The RocketDog

The RocketDog

Monday, February 17, 2014

Running and Reality; Autumn's long, cold goodbye.

  Autumn?  Yes, it's been gone for quite sometime now.  In fact, chinook winds have been blowing for a week here.  Yet the cold grey shadows that dominated the fall of 2013 still remain. Tragedy struck the community just when the leaves were beginning their brilliant swan song, the air was turning as crisp as the apples ripe for the picking, and the sky was a blue you couldn't stop staring at.  Although not close friends with my daughter of the same age, two of her classmates were killed in a car accident.  It was akin to sitting in a movie theater and having the seats next to you blow up.  Suddenly, my world was viewed through the filter of What if I was waking up without my child?  What if I were looking at this sky through the eyes of someone who would forever remember this blue as an empty ocean, devoid forever here on earth of the most precious love I've ever known?  To never stroke their soft cheek, smell their hair during a tight hug, hear their voice again.  At the same time, another young man in the same daughter's class was moving to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant for cancer.  Teenagers are not supposed to die.  They are supposed to be growing out of the pants you just bought them,  sassing their parents, falling in and out of puppy love, learning to drive, eating crap like Taco Bell;  not being remembered at a funeral or planning their own.  I quit running.  For the first time in 25 years, I didn't have the heart.  It seemed everything was broken.  I walked with the dog, but my heart was so heavy it was exhausting.  There is nothing you can do really, but you want so much to do something.  Anything. Every thought was with the families.  There was a giant black hole blown into the Universe, and nothing in the world could fix it. It was-- is--  so massive it takes over.  Running felt like almost a slap in the face of that enormous grief.  For weeks it remained this way.

     I started running consistently when I was 18.  My older brother, whom I always have had a special relationship with, would invite me to go with him.  There was no thinking about miles, no worrying about injury, no discussion of workouts, of clothes, just a phone call and a 'get over here in 10 minutes.  We're going running'.  And we did.  And when my side hurt and I wanted to vomit, he'd say "We're almost there-- dig down, we're sprinting the final!" and he'd take off, making me run as hard as I possibly could to catch him, while imagining the epic scene it would make when my heart exploded out of my body and I fell in front of all the cars, because my chest, my whole body,  hurt so bad.  And then, we'd reach his apartment, and keel over, gasping, sweating, and he'd grin at me and say "Now that was fucking awesome, wasn't it?"  I must've agreed, because I kept answering that phone call.  Anything my big brother did was cool. Running took hold.  I ran in a spring rainstorm my senior year of high school through the deserted streets of Nice, and the feeling was so glorious I may have skipped and sang too (this may have been a product of the wine at lunch).  I ran in college, when breaking up with my first serious boyfriend left me adrift and alone but not willing to talk to anyone.  I ran in the beautiful Palouse, with the strong winds pushing hard as if denying me my run, and me pushing back.  I ran when I moved alone to NYC and knew no one, and felt like I'd never make friends.  I'd run in Westchester county and sometimes, I'd run so long that I couldn't run another step and I'd collapse on a lawn until the curtains moving and the people staring prompted me to move off and stagger my way home.  I ran in Missoula Montana, on the college campus early before the sun rose over the mountain that shadowed the campus, shivering and freezing and slipping on the ice.  I'd run up the trail to the M with my first dog and sit and watch the sun make it's way over the buildings like someone opening the curtains. I ran with my brother the morning I got married, before the sun came up-- the last one I did with him.   I ran during my pregnancies.  In fact, some of my best running was during my second pregnancy.  That 4th of July, 38 weeks pregnant, I wanted to run a 50 yard dash at a small town festival, which I was formally rejected from, I guess on the grounds they thought the baby would fall out.  Apparently, they didn't know how these things worked.  I ran and I ran and I ran.  Never knowing anything about how to do it 'right', just running.  I ran in 5 degrees in *gasp* cotton.  ALL COTTON.  I ran as fast as I could, every run. Gradually I learned 'how' to run.  I ran in rain, sun, wind, hail, snow.  I had freezing cold runs, hot runs, amazing runs, average runs, perfect runs, angry runs and horrible runs.  I never let weather dictate a run. I ran with the flu, with colds, with bronchitis (not one of my smarter moments),  with fevers.  I bought running clothes.  Met running friends.  I ran on vacations, all over the country.  Running was always there, steady, faithful.

