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What’s brewing in Slow Happy Runner Land?

All of a sudden, lots of things are brewing and bubbling and simmering, or about to do so.

Remember when I told you about the few bits of cabbage that I’d managed to rescue from the slugs and salvage from my garden? Those 2.2 pounds of cabbage now comprise about 25% of the sauerkraut that is bubbling and brewing on my kitchen counter. I had to go out and buy three large heads of organic cabbage and add them to mine in order to make a worthwhile-sized batch. I’m pleased to report that my cabbage tastes more flavorful than the store-bought stuff anyway.

I’ve never made sauerkraut before, although given my German ancestry it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I had to buy a large (expensive) crock for this project, so I really hope it turns out well. I’ll need to make many batches of fermented vegetables in the future to fully amortize the cost of that crock!

I started this project a day and a half ago, and it’s now beginning to ferment. I’ll move it to a cooler place in another day or so once the bubbling really gets going. If all goes well, I’ll be eating sauerkraut in a month.

Meanwhile I’m getting ready for a real brewing adventure. Many years ago, back when I was making my own bread and yogurt, I ventured into home brewing. Having lived in Scotland for a while as a student, I’d developed a taste for British ales. But imports were hard to come by, and the craft-brewing craze had not yet taken off in the US. The laws were changing and home brewing was not strictly illegal anymore… so I thought, why not?

Loking back, I realize now that I was quite the pioneer in those days. I managed to find a source for equipment and ingredients, and I brewed (as I recall) three pretty darned good batches of ale. Then somehow, my interests moved on to other things. Meanwhile craft brewing exploded, and it became easier to find really good local ales. When I moved to Washington, I got rid of the brewing equipment that I hadn’t touched in years.

Here in Washington (which happens to be one of the great hop-growing regions of the world) our local craft brewers have gone way, over-the-top overboard with hops. I love hops as much as the next girl, but the really “big” IPAs are not my favorites. Lately, my taste has gone in a mellower, sweeter, less-is-more direction. I’m quite enjoying porters and even the occasional stout.

My friend and I began to experiment with expanding and educating our beer palates. Then a brewing supply store opened right downtown. We went to a brewing club meeting and… you can guess the rest.

After a couple more weeks of research and taste testing, we went back to the brewing supply store and walked out of there with carboys, buckets, a beautiful stainless steel kettle, bottle brushes, tubing, various scientific instruments, and the ingredients for our first batch of beer. We decided to start with a safe choice, just a basic “American amber ale.” For the uninitiated, there is an official list of “beer styles,” each of which is characterized by a distinctive footprint that includes yeast type, brewing procedure, color, bitterness, and of course alcohol content. “American amber ale” is (as you might guess) a reddish ale. It’s hoppy but not overly so. The recipe we chose uses two kinds of barley malt and two kinds of hops… no complex formulas or finicky additives. Basically just boil, cool, ferment, and bottle.

I moved furniture out of my former office to make room for the brewery. It’s an ideal space because there is a stove, a sink, and lots of room to maneuver. It’s downstairs where the temperature is a more or less constant and predictable 65 degrees. I can’t think of a better way to repurpose a home office for post-corporate use.

Tomorrow is brewing day. In three weeks I should be popping the cap off my first bottle of Slow Happy Brew.

Now I’m reading about sourdough starter. I did that, too, a long time ago. I think I’ll try making sourdough bread again!

So besides all this sudden culinary activity, what else is brewing?

I’m in the final countdown until my two half marathons, on September 23 and October 7. I’m still trying to think of the first one as “the last long training run” for the second one, but I’m sure that come race #1 day I’ll be out there pushing it just a little bit. However, my training runs have been a bit erratic lately, so I really don’t know what to expect. If I go out on 9/23 and my knees are happy, I’ll have a great day, maybe even another PR without too much effort (I recently ran 10 miles at a sub-10 minute pace). I honestly think that on a downhill course I will beat my hilly PR 2:16:10 without pushing too hard. But if my knees decide they aren’t happy or if 9/23 happens to be a warm day, that race will be a slog. However, it finishes at a microbrew festival, so I’ll drag myself to the finish if I have to.

The Octber 7 race in Victoria BC is one that I do take seriously. I ran that one last year in the seemingly-impossible-at-the-time time of 2:40:33. I’d love to shave 26 minutes or so (that is, 2 minutes a mile) off that time. It’s doable… if my knees are happy that day. So my top priority between now and 10/7 is to keep those knees happy.

