Relentlessly Exhausting

There is so much to write. Books. Adventures. Due Date.  

Books:  Let’s cut to the chase; what are we reading now?  I have two books for you. 

Thirty years ago I read Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth”. 

How do I know what I was reading thirty years ago?

It was a memorable  time for me.  I was spending the days and nights nursing my new baby girl.  And in true book lover fashion, I nursed my newborn and read my book simultaneously.   “Pillars of the Earth” was a great choice for reading at 2:00 a.m. as it is not only an engaging page turner with a “soap opera” style family saga, it is also over 900 pages.  I found a copy of “Pillars of the Earth” at a used book store in Missoula and gave it to Hannah to read while nursing her baby at 2:00 a.m.  (Assuming the baby daddy has finished as he started it first and it is on the list to be packed in his hospital bag.)

Ironically, Ken Follett, published the prequel to “Pillars of the Earth”  thirty years later.  How did he know?  Now, thirty years later I am reading “The Evening and the Morning” as I wait for the arrival of my baby girl’s baby girl.  This prequel is also a good read.  A book that you can get lost in and even lose track of time or forgo your bedtime in order to read twenty more pages.  There are lots of characters with odd sounding names, but you must push through that and believe in your brain to keep it all straight.  Trust me.  

A two book recommendation.  It works.  Stay home. Vote. Read.

“Pillars of the Earth” and/or “The Evening and the Morning”;  I highly recommend them both.

Adventures:  As horrible as the pandemic has been for our world, it has proven to be a good thing for my outdoor adventures and a huge boost in my backpacking career.  Nothing says quarantine like a four day backpack or a seven day white water river trip in wilderness areas with few to no people. 

The season started out with a shake down one nighter up Boulder Creek where I learned about the new and updated gear for making backpacking lighter and easier on the knees.   All of my gear was clearly outdated and needed an upgrade.  New gear is exciting and not cheap.  I’m gradually transitioning to the latest and greatest gear to make my backpacking doable and keep my body happy.  

The summer epic hike was a five day 50 mile through hike on the Selway River.  Next, an evening at an historic fire lookout located 8000 feet above sea level.  Then, later in the summer, a three day 21 mile basecamp hike up Big Creek.  Followed by a four day through hike up Fred Burr and out Mill Creek, where we took a side hike up to a high alpine lake in which the trail description in our hiking book included “relentlessly exhausting”.  This was followed by a late fall, 90 mile white water rafting trip on the Salmon River. And finally, my hiking partners and I planned a mid October four day through hike; pending the Montana weather.  Ah…..”pending the Montana weather”.  

It started out looking nearly perfect.  Four sunny, somewhat warm days, sandwiched between rainy cooler weather.  But this is the Rocky Mountains.  There are no weather guarantees.  We soon changed to a three day in and out, but were still happy with getting out for a few nights before winter puts the kibosh on our backpacking.  Just before we were ready to leave we changed again. Not only changing our number of nights to one, but changing our trail to one with less elevation gain in order to stay below the snow. IMG_0526

We met up at the designated time and place as it continued to sprinkle rain from the storm that was soon to be over.  We drove north towards our trailhead watching the dark storm clouds engulf every mountain drainage we passed.  “Maybe we should stop and have a cup of tea in town.” I suggested.  Everyone was game.  We didn’t really want to start out our trip cold and wet.  We stalled for at least an hour at a local coffee shop.  Mostly, the rain had stopped but the dark heavy clouds were all that we saw over the Bitterroot Mountains.  At the trailhead we strapped on our packs and rain gear.  It did stop raining.  It turned to snow.  More like graupel.  Yep,  it graupelled a lot.  IMG_0529 (1)

We arrived at the three mile point which had several good camping sites.  We made note of these sites just in case we had to come back and camp here.  Our goal was nine miles in.  At about four and a half miles we were hiking in a good inch of snow.  We knew that nine miles in was not going to be a good place to camp.  At mile six we turned around.  About an hour later we were taking off our packs at the three mile campsite we had passed earlier.  The wind had picked up and was coming down through the canyon from the snowy, wintery high elevation.  In other words, it was not a warm breeze.  Quite chilly on our sweaty wet clothes.  We were not excited to set up camp AND we were only three miles from the car.  I had a quick snack, added another layer of clothing and we headed out.  It was a beautiful hike.  A twelve mile out and back with a fully loaded backpack.  And in that twelve miles  we planned several more backpacking trips for next year.  

More great book suggestions and epic adventures can be found at Wild About Books

Base Camp Hiker

In the last few posts we discovered the idiosyncrasies of thru-hiking and discovered the weight of everything that went into my backpack.  Ounces make pounds; as the saying goes.

Just recently I I did a base camp backpack.  In this scenario you backpack in for several miles and set up camp for the night.  The next day you just take a little day pack and go explore sans heavy backpack.  This is truly a wonderful way to enjoy a backpack adventure.

My two friends and I hit Big Creek Trailhead a couple of weeks ago.  We hiked up seven or maybe eight miles where we set up our base camp along a wide lazy section of the creek.  I was so excited to not weigh items or even care about the weight of my pack that I took everything that would stuff into the Osprey Xena 65 liter pack.  On this trip I took a chair, a hammock, my phone, my kindle, a cribbage board, a pocket shower and my knitting.  I even took a dessert.  This was luxury backpacking.  I highly recommend it.

On day two I just took some snacks, a rain poncho, a warm shirt all into a day pack and took off for Big Creek Lake and Pack Box Pass.  We easily hiked 14 miles round trip with some serious elevation gain to the pass.  It was a spectacular 360 degree view as we straddled the Montana Idaho border.  Then back to camp where our tents and hammock were waiting for us all set up.  If we had wanted to stay an additional night we could have day hiked up to the south fork of Big Creek to some more high alpine lakes.

