Go Far

Ama Dablam and Kangtega in the Solukhumbu range of the Himalaya

Ama Dablam and Kangtega in the Solukhumbu range of the Himalaya

A thousand miles and more
Beyond the Bosphorus and the Levant,
Far along the Karakoram Way,
Past the ancient city of Tashkent.

Dusty Kathmandu beckons,
With Thamel’s every trackless street,
Spin the wheels at Boudhanath,
And the temple monkeys to greet.

Looming distant beyond the valley,
Rising above the smoke and haze,
Gleaming, jagged, white with summer snow,
The Solukhumbu commands your gaze.

From Lukla’s first tilted landing,
And the winding paths of Namche Bazar,
Along narrow depths of the Dudh Kosi valley,
Steep trails promise to take you far.

The welcoming arms of Ama Dablam
Smiling over the milk river below,
Guarding over the school in Khumjung,
Tengboche’s chanting, yet still far to go.

The Pheriche valley is a welcome path,
Stone homesteads and herds of yak;
A sombre memorial at Thokla Pass
For those who didn’t make it back.

Wild horses roam Lobuche;
Gorak Shep, last chance for tea;
The Khumbu Glacier is now the road,
High Himal everywhere to see.

Nuptse looms, Pumori beckons,
Kala Patthar provides the view,
Yet still you press on farther,
Unsure of what you came to do.

The Khumbu continues upward
Beyond the grim and frozen fall,
Inexorable, rising, air ever thinning
Beneath high Lhotse’s mighty wall.

Steeply ascending, jumars on the rope,
South Col will be your final rest,
A camp too high for long to stay,
So press on to the final test.

Lamplight climbing, past Hillary Step,
Sunrise on the last ridge line,
Gleaming on all the peaks below,
You stand now there in bright sunshine.

Sagarmatha holds you in her arms,
Upon her grace you now depend;
The Roof of the World, Peak Fifteen,
Look quick, it’s time to descend.

The world all lies below you,
Nothing now stands as high;
Yet you cannot stay, it’s not your realm,
If you linger you will die.

A fast descent, a steady walk,
Back down the valleys below,
The villages and teahouses greet you,
Another traveler, with their welcome glow.

Of the high places of the world,
Stories you now have to tell,
Yet what you will remember best
Are the people who helped you well.

Tsering, Pemba, Pasang, Phurba,
Without them you would surely fall,
Lhakpa, Dawa, Mingma, Dorje,
There beside you, and sturdy all.

In your armchair by the fire,
You still see their faces clear,
The Sherpa of the Solukhumbu,
To your heart remain forever near.

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Offline Retreat

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Once more I am headed into the mountains, bound for a place where no roads go, that can only be reached by boat, floatplane…

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or multi-day wilderness trek (crossing a few high mountain passes along the way).

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WiFi doesn’t penetrate there; cellular towers are unknown. I will leave the electronics behind and immerse myself in nature and the pages of an old-fashioned bound and printed book. I will not tweet, or status update, or blog. I will not open a laptop. I will put my phone away.

Four disconnected days.

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But… I will still think about you. And I will return.

Because I love you all.

Yes, you, too.

Benefits of a Bad Knee

I’m a hiker. I pretty much always have been, beginning as a small child being taken on hiking and camping trips by my mother (at 81 she has just begun to slow down in the past couple years). For a while, about ten years ago, I even got into climbing, but had to let that drop as the time commitment was more than I had capacity for. I still harbor dreams of ascending some of the larger local peaks from time to time, and to that end I decided that this summer I would climb Mt Adams.

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I say climb, but I suppose what I really mean is scramble, as the South Spur route that I intended to take is “non-technical,” which is a polite way of saying that if you fall, there is no rope with which your companions might save you, and you may therefore tumble two-thousand feet down an ice chute all by yourself, rather than dragging the others with you. You still need crampons and ice axe, so it’s a little more than going off-trail. But I digress.

Regardless of the technicality of it all, it had been a few years since I had ascended something like that, and I wasn’t quite in the shape I thought I should be for the attempt. So, over last winter and spring I set out to train, getting much more intense at the gym, going running, outdoor stair climbing (my personal favorite is Golden Gardens — see this delightful description (with photos!) of the experience), and, as the winter turned to spring, replacing the stairs with conditioning hikes in the lower-elevation Cascade foothills.

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On a side note, I’m not much of a runner, because running tends to make my knee hurt, which probably just means I’m doing it wrong and have bad shoes. So, this time I purchased new shoes and deliberately set out on a very gradual and easy program. Fat lot of good it did me, as you’ll see.

The training paid off. I received compliments on my shrinking waistline, the scale also had nice things to say, and the improvements in time going up and down those stairs was measurable, not to mention I got to the point where I could actually talk while going up those stairs, and not just huff and puff and sweat and wonder Dear God, will it ever end? Make it stop!

Then came the Cable Line. You know how trails will make switchbacks to get up steep hills, and sometimes you can see where people have cut the corners of the switchback, saving themselves perhaps a few extra steps but enduring a brief moment of steep ruggedness? (Don’t ever do that, by the way. Very bad form). Well, the Cable Line is the ultimate cutting of a switchback, in that while it starts and ends at nearly the same place as a real trail, it bypasses all the switchbacks of that trail and goes straight up, gaining 2,000′ in just 1.5 miles. This is pretty much the definition of a vertical slope, at least as far as hikers are concerned.

