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!

Sun and adventures to come

Three awesome lads

Thanks to the later sunset, I was able to fit in a quick, two mile hike after I picked the kid up from school. My second best hope has been realized and Flash is loading now with zero fuss (he’s not yet self loading but maybe someday). I’m hoping he actually likes going hiking (or, as I’m sure he calls it, “sampling the wilderness”.)

Must eat every five strides

If it’s not cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, I’ve signed up for a Mountain Trail Schooling Course at Bolender Horse Park this weekend. I’ll be doing Novice, Level 1 and Level 2 in hand if Flash agrees with that. For all it’ll be our first event like this together, I’m hoping we’ll do okay…at least not embarress each other! The hardest move for Flash is a side pass; I just don’t have my signals down for nice, smooth ones so we’ll try to eek through that.

Kade is a great videographer in training!

Wish us luck and hope we don’t freeze up in the hills Saturday night! At least Flash will have a nice cozy stall on site.

After school fun

Close to home adventures

I’ve finally reached 20 weeks pregnant, wooot!!! Halfway there! We had the mid way ultrasound yesterday to check all the measurements and growth and baby is moving along normally, always good to hear that from doctors!

I love my new spare tire cover!

This also means that I’ve reached the point in which I’m voluntarily grounding myself from riding; the risk of a fall from Flash is fairly low but not zero, and as this isn’t my baby my comfort level is lower. So, we’re back to hiking and today the sun shone so out we went!

Happy dog, starving horse

An awesome local group is gathering and bringing some old trails back to life that just so happen to be a 10 minute haul from my barn! I was able to load Flash, unload, shove his boots on, make him carry my stuff (some adjustments still needed there), go for a two mile hike and make it home as the kid got off the bus.

Trail building: downhill edition

Flash was super well behaved except for the occasional reminder to not trip over me (personal spaaaaace!) and even when we saw other horses he didn’t scream for them. He did get a bit fast heading back to the trailer, so we took an out and back detour on a single track trail and he settled back down.

Awesome viewpoint

A beautiful hike and some exploring in a new place on a sunny day with a good dog and a starving blonde pony…it helps a great deal! Now to pack the truck for our camping shakedown trip to Battle Ground Lake tomorrow!

Pony chooses food over views naturally
Nom nom

To climb a…saddle?

mthoodpeeking

My son continues to impress me each & every day, but last Monday was even more so as I saw him through other people’s eyes. I didn’t want to deal with the crowds camping over the holiday weekend, but I had an itch for a view. So I settled for a hike, but in my way of scattershot planning, picked one that was harder than I expected. The world’s longest suffering boyfriend headed back to the car after 2 miles of upward, slightly buggy heat, but the kiddo stuck with me even when we gave him every out possible.

kidsnacksaddle

And boy, did that kid kick ass. We headed up to the saddle near the summit of Mount Hamilton (we didn’t head to the summit as Kade is only 5, & that’s a steep cliff to sidle along). This is on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, which took us 9 miles, 2000 feet elevation gain & loss in less than five hours. Being in the brilliantly green, growing woods we can focus inwards and outwards at once, covering such topics as finding the best stick, what airplane is flying above (Tom would know), why Mommy goes to her boring job everyday, & the somewhat incomprehensible to anyone over the age of 8 games he plays at school with his friends. Kade earned his giant bowl of chocolate ice cream with whip cream & a cherry on top a million times over (we started naming what we wanted when we reached the car on the way down; ice cream, always ice cream).

So far this season we’ve done four major hikes together, but this one we didn’t start until later in the day & was by far the hardest I’ve ever asked him to do. Kade only faltered at the end, when the ice cream the boyfriend had grabbed for us in Stevenson had melted because it took us so long to get down (this was solved by a quick stop at the thank you a zillion times for being open on a Federal holiday Baskin Robbins!) I only carried him for about 50 feet, & he hiked the rest with me, hauling his little Deuter pack of snacks & a change of shoes. While we were on the saddle, taking pictures & stuffing said snacks down our gullets, a few very nice gentlemen offered to take one of my current favorite pictures of the both of us. They kept mentioning how big a deal it was that this little kid made it all the way up here, all by himself (well, with some hand holding & much encouragement from the mommy lady).