The forest and surrounding area was not just beautiful, it was magical.  The pictures we took don’t do it justice.  Trying to write about it lacks the holistic experience. I laid in my hammock staring up at the extra tall pine trees that created a high canopy for the forest floor.  The wind blew the trees back and forth as if they were made of rubber.  The trees made no sound in the wind, but the birds were in full symphony mode.  From sun up to sun down the birds were singing to each other and not in an annoying manner like squawking crows, just a beautiful accompaniment to the sound of the creek.  My friend Heidi commented that she didn’t know why she even brought a book.  Being in this magical forest was too engrossing to try to read.  The walk out took us though a dense cedar grove where the sun light and dark shadows created a mosaic on the cool earth.  You could hear the earth echo with each foot step.  The trail is so old or the trees so healthy that all the tree blazes had grown together and looked more like scar tissue guiding you through the forest.  This well worn trail hardly needed any direction though.  If you’re thinking of starting to backpack or taking the family, basecamp backpacking is the ticket.  And if you live in the area, Big Creek is a pretty spectacular hike.

I’m going to quote John Steinbeck one last time from “Travels With Charlie” (see previous posts for other quotes):

“The next passage in my journey is a love affair.  I am in love with Montana.  For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, and even some affection, but with Montana it is love and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it. It seems to me that Montana is a great splash of grandeur.  The scale is huge, but not overpowering.  The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda.  It seemed to me that the frantic bustle of America was not in Montana.  The calm of the mountains and the rolling grasslands had got into the inhabitants.”

Me and John; totally connecting.

And….what am I reading now.  As always; it’s an eclectic mix.  On the kindle I’m reading “A Confederacy of Dunces”, a very entertaining and hilarious read.  I am also reading “The Medicine Bag” by don Jose Ruiz about bringing out the shaman we all  have hidden in our being. A step by step guide of rituals and ceremonies.  And in hardback I have my book club selection, a non fiction, “Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe.  A story of a life time of Northern Ireland during the seventies, eighties and even to present day about the IRA and the division of a country.  This book did not go backpacking as it is heavy.  Heavy in every since of the word.  And a little too close to the division I see in the United States.  We may have to rename our county to just States.

More great adventures and book recommendations can be found at Wild About Books.

Thru-Hiker Through and Through

I’m a thru-hiker,  I backpacked the 50 miles of the Selway River river trail from end to beginning. A Wild and Scenic River located in the Bitterroot Selway Wilderness.  I celebrated National Hike Naked Day and I destroyed a library book (see previous post).  And…..I’d do it all again.  It was pretty epic.

Most people would consider my starting point the end point since I hiked upstream.  I don’t think it would matter too much which end you start on.  The Selway river loses 4000 feet in elevation from the ‘put in’ to the ‘take out’.  But that’s in 50 miles and with all of the up down and down up of the trail, you hardly notice the difference of upstream vs downstream. I would have to assume.

My group started at Race Creek.  Two of us got an early start and the other three started a few hours later only due to some logistics and mostly due to me trying to get a cooler start for optimal migraine management (OMM).  Jenn and I hiked from 9:00 to 5:30.  We got caught in one rain shower which made the afternoon cooler and was one reason we hiked for so long on day one.  My fitbit said I went 17 miles.   My new Topo Trail Runner Shoes were light and comfortable.  It was totally not their fault that I slipped on a wet rock while filling my water bottle, soaking both feet.  Walking in wet socks and shoes for two more hours did bring on a few blisters.

We spent the first night at Tango Creek.  A group of rafters were camped across the river; their groover in direct line of sight of our camp.  (See “Last Call for the Groover” post for explanation of “Groover”).  The next morning was chilly.  But in a light weight one person tent I could stay in my sleeping bag, tie back my tent door and operate my jetboil.  From the comfort of my down sleeping bag I was able to make tea and breakfast and read some of my destroyed yet lightweight library book.  The sun finally peaked over the mountain and warmed up our site but everything was covered in dew.  I packed my damp sleeping bag, wet tent and put on my wet socks and shoes.  We hit the trail, our other group had not caught up with us yet.

Day two was hotter and sunnier.  My fitbit clocked us at just over 10 miles.  The skies were clear.  The river and creeks were raging and the mountains were a deep forest green.  It was beautiful.  I was surprised how high the trail could be over the river.  Having a birds eye view of the rapids made it easy to pick the line I would take if I were in my inflatable kayak. We stopped in a cool shaded cedar grove for a break from the heat and and a break from carrying our packs.  We continued on the hot trail and I finally saw my first rattlesnake.  It was not as I had imagined.  The snake said, “oh, sorry, just crossing the trail here; pardon me.”  We replied, “no hurry, we don’t mind waiting for you to cross.” She was very cordial.  Not threatening or scary.  I think I must have watched Mattie fall into the rattlesnake pit on “True Grit” at an impressionable age.

My blisters had grown.  I felt new ones forming.  But, help was on the way.  We arrived at 2:30 at the Moose Creek landing strip.  At 3:00 our husbands (mine and Jenn’s) landed on the grassy wilderness runway.  There are no roads in the wilderness, but there are several landing strips. There were already about 10 other planes there with people camping out.  We happily greeted our men who had taken 30 minutes to arrive.  We had driven 4 hours and hiked 2 full days to get to the same location.  They brought cold beverages, cheese, smoked salmon, fruit, presents and my boots.  Dry boots.  Not just dry boots, but water resistant boots, boots that had hiked the Grand Canyon with no blisters.  And presents?……  Yeah.  Call me spoiled.  Brett bought two different kinds of gaiters for me to try and a rain poncho that fits over a backpack.

