Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why do I run?

I went for a run last night and my thoughts wandered, as they usually do. But I felt clear and happy with where they led me, so I thought I would record it.

Why do I run?
To remind myself that I am in remission and because I can.

Runners are asked that question all the time -- by friends, family, internet forums, magazines… and for me, mostly myself! Why the heck DO I run? I’ve thought about what my answer to that question is, and my first thoughts are usually, “to stay in shape, keep from being overweight again, and being physically fit for backpacking – cross training for it, in a sense.”

Well, I struggled through what turned out to be an allergy/cold combination last week, but before I knew what it was, I found myself feeling nervous. I was lightheaded and fatigued. I actually “felt” like my blood counts may have been low. I felt that strange fatigue in my legs and throughout my body that reminded me of when I was sick. I was also feeling congested, so I kept making the excuse that it was all because I simply wasn’t feeling well. In the back of my mind I whispered to myself that if I was feeling the same the next week, I’d make an appointment. I’ve made excuses in the past and let simple symptoms pass me by. Was I doing the same now? Thankfully I started to feel better.

I ran a little more than 5 miles last night, and it was pouring rain the entire time. It was a great autumn run. The leaves were flittering down along the paths and sidewalks I ran along, and at times there were bright golden-yellow trees that would drape over the road and made it feel like I was running through a tunnel of heavenly golden light – from every direction -- as the leaves on the trees were still yellow, the sidewalk would be completely covered and the leaves falling around me were all the same bright color. I actually looked at my skin to see if it was reflecting off of me.

The raindrops would land on my face, my arms, my lips and even around my eyes to the point where I had to squint a couple of times when it picked up, but the temperature of the water was so refreshing and cooling I couldn’t help but smile. My running clothes were completely soaked through to the point where I could feel little streams of water running down my legs and my back. There were puddles everywhere, and instead of dodging them, I worked to step into them -- jumping back and forth along my path. I even laughed a couple of times as the splash came up all around me. I felt like I was running in a dream. It was a great run, and I felt really strong. I felt really light and my breathing was almost effortless. I felt very much alive.

I thought to myself, “If I were relapsing, there’s no way I could run like this. Aha! That’s why I run! As a reminder!” I went on thinking… I guess the first place I’d notice a problem would be in my regular physical activity. So I guess there’s a lot of reasons I run. The ones I mentioned earlier, to stay healthy as long as I can to hopefully avoid relapse or other health issues, but mostly to remember where I was, where I can go, and where I am now.

So now when I ask myself, “why do I run?” That is my response. It’s a reminder to myself that I am healthy and that I am in remission from Aplastic Anemia… and because I can.

Friday, September 2, 2011

DAY #10: Beartooth Mountains Backpacking Trip

Sunday, August 28, 2011
DAY #10: HOME!

Well, I already explained our amazing breakfast! And from there it was a quick (4-1/2 hour) jaunt to Oshkosh. Randall, Leo, Rachel, Gary and I piled into the Vue again and made our way across the state back to home and went our separate ways. Everyone got home safe and sound. From there, I unpacked my stuff, threw all my stanky laundry in the washer, and laid my sleeping bag and jackets on my porch to air them out. Trip over… I was sad, but felt so refreshed. I realized I hadn’t thought of work the entire time we were out there backpacking. Just once, very briefly towards the end of the hike, when I quickly realized I had no idea what I’d been working on before I left… then I was distracted and the thought never entered my mind again until we were back in Wisconsin. Now THAT’S a true sign of a great vacation… well, one sign. The sore smile muscles (thanks Randall for that term), the tan lines, scrapes, dirty backpacks, empty bear canister, notebook full of notes and tons of pictures were also signs of a good trip. And the fact that I missed my “Beartooth family” the MINUTE we parted ways…

The Beartooth Mountain Backpacking Trip 2011:

The BEST Backpacking Trip EVER!

DAY #9: Beartooth Mountains Backpacking Trip

 "Manhole cover" - size pancakes at the Pelican Cafe in Montana.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We woke up early (and a few of us tired with a slight headache) and head out. The first stop was coffee and gas. The next stop was a short time later at the Pelican Café. A trucker’s café. We ordered breakfast. Little did we know we wouldn’t only needed to order half the breakfasts we did. The pancakes were the “size of manhole covers,” in Randall’s terms, and Leo’s omelets was bigger than his head! But it is incredible what kind of appetites backpackers can have even a day or two off the trail! We wolfed almost all of it down before heading back out to the cars holding our full bellies.

