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!

On the Road Again

On Tuesday, March 9th I hit the road for my big move from Wyoming to Edmonton, Alberta. Here is that journey in photos!

Leaving home bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the 2-day, 17 hour drive north.

What I saw in my rearview mirror. I can’t believe Doug made it all fit!

My “Ellie” had had engine troubles the week before and so I was worried I might have to join this roadside community in Idaho if I broke down. “Anyone want to trade a book for food?”

Crossing into Montana there was some beautiful scenery – when the clouds parted and the snow/slush/rain/hail stopped (it must have followed me from Idaho!)

Just me and the open road….

And Riker, who insisted on sitting (and sleeping) up front, even though we’d put his bed in the back (and I’d left several pairs of shoes at home to leave space for it!)

There were lots of cool rest stops along the way – and considering it was blustery and mid-March, they were all deserted. Great for getting out and stretching our legs!

Riker found a new friend in southern Alberta after we crossed the border…
Home Sweet Home. I took possession of the new place on March 11th. Pretty swanky set-up for my first meal (of leftover Korean food!)

Camping in style. Inflatable mattress? Check. Cardboard box/night table? Check.
Unfortunately, I ended up camping out more than expected. I couldn’t work the showers for the first few days (tricky set-up that several people couldn’t figure out and we couldn’t reach the old owners). Gotta love the old bucket bath… Then someone inadvertently turned off the furnace and we couldn’t get it working again for 24 hours (did I mention I’m in the northernmost city in North America? And that it’s March?)
But after a few panicked phone calls to my parents and a few tears, everything’s in working order and I’m settling in to a routine of writing, trips to Home Depot, and updating the decor. Stay tuned for all those project updates!

ABC Guide to Wyoming

Only a few days left until I leave for Edmonton, Alberta and I thought I’d share some wisdom for future travellers to the Equality/Cowboy State. Hope this comes in handy for the next people who come this way (like the new engineers Doug’s been training!)…
Adobe Town. A very cool, and very hidden place in southwestern Wyoming for a hike or camping trip.

Book & Bean in Green River has awesome service, tasty drinks, and neat local and hard-to-find gifts and books. Say ‘hi’ to Sarah or Misti for me next time you’re in!

Curry. If you’re a curry fiend like me, you’ll have to be a little creative while you live here. You can get great Thai curry at the Siam King in Rock Springs and can even buy the fixings at the grocery store, but for Indian curry you’ll need to buy it, naan, and pappadums at Whole Foods in Park City or ‘import’ it when you visit other major city centres. Or learn to make recipes from scratch like I tried on occasion.

Dog park in Rock Springs. They just built it in the spring of 2009 and it’s one of Riker’s favourite spots. If you live here and have a dog, you’ll want to stop by.

Escape Day Spa in Rock Springs. Don’t be frightened off by the cluttered boutique you first walk into. There are some great products in there and when you go through the door into the back you step into another world. It is calm, quiet, the staff is very professional and the treatments are lovely.

Fiery Hawaiian Pizza from Domino’s is amazing. It’s like the company combined my fave (Hawaiian) with Doug’s (italian sausage and hot pepper) to create a feast of fruit, roasted red peppers, and tasty meats. I will miss Steve, our pizza guy in Green River. So will Riker.

Green River Farmer’s Market. One of my favourite things to do last summer was to wander down on Wednesdays to pick up fruit and veg from Grand Junction, CO and other areas. I also committed carbicide at the Bread Lady’s stand and sure enjoyed the buffalo sausage on our hiking trips.

High altitude: Sweetwater County is a good 6000 feet above sea level, so you’d better believe you’ll be working harder if you’ve just arrived from lower ground. Keep this in mind before going off to climb the Wind River range or Tetons!

I-80. This is the second longest interstate highway in the U.S. and will get you from San Francisco to New Jersey. I’ve heard the section linking the sister cities of Green River and Rock Springs is one of the busiest. My best advice: watch out for the ‘semis’ (i.e. tractor trailers), consult WYDOT frequently during the winter, and if you can make it to Utah you’re alright because they salt the roads.

