It’s been several days since I returned from Alaska, but I still don’t know how to blog about it. Everything about this running/cruising vacation exceeded my expectations — the people I ran with, the places we ran, the local runners who assisted at our events, our gracious hosts John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield, the food onboard the cruise ship, my cabin, the cruise line employees, the scenery, and the wildlife. It all was, in a word, AMAZING.
I have more than 500 photos and I can’t imagine how I’ll ever choose just a few that capture how wonderful it all was. It may be that I’ll never successfully blog about this. I may have to just count it as a lifetime highlight experience and move on.
But I can’t let it pass without sharing just a few tastes.
I saw wolves running on the beach in Glacier Bay National Park.
We idled near a glacier in a sea of newborn icebergs for nearly two hours and watched/heard the glacier calve… and calve… and calve yet again.
I ran 10 miles on a steep trail in Juneau in a downpour.
I watched a thousand or so salmon packed tightly together in suspended animation just up from the mouth of a stream in Sitka, their bodies adjusting to the change from salt water to fresh water before they could resume their final journey upstream to spawn.
I ran 7 miles through a rain forest (that looked remarkably like home) near Ketchikan, and somewhere on that last run of the week I found a groove. I knew that I could have kept running like that all day. I fell in love with trail running.
Our official mileage for the week was a bit short of the promised 26.2 (perhaps I found a short cut on the find-your-own-course sightseeing rally through Sitka?). I recorded something like 24.9 miles, but I’m not complaining about that. It was all wonderful. It was also quite non-competitive, in that “winning” involved guessing your predicted total time. I finished about 30 minutes faster than the time I’d predicted, mostly because I never saw a bear so I never had to stop, wait, detour, or backtrack.
If you are a runner with a taste for adventure and a yen to travel, or if you are looking for a running-themed vacation with appealing alternatives for non-running family members, I can confidently recommend any of the Marathon Expeditions events. John and Jenny know how to do it right.
I could go on and on like this, but — I’ve got some trails to run…
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…
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.
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.
I haven’t wanted to mention it at all, because I was so afraid of “jinxing it” in this very fragile and uncertain real estate market.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may recall that I put the Palm Springs condo — Kurt’s dream winter home that I somewhat sarcastically dubbed “Kurt’s Folly” — on the market back in February. He had really hoped that I would keep it and continue to use it after he passed away last June. He never gave up his conviction that some day our little mid-century modern condo would be worth a great deal more than we paid for it back in 2009.
But it had always been his dream, not mine. I never wanted to be bi-platial, hated having to worry about whichever house I’d left behind whenever I was spending time in the other. Frankly, I was never comfortable with the size of my footprint — who really needs two homes? Not me, especially not now that it’s mine alone.
I had to drop the asking price several times, and I had to suffer through two offers that fell through before we could get through a series of counter-offers and agree on a deal. The third potential buyer, whose offer I received back in mid-May, never flaked out. We closed today, and I no longer own a condo in Palm Springs.
I suppose I should be ecstatic. This is what I wanted, and although I took a big loss overall I at least walked away with a bit of cash. I’m very lucky, in this real estate market, to find a buyer for my condo in a community of predominantly winter and vacation homes.
Yet I’m feeling very blue tonight.
This is one more step, a very big one, away from the life that Kurt and I shared. He loved this place and was very happy here. Together we worked hard to transform its look from tired late-70s to a 21st-century reinterpretation of its original 1961 modern style. We laughed together every time his Garmin GPS announced, in her impeccable Aussie accent, our impending arrival at “Kurt’s Folly at Stinkin’ Desert.” We ate a whole lot of Mexican food and toured some amazing houses.
A friend took this photo of the two of us in our living room in March 2011. Kurt was very sick, but we were both still smiling. That was a good day.
Just before we left it in May of 2011, a few weeks before he died, he thanked me for bringing him back and said that he did not expect to ever see it again…
When I was back there this winter, I took a lot of photos of the sky, the mountains, and the play of light upon them — my ever-favorite subjects. But when I searched tonight for a single photo that captured the spirit of this place, I was drawn to this one from our first winter there:
I’m quite sure that sometime next winter, when I’m shoveling six inches of snow off my driveway and fretting over how I’m ever going to get in shape for running/hiking/biking season again, I’ll look back fondly on Kurt’s Folly.
