Saturday, September 27, 2014

End-of-Season Review

Today is the last day RR is open. Let me start by saying we had a good time this summer. Overall.

This week has been anti-climatic and deathly quiet compared with all the drama and challenges we faced this summer. Add to the fact that we let our SIXTH cook go last week (partly because we knew it would be slow during the last week and J could fill in again as the cook and partly because we agreed with RR's owners she had some big issues). 

Meet cook #4 and cook #7 this season. He has no professional experience in the kitchen, but he did an awesome job! 

I really didn't know what to expect this summer when we set out to manage a remote B&B perched on the edge of a canyon in eastern OR. And it was a good thing I had no expectations because it was a wild summer. A few times we wanted to run from the building screaming. The reasons aren't worth rehashing. Too many conflicting emotions attached to them, and at this point, we've moved past the problems and just want to remember our experience fondly. I will say that our ability to take accountability and emotionally process our environment without flying off the handle was surely tested. 

That junk aside, we had a really fulfilling summer and learned a TON. Overall, we hosted 882 guests in our tipis and luxurious inside accommodations. Our quasi-restaurant fed dinner to 818 guests (this is a mix of our overnighters and public reservations). I loved, loved, loved all our guests. J & I were just recounting which guests were our favorites and the list is very long. We met so many awesome people and this intimate setting made us all friends. The hospitality business tends to burn people out on … well, people. But that didn't happen to us this summer. And yes, we are ready for a break and to regain some privacy and us time, but it wasn't a burnout job. 

We also loved living in Wallowa County. For a backpacker, we hit the jackpot. Trailheads around every corner, high peaks, alpine lakes, wildflower meadows … I said it before and I'll say it again--we couldn't ask for a better backyard. And we utilized every bit of free time to hit as many hot spots as we could. It gave us a good taste of the area and I wouldn't be surprised if we came back down the road sometime.

I did learn more about ranching, logging and hunting than I ever wanted to know, but it just comes with the territory. At the hiker hostel on the East Coast, we talked about the Appalachian Trail. At the bed & breakfast in Wallowa County, we talked about cows and horses. We tried to play the part. In fact, J & I went to our first rodeo during Chief Joseph Days. We were hesitant at first, but it was the best spontaneous decision we made in a long time. Rodeos are extremely entertaining. And what's more dangerous than rodeos? Pinatas. I promise.  Now I can truthfully use the saying, "this ain't my first rodeo." And next time, I will be sure to make J wear his tight jeans, cowboy boots and 10-gallon hat. 

I don't think we'll ever be good enough for the rodeo.

For now, we say goodbye to the cowboys and Indians. J & I are still searching for our answers and our permanent home (if ever) and know that worthwhile endeavors aren't usually easy, but are character-building and clarifying. That was this summer in a nutshell. 

This winter should be very exciting for us. And I can promise you, it doesn't involve cleaning a single toilet. Stay tuned … 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Currently: Catching Up To September

I skipped August, so this will be a catch-up edition!

Current mood:  at peace

Currently thankful for:  a character-building summer with one of the most beautiful backyards we will probably ever have 

photo credit: Erika Eve Plummer - one of our favorite guests from July

Currently worried about:  my family's health (father and Nana, in particular)

Currently excited about:  announcing and finalizing our next adventure

Currently regretting:  not learning how to play Cribbage this summer (we have a Cribbage board on every dining table) and not taking a rafting trip on the Snake River through Hells Canyon while living in this area

Currently not excited about:  Having to pay for groceries again. At RR, we had access to ENDLESS good food. Seriously, J & I can now tell the difference between mediocre and fine dining. We were spoiled with the perk of having all our food paid for and usually having a cook on staff. Now we will return to our budget-conscious food shopping when things like capers, goat cheese and prosciutto do not make the shopping list. 

Currently proud of:  An incredibly successful summer for the business in which we overcame endless challenges and managed to get stellar reviews from RR guests on TripAdvisor. Oh, and securing sponsors for our next adventure … stay tuned

Currently reading: see pix … another clue to our next adventure

Current guilty pleasure: Sleeping in a bit since we have fewer guests during the last days of the season. However, we have been kitten sitting for the last 2 weeks and apparently kittens like to play a lot. Reminder, we live in an RV with very little play space. 