Castle Rock perched high above I-80 in Green River.

Jalapenos, tortillas, and margaritas. There are some great Mexican (and Tex-Mex) restaurants around here (Don Pedro’s and Mi Casita), the fresh salsa at the supermarket is delicious, and in the summer time you can pick up roasted peppers at road-side stands. Even at Bonzai, a Japanese restaurant in Rock Springs they have a stuffed-Jalapeno sushi on offer (and the portion sizes are definitely Texan)!

Killpecker Sand Dunes. I’ve never seen anything like it before!

Lunatic Fringe Salon in Park City. I tried to get my hair done locally and it was not pretty, so I found Karly at Lunatic Fringe. She’s a junior stylist (so the price is very reasonable) and knows how to cut, colour, and style. You get free Voss sparkling water, a luscious wash and massage in their lather lounge, and they validate parking.

Mormon Church aka Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). For anyone not familiar with this religious group you should read up before coming to the area as it’s one of the dominant ones. Otherwise you won’t understand terms like Jack Mormon, Jesus Jammies (pejorative), etc.

National Public Radio. This might be an oversimplification, but I have discovered there are two types of people in the U.S. – those who listen to NPR and those who don’t. And Doug and I definitely have focused our friendship-making on those who do. NPR brings in BBC broadcasts and the Wyoming program Open Spaces is terrific. So much better than the screaming pundits mixed in with oversensationalized crap on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. In fact, the only TV news I watch is the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Organized religion. Actually, if you’re coming from a large city or place where religious beliefs are not something you discuss regularly (or that you’re used to discussing/debating at all) you might be a little shocked when you move here. I was. Rent Religulous for research purposes.

Pubs. Your best bet is to go to the Bittercreek Brewing Co. in Rock Springs for a pint of their microbrews (Doug’s fave is Bob’s Beer and mine is the Coal Porter) but don’t stay for food – it’s good but the service is abysmal. Better yet get a Growler to go. In Green River go to the Red Feather to enjoy a smoke-free drink.

Quaaludes, Methamphetamine, and other drugs are a problem in this area as the newspaper stories and drug counselling centres indicate. People also like their chewing tobacco and have drive-thru liquor stores. There is an ongoing joke about whether it’s the churches or bars that are winning the numbers game…

Recycling. I had to work a little harder to do this while I was here, but Green River has a drop-off centre that takes just about everything except glass, hard plastic, and some metals. So then you take the hard plastics to Rock Springs and the rest of it to Park City or Jackson Hole – a great excuse for a road trip!

Sweetwater County Libraries are terrific. The library staff work incredibly hard to put on exciting programming, support local artists/authors, and share their love of the written word. Take advantage of inter-library loans, online databases, and the staff’s good natures for your research needs!

Tanger Outlets in Park City, Utah. The best and nearest shopping destination to SW Wyoming. Yes, it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive away, but it’s totally worth it. Stop for lunch at the Red Rock Brewing Co. or the Hapa Grill. You won’t be disappointed.

Umbrella. Don’t bring it ’cause you won’t need it here much, which I love. It is sunny almost every day and big storms blow in and out in the summer so quickly you’d hardly have time to open your ‘brelly anyway. You’ll hardly use a snow shovel in the winter too!

Vicki, Evonne, Chris, and Christine all rock! They are great fitness instructors at the Green River Rec Centre (GRRC). Without them I never would have fallen in love with spinning, weight training, or be able to do ‘man’ push-ups!

The Green River Rec Centre

Weather. Wyomingites, like Canadians, love to talk about the weather. And it’s a safer topic of conversation than say, politics or religion!

XXX entertainment in the region: The Mast in Green River (which has a better website than most businesses in the area, I was just surprised to discover!) and the Astro in Rock Springs. Even small towns have their ‘dens of iniquity’!

Yoga is on offer five days a week at the GRRC with the lovely and soothing Shannon. These sessions helped me stay centred, stretched, and relatively sane through the craziness of the past year. Namaste.

