Back In The Cold Embrace Of The Yukon Winter

It is a difficult transition, to reach the end of an adventure and return to work. After eight months of sauntering and wandering, it is time to work and save our pennies for the next adventure, just four months away. Click here if you’re curious about that adventure.

It is cold and dark this time of year. The nights seem to stretch on, unending. A typical 9 to 5 job means arriving to work in the dark, missing the stunning 10:30am sunrises over the surrounding hills. The sun sets long before the workday ends. The sun holds little warmth. But the woods are charming to stroll in. The chickadees sing, the red squirrels sit in the sun atop their midden. While we fight to keep our hands warm on late night walks the northern lights dance – flickers of green and crimson and violet above us. A coyote might pass by while the rest of the forest remains silent.

We sport frosted eyelashes, rosy cheeks and runny noses. -35C nips at exposed skin. The dry snow crunches and squeaks under each footfall. The forests are silent, no fresh tracks but our own in the snow. Ursus major, the Big Dipper, the North Star, they all shimmer on clear night. The northern lights dance.

We may no longer be in the warm embrace of the Utah or California desert but we have frosty forests and northern lights to embrace.

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In Praise Of The Thrift Store Fleece

Two summers ago I paddled across the Barrens of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for two months. My favourite piece of gear ended up being a tattered old ugly green fleece I bought in a thrift store years before. It kept me warm and endured so many abuses.

I wrote a piece, I want to say ode, for She Explores about that fleece. My fleece recently died as Tenacious Tape and Jiffy Sew patches could no longer keep up with the material wearing away to nothing anymore. But she had a long, adventurous life. I’ve missed her warmth this winter.

Check out the story here.

Sailing Days

We have been wandering around Vancouver Island for two weeks now and it is hard not to look back on the days we sailed here. Ten years ago John and I spent a year and a half sailing around the Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound on a 26-foot sailboat (and living on).

We were, and still are, impetuous. Reckless.

That’s how we ended up in Victoria, BC in early June, purchasing a sailboat when our plans had been to spend the month backpacking in Kluane National Park. Instead of wandering mountains we quite suddenly were the proud owners of a 1975 Contessa 26.

It was an enormous learning curve. Living and adventuring in the Yukon we are at ease in the backcountry hiking, paddling, skiing. We are confident and capable there.

But sailing?

It was difficult to see beyond the basic fact that I’m terrified of the water and John can’t swim.

Oh, and yes, we didn’t really know how to sail. Continue reading “Sailing Days”

Weather And Moods

I hate to admit the weather affects my mood.

I can endure the rain and cold for some time but these past few weeks of traveling the Oregon Coast have been particularly cold and wet. While I have enjoyed trail runs and beach strolls the cold rains have knocked my enthusiasm from traveling a little.

The hiking has been less frequent but we have thoroughly enjoyed hopping from one tiny coastal town to another, going from coffee shop to junkyard to another coffee shop, then the thrift store, junkyard, bakery, coffee shop, gear store, coffee shop… you get the idea. I love any place that advertises, “Espresso, gear and beer.” If it was sunny outside I’d feel guilty being so idle but with all this rain I can enjoy my fourth cup of coffee and read another hundred pages before noon, then stroll around the corner to another eclectic café and feel not an ounce of guilt.

Along with the winter storms a lupus flare is threatening to kick up again. Learning to “take it easy” has been a difficult to accept as necessary. I feel like a restricted husky unable to run free. The rain knocking down my enthusiasm for trail runs and hiking helps keep me from overdoing it, reminds me to just chill, take things easy, to relax. Which is what a lupus flare requires.

We’ve looked at the weather forecasts and sunny skies are in our future. Hopefully my mild flare will subside and I can enjoy a few more some beach runs and forest scrambles before the long drive home back to the Yukon.

A Simple Happiness

What a happiness to find myself on the Pacific Coast, among old-growth redwoods. After two months of hiking and camping in the desert the lushness of the north coast rainforest is intoxicating. The shades of green are jarring. Whales and seals and sea lions swim offshore. Elk and cougar roam the forest. Spotted owls and varied thrush hide in the depths of the woods.

What happiness it is to be here.

This wandering life is not always comfortable or easy. There are long days of cold or wet or both. It is tough, not always quite as idyllic and romantic as it might appear, especially on social media. Added to that uncertainty is the self-doubt and insecurity I am internally plagued with. Joint pain from lupus pulses in my knuckles on these cold, damp mornings.

But there are moments such as this when all worry and concern dissipate and I am left with this simple emotion of blissful happiness. What a winter solstice day we enjoyed yesterday wandering in a rare wilderness.

