Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To the Mountain!

Posted by Amy Baranski
Doodle by Amy Baranski

Summer's nearing it's end...or in Seattle that means heading into it's last month: September. The best month in the city, except for my birthday month and a few others. But the angle of the sunlight is almost always prettiest this time of year in our hemisphere. It is almost always painful as it pierces the corners of your eyes.

This morning, however, is not sunny.

Which means that from our point of view, which would be on the roof of our apartment building, the Mountain is not out today. That would be Mt. Rainer, or Big Mama. There's a street in Seattle named after Rainier,  it's big and sometimes dangerous, and on a very clear day the Mountain dominates the horizon as you head South.

My Aunt Julie loves Paradise--who's doesn't? It's not a non-sequitur really. Paradise is a section of Mt. Rainer national park. Aunt Julie would rave about it every time she and Uncle Dave came to visit. So, one day I finally went up there with my husband. I can't remember if we were married then, it's been some time. We went in summer, so I wore shorts. But there were still drifts of snow all about the upper parking lot near the Inn. That Inn serves ice cream and other treats.

This time around I am not going with my husband but with friends, and we are not staying near Paradise but near Sunrise Point.

Truth is I've never spent the night on the mountain. So, in many ways, this is a new thing.

The thing about hiking is that in many instances it requires camping, which requires time, money, and fuel. Melissa and I were remarking about the opportunity for next month, coming in the shape of simplicity. For Urban Homesteading one of our shared goals will be in a way simplifying life, and in return saving money. Melissa offhandedly refers to these as Austerity Measures. 

My idea of the Mountain, and in particular Mt. Rainer, is austere. How could rock be anything but unforgiving?

I have 40 minutes to get my things together. I'm completely unprepared. It's going to be one of those I packed in a paper bag moments. By the time we return the month will be close to changing cycling over again from 31 to 1 and so the blogging adventure continues. Until then.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Coming Soon to a blog near you: Car Camping @ Mt Rainier

posted by Melissa
Getting ready for Mt. Rainier.  We are leaving tomorrow morning.  3 adults, 5 kids.

The plan is to leave by 8am.  Drive there and set up camp.  Then get in as much of a hike as we can, given that we will have the most "wished she were pampered and in a hotel at all times" 6 year old you have ever met.

I'd rather be shopping at Nordstrom, and staying at a hotel!
I don't know where she gets that from.

We are then going to camp, eat s'mores, hopefully sleep, and wake up for a new hike the next day.

Chances are we can get a glimpse of the largest glacier in the lower 48 states!

Wish us luck!

More to tell about the actual experience, it could be a good one.  You might want to check back in.

PS....I hear there are bears around there.  crap.


Sneak Peek With My Homeskillet

Posted by Amy Baranski

Yes I am very excited about Urban Homesteading month. I am exploding with ideas. This time around we took two sets of photos for our monthly blog photo. In the same vein as Melissa's last post, I wanted to share a sneak peek. There will be more in September when we refresh the blog. For now, enjoy:

Putting the Urban in Homesteading.

Staying on Track

Like Melissa said, we are still in hiking and backpacking month. My shoulder burns are healing well though. I've been using a homeopathic calendula cream, which has been soothing. My blister on my right heel is still a little bit of an issue so I've been rocking the flip-flops.

We are looking at going to Mount Rainier tomorrow, which will require a rental vehicle to tote everyone up. I have to look into that today. And even though August is running out I think we should try Mt. Si sometime in September, since it's such an accessible climb.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Sneak Peek with a Look of Love

posted by Melissa
Looking Forward:
Amy and I set out for the city this morning.  Unbelievably unlike our usual photo shoots, we were early and prepared.  We are getting pretty excited and have some big ideas for next month's Urban Homesteading.  I just wonder if I can pull it all off.

Here is a sneak peek for next month's photo:
Me and Amy, with one of our photographers. photo by Tallulah

Be Here Now:
We are still in Hiking and Backpacking month, and as such, we are planning another camping trip.  This time we will be car camping at Mt. Rainier, and of course, we will add in a hike.  I'll have the kids with me, so hopefully they won't complain too much about the hike.

Speaking of kids complaining.  Speaking of kids in general, my kids are back.  They were away, on the East Coast, for three and a half weeks.  Yes, I had over three weeks where I could slow walk to my hearts content.  I could pick whatever god damn movie I wanted and nobody insulted me or hit me because of my choice.  It was a great time.  I blogged at leisure, and nobody stood over me griping about how unfair my computer time is.
Chalk rendition of my love for my children.

But then again, there weren't those cute little faces smiling up at me, like only your child does.  That look that says so much; I trust you, I love you, you're beautiful, you're my Mom.  There weren't those cute, chubby arms wrapped around my neck.  There wasn't another set of eyes watching Project Runway with me.  Laughing.

It's tough.  You love them so much.  But they also drive you crazy like no one else.

Yesterday was the first morning we were all together again, just us.  Tallulah whined at me for the first full hour of the day.  Something about the fact that I didn't want to walk her to the bathroom.  She is 6.  She can walk herself to the bathroom, sorry, I was sleeping.  S-l-e-e-ping.  Was sleeping.

I got up.  The whining continued.  The fighting of siblings commenced.  At one point, Lily said to me, "Mama, Tallulah is whining like this....." and she demonstrated to a T the sound of her little sister's most annoying sounds.

"Lily, I heard her!  I do NOT need a reenactment!" I shouted from my chair in front of the computer.

Seriously.  I was just trying to blog.  I wanted to get my "Backpacking Chronicles: 3" post up before I forgot what happened.  Let me tell you, creativity is hard to come by in those circumstances.  

But that is what we parents do, we're not saints, just parents.  We do it as best as we can.  And we hopefully remember to cherish those moments when we share a look with our child.  You know the one.  No words can describe it, but it goes on and on, and fills your heart so you can make it through all the crap.


Friday, August 26, 2011

The Backpacking Chronicles: 3

posted by Melissa
The Ciderhouse Rules!
Our main agenda of being camped near Winthrop was to get to the Methow Valley Ciderhouse.  Amy had been telling me about it for awhile now and she really wanted me to check it out in preparation for our beer and wine making month. (October)  The ciderhouse didn't open until the afternoon and we really had to get in a hike, you know, for the blog.