Zumba, the dance-aerobic craze that’s sweeping the nation! And the Green River Rec Centre has just started offering it every other Friday night at 6pm. Lots of fun and a great workout.

A Poem of Parting

Last night I went to my last Rock Springs Poetry Slam hosted by my good friend, Janice Grover-Roosa (yes, another hyphenated last name!) of the local library system. While my first passion is writing books, there is something about the instant gratification of poetry that I love, and that has kept me coming back to the form over the years.

This is one of the pieces I read last night:

Wyoming Love Song

A sweet country
Ignored by most
Lost on the map intentionally.
A place of rough necks
And oil widows
The wispiest of rainbows perched atop
Precarious citadels.
Sandstone slipping down
Adobe towns
Full of swallows
And swallowed hikers
Led astray
By intermittent appearances of civilization.

Deer staring with children’s eyes
When surprised at first light
Hawks fan above
Dodging wild winds
Air currents that
Rip at clothes
Hit at houses
And make skin so raw.

A heart-stopping flap of wings
Erupting from sage brush
0 to 60 in a coyote’s breath
A countryside of death
Of Malthusian midnights
Where bones are picked clean
By the sun
By everyone
Everything fighting for a bit of green
A hint of happiness
Barest survival.

No bucolic panoramas
But people always try
Always irrigate
Now irradiate
Grasping for biblical splendour
In what some might call
The land of Cain.
The land of rocks
Of sky
Of little ties to populations
Of bigger size.

Peopled by antelope
Running from predators long gone
White rumps still flashing
Shouting urgency
While humans saunter
Heads up, nods exchanged
A currency of grudging respect
Where fancy doesn’t fuel you
Like a big buffet
Like cheap gas, bud light
Or half-strength coffee
Like slow friendships
Lengths of prairie grass tucked together.

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.

The Trees in My Mind

It’s a funny feeling, being split between two worlds, but it also seems to be at the core of this writing thing.

The other day I was musing about how living here, in southwestern Wyoming, my physical world is high plains desert: sage brush, antelope, and very few lakes, rivers, and trees. Researching the setting for the first part of my novel, though, I’m transported to northeastern Ontario, a place of mixed forests where bodies of water abound.

Last year while writing For the Love of Flying here, I got to mentally hop from verdant river valleys to the Quebec sub-arctic to Newfoundland and Labrador. But when I stepped out my front door, I felt a weird double-focus where geographies collided.

From what I read of other authors, it seems like we hardly ever write about the place we currently inhabit. One piece I came across recently was by an author who moved to the States 20-odd years ago from the U.K. While her reality has been New York, she consistently makes her characters and settings British, even though it means constantly looking into new trends, slang, etc.

Yesterday while researching my novel, I came across two other such cases: Joseph Boyden, winner of the 2008 Giller for Through Black Spruce. A self-described split personality, Boyden now lives in New Orleans but writes about the James Bay region of Canada where he lived for several years and retains ties.

Giles Blunt grew up in North Bay, Ontario and moved to Manhattan to pursue his dream of being a screenwriter. But then a funny thing happened: he started writing detective novels set in northeastern Ontario. Beginning with Forty Words for Sorrow, Blunt has now penned a series of John Cardinal books with one appropriately called Black Fly Season.

Now Blunt has moved back to North Bay to be up close and personal with the black flies, moose, and winter storms. But I don’t think you need to live it daily to write it. Sometimes when you’re writing in the desert, all you need are the trees in your mind.

A Festive Staycation

Doug had another set of days off last week, but after a bunch of long-distance, long-haul travelling and a particularly gruelling “hitch” (days on), we decided to go the “staycation” route and hang out close to home.

This turned out to be a good thing since here in Southwestern Wyoming we got hit by a week of frigid temperatures and a couple of decent snowstorms. So we hunkered down, got stuff off of our to-do lists, and tried to generate body heat at the gym (where snow was blowing in under doors).

During the two-day clear weather window last week, though, we did head out to Park City and Salt Lake City, just across the state line in Utah. The roads were good, our Visa was paid off, and the sales were on at Tanger Outlets, so we left Riker at the kennel and drove west.

