Flying the coop!

West“I’ve been waiting for a phone call like this for a long time,” my mother stated.  A bit confused, I asked what she meant.  2-3 weeks is our usual call interval, so it’s not like she was waiting to hear from me any longer than usual.  “You finally sound happy and relaxed again,” she clarified.

Sure enough, she was correct.  For me, a person living a semi-nomadic lifestyle, spending more than half the year in one place leaves me feeling a bit stir-crazy, even when that is the place I call home.  There were many solid reasons why I spent a bit more time at home this spring, and finally getting out on the road has been amazingly liberating in a way I had not previously appreciated quite so much.

The first 4 days of travel encompassed running last minute errands in VT and driving steadily and consistently across the east and mid-west.  I’ve been cross-country a few times, and have found some great places east of the Continental Divide,

Grasshoppers in the Field
Grasshoppers in the Field, Enchanted Highway, North Dakota
North Dakota Badlands
Badlands of the Missouri River, Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

but my heart lives in the mountains.  So, after taking a few quick side trips in Minnesota and North Dakota, I bee-lined it for Glacier National Park.

I arrived at the Cut Bank Campground to find my good friend Helicopter (aka Lisa) huddled in her tent.  She wasn’t expecting to see me until maybe the following day, and my arrival was a most welcome surprise.  The next few days we gallivanted around the GNP frontcountry, finding a few quiet spots slightly off the beaten path.

“Helicopter, doesn’t it seem like we ought to be hiking away from here instead of driving?” Lovely lunch spot on the porch of an historic cabin on the west side of GNP.


Helicopter & Pounce on Scenic Point, Two Medicine, Glacier National Park


Helicopter decided to extend her vacation by a day, so we secured a bike rental for her (I have mine with me) at the Whitefish Bike Retreat, an amazing place owned by my friend Cricket, and then proceeded to tucker ourselves out on the beautifully maintained Whitefish Trail.  Being accustomed to the more rocky/rooty/narrow trails back east, this was a stupendous singletrack experience for me.

Biking the Whitefish Trail, Whitefish, MT – Photo credit: Lisa Seeley

After dropping Helicopter off at the airport, I returned to the WBR to chillax in the hammock for the afternoon.  It was the first real rest I had taken since setting off over a week earlier, and quite a welcome bit of do-nothing time.  Eventually, a rumbling belly and the promise of margaritas, fabulous Mexican food, and engaging conversation roused me from my reverie, and Cricket and I set off for dinner in town.

Many philosophers have stated that there are no coincidences, but I often wonder about this theory during travel, as, time after time, the most amazing twists of fate materialize.  My next stop was Yaak, Montana, to meet a good friend from home for a short backcountry hiking trip.  John has been adventure motorcycle touring out west for the past two months, and just happened to be less than a hundred miles from Yaak at the perfect time.  I mean, really, what are the chances?!?

Yaak is situated in the middle of nowhere of northwest MT and boasts a general store and a saloon, but no cell phone service.  So we went old-school, leaving notes on the general store bulletin board in order to locate each other.  “Cath, I’m heading out in search of swimming and will check back around 2:30.”  I dare say it was easier than texting, and definitely more fun.  The good times carried over into the next several days, spent hiking a cross-country route in the Northwest Peak Scenic Area, finding some great campsites and creeks, and generally dorking about in the woods before parting to continue pursuing our individual summer adventures.

John surveys the route from Northwest Peak to Davis Mountain.

Now I’m settled for the next week or so at a friend’s fledgling homestead in eastern Washington, helping him cut firewood while taking local hikes and bike rides and organizing myself for the next stage of my summer travels.

Cougar Mountain, Republic, WA

I’m planning some exciting human-powered adventures for the next few months, so stay tuned!  Also make sure to check out my Instagram feed for some additional photographic tidbits between blog posts.

Finding mySelf on a new mini-adventure!

Messages from the Universe

SlowSometimes the Universe sends subtle messages that are often lost among the more stubborn of us.  Other times, she sends a message LOUD AND CLEAR.  My injury on December 3, in which I herniated my L3/4 vertebral disc, was one such message.  This has not been an injury I could walk through or ignore.  No, this one left me flat on my back in excruciating pain for 8 days in the hospital, landed me on some hefty pharmaceuticals (which I abhor,) and basically has disrupted my life so much that I have been forced to be right in the moment and pay attention.  This has not come easily.

