Thursday, April 2, 2015

Winter Colors

What may be the most beautiful scene, many people, have ever witnessed, can be perceived as less remarkable when day after day, the light never changes.  Where I currently reside, a week may pass without a single cloud. When there is variance in the light, it is breathtakingly beautiful, but when long-term bluebirdom sets in, it can have a dulling effect, on those who are lucky enough to peer at it, daily.  For this reason, I feel compelled to survey each and every dawn and dusk, I spend of this beautiful lake, to appreciate the unique experience of light variety and witness the explosion of color, should it occur.

These are my favorites, I've captured, since returning, in late November.  All of them happen to be at dawn, my favorite time of day, when it is just me, my coffee, ducks and the occasionally a beaver.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rested and Ready To Go

Even I had doubts, if I could sustain this lifestyle.  Well, not so much, could I?  But, did I want to?  A few years ago, I hit the wall.  I seemed to be growing tired of the constant moving around and changing of jobs.  I figured, I would just settle into one spot.  After all, I have a long list of previous/future base-camps, any of which, would make for a fun-filled home, where I could intimately explore a certain area, for years to come.  That notion seems laughable, now.  I’m rested and ready to go again.  After chilling out, in one spot, for close to a year and half, it is clear, geographical stagnancy is not in my near future. 

Two summers ago, I knew, I needed to mix it up.  Or rather, to stop mixing it up, and just root down, for a minute.  I was suffering from a lack of funds, although, that had never stopped me before.  While, I knew, I could find another job, in some new-to-me, mountain paradise, it was something else.  I needed community.  Some continuity.  But, even the thought of showing up somewhere new and starting over, sounded too tiring.  Nothing on my endless list of possible futures seamed appealing, at the time.  I finished out the summer, bumming around the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, before making my way back to the Sierra, for a fall conference season.  When I settled in to my third conference season, I knew this is what I needed.  Familiar faces.  Continuity.  Structure.  Ease.  A semi-permanent parking spot. 

I left that winter to fulfill a winter position, I had already secured, in Colorado, further convincing me, that the mild Sierra, is where my chilling out would take place.  I moved back to camp that spring and remained in that area for the last fourteen months.  It proved to be exactly what I needed, and ultimately, nothing was sacrificed by remaining in one spot. 

That time spanned three, two-month conference seasons, a perfect Tahoe summer, and my favorite winter, yet.  An ideal mixing of subtle seasonal change, but continuity at the same time.  This favorite winter, being the icing on the “chilling out” cake.  Five months in one big room, with a view, and the best job, I’ve had yet.

That carried me into the spring conference season, which I was not looking forward to, after having camp nearly to myself for five months, but turned out to be one of my favorite yet.  During that time, I started to feel it again.  As the season drew to a close, my problem wasn’t coming up with something to do next, but narrowing down the endless possibilities that were all presenting themselves to me, at once.  I committed to a road trip to Alaska, when offered a free ride.  This sounded absolutely perfect, but when that fell through, plan B, sounded even more perfect. 

The current plan is to meet Kali in our old home of Whitefish, Montana, and make our way to Breckenridge, Colorado...on foot.  And probably some hitch-hiking and bus.  We plan to arrive there in time to meet my family, who will be vacationing there, in a little over a month.  Perfection. 

I’m packed and ready to go.  I leave here (Ashland, Oregon) for Eugene tomorrow, and will take the Amtrak from Eugene to Whitefish on Monday.  It will be my first Amtrak experience.  Every leg of the journey excites me.  A perfect way to start the new leg of the capital “J” Journey. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Weekend Van-Dweller

Not since leaving Whitefish, Montana four years ago, have I stayed in one area for a whole cycle of the seasons. Whether for work, visiting, recreating, exploring new terrain, or weather-chasing, I have been in a fairly constant stream of seasonal migration.  This year, while I remained in one spot (or at least within a seven mile area), my working/living circumstances have altered seasonally to feed my dependence on seasonal change.  So, what has this meant for my van? 