For now, though, bittersweet though it may be, I’m relieved to have it behind me and excited to be fully home here at last.
One step at a time.
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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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?” 🙂
This morning I did my last long slow distance (LSD) run before the North Olympic Discovery half marathon, a week from today. I ran west and east on the latter part of the race course for a total of 7.5 miles. This section of the trail had been closed earlier in the week. As I learned today, the trail was closed so volunteers could complete trail repairs and mark the asphalt surface with official mile markers. Marathon miles were spray painted in orange, and half marathon miles were yellow.
Some of last year’s mile markers are still dimly visible, and oddly they are not in quite the same locations. Some small vagaries in the measurement process put those seemingly constant “mile markers” in new places.
The trail is renewed each spring when volunteers patch the sections that have eroded, washed away, and/or been covered by mudslides. This section of the trail runs along the waterfront at the base of a high, rather unstable bluff. I do glance over my shoulder up at the bluff sometimes when I run… It’s perfectly ordinary to see water cascading down the bluff but I have not… yet… seen a mudslide in action. Place making is an ongoing process here. The bluff, it is said, recedes or “sloughs” at an average rate of a foot a year. This trail won’t be here forever.
Meanwhile, I’m happy to see those official mile markers spray painted on the pavement! It gives a sense of immediacy to the upcoming race, and it makes the trail into a series of places that are different from the usual places. The turn from near the mouth of Morse Creek to run west along the waterfront is now approximately “mile 9” (or 22 if you’re a marathoner). The heart quickens in a different way here now.
There were other new markings that required a bit of interpretation. What looked like gibberish on my westbound pass revealed itself quite clearly as “AID 12” on my eastbound return pass. It’s the site of the 12th aid station! I’ll smile at the memory of today, next week when I grab a couple of sips of water at that place.
I also noted a marker for the turning point of the 10k, as well as what I took to be the 4 mile marker for that race. It will start at the same time as the half and full marathons, but will run out and back from the place where the longer races will finish. Having multiple races along the same trail creates an overlay pattern of places that will be interesting for spectators in a completely different way than for any of the people running any of the races.
By this time next Sunday night, the trail will just be a trail again. But those spray painted mile markers will linger as reminders of the places that they were.
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.
It’s the 9th day of the month again. Today marks eleven months since Kurt died. Although grief is no longer at the forefront of my thoughts every day, I still feel sad as each of these small anniversaries approaches. This one seems especially poignant because the next one will be a full year.
At this time last year, I was packing up our things and preparing to drive Kurt and our three cats home from Palm Springs where we’d spent the late winter and early spring. Although he’d been under continuing care (read: “endless chemotherapy”) from a local oncologist, he was clearly getting sicker and weaker. He told me when we locked up the condo and left on May 15 that he didn’t think he’d ever see it again. I said, “Of course you will!” I was trying to be strong and I so badly wanted him to be strong and keep fighting. Perhaps, instead, I should have encouraged him to talk about it, at that moment when he might have still been able to have such a discussion with me.
No, I won’t second-guess my own actions from that time. We all do what seems like the right thing to do at the time.
And the mile markers go by, one after another.
My favorite running place, the Olympic Discovery Trail, has both mile markers and half-mile markers. I don’t look at them much these days, but they do serve as reminders to glance at my watch. I keep getting faster. I’m still not quite sure why I’m getting faster, or how much faster this slow happy runner is capable of going.
Since I started running three and a half years ago I’ve now run 1,577 miles, which is 534 more than last year at this time. I’ve probably run a million steps, give or take a few thousand, over the past year. One step at a time.
I have handled hills, rain, and gale-force headwinds. I can go out now and run ten miles at a constant pace that I couldn’t have done for even one mile a year ago. The next day I’m not sore. I’m amazed that I can just go and do a run like that and feel perfectly normal afterward.
Life goes on. I am not the person that I was a year ago. I will always have “Kurt’s widow” as a deep part of who I am, but I am not only that person. Every step, every mile, every corner turned and bridge crossed, takes me further beyond the life we shared.