     Then one fall, in 2002, running seemed exhausting.  I could barely drag myself 3 miles.  I kept getting fever after fever.  After a million tests, including 3 bone marrow tests, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and associated Spondyloarthropathy, which is connective tissue disease.  I briefly stopped running.  I was put on meds, first mild, then medium, then major.  I felt better.  I ran again, but I had An Excuse Now.  My running was not my friend, it was Something I Had to Feel Good to Do.  I 'couldn't' run.  I had ARTHRITIS. Then.... I had The Arm Episode.  Let's just say, The Arm Episode taught me all I needed to know about running and it's role in my life.  I got out of the hospital, 'suffered' with a picc line for over 3 months, and had to start with walking.  But walking led to running within a month.  And my old friend embraced me as if I'd never left.  We were back, running and I.  I marathoned trained. I got injured.  I kept running.  Had issues in my life that left me in deep pain and through it all, running remained my sanctuary.  When the disease would get so bad that I felt I could barely move, (usually if I didn't run for a few days) I'd just run slower until I felt greased up.  Until last fall.

      People often ask me how I can run, with arthritis.  I always hear "Oh my knees won't take it".  "I used to run, until my knees gave out".  "I'd run if I felt good enough!"  Everyone has their own demons, their own struggles, but if I waited for a day I felt 'good enough' to run, I'd never do anything.  Often, I leave the house feeling like such a sack of shit I want to do nothing but crawl back in bed and stay there.  As my disease progresses, 11 years this last fall, I find I cannot run immediately upon waking, I must first 'unstiff'.  (Yes, males, I too wake up stiff.  Heh. This also happens when I sit for a long time, like at a restaurant, which is why I always stand up and linger at the table for a minute before attempting to walk.  Otherwise everyone in the establishment would think I was drunk and call the manager).  But on the run, The Magic Happens.  Or so I call it.  I never feel as good as when I'm running.  I feel like I Can.Do.Anything.  I feel free, unencumbered, un-arthiritic.  In fact, often that's the only time I feel good all day.  With the addition of weight-lifting in 2008, I rarely get injured anymore.  Only my feet remain attacked by the disease in terms of running.  Frankly, there's not much you can do with feet.  It's not like you can lift weights with your toes.  There's a few little things, but when you have an inflammatory condition, and your feet are taking a pounding, all you can do is hope to keep The Beast Asleep.  If you wake it up, it's like a baby.  Good luck getting it to sleep again.  Because of this, I have to make increases very slowly.  A lesson in patience for an Irish girl.  I guard my gains ferociously since they are so hard-won.  Running is how I keep The Beast at bay.  But last fall, all of that crumpled and blew away like a brittle, dry leaf in the wind.  Running was shut out.  Gone.  I didn't know if I'd ever run again.  4 weeks went by.  I made a couple half-hearted attempts that felt disloyal to the shroud of grief laying over the valley, only to return home after a couple of miles.

     Finally, although it had been 7 weeks, I woke up and it was all I could think about.  I felt lost, stiff, terrible;  both mentally and physically.  I laced up my worn out shoes, which seemed to match my worn out attitude, and I ran.  And ran. And ran.  I ran 6 miles. which for an arthritic person to go do after rusting for almost two months, is akin to inviting disaster. But by the end of that run, I knew I would be fine.  I knew that running would once again, work it's magic.  The hurt is still there, but running helps bear the burden a little.  It reminds me of runs I've had over the years, where I'd suddenly feel terrible or get an unbearable pain but I'd be 3-4 miles away from home.  Well, the fastest way to get home is just keep running.  Usually, after another mile or so, suddenly I'd be fine.  It is a concrete example of the saying, one of my favorites, "The only way out of something is through it".  Running has kept it's foot on my disease, holding it down,  allowing me to hike, backpack, work a physical job, remain strong, limber (of sorts) and positive.  In fact, in order of importance in my disease I would say it's above medicine. I used to think it was lower than it really is.  But when I look at the big picture, I see it's actually more important than anything.  I don't run for races.  I don't run for time.  I run for me.  There's an expression I hate-- "Everything happens for a reason".  I loathe this expression.  Everyone loves to rip it out when it's something in their favor. But what about these tragedies?  What about abused people, children, animals?  What's the reason for that?  When things like this happen, there is no answer.  There only is IT.  The grief.  There is no way out but through.  Running makes that burden feel a little lighter.  It doesn't make it go away-- but it reminds me that some things will always be.  There will always be disease, pain, tragedy.  This is the reality.  But there will always be running, too-- or at least, the lessons learned.

