In the past year I’ve taken up downhill skiing and mountain biking. I blame the downhill skiing on this blog being abandoned for the past few months. All those long winter days just perfect for writing and updating photos were spent with dawn wake up calls, layering up, and rolling to the hill hoping to be first in line for the fresh tracks. Occasionally we were.
Considering my genuine lack of athletic ability I became comfortable on downhill skis almost overnight. Somehow all those years of West Virginia cross-country paid off. Y’all know everything in West (by God) Virginia is just a little better than anywhere else.
And then there is the mountain biking. I biked enough last summer to realize that Central Oregon is THE PLACE for an awkward chick to really embrace single track. By this summer I convinced myself that I was good enough to ignore trail descriptions that toss around words like technical, advanced, and lava fields.
I went down hard a few times on the skis. My grape colored skis looked lovely against the bright blue sky as they cartwheeled over my head. Or I would take a tumble and loose the skis in the snow. Better they come off than a broken leg. There was whimpering when Steve encouraged (tricked) me into trying black diamonds. In fact there was an all out yelling match about half way down the mountain. We don’t have those often. He doesn’t like it when I accuse him of being a jock. The season couldn’t have ended better. On my last day, I went up by myself and spent the day skiing off the summit and cruising down a few of my former nemesis runs.
It was hard to put away the skis and get back on the bike. We did it though. And eager to get back to over-nighting in the van we made plans for a short road trip to tackle the McKenzie River Trail. This trail proved to be over my head in any number of ways but the most memorable was the crashes. I had never wrecked my mountain bike before. By days end I had three ‘unintentional dismounts’. The first was as I was biking uphill. Uphill? I tipped over and slide a bit downhill into a decaying log. It rattled me but really wasn’t too bad. This log was decayed enough to be a little cushy. The next incident, I just tipped over into some weeds. Pride injured but nothing else. Finally the day is ending, with riding roads to avoid some of the harder sections, we are getting to enjoy the last few easier miles. Somehow riding down a gentle hill, not going particularly fast, I hit a rock. The only rock around. I feel myself springing off the front of the bike. Now years have passed since I’ve gone off a diving board but that is how it felt. I don’t understand how I turned loose of the handlebars. Somehow though I did. I launched over the front of my bike, sailed through the air, to land several feet off the trail laying on another decaying although much firmer log. I came up cussing, wiped off the face full of dirt, and figured out that nothing was broken. Here I credit my insane dairy habit (strong bones) and enormous quads that took the brunt of the landing.
Steve and I have loads of adventures but more important that any ski run or biking trail is staying safe. I’m the slowest skier on the hill and the most cautious mountain biker in Oregon. The past few months made for some good stories and adventures but the best one is that none of our exploits landed us on the DL. My bike crashes did make for some awesome bruises though.
Looking out my kitchen window, distracted by the picture perfect snow covered pine trees beckoning just outside, it dawns on me that for the next five months or so I will eagerly embody every winter cliché imaginable. Hot chocolate, wonderfully spiked with espresso vodka and bourbon, is at my side. Heavy wool socks are pulled up high, at least two other garments are fleece. Abandoned in the middle of the floor, my boots are slowly loosing their coating of snow. Surrounded by this winter bliss it seems a mighty fine time to throw together a few notes and photos from warmer days.
September was with us just a couple a months ago, now it seems so distant. The month kicked off with a work outing. Co-workers and partners cruised from brewery to brewery on the Cycle Pub. It looks like a trolley but is powered like a bike. Pedal! Pedal! Pedal! Someone needs to tell the Olympics about this.
Next up it was time to get moving again but this time not far at all. We relocated from our apartment in Bend to a little A-frame house in Sunriver, a resort community south of town. Steve now has a five-minute bike commute to work. Mine is a bit longer but overall seems like a good trade. More space for us both and Steve gets tasked with dinner more often than not.
The highlight of September rolled in later in the month in the form of Momma Peg flying in from Kentucky. My momma if she chooses can be a touch tenacious. Still, I worried about her flying from Lexington, KY to Redmond, OR with connections in Atlanta and Salt Lake. She hadn’t flown in many years and we all know that flying these days can test the mettle of even the most seasoned traveler. She pulled it off without a hitch. Now I can remind her of this any time she gets turned around in the mall. If you can make it through ATL you can remember which door you came in at Macy’s.
Momma Peg’s adventures in central Oregon included bagging a butte, wading in a glacial fed lake, and hiking through lava fields. We also headed over to the coast for a few days. We took in many beautiful views, visited historic lighthouses and actually saw whales on our whale-watching trip.
Now on the surface I might seem like the most eccentric member of my family. There was that whole quit my job to travel around in a van thing. But no my mom wins the eccentricity award hands down. Nothing illustrates this more than the story of what turned out to be my mom’s most beloved souvenir of her trip to Oregon. One day the weather was on the stormy side, so we drove to different overlooks to just watch the ocean swirl and heave. At one of these spots there were a couple old buoys bouncing in and out with the waves. Tracing their path back and forth was a little hypnotic. With each inbound wave it looked as though they were going to wash in for good only to be tossed out to sea again seconds later. Mom did comment on how neat it would be to have a buoy to take home. Can’t say I wasn’t warned. Later that night she heads off for a walk on the beach well ahead of Steve and me. A bit later we track her down. What has fished out of the brush line between the road and the beach? Yes, she found herself a stinky, barnacle encrusted buoy for her very own. Somehow they flew home together. I feel sorry for the TSA agent that inspected that bag.
