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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Road Trips, Rigs and Roughing It

Old-timey map

When my husband Mark and I met we were fresh out of college and just starting our first "real" jobs. Among the many things we had in common: we both moved back from college and were (temporarily) living with our parents; we both owned ancient VW bugs which were only sort of reliable; and we had both grown up camping with our families. Oh, and we were both broke.

It seemed like a match made in heaven.

Since we both had roommates that happened to be our parents, we naturally wanted to spend a little time away from home on the weekends. Our vehicles and our money situation made it impossible to travel far or stylishly, so we would throw a tent and a cooler in the back of whichever bug was running and take off for the closest campground. It was a cheap, fun way to get to know each other. Mark had a little Coleman dome tent he had picked up at Big 5 years before and we both had sleeping bags we had owned since we were little. I borrowed a cooler from my Dad, filled it with stuff I thought no one would notice was missing from the fridge and it was a date. Did I mention it was cheap?

When you're in your twenties it's nothing to throw a blanket on the ground, roll out your sleeping bag and fall asleep. Maybe your arm would be numb in the morning, but shake it a little and you're good to go. We would make a campfire and sit around it drinking hot chocolate with extraordinary amounts of peppermint schnapps and laugh and laugh. I knew Mark was for me when one night he got up to tend the fire and when he sat back down, missed the stool a little, tottered and caught his fall on the side of the fire ring. The grill marks burned into his hand were all I needed to know he was a hard core outdoorsman. My turn came when we went in for the night and the flashlight we had strapped to the ceiling of the tent fell and knocked me on the head.

Good times.

We've gotten softer in our old age. We no longer use a tent (unless we're backpacking) and our truck is less than 15 years old; it actually has air conditioning and leather seats. We bought a Four Wheel pop-up camper and have a queen sized bed inside with foam cushions. We don't have "facilities" and we still like to cook outdoors so it's not exactly luxury, but if the weather is bad there's nothing like being able to sit inside and listen to the rain. We carry a lot more stuff along with us now including an array of camera equipment and, often, 18 year old Scotch--just a few of the many perks of being older and having better jobs. But the idea behind our vacations has always stayed the same: it has to involve a road trip, a campfire and our trusty "rig." Nothing is more exciting than opening up a map (yes, an actual paper map! GPS does not have the same thrill factor for me) and plotting a course toward one of those green areas with the little tree marks.

Our present rig and us, decidedly not hardcore

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why should you read this?

I have been toying with the idea of a blog for at least two years but have always struggled with the same questions -- why would anyone want to read about road trips and hiking trails when they could go out and do it themselves? If I were to write a blog about our adventures would it turn into an e-version of the slideshow from hell? Could I even find an audience?

So here's my blog. At least my Mom will read it. I hope.

I'll start with the reason it's called "Running From Moose."

In 2004 my husband and I set out on our longest trip to date, a five week camping trip to Alaska. If you find road trips an excruciating bore and camping too horrific to imagine, I suppose I've just lost a reader, but for us it's the ultimate vacation plan. Our home base is in northern California so our route took us up through Oregon and Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon Territory and into Alaska. I'll save some of those adventures for future posts but the moose incident happened during our stay outside of Haines, AK in Chilkat State Park.

Beautiful downtown Haines AK

We stopped in at the Visitor's Center to pay our fees and ask about the area. The campground host told us we had just missed a pod of killer whales that were swimming by on the inlet. Damn! He told us we might be able to see them if we hiked out the trail to the tip of the peninsula and showed us a map of the area. We ran back to the camper, packed some snacks and water bottles and headed up the trail.

There are a few important things to note if you decide to take a hike in Alaska:

  • Don't fight the bugs. They were there first, they will continue to be there, and no amount of flailing your arms, cursing, slapping or chemicals will make them go away. The best you can do is find a place with a little wind, cover up as many parts as you can and remember not to leave your mouth open.
  • The growing season in Alaska is very short. The plants only have about 3 months to grow from seedlings to full size and reproduce before the cold and dark comes in to get them. Lucky for them they have 24 hours of sunlight during the summer months to help them along. Hiking trails are obscured by this crazy growth almost as fast as they are blazed.
  • There are more large animals than people that use the trails. In fact judging from the amount of fecal matter scattered around, they are the ones that maintain the trails.

This was the end of the third week of the trip, so by now we felt pretty comfortable. We were at peace with the bugs, we knew which plants would make you pay for brushing into them and we were on the lookout for fresh bear scat.  We were cruising along pretty fast and I was in the lead with Mark trailing behind taking closeup shots of the incredible flora.

Mark on the trail. Notice the huge prehistoric plant life.

We could hear the water lapping on the beach up ahead so we knew we were almost to the inlet, but I couldn't see anything through the thick bushes crowding the trail. I rounded a bend and there, straddling the trail, was a huge moose butt.

I almost rear-ended a moose.

It would have been funny except this particular moose was grumpy. She whipped around with incredible speed and started to run at me. I turned around and ran like hell. I could swear I could feel moose breath on the back of my neck. Just when I really got moving I smacked into Mark. All I could manage was to say "moose. Moose. MOOSE." and shove him in the chest as hard as I could. It took less than a split second for his expression to change from "what?" to "oh s@#*!"

It all happened in a flash, but it was one of those moments when it felt like the slow motion sequence in a movie. I remember thinking how I had always hoped my death would be more heroic. Maybe a grizzly attack while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or getting swept off Half Dome by a freak rockfall. Death by Bullwinkle? Seriously?

The she-moose gave up fairly quickly. We suspect there was a baby nearby and she was trying to protect it, but we never saw one. We caught our breath for a bit then crept back up the trail to see if she had moved on.  Nope, still in the same spot as before, browsing around in the bushes, stubbornly refusing to move.

So now we could almost see the opening at the end of the trail, hear the water lapping on the beach and picture the killer whales leaping into the air. But neither one of us was brave (stupid?) enough to try to pass the moose.

Moose butt

We still haven't seen a killer whale anywhere but Marine World. And I have a lot more respect for Bullwinkle now.