Fortunately, my knees are thriving on hiking, so when I’m not running, I’m hiking. My friend and I did a strenuous uphill hike a couple of weeks ago. Views like these keep me coming back for more:

The past few days there has been a touch of autumn in the air. We did a lower altitude hike hoping to see maple and alder leaves starting to turn, but it’s still too early for that. It was a glorious day, though, and we enjoyed the sun shining through this young stand of red alders and douglas firs:

So, what’s brewing, indeed? Just about everything! Slow Happy Runner Land is bubbling and humming with new and exciting things. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow may bring.

What’s brewing in your world?

A year of Slow Happy Runner

Exactly one year ago today I started this blog.

It’s difficult for me to articulate how far I have traveled in that year, but since this is at least nominally a blog about running, perhaps I could begin by expressing it in terms of miles. Thanks to my penchant for spreadsheets, I actually have this information readily at hand.

Since August 28, 2011 I have run 607.78 miles. I ran those miles in Washington, California, Arizona, Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia. I completed half marathon races in Washington, California, and British Columbia, and I ran a staged marathon in Alaska. I ran barefoot on the beach, and I ran on rocky mountainsides. Given that my per-week mileage is continually increasing, I figure I’ll run another 300 miles before the end of 2012.

Since I started hiking in February 2012 I have hiked 131.59 miles. So far the hiking has all been in Washington and California.

My bicycling career is still in its wobbly infancy, but I have ridden my bike 44.50 miles so far.

All together, my non-motorized miles add up to 783.87. That’s over two miles a day for a year!

Finally, I have driven my car approximately (I can’t be precise here without going out to check my odometer, but I don’t really need to be that precise, do I?) 16,200 miles. I’ve driven in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona. I drove most of those miles alone (except for my three cats).

That’s a total of approximately 16,985 miles. That’s a long, long way to travel.

Oh yeah, I flew a couple thousand miles and rode a cruise ship approximately 2,105 nautical miles (2,473 land miles) too…

During that same year I sadly “celebrated” what would have been Kurt’s and my 25th anniversary. I got through my first birthday and my first holiday season as a widow. I decided to sell the condo in Palm Springs. I quit my job because it was holding me back from doing the healing and growing that I needed to do. The condo in Palm Springs finally sold. I came home to new friends, new interests, and a new love.

Meanwhile, you came here to read and follow my blog. I’ve written 111 posts (this is number 112) and had 6,175 page views as of this moment. There have been 782 posted comments by my 63 followers and others. WordPress’s very effective spam blocker has correctly identified and blocked 1,215 spam comments! I have used 18% of my allotted free photo storage space from WordPress.

I’m no longer as slow as I was when I named this blog a year ago, but I am very much happier.

“Slow Happy” has become a formula for how I am trying to live my life. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Amazing things start to happen when you dare to begin.

John Bingham said it better than I can: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Thank you all for running, walking, crying, crawling, hiking, biking, driving, flying, and boating all those miles with me. What a year we’ve had! I can’t wait to see what lies beyond the next bend.

Unexpected adventures — on the trail and in life

After my big 7-mile trail run last week I decided to be good to myself and do a genuine taper before next week’s Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise. I did an easy 6 miles three days later, followed two days after that by a brisk 4 miles (during which I accidentally logged my fastest unofficial 5k ever). I then pronounced myself ready to run.

This, of course, freed up my schedule for another epic hike! It’s the peak of our short summer hiking season here in the Pacific Northwest. The snow is finally retreating and the riot of wildflowers is in its full glory. My hiking friend and I planned to do a 6-mile hike along a ridgetop at an elevation of approximately 5,200 feet. We took our time, stopping to photograph one glorious meadow after another. I could share dozens of photos, but I was especially pleased with this composition of tiger lilies and lupines:

The trail meandered through the meadows and then into a grove of sub-alpine firs. The scenery was sublime, idyllic.

As I came around a corner, I found myself 10 yards from and face to face with this!

 The fact that she was tagged and collared gave me no great comfort, especially when I saw the rest of the family approaching behind her. There were nine mountain goats in all, including three kids and their mothers, a couple of rowdy adolescents, and a very large ram. Look at the sharp horns and big hooves on these guys!

They do look all soft and cuddly, and in fact they aren’t generally dangerous. As far as I know, there has only been one fatal goring of a human by a mountain goat — but it happened right here in Olympic National Park a couple of years ago. So when my friend and I found ourselves staring straight into the eyes of mama goat, there was no hesitation on our part. We turned right around and began walking briskly back down the trail the way we had come.

They followed us. All the way back along the trail, for more than two miles they followed us.

