Monday, December 27, 2010

Spring 2010: I Am An Unraveler; A Story Telling Traveler

This blog has certainly taken a back seat for a while, so I am making an effort to cover 2010 before the year is up. I will write it in three chapters: Spring, Summer, and Fall since many epic things happened in each season.

In January, 2010, I drove from San Diego to Portland where I decided to plant myself until work started in Alaska in May. I stayed with my great high school friend Tami until I found an apartment with a wonderful roommate, Anya. My apartment was located close to Washington Park and Forest Park so I would go there to explore on the nice days. It was wonderful to be among such green! There seemed to be moss on everything and I was lucky to be exploring all this nature just after the rain was finished drenching the North West for their winter. I was in amazement on my first trip to Silver Falls State Park, the trail of Ten Falls I joined a meetup group with to hike. Ten waterfalls all in this one place, four you could walk behind! It was a great introduction to Portland.
Behind one of the falls on the Trail of Ten Falls. was how I did everything in the spring since I didn't know very many people. I joined a group of females to go on a four day hike along the coast. I met all the girls the day we headed out to the coast. We had one girl who had never done anything like this before, two girls who were my age and quite outdoorsy, and one woman in her fifties who was recently unemployed but lived her life very similar to mine when she was my age. We bonded fast and called ourselves the Sacred Socks after the concept of always keeping one pair of dry socks for sleeping, those socks would mean the world to you after a day of hiking in wet shoes.

We hiked through all kinds of vegetation and terrain. Sometimes we were in lush forest, sometimes we were surrounded by spaced out trees that had thinned out their leaves, and other times we were walking on the beach. At one point we got chased off the beach by high tide coming in much earlier than anticipated and had to do some crawling, struggling, sloshing up a steep embankment through the foulest smelling clay like mud. We stood on the point where Lewis and Clark saw the ocean for the first time, we explored old World War II bunkers at a campsite where we slept inside wood huts with bunks in them. We had to illegally pitch tents other nights due to changes in park rules since the trail book we were following had been written. We covered our tents with branches in one case to not be visible to passers by.

We looked very odd walking along the beach with big packs on our back in comparison to folks out to play just for the day. We felt we emasculated all the cologne, pink colored shirted, backward hat wearing men we happened to see that day... and I wasn't sure if I should be proud or worried as a single woman.

The new girl had a bad habit of animals eating her food. She would leave things out and about and have sandwiches taken by birds or in the morning find food bags empty and chewed through. The best night of all was when she woke me up by screaming “hello?” to no one. She was my tent mate and I woke up scared at the idea of someone standing outside our tent. I told her to be quite since we were, after all, trying to hide. I heard some munching of the the girl who was guiding the trek in her tent eating a midnight snack, which she did every night. I point that out to the new to camping girl, but she insists she hears a closer rustling, and sure enough, it was a raccoon who found her pack which was under the vestibule of our tent, open begging for all the food to be eaten. He had snuck off with the last bit of her food.

I ended up with bad blisters on the soles of my feet which I had to drain every night. It was incredibly painful to walk our 12-14 miles a day, so I had to keep putting myself in a happy place or pay close attention to the games we would play as we walked the trails. It was an incredible bonding experience, to meet four people and spend four days straight with them, sharing camping meals, close sleeping quarters, and accepting all of our smells. We became comfortable real quick with using the outdoors for a bathroom, passing gas, or blowing snot rockets. I loved it.


I had a week off before I was off to my next, and much bigger, adventure. A meetup guide I met at Silver Falls, Scott, and I had been getting together with friends often to watch the PBS National Parks special. Yosemite was mentioned a lot, being one of the first to become a National Park. I was particularly drawn to how it affected John Muir who fought his whole life to preserve this piece of land he lived and breathed in. I was so impressed by his passion for nature and was sad that he lost some of the battle (another story) that Scott decided we just HAD to go to Yosemite, his favorite park, so I could see why this place is so amazing.

My feet were just healed and I had a terrible cold when we had set out on the next adventure, I didn't feel like I had too much time to recuperate between these two epic backpacking trips, but how often do you get to do this kind of thing? Scott did most of the food preparation, I had a bunch of stuff myself and made sandwiches, but he had all the goodies. We planned for ten days, the first four days would be out in the wilderness. We showed up, got our permits to camp and an interesting carry-with-you-potty. Because the snow was more than six feet deep, we couldn't very well dig the required six inches into the ground to place our excrement in, so we were given these bags, not much bigger than a sandwich Ziploc bag, to use. You open it up, just like a Ziploc bag, and unfold a larger bag within it that is more like a small garbage bag. You poo in that, roll it up and stick it back in the original bag and take it with you. There are chemicals to break down your doo doo and you throw it out when you get a chance. It comes with some toilet paper and handy wipes, both of which Scott promptly lost when he first used his and had to use crunchy semi-melted snow to clean up. Hilarious!

Scott was a great travel partner, and it was established ahead of time this was to be a non romantic trip to take the ease off two folks of opposite sex sleeping, once again, in the tight quarters of a tent and having to share information like “I need to use the plastic bag potty” can I have a moment alone? We had practiced using our compasses in Portland ahead of time and each donned one around our necks. We had a map of the area we were going backpacking in, strapped on our snow shoes and headed out. We walked for the first day on the groomed trail for skiers. It was warm enough to wear just my long sleeved Morino Wool shirt, which is pretty thin, but warm. We played with all the snow, threw snow balls, marveled over walking over the tops of road signs because the snow was that high. The second day we decided “what the heck” let's go off trail and really get into the back-country. We stepped off the easy to walk on with snow shoes groomed trail onto what the park ranger called “Sierra Cement”.