The rest of our group caught up with us that afternoon.  There was plenty of cold drinks and snacks for everyone.  The guys packed up and flew out as we were getting our camp set up for bedtime.

Day three brought a nice early start.  I bandaged my blisters with mole skin and medical tape.  We trekked through the wet grassy landing field to the historic Moose Creek Ranger station and back onto the trail heading to Bear Creek; our camp for the night.  Fitbit recorded 14 miles for this day.  We also met our down river group around 11:30.  That was the plan. We would swap keys when we met and drive each other’s cars home.  The shuttle for this trip is 255 miles on winding mountain roads many of which are gravel.  It costs $390 to hire a shuttle driver.  Creating two groups to meet and swap keys cost nothing.  It was genius.  We talked briefly.  Mostly about the injured mountain lion that the other group had seen an hour before on the trail.  Two hours later, the mountain lion was still on the trail.  Our group determined that she was old and looking for a place to die.  She didn’t move off the trail for us either.  We bush wacked our way up the mountain and around her continuing our way up river on this overcast, hot and humid day.  Bear Creek was a beautiful camp.  We made a big fire, had dinner and when the clouds started to sprinkle rain at 7:30, we hurried to our dry tents and fell asleep.  Not much of a celebration on the longest day of the year.

Day four was long.  The sun came back out as we hiked another 14 mile day. Our average age was 61.  The range was 55 to 70.  Our average weight (without packs) was 120 pounds.  You can tell the miles were getting to me as I spent time creating and calculating math problems.  I was enjoying the break from electronics, news, emails, facebook and the threat of Coronavirus.  Left to my own devices.  My brain.  Telling stories to the others.  Listening to their stories.  We passed Selway Lodge and Running Creek Lodge until we arrived at Waldo Bar our final camp.  Oh, and…. two of us hiked naked.  I recommend it.  Just boots, gaiters and a hat.  Our lone, token male stayed behind a respectable distance and did not celebrate National Hike Naked Day (Or…. maybe he was).   Would I do that again?  Actually, we are thinking about publishing our own hike naked calendar.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

On this last night one of the women in our group had run out of reading material for the night. (I would rather run out of food).  I took out my library book in which I had ripped off the front and back covers to make it lighter.  I tore out pages one through 19 and gave it to her.  I also read, out loud, the introduction of the book to those who were still by the fire.  The next morning, she read the introduction out loud again.  It’s that good.  I highly recommend John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley”.  This non-fiction book takes place in 1962 and is about his travels across the United States in a camper with his dog Charley.  Very interesting to read his take on the state of the United States in 1962.  I recommend “Travels With Charley”.

Day five was a short 5 mile hike out.  I stopped at every point on the trail and watched the river; not wanting our hike to end.   Happy that I had completed this dream hike with just a few blisters and a few mosquito bites on my ass from hiking naked.  Happy of the dynamics of my group and the new stories we now had to share.  Happy to spend so much time outside and so many nights sleeping on the ground.  It is my happy place.

In the last blog post, in which I told you I was not going on the Selway backpacking trip, I  gave you a taste of the introduction to “Travels With Charley”.  This time I’m giving you the whole thing.  Enjoy.

Steinbeck’s intro from “Travels with Charley”

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.

When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay. This part of the process is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teen-agers in new hatched sin, will not think that they invented it.

Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only when the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand.”

More great book selections and adventures can be found on Wild About Books.

National Hike Naked Day

Didn’t want my readers to miss out on the fun.  National Hike Naked Day is coming fast; Sunday June 21, 2020; which also happens to be Father’s Day.  Nothing says Father’s Day like a bunch of penises flapping freely on a warm summer day.  And where will I be?  Backpacking the Selway with rattlesnakes, maybe not such a great place for the unprotected penis.  So far though, it’s the women who are excited about Hike Naked Day, the men, not so much.

I know I left you in suspense after the last blog as to what reading material I’ll take on my 5 day 50 mile backpacking adventure.  Here is the solution:

I’m leaving the Kindle (10.93 ounces), leaving the phone with Kindle app (7.62 ounces), leaving the paperback I bought for the trip “Virgil Wander” (11.64 ounces) and the winner is:

Taking a small paperback that I found in the Darby High School Library while waiting for a board meeting to start.  The assistant librarian is a loyal reader of Wild About Books, so I’m going to whisper this next part.  Listen closely.  I’m going to take the library book (5.61 ounces). I’m going to (shhhh) rip off the front cover, back cover and extraneous pages which saves over two ounces!  Then as I read the book, I’ll rip out the pages and burn them, making the book lighter each day.  Genius.

This book is heavy in the covers since there is lots of tape and a checkout card and card holder glued to the back cover.  Remember that system.  You check out a book, sign the card then the book and card get stamped with a due date.  And oh boy, if you owed for an over due book, at least in Darby High School, Mrs. Parker would chase you though the halls; “Noah! Noah! you owe .10 cents Noah!  Ten cents!”

According to the card, this book was last checked out by T. Johnston.  And based on the due date of May 7, 2007, I’m assuming that’s Tyler Johnston and not his younger sister Tori Johnston.  Before that is was checked out by my assistant daughter, Shelby Rogala, due May 8, 2006.  She actually checked it out twice in a row.

The book I’m packing is John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”. First published in 1962, two years before I was born.  I love John Steinbeck’s writing (“Of Mice and Men”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “East of Eden”; all of which I recommend).  The introduction to “East of Eden” is one of the best examples of writing that I have ever read.  I had forgotten about that until I

       Canyon Creek Lunch Break

read the introduction to “Travels with Charley” yesterday while on my practice hike up Canyon Creek during my lunch break.  Here is an excerpt.