They were ambling slowly and stopping to eat the avalanche lilies, but they more or less kept pace with us. I had been a little concerned about a section of trail requiring a steep uphill scramble (it had been very spooky coming down that ridge face on our outbound hike), but I was amazed how quickly we climbed it with nine mountain goats behind us! When we got all the way back to the parking lot, we could still see them silhouetted on the last ridgetop. People were coming out of the visitor’s center to see this rather unusual close approach of the goats.

I never felt directly threatened, as there was no aggressive behavior on their part. They were simply a family out for an afternoon wander through the meadows, just like my friend and I and other hikers. But they were in their home environment — we were the intruders — and it certainly made sense to be cautious!

You just never know what you might see out there on the trail. I’m really hoping for bears and maybe some near-shore whales next week in Alaska. I hope these “races” turn out to be one grand photo opportunity after another.

Just as I am finding unexpected adventures on the trail, I’m also finding unexpected adventures in my life. My “hiking friend” is becoming a bit more than a friend, and I’m very happy about that. I’ll tell you more in due time, but for now I’ll just say that life is indeed going on, and life is good.

I think Kurt would be glad to know that.

One step at a time…

Revisiting Lake Angeles

I always enjoy going back to places and revisiting them at different times of the day or year. I’m intrigued by how the same place can be so different and yet still be obviously the same place.

I tend to move my favorite green chair and ottoman from room to room as I learn how a house wants me to inhabit it. My favorite chair is the same/different place in each of the rooms in each of the houses I have owned since I bought it.

When I run, I run on trails (both paved and unpaved) that become very familiar through repeated visits. This little rise, that turn and the way it reveals a different view, this bunch of tree roots, that meadow, those rolling hills all become etched in my memory until I could run them in my dreams. I no longer have to look at my watch to know how far I’ve run; the trail tells me where I am. Yet even a very familiar trail can be a different place if run in the other direction or at various times of the day or year.

Now that I am beginning to do a lot of hiking, I feel a bit of a dilemma about placemaking along hiking trails. Some trails, like Hurricane Hill and Sol Duc Falls, are old favorites that I want to return to again and again. At the same time, I feel the call of new trails not yet seen. Which shall I do today? How should I choose from among so many potential new favorite places?

I am indeed fortunate to have too many options so near where I live.

The first mile of the trail up to Lake Angeles, to the place where the log bridge crosses the stream, has become a frequently visited new “friend” of a trail. The two mile round trip is an easy hour’s hike with an elevation gain of just under 1,000 feet.

Beyond the log bridge the trail is not so familiar. Back in May I wrote about my first visit to Lake Angeles, which is at the 3.4 mile point up that same trail. That hike was a rugged trek through deep snow, and reached an underwhelming end at an iced-over, fogged-in lake.

This past weekend I went to Lake Angeles again. This time it was sunny and warm, and the snow was completely gone. What I saw there was breathtaking. I was dumbstruck. This is what was lurking behind the fog of that first visit:

Those are waterfalls, multiple 100+ foot waterfalls, coming down those cliffs on the far side. It looks like one of those impossibly beautiful and probably fake places that show up on motivational posters. But it is real. And it is right here, not very far from my house.

The trail continues up to the top of that ridge, another 2,000 feet higher than the lake. My friend and I were tempted to start up that trail, but there is still a lot of snow up there. We’ll save that part for another day later this summer… and an early morning start for what will be a major adventure.

Meanwhile (despite the fact that I mostly blog about hiking these days) most of my energy is still focused on running, ramping up the distances and building my comfort level with running on rocky, root-filled ground. My excitement is building as the Alaska marathon cruise approaches. I’m still not completely comfortable with running two days in a row, but I figure my Alaska trail “race” experience will not be all that tough on my knees, what with the frequent stops for photo ops and all…

Those trails will take me to places I’ll most likely only see once in my life, so I’ll only get one shot at placemaking. I want to have enduring memories of the “where” and not just the “how fast.”

I shall be slow, happy, and present. Every step of the way.

Weird weather

As I write this on a Friday afternoon, thunder is rolling around me. It’s been doing this now for more than 15 hours.

What’s the big deal, you ask? What’s so special about a thunderstorm on a summer day?

Well, we just don’t get weather like that around here. In the past 15 hours western Washington has seen and heard more thunder and lightning than we’ve had in many years (some reports have claimed 30+ years), and some of the most intense thunderstorm activity I’ve ever seen in my life.

Situated as we are, perched between several thousand miles of cold north Pacific water and steep mountains, we seldom get warm enough for long enough periods of time to develop strong thunderstorms. Hence the famous Pacific Northwest drizzle — lots of moisture but little energy.