The Mothership
After making the decision to keep Mama and get her fixed up, post marmot debacle (there was quite a bit of damage), her status has become that of a recreational vehicle and/or storage unit on wheels.  While this is often her status during seasons where I am housed, it seems to have been her role for many seasons in a row now.  I have become a weekend van-dweller.
I still live in a van down by the river...but just on the weekends.
I returned to the Stanford Sierra compound early last April, for the spring edition of the conference season.  As I drove the now, very familiar route, across the Great Basin, I was determined to get to the mild-weathered Sierra and stay for a while.  A break from the seasonal traversing seemed in order and a break from cold Colorado winters was certainly appealing after months of sub-zero temperatures in Crested Butte.
Spring in the Tahoe Basin
The eight week madness of the spring conference season came and went, and I settled into a nice room in cute house in an excellent spot in the nearby town of South Lake Tahoe.  I spent the summer as a live-in nanny for an eleven-year-old boy.  This situation could not have been more fitting or satisfying for me.  It was the perfect job, a nice place to live (close to Lake Tahoe and base of mountains), and I still had the weekends to get to the van out and enjoy the perfect summer weather. 

The summer went so well.  My job description was to have as much fun as possible and minimize the time the kid spent on his ipad.  No problem.  We spent the summer riding bikes, hiking, exploring,  paddleboarding in Lake Tahoe, and eating a lot of candy.  As it turns out, I have been missing out by not hanging out with eleven-year-olds more.  This kid and his friends proved to be the best hiking partners, as they had endless amounts of energy and a knack for finding every possible way to squeeze more fun out of each adventure.  Hiking down a trail was not enough for them.  Every cool looking rock garden had to be explored and climbed on, every boulder had to be jumped off of, every body of water had to swam in.  They ran circles around me like dogs just let off their leash.

Adventures while babysitting.
 When the kid returned to school, I returned to camp, for the fall edition of the conference season, with a whole new bunch of crazies as co-workers.  Eight more weeks of busy work schedules, infused with adventures in the Desolation Wilderness and perfect Sierra Nevada fall weather.  The fall season ended at the beginning of November, but unlike the last two falls that I spent here, this time, I don’t have to leave. 

My running partners in the Desolation Wilderness (backyard).
I will be spending the winter out here, in this most special of places, doing maintenance work and enjoying the view from my sweet room, which I will be living in the next five months.  This will be the longest I will have lived in any one spot in four years.  For the first time since getting it, I have fully unloaded the van and have all of my crap in one spot.  It feels really good, as there is nowhere I would rather be.  Except, I can take a month off.  Back in the van after all.  Yes please!  Destination…east Texas!  I leave Saturday.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Marmot Tales

I wish someone had followed me around with a video camera yesterday.  Since that was not the case, I will describe the circus that was my yesterday afternoon. 

To briefly recap:  A week earlier, while driving my van through town, only for the sake of letting it run after sitting for a month, I discovered a marmot in the engine compartment after pulling over because smoke was billowing from the hood.  After an unsuccessful, hour-long, attempt by an animal control officer, I took his advice and left my vehicle with three Pine-sol-soaked rags surrounding the critter.  The next day I returned to find no trace of the marmot and stupidly removed the rags and took some pictures of the damage in order to get some advice on further action because the van wouldn't start. 

So, yesterday, six days after initially leaving my van in a neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe (7-ish miles from where I currently live), I return to my van to attempt to fix the damage caused by the marmot a week earlier.

I’m ready to get in there and remove a severed tube and take it to an auto parts shop, and then try to replace it myself.  However, when I open the hood, there are mounds of marmot poop everywhere…and two little black eyes tucked way back in the engine compartment, starring back at me.

“Shit.”  Now what.  I hesitate to call animal control, because they were pretty useless a week earlier.  I pull off the engine cover, which is the center console inside the van, to get a better perspective.

