Friday, April 29, 2011

My Sweet Trooper

 The weather had promised rain and snow and cold all day today.
When I woke up this morning and looked outside I was surprised to see only a light covering of snow on the ground and a combination of cloudy and blue sky.
I wasn't sure how the day was going to play out but it looked promising.
My Mountain Boy asked me mid-morning if I wanted to go to town.  
We had legitimate reasons to go to town - to buy food, to get new phones, to go to the bank etc. etc.boring.
The sky was trying hard to clear, and even though I was not sure that it would ultimately succeed I could think of better reasons to stay home than I could to go into town. 
A walk.
In the hills behind our house.
By lunch time it was sorta kinda sunny and the wind was slowing and LC, Jamie and I all got geared up to go out for that hike I had been itching to do all morning.
Even though it felt warm I grabbed wind breakers at the last minute and stuffed them down into the bottom of my pack, not really expecting that we would need them.
Within only ten minutes we were reaching for them.  The wind had picked up and the temperature quickly began to drop.
Not far from the trail head we saw antelope.
Only a very few and these skittish animals were looking for something - perhaps they had been separated from the rest of the herd because while continuing with our walk we saw other antelope - one or two walking here, another walking alone there.  Something had spooked and separated them..........
 Within only the first walk (and while still continuing up the long and gradual incline leading up into the hills) I had put on my hat, we had both reached for our jackets and we both regretted having not also grabbed gloves.
Even though the temperature gauge beside the house read 40 degrees when we left, the strong winds coming through the canyons from the direction of Yellowstone were absolutely freezing.
It was going to be a very cold walk.
I read the other day that the East Gate of Yellowstone is still set to open on May 6.
Road crews are frantically trying to clear the roads in preparation for the scheduled opening but it is still snowing a lot up there.
They have 22 feet of snow in some places and it snowed another 8 inches just this past Tuesday.
LC and I are getting very eager to go there.  While there is still a lot of snow.  Before the tourists arrive.
While it is still a quiet place..................
 Still walking a long and gradual climb..........
 Jamie exploring.  
She is led by her nose and I often wonder what this displaced southern dog who is now a western dog via Alaska thinks of all this.
There must be so many odors that are new and foreign for her.
As long as she is close to us she seems to take everything in stride...........
With the long and gradual incline over, the climbing predictably became steeper.......... 
 Twenty minutes later we finally reached the first ridge.
It was rocky, filled with pine trees, partially touched with snow.
It was very windy.  Absolutely freezing.  And absolutely beautiful.........
 In the late 1990's I was a woman heading towards 40 who had always been active and often had been successfully competitive.
But I was heading towards 40 and was at the point of grinding out work outs bored and aimlessly on a treadmill and stair climber in a local gym.  
Pleased to still be active but no longer with any real goals.
What does an over-the-hill athlete do aside from working out aimlessly on a treadmill?
And then one day while flipping through TV channels I happened to come across a televised adventure race called the Eco-Challenge.  
I had never heard of adventure racing before but I was memorised by what I was watching.  It called to me.
I ignored the call for a year because I was not an "outdoors person".  I was a city girl.
The following year I watched the race on TV again and again it called to me.
What the hell was I thinking even considering it?  I didn't know anything about outdoor stuff.
I had never mountain biked before.  I didn't even own a mountain bike.  
I had only been in a canoe a couple of times, could barely swim, didn't know how to read a map, didn't know how to read a compass, had never rappelled, didn't even know what a tent fly was.
But after ignoring the little voice in the back of my head that compelled me to give it a try I decided to give it a try.
Lots of lessons.  Lots of mistakes.  Lots of learning.  
The first race I teamed up with a couple of guys I had never met before and drove with these strangers over to the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina.
I had borrowed a friends' mountain bike, paid big bucks to get a pack overnighted, picked up a water bladder at a bike shop in a rush, and bought the other mandatory gear from Wal-mart.  Cheap stuff that met the requirements.
Half way through the race we were biking on a trail with a steep drop-off to my left.
My back wheel slid off the trail and I went tumbling down the hill.
I rolled downhill about 20 feet and only came to a stop when a tree broke my fall.
My bike landed on top of me.
We came into the finish line 7 hours after we had started and in the middle of the pack.
I was hooked...............
 This was only the first of four ridges (each one higher than the last) that we walked and explored on a beautiful, windy and very cold adventure today.
We sucked up the cold.
Somehow being out there it did not matter...........
 LC and James making their way to the next ridge.............
 The terrain was getting both rockier and more beautiful with each passing step.
I wondered how LC would make out with such unstable ground and with such an unstable knee.
But as I watched him explore he was obviously loving where he was, what he was finding, how high we were and how far away from civilization we were.
At the same time that I watched him I also watched my dog.
She has been on many adventures over this past year and also loves to wander and explore.
But this steep and rocky terrain was something new.
She continued to sniff and explore and wander in that excited Jamie-way that she has, and so far all was well...........
 So incredibly lovely.............
 And so incredibly and coldly windy.
Every once in a while we had to stand behind the trees to find a brief reprieve from the wind before continuing on..............
 One more ridge.............
 Heading towards the last ridge we wanted to explore today.............
 There was nothing but rock and the going was becoming treacherous.
Jamie followed well but at one point balked when we tried to encourage her to jump up onto a large boulder as we were heading higher onto the ridge.
Two front paws onto the boulder, a hike up in the back end from me and we continued only a little further.
The going was getting too rough for her four little legs and LC and I began to look for shelter from the wind so that we could all rest and drink water before heading back.............
 My Mountain Boy and I sat on a rock looking out over forever.
And James sat beside us.
She is an amazingly sweet, good natured girl who is also a real trooper.
The more I get to know this dog the more I am becoming convinced that she would happily followed us anywhere.
I have never loved a dog like this dog............
 Rather than following the ridge lines as we had on the way out, we all worked our way directly down towards flatter land.
The land of sand and sage brush and growing grasses and tiny blue and purple and yellow wildflowers.
We all stopped at this sandy draw for a few minutes to get out of the wind.
It was obviously a place well used by animals as there were prints everywhere............
 Still high up but now on the way down..........
 Another "westing house".............
 I do not know what this small skull was from.
It was resting on the ground beside colored-algae-covered-rocks in the middle of a very large grassy area............
 At this point in our walk I looked at Jamie and wondered just how many miles over the course of the past almost-year I have spent looking at my dog's butt.
And her bow legged back legs.
And her pigeon-toed front legs.
And her crazy curly tail.............
 A mile from the house we were all getting tired.
LC's knee and back were aching.
My hips were tight.
We were both freezing cold, and although the wind had been a consideration throughout our walk it had been simply a distraction.
But a mile from the house I was suddenly tired of the seemingly-never-ending and cold wind.
I was eager to get back to a warm house.  Get out of the wind.  Eat food.  Warm up.............

Jamie is now sleeping beside me on the couch as I write this and the house is very warm because LC made a fire.
Alien 3 is on TV.
It was a good day..............