Pandemics and outdoor recreation

The world has been turned upside down, inside out and beaten thoroughly, like a freshly washed down comforter. Emotions have been set to critical for over a month with only more confusion in sight, which doesn’t make for lovely, pleasant spring days for many. Personally, I’ve had major writer’s block since I returned from our first try at a Mountain Trail schooling show and my state implemented “Stay Safe, Stay Home” orders. An argument now rearing it’s ugly head has unstuck me to some regard, so here’s my thoughts on trying to recreate outdoors during a global pandemic.

Really wishing we could do this again soon!

I will state right up than I’m still grieving the loss of being able to go hiking, walking and camping with my little dog, pony and 9 year old son show. I may be heavily pregnant, but I was still planning on getting out at least every other week with friends until June if I could. I’m pretty sure my 19 year old, been everywhere gelding will pretend he’s never seen a trailer in his life when all this is said and done.

The last time I hauled this face, it was to his new barn over a month ago!

For every argument for throwing public lands back open, come what may, there’s a great deal of solid science, utter unknowns and plain humans being humans reasons not to; or at least, to try to find alternatives. The hardest part of all this for me, who likes to rely on experts and solid science, is that even the experts are flying a bit blind and there’s just so many unknowns around Covid-19, it makes “returning to normal” especially fraught…and humans, as a species, don’t always operate the best in the grey areas.

Proof Blondie can be uphill and balanced!

My neighbor to the north state, where a good chunk of my friends live, is cautiously reopening state public lands for day use next week, with several caveats. The biggest impact to me personally being the “don’t drive far” and “only travel with those you live with” directives. My state has prolonged opening the state parks until Memorial Day at least, which considering the supposed cross state agreement we joined seem a bit moot on the surface.

  • If one state opens but another doesn’t, people will be people and will travel across borders. This will lead to the crowding and overuse the officials are trying to prevent. Large fines and other enforcement strategies won’t change this behavior, as there are only so many officials able to enforce directives available anyway. Trail heads regularly see break ins, trash dumps and vandalism during normal times due to lack of enforcement, and that will just get worse.
  • State lands already feel the effect of budget cuts, chronic under funding and lack of staff. I did a stint as a park ranger and can attest to the uphill battle it normally is to keep up cleanliness; I shudder to imagine how much harder it would be with facilities closed and unable to be safely maintained by park staff even further constrained by lack of PPE and other materials. Opening access without opening facilities leads to the more careless humans making a huge mess, not recreating responsibly enough and providing disease spread (which even now is still not totally clear).
  • For those crying “But those are our lands!” This is true on the surface, but we live in a system in which we’ve given over management of such places to officials in whatever form. They currently face a heartbreaking battle between open access for all, maintaining the health and safety of both staff and visitors, and halting progression of a virus we still don’t have a clear picture for. Whether we fully agree with their decisions or not, they do have the power and the right to make them, and shouldn’t be vilified for it, only supported in whatever ways we can; whether that be through public comment, staying home or recreating as responsibly as we know how these days.
  • To those of pretty much all my friends, who I include in the “can recreate responsibly” guidelines and/or be reasonably self contained, I’m with you on desiring open lands where we can make our own choices and visit safely. But just enough folks just won’t or can’t follow the LNT guidelines or just manage to care enough about other people to open public lands without a solid, safe plan in place for managing such people, and that’s the bottom line officials have to reckon with. That part sucks the most for me, to know how hard my friends and I work when we camp, hike and volunteer to keep our public lands safe, clean and usable, and being unable to due to the subset of folks that just don’t care enough.

I don’t have any answers to the underlying issues above, maybe a few suggestions that I still don’t know would lead to a “safe enough” opening. Sure a permit system to avoid overcrowding is a decent idea, but leads to it’s own subset of problems, chief among them access for all and the time and budget to even set one up or expand the existing system (plus the additional cries of “It’s my land, why should I pay for it or have to arrange access to it?”).

As much as it sucks in the short term (and boy howdy does it really freaking suck when the sun shines and everything is bursting into bloom), the most responsible, ethical and kind thing to do is to stay at home until a safe enough system is worked out. I still hold hope for at least one more camping trip before I pop, even if it is just to my friend’s pasture!