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.  And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.  We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.  Tour masters, schedules, reservation, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip.  Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it.  Only then do the frustrations fall away.  In this a journey is like a marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

Bravo Mr. Steinbeck.  That is beautiful.  “….we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”  Just makes you want to scream “Fucking A!” or “Amen Brother!”; depending on your preferred show of “damn that’s good shit” joy pulsing from your inner being.  Read it again……you should read it again.  It’s poetry.  Every word is a poem.

Not sure what the universe is trying to tell me as I sit here writing this blog.  It is 4:30 am.  I’m unable to sleep due to the pain of another migraine.  In the past 24 hours I have taken two prescription migraines pills, one muscle relaxer and three Aleve.  I’m on day three of this migraine.  Yesterday’s practice hike was more than a practice hike.  It was an experiment.  I hiked with my fully loaded pack for six hours.  I struggled to make it back to the car as the migraine went from a headachy pain to full blown pressure and pain. I do not have a headache, a headache has me.  Unable to eat or drink.  Eighty degrees.  Direct sun.  A beautiful day to everyone else.  I drove home.  If I had not had my dog, I would have driven to the emergency room (I’ve already met my deductible and the insurance company turned down my doctors prescription for preventive medicine).  Anyway, I’m not one to tell you about my pain and suffering,  but I wanted to explain to you the why.  The why I’ve backed out of my 5 day 50 mile backpacking trip on the Selway River.  I still plan on hiking naked on June 21st, but in the early hours of the day before it gets too hot and with no weight on my back and just for a little while.  Maybe I’ll turn it into “National Knit Naked on the Screened in Porch with the Ceiling Fan On and an iced tea and a good podcast Day”.

And the library book is saved from destruction ( I don’t think I could have followed through with that plan anyway).

More great book suggestions and adventures can be found at Wild About Books.



Ultra Light Weight and the Avid Reader Dilema

A few weekends ago I participated in a practice backpacking trip up Boulder Falls for one night. My friend and hero, Carol, who you’ve heard me reference several times in the history of this blog and who just turned 70 last month, was on her first ever backpacking excursion.  Carol had all the newest in gear and everything was in the category of Ultra Light Weight.  In other words her pack weighed half what mine did.  Half.  This is a smart woman.  Me….. not so much.  But who knew?  It’s not your grandma’s backpacking (well….unless Carol is your grandma).

Word on the Ultra Light street is that your pack should weigh 15 pounds before you add your food (food weight would vary depending on the number of nights out and your appetite).

I got home from Boulder Falls and weighed my pack (there was no food; even my emergency back up food had been consumed).  Twenty Six point eight (26.8) pounds total including the backpack.  I needed to get rid of 11.8 pounds of gear before my five day 50 miler on the Selway River.

As I unpacked, I weighed every single item that I had carried.

Our Boulder Creek practice hike was five miles in for one night and five miles out.  Our upcoming Selway River hike is going to be an average of 10 miles per day for five days straight.  Shedding 11.8 pounds is crucial.

Some people may think that a Kindle (11.11 ounces; 7.3 ounces without the cover), camp chair (10.76 ounces), and journal (5 ounces) are not required backpacking items.  But my blog followers know where I’m coming from….. (jeez…. I’m not taking my knitting 6.42 ounces).  The paperback book I bought for the trip, “Virgil Wander”, is 11.46 ounces, more than the kindle, I’m considering ripping off the front and back cover along with the non essential first and last pages to try to save an ounce or two.  Or skip it and take the kindle without the cover.  Maybe….see all the turmoil I’m going through with this.

My idea of being out in the woods for a week is to get into camp, set up a tent, take off my boots, find my book then set up my chair in a shady spot and read or journal for the afternoon.  That to me is the perfect day.

Some solutions to my weight dilemma  include taking my phone (7.62 ounces); which has a Kindle app and would double as a book, camera, headlamp (3.28 ounces), and I suppose I could take enough notes to count as a journal.  But how long is the battery good for on airplane mode?  I could leave the camp chair and just use my Therm-o-rest (27.9 ounces) leaned up against a downed log and make a lounge chair.  I could leave my tent (3 POUNDS) and sleep under the stars.  But, I wouldn’t sleep well thinking about the rattlesnakes wanting to cuddle with me.  I haven’t mentioned the rattlesnakes.  It’s the only thing people point out when I tell them I’m backpacking the Selway River.

“Ohhhhh….. lots of rattlesnakes on the Selway”.

I have purchased a few things. I’m saving 2 ounces on my new Jetboil; saving 1.88 ounces on a titanium cup; 5 ounces on a new pillow; new therm-o-rest sleeping pad is a savings of 11 ounces.  I’m also looking at ultra light weight backpacks which could save over 2 pounds; which is a lot of ounces.

I just finished a hardback book.  Although I have been known to pack in a cribbage board and a can of wine or two; I would never pack in a hardback book.  But, having finished the hardback; I’m ready to call it the new book pick for Wild About Books.

“The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This is an excellent and very different book.  A new perspective on slavery and the underground railroad with a hint; no more like a splattering of magical realism.  I love the books with supernatural out of this world experiences.  I often see it in American Indian folklore books, Mexican heritage novels such as Isabel Allende and African American books. Making magic happen. Through water, the protagonist can transport himself (and others). I”m sure I’ll want to tap into that superpower on the Selway with all of my gear.

Oh! And the Ursack with odor proof inserts to protect my food from bears is another 9 ounces.

More great books and adventures can be found on Wild About Books.








Twelve Month Book Challenge and Paper vs Plastic Challenge

You may remember my post from last April in which I promised to keep a list of books I’ve read and see how many I read in a year.  Well this is the big reveal.

