My friend who snapped this picture of me has always titled it “Oops!”   When most people would be embarrassed to have such a moment caught on film,  I love the photo.

First,  I smile every time I look at.   I can feel the laughter that bubbled out of me as I laid on my back in the snow.   Laughter is good and releases chemicals in the body that calm your heart and give you a sense of well-being.   I hope  each time I look at this photo at those same chemicals will pulse up in me again.

Second, I love that this picture reminds me that life deals you cards and you play them.    If you look closely you will realize that I was heading downhill smack into a tree.    I had just seconds to decide how I would like to deal with my situation.  It was nanoseconds, I don’t remember thinking about my choices.   I didn’t have enough time or control my descent or to miss the tree.  I just laid down in the snow.   It was perfect.

It is a great reminder for me.   Life happens.  Much of it won’t be something you planned for  or can control.    Embrace each moment of your life.

Back in the Saddle Again

Yesterday I went out cross-country skiing for the first time since my unplanned overnight outing.   It was on a groomed trail about 30 miles from home that I had skied before.   A good choice for my re-entry.

So many changes had been made since my last time out.  I had only one new item, boots.   I got a new pair of boots to replace my gently charred pair.   Since I felt my performance gear failed me  on that fateful afternoon , I changed up what I wore.   I change my combination of socks and liners since my boots were new and fit differently.   I changed the type long underwear, and ski pants.   My core ware was  again covered in  a combination of  layers.  Mittens with wicking glove liners were assigned my hands.  With the light wind I chose a to top it all with a windbreaker.

I was a little unsure as I dressed, as I was cold at home before I began layering up.  My biggest complaint since that night is that I am always cold especially where I got a little frost bite.   But I missed winter days out and so I was determined to get back in the saddle again.

When we arrived at the parking lot there were more cars than expected  and we seemed to be arriving at the same time as about eight car loads from Missoula.   These cars were all filled with families with long skis, short skis, and sleds to pull tikes.   Once you have invested in equipment x-country is a great inexpensive day out in the winter for families.   We quickly clicked our skis in and started ahead of the families.   I think it is great they were all out there with their kids, but the quiet of it all is part of the experience for me.

The snow was very fine and silky.   The trails has been well packed by traditional and skate skiers.   It wasn’t great conditions, but by far not the worst I had ever skied. I met several super seniors who looked to be in their 70’s skiing, letting  me know I could still be doing this in another 20 years.    I enjoyed myself , but never became warm, and quickly became even colder.     I decided to  call it a day early and headed out while John took off for a couple more loops.

As I skied out and left that mental peace behind I began to look at my fellow skiers closely.  Even though it was a groomed trail most people were equipped with some kind of day pack.   I looked at each person wondering what each carried in their day packs, what was in it or was it just a hydration pack with a bladder inside.   I also began to look at their clothing, taking mental notes, realizing that for the most part looked to be dressed like me.   My task may be to get in internal thermometer working again, not seek elusive clothing.

Mt. Haggin ski area, though remote, has a great little place called the “Soup Shack” across the road.  This restaurant is completely off grid, and open weekends serving soups, hot bread and desserts.    I parked my buns next to the wood burning stove and had a large bowl of cheddar chicken chowder while I waited for John to get his fill of skiing and join me.   It wasn’t exactly what I had planned for but it was warm, quiet, the view out the windows was nice and I was enjoying a good book while I waited.   Not a bad day at all.

Unsung Community Heroes

I recently had an unplanned event that brought me in to contact with the unsung heroes of our local rural community.   These unsung heroes included the volunteer members of Search and Rescue, county sheriff’s department, family, friends, co-workers and members of the community.

My husband and I were guests of a friend and her mother at a local remote cabin for a day of cross-country skiing.  We planned a day of skiing and a night of watching a full moon from the porch of the cabin.  Unfortunately things did not go as planned.   Three of us left for an afternoon of skiing on an ungroomed trail just after lunch.    We were familiar with the destination meadow that should have made for a pleasant day of skiing.  Unfortunately we were not familiar with the rest of the trail and it turned out to be much more challenging than we had expected.  I think in hindsight the pivotal moment was an extraordinarily strenuous climb for me.   The strenuous exercise resulted in a flush of sweating  that was more than my performance gear could handle.   Shortly after that time I became chilled and began showing signs of hypothermia.  The decision was made with the waning daylight, the more difficult terrain than we anticipated, and my need for warmth, to stop and hunker down for the night.

Enter the heroes.

My husband and his daypack with the essentials which would make the difference for us.   He had his ever-present redundancy of three ways to start a fire.   Number two provided us with our fire.  He had some food and a method of providing water, melted snow water in a Sierra cup.  He had packed a head lamp for each of us and brought the infamous “space blankets.”  There was much more that could have, maybe should have been in that pack, but its contents provided the lifesaving essentials.   He would also be the person who would take a GPS reading, and at daybreak the following morning he took off to report us in need of help with evacuation.

There is no hero like a mother on a mission. My  friend’s mother snowshoed a quarter of a mile out of the cabin at daybreak and drove to the closest town 25 miles away.   She searched for lights in the wee hours of the small town and found the local morning coffee group. She reported that three members of her group were missing to the local county sheriff who was part of the group.  This immediately triggered the steps to get the local search & rescue mobilized.

