Thursday, July 29, 2010

Backpacking Food

I'm starting my 110-mile trip through the Bob on Sunday, a week earlier than I had originally planned.  Here's most of the food for the trip (I'll repackage a lot of it into Ziploc baggies):  Oatmeal, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, Power Bars and gel shots, Clif Roks (protein) and Clif Shots (carbs). The demands and constraints of long range backpacking make you look at menu items not as food, but only as nourishment. Luckily, I'm not a foodie.

All this food is heavy.  On this trip I'm bringing a stronger rope for my bear hang.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Backpacking to Fish Lake

This was a quick one-night trip, 6 miles one-way, with 2,000 feet elevation gain.  The first 4.5 miles of the trail are an ATV road.

Higher up, the view opens up.

It's still spring at the higher elevations.

Descending toward Fish Lake.

Close to the lake, the trail passes through a patch of lupines, close relatives to Texas Bluebonnets.

The view from camp.

I took this pic on the hike out the next morning, about halfway up the ridge.  A bald eagle flew in to inspect the lake, but I was shooting toward the morning sun and at a moving subject, so the pics didn't turn out too well.

A view of the Bitterroot Mountains to the west, in the late morning sun.

Full Moon on the Bitterroot

This is actually the East Fork of the Bitterroot, near downtown Sula (the Sula Store).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gone Backpacking (Again)

This will be a short trip up to some high-elevation lakes near my cabin.  I need to stay out on the trails as much as I can.  I'm preparing for a 110-mile trip across the Bob in a few weeks.  I've never done more than 60 miles on one trip before, but I've never had a opportunity like this one.  Pictures to come.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guest Blogger: LDB!

My Big Time, Large Band Saturday Night

I went to see Lyle Lovett last night at the casino just over the Texas/Oklahoma border. No, I did not wrassle me up a cowboy, but, despite that, the show was great. You guys always appreciate my thoughts, so I thought I would tell you about it. To quote Lyle, "I like you, cuz you like me, and you don't like much." From "Fat Babies" on the I Love Everybody cd. That's the cd I used to calm baby Lizzie and inadvertently trained her to forever fall asleep when she hears Lyle Lovett's voice.

I went by myself, but I never mind that, because he is quite simply breathtaking. I find that I am also starting to have a great deal of affection for the rest of the Large Band (don't worry Lyle is still #1). They are so precious, and they put on such a great show. Great harmony, big sound. It just makes my heart swell.

I prepared for the show as usual--you know, I got my toenails done by John (my singing pedicurist) and dehydrated myself so that I wouldn't have to go to the bathroom and miss anything. It only took me an hour plus a few minutes to get there. I was an hour and a half early and there was no way I was going inside to hang out at the slots with the parade of oddballs I saw walking in (and besides, I had forgotten my bag of nickels). One guy who walked by my car had on a t-shirt with the definition of "loser" printed on the front. Turns out a loser is someone who stares at the front of another person's t-shirt. I had no idea. I quickly averted my eyes. I sat in the car and read for an hour (a book, not the t-shirts of passersby...please, I am not a loser).

On the way up I listened to the new CD (not my favorite, but it is still Lyle singing, so it is still good for me) and tried to figure out what song they would use to open. I was right, they opened with "It's Rock and Roll" which Lyle wrote with Robert Earl Keen. Woo-hoo-uh-huh-oh-yah, I was right!! The other thing I tried to figure out on my way was how to park my car so I could make a beeline to the box office without much casino in between. I got that way wrong. I got all turned around and ended up having to walk through at least half of this huge place. Ching-kaching-ching-clank-ching-ch-ch-ching-kaching (times 1,000). There's smoke everywhere, and it's dark with flashing lights. And the path is all higgle-dee-piggle-dee so you can't hurry. And then there are the lovers-on-promenade with their hands in each others' back pockets trying to figure out which slot machine would be the most romantic. They walk slowly and take up a lot of space. I thought I was going to fall down.

I finally made it to the box office, got my ticket, went to the potty one last time and took my seat. I had a fourth row seat, but with the extra "special people" seats in the front, I ended up eight rows back. Very good view. I sat about 15 feet in front of Ray Herndon, on of the guitar players. Ray is an acquaintance of my mom's from Phoenix. He sang "Jesus Loves Me" to my niece for her third birthday. His band was playing at Handle Bar J (his family's business), and we went there for dinner to celebrate. The band took requests and that was her favorite song. The other patrons couldn't really two-step to it, but they seemed to think it was cute. But anyway, back to last night...

About 8 minutes before the show, a lady came and sat next to me. She had just purchased her ticket from the guy a few seats down who apparently had some no-shows in his group. She had shoulder-length brown hair, some cute, cat-like glasses, a red and white polka dot dress, and gold shoes. She was tall and thin and maybe 50-something. Within just a few seconds, she turned to me and asked, "So, are you a Lyle Lovett fan?"