While the rest of the US and many parts of the world have had record high temperatures and severe weather events over the past several months, the Pacific Northwest has remained stubbornly cool, even below our normal temperatures. Yesterday’s high of 79 was the highest of the year so far, whereas in a typical year we’d have had several days in the 80s or even higher by now. This string of thunderstorms is due to a highly unusual, strong, persistent, low-altitude low pressure system that has decided to park and hang out for a while.

Last night I saw several lightning strikes within two blocks of my house. I have large windows and a skylight, which provided a front-row view and actually caused me to duck a few times!

I had big plans for a trail run today through a remote area that is mostly clearcut with just a few big trees remaining (a friend was going to accompany me on bicycle). That does not seem like a very good idea right now.

It’s just one more kink in my training schedule. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get those long trail runs done. My typical “long” run is about 6-7 miles right now, and when I run on trails I have to run shorter. My knees have been just a little cranky and I’ve had to decide that shorter, less frequent runs will do for now. Still, I’m enjoying the running that I am doing, and on a good day it’s been delightful to run along the waterfront and take in the summertime views.

When I’m not running, I’m hiking. Due to our cool, wet spring the snow is lingering late in the mountains. My hikes continue to be stymied by four-foot deep snowbanks that seem to come every few yards, one after another so that one is always climbing up, clambering across, and climbing down. The payoff, however, is between the snowbanks. Sprouting right under the snow and literally blooming as soon as they are snow-free, there are thousands of avalanche lilies.

They will only bloom for a couple of weeks in a given location, and then they’ll be gone until next year. When I see avalanche lilies, I stop worrying or thinking about anything else. I just stop and be with them. This is my life, and it is a good one.

I shall be slow and happy wherever I go, but especially so in places like this one.

I’ll do that trail run tomorrow… maybe. These storms are forecast to continue through the weekend! 🙂

The wild life

With my Alaska marathon cruise now only three weeks away, my running continues to be a good day / bad day sort of thing. I don’t want to push too hard with my training and injure myself to the point that I can’t run at all in Alaska, so I have backed way off the ambitious training plan I’d created for myself. I’m now letting my knees be my guide as to whether and how far I run on any given day. I’m confident that I haven’t lost much, if any, speed and strength. If I really want to, I can put it all out there on the trail. I’m also aware that I won’t have many opportunities in my life to experience those trails in Alaska. Any ambitions that I might have had regarding pace will be completely forgotten when I see bears, caribou, or who knows what else along the trail.

Of the several new elements of my current training, I believe the culprit that is bothering my knees is the hydration pack on my back. I did fine when I tested it with just a few ounces of water, but when I bumped it up to 20 ounces my knees were very unhappy the next day. I’m now running shorter distances and leaving the hydration pack at home. Bingo — knees are much better!

I don’t really think I’ll need to carry a lot of water in Alaska, as the 10-mile race does have one aid station. So I may be fine running with just those few ounces of water… oh, and my camera too!

Because I’ve become accustomed to lots of exercise, I decided to augment my abbreviated running plan with as much hiking as possible. Although it seems strange, my persnickety knees actually feel better after an uphill hike. It’s like they get kinked one way while running, and the hiking kinks them in some other way and it all comes out better and stronger in the end.

Or so I’m telling myself, as I’m enjoying some amazing early summer hikes into the mountains. I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of wildlife as well as the flowers that bloom almost immediately after the snow melts.

I like to say that Olympic National Park is practically in my back yard. Here is some local wildlife that I saw right outside my window! Here are two baby raccoons that are about half the size of my cats (who were going crazy next to me when I took this photo).

Life gets a little wilder out along the trail. One day I encountered a group of half a dozen Olympic marmots who were intently rooting in the dirt, grunting and growling like kids squabbling over pizza. Other hikers and I theorized that someone had made an unauthorized pit stop along the trail, creating a small “salt lick” that was irresistable to these guys. I don’t have a good photo of the crew in action, but here is another marmot that I saw near that spot a couple days later:

Also near that same area, I spotted a bird I’d never seen before — I got to add the Horned Lark to my life list. This guy was strolling (they do walk rather than hop) through the tall grass and singing his little heart out:

At the top of the hill, my friend and I stopped for a snack. He was eating nuts, and it didn’t take long for a pair of chipmunks to find us. We didn’t feed them, but they certainly tried to convince us that we should. These guys were fearless, running right into my friend’s hands, up his back, and even briefly on top of his head! I believe this is a yellow-pine chipmunk:

The approach to this hilltop is through a sub-alpine meadow at an elevation of 5,500+ feet. The wildflowers are just beginning, but this patch of glacier lilies was wonderful (no, I don’t know what the small white ones are):

The trail I was hiking meets another trail that I have wanted to do for several years. I actually ended my dissertation with a photo of that trail meandering through the meadow from the trailhead and a promise to myself that I would hike it soon. That day finally came. I went less than a quarter mile before meeting deep snow in the trees and having to turn around, but soon I’ll return to follow it all the way down to the Elwha River. Wouldn’t you dream of hiking here too?