If we all keep our heads, surely we can figure this out!

Camping in February?

Damp but happy to eat everything in sight!

Between work stress, pregnancy, new horse/truck/trailer excitement and frustrations, the winter blues have been real this year. So when the weather quietly murmured the mere hint of a not freezing, not raining day a week ahead, I reserved an equestrian campsite at Battle Ground State Park and hoped for the best.

Settling in…before the rain appeared

That’s not quite what we got…but this trip was a shakedown of everyone’s new gear, new and/or rehabbed horses, and to scratch the cabin fever itch. Lessons were learned, rain was endured and good food was eaten, and for a last minute tossed together trip in February I count us lucky enough.

I never fail to have extreme trailer envy when I see this beautiful, well thought out, every excellent detail covered Double D…

On the good side, Flash camped pretty much alone for the night and didn’t loose his mind. My friends horses were there, including a member of his old herd, but they were in a separate area and due to the miserable weather we didn’t have them interact much. I remembered his mid-weight blanket so he wasn’t totally soaked and cold overnight, plus his coolers to dry off in the morning, and grabbing a flake of alfalfa was a pony approved choice.

Still don’t know when the “I HAVE MY OWN TRAILER!” excitement will wear off.

I’ve been hammock sleeping the past few years, but with increasing awkwardness around pregnancy and limited space in my trailer, I sprung for the Kingdom Cot 3 from REI and I’m in love! Cyrus and I spent a warm, dry, and comfortable night together while Kade took the hammock. My in-trailer camping set up is pretty spot on, so that was a definite win. I’m still going to figure out a way to enclose the sides with mesh, to keep out bugs and stuff off the roadway while driving.

Cyrus actually slept on the cot with me instead of his dog bed, but nice to know it fits for hotter weather

The only major bummer was the total change in the weather; it was both much colder and much wetter than we’d expected, though that’s the chance you take with camping in February, after all! I also realized I haven’t really done any camp cooking and have been relying on the generosity of friends for…well, years, so clearly there’s still some adjustment to my equipment and skills in that area needed. Sandwiches are fine but a hot meal on a cold day definitely makes a difference!

I think Flash loves hiking cause it equals more time for eating…

Up next…maybe a jaunt over to Reehers Horse Camp? LL Stub Stewart? My plan is to fit as many trips as I can before I really balloon up and bending over to hitch up my trailer becomes an exercise in huffing and puffing!

Blood donation…with a side of horses

Rather than an exhaustive play by play of my most excellent weekend, I’ll toss up a bunch of photos both pretty and questionable and a few vignettes from our trip up the mountain!

 

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My new favorite photo: Fourth ride in three days, bareback and mostly hands free! Ray and I have really clicked this past month and it’s paid off; he did almost 50 miles in four days for two different riders and still had gas left in the tank!

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I took the same photo two years ago on a different horse, so much has changed in life and in myself and I can say I was much more relaxed this trip, plus I had Cyrus tagging along!

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We spent a good chunk of the weekend like this, I finished two books! Nomadland by Jessica Bruder (excellently researched and written!) and Confessions of a Horseshoer,  by Ron Tatum (an interesting look inside the mind of an old school farrier).

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Adrienne, dogs and I hiding in the trailer, seeking relief from the incessant mosquitoes!

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Lunch break during our 4.5 hour, 16 mile ride around Timothy Lake (that’s one of a million butterflies above Ray’s saddle!) We rode drag all day, moseying along and enjoying everything but the mosquitoes!!!

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No, no one punched or kicked me. These are all mosquito bites! My other leg looks much the same. Note to self: Avoid this area until later in the summer!

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Heading out for ride #4, see what’s missing? I only came off once (#domorecrunches) but I successfully captured Ray as he moseyed back to camp riderless (that vision is a catch riders worst nightmare) by snapping a carrot at his (slowly) retreating butt. Given a choice between camp far away and food right at hand, guess who turned right around and let himself be caught so I could scramble back up top?

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Cyrus was adored by all and scarfed up everything he could find all weekend, though my trainer’s older dog also loved his special comfy bed.

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Obligatory stupid awesome photo between the ears of Mt. Hood over Timothy Lake. The mosquitoes were totally worth this view!