For the last 12 months I have recorded every book I read and finished.  I even rushed through the end of my 800 page “The Labyrinth of Spirits” in order to include it in the list.

                      Twenty -seven.

I read twenty-seven books from April 25, 2019 to April 30, 2020.  Here’s the list.

  1. This is How it Always Is
  2. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Book Store
  3. Letters to a Young Writer
  4. The Power of Lift
  5. Empowerment Now
  6. Island Beneath the Sea
  7. Little Fires Everywhere
  8. Washington Black
  9. Braiding Sweetgrass
  10. The Hummingbirds Daughter
  11. Ask Baba Yaba
  12. Fight No More
  13. Hemp for Migraines
  14. American Princess
  15. The God Delusion
  16. How to Talk to Strangers
  17. Medical Medium Liver Rescue
  18. Know My Name
  19. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
  20. The Island of Sea Women
  21. Your Body in Balance
  22. Daughter of Fortune
  23. Breaking Trail
  24. The Incomplete Book of Running
  25. Remembering
  26. A Force for Good
  27. The Labyrinth of the Spirits

Some of these books you will recognize as Wild About Books recommendations.  Some of them didn’t make the cut but were still good.  The one that stands out to me as the best book of the year from my list is “Braiding Sweetgrass”; a non-fiction book.  I really loved that book. You could teach an entire science curriculum from this book.  A fun science curriculum.  I loaned it to my friend the science teacher and then he retired.  I should get it back from him.

Aren’t you curious about how many books you read in a year?  Take the challenge.  May 17 to May 17 ish log the books you’ve read.  It’s not a contest, just a curiosity.  Runner’s log miles, writer’s log word count.  Readers can log books read.  I’ll check in with you next May and see how it went.

You should have lots of books read this year.  Lots of books and lots of steps.  And Netflix movies.  While I’ve got your attention I want to recommend two movies.  “Silver Lining” and “Molly’s Game”.  You can find them both on Netflix.

This is a book club not a movie club.

Today we went to the grocery store and the clerk said “Is plastic ok?”  We always reply “Yes”.  Yes, because we don’t want to be a pain in the ass.  Clearly the way you ask it you want us to say yes, plastic is ok.

Why?  Why do we reply yes?  And if you look around, every one is replying yes.

Just say NO.

What happened to the paper bag?

Today we said we’d like paper (no one wants you bringing your bags from home due to COVID-19).  And she had them right there.  Paper bags.  The groceries pack neater in the paper bags.  They sit in the car nicely, no runaway cantaloupe.  You use less bags than when you pack the groceries in plastic.  Why did we stop with the paper bags and more importantly why do they ask the question “Is plastic ok?”, as if that were the preferred acceptable means to pack up groceries.  Why don’t they say “is paper ok?” or even “would you like paper or plastic?”  It reminds me of when the waiter ask what you would like to drink and we always answer “just water” when we want water as if it is the inferior drink.  No one says “just beer”  “just iced tea”.  But watch next time you go out.  Everyone says yes plastic is ok and just water.  Pay attention.  It is true.

Rambling day.  Must be rambling Saturday for Lisa.  Maybe I should go read a book and stop this nonsense.  It’s like you decided to do your timed writing with your blog followers.  I’m so confused.  Which person is talking?  Aren’t you the narrator? Is the blog a person?  I think the blog just asked you a question.  Wait.  What?

Reading.  Reading three books right now.  OK…..just two, but I bought one today to start.  See; it’s a tough life I lead.  The book I’m reading is “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  This book is a hardback.  I’m also reading “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle Melton.  This book is on my Kindle.  Here’s the conundrum.  I’m going backpacking soon.  A practice trip this weekend (maybe, it’s still in the logistics of multiple people stage) and then the real trip in the middle of June for five days.  I don’t want to take the hardback book because every ounce counts when backpacking and hardbacks are not an option.  I could take the kindle which is nice, not too heavy, has it’s own light and you could have 100 books loaded on it.  I have one book on it right now and it is good but it’s more of a read a little bit at a time book.  Not a read for an hour when you wake up before everyone else kind of book.  So….

Today I bought a paperback.  “Virgil Wander” by Leif Enger.  I’ve wanted to read this book for two years now.  This is the author of “Peace Like a River” which is an excellent book.

There ya go.  That’s why I’m reading two, almost three books.  And probably how I managed to read 27 books in 12 months.

Start your list.  Go with paper.  And order water.


Love in the Time of COVID-19

Shelter in Place Survival Tips by Lisa:

  1.  Let’s start with Zoom.  What a great tool.  In just the past week I have had two different Zoom yoga classes, interviewed two people for a job and had two cocktail parties, all while sheltering in place.  My sheltering in place also includes my office which is in a school, which has very few people, if any, most of the day.
  2. Restaurant Take out:  this is a great way to support local businesses.  We used an app to order and pay for lunch at the Bitterroot Brewery.  I also hear that Higher Ground Brewery is selling pizza kits.  A go box with dough, sauce, cheese and toppings to put together and cook at home. I love all of the creative entrepreneur ideas coming out of this pandemic.
  3. Take an online class.  I’m finishing my MasterClass in creative writing with Margaret Atwood and signed up for another online writing class that started today.
  4. Knitting:  I’m finishing another pussy hat and will start a new project. The yarn has shipped and I’ll be starting a baby blanket.  Knitting is very meditative and productive.  This may be one of my issues with starting a meditation practice, it doesn’t seem very productive.
  5. Meditate:  Dan Harris, author of “10% Happier” has a free daily guided meditation on You Tube.  Each day he has a meditation guru to guide you though a short meditation with a question and answer session at the end.
  6. Podcasts:  I’m enjoying Brene Brown’s new podcast “Unlocking Us”, some are better than others, but podcasts are easy to listen to or delete.  Also enjoying the new season of “Scene on Radio” called “The Land that Never Has Been Yet” about the history of democracy in America, or lack of.  I also recommend Scene on Radio season 3 “Men” and season 2 “Seeing White”.  And in case you haven’t heard; the podcast “Vegan Warrior Princess Attack” has changed its name to “Bitchy Shit Show”.
  7. Games:  cribbage is our go to game for two.  I’m always looking for a new game though.  Please let me know of any good games for two.  Might have to breakout Zach and Hannah’s fancy Stratego game before this is all over.
  8. Jigsaw puzzles:  sounds like people are into jigsaw puzzles.  Hannah says her neighborhood is having a jigsaw puzzle exchange (not sure how that’s going now with all the precautions).  I despise jigsaw puzzles, also a very non productive activity.  I did however just purchase a paint by number kit.  I’ll let you know how that goes.
  9. Cooking:  love this one; creative, meditative and productive.  Last night I tried a new recipe; vegan gumbo over brown rice.  Turned out great.  We just happened to have a bag of frozen okra as that was the only frozen vegetable left in the freezer case at the grocery store a few weeks ago (things seem to be a little better now).
  10. Walk, bike, or climb a mountain with ski boots and skis on your back then ski down.  So many outdoor options.  I hope everyone finds an outdoor exercise option.
  11. Lunges, squats, push ups, tricep dips, plank, side plank, burpees, jumping jacks (no equipment needed).  Three times a day should do it.
  12. Read!  So much great time for reading.  Shelter in Place; a readers dream.  I have a morning book and an evening book.  My morning book is “A Force for Good The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World”  This is a great book to start the day.  A positive look at the world and it’s people and an enjoyable read.  In the evenings I’m reading book four of the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series.  (I’ve blogged on the first three.)  The fourth book in the series is called ” Labyrinth of the Spirits” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I love this author’s writing and you will not want to be under the influence of anything in order to follow along.  There is lots happening and lots of characters.  I actually had to start over and take notes on the characters to keep up.  The first book is “Shadow of the Wind”.  If you haven’t read this series it would be a great COVID-19 project.

There you have it.  Shelter in place is easy; as I just emailed to a friend; give me a book, two bikes and a forest….oh wait….that’s what I do everyday.  I did hear on the news the other day that we should all just pretend like we have the virus (and we might) and act accordingly.  Stay healthy, stay home,  this is real; but stay calm.  And vote.  Don’t forget to vote.

Did she say “baby blanket”?

Yes, but she also said “paint by number”.

More great book suggestions and fun adventures can be found at Wild About Books.

Adventures in the Big Hole The Sequel

Leap Day 2020.  As my mom observed, we spend three years leaping over February 29, those should be the leap years and this should just be a regular year.

How many months have 28 days?

Answer:  All of them.

Road trip to the Big Hole.  As I described in the resent post “May Creek Cabin“, the Big Hole is a mecca of entertainment for the adventurer.  On leap day we took a day trip back for more  adventures.  As winter is trying to morph into spring the snow is less and  less in the 50 degree days. What snow there is, is turning to a solid mass of ice in the 20 degree nights.  A cycle of melt/freeze creates difficult snow adventures.  But not on leap day 2020.  We left the house with the car packed full of cross country ski gear, hot soup, more snacks, large down coats, swim suits, flip flops and a towel.

First stop, Gibbons Pass Road at Lost Trail pass to cross country ski.  Two things about Gibbons Pass Road:  First, this is one of those places in America that honors a person in history, General John Gibbon, a war “hero” who lead the genocide of the Niimíipuu Indians (renamed the Nez Perce by the French for their pierced noses, although it was only the Chinook Indians that pierced their noses, so a complete historical misnomer).  Now, Gibbons Pass is just a place name for most people who don’t give it a second thought as to the history behind the naming.  This makes my heart sad.

Second, Gibbons Pass Road is my favorite example of “can’t we all just get along”.  This multi-use area is professionally groomed on a regular basis.  On a busy Saturday you will find cross country skiers, skate skiers, fat bikers, show shoe-ers, snow mobilers, and the occasional dog sled team.  Everyone respects each other’s chosen venue of outdoor winter recreation.  Dogs play, people wave or talk or at least smile as others go by.   It’s a beautiful example of a wide array of backgrounds, political beliefs, retired people as well as families all respecting the resources the natural world has to offer.  This makes my heart happy.

On this particular Saturday, it was 25 degrees and snowing.  There was two inches of perfect snow on top of the groomed icy snow pack.  It was perfect.  We had a schedule, but that schedule was out the window, as soon as our skis glided effortlessly and quietly through the freshly fallen snow.  This out and back trek brought us back to the car for a Hydroflask full of hot white bean soup which I devoured for it’s warmth and calories.

A quick change of boots and dry hats and gloves and our biggest down coats  and we were on our way to our first Ski Joring event (as spectators).  Wisdom Montana is a town of 98 people and an elevation of just over 6200 feet above sea level and 277 days a year that the temperature hits below freezing.  5c7480a409c2e.image

The ski joring event takes place just outside of town at the Wisdom Airport.  Ski joring consist of a slalom course with gates, jumps and a grab the ring off the pole obstacle for skiers (or snowboarders) while being pulled through the course by a horse and rider.   The place was packed with participants and spectators.  The tailgating parties were in full swing with barbecuing, consumption of alcoholic beverages and lots of visiting.  Even 25 degrees, mostly cloudy and  a bitterly cold wind didn’t deter this group.  (That’s a pretty mild day for the Big Hole.)   And you could head over to the beer garden where you could purchase hot coffee and Kahlua, hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and of course, jello shots.  The food truck was an enclosed snowmobile trailer with the side door open where people stood in line for kielbasa sausage, chips and cinnamon rolls.  The announcer booth kept you informed of the upcoming contestants and their times.  Mostly the electricity to the booth kept going out which didn’t seem to make or break the event.  Just down another jello shot and call it good.

