Working Out with What You’ve Got

When I lived in Wyoming I was spoiled fitness-wise. Sure, it could get cold in the winter – especially with the wind – but it was sunny most days, I could shovel the snow with a broom, and there were lots of wide open spaces for hikes with the dog.

The recreation centre also had a $30 monthly pass that got you unlimited use of the equipment, pool and classes. And they were good classes: yoga, spinning, kickboxing, circuit training and pump n’ flex with solid instructors who knew how to push you. Eventually I hired one of them to be my personal trainer to snap me out of my ruts and bust through my plateaus.

In a country known for obesity and sedentary living I ran my first 5km, started doing pushups on my toes, and was in the best damn shape of my life. Then I moved to Edmonton.

I was still active but frequent travels and home reno projects got in the way. Then I went to Dawson, Yukon for the Berton House Retreat and my scheduled exercise slipped further in the freezing cold and dark. I didn’t exactly gain the ‘Dawson Dozen’ but when I got home I was ready to regain my former self. Problem was, I didn’t want to lock into a 2-year contract, pay high dues, or deal with schmarmy gym-goers checking out their biceps in the mirror. The local rec centre and I didn’t gel either, especially for about $60/month. It was time to work out with what I had and become my own personal trainer.

Here are some tips on designing your own low-cost weight-loss/training plan:

1. Assess your starting point and goals. The Mayo Clinic has a good Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator and has a lot of free tools for tracking fitness, food, and progress. Prevention and Fitness magazines often have sane one-month plans for kick-starting your new regime. If you do some research and put in a few minutes a day, you can be your own coach.

2. Do inventory on your equipment. Do you have a treadmill hiding under a pile of ironing? Or fitness DVDs? Or a sidewalk clear of snow? There’s your cardio. (I would recommend a heart-rate monitor to make sure you’re pushing yourself hard enough!). Do you have a resistance band? Free weights? A floor? Then you can do strength training.

3. Make a 28-day plan. Studies show for a habit to take hold, 28 days can be the magic number. I have a whiteboard where I write down my plan for the month and then cross off the days. It’s a great way to schedule your fitness, stay accountable, and track your progress.

4. Once those 28 days are done, though, switch it up so your body doesn’t have a chance to get complacent. February I was doing a circuit using a fitness ball. March it was freeweights. Now I’m using a resistance band (check out the March 2011 issue of Chatelaine for a great workout). When something starts to get easy, increase the weight, reps, or sets.

5. Find your motivators and reward yourself often. I get to watch t.v. when I’m on the bike – and have full-length, live-streaming episodes of dozens of shows for free. I just hook my laptop up to the tv with an HDMI cable, and I’m good to go!

Hike on Dome Mountain

With a week till I leave Dawson and the temperature at a balmy -15 Celsius, I decided yesterday I would climb Dome Mountain one more time.

I’d climbed the Dome twice before. Once with Doug when we first arrived in the Yukon in late September. It was -10 degrees, sunny, and there was just enough snow to make the powerline trail treacherous. The second time was late October. That time I took the road, which was slick, and didn’t bring any snacks or water. An hour and a half in I decided to pack it in. But I memorized all the shortcuts…

This time I was prepared and had a plan. With a thermos of hot chocolate and snacks in my backpack, dressed in layers, with a lightweight hat/gloves for the way up (and heavy hat/gloves for the way down), I was determined to make it to the top.
I took the 9th Ave trail up to Crocus Bluff, then took the road to the first cut through (next to the creepy abandoned cabins). Somewhere around Pierre Berton Cr. two dogs joined me and escorted me all the way to the top, when they disappeared just as suddenly as they’d appeared.

It was snowing lightly the whole time – we’ve been getting a lot of snow here lately – and I realized how much had been accumulating as I made my way up the road. The first 1/3 was completely plowed. The middle section had about 2-3 inches on it. But when I got to the last leg, I wished I’d packed some snowshoes: there was at least half a foot of snow to trudge through.

I was determined, though, and even with hips and calves burning I made it. After a final sprint up the mound to the ice-encrusted bench, I drank my hot chocolate and surveyed my home for the past few months.
Then I started picking my way down the face of the hill toward the powerline trail. This time, however, it had enough fresh powder on it to cover all the sharp, stabby bits I’d been afraid of in September. So I let momentum take over from time to time, grabbed the bottom of my parka tight around my legs, and embraced the great Canadian winter pastime of bum-sledding!

