Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Settled In(side) for Winter

After six months of living in/out of my van and a whirlwind dash across the west, I am hunkered down in cozy quarters for the winter.  I am in Winter Park, Colorado, living and, as of tomorrow, working at a ski lodge.  How did I get here?  It happened so fast.

A week ago I was in Ashland, Oregon looking for a place to live.  I was excited to live there, enjoying the mild weather and running on the exposed trails..  But, throughout the past month I had small urges to go to a higher, drier winter and I was feeling a pull to Colorado.  These urges were suppressed by my non-excitement about traversing mountains in my van in the winter.  I was monitoring my regular websites of seasonal and mountain town jobs, but wasn't about to just drive out here and find a job and a place to live (my usual method).

Then last Tuesday I found a post that sparked my interest.  I applied Tuesday.  Had a phone interview Wednesday.  Was hired Thursday.  And left Ashland for Colorado Friday.

Kali, who is headed to the midwest for the holidays, and I, caravanned to Denver.  We drove for three whole days straight, managing to avoid any inclement weather.   I spent two nights and one day in Denver at my aunt's, before heading up into the high country and arriving at my new home, yesterday.

I have arrived in the really high country.  I didn't realize until I got here that Winter Park is at 9000'.  It knocked me out yesterday.  I love it.  The stairs nearly make my heart pound out of my chest.  Today while snowboarding I kept pulling my mask down, thinking it was restricting my breathing, but no, there just isn't that much oxygen.

It seems perfect.  I'm at a small private ski lodge four miles from the base of Winter Park Resort.  I'll be serving and housekeeping.  My schedule allows for a long playtime in the middle of each day.  There is shuttle to the resort and anywhere else I would need to go.  Mama is resting.  I have a new-for-me pair of telemark skis, I am going to figure out how to ride.  I can't wait to bust out the snowshoes and cross-country skis, exploring the national forest that the lodge borders.  I have a new a crew of people to work and hang with who are all here to ski and snowboard.  And its dumping.

After living outside for so long, I wasn't that excited to move inside.  Indoors, now seems kind of dirty and claustrophobic to me.  But, living inside allows me to play in the snow.  I think I will be alright.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Slowing Down...for a minute.

No matter where I am or what I am doing, this time of year cannot pass, without me getting sick. I forget, until  that unrelenting dryness in the back of my throat reminds me that another year has passed and I am going to calm down for a few days, whether I want to or not.

I surrender to sickness. I don’t try to fight it or even really to suppress the symptoms. It seems futile. Clearly something wants out. So, despite how much it pains me, I resist the urge to do my normal thing…going full speed all day everyday. It isn’t really a challenge, for my normal routines aren’t even appealing right now. Coffee isn’t doing anything for me. Sugar has lost it’s sweetness. Running sounds disgusting. Brief urges to indulge these things are quickly forgotten as I feel my whole body ache.

Yesterday I watched three full movies. That is insane. I rarely ever commit myself to a movie. They are so long. This is what I’ve been reduced to.

I did mange to push this illness back a week. I spent last week in Ashland, Oregon, leading up to a race there and feeling it out in preparation for moving there this winter. A couple days before the race I could tell the sickness was upon me, so I took some homeopathic remedies and drank copious amounts of water as to not succumb before the race. It kind of worked. I was able to run the race, although definitely not feeling my strongest.

I ran the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon last Saturday.  Last summer, I ran the course, so knew what to expect. Knowing that the last 7ish miles were steep downhill (my favorite) and that I wasn’t 100%, I decided to take it especially easy on the first 8ish mile steady climb. I figured since I couldn’t be very competitive, I would at least save enough to really enjoy that 7 mile downhill.

And that I did. It was slightly difficult to resist the temptation to push it on the uphill as I got passed by hoards of people. I fought the urge and decided I would catch them all on the downhill. After mostly power-hiking the uphill interspersed with chatting, peeing, going back and forth with Kali, I reached the top and then settled into, what felt like a good steady pace for the 12ish flat, pleasant miles on a dirt road.

I decided to count the people I passed from the aide station that marked the end of the climb, as a way to entertain myself. I think I passed like 12 or 13 on the flat part. Then came the downhill. There was an aide station right before the plunge. I got some water did a little shake-out of my limbs, maybe even let out a little WOO HOO, then unloaded.

It was so fun. Effortless, really. Gravity is my friend. I flew down the first couple miles of dirt road, then had to reign it in a bit on the singletrack, as it was crowded and I had to negotiate passing people. I passed about 20 more people before reaching the finish line in 4 hours and 3 minutes. Clearly, I could have pushed it harder earlier in the race, but I think it was more enjoyable this way.

I jogged around and stretched as I waited for Kali to finish her longest race to date. She wasn’t far behind. We changed then headed in for the post-race festivities. The whole thing was really well done. It was really nice that all the miles were marked. The aide stations were plentiful. Good food/beer afterwards. Best t-shirt I have ever received in a race. All around good times.

Despite the fun of the race and couple of days that followed in Ashland, I knew I was on borrowed time. As I drove back out to our rural dwellings, the niceness wore off, and I was left with the reality of my condition. Yes, I am being dramatic. But, for an energy fiend, low energy equates with torture. As I realized years ago, I can’t get really high without getting really low. So, as I wallow in my sickness I can be assured that the high times are not far off. For now, I guess, I’ll watch another movie.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pleasurable Pain in Paradise

I have just returned to southern Oregon after an absolutely fantastic two-week road trip.  After taking a few days to recover in Bend from a 50k there, I made my way to the northern coast of Washington, loaded Mama on a ferry and arrived on Orcas Island on a Wednesday evening.

From the moment I drove off the ferry I knew I was in a special place.  I drove to the farside of the the island to scope out all the spots that others had suggested.  After seeing all my options I felt an overwhelming pull to set-up in the enchanting Moran State Park, centrally located on the island and home to the Triple Ripple Trail Festival, my reason for being there.
Mt. Baker from the ferry line.
I found a ridiculously awesome campsite.  Not only was this a very fancy campground with running water, hot showers and stunning views, but my campsite had its own beach of the south-end of Cascade Lake.  I settled in, made dinner and unwinded after my two days of commuting from Bend.

The beach on my campsite.
I am so glad I arrived with plenty of time before the races began.  I had three nights and two whole days to kick it.  Those two days were so nice.  With fortyish miles of trails starting from my campground, I had plenty of entertainment.  I went for a short run both mornings and then walked around the rest of the day.  The dark old-growth forest is....I don't even know.  Very special.  I loved it.  The trails were perfect.  I was very excited to run on the trails during the races, while at the same time thinking I might be too chill to run hard. 