Satisfaction (I can't get no.)
We found a hike around Patterson Lake near a resort, Sun Mountain Lodge.  As we drove up the steep windy road, I was still wishing we could have been staying in one of the cabins around the lake.  I guess this lame hike listening to the joyful shouts of kids paddling across the lake would have to suffice as my lap of luxury for the weekend.  I say it was lame because, although I dreaded another hike like the one up the mountain, this was more like a 4.5 mile mall walk.  There was no physical challenge to it at all.  Can I never be satisfied?

It was pretty, but after the views from my exposure therapy, it was a bit dull.  Like a kid playing 3D video games all day long, give him a old-school Atari Pong game and sure, he'd likely play but would soon be bored.
Patterson Lake
As soon as the hike was over, we all had no problem quickly making the next choice of our trip.  "To the Ciderhouse!"

Salmon Love

There were only a few people present when we arrived, but it looked like there would be music starting soon.  We ordered our hard cider and sat around under the tent answering Trivial Pursuit questions.  Did you know that the deadliest animal in Africa is the crocodile?

Then the music began.  Ken, a fish and wildlife biologist, started his set and invited Jamie up to play along.  Ken apparently loves what he does for a career, so much so that his music consists of biologically accurate lyrics about many of the subjects he studies.  It was unexpected.

I was already giddy from the cider, and when Ken started hooting like an owl during his song about endangered species, the giggles commenced.  Amy and I were like 12 year old school girls, and I can't remember the last time I laughed so much or so deeply.  I wish I had a video of Amy acting out the part of Billy Chinook's salmon lover.  It wasn't that Ken was funny, I mean, he was funny, in a good way (check out his song about salmon love).  But there was just something in the air that afternoon.  Maybe it was the remnants of all my mountain anxiety finally exploding out of me.
"Ha.  Really?  You don't snort?  Too bad for you."
Another Cider house patron looked over before he left and asked, "Which one of you is the snorter?"

"We both are." Amy and I answered in union, laughing and possibly snorting some more.

"Why?" I inquired, "Are you also a snorter?"

He looked down at us, raised one of his eyebrows and dropped the other in disdain, "Uh...no." he said, appalled that I had even asked.

Diablo Lake
Jamie (or Jared as he was called at the Ciderhouse) and Ken played Country Roads by John Denver.  I went to West Virginia University, and so this song has a very special place in my heart.  I sang along, a sentimental tear just behind all the snorting.

I share this because it was one of the many, many serendipitous occurrences of the weekend.  We left the cider and headed to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop.  As soon as we sat down at our table, guess what song came on?  Yep.  Country Roads!  It was like that all weekend long, one thing after another, reminding me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

After one more night under the stars, and perhaps one UFO, we packed up camp and headed west.  Jamie and Bob did a big hike up near the Early Winter Spires.  Amy and I opted for a shorter hike at the Lone Fir campground, our hike started out paved.  I was satisfied, and a little scared.  We left our bear bells in the van and once the pavement ended, the trail became very "bear-y."  We survived.

back home
We also had a blog meeting at the Mazama Store, checked out the Washington Pass overlook and read some poetry along the trail.

All four of us jumped in Diablo Lake on the way home, it was cold and refreshing.  And left me with the memory of how spontaneous the weekend turned out to be.  How perfectly, without conflict, the weekend laid itself before us to follow its lead.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

State Map and The Open Road

By Amy Baranski

Ponderosa Pine. Photo by Bob Redmond. 
Diving into a cold lake, drying off in the sun, camping by the river on a bed of pine needles, stoking a campfire into the night, watching the stars flicker and the occasional unidentified flying object sail across the sky--these are what summer nights in the Northwest are made of!

With no plan, no place to sleep, stomachs full of Bavarian sausage, and gas still in the tank we pointed the minivan toward Chelan.

Lake Chelan is deep with memories--it's a lake my sister once jumped into from a 50 foot cliff off the banks of Refrigerator Harbor. It's a lake we sailed on almost every summer to reach Holden Village, an old mining town in the heart of the Cascades. By the time we visited, the mine had  been acquired by Wes Prieb and donated to the Lutheran Bible Institute, and the village was restored and converted into a retreat center.

I remember as a child thinking how beautiful Washington State is and knowing that I'd live here someday.

The dust was incredible on the Eightmile trail. It caked every piece of exposed skin, and somehow managed to cover Melissa's feet, making it's way through her wool socks and new hiking boots. Jumping in the lake was the perfect rinse. We joined the families lounging by the beautifully blue water, and cooled down. The sun was moving closer to the horizon but we weren't satisfied with any camping options in Chelan, so we headed to Winthrop--where we thought we could find a free spot along the river.

Last summer Bob and I spent a beautiful weekend camping in Winthrop with our pals Jessie and Aaron. It's a place I've been wanting to go back to ever since.

Winthrop. Photo by Bob Redmond.
When we reached Twisp we saw a campground sign. It didn't say how many miles to the camp so we drove about 12. We turned around thinking we had passed it. There was a site at mile 16 and one at the end of the road. Oh well. We picked up some bottles of wine from the convenient store and headed into Winthrop.

Winthrop is an adorable town. A bit touristy yest, but in an Eastern Washington kind of way. I'd like to live there. Melissa and Jamie were smitten.

We checked out Pearrgyin Lake, which looked like a fun campground, but again too full with the sorts of campers that bring televisions into the woods. Not that I wouldn't camp there. I would TOTALLY camp there, and yes, with my television.

Fortunately up the road we found a campsite that seemed similar to the one Bob and I stayed at last year. Around sundown the next day we'd find out it was the same one.

Once our tents were pitched we built a fire cracked open the wine and talked into the night--you know those kinds of meandering fire pit talks.

In the morning Jamie dipped into the river. I think Melissa and I followed suit. We warmed ourselves up with instant coffee and packed a few things decided to head out for a nearby day hike. Just because our backpacking trip turned out to be only one day didn't mean we'd given up on the hiking portion of the month!

To be continued....