Back on the 9th Ave trail I waved hello at the Parks Canada guys working on Robert Service’s cabin, opened the door to Berton House – my house these past three months – and smiled with satisfaction.
Then I had a nap for two hours.

Jasper Photo Diary

Friday, September 10th:

Left Edmonton at 7:30am. Hit some construction on the Henday and missed my turn. After a short detour back on the road. Stop in Edson for Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwich combo.
Doug at trailhead. Used Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies hiking guide to choose Trip #123: Beaver, Summit and Jacques Lake. It had a very good shoulder-season rating, promised to be easy, and wasn’t too far away from where we’d be staying.
Me chilling at Beaver Lake after an easy 2km walk on a well-groomed trail. These boats were locked up, but apparently you can rent them and hang out on the lake.
A bird – a female Spruce Grouse, I think – Doug almost stepped on it was so well camouflaged. Could also throw it’s voice – we heard a call but thought it was up in the trees someplace!
Another few kilometers and we reached the First Summit Lake.

Judging by these animal prints (my guess is moose) we weren’t the first. Also saw quite a bit of bear scat on the trails but the only aggressive creature we encountered was an irate red squirrel.
After our hike we headed to our accommodations for the weekend – the rustic but luxurious Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (think of the most expensive log cabin you’ve ever stayed in). But, for those who read my last post, you’ll know I got the whole weekend romance package for $495 on Kijiji!
When we arrived at our Junior Lakeview Suite the wine and cheese welcome was on the table. And I have to say, the Mission HillSonora Ranch Cabernet Shiraz was just to my taste (I let Doug have some too)!
For dinner we headed into town to the Jasper Brewing Co. and I was a little disappointed by their beers. Doug got the sampler and we agreed that compared with Brewster’s, Granville Island, and many of the other microbreweries we’ve fallen in love with, they just didn’t measure up. The food was great, though, and Doug’s fish n’ chips were served in a bucket, which was awesome. My yam fries and salmon on ciabatta were pretty darn tasty too!
Saturday, September 11th:
Back into town for breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery. We each had one of their world-famous sticky cinnamon buns and an Americano. Can’t wait to go back to try their muffins, and scones, and cookies, and…
Doug went off to play a rugby game in Edson and I went for a hike around Lac Beavert (aptly named for its pretty blue-green water) to wear off breakfast. Chatted with the other folks I encountered on the trail, including a European woman who was ‘shore support’ for her scuba-diving husband in lake, and lots of Brits.
Nearing home I crossed paths with another woman and said cheerfully, “Looks like we’re going to get some sun after all!” I guess my guttural Canadian English and Germanic looks threw her because she responded in a thick ‘Souf London’ accent: “It’s Guten Tag, itn’t it?” “Yah,” I said, and kept walking.
Doug got back in one piece and we went for our Fairmont dinner at the Moose’s Nook Northern Grill. Great service, amazing food, and with my kijiji deal the price was right. Appetizers: scallops with ancho pepper and caviar. Entrees: Beef Tenderloin with potato/lobster risotto and mushroom/asiago ravioli. But the desserts were the standouts: barrista sampler (espresso ice cream, mille feuille, and creme brulee), chocolate-dipped strawberries, and the caramelized banana martini (heaven!).
Sunday, September 12th:
The next morning we had our final part of the romance package: breakfast in our room. I never thought I’d be able to eat again after the night before, but when that brioche French toast arrived with vanilla-scented whipped cream and Saskatoon berry compote, I gave in. And Doug’s west-coast eggs benny (smoked salmon on a crab/chive/potato cake) wasn’t bad either!
We’d intended to do a hike on our way back Edmonton but it was pouring rain… so we made a beeline for home, picked up the dog, and had a nap.

U-hauling It Across Canada

June 7th Andria and I departed Ottawa in a 14-ft Uhaul truck, complete with 6 wheels, Mother’s Attic and lots and lots of stuff.

We noticed the licence plate fittingly – since I’m a Canuck and Andria’s from the States – had both Canadian and American flags. We decided this was a something of a two-nation frienship tour across northern Ontario and the Prairies… and since we had only intermittent radio signals and no CD player or Ipod hook-up, this eventually led to a discussion about relations between our two great countries.
After Tim Horton’s coffee and some Timbits, the conversation continued to Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, an Albertan group who has chronicled one of our famous cross-border kerfuffles, The War of 1812, in song form. With a chorus of “And the White House burned, burned, burned…” you know you’ve got a hit! (Check out the link above to see them bravely performing the song live in Seattle!)