One spot on the many beautiful trails in Moran State Park
On Friday afternoon, I checked in, then returned to the campground and went to bed very early.  In the morning, I hiked a couple of miles to the Mountain Lake, the start of the four mile.  I was least stoked about the four mile.  It was one flat lap around Mountain Lake.  My plan was to pretend I was fast and just see how long I could hold on.  It turns out that is about two miles.  I felt like I was flying for a while.  I had already slowed down by the time I hit the two mile mark.  I was able to hold on as I saw the girl ahead of me get farther away and the one behind gaining on me.  Knowing when I had .7 mile left I turned it up, but was dry heaving with .4 left.  Luckily, I finished, without puking.  

My efforts landed me in second place for the women.  Prizes were awarded to the top overall male and female and then first place in four or five age groups.  For winning my age group, I was awarded a fresh/still warm loaf of bread.  It smelled so delicious I promptly gave it away, so I wouldn’t get any funny ideas later.  After stretching in the sun and meeting with other runners, I caught a ride back to the campground.

Between races I tore myself away from my private beach and moved Mama over to the compound the festival was basing out of.  It was less than a half a mile away from where I was, but I wanted to be where the action was.  There were cabins and tent space available, but I opted for Mama.  After settling in, I chatted with more people and stretched preparing for the hillclimb set for 3pm.

The 4-mile start/finish.
10k Hill Climb
The 10k started with a flat couple of miles around Cascade Lake before starting to climb.  Liz from Portland, who won the female side of things in the four mile, jumped ahead from the beginning and I never saw her until the very end.  Actually I never saw anyone again.  I felt fast around the lake and then strong on the climb.  I switched between running and power hiking.  The trail was absolutely awesome.  Gaining elevation, we passed through numerous mini ecosystems.  Mostly old-growth forest.  With a mile or two from the finish the course flattened out into small rolling hills and was incredibly fast.  It probably would have been advantageous to check out the map and profile beforehand because I thought it was steep all the way up.  Suddenly we came around the side of the mountain which opened up to views of the ocean, other islands and Mt. Rainier.  I tried to ignore it because it was the fastest and most technical spot on the course.  I hauled it the last mile and caught a glimpse of Liz on some switchbacks.  I kicked it into high gear, but it was too late.  We were already at the finish. 

The finish was at the summit of Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan islands.  We lucked out with clear skies and could see for miles.  A stone tower at the top allowed for a 360 view.  I took in the views while the rest of the runners finished before being shuttled back down. My second place female finish, again, won me my age group, for which I received a box of GU. 

Back at the compound the awards were followed by a Chi Running workshop, an awesome dinner, and live music from a local band.  Dancing was definitely the best way to stay loose for the 30k the next day.   As I was heading back to Mama, I thought about what a fun day it was.  I love this event.  The idea had sounded perfect to me and it was everything I hoped I would be. 

The 10k Hillclimb Finish.
This was the race I was most confident about.  After chatting it up over coffee, I did a brief warm-up, then bolted off the start line.  After the 50k in Bend the week before where I realized I have lots to learn as far as racing that distance and pushing myself, I decided I would just go as hard as I can and finish with nothing left.  That seems obvious, but somehow I finished that 50k with so much energy.  Anyway I went out hard.  I took the female lead from the beginning and tried not to look back.

For the first half of the race I felt incredible.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that good running.  The first half was mostly uphill mixed with some flatish parts on some of the best stretches of trail I have ever been on.  It was so fun.  Everything was working.  There was a long steep climb.  I could see someone gaining on me on the switchbacks.  Finally I got to the top and started flying down.  I could tell there was someone about to pass me.  We hit an aid station at mile 10 and when I stopped for water, a girl blew past me and I never saw her again.  The last 8 miles were downhill, definitely my strongest suit, but I couldn’t catch her.  I was beat.  Suddenly I could feel the day before.  But I held on.  I cruised on the sweet single track through the dark forest.  A few miles were flat and I found that hard to push myself, but mostly I was carried downhill.  The last two miles were a bit scary.  I barely held on.  I felt like I could fall off the trail.  I dragged myself over the tiny little inclines.  A downed tree very close to the finish added a nice and confusing obstacle, in which nettle tore me up while trying to navigate through the lush ditch around it.  I crossed the finish line accomplishing my goal of finishing with nothing left. 

View from the summit of Mt. Constitution (10k finish)
I stuffed my face from the moment I finished...and haven't really stopped yet.  It took me a couple of hours to feel like I had it together.  We were served another awesome local, organic meal, which tasted good, but wasn’t sitting.  Finally a beer sounded good, and after two I was good to go. 

Once again I got the age group award.  This time two bars of local soap.  I loved the prizes.  I loved everything about this event.  Every detail was thought of.  They nailed it.  It was such a fun weekend.  I tried to explain to the race directors that I do fun stuff all the time (I’ve pretty much dedicated myself to that) and this was way up there.

As everyone started to leave, I hung around, as I had nothing to do, and I was in no hurry to get off the island.  I agreed to give someone a ride to the Seattle airport the next day, so was put up for the night in a nice big empty house.   I hung out with the crew who put the event on, as they unwinded from the virgin voyage into race directing.  A splendid evening after a splendid weekend on a splendid island.  Perfection. 

The next day, my new buddy, Brian, and I rented a couple of kayaks and paddled around the Eastsound after breakfast in town.  A nice relaxing and imperative thing to do on a visit to Orcas.  We spent a few hours paddling through the smooth water and pulled out just as some rain, the first of my trip there, rolled in. 

After saying our goodbyes we headed to the other side of the island, caught a ferry, and made it to Seattle to sleep before Brian caught a plane the next morning.  Dropping him off at the airport began my daylong journey down I-5 back to southern Oregon.  Perfect timing and a call from a friend lead to me picking up someone at the Medford airport that night before getting back here around midnight. 

I had been gone about two weeks.  And what an awesome two weeks it was.  I’ve returned with even more motivation to run…although my body isn’t quite ready yet.  I plan to just chill here, help out around the compound, and run.  There is a trail marathon in a month nearby.  Other than that no plans except to move somewhere(?) for winter.  Its pretty wide open.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Flagline 50k: High Alpine Splendor

Right now I am in Bend, Oregon.  I've been in the area since last Friday.  Saturday I ran in the Flagline 50k, that started and finished at Mt. Bachelor ski area, located about 20 miles outside of Bend.  The race consisted of a triple figure eight-ish style loop.  It was the first time for a race on this course.  Bend is home to a endless bounty of singletrack trails, fully utilized by local mountain bikers and runners.
Mt. Bachelor Ski Area
I have run this distance in a race once previously, three years ago, near Lake Tahoe.  While I haven't been running huge distances the last two months, I felt prepared for the challenge.  I was also excited for the opportunity to get on a trail and go, with no other concerns, a luxury races afford their participants.  Quite an indulgent way to punish for your body.