Search & Rescue (SAR)  in Beaverhead county is a group of volunteers who donate their time  to help find and bring out folks who are missing 365 days a year.   They complete specialized training and repeatedly do exercises to keep their skills sharp.   These folks use their personal vehicles, ATVs, snowmobiles, boats, horses and more for the benefit of the public and their community.    They leave their jobs and family to help people who often they do not know but who are in harm’s way.    In our case the first two SAR members mobilized were two local men, who stopped their lives that Thursday morning , loaded up their snowmachines, and headed out to rescue us.   Not knowing for sure what our situation would be at the moment they found us, they had back-up on the way to help as well in case we had deteriorated even more, including additional volunteers with their sleds.   I can tell you the sight of these two men  on snowmobiles, wearing red jackets with Beaverhead SARs patches as they came out of the forest  was a moment of relief and graditude I will never forget.   Their concern and knowledge of our condition being out in the winter overnight was overwhelming.  They gave us water, candy and some dry gear.  Though at that moment I just wanted to get out of there I knew they were right, it was important to take care of those things first.  No gift of time was ever more appreciated.

The local law enforcement not only responded promptly, but stayed on board throughout the process.  In a city, I am not sure but I suspect my friend’s mother would have been left to sit alone  in some police station to wait for news.   In this case the deputy took my friend’s mother to his home.   The deputy’s wife would watch for us as she headed to work which took her by the trailhead where we expected to exit.   She in fact would be the first person to see my husband when he reached the road.  The deputy  would take my friend’s mom to be with my husband while they waited for our return.  The deputy would stay with the SAR crew and eventually shuttle us back to our families. It was the whole family of law enforcement who would be there for us, supporting our family in their time of need.

The Forest Service who provides support to the SAR when needed, were mobilized and ready if needed.  Fortunately they were not needed.  The staff provided support to my husband and friend’s mother while they waited for news about us.  Their emotional support meant so much to them.

I am sure that there are others in this community who are my unsung heroes that I am not acknowledging.   I apologize to any of them for my oversight or not knowing about their contribution that brought my friend and me back to the safety of our families.     That is the thing with true heroes, those unsung heroes, they do these things because they need to be done.   It is the right thing to do.   Not because they seek fame, accolades or acknowledgement.   I do not know really how to express my true gratitude.  I am sharing story, in hopes that everyone who helped will know I am forever in your debt.  Thanks seems such an small word, but I do wish to thank everyone for my safe return.

First Of the Season

I have really been itching to get out and strap on my cross-country skis.  Sunday we got out our cross-country skis and snowshoes and headed to Mt. Haggin for what we were hoping would be our first ski of the season.   We were not disappointed; no snowshoes today.   Even though grooming will not start for another couple of weeks,  the snow had been packed enough to make for good skiing on the traveled trails.   The trails were a bit rough as hunters had used them and their were foot holes all over ski tracks.  No exposed grass or rocks makes for a great early season ski. Temps were great and the trees sheltered us from wind.  I discovered a couple of tweaks that will need to be made in equipment this year.

Bottom like it was great to get out, and I am ready for good snow closer to home.

Cross Country Skiing During Hunting Season

Last night my husband and I talked about strapping on a pair of skis this weekend.  He brought up an interesting concern for early cross-country skiers…hunters.   We still have a couple of weeks left  in hunting season and our favorite places to ski are on trails on the local National Forest.  This  unfortunately does put us at risk .   We would be traipsing around on the same trails that hunters and game use.    Though most hunters are careful, it takes only one idiot to ruin it.   In this case it would be me that suffers.   I guess that if we go out we will be donning blaze orange for personal safety.   Put away the bear spray and get out the bright clothes.

Ski Time

I am ready to get out on cross-country skis.   It is early in the snow season and none of my nearby spots have enough snow yet.   Maybe that is a good thing as, if the Nordic Track is any indication, I am not in shape for any serious skiing.   I got my  Nordic Track earlier this year at Salvation Army, and with a little adjustment it was my buy of the season.  It gives a much more intense workout than my treadmill.   I am hoping that it will prepare me for lots of good  long-distance skiing this year.   Maybe I will make a trek to the higher country this weekend and get a little time on the skis.   Will keep you posted.  Think snow-not bitter cold.


Snow…Real Snow

John & friend, Becky, on a favorite trail.

I woke up to over three inches of snow this morning.   Though the first day of winter is still over a month away it has arrived in Montana.    This is not unusual to have snow here in November,  though I must admit I am never ready for the first serious snow fall of the year.

Once real snow arrives my mind quickly moves to cross-country skiing.    I am not ready for bitter cold or sucky roads, but I want to get out and enjoy the weather on a pair of skis.   Until we get a enough of a snow base it can be hard on your skis; rocks and sticks can gouge up your bottoms.     In Minnesota you could take to the golf courses for that early season fix.   Here I have to think about getting my old ratty skis out.  I bought them in 1977 and they have seen many winters. They are your classic skinny skis with three-pin bindings.  They aren’t as nice as my new pair I  bought 3 years ago  but and I won’t lose sleep if I use them on a rough trail with debris poking through early snow.   The only drag is I have to wax them:(

Maybe today a hike in the snowy road will have to do.