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I learned Ray loves water. Not so much to drink, though he managed that just fine, more to splash, splash, splash and seriously consider laying down and rolling in, rider and saddle still attached not withstanding!

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Good friends and their matching shirts! Rachel with Mustang/Paso Fino Cody on the left, Adrienne with “Turbo Frisian” Arab/Frisian Ruais and Ronan on the right.

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Cyrus flirted shamelessly all weekend, and was well rewarded for it. My trainer’s partner fed everyone, including the poor, unloved dogs heaping portions of wonderful Kahlua pork and rice.

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Lunchtime selfies, five seconds before Primo the Super Mustang almost lost his mind at a cute little girl calling up “Pretty horsies!” from a horse eating kayak on the lake.

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Horse eating bridge or no biggie? Several horses had complaints to be lodged about this harmless little footbridge, but not unphased Ray!

This weekend was the perfect trip I needed to relax and clear out the cobwebs so I can focus on painting and packing and moving into our awesome new house this week, a whole post coming on that tomorrow!

 

Spring prep!

With Grizzly in my sights one way or another and miles under saddle planned, it’s time to look at that aspect of endurance riding I tend to…not give as much attention to: camping comfortably. As a lifelong camper, I’m fairly dialed in on tossing stuff in the car, finding a riverside campsite and settling in.

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Coyote Ridge Ride Camp 2017

But as in everything, an endurance ride camp requires a whole other mindset, even without the child complication. I’m not just taking care of myself and my noble steed for the weekend, as a catch rider I have to be willing and able to lend a dozen extra hands and go the extra mile, earning my keep as well as I can. The more organized, efficient and comfortable I make my set up, the easier it is to help out when I’m tired and sore.

The first few years of rides, I wouldn’t have dreamed of bringing my son, so this process was a little easier. But now that he’s older and a little more savvy and extremely cute and helpful (mostly), I’m trying to set things up so he can come with each time. Toss in a big lovable Boxer too and I’m prepping for camping at ride camp a lot differently this year. Not only do I have more horse gear, I have more stuff to bring and less space in my truck to pack it into.

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Camping Snuggles!

Since we’re aiming for about one ride a month (or so), plus additional camping trips, I’d like to get this all dialed in way ahead of time. I’m planning a test run after a spring cleaning and restocking of gear to the Celena Pentrack clinic over my birthday (so psyched to ride with her again!) However, the added stressors of kid and/or dog have me considering my budget and hitting up Google.

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Happy Place!

For roughly $200-300 a weekend (maybe less, maybe more), on top of my ride entry and gas money budget, I could find a small camper trailer to rent and tow with my sturdy SUV and be 1000 times more comfortable at ride camp. I’d have a place so many things; I can stash kid, dog and person assigned to watch both that’s more conducive to such things than a camp chair; a place to change that’s not the horse trailer; a place to get out of whatever ugly weather may come our way (I’ve seen snow, rain, wind, dust, heat, all of it at camps). I won’t have to worry about making sure everything fits in the truck and still let kid & dog travel in comfort. And, the final bonus, I might even convince the fiance to come to ride camp if he’s got a bed to sleep in!

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Thinks roughing it is a La Quinta

But that extra money can also make a huge difference in a tight budget, so a light bulb went off and I thought, “Endurance riders are a family! But not everyone goes to the same rides at once. Maybe one of them has a trailer I could borrow for a little cheaper?”

Here’s my question to the endurance world (mostly in the Willamette Valley or SW Washington). Is this a workable possibility? Does anyone have a camper trailer (not the pop up kind, those are freezing!), or a smallish RV I could rent from you for a ride weekend? Grizzly & Klickitat are my only two for sure rides planned, although I’m going to do my best to support Nicole & Jala’s new Creek to Peak ride as well. I have a 2003 GMC Envoy XL, can tow up to 5500 pounds so looking for a camper trailer that tops out at 4000 to be on the safe side.

My future post 30 and 50 mile self appreciates you all in advance, and either way I can’t wait to see everyone settled in at the next ride meeting, kvetching about gates and ribbons and water crossings!

