One day lost

Wednesday afternoon we spent in the Dallas airport, waiting for the Qantas desk to open so we could recheck the rifle, having had to leave security after our flight from Des Moines to do so. That had its adventures (firearms logistics will get a post of their own in due time), but soon enough we were through security again, eating not-bad thai food, reuniting with my parents, boarding a huge plane at 9pm, and flying 16 hours through a continuous night to land in Sydney at 6am. Thanks to the magic of technology and the international date line, Thursday had for us never came into being. 8 hours later we had regained two lost time zones, cleared customs in Queenstown, gotten our slightly sputtering Mitsubishi 4×4 from Rent-a-Dent (not joking), and were eating pizza downtown on a loud Friday night. A further 12 hours and I had fallen asleep before 8pm, slept for 9 hours, and am here right now, watching the sun rise over southern New Zealand.

It’s all actually happening.

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I feel obligated to say that we’re here thanks to the generosity of my parents. The internet exacerbates an aura already robust in modern American (and elsewhere?) culture, which pretends that everyone is more affluent (monetarily) than they are. Among other things, it is all but expected that once you reach a certain level of adulthood you’ll buy a house, largely irrespective of the financial details. M and my life is delightful and full of more options than we’ll ever have the time to take, but working jobs we love puts in place monetary and time constraints which are inexorable, and which we’ve come to terms with. These more prosaic lacunae are not often enough discussed out loud; the result being a collective mis-identification of what most of us can sustainably manage. So do not mistake us.

With this trip, discussions last Christmas pointed quickly towards New Zealand, now. My parents are both very healthy, but no one is getting any younger, and life is not getting any simpler. January-February was a good down time for everyone’s work, and if everything went to plan M would be neither too early nor too late in pregnancy, and thus still able to hike at close to full steam (nailed that one, btw). Most of all the decision hinged upon the increasingly obvious need, the older we all get, to do certain things as soon as possible if they are to be done at all. Which is why after a whole lot of sitting in small seats and a decent bit of airline shenanigans (Kiwi customs folks are very nice), we are were we are and all set to head north into the mountains after breakfast.

Updates will be available as the ambitious schedule we’ve set for the next three weeks allows.

A note on poststructural wilderness

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Last night I had something of a fever-dream flashback. It was no doubt enhanced by the sinus cold which has had me on the couch for the last 72 hours, but the effect was unmistakable: all of a sudden I came out of the haze of this weekends illness, through the chilly fog of coastal northern California, and into Bill Devall’s living room over a decade ago. I was between my junior and senior year of undergrad, and had secured a modest grant to write about modern environmentalism under the guidance of one of the founders of Deep Ecology. Having just come off two semesters of 19th and 20th century continental philosophy, I was well equipped to tell Bill how (for example) Kant had been filtered by Nietzsche into Derrida.

I was not equipped to elucidate the cultural divide brewing at time in environmental philosophy, and instead spent a lot of that cold summer listening to Bill and his colleagues. In summary, their complaints were the same as those raised by Kenneth Brower, son of the late Dave Brower, in a recent piece published by Outside.

Just as Mr. Brower says of wilderness, so I say when I try to sum up his arguments here: I know these debates when I see them. But 12 years on I still don’t fully understand them, where they came from, and why they remain such a big deal. Brower mentions “deconstructionists” and that “Their dogma has brought to the study of environmental history what deconstructionist theory brought to English departments across the land: surpassingly beautiful subject matter…is subjected to barren formulas and rendered a wasteland.”

My undergrad professors told me that the only people who used “deconstructionist” as a plural noun were those whose understanding was insufficient for the task of parsing and interpreting the variegated thinkers at work in the post-Foucaltian/Derridian world. A number of these folks used and use deconstruction as a method, but too many wilderness folks were all too willing to see outwardly confusing ideas wrapped in continental cafe smoke and, as Brower does in a low act of intellectual laziness, dismiss them with ad hominem attacks.

