Too much to do

I’ve been making lists for months now, and even though my summer hike is getting closer and many things have been crossed off, more are added.

It’s been a while since I’ve planned for a multi-month adventure, especially one with such a different climate. Hot, humid and rainy…that’s about as different as it gets to the Oregon desert. There are lists of gear to dos, work to dos, home to dos, to do to dos…

And in my final few weeks before I fly out there are work trips….so many work trips.

I am days away from departure and the to dos haunt me when I try and concentrate on other things, but this last work trip has been a good lesson in “be here now.”

I am out working with our Tribal Stewards crew, a group of 8 young adults from different tribal nations around the country. The Steward program started in 2019 (a partnership between ONDA and Northwest Youth Corps) and is designed to engage tribal members in learning about careers in conservation, stewardship and public lands management while working on restoration projects across Oregon.

This week we are repairing Beaver dam analogs…weaving branches of lodgepole and ponderosa pine in between posts that had been sunk in the creek bed….an effort to mimic the water retaining magic of a beaver dam in these desert creeks…in hopes of enticing Oregon’s state animal to move back into the area (most were trapped out of existence during the fur hat craze of the late 1800s.)

After work we go swimming in a high lake deep within the forest, finally cooling off from the 90 degree day.

And as the morning breaks on the calm surface of Magone Lake and the birds flit about looking for breakfast, I am here. Now.

The lists will be there when I get back, the things will get done, and for a day or so I am able to focus on what is important…these people and this work. 

Connections – The Shakedown Hike, Day 4: 8 miles (43.7 total)

The wind was cold last night. I thought about taking the rainfly off the tent because its mind-numbing flapping was barely tolerable, but the thin nylon was shielding me somewhat from the chilling wind. As it was I snuggled deep into my 40 degree quilt.

My morning route took a right onto a road as it crossed over another drainage, but I walked by the area, failing to see the road. I thought I could spy where it met the rise a couple hundred yards away, so turned around and looked closer. I finally noticed the gate. This road hasn’t been used as such in many decades. The tracks were gone where it crossed the drainage (with water of course) and thick vegetation obscured the way.

Here I go soaking my feet again, I thought. It wasn’t exactly the bog of eternal stench, (Labyrinth anyone?) but I was rock hopping just the same and got to the other side, dryness intact.

I’m glad I put my gaiters on this morning. The road walking was essentially cross country walking, then the next span of cross country walking was cheat grass walking.

I could see the lush farmland of the Malheur River valley below. I was working my way towards the highway where i would walk the last 5 miles to my car at Harper.

For the last bit I followed the contours of an open canal…with water! I can’t get over all the water I’ve come across on this trip. 

Then the road. Just as I step onto the pavement a semi blasts me with air and send my hat flying. I walk carefully after that, moving far away from traffic as I slowly inch around a looong corner, listening to a podcast to take my mind off speeding vehicles. 

Then, a car pulls over. I thought I might see some sympthatic recreationists on their way from the Skull Grinder bike race in Burns that weekend; I had spent the day there Wednesday as part of an Eastern Oregon Recreation Summit (talking trails and bikes) and the summit hosts were expecting hundreds of people for the race and festivities that weekend.

Ok, the car. Out gets Kate! Kate was with me at the summit and is the recreation lead for Eastern Oregon Visitors Association. I told the group I’d be out here walking, and here I am. Kate asked if I need anything, and I suggest getting a ride the last 1.5 miles to my car would be most excellent. She agreed and I hopped in. A short and lovely encounter on the side of the road. Thanks Kate!

I changed into my chacos and went inside to tell Brian about my trip. On Thursday when I showed up I convinced the owner of the gas station and store/bar to let me park my car there. Backpacking wasn’t a traditional past time in Harper, but I must have made a convincing argument because he agreed. In fact, my judgement may have been hasty. As I was walking away he waved me over to another Harper local to meet Jeanie. Jeanie’s brother had thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and most of the Continental Divide Trail. Love it!