As we bopped along northern Ontario another song by the Three Dead Trolls came to mind – The Toronto Song (aka “Ontario Sucks). Being from Ontario and having lived all over this fine nation of ours, I find this hilarious… Another Alberta group, the Arrogant Worms, have also tapped into the zeitgeist of our country at the turn of the 20th Century with songs like “Trees and Rocks,” “Canada’s Really Big.” and the “Mountie Song.”

We made a few friends along the way, including this large moose in Sault-Ste-Marie (The Soo) and I got to revisit my ol’ pal the Goose in Wawa.

As this picture shows, though, Canadians may not deserve their reputation for friendliness.
Observe how one northern Ontario town deals with its homelessness problem (just kidding!)

Manitoba to Edmonton is a bit of a blur to me of gas-ups and pit stops, but there are some things that stick out in my memory:
  • the new Earl’s in Winnipeg has scrumptious edamame and a soup/salad combo. One great thing about living in the West is we’ve got ’em all over the place! (Don’t worry, Andria, there’s one in Denver too!).
  • the small town in Saskatchewan (that narrows it down!) with unpaved streets and roads that led nowhere… weird…
  • CBC Radio sounds like home, although NPR rocks too! Especially hearing K’Naan and the Young Artists for Haiti singing ‘Wavin’ Flag’… I was captivated by one female vocalist at the end and it turns out it’s Nikki Yanofsky, a 16-year-old jazz singer from Montreal. Incroyable!

We arrived in Edmonton completely done with driving and U-hauling. Initially we’d thought of going for a hike in and around Jasper before Andria flew home, but after 5 solid days of bum in seat the last thing we wanted was to be back in a moving vehicle for any length of time. Instead, we went to Elk Island National Park, a 30-minute hop east of town. While we saw Bison on the edges of the park (from the road) once we were on the trail Riker was the biggest fauna we encountered.

We also traded the regular touristy things for lounging, laundry, and good food. We revisited the Cora’s franchise (they drop the “Chez” in English Canada), which opened in Edmonton right before we moved here; my fave Indian buffet spot, Maurya Palace on 34th Ave; and Brewsters, my new favourite brewpub, where we ate and had a sampling of beers. So far Farmer’s Tan White Ale and Gunther’s Hefeweizen top my summer sipping list…but the Blackfoot Blueberry and River City Raspberry Wheat Ales are pretty tasty too…

Unfortunately I couldn’t convince Andria to pull up her Wyoming roots and move to Edmonton, but I think the beers and breakfasts (among other things) might woo her back for visits!

A blond on the Yellowhead Trail

I’m taking a break from reno work in Edmonton for the next week and focusing on my ‘real’ work: writing, researching, and promoting myself shamelessly. So yesterday morning I packed up the Mini Cooper -still sporting Wyoming plates – and jumped on Highway 16 out of Edmonton headed for British Columbia.

A few months ago I was invited to go to Vancouver to give talks to the Quarter Century in Aviation Club and the Langley Aero Club. Back then I was so young and naive. I thought I’d have a completed draft of my novel (I’m halfway there) and that all the renos on the new house would be done (I’m a quarter of the way done the interior. The yard/exterior is a whole other story!).
These were some of my thoughts during the first couple of hours on the road yesterday. Once I spotted the Rockies heading into hour three, though, the buzzing in my brain largely stopped as my eyes struggled to take it all in: the mountains, the aquamarine lakes near Jasper, the herd of mountain goats chomping happily on grass at the side of the road.

This was my first time driving the western leg of the Yellowhead Trail (Highway 16’s more colourful name), named after an Iroquois-Metis guide who apparently had blond-streaked hair and was dubbed “Tete Jaune” by French Voyageurs at the turn of the 19th century.
Two centuries later another traveller with blond-streaked hair – me – was taking the same route, gazing at the same peaks towering over the forest. In the above photo is Mount Robson and below is what you see when you turn around. You are literally surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Signs of spring were everywhere, even though on the west slopes of the Rockies there was still a foot of snow on the ground. When I took a break at midday it had warmed up to about 15 degrees and you could smell the warm ground and pine needles. There were butterflies and bees and looking close up at the trees, the first tentative bits of green were pushing through.
After my Mount Robson break I didn’t stop again until I reached my day’s destination of Kamloops, B.C. The scenery in the Thompson-Nicola valley is also beautiful but during the last half of my 9-hour solo drive I admit I was mostly concentrating on staying awake and wondering if I’d find a Tim Horton’s (I was seriously jonesing for an iced cap!).

