Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on Healing: Veterans Day

All this year I’ve been researching Civil War sites along the Appalachian Trail for a book on that history and related hikes.

And, on this Veteran’s Day, I’ve been giving some thought to the experience of today’s veterans in contrast to those of the Civil War. It seems to me that the experiences of our modern day veterans in the wilderness of our American parks and forests must be starkly different than from the experience of Civil War veterans just following that war.

Veterans today, like others of us, are drawn to long trails. My buddies I met while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year – Pigpen and Mello – are two of them. Friends Karma, Hopeful and Footslogger on the Appalachian Trail in 2003 are veterans.

Some vets talk about their military experiences while hiking, others don’t. Some reshape their identity as they walk, as many of us do, to that of a hiker. Some find peace in the quiet. Some find renewed faith in humanity through the friendships formed and kindness offered by strangers along the way. The trail is a healing place – for all of us.

For me, the haven I find in the woods gives me the opportunity to look at the small stuff, the minutiae of life and interconnected webs of dependence found under the forest canopy. All this small stuff helps me forget about the other small stuff in life. The trail offers healing for so many people who come to it – giving us a forum to process the emotional conversation within.

With all the benefits offered to us through long distance trails and the opportunity to come together with nature, it makes me wonder if any similar solace was found along the Appalachian ridges in the late 1800s.

  • What, if anything, did Civil War veterans find in the Appalachian range following the war?

  • Did the natural environment offer them healing that it offers us today?

  • Could there ever be comfort on the land and in the places where so much blood was shed?

I guess those questions could as easily be posed to the citizens of the country through which the war swept – especially in those places where the terrors of war streaked through their front yards or burned their property. The Shenandoah Valley comes to mind – stripped and burned. Caledonia Iron Works comes to mind, too; the people who worked there before it was destroyed suddenly displaced.

Could it ever feel comfortable again to live in this place violated by human suffering?

Or, can it be the place that starts the healing…

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Okanagan High __ Hike

We arrived back at Trevor's place about 7:30 last night.

We had an adventure. We were dropped off at the start of the trail that we intended to walk to Vernon. We got a late afternoon start - which is typical for a weekend getaway. We started around 4:45. The first few miles were steep but easy walking anyways. We got to some icy sections in some frost hollows near streams. But as we kept climbing snow became more prevalent - nothing too bad - until we reached the top of the ridge. This was the ridgeline we'd be following the remainder of the hike. At 4,000-something feet the snow was still fairly deep. What started as a short section of postholing every once in a while turned into a good bit of postholing through deep snow. It was up to my knees most times. Trevor was breaking trail and doing a majority of the work. Regardless, it was tiring for me, too. We discussed stopping and setting up camp there (we'd pound down the snow to make level spots to set up the tent and sleep) and what we'd find in the morning if we pushed on. We discussed turning around and potentially heading off trail and back to town Saturday then driving to some hot springs. We also discussed reversing our direction, heading back to the trailhead where we started, crossing over the highway and taking the mission creek trail back to town. We took the last option. 

We hiked a round trip of 6 miles on Friday night - up to the ridgeline then back down below the snow line to set up camp by 8:30 p.m. Saturday we hiked the 1.5 miles back to the road, crossed over it and descended in the lovely lovely cedar forest toward the creek. The trail for the first mile or two was mainly old roads. It was wide, well graded and scenic. We got to the river and the Trail seemed to junction. One way, across the frozen river, to the Okanagan Highlands Trail. And, one way (which wasn't super clear) along the same side of the river we had been traveling. We took the Okanagan Highlands Trail. This meant we had to cross over the (mostly) frozen river. This was my first time ever walking on top of a frozen river. I heard mommy in the back of my head the whole time about safety this and that. We were cautious, the ice was thick enough, and we made it across safely. 

We traveled the Okanagan Highlands Trail - a footpath that is frequently intersected with four-wheelers. Of note, four-wheelers (quads) are not restricted from use of treadway meant for hikers. This seems like a dangerous intersection of users to me (maybe that's just my background of experience with the Appalachian Trail). There isn't any enforcement of quad riders tearing up pieces of foot trail. Isn't that a shame? 

The intersecting pieces of trails created by quads also meant we had to pay closer attention to flagging on trees to stay on our intended course - whatever it was. We didn't have trail maps that extended to the portion of trail we hoped to catch to walk into town. We reached an intersection where the Okanagan Highlands Trail went "up" toward Little White and the nordic trails (and also connects with the Trans Canada Trail) or "down" toward the creek. We took the downward track, anticipating snow at higher elevations similar to what we encountered Friday night and to ease stress on my already blistered heels which were exacerbated by uphill climbs. 