2 1/2 hours later we were in Park City right as the outlets opened and were the first through the doors at Columbia. We blitzed through a couple of stores, loading up on cold weather gear like snowpants (Doug got his for $18!) and a knee-length down coat to keep my thighs from freezing when I walk the dog. Then we headed over to the Red Rock Brewing Co. where both of us immediately zeroed in on the Kobe Burger on the specials board. I tell you, every once in a while I think I should go veggie, but it is meat-a-licious meals like this that keep me from it (I did keep my fingers crossed that it was ethically raised and slaughtered and said a little thank you to the cow that gave up its life. Mostly I thanked it for being so delicious, though…).

After lunch we drove to Salt Lake City to check out spinning bikes at a couple of fitness equipment stores. Some of you may recall that a few months ago I was a little afraid of group cycling classes (aka Spinning). Well, I have been converted to this awesome workout that now regularly kicks my butt. And Doug decided that indoor training might be preferable to risking life and limb on the icy sidewalks so we started talking about a home gym for the new place in Edmonton. Treadmills are too noisy and crap out more quickly because of the beating they take (makes you wonder about your knees!) and ellipticals are large and very expensive. But with our budget we could get a pretty good mid-level spinning bike that will likely last 10-15 years because of the activity’s low-impact nature.

We’d found some pretty good deals online but wanted to actually get on the bikes to check them out. So we stopped in at two places in SLC and were immediately icked out by the used-car-salesman vibe we got from the people there. So we decided to go for the person-free transaction of online shopping and free shipping to our doorstep. It’s supposed to arrive in a week or so – review to follow!

The main reason for stopping in SLC was to get the Mini brake pads checked out. The light had come on a few weeks before but everything seemed fine, so we just kept driving it until we had time to make it to the Mini dealership 300 miles away. Another reason I can’t wait to move to Edmonton: there Mini is right in town!

$400 later our rear brake pads were fixed and we were ready to drive back to Park City to check in to our hotel, The Yarrow. We’d booked it through, our go-to for killer deals on hotels and for $70 it was more than decent. My only complaint is that they’d had the heating turned off in our room and so it was probably hovering around 10 degrees when we arrived.

This wouldn’t have been such an issue if we could have just turned on the heat and headed out to dinner, but our Visa had been declined at the front desk and so Doug wanted to figure out what was going on before eating. Well, that turned out to be a huge hassle (which it tends to be when the Schlumberger Employee Credit Union is involved). Thirty minutes later after calling multiple phone numbers and only being able to get through to a live person after saying “help” repeatedly (and pitifully) into the handset, we were both ready for a stiff drink.

Instead, we ended up walking uphill in snow into a stiff wind on Main St. But it was all worth it when we arrived at the Riverhorse . It was decorated in a sparkling, festive way and had classic holiday tunes playing. The staff was attentive, knowledgeable, and most importantly, the food was amazing. The chef sent out an amuse-bouche just as our glasses of red wine arrived. Then came the cranberry-walnut bread from a local bakery. We decided to share the appetizer sampler: smoked salmon on crunchy potato latkes, chicken satay skewers, and to-die-for goat cheese wontons. Doug’s lamb was perfectly done and his butternut squash and fig risotto – heavenly. My pear/praline/blue cheese salad was also incredible and then we topped it off with a warm apple and toffee cake. It sounds like a lot of food (okay, it kind of was – hence the spinning bike), but the portions were just perfect. Unlike so many restaurants these days, the Riverhorse really focuses on quality over quantity!
Pleasantly full, we endured the cold once again until we got back to the room, now warm. The hotel boasts a heated year-round swimming pool and hot tub, though, so it wasn’t long before we squeezed ourselves into swimwear. While there is nothing quite as nice as sitting in a hot tub when it’s chilly outside, it is also true that stripping down and getting to said hot tub when it’s

-20 is probably one of the worst! Nevertheless we did it, loved it, and Doug showed off for the other patrons by periodically getting out and rolling in the snow…

Friday we got up early (okay, I got up early and bullied Doug into waking up) and went to the hotel’s restaurant, the Mountain Grill, for breakfast. It was pretty chilly in there too, but we snagged a seat near the fireplace and by the time we tucked into our carafe of coffee and our breakfast skillets, we were warm and happy.