On the ride back to Wisconsin we switched drivers much more regularly, and took turns playing different kinds of games and things to entertain ourselves. Mad Libs, crossword puzzles, Pac Man, naps… it was enjoyable.

We got to Hudson, WI at my uncle Jerry and Aunt Amy’s home at about midnight and we crashed in our sleeping bags on their living room and basement floors. In the morning we woke up to hot, brewed coffee, and an AMAZING breakfast! Eggs, biscuits and gravy, banana muffins, watermelon, orange juice. I think we all felt pretty spoiled. And grandma was there, too. It was neat to see all my hikin’ buddies meet her. She’s 92 years old and just as spunky as all of the Laatsch’s. We had a great morning.

DAY #8: Beartooth Mountains Backpacking Trip

 Tired-out backpacks...

Friday, August 26, 2011

It was our last day in the woods. Margie had the idea the night before to give Gary and I the keys to both vehicles, since we can hike pretty fast, then speed out, shuttle the cars and meet the rest of the crew at the ending trailhead. Gary and I agreed it was a great idea and would allow us to get to Red Lodge sooner, which would mean grilled meat cooked and served to us quicker, too. Not to mention an ice cold beer or two! Or three… or maybe even four. Anyway, you can see what was on our minds the last day!

As we were packing up, we were all giddy and feeling kind of silly. The four of us girls got into a line and were rubbing each others’ shoulders when, of course, some comments started to come out about our positions, and giggles to follow. With us all making a few small hip thrusts, it just got even more funny. After our line-up-shoulder-rub, there was a comment of make-up on trail… which none of us used, by the way. BUT… the idea arose of using dirt for eye shadow. And Margie had a shiner on her left eye from her fall a couple days ago, so to match that, and to look “perty” on our last day, my mom, Rachel and I rubbed our fingers into the dirt and applied a nice, natural brown to our lids. Then took the classy “kissy face” picture.

We hit the trail right at 9:00, as we did every day – naturally. It worked out great. Somehow, every single day, we were all getting our packs on at the same time, ready to roll, around 9AM. We never really planned it or felt rushed.

 I enjoy writing about the stuff I eat on trail, but my mornings are so boring. Oatmeal and coffee again… It just packs so small, weighs so little, and I never get sick of it! It’s totally my staple backpacking food. I mix up my own concoctions, too, so each day might be a little different, but I always enjoy it!

We stopped around 11:00 or so on a log where we could all sit down in a row. We ate our lunch and decided this was where Gary and would take off like crazy-hikers and try to get to the cars to speed up the shuttle-time-situation.

Once back on the trail, we followed a wide, rushing river for quite a ways, then we’d reach a nice built-up bridge to cross… then we’d meet up with horse-back riders, then another wide bridge, then people with smaller packs. We knew we were close, then! But what really got us is when we could hear vehicular traffic, then we spotted some cars through the trees. We were at the trailhead! So many bittersweet feelings… it’s the same every trip. It’s also the same every trip when you feel the excitement of seeing a trash can to dispose of 5 days’ worth of nasty tuna packets, used Wet-Ones, and whatever-else-stinky-nasties you had to carry out of the woods. And… a pit toilet. It’s not quite a flushy yet, but it’s still nice to sit comfortably on a stool without miscellaneous grasses and weeds poking you in the behind every time you squat down to pee… yet still… I wouldn’t give up those experiences for anything in the world. It’s all part of it, and I strangely miss it shortly after being out of the woods… every single time I go.

We acted quickly, as we were both kind of hoping we’d beat the hikers back to the trailhead with both vehicles before they reached the trailhead. We’d been hiking our booties off for the past hour and a half, and were convinced we were making excellent time. We even hoofed it full-speed up a giant climb!

We ran and got the van from the Lady of the Lake Trailhead, which was now packed!! It was the weekend after all, so I suppose folks were heading out for their extended weekend trips. I felt envious for those that lived near here… it was like their version of our “Porkies.” I think I might have to move out here!!

I drove the Envoy and Gary drove the van. We felt we were making such good time, we decided to drive down to Cooke City for a quick pit-stop. We ran into the gas station, grabbed a bunch of different cans of soda, a bag of ice, and threw it all in the cooler with the extra beer we had from before the hike. We refrained from having anything, as we wanted to enjoy it with the rest of the group.