At 4 p.m. I arrived in Kamloops and realized I’d forgotten the power cable for my GPS. How to find my B&B; or the rest of my stops on my week-long journey? Luckily I was given directions to the local London Drugs and found the necessary hardware (and a Tim Horton’s!) and made it to the Wedgewood B&B;, although in a bit of a daze.

I had very good intentions of working during the evening but after a walk, dinner at nearby Hoodoos Restaurant, and a cocktail (for medicinal reasons) it was lights out at 8 p.m. Pacific Time.

Confessions of an Evil Gym Bunny

I do not believe in New Year’s Resolutions, and thank goodness it seems like not many people in this town do either. The great onslaught of new gym-goers with crashing blood sugar have not appeared in the post-holiday season. Or maybe they have traditional jobs keeping them away during my 8:30-10:30 time slot.

Whatever the reason, you’ll hear no complaints here. While the media constantly reports on obesity and I think people benefit from physical activity, I prefer not to fight over the 12 bikes in Spinning class and 13 stations in circuit training.

But I’d fight if I had to. After all, exercise is one of the only things keeping me out of the funny farm at this point. We have been waiting for company paperwork critical to house-buying plans in Edmonton for two months. We have had to deal with at least a half dozen people in a half dozen locations in this bureaucratic nightmare. All for one f*&%ing letter.

So yes, I need my spinning. And my circuit training. And my pump n’ flex (which is no girly weight-lifting class, by the way. Doug couldn’t walk for several days afterward). And my yoga. These are the things that allow me to burn off my ‘crazy’ energy so I don’t lash out at people in the grocery store line whose only fault is they haven’t memorized produce ID #’s (bananas are 4011! 4011!!!).

But then I hear my yoga instructor’s voice in my head “inhale gently,” and my spinning teacher’s voice “push it out” and I remember that the woman holding the bananas with two squalling toddlers is probably at the end of her rope too. And being in Wyoming she’s probably got a gun in her diaper bag. So I hold my tongue and just chant my ancient mantra quietly on the inhale and exhale: chill…out…chill…out…chill…out

And patiently await my next mind-saving butt kicking.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Bushwacking

The muscle cramp in my leg has finally gone away and the cut on Doug’s cheek is slowly healing, but the wonderful memories of our 5-days snowshoeing trip will live on…

On the last day of the last year we drove 4 hours from Green River, WY to the Jackson Hole area. Of course we had to stop en route at the Wind River Brewing Co. in Pinedale where Doug had to sample their darkest brews to figure out which one we should take to go in a growler. After we gorged ourselves on their famous reuben and bison burger – and incredible fries – we decided on the Out of Order Porter but were equally impressed with the Buckin’ Bitter. The sips I had of the others were pretty darn good too!

So as I said, after Doug handed me the keys to Ellie (hiccup!), we continued toward the Jackson Hole area where we loaded up on groceries at Jackson Whole Grocer. Then we drove northeast past the Elk Refuge to Kelly, WY where we exchanged money for keys to our cabin on Slide Lake.

The Budge family operate a group of cabins on this lake, called Slide Lake because of the massive landslide that formed it in 1925. On May 18, 1927, however, after heavy rains and snow melt, the natural dam burst and the town of Kelly was largely swept away. Six people also died. According to the cabin’s caretaker, Art, a man everyone dismissed as a ‘mad trapper’ had warned the town of this impending doom. Hard to know which prophets to believe, eh?