     I talk as if I'll always run.  Easy to say when you're the relatively young age of 43.  I hope to run, I hope to count myself as lucky as Joy Johnson, who still ran 3 marathons a year at age 86, and died this year in her sleep, after falling and hitting her head in the NYC Marathon.  She got up and finished, and died later in her hotel room, peacefully.  But the reality is, I don't know.  I don't know what life has in store for me.  As much as I love running, and feel like I will run as long as I live, the important thing that running has done for me is taught me to presevere.  That the only way out is through.  You just go on.  Numb, in pain at times, void, you just keep on.  The lessons of running will remain learned, even if I never run again.  But for now, I will keep running.  The dark, cold shadow of Autumn, which greedily and happily passed it's torch to the icy grip of Winter will finally give way to the warm winds of Spring; at times, gentle, at times, furious and wild, but eventually winning.  And I'll be running.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cliffs, Climbs and Consciousness

I'll get to this picture in a minute.  But first, a quick background:  Scott and I, once again spur of the moment, decide to hit the trail.  He remembered like on a Monday that he had a vacation day that Friday. :eyeroll:  So we made a few fast arrangements, and at 7am Wednesday morning, we hit the road to Cliff Lake.

This was going to be an easy hike; the worst part is the 14 mile drive off of Highway 200 to the trailhead.  Now, I've grown up on Montana roads.  I know what they consider the definition of a "road" to be.  Believe  me when I tell you it ain't much.  But this...the first 6 aren't bad.  Then the next 3 steadily deteriorate and for the last couple, you swear you've somehow 'lost' the road and driven into a riverbed, except for that there is no river.  You laugh. I don't.  I'm totally serious.   Even for me, it was nerve-wracking.  And, it took the Suburban almost an hour and 20 minutes to crawl the 14 miles, the last 3 taking over 45.  We get there (after also passing two strange vehicles, with even stranger occupants to the tune of dueling banjos playing in my head...yeah, you know the song I'm talkin' about) only to discover a rig there.  WTF.  It's in September, middle of the week.  MY GOD CAN'T I JUST BE ALONE.  Sigh.

The trail to Cliff Lake is only about a mile and a half.  You start the hike at 6700' + elevation.  Only the first part is even close to being uphill, then you suddenly are in alpine meadow gorgeousness.

I think Scott is playing some air sax here:



The first view of Chicago Peak.  All the years I've been tromping around over there, and I've never seen it.  We stop to take in the view of a little tarn called Copper Lake, and I spot a brown 'thing' at the lake.  I say it's moving, Scott says No it's not, and then suddenly, it's hauling ass in our direction.  We're 400+ feet up a drainage, but it's obvious by how brown it's butt was and how silvery it's front is, that it's a bear.  And obvious by how fast those damn things move.  We make haste back to the trail. A couple of minutes later, we encounter two older men and an older woman--in their early 70's.  They are the owners of the rig, they ask if we're camping, tell us they were just day hiking and we tell them to watch for the bear.   Whew.  No one so far camped there they say. Major change in my mood (much to Scott's relief)  Anyhow, before we knew it, we were at the lake.  First view: 

Down a little cliff, and OMG.  Gorgeousness abounds.   Perfectly clear, perfectly gorgeous, several campsites to pick from.  We settle on a gorgeous meadow at the east end, flat with soft grass.

  Lots of room and a little fire ring.  We put our packs down and go exploring.  Cliff Lake sits on a very small shelf on the side of a mountain named St. Paul Peak, and the shelf is probably barely more than a quarter mile wide.  To the south of us, about 100 yrds, I discover Paradise:

 Rocket waits at the fire ring, which is where I decide to do the cooking.