Then we split up – Doug to Best Buy and other places and me to the outlets to continue my hunting. By noon our budgets were exhausted and we were hungry again (Again?!!). I’d read about a neat-sounding restaurant called the Hapa Grill, that did a Japanese-Thai-Hawaiian fusion, and it exceeded our expectations. The Miso soup was fantastic, our fried calamari with Hawaiian salsa exquisite, and the California roll scrumptious. Doug also ordered a wrap he only got halfway through that was tasty (and spicy!) and the fries that came with were awesome. Surprisingly they really do it all!

Our last stop on our foodie adventure was to pick up supplies at Whole Foods, a supermarket that specializes in organic and yuppy-hippy foods we love. Our neighbour had given us a shopping list as well, and we managed to drop a pretty penny on curry stuff (that we shared with friends the next night) and some goodies for our own personal Christmas celebration later this month. I feel like I already got my presents, though!

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.

The Luxury and the Misery

After Doug suffered through two gruelling weeks of being out at various rigs (we figured he slept at home 3 nights out of 14), I whisked him off on a trip to Jackson Hole in northwestern Wyoming and Teton Valley in eastern Idaho.

On Friday the 7th we headed up to Pinedale with a friend of ours, Andria, and her two dogs, Belle and Chase. It was a beautiful, sunny day and perfect for the day hike we had planned in the gorgeous Wind River Mountains (a range within the Rockies). After trying to figure out which trailhead to start from, we ended up on the Pole Creek Trail that leaves from Elkhart Park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It’s a popular trail with day-trippers like us and backcountry campers, so we weren’t worried about bears, just about slipping in the poop left behind by the numerous Llamas being used as pack animals for campers.

After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch at this picturesque overlook. Andria was kind enough to share her gourmet lunch fixings like pine nut hummus, wasa crackers, and peaches. I had a generous hunk of white chocolate/lemon/mint bread from the farmer’s market that I contributed and we feasted like kings. Then we headed back to the trailhead where Andria embarked on her two hour drive back home with a Llama poo-covered dog (why do dogs enjoy rolling in excrement?) and Doug and I booted it north to the swanky mountain town of Jackson, where our B&B; awaited us.

Jackson is an incredibly expensive place to live and play, and July-August is peak season. Doug and I don’t mind paying a little extra for a special experience, but in a place like Jackson the Best Western costs you $230/night and the nicer places can run $400-$500/night. Luckily I’ve got some experience hunting up deals and found us the most amazing place to stay at a 40% discount because we squeezed into a one-night spot between reservations. I had high expectations for The Bentwood Inn after poring over the website and it did not disappoint.

We arrived at 5pm pretty grubby after our hike, but the co-manager, Peter, welcomed us warmly and gave us a quick tour of the Great Room (above), the breakfast area (home-baked chocolate chip cookies available 24/7), and showed us to our lovely room (below) complete with Scandinavian Inglenook bed, jetted tub, private balcony, and gas fireplace. After we cleaned up, we enjoyed their nightly wine (imported from the Republic of Georgia) and cheese (and fruit, and crackers…) in the Great Room while chatting with the other guests.

After some discussion about dinner options, we decided to go to the Snake River Brewing Co. in Jackson, which I’d heard had some great microbrews. It was packed full of outdoorsy-people but it didn’t take long for them to find us a table. By then we’d already grabbed a Zonker Stout (Doug) and a Hoback Hefeweizen (me). Then we had to decide what food would complement our ales. Doug picked a unique pizza: bbq sauce, grilled peaches, italian sausage, and goat cheese. Once he was able to shift his “pizza paradigm” he enjoyed it quite a bit. I had their award-winning buffalo chili and a chunk of corn bread. Delicious!

I could see Doug starting to come back to life after his exhausting stint in the field. After a 10-hour sleep in the cozy room and an incredible three-course breakfast replete with what I have dubbed Beavertail Coffeecake and a sundried tomato and goat cheese omelet, we were ready to head out into the wilderness and rough it for a couple of days.