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The Wild Burros of Death Valley

Somehow an hour passes. We’ve been sitting on a dry wash bank watching a pair of wild burros graze the desert valley floor. The dark one – the male – stands out starkly against the land. The grey female is sublimely camouflaged; her coat is a match with the dusty desert. They glance at us periodically, ears pointed in our direction but keep grazing.

I try to think how more than an hour can pass watching burros, burros who take a few steps, graze long minutes, step forward two steps.

This is what always happens with us when we go wandering in a random direction, without a specific destination in mind. On these aimless days we are in no hurry to get somewhere. We’re not even hiking to see “something.” We wandered up into this canyon to see what we can see.

And wild burros are what we see.

The desert is silent. We sit silently in respect to this silence and thinking our own thoughts.

Me, I wonder what the burros are finding to eat out here. There isn’t much greenery. I must look at the plants as we hike back to our campsite, I think. Where will they spend this long evening? Will they bed down together? Are they mates? Do they stay together year round or do they just happen to find themselves together on this hillside? Will they travel together? Look out for one another? Why is the male so dark in colour compared with all the other wild burros we’ve seen in Death Valley? Are burros as sweet and innocent as they appear?

Who knew there was so much to contemplate about burros.

Not only did I spend an hour watching burros in this place nowhere in particular inside Death Valley National Park, I then came back to our campsite to write this about burros.

There was nothing epic or awesome about our all day adventure into this unnamed canyon. We just enjoyed exploring, sniffing the leaves of plants we have never seen before (or smelled). The desert trumpets in this wash have full bladders after the rains and snows that fell a few days ago. We poked our heads into old mine shafts. Admired the clarity of the quartz here.

And as we sat above a dry pour off picking our favourite bits from the trail mix bag and watching burros a flock of chucars flew down canyon, the collective wing beats of fifty birds mimicking the fighter jets that also fly overhead.

As I said, this was not a day filled with epic adventure. It was not a day teeming with stoked emotions. It was a sauntering day. A contemplative day. A day to explore. To delve into the desert, into a canyon and just be.

And it was quite the lovely day.

The Randomness Of Travel

After leaving the Grand Canyon we took random roads to Mojave National Preserve. We do not travel with good road maps so we often travel by suggestions from locals. We have not yet been led astray. We enjoyed a couple of days in Flagstaff, Arizona, which has great coffee shops and an eclectic used bookstore to get lost in for an afternoon. Driving historic Route 66 brought us a few surprises, most adorably the wild burros and the cutsy but touristy town of Oatman.

The randomness of travel is addictive.

We definitely like to keep our plans to a minimum and let curiosity pull us.

Contemplating The Abyss and Condors

A national parks wildlife monitoring employee on the edge of the Grand Canyon’s south rim was wielding telemetry gear which piqued our curiosity. He was listening for condors, one in particular who was nearby but not visible. We were not lucky enough to see one in the four days we spent hiking in the Grand Canyon but it is lovely to hear their numbers are increasing. An ancient bird (a bird which once fed on mastodons) that was nearly wiped out is returning to the skies. And the Grand Canyon this year is celebrating three successful condor nests. Last year they did not have any successful nests and the year before only one. Life for the condor is still precarious – there are only five hundred of them in the world – but hopefully more people will join others advocating for the protection of wild places and give space to wild things.

Keep Wildlife Wild/Enough With The Selfies

Driving out of Zion National Park cars ahead were parked at all peculiar angles, blocking traffic. Doors were left open. More than a dozen people stood in the middle of the highway snapping selfies beside a stunned desert bighorn sheep. In trying to cross the road the ram’s attempt at survival in its rapidly fragmenting habitat was less important to these people than getting that ‘awesome’ selfie shot. I secretly willed the ram to turn his horns upon the tourists but instead he hung his head low in defeat and turned back to the hill he had scrambled from. Without a whisper of gratitude the people jumped back in their vehicles, engines roaring off to the next selfie opportunity.

I was stunned by the lack of concern people showed. Desert bighorn sheep are endangered. Life in the desert is precarious enough they don’t need people chasing them with phones and cameras. Instead of running after wildlife for a selfie, why not simply sit quietly and watch them. Spend a little time just being in their environment, in their presence.

If you’re wondering about this photo, I took this a few years ago when I was hiking in the east end of Zion. The photo is not quite crisp because it was taken with the zoom of my point and shoot camera maxed. I then arced around them and continued on my day and left them to theirs. It’s not a great photo but my memory of that meeting makes up for the shabby photo. A lot of my wildlife photos are subpar and I’m alright with that, even if it means getting less likes).

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