Me (in my head): Duh.

Me (out loud): Yes, I am, how about you?

Lady: No, but I met him once when my son was in the fourth grade, and he made quite an impression on me.

She told me how she had taken her son on a trip to DC for a school-related thing. It had to be about 1993. The hotel they stayed at had some type of evacuation drill and the lady and her son ended up in the same elevator as Julia Roberts and "some guy." She said she recognized Julia and her son (maybe 10 or 11 at the time just doing the math) said, "hey, you're Lyle Lovett!" She never said what Lyle's response was. Before I could ask her...

Lady: And I played one of his songs at my son's funeral. You know, the one about the preacher and the cornbread and beans. My son just loved that song. He just loved Lyle Lovett.

In the next few minutes, I learned that her son and only child died two years ago at the age of 26 while working in Las Vegas. She could not bear to go anywhere that she and her son had been together. Fort Worth is too painful, because they used to come here a lot to do fun things at the museums and all. Lyle doesn't usually play in Dallas, only Fort Worth. So she had not been able to see him. When she heard that he would be in Oklahoma (a place she'd never been with her son), she said she had to see him. A friend had driven her up and was outside playing the slots waiting for the lady to see the show.

I finally had the guts to ask if he'd had an accident or if he had been sick. She said that he'd had an accident. Just as the lights went down she said, "I told him not to take that motorcycle to Las Vegas...." And then the guitars wailed. And every song they played sounded (to me) like it was about her son. I figured that she didn't need some blubbering stranger sitting beside her ruining her first chance to see her son's favorite song performed live. So, I managed to suck it up. He only played for two hours, but the last song was "Church"--the song about the preacher and the cornbread and the beans. I had been bracing myself, thinking I would not able to hold it in once they came to the song (and they always play that song). Turns out, you can't cry during "Church." It's just not that kind of song. The lady stood up, and she had her cute little fists clenched and she said to me: "This is it! This is my son's favorite song!" And she danced and sang and waived her arms. It was so sweet. I don't know how she could put one foot in front of the other, much less get herself to a casino in Oklahoma to hear this. I didn't cry until I got to the car, and, of course, I am blubbering like an idiot right now.

Before we left, the lady asked for my address so she could send me a copy of the photo that she had surrepticiously taken during the concert. I was very proud of her for taking that picture even though it was against the rules.

Ironically (or maybe just coincidentally), the guy who sold the lady in the polka dot dress her ticket was there with his mom. Just the two of them. The guy was all grown and married and maybe in his mid-30s. Before the lady in the polka dot dress sat down, I noticed the guy get his mother a Dewar's and something and heard him say in an excited tone that he was eager to see the show and hadn't it been about 8 years since they'd seen him last. The mom couldn't remember. So there we were. The mother who had her grown-up, Lyle-loving son with her. The mother who had lost her Lyle-loving son in a motorcycle accident. And me, the mother of a beautiful 14 year-old girl who can't wait to drive. Okay, the parallels break down a little bit when you get to me, but you see my point. Someone get me a Lexapro and an Advil.

Lyle will be Tulsa tonight. Do you think I should fly there and take a cab from the airport just to see if I happen on to another crazy cabdriver?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

More pics from the Bob

South Fork of the Sun River.

West Fork of the Sun River.  The hillsides in the background were burned in the 2007 Ahorn Creek Fire.

The kitchen.

Looking toward the Continental Divide above Indian Point.

Meadow near the headwaters of the West Fork.

Mule deer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Blair Hawk Project

I mentioned in Backpacking in the Bob that I got buzzed by a protective mother goshawk on my trip.  In spite of my close encounter with the grizzly, the goshawk was the scariest part of the trip.

It was a dark and stormy night—okay, it was really a rather pleasant afternoon, but still . . .  A haggard-looking lone backpacker approached and gave me this warning:  "Watch out—about three quarters of a mile ahead, there's some kind of hawk or falcon that must have a nest, because it dive-bombed me several times."  I thought "Cool.  It'll be neat to see a hawk up close as it makes a few passes among the treetops."  At that time I had no experience with raptor aerial assault tactics.

Just as foretold, about three quarters of a mile up the trail the screeching began out in the woods.  I scanned the dense forest, looking for a large nest, but it was too far back and the trees were too thick, so I couldn't see anything. 

I continued on, thinking maybe I'd get off with just a verbal warning.  Then the screeching got louder, but I couldn't see any movement.  The shrieks grew still louder, signaling that the raptor was getting very close.  I scanned the treetops, but saw nothing. Then swift, low movement caught my eye. Through a gap in the trees a very aggravated northern goshawk sped toward me, right at eye level.  I raised my hiking stick in front of my face, straight up and down so it protruded a couple of feet over my head. The hawk adjusted on the fly, so to speak, gained a little altitude and flew a few feet above the top of my stick, screeching all the while.  It passed so close I could hear the swoosh of its wings.