The Backpacking Chronicles: 2

posted by Melissa
There's Nothing That the Road Cannot Heal
(Lyric taken from Conor Oberst's song Moab)

Hiking down.
We hiked five miles out of the Eightmile Lake area, and yes, it was a hike.  Jamie seemed to think it didn't count as a hike.  Why?  Because it was downhill?  Last I checked, whether going uphill or down, if you are out in the wilderness (bear country backwoods wilderness) and you are walking, it is technically termed a hike.  Anyone else care to argue this point?

As I stated in the previous edition of "The Backpacking Chronicles" , the joy had begun to flood back into my sissy ass soul.  By the time we were in the car, driving down around steep cliffs at every curve on the gravel road to get a sausage in Leavenworth, I was thinking that the exposure therapy had really had a lasting effect.  I was not as afraid as I used to be.  Was I looking forward to another hike?  No.  All I am saying is that the drive was not as scary.

We came upon another big decision in the road.  Where should we go from here?  Camp outside of Leavenworth?  But the mosquitos.  Drive up into the Methow Valley?  Seemed far enough that the dream of no mosquitos could exist.  We all opted for the drive and  I love a good road trip.  The wind blowing, the music playing, the sun and a smile all over my face.

We quickly drove from land filled with pine trees and craggy mountain peaks, to a land that was softer and dry, with brown rolling hills.  Maybe it is because we live in such a damp place, but that dry air felt so good.  The arid land comforted my weary heart.  Or maybe it is simply that we were driving away from the mountain.
The pier we jumped off of, Lake Chelan.

We stopped along the drive at Lake Chelan.  It was nearing 4:30pm and we all knew we had to make a choice of where we were going to sleep that night.  I tried as hard as I could to telepathically send messages of sleeping at a hotel to the rest of the crew.  Apparently nobody got the memo.  Our choices boiled down to an overcrowded state park camp site, with our option being site 109.  We drove around, and it didn't exist.  It soon became the title to a horror film in which campsite 109 swallows people up into their worst nightmare.

This not seeming like a good option, we chose to drive on.  As our charmed trip would have it, we came upon a city park where we could swim for free.  Ahhhh.  Lake Chelan.  We all felt reborn in it's clear and refreshing water.  Happliy, we drove on, knowing another good decision was made.

I tried my supernatural mind powers again as we neared Twisp.  I really, really wanted to sleep in a hotel in Twisp.  No such luck.  Again we drove and drove, searching for a campsite that was supposed to be down some road in the middle of nowhere.  We never found it.  Campsite 109 jokes and comments filled the minivan.

Winthrop, WA 
We set our sites on Winthrop.  Bob knew of a campsite outside of town that was free, and he had been there, so it truly did exist.  It wasn't much further up the road, and I relieved myself of the grueling mind games that weren't working.  Yes, we were going to camp outside again, in the tiny tent.  Fine.

Plus, we got to drive through Winthrop.  "Holy F*#king Cute!" I exclaimed, as I drove through the town at about 5 miles per hour.  Can I get an HFC!  Damn that place is cute.  I didn't care that I had to sleep in a tent, I was going to be outside of this f*#king cuteness, and that made everything OK.  It also meant that perhaps tomorrow I was going to get to eat at a restaurant in this cuteness and walk around and dream about living there.

Campsite, not 109.
Yes, a road trip can heal a lot of things.  You drive away from your pain, and again like birth, the further away you get, the less traumatic the memory becomes.  You start thinking of the wildflowers you somehow collected in your memory, when at the time, you didn't think you cared to notice them.  You remember the feeling of being finished, and the sense of accomplishment, finding out that you had it in you to do something you didn't think you ever could.

We set up camp along the Methow River, ate our freeze-dried packets of food, and sat around the campfire already reminiscing on the fond memories we were creating on this trip.  There were a few mosquitos, but nothing like Lake Caroline.  There were just enough to remind us of how lucky we were to be here, and not there.

"Washed under the blacktop, gone beneath my wheels
There's nothing that the road cannot heal."
-Conor Oberst.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Joy & Pain: The Hike to Lake Caroline

By Amy Baranski

Three of us felt a kid-like exhilaration heading out of Seattle. That left one in our group stewing in, what I can only imagine as, dread-like anticipation. Melissa was good-humoured though and it lifted my spirits. All month Melissa had expressed her concerns and worries over the trip. I felt slightly encouraged by her last few blog posts, choosing to believe that she held some excitement for the adventure. Melissa picked hiking and backpacking month for the blog this year. But she wasn't sure why and after airing her doubt and uncertainty I wasn't sure either. We both held out hope for another "Moss Moment".

Fire in Tumwater

Clean and buzzed. Photo by Bob Redmond.
The closer we got to Leavenworth the quieter my friend got. I knew what weighed on her mind. But she hadn't canceled the trip and for that I was thankful. In my own preparation I realized I needed to be certain and reliable on the mountain. I didn't want my own fears to fuel any that Melissa was experiencing. And I wanted to have a good time. Backpacking and hiking is an activity I've always enjoyed and something my husband and I have loved to do together. As we approached Leavenworth, a 100 acre fire (now 200) in Tumwater Canyon detoured us through the town of Plain. Smoke filled the valley and I wondered where the burn headed. Once to Leavenworth we learned from the Ranger that the blaze was North of us, and it wouldn't obstruct our views from Lake Caroline. We decided to pit stop for lunch and hit the trail in the late afternoon. That's when we met the man named Valente.


Our people. Photo by Bob Redmond.
South, is a Mexican restaurant in Leavenworth with Bavarian sausage on the menu. The pints are cheap but the pitchers are not. We ordered some cold ones from our server, the man named Valente. We must have been charmingly inappropriate as Valente returned to the table with four complimentary double shots of Jimador tequila. He heard one of us say we were hungover, he'd been hungover for two days. In turn, we lifted our glasses to the man named Valente. Awhile later he refilled Jamie's beer, on the house. We were buzzed and about to go hiking and gain 2,000-3,000 feet elevation. It was perhaps a little stupid.

Buzz Kill

Wearing 30-45 pounds on your back and heading uphill in the dry heat is, and in no other words, a buzz kill. However, I found the trail, although uphill, to be relatively breezy. We made it three miles into Little Eightmile where we regrouped. We had a choice to head to big Eightmile and set up camp, or push for Lake Caroline, which would be grueling but put us closer to the approach for Mt. Cashmere. I offered that we push on. Everyone seemed in agreement, although I saw an ambivalent look on Melissa's face. Her spirits seemed high enough at the time and physically she hadn't been struggling. I was the slow one in the pack. I hike better if I don't have to stop. If I can just keep moving I'm more likely to go on and not give up with the going gets tough.