My biggest concern about the distance was my feet.  Since spring I have been trying to adapt to minimal footwear not only while running, but in general.  I have been astounded by how fast my feet have been adjusting, but was a bit worried about going all out for such a long distance.  I wavered on whether or not to wear socks, as I have not been doing so for about two months.  I'm loving the feeling of not wearing them, but was worried that my feet wouldn't be able to handle the distance.  It turns out this was a very legitimate concern.

I stashed a pair of socks in a drop bag that would be at an aid station at mile 17ish and then again at 24ish.  I figured that I have gone on enough 10-15 mile-ish runs without socks that I wouldn't notice any damage until at least there.  I was so wrong.  The first eight miles were a slightly downhill on a less-than-a-road-but-more- than-a-singletrack stretch.  I found myself running right down a mountain biking trench and landing on the inside of my feet.  I could tell I was ripping the hell out of the inside of both feet.  Knowing I had socks and foot repair gear at mile 17 I tried to ignore it and just cruise.

This wasn't hard.  The first aid station was eight miles in.  After passing through and filling up my water, I glanced at my watch.  Exactly one hour.  Uhh oh.  That is definitely way too fast for me for the first eight of thirty miles.  I had no trouble slowing it down as we turned onto some definite singletrack that went up and down hills.  It was a really sweet section, but I was struggling a bit.  I just felt lethargic on the uphills and couldn't open it up on the downhills, because my feet were so tore up. Quite a few guys passed me on this section, most I never saw again.

Somewhere before the aid station at mile 15, I felt a whole lot better and settled into a good pace.  Trading places back and forth with a few guys that I stuck with until I got to my drop back at mile 17 and then sat down to doctor me feet.  I probably got them all fixed up in under five minutes.  Those fine motor skills are tough after 17 miles.  Untying my triple knots and unwrapping band-aids was tricky.  The kind aid station people were willing to help, but I thought I could do it faster.

All fixed up, I shot out of the aid station with half a sandwich (almond butter on rice bread) I had in a drop bag and ate it as I cruised down a dirt road.  This was another sweet downhill section and I was able to run much better with my feet fixed.  The sandwich didn't sit well, though, and I decided to stick to gels the rest of the time.  Three and a half (supposedly) miles down the road I turned onto a singletrack that went down a bit further before climbing back up to the same aid station I was just at.  This was another super-sweet section of trail.  I felt pretty good and hiked the uphills to catch my breath.  There were many mountain bikers everywhere cheering us on and trading places with us on the trail.

I passed back through the aid station at 24-ish then had a really good stretch of running on a gently rolling dirt road.  I passed through the last couple of aid stations feeling good and just trying to keep it going.  I felt good and was able to run most of it from there on out.  After passing some volunteers who claimed I only had three miles left, I noticed I was at just about 5 hours in and attempted to pick it up for the relatively flat finish.  Somewhere in there I wiped out, luckily not hurting myself.  What I guessed to be the second to last mile seemed to drag forever, but I finally hit the road for the last mile.  I dread the pavement, but I felt great after a minute on it and was able to push it in hard, passing a dude halfway to the finish line.
The finish line being packed up
I finished in 5:27:46.  I was happy enough with that.  I don't have much to compare it to.  I was an hour and 20 minutes behind the winner.  An hour and 10 minutes behind the first women.  But, there were some badasses there, so I can't complain.  And it was fun.  I love hanging in the woods for hours at a time, and being pushed to go as fast as I can only doubles my pleasure.

I am most impressed with how fast I have recovered...except my feet.  They are messed up.  I think they will be fine for this weekend, but I really want to run on all these awesome trails around here before them.  I really like Bend.  I am sure I will live here sometime.  Maybe this winter.  We'll see.
Home for a night, just outside of Bend
Now, I am looking forward to this weekend.  I plan to be on Orcas Island by Thursday night.  The Triple Ripple Trail Festival gets started Friday night, with the first race Saturday morning.  I'm pumped.  I think it is going to be so much fun.  It has been raining there a lot, but the forecast is looking good for this weekend.  As I've never been to Orcas Island, I know with just visiting there, I am in for a treat.

Free Fallin'

For the past month and a half I have been in southern Oregon staying with friends. They live on the outskirts of a small rural town on the banks of a lush creek surrounded by old growth forest. It is other-worldly to me. While I feel most comfortable in high, dry climates, it is nice to live in other ecosystems from time to time. It is also very nice to stay in one place for awhile after moving around frequently for three months.

The creek that runs through their property
While there I helped them out around their homestead. I helped weed a garden that had been neglected for a few months, split firewood, dug trenches, built and cleared trails, harvested massive amounts of cherry tomatoes to be dried, harvested potatoes, cleaned and organized tool sheds, striped a door, housesat and did numerous other chores.

I thoroughly enjoyed doing all these tasks. Physical labor is fun. Especially when the results are so instant and I can check them off a list. Love that. It would be rough to do that strenuous of work all day everyday, but helping out for awhile is cool. Plus hard work is a great compliment to running while training for a race.

There are plenty of unpaved, old logging roads surrounding where I was staying. Most, however, have super grown-over spots that aren’t fun to run through. I picked one 5-ish mile loop to concentrate on and went to town clearing it. In 12 hours over a couple of days I made a lot of progress. Both days the hours flew by as I moved fallen trees and trimmed back branches. I love working on trails. A few weeks later Kali and I built a stretch of trail orchestrated as a birthday present. It was pretty awesome.

After working on the 5-ish mile loop, I ran on it…a lot. It is a wonderful little loop that climbs up steadily half way and descends just as nice. Very runnable. The steepest part is in and out of the driveway. I ran on this most days. When Kali showed up, after I had already been there a couple of weeks, we ran on some other trails. I find it much easier to justify driving to trails, if there is at least two people. Plus Kali just bought a car, so we didn’t have to move Mama. We ran on some incredible trails. Previously, I hadn’t been on too many in southern Oregon. Now that I have a better idea of what is out there, I am really excited to get on as many as possible the rest of the fall.