It is time to refill the hot chocolate but first a huge THANKS to my mom for making the trek out to Oregon. She is the first family or friend to visit us since we left Kentucky. Hint, hint to the rest of you!
I drank the Kool-Aid or perhaps in this case chugged it. “I drank the Kool-Aid” is our go to expression anytime someone gets really excited about a new trend. My new trend is “barefoot running”. Okay it is not really running barefoot. Barefoot running is the catch all term used to describe the current running world craze of minimalist footwear. Instead of worrying about how much support running shoes have or if they help you pronate properly, many runners are opting for shoes that look more like ballet slippers than serious running foot wear. I’m not one to take to a trend. I like to let things percolate for a bit (see post about dead coffee maker).
Long story short I like to run yet if I take time away from running to work harvest, manage a B&B or live this crazy gypsy life, I develop horrendous shin splints when I return to running. This past winter while lodged way back in the holler I finally read Born to Run. This anthropology meets physiology meets slight mid-life crisis narrative spoke to me. To runners this is a manifesto. Worlds collide. The concept of ‘how to run’ meets ‘back to nature’ and minimalist footwear is their love child.
Upon our arrival in Portland I scored a cheap pair of Vibraim Five Fingers at an REI returned gear sale. Course I didn’t use them much right off as we were attempting to call Portland, the rainy version of hell, home. But that’s another story. Anyway between Portland and our new home in Bend, I strategically got my toes into their appointed slots and went off on a couple pleasant outings. Soon though there was a coupon to be spent at our local REI in Bend. I went for the Merrell version of barefoot trail runners. These are minimalist but different from the five fingers in that your toes get to cohabit. Happily ever after we have run, we have hiked, we have served up cocktails and unloaded cases of vodka.
I have not known shin pain since moving to Oregon. I’m blown away at how my trail running agility has increased with the Merrells. I’ve always considered myself clumsy and then wisely cautious. But with these lighter, super sensitive shoes I experience the trail with almost a sixth sense of super ajillity. It is surreal. Instead of going airborne and falling flat on my face I now merely have horrific stumbles with summersault potential. Haven’t done a shoulder roll yet as I typically limit the situation to a guttural yell and several yards of stumbling.
P.S. I wrote this post several weeks ago but chose to wait till after I completed the Haulin Aspen Half Marathon to publicly commit to my trendy new scoots. They did great. This was a trail run covering all sorts of terrain. No stumbles. I flew down hills whizzing past more cautious runners. Have some Kool-Aid!
For years now in all those where to live conversations, Steve’s constant refrain is, “I want to be able to do stuff right out my door.”
Way back when before New Zealand, before winery work, when we were just hatching out of Kentucky our plan was to find and settle in a place that had climbing, skiing, trail running and biking close by, really close by if possible.
Now we have all that and more within a short drive or no drive at all.
We are enjoying the bounty, climbing one day, biking another, skiing on the first day of summer. With us though, that is not where the story ends. We are completely overwhelmed trying to find time for it all.
Did I mention we have three-day weekends? We were lucky to land jobs that have us working through the weekend leaving us to play mid-week. We love the idea that we have fewer folks to share the trails and cliffs with but this is Central Oregon everyone is out all the time.
Lately we’ve managed to fit in climbing, skiing, running and some form of biking into those three days. We want to sign up for a couple trail races this fall but that would require us to run more than once or twice a week which might mean we would have to not do something else one of those days. Ahhhhhhh TWEAKED!
I’m counting on Mother Nature to bail me out of this one. The temps are rising and the snow is melting. This should take climbing and skiing out of the weekly rotation. Of course that opens up the potential for peak bagging. And what about a SUP (stand-up paddle board)? Those look fun.
“You going down to the canyon? asked the guy walking into the parking lot. He had come from the Boquillas Canyon Trail, the same one we were about to check out.
“Yeah” I responded with a nod.
“Be sure to look for Victor,” said the man, “he’ll sing you a song.”
Not the typical pre-hike conversation I was used to having with someone coming off a trail. “The trail is nice”, “The view is worth it”, “The climb out is tough” were more common pre-hike exchanges you have with fellow hiking strangers. But Victor? Singing? What were we getting into?
Christmas carols blared outside of lawn & garden as we drifted to sleep in a parking lot on the edge of Fort Stockton. It seems that Big Bend National Park is way down in West Texas. Way down. A bit out of our way and right on the way to Kentucky all at the same time. It was a park Jill had visited before and one I had not. One we opted not to visit on our road trip in ’09 because I wanted to get to a destination where we could climb. A park that made perfect sense to visit this time out. It was December and the daytime temps were warm, it also put off getting home. We’d awake the next morning and drive on down for a few nights of National Park fun on the border.