So, I made it to the top of the Cable Line ok. I wasn’t especially impressed with my performance, but I didn’t die on the way up. At the top one is rewarded with really quite a nice view of the Puget Sound communities laid out below, and once I had learned how to breathe normally again I was able to appreciate this.

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Then it was time to go back down. That’s when my troubles began.

Downhill is where creaky knees make themselves known. I didn’t even attempt to go back down the way I had come up. I consciously tried to save my knees by taking the longer, but less steep, winding West Tiger 3 trail. That would be the one whose switchbacks the Cable Line so directly cuts. However, I was thinking about dinner and moving pretty fast and after all this wasn’t the rough and steep Cable Line but rather a normal trail, and… my knee popped.

Hobbling down the rest of the way, practically hopping on one leg, I knew this was not a good sign. Once I made it back to civilization (there was some doubt), I gave myself a week off from all things stressful to knees, then tried a city park walk, and… no go.

Climbing was out for this summer.

However, maybe not all was lost, and I’d still be able to get in some really good hikes, just not the steep, snowy, “semi-technical” high-angle bits with heavy packs. I had already made plans for some weekend getaways in late summer (after the climb was to be finished) to cabins and lodges in beautiful, mountainous parts of the state, with the intent of spending two or three days hiking classic trails in each spot. With an eye to salvaging what I could of the summer I set out to restore my knee, going to physical therapy, and so on, and it is getting better.

Just not very quickly. Walks of more than a few blocks have a tendency to bring back that “pop,” especially if there’s any downhill to it, so those classic trails have been beyond me this summer. My fitness level has returned to a pre-training state, and I’m afraid the scale is no longer as friendly as it was a few months ago.

I elected to still go on the getaways, however, even though I could not hike. “Perfect writing time!” I thought to myself. “I’ll get so much done!” And it’s true, I have managed to get in some decent writing time while hanging around the coffee shop in Glacier, and in the beautiful lodge at Paradise and picnic area at Sunrise, and, this weekend, the inn and country store at Mazama.

Alas, my summer weekend getaways are now done, but I’m certain I’ll manage to continue to find inspiration around me. My stories tend to take place mostly in the city, after all.

And next summer there will be more hiking.Writing in Methow 2-1

Getaway Weekends

I’m off to another getaway weekend in the mountains, laptop and a good book in tow. There might be wifi where I’m staying, but there just as likely might not be, and I’m all right with that. Fewer distractions (though you are all wonderful distractions) means more actual writing gets done. See you in a few days!

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Romantic Conflict

I think it may have been Tolkien who wrote “Adventure is something nasty happening to someone else far away,” though admittedly I am having trouble sourcing this quote today.

As an aside, I did find a similar quote attributed to David Niven: “Adventure. Ah yes. That’s someone else having a very rough go of it very far away. My idea of adventure is carrying a pint of bitters from one smoke-filled room to the next.” (http://www.baenebooks.com/chapters/0743498747/0743498747___6.htm)

Of course, what either of these quotes implies is that while we enjoy reading about adventure (or watching it on film), it may not be something we necessarily want to have happen to us. For all the interest in adventure tourism, or active sports and pastimes, true adventure implies an element of peril not sought for its own sake, but rather risked or endured, perhaps unwillingly, on the way to something else far more desirable.

In other words, adventure is conflict. Most of us seek to reduce conflict in our own lives, but in fiction, without conflict there isn’t much of a story. A group of characters sitting around having the time of their lives may sound like a lot of fun, but it isn’t very interesting to read about.

That means our protagonist is that someone else, and for the story to be interesting, she must have a very rough go of it. Nasty things must befall her, and then she must overcome them, gain strength through adversity, and return to her ordinary world wiser than before, having won the grand prize.

Herein lies the author’s conflict. We spend so much time with our protagonists, our main or lead characters, our heroes and heroines, that it is easy to identify with them. They are the children of our imagination. We grow to love them as we love ourselves, or as we love our best friends, and who would wish nastiness upon their best friend?

Yet we must, for the sake of the other children of our imagination, the stories themselves. We must array armies of conflict against our heroine, in all their serried ranks, and she must lose at least a few battles — though she can win one now and then, too — before ultimately emerging victorious. It’s painful to do, but our heroine must suffer — for the sake of art, of course.

So what does conflict look like in a romance, then? No one is swinging swords at our heroine (unless, perhaps, we are writing a paranormal fantasy romance), nor shooting bullets at her (or are we writing romantic suspense?). The grand prize she seeks, though she may not know it at first, is love. The barriers she must overcome on her quest for this prize are emotional more than physical.

There will be external conflict. She is not the only one seeking the hero’s heart.  She has a rival, one who may stop at nothing to steal the hero away from her. Perhaps her family, or the hero’s family, or workplace rules or societal politics, dictate that they should not be together. Perhaps the hero is, at first, simply uninterested, or he lives in a different world, moves in different circles, such that their paths would not cross in the normal state of affairs.

There will also be internal conflict. The heroine, or hero, or both, may have been hurt before, such that they now avoid entanglements, or they may inwardly consider themselves somehow unworthy of love, or of each other, not realizing at first how far from the truth this sentiment may be. The heroine will harbor some dark secret, some shadow from her past that she has struggled — and failed — to overcome, and just when things finally seem to be on a perfect trajectory, it will rear its ugly head to dash all hopes.

Naturally, she will ultimately triumph, defeating her inner demons and outer rivals, and win the hero’s heart for all eternity, as classic romantic tropes dictate, living happily ever after.

Or will she?

Romance is full of conflict, and in this we find a truth for both fiction and reality.