Shoulder Pads

Burns from my backpack. Photo by Bob Redmond.
But when we stopped at Little Eightmile I noticed some chaffing on my shoulders from my backpack straps. The mountain air stung against my burned skin. I also felt a blister forming on my right heel. I had an extra pair of wool socks stowed in my pack and slipped them under my straps against my shoulders. It was not the best look but I was afraid I'd start bleeding. We headed up the steep incline. When you're hiking uphill there's a lot of pressure on the backs of your heels. I could feel the ineffectiveness of the moleskin on my right heel but there was nothing I could do to prevent the blister from forming and eventually bursting. It quickly became the size of a quarter, and then a fifty cent piece.

Mountain Beauty

Beautiful wildflowers. Photo by Bob Redmond.
The climb to Caroline was uphill and into the setting sun. It was painful. And it became obvious that Melissa was having an internal struggle. I could tell by the way she was talking to Jamie. There was frustration and anger in her voice. She cried at one point saying she should have spoken up at Little Eightmile when we decided to head to Caroline. But she wiped off her dusty tears and hiked on. We kept going up and up. My legs hurt, my back hurt. I haven't gone to yoga in quite some time and was feeling that perhaps this hike was overly ambitious. I was feeling the ill-preparedness of my body under the weight of the backpack. But still, I was eager to get to the top and set up camp before sundown. Melissa let me pass her and I was now hiking below Bob. We had hiked out of the burn and had entered some beautiful alpine meadows with streams of Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers abloom. This was the best wildflower show I've seen and, while beat, I felt blessed.

The Big Breakdown

Alpine meadows. Photo by Bob Redmond.
I believe it was after Melissa's first cry that she said "I have no joy." We may have been a little above 5,000 feet at that point, and I think it was dawning on her that whatever work she had done before that point she had to do over again to get to the camp. She was walking in front of me and I was glad that she couldn't see the expression on my face. It was a mixture of disappointment, fatigue, and happiness. I wasn't happy that Melissa had no joy but I was happy that she was standing, although begrudgingly, in such a spectacular location. Even though she couldn't see the beauty that surrounded her, Melissa was nonetheless there and working hard. I didn't know what the payoff would be, if it would come that night or perhaps when we all returned to the city. But I knew that whatever this moment was, it was significant. The fact that Melissa had gone this far on her first hike was incredibly impressive.

It was about 500 feet below the lake when Melissa had her big break down.

Things I Won't Lie About

Grimacing from the blisters. Photo by Bob Redmond.
The sun had gone over the last ridge visible to us and I wasn't sure how much light we had left. Melissa needed to stop, and although worried about the waning sun, I welcomed the break. I can't  remember, or couldn't make out what Melissa said. Her face frowned, and I mean deeply frowned, and she sobbed. Her pack was off and it didn't look like she had it in her to put that pack back on. She wanted to know if we going over the ridge in front of us. I thought for a second how to respond. I really didn't know the answer to her question, but I did know that, in my experience, when you're tired and feeling weak and losing motivation, the very worst part of the climb is always in front of you. I didn't want to give her a 30 minute hope when it could have been a 90 minute reality. So I refrained from telling her we were almost there and just gave her the facts. We were going over that ridge and it was going to feel like hell.

The Backpacking Chronicles: 1

posted by Melissa
The Mountain and Me

Me with my backpack.
After getting everything ready for the backpacking trip, I got up early on Thursday morning to go and take my final test for Anatomy & Physiology.  As soon as I was finished, the crew (Amy, Jamie and Bob) picked me up from school and we left for our big adventure.  I was relieved to be finished with the summer quarter of school, anxiety ridden about the mountain I was about to climb, and joyful to be spending time with people I love.

I had to keep reminding myself, "I am on vacation.  This is what some people do for fun."

We popped into Leavenworth for a hearty lunch before the hike.  The first place we laid eyes on was a Mexican restaurant, South.  We were in a Bavarian themed town, but sure, why not have Mexican.  Our server, Valente, was what we call "one of our people."  His humor had me cackling loudly and his hospitality warmed our hearts.  Not five minutes after sitting down, Valente walks over with four double shots of tequila, just because.  When does that ever happen?  I knew, at that moment, that this was going to be a charmed trip.

We all sang along to the Grateful Dead on the sunny drive up to the trailhead.  I wasn't as afraid of the mountain as I thought I'd be as we gained elevation on every curve.  We geared up at the trailhead and cheerfully started our ascent.

It was tough, one minute in and I was huffing and puffing like nobody's business.  All I could think was that I need to get my ass back into the yoga studio.  Three miles in, we took a rest at Little Eightmile Lake.  By that time, I had had some sort of unlikely rejuvenation sent from the mountain gods.  I was literally running up some of the trails, and keeping a pretty good pace.  I also thought we were nearly done for the day, maybe another half mile more to go to Eightmile Lake.

We needed to make one of the first of many big decisions of our trip.  It was 5:30pm, so with few hours of sunlight, should we take the short hike to Eightmile or should we set ourselves up for tomorrow's jaunt to Windy Pass by climbing up to Lake Caroline?  People, Lake Caroline was another 2.5 miles and 3000 feet in elevation.  And I had a 50 pound pack on my back.  The crew decided on Lake Caroline.  I was obsequious.

Last picture of the ascent.
As we started our climb, I was hopeful.  I had the past three miles under my belt, and it hadn't been so bad. I talked myself through most of the first mile or so, reminding myself of the "exposure therapy" I was working through.  I got shaky at one steep and narrow part of the trail, but I kept on going, one foot in front of the other.  I was feel pretty proud of myself by the time we got to our next resting point at a beautiful rocky spot just above the burn line of a forest fire in the 90's.  It was there that I took my last photo of the hike up, and felt the last joy I would feel until we had long since reached the top.

I said the word f*#k more times than I ever thought I could.  It was the only word I could utter.