Next on the agenda,  a soak at Jackson Hot Springs in Jackson, Montana.  This town of 111 has a commercial natural hot springs.  I’ve been going here for almost 30 years.  It has changed owners 3 times but the place has not changed one bit.  Same concrete pool, same weird changing room in which the door opens out to the second floor above the bar, oops, cover up, the door is opening.  Oh. Wait.  They did pull up the red shag carpet in the changing room, that was a plus.  Going from the inside to the outside to the pool is always a challenge.  Having the tips of your hair freeze is normal.  And getting back out  soaking wet is another hurdle.  But all worth the effort to get to relax and soak in the warm water on a cold day.

Another good day of Big Hole Adventures.  And what’s a good book to go with Big Hole adventures?  (I’m not kidding this place is really called the Big Hole).  Ivan Doig’s “Last Bus to Wisdom” and “The Whistling Season” or “The Big Sky” by A. B. Guthrie Jr.  or “Tough Trip Through Paradise” by Andrew Garcia or  “Undaunted Courage”  by Stephen Ambrose.  I’ve read and recommend all of these books.  Quarantine yourself with a good book.

How do you get down from a horse?

Answer:  You don’t.  You get down from a duck.

More great book recommendations and other adventures can be found at Wild About Books.

The Blind River

I’ve floated many rivers.  The Salmon in Idaho, the Owyhee in Oregon, the Smith, the Missouri, the Flathead, the Yellowstone in Montana and the New in West Virginia.  These were all in rafts, canoes or inflatable kayaks.

This past Christmas holiday I got to float the Blind River in Louisiana.  In a motor boat.  A totally different experience and one I’ll never forget.

Lesa and Jed LeBlanc invited us all (a family of 10) to their camp on the river.  They called it a camp, but it’s a structure.  A house.  A house on raised footings to keep it above the swampy river’s edge.  Everything in the camp has to come in by boat.  They picked us up at the St. James Boat Club, a happening spot for weddings, reunions and blood drives as well as a boat launch to a multitude of camps.  It was rainy and overcast on this winter day in Louisiana as we walked onto the boat.  We were offered beer for the ride, the boat owners having already cracked one open.  The Blind River must have been named due to the continues S-curves this river takes as it flows though the swampy cypress trees.  You can never see past the next curve.  We passed many camps on the way to Lesa and Jed’s.  You could see the old ones that were no longer kept up slowly being digested by the river.  Many different stages of houses being swallowed by the water.  Other homes were alive and well and thriving  with the vegetation and wildlife.

We pulled up into the covered boat slip and walked the dock towards the modified doublewide, careful not to slip on the slick wet wood.  Everyone was offered beer as Lesa passed out Michelob Ultra to the group.

“Y’all like any of those fancy beehs?” Lesa yelled.  “We got a couple of those fancy beehs in heh.”  She held up a sample she’d dug up from the bottom of the large cooler.  It wasn’t an IPA or a Wheat Beer as we were hoping, but an orange flavored Coors.  No one was interested in the fancy beer.

The dock was clearly the place you hung out even in the drizzle.  Being wet is just part of the package whether it’s drizzle, humidity or because you are walking through the yard. Lesa brought out her double basket deep fryer, a fancy Tupperware breading colander and a large bowl of just caught, cleaned and cut up catfish. We were having a fish fry.  I popped open my Michelob Ultra and watched Lesa in action.  She could start her own cooking show right here on this dock.  She breaded, fried and talked; never stopping; dumping a basket of hot fish onto a paper towel covered plate as we all grazed and picked and ate.

The Louisiana accent is a character in itself.  Not always easy to understand but definitely distinguishable. A combination of fast southern, French and black and a dash of a Boston accent.  Don’t pronounce the r’s as well as a few other choice consonants and there you have it.  A deep Louisiana accent.  Oh, and don’t pronounce the g’s either, but that is redundant since I already said “southern”.

“Zach, get me a beeh bo, I need a beeh.”

After a few good batches of fish, Lesa fried up a few bags of onion rings and french fries.  I have to say that this vegan, who rarely eats fried food and watches her alcohol consumption for fear of a migraine imbibed on this Louisiana breakfast; every single bit of it.  And it was good.

As we were feasting on fried foods, the neighbor pulled up to the dock in his motor boat.  I believe that is life on the Blind River; fishing, eating, beer and visiting.  The neighbor had been deer hunting and came face to face with a very large alligator.  He brought out his phone to show us the pictures of the alligator coming at him.  “Unusual to see one that big this time of year.”

After getting our fill of fish, onion rings and fries, we got back into the boat to go visit other neighbors.  Everyone was very gracious and proud to show their camp to outsiders, especially the ones who came from the mythical state of Montana.

We came back to Jed and Lesa’s visited and fished, passed around more beer and then packed up our stuff to boat back to the St. James Boat Club.  Everyone hugged and thanked each other.  “Come back again”.  “Come to Montana”.  Everyone genuine, happy, comfortable.

I realized while I was writing this post that you may wonder how me and my children came to spend Christmas in a small town in Louisiana; a place where Hannah used a large reusable grocery bag full of just picked kumquats as her personal bag on the plane ride home.  Well, that is a story in itself and a future blog post idea.  Stay tuned.