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Perish the thought

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Way too early this morning, my kiddo half woke me to crawl back into bed with me after a nightmare. Trouble with this is that’s my deep, REM sleep time, so today I’m sucking down coffee like there’s no tomorrow because I’ve been stuffing in as much overtime as I can. I eventually drifted into that state of “I know I’m dreaming but it feels so real this sucks” mode, & from my subconscious rose panic. I woke up to my car, my Emerald Queen just gone. Oh, not Tom’s little Scion, but my big green horse hauling badass? Gone, & found by the local cops stripped down for parts near a local park. Not a restful image, so thanks brain for that.

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If this had actually happened to any other vehicle I’d owned, I’d pretty much shrug & move on, being not overly attached to any particular one. Also,, when I lived in the city close to work with a bike & solid public transport wouldn’t have affected us too badly. But now I live in car dependent suburbs 20 miles from work, which is perfectly doable…with a car.

But I panicked far beyond that to find the Queen not just gone but totaled, as the insurance would say, destroyed both in utility & as an idea.

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I’ve only had her a few months, but I’ve put on a couple thousand miles, obsessed about keeping her clean (a losing battle with a growing boy), hauled horses several times, filled her to the brim with friends, Ikea, & Costco, helped random strangers in the backwoods, sought & found numerous road trips, camping trips, & assorted other adventures, not to mention making it to work every day without a hitch.

More than any other vehicle, the Queen is freedom for me, freedom to commute comfortably, to seize the weekend & camp anywhere, to tow a horse to seek beautiful places to ride, to bring friends along for the haul.

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This weekend I’ll vacuum & clean her out once again, get her a (shudderingly expensive) oil change, & load up to seek a quiet spot in the woods. This time we’ll be grinding low gears to climb Mt. Hood, travel the back way & gravel Forest Service roads to find a cool creek side campground. I won’t have a second of worry that everything will fit, that I’ll be stuck up there, or not be able to escape the hordes of mosquitos.

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The Queen & I thankfully have miles yet to go.

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Sore, sweaty, tired

I know I’ve shouted my thanks on Facebook already, but a huge thanks has to be repeated for everything that went into getting me & almost 200 other riders on beautiful, expertly marked trails on Mt Adams last weekend! The stars aligning & all the hard work & effort put in was astounding, & now that the soreness is wearing off I can better appreciate all of it!
I’m not going to do a blow by blow account of the ride, but more a general overview of things that stuck out at me, & things I need to work on before I hunt down another ride, if I can between house buying craziness & camping with the kiddo as much as possible while the weather holds.


I did complete the race, & thankfully Shadow was in much, much, ten times better condition than me at the end. I made the mistake of not wearing my Camelbak to try to avoid all the sloshing, & so drank far less water & more Gatorade than my body liked. So I threw up after Allyssa trotted out Shadow for his completion vet check. No bueno, drink more water.


My core was juuuuuust enough to keep me ahorse, but only on a saint that never once spooked. My left leg was numb by mile 12 & this did not improve my posting ability one bit.

I have two good pictures from the photographer, & one of me at the final vet check right before I ditched all my food into the grass. Two are faintly attractive, the other shows that I really did earn that completion, by enduring & trying not to whine too much.


Maaaaan it was pretty. And perfect weather. And Shadow’s trot is a thing of beauty for an Arab, sitable (though I need a double bra next time, so told by the bruises on those lady parts), calmly ratable & smooth. I couldn’t have asked for a better horse to ride my first time out in two years.

I’m addicted to endurance riding. Every time I think I could be happy enough not doing it, I score the magic of a ride & remember that nope, this is my thing, so I return to scheming my way onto horseback as often as possible. Because dirty, sweaty, sore & grinning is perfect (now just gotta learn to drink water…)


I am also on the hunt for a good pair of riding pants. Yoga & running pants aren’t going to cut it for me, so what’s best, a nice pair of Kerritts or spring for something like Crazy Legs Tights?

I will keep working on my reputation as a solid, caring, directable catch rider…or in other words, growing up to be like Kathleen Jepson, though I’m less specific about riding pretty spotted ponies!

Endurance people are the best, hands down, in the horse world, & just the best in general. Not enough can be said about their general awesomeness, caring, & ability to kick ass.

Up and away!

Spring has arrived & with it my driving need to do all the things, every day, all at once.
The longer days also bring with the increased energy to get more done-not all the things, but more than Winter Jamé feels like bothering with.
Riding, hiking, DMV, house cleaning & writing all in the same weekend? Bring it on!