At some point, because the rest of the hike is mostly a blur, the mosquitos started swarming.  It was around that time that I also started to lose it.  Every time I looked ahead, it was all uphill.  Steep.  Dangerous.  Overwhelmingly impossible.  And I could hardly breathe.

I had to stop, but the mosquitos were relentless.  Jamie begged me to keep going, for the sake of our already spotted skin.  I simply could not.  I just stood there and cried.  Jamie later told me it was the saddest state he had ever seen me in, crying while mosquitoes bit my face, and too tired and despondent to swat them away.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gearing Up

By Amy Baranski

My secondary alarm just went off. I beat it by an hour. This morning we leave for the Enchantments hike. I still have a laundry list of minor chores to do before we depart, including running to the store for instant coffee and mustard packets. Mmmmm mustard.

I'm struck with the regret that I did not buy, or rent, a trekking pole. Maybe there's still time. Maybe there's a rental place in Leavenworth. Maybe I don't need one. Maybe I don't like trekking poles. Maybe trekking poles can go take a hike. (That one was for you Jamie).

Gear, gear, gear.

We all have base, insulation, and shell layers to keep us warm and dry. It looks like the weather will be decent. Yeah...I think we have everything we need. Except the coffee. We need the coffee.

Scott and Ann, some college friends I reconnected with this year, loaned us a tent, some sleeping pads, and headlamps. Scott said he knows the Eight Mile/Lake Caroline area well and has been up Cashmere before. So that was confirming. He said we can't go wrong with any trail up in the Enchantments, the NW having been carved out by glaciers makes the relief and vistas incredible.

In some ways I wish this month could have resulted in us completely checking out and hiking every day on something like the Pacific Crest Trail. That may have been an extreme "new thing" to try for this blog. I guess my wanderlust desire comes from the doldrums of my present day-to-day.

After watching180 Degrees South (for the 5th time) last night I was reminded of my friend Eleanor Boseman. She a photographer who's been riding around China and neighboring countries on a bicycle, by herself, to raise awareness for girls' education. You can read some of her stories on her blog called 2 Wheels 4 Girls. Although the blog updates may be stalled for a bit as I last heard she is currently traveling to India via Tibet.

What is it that I find so appealing about her story? I suppose it's a few things. Number one, Eleanor is taking on the unknown. She's also soloing. Add learning a very difficult and foreign language as an adult (Mandarin) to the list. Then there's that minor detail that she's bicycling vast miles on a daily basis. Imagine pedaling 100 miles then waking up the next day to do it again, and again, and again.

Melissa wrote about the role of the journey, in her post "Who Gives a Shit What the Holy Grail Is", and the rather useless pursuit of hiking or climbing--an idea covered in 180 Degrees South. It's not the "getting there" or even the "having done" it's the doing in life, this month  in our case, the hiking, that is the real crux. This is a great note to touch upon because it begs the question: what do we do with the experiences that change us?

Perhaps I'll leave this post on that note. What do we do with the experiences that change us?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Who gives a shit what the holy grail is

posted by Melissa
Supplies for the Quest
I watched 180˚ South for the third night in a row and finally finished it.  In the end, they show the main character and these two guys about 70 years old each, climbing up a mountain in Patagonia.  To me, it is unbelievable.  No, that word doesn't even do it justice, let me check my thesaurus.  It was an astounding and staggering feat.  They were using crampons over steep pitches of snow and ice, climbing up rocks with only their hands supporting them...and all of this with nothing but the near vertical drops leading to the thousands of feet below.

For me, more than their mind-blowing accomplishment of reaching the top, was their love for the outdoors.  It was about the quest, just being out there.  The main character, Jeff, initially heads there to climb Mount Corcovado.  At 200 feet from the summit, he is unsuccessful due to the conditions of the mountain.  While he is understandably disappointed, Yvon (one of the older guys) says of the experience:  "So it's kind of like the quest for the holy grail, well you know, who gives a shit about what the holy grail is, it's the quest that's important. The transformation is within yourself, that's what's important."

They talk a few times about the transformation that is just waiting out there for you, out in the wilderness.  Maybe that is what initially drew me to choosing this month.  Remember my "moss moment?"   Amy reminded me of it yesterday as we were driving all over Seattle getting our last minute supplies for the trip. I do crave transformation in my life.  And I have found that in the past through nature, a sort of transcending of the everyday.

We humans in the city are so busy running here and there, and by now even that is cliché.  "Like chickens with our heads cut off."  Everyone is so busy.  And for what?  So you can have that fancy new Coach purse ($798.00)?  So you can have 10 pairs of Smartwool socks ($15.00 ea.) and maybe a Smartwool shirt ($85.00) while you're at it?  At least the Smartwool will keep you warm while you are transforming through some transcendental experience in the backcountry.

A movie like 180° South brings me back to my days of idealism.  The days where I ate strictly organic, no processed foods, no sugar, bought hardly anything new.  Or hell, there were the days of only having a backpack and what would fit into it.  We didn't even have a tent, but we weren't backcountry, more in the trees of the on-ramp to the highway kinda campers.

And now here I am, living in one of the wealthiest cities, raising three kids, and all the while getting swept up into thinking, "Hey, wouldn't that purse look nice swung over my shoulder?"

Today, I ponder who I am.  What we are all doing here?  Why we all become so self-centered that we hog all the resources.  For our pleasure.  The movie shows beautiful areas of Chile being exploited with dams and paper mills, so that cities hundreds of miles away and reap the benefits.  I find that stomach turning.  And yet here I sit, in my city, in front of my computer all day long.  Shit, I think I might have at least 5 lights on in my house as I type.  I don't need one of them at this moment.

What to do?

Maybe the woods will soothe my worried mind more than I thought.  I am feeling more open to that.  I may not reach any major peak, but perhaps Yvon is right, it is in the quest that I'll find the transformation within myself.

Thanks for listening...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Journeys: answering questions you didn't even think to ask

posted by Melissa
Back in the winter, I went on a rant one night about why I will never buy wool socks.  Especially those fancy pants SmartWool socks that every decent white person with a higher socioeconomic status than myself sports most months in Seattle.  (Check out the psychological study on the prior link, interesting.)

"I am not part of that SES!" I proudly broadcast, while playing darts in a dive bar.