“Shit.”  There is way more damage than a week ago.  Now all the spark plugs are completely chewed apart. 

During this time, I am talking to the marmot.  I beg it to leave, as I prepare my marmot-fighting stick, a five-foot piece of pvc, which normally serves as a toy staff and is wrapped in colorful electrical tape much like a hula-hoop.  I duct tape a pine-sol-soaked rag, to one end.  After 45 minutes of poking the marmot with this stick, only to have it chirp at me, I give up and call animal control. 

A different animal control officer shows up and I give him the run-down.  He first tries to mace the marmot.  The marmot is unaffected by the mace, but the officer and I both have to run away as I suddenly feel the mace in the back of my throat and gasp to find air.

"Ya know, Miss, there isn't like a manual for this or anything."
For the next hour we work together to try nudge the marmot into his leash.  The officer is approaching it from the hood and I go between the engine compartment, from the passenger’s seat, and underneath the van.  Throughout the hour, we have several close attempts.  So far, I have been pretty timid, as this animal has gnarly claws and teeth.  Each time I nudge the thing and feel the resistance, I shriek and pull back the stick.  After a while, however, I am getting very impatient and I start to aggressively prod the marmot with my rainbow stick.  I am dressed in bike shorts and a headlamp and frantically jumping between my two spots.  No one driving by can resist slowing down to watch this circus act.  This whole time, the marmot is chirping really loudly, but holding its ground, refusing to just run away, which it has a clear path to do. 

Throughout our struggle, the conversation between the officer and I, is mostly just strategizing.  He seems very serious.  “Ya know, Miss, there isn't like a manual for this or anything,” he says to me. 

I nod.  And we keep trying. 

After a few more attempts, he looks at me and says, still completely serious, “this is feeling a little too much like the gopher on Caddy Shack.  But don’t worry, I am completely dedicated to getting this animal out of your vehicle.  I can see you are out of options.”

                                                                A little too real for me.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it,” I reply, holding back the uncontrollable laughter that is bubbling to the surface.  He is killing me.  He is so dry, I cannot decipher if he is trying to be funny.

Finally we get the marmot in perfect place.  It is trapped between my stick and has its head half through the leash.  The officer pulls the leash shut and has it.  A chaotic struggle ensues as I try to push it with my rainbow stick, the officer pulling, and the marmot’s sharp paws, clawing desperately for something to hold onto.  I’m yelling encouraging words at the officer as he attempts to, what looks like, pull a large, squirming fish out of water.  Finally it clears the hood and, I see the animal flying through the air, still in the leash.  As the marmot hits the ground, about 10 yards from the van, the officer, reflexively lets go of the leash, afraid that he is going to break it's neck.

“Noooooo,” I shout, as we watch the animal run to the back of the van and disappear up a rear wheel.

I’m nearly in tears.  The officer is apologizing and feeling like a complete failure.  We can’t see the creature.  He is not up in the engine, but we know he is somewhere up in the bottom of the van.  The officer continues to apologize and is visibly disappointed in himself.  He leaves, telling me to call back, if I spot it again. 

I decide to just go ahead and call the tow-truck.  I know the shop does not want the animal there, but I can’t see the marmot and I am running out of time. (It is getting late and I want my van off the streets as it has already been here a week and I will probably not have another opportunity to deal with it until next weekend.  By that time the marmot may completely destroy the van.)

So, I call road-side assistance, and tell the operator the deal.  She is laughing so hard, she cannot function.  Finally she pulls it together and a tow truck shows up after a bit.  I’m explaining the situation to the tow guy as he gets the van up on the platform.  As he is strapping the last wheel down, he jumps back.  The marmot is perched on the back axle.  The tow guy is very excited and starts taking pictures and video as tears of frustration well up in my eyes.  Shit, what should I do?  The guys at the shop are not going to be too happy about this.  The tow guy says we should just take it to the shop, which is only a block away.

