Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Walk For No Reason - Part 1

The west is burning.
There are major and still uncontrolled wild fires in northern Idaho, Oregon, Montana and California.
Thankfully we have not had fires in this area, but with now millions of acres of western land ablaze, our entire region has been covered with increasingly thick smoke for days now.
The buttes around us are barely visible.
The mountains to our north and west have completely disappeared from view, and all that we can now see on the distant horizon is a line of haze and smoke.
Early last weekend the smoke was still not too bad and (knowing that it was only going to get worse) I decided to walk alone with my dog on Cedar Butte while I still had the chance.
 Temperatures were lower than they had been (the one and only shining light at a time when so many have been affected by the fires).
There was blue sky, even though much of it was seen through a haze.
And I needed to be alone.
With LC helping our neighbors with a bathroom project, the day seemed perfect for wandering alone with Kory.
As usual my dog knew that we were going somewhere before I even had a chance to say those wonderfully  magic words "OK -  let's go!!".
With eyes dancing and with only the tip of her tail waving, she waited patiently as I packed a first aid kit, and enough water to get us through a hike that would last for a few hours.
With those magic words now spoken she immediately bolted to her feet, ran to the front door, and then jumped high into the air, anxiously and impatiently demanding that I open the door and let her outside.
8 miles later I pulled the Tahoe into the circular grassy area adjacent to the butte (where four wheelers and dirt bikes typically off load), opened the back door and jumped out of the way as my excited dog sprang down onto the dusty ground.
We have not had rain in a few weeks now, and I am reminded once again that we live in a high desert region.
The grass is turning brown.  The ground is as hard as cement.  There was no water anywhere to be found, and so my pack was weighed down with cold bottles that Kory and I would share along the way.
Heading down the trail...............
Within just a few minutes I was shedding my light jacket.
Still walking, I unclipped my pack straps, pulled off my backpack, pulled the jacket off, loaded the jacket.  rebuckled my straps and put the pack back on.
In adventure racing you don't stop for such things as adjusting clothing.
As I continued to wander down the trail I looked back and absently wondered why I had parked so far away from the trail head.
It was well over half a mile and for a moment I internally criticized my decision to park so far from the trail head (and the beginning of our climb) before deciding to cut myself some slack.
The off-load parking area was fine Karin.  You need the walk Karin.  Give it a rest Karin - there's plenty of other things (tangible things) to worry about without being absorbed in something so unimportant.
OK Karin.  
You're right.
The hills we were headed for.
Once we even reached the trail head..............
I love watching her run freely.
She pleases me.................
A little over 10 minutes after first parking the Tahoe my dog and I reached a trail intersection.
The trail to my left swept along the outside of Cedar Butte, and if I took it (and stayed on it) it would eventually take me around the entire circumference of the butte.
We had only driven that route a few times, and as I stood and studied it for a moment I suddenly realized that I wanted to mountain bike it before winter came.
It would take a few hours.  Maybe more than a few hours.  I wasn't sure and had never really paid attention to distances while we were driving around it.
But as I looked at the left trail for a moment I realized that I had unexpectedly found a goal.
Turning my attention back to the here and now I looked around me, caught sight of Kory, called her name, picked up the right fork and immediately began to climb.................
The trail was dirt, steep, mostly smooth but sometimes rocky and rutted out.
The last time I had walked this trail we had only had Kory for a couple of months.
It had been a while.
A long while actually, and I had forgotten just how steep this trail was.
No matter.  I was taking my time.  Taking pictures (both in front of me and looking back the way I had come), and enjoying both the effort of the walk and the sight of cedar trees.
Monitoring Kory, I watched her as she disappeared occasionally through the trees, but felt gratified when she quickly returned to me and the trail when I called her.
Deer had disappeared from town for months, and were now making their return.
Coyotes had disappeared for a few months as well, but recently we have begun to hear them again, and so I occasionally dropped my left hand down to my gun, feeling satisfied that it was comfortable and close.
The world looked so different than what I was used to seeing.
It was a sunny (and increasingly warm) day, but the buttes and much for the desert floor was covered in a smoky haze.....................
One of the many cedar trees filled with blue and purple berries................
We had been climbing for about 20 minutes when we came to this trail intersection.
Stopping for a moment I reached for a water bottle, glanced around, found Kory and called her to me.
Taking a big drink from the bottle first, I squatted down, cupped my hand and watched as my dog took a couple of quick sips of water.
She had to have needed more by this point but (like a small child) she was too busy playing, prancing and dancing, to take the time to stop and drink water.
