Happiness is a complex thing

At the finish, Paige Brady photo.

I’ve had zero energy all week, despite eating well and sleeping as much as I want.  Time to get out and do some boating, see what changes have happened in my absence, and gradually find my new self again.

2011 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic race report

“The will to power would rather will nothingness than not will.”
-Nietzsche

Paige Brady, and Luc Mehl the zombie.

The difficulty I’m having beginning this report well reflects the race itself; the stakes I set myself for both are very high.  While in Alaska a few people asked me, both before and after, where I first heard of the classic.  I still cannot recall, but it has been in my consciousness for quite a while, growing all the while.  It’s been my Everest, my Tour de France, the summit and presumptive summation of a large number of my personal and athletic aspirations.  A big fucking deal.

So I was nervous, for weeks, before and about the race.  Not because I was worried about sore feet, bears, river crossings, getting lost, or getting cold.  I’d been training for the classic, specifically with it in mind, for around two years.  Long enough to know how to deal with all the aforementioned details with confidence, and more significantly long enough to know that my primary struggles before and during the race would have very little to do with physical obstacles, and everything to do with fear.  Fear of failure.

I would do well to dispense a few naked facts about me and my life.  My parents met working in a backpacking store in Atlanta.  My first backpacking trip was early enough that I can only recall flashes of details.  I’ve always, always liked walking uphill.  On even the rare occasions when I wasn’t bad at traditional American sports growing up, I was never good, and never felt anything athletic resonate until I started rock climbing in 8th grade.  Little did I know then, in middle school, that one competitive event did feature hiking as it’s primary skill, and little wonder that when I came across it I was immediately smitten.  So then, the story of the wilderness classic and I is the cliched, prosaic one of a late bloomer and slow learner finding vindication in the exercise of a heretofore inaccessible cultural trope, physical competition, in an atypical and at-last relevant and advantageous to him setting.  Take that, long arm of American high schooling.

One of many moose sheds on course.

I’m ill at ease with this impulse to beat other people, due to a lack of familiarity in its exercise, a distaste for braggadocio, and the concern that I might not live up to my own aspirations.  For all these reasons, especially the last, I never admitted aloud to anyone that I wanted to win the classic until I told Paige on our second day two, something to the effect of “We’re doing really well, and I should thus say that I wouldn’t mind winning this.”

“Me too!” she responded.  Paige is a former collegiate nordic ski racer and tele freeride world champion, and was I think a bit more comfortable saying this.

We didn’t win, rather coming in as first human team to Luc, John, Tyler, and Todd.  A bold gamble paid off for them, with their route putting them above the brush that soaked us Monday, and altitude that avoided most of the rain which did the same.  Most significantly, they didn’t have our luxury of stopping mid-route and waiting for the weather to improve, if they hoped to continue under any circumstances doing so now was the only option.

They made the correct choice, as did we, and the contrast between the two points right at the heart of the classic.  We had to choose, just as they did, and decide which parts of their decisions were practical fears and which were psychological, and thus under some contexts and from some perspectives, illusory.  It’s easy to see heuristics, especially in outdoor adventuring, as overly simple, with safety and the choices out of which it is built existing apart from ego and perception.  This is not so.  What is safe for one group is dangerous for another, and in the exact same circumstances.  Could last Monday evening, with its soaking rain, wet brush, and then wet snow have been safe to continue into for a different pair of people with better gear and more determination?  Very possibly.  Due to gear, circumstances, and attitude, for us it was not.  If we had been different, or the weather had been kinder, and thus enabled us to push through the evening into the night, could we have challenged for the win?  Unlikely, though the splits are tantalizingly close.  Close enough to give me one more reason to come back next year.

Paige, first shoes off break, Sunday afternoon, before the Trident glacier.

Neither Paige nor I spoke about teaming up before the race was underway, though we later admitted we both wanted to.  Neither of us had done the classic before, though we both had lots of relevant experience, albeit from very different sources.  Neither of us admitted we wanted to win, though we both wanted to.  We even consulted, right before the start in the gravel lot by the old Black Rapids roadhouse, on whether to inflate our boats before the start.  We both decided to not, due to the wind, and then both changed our minds shortly thereafter.  I put in and got a jump on the field by running all the larger waves, but Paige and a member of Team G-Force came back to me when I made some bad line choices and got hung up on gravel bars, and we two took out at McGinnis creek together, hiked the ATV trail up to the plateau together, and in a few hours were a team, officially.