I’ve just given you a teaser of the mountains with that last photo. Here is a bit more, for context:

I’ve saved the sweetest wildlife story for last. Returning down the hill, my friend and I saw a family of deer… a doe and her very young fawn along with two adolescent deer. The fawn couldn’t have been more than a day or two old; he or she was still wobbly on its legs. The family drew a crowd of hikers, and the fawn was briefly separated from the others when they crossed the trail. This sweet, brave little guy stood there all alone, while we all wondered if mom was going to go off and leave him!!

Finally he bleated, a soft mewing sound like a kitten. Mom, who was up the hill on the other side of the trail, heard him and turned around. She stood waiting while he darted across the trail and clambered up the hill. I captured the reunion and the happy ending to this story:

All’s well that ends well!

I feel like wildlife sometimes myself. My life, too, can seem a little wild and unpredictable. Sometimes I think I lose my way, lose sight of the trail or whatever overly-ambitious goals I may set for myself. But in the end, one step at a time — whether I run, walk, or meander slowly through the meadow — I’m going to get to wherever I need to go.

Looking forward

While I have spent much of the last two weeks looking back and remembering, I have at the same time been looking forward. I think that for me June may always be a time of looking backward and forward. A time to reflect on what and whom I have lost, what I have left behind… and a time to anticipate where I am going and who I am becoming.

I tried to remember to give myself some time off to rest and recover after the half marathon two weeks ago… but with sunrise just after 5:00 AM and sunset after 9:00 PM this time of year, who could possibly waste a moment of this rare, precious Pacific Northwest sunlight? This time of year, even on days when it rains, there are usually a few lovely hours to get out and do something active.

So I’ve gone straight back into my routine of running, hiking, and biking at every opportunity. I’ve actually ramped up on the running, as my Alaska cruise with the staged marathon is coming up in less than six weeks! To prepare for that trip, I have introduced three new things into my weekly running schedule:

  1. I’ve increased my weekly runs from three times to four: two back-to-back days, one rest day, and two more back-to-back days. This simulates the running schedule for the staged marathon.
  2. I’m now running on trails — real trails, not paved surfaces going by the name “trail.” My trail running shoes are finally getting to do what they are designed to do!
  3. Because the trail races in Alaska will have minimal aid station support, I bought a hydration pack and I’m learning to run with a significant quantity of water on my back.

So far I have only tackled one of our many local unpaved trails, but it’s a good place to start. It’s in a county park with many loop trails so I can experiment with different conditions all within a small area. I can run up and down hills, through meadows, on soft level surfaces, or in places where I have to pick my way through rocks, roots, and/or several inches of freshly-laid wood chips. I’ve actually tried to run this park several times in the past and been daunted by the hills and the uneven ground. Now I seem to be taking it quite literally in stride. But who wouldn’t want to run through places that look like this?

Or like this place where I lost myself in a glorious self-as-deer fantasy?

This kind of running is just plain fun. It’s play! In a way it’s more difficult than running on pavement. I have to slow down and pay attention to where and how my feet fall. But it’s possible to fall into a sort of bounding meditation. I am slow and happy out there!

I’m doing the trail running every other time, and very slowly increasing the distance. On my non-trail days, I’m focusing on consistency of pace and learning to carry and sip water with a minimum of fuss.

I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for my next half marathon sometime this autumn. I could run Victoria again, or I could search around for something new… preferably in a place I’ve never run before! I found this very interesting race in southern Oregon. I liked it for a couple of reasons — it’s quite near some of my family members, and it’s all downhill! Or nearly so. Oh yes, and it ends at a harvest and brew festival featuring over 30 different microbreweries. What could be better than a downhill beer run with family to cheer me at the finish? It finally dawned on me that since the races are two weeks apart, I could use the Rogue Run as my last long “training” run before Victoria. In other words, take my time, enjoy the scenery, relish the microbrews at the finish, and then taper for an all-out go on Victoria’s perfectly flat course. How cool is that?

Definitely something to look forward to!!

On non-running days (and sometimes also on running days!) I am taking some amazing, wonderful hikes. A few weeks ago during an extreme low tide I was scrambling around on rocks getting up close and personal with tidepool life. I took so many photos I had a hard time choosing just one, but this should give you an idea. I believe this guy is a short-spined sea star.