We walked a bit and came across a bit of flagging going down again. This was clearly a trail dominated by four-wheelers. As we stepped onto it Trevor thought out loud that it may well be a dead-end and we might have to turn around and come back. Well, it was worth a look. We took off down the trail. It was a dead-end. Luckily it wasn't a super long trail we would double-back on. The trail ended, seemingly, at the creek on a large rocky bank. The "oasis" included someone's old recliner, a good bit of chopped wood, and some shotgun shells. We sat on some wooden stools and ate a snack. Trevor explored the banks to see about a trail on the other side. Potential for a trail on the other side existed but I decided we should stick to this side. We returned the way we came. 

We climbed back up to the main road and continued going down. Shortly thereafter we reached another junction. This was a junction between the forest service road marked on our map, "Grouse" was its name, and a horse trail maintained by the Backcountry Horsemen of B.C. We opted for the horse trail. It was clear, well maintained, and well marked. We had made an excellent decision! It beat walking on the road and trails shared by quads. It was a delightful mile of walking or so then T-ed with another trail.

The trail was flagged going up but not down. Regardless we took the trail to our right and traveled down hill to the creek. Trevor filtered some water for us. We walked back up to the T and continued uphill. We curved around a bit and eventually that "trail", too, ended. Some of these things I refer to as trails were not trails, they were old logging roads perhaps - faintly moving in the direction we were hoping to go - sometimes grown over - but a clear enough path to move forward at a steady pace. 

With the conclusion of the last bit of "trail", we began the bushwhack. Details here get fuzzy for me. We hiked more or less down to the creek, taking the paths of least resistance (of downed trees and standing trees, and bushes, and pricklies) to get there. At the shore we looked across once again and spied the beginning of a chain link fence and something that looked like a retaining wall. We figured there was no sense crossing over only to encounter a chain link fence so we stayed on "our" side. Once along the creek shore, we walked on the ice a bit at the shore, then on the rocks a bit along the shore. The rocks were tricky though because some would be slippery (with ice?) and some would not be. You just could never tell. The further we walked along the shore the more the contents of the chain link fence became apparent - waste water treatment facility. 

We clambered up and over the shore and into the woods, then encountered obstacles that sent us back to the shore, then back over to the woods, then back to the shore (get my drift?). That's it - we drifted. Through the woods, along the creek, just looking for an easy way. I wasn't feeling easy. I felt safe. Here we were nearly in the midst of town. But I was tired. I sat and took a break. I should have drank some water. I didn't think to. I thought I might be low on energy so I joined Trevor a little ways over and ate some of a granola bar.

We started walking again and came across an animal's trail - going straight up hill. It was a very steep trail. We decided to follow it. Up and up and up. I huffed and puffed and stopped and pouted a bit along the way. I felt tired, damn it. Trevor keenly asked if I'd had any water recently. I thought back and couldn't recall drinking but a liter already in the day. So, while I was still seated in my pouting position, I pulled out my water bottle and drank nearly another liter. 

You're probably wondering what on earth I could have been pouting about. It was mainly that Trevor is a stronger hiker and wasn't tiring. I felt sluggish. My feet were hurting from blisters. I was wondering how the hell we ended up doing all this bushwhacking; didn't this happen to us a lot? And, obviously, my upset fueled my upset. So I was probably finding other things to be angry at, like the trees poking me in the face and sticks poking me in the leg, and that last prickly bush that I grabbed (ouch!) .

The water did help after it kicked in. And things started turning about a bit, too. We hiked up to the top of that animal trail until it gave out. We got to an old road and walked it a bit, but it quickly disappeared. We continued to travel along the side slope in our desired direction another half mile or so, perhaps. I think we both spied it at the same time, but neither of us said anything. It was very clear - a neat - and maintained cut in the hill. There was a road. We angled toward it. Was this Grouse Forest Service Road? Maybe. There was a former logging cut and the remaining trees and open area were a nice sunny spot for a break. We stopped for a half hour, maybe a bit more and took our shoes and socks off to air out. 

When we got back on the road and started walking we hit patches of ice. Trevor, ever more adept at walking the slick stuff, stayed ahead. He got to the edge of the forest and in to an open clearing when there was a loud "boom". It was an odd sound that I couldn't place. "Was that a gun shot?" I asked. Trevor didn't think so. "Was it fireworks?" He said it might be, but he wasn't so sure. At the opposite edge of the clearing, I'd caught up to Trevor now on our side, there were two trucks and a fire burning. This was curious. There was also a horse corral. I thought the horse corral was a bit odd to have on public lands, but figured maybe it was related to the horse trails we'd seen in the section of woods we had just been through. As we walked, Trevor pointed out that we may be "inside" a fence line. This indicates we might be on private property. Uh-oh. Maybe these folks in the trucks belong here and we don't. I quietly hoped to myself that they set us straight nicely so we can continue on our way. 