It was a wise decision, though when Paige pushed the pace on a few hills early on I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hang (we were averaging 12 vertical meters/minute).  We switched leads naturally and well, me leading in brush and sponga (spongy tundra, see video in previous post), Paige across the Trident and Hayes glaciers.  She rallied late at night while dealing with the moose trail and my drowsiness in the moat at the NW edge of the Hayes, and by 4 am we were building a fire under the arms of a particularly large willow a few miles below the west toe of the Hayes glacier, a strong 18 hour push in the bag, and almost off the first of my three maps.  It was after our 2.5 hour break, including about 100 minutes of sleep, when my feet and legs felt shockingly fresh and the rain had yet to start that I declared my desire to win.  We kept momentum climbing up out of West Hayes Creek and down to the Little Delta, though it flagged slightly as the tail wind chilled us on the hike up the river, detouring on several occasion to look for a crossing.  We found a good if fast crossing, though Paige fell in getting out of her boat, which sealed the deal on making a fire to warm up.  We took another good nap under our very nice tree, before setting out into the bushwack.  The tangled mile across the flat was only the preamble to 1000 vertical feet of bear trails through head high grass.  Not horrid travel, but utterly soaking.  The choice to fly back to our tree was an easy one, as such good sources of shelter and dry wood were scarce.

It was the next morning, with an impressively low snowline across the valley, low ceiling, and steady drizzle that doubt really began to take hold.  As Paige noted several days after the race, my mind rarely stops working, and certainly didn’t on that occasion.  In truth, we had both gotten very cold the previous evening returning to camp, even with a fire raging we shivered for hours after, and that had freaked me out.  We were about 3 times as far from a road as you can get in the lower 48, with an exactingly minimal safety net.  I was right up against the choice of the wilderness classic, confronting my psychological limits and just how large a role they played in building the boundaries I use to guide myself through the world.  Failure was not a matter of pure circumstance, as we and especially I had plenty of food, but of will.  I waffled, called a few flying operations on the sat phone to feel out our options, while Paige stoically slept a bit more and called previous winner Bobby Schnell to get a weather report.  His data indicated a general clearing soon, and as the clouds started to lift around noon so did my psyche.  I woke Paige up, and we blasted.

Camp.  We cut pine boughs off other trees to make our more rain proof. 

I had, with no small amount of patient assistance from Paige, passed the test, and what followed was the most remarkable, sublime 14 hours of hiking I’ve yet done.  Tundra and drizzle led over a short pass into Buchanan Creek, which climbed into the clouds in one aesthetic boulder-floored upward slash.  A few regular inches of snow appeared around 5500′, truly confirming the two sets of human tracks we had already seen here and there in the mud of the stream bed.  After a few diversions as the creek steepened and the clouds closed in I knew that the guy with big feet and Inov8 OROCs was a good route finder, and the tracks led effortlessly over the pass and down the other side.  We breezed past Chris from Eagle River and Don from Colorado, dropping them without trying.  I was firmly in the lead then, with legs turning over utterly absent any perceived stress or exertion.  Our unnamed drainage hit the West Fork of the Little Delta, and on instinct I cut into the brush and within 30 seconds happened upon a multi-species game trail worn mountain-bikable with abundant traffic.  We swooped out onto the gravel bars and around the bend southwards, flying.  The sky was beginning to clear and darken as we stopped for dinner and a shoes off break, with the peaks and drainages marching with stunning symmetry up either side of the river.  Conversation and confidence flowed as we continued up to and into the precipitous side canyon which would give us passage to the Wood River, and take us off my second map.

What had already been a reboundingly superlative day of extremes continued into the next.  Close to the pass a sheep trail cut up onto steep tundra and talus, and Paige had to tell me out load that the white rocks up above were actually just rocks, and not mysterious baby sheep hiding from us in plain sight.  Indirect moonlight and the dull Alaskan midnight sun bent the steep pass into angles which seemed impossible, but yielded easy walking up sheep trails all the same.  We summited the pass at 1230, and looking down into the Wood valley I was brought to tears thinking that this moment and all the memories of which it was built was the apotheosis of every step I had hiked in my life, every trying hike when late in the day I looked within myself to find the will to go on, every route finding challenge, every five more miles, every fire built in the rain, every trip planned in earnest, every book and article read.  Everything I was and had been made of over the past thirty years of my existence, and at the end was my late father, dead 19 years ago of cancer, sitting watchfully in whatever spiritual afterlife atheists like me believe in, roaring in approval at every next step I took.