The goshawk landed in a tree behind me and screeched for a few seconds before launching another sortie at my head.  I raised my stick again, assuming something similar to an Obiwan Kenobi defensive Jedi posture.  The goshawk passed overhead and lighted in a tree.  I snapped a couple of quick photos before hurrying up the trail to get out of the attack zone.  I had to defend against two more attacks before I could get out of range.

I passed through the same area on the return trip, thinking maybe this time I could get an action photo of the goshawk as it was bearing down on me.  That would be a cool pic.  So, lens cap off, camera turned on and held at the ready, I proceeded down the trail.  The screeching began again out in the woods.  I raised the camera and scanned the trees, but saw nothing until the hawk materialized in a gap in the trees at eye level.  It approached so quickly that I lost all interest in taking a picture.  It was then I understood I could never have filmed the Blair Witch Project because the moment I knew there was a real witch after me, I'd have forgotten about the camera and started looking for a big stick. 

On this attack the goshawk changed tactics and flew to high branches in trees closer to the trail, after which it launched near-vertical assaults, perhaps to get past my raised stick.  I tried one more time to get a pic but didn't have much luck.  In this pic, the goshawk is diving behind a tree, swooping down and to the left to circle around the tree in a flanking maneuver.  I took this picture and then got the hell out.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Backpacking in the Bob (2010 Trip 1)

This was my first trip into the Bob in 2010, but it was really just a tune-up to prepare for a longer trip I have planned later.  On this trip I started at the Benchmark trailhead west of Augusta, Montana and hiked up to the Chinese Wall, a thousand-foot high limestone escarpment along a 12-mile stretch of the Continental Divide.  According to the guidebook, it's 20 miles one way, with about 2,000 feet elevation gain.  It sure felt like it.

Geared up.

The only permitted means of travel in wilderness areas are by foot or horse, and since the Chinese Wall is the best-known and most popular destination in the Bob, the trail handles a lot of feet and horses.  This packbridge crosses the South Fork of the Sun River about a quarter mile from the trailhead.

 The trail enters the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area about three miles from the trailhead.  This area was burned by the Ahorn Creek Fire in 2007.  With the tree canopy burned away, the sunlight can now reach the ground, causing a profusion of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and baby trees.  Natural forest succession at work.


I saw my first and only griz of the trip about three hours in.  I didn't see it until I was within about 25 yards—much too close.  The trail had made a gentle ascent on an open grassy hillside, but I couldn't see there was a shallow depression near the top of the hill, where a small creek drained.  The griz was right on the trail in that depression, having a drink.  When I got close, I could see a brown back sticking up, then the bear raised its head.  I drew my bear spray and began slowly backing up.  The griz looked at me for a second, perhaps deciding if I was an immediate threat or just unpleasant company, then turned and loped down the hillside. 

 A few miles later I made camp near the West Fork of the Sun River.

 In bear country it is important to hang any food, and anything that could smell like food to a bear, in a tree well away from camp to avoid attracting any late-night visitors to your tent.

 Back on the trail.

 This hiker bridge, made of a log with a flat edge shaved on one side, wasn't on the map, but I was glad to find it.  It was a little springy.

 Burnt Creek.  I camped near here before the climb up to the wall.

Now the trail began climbing for real—over 1,000 feet in one mile.  The south end of the Chinese Wall looms in the distance.

 From the top of the saddle at the base of the wall, looking south.

 From the saddle looking north. 

I ate lunch here and then headed back down.  This is a fragile area that can't take much pressure, so camping is prohibited near the top. 

I was in the backcountry for six days on this trip, hiking on five of those days, and having a lazy day by the river on the other one.   It was a good workout and a great trip.  I also got buzzed several times by a mother northern goshawk protecting her nest, but I'll put that in a different post.

Monday, July 5, 2010

(Sound of crickets chirping)

The blog will be quiet for a week or so.  I'm leaving Tuesday morning on my first backpacking trip of the summer, heading into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, which is affectionately known among wilderness lovers as "The Bob."  I'm taking my camera, and I'll post about the trip after I get back.

For those keeping track, my writers' workshop is off for the next two weeks while the instructor is out of town.  I got some positive feedback on my second piece, but I haven't worked up a post on it yet.  I'll try to get that up next week, too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Random Thoughts From Sula

  • I miss the days when a car's bright light switch was a little button by your left foot.  They should've left that alone.
  • Nabisco's Cameo cookies, which are very hard to find these days, are way better than Keebler's Vienna Fingers, which are everywhere.
  • Sometimes I have to stop and think about which Betty started the center for people with substance abuse problems: Betty Ford or Betty White?
  • If I was a junkie, I'd rather go to the Betty White Center.  It could be like comedy defensive driving school.
  • I like the word "panoply," but you can never use it without sounding pretentious.