I ride my bike over there and am explaining it to the shop guys as the truck pulls up. (I have already been to the shop earlier and explained the whole situation and told them I would be over once I got the marmot out.)

The circus continues inside the shop yard.  The van is still up on the platform and we can all clearly see the persistent little animal.  I go back to jabbing the marmot with my rainbow stick, now not holding back at all.  The tow guy and one of the shop guys each take turns with the stick.  The marmot, of course, does not budge.  Others gather around to watch.  The owner of the shop comes over with a hose and blasts the marmot off the axle.  The marmot falls off and is running towards the engine.  I head it off, screaming and waving the stick at it.  The marmot jumps off the platform and I try to chase it out of the yard.  It gets blocked out by a fence and runs up a truck in an adjacent business’s parking lot.  I briefly try to find it, convinced that the pest will find my van again.  I can’t locate it.  I return to the excited crowd and there is flurry of activity with other customers, including two of my co-workers, who show up, to pick up a car.  I, now, feel like a completely, crazed lunatic. As I explain my situation to them, I am armed with the rainbow stick, fully clothed in bike garb and have my eyes glued to the truck, where I last saw the marmot. 

The marmot does not show its face the rest of my time there.  I fill out the necessary paperwork and apologize to the guys for bringing this critter into their shop.  They are very understanding and accustomed to dealing with animals.  I leave and ride home.  I start feeling guilty for being so mean to the marmot.  It clearly likes my van as much as I do, but I don’t think we can co-exist.  I wake up several times throughout the night haunted by the rodent.  God, I hope this where the story ends.  I haven’t heard from the shop yet.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fun and Ease.

Lately, it keeps coming to my attention how easy I have it.  I don't say this, as if it is some happenstance over which I luckily rendezvoused with.  I have created a life of ease.  I have carved out an existence that is focused on seeking out and squeezing the fun out life.  I'm not really sure why one would do it any other way, but this blog is about me.  While I don't think seeking fun was my original, deliberate intent, it certainly is now and if there is anything I am committed and ease are it.

While both are on the positive side of the emotional spectrum, fun and ease might not be that close together.  In some ways fun can be far away from ease, as fun can be synonymous with adventure, new experiences, risk, putting oneself out there.  The path to fun is not always an easy one or at least not extreme fun.  Ease, bliss, simplicity are states that are more devoid of their opposite negative emotions or maybe that is just how I recognize them.  My life vacillates between ease and extreme fun.  Sometimes, especially when in the midst of extreme fun, I tell myself I can/want to sustain that forever, but, I have found that times or even seasons of ease can feel just as good and provide the contrast to be able to recognize and appreciate that more fun-filled times.  This winter, I experienced extreme ease.  

Robot in Paradise

Robot may have a boring connotation to some, but I do not find that to be the case.  I often enjoy being a robot.....because it is easy.  Robots are programmed with few and simple tasks and do not need to think for themselves.  While this may not sound appealing, I work seasonally, so is not something I could/or would want to do forever or even more than a few months at a time.

This winter I was forturnate enough to be a robot in the most beautiful place I have yet called home.  I was a lift operator in Crested Butte, Colorado.  I had previously only visited Crested Butte in the summer and since, it has been high on my list of places to live.  As the quintesential mountain town, Crested Butte is an optimal place to find extreme amounts of fun, but after a fall of outrageous non-stop fun, I was more in the mood for ease and bliss, and it delivered.  

I had the same job all winter (December-March), but moved half-way through.  The second half of winter was way more fun because of closer proximity to work and the town of Crested Butte, but the whole thing was easy.  The first two months, I lived 30 miles down the valley from the resort and rode a free bus both ways.  My quality of life dramatically improved with I moved up to Mt. Crested Butte, and found myself with three extra hours a day that had previously been spent commuting.  