  
However, with springs comes blooming things, & the boyfriend is miserable outside the clean room he works in all day. Which is, really, everywhere for the next few months.

  
I’m also trying to get everything done because ride season has begun, & we set it off with a bang with what will probably be one of our longest road trips this summer. We headed off through the Gorge & up…& down, up, down, & finally up again, for six gorgeous, cloudless hours into Eastern Washington, just south of the Grand Coulee dam. 

  
Despite the fact-or perhaps because of the lack of trees pretty much everywhere but people’s yards, it was one of the most beautiful ride camps I’ve ever been to.  Maybe with the possible exception of Mt Adams, where we’ll be heading to on Memorial Day. As below, the view outside The Emerald Queen where I’d set up an air mattress that ended up being super warm & comfy for the kiddo & I, was breathtaking-yet also relaxing.

    
But the best thing about ride camp wasn’t the drive, the view, or even the food (although that was most excellent!)…it was friends. More specifically, friends I only ever see either on Facebook or at ride camp. Even though I totally am a camp hanger-on, seeing as I showed up with my gear, kid, & no horse, I was able to pitch right into helping without once feeling nosy or useless. 

  
In fact, my kid was far more useful than I was, keeping the teenagers from mischief, general giggly entertainment, & relating mixing electrolytes to chemistry. He’s multipurpose, this child is, & only once did he give me a heart clutching, oh please dear gods don’t kick him Belle! moment (she’s a good girl, she declined).

  
Kade’s other big benchmark this weekend was we drove for six hours both ways to get out there & back home, but thanks to Mommy throwing everything she had into making this a decent road trip-we made it fine. A year ago we couldn’t have gone on a six hour drive without another adult in the back to distract him. But between the iPad, endless snacks, legos & stickers books, ice cream from Dairy Queen, nap time & being able to control his own window, it went off without a hitch. We upgraded him to a belt positioning booster seat now that he’s big enough, & he loves it! He can reach everything, & it’s so much easier to get in & out of, including the fact he can buckle himself in & out!

 Five is shaping up to be a damn good year, & we’re going to make it to as many ride camps as my wiggle off early on Fridays schedule allows!

  

Switch it up

  
I’ve been running a bit intermittently since Turkey Day, even going so far as to acquire two pairs of shoes just for running, plus a Camelbak waist belt, again, just for running. I tried running in high school & frankly sucked at it, but considering my life now it’s a good way to exercise, fairly cheaply, for the time I have available for exercising. I’m even bandying about the idea of another half marathon, only much better prepared this time around.  
Running for me is mostly a solitary endeavor, considering schedules & where I’m at with my training. I’ve started considering what I would like my summer to look like, & while I will keep running, I’d rather spend my money on something which I already love-camping & hiking with Kade. He’s at that utterly awesome age of “old enough” for certain things-he can hike 5-6 easy miles all by himself now- & “young enough” to still think doing everything with mommy is awesome, & fascinated by everything I point out, like this morning’s uplifting sunrise, he was so excited by this.

  
So instead of trying to psych myself up for a daily run, I’m switching my focus to prepping to carry two people’s worth of gear to a pretty campsite up a fairly easy trail. Kade is made insanely happy by maps, so we’ll spread out a few topo maps of Oregon & Washington & try to find a half dozen under 10 mile loop or our & back hikes. We already know he loves to camp, but our first non-car camp trip will be close to home just in case, so one of our lovely, long suffering family members can rescue us if necessary.  

  
I can tell I’m much more excited by the thought of these trips, & not a marathon, because I’ve already compiled an extensive gear & needed gear list, places I want to go, training tips, & trying to remember what’s in a good hiking first aid kit…and reminding myself that wherever we go, so does Laila & Kade’s green blankie!  

I will also be actively bugging people for trip ideas, light weight gear reviews, tips & tricks for making the hike & camp set up easier & as comfy as possible for a tired mommy & kiddo at the end of the day. Most of my hiking experience is with groups, so I’m used to carrying a lot of gear, but setting up camp basically by myself at the end of a day, plus encouraging/keep Kade from jumping off cliffs, will be more an adventure than any marathon could give me!