I am now the owner of new wool socks and hiking shoes.
This blog has created a lot of changes and transformations in my life, but my SES?  Indeed, if SmartWool socks are also your gauge to someone's socioeconomic status, then I guess I am moving on up.

I don't ever like to spend money on these things. Not only because I consider myself to be bonded more with those that "don't have", (as much as I do long to be with the "haves") but also because I really don't get into outdoor activities.  I like backyard camping.  Car camping.  Safe, well-traveled hikes.

I spent most of yesterday leaning towards calling the whole thing off.  In my head, I worked out how I was going to tell Amy that I was not going on the backpacking trip.  I decided it was going to be better for everyone involved if I didn't go.  And to top it off, REI takes returns on everything I just bought.  Well, except for those totally lame hiking pants I purchased from the clearance section.  Why does hiking gear have to be so unstylish?

Speaking of unstylish, I have been walking around town, and will continue to do so all week, in these new hiking shoes.  I have to break them in as fast as possible.  I feel so unlike myself.  I feel completely misrepresented by my shoes.

Moving forward (for the blog), I have found inspiration in the movie 180˚ South.  It is the story of a man's adventure to Patagonia, Chile.  The scenery is breathtaking, and the love for the great outdoors is contagious.  And that's just what I need.  My plan is to watch it nightly.

This quote was particularly encouraging:

"Im drawn to open country. It's where everything becomes clear, where the world makes the most sense. When I put myself out there, I always return with something new. A friend once told me: The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning, you didn't even think to ask."

As of today, I have come back to the commitment I made, and I will take on this backpacking trip.  I might cry.  I might fall.  I might hate every moment of it.  I might get killed by an animal.  But like my Mom reminded me, when it is your time, it's your time...no sense in worrying about it.  Just see the beauty that is around me, as much as I can.  Because I might smile more than I cry.  I might feel strong and accomplished.  I might like a few moments.  And I just might live to tell you all about it.


Skating on Rocks

By Amy Baranski 

Just after falling.
Yesterday, Mom and I headed to the Columbia River Gorge for some hiking. It was the sequel to her birthday bash the day before at Aunt Julie's.

I originally intended to revisit Oneata trail--which is primitive (i.e. unmaintained, and in this  instance requires scrambling over a log jam and hiking up stream) but it seemed too cold, and besides with Aunt Julie's recommendation,Wahkeena sounded like a better trip to do with Mom.

(I've posted photos from the trip on our Facebook page)

We started early enough to hike to the top of Multnomah Falls and catch the trail from there. For those of you who haven't yet been there, it's an accessible paved trail and highly trafficked. It was early enough in the day that not many people were out. So, we wound our way up 11 switchbacks and then caught Wahkeena.
Along the way, we passed Weisendanger Falls, Ecola Falls, Wahkeena Springs, Fairy Falls, and Wahkeena Falls.

Wahkeena Springs
About mid-hike we eyed some mushrooms on the side of the trail. I was very excited to take pictures and show Melissa (remember mushroom month!) which I did. But then started off too quickly without looking at the ground.

I skidded on some loose rock and started to bow forward. I had the expensive camera around my neck and didn't want to break the lens. Somehow I managed to bend my right knee, which I promptly, and very squarely, landed on.

It hurt too much to swear. Or, maybe it hurt too much to remember swearing. Mom would know. She was very concerned. I could have cracked my knee cap, but I knew immediately that I didn't. It just hurt very badly. Like a funny bone, but not so funny. As I stood up I could feel that very light headed feeling before you pass out.

"I need to sit down."

"You have no color in your lips."

I didn't.

I immediately thought about Mount Cashmere and the scree. Hiking on loose rock poses many dangers. We will see what it's like when we get up there.

Falling down was a good reminder at how present one has to be while hiking. It requires a total presence of mind. You have to be aware of the passing of sunlight and water supply, the conditions of the terrain, changes in weather, provisions, footholds, etc. It is always a challenge, and never without it's own dramas, whether that be the landscape, the conversation, or a slight and painful misstep.

Friday, August 12, 2011

If I do get killed by an animal

posted by Melissa

After a yummy dinner with good friends, we set off for an urban hike.  The sun had just set, so there was still enough light in the sky to make out the silhouette of mountains.  Yet it was dark enough to take in the city lights and do that cool thing where you let your eyes blur and everything looks sparkly and you feel like it must be Christmas.

The weather this morning in Seattle could be December weather.  My heat kicked on at around 11am.

Urban hiking is great.  I get my heart pumping, I get to see some plant life by going to one of Seattle's many parks.  And just when I thought I was safe, I got see some wildlife too.  We were headed home after our climb and descent of the Volunteer Park water tower.  As we were walking down a lovely little street in our neighborhood, chatting about what house Jamie had just put a painting bid on, my friend says calmly,

"A raccoon."

"What?"  I replied, thinking I must have misheard her.

"Oh, there's just a raccoon right there." and she pointed to our left.

I looked over, apparently hoping it would be far away, because I did not see anything but a house and some nice landscaping.  Then I drew my sight in closer and there it was.  Huge and looking right at us, only maybe 3 feet away.  I screamed.  Of course.

Everyone else stops to look as I made my way quickly across the street, jaywalking and not caring.  Sooo not Seattle.  Crosswalks, people.  Seattlites love them some crosswalks, and that flashing white guy that signals when it is the only acceptable time to cross.  Even if it is raining and there are no cars in sight.

"Watch out.  That's the mama."  the homeowner hollered over to us.

At which point, everyone else crossed to meet me on the other side.  We all moved along on our merry way.

Is nature trying to tell me something?  Are animals out to get me for real?  Or am I paranoid?  I have decided it is best to take some time to work through my fears.  I am going to sit down and just imagine the worst case scenario.  If a bear, or I guess a mountain goat, attacks me, I will know the safety tips and rules and handle it as best I can.  But if it gets out of hand, and it is going to kill me,  I am going to be OK with that.  Just really work at letting that be OK.  I mean, if it happens, it is just what is going to happen.  I feel I have to accept that to be able to do this hike.

And if I do get killed by an animal, Amy and I have already decided that it will make one hell of a blog post.  I told Amy, she may even have ended up on Oprah if she was still around.  By the way, where are people going to strive to make it from now on?  Who is the heir to the Oprah throne?