In most respects I could have ended the race right there and had all I ever wanted.

We were still 50 miles from the road, and few intentions of stopping until we got there.  The descent canyon was even more extraordinary than that used for the ascent, resembling in its steep rawness nothing so much as a Death Valley canyon with a snow-fed creek howling down the cobbles.  I kept looking over my shoulder at oblique flashes of light, wondering why Paige was indulging in flash photography.  It was the moon, which we couldn’t see, but which was shot towards us from the huge snowy mountains finally absent cloud cover.  The upper Wood River, early that morning, was quite the place to be.

We still had one more bivouac in store, wilfulness or not.  Around 230 I started to fall asleep on my feet and Paige, more alert, took the lead.  My seven hour high had come to an end, and by 3 I was sleep walking extended stretches with no guess, in my moments of alertness, how I managed to stay upright.  Soon Paige was doing the same.  I called a halt, backtracked 50 yards, gathered three likely piles of driftwood into one, fires them up with the pocket rocket, emptied my pack onto the gravel, and passed out, shoes on.  We both slept until the big piles had burned down to ashes.

Paige near Buchanan Pass.

We were both motivated to resume progress, but like before the shivers had hold of us and would not let go.  My shell pants, put away wet the previous evening, were stiff with frost.  I built up another big fire, and we fired up our stoves and inhaled hot coffee and calories.  We would be packrafting the Wood soon, and best to do that in the sun, if at all possible.  2.5 hours seemed to be the sweet spot for breaks, as this one, like the very first two days before, had been that time almost exactly.   A bit more walking got us in the early morning sun and into our boats, for a ripping 8 mile, slightly more than 1 hour run down the Wood.  There were plenty of sweepers to avoid, but with my greater comfort on the water I ran point for most of it and we made the takeout near lower Grizzly Creek without incident.  The boating was as good as packrafting gets, due in no small part to the marvelously speedy break our feet got.

I was beginning to smell the barn, and jumped back into the sharp end of finding the best trail up the brushy creek.  It took a while for the several trails to resolve themselves into one, but when they did that path took us up into the tundra and the top of our last pass with ease.  My legs were reveling in it all, as was I, bit in the teeth, last significant climb of the race, emptying the tank.  We averaged 11 vertical meters per minute for the last 30, almost continuously, which at the moment seemed a borderline absurd vindication of my training.  Paige was not far behind as I sat on the soft tundra, looking at last into the Yanert valley.  Paige took an Aleve, and gave me one (mine had gotten wet two days earlier).  At my request she gave me a Tylenol as well, which upon further reflection was in fact a No-doz.

If you had told me then we had 10+ hours left, I would have been irate, but everything must come to an end, and we lost our momentum inexorably as we descended.  Quads and feet were sore, and slowed on the rough terrain.  Minds were tired, and slowed further still in the alder and willow ‘schwacking.  The Yanert, fast at first, slowed drastically as it lost gradient in the last five miles before Moose Creek.  Lastly, our feet and legs swelled and stiffened during over 3 hours sitting in small boats, and our will to push a pace on the final 8 miles of ATV trail was not extent.  Adding to the aura of mundane endings, the mosquitoes came out in force.  We didn’t talk much on our way to the gravel pit, and hardly talked more as we found the sign in sheet and signed in, seeing that Luc and crew had shot the moon with their improbable route and finished 20 hours in front of us.  Luc had a left a note with directions to a friends cabin down the road, and it was there in the unbelievable, foreign familiarity of carpets, clean wood walls, chairs and pillows that I realized we had in fact finished it.

