidentally, “small town speed traps” is a fair description for the majority of our nation’s least populated state. But in Cody, all I saw was “11”. 11 on the RV’s at the campgrounds and 11 outside the local Silver Dollar Bar (never to be confused with Jackson’s Silver Dollar bar- they still allow smoking in this one). We were utterly surrounded with that rarest of breeds, the Wyoming local.

We entered what appeared to be the epicenter of the native habitat with lunch at Pete’s, more formerly known as Peter’s Cafe & Bakery. I ordered the egg salad sandwich and the grandmotherly lady scooping it up commented, “the only problem with this sandwich is that it’s messy.” I answered “that’s what makes it so good” and she affirmed with a “this one’s really good. I made it myself an hour ago.”

I took that as a pretty good sign. Anytime someone that looks like a grandma is selling food she made herself I get pretty excited. And she delivered.

Cody is named after William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody and the legends fully live up to his colorful name. The first story came from my raft guide friend (so you know if must be true) as we approached the Buffalo Bill Dam. Old Bill wanted the people that lived in the canyon to move up to Cody and increase the population of his town. The people of the canyon said “no thanks”, so he built a massive dam (the tallest in the world on its completion in 1910) and proceeded to flood the canyon. The people moved to Cody. Nice guy, that Buffalo Bill.

I’m not sure how big Buffalo Bill dreamed Cody would become, but it sits at a grand total of 9.5 miles today. It calls itself “The Rodeo Capital of the World” and depends mostly on tourism. It’s always, always windy and either crazy hot or crazy cold. Money flows in off and on from oil but it seems like a large part of what keeps life simple is the notorious Buffalo Bill Dam. It irrigates over 93,000 of farmland in the Bighorn Basin. Maybe that Buffalo Bill wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

You Tube of the Day: cover of Taylor Swift’s Love Story This guy re-wrote the lyrics from Romeo’s perspective and sang/played them on You Tube. Taylor Swift tweeted and posted on FB about it. Interesting to see if the kid gets a record contract from this. Social media and old-fashioned “anyone can do it” American opportunities at their best.