Thursday, July 19, 2012

Trail Gnomes

The Pacific Northwest is known for some pretty strange things- BigFoot, Ted Bundy, a surplus of rain and Starbucks to name a few.. But I feel that it is essential to draw attention to a nuisance that I personally have experienced. The infamous trail gnome. It is crutial to make trail goers aware of their presence because they have been migrating all around the country, tampering with our trail systems.

I first encountered the trail gnomes back in 2007 on a hike to Lena Lake. A simple out and back day hike with my sister and good friend, Bob. Yet on the way back I couldn't help but feel that the trail seemed strangely longer. I suppressed the odd thought, but was relieved when Stacy said, "Yup! They've been here. Trail gnomes. They make the trail longer when you are headed out." I was shocked! Where did these gnomes originate? Did they work alone or in teams? Have odd blurry pictures of them walking through fields ever surfaced? Well turns out not much is known about theses pests. Because of this I have made several lists to help you deduce if you have been duped or toyed with by a trail gnome. (Note, trail gnomes shouldn't be confused with leprechauns. )

My first encounter with the gnomes in 2007
"Fun" or Frustrating facts about trail gnomes:

  • They work while you are at or on your way to your turn around point
  • They despise loops or point to point- as it makes their job nearly impossible
  • Trail can be made 40-60% longer on the way out- depending on hiker's level of exhaustion, if the hike in was done in the dark and if blisters are present on feet.
  • Gnomes tend to work in teams
  • GPS devices are also prone to alterations
  • They work in canyons, jeep roads, single track, and climber's trails.

A really good sketch of a gnome. By me. Wow.

The trail wasn't what I had remembered.

Signs you've encountered a trail gnome:

  • You keep thinking/saying "The TH is just around the next bend." And it never is.
  • You also "swear you've seen that rock/tree/stump" before and you know its close to the end.
  • The tree portion of the hike seems to have more uphill than you recall
  • You think you hear the sound of cars on a road. (Its all in your head.)
  • You've used the phrase "I think the GPS must be wrong.

BLAST! They stuck again.
Ways to combat the trail gnomes:

  • Accept defeat.
  • Make loops
  • Cry uncontrollably
  • Drown sorrows in gels
It is odd that when trail gnomes strike, most of us get a bit angry that they have made our trail back to the car or home longer. On the way out, our hopes and spirits were elevated to an obnoxious level!! Excitement was at an all time high. Yet, when we want to be done, dammit, we want to be done. Unfortunately the best way to fend off the gnomes is to accept that you are going to be away from your phone, twitter, Starbucks, and facebook and out on a nice trail for a bit longer.

I didn't actually hike that trail on the way up...

Monday, July 9, 2012

I'm totally blogging about this.

The Fun Scale breaks levels of fun into three categories. Type I: True fun and enjoyable during the activity. Type II: Fun in retrospect, painful while it's happening. Type III: Not fun. At all..even in retrospect.

Among my friends the Fun Scale is commonly referenced during long runs and hikes. Since leaving my job, my fun levels have been all over the place. And also since I've left my job, writing blog entries, drinking tea at cafes while wearing flannel and listening to Indy music has become my way of life. (, not exactly..but still.)  Hence the increase in entries over the past month. But I digress.. I decided to loosely track my fun levels on the last road trip so that I could compare their levels to the elevation level I was at and the level of effort that was being exerted during that time. I've laid out a graph below so that my calculations and results gain credibility. And using a graph makes me feel like I'm actually working, not just passing time and flaunting photos from one of my awesome trips.

Analysis: Notice the how well laid out and easy to read this graph is. If you think thats a cluster, just imagine how it feels during one road trip. Also check out the minimal Type 3 fun. Summits appear to be high points, not just in elevation, but also Type I fun. In my professional opinion, It would appear that the reason for this is the mild to mid levels of Type 2 and 3 fun that is incurred on the way to the summit. Though, the mid mtn of Elbert sharp increase in Type 3 fun throws a bit of a wrench in that theory. Who cares, its a terrible graph that consists of completely biased estimates of fun levels. Pictures do a better job of tracking fun:
Sean and Brandon headed up Mt Massive

Atop Mt Massive

Leaving Massive's summit..on our way to Elbert.
This wasn't fun.

This was fun! Mt. Elbert

La Plata..Rock represents Sean. Who O.D.ayed and was ill that day.

That person is experiencing Type 3

I guess vacations are ok.

A bit of shade, sunshine and a nice breeze.


Whether you are blogging in a cafe, swimming in the Colorado River, barely making your way up a mountain side, sleeping in the back of your car, or making up terrible graphs- Have fun, be safe, take risks. In that order.

Monday, July 2, 2012

9:27 pm: Home.

My last road trip I kept a trip journal. When the car crested the hill near my house and I could see my abode, I wrote, "Home. Home is where the heart is. So weren't we home all along?" Now- when I wrote this, I was tired, sick of being in the car and most likely in a thick emotional fog of travel. It sounded sooo prophetic at the time. Yes, I think that Aristotle himself would have nodded in agreement with that gem of wisdom. When in fact I had no idea what I meant. I just wanted to write a witty closing statement for the log. I wrote it, closed the log and forgot about it until just recently- when I got back from my most recent road trip. Finally it stuck a chord.

Upper Ice Lake, Silverton, CO. Not a bad place to call home.

Brandon and I at Hope Pass- Photo: Charlie B.
During the last week or so I have traveled all around Colorado. Running, making new friends, seeing beautiful landscapes and learning how to relax a bit. I was fortunate enough to have many generous people open up their houses to me. Everywhere I traveled, I always felt welcome. Whether I was sleeping in my Jeep or at the house of a good friend, a vague sense of "home" was always present. 

Iris, Perry and I
Home is a funny word. Webster defines it as one's place of residence, the social unit formed by a family living together, the focus of ones domestic attention. Well..yes..true it can be defined as that. But like everyone eventually finds out, it can be (should be?) much more. I still call my parents house in Maryland home. Not because of the structure, but because that's where they live. That's where I still go to visit them and my high school friends. It's in the town where I learned how to drive, where I ran my first Ultramarathon, where huge bonfires were made and where I can still go to spot mullets at the local gas station. In Durango, I felt like I was adopted into a large family of runners, coffee shop go-ers, bikers, and hikers. When I visit my sisters in WA, home is either of their houses. But it's also a shared tent by an alpine lake. It is sitting around a Jetboil at 4am making tea before a hike. I'm sure that when my sister's husband left for Afghanistan, her beautifully decorated and comfortable house suddenly felt a little less comfy, a little less like home. When my mom returns to MD after her tour de WA, I can only guess that the house will again feel like a home for my dad. 

Kelly and I pointing towards our next adventure.

Home at 14,000+ ft on Mt Columbia
I've been home for a whopping day and in a matter of hours, I'll be gone again. I'm here just long enough to do laundry, drink excessive amounts of loose leaf tea, pay my rent and get the oil changed in my trusty Jeep. Another adventure awaits. But more than that, more places to call home are ready to be discovered. Four walls shouldn't define your home. As long as you are surrounded by people you love and are doing what you enjoy, the location shouldn't matter, because you'll be home all along. 

Up to Hope Pass. Photo: Brandon Stapanowich

Reese St? Coincidence? I think not.

"Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels  not like going, but like going back. All my life the god of the Mountain has been wooing me. Oh, look up once at least before the end and wish me joy. I am going to my lover. Do you not see now?" - C S Lewis.