As always, I am amazed and stand in awe at Alpine Fir and how it grows out of solid rock.  We 'think' it needs deep, good soils, but Mother Nature scoffs:

I yell to Scott "I've found where we're cooking and making a fire!!!"

Please indulge my camera craziness:

We sit and I make coffee and we enjoy the amazing view.  We go back to the lake, set up the tent and proceed to lie down on the soft grass and snooze in the sun.  This is what's nice about such a short hike.  Lots of time.

After a delicious dinner which I almost screwed up-- I was so proud of myself for finding a good organic gluten-free mac and cheese and bringing hot spicy cheese sausages, that I forgot to bring milk and butter, duh!, but it was surprisingly good-- we decide to go back to see the sunset at Copper Lake. 

Chicago Peak first:

They call this a "cityscape" because the ridge looks like buildings.

Chicago peak, playing with settings on my phone.

Again, I wonder aloud what stops us from swan diving right off the edge as we sit on a cliff.  Cliffs abound here and it's not a short drop anywhere.  Scott groans.  I can't help it.  This kind of environment screams real life.  You mess around without taking it seriously and you die.  Nature doesn't care about you, you are nothing in the greater wilderness.  It is such a beautiful night I almost can't bear it.  You're so alive out here, all the stupid stuff of home-- the internet, the chores, the pressures, the bills-- all the things you think are really important are so obviously not. All that matters is basic needs.  The smell of the mountains is the best perfume in the world.  I could sit forever, but Scott reminds me that this IS where we saw a bear earlier, and it's getting dark now.  Strong --but warm enough-- winds are developing and we warn each other about getting too close to the edges and the crumbly rock combined with the wind seems to taunt you to dare it.  Scott of course repeatedly says "AIMEE GET BACK HERE".  I tell him to mind the dog, as he's still learning.  Heh.

This is one of my favorite times of night:  when the trees are black against the sky:

Back at camp, we lie on our backs on the grass and watch the millions of stars come out and the Milky Way hang above us, close enough to grab it seems.  I see a shooting star, and Scott and I ponder the vastness of eternity.  I wake up later and we hit the sack.

We're up bright and early, because we are planning on climbing the ridge to the top of St. Paul Peak, 7714+ feet.  A quick breakfast and sunrise:

I'm not sure how it is, so we empty Rocket's pack, save for some water and some snacks, and I take the long line in case it's narrow and I need to utilize it.  He's never rock-climbed a mountain like this, and I figure the pack will act as a harness of sorts.  He's ready to go and we're off.

There's a trail of sorts on and off, but we keep losing it. We come to a rock face, and I go first, then call the dog to me.  He looks at me like "WTF", but after only a moment's hesitation, he tackles it.

This is the "hop", described below:

There are several false summits, meaning each time we'd think we were at the top, we'd gain the ridge to see another stretching above.  Rocket handled it like a freaking pro.  I was so proud of him. Whitebark pine up here, amazing. 

I stop to take a photo of Scott:

And we're there. Amazing view in all directions. 

 This is my favorite, a panorama I took with my 4s.  It was so windy it was hard to keep still, but I think it turned out ok.

The lake above is St. Paul lake, which we camped at last fall.  If you head to the right, and go over the pass, you hit Rock Lake, which we also camped at last fall.  We fail and don't take a picture of Rocket and I on the summit.  OMG.  Back down we go, and when we get to the rock face, which is about 20 feet high, I go down first and Rocket looks at me like I'm crazy.  It's almost sheer, and only a couple little foot holds.  I insist, and he literally takes a leap of faith.  This is when I know he is awesome.  Here is a view of the lake and our tent from a bit down the trail: 

And here is a little jump that you don't want to "oops", as it's straight down all the way.  Hard to get a picture of:

The way down is steep, and I'm reminded of how real mountain climbers always say the ascent is the easy part.  It's getting back down where you die. 

Scott tries to make up for not getting a pic of Rocket and I (I didn't think of it either, but I let him feel bad for a split second) on a ridge:

 Back at camp, we eat lunch quick and head off to Copper Lake to see the bear tracks.  It's another adventure, as the rocks are MUCH bigger than they look and it's definitely an interesting descent.  Again, Rocket impresses me with his solid nerve and his willingness to do anything.  I did not take many pictures because I was too busy hopping from rock to rock and trying not to fall into a crevasse.  The brush hides the depth of the ground for sure. 