I enter the bar, remembering Brian had said he sells sandwiches. Rootbeer and sandwich…yes please! A few locals were nursing drinks, and Brian welcomed me with a Coors Light, then a rootbeer. Some of the cows belonged to a rancher at the counter, and I delicately mentioned how nice it would be if the cows were kept out of the springs… the conversation centered on the land, and I quizzed them on features and names of things. All and all, it was a great way to end the trip.

Ah, but it wasn’t over! At least I didn’t want it to be over. I had another day to play with, as my long miles on day 3 had me finishing ahead of time. So what is a big part of the hiking experience on a long trail? A town day! I decided to go the extra little bit to Ontario, Oregon and get myself a hotel room and nice dinner. 

I wasn’t ready to go home yet. Home means the end of the trip.

But getting in the car means the end of this blog….see you soon when I start writing about the Appalachian Trail! The countdown is on 😁

Connections – The Shakedown Hike, Day 3: 15.7 miles (35.7 total)

The birds chirp all night. 

On my last few outings this spring, the moon has been out and the birds don’t know to stop singing. Surely they know, but just don’t care? Do birds pull all nighters on a full moon?

I walked up the grade I saw the horseback rider on yesterday and found a better road to the spot. There was no way a big cattle truck would have taken the road I walked in on, but then again, you find astonishing things via these rough 4wd roads.

My next water source was a pleasant cruise down a grade filled with soft green hills. Patches of cloud cover rolled over the scene and the idealic setting took me to a beautiful tire-filled spring. These are the water sources we dream of. Little did I know this would be the best water of the day. I only took a liter and couldn’t resist holding it up to the light. Clean and clear.

I walked next to and through a creek the rest of the day. It was nice. 

Is it the cottonwood trees that are so fragrant? Their perfume sweetens the air.

I lunched at a spot called Hanging Rock Spring.  I failed to see the hanging rock, but then I wasn’t about to go rooting in the brush for a view. It must have been a modest hanging rock. 

Speaking of rock, the near-by drainage was named “Hoodoo Canyon” and the terrain did become very south-westish. Definitely Utah or New Mexico vibes. 

Again, I should have filled up my water when the road crossed the creek and I walked about 30 feet through it. I had already tried walking around, but once I was on the sandy talus above the drainage, the view showed me that I’d be trading a clean walk through the water for a marshy mud-foot crossing. No thanks. That’s a good way to lose a shoe.

Then I evaluated. My end of day water source wasn’t far off, as the crow flies, so decided on a cross country option up and over a few rises…such a cool way to hike! You can go anywhere out here…it’s wide open. Partial fire scars cleared the sagebrush and left cheatgrass in its wake….terrible for the ecosystem, but ok for walking.

The spring is hammered. Cows protest my approach to check it out and I find nothing but a cow paradise…there are flowers and green all around. It must be a lovely place to wallow if you are a cow.

Ok, next one looks to be a mile or so of cross country hiking. This is the part where the hills start looking like mesas and the soil turns an ashy white. Definitely a different look for this hike so far. Oh, and cactus! Blooming catus 🙂

This next spring is the worst by far.

No way. Not drinking that.

Now it’s 3 miles cross country, up and over a long climb. It’s early, walking only 10 miles is a big challenge for me when my pace is 3 miles an hour. I slow way down on a cross country sections, and in general am hiking slower on this trip, but I was cruising on this morning’s road walk.

I decided it had to be done. I could camp with what I had, but only if I eat a cold dinner and skip coffee in the morning. No thanks! Onward. One step at a time.

Ooo, there it is, my first blister of the trip. Day 3, not bad! And only when I pushed it over 10 miles. Good job body! By the way, my problem planter fasciitis foot was feeling good too. 

On the other side of the saddle that sat between the water sources I came to a spring cut deep into a narrow ravine filled with grasses and flowers. I found a way down on a cow trail (#^@%^$), but the cows haven’t mucked this one up too bad, so was able to get some cleanish water.

Whew.

Camp, eat, hide from the sun, read, close my eyes while the birds chirp me to sleep.

Connections – The Shakedown Hike, Day 2: 10 miles (20 total)

I slept well under the waning strawberry moon.