The latter home was a five minute walk to our locker room that was 100 yards away from the lift I worked on.  This was the first time I have lived within walking distance of ski lifts.  It could not have been much easier.  The job itself was the robotic part.  After a few minutes anyone can operate one of the lifts, so the rest of the four months is a mental game of endurance and withstanding the ever-changing weather conditions.  While this was my sixth winter in a high-altitude mountainous environment, it was my first working outside, and apparently, I picked one of the coldest places in the US to stand outside all day.  

What seemed like those brief times, when it was warm enough to remove some of the 30 pounds of clothes, I was wearing, it was really an enjoyable (borderline blissful) job.  The views from my work stations were unreal.  While pictures can't do it justice, either can my words.

View from the top shack, where I worked once or twice a week.
Same view.

Although set in extreme conditions amongst extreme beauty, it turned out to be the most "normal" jobs, I've had in awhile.  Same time, same place, eight hours a day, five days a week.  While not something I want to make a habit of, I relished in the robotic experience and took advantage of the serenity of the winter to rest for what is next.

And what is next, if the past is any indication, is likely to lean more towards the extreme fun side of the spectrum.  After an a week long transition that included van-dwelling and mountain biking in the desert and traversing the Great Basin, I am back at the Stanford Sierra compound, gearing up for the spring conference season that starts tomorrow.  Life here is beyond easy and there is as much fun available as I am willing to suck out of this sweet little spot tucked in the Tahoe Sierra.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The absence of articles in the last four months is a result of the extreme fun I have been preoccupied with.  Now that I'm settled in for the winter, I can finally take a second to reflect and break it down.

After a very chill and isolated, yet extremely pleasant summer in the high country of Colorado, I made my way out to the Tahoe area to work at the fall edition of the Stanford Sierra Conference Center…again.  Aside from the excellent working conditions I mentioned in an article after my last stint there, the place, is a perfect opportunity to elongate summer in high country.

While, I find the high Rockies quite suiting for most of my intents and purposes, it really only boasts two usable seasons:  winter and summer.  Fall, at two miles high, is non-existent.  Sure, the aspens turn gold and then loose their leaves, but that process usually takes about four days and can happen in early September.  The Sierras, on the other hand, offers it’s consistent and predictable dry summer conditions well into October.  I took full advantage. 

End of "very chill and isolated, yet extremely pleasant" time.  
For a change of scenery, I headed to the Tahoe area three weeks prior to beginning work.  For the first time in five years, I returned to and spent most of that time at one of my favorite campgrounds not far from Truckee.  Three, blissful weeks were filled with reacquainting myself with the trails, where I originally started mountain running and biking, and finding new spots to park the van and access the goods. 

Fully-charged, I made my way to the south end of the big blue lake and then to the south end of the little blue lake, where I spent the next two months in full-on, non-stop, go-mode. 

Maybe it is the shortness of the season, the endless opportunities for mountain recreation, the perfect weather and/or the abundance of like-minded co-workers, but for me, camp, is not conducive to sleep.  While I have recognized that I no longer suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) tendencies, still 4-5 hours of sleep a night was usually all I could fit in.  This despite the fact or maybe because of the fact, that I am a non-participatory member of the party scene out there.
Last and coldest swim of the season.
This fall marked my third season at this special place and my experiences improve each crack at it.  Possibly from my lack of full-time employment in the last year, but I found my shifts to be legitimately fun.  I could hardly detect a difference in my attitude on or off the clock.  Very special relationships were developed.  Some of which were with bad ass partners, with whom, I would swim (in the lake), mountain bike, or climb the chute (a magical crack in the earth, serving as a natural staircase up the mountain that looms over camp) at any available opportunity.  The short time frame and the large group of co-workers equates to the fact that I was really just getting to know people up until the final moments. 