Back to hiking:  What is wrong with me?  Does everyone go through this when about to go on a backpacking trip?  Is it normal to work through a scenario of being killed by a bear, gored by a goat?  Am I being too dramatic?  Possibly pragmatic?

Whatever.  As I discovered with the posting of the poetry recitation, I am who I am.  And, I also learned in psychology class that people's personalities aren't going to change much throughout their adulthood.  Although, on this one, the fear of being in the woods...I'd like to prove that theory wrong.

Here's to all the backpackers out there, you brave people.  I salute you.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Warning: Risk of severe injury ahead

Posted by Amy Baranski

I adore hiking and backpacking; aside from swimming they are my all-time favorite forms of exercise. While these two activities are not new to me I'm excited about this month. Practically speaking, backpacking and hiking prove difficult to attempt on a regular basis as I don't own a car (and never have). I wish there was a shuttle or carpool service for people who want to escape the city and go hiking. And it should be called My Sherpa. (Internet searching to commence shortly.)

Other than transportation, time also becomes an obstacle. Finding a suitable trail and ensuring I have the correct map and the essential gear to go hiking seem to require lots of time. As my mother-in-law says: "work expands to the time allotted." So perhaps I should approach this as speed-hiking month!

Given my other life priorities for this month it's likely I'll hike only twice, maybe three times. This weekend will hopefully result as one of those times. I'm renting a car and driving to Oregon to celebrate one of my mother's milestone birthdays. I'm considering hiking the the Columbia River Gorge, a childhood haunt, on Sunday or stopping off at Mount Saint Helen's, or Paradise on Mount Rainer. Not sure yet. Either way it will only be hiking, and not backpacking. Although I could weight a bag and carry it, just for fun.

Permit Zone Map Provided by recreation.gov.
In two weekends we (Melissa, Jamie, Bob and I) head out to The Enchantments. While we did not pull the Core Enchantments permit we are permitted to camp in the 8 mile/Lake Caroline Zone. (The new permit reservation system was very confusing).

I've been to Leavenworth, but I've never done the Enchantments. I so am thrilled to be in that wilderness area. In fact, my husband and I have decided, weather and conditions permitting, to attempt to summit Mount Cashmere. If completed, this will be my highest summit. My two records are 4,167 feet and 6,102 feet. We talked to the ranger the other day and Windy Pass is clear, which is somewhere around 7,200 feet. Cashmere peaks at 8,501 feet elevation. Seems like I go up by 2,000 feet elevation each time. So in 2-4 years I'll take on Rainier (more on that later).

From what I can tell, the rating for Cashmere ranks at technically moderate. Does this mean I need a helmet and rope? Geez I hope not. From a post on Summit.org it sounds like if you have good route finding skills the scramble is mostly Class 2 with some Class 3 sections. Which, according to the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is defined as:
"Steeper scrambling with increased exposure and a greater chance of severe injury, but falls are not always fatal."

Just don't fall.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hiking: Take 1

posted by Melissa
Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake
After a gorgeous weekend on the Oregon coast with friends, Jamie and I set our sights upon Mount St. Helens.  Neither of us had been there before, and it was a clear day for viewing.  The sun was out, and so I thought a hike was in order.  Especially seeing as it was already a week into hiking & backpacking month. One of my picks. (I often go back and wonder why...truly wonder why I pick some of the things I do.  More on that to follow, likely all month long.)

Mount St. Helens was majestic and impressively large.  The hour long drive off of I-5 takes you closer and closer, and night I add higher and higher.  The drive out there had my hands shaking on the steering wheel.  I would get a shudder of nervousness through my body at every edge and bridge.  "Don't look" became my motto.

After getting some great views of the once intact mountain that is now forever in everyone's mind as we try to imagine what it was like for it to blow, Jamie and I set off for the hike.  The real reason we drove all this way.  (Truth be told, mine may have been more to walk on the sidewalk up to the viewing platform and snap a few shots of the volcano, but anyway.)  We pulled off into S. Coldwater Creek trailhead and set off on the dusty, dry path.

It was sunny and dry, wildflowers were out and you could see mountain after mountain in the distance.  It was quite lovely, visually.  Then I quickly started imagining my fear inspired what-if scenarios.  I started to speak to Jamie, up head.

"What if we see an animal?" I started off with broad strokes of trepidation, it could be any animal.

Just then two large birds startle and emerge like a shot from a low tree just to my right.  Jesus christ.  My heart was racing, but I thought that maybe I got out that silly fear, and we forged ahead.  Then the sunny warmth, and my lack of fear both met their demise.  The path lead into a thick, dark covering of trees.  Bugs were everywhere.  I swallowed my re-emerging dread and kept walking.

Not ten minutes later a snake slithered dangerously close to my foot.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reciting, The Second Coming, seated on a bus

Posted by Amy Baranski

I hope this video lives and dies somewhere deep in the annals of the Internet.

CORRECTION: It's supposed to read we "met" Hopper in the video.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reciting, If, seated on a bus

posted by Melissa
I did it!  We recited our memorized poems on the Seattle Metro bus. 

We had a lovely dinner at home with friends and family, added in a little wine for courage.  Ok, and a little sissy rum.  (That's what I endearingly called Amy's coconut rum)  Then we walked up to the Safeway and got on the 43 for a ride downtown.  

I was so nervous.   And I think it shows.  But I am proud of myself for following through, and doing something that scared the shit out of me.  I forgot a couple lines toward the end, but I am ok with that.  I must say, though, it is painful to watch oneself on video.  Just awful.  

"Why do I stick my chin out like that when I think?"

"Um, make sure no one ever has to look at me from that angle."

"Does my voice really sound like that?  And pull my damn shirt up over my shoulder, did I think I was on Flashdance?"

These are a few of the many thoughts I had while watching myself.  But I am posting it anyway, and you know what?  It is completely liberating.  I think my poem would like that.

There you have it.  Me, just as I am, reciting "If" by Rudyard Kipling.  


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

We could do it right here

QFC wine aisle
We were in QFC tonight, buying wine.  Me, Amy, and Jamie.  And since this morning I told my Anatomy & Physiology study partner that we had to recite our poem in the grocery market, I suggested we do it right there.  Tonight, in the wine aisle, while the store was pretty much empty.

