Thursday, September 22, 2016

How to Sharpen a Blade

Pruning shears. Hatchets. Pocket knives. Splitting mauls. Chainsaws. The Jawsaw (my favorite tool)! Even kitchen knives...slicing a tomato with a super sharp paring knife is so satisfying.

Jawsaw. Best tool ever. 
Like climbing with cams that have a smooth trigger, or putting up a tent with snappy-corded poles, not ones with a cord that's lost all its elasticity, having sharp, burr-free tools makes the work so much easier, so much more fun. I recently have been learning this.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I made a commitment on a chunk of land, tucked in steep forested hills above the South Fork of the Payette River, surrounded by the Boise National Forest. We're only an hour from the city of Boise. But on days when supplies run low, forest fires get close, bear poop appears outside the back door, or the sky explodes with millions of stars, we are reminded that we're Out Here.

We have big plans for this place that shape a long and happy life. The hitch is that every step demands a whole new set of skills than I ever imagined. Everything is new. Everything. Skills and knowledge I've never really practiced to any level of semi-mastery are a requirement.

How to pour a concrete pillar below frost depth, attach a 6-foot post, and make it plumb on a steep hill? Um. ???
How to melt the water pump power box in winter when it's a solid block of ice after a freak rain-sleet storm? Well, guess we shoulda plugged those holes we didnt know were there... 
How to put out a chimney fire? Fast!

These days, sharp tools come in handy a lot more often than cams and tents. Of course, it helps to know how to sharpen them. Guess it's a good thing that I've always liked learning.

But spending every day asking, How do I do this? How does this work? Why doesn't that work? How did that even happen? over and over in order to accomplish what seem like small tasks in a mountain of work is exhausting. It can be acutely frustrating too; just ask my husband, (it's helpful being so far out here that when you scream in frustration, no one can hear you). And it's humbling to be a novice at everything, all the time. I never realized how reassuring, and restful it is to know how to do things. It's been a while since I spent much time doing stuff I know, and it's been quite a while since I did any writing...guess I've been busy learnin'.

Chopping enough wood to get through an Idaho winter requires a lot of effort... and a good maul is key. So, que Yoda, "there is no try, only do." Luckily, Neal has a more experience at a lot of this than I do. And he is patient.

So, how to sharpen a blade: 
1. Get your tool to be sharpened and sharpening stone. Take note of the sharp, cutting edge vs. the meaty center/cheek of the blade or maul (this may seem obvious, but when ya don't know nothin' bout it, maybe it's not)

2. Spit on your blade, near the sharp edge where it needs sharpening.

3. Set the stone at a 10°-ish angle, (near that handy spit), just inside from the sharp edge.

4. Use smooth strokes pulling the stone out to the sharp edge and away from the cheek.

5. Repeat those smooth strokes, spit again if needed, and smooth out any burrs. Don't over sharpen your maul.

6. And never, ever pull from the sharp edge in toward the cheek. Just don't do it.

7. Keep in mind I've only done this a handful of times, so really, you're on your own.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dirty Talk

Heading towards the first climb at Red Cliffs, I mentioned to the gals, "this hill is one of my challenges." A newer mountain biker, I've tried to ride it numerous times, both up and down, but the top corner, deeply rutted through the center, had proved to be a nemesis.

Kung-fu grip helps in Moab
As we approached the hill, my mind tapped in on trusty mantras. I heard Claire, an old cycling buddy, "Pull! Pull! Pull!!" And I heard the calm, smiling voice of my fiance, "kung-fu grip." And I heard my legs, "GEAR DOWN, WOMAN!" So I did; geared down to spin, pull pull pulled up the steep, kung-fu gripped through the rutted section and then...suddenly I was at the top!

"Victory is mine! Muwahahaha!"and "yay! fun," my inner cheerleaders said.

Kari and Laura, my ride buddies came up to meet me and high-fives were passed around. Known possibility had just altered with the rush of blood to my quads, calves and into my ears - take that, nemesis hill. Whoop whoop!

Riding as this trio was new for all of us but we proved to be well matched. We were all getting our legs under us for the season, shaking out the cobwebs of old hesitations and rode on sharing stories until harder steep sections forced a pause in our conversations.