A life-long goal, with an amazing partner found in unlikely (?) circumstances. I was sad to’ve lost, though not much, and numb from the routes final beat down, though not for long.  Mostly I was slowly, as here not quiet a week later I still am, coming to terms with an irrevocable fact: I would carry the burden of the wilderness classic for the rest of my life.  My intimate, tactile, direct knowledge of my capabilities had been thrust back and broadened with a suddenness the like of which I cannot recall happening since I became a teenager.  The act of having traversed a huge swath of remote terrain with precious little artifice in which to find comfort had removed, preemptively, any number of future excuses for any number of future challenges.  It had been revealed to me that humans, me being one, were capable of astonishing things, and under duress were capable of them right fucking now.  There was, is, no going back.

Naturally, I’ll be doing the classic next year.  The door is open, and now I can go in and explore, for real.

Postscript:

I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise my partner, Paige Brady, in more explicit and extravagant terms.  I do most of my adventures solo, under the perhaps specious excuse that I can’t find anyone who wants to do those trips with me.  Putting that largely aside, the reality is that after my dad’s death I’m not the most easily trusting of people, at least when it really counts.  Paige’s easy strength and confidence, to say nothing of her tolerance of my rampant doubt, made my race much easier.  Most importantly, she was an enormously pleasant and enjoyable person to hike with.  I cannot say it enough: Thanks Paige.

This video sucks (Classic post-game)

Damn you Luc! You beat me, and get better footage!

In truth, even after the rain let up late on the third day I kept the camera stowed. Didn’t have the will to get much with it, sadly. These things never come close to doing what they’re meant to, but this one is table scraps from a meal that was never eaten.

So, onwards to the nuts and bolts, before I tackle the thoroughly intimidating task of really writing about the last two weeks.

First, I created an updated list of actual gear taken. You can look at it on BPL. In summary, next year (yes, next year!!) I’ll bring a small tarp rather than space bivvy.  A tarp would also keep the rain off, perhaps reflect the heat of a fire better, and allow the fire to dry clothing while you sleep.  This last was the biggest downside by far, and both Paige and I ended up using them as blankets for this reason.  I’d also take rain pants, and warmer clothes.  As an extra safety margin, and because a few days in your metabolism and heat production became a little idiosyncratic.  A fleece vest, light puffy, and light fleece pants would be good.  Of course, on warmer years like 2009, this would go mostly unused.

Next, our footwear worked out very well.  I wore Injinji Coolmax mini-crews, Hydroskins, Dirty Girl gaiters and LaSportiva Crossleathers.  Paige just wore Hydroskins and LaSportiva Fireblades.  We got one blister between the two of us, one in the metatarsal crease next to the ball of my right foot, very late in the race, likely due to macerated skin.  On the last bivvy we slept in our shoes, and thus had them on with no breaks for something like 27 hours.  Paige suggested a shoes-off break on the soft tundra at the top of the final pass, and my demurring was a tactical error borne of impatience.  We both got abrasions around our ankles from the back edges of our shoes rubbing them during all the sidehilling and uneven terrain, and I think the rolled edge of my low liner socks made this worse.  Not sure what would have cured this problem.  Overall, our feet got sore, but never close to debilitatingly so (even during the 8 miles of ATV trails at the very end).

Next, food.  The above is what I actually brought, minus the olive oil.  All the candy, coffee, soup mix, jerky, sesame snaps, and granola got eaten.  Most of the cheese did too (the romano I brought was too hard).  The halvah (bottom center zippie) never tasted all that good, neither did the almonds.  I ate most of the chips, but other things were usually bettter.  I had quite a bit more food than Paige, who finished with none (and ate two snickers of mine on the last day).  I liked having a bit of a buffer, as on the last morning I had a hard time staying warm if I wasn’t stuffing my face.  Overall a success, I’d bring more of some stuff and less of others in the future.  If it had been warmer the salty stuff probably would’ve been in greater demand.  Having a stove was vital.  My cartridge was almost totally empty by the end, though more than half of that was likely using it to start fires.  As a team it might be worth having one Jetboil for fast brewing, and one normal stove as a backup and primary fire starter.  Perhaps.

Ask any other tech questions here.

Classic Packs

Most of the packs from the race start, minimal editorialization.

Ken from Kenai’s MYOG pack.

Golite Gust.

Rob of Team Heavy’s Exos.

Chris’ Granite Gear Blaze AC 60.

Don’s Mariposa Plus.

Mike Martin’s NRS.

John Sykes’s MEC rucksack.

Luc’s CAMP pack.

Tyler’s Black Diamond.