Yesterday, after a fun 6 mile run I wanted just a bit more, so I hiked 6 miles along the Elwha River, upriver from the two large dams that are being removed (I wrote about the hiking the lower lakebed here). The Elwha was running high and raging due to rapid melt from an above-normal winter snowpack, but the trail along the river was idyllic.


At a place called Goblin’s Gate (or is it Goblin Gates? I have two maps that disagree!), all that water gets forced through a narrow gap, perhaps 30 feet across.

Further upriver are the sites of several 100+ year old homesteads that are now part of Olympic National Park. The park service has chosen to maintain some of the original cabins and orchards as historical landmarks. This cabin was built in 1900 — wouldn’t you love to spend a night here?

It’s wonderful to have so many good things going on — long summer days with friends, being active here and now, and looking forward to greater adventures to follow. I may not blog as regularly as I intended when I quit my job back in February… but there is simply so much to DO!!!!

I know, I know (to quote myself)! — “How did I ever have time to work?”       🙂

How not to taper

It wasn’t in my training plan, but when my hiking friend suggested yesterday that it was time to go all the way to Lake Angeles, I enthusiastically agreed!

We’ve been working our way up the Lake Angeles trail for several weeks now. The trailhead is at an elevation of about 1,850 feet. I’d never been to Lake Angeles before, so I had no idea of its elevation. But this trail continues up to mile-high Hurricane Ridge so I knew it had to be lower than that.

The first time I hiked up this trail, we encountered snow just over a mile out, at about 2,500 feet. I freaked out at the sight of a snow-covered log bridge and refused to go any further. Once the snow had melted at that level, we began hiking up to the log bridge a couple of times a week. We’d count the calypso orchids on the way up (I’m told that the 250+ that we saw were a “bumper crop” this year) and spend some time studying the changing water levels, which signaled lots more melting snow upstream. Once I even got to see this location in bright sunshine! A rarity in this forest any time of the year.

I credit this trail, with its continuous, moderate uphill grade, for much of the progress I’ve made with my running strength and my new ability to run up hills.

A few weeks back we tried to go further up the trail, but were stopped after another mile, at about 3,500 feet, by deep snow. We haven’t attempted it since, but my friend was eager to give it a go yesterday… which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

The weather forecast on my trusty iPhone looked great — partly cloudy and mid 50s. No sooner had we started up the road, however, than the skies turned dark and it began to mist. Being intrepid Pacific Northwesterners, we carried on. I at least had a hooded jacket, but my friend was in shorts. We did both have gloves, as well as food and a rudimentary emergency kit… we’re not totally crazy.

Lake Angeles is just over 3.3 miles from the trailhead. We hiked upwards through a steady mist. It was cool, but far too warm for snowfall. Less than half a mile from the lake, at the 4,000 foot level, we reached snow on the ground. At this point my friend would not be deterred, and frankly I was up for the adventure as well. There were lots of footprints from previous hikers in the snow, so even though it was hard to see the trail at times we knew we were more or less on course. I was wearing trail running shoes, and I found their traction to be excellent — better than the hiking boots I relegated to the back of the closet when I got these shoes.

A one point we had to bushwhack through small trees in order to avoid an area that had become an underground river running below four feet of crusted, icy snow. This was a bit scary at the time (and looking back now, it was probably a bit foolish), but we were awfully proud of ourselves for successfully getting through it.

Shortly after this spot, we did find a sign (the top was barely visible sticking out of the snow), so we knew we were still on the trail!

The lake was a mere 100 yards from here. Surprise! — it was, of course, iced over and mostly covered with snow over the ice. It was also foggy, raining rather hard, and quite cold there.

 We didn’t linger. We were both soaking wet by this time.

Coming back down the trail and once below the snow line, I couldn’t resist the urge to jog a bit on the more level portions. I can now say that I’m a trail runner… or at least a downhill trail runner. I have now actually run in my trail running shoes.

According to my GPS watch, our round trip hike of 6.7 miles involved 2,900 feet of ascent and the same amount of descent.  The actual elevation change was about 2,500 feet, and the rest was the small up-and-downs of a natural terrain. Subjectively, the whole way up is a constant, steady climb. But the way down was a great introduction to trail running!

No, this is NOT the right way to taper, days before a half marathon. However, it was an incredible demonstation to myself of how strong I am becoming both physically and mentally. I’ve accomplished a lot in the past couple of months, helped by a friend who is gently encouraging me to push my self-perceived limits.

Now, I think I’ll take it really easy the rest of the week. No more impromptu treks through snow fields.

