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I come home from a run with mud spatters covering my running tights from the ankles to the ass. Drinking a glass of water, steam rises from my shoulders, sweat freezes in my hair.  I should be stripping for the shower, but instead I sit on the porch stretch out my legs and stink the stink of polypropylene, endorphins, and happiness.

In the last few weeks, after a short break for ski touring and winter steelheading, I’ve been climbing back on the running wagon. Putting in few miles here, a few there. I’ve been running hills on Tuesdays, mid distance Wednesday, long on the weekend. I have a couple races and events on the horizon, nothing major, but enough to remind me that running a bit  might be a good idea.

I first read this piece by Roger Hart back in the winter of 2002 or 2003 when I was working in a small newsroom. Outside it had been raining for 30 days straight and motivation to do much besides huddle in a rain coat was lacking. It was published in Runners World, and came to my desk by way of a runner with a photography problem. Back then, it inspired me to suck it up, put on a jacket, and get out the door. Today, ten years after I first read it, it still gets me excited to get out there. For the full essay, visit Runners by Roger Hart.

Runners by Roger Hart

We ran through blizzards, thunderstorms, freezing rain, covered bridges, creeks, campgrounds, cemeteries, city parks, parking lots, a nuclear power plant, county fairs, and, once, a church service. We were chased by goats, geese, a crazed ground hog, guards (the nuclear power plant), a motorcycle gang, an armed man in a pickup, a sheriff’s deputy, and dogs both fierce and friendly. We ran when two feet of snow covered the roads and when the wind-chill was thirty below. We ran when it was eighty degrees at seven in the morning. We ran on streets, sidewalks, highways, cinder tracks, dirt roads, golf courses, Lake Erie beaches, bike trails, across yards and along old railroad beds. Seven days a week, twelve months a year, year after year.

During the hot days of July and August, Ed ran without shirt or socks; I always wore both. Norm ran with a screw in his ankle and joked that it was coming loose. Ed was faster going downhill; I was better going up. The three of us met at a race and became training partners, competitors, best friends. We ran together on Saturday mornings, usually a twenty-mile run along the shore of Lake Erie or a twenty-two-mile route over hilly country roads near Ashtabula. We ran thousands of miles and more than a dozen marathons together, but most of the time we ran alone.

We gave directions to lost drivers, pushed cars out of snowbanks, called the electric company about downed lines and the police about drunks. We saved a burlap bag full of kittens about to be tossed off a bridge, carried turtles from the middle of the road, returned lost wallets, and were the first on the scene of a flipped pickup truck.
We ran the Boston Marathon before women were allowed to enter and before the Kenyans won. We were runners before Frank Shorter took the Olympic gold at Munich, before the running boom, nylon shorts, sports drinks, Gortex suits, heart monitors, running watches, and Nikes.

The milk carton is empty. The produce drawer is barren.

At 8:30 on a Wednesday night the grocery store is largely deserted. I wander up and down the outer aisles trying to figure out what I want to eat for the next few days. Slowly I fill my basket. A box of tea, a head of broccoli, apples, carrots, mushrooms, spinach, milk, 3lbs of potatoes, leeks. I think I should be a farmer. Or at least put in a garden and cross my fingers for a frost-free July.

At the checkout, the clerk makes small talk. “Get out for anything fun, today?” A run, I say. A sloppy, chilly, dirty trail run where my feet were soaked a mile in and I still had more than an hour left to go. “Those are the best kind,” he says. He’s right, and I’m thankful to be reminded of it.

I don’t say prayers. I’m not religious. But more often than not, and even when things aren’t perfect, I try to start and end my day with a short  recognition of just how good I’ve got it. A heathen’s form of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, undirected and informal, but wanting to be heard nonetheless.

Thank you for this day. For yesterday and tomorrow. Thank you for muddy trails and ankle deep puddles. Thank you for coffee and milk. Apples and peanut butter. Thank you for salmon colored ski pants and a skin track to follow quietly into the woods. Thank you for family and friends. Thank you for stories, music and the Moth Podcasts. Thank you for picking up the phone, for calling back. For smiling big first thing in the morning and at the end of a long day. Thank you for sunny days, and freezing rain. Thank you for everything. Thank you for this day.

The Seattle-based company, AltaRock, wants to develop the area around Newberry Crater in the Deschutes National Forest for geothermal energy production. They propose pumping millions of gallons of cold water and chemicals into deep, hot, volcanic bedrock to create pressure and steam capable of turning an energy producing turbine.

According to reports by Oregon Public Broadcasting, “The project will create small earthquakes, most under a magnitude of 1, as the pressurized water opens up natural fractures in the rock and causes them to slip and create underground storage units.” Here’s the full piece from OPB.

What isn’t mentioned in the report is AltaRock’s mysterious 2009 abandonment of a similar project located north of San Francisco, CA in an area called the Geysers. At the time the New York Times, reported:

“AltaRock immediately ran into snags with its drilling, repeatedly snapping off bits in shallow formations called caprock. The project’s safety was also under review at the Energy Department after federal officials said the company had not been entirely forthcoming about the earthquakes produced in Basel in making the case for the Geysers project.

The results of that review have not yet been announced, but the type of geothermal energy explored in Basel and at the Geysers requires fracturing the bedrock then circulating water through the cracks to produce steam. By its nature, fracturing creates earthquakes, though most of them are small. …”

There is deep groundwater around Newberry. There are delicate species and habitat worth protecting. There is wilderness and wildness. Newberry backs up into Paulina, and in the winter there are beautiful shoots just waiting to be explored and skied. The process being proposed by AltaRock, and considered by Federal and State officials, is not the same as the controversial “Fracking” used in oil and gas exploration, but it’s related and it scares me. It feels like gambling big without knowing the stakes. It feels dangerous.