Currently watching on Netflix: sadly we will be ending our mail subscription to Netflix. With 37 titles left in our queue, there is no way we will get to all of them by the time we cancel the mail program in 2 weeks

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mountain Man???

FYI, this is a guest blog post by hubby, so please excuse all typos, poor spelling and incorrect grammar. 

In my wife’s last blog she called me a “Mountain Man.”  I am not quite sure I have earned that title yet, but I am striving at it and I totally rocked out this past 6-day, 5-night expedition.

It was not without trial and tribulation. 

Literally hours before I was to set off on this adventure, I got word about our good friend Chad Denning's sudden passing.  This was a complete shock as he was the definition of fit, an endurance athlete who was known as the “Champion of the Trail."  I think my wife’s blog post about him is spot on and is one of her best pieces of writing ever.   

Already a bit nervous about the climb, this put my emotions on edge.  But I knew that Chad would be PISSED if I backed out of this adventure.  And that he was looking down on me, maybe even ensuring that I would kick that mountain's ass! 

So the week in the North Cascades and ascent of the ferocious Mt. Shuksan was a success.  There were 3 guides and 8 clients.  

I learned a lot and freshened up my skills.  This trip was a training trip so I can climb bigger and higher.  And I got the go ahead to pursue another dream, climbing Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska.  Now I am just waiting for my climbing partner to buck up and commit (yea, that is you Bolt!)

So the training in the North Cascades involved traveling in rope teams, self rescue, team rescue, crevasse rescue (you better believe I was the first to volunteer to go IN the crevasse) and living on snow for close to a week.  When I climb Denali, it will take 2-3 weeks to make it to the summit, so living in a tent in the cold on the snow is part of the mental training. 

The trip ended with a 12-hour glacier/snow trek and technical rock climbing to reach the summit of Mt. Shuksan.  And as I said, I rocked it.  We were the lead rope team and the first to the top.  The views were just amazing, I believe better than atop of Mt. Rainier.  We could see as far as to Canadian Rockies, Mt. Olympus, Mt. Rainier, the entire North Cascades with Mt. Baker in our face.  Pictures don’t do this trip justice, but here are some more to try.  

For those who are interested to hear about my, eh, bowel movements, this was the view from the pooper! I was happy to not have to blue bag it this time around. In case you are wondering, "blue bag" would be the method you use to pick up your dog's poop.  

And much to my wife's dismay, I am ready for more mountains.  Which brings me to my next question … anyone want to fund a trip to Alaska for me to climb?  I am now accepting donations!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Life is Qualitative

The good news is J is doing well on his Shuksan expedition. He was actually able to call me from base camp! It's cold up there, but he is getting some good practice on mountaineering skills. They should be attempting their summit Thursday night into Friday morning, so keep those good vibes coming.

The bad news is, the night before he hit the backcountry, we got some unbelievably sad news. Our good friend, Chad Denning, an accomplished endurance athlete, died while running on the AT. He was 39. He was in the best shape possible. He leaves behind a wife and 2 kids. He was ridiculously optimistic and energetic and therefore an inspiration to all who crossed his path. It is all very tragic.

For me, it made hearing the news harder with J not by my side, and instead in the backcountry in a could-be-dangerous scenario. But, J's plans would be exactly what Chad wished. And I told J that at least he knew he had a guardian angel looking after him this week.

Chad was more J's friend than mine. They go back to J's parks and rec days in NH. They met in early 2008 at a local parks and rec conference. J came home from that conference boasting about Chad's accomplishments. He hiked all of Colorado's 14ers in Teva sandals. There isn't a race he hasn't participated in (or placed in). Everything Chad did was riddled with adventure. To J, Chad was just the coolest guy in the world. 
This is Chad addressing racers at one of the Winter Wild Racing Events he started in NH. For the race, you hike up a ski hill with skis or snowshoes, then fly down the hill … for fun of course. 