The part that stands out the most from the last month, as usual, is the food I’ve indulged in. My friends were kind enough to share their bountiful garden harvest with me. It was so nice. I primarily ate vegetables for a month. I strive to always do this, but it is much easier when I can just go pick them before every meal. Everything I made was so colorful and delicious. They grew potatoes, onions, garlic, squash, different kinds of kale, green beans, cucumbers, corn, and ridiculous amounts and different varieties of peppers and tomatoes. I am so grateful for generosity and the perfect fuel for training for these races.
My typical meal
All in all, it was a ideal setting to hang in for six weeks. Everything perfectly complimented my main focus, which was to train for these races I am currently on the road for. Right now I am in Bend, two days into recovering from the first race. This afternoon, after running some errands, I will trek over the Cascades and start making my way north to Orcas Island. Hopefully, I’ll get up a post about this past race very soon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Out and About

I've finally emerged from the dark, damp swamp, I've been hiding in the last five weeks.  I'm in high, dry Bend, Oregon to run a race tomorrow.  I promise a race report and the last month recap as soon as I can manage.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Mothership

Mama in downtown Quincy, California

Thousands of miles and five months later and the Mothership still seems to be running strong.  Mama has turned out to be the most perfect summer road tripping vehicle.  She has taken me from Illinois to California to Montana to Oregon...and everywhere in between.  

The bedroom.  The high-tech shelving unit provides easy access to our everyday attire.

Mama not only gets me from one destination to another, but also serves as my and Kali's, home.  It is so unbelievably convenient to pull over, almost anywhere, and sleep comfortably.  I am so comfortable in Mama that even when offered indoor housing for the evening, I usually prefer to stay in the van.  Sleeping in my own bed, while still getting a regular change of scenery is the ultimate combination for me.  I hardly ever have to sacrifice a good night of sleep to be where I want to be. The only parking for sleeping restrictions is being flat and the considerations for peeing in the middle of the night.  As long as I'll be able to get up, considering it might already be light out, and pee, the spot will work.  

The under-the-bed storage houses lesser used and other season gear.
Mama's third major function after vehicle and bed, is a giant closet on wheels.  Everything I own is with me.  This is so nice.  For many years, I had my belongings spread across the country.  Now I have everything at my disposal at all times.  Since I like to play in every season and climate I have a hefty amount of crap.  Having this size of a vehicle is awesome for storage, but as I've learned, it doesn't matter if I'm living out of a backpack, a car, or a house...I'm going to fill every square inch with as much crap as I can.  Luckily, organization is a hobby of mine.  The organizational system in this van is an on-going work of art/science, that improves everyday.

good times.
happy hour!
A large amount of time is spent hanging out in Mama.  She is as comfortable as any living room with many of the same amenities.  We spend hours reading, writing, playing the mandolin and watching stuff on the computer (usually episodes of 30 Rock) parked wherever we feel like it.  If we are in a town, we can usually find a place to park where we can pick up a wireless internet connection.  There is no stove set up inside (yet), but it is not difficult to find a place to fire up the stove between the double side doors.

So, I love Mama.  She has been so good to me.  I can't express how grateful I am to Mike and Sue (my uncle and aunt) for giving her to me.  I doubt that they had any idea what I had in store for her.  Receiving her has really dictated my plans for the last six months and allowed me to do some things that I have always wanted to.  Not only do them, but do them comfortably and in style.  It has been a ridiculously, fun-packed six months.  Hopefully, the next six will be just as fun.  

I am starting to formulate some plans, but its pretty wide open.  I'm currently in Oregon, housitting, enjoying a healthy balance of running and chilling out.  I think I'll be around here for a while.  It is an easy place to be.  I have just registered for the Triple Ripple Trail Festival on Orcas Island at the beginning of October.  I'm pumped for this one.  It is a new event that sounds so fun.  Other than that, I don't have many plans.  I have decided I want to be somewhere where I can ski/snowboard this winter.  Maybe in Oregon.  Maybe anywhere.  I'm sure it will work it out for itself.  Depending on where I am and how much snow there is might have an impact on Mama, but until then I plan to thoroughly enjoy all the comforts she has to offer.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Going With It.

After two months of super-tightly planned activity (something new for me.  See Planning Ahead.), I've found myself, once again, with no plans and little driving ambition to do anything specific.  The morning Kali and I left Eureka and headed to Whitefish, I was open to anything.  I pondered the endless options open to me and realized that I would not be able to take any decisive action.  Nothing was pulling me strongly.  Knowing I have little money left and two months before my next planned job, did narrow things a bit, but still, the options were pretty much endless.  As it (always) turns out, no decision making was necessary in determining the next course of action.

Although I would have been perfectly happy to hang in Montana, another opportunity has presented itself, that seems even more perfect.  A house-sitting and farm work gig, in southern Oregon, one of my new favorite locales, has fallen in my lap.  I'm on my way.  Thank you very much.

This is where the balance between planning ahead and going with the flow is going to come into play.  "Going with it" to Oregon and staying in one spot for a minute and saving up a bit will allow me to plan ahead and execute the next adventures.  And since the adventures I have in mind involve body punishing activities, some routine will better allow me to properly prepare my body for the ass-kicking.

I have a few events in the next few months in mind.  Committing myself to those will allow me the freedom to focus on what is in front of me, instead of wondering about and contemplating the future.  It is as if I am free-er when I have some sort of parameters.  Hmmm.

So, it looks like more exciting times ahead.  Currently, I've been enjoying a nice few days of relaxing in Whitefish.  Ran a weekly road race put on by a friend, who has started a running club, since I left.  Ran on the new and partially completed Whitefish Trail.  Dance party last night.  Lots of sleeping and internetting.  Visiting friends.  Very chill.

Tomorrow, Kali and I are commencing the southward travel.  We'll take a "new for me" route back to Missoula, with a stop for a hike/run along the way.  We plan to kick it in Missoula for a few days, then possibly hit some hot springs en route to Boise, where Kali is flying out in a week.  I'll continue onward to southern Oregon, with a multitude of possibilities for fun along the way.  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summertime in Montana

Although we have been grieving the departure of Dan, Camp Fancy-Free has moved onward to Montana and is happy to report we are thoroughly and systematically taking summer for all its worth. And it is really summer here. It was really hot last week and kind of humid. Kind of gross, actually. I’m not into that humidity stuff, these days. But, its nice and cool now. Just a little smoky from a nearby wildfire. Anyways, it the weather hardly matter, because I have been having way too much fun the last two weeks to notice.

After dropping Dan at the Portland Airport, we enjoyed a lovely ride along the Columbia River Gorge, through the amber waves of grain of eastern Washington and up and over the alpine splendor of the narrow strip of Idaho. We arrived in Missoula at a decent hour and still light out at 10:00pm. My best friend Sara, who has lived in Missoula a couple of years and is half-way through grad school there welcomed us back to Montana. We spent a couple of fun nights in Missoula, catching up with Sara and her boyfriend, Adam. Our visit was brief, however, because we had to get up to the Whitefish area for the wedding madness that was about to ensue…and I’ll spending more time in Missoula on my way out.