While we didn’t experience that kind of massive natural occurrence, the roads on the way in were pretty icy and I managed to slide off into a tree at about 10 miles per hour. The good news is no one was hurt, Ellie is fine other than a small catch in the passenger door when it’s opened, and if we’d been stuck we’d have had food for a week, sleeping bags, and could have sent Riker out for help with a note tucked into his collar. Also, at that exact moment a couple of other cars happened upon us and a good samaritan from Utah helped to push us back on the road while his wife stood there snapping photos. Thanks, lady!
When we first arrived we were afraid we wouldn’t have enough snow for our snowshoeing plans, but mother nature quickly obliged with three solid days of light powder. The lake was frozen enough to support us (and the annoying skidoos that buzzed up and down it) and there was plenty of backcountry to explore. So we did. Where no skidoo dared follow.
The first couple of days we took it easy, getting used to snowshoeing again after a couple of years off. I swear there are muscles you only use while engaging in this particular sport! By Sunday, our last full day there, we were ready for a major expedition. Loading up our packs with chicken soup, hot chocolate and lots of snacks for us and the dog, we headed out.
As you can see, we also headed up. Way up. According to Doug’s GPS we climbed 1,553 feet in loose powder. If you’ve never done it before, think of dragging 10-lb ball-and-chains up a surface where you slide back with every step you take. Pretty exhausting! But with our make-shift walking sticks in hand (we pillaged them from the dead wood lying around) and frequent breaks we made it up to a gorgeous view of the snow-capped Tetons shrouded in clouds.
We kept going up for a while after this because the GPS indicated the summit was “only” about another 900ft elevation gain over a 1/3 of a mile. What it failed to indicate, though, was that this route went straight through a multitude of downed trees = major tripping hazards when your feet are the size of large baking dishes. So we decided we’d reached our own personal summit and found a log to perch on while we slurped down our soup.
I’ve always found going down is more dangerous than going up. After all, you’re more tired and generally a little giddy with the climb. In this case, there were times when it was really fun to let loose and go tromping down the hill with great, loping steps. Then there were times when there were lots of trees in the way or a stream to tumble into…
Of course the last bit was the trickiest, with close underbrush and downed trees. At the very end I just took off my snowshoes and tossed them down the hill ahead of me, picking my way down in my boots. The last 8-foot drop to the access road was a doosy, but I managed to shimmy partway down a tree and then swing myself off a large branch in true bushwacking style.
After our four-hour expedition we were all pretty pooped. Doug decided to take a catnap on the lake while I figured out the best way to hurl myself down the steep bank to join him. Then back to the warm cabin, a hot shower, a cup of tea, and a cozy couch.

Canyon Camping in Utah

We are in the home stretch of our time here in Wyoming. As we’ve done in other places we’ve lived (Vancouver, Montreal, the U.K) we’ve started making a ‘Gotta Do Before We Leave’ list. Top on Doug’s: a canyon hike in Utah.

So last Wednesday morning we jumped in the Element (“Ellie”) and the Mini and headed along the I-80 West. Before venturing into the wilderness, though, we made our requisite stops in Park City at the recycling center, outlet mall, and Red Rock Brewery for lunch. Then we dropped off the Mini south of Salt Lake City for its last round of repairs and continued down the I-15 toward the Canyonlands, stopping briefly in the town of Helper to get Tylenol and muscle ointment: it was a really strenuous shopping trip!
The sun was setting as we pulled into Green River, Utah which is basically a glorified truck stop of fast food restaurants and motels. We went middle-of-the-road and stayed at the Super 8, which was clean and backed onto sage flats – perfect for letting Riker run after being cooped up most of the day. While we mused aloud about GR, UT being like the evil twin city of our current hometown of Green River, Wyoming, we alas did not run into twisted version of ourselves and our friends there… maybe we’re the weird ones already!
We got a decent night’s sleep after Riker stopped growling at people in the hall and by 6 a.m. we were up and ready to continue south toward our destination of Arch Canyon near Blanding, Utah. First we had to stop at the McDonald’s in Moab to grease up for the trek, of course, and ogle the insane number of R.V. parks chock full of these portable homes. Shudder….
At 10:30 a.m. we were at the trailhead with our packs strapped to us – even Riker had one so he could carry his collapsible bowl, kibble, and treats!
I was really surprised at how sandy the trail was, and it was a heck of a workout keeping our balance and getting up the hills.
There was a lot more vegetation than I had expected as well, some of which – like the trembling aspens – were wearing their fall colours.
After a 9-mile hike with breaks for lunch and a quick snooze we arrived at the junction of Arch and Texas Canyons where there was the biggest, most groomed campsite ever. Plus there was a flaming red maple tree/bush which we took as a sign that us two Canucks and our American dog should set up camp there. We made dinner – freeze-dried Katmandu Curry – followed by a dessert of freeze-dried dark chocolate cheesecake. In the real world these probably wouldn’t taste amazing, but out there after all that huffing and puffing, it was gourmet!
Unfortunately our freeze-dried pancakes the next morning didn’t turn out quite so well. Okay, they failed miserably. Probably because we had nothing to grease the pan with and the heat didn’t distribute very evenly. After one attempt that scorched the pan, we dumped the rest of the batter behind a tree. Which, of course, Riker proceeded to lick up.
So I quickly made up some wraps with pb, honey, sunflower seeds and dried fruit, a recipe I’d found in Backpacker Magazine and we ate them while hiking further up Arch Canyon with minimal gear.
By 11am we were back at our campsite at Texas Flats and had stripped off most of our layers: while it was hovering near freezing at dawn, it gradually warmed up as the sun found its way into the canyon, reaching about 18 celsius. We ate our mac and cheese and started breaking camp when all these ATVs came roaring up the trail right to us. We counted at least ten ATVs – a whole family at least – and decided we’d try and stick to the riverbeds and side canyons (where they couldn’t follow) as much as possible.
A couple miles back toward the trailhead we deked off to a side canyon on the left in search of springs we’d seen noted in the hiking book. After stashing our backpacks, we hiked for an hour, clambering over boulders and learned an important lesson: grey rocks = solid; red rocks = crumbly sandstone you can break your neck stepping on. Or in Doug’s case, his bum.

