When I was a kid, one of the first projects school children were assigned was to write about what they did on during their vacation from school. It was always a hard assignment for me because my family did not go on summer vacation. I suspect I was not alone in the small working-class agricultural community I grew up in. There was no money or time for the local families to leave Dodge on some great adventure.
This always seemed a daunting assignment to me as a child. It somehow implied that you were supposed to report some amazing trip that would leave others in awe. As we enter the next season of COVID and I think back over my summer season in Montana for our family. It seems like writing about what I did with the season of good weather would be hard when all the plans we had were blown away with the sensibilities of limiting our exposure.
Dining out and eating new things is a form of recreation for RangerSir and I. Suddenly the idea of going out and eating just held no appeal. We regularly participated in “Take Out Tuesday.” We called ahead, don our masks, and picked up dinner from all sorts of local joints. We discovered new places. We mourned old favorites who decided to call it quits. We want local businesses to weather this storm, but take out just isn’t the same as sitting in a place and knowing when it is over you get up and the same folks who have taken care of making your dinner, will clean up after you leave. There are no cleanup fairies at our house. I miss this most of all. I don’t know what a comfortable eating out will look like to us, but I am looking forward to it.
Another of my favorite things to do this summer was to meet up for picnic lunches with friends. Some friends bought into the idea and others not so much. I ended up eating lunch out at least once a week, sometimes twice, and on one rare occasion three times. Sometimes we’d pick up carryout from a local place and other times we’d collaborate and make a picnic lunch each of us bringing food to share. The local park had a lovely pavilion where you could people watch and sit in the sun or shade depending on the day. It was relaxed because for a little while I did not worry about the virus and I caught up with friends. It was fun because my friends who liked to cook got a chance to show off their skills, and I did the same. It was nice because we did “show and tell” on our creative adventures and cheered one another on. I renewed friendships and discovered that others were feeling as alone as I was, but they were just as concerned as I was about reducing risk.
Now I wish I had take pictures of the many picnics I had gone on. I wish I had captured those simple moments of human connection. We have had our first serious snow and the temperatures dropped so lunch in the park is over. Now the ladies who I met so often at the park that allowed us to relax and stay in touch are now trying to figure out what we can do to keep up the momentum. Simple safe gatherings of friendship. We are batting around ideas. I am sure we will figure something out.
When I go places in my personal rig I keep two things in mind “is this within your skill level?” and “can your truck handle this?” In my personal rig, I always keep a shovel, sand, a tow strap and even cable chains no matter the season. I have ended up places in snow that I did not imagine it would be there. I always try to be prepared for the worst case scenario when I drive out in the more remote areas I visit.
Last week we had lots of unseasonable rain and it caused lots of problems for the staff not only trying to do our job of doing surveys, but getting places that we needed to complete the surveys.
The sun came out after a day of unseasonable rain, but I was still driving in roads with water and mud.
There was occasion where I was doing a survey and watched a guy drive up the road pass where I was working. His truck threw up a big splash telling me that the water flowing over the road was more serious than I had thought. He backed up and took a second run at it before he came out the other side. I technically need to drive up the road another six miles and do a second survey but the water wasn’t just sitting on the road as a puddle, but a ditch, gully, stream or small creek was flowing over the road. There may have been enough ground for the man to get through, but there was no telling what was flowing away under that water and how fast the erosion was happening. There was no guarantee if I got to the site the conditions of the road when I returned would be suitable for getting out. I passed on the second survey site up that road.
Later that day I found myself making my way slowly down a road in four-wheel drive with the road getting progressively worse. In the end I made the decision that if I was going to get to the survey site, I was going to need to be in four-wheel drive low rather than four-wheel high. I had always been taught 4WD low was for a dire situation, a “rescue me” if you will. I knew at that moment that using 4WD low to get into a place left me with no options if I needed them to get back out. It was time to turn around and mark this as a site not safe under the day’s current conditions.
In both cases for me it was a case no sense in over playing your hand. Sometimes you have to gamble, and other times it makes no sense. Life is about more than the ability to do something but also about the ability to continue on afterwards.
When you make emotional decisions, they generally are flawed and this one was no different. I was heading to town after my lifetime friend and her husband left after spending some time with us. It was nothing short of a great time and like always we reconnected as though we had been together last week rather than two years ago. I was sad to see them go as I know that we won’t see one another for at least a year. Though I was heading to town I wasn’t ready for people and so impulsively decided to head to a forest trail I had always wanted to try.
I parked my rig a the trail head, pulled out a photo copy map from the kiosk and headed out. I enjoyed the sounds of nature and got myself grounded again. I was about three miles out when I had an ah ha moment. I had taken this hike without thinking first and I was now the realization was hitting me what I had done.
I had thrown out my drink glass in a bear proof container and I had not thought about bear spray, something I usually walk with.
l found a great rock formation in the sun to photograph. It seemed like a great spot to sit and soak in the sun. Then I realized that rattlesnakes were not unheard of in this area and for the first time I was not hiking in boots, but rather I was where was wearing my sandels!
I had taken off with out water at noon at August. Fortunately I had done enough training that this did not put me under, and I was not in the full sun. The distance and the temperature dictated I had water with me.
I had originally taken a rails to trails, but when I went back I took a forest trail. The grade there turned out to be pretty intense. I would have sold my soul for my hiking poles. They really help take so much of the stress off of your knees when are faced with steep climbs.
I had gone out into the woods and not told a single person where I had gone. No one had a time that I was due back. If you do nothing else when you head out into the woods that is the most critical thing you need to do. It is your safety net.
Dumb luck was with me and it all worked out. It was a reminder that emotional decisions can be full of flaws due to the impulsive nature. It would have only take an few minutes to call home and leave message where I was going and when I should be home. I keep all the other supplies I should have taken in a crate in my rig at all times. There were all there for me. I should have taken them them with me. There are no walks or hikes that are too short to take your safety supplies. This all worked out fine, and it serve as a great reminder of what I already know. THINK. It could be live saving.
Once again this year I plan to walk a half marathon or two. The first one is early in the season and it is time to get serious about my training schedule. One of the hardest parts of getting ready is training smart. Not only do you need to find the right training schedule to prepare you for race day. On the other side of training smart involves safety. I always think of a woman who was nabbed when running in Northeastern Montana. There is nothing you can do to prevent a nut who wants to nab a woman, but there are lots of things you can do to put yourself at the least amount of risk. Some of the things I do to help my odds:
Don’t walk before the sun is fully up.
Wear your reflective safety vest
If you must wear headphones, don’t wear them blasting.
Walking with a dog, even an ankle biter will can alert you to things you might miss before they are upon you.
Let someone know when you leave and should be back.
Don’t walk the same time and place every time.
Don’t let fear be your excuse not to get out there, but be smart.