Through miles and miles of rolling hills and Texas scrub we came to the park entrance, only 46 more miles to Rio Grande Village. The rolling hills gave way to the Chisos Mountains, the scrub continued. We quickly settled on a campsite, this being off season we had our pick of the litter, and headed out for a little hike to the mouth of Boquillas Canyon. Easy. One point four miles round trip. Let the hustle begin.
“We’ll check that out!” I hesitantly responded to the guy in the trailhead parking lot.
We had read about the trinkets that the people of Boquillas made to sell to the tourists. It was illegal to buy directly from them, instead you could legally purchase them in the park’s visitor’s centers. For a marked up price of course. You see Boquillas was a small village on the south side of the Rio Grande River. The Mexican side of the river that separates the first world from the third world along Texas’ winding border with Mexico. Back in the day you could pay a fare and take a boat to Boquillas to buy a bite to eat, cervezas and trinkets. If the river was cooperating you could also wade. That is what Jill did back in 1994, lucky duck.
Then came the attacks of September 11th, the lock down of our Nation’s borders, the and the end of tourism as Boquillas knew it. With no official border crossing in the park, the nearest one 50 plus miles away, a visit to Big Bend National Park changed. Gone was the carefree day trips to Mexican border towns like Santa Elena or Boquillas and here to stay was the presence of the US Border Patrol.
We followed the trail out to the parking lot and quickly climbed to the top of a low hill with dramatic views of the twisting Rio Grande and sweeping canyon walls. And there it was by the trail, the hustle. A small pile of trinkets and walking sticks complete with a price list and payment can. Really? Right here? Huh? It wasn’t a sight I thought I’d see. All the park propaganda warned of purchasing crafts off of Mexican residents, not from a trail side flea market stall. OK it wasn’t that bad, more interesting than anything. Instead of direct sales it was more on the honor system. Slide over and leave your wares at the busy tourist spots in this popular border park and come back later to collect the profits. It only got more interesting.
Remember that guy we met in the parking lot? Something about Victor and a song? As soon as we reached the edge of the river and turned downstream toward the entrance to the canyon it started. The sound of the rippling river was interrupted by the distinct sounds of song. Mariachi? Tejano? Whatever it was it didn’t matter, somewhere out there in the Texas or Mexican river grass was a guy singing to us. We stumbled onto Victor’s collection cup soon there after.
Amigos! Amigos! I’ll sing you a song. Never mind he already had, Victor was channeling a carnival barker to drum up a donation for more singing. Sitting on the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande with his amigo, he would wait for his audience. Binoculars insured he earned his wages and made sure they didn’t walk off. Its how he made his living, or so he said. We continued on down river to the end of the trail. Sand stacked up to make a large dune against US side of the canyon, sheer limestone walls rose up out of the river on the Mexican side. It was beautiful. But unlike other National Parks where the hustle was contained to the man made villages of commerce catering to the tourists, this place had it out on the trails too. We started back up the hill to the parking lot and were met by border patrol agent.
“Did Victor sing you a song?” asked the agent.
“Yeah” we chuckled, “it was something.”
“He used to ferry people back and forth to Boquills by boat.” the agent informed us, “Singing along the way.”
We chatted with the agent a bit longer and were on our way back over the low hill to our van. The setting was ideallic outdoors, but my mind was transfixed on Victor, Boquillas and life on the border.
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Leaving California in December we struggled to decide on our route home. We dreamed of hitting countless back country and cross country ski destinations across Utah and Colorado. We did pull off a snowy Thanksgiving visit to Yosemite before the reality of coping with the effects of winter on both ourselves and Norman Clyde sent us south.
We ticked off some new places and visited old favorites. It rained in Death Valley, slightly and in the middle of the night but still rain in the desert of deserts. Of course there was! We soaked up the mesmerizing peace that is Joshua Tree. We were wowed by Petrified Forest National Park, spent a quick day peering into the Grand Canyon thinking it just might be worth returning to for deeper explorations and marveled at the be-jeweled interior of Carlsbad Caverns.
We topped out on the Texas high point, Guadalupe Peak (8749 ft). Who new Texas has mountains that are nearly 9,000 feet tall? Putting off the bulk of the driving for as longs as possible, we spent a few days soaking in the sunshine and the hot springs of Big Bend National Park in far southwest Texas. I visited Big Bend years ago when tourists often crossed the Rio Grande and spent the afternoon in the tiny Mexican village of Boquillas. Today this is a big no-no as all unofficial border crossing were closed in the wake of 9/11. Blah.
Leaving the southwest behind we made a mad dash across Texas and tackled what for us is the most adventurous activity of all. We took the van into a city. A city with narrow, one way streets and lots of parking garages that can’t house a giant van. Shockingly, and I mean shockingly, it all came together and we had a wonderful 24 hours in New Orleans. We found a charming hotel. Norman Clyde had valet parking. Best of all great restaurant beta from the brother-in-law. And we have a new “I have to go back there” destination.