The snow was a mixture of all the varieties of snow one could have. It was mostly partly melted so pretty crunchy, but incredibly difficult to walk on. Sometimes your steps would stay on top of the snow, other times you would sink down a foot and you never knew when that would happen. Lifting your snow shoe out of those holes, carrying a bunch of partially melted snow (the heaviest kind of snow as northern folk know) caused us to walk incredibly slow. Despite our efforts of using the map and compass, and following what we thought were creeks (they were covered with snow of course) we ended up completely off track and lost. It was rolling mountain land full of trees, we had no horizon to look too, and we kept getting fed to the East when we wanted to go West. We got a little crabby, being lost and trying to walk uphill in the worst snow shoeing terrain ever, we decided to go straight up a mountain we thought we needed to get over. If anything we'd be able to see landmarks to figure out where the hell we were. It was very steep, and we made steps in the snow. Scott made switch backs but I went straight up, climbing the snow like it was a ladder using all my extremities, sometimes hitting a boulder under the snow and slipping.

When we got to the top we were rewarded with such an amazing view Scott actually got teary eyed. It was not the view of our actual destination, but close enough. We sat up there with our boots and socks off to dry a bit in the sun as we soaked in actually being able to see over the tree line of the forest we were lost in. We could see half dome and other well known Yosemite landmarks from there, and thankfully figured out where we were and made a plan to get back to the groomed trail the next day. We were so well rested and happy that we ran down the mountain in our snowshoes like little kids, and it felt like flying. Each step I could launch ten feet thanks to geology and gravity. Despite having grown up in year wintry wonderlands, I have never seen what actually happens when you roll a snowball down a hill. On TV it's depicted as rolling into a big ball, but in real life it turns into a wheel. We created many of them as we walked and kicked up snow. I thought they were beautiful. I started rolling balls of snow down the mountain to see how big I could get the wheels and we would launch other balls to see how long they would roll for (pretty long). I felt like a child discovering a new playground.

That last day of back country was the hardest for me. I was mentally and physically tired beyond anything I had been before, and my feet hurt so bad from new blisters. My feet were constantly wet and cold (accept at night thanks to my sacred socks). Once on the groomed trail I actually went slower than before, while Scott had renewed energy and bolted off happily towards the car about 4 miles away. That was the longest day of my life, I never thought it would end and vowed to never ever wear snow shoes again. But that was just the tiredness talking of course, because once at the car it was over, we were out of the back-country, stinking to high heaven, but happy as clams.

We went out that night to one of the fancier restaurants because the pizza place was over run by youngsters on a field trip, and clearly not enjoying themselves nearly as much as Scott and I were to be in such a wondrous place featured in the photographs that got Ansel Adams famous. We slept in the car that night. The following day, day five without showering, we went hiking up to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls. I got my hiking legs back and I was hauling butt up the steep incline. It was so beautiful the whole way. We got the top of Vernal Falls first and rested, ate, watched the crazy squirrels, and took epic photos.

Vernal Falls

On the way to the top Nevada Falls we met a man, Steve, who had gotten a bit lost on the trail. Scott adopted him as his hiking conversation buddy and we hiked onward, on the right trail. We had to hike through slippery snow again and it felt like an obstacle course, my FAVORITE kind of hiking. The long long hike up was worth it when we got to the top of Nevada Falls. Hands down the highest waterfall I've ever looked over. We stayed up there taking “artsy” pictures and taking in the scene, throwing snowballs over and seeing how long it took to hit anything. It was wonderful.
Nevada Falls

When we hiked down Steve offered for us to use his room at the hotel he rented to shower and clean up and a place to sleep that night. We were pretty surprised this stranger was willing to share his paid for private room with two stinky strangers, but we couldn't pass up a shower. We cleaned up, went to the local bar/restaurant and ate food and s'mores over their indoor fire and passed out in a warm bed.

The next day we marveled at a frosty Yosemite Falls and hiked to Mirror Lake with Steve and took a thousand pictures of different ways to get our reflections on this glass like body of water. Steve went home and Scott and I hiked some simpler trails before decided to head to the place of big trees, the wondrous giant Sequoias (the only English word harboring all vowels). There is nothing more impressive than standing next to trees that were around when Jesus walked the earth and were so wide it would take ten of me standing side by side to cover the base. Meet The Grizzly Giant: 209 ft tall, 96 ft in circumference, 28 ft wide and 1800 years old and me happily standing next to it jumping.

I felt like I got a great opportunity to really grow into my backpacking self during the month of March. After the Yosemite/Crater Lake trip I had visited six National Parks: Olympic in Washington, Redwood, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite in California, The Everglades in Florida, and Crater Lake in Oregon. The rest of the time in Portland I spent with friends, biking, hiking the local parks, exploring the beach, and enjoying the sunlight and warmth. I was very sad to head north again, knowing how great Oregon is in the summer time, but one must work, and where better to work than Alaska?
Pondering Crater Lake

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