I didn't even notice it had happened until Kari said, "Ok, ladies, enough of that talk. You can save it for the guys if you want but not when we're together." I hadn't even noticed, but Laura and I had derailed our conversation into the dark, dirty world of negative self-talk. Coincidentally, I had also just noticed I'd begun to ride slower and feel nervous, my kung-fu grip felt less grippy and the rocks and ruts seemed to be getting bigger. Boo.

How did I go from being a cheerleader to a nay-sayer? Were Laura and I trying to make one another feel better about insecurities? If I one-upped her on challenges or what I was bad at, maybe she'd feel more confident? (I know, dumb idea.) Was it that we felt safe enough with one another to express our fears or insecurities? Were we simply perpetuating the "popular social sentiment" within our mini group toward our own potential abilities?

Psychologist Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory and definition of self-efficacy would argue that we were observing each another's negative behavior, mirroring it back to one another, and also projecting it onto ourselves. If you think back to your Psych 101 class in college, perhaps you'll remember him, but his theory says that the "social observations" Laura and I were making with one another heavily influenced our beliefs about whether or not we are able to successfully perform and master this whole mountain biking thing. Talking about how bad we are at biking and regurgitating stories of when we ate shit, while occasionally funny, wouldn't help us stay upright or feel psyched about riding next time.

Whether Bandura got it right, or not, we needed to reverse our thinking and spin it towards the positive. What happened to those encouraging voices to "pull, pull, pull" and keep a "kung fu grip"? We started downhill, which ended our chatting for a while as we each picked up speed, leaving me to contemplate our downward spiral into the self-doubting chit-chat.

How often do I sabotage my ability to ride a challenging trail, or climb a route just beyond my comfort zone because I buy into and perpetuate negative social behaviors? How much am I contributing to the doubt my riding and climbing partners might feel - am I sabotaging them? (yikes!) Am I thinking too hard about this?!?! Maybe. But, its important to remember that sticks and stones can break our bones and words can really screw with our heads. Thankfully, there are friends like Kari who call us out, reminding us we don't need to give negative thoughts any legs on which to stand and then walk all over our day. Negative social behaviors might domino effect to others, but so can positive ones.

At the end of trail with our heads back in the game, more high-fives were passed out, along with hugs and cheers of a "great ride" and "awesome work." Next time: less dirty talking, more dirty, dusty and fun riding.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

New, Awesome Sport Specific Apparel: The Dog Walking Jacket

The other day a cheerful email popped up in my inbox letting me know a new line of cute, girlie, fashionable SUP apparel had just been launch by That One Women's Beach Apparel Company.

WOW!, I thought. If I were a paddleboarder, I could follow the email's links to shopping paradise to get fully equipped for the season. Along the way, my stoke for the the upcoming season would likely have been amped to frenzy levels. However, I do not SUP.

The times I have, which have been very meditative and quite enjoyable, I wore the same swimsuit, tank top and shorts I wear to the beach or in a raft or under the sprinkler in my backyard while sipping a gin and tonic. My logic for my clothing choices while paddleboarding: Swimsuit stays in place should I errantly paddle myself overboard. Tank and shorts because, well, it was hot out and I was working on my golden tan.

A few friends of mine actually race in SUP events and to this I say KUDOS! It is hard work to say upright and direct the board where I want it to go. To do so while employing speed to beat out other racers is really impressive. Its challenging – I am not mocking SUP people. However. Unless you’re racing in the open ocean where winds could be fierce, or in the PNW where it could be raining and 50 on a mid-August day, does you really need special and expensive apparel specifically designed for SUP’ing? Do we need fashion SUP wear that is different from “fashion” yoga, pilates, climbing at the gym, biking around town, sitting on the couch-wear? Really? If all this niche-popular specialty gear is truly required by our individual “sports” then I’m putting in my request for a specialty dog walking jacket.

Have you ever considered the variable conditions and intensity of walking your dog?! Walking your dog can result in unexpected, dramatic, HUGE adventures! I realize SUP’ing is sexy right now, but lets not underestimate Dog Walking. Like a Rolex, Dog Walking is timeless; it will not go out of fashion. Just because Dog Walking is not featured often in pop-media does not mean your dog needs that walk any less. Now that we've straightened that out....Its time to make apparel specifically designed for the Dog Walker.