When we got to the trailhead at Clark’s Fork, my mom and dad were sitting underneath a shade tree. We went out to meet them, and they said they’d been only there about 10 minutes. I asked it the others were far behind, and almost immediately I heard my Aunt Margie squeel with excitement! It was too funny… she must’ve seen the cars through the trees like we did!

Everyone gathered by the cooler and grabbed a beer or soda of their choice. It was soooo refreshing! We snapped a bunch of photos of the group, shed a few tears of pride, happiness and sad ones because it was all done… but overall we were all happy – and very excited to have a warm shower!

We piled in the two vehicles and made our way back over Beartooth Pass. We went almost straight back to Red Lodge and to the motel where we had our reservations. Rachel and I tried out the hot tub, breaking all the rules… we didn’t shower first (I know, it’s pretty nasty, but in our defense, the thing already had a ton of nasty-floaties before we got in!), and we took our bottles of Blue Moon with us after reading a sign that read, “No glass.” We were only in there for about 5 minutes, so we figured it was okay.

When I took my shower, I smiled at all the brown suds coming off of me. I love seeing the brown suds… it reminds me of all the fun dirt and earth I’d been playing in, and what a great hike it was.

We all showered up, then piled back into the van to Belfry, where we hoped to eat at a steakhouse and see some local pig races. Unfortunately the wait was an hour and a half, and we all quickly agreed that was way too long. We all wanted some cooked meat pronto. We made our way back to Red Lodge, passing by an abandoned mine, which was really cool. Once back in Red Lodge, we parked and walked down the street until we came across Carbon County Steakhouse. Without thinking, we filed in. We were seated, and quickly realized we were in a “fancy” restaurant. We also noticed from the price of the meals. Oh well – we knew it would be good – and it was!  I really lucked out, too. I ordered the Sirloin, and the waitress brought me a delicious-looking salmon dish. She sat it down in front of me and immediately said, “I’m sorry, I know this isn’t what you ordered, but you can go ahead and eat this up while we make up your sirloin.” So I shared it with everyone, and it was amazingly delicious!! Everyone got quiet as they ate away at their delicious post-hike meal. Shortly later I received my second meal. Yum! Sirloin for dessert! It was freakin’ incredible, too. Melted in my mouth. On top of the 2nd meal for no cost, the waitress paid for a dessert, so I ordered the apple spring rolls with ice cream. Ahhh, full belly!

After dinner we made our way to the end of town to a brewery. It was called Sam’s Taproom. What a super-cool place! There was a blind dog roaming around, a private party in the back, seriously-awesome décor, and the best backpacking group EVER! We all ordered miscellaneous beers and passed them around so we could all try. The bourbon beer was a big hit! You could really taste the bourbon in it! Weird! Rachel’s brother joined us for a little bit towards the end of our visit there, which was cool, too. We were able to tell him all about our trip and the route we took.

The bar closed at about 11:00 (I believe it had something to with liquor license restrictions in MT), so we all left and made our way back to the hotel. Rachel, Randall, my dad and I decided we needed one more drink, so we walked downtown to a little bar. We hung our for a while, joked around, enjoyed our beers, and stuck a buck to the ceiling. The bartender taught us how to do that… so that was kinda’ neat.

As soon as we were back at the motel, we passed out on a soft, comfy bed with a ton of fluffy pillows.

Saying for the day, by Leo (while still on trail, talking about what we’d do when we got off the trail):
1st for thirst
2nd for pleasure
3rd for the buzz
4th for sleep.

Yes, referring to beer.

DAY #7: Beartooth Mountains Backpacking Trip

 "Man! Check out this nasty-ass scenery behind us... I can hardly stand it. I soooo wish I was at work instead!"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

We woke up to a pretty big rain and windstorm again. I think we all enjoyed sleeping in a little later than usual… maybe just about 30 minutes worth. But once the rain stopped, we all rolled out of our tents and started our morning, which turned out to be gorgeous! The sun came out and dried everything up before we broke camp and took off hiking again. Breakfast was oatmeal with blueberries, and yup, you guessed it – coffee.