Morning was clouded up, and I was excited for the prospect of a day without sun. Temps would be much cooler and good for hiking.

A gradual cross country section brought me to a pinch-point and I scouted around a bit to find a good way down, twisting my ankle in the process. 

“Walk it off,” we say, and that works…sometimes.  

With the uneven and rocky weaving around sagebrush and the odd white mariposa lily, walking through cheatgrass just dried out enough to start sticking in my socks, but protected by my gaiters for just that reason, I found I wasn’t walking it off. I was slowly and methodically watching each footstep so I didn’t repeat the twist, and the ache remained.

Then road! But a rocky one, so the attention now went to avoiding the fresh cow pies. Oh yeah, the cows are out, and we are all going the same place: water.

The road exits a dramatic cut in the ridgeline and descends to a fenced and quite lush looking reservoir with piped water into a cattle tank. Score! This set up can provide some of the best water if it’s piped from a spring – or a cattle-free source. (Note: the danger remains that it might be pumped from the dirty cow tank behind you. I filter or treat most water when I don’t see it coming out of the ground….maybe thats just because I do so much hiking in cow country.)

Back to roads. I walked slowly up towards the top of something again. Basin and range: true sagebrush steppe walking. Except for the road that disappeared into the folds of sagebrush as far as the eye could see, it was unbroken.

The sun never came out and I walked happily under the bluish-gray moody day.

And then: a cattle truck. I knew I might run into a rancher or two with all the mooing on the landscape, but this one was really far away, I wasn’t quite sure until I got closer…thinking it could all be a mirage.

Then…a rider on horseback racing up the grade of the next climb. The human is going home. 

I am pleased that I’ll have my solo bubble intact for this 24 hours. It’s been a while since that has happened.

Another creek, and then camp. The birds are chirping away and I set up expecting a bit of rain overnight.

Mooooo.

Connections – The Shakedown Hike, Day 1: 10 miles

I’ve got to shake it off.

Shake off the time between my last solo backpacking trip and now. Those months have been filled with one unsettling event after another; my sweat is toxic with them the first day.

I am headed into the desert with modest but exciting goals: hike 10 miles a day, find water, and piece together some dirt roads stitched with cross country sections. Why? To groundtruth ideas I’ve had about linking together the Oregon Desert Trail in the Owyhees to the Blue Mountains Trail in the Strawberry Mountains, a personal plight…you might say for curiosity’s sake.

June provided a rare mild week right before summer solstice. Add in some well-deserved time-off after a week of work in the backcountry, and I had the time and good weather for a solo adventure.

This was also to be an experiment: can my rehabilitated planter fasciitis foot hold up to 10 miles a day for 5 days? I was optimistic, but am hedging my bets by going slow and stretching constantly. Oh, that, and the stick roller in my pack.

It was a shakedown hike!

I leave for the Appalachian Trail in a few weeks, so am testing my gear setup for the first time. Bits and pieces of gear always change between long trails. Each trail has it’s own gear needs, and I was preparing for hot and humid and maybe rainy weather.

I couldn’t possibly replicate those conditions in the dusty and scrubbed desert northwest of Lake Owyhee State Park, but enough pieces were in place for me to realize I was packing way too many clothes. It will take a while to dial in my AT pack…but with many options to ship things home or have Kirk send them ahead to me on the trail, I was giddy with excitement at how different a hike on the AT will be. I’ll find actual trail, people, (lots and lots of people), towns, different ecosystems and geology, trail angels all over the place, shelters, lots of water, lots of shade, lots of memories.

20 years ago from March 20 to August 22 I called the Appalachian Trail home, and I will be going home again for 2 months.

But back to the sagebrush sea.

I wandered 10 miles on rocky dirt roads that hadn’t seen any traffic in weeks if not longer. These roads are my favorite. They are everywhere in the desert and take you to water, cool things, and they are usually too rough to drive, so walk them!