Maybe they didn't belong there either. With the sight of us coming and their fire still burning, someone gets in the blue truck and two people get in the red truck and they drive hastily away! This is very interesting. We walk up to the fire which isn't a fire really but a burning canister, maybe. I couldn't tell exactly but didn't want to get too close to it. The top of a nearby mullen was aflame, too. Trevor theorized they may have been testing out a homemade bomb. Interesting concept. I'm glad they decided to leave. I hope they come back to tend the fire and clean up their mess. We walk past, out the open gate, and onto a larger dirt road.

As we descend on this road, we have excellent views of Layer Cake Mountain and bits of town. From the signs and the gates on either side of the road we seem to be flanked by private property. I am tired. The water helped my energy level, but my feet still hurt and I'm fatigued from walking since 8 a.m. (my rough estimate is that we walked 11 or so miles already). We discussed the option of finding some public land to camp on to stay the night then continue our walk in the morning, but with all the private property signs that possibility seemed to be narrowing in my mind. 

We saw one sign on our dirt road that said 6 kilometers. This probably meant 6 miles of this road until we get to the end. That could be very good. Trevor thought that the road might end just near Layer Cake Mountain were we could hop on the Mission Creek Greenway and into town. For that hope, I could walk 6 km. to the junction and continue on. We did just that. But our 6K road walk did not really take us closer to the creek or to the adjacent mountain. It eventually turned into a paved road after we had walked the requisite 6K. We walked the road that curved along the slope of one hill, carved into a shallow pocket, then curved back out along the side of another hill, then back in. We passed an access road to Myra Canyon Trestles. 

We stopped for water at a small stream near the end of the 6 kilometers. I sat against a tree while Trevor filtered the water. Cars and trucks kept passing by quickly on this busy strip of road. The road had become increasingly busy over the last few miles. 

We walked across the bridge and up to the crest of the hill. There was the entrance to Scenic Canyon Park and Trevor wanted to pop in and connect it to Mission Creek. I asked if he knew for sure they connect. He wasn't 100% sure. I knew I was reaching my limits and needed to rest my feet and my tired body. The signs at the park entrance read no camping. I threw in the towel, and Trevor called friends to see if we could grab a ride. We didn't have any luck with the friends we called, though we did learn from Trisha that the Scenic Canyon trails do not yet link to the Mission Creek Greenway (they are lacking a bridge of some sort to connect them).

We stuck our our thumbs and got a ride in the back of a pick-up with some spilled gasoline and spent bullet shells all the way downtown. 

We got home, enjoyed a few beers, showered, ate a light dinner and hit the sack. I was whooped. My restrained gait this morning is evidence to the tight muscles from their work of yesterday. I went to yoga at 9 to try to loosen them up and regain some of their elasticity. 

It was an adventure - not at all what I had expected - but a pleasant adventure nonetheless. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Valentine

My Valentines Day started a few sun-ups before the actual day was set to dawn. Thursday I had set up some self-love by scheduling myself into a free yoga class at Mission Yoga to celebrate Pauline’s birthday. After accomplishing some success at work of which I was proud, Trevor and I took off for a brisk walk a few minutes after five to pick up a small something for Pauline. While I’d never met her before, it seemed like if she was willing to share her birthday with a bunch of yogis, she should get a little something special, too. I picked up a potted miniature daffodil with a little bit of bloom but with the promise of more (and some chocolate, of course).

The yoga class hit the spot. It provided a good mix of challenge and light-hearted fun. Refreshed and sweaty, attendees were invited to stick around for chai tea and cake. I hadn’t anticipated such a delicious end to the party, so I indulged and met some new people while I was at it.

I arrived home later than I’d anticipated. Trevor was making dinner, and I told him to expect me a few minutes after 8. It was quarter-til 9 when I walked through the door – and into a candlelit condo. Dinner and a glass of poured wine awaited me. What a brilliant surprise!

Now, this is kind of funny because at the conclusion of dinner Trevor hands me a coupon to “redeem” from a coupon booklet I handmade a Christmas as a gift for him. With “Romantic Candlelight Dinner” redeemed, it seems I both gave the gift and reaped it all at once.

Friday, I worked a half-day. We took off in the afternoon headed toward Big White. We left a bit later than we had originally planned and only had a potential of two hours of night skiing left available to us. We opted out of night skiing and into a night of television (which is odd for us) watching the opening ceremony for the Olympics.