Well, maybe a short, easy hike up just one mile to say goodbye to the last of this year’s calypso orchids…

Downstream transitions

My last post earlier today was completely focused on running, which is appropriate because with my local half marathon less than three weeks away, I am primarily focused on being ready for that race. This will be my sixth half marathon, and it will be the first one for which I have actually managed to stay with a training plan, get all the planned long runs in on schedule, and (I hope!) will feel ready, rested, and able on race day. My new post-corporate status has helped make that possible, but it’s also because I haven’t ever given up. Over the last three and a half years I have kept at this running thing, making the plans and honoring them, adjusting them when life circumstances required, learning to listen to my body, when to push and when to back off. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, I have kept on moving.

Hiking and (to a lesser extent because I’m still wobbly) biking have been wonderful cross training experiences, and I really do feel the difference in my strength especially when running hills. But hiking is a slow, immersive, meditative experience that I’m really coming to enjoy for itself.

Over this past weekend I had the great privilege of hiking the former Lake Aldwell. Not far from my town an incredible, unprecedented transition is taking place. Two century-old dams are being removed from the Elwha River. It is the largest dam removal project ever undertaken in the US, if not the world, and it’s been in the planning/approval/funding process for more than 20 years. The intention is to restore the historic salmon runs (according to folklore, in the old days you could walk across the river on the backs of the 100-pound salmon) and to return the Elwha, much of which runs through Olympic National Park, to its wild river state. Scientists of every stripe have come here to plan and oversee the process of removing the two dams, draining their lakes while managing the 100-year silt accumulation, letting the river find new channels through the lake bed, and watching new vegetation reclaim the area (while keeping the invasive species out).

The removal of Elwha Dam, the lower of the two dams, began last September and was completed a month or so ago. I saw photos of the lake bed shortly after the dam was removed and really wanted to go there, but I wasn’t excited about sinking into mud so I’ve waited until now.

What I saw was otherworldly and wonderful. The river has indeed found its channel, and it is a meandering one that cuts through layers of silt, sand, and gravel. The most striking feature of the landscape is the tree trunks. These are the remains of gigantic old-growth Western Red Cedars that were cut and salvaged just before the lake filled. The stumps range from 4 to 12+ feet high depending on where they sit relative to the silt/sand/gravel beds. They apparently were burned at the time, but because this is a virtually indestructible wood, much of the mass is still there… after being cut, burned, and submerged for 100 years! Most of these stumps are ten or more feet across, and they are everywhere. The lake bed is a “moonscape,” eerily desert-like, but teeming with signs of life.

See those notches in the stump? Those are proof that it was cut more than a century ago, using old logging techniques that I am unable to describe to you (but you can probably google it).

While it may look desolate, I’m happy to report that life is definitely returning to the former Lake Aldwell. My hiking friend and I marveled at the large number of tracks left deeply and precisely imprinted in the fine silt on the west bank. We saw lots of elk (or possibly mountain goat) prints, but what really caught our attention were these prints:

We can’t decide whether these are coyote or cougar prints. Based on their large size (compare the shoe prints) and roundness (not elongated/oval) we think they are cougar, but my field guide book tells me you wouldn’t see claws on cougar tracks. However, my field guide may not take into account how thick and gooey the mud was when those tracks were made. If I were a cougar I might have extended my claws to keep from sinking too deep. What do you think?

After we hiked about half the length of Lake Aldwell, we drove up to the upper dam (Glines Canyon Dam). This dam is still intact, but Lake Mills is being drained at a rate of about one foot a day. The reason for this slow trickle is to prevent a wall of silt from rushing downstream to the fragile, recovering downstream riverbed. It will be nearly another year before the upper Elwha runs free. I couldn’t photograph Lake Mills because construction barriers have been put in place… but I could peek through.

Back here in town, another transition is being envisioned. You may recall that one of my goals for post-corporate life was to become involved in local community building initiatives. Well, I have found my place, at least for now, with the Transition Towns movement. This is an initiative that began in the UK and is focused on creative local response to environmental and economic threats. Transition initiatives emerge within communities in a grassroots fashion in response to this question:

“For all those aspects of life that our community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil), drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change) and greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)?”

I’ve become a core member of a Transition Initiating Group, and we’re in the process of figuring out how to address this downshifting question in a way that uniquely fits our local small town — geographically isolated, with a dying/dead logging industry, millions of acres of protected wilderness, seasonal tourism, a short growing season, but LOTS of water. Our demographics range from Libertarian to Green, from Microsoft millionaire to retirees who are barely scraping by on Social Security. I don’t believe Sasquatch exists, but I know for a fact that there are homeless veterans living back there in the woods, and they do not want to be bothered by outsiders. All of these people, these voices, need to be brought into the conversation about the future that we are trying to initiate.

