Summer/fall 2017, reader’s digest

or: Can’t take me anywhere; I go anyway

Oakridge, 7/1–7/4

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Here my sins against stoke included napping in the shuttle van instead of riding Hardesty and getting so pissed off at Middle Fork—the most miserable, deadfall-strewn, mosquito-ridden bushwack I have ever (barely) pedaled: 57 bites accumulated while sweating it out in a jacket—that I opted for a fire-road climb over a second singletrack descent. This did at least get me to the treeline, where Oregon finally starts to look good. Also on the bright side: Alpine, as always; a fun new stopover loop in Klamath; and great company.

Emigrant Wilderness, 8/12–8/13

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Quick trip, the granite bright and the wildflowers extravagant. I would consider this my masterclass in third-wheeling but for the presence of Pickles the very helpful blue heeler, who made us four. At night we all watched the perseids smudge war-paint on the sky.

Tahoe, 8/19–8/20

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On the Tahoe Rim Trail we found a dog, a beautiful blonde husky with fur like latte art and eyes like the center of a nebula—not sorry, both are true. It was hot and collarless and wandering in the woods. I was leaving my second voicemail at an animal shelter when its owners (we assume) pulled up in an F150 and snatched the animal back without a word. “You should fucking say thank you, assholes, go to hell!” I yelled after their rising dust as the boys cringed. On reflection, this outburst stemmed from an upbringing on both sides of the pond: I take manners seriously, like a Brit, but escalate like a red-blooded American.

At camp we found … a hailstorm. We fled to dinner in town and watched rainbows over the railroad tracks.

And on Donner Summit we found a giant bonsai garden and a geocache. In it, among other things, were letters to a couple—both dead, the wife just recently—whose friends had hiked to the peak to scatter their ashes. “Thank you for being part of my memory. Seven of us have made the trek this morning to pay our respects. … We uncorked a bottle of $5 wine that tasted like $50. We love you, my friend.” Point in my favor, I managed not cry about that one until I got home.

Ventana Wilderness, 9/2–9/4

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From a dirt road pullout high on the ridge, I watched the setting sun drop shafts of light onto the crinkled Pacific through holes in a lid of wildfire smoke.  I saw my first tarantula, held my palm to peeling manzanita, and hid in the tent from black flies worse—honest—than anything I can remember from Africa. I revisited Cone Peak, under very different circumstances, and on the coast side of the mountains drove Highway 1 between the mudslides for a preview of the end of the world.

It will be alright, I decided, when it’s all over. This road, these cypress, California, will fall slowly into the sea. The whales will breach with no one watching  out where the sky and the water meet, in the same blue haze. A warmer wind will stir the palms. They’ll get too tall to be true.

In the interim, driving home through Fort Hunter Liggett, every massive, moss-draped oak was the most beautiful one I’d ever seen.

Downieville, 9/8–9/10

Concisely: I live for elevation, die at altitude; cursed Mills Peak on the way up, sang its name all the way down; didn’t want to get in Packer Lake and then didn’t want to get out. The usual.

I mostly want to note this insane candy-corn fungus. How does this happen?

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Tahoe, 9/16–9/17

Aside from the fact that its main event was mountain biking, the best part of this particular bachelorette party was that these girls were content to Let Me Do Me, no pressure. They toasted with wine and I with tea; they painted their nails while I fastidiously arranged all the polish in a spectrum. ROYGBIV.

Mendocino, 10/7–10/8

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At first the trees were radiant, benevolent. I knelt in the needles at their feet and considered praying, probably did. But later on the wind picked up—so gradually I didn’t notice my own rising unease until I lost my GPS track, stopped to pull out a map and registered the muffled howl through the canopy and crack and groan of trunks disappearing into the dark. Small branches rained down around my head as I bolted out of the woods, and though I’d planned on staying for the night I was so relieved to find the car I fled home instead.

As I drove south watching the gale flatten the parched grass along the highway, there was a distinct moment I thought to myself, this would burn like a motherfucker. When the next morning I discovered that it in fact had, there was an infinitesimal and awful moment in which I imagined I had ignited Sonoma County with my mind.

Bend, 10/27–10/30

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I don’t know why I can’t accept that it is winter here, or that I’m too slow to ride with these guys any more, but on the strength of my denial I pushed my bike through snow and hauled it over and under an endless obstacle course of downed trees. I rode literally half of what everybody else did and still was so tired by the end of the weekend that I hyperventilated at Ten Barrel when the waitress informed me they’d run out of giant cast-iron cookies. They hadn’t, either; this was  just the boys’ idea of a joke.

I shared anyway*.

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* Possibly the motto for this blog.
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Buck Lakes, 7/18-7/20

If it’s possible to suck at backpacking, I suck at backpacking. I’m not fit enough for the burden of my own paranoia: without fail, I grossly overestimate what I need to bring with me and then grossly underestimate how difficult it will be to carry it. Misery ensues.

But in the Sierras, at least, there is a reliable correlation between misery and scenery. This weekend the way out was a procession of progressively more fantastic alpine lakes, such that every attempt I made to cut the route short was thwarted by the insidious idea that the next one might be even better. I got about 15 miles in this fashion, I got lie-down-and-cry tired, and I got this:

YES PLEASE.
YES PLEASE.

I think the thing about the mountains—I don’t have the balls for the word “beauty” or “magic,” sorry—is that they stand up to scrutiny as well as distance. It’s something as captivating viewed on the horizon at 10,000 feet as it is held up to your face and shivering in your breath, as present in the hulk and form of a rising thunderhead or granite wall as surely as it’s in the veins on the underside of a lily-pad or the diamond eyes of a spider. It is infinitely scalable. I’ll walk a long way for that.

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No-name gully route to the sculpture gallery.
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I know it’s damning that my literary references start and end in Narnia, but I’m pretty sure this is where Aslan sent Jill off the cliff.

Emigrant Wilderness

My first trip to Emigrant was about a year ago. It was a good time (and a great timelapse, thanks to our certified National Geographic photographer), but as a large group heavy on amorous nascent couples we … did not exactly cover much ground.

This time we got about 12 miles before stopping at a farcically idyllic camp spot on the slabs above Upper Relief Valley. There was daylight enough to continue, but with the alternative being to, you know, frolic about in crystalline mountain springs cascading down sun-warmed rock—seriously, Babylon-on-Sierra— the climb seemed better left until morning. I went to sleep with the beginnings of a cold but still full of the usual goat-like glee at prospect of a high place, specifically:

Want!

I woke up groggy and thinking I was somehow back in Africa. Unfortunately this was because the morning smelled of woodsmoke and looked like this:

Smoke, not sunrise. Even when camping I do not care to bestir myself that early.

In all likelihood (and of course this turned out to be true) the fire was a hundred miles away. But with a long drive home, work on Monday, and no information on conditions beyond “it wasn’t like this yesterday”—plus my delicate-snowflake asthma on top of, by this point, some serious snot—to proceed seemed unwise. So back we went. Now I’m in bed, nursing yet another sinus infection along with my low-grade (really, Class 3) summit fever. Harrumph. 

So that this post isn’t exclusively weekend-warrior whine, here’s a picture of a fire engine getting towed from the ranger station:

Rescuing rescuers?

This was fascinating, first for the pneumatics and second for novelty of observing wildland firefighters (and I do love observing wildland firefighters) forced to stand around watching someone else operate machinery. And the tow drivers were, I swear, one man with the most robust, cotton-white walrus mustache the world has ever seen, and another in a t-shirt declaring, “When Nature Calls, Shoot It.” Amazing.