Nope, turns out I was mistaken.  This morning in my study/post-flight delirium, I remembered the poll results all wrong.  We are to recite our poems on a BUS! (despite my best efforts at finding every free computer I could and voting for the private party)

And no, that is NOT cheating.  Especially since it didn't work!

Yes, tomorrow at this time I may have already spoken the words of Kipling.  Straight from my memory while aboard a Seattle Metro bus, ripe for your viewing pleasure, or perhaps comical entertainment.  Or maybe you won't even be able to watch it from the sheer embarrassment of it all.  (that would be best, do not watch)

Believe me, please do not watch.  For your sake.

For now, I leave you with my lame attempt at a new background.  I'd have a better one, but Blogger can kiss my ass.  The file is always too big, or not big enough.

That's what she said!


Monday, August 1, 2011

Bee stings and all

By Amy Baranski

I've returned from tropical paradise and am presently sitting in the sun in front of my apartment building. I've got my laptop situated on a postage stamp of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Mara and Ida are speaking in tongues and sliding down the neighbor's handrail. Their moms and Kenny are chilling on the porch. A honeybee is working the clover around me and the grass has already created a rash along my arm. It's ok, I'm in the sun, which is all that matters.

Urban Bee Company toured BeeWise apiary in Kaua'i.

Now if only I were in the tropics. But I can't complain there's plenty of green here and blue skies. I came back to towering tomato plants, bolting arugula, peas that are still producing (it's been a cool spring/summer), yellow zucchini, green beans, carrots that look good, garlic that's finally divided, and some dead raspberries. You can't win them all.

The air is so different here. Kaua'i wasn't muggy by Midwest or East Coast standards but certainly more sultry, humid, and warm. I want to go baaaack. There's something about island time and island life that's so much...how do you say it....better.

I think my last dispatch was immediately after one of the amazing sunrises we saw from the east shore. That day ended up being a comedy of errors. I went back to the condo and found myself locked out. It was too early in the morning for any sane person to be awake.

I attempted to rouse my husband by throwing kukui nuts (or something similar) at the sliding door on the lanai. He was unconvinced by the sound and thought they were pigeons. I considered walking down the street to the coffee shop but realized I had no money. No money, no paper to write on, no phone. I threw the nuts at the window for what felt like forever.

Then I puttered around the koi pond and watched the pool be cleaned. After an hour I realized there was a phone centrally located in the lobby. I dialed the room number and Byron let me in.

The last shot before I was stung.
A couple days later I almost lost my purse to an approaching wave. I had my three-year old nephew watchfully by my side as I saw my purse go out on the other. I vigorously dropped the S-bomb, grabbed my nephew from the wave and lunged for my purse that was spiraling away in a shallow current. The money was salvageable, the cell phone was not.

On another day I was taking shots in a local apiary, opting to go gloveless, so I could manage the camera better, and impress my husband with my composure around the mighty insects. The bees quickly went into attack mode bombing the camera. I was stung on my pinky. In the ensuing hours my hand swelled into a club. This lasted a few days, nothing a little compression and saltwater couldn't cure.

Some mosquito bites, sand flea rashes, and a few bruises later our trip was coming to an end. It was an incredible experience and I'm so happy my sister and brother-in-law and their son shared it with us.

I want sun, palm trees, a breeze, fresh cold coconut water, leis, sand, turquoise waters in my life always.

That's what she said

posted by Melissa
I think I am still delirious.  From the air travel, wine at high altitudes, and the amount of information I attempted to memorize in the past two days.

The Jersey Shore
I flew my kids to the east coast on a Wednesday night red eye (read: 3 hours of sleep) last week and arrived at the Jersey shore for some fun in the sun.  It was a great weekend of family, lots of family I had not seen in years.  And we even met a distant relative that shared my father's penchant for family history.  Don drove down from near New York City to share some photos and stories of what he knows of the Terry family history.  I was surprisingly entertained by it; history typically bores me.

We also spent an evening on the boardwalk.  Riding roller coasters and other daring rides.  Eating ice cream.  Drinking lemonade.  Whining when the night had to end.

I love the beach and the sun.  It leaves me wondering why we moved to Seattle, land of the dreary.  Where summer is but a flicker in your memory, like when someone turns the light on in the middle of the night.  You squint from the light, startled, and when you wake up you think maybe it was a dream.  But there was plenty of sun in Jersey, and I soaked as much of it in as I could.

One day I was pacing on the sunny beach, poetry book in hand, memorizing the Kipling poem, "If."  (Which I have accomplished! although the last stanza is a bit evasive)  A lone kid's shoe on the sand caught my eye.  I recognized it because we walked to the beach behind the kid that was wearing the black Croc flip flops just like the one I spied on the sand.  I feel like people must think I am such a stalker, because I notice so many details like that.  I spend a lot of time watching and observing people.

I walked over to the family, and pretended I didn't know if it was theirs or not.
"Is this yours?" I asked the kid.  He didn't speak to me, but his eyes said yes.
The Mom overheard and  thanked me.  Then she asked me what I was reading.  I told her and she asked a few more questions, and before I knew it, I was telling her all about the blog.  As I walked off, guess what she said?

"Well, good luck with that!"

"That is the name of my blog!" I told her, a little too excitedly, because I kinda swallowed some saliva and my voice sounded funny like there was an air bubble in my throat.  And I almost choked.

"What?" She said, puzzled and perhaps concerned.

Then I gave one of those fake laughs and told her again that it was the name of my blog.  And quickly walked away.  Human interaction can be so odd, or maybe I just over think it all.

Now I am back home in Seattle.  Without my kids.  I call myself a person that doesn't miss people, but you know what?  I do miss them.  A lot.  They are staying on the east coast for a few weeks of grandparent time.  I know they'll have fun, and so will we.  So, I stay grounded in that thought.

Back to Seattle = back to school.  I struggled through one test this morning after minimal sleep, and am working on studying for the next one this evening.  I know it is the first of the month, so I am also preparing for the reading of my poem.  The one I am going to read ON THE BUS!  I can't believe it.  I think I might for real choke and die.  I can't believe I agreed to this.

We are hoping to get the page all changed up for hiking/backpacking (yes, another think I can't believe I thought was a good idea) month in the next couple days...stay tuned.