We were able to make our way up and around a cliff that was jutting down into Oly Lake (this was kind of becoming a regularly scheduled terrain-challenge for us!).  We were all on fresh legs and in very good spirits with the clear blue sky and sunshine above us… and it helped that the valley we were heading down was PACKED with wildflowers and a couple of fun river crossings. The Crocs went on and made it much easier on the rocks. Finally, looking ahead, we noticed a well-worn trail. There were no cairns, which popped up every now and then as we made our way through the backcountry… they never seemed to make any sense… so we joked the whole trip about the cairns being placed by some evil being that wanted to mess us up! In all honesty, though, even though the cairns didn’t put us on any specific route or trail, it gave us peace of mind. I remember thinking, “Well, this can’t be the stupidest route to take if someone else has been here…”

We quickly realized where we were – the Rosebud Trail!! We were LOVING the backcountry, but tell ya’ what --- that trail sure looked inviting!! The rest of the day and the last day would be following this trail to where we had my mom and dad’s Envoy parked. It would require much less trouble-shooting, and would be a little easier on our feet and muscles… no more insane boulder-crossings. I think we all felt a little sad, too. Along this route, we’d meet up with a lot more people, and we’d sure miss the serenity and beauty of the true wilderness we just made our way through. But we were also aware that this was going to be an excellent part of the adventure, too. We hiked on down the trail with smiles on our faces. And the views certainly didn’t disappoint, either! Just because we were on trail, that certainly didn’t mean there was no more to see! WOW the views!!!!

We reached the high-up Fossil Lakes section. What an incredible area. We stopped for lunch, and the sun was out and felt really warm, so Rachel and I quickly jumped into action… we stripped down to our “backpacking bikinis” which consists basically of whatever sport bra and undies you are currently wearing, and without even thinking about it, we waded in and DOVE! As we came up gasping for air as our hearts stopped from the coldness of the water, we realized there was a huge drop-off and neither of us could touch bottom and stand up. While shrieking like crazed animals, we doggy paddled our butts off until we could stand again. I turned around and dove one more time. We washed up quickly and got out back into the sunshine, dried off and laid back to enjoy our lunch. It was invigorating! And, just before we got going, a little rain cloud came over and sprinkled on us. So we hit that window of swim time just perfectly!

After our stop at Fossil Lakes, we hiked on pretty steady. We were trying to make our way to Russell Lake for our last night of camp. We came across a lot of other hikers, campers, and fishermen. We were definitely on the main drag again. Everybody was super-friendly, though, which is almost always the case on trail. We eventually did make our way to Russell Lake, but it was a long day and we were all pretty pooped. We set up camp, spreading our tents over what we thought was two spots, and settled in. A campfire was going, and we were all starting up our dinners.

Then we experienced our first conflict with other backpackers. As we were setting up our tents, a couple of guys in the site next to us stopped over and were talking with my mom and dad – right as they were setting up their tent. It was a short conversation, and they shortly made their way back to their camp. About an hour before dark, they hung their food bags in a tree about 10 feet from my mom and dad’s and Margie’s tents. I was really irritated that they would do such a crazy thing! I avoid conflict as much as I can, but I had to ask them to move it. There were trees everywhere around us, and being from Wisconsin, we’d hung food in much trickier spots that the trees around us… it just seemed as though they could’ve hung their food anywhere else.

What we didn’t know was that the campsite was set up a certain way so that you could cook next to where you hang your food, and camp a distance away. We had half our camp set up in the “kitchen,” and were totally unaware. So we were wrong in how we set up, so we eventually had to move a couple of tents. Everyone ended up feeling better about it, but it was just a crappy situation all around. What I was SUPER disappointed in, was how one of the guys handled the situation. He became nearly aggressive after I politely asked if there was another tree they could hang their food in. He made a couple snarky comments… First he asked me, “Well, where do you plan on hanging your food?” as he looked around with his hands out (with about a million pine trees around him). I replied calmly, “In those boulders over there… we have bear canisters.” He replied back, “Hahahaha… nobody in Montana uses bear canisters.” Okay dude… whatever. I explained to him that we just came down from 3 days above tree line, and we felt safe having our food in canisters so we could stash them on the ground without worrying. Later on in the conversation, after things cooled down and we agreed to move, they explained that they were heading up towards Cairn Lake. We warned them about the snowfields and terrain, and they quickly talked about changing their route… then I asked where they planned on “hanging” their food… the snarky dude replied humbly, “Hmm, I hadn’t thought about that… that might be a problem.” I think that’s the first “meanish” backpacker I’d ever met. So weird and out of place.

We enjoyed the rest of the evening with our campfire and the sunset over Russell Lake. The sky lit up bright pink over the treetops, and come to find out it was the sun reflecting off a giant smoke cloud from a fresh forest fire over the mountains. So scary, yet so beautiful.