Sunday, November 27, 2011

Occupy Cabin

I am going to tell you the story of the most incredible accidental Thanksgiving of all time.  I don't think any of the words I can string together will do it justice, but I will give it the good ol' college try.

I didn't go home for Thanksgiving, making this year my first away from home.  Instead, Bert came down to Eugene to have an adventure with me.  I thought exploring a new area of Oregon with my best friend would be a fun way to spend the long weekend.  We made plans to meet up with Lauren and her visiting friend, Peter, near Diamond lake.  The lake sits between the Umpqua hot springs and Crater Lake National Park on Highway 138.  We loaded up our snowshoes and winter clothes on Thursday morning and headed south.

There is a ski cabin nestled between Mt. Bailey and Hemlock Butte west of the lake.  It is booked solid all winter long.  Lauren and Peter had skied to it Thursday morning and found it empty.  Foolishly thinking it would stay that way, we planned to meet them in the parking lot and hike up there for the night.  Upon arriving in the snow park, Lauren informed us that there was indeed a party headed up to the cabin.  Not just a group of people, but an actual party.  They had been towing kegs in whitewater kayaks, sleds full of turkeys and other festive dishes, christmas lights, booze and basically a whole kitchen, including a deep fryer.  Disappointed and jealous, we pitched our tent a few meters away from the parking lot and mentally prepared for being cold for the next three days.

The Hemlock Butte Cabin

Peter had grabbed an orphaned sled from the cabin to haul gear so he wandered over to a group of the partygoers still in the parking lot to have them return it.  Before he could even ask, they invited us to join them.  After some deliberation, an RV hauling snowmobiles rolled into the parking lot effectively sealing the deal.  As great as it sounded to witness this redneck Thanksgiving, the air and sound pollution wasn't so appealing.  We quickly packed up our tents and began the 3.5 mile hike into the cabin on our skis and snowshoes.  It was a whiteout blizzard the whole way and once we donned our headlamps, visibility was reduced to a glowing orb of snowflakes.  We knew we were getting close when we started finding sleds and containers abandoned along the side of the trail including one already tapped keg.

Pressing on, the lights of the cabin emerged through the trees, a warm haven amidst the frozen slurry.  We quickly pitched our tents outside and cautiously wandered towards the glow.  Immediately, Peter and Lauren were recognized from passing the crew earlier, we were welcomed with open arms and dubbed the "parking lot people."  Inside, the cabin was adorned with lights and music and trimmed with an assortment of drying clothes strung from rafter to rafter.  The wood stove was burning hot and people were gathered in pockets-- drinking, laughing, cooking.  

The night only got better.  Turkey after turkey was pulled from the fryer, the beer was flowing and dancing was soon to follow.  What was really amazing about the night was meeting one new person after another who were there for the very same reason: spending time with our friends in the backcountry of our beautiful state.  The party wound down and one by one we trickled off to the warmth of our sleeping bags.

Bert and I woke to the soft dawn light and decided to head up the mountain early since it was so nice out.

We made some hot brews, downed granola bars and donned our snowshoes.  We were the first ones out to break trail up Mt. Bailey.  The air was brisk and the sun was shining through patches of wispy clouds.  I got the hang of walking through the heavy Cascade snow fairly quick.  After a few stops to check the map and compass we found ourselves on a high ridge leading to the summit.

All along the ridge we caught glimpses of Mt. Thielsen on the other side of the lake.  Thielsen, once a smooth sided shield volcano, is now a craggy peak topped by a gnarled horn.  Its unique shape comes from glacial erosion that gave it a foreboding, knife-like appearance.  Nowadays, it is heavily rimed and brings to mind an icy swiss alp.

We hiked until the route became precipitous, a few minutes below the summit.  Up here it was a maze of rime sculptures that had grown far beyond the reaches of the saplings buried within.  The high winds had created icy dunes and unusual features along the ground.


Bert and I

The hike down went much faster.  We walked mostly in silence save for the calming "fwomp, fwomp, fwomp" of the snow beneath our feet.  Upon returning to the cabin, I ate a hot meal with a cold beer and promptly fell asleep for the next few hours.  When I awoke it was dark and I made my way back to the warm cocoon of the cabin.

Inside, someone was making turkey stew and melting snow for hot chocolate with kahlua.  The dance party was warming up and the silly costumes were out.  The party kept up a steady tempo into the early hours of the morning when the last stragglers made it to bed.  I remember crawling out of my tent to pee and being swallowed up by darkness and silence.  It was eerie compared to the bustling sounds of festivity and joy that had become woven into the scene so well it seemed natural.  The stars were out and I was reminded of where we were, so tucked away in the mountains, hours from the nearest decent sized town.  It was pure bliss . . . or I'm sure it would have been, were I a bit more sober.

The morning brought a slow stream of people from their various sleeping places.  We had a leisurely breakfast and began to pack up.  It was an unusually warm and sunny day as we hiked back to the parking lot, asking ourselves all the while that the last two days actually happened.  We had some last views of Thielsen on the hike and in the car en route to the hot springs.

