Wednesday, September 21, 2011

not such a grind

I have been trying to 'do' the Grouse Grind twice a week, which is somewhat ironic, because while my behaviour seems kind of driven, when I get in among the trees (Douglas Fir and Western Cedar, most common on the North Shore mountains) it becomes very meditative, in a physical, sweaty sort of way. I do feel tremendously alive on the trail.

Step after step, my awareness of what keeps my body moving becomes very clear. My heart starts to pound (when I feel my pulse move up into my neck, I take a break) my breathing comes harder, I feel the muscles in my legs start to work. My head gets hot, sweat drips down my face. I finally got some spray for my glasses, so they don't fog up anymore. (This wasn't a problem when I was still wearing contact lenses, though dust was.) I do find that seeing where my feet are stepping is helpful, as there are a lot of stretches of the trail where the steps are made up of rocks and tree roots. (I sometimes thank the trees, when their exposed, bark-protected roots snake over the trail; I know, getting weird.)

Very rarely, I see wild creatures. Squirrels, smaller than the fat sassy ones in the city. Chipmunks. Only twice, deer stepping softly by. The odd raven calling out (ravens are odd by nature). There are occasionally signs posted that bears have been seen in the area, and once or twice, cougar warnings. I've never seen any, though they saunter the streets around North and West Vancouver often enough. I expect both the bears and the cougars have the sense to stay away from this particularly trail, as there are times when it is a constant parade of gasping, panting people, slogging up the slope, not exactly quiet, and not always pretty. I would never go alone on any other trail. On this one I am almost never alone. At the most, maybe five minutes, before I either catch up, or more likely, get overtaken by some speed demon, trying to best their time. It's a rare treat, silence.

my niece saw this one
watching her, far from
the Grind, but a bit close
for comfort
There is constant maintenance on the trail, because of the constant erosion, caused by rain, snow, and us hordes of hikers. In recent years there have been a surprising number of staircases added into the mix. Some are built with wooden beams, which make nice easy steps, and some with huge boulders dug into the trail. The stretches where the steps are made up of the network of tree roots are somehow more satisfying. I haven't seen the guys working so much this year, but last year it was common to come upon them. They had dogs with them (normally not allowed on the trail), a couple of big shepherdy beasts that lounged around while their owner worked. They likely kept down the likelihood of the appearance of those bears and cougars we keep hearing about.

It's a weird kind of trail. I think any other of the North Shore trails, you'll find people actually out hiking, dressed appropriately for the outdoors, carrying packs. The Grind is a workout trail, an extension of the gym for many. People fly past me, dressed quite minimally (sometimes that's good, sometimes not) carrying only a plastic water bottle, wired up with music pumping in their ears. I see plenty of goose flesh on the ride down. (On the cusp of the seasons, spring and fall, there will be overlap of hikers and skiers/snowboarders. An only-in-Vancouver sight, gym gear rubbing up against snow.) Then there are the people who have read about it, but didn't read far enough, and start out in street shoes, or flip-flops, dressed nicely for a saunter around the resort. They tend to turn back early on, though I've seen bare feet on the trail, and near the top too.

hanging out in my brother's
I'm old enough to ignore fashion (somewhat) so am allowed to carry a (small) pack, and thus have a fleece to put on when I get on top. But I wear my own older-person version of workout gear: shorts, t-shirt, that's it. Soon I may have to put on gloves as the air chills, and I may have to give up the shorts, and put on light pants, or at least take them with me as a change, but my body pumps out so much heat that anything more is torture (it's funny to be sweating and hot and have your fingers freezing, but it happens; it was balmy yesterday). Once I come out on top and stop moving though, brrr. All that sweat gets cold pretty fast.

I don't carry a player of any sort; I turn off my phone (though I bring it, just in case I need to call for help from some gully). I like to hear the ravens laughing at me. I like to hear the wind in the trees (though not too much; once I got stuck on top, waiting for the gondolas to be safe once the wind died down. Brrr, indeed.) I will turn back for hail, I'm not crazy. But if the gate is open, I'm in.

quite the slope
And I do try to shorten my time, I admit it, challenge myself. I'm at about an hour and a quarter now, which isn't at all brag-worthy (brag, brag) but getting there.Yesterday I passed a (young) guy in the last quarter, who had answered his phone. "I'm on..gasp..a hike that is...pant, gasp...brutal," he said. I saw him a few more times, but he didn't finish last, he ended just ahead of me. Gotta maintain some pride, eh? I credit myself with motivating a fair number of grinders, who see me coming, and stop resting. Not that I'm that old, but old enough to make them think of their mother (or grandmother) leaving them in the dust.

I succumb to the same thing, I blush to admit. I passed a guy the other day, who I'm sure was at least ten years older than me, and felt very smug. Later, he caught up and passed me. Lesson learned. Set your own pace well, and you'll get there. What other people are doing doesn't really matter. I'm thinking it's an idea that's applicable to life in general.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

drifting on summer time

It often feels that time is slipping away, but maybe that's because I'm not always clear on where I'm going. I do have a general plan, but currents get me. I sometimes wash up in unexpected places, but with a little thought and introspection, perhaps a slight change of perspective, I work these digressions into my own plot. We all get there, in time. Where there is, well that's up to us.

Canada geese, also headed somewhere.
Time got away from me this summer. I try to fit myself into a timetable (I do have a bit of an addiction to spreadsheets) with very little success. Maybe I should learn something from this. Flux is not necessarily bad.

My writing slipped away this summer, causing me angst, until I thought that maybe writing, like any occupation, needs an occasional holiday. It gave way to visitors and holidays and bits of travel. In actual distance traveled, not much, but then when you move the scale down to the ground (or sea) and move slowly enough to see the ocean drift by, or the road spin under your tires, it gives you a different perspective. (And it doesn't rattle your brain quite the way levitating through the air does.)

swallowed into the woods
Although the summer seems to have flown by, when I think about it, time was leisurely. Part of the time anyway. The week I spent on Galiano Island at the end of July slipped by, but in that week, I remembered I could live without electronic communications. No phone, no computer, no cell reception. (No running water either, though the rain barrels pumped out enough to keep the dishes clean.) No sounds except the wind in the trees, ravens laughing in the distance.
Coon Bay, Galiano Island
August though. August flew by. And now it's half-way through September. I worry this is a phenomenon of getting older; you blink, and the season has changed.

On the weekend my love and I took his kayak out for an all too infrequent paddle. We launched into False Creek, and paddled along the shoreline, marvelling at the contrasts, glittering glass towers, a seal poking his nose out of the water.

We had such a peaceful time there within the hum of the city, that we took it out again on Sunday. This time out to Deep Cove, and paddled up Indian Arm. It was an interesting contrast to our city paddle. Instead of tall buildings, steep hillsides, sometimes cliff drop down into the water. Scattered in the trees, clinging to what there is of shoreline, lush and exhorbitant houses sit basking in the semi solitude. Saw several seals. We paddled for almost three hours, away then back again.

summer colour, alas
The whole time, there was the roar of motorboats, echoing off the sides of this little fjord. It was a constant and relentless sound, never stopping for the whole three hours. Sunday on the water. Choppy water too, all those people stirring it up with their outboards. It made me yearn for the peace of False Creek, which in truth was quieter, even in the middle of the city. Galiano, a distant dream.

Today there are clouds everywhere, back to the usual colour of Vancouver's sky. There's a definite feel of fall out there. So I'm going hiking. Quick, before the snow falls on Grouse mountain, the one I can't see anymore, hidden in the fog. It'll be peaceful on the trail.