My last post was about a bridge on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and it brought a question about whether this was an old railroad bridge. That particular bridge is a new one, but the trail is indeed on an old rail right-of-way, and some of its many bridges are indeed railroad bridges. After my run the other day I stopped to take photos of one of these; it’s just west of mile marker 5. Colleen, this is for you:
While on a bike ride back on April 27 I stopped in the middle of the bridge to look down at the stream. There was a bunch of wood and other debris caught in an eddy current and in the process of getting hung up on the downstream side of the bridge. I watched for a long time as a discarded green plastic bottle swirled around, each time looking like it might escape and float downstream, and each time becoming more entrapped by the debris. Each time I have crossed the bridge since that day, I have stopped to look for the bottle. Each time, it was still there.
Today the bottle was gone. There was still a debris dam there, but the green bottle had somehow escaped and floated on downstream toward the mouth of the stream a mile away.
Time passes. Things change. Mile markers approach and then fade behind us.
Life goes on, one step at a time.
While I was out running the other day it occurred to me that I would have two opportunities (going and returning) to examine the REALLY SCARY bridge that gave me so much trouble on my last bike ride. I thought that perhaps if I stopped and studied it, I might be able to overcome my irrational fear of crashing into the rail while attempting to ride across it. After all, this bridge is no big deal while running!
What I found is that there are several things going on that make this particular bridge so scary. Approaching from the west, it is a nice straight shot from a broad asphalt parking area — and in fact I’d handled it just fine when going that direction on my bike. Approaching from the east, it’s a different story.
The waterfront trail that I run most frequently is paved for most of its length. It’s a soft, thin chip-seal, which makes for a comfortable and pleasant running surface. Just east of this bridge, however, the trail makes a “temporary detour” around an old mill that closed about 15 years ago. Because this section is “temporary” pending final cleanup of the mill site (which may happen sometime this century), it has been left unpaved. Approaching the bridge from the east side, the trail is a combination of loose gravel and mud. It winds downhill and then makes a hard downhill left turn just a few yards from the bridge.
EXHIBIT A: Downhill left turn on gravel, approaching really scary bridge
So here I am, pedaling along, focusing really hard on simply trying to stay upright, because I haven’t done much bike riding in the last 30 years or more. I approach the turn, hit the brakes, try not to slide on the gravel, and hope I’ve got myself straightened out for the very short approach to the bridge. The bridge itself also runs downhill, and is only about 7 feet wide.
EXHIBIT B: The gaping maw of the REALLY SCARY bridge
I ask you: is that not REALLY SCARY?
But the funny thing is, once you are out on the middle of the bridge, if you take the time to stop (or if you find yourself coming to a screeching halt) and then look around, this is truly a beautiful place. This is Ennis Creek. Several years ago I was on a team that monitored water quality on this creek and another one nearer my house. I’ve scrambled around in the water at this location many times. This is NOT a scary place at all. I actually love this place.
EXHIBIT C: Ennis Creek from the bridge
Now that I have studied the bridge and understood the elements that make it so scary from my bike-riding vantage point, I’m hopeful that the next time I try it on my bike, I’ll sail right through. Or at least I’ll be able to laugh at myself for my obstinate, persistent irrationality.
There is a life lesson in this, of course. A really scary bridge is just a metaphor for all those really scary crossings that I have had to make over the past two years. A cancer diagnosis in one’s dearest loved one is a really scary thing. Watching helplessly as he endured one complication, one indignity, one setback after another was really scary. Realizing that I was going to have to get through the hardest parts, Kurt’s final weeks and days, without him being “there” to cheer me on as he had always done for me when the going got tough, was really scary. Saying goodbye to someone who was beyond responding was really scary. Finding myself alone was really, really scary.
He’s now been gone for almost a year. I can look back and know that I did everything as well as I possibly could have. I have crossed one bridge after another. I have learned to enjoy the view. Sometimes I still feel really scared, but I’m learning that I have so much life still to live, so many new adventures that I never thought would be within my reach, and a growing community of new friends who are encouraging me to cross new bridges.
I’ll get over this bridge, and others beyond it. Life does go on, and there is joy in the journey.
One step at a time!