A soak in the springs and a long drive later, we were eating gourmet (and gluten free!) pizza at the Granary in Eugene.  We spent the time recounting our favorite parts of the weekend with a pair of our new friends who were heading back to Portland.  Stories were told and retold, and plans were made for future adventures before we finally parted ways.  Here's to getting the invite next year! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Running: An Interactive Guide

I've always had a love-hate relationship with running; the hate part started first.  I was a competitive swimmer for a long time and, by nature, we usually have an ingrained distaste for running.  I only had to run the mile once in high school during a PE class, and it was miserable.  Once I started playing Ultimate in college, running and I became friends for the most part.  We were the kind of friends that instantly get along very well, and laugh all day and spend far too much time together.  Then, on account of spending far too much time together have some sort of blowout and don't speak for 1-2 weeks.  Luckily, since we are all grown-ups here, the friendship can be healed with rest, ice and perhaps an unhealthy amount of ibuprofen.

Now, I would like to say that I love running, but really I think I love the idea of being a runner.  I want to be able to just throw on my shoes and take off for an hour in whatever weather just to enjoy the sound of my feet hitting the pavement.  I want to take a quick jog every morning before sitting at a desk all day, but for me it isn't that easy.  At times in the last few years, I've done many triathlons and felt like a decent, competent runner . . .

. . . but at least half of the time, this all to well describes my plight.

This all comes up because last Saturday two of my friends wanted to go on a trail run along the McKenzie River.  I loved the idea, the fall color here has been truly spectacular and I am not one to say no to a morning outside.

Well it was a disaster.  Off and on in the past years, I have suffered from IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) in both legs.  The "S" happens when the "ITB" gets so tight and inflamed that it tugs painfully at the knee or hip.  While not a terribly severe ailment, it is excruciatingly painful.  Due to this and other sporadic injuries, a typical attempt to run ends in failure far too often.  I've assembled this flow chart so that I know right away whether my run will succeed or bomb.

As you can see, there are many opportunities for failure.  Last weekend, they nearly all happened.  If you are thinking, "It can't be that bad.  How could a little trail run really be so hard ?"  Well follow along closely and you will see.

1)  Sit in the car for at least an hour before your run.
2)  Don't stretch, jog for a few minutes then think, "Damn, I really should stretch."
3)  Stretch
4)  Continue jogging at a slightly less than comfortable pace for a few more minutes.
5)  Go to the kitchen, grab a steak knife and jam it into the side of your right knee; this is what ITBS feels like.
6)  Walk for a bit to loosen up, then continue jogging at a MUCH slower pace.
7)  In order to jog properly, you must remember that you now have almost no flexion in your right knee  so you don't get to bend it.  To run like this, you must stay almost all the way on your right toes.  I call this "Barbie Leg."
8)  Because you are now favoring your left leg so much, it starts to tighten up.  You know what to do with the steak knife.
9)  Attempt to jog a few minutes at a time with double Barbie Legs.
10)  Hobble instead
11)  Resort to picking up rocks and punishing your IT band into submission.  This works for about 60 seconds.
12)  Finally make it back to the car.

After a run like that it takes at least a week and plenty of one-on-one time with my foam roller for my knees to feel the same again.  So I guess for now running and I are on a break.  I can go for a walk, I can ride my bike to get some fresh air here and there, but it's just not the same.  Next time I see a slim girl prancing down the road, her ponytail swinging carelessly as she runs, with no hobbling or Barbie legs . . . I'm running her over with my bike.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Whirlwind

The last few weeks have been busy . . . and cold; winter isn't being shy this year.  Despite the work and the temperature, I've managed to abandon the swirling flurry of papers in favor of swirling flurries of autumn leaves.  

When the rain started in early October, I bought some rain pants and reluctantly prepared myself for another wet season.  Much to my surprise, Eugene really is dryer than Seattle and I have only had to use those pants a handful of times.  One weekend evening I took a walk around the Ridgeline Trails for some fresh air and colors.

This is my attempt at editing a photo past the "I'm feeling lucky" button on Picasa 

Halloween weekend brought Peter to town and sent a group of us out for a climbing trip to the Callahans. Unfortunately, it was too wet so we turned instead to the Umpquah hot springs.

Translation: There is at least one old naked guy up there.  Always.

This natural hot spring has been dammed into a series of pools of varying temperature.  One pool is covered by a rickety lean-to, giving the whole scene a rustic feel.  The spring sits on a hillside overlooking the river far below.  It sprinkled lightly on us, but the water was so warm that to hop from pool to pool was no inconvenience.  We spent hours soaking and relaxing and planning our next visit: post climbing, in the snow, a ski trip once the road is closed.  After we took a short hike to a nearby waterfall.

Last Sunday, I helped lead a field trip to the coast.  I prepared for weather akin to taking a ride in a laundromat washer, but as we drove into Florence, the sun was peaking through the clouds.  You could not ask for a better day on the Oregon coast.  We went north as far as Newport, and I killed my phone snapping pictures of the scene.

Seal Rock

Marine Park

Even though the temperature is dropping along with daylight, there are some silver linings . . .

Beer and a cozy fire with my favorite boy