Many many miles are like this on the Oregon Desert Trail. Sometimes they are whispers of a former road and you have to read the contours of the ground in front of you, and look for the ghosts of missing sagebrush. Last weekend when I was backpacking with my volunteers up into the Trout Creek Mountains, we turned onto one of those roads and the spaces where the road had been was filled with flowers. There are so many flowers in the desert right now!!! Our very rainy and snowy spring is soaking the ground frequently, so I’m hiking with great optimistim that the water marked on the map will be there…I also viewed the potential water sources on Google Maps…the detail in the satellite imagry is downright astonishing.

Even when I take my time it doesn’t take me long to hike 10 miles, so I need to purposefully slow down, take epic long breaks, linger over coffee, and read one of the 4 books I brought with me (3 digital of course!).



It’s a vacation hike! A belated birthday hike? I turned 45 on that volunteer trip last week, I ate cake with 20 people in the desert, which was amazing, but now I was treating myself to a little hike.

I intensly enjoy walking through the folds of the earth and knowing with 96% certainy that I won’t see any other humans. I am of this place and sometimes I feel this most intensily when I am alone.



Bring me back to the present, here and now. That’s what backpacking is good for. And I was brutally reminded of this when I stepped shin-deep in a mud-cow pie wetland at a desert spring. The rare desert nectar was stomped to death by their large, thirsty bodies. They wallowed in this spring, so I’m definitely filtering and treating it. 100% fecal contaminated.


Fence all the springs please!

Back to it: the walking was hot, I deployed my sun umbrella much of the afternoon, and my pale and pasty legs turned red in my new purple rain adventure skirt.

Breaks were taken in the old roadbed where my footprints joined those of deer, pronghorn, and cows, i was all spread out on new and crinkly tyvek.



It will take me at least a day to sweat town away, maybe longer. I have 5 days. Happy birthday to me!

Planetwalker

If you have ever listened to the podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, you know that he likes to ask his guests a series of the same questions at the end of each show. I finally know the answer to one of those questions:

What is the book you have given most as a gift?

I will be giving this book to everyone I know from now on. Consider this me giving it to you…

The other question I love to hear the answers to is: If you could put anything on a billboard for millions of people to see, what would it be?

My answer is one of my favorite quotes from Annie Dillard:

“How you live your days is how you live your life.”


It was in the first few pages that John Francis really captured me, and held my respect and excitement until the end of the book. (I’m still excited.)

Here are a few more fabulous excerpts:

Your actions do matter. Your actions have a ripple effect. Your actions are fractals in the world (see adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy for more on this line of thinking.)

Listen to John Francis’ TED Talk here:

Buy his book here,

and visit his website here.

I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Maps & Apps on Trails & Routes

I’ll be giving another presentation next week for the American Long Distance Hiking Association – West (ALDHA-WEST) for their annual ruck on March 9.

This will be a one of several break-out sessions about using maps and apps on routes and trails. The keynote speaker will be from “LarryBoy” who hiked a 2,500 mile desert route connecting Arizona, Utah, and Idaho.

I’ve been participating in rucks for years…they are usually in person and help prepare hikers for the upcoming thru-hiking season, but because of COVID the event will be virtual this year.

What is a ruck you might be asking? Ruck is the German word for backpacking, and has been used through the trail community as a name for an event that helps you get out and backpack.

So join me on Wednesday, March 9 at 5pm PST.

Sutton Mountain

I decided to backpack into Oregon’s next National Monument, Sutton Mountain.

Ok, it’s not a National Monument yet…ONDA has been working towards permanent protection of this stunning fault block mountain for far longer than my tenure at the organization, and recently Senator Jeff Merkely introduced legislation to make this area a Monument….right across the street from an existing one: Painted Hills National Monument. Painted Hills is a fantastical landscape of colored hills, the colors running in bands that appear to bleed around the corners of each fold…a mesmerizing sight.

Even though I had been to the area countless times to paddle the John Day River which borders the area to the south, this was my first time hiking in. Last summer when Kirk and I spent the month of June trying to travel the free flowing John Day from the source to the mouth, we floated on by. There is also a boat-launch nearby that we like to use for overnight trips on the river…regardless to say,  I’ve had Sutton Mountain on my mind for quite some time now, and this terribly warm February weekend would be the chance to check it out. 