The ideal Dog Walking Jacket would include:

Poop bag holder – For either the rolls or stacks, user’s choice. Zip them up in a side or back pocket (that does NOT create unflattering bumps and bulges anywhere noticeable) with a little handy opening to pull one out in a flash when Fido takes a dump. This would mitigate that problems that arise if you have one of those little poop bag holders on your dog’s leash but you’re in an off-leash area so don't have your leash with poop bag holder and there are people around watching you. Dog takes a dump? No bag? You just earned World's-Worst-Dog-Owner-Ever status. If you were wearing this Dog Walking Jacket, you would've avoided the shame!

Snack Pocket –  A pocket that is washable and securely sealed so that if you stick a handful of Puppy’s treats in there, they wont make your whole jacket stink like chicken bullion. Perhaps this feature of the Dog Walking Jacket could be called the Snack Pack.

Leash attachment – Have to walk the dog on leash before you hit the off-leash trails? This handy dandy snap-on feature allows you fasten your leash to your jacket for bounce-free security, keeping you “hands free” AND, if you have to run after Fluffy, the leash clasp wont smack you in the face! 

Snot/sweat wipe – Crisp winter air = runny nose. Fall/Spring blooming and pollen = allergically runny nose. Summer heat = sweaty, runny face into eyes. The entire forearm of one sleeve could just be a massive snot/sweat wipe. Awesome.

Coffee cup holder – Walking dogs + morning = coffee cup in hand. But what to do after taking that last sip with more walking still to do? The Dog Walking Jacket would have an elastic and Velcro pull cord tucked inside one hand pocket for just such a challenge. Pull it out of your jacket and give it a gentle tug to be sure elastic is fully extended (kind of like those oxygen bags on an airplane). Slip your cup inside the loop and VOILA, no need to carry the cup in your hand!!

Must also be waterproof, windproof, breathable, not too hot for summer and also warm enough for winter too.

The Dog Walking Jacket. Fully featured. Fashionable. Be ready for your high intensity adventures with Scooby and look cute too! Million dollar idea? BOOM.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Campground Water Spigots

Turning the small t-shaped handle, a familiar squeak-squawk-swoop sound filters through my ears and into a deep nook of my brain. “Ah,” my brain says to the familiar sound of a campground water spigot, a sound tied to a hundred different memories.

The memories that come first are from camping trips with my family when I was a little girl. Vacations meant camping and, though we occasionally stayed in hotels (preferably ones with pools in my sister’s and my opinion), I don't remember hotel trips as well. Hotels didn't have those familiar water spigots.

My memories are colored by vivid fern and pine greens, the pale blue of early morning sky and a bit of haze from campfire. They feel like the rough flannel of my dad’s button up shirt, warm like a cup of hot cocoa my mom made, spongy like the old yellow-foam mats we’d roll out every time we set camp, and soft like our matching navy-blue sleeping bags that smelled faintly of campfire and earth. With a soundtrack of chirping birds in the morning and the crackle of campfire along with the spigot squeak, these colors, feelings, and smells paint the backdrop to memories of hide-and-go-seek at twilight in the woods behind our campsite. Roasting s’mores to the perfect golden brown and mourning the loss of ones turned to charcoal. Setting up our gigantic Colman tent with its confusing color-coded poles that could fit the four of us plus our bags and the dog and our toys and maybe a school bus or two (or so it seemed in those days.) We camped close to home, and we camped hundreds of miles away too.

With my sister, mom or dad, I would walk to get water from a spigot for cooking dinner on our 2-burner Colman or cleaning the dishes, to fill water bottles before a hike or to fill the dog’s bowl. After dark, my sister and I would walk closer together on our way to wash our hands and brush our teeth, while trying to one-up the other with scary stories of ghosts and Bigfoot and the boogie man. With a squeaky turn, the high-pitched whistle of water would signal the flow through pipes while we did the "chore" of filling some pot or bottle, inevitably splattering the ground and our feet and faces in the process.

Camping led to building forts in the roots of massive trees in the Olympics, seeing the late day sun shine on Mt Rushmore, playing cowgirl in wooden-porched museums, daydreaming of dinosaurs in the Badlands, crying about the approach of the Hells Angles while stopped a South Dakota rest stop. My imagination stretched with curiosity as landscapes changed before my eyes at the speed of 60mph on the drive to our annual summer destination. I learned to pee outside without getting it on my shoes and that blue colored berries are edible, red are sometimes edible and white are never, ever to be eaten. I learned that whatever you see, look a little closer, a little longer and you'll see more than you ever expected. And I learned that sleep comes faster, deeper, and more restful under the canopy of trees, stars and a quiet, wilderness sky.