This morning I drove west to east over the pass. There were natural avalanches on every aspect and on nearly every slope greater than 30 degrees. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Locally at 2 pm, resort management closed the entire mountain reporting more than eight inches of heavy, wet snow in four hours and winds exceeding 100 mph. The mountains aren’t a good place to be today.

The Danger Rose at left is from the Northwest Avalanche Center backcountry forecast for the area surrounding Mt. Hood. All that black isn’t a graphics error. Here’s a link to the complete avalanche danger scale:  Extreme.

And here’s Tuesday’s Avalanche Forecast: A major storm is expected to move across the Northwest on Tuesday. This is expected to cause strong southwest crest level winds and very heavy rain or snow with a warming trend especially in the central to south Cascades. These are great ingredients for building new soft or wind slab layers of increasing density on lee slopes. A change to rain will add further heavy loads and weaken underlying snow layers on all steep aspects. Natural and triggered avalanches possibly deep and large should be likely by Tuesday afternoon. Dangerous conditions are expected and back country travel is not recommended by Tuesday afternoon.

For the last hour I’ve been sitting with one running shoe on and one off, staring partly out the window and partly at a pile of snow gear. In a minute, I’ll lace up my other shoe and head out for a run through the wintery mix, officially giving up on skiing today. It shouldn’t have been a hard decision, and it’s definitely the right decision. Somehow, though, it’s always tough to stay home when it’s storming.

After a long drought, with only a day or two of respite, it’s finally snowing, but not even just snowing — nuking. An inch an hour. Two inches an hour. And windy. Snowflakes fly like needles piercing unprotected earlobes. Frostnip shows itself as small patches of white skin on angled cheekbones. Hoods cover googles cover hats, but still ice sticks to beards, curls, eyelashes.

Peering through the flatlight, eyes squinted, I can see the base building. I can see windlips forming from here to Kansas. It’s brutal.

At home the message light blinks, the emails pile up:

Where are you?
Is your phone working?
Are you alive?
What’s happening?

I’m here; I’ll call you back soon. I’m not sure, but I’ll call you back soon. Yes! I’ll call you back soon. Winter is here and it’s a gift. I’ll call you back soon.

Remember when skiing was all you thought about? When you’d lay in bed at night and visualize how you would cork your body to bring that spin around just a little more. When you’d call the ski report starting in October and well into June just to hear Don say, “Good Morning skiers and snowboarders!” in a voice that was both incredibly dorky and totally awesome. When you constantly refreshed the forecast on your web browser because maybe it was going to be good, and even if it wasn’t, maybe it was going to be fun. Remember 20, 50, 300 days a year on the hill? Yeah.

I quit skiing almost a decade ago. I moved to a town that wasn’t even close to the mountains. I put the boards in the garage, and the gear in a bag at the top of the closet. I watched dust build up on my boots and bindings. First just a light coating then a few centimeters, artifacts of neglect. The batteries in my transceiver grew old and died. I didn’t replace them. Life took over. Relationships started and ended. Degrees were sought and earned. Jobs taken and left. I had winters where I spent more time in the gym than outside. Winters where I never broke a trail, rode a lift, threw a slasher across a perfectly formed wind lip. Winters where I surfed more than shivered. I think I believed growing up meant leaving behind the things I’d loved when I was young.

A few nights ago, I watched an indoor soccer match with a couple of guys who were originally from inland Mexico. They laughed at my poor Spanish as we cheered for the players out sweating on the field, and then they were kind enough to switch to English when they had anything complicated to say. One of the men apologized for his accent, saying that after living in the states for 25 years it embarrassed him that it was still so thick. I told him my spanish must sound awful to him because of my gringa origins, but that maybe our accented language is no big deal. Maybe we can be proud of it because it’s who we are and signifies from where we come.

I came from skiing, and while I left for a while, I’m remembering that it is part of me. A big part. Even now as the west sits starved for snow, I’m calling the ski report and refreshing the forecast. I’m going up and riding ice because today there’s nothing else I’d rather do. Then when the grocery store clerk notices my ski pants and asks how it was on the hill, I tell her simply, “Shiny.” Shiny and bright.

The video above, presented by Sweetgrass Productions and Patagonia, showcases some of the best in the business out doing what they love in Alaska’s backcountry. Welcome to the new dreams.

 

Gathering Together Farm Chef, JC Mersmann, recently asked me to contribute regularly to the new blog, Barn and Table. It’s part of a larger project we’re working on for the farm, and we’re excited to get it out into the world. My first post over there, The Killing Season, provides an overview of on-farm whole animal butchery. It’s not for the squeamish, but if you have a minute, check it out.

The January issue of Trail Runner magazine is out. I spent a few days running potions of the McKenzie River Trail and hanging out at MRTR aid stations to write a piece for the Take Your Mark department. Below is an excerpt. For the full piece check out a copy of Trail Runner: One Dirty Magazine.

TAKE YOUR MARK Basalt, Blood and Beauty. Why you should run Oregon’s McKenzie River Trail 50K.

At the start they stand in a loose herd, arms hanging, shoulders rolling, exchanging greetings in muted voices. Then, the start gun stirs them to action. In the dawn’s grey mist 200 runners explode down a winding forest trail. In a trailside stream, wild trout rise to feed on fall caddis, and, above, Northern spotted owls sink long talons into the bark of ancient cedars.

For miles black lava rock protrudes from the trail like Grendel’s broken teeth. By the finish, many participants have battled the terrain and lost, and runners regularly cross the line bruised and bloodied with small chunks of basalt still imbedded in their knees, palms and elbows. Continued at Trail Runner magazine.