To keep my historical divergences brief; it is useful to deconstruct the idea of wilderness which is as of late 2014 given so much legal and cultural force in America. Langford and Hayden, instrumental figures in founding Yellowstone and the American NPS, had ideas about the worth of wilderness which were products of their time. So too did Theodore Roosevelt, Bob Marshall, Howard Zahniser, and of course David Brower himself. All of these biases are worth investigating and critiquing, and this process used as inspiration for the future. (As is the fact that of all the ready names I was able to dredge out of my mind, none of them were female or non-white). Complaining about this process is like those folks who, when Avatar came out in 2009, were dismayed that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as harmless entertainment after the profoundly racist tropes upon which the film was built were pointed out to them. Or, to be less prosaic, like those people who would rather not consider why so many well-of white western couples prefer to only adopt brown babies from third world countries (because poverty in the first world is genetically linked to degree of moral corruptness which is in turn linked to being not-white).

Wilderness, insofar as it only exists as a human idea, is of course a tainted concept, and will always remain so.

The real area of conflict is not, of course, in the historical dimensions of deconstruction applied to environmental thought, but in the ontological ones. The Derridian follow-up to any historical investigation of wilderness would be, as Brower hints at, a reminder that wilderness is a cultural construct which does not exist outside the human mind. Such statements do not mean that wilderness as a physical entity does not exist, at all, outside the human mind, merely that we are incapable of understanding, thinking, and talking about it in any other terms. Deer might have interesting things to tell humans about wilderness, but we cannot ask them. And if we could it is quite possible that we would never be equipped to gain anything from the conversation. The point here is that any discussion of wilderness where a party leans back on their interpretation as having better access to the Truth of wilderness is suspect. Said party is exercising, or attempting to exercise, hegemony of one form or another. In Brower’s case here, it is by claiming to have a better understanding of how wilderness as we know it was created.

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In the end this is a self-defeating argument. Brower would do better to focus on why his understanding of wilderness, and that of Dave Foreman, for instance, is preferable and more valuable than than those of the “deconstructionists” whom he abuses in his article.

Readers here may be familiar with the dislike I have for Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden.  Brower might consider Marris a deconstructionist; and regardless my critique of Marris is one I think he would have been better off making against William Cronon and others.  Marris makes the obvious historical deconstruction of wilderness, and then concludes that this idea ought to be changed for the 21st century, largely because we humans have learned better and will be able to better manage wild places for ourselves and other animals in the near and distant futures.  It’s a myopic argument which bypasses what I see as the central conclusion, which ought to be drawn before all others, of the environmental movement from 1870 to the present.  We humans are bad at knowing what we don’t know, and we should keep the largest tracts of wilderness around as is possible because we have no way of knowing what we’ll learn from them in the future.  And if precedent is any guide, we’ll get important things from wilderness, soon.

If the arc of human knowledge as it’s best which went from Hume to Hegel, to Nietzsche to Derrida to us has done anything, it is show that human knowledge can be self-aware; can define things that it knows and things that it does not know, and maintain those distinctions during everyday life.  It’s not necessarily a comfortable position, but when we have decent thinkers like Brower and Marris throwing up their hands and diving off the boat (albeit in different directions), little good is accomplished.  I’ve long thought that the post-Hegel/Nietzsche project of revaluing human values leads inevitably towards environmental ethics, insofar as that discipline at its best is concerned with critiquing anthropocentric views of the world.  Combining an ethical understanding of the world which is explicitly anti-anthropomorphic with an knowledge-system (epistemic understanding) which denies capitol T truth claims has just enough contradiction to seem correct.

Apparently, the world isn’t ready for an environmental ethics based on a post-Nietzschean, post-Quinean epistemology, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be sad about it.

Auroral

A lot of hyperbole and purposive lies have been written about the road up to Polebridge, Montana. I suppose the road is rough if you never drive on gravel, but it usually takes right around an hour to drive the 45 miles from our driveway to the Mercantile, if we don’t get stuck behind traffic. Contrary to the claims of one writer, I have never seen Bighorns along the road, nor has anyone I know. What you do find in Polebridge is remoteness. The road is just un-smooth enough and long enough to break the seal on normal society. Even the cleanest tourist realizes that having a bakery, store, and bar in such a place is not something to be taken lightly.