By the time the bottle was back in the pouch on the outside of my pack, I had still not decided which way to go.
I didn't remember this fork at all so could not decide.
Which is dumb because if I had bothered to look up into the hills, those hills would have told me which way I needed to go.
I needed to go right.
I took the left fork...................
Five minutes later the left trail intersected with the right trail again, so I ended up being where I needed to be after all.
They are all different, but there are challenges on every trail in every part of the country.
Back east a big challenge is the vegetation.  It is so thick and so lush, that you can step 10 feet off a trail and immediately get yourself lost.
The vegetation obscures the sky, the trails, the animals, little orange and white orienteering flags...........
Here none of those things come into play.
I was 9 miles from town and even though I could not see it when I turned back to look, I knew exactly where it was in relation to the Twin Buttes.
If the left trail had not worked its way back in the right direction, bushwhacking across country would have been no problem.
 The biggest challenges in the Snake River Plain (a part of which I was now hiking) are the lack of water and misjudging distances.
I was carrying three bottles of water (which was not enough as it turned out).  
But I also knew this hike, knew this butte, and knew this portion of the desert well.
Others have run into trouble in the past because they did not..................
Red paint on a cedar tree.
Markings for the upcoming hunting season?..............
Unlike Big Butte trail (which is 5 miles of nothing but non-stop climbing), Cedar Butte is steep but has a few flat sections where you can regroup before another climb..............
When LC was a cop he used to call these "maggot tracks".................
Kory and I had been climbing for 30 minutes and when I turned to look back I finally began to realize just how pervasive the smoke from the wild fires really was.
The Twin Buttes were almost completely lost.
The smoke lay across the desert floor almost completely obscuring it.
We were hundreds of miles from the nearest wild fire, but the smoke was here with us now.
It lay in the Lost River Valley (which was home to some of the highest mountain peaks in Idaho, all of which had suddenly disappeared), it lay in Atomic City and the Snake River Plain - and the next day we learned first hand that it also lay like a white blanket across both the towns of Blackfoot and Idaho Falls to our south.................
Climbing some more.
We were close.
Close to one more trail head.
Once we reached that trail head we would veer off to the right, pick up a moderately steep hill, and then veer almost immediately to our left and pick up one more very steep hill.
Lots of climbing and we were both greatly enjoying our quiet adventure together................
A look back..................
Before we picked up another trail I unbuckled the chest and hip belts of my pack, pulled it off my shoulders and dropped it to the ground.
Crouching down I dug out a fresh bottle of water for me, and the "doggie bottle" for Kory.
This time she was ready to drink and finished off one bottle.
After taking a huge drink from the fresh bottle I again cupped my hand.  Yup - Bottle #2 was about to become a doggie bottle as well.
Sitting on the side of the trail for a few minutes I threw bottles back into my pack.  Still sitting I watched my dog for a few moments.  She was already restless - ready for the next stage of our adventure.
She had probably already walked twice as far as I had, but she was ready for more.
At one point on the trip up I looked ahead of me and unexpectedly saw movement underneath the branches of a cedar tree.
From that distance I at first thought that it was a very tiny baby deer.  Almost brand new.  Still unsteady on its feet.
But it was too far away and I was not entirely sure what I had been looking at.
And it was very late in the year for new babies.
Warily I looked around for Kory.  She was in the grass up ahead and off to my left.
If it was a baby deer she might very well kill it.  She had been killing rabbits all summer.
Immediately after locating her I called my pups' name, still unsure of what I had seen but suddenly wanting to keep my dog close.
I had no sooner gotten "Kory!" out than she took off at full speed, suddenly and completely in chase mode.
She ran up the trail, cut to the right, ran around the cedar tree, and reappeared on the front side of the tree.
Jack rabbit was in full run.  Kory was in full run about 20 feet behind him.
They ran across the trail, through the long grass, and disappeared into the trees.
A couple of minutes later my great hunter returned to me bunny-less...................
One more hike.
I remember looking at the endless desert through this same rock formation a year and a half ago.
As LC, Kory and I walked this walk, I remember stopping for a moment and suddenly feeling very overwhelmed by where we were.
The desert was so incredibly vast.
It was so empty.
So silent.
And in that one moment I DID feel overwhelmed.
Eighteen months later I did not feel overwhelmed by the vast emptiness.
It was familiar, silent, comfortable and comforting................
Although the day had started very cool, it was now warming up very fast.
At one more trail intersection I looked to my left.
More water?  Not yet.  At the top of the hill.
It was long and steep, but it was also the last climb on this trip.
We turned to the left...................
It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.
It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way..............Cheryl Strayed

No comments:

Post a Comment