The injury came at a very busy time of year for me, right at the beginning of my winter work season, at the time when I needed to don my ski patrol fearless leader hat.  The injury was so difficult to manage psychologically that I felt as though I had to hang on for dear life to my work, if only to have one thing that made sense.  The drugs I was on didn’t help with this at all, lending themselves to a whole host of issues such as depression and panic attacks.  Additionally, for over two months I experienced a heavy brain fog that slowed down my thinking to a snail’s pace.  My very talented and experienced team was exceedingly supportive and, of course, made everything flow smoothly on the hill.  Not being able to ski, I was relegated to only my administrative duties, which took me twice as long to accomplish due to my aforementioned issues.  My usual abundance of outdoor time – a tried and true method of shedding stress and coming back to myself – came to a screeching halt.

I wish I could say that I have been moving through this process with grace and ease.  Alas, it took me nearly 2.5 months to relax into it.  (See above regarding subborn people.)  There was one day about two weeks ago when I truly digested one of my lessons.  First, I had a conversation with a trusted adviser that revolved around practicing patience and compassion for Self.  Then, not too hours later, a discussion with my doctor in which she echoed the same theme.  Later that afternoon my physical therapist talked to me about having patience with the process of rehabilitation.  Next I came home and picked out one of my inspirational cards at random: “Trust everything happens in its own time.”  And that evening, a conversation with a dear friend who reminded me of her theory of “steady plodding,”  moving slowly and confidently down the trail in no particular hurry, because you’ll still get to the same place…and maybe if you don’t rush you’ll have an easier and more enjoyable time getting there.

I turned my face up to the sky, laughing.  “I get it!  I see your point!  Thank you.”

Things have been a lot smoother for me since that day.  I have started tapering off the meds, my brain fog lifted, my view widened, and I relaxed.  Now the challenge is to keep this mindset without grasping.  I still have many metaphorical miles to travel before I’m back pouncing down the trail, be it snow or moss covered.  I have chosen to release my expectations as to when that will be.  I have let go of travel plans for the upcoming summer in order to give myself the time and space to heal fully.  My path right now is to be mindful and patient with the process, and during all of its ups and downs to be as compassionate to myself as I would be to a friend in the same situation.  Feeling stronger in body and mind, I will steadily plod to health and wellness.

Please remind me I said all that when my foot slips off the trail.

The Lioness

I got a new tattoo the other day.  It’s my fourth, but the first I’ve had in 8 years, and the first that is in a highly visible area (on the underside of my right forearm.)  All of my body art has deep meaning to me, and this one is no exception.

This lioness has a story.  Last summer I was hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail,a 1,200 mile trail that goes from Glacier National Park to Olympic National Park.  I made it 800 miles before I suffered hike-ending shin splints.  I’ll go back next summer to finish the last 400 miles.  But I digress…

The trail travels through some very remote sections of the Pacific Northwest, along old trails, some maintained and some disappearing into the forest, some areas with no trails at all, paved and dirt roads, and along old class 4 roads.  It was on one of these old jeep roads, steep as hell and not made for hiking, that I encountered a mountain lion.  I was walking uphill, just trying to get to the top of the climb.  There was meadow on each side of the road.  At the exact time I looked up, a mountain lion, known as a cougar in those parts, leapt into the middle of the road from my right.  She was only about 50 feet in front of me.  We both stopped dead in our tracks, and unbelievably made eye contact.  Amazingly, I felt not fear, but kinship with this majestic animal.  We gazed at each other for several long seconds, neither sure what should happen next.  As I started to reach for my camera, she bounded across the road into the adjacent meadow, ran up into a tree, down the tree again, and continued downhill away from me.  Judging from the squirrel sounds coming from the tree, she missed her mark.  I had always wondered what my spirit animal was, and here, in bold relief, was my answer.  I continued on, looking behind me a few times, but did not see her again.

Interestingly enough, my trail name is Pounce.  Trail names are nicknames that are (usually) bestowed upon a person by the hiker community when hiking long distances.  My trail name is a play on my real first name, Cathe, which was being shortened to Cat by some lazy hiker friends who apparently thought that two syllables was one too many.  The significance between the cougar encounter and my trail name has not escaped me.