Columbia River Gorge heading out of Portland

After the very scenic drive through the Flathead Valley we made it Whitefish, made a few brief visits with old friends and then caught up with the bride, Rebecca and company. After a couple of drinks we headed up to her home in Eureka, which is about 50 miles north of Whitefish, not far from the Canadian border. We parked Mama on Rebecca and Todd’s land and that is where she remained for the last two weeks.

The Float
The next morning Kali, Rebecca and I left early to drive to Polebridge, Montana for Rebecca’s bachlorette party. Polebridge is a super-small, funky little town way off the beaten path on the western edge of Glacier National Park. The town consists of a restaurant and the Mercantile, known for its pastries. It is also right on the North Fork of the Flathead River, where the bachlorette party would be taking place. Four other women met us there and we dropped a car and headed upstream.

Some genius logistics had already been arranged and we got to our put-in spot just as the bachelor party arrived from a two day float trip that started from the Canadian border. So, the raft was already set to go, we just had to exchange our full coolers for their empty ones and two moms handed their babies off to the dads and we were on our way.
Kali, Me, Rebecca (bride) and Dawn, our trusty rower, in the back

It was a perfect day. Gorgeous weather. Awesome people. And the peaks of Glacier towering over us. There was also a ridiculous amount of pre-mixed drinks and beer. The time flew by as the water slowly carried the raft downstream. We stopped for lunch, jumped in a few times and laughed really hard all day long. Everyone was surprised it was over when we arrived in Polebridge. I think we caused quite a scene at the busy pull-out spot, when seven super-smashed girls arrived and broke down the raft and all the gear. We then had dinner in Polebridge and then set up tents and passed out early. I’m having a hard time thinking of a single day that was more fun.

The Farm
After having way too much fun on the float it was time to get down to business. Not only was the wedding one week away, but Rebecca and Todd also own a small organic farm in the midst of the busiest time of year. With the farm alone, they are the most hard-working people I know, but with the wedding in addition, they are just insane. Kali and I did what we could to help. We spent the week picking peas, carrots and beets and I was hired to do some massive weeding. The two weekly farmers’ markets they attend coincided with the arrival of their families so, we helped sell their bountiful harvest while they visited with their guests.

The Wedding
As the wedding drew closer, they started to get super busy with last-minute plans and entertaining guests. We hung out with their out-of-town family members and helped out where we could. The day of the wedding we helped set everything up at their neighbors where the ceremony and reception took place. Their neighbors have picturesque gardens, the perfect venue a wedding. The wedding itself was fairly traditional considering the not so traditional nature of the couple. Everyone had a blast, and we stayed up late dancing to the rock-a-billyish band they hired.

The Runs
Despite getting caught up in the nuttiness of the week, I managed to get in three awesome trail runs. A friend of Rebecca’s, Sarah, who was in town for the wedding, is into trail running and is familiar with the area. Our first one was on the way back from Polebridge. We took the backroads to get back to Eureka and stopped to climb up the second highest peak in the Whitefish Range and run down. It was maybe a 12-14 mile round-trip, the perfect hang-over cure. From the top you could see peaks forever in all directions.

A few days later, with my downhill muscles still incredibly sore, Sarah took me on a ten mile loop not far from where I’m staying. Once again awesome views and the peak of the wildflowers around here. I feel like my words are inadequate to describe the scenery and unfortunately the mobile camera is broken. :(

A couple of days after the wedding we did a run I wanted to do the whole time I lived here, but could never make it happen logistically. We got up very early one morning and dropped off a car at the Strawberry Lake trailhead, outside of Kalispell, then piled in another car and headed to the Columbia Mountain trailhead, outside of Columbia Falls. Twenty-seven miles later, Sarah, Kali, and I got back to the car at Strawberry Lake. It was big. We didn’t actually know for sure if it was 27 miles. Some guidebooks said 20.5 and others said 27. Turns out it was more like 27. Anyhow, it was great. The first eight miles are a steep climb up Columbia Mountain. At the top, Alpine Trail #7 traverses the ridgeline to Strawberry Lake and beyond. From the ridge, you would be able to see in all directions, on a clear day, but it was too smoky to see much. We got some nice views of the western-most Glacier peaks and, once again, the wildflowers were amazing. It was a nice cool day, with the smoke actually providing some relief from the sun, and we got caught in the rain with seven miles to go. An amazing day…and week. I really appreciated finding someone else who was into the same kind of treks and the same pace that Kali and I are at.

Next ?
Now I really have no plans. Kali and I are planning to finally move Mama today. I think we’ll head into Whitefish and see what happens. There are plenty of people to visit and much fun to be had as we are at the peak of summer. I keep meaning to update this more frequently, but it seems as though I have only been getting a chance every two weeks or so.  Too much fun.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Festival Phase Closes on a High Note

The Northwest String Summit, this past weekend, wrapped up the music festival portion of the "Free Wheelin Tour".  What a perfect ending to three fun-packed, uber-stimulating weekends.  I get a chance to reflect as we take a day to drive from Portland to (hopefully) Missoula.  Although not too far (500 some miles), it is pushing it for us in Mama.  Leaving  Portland, this morning, we were treated to stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge for the first few hours.  Beautiful cliffs, sparkling water and thousands of wind surfers was a nice complement with the morning coffee.  Now in eastern Washington, the views aren’t as scenic, but not ugly either.  A little warm for my taste. 

As anticipated in the last post, after leaving Eugene, we did meet up with friend of Kali’s living in Corvallis.  We spent a nice evening visiting with her and then were led on a nice trail run through the McDonald Forest, just outside of town, the next morning.  We then headed to a town just south of Portland to spend the evening with another friend and to position ourselves in close proximity to the Portland Airport, to pick up my brother, Dan, who would be joining us for the week.  When we arrived at our friend’s (a mutual friend we had worked with at Stanford Camp in the spring) we were surprised to find he lived in a VFW hall and worked as a caretaker and bartender.  So, we spent the night drinking with some vets before retiring to the van in parking lot.

Shortly after slipping into half-drunk sleep someone pounded on the van.  It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening.  When I shouted out asking what they wanted a police officer identified himself and asked us to get out of the vehicle.  In dramatic fashion I got out van making it very clear he had just woke me up.  I mention this whole scene because I find it very entertaining.  This has happened to us a few times.  First time on this tour, but it usually goes down the same way.  Although in the past the authorities showed up in the morning.  When I emerge from the van the tone of everything changes very quickly.  One second they are banging on the car like a hard-ass, then they see me and become very apologetic, even when we are clearly in the wrong.  Same scenario this time.  I don’t know what he was expecting to be inside, but when he saw two girls, he started to joke around and quickly went through the routine things (i.e. checking our identification and asking if we have weapons in the car).  After he established we weren’t wanted fugitives and that we had permission to be in parking lot, he was gone and we were quickly back to sleep.