Do you see, in the middle picture, what Rocket sees?  Anyway, we get to the mud and decide it must've been a cub due to the size.  By the look of the print, we decide it's a black bear, not a griz.  Whew. 

Back up we go.

Now it gets interesting. We are hot and sweaty, so we jump into the lake to clean up.  It's a gorgeous day, about 84 degrees, and  no one's around anyway, right?  So we stretch out in the sun to nap and dry off.  About 15 minutes in, we see a couple of goats on top of the ridge.  We watch as one makes his way down, very s-l-o-w-l-y.  He makes incredible time when he's moving, but he keeps stopping and watching us for what seems an eternity.  Because of this, we lay very still and don't move.  It takes him about 45 minutes to make it down.  We see him just as Rocket smells him.  He alerts with one good "WOOF" and a slight growl, and I tell him to shush.  The goat does not seem disturbed.  First Scott gets up, then I, to go take pictures and see this magnificent animal.  He's HUGE, and incredibly muscular.  He reminds me of a unicorn.  I've seen goats before, much too close for my comfort actually, like a foot away, in Glacier; but this--the male goat was spectacular.  And yes, in case you'd forgotten, we're both naked as a blue jay, running around taking pictures.  Whooe Whee!  Gotta love mountain living. 

Gratuitous sunset picture of The RocketDog:

We enjoy a calm and warm night this time.  We're able to have a fire.  Hence the above picture, I first started with.  (OK. So it's been longer than a minute.  I NEVER PROMISED I'D BE SHORT-WINDED.)  Scott took that with his phone.  I've played with some filters and I can't decide which one I like the best:

The first one is the original, untouched. 

Rocket picked the very edge to lay on, causing me a bit of grief since he likes to roll over in his sleep. 

Here is also how he slept while I was cooking dinner, damn dog. 

The next morning brings 4 more goats, and an impressive display of obedience by Rocket.  He obeyed my stays, didn't bark or whine or try to cause a ruckus.  He definitely wanted to investigate the goats, but he listened to my "Stays" and my "leave it's", even though they were issued frequently while we were packing up.  While we were filtering, and Rocket was on the rocks with us, one of them came into our camp. 

We were very close to this goat, and I was really proud of Rocket's stay.  I have video of other encounters on my FB-- he earned the right to some treats!

We leave, and again, I'm taken by the beauty of the alpine meadow, and the empty little tarns that must be breathtaking in the early summer. 

It barely takes us 45 mintues to get to the car, where we find this on the windshield:

We look at each other and start asking if we'd seen anyone.  I suddenly realize: UH OH.  Now, remember when I said here is where it gets interesting?  *cough*  I think they had the timing off, since Rocket didn't bark until the goat was all the way into the camp, and I know they weren't down at the lake, but obviously they were up on the ridge.  While we were laying there naked.  *coughcough*.  All I can say, is, I hope they didn't have binoculars.  :blush:  We discuss the leaving of the note to distract ourselves from the road on the way down.  I mean, really.  The whole point of leaving the note is to obviously let us know we were seen.  With 4 goats coming down, there's no way any normal person could miss them, so asking us if we'd "seen him" was really just code for "NA-NA-NA-BOO-BOO WE SAW YOUR NAKED PARTS".  I still get a bit squirmy, since I have no idea who they were.  Reminder to be conscious of the fact that  just because you THINK no one can see you, doesn't mean that no one can.  Sadly I realize we need to go farther and farther back in to really be alone.  The world is invading even my favorite empty spots. Oh, and to J, L &F--  I WORK OUTSIDE.  FARMER TAN IS INEVITABLE.

We stop in Sandpoint at "our" restaurant, Eickhardt's pub, where they graciously allow Rocket to accompany us for a fabulous burger.  The food is excellent, the beer amazing and I urge any and all of you to stop there if you go through.  

  Despite our unwitting performance, we feel that Cliff Lake, while "easy", is an absolutely fantastically gorgeous spot, and are excited to take the kids there hopefully soon.  The colors will be phenomenal, I'm sure.  

Almost as bright as my face when I think about J, L & F. 

Flickr Photostream: here.