Todd’s Vapor Trail (worth noting that these were the four that did the glacier route).

Paige’s pack, a Wild Things custom-designed for the classic. Clean and tight, but the hard binding on the inside edge of the shoulder straps and VX-21 on the inside of the hipbelt rubbed badly; ergo (IMO) a design flaw.

I carried a Golite Jam (2011) and it performed great. No chaffing on discomfort of any kind.

Finished

The 2011 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic is done.  I teamed up on route with fellow rookie Paige Brady, and in spite of a storm Monday night that sent us back to wait overnight under a spruce tree for better weather, we finished in second overall at 3 days, 12 hours, and 20 minutes.

The real story is Luc Mehl, John Sykes, Tyler Johnson, and Todd Kasteler, whose glacier route will hold up well in the ranks of race legends.  Perhaps more remarkably, Luc hauled a Canon 7D and created this video:

More next week, when I’m home with photos on the hard drive and more of a chance to process it all.

AK bound

Beargrass, by M.

I didn’t really start to get nervous until I began collecting and packing things yesterday afternoon.  Now, I’m nervous.  Not because I’m worried about getting lost, or dying, or bears, or failure.  I’m nervous because the work of many months is coming to focused fruition in a very compressed amount of time.  There’s a good chance that, hatred I’ve lately cultivated for flying notwithstanding, I’ll be very tranquil by the time my plane takes off tomorrow morning.

I’ve also decided that, weight aside, my Spot is coming on the classic.  Track me here, beginning at 1000 AK time this coming Sunday.  And with that being said, I don’t expect to post here for several weeks.  Until then..

A silly season

As evidenced by the lack of big-wordy posts since the weekend before last, not much has been going on lately.  Final arrangements for Alaska, putting things in order at work, and resting have been the order of the day.  I’ve been really hungry all week, and assuming that it’s not all due to nerves, and that my body knows itself, I’ve been largely indulging in that.  Tapering for something like the classic isn’t something I’ve done before, and acting on the assumption that a big part of training has been building up connective tissue, I’ve laid off the big hikes for the last 10 days.  Recovery should take longer to peak, so best to do short intense hikes and other things (ski, bike) instead.  The numbers on the last few hikes have been encouraging, as was my pace riding Going-to-the-Sun road this morning, so hopefully things are falling into place.

As part of a peaking interest in cycling, I’ve been going through yet another should-I-sell-the-Lenz? phase.  I might be serious this time.   Almost everytime I’ve gone riding this year, I’ve taken the Karate Monkey.  When I haven’t, it’s because I wanted gears.  So as a trial, I stripped parts off the Lenz and arranged the Monkey exactly as I’d like it to be.


It’s a good bike.  Gearing is 32 by 11,14,17,21,26.  The 26 is the lowest that still works for SS-style climbing, and the 11 is nice for chasing cars downhill (construction on GTTSR had us stopped below the tunnel for 15 minutes, and I was able to keep up with the shuttles and pilot truck all the way down) and sprinting through traffic to and from work.  I’ve resolved to keep it this way into August before I do anything.

Of course, what I really want as a second bike is a fat bike.  Either a pug, or the soon to be released Surly Moonlander with 4.5″ Big Fat Larrys.  If I sold the Lenz frame, I’d have all the parts save wheels, BB, and one brake.  So if you know anyone that might want to buy a cheap frame, keep me in mind.

I leave for Ak early on Tuesday!

Revisiting the shadow

Lake McDonald.

Apologies for the dramatic title; and while shadows (for once present, as this weekend is not overcast and rainy) played a prominent role in this latest trip, I am primarily speaking about that concept of the shadow found in one of my favorite poems.

It took far too long, and far too much agony, to decide on a trip this time.  Yes, conditions are making life complex, and most of the trips I had in mind for this time of year are for various reasons not so possible, but I live where I do.  When I lived in Ohio or Iowa such indecision was acceptable; here it is not.  Eventually, and with much, much patience on M’s part, I decided on three days of meanderings on foot and packraft, from Apgar north to the border and back.  No snow, plenty of walking, good training.