Saturday we awoke early, ate breakfast, and hit the cross-country ski trails.

Having skied last year at Big White, using Trevor’s mom’s skis and finding the terrain challenging, I approached our outing on Saturday with wary excitement. While I looked forward to moving my body and breathing fresh air, I also knew that I’d have to maintain calm to maneuver down hills, up hills, and curves. I found the challenge exceptional last year and experienced a crying fit after one tumble down a relatively small hill – the outburst more ego-driven than pain-induced.

This year I got a pair of skis, boots, and poles for Christmas from Trevor. We picked out this generous gift several weeks ago at the Fresh Air Experience. We went to Telemark, a cross-country ski club on the West side of Kelowna, once already this year with John G. We ran the green (easiest) trails once through. I gained confidence with each run, then I ran all three trails again. Trevor and John took on a blue (intermediate) trail while I finished up the last two of my green trails, and then we all convened for a short portion of the trail they didn’t get to ski. The experience at Telemark helped me shape up some confidence on my skis. I fell a lot – sometimes intentionally to “brake” and sometimes unintentionally, like when I fell face first while climbing up a relatively mild incline. The falling doesn’t bother me too much generally. I just keep reminding myself that everyone falls when they are first learning. That’s okay.

I was so glad to have the Telemark notch on my belt as we started out our skiing on Saturday, because I know that to get to green trails in Big White, you have to go through blue trails first. Clearly, the designers of the Nordic system at Big White did not ace logic. Regardless, we stepped onto the trails – first near the village center on the multi-use trails (sidewalks) then turning left to connect with a wide road that overlaps a few downhill runs, before turning sharply right and down hill. THWACK! My first fall finds me in a heap of snow. It was easy to push up and start again though, and after all it was a tight turn.

A short way down the trail a road intersects the path. I pop off the skis, cross on foot, then put them back on. This starts the descent that found me a crumpled crying mess last year. I dug in my skis at an angle, utilizing my snow plow perfected on my Telemark training, and skied the length of the downhill with control and ease. I celebrated my victory over that hill and continued – confidence growing.

At the next trail junction, we head left on Lew’s Loop. It’s a blue trail, with the promise of taking us to a green run. It wasn’t all that bad, and between intersection 3 and intersection 6, I don’t think I fell at all.

I had so much positive time on my skis that I was even beginning to access my form. I discovered I could scissor my legs together for a better inner-leg work out and for a more seamless glide along the tracks. I had learned earlier at Telemark that when I’m going up hill in the tracks, if I engage my core and lean over the front of my skis a bit that I don’t stand as much of a chance of backsliding.

As we approached intersection 6, I heard some whining motorization that I thought might be a chainsaw. Just as we got to the trail junction, two snowmobiles whizzed by us and up the Cougar Cut-Off Trail in the direction we were to be heading. That must have been what I heard earlier. After a brief break, we continued up the formerly groomed trail that was now marred into hunks and chunks of snow by the machines that ripped up the path. They also left a lingering odor of fuel in the air. I don’t think snowmobile and cross-country ski paths should be co-aligned. Besides the auditory impact and the shredded snow, it’s hazardous to have such fast-moving vehicles with such a slow human-powered activity.

At the top of the cut-off trail and the end of shared use trail, we were to turn right onto the blue Copper Kettle Trail. The maps indicate it as blue. The sign at the junction indicated it as black (advanced!). The trail was not groomed. I am not advanced. The map at the last intersection already forewarned me that there would be a steep hill on this portion of the trail. Panic began to set in. Instead of seeing an adventure ahead of me, I got afraid. Trevor, having been here before, assured me it would be fine. I acquiesced but still felt unsure about the path forward. We shuffled through the fresh snow. No tracks here. We would make them. In about a tenth of a mile the trail started to go downhill. Not wanting my skis to take off with me toward the precipice denoted as “steep hill” on the map, I started side-stepping my way down – getting more fearful and more angry with each step.

My head got hotter. My movements became less controlled. My focus became on everything external to me – this trail – this snow – the mis-labeling of this black trail as a blue on the map – Trevor, along with the question – “does he respect my limitations, my fear?” It all boiled up inside, and with my fall (which was inevitable) near the end of the hill, burst a litany of curses. I stood and fell again which brought more hurt and anger. I released myself from my skis and stormed up the hill. I spoke unkindly to Trevor before settling the rage back down and regaining a shaken un-ease that was somewhat closer to calm. We discussed the merits of returning to the shredded trail above or continuing on the path ahead – toward our goal of reaching the Porcupine Cut-Off Trail, a green run nestled between blue ones.