We got to know Chad (and his wife) well while we lived in NH. Post-NH, Chad was always curious to hear what we were up to. And we would always argue that his life was WAY more interesting than ours. In fact, he had just run into our other active NH friends on Saturday and asked about us, again saying he admired us for living out our dreams. 

I interviewed him a few times for magazine articles I wrote and he was always a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. One of my favorite quotes from him for one of my articles was this: “Gotta have fun while working out or else, why do it?” And that was just it. He made working out seem fun. He made you want to get outside and wonder what you were missing. He spearheaded so many recreational programs and inspired so many to up their active lifestyle that we've lost count. 

As I said, it's just so tragically sad. I am so grateful we had Chad in our life. And as another friend reminded me, life is qualitative, not quantitative. Chad's life was fulfilling and though he had to leave this Earth far too early, he could say he led a quality life and helped others to do so as well. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Mountain Man

J left this morning for another harrowing adventure … he is taking a 6-day expedition skills seminar with RMI guides and other crazy adrenaline junkies on Mt. Shuksan in North Cascades National Park of Washington (less than 25 miles from Canada!).

The program is meant to practice those fun mountaineering skills--like crevasse rescue (think being stuck in a small space between 2 ice walls), ice climbing and fixed line travel (roped to each other while "hiking")--all while making a summit bid for Shuksan. At 9,131 feet, it is not a particularly high mountain, but tricky because it is glaciated.

Some of you--who am I kidding, all of you--might question why? Well, this boy was unfortunately bit by the mountaineering bug last year when we climbed Rainier and has his sights set on bigger mountains, like Denali. The program will help him gain proficiency in climbing techniques, so that he could climb those mountains safely.

I don't pretend to like it. I am not-so-secretly hoping he comes home from the trip saying, "I'm done with this mountaineering thing. Let's stick to backpacking." But, I do hope for his safety and wellbeing while he plays up there and would appreciate good vibes sent his way this week from y'all!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Backpacking Oregon: Chico Trail - Take 2

Back in May, we did a little scouting on the hardly used Chico Trail down in Joseph Creek Canyon in the Wallowa Whitman National Forest and created a loop trip that had all the makings of the perfect backpacking trip--no crowds, views, wildflowers, wildlife, good water source and challenging terrain. That trip was a little ill-fated since we lost our tent stakes, lost the trail a few dozen times and my GPS died, but we realized it was a gem nonetheless. 

Here's the thing. One of my many writing dreams is to be published in Backpacker Magazine. Yes, I've worked for them, and we both still do as a gear testers (currently testing FIVE different items). And yes, J and I appeared IN the magazine via a Goodyear ad. But I am talking about a byline. In my time getting to know the editors at BP, their biggest piece of advice was to pitch an article idea for a trail that is hardly known and never been published. BP has been in print for 40 years. As many trails as there are in this country, there are few that haven't been covered. 

Well, I pitched the Chico Trail loop and they accepted!!! It should be published in the May 2016 issue of BP. You did not read that wrong. May of 2016. My dream will come true TWO years from now. I'll take it. 

So we went back out to get an accurate GPS track of the loop and take more pictures. Not much had changed about the trail since May … it was still overgrown and underused. Here's proof of how little this trail is used … we found our tent stakes in the same place we dropped them!!!!!!! 

Down, down, down we went again from 4600 feet to Davis Creek at 3900 feet, then back up to Starvation Ridge at 4500 feet, then down to Swamp Creek at 3000 feet, then looped back around Starvation Ridge via Swamp Creek and Davis Creek. The wildflowers were gone, the dozen streams we had to cross were lower, there were fewer cow and more bear (we only spotted one, but saw more fresh bear scat than we've ever seen … J reminded me 4 times what to do if a black bear attacks; this is how nervous he was). I took a gazillion notes and a gazillion pictures. In fact, I need your help deciding which pictures are best?! I narrowed it down to under a dozen!

sneak peak at a new prototype tent we are testing for BP!!

So ready, set, write. And hopefully this could be the start to many more published articles in BP.