I don't know why my parents chose to camp. Maybe because they both camped as kids with their families. Or, maybe financially, they could afford to travel more with a family of four by not spending on flights and fancy hotels, but rather driving and carrying our home in a rolled up canvas bag. Or because they really just love the outdoors. Most likely, it was a little of all. Whatever the reason, I am grateful.

Now, from the moment I set out for a campout in an established park packed with July tourists or some solitary backcountry spot, I nearly instantly find peacefulness and creativity forgotten in the standard routine of coffee, house, work. All it really takes to get there is the turn and squeak of a campground faucet.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fuel

Tuesday's sunset = inspiration lived. Bogus Basin.
Photo: Hilary Oliver
Its the last Friday of August and its not lost on me that a year ago this weekend, I was pulling out of Seattle and driving east towards my soon-to-be new home, Boise. A stop for a fun weekend with friends in the Methow Valley gave me a familiar eddy to pause in for a moment and from there, onward. Reflecting just a bit on this past year, while also enjoying these (hopefully) last very hot days of summer, my creative mind is finding inspiration through these bits and pieces. Here are the stories and comics and images that are making up my Friday Fuel this morning:

Zen Pencils: A Cartoonists Advice. In Bill Watterson style (convenient as Calvin and Hobbes is still my favorite!), cartoonist Gavin Aung Than puts images to a few words from a graduation speech Bill gave to the freshly diploma'd. This is just the inspiration and reassurance I need today to not feel like a total crazypants for going out on a limb to pursue my own dream.

"To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed. And I think you'll be happier for the trouble." - Bill W.

Time to get myself in a bit of that trouble, I'd say.

Humans Of New York. I love this Tumblr project. Through his images and simple questions, the raw honesty that photographer, Brandon Stanton pulls from the random folks he meets in NYC is a gorgeous reminder at how very human we all are. This has been my daily go-to site for the past few weeks since I stumbled across it. A warning though; if you haven't yet seen it, you might find yourself completely hooked, spending hours scrolling through all the images.

US Department of the Interior Instagram Account. If you haven't seen it yet, get ready for your socks to be knocked off. The photos are gorgeous and a fantastic mental vacation to a place where the wind blows gently, the only sounds are of trees and birds and bubbling creeks, and where you might just discover a few mysteries of the world.

Forest Woodward's Left of West Project, (via Filson). Forest has the incredible ability to tell stories of a thousand or two words in a single image. The souls of the people and places he photographs seem to speak right through the colored squares bearing their likeness. His Left of West project has been one of my favorite to follow this summer and captures the essence of the old west still found in the mountains and sagebrush. You can get more images by following his instagram feed, @forestwoodward 

Hope you enjoy these bits of inspiration too and Happy Labor Day weekend!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Finding Pumpkin Creek

I showed him the photos. “Do you know this place?” I asked. 
“I can take ya there right now,” he said.  
Supper still in the oven, we took off from the house, dust plumes rising behind our trucks. ...we turned off the road onto a rough track heading straight for an old, dilapidated log structure that mirrored my photos, only with the roofs fallen in.  
A year ago this past May, I went on a road trip through Montana to find the homestead where my grandmother grew up. She was an inspiring, defining part of my life for 33 years and continues to guide and influence even in the last year and half since she's been gone. When she passed away it became imperative to me to make this mini-pilgrimage to find her childhood home.

I'm so proud to have a short story of the adventure finding her homestead included in this summer's Mountain Outlaw Magazine. If you live in Montana, Wyoming, or eastern Idaho, you may come across a hard copy. If so  - and if you are at all like me and love the smell of real printed words in books, magazines, newspapers - I'd be honored if you picked one up, put your nose in it and gave it a read.

You can also read it by going to the online version of Mountain Outlaw, page 42. Many thanks to Emily Stifler for the opportunity and thoughtful editing. It may be only 3 pages, and just a few thousand words, but as my first printed piece (not including technical copy about outdoor apparel in catalogs or directions on packaging for how to use roll-top stuff sacks, or other such branding collateral), I'm so thrilled. I know my grandma would get a kick out of this story too. Were she still here, this August my family would gather around her to celebrate her 99th birthday, where stories of her childhood would most certainly be told.