The Chute...a full-body endeavor.
 The short season came to an abrupt end, but the fun did not stop when the conference season did.  For the second year in a row, I joined a group of co-workers on a pilgrimage to Big Sur when we finished.  Just as the Sierras were getting pounded with snow, we escaped to mild weather for a week of camping on the rugged central coast of California.  This was incredibly chill, finally allowing  me to catch up on sleep and cook for myself, which was valuable in getting ready for what is next.  The spectacular sunsets served as the main source of entertainment and photo opportunities each day. 

Big Sur-ness
I left Big Sur, new favorite person in tow, and made my way through Arizona and New Mexico (a small taste of areas I have yet to explore) to Denver, where I spent Thanksgiving with my fantastically-fun extended family.  After a week in Denver, I headed up to Crested Butte, Colorado, where I am employed for the winter.  I spent a week here in my van deciding where to live and managed to move into a place in Gunnison (30 miles south of Crested Butte and connected by a free bus) the day before my job started and sub-zero temperatures and snow arrived.  Last week, I squeezed in a few sweet runs and rides in an awesome network of trails, just outside of Gunnison, pre-snow.  As of today, I’ve had two days of orientation for my position as a lift operator and have taken a few mellow runs on my snowboard. 

As it continues to dump outside, I am taking advantage of my day off to relax, before I resume the full-on, non-stop, go-mode, that I have a feeling I am going to be sustaining for a long time to come. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The mountains are a year-round playground for those who get their kicks in the outdoors.  Each season brings new opportunities for fun.  While, weather-wise (in the Rockies), one can experience all the seasons within a few hours time, for eight to ten months out of the year the highest parts of the mountains are covered in snow (usually).  There is plenty to do on the snow, but for a short window each summer the high country dries up, revealing spectacular rocky peaks, high alpine meadows, and crystal clear lakes to be explored.  Although a lover of snow, I have to recognize this short window of snow-freeness in the high country as the most wonderful time of year.

The mildness of this past winter opened up the high country earlier than usual (at least where I’ve been (mountains around Leadville, CO)) and I have been taking full advantage.  Usually things are still pretty soggy right now, but I’ve been on dry trails leading my to 14,000’ peaks for over a month now.  It is becoming a serious addiction. 

Every morning my first thought is “Where should I go?” as I jump out of bed and pound down a cup of coffee.  I’m so excited to get out, I skip my habitual second and third cup.  When staying in town, it is less than four miles to get to treeline.  Here, I usually pause to take it in and lay in the thick, spongy alpine tundra, noticing what new wildflowers are showing themselves today.  Every few days a new color joins the party.  Then I continue on, usually exploring somewhere new for me, climbing over ridges, through valleys, up another saddle, down the other side.  At the tops, I usually just look around and decide what to do next time.  Most of these excursions have ranged from 3-6 hours so far.

The last two summers, I have done my best to be uncommitted to anything else during this time.  It is so short and sweet that I cannot dream of being anywhere else.  I’m not even training for anything specific, just roaming around for the pure enjoyment of moving in the most beautiful scenery I know of.  And I am loving it. 

Last week, I left my happy place, on short notice, to return to the swamplands (Midwest) for a funeral.  While I faced slight withdrawal symptoms (especially because I didn't run for a few days because it was too hot), it just makes me more excited to get back up there.  On my last outing, the wildflowers seemed on the verge of peaking.  I expect them to be mind-blowing when I get back tomorrow or the next day. 

“I came for the winters, but stayed for the summers,” is a common explanation for mountain transplants.  Spend a week up here in the summer and it is easy to see why…especially if coming from the swamplands of the Midwest, East Coast or Southeast.  The lack of humidity was reason enough to never return to the air-conditioned confines from which I came.  While there can be a whole other set of discomforts-dust, fires, tourists-I’ll take these any day over feeling the need to shower after a walking out to the mailbox.  And I don’t find any of these inconveniences above treeline.  So, if I go missing, you can at least narrow your search to anywhere above 12,000’.