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M and I headed north last night to get a good, light-free look at the aurora borealis, which was forecasted to be very visible. It was not, at least when we were still awake. What we did find was the Northern Lights Saloon, open for their last pizza night of the year.

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The Lights is an old cabin with a kitchen and restroom grafted on to the back. In mid-summer, the bar and tables inside are empty, the picnic tables out front in the shade full. On this cold and clear September night the outside was empty, and the small bar and five tables full to overflowing.

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The Lights has a good kitchen, beer on tap, an excellent whiskey selection, and a very old cash register which still works. We stood around the wood stove, warming our feet, drinking beer, and talking to friends until a table opened up.

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Thecla, one of the servers, was named after her grandmother, who homesteaded in Wyoming and became a postmaster when women weren’t normally hired because no one else was available, and the office in Washington didn’t know how to gender her name.  M took St. Thecla, who miraculously survived burning at the skate and a sentence to be eaten by wild beasts, as her confirmation saint.

We ate pizza, drank more beer, and more whiskey than I’ve had in a long time (not saying much).  The intimate night seemed both solemn and joyful.  We toasted ourselves, and 11 years of marriage next month.  We toasted our friends, and reacquainting with them after a good summer.  We toasted Rob Kehrer, Cody Roman, Ted Leach, and everything having to do with finitude and memory.  We toasted choices and fate, which had led us to that place, on that night and in that manner.

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And afterwards we went outside and looked at the stars.

Circles

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I started my outdoor life hiking, and to hiking I will always return. It has been as constant as just about anything else in my life.

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Glacier is an important place in my life. Decades ago during that first visit we did what most people do; hike the highline, play on the pebble beach at Apgar, see St. Mary Lake, and hike down to Hidden Lake.

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No doubt there are a number of Hidden Lakes in the northern Rockies, just like there are a lot of Cabin Creeks and Bridalveil Falls. Common names don’t, or at least shouldn’t, take away the potency of a warm haven during a hard winter, the memory of a family member back east, or the result of a long summer exploration, the moments after which these landmarks were presumably named over a century ago.

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My only memories of that first visit to Hidden Lake are of marmots in the rocks, the thin and precise gravel beach, and the mountain goats walking along said beach, refusing to move around us as we sat fishing. My mom said the mosquitoes were horrid, and we left far sooner than my isolated but vivid memories would suggest.

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There were no bugs this past weekend; just fast clouds and a wind that had us wishing we brought gloves.

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We were lucky.  Mom had called back in the winter and lucked into one availability at Sperry Chalet.  I wanted to get there via the Floral Park traverse.  She taught me to hike and backpack three decades ago, and I wanted to show her what I had done with it since.

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Floral Park isn’t the hardest dayhike in Glacier, but it’s pretty well up there.  The ascents are steep, the descents steeper, and while the off-trail section is fairly short, the constant attention you must pay to both the scene and your footing wears quickly.

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I took pains throughout the day to remind mom that we had plenty of time, and that going slow to go fast is the way to do these things.  Constant, efficient steps with all possible energy saved, and no injuries, is the method of choice.

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When it rains on the 40 degree beargrass, deliberate foot placements are no joke.  The fibrous stalks mimick a slip and slide very well indeed.

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By early afternoon we were in the glacial basin itself, the highlight of the trip, and walking over the wreckage Sperry built as it retreated.

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We took the easy way, walking over the toe of the glacier itself, which is a great way to see the varied ice and snow and the weird formations therein.  I brought a pair of microspikes, which my mom appreciated.

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Unfortunately I did not also bring my crampons, and we ended up wanting them.  The usual exit from the glacier is in late summer a short (~70 meters), gentle (25 degree max) slope up to a rock buttress.  A prominent cairn on said buttress is visible for most of the walk across the basin, a tantalizing marker of civilization.  Unfortunately the lower and steeper half of the slope had melted down into bullet ice, and with a few crevasses below, going up without spikes was a bad idea.  Alternating and throwing down the microspikes also seemed a poor choice.  Precise throwing does not run in the family.  So we were obliged to take the alternate route, skirting around the far side of the basin until moderate rock and snow slopes lead up to the pass.