So it’s an interesting project, but it’s giving me exactly what I hoped to find. I’m meeting and working with people who may have widely differing perspectives but share a desire to thrive in the face of whatever future challenges we may or may not face. Whether or not you “believe” in whatever predictions one or another scientific model may make, isn’t it prudent to be prepared in case this or that worst-case scenario might happen? And even if it never happens, isn’t it a great thing to sit around a table with thoughtful people, sharing a meal and talking about one’s hopes and dreams for the future?

I think so.

It took vision and perseverence to make the Elwha River run free, and I want to lend my vision and perseverence to making my small town a freer, happier, more neighborly place to be.

Wouldn’t you?

Another day, another new adventure

These days, if it’s happening outside and does not involve standing on my head, scaling cliffs, free-falling, or immersing myself in ice cold water, I’m willing to give it a go. The more I do, the more fun I have and the more confidence I gain.

Since my last post five days ago, I’ve logged 12.5+ miles running, 10 miles biking, and 7.5+ miles hiking. It’s all been great!

I’m still patting myself on the back for an awesome 8.1 mile run on MAJOR HILLS yesterday. I ran most of the hilly portion of the course for my local half marathon, which is coming up on June 3. I ran the hills in both directions, giving me more miles of hill practice than I’ll have to run on race day. I’m still not sure how I did it, but I ran those 8 hilly miles at a 10:53 pace, which is about 45 seconds per mile faster than I’ve ever run hills like those before. I planned this run so that I would finish the 8.1 miles exactly 5 miles from the finish line of the half marathon. As I ran down the hill back to where I’d parked my car, I was asking my body how it might feel about running the other 5 miles to complete 13.1 miles at (or close to) the pace I’d set.

I think I would have had to slow down for those last 5 miles. My knees are feeling rather tired today, and I was glad that my self-made training plan gives me a rest day on Mondays. I’ll be ready to run again tomorrow, and if things continue to go this well I’ll be ready to reach for another PR in June. But now is not the time to overdo it! It would be a real shame to push too hard and injure myself now.

The 10 mile bike ride was interesting, because I rode the exact same 10 miles as I’d run the weekend before. The view is different from a bike, and I suppose it’s less strenuous than running, although I’m still having trouble navigating narrow spaces. This makes crossing bridges difficult! This particular route involves crossing four bridges twice each. They are beautiful narrow bridges over small streams. I love running over them and I never think twice about the fact that they are only a few feet wide. However, my bicycle wheels seem to be irrestibly drawn toward bridge rails! I have trouble getting through a bike ride without panicking and slamming on my brakes at least once. Even so, the non-bridge portions are fun, and I do feel a bit like a 12-year old as I sail along with the wind in my hair.

The 7.5 mile hike over the weekend was a relatively flat but brisk ramble along the shore of Lake Crescent, within Olympic National Park. One section of the trail features a narrow bridge (similar in style to but narrower than the ones giving me trouble on the bike) across a small, deep cove. As you approach the bridge, it looks like it goes straight off into the lake, but in fact the trail curves around the rock wall to the right. It’s a very beautiful place that I had never seen before now.

Along the trail I spotted the first of this year’s calypso orchids. These delicate, elegant flowers are just over an inch across.

I love this section of the trail, lined on both sides with mossy boulders.

Did I mention that this hike was brisk? Although my friend and I did take time to enjoy and photograph the views, we hiked at a pace approaching “forced march,” because we had volunteered to work at a downhill mountain bike race later that afternoon.

I had never seen a downhill mountain bike race before and had only a vague idea of what to expect. It turns out that these are single-purpose bikes, with monster suspensions and little in the way of gearing — they are designed to do nothing else but go downhill fast. The local track is muddy but firm and is loved by practitioners of this rather arcane sport. I’m told it’s considered one of the best downhill mountain bike tracks in the country. In any case, more than 450 people including about 175 professionals from all over the US and Canada turned out for this event.

I wish I could have taken photos, but I was far too busy to think about anything but my task. I was responsible for lining up the racers in a predesignated order and staging them at the starting line, while my friend (who actually knows something about the sport) did the countdown and released the racers at 30 second intervals. I’m amazed that they entrusted me, a rank newbie, with my job — but hey, it was only the qualifying round. The 50 or so male amateurs on my shift were cooperative and generally followed my occasionally confused instructions, while the 20 female pros were polite and helpful.  The 150+ male pros were a little more challenging. I had to shout a few times to get them to stop taunting one another and pay attention to me, but I got everyone to the starting line on time and in the correct order. It was a really fun afternoon and I’m glad I stumbled into the opportunity to do something completely new.

New friends bring new adventures! It seems I may be in for a very active and adventurous summer.