Feeling heard but still not yet feeling well, I traipsed down the descent I had just charged up in anger and walked my way to a place I felt safe again to put on my skis. I should have done that in the first place. Of course, fear and anger sometimes have a way of smashing logic on the rocks, and so it was in this instance.

“My attitude got in a bad way which didn’t help me out at all. In fact, it made things much worse. I got angrier and things got harder. Isn’t that the way of life…” from my journal.

I kept the lead through the first part of the Copper Kettle Trail, breaking tracks that Trevor used to follow behind. I was starting to get tired, so we switched places so that he broke through the snow and made tracks that I could follow. It was a bit further than either of us expected before we reached the Porcupine Cut-Off trail.

It was groomed and in good shape. It made easy work of the downhill trip toward the warming hut. I continued to handle myself with ease on the skis, maneuvering around curves and down hills with control. I even let myself pick up some speed – evidence in my confidence to control my actions.

We took a short break at the warming hut before concluding our 11km (6.8 mi) ski for the day. We took the lift up to the condo and a well-deserved late lunch.

Skiing may have been easier on Saturday because of the conditions. It was a warm day and the top crust of snow was a little soft. It made digging in and getting purchase with my skis easier.

The hot tub was out of commission on Saturday night, so we opted to watch a bit more Olympics. I did some reading, too.

Sunday we awoke to falling snow. We had discussed going to McCullough Nordic ski club on Sunday, but decided that the lower elevation and recent temperatures likely wouldn’t bode well for the snow levels and trails. The new plan took shape: take a quick run on the trails at Big White, return to the condo to pack, then go to McCullough on the way home and ski again. If conditions aren’t favorable there then at least we did some skiing.

We skied a short loop at Big White – taking the Trapping Meadows Trail back up to the gondola. It was snowing still while we went, and the trail conditions weren’t as favorable as Saturday. The snow on the ground was “sticky”. I fell a few times in places I wouldn’t have expected as a result. My attire was less than desirable. I wore my hiking rain shell over top of my clothes as a barrier against the snow. It was like wearing a wet sack - I felt clammy and gross. For the snow it repelled, it trapped as much moisture close to my skin. I also couldn’t wear my glasses without them fogging up, so I skied without them, which isn’t easy because snow flies in your eyes.

Sunday’s trip was less successful, and we opted to bypass McCullough fearing that it wouldn’t be worth our time to investigate if the conditions aren’t ripe for skiing.

We visited with Trevor’s grandmother, then went out to eat dinner, and followed that up “Running the Sahara” a documentary about three guys who do just that.

It’s Monday now, and Trevor has extended this lovefest even further by bringing me chocolate home from his grocery-shopping excursion. I feel the love!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Things I've Learned Cross Country Skiing

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned as a beginner cross-country skier. These things aren’t rocket science – and most folks who ski probably already know – but I feel like I’ve discovered them myself through my experiences.

Gear Matters: Last year I skied in Trevor’s Mom’s old school skis and boots. I appreciated them at the time for the experience they offered. I could experience cross-country skiing and I didn’t have to buy or rent gear to figure out if I liked it. We skied a good bit last year. While I gained confidence on flat terrain, the hills were always hard. This year, with new skis, boots, and poles, I felt much more skilled right from the outset. Maybe it has to do with a bit of experience. But I think, more likely, that gear matters.
  • Boots that support the ankles make it easier to control the skis. My ankles are little weak, so when I previously wore a pair of boots that didn’t support my ankles, when I would be struggling to move the ski and it resisted, I took a dive to cater to my whim to protect my ankles.
  • Skis are determined based on your weight. Too much or too little weight on skis will impact how they glide (or not) on the surface. Getting a pair that’s right for your body is important.
  • Don’t forget the goggles or glasses to protect yourself from in-the-face flying snow if you expect precipitation. It’s uncomfortable to squint and blink to deflect incoming snow while you’re navigating a turn or a “steep” hill.
Scissor the Legs: I discovered I could scissor my legs together for a better inner-leg work out and for a more seamless glide along the tracks.

Up hill in tracks: When going up hill in the tracks, engage the core and lean over the front of the skis a bit so you don’t stand as much of a chance of backsliding.

Up hill out of tracks: If doing the duck waddle up a hill, with the tips of your skis pointed out, don’t forget to dig in a bit with the tips of your poles just behind you. With a firm grasp there, you can recover more easily if you do slide back some. I also started using a smaller lift-drag of my foot and ski so that I wouldn’t chance stepping on my own ski and bringing myself into a crashing face plant.