Then there’s my spectacular friend The Bobcat, who’s approach to life is no less than absolutely inspiring.
Let us not forget my amazing cat Rocky, who, at 18 years old, is still going strong.  Anyone who has met Rocky – even those self-professed cat haters – has remarked on his special nature.  He’s been my primary caregiver during these weeks of being laid up with a back injury, cuddling up and purring in an effort to heal me.

There are apparently many feline influences in my life.  This tattoo is for my lioness friend in eastern Washington.  It is for my trail name and the friends who named me.  It is for my very special feline companion.  But most of all, it is a reminder of the bond between all animals and humans, wild and domesticated, imaginary and real.  (And yes, that applies to the humans as well as the animals.)  May we all live in harmony, peace, and love.


Take a breath, or count to 4.7.

Take a Breath

“Take a Breath.”

That’s what the card says, and how appropriate.  I have these little cards, about 1” x 3” in size, brightly colored, with little sayings/reminders printed on one side.  I fail to recall how I acquired these cards, but it was most likely a present from a friend after completion of my yoga teacher training back in 2006.  I started practicing in 2001.  Although I no longer instruct, and my practice has changed and matured since my training, I still use these reminder cards.  I keep them in a bowl on my altar, choosing one at random every day to be used as food for thought.  It never ceases to amaze me how I always pick just the right one for my perceived troubles at the moment.  (As an aside, my practice of yoga is not just the western idea of exercise, but an all-encompassing path which also includes breathing, meditation, mindfulness, reading/study, etc.)

At any rate…”Take a Breath.”  Or, as a good friend has recently recommended, count to 4.7.  “4.7?”  “Yes, 4.7.”  Uhhhhh, ok.  It sounded rather strange at first, but I chose to consider it for a while.  I employ a method of STOP whenever I feel myself becoming overwhelmed or upset.  Stop what I am doing.  Take 3 breaths.  Observe my feelings.  Then proceed.  This helps me to respond to whatever stimulus has tweaked me, instead of reacting and then possibly regretting that reaction.  (No, I’m not so awesome that I remember to do this every time, but when I do remember it is infinitely helpful.)  Counting to 4.7 isn’t so different.  He clarified the method, “One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, 4.7.”  So, when thinking about it, I realized that 4.7 isn’t so different than STOP.  The addition of 4.7 at the end is so dramatically different than counting slowly, using whole numbers, that it gives one pause.  And that is exactly what STOP does.  It helps one to suspend time, to gain perspective, to break the cycle of madness.

And so you might wonder, “Well, why is 4.7 so appropriate for Cathe today?”  And so I will tell you.  The short story is that I am currently nursing a herniated lumbar disc.  This has put me out of my normal routine since December 3.  Since my normal routine pretty much includes exercising for work (ski patrol) and exercising either before or after work and on my days off (backcountry skiing,) this has been a HUGE departure from my regular life.  Exercise?  Not a chance.  As a consequence I have gained 10 pounds and am starting to lose my sanity, despite employing every meditation technique in my arsenal.  There are also other items in my life that are particularly challenging right now, no different than most people.  Most of the time I’m well-adjusted, because there are so many amazing and awesome people and things in my life for which to be thankful.  But I’m only human, and I sometimes lose sight of what is important.  So, when that happens…well…4.7.  Try it sometime.  I triple dog dare you.

Well…isn’t that interesting.

I think it all started when I was about 10.  I was introduced to backpacking through my summer camp in Maine, where I would spend a week at a time on the Appalachian Trail.  On one such trip we hiked the Mahoosucs, the crowning glory of which is the Mahoosuc Notch, a 1 mile jumble of house and car sized boulders arranged in such a way that climbing up around, through, and under them is necessary.  It was the most exciting jungle gym in the world!  When I hiked through there again a couple of decades later, it was just as grand.  Back in my childhood, I met two thru-hikers whose names I remember to this day: Woody and Ant.  They took some time to explain to our camp group that thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was a six month endeavor, following a trail through forest and mountains that covered 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine.  It was then that the adventure seed was planted in my impressionable brain.

Mahoosuc Notch 2008

These are my stories: the blood, sweat, tears, and smiles; my adventures, misadventures, and just simply navigating this lifetime.  This blog is the story of me experiencing life and seeing the world through my [usually] open heart, sometimes gracefully…sometimes not so much.

But with all of it, as one of my adulthood teachers will deliberately say, “Well…isn’t that interesting.”