First we had to decide where we were going. The original plan was to go to the Alaska Basin on the western edge of Grand Teton National Park for a one-nighter and then to Yellowstone National Park for a two nighter at the end of our trip, but I had glimpsed in the local newspaper that Yellowstone was in the midst of its busiest season in decades: 900,000 people in July alone. There was also major road construction going on that was causing long delays. We both agreed that we did not feel like dealing with those hassles during our relaxing getaway.
So we changed things up. We drove the mountain pass through to the Teton Valley – formerly known as Pierre’s Hole – on the Idaho side. Then we went north of Driggs along a one-lane dirt road into the Targhee-Caribou National Forest where we parked and embarked on what we hoped to be our first successful overnight backpacking trip to Green Lake.
The hike started well enough. We knew there was a good chance of rain and that it was going to be chilly in this alpine region, but we felt we were prepared. Lugging our bags up the steady incline was challenging, but we were well-rested, well-fed and in good spirits. We enjoyed the views, the beautiful alpine meadows, and chatted amiably with the sparse groups of folks we encountered.
Then the drizzle started. No problem, we though, just a scotch mist. Then it started coming down harder, turning the dirt path into a muddy stream and coating the wildflowers so that brushing up against them soaked our pants nearly up to our waists. Then the rain turned to freezing rain, then to hail, then to wet snow. By the time our three-hour, 2000-ft climb ended at Green Lake, I was so cold, wet and tired that I didn’t even bother to rock-hop across a stream: I just waded through it. My boots were soaked anyways!
We set up camp as quickly as possible in the cold rain, struggling because our fingers were numb. Then we ditched our wet clothes under the rainfly, towelled off as best we could and piled on whatever dry clothes we had before bundling into our sleeping bags. It was about 3pm but Doug passed out for two hours. I was too cold to sleep so tried my best to distract myself with M&Ms; and a book I’d brought along, Jenny of the Tetons.
It was an appropriate book, set in the 1870s in the Teton Mountains. And I felt silly about putting myself through potential hypothermia and privation on purpose when Jenny, Beaver Dick Leigh and their family had to deal with it for survival. In any event, I finished the book by the time Doug had woken up and the rain had abated. It was time to venture forth to make a fire and dinner but our boots were still soaked so Doug fashioned himself some ziplock booties and I wrapped my dry socks as best I could with tied-up garbage bag pieces and we gingerly put the boots back on.
Then we went in search of dry wood (quite the feat) to make a fire in an attempt to dry our clothes. The next step was to try and light it, but while our matches were waterproof the boxes (and strike pads) were not. After finally striking them successfully, then the toilet paper did not want to catch. In desperation, I started ripping non-essential pages from Jenny of the Tetons, which lit beautifully. I figured a Shoshone woman and a pioneer woman would both encourage the action. The fire didn’t manage to dry our clothes despite our best efforts, but its warmth and cheeriness dispelled some of our gloom. As did our freeze-dried Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with lots of hot sauce.
It started raining again during the night, water pooling on the rain fly and dripping into the tent. It was perhaps the coldest night I’ve ever spent, and the next morning we awoke to hail around the tent and a light coating of snow on the ridge above Green Lake. We broke camp as quickly as possible, scarfing a granola bar for breakfast. We knew that as soon as we got dressed and got out we would need to start moving to stay warm. I put on as many top layers as possible: t-shirt, hoodie, fleece, rain jacket. Our only dry bottoms were shorts, though, which in the end we decided might be better in the sodden meadows anyway.

We power-marched it back to the Element, fantasizing aloud about dry shoes, clothes, and the warm bed we’d be sleeping in that night at the Grand Targhee Ski Resort, but all the while trying not to kill ourselves in the muddy mess that had been the trail.

After catching our breath in Ellie, enjoying the feel of warmth and eating a lunch of jalapeno-cheddar bread, buffalo sausage, and chocolate pudding, we left the woods.
But the adventure was only half over…
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.