Spending time in Louisiana made me remember a book that I have already recommended in a past blog and a worth mentioning again.  A non-fiction book, “Strangers in Their Own Land” by Arlie Russel Hochschild.  And for this post I am recommending a historical fiction “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabel Allende which takes place in the eighteen century and early nineteenth century.  The first half of this book is in Haiti and in Cuba.  After a slave revolt, boat loads of refuges make it to Louisiana where we follow plantation life and the creole culture.

More great book suggestions and adventures can be found at Wild About Books.

May Creek Cabin

One of my favorite adventure spots in Montana is Highway 43.  This is a two lane road that starts (or ends) at Lost Trail pass on the Montana/Idaho border. A place where the Bitterroot National Forest, the Beaverhead National Forest and the Salmon National Forest all come together. It winds east down from the pass through The Big Hole Valley and along the Big Hole River.  This 82 mile highway passes through the tiny towns of Wisdom, Wise River, Dewey and Divide where is ends at Interstate 15.  There are year round recreation opportunities off this road of frost heaves and orange 15 foot tall poles to help guide you where the road is in a snow storm.  Cross country skiing, snow mobiles, dog sleds, fly fishing, hunting, rafting, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, skijoring, hot springs, downhill skiing and cattle.  That is what you can find via Highway 43.  What you will not find is too many people, a mall, stoplights, stop signs, cell service, a fast food restaurant or even a high school.

There is also access to two forest service cabins.  Hogan Cabin and May Creek Cabin.

When I used to reserve one of the two cabins, I had to wait for the “day” that the permits were open, then start calling the Wisdom Ranger Station starting promptly at 7:00 am and dial, busy signal, redial; over and over until I would get through.  By 8:00 all the Friday and Saturday’s would be taken.  Usually I was lucky to get a Sunday night.  Now it’s all online.  I’m not even sure the procedure.  If I happen to think about it in the fall, I’ll go to and see what is available.  This year I scored a Sunday night.  Sunday February 2nd.  It wasn’t until a week before my reservation that I realized why that Sunday was open.  Super Bowl Sunday.  Well.  In my book; The Big Hole trumps the Super Bowl.  Sleeping in a cabin with no electricity or running water, heated with a wood stove on a February night in Montana beats watching four hours of television.

With our backpacks packed, the car full of of equipment, we load the dog and head the 30 miles south to highway 43.  But before going to the cabin we stop at Lost Trail Powder Mountain for some downhill turns.  We stop for three reasons.  One, fresh powder and still snowing, two, we have a season pass and three, it’s on the way and what we usually do on Sunday mornings.  I’ve been skiing this mountain for 27 seasons.  I raised my kids on this mountain, learned to snowboard on this mountain.  The line for the women’s room is always a reunion of some sorts.  Women hugging and catching up while waiting in line to pee.  And lunch in the lodge is three tables deep of friends.

“Did you put in for the river?”  Have you been over to chair four?”  “Loved your blog this week.” “Lisa, I’ve got a book for you to read.”

We say hi to the owners when they walk by.  They also grew up on this mountain, taking over the business from their dad.

Our legs are done with downhill by two o’clock and we head to the car.  It’s too blustery to change into our cross country outfits so we get in the car and drive the 10 miles down 43 to the pull out for May Creek Cabin. It’s much nicer off the top of the mountain for a change of clothes for the next adventure.  Fourteen degrees, but no wind or snow.  One car passes as we get ready and put on our cross country skis.

The May Creek trail runs along the creek and in the trees for most of the two and a half miles to the cabin.  Right at the end it opens up into a big beautiful meadow where you can see the small cabin tucked up next to the mountain on the edge of the meadow.  Serene. So serene with the untouched white snow, the occasional glimpse of the creek flowing, the falling snow starting to slow down as dusk comes unnoticed looking so similar to an all day of snowstorm.

We arrive at the cabin, unlock the combination lock and immediately start a fire in the wood stove.  The thermometer reads 10 degrees outside. The cold has already settled into the logs, nothing is sealed very tight in this historic cabin.  The cabin was built by miners in the 1900’s and was restored in 1993 for recreational use (the year I moved to Montana).  There is a coleman stove for cooking, pots, pans, plates and silverware.  There is a shelve with games, jigsaw puzzles and a cabin journal for guest to write in.  There are four bunk bed style wooden platforms for sleeping, a table with benches and about 100 yards up the mountain there is an outhouse.

After dinner and several games of cribbage we climb into our sleeping bags to read before falling asleep.  Brett is up several times in the night to keep the fire going in the small, inefficient wood stove.  I’m up at 6:00 am, it is still dark out.  I heat up some water for tea, make some yogurt and granola and trek up to the outhouse.  It is dark, in the middle of the forest and it is 10 below zero.  I climb back into my sleeping bag with my tea, my breakfast, my book and my dog. Outside the dark starts to fade away.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  The morning brings clear skies and bright sunshine to this pristine meadow.  Paradise.

The book I’m reading is about a woman mountain climber.  Climbing mountains in the early 1970’s before “woman mountain climber” was a term.  As I read in the cold cabin, she is on Denali, having just completed the first all women team of climbers to reach the top.  But she is now just below the top with one of her climbing partners who has altitude sickness and is unable to continue as she comes in and out of consciousness.  It is night and 30 below zero and they are out in the elements.  Waiting.  Waiting for her friend to recover.  Or die.  You’ll have to read the book to see how this adventure turns out. “Breaking Trail” 

by Arlene Blum is the book recommendation for this post.  A memoir about Arlene climbing peaks around the world, making historic first accents on many of the mountains, the group dynamics wit

h her climbing partners and the dysfunctional home life that molded her into the person she is.

I highly recommend the book “Breaking Trail” as well as May Creek Cabin and Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

More great books and adventures can be found at Wild About Books.