This is when shit got real, and the occasional fog and drizzle we’d had most of the day closed down to intense rain, 100 meter visibility, and eventually sleet, hail, and snow.  Nothing to do in those situations but keep moving, and make extra sure you don’t tweak a knee on the limestone which was now running with water just about everywhere.  Mom was rightfully worried, having no idea where the trail was, but if the line between safety and disaster is in these situations most especially thick, it is at least very easy to see.

After some cold wet futzing around, I managed to be on a high point at the right time when the clouds lifted for 10 seconds and the large cairns which mark the trail down to the chalet could be seen.  The hour walk down was cold with no hills or even flats to generate heat, but we did have the assurance of a roof, fire, and hot dinner in front of us.

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Sperry if the kind of place the national parks need more of.  At 7 miles and 3300 feet above road, it’s just far enough out to tempt folks out a bit further than they’d otherwise go.  The location is tremendous.  The food was plentiful and excellent.  The staff, led by my friend Renee, were exceptional.  Being there during the first crack of winter into summer made it all the more appropriate and welcoming.

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What more can be said, but that it was a good trip?

30

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It’s a secret.

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Six months; that’s the lead time for reserving a forest service lookout around here.  For July that means you need to be thinking about sandal hiking right as ski season is fully firing, and with most lookouts only open during the non-snow season (July-September), there is not time to mess around.  Fortunately I thought to ask M the question early enough, so we had suitable accommodations.

We’ve done quite a few cabin trips now.  They’re always pleasant, but plans for hiking or skiing in the area always end up watered down in favor of reading, hanging around, cooking, eating, and just looking.  Given their original purpose, fire lookout towers are perfect for this.

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There was a lot to look at, especially at dawn and dusk, and a lot of time to look, as with such unimpeded access to all horizons we had readable light between 0530 and 2315.

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Happy birthday M.

Liebster’d

Courtesy of Woodtrekker. The Leibster Award has fuzzy origins, and amounts to a series of questions to answer, and a series of questions you in turn ask of the bloggers to whom you pass on the award. Amusingly, the german word has a platonic, male connotation.

The answers:

1: Who are some of the people in the outdoor community, either past or present who you either consider mentors, or from whom you have gained knowledge about the outdoors, or inspiration to get out there?

I started hiking backpacking from a very early age, so my first mentors were my parents, who remain a major source of inspiration. Just about all of my favorite memories from childhood involved hiking and camping, usually on summer road trips to various destinations. My father died of cancer when I was eleven, and to this day I feelest closest to his memory when I’m out in the woods.

I also started rock climbing fairly young, and was fortunate that the cast of college folks who worked at the Miami University climbing wall in the mid-90s were an exceptionally talented group of climbers, most of whom put up with me being a pain in ass asking lots of questions, hanging around all the time, and setting really bad routes. I learned a lot of skills from them, and a lot about myself and how to grow into an adult, things which have remained valuable long after I stopped climbing regularly.

After I moved on from climbing I pursued first canyoneering and then endurance mountain biking fairly seriously, before my current interests in hunting and backpacking.  People I met along the way like Steve Ramras, Dave Harris, Lynda Wallenfells, and Kevin Sawchuk among many others have all helped me learn a lot, almost excusively by going on trips.  Things like doing the South Fork of Choprock at high water with Ram in 2006, the Smokey Mountain/Escalante tour with Dave in 2007, and Le Parcour de Wild with Kevin in 2009 were all watershed moments which fundamentally changed how I did things outdoors.  Nothing beats experience and being able to watch something do what they do very well.

2: What is the typical duration of one of your trips, and how much distance do you tend to cover on such trips?