Training is of course the main reason for my nervous indecision.  In three weeks and a few hours from right now I’ll be starting the classic, and given the unknowns I’d be foolish if I weren’t worried about the integrity of my preparations.  At the same time, it could be quite the spoiler to let things go adrift at this point, due to fear of failure.  I did come home a day early, but my feet hurt and my at the same time my legs feel fresh, all of which adds up to a good sign.  Not only do I need to be physically strong in three weeks, with enough but too much training between then and now, as well as enough but not too much rest (given how hard some of these trips have been on tendons and ligaments, resting is not the simplest of topics), I need to be mentally prepared.  There will be fear and intimidation, but if I go into the race with the right frame of mind I know things will go well.

Inflating the boat at Apgar on Friday morning.

For me, the rules governing mental reserves are in this respect quite similar to those governing physical ones.  The size of my capacity is built up in a cyclical process which ebbs and flows ever upward, and can be surprisingly dynamic.  Huge gains can be had in a short time if things are properly balanced, and at the same time large holes can with ease be dug if mistakes are made.  In the end that’s why I came home early yesterday; I was only having so much fun, and in this case fun is more relevant than just fun.

Setting off.  Light and cloud were consistently extraordinary for the whole trip.

M and I woke up early and made it to Apgar by 730 Friday morning.  Lower Logging Lake had one spot available at the close of business Thursday, and I didn’t want to get scooped.  Mid-June is the start of tourist backpacking season in Glacier, and the prodigious snowpack is causing many parties to be rerouted into the relatively few spots without snow or problematic creek crossings.  Places like the Quartz Lakes and Belly River area have been busy lately.  I got my permit, and decided that paddling from Apgar to Fish Creek was more stylish than walking, so that’s what I did.  It reinforced, for the first of several times during the trip, that the primary benefit of packrafting in the lower 48 is not efficiency, as too many trails create faster options on foot, but rather being able to see the same areas in dramatically different ways.

Once I found a decent system, I was surprised and pleased to be able to fit three days of gear and the raft and paddle into my new Golite Jam.  Key to this was rolling the boat into a longer, thinner package.  Tarp and bug net go loose in the bottom of the pack, then raft on one side, blue dry sack (with quilt, socks, hats and fleece) and XS thermarest next to it.  Food on top. 

I took out at the ranger boat house, wended my way through the campground, and up the road towards Howe Ridge.

Low altitude beargrass is coming out now.

Howe Ridge proved to be a very enjoyable hike.  The southern third has been cleared this season, but the northern two-thirds has not seen a trail crew in quite some time.  (I believe Sam can tell us more.)  It all burned recently, and the ethereal skeletons-above green-below combined with a quiet and moderately challenging trail finding and footing to give a great experience.  Good training too, crawling over all the deadfall.  Only once did I get further than 10 feet away from the trail, but it required a lot of constant attention to find.

Lower Camas Creek ford.

Hoping back into maintained trail, and seeing people, was a bit jarring.  Glacier, for all it’s popularity, it a very lonely place for 9+ months out of the year.  The lower Camas trail had not been much walked however, due to the very proper warnings about the above ford.  Big cobbles on the bottom, too.  I bushwacked upstream to the base of the lake, inflated the boat, and did a lazy crossing.  I think you could go to the same place and find a place to wade (without swimming, maybe) safely.

Packraft’s eye view.

I hoofed it a few more miles downstream, with only elk and deer tracks along with one set of ranger footprints (gov-issue boots) to keep my company.  Lots of flowers and birds, generally spring turning rapidly to summer looking.  I inflated the boat and jumped back into the creek at the first opportunity, and even though the meandering ways were much slower than walking the trail out, it was worth it.  Flooded willows, open vistas, broods of Canada goslings on the move.  A great easy float.

Moods of road walking.

I still had miles of walking on the closed-to-cars Inside North Fork road, and some trails miles, to go.  It was 1800 by the time I packed up and got going, and the maths did not looks especially favorable  for not walking up the dense brush of Logging Creek at dusk.  Add that to hurting feet, monotonous walking, and mosquitoes and you have a ripe environment for the shadow.  Between the essence and descent indeed.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know Mr. Shadow well, and for me the battle is always to embrace the process without being a defiant slave to it.  In my younger, less-secure days (mostly as a climber) I tended to either give it entirely or do things I didn’t really want to do just to prove to myself that I was free from self-doubt and fear.  Neither is an especially happy path.  so I walked along on Friday night, enjoying the surroundings while at the same time stewing in all the reasons why doing this, then, now was silly.  All a moot point, I needed to make miles, find a place to camp, eat, and sleep.  I hadn’t finished pack until after midnight the previous night and woken early, and the combo was not doing my mood any favors.