I’ve been hiking ever since my parents first kicked me out for a summer at a camp in California when I was ten (or was it eleven?), & hated it for a good long while. Oh, I loved the arriving somewhere, but the whole hauling things upwards I didn’t cherish (this is why we have draft animals people!) It’s only since Kade came along that I’ve learned to love it, even when I don’t stop to think how big a deal it is to other people to see a little kid hiking like he does.

prettydown

We get so distracted in our daily lives trying to juggle the day job, the hobbies, the household, the cruddy adulting stuff that I push the hiking & camping as a way to focus just on this golden kid. He’s growing up & forming & becoming himself right before my eyes. He wrote his full name for the first time without help last week!

sleepykiddo

Choosing a trip to do, pouring over the maps, loading up & heading out gets us just that, out where we can both loosen up & just enjoy being together. At this point it seems likely I’m only going to do this kid thing once, & while I make plenty of questionable decisions & struggle to pay enough attention, getting outdoors with Kade is my way of being the best parent to the best kid, if only for a weekend & the price of a campsite & a tank of gas.

wemadeit

I keep wondering what he’ll remember, what the highlights of his childhood will be when he’s my age & older, & I know it won’t be the busy afternoons holed up inside with Legos or the iPad while we clean house. My great hope is that it’ll be those trips to the endless waterfalls, writing his name on the beach, seeing all the creepy crawlies & fliers the woods can hold, or conquering a freaking mountain with his own legs.

saddlewin

Move the feet

I wanted to write up the rambling, curse filled guide to hiking Mt. Pisgah in Eugene (gods, even the name is awesome!) but now I’m home with the kiddo in the bath, the boyfriend packing for his Las Vegas trip, work tomorrow & a brain that is equally parts sugar happy (iHop is a delicious evil place) & hike tired (4.5 mile hike straight up & straight down). To sum up, Pisgah is one of the most rewarding hikes in the Willamette Valley: close, cheap parking, both ‘easy’ footing & technical trails, relatively quiet on an intermittently rainy winter’s day, with hands down some of the best views of the southern Valley from the summit that are worth cursing your entire way up (if you’re out of shape like I am!) Enjoy some pretty pictures & head out that way if you’re ever in the neighborhood!

 

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View to the southeast, looking towards the Cascades

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Halfway up crazy stupid I wore the rain jacket for 20 feet before I overheated & yanked it off selfie!

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Summit selfie, cause damn, it’s awesome up there & my own two feet hauled me up!

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Obelisk on the summit, doesn’t count if you didn’t touch it!

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This tree was convinced it’s already spring, quite nice to stumble upon 🙂

 

 

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!

  

Always there

Pre-coffee morning thoughts…
I have a pretty drive, which seems weird as my commute is through the heart of the Portland Metro area. Coming down & around the Terwilliger Curves, sometimes Mt. Hood is just there, your huge, friendly neighborhood Mr. Perfect GQ level mountain. He’s perfectly backlit by the softest pinks & oranges of a gorgeous sunrise, the color that blesses a good day ahead & gently lifts the spirit to be living in such a beautiful place.
This same mountain on a different day, say a cold, foggy, drippy morning, he reminds you of all the sad, foolish or just unlucky people his glaciers & forests have eaten, that he’s a volcano of immense potential. Hood has an eons long bet with his brother to the north, Mt. Rainier, set in terms of body count. He reminds you to button up & stay snug by the fire, no need to try to bag his peak today.
He’s always there, either peeking out between the glass high rises of downtown or popping up in front of you on a clear day, close enough to touch those white clad sides. He’s always watching his passes and rivers, the planes swopping past, reminding me I’m home here, with countless adventures in his forests yet to come.