In early June we returned to the Evergreen State, amped to embark on a long anticipated and surely stellar season of alpine climbing. Ski touring and playing in the High Sierras for a portion of the spring ensured that we were fit and fast. Max was spending the summer in Portola Valley at chez Pieron, leaving us dog free. My work load had reached a welcome month-long lull between clients traveling which enabled me to be away from my computer for multiple days without a worry. And finally, after spending the summer of 2016 flying between San Francisco and Seattle to work on our van while dreaming of alpine adventures to come, we now possessed mostly unlimited time to spend in the mountains. It seemed as though all of our stars were aligning.
Instead, on June 12, Remy whipped a little too hard through the whoops on a mountain biking trail in Leavenworth and shattered his right clavicle into about six pieces. A crash course on in-network and out-of-network insurance providers and their associated costs ensued and we hustled back to California for surgery. Ten days after the accident, Remy finally went under the knife and we found out just how broken he was; two plates, sixteen screws and an unexpected night in the hospital for what was supposed to be out-patient surgery. A swift recovery looked unlikely. Our summer of alpine crushing was over before it even started.
I’d like to say that we handled this turn of events with zen-like acceptance and grace. But in reality we experienced frustration, self-pity and a fair amount of envy, especially with the steady diet of dazzling climbing footage that we suck up via Instagram. That was supposed to be us, damnit! The prospect of drifting around in our van without the ability to collectively pursue climbing or any activity that involved using one’s shoulder, really, loomed as both pointless and aimless.
Fortunately this state of mind was fleeting. After an initial period of wallowing, we realized that this setback provided us with the opportunity to focus on one of the main goals that we identified at the beginning of our trip; to continuously work at being good partners, even when the waves are rough and potholes in the road give you flat tires.
The second week of July, back in Washington after attending Meira and Kam’s wedding, we embarked on our first real ‘activity’ together since Remy’s injury; an easy day hike through the North Cascades to stare up at the peaks we thought we’d be standing atop of. Colorful blooms of wildflowers erupted across the hillsides and it felt surprisingly good just to be outside together, moving our bodies. With this motivation, we formulated a new vision for our summer plans. I deleted the climbing destination calendar that I had created in the spring and we decided to instead concentrate on discovering new places, spending time together outside (however that looked), and selecting locations where we could bring the dog, who had rejoined our traveling band. Essentially, this transpired as embarking on less intense, dog friendly micro-adventures, exploring new places, and re-learning to fly fish.
More than a decade ago, in a state far, far away, I landed my first real post-college job with a fly fishing travel company. The pay wasn’t great (few travel industry jobs lead to monetary wealth), but the perks were pretty surreal. Armed with sweet waders and casting lessons from Barry and Cathy Beck, fly fishing became my link to the outdoors. It introduced me to pristine, wild places, taught me to appreciate the tiny perfections of nature (stone fly larva), gave me a reason to do something other than watch the Steelers on Sunday, and ultimately, served as my ticket out of Western Pennsylvania and into the Pacific Northwest.
Since moving west in 2010, the fly outfit and waders had sat in my closet, mostly neglected in favor of more exciting weekend pursuits in the Cascades and Olympics. But Remy’s injury presented the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the sport, share what little I knew with him, and ultimately discover and share this experience together on some of the most fabled rivers in the American West. The Gallitan, Yellowstone, Madison, Little Bighorn, Snake and Missouri; we wove our travels through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to fish them all. On one particularly awesome day, we walked right into an evening Mafyly hatch on the Missouri River outside of Criag, MT. While the sunset and wildfire smoke turned the sky a hazy pink and orange, we watched as thousands of nymphs affixed themselves to the van, emerged from their little exoskeletons and turned into delicious Mayflies. We then spent the next two days wet wading in chacos while tossing tricos to fat brown trout who gulped everything that floated their way.
Neither Remy nor I “like” running and we certainly don’t consider ourselves runners. But as we discovered, trail running was a great, shoulder pain-free way to maintain fitness and cover more outside acreage in a limited amount of time. We found this particularly useful in the National Parks, where crowds and dog regulations demanded that our visits be on the short side, or when we needed to break up a long day of driving with an active but brief distraction. The Sawtooth Wilderness, Glacier National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Badlands all had us lacing up our running shoes, leaving the pooch in the car, and covering anywhere from 5-12 miles.
Boundary Waters Canoe Trip
If you would have told me at the start of this trip that paddling a canoe for four days would end up being one of the highlights of the entire year, I would have laughed at you. My prior canoeing experience consisted of leading ICO youth on weekend trips to paddle around on Lake Washington (which was mostly a constant struggle to keep said youth from tipping the canoe) and one glorious slog on the canoe leg of Ski to Sea. Meira and I dressed as viking/dinosaurs and were nearly disqualified for having a canoe that was ‘shorter than regulation.’ This meant that we essentially paddled a metal rowboat for 18 miles. No speed records were set.
The Boundary Waters though, and Minnesota’s North Shore for that matter, are magnificent places that offer a true wilderness experience in the middle swath of the country where travelers tend to hurry through and where the scales begin to tip in favor of more densely populated places than the wild, open spaces of the west. At the recommendation of Jennie Neahring, we embarked from the Gunflint Trail and charted a roughly 40 mile course over 3 1/2 days.* We put-in at Seagull Lake, followed narrow constrictions and remote, slender inlets along the border of the United States and Canada, and took-out at Saganaga Lake a day early after Labor Day Weekend crowds began to infiltrate the lakes and overrun the campsites. Loon cries woke us in the morning, wolves howled us to sleep at night and one awesome thunderstorm put our tent to the test. Best of all, we were completely disconnected for the entire time.
Now it is late September, with summer officially coming to a close last Friday. We are in the Gunks after a rapid but active trip through Michigan, Montreal and New England. And while we both still long for big days in the mountains and rue their almost total absence from the past couple months, this unexpected summer has not gone wasted. Without a forced change of plans we would have never been anywhere near Missouri or the “Path of Totality” to share the surreal Eclipse experience with about 50 other locals along the banks of a muddy river. We wouldn’t have spent as much time with Remy’s dear grandparents or friends scattered across the west. We wouldn’t have discovered the pastoral beauty (and very stubborn and smart trout) of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, and we would have completely missed out on the human circus that was the Minnesota State Fair. Those experiences, in their own way, were all certainly worthy of the time that we devoted to them.
*If anyone else is inspired to plan a trip to the Boundary Waters – go do it! The area is dog-friendly and the luxury of canoe travel allows you to pack as much or as little as you wish…just be mindful that you have to carry everything over the many, many portages. Permits for overnight travel are required and the sheer number of put-in options and locations can be daunting. We called upon the expertise of Tuscaroroa Outfitters who were happy to rent just the canoe, Duluth packs and paddles and helped us a bit with the permit selection and trip planning. They were excellent and priced very fairly.
What We’re Reading
Too many books have been devoured of late to list them here. Next post will be just a list of books.