I was already resolved to not go up to Logging Creek.  Hiking in that kind of brush, at this time of year and that hour of the day, in Grizz country, it just silly.  This conviction was reinforced when, a half mile before Logging Creek, I heard a vigorous and pine-cone-loosening scramble from one of the Ponderosas off the road.  Too big to be a squirrel, perhaps a martin?  Nope, a black bear cub, recognizable by it’s cute little head sticking out in profile 70 feet up.  Damn it, where’s mom?!

I stopped, started yelling loudly, and put my head on a swivel.  No momma bear.  Hastily, I decided to creep forward and get outta there fast.  Then I noticed mom off in the woods 50 feet away, me exactly between her and baby.  That was stupid.  Never letting her get out of sight, I broke into a swift trot down the road.  She didn’t move a muscle, and I got off lucky.  Black bears aren’t as likely to be aggressive, but she was a big black bear, and I should have backed off a bit or at least waited to see if she appeared.  Of course as M pointed out last night by the time I noticed that cub she could have already been behind me.  That’s the third black bear in 13 months whose presence I’ve only noticed because of the scrambling of cubs climbing a tree.  Something to watch out for.

I should note that this miscalculation didn’t do much to improve my mood.

When I did reach LogginG Creek campground, I found out why the Inside road isn’t yet open.  The campground was entirely flooded by Logging Creek, as was an impressive amount of forest, and 150 meter of road I had to wade through.  Burrrr.  I continued on to Quartz Creek, also closed but not flooded.  The mosquitoes were out in force.  I was glad I brought a bug bivvy, made dinner by the creek to maximize the breeze, and fell asleep quickly.  Birds woke me up at 500, but I had placed my tarp in a shady spot and went back to sleep until 700.

The lower Quartz Lake bridge is quite the engineering feat.

The next morning was very pleasant.  Coffee and junk food for breakfast put me in a good mood, as did the scenic meadows heading up Quartz Creek.  I had one swift, crotch deep ford to do, but the gravel bottom made it pretty casual.  I was tempted to inflate the boat and hop back in at the above bridge, but decided to save that for another day, continue on to Bowman Lake, and head down to Polebridge, calling the trip a day early.  I was expending too much mental energy, and the glimpse I got of the huge North Fork the night before had me not so excited about floating it, as the third day plan was based around.

I should note that I’m quite the control freak, which is why moving water, especially fast moving water, is not my favorite thing.  Mountain biking and skiing only became fun when I developed enough skill in both to have reliable control.  I’m not there yet in a boat, if I can ever be on something like a swift early-summer creek.

The trails of Glacier go on forever.

Once I got within 2 miles of Bowman Lake I began seeing people every 200 meters.  It must be summer.

Can’t have too many Bowman pictures.

Swift-water fears aside, Bowman Creek looked too inviting.  I figured I might be able to float a third of it.  Views from the road and previous experience suggested that once it emerged into a burned area in the lower reaches the wood would make it un-fun and un-safe.

I didn’t make it quite that far.  I had some lovely, clear meanders, then the unvisited lower Bowman Lake (or perhaps Bowman Pond is better), then more nice meanders.  Then the banks steepened I was flying down over waves, dodging tress, and punching a diagonal hole before screaming into an eddy on the wrong side of the creek and pulling out.  A ferry across to the road side of the creek looked no good, with swift water and essentially no eddies.  So unwilling to run the creek at such a level or chance a sketchy ferry I pulled the pack off the boat, broke down and stashed the paddle, and bushwacked upstream to a good crossing.  Packing the boat required putting my headnet on, as did the bushwack to find the road.

Impressive elk shed.

I’m becoming disturbingly familiar with walking the Bowman Lake road.  At least I know the landmarks now, and had boated past the most wooded and thus mosquito-infested stretch.  The only unknown now was whether M had noticed my train of special spot messages (usually meant to denote a camp) and assumed it meant I wanted to return to basecamp (home).

Fortunately, the Polebridge Ranger Station has a pay phone, and I had brought a debit card (to buy snacks at the Polebridge Mercantile).  I quick voicemail insured my rescue, eventually.