The next morning we retrieved Dan from the airport and headed into Portland for his and my first visit to the highly-regarded big city.  We drove around for quite a while getting our bearings and trying to find our staple stores to load up for the festival.  After a nice lunch and shopping we drove in circles for a while before finding our direction and heading west out of the city to the town of North Plains,  home to Horning’s Hideout.

I have been hearing about Horning’s Hideout for quite a few years.  It is a private camping/fishing/disc golf spot.  It is awesome.  Lush, green rainforesty terrain.  Creeks and a lake.  Open grass fields.  Views into the adjacent valley.  A natural amphitheatre, shaded by huge old-growth trees with a beautiful stage built in the bowl.  It is the perfect place for a festival. 

 One of many peacocks that live at Horning's Hideout

The Northwest String Summit is a festival I’ve wanted to attend since I started listening to Yonder Mountain String Band six or seven years ago. They play a show each of the three nights and other bands play throughout the day.  It is very chill compared to the action-packed, multiple-stage events of the last two weeks.  Although there was plenty of music all day long I didn’t get the feeling I was missing something every time I sat down to chill at the campsite. 

We had our campsite dialed in for the third festival in three weeks.

This is my favorite festival I have been to…yet.  It was so perfect.  Three nights of my favorite band, pretty chill atmosphere (less costumes and sideshow freaks than the last two), and a beautiful setting for it all.  Luckily it was still crazy enough for Dan to get the full festival experience…dancing weirdoes, ripping music, and an all-night every night disco party next to our campsite. 

I can’t wait to attend any event or even just go to play disc golf at Horning’s Hideout again.  Definitely a special place.

Dan had one more day with us before heading home, so we headed out to the coast about 60 miles from the festival.  We enjoyed a lovely drive through the lush Coast Mountains and then camped at the beach for evening.  Although we weren't even there for a whole day, it was nice to get to see the rocky coast of northern Oregon.  We then returned to Portland to send Dan off.  It was so great he got to hang for a week.  So much laughing.  

 Dan and I on the beach.

Now what?  The festival madness is over for now, but the summer is just beginning.  We are enroute to Montana, where hopefully the snow has left the high country for its short window.  Aside from a wedding and some friends to visit, I don’t have any concrete plans in Montana.  I hope to get in as much trail running as possible.  I figure it is the best place with the super-long days.  I have no idea how long I will be here for.  I haven’t even been gone a year, but I am very excited to get back and am confident I will find adventure and some kind of crazy along the way.

Monday, July 12, 2010

It's Not a A Sprint...

This three week-long festival run cannot be called a marathon.  It is so much more than that.  The closing of the Oregon Country Fair yesterday marks the end of the second of three festivals Kali and I have tickets for.  Three festivals in three consecutive weekends.  

The High Sierra Music Festival is my Graceland, or Disneyland or Superbowl or church or whatever one gets super pumped to be apart of.  The festival takes place in the Plumas County Fairgrounds in Quincy, California.  Four days of outrageous amounts of music, partying and people watching.  It is completely over the top.  Non-stop, around the clock fun.  Many people find no reason to sleep during this four day festival. I used to be one of these people until I got over my FOMO (fear of missing out) disorder.  After my first outing to High Sierra it took me about three weeks to get back on a normal sleep schedule.  But this time around, High Sierra is only the first stop on the tour.  We need to pace ourselves.  And luckily we did.  Plus, there is no reason not to.  Although the late-night shows are always my favorite, there is endless options of things to do all day long.  Usually there was more than one band I wanted to see playing at the same time, yoga, hula-hooping, dancing, etc. workshops, wine and beer tasting, good food and the thousands of freaky people to stare at.  Over stimulation to the max.

Being my third trip to to High Sierra, I had a camping spot in mind prior to arriving.  Luckily, no one had taken my little perch:  a small, flat spot on a steep hill, in the shade, as far away as you could be from the madness in the super-jammed fairgrounds.  Although just a few steep yards from everything, the hill provided a nice barrier for much needed rest from all the excitement.  This time I even brought in some gardening gloves to level off the perch to add some space for cooking and sitting.  Its a pretty awesome spot and I would consider bringing in a small rake and shovel in the future to expand the flatness and make it really comfortable.

It is hard to describe the experience of High Sierra.  It is beyond words.  It is the land of make-believe.  Where reality is blurred and it is easy to loose grip on individuality. Where do I end and it begins?  The music permeates everything.  Unless you are standing directly in front of a stage when someone is performing you can usually hear multiple different shows going on and whatever sideshows have magically sprung up next to wherever you are hanging out  Everyone is dancing everywhere whether they are in front of a stage or waiting in line for the bathroom or moving from one show to the next.

Then there are the outfits.  Also beyond words.  There really is no theme or rhyme or reason for the outfits.  People just wear the weirdest things they can find.  We were noticing a few trends this year, however.  Sun umbrellas are big.  Is Oprah into those now?  Tons of umbrellas.  Also, tails.  ???   Lots of tails.  Circus attire and gypsy get-ups are popular.  Paint instead of clothes.  No clothes.  Anything goes.

All fun.  All day everyday.  We watched 3-7 shows a day.  Danced for four days straight.  By the end I could barely stand.  On Sunday hardly anyone can even clap and woo at the end of a song.  It is pretty hardcore.
We got worked, but not as bad as most.  We didn't make it to any of the 6:00AM kickball games, although we could hear them loud and clear each morning.  We slept reasonable hours each night and continued to eat good meals throughout the long weekend.  This was all necessary not only for making it through the three festivals, but also for the activities we have planned in between.

After four days of what I estimate to be equivalent to at least a marathon a day of dancing and prancing at High Sierra we decided that we needed a nice long run to stretch out our legs and get everything flowing again.  We very efficiently got all of our errands done in Quincy Monday morning and was on the road by early afternoon, Oregon bound.

We planned to stay up high in the mountains, but due to snow through Lassen National Park, had to drop down into the Sacremento Valley,  It felt like we had entered the gates of hell.  Luckily it was only for a few hours and we were cooled by the time were passing mystical Mt. Shasta.  We got to our destination, Ashland, Oregon early in the evening, got some food together and went to bed early.

The next day we started what we hope will an on-going event, known as marathon Tuesdays.  We ran/walked a marathon in the hills surrounding Ashland.  It was a loop on closed fire-roads starting and ending in town.  It is called the Lithia Loop, popular among mountain bikers, and home to a trail running race held in November. We had a great day.  It took us six hours.  The first six miles are up hill.  Followed by 13 flatish miles.  And ends with seven steep downhill miles.  A perfect course, if you ask me.  The final seven were so fun.  So fast.  I hope to do the race in November.