Due to my commitment to my job, which for several reasons precludes lots of big chunks of vacation, most of my trips are 2-3 days.  Hiking/skiing/packrafting trips tend to be in the 20-30 miles a day range, as this hits the sweet spot for a full days immersion without involving too much suffering.  This year I’ve done significantly fewer such trips than in years past, mainly because in light of things like my Grand Canyon trip this spring shorter trips is less satisfying.  Hypothetically I’d like to be able to take more full weeks off over the course of the year, but my job is about building and maintaining human relationships, and at some point the two would come into conflict.  I pretty sure I wouldn’t find being able to do as many trips as I liked whenever I wanted to be ultimately satisfying.

3: What is your favorite instructional book about the outdoors?

I’m not sure that I have one.  I try to self-teach in most outdoor pursuits, as I find that the most satisfying, if not the most efficient, method.  As important as explicitly instructional books are for this, the genre tends to be uninspired and neglects the big picture.  I own vintage copies of Royal Robbins’ Basic and Advanced Rockcraft, which does a good job covering the basics without getting bogging down and has great cartoon illustrations by Sheridan Anderson.  I also have a copy of Steve Barnett’s Cross-country Downhill, which is both readable and instructive.

4: What is your vision of the woodsman, or the outdoorsman, at least as related to you and what you hope to achieve?

I’m a life-long atheist, which is intimately tied up in my conviction that we’re a very small and unexceptional part of the world (aka nature).  Structured notions of theism and the blind faith in the scientific method (and by proxy human knowledge as such) which is such a feature of modern life have always struck me as very arrogant.  My hope for being an outdoorsman is to continue to better understand how the world affects me, how I affect it, how it changes over time, and by extension know more about myself and why I do what I do in all aspects of my life.

5: Do you hunt, and if so, how do you incorporate that into your trips? If not, is there a specific reason?

I did in a very vague way growing up, and occasionally in the years since, but  two years ago I made a commitment to pursue it fully for at least one full year, and found the process immensely satisfying.  As I alluded to above, my habit for the last two decades has been to get interested in an outdoor pursuit, dive into the learning process up to a certain point, and then more onto something else.  There’s a very distinct point along the learning curve when the effort and time required to still be challenged to learn becomes much greater for a certain amount of reward, and that’s when I tend to loose interest.  It happened with climbing when I was able to climb at a certain standard of difficulty beyond which I had little interest, and it’s starting to happen with backpacking now.  Hunting takes skills I already have and requires me to apply them in different ways to categorically different ends. 

Incorporating hunting into wilderness trips has actually been quite difficult, because my usual style of moving quickly through an area via the path of least resistance does not get good results when trying to find and kill big game.  I’ve had to learn to look at the same maps in different ways, which continues to stretch my immagination.  There’s a lot of failure and a fairly small amount of success in hunting, especially in the backcountry, which makes it a good pursuit for an older, more mature and patient me.  I wasn’t ready for it a decade ago.

6: How much was your pack base weight on your last overnight trip?

As of this writing my last trip was the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open, where I had snowshoes, packrafting gear, and clothing for temps a bit below freezing.  I didn’t weigh my pack, but base weight was up around 20 pounds.  Without 3.5 pounds of snowshoe, and 9 pounds of raft gear it would have been in the 6-7 pound range.

7: Have you been offered the opportunity to film any TV shows related to your outdoor pursuits? If yes, have you thought of accepting them? If no, would you be interested in such an offer?

Nope, never even considered it as a possibility.  I imagine I’d be highly unlikely to do so, unless the right production team came along.  ZeroPointZero, the folks who make Meat Eater, seem to do a great job balancing the task of making good television with maintaining integrity and authenticity, and they’d probably be fun to work with.

8: What is your preferred shelter system for winter trips?

The Seek Outside Lil Bug Out.

9: Are you a member of any outdoor organizations whether they be hunting, backpacking, etc?

I’m on the executive council on the American Packrafting Association.

10: Have you ever found yourself in a survival or emergency situation while in the woods, and if so, how did you cope?

I’d say no, but I’ve been somewhat close on a number of occasions.  I say somewhat because while I’ve been physically one small step away from hypothermia or injury, on every occasion I’ve felt like I had an adequately large mental buffer, and was able to take action which easily preempted things before they passed the point of no return.