In the end the mythical springs turned out to be trickles of water dripping off moss on these rocks. Not quite the impressive founts we had imagined. But, the water was cold and wet and after pumping it through a filter, boiling it, and dousing it with chemicals, we figured it was safe to drink and cook with. And we must have been right, because no one got dysentry on the trip (well, Riker had an interesting day after the pancake batter…).

That night we hiked to another well-groomed camping spot closer to the trailhead. It was a little trickier to navigate all the cacti, but other than Riker getting one ‘spike ball’ stuck in his paw (and then in mine when I tried to remove it) we managed. At day break on Saturday we packed up and headed back to Ellie – and just in time to avoid a veritable onslaught of ATV-ers there to celebrate the Columbus Day long weekend by laying siege to Ute territory.
We made it back to the ‘real’ Green River mostly in one piece, but thoroughly exhausted from exercise, the long drive, and Riker’s ‘watch-dogginess’ that began with the birds’ rustlings at 4:30am. Then on Sunday we rectified the pancake incident by eating the most delicious home-made blueberry-flax pancakes ever (a high-altitude recipe I’ve been tweaking since moving here a year ago). Monday we celebrated the controversial Columbus Day aka Canadian Thanksgiving aka El dia de la Raza the right way: by gorging on margaritas and fajitas at Don Pedro’s restaurant! Ole!
Now the camping gear is stowed until the spring, except for Riker’s backpack, which is not only practical but cements our reputation as the yuppiest family in good ol’ Green River.

Fall (Re)Training

October, I decided, is about getting back into shape.

I feel like the last few months I’ve been letting both my mind and body lie fallow. This isn’t a totally bad thing. After all, think of farming: agriculturalists know you’ve got to give a field a chance to rest, to regain nutrients, so that it can sprout forth a new crop next season. So the summer might have meant a mushy brain and less than stellar commitment to hard-bodyism, but it was what the two needed to come back with renewed vigor.

It’s often hard to change habits, though, and a helping hand can be useful to pull us to our feet or give us a much-needed smack. My help has come in the form of Yvonne, a personal trainer at the Green River Recreation Center I’ve begun seeing. The first time we met, we spent two hours going over my current fitness and nutrition plans. “You know you’ve been coasting,” Yvonne told me with a kind but knowing look on her face. “It’s time to step it up.”

Stepping it up first involved figuring out my baseline numbers, which meant getting a wrist heart-rate monitor I’m still not adept at using. The instructions say to hold it up level, making sure the strap is fastened securely and lays flush against the skin. It also says I may need to moisten my finger when I push on the sensor – but not too hard, because that creates “muscle confusion.” My muscles are already confused, but this heart-rate thing is scrambling my brains too! How am I supposed to get a heart-rate reading (nevermind a decent workout) when I have to stop moving, hold my left arm in the air while licking my right finger to press delicately against the sensor?!

Nevertheless, when I have managed to get the darn thing to work, it has told me clearly that no matter how hard I push myself on cross-country walks and hikes, I’m not going to challenge my body. And if I’m not challenging it, then I’m not improving my cardiovascular system or torching the extra Tostitos I tossed back on the couch…

The next wake-up call was in mid-September when I realized the CIBC Run for the Cure was two weeks away. Last year I ran the 5km (my first!) a few weeks after moving to Wyoming. I was new to running and had just moved from sea level to 6,100ft so I was allowed to struggle. This year the 5km should have been a piece of cake. It wasn’t. Although I’d jog a couple of miles here and there, I certainly had not been training regularly. So I hauled my butt down to the Green belt for a test run, so to speak, and breathed so hard that I must have sucked in half a sagebrush plant because for the next day I had intermittent sneezing fits and my left nostril ran so much I had to stick a kleenex up it during mealtimes to avoid extra ‘dressing’ on my salad.