Last year I built an independent stewards project for Sutton mountain actually, and had poured over maps, and traced roads and trails along the contours of this Wilderness Study Area (WSA) for a monitoring project with the Prineville BLM. I built the materials for ONDA volunteers to hike, drive, and note recreation impact issues. This was one of 12 WSAs in the project. 

There aren’t many trails here….at least none that go up to the top of the fault block mountain which towers over the painted hills 2,000′ below. But there was a path (drainage) I could hike up: Black Canyon. 

This would also be a training hike. 

Training?

Yes, training. I’ve never trained for a hike before, and now that my body is breaking down I can’t just frolick at will through the mountains without consequences…at least for now. My hope is if I build up my return to walking all day every day, I won’t have a repeat of the Corvallis to Sea trail in November. By the end of that hike I had riled up my planter fasciitis so bad that now, almost four months later and countless chiropractor, podiatrist and physical therapy appointments in the books, I’m methodically walking further and with more weight on my back in hopes of a less crippling hike next time around.

Back to Sutton!

I started hiking mid morning, already sweating in my thin fleece layer (have I told you that it’s been TOO warm this winter?) 

So I walk up Black Canyon, slowly, admiring the basalt cliffs and a very deep silence. I get to a pour-over where water is pouring over….and need to figure out how to walk through. I manage, while soaking a foot, and soon climb up out of the drainage that gets choked with willows and the kind of green things that are home to these desert waterways.


That was the general trend the rest of the hike: look for the path of least resistance (often game trails), sometimes finding a footprint of someone else who has come before me.


It’s pretty much cross country hiking.

Towards the top I decide to go straight up. My lungs, legs, and feet were too late in their protest. And halfway up to the top I almost regretted my decision…but kept going and collapsed up top for snacks.

This was the hardest I’ve pushed in a long time, and I felt it. But I would encounter trails and climbing at least as steep or more back on the Appalachian Trail this summer…this was training after all.

After some almonds, liquorice and a bite of a soggy sandwich I wouldn’t finish, I walked the final mile to the top.

Much delight!

The air was still, a few sounds from the road and trails below drifted up, but all in all it was a completely serene moment. 

On the hike down I again followed the path of least resistance, which is usually quite different than the path when climbing. I also had to adopt my favorite mantra: one step at a time. My legs were heavy and stumbly, the ground a bit muddy yet also icy….hiking alone comes with the responsibility to not trip and fall and take a rock to the head, or a pointy stick to the eye, so I pushed through the brush and plodded down the rocky canyon bottom having turned my mantra “one step at a time” into a song to the tune of Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”

I made it past the crux of the canyon without getting my feel wet this time, and found a tree to set up my new tent under.

Oh yeah! This is a new tent hike too!

When one tries to spend as much time hiking as I do, there are reasons to have a variety of tent and tarp options for every occasion…afterall, this is my life, not just an expensive hobby.

I purchased the Big Agnes Fly Creek tent this winter. I figured a semi-freestanding, double walled tent would be handy this summer on hot buggy nights in New England. The semi-freestanding is fab for setting up on almost any ground surface, and the light weight factor would be important for my aging back and feet. (I sound like I’m decades older than my 44 years; older hikers tell me to just wait…the real fun was just beginning).

I set up the tent and hung some drying lines inside for things like stinky wet socks.
I passed out early after a hearty dinner of biscuits and gravy (Food for the Sole’s new meal) and a chapter in the book I lugged with me.

In the morning I woke up well before the sunrise, which is my usual these days, and poured boiling water into my areo press. Kirk and I went backpacking last weekend (a much shorter, easier hike up a small butte) and I brought the areo press on a whim instead of our usual French press mugs. It makes a much better cup of coffee, so I threw it in my food bag again on this trip. Who knows! Maybe I’ll carry it on my two-month hike this summer, why not??!?

I only have a short jaunt back to the car, so the hike is essentially over. Short and sweet, and my planter fasciitis hasn’t started screaming at me yet, so all in all, a wonderful journey and training hike into our next National Monument!