A break to filter water along the Lithia Loop

Post-run we cooled off in a creek.  It was a terribly hot day, but the trail was mostly shaded.  We then, somehow in our altered-state, managed to drive to Williams, Oregon about an hour away.  We both spent last fall in Williams and Kali spent time there this spring.  Friends there have a spectacular, off-the-grid spot, that I was ecstatic to get back to.  Awesome people and a beautiful spot.  The perfect place to recover from our marathon Tuesday.  We spent the night visiting with them and the next day relaxing and walking around their property.

We had planned on getting to Eugene early on Thurday, but couldn't resist an offer to float on the Rogue River for the day.  So, we did just that.  We joined a small group from Williams on one and two-person inflatable rafts for a nice relaxing float.  And beautiful.  The river cut through rock and wound through thick forest.   A great way to spend a hot day.

After getting off the river, it was onward to number two of three of the festivals.  Next stop:  The Oregon Country Fair.  I had first heard of this a few years ago, when I first came out this way to go to High Sierra.  People could never really describe it, but told me I would like it and that it was something everyone needed to check out at last once.

The Fair takes place in a rural town 15 miles outside of Eugene.  It is three days long.  You can go for a day or camp on private property turned campground just for the event.  We stayed at a campground just a short walk from the entrance to the Fair.

Enjoying the sunset from the front porch.

This too is hard to describe.  The Fair is kind of like a Renaissance Fair meets the circus meets Oregon.  The whole thing is in paths in a heavily wooded area.  There are merchants and food vendors interlaced with stages and open-performing areas.  Every sort of freak show imaginable can probably be found in the Fair.  Acrobats, jugglers, music, dancing, performance art is just the beginning.  I didn't even know what I was looking at some times.  Stuff going on everywhere.

Once again, costumes are huge.  And here, equally as huge is the lack of costumes.  Nakedness is popular.  But all the same kind of crazy as High Sierra.  Gypsies and circus freaks.

The Fair is more family friendly though.  There is no alcohol inside the event.  Which makes it much chiller.  The campgrounds were relativly chill as well.  We could have our car in the campground, so we have the luxury of living in our home, even at the fair.  Very chill, although very hot outside.  We invested in a shade tent, which saved us this weekend.  We even managed to get out for a run one morning and a bike ride the next morning before heading into the Fair.

We woke up this morning (Monday) pretty worked.  After breaking down camp we headed into Eugene and struggled to get our errands done.  So, we got a room at a hostel and decided to hang out and get stuff done tomorrow before heading to Corvallis to meet up with a friend of Kali's and possibly go for a ride or run on Wednesday.

Thursday we start it all over again.  The last leg of our mega-marathon festival tour.  Hopefully we'll still be standing by this time next week.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The "Free Wheelin'" Tour WEEK ONE

Snow, Bugs, Snakes and Gapers.

While spending our first week on the road trying to avoid all these pesky little things, we were led to some purely awesome places in Northern California.  We allotted ourselves just over a week to get from the Lake Tahoe area to Quincy, California, where we currently find ourselves gearing up to head into the High Sierra Music Festival early Thursday morning.

After I finished the race I met back up with Kali and her Mom, who was visiting from Ohio.  Thankful for a shower and a bed to recover in, I spent the night in a hotel with them on the North side of Lake Tahoe.  The next day we moved into Mama and found a nice spot to park her on top of Brockway Summit, overlooking Lake Tahoe.  From here we had access to some of the best trails and road biking I'm aware of.  We spent the day doing just that.  Kali running trails and me road biking, trying desperately to stretch my legs and get loose from the punishing previous day.

Because most of the forest service access roads were still gated, due to snow, we found it hard to escape the onslaught of people gaping at the wonderful big blue lake.  Yes, people, it is beautiful, but you still have to follow the rules of the road and look both ways before crossing the street.  Jesus.  Anyway, we decided to hike into the woods to get away from the crowds.

real estate with a lake view

We hopped on the Tahoe Rim Trail heading north from Brockway summit.  We were only able to get five or six miles in before losing the trail to snow.  No worries, however.  We picked out a beautiful spot overlooking Lake Tahoe and spent a nice peaceful evening with it all to ourselves.  Lovely.  We returned to our car and the crowds in the morning and decided to head for lower grounds so we could go on longer hikes without the snow.

After stopping in one of my old homes of Truckee, California and passing by another (Rainbow Lodge), we headed towards Nevada City.  After spending the night on a forest service road, we headed into town the next day, did our errands, ran in the colorful Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley, then made our way down the South Yuba River Canyon.

sweet view of a bend in the South Yuba River from the trail

The next day we set out on the Upper South Yuba trail that left from the campground.  I was just not feeling it on this run.  It wasn't working for me.  We were only planning on a short out and back totaling seven scenic miles.  I decided to just keep walking out as to not abandon Kali in mountain lion country.  After she made the turn around and found me I tried to keep up with her until we got to the viewpoint the above picture was taken at.  We paused here to take some pictures and suck in the awesome sights.  I turned around to see what the sound I heard was and saw the biggest, most bad-ass snake I have ever seen.  Anyone who knows me, knows my relationship with snakes (I can hardly write about it).  I took off running and screaming the most deathly high-pitched scream you have ever heard.  After that I had no trouble running and ran the fastest lightest three miles I have done in months.  Ehhhhhh.  

After that incident I wanted to flee, so we scrapped our plans of backpacking down into the canyon on the same trail the next day and left the next morning.  After a few more errands we started heading north on 49, a new route for both of us.  We found a sweet little secluded pull-off among the many gapered-out campgrounds along the North Yuba River.  One problem...mosquitos.  Not kidding, they were unbearable.  Despite the heat and the beautiful spot, we had to confine ourselves to the van with the windows up for the evening.  They were eating us alive.  We quickly left there the next morning, heading back for higher ground, deciding we'd trade the snow back for the bugs. 