During the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic in 2011 I got very cold when we retreated in a snowstorm back to the Little Delta River, still the coldest I’ve ever been (which I like to think is saying a lot).  It was fairly simple to get a fire going, even with uncontrollable shivers, and in a an hour I was quite comfortable.  Had we continued into the snow with bad visibility, modest clothing, and no shelter things would have gone badly.  I’ve been lost in the desert trying to find my way down through unfamiliar cliffs in the dark on several occasions, and it always required a little discipline to stay focused and not make hasty route choices.  Really, there are probably 20 or 30 similar anecdotes I could tell where a little restraint and gritted teeth kept a situation firmly in the unpleasant column, rather than over in the danger one.

11: Why do you blog?

The first reason I started this blog almost 8 years ago is still the best one; it’s a great catalyst for writing more often about more things.  As a tool blogging has been enormously effective in making me a better writer, and gone a long ways towards helping me use my time more constructively.  It’s also been the prime mover in me meeting a lot of really interesting folks who I am still glad to call friends, and who I likely would never have known otherwise.  It’s a nice way to communicate with those people, as well as family members, with whom I might go years between meetings.  There have also been some cool opportunities with writing and product development gigs for whom the blog was at least secondarily responsible.

And now, I tag Casey, Brendan, Hendrik, and Meghan with the following:

1: What is the meaning of life?

2: Favorite three topping combination for thin-crust pizza?

3: If you had to pick one, giving up the other two for the rest of your life, would you choose coffee, beer, or ice cream?

4: Your most beloved outdoor trip: when, where, and why does it stick in your memory so?

5: Your favorite non-fiction book of all time?

6: What is next on your list of skills to acquire?

7: What brought you into the outdoors as a pursuit/passion?

8: What species of bear would you be, and why?

9: What is the most esoteric, unfamiliar trip which is at the top of your bucket list?

10: If you were given 1000 dollars to buy physical objects for others, what you buy and for whom?

11: Why do you blog?

‘Lining for real folks

Friday evening I finished a BPL article on training for backpacking. The research for the article gave me ample cause to reflect on my laziness over the past few years.

I returned from the Grand Canyon trip pretty worked over physically, which was to be expected. Aerobically I had plenty of juice to get things done, but without the ability to train joints, some damage was inevitable. And so it came to pass; my left achilles (on my larger foot) got inflamed and as such things do, has been slow in returning to normal. There’s nothing more I can do about that, but in the long run I’ve been quite lax about core work and preemptive maintenance.

To that end, I dug my slackline out of the back of the garage, set it up, and walked a bit this afternoon.

I taught myself over a decade ago, before the activity migrated out of the climbing community and became, among other things, one of the least interesting sports in the world (which, in the 21st century, is saying something). I remember the month of flailing it took to master the basics well, and it’s interesting that in the years since these skills (standing on the line, walking forward and backward, strong side turns) never seem to get dull. First time walking in over a year, and I was able to do all of the above with ease, plus take lame selfies with my phone.

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Slacklining is a great party trick.  It’s also the most effective lower-body strengthener, minute for minute, toes to hips to shoulders, I’ve come across.  Once you get over the steep learning curve, a 20 minute session every day makes a huge difference in balance for hiking.  The mental focusing practice is also handy, and most importantly, it is very fun.

I recommend it.

One more time

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Some of you may recall when, a few years back, I experimented with Twitter. Given that I’ve recently embraced the present decade and upgraded more poor flip-phone, with it’s dying battery, for an iPhone, it seemed time to give it another go.

So I have.

Thus far I’m enjoying being able to stream music wherever I like, and not enjoying those effin tiny buttons. We’ll see if Twitter and the greater connectivity stays or goes.

The horror of Tomorrow

Thus far I’ve spent the weekend chasing deer. Snowbiking Friday afternoon the packed trough winding through the thick forest was covered in deer tracks, and as I did laps on the short loop kept spooking and respooking the same critters. They’ve been using the skier and biker packed trail to commute from aspen patch to aspen patch, eating bark.

Yesterday, headed up to the ski area, deer were everywhere in the lower reaches of the road. The forest there has been thinned for fire suppression near all the big condos, and faces south. Deer are smart, they know where to find the least deep snow, even if it exposes them to lots of car traffic.