So for the last two weeks I executed a mini training plan and by October 4th I was able to do my 5km “Run for Mums” and fulfill my promise to my generous sponsors. Mind you, the run took place on a treadmill in the gym because mother nature hit us with hail, rain, snow and 45 mph wind that day. But I did it. And it didn’t even hurt that much.

Okay, so the body is cooperating alright and I find it really helpful knowing that in a month Yvonne will look over my fitness logs. Accountability helps. Praise is even better. And gosh darnit if I pull out my gold star stickers I could run a marathon, or maybe even make it through a spinning class!

But what about the mind? That is a trickier beast indeed. It is happy doling out stickers to the body that surrounds it, but mightily resists its own changes, challenges, and work. It is very good at distracting me, too: ooh – I should make muffins! Or clean out the closet! Or go for a run! These are all practical, useful tasks that seem rational, but they are designed to distract. So I’m trying to be crafty back: I took my brain to a writing workshop in Cheyenne, WY last week where it was impossible not to be inspired. Then I borrowed books from the library with such winning titles as “The Plot Thickens” and “How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction.” I also sit down every morning with a caffeinated beverage to try and get the old brain cells sparking, and slowly but surely I think they might be responding.

What I really need, though, is an Yvonne for my brain. Or maybe some really super-duper stickers…

Backpacking, Bubba’s BBQ, the Bunnery and one Sassy Moose

After our escape from misery Sunday afternoon, we checked into the Grand Targhee Ski resort, which was the perfect place to hang all our gear to dry, work our boots over with a hair dryer, do some laundry, and catch up on sleep. Never mind that the restaurant was closed Monday-Wednesday, the hot tub was on the fritz, and one of the beds had stained linens: it was warm and dry and we didn’t worry about mucking it up with our gear!

Sunday night, after awakening from our nap, we were like bears emerging from hibernation: hangry (def. angry because hungry). We drove 15 minutes to Driggs expecting to find a plethora of choices but instead found that this largely Mormon town had basically shut down Sunday evening. So we kept driving to Victor, another 10 minutes down the road. We stopped in at the Grand Teton Brewing Co. thinking there might be some pub grub, but they don’t serve food.
Back to Driggs we went, eventually finding Tony’s Pizza and Pasta, which was perfect. There was a salad, pizza, and pasta buffet for $10 and we ordered a “flight of beer” of seven sample-sized local beers (our faves were the hard-to-get GTBC Organic Au Naturale and Snake River Pale Ale). Then for dessert they had warm cinnamon buns. After committing carbicide (i.e. death by carbohydrates) we drifted sleepily back to the hotel and soon passed out.
The next day was our “townie” day, which started with a hearty breakfast and great coffee at the Milk Creek Grill in Driggs. Then we headed into Jackson for some people-watching, window shopping (too expensive and kitschy to do much else), and to find the world-renowned Bunnery. Since we’d had a late breakfast, we thought we’d skip on lunch and just subsist on a generous serving of their Very Berry Pie and Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake. Oh… my… God….

We drove to our next B&B; in a sugar coma, which might help explain why we couldn’t find it right away (well, that and the GPS coordinates were wrong and I forgot to bring the address). We finally found the Sassy Moose Inn, a lovely place with views of the Tetons. While we received an enthusiastic greeting by the owners’ black lab, Cher, the owners themselves were nowhere to be found. The building was unlocked, though, and we found our room, unloaded our stuff and gave the owner a call on his cell phone to let him know we’d arrived. It turned out their style is very hands off: the wife of the team came into the house to make breakfast the next morning and then they both promptly left, never checking in with us about our stay or saying goodbye (or refilling the coffee pot)! We’re pretty self-sufficient people, though, and made the most of the outdoor hot tub at dusk which had lots of buttons for Doug to push (and from which I saw my first shooting star)!

We were a little nervous heading out into the backcountry again (see previous post) but felt fortified after our two nights in real beds and the pound of meat from Bubba’s Bar-B-Que we’d ingested the night before. That, and the weather forecast looked much more promising.