I paused on the bridge to watch the river.

 

 

Said snacks: coke, beer, brat baked in a pastry (amazing!), Guacamole-bacon pastry (excellent!).

As it turns out M had picked up extra hours at work, so my voicemail was quite necessary.  After some very nice munching, beer drinking, and people and cloud watching from the bench on the store’s porch M called the store, and the gent working fetched me to the phone: I was to be rescued that day.  M arrived, we got dinner in Whitefish, and I slept in our bed last night.

It was yet another excellent trip with a satisfying end.  I think that when I look back on it this spring will be remembered fondly.

A few little things

Rare orchids in GNP this past Sunday.  Photo, and plant sleuthing, by M.

I just finished another really good hill interval workout, and am drinking a Mighty Arrow while waiting for chicken to cook (seared, then baked in BBQ sauce, hot sauce, and root beer).  My resting pulse right now, and the way my legs feel, get me thinking I’ve been doing things right in the last two months.  But only time will tell.

This weekend is the last big training traverse before the classic.  The weekend after that a friend is getting married in Whitefish, and the weekend after that is the weekend before I fly up.  I’ll do some hard stuff on those weekends, but things designed more to sharpen the edge than to place the final few bricks.  Our peculiar spring (now summer) keeps making trip planning complex.  Rivers are high, enough that making packrafting an integral part of a trip freaks me out a bit.  Yet for all that snow melt, we haven’t had a sustained period of warm days and cool nights for over two weeks, and the recent wet slides I saw the weekend before last give me pause when I think about crossing certain passes.  Good mental training, and hauling all the extra snow gear and doing all that postholing has built a great power base, but it’s still a bit hard to embrace.  I must remember that the training is the meal, and the race merely the after-meal coffee.

On a largely unrelated note, I took a slow moment at work this afternoon (what would the internet be without them?) to examine my all-time post view stats (since switching to wordpress last fall).  The results are encouraging.  Of course gear reviews dominate the top 10 (the Marquette BC has been a popular subject, as has the Crossleather), but the number one post is my trip report from three weeks ago.  The second most popular is this meditation of the purpose of gear and outdoor adventure in our lives.  The former took off thanks to a bunch of secondary and tertiary traffic on twitter and a shockingly wide array of blogs, while the later resonated and got a lot of traffic from BPL.  All of that, and the intelligent discussion which ensued, is thanks to you readers.  So thank you all, very much.

Lastly, I’d like to recommend my new favorite pair of shorts.  I have the storm color, which is very nice, and can be seen in action here.   Yes, they are assiniely expensive.  And yet, like most things Patagonia, the great fabric and superlative design and fit make the price quite worthwhile once you have them on.  They’re comfy, tough, dry very fast, and just fit great.  For your information.

Be careful out there!


If any park service sign has ever tempted me to hang it on my wall, it’s this one.  The odd thing is, I can’t fathom why it is in this particular spot: a few miles from the parking lot, facing so that you’d only see it on the way back and after crossing a swift creek on large logs.  Easier, I suppose, than putting the sign into storage.

This weekend was a quite one.  I had an article to write, books to read, espresso to drink, and a bit of training to do.  Energy wasn’t high, for me psyching up to do those big traverses in tricky conditions takes a lot out.  I also noticed, while hiking each of the last three days, that my ankles and shins/calves were a bit creaky.  Connective tissue damage/strengthening left over from last weekend, and thus better to let it completely heal and go into the classic at 100% rather than nursing a deficit along for a month or more.

It’s that time after all; time to wonder if my preparation for the classic will be what I want it to be.  I’m optimistic, but having never done a classic before, won’t know until after.  There are a few things this spring that didn’t go ideally, and a few differences I’ll be able to make in the next three weeks, but the larger mold is irrevocably cast.  I ordered maps last night, waterproof 1:75,000 jobs from MyTopo in Billings.  I also received a new pack I’ll use for the race, a 2011 Golite Jam, which I’m very impressed with.  After the last few trips I’ve been unsatisfied with my homemade packs, and after using the Golite I know why.  That subject deserves it’s own post which I’ll get to later this week.

I did see this Pileated Woodpecker flitting around near the ground on Saturday, which was neat.