 Thanks for reading and happy summer!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Everything's Bigger In Texas

The ride through the center of town to my destination starts slightly downhill. Its easy and hardly requires braking or much exertion to pedal the single-speed cruiser I’ve rented. The day has started bright and warm, even in these early morning hours. Many people say hello with friendly smiles as I pass by. My route is taking me along trail that runs beside a creek dotted with big trees and construction cranes building the future. At the halfway point to my destination, I cross one of the town's lakes and begin heading slightly uphill. These "lakes" are actually parts of the Colorado River, only dammed to stillness, and to my delight, I learn the bridge I used to cross over provides home to 1.5 million bats. Easy ride, nice people, tall trees - I could be in Boise except this city is much bigger.

Arriving at the recommended coffee shop, the attitude of the baristas, the aroma of delicious coffee and subsequent quality of my americano are comfortingly familiar. The place is packed with men and women, nearly all who are adorned with tattoos. In addition to tattoos, the men's uniform includes scruffy beards, tight, worn-in black jeans and tight often black, sometimes pink t-shirts, many with classic band logos on them. The women's includes thick, Wayfarer-style glasses and with a slightly messy but highly intentional, multi-colored, layered clothing system of tank under tee under cardigan over skirt with Dora-like shoes or flip flops.

Flipping through the local weekly to see what live music will be playing during the weekend, I can't help overhearing conversations around me. A man and woman to my left discuss plusses and minuses of life changes like moving cross country and she mentions the psychic she consulted for insight and maybe he ought to go see them too? Behind me, a group of college girls bounce from topic to topic competing for audible space with the couple: “It was so good and, like, my friend was, like, so grossed out”…”what’s interesting is the connection in Tennessee with the Cherokee and the Chauktaw” …"and then suck in your stomach and hold for like 20 seconds and if you do that every day you’ll have a flat stomach”...“This is where the career has been kicking my ass." I might just as well be in Seattle at Solstice near the UW or at Zeitgeist in Pioneer Square.

Then there is the pandemonium of birds; bold and incessant though not entirely unpleasant they hit a decibel that could nearly cause ear damage. Larger birds make a loud, sustained “squweeee” sound and the other littler birds a light, tinkling “chir chir chir.” They nestle in the flowering trees that shade coffee drinkers and hold on to branches as if they are surfing the light breeze. To my relief the air is not still and movement offers some relief from the heat. The humidity is so thick, my high-desert-of-Idaho-tamed mane into a voluminous look straight out of the Lion King. This place is so familiar, it could be Hawaii if there was an ocean nearby.

The night before, I had stepped off the plane and immediately started to sweat. The air, even at nearly midnight, was sticky. My initial impressions: hot, humid, big. Arriving so late, I had little visual perspective in the dark but had started building a human impression first from the two drunk men who’d been on my flight and kept asking where I was going to party that night as I dodged them on my way to baggage claim (luckily, I am highly trained in concourse navigation and have the speed of cheetah even when toting luggage). Then there was the very kind, award-winning travel guide on my shuttle with a big smile and gentle handshake who offered endless tips on where to go and what to do for anyone seeing his city for the first time. And, also the shuttle driver who went the wrong way down a freeway onramp to the unexpected excitement of all of us passengers.

The morning bike ride had finally revealed a visual of this city with traffic and panhandlers and construction noise that added to the impression of “big”. Even the people seemed louder, talking boldly of personal things in public. Maybe 6 months of living in a small city/big town has already changed me or maybe I’m just now learning that I’m just how private and quiet and cautious I actually am.

Which is what I’m thinking sitting at Jo’s, unintentionally eavesdropping on that couple next to me – is it a date?, just friends? – not that it matters. In their minds, they are in a private bubble and are comfortably sharing and being inspired to dig into meaty topics here at this busy outdoor coffee shop.

The birds mix with conversations and the sounds of trucks and cars rumbling up the street. Asphalt mixes with the scrubby trees and shrubs creating a natural feel in this urban hot spot. This city is a  mashup of natural and manufactured with bubbles of stillness every now and then that echo in the bustling city shuffle. I feel like I should already know this place but I keep getting lost.

Its not quite Boise, nor Seattle, Portland, or Hawaii, but a little of each. Familiar in so many ways but built by its own formula its also not. This is Austin, where the tattoos are plentiful, the biking easy and they make a damn fine cup of coffee. And food trucks. I forgot to mention the food trucks...