Winters are hard on deer, the old saw is that they eat the cereal May through October, and spend the rest of the year eating the cardboard box.

This winter has been hard for deer and humans both. Abundant snow and wide, frequent temperature fluctuations have created some crusts out in the woods which must be hell to walk through. The lengths to which the deer are avoiding this is likely why there have been so many corpses along the highway in the last month. Last winter I took my big down parka on one trip, and had perhaps two or three days of slow, scary driving south to the office. This year we’ve had four extended cold snaps in the last two months, and over a dozen mornings where I wouldn’t have been able to get out the driveway without studded snow tires.

This past week has brought the harshest weather yet, and a reminder that even the most extensive trappings of civilization won’t prevent us from being vulnerable to the world outside when it does its worst. Friday and Saturday both the upper chairlift was closed due to wind chills down below negative 40F. Having the top of the mountain to yourself on a sunny Saturday afternoon is quite rare, even if it does require special preparations, and a hurried retreat back down to the trees.

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Our cabin trip this weekend was canceled, due to hazardous driving conditions.  We rerouted to a brunch with friends Saturday morning on the other side of town, which still involved snowdrift busting in our front-wheel drive car.  I was very glad to be around others that day, as the inhumanity of the world at large had come crashing home 10 minutes before we left the house.

I think I was looking for socks when M said something about an avalanche having taken out houses in the Bitterroot.  This seemed unlikely, so I went to have a look.  The woman in that first photo looked familiar, but the side of me that wanted order pushed it away.  Back in the other room I pulled my phone out of a coat pocket and saw the text: “He is talking and moving and doing great.  A miracle for how long he was buried in the avalanche.”  Denial can only go so far.  Yes, that woman in the photo with her grief screaming out at you is the same person we drank beers, hunted berries, and shared a campfire with back in August.  That boy who was buried for an hour while playing in the front yard was the same huge smile who sat on my leg and refused to let me leave after a visit last winter.

Regardless of what we choose to do with today or tomorrow, our lives are not always our own.

There is nothing in the world which terrifies me more than that.  I was glad to leave the house, see people I care about, and be reminded that in many respects nothing had changed.  I was just more aware of something I had known all along.

It seems that everyone involved will end up without any permanent, physical injury.  We’ll all be different as a result, forever.  My own fear, gratefulness, and resolve to use tomorrow well, will I think never be the same again.

On turning 33

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Monday morning I awoke in the surprisingly warm loft of a forest service cabin, went down the ladder in my socks, blew coals back into life, and put a pot for cowboy coffee on the stove. I was 33 years old.

The afternoon we had skied in, done cabin stuff like chopping wood, melting snow, and playing battleship. We then ate a lot and went to bed. That morning we got up, skied out, and I went to work.

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I didn’t have many strong thoughts that morning, besides being hungry and having a sore leg from my wreck the day before. I don’t have many about another birthday turning over now. A few years past 30 and I’m well into a phase I assume will consume the rest of my life; having to think for a bit before I recall how old I am.  Overall, I am content.  I have a job I like, but not too much, which satisfies the moral obligation I think I have towards humanity at large.  I have a number of other interests, which usually leave me with more interesting things to do than hours awake.  I have family, friends, and a wife who I like more than when I married her over 10 years ago.  I have what seems to be developing into a mature, adult satisfaction with all of the above.

I think that our world gives too much exposure to quick satisfaction won by circumstance and fortune (which is to say: youth), and not enough to modest achievement whose rich quality can only be had over decades.

For the record, our cabin was Challenge up in the western shadow of the Continental Divide, and it is a very nice cabin, only rented Dec 1 thru March 31st.  It is the best of both cabin worlds, being 7 miles from the pavement, and road accessible in the summer (ergo it has a propane stove and lights).  The road in is trafficed by snowmachines, and groomed regularly.  We had cold, grainy snow which gave poor glide.  Under similar conditions, it would be an ideal fatbike destination.  Bike to the cabin, backcountry ski from there.