We took the winding mountain pass from Jackson back over to Idaho and headed up to the Teton Canyon Campground just past Alta, WY where we parked at the Alaska Basin/Table Mountain trailhead in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. We piled on the sunscreen and bug dope, changed into our hiking boots, and started in on the trail at the same time as another couple in their early 60’s who live in Jackson and were out for the day. We hiked the first five (gradually ascending) miles with them, through beautiful meadows, exchanging travel stories/tips along the way. We even stopped and had our lunches together next to the river.

At around 5.5 miles up the trail we parted ways. They just had day packs and had to hike back before their food, water, and energy ran out. So we said goodbye and then Doug and I did our best tight-rope walker impression across this “bridge” before continuing up.

We’d read in the trail guide that it was at this point the hike started to get a little stiffer, and that proved true. By mile 6 we could really feel the weight in our packs and the sweat pouring down our backs. With the help of some snacks and stubbornness, we made it to the top of the Alaska Basin by around 4 p.m. (total elevation gain of 2,400 ft), but it took another 45 minutes of hunting for a campsite before we were satisfied that we had the ideal mix of solitude, breeze to keep the bugs at bay, and level ground.

We cleaned up, filled our reserves with filtered water from the nearby creek, and rested for a bit. Then we made our freeze-dried Caribbean beans and rice which we enjoyed with these mini bottles of Shiraz and an appetizer of jalapeno almonds.

The flies and mosquitoes were a nuisance in the Alaska Basin, even as late as August, likely because of the alpine lakes and the wet spring/early summer. But this time I was better prepared: head nets and lots of DEET (the wine didn’t hurt either)!
Alaska Basin at sunset
The next morning we got our breakfast and instant mocha mix together, then packed a bag with day supplies to tackle the climb to Hurricane Pass (another 1000 ft elevation gain, up to 10,500 ft). I’d read that this side trip was definitely worth the effort, but that if you could ditch your heavy gear first you’d probably enjoy it more. So up the steep switchbacks we went, then down into the valley that held beautiful Sunset Lake, then up again to Hurricane Pass and the Schoolroom Glacier. We passed a lot of other backpackers on the way, laden with gear since this is part of a popular trail back into Teton National Park, and they were very jealous of our light load.

Me near the top of Hurricane Pass, with Battleship Mountain to my left and Meek Mountain behind me (Doug carried the pack up).

Doug climbed down the loose rock to stand on Schoolroom Glacier. There are so many times on these hikes that you feel really, really small.

We didn’t see any ‘mega-fauna’ on this trip (i.e. no bears, moose, elk, etc) but lots of plump Marmots, whose little tails do a funny clockwise propeller motion when they run.

Unlike our hikes to Adobe Town and other desert locales, water was not an issue in the Alaska Basin. We had our trusty filtration system and emergency iodine drops. So we were good to go, dysentry and giarda-free!

This backcountry adventure was a two-night affair, so after doing the 5-mile trip to Hurricane Pass, we had a quick snooze and lunch and then packed up our gear to continue down the trail. Doug had told me we wouldn’t be doing much elevation gain, but that was false: we had some pretty stiff uphills over switchbacks for the first mile or two, but then it did level out once we had reached the top of the ridge, thus saving our marriage.

We popped “magic skittles” to fuel us (no, not pyschedelic drugs but actual skittles that I tried to imbue with magic properties to keep one foot moving in front of the other) and kept slogging forward through the sub-alpine meadows, a little blind to the beauty around us. While the meadows were gorgeous, they didn’t make for great campsites, so it took us quite a while to find someplace that might work. In the meantime, we’d had to load up on water because our GPS indicated our path diverged from any water source for quite some time. It’s always great to have to add an extra 8+ pounds to your pack near the end of a long, tiring day!

Doug did find a good spot where someone else had trampled the meadow, and I was so tired that I passed out for two hours before dinner. Then we ate our dinner, drank the last of our Shiraz, and passed out once again.

Our final morning, we awoke in great spirits, knowing that in a few short hours we would be back in Ellie on the road home to a shower. First, though, we were going to stop for burgers in Pinedale and Moose Mania ice cream at the general store in Farson along highway 191, otherwise known as the Jonah 500 because people drive it so fast.

First we had to tackle the Devil’s Staircase, though, which was pretty hard on the knees and a little nerve-wracking. We made it down in one piece and quickly walked the final two miles to the parking lot, passing lots of fresh-faced people just starting their hikes into this amazing spot, feeling pretty proud of ourselves.

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.