As it was the weekend, we couldn't escape Gape-City, so we made the best of it, picnicking among them, before finally finding a coveted free campground, where the crowds were already gone for the week.  It was nice and high (6,600ft) and on a lake.  The bugs were bad, but much more manageable.  We planned a trail run for next day and went to bed early after a nice swim in the lake.

the Sierra Buttes

We rode our bikes a couple miles to the start of our planned lollipop loop.  The photocopied map we got from a visitors bureau didn't have the distances but we were planning on a ten-ish mile day.  We quickly hit snow, but were able to keep on the trail.  We met up with the Pacific Crest Trail, just as we got high enough to see the greatness of the area we were in.  High alpine lakes, giant redwood trees and Sierra Buttes were our entertainment for the day...that and me taking crazy falls on the snow (my shoes just don't seem to work on snow).

 pure niceness...Upper Salmon Lake

It took us quite a long time to go a few miles through the snow.  After much poking around, we were able to follow it all the way around and hook up with the Deer Lake Trail to complete the loop.  That trail was clear of snow and runnable.  We skiied down the stick of our lollipop and made it back to our bikes and was back at our campsite a few up-hill miles later, quite happy with the stunning landscape we were lucky enough to be in all day.

After another lovely evening at the same campground, we headed into Quincy, giving ourselves two days to check-off a list of errands, before the madness of our festival run begins early Thursday morning.  As I finish this post, we have somehow managed to do everything in one day, leaving us all day tomorrow to find some adventure in the hills surrounding Quincy.  WOO HOO!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The "Free Wheelin'" Tour Commences

First Stop:  Kicking My Own Ass

After leaving the Stanford Camp and spring behind on Friday, my mindset quickly moved from the live/work drama and the busyness of moving to preparing for the race I was registered for on Sunday.  I spent two nights in the van in Tahoe City before showing up to start line of the Burton Creek Trail Marathon early Sunday morning.  The race was part of the Big Blue Adventure Race Series that takes place in various places around Lake Tahoe throughout the summer.

The race started and finished at the Tahoe City's Highlands Community Center, home to the cross-country ski area and an awesome system of mountain biking trails.  Two laps on a 13.1 mile loop through Burton Creek State Park was the course for the marathon.  The loop consisted of a combination of gently rolling double-track and singletrack with 900 feet of elevation gain each loop.

I arrived shortly before the 9:00am start after sleeping in my van nearby in National Forest.  After some brief stretching and hula hooping to warm up the race began.  I felt great from the beginning.  I started out slow as could reminding myself that most of the others were running the shorter races...not the marathon.  Settling into a good good pace, I realized that course was as flat as the description suggested.  While some might be stoked about this, it is not to my advantage.  I believe I could compete better on steep technical climbs and especially descents.  Technical is definitely not how I would describe this course.  It was smooth as could be.

As is turns out all that early spring road running down Fallen Leaf Lake Road paid off.  I really had to motivate to get out on the road, especially in the snowy, cold weather, but I was thankful for it during the race.  It was all running.  And I felt great.

Nearing the end of the first loop I counted three people in front of me, one woman.  I grabbed a sandwich I had stashed at the turn-around and downed it while walking up the the slight hill to start the second lap.  I could not believe how good I felt as I started to run again.  Slowly, my muscles began to feel a little tired, but I think I kept a pretty steady pace.  I didn't carry a watch or know any milage along the way except for the 13.1 mile turnaround.  I tried to focus on my form and enjoy the beauty of the course.  The trial meandered through forest and open meadows full of blooming wild flowers.  The weather was perfect; not too hot and a slight breeze.

After the turn around I didn't see any other runners on the course until about five miles from the finish.  On the only steep climb of the course I caught sight of a guy about a quarter mile ahead of me.  I passed him soon after and cruised the slight downhill of the rest of the course.  I finished in 4 hours and 7 minutes putting me 6th overall, 2nd woman.  Quite happy with myself, I inhaled a burger and chicken sausage and a couple of beverages.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mud Season Distractions

Fallen Leaf Lake in front of Lake Tahoe

The time known as spring in most places in the Northern Hemisphere, is not so affectionately referred to as "mud season" in the mountains.  It is the messy in-between time, when the snow is too spotty to play on, but is still covering the trails.  Muddy trails will gradually be exposed, depending on the elevation, but the ones in the highest country (where I want to be most) will unlikely see the light of day until July.  Aside from heading down to lower elevations, there is surely still fun to be had if one is willing to brave the cold, wet weather, post-hole through snow and/or play on the pavement.  My need to be in the higher elevations allows me to tolerate and even embrace this time of year, but I realized a few years ago bumming around in my car makes it difficult to utilize this swing season.  I decided a warm place to live, a hot shower and even a job (since the weather is crappy most of the time) would allow me to take mud season for all its worth.  Alas, I have found all these things, and then some, at the Stanford Sierra Camp.

Mt. Tallac towering over Fallen Leaf Lake

The Stanford Sierra Camp and Conference Center is located ten miles outside of the city of South Lake Tahoe, California, five miles from the southern shore of the impressive Lake Tahoe.  It is perfectly tucked under the southeast towers of Mount Tallac and on the southwest shores of Fallen Leaf Lake at the end of a five-mile, single-lane road, which dead-ends at the camp.  Granite boulders, huge trees and gushing creeks dominate the landscape.  Perfection, if you ask me.  

View from camp

The Stanford-owned facility functions as a resort in the summer and a conference center in the spring and fall.  A separate staff works the conference season and the summer season.   Most of the single season jobs are as an "all purpose" staffer.  A typical schedule will include 2-5 different shifts a day.  Jobs include housekeeping, washing dishes,  working in the dining room,  cleaning, shoveling snow,  leading hikes, set-up and break down of events and doing maintenance projects.  The are 40-50 employees.   Most live on-site.  Room and board are part of the deal.  Employees also have access to everything the place has to offer, which is about everything.  They have a shitload of watercraft, a basketball court, tennis courts, sand volleyball, a beach, books, games and any equipment you could need.  And that is just the stuff to do on-site.  The mountain-tops that run straight up from the back of my cabin offer endless entertainment.  

View from my front porch

True to the its elevation, the High Sierras disappointed most this spring.  It consistently snowed every week into June.  But true to it's California reputation, it was sunny and beautiful in-between.  As planned, I was able to take full advantage despite the rather foul weather.  I started the season by exploring the area on several different snowshoe outings.  As the snow became spottier and I was constantly falling through I spent most of the time road running and road biking.  Towards the end of May I was able to get on some east-facing and low-lying trails.   And through June I was primarily running on trails and road biking.  My cross-training consisted of large doses of hula-hooping and short runs in the Vibram Five Fingers.

After one of a dozen spring storms

As I suspected, structure provided by a work schedule, a home and a hot shower make for the most advantageous situation for me this time of year.  I am pleased with the training I got in during my stint here.  I feel like I'm prepared for the trail marathon I'm doing a couple days after finishing work.  The work itself was average (but necessary and now allows me to not work for a few months).  After not working for five months before this, it started out actually being fun, but then turned to the regular grind after a few weeks.  Then a few weeks is over.  I love seasonal work.  Impermanent, just like everything else.  The perfect distraction for surviving mud season.