Category Archives: hiking

Hiking Montana

I was an overweight kid, and my least favorite class was gym, or physical education, as it is euphemistically called. My least favorite week of the school-year was the week of physical fitness testing: no pull-ups for this fat girl, only marginally more sit-ups, and if I could be violently ill on the day of the dreaded “600,” that was all good…until I had to make it up the next time I was in attendance. At least I didn’t come in last since I was the only one “running.”

An overweight, asthmatic (diagnosed in adulthood), I was always the last person to complete the torturous 600 meters around the track, often forced to face the ridicule of my classmates, especially the boys. Gym teachers took little pity on me, probably just as disgusted with my poor physical condition as my juvenile classmates.

I started smoking around 12 years old, and by the time I reached the age of majority, I was fully addicted to nicotine, a fantastic accomplishment for an overweight asthmatic. With the exception of about a year when I was pregnant with my son, I smoked until the age of 34, finally succumbing to the intense pressure to conform to appropriate social norms and give up the devil.

About this time, which would have been the latter half of 1996, I decided to get serious about exercise. Previously, my attempts at physical fitness had been sporadic and mostly related to weight loss. In 1989, at the age of 27, I finally got sick and tired of being fat and tired and joined Weight Watchers, losing fifty pounds in six months. During that time, I did exercise occasionally, but I was also smoking, so my weight loss can be mostly attributed to calorie restriction. When I quit smoking in 1996, I gained back about twenty of the fifty pounds I had previously lost, and in order to get back to a desirable weight, I started walking. The exercise had a two-fold effect: it helped with my weight loss efforts, and it also helped distract me from my addiction. The healthier I got, the more I had to lose if I reverted to unhealthy behaviors, so it became a new, healthy preoccupation.

Sometime previous to this, I saw a doctor about my allergies and asthma and got treatment and medications for my breathing problems. As my walking picked up, I gradually started jogging, and soon, my jogging became regular running. I began running up to six miles a day, which helped me drop my weight back to my goal of 138 pounds. For several months, I ran Highway 89N between Clyde Park and Wilsall, always trying to improve my speed and/or distance. Sometime around the year 2000, I developed a stress fracture in my pelvis requiring eight weeks of nothing more rigorous than walking. I put back a few pounds.

Since then, my weight has gone down. Today, I consistently weigh in the 140 range though I can fluctuate five pounds either way. I have not had any tobacco products in 22 years, and my nutrition is constantly informed by my training in Weight Watchers. I whole-heartedly endorse the program that gave me a “normal” life, twenty-nine years ago. Though I am now vegetarian, I eat a normal diet, one that sometimes includes indulgences, and I always eat food I enjoy. More than anything else, though, I credit physical activity with my ability to maintain a healthy weight.

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This last weekend, I hiked with Mark on Friday and Saturday, and today, I logged four miles on the walking path near my house. Tomorrow we’ve planned another hike. For someone who used to dread the 600 meter fitness run, I’ve come to love, really love, the exertion and challenge of cardio exercise, especially the zen-like results of a hike in Montana. More even than the physical benefits, of which there are many, the mental and emotional benefits of hiking Montana cannot be over-stated. Some people would claim that I tend to emotional extremes, and that’s probably an accurate assessment, but I am much calmer now than I was as a teenager, and I often wonder how different my early years might have been if I had known the calming power of a walk in Montana’s natural beauty. The peacefulness is part of it, the beauty, the challenge, the vastness of Montana’s natural spaces, the quiet, the forced focus on the here and now, the demand that other stuff be relegated to later. All of that, and more, is part of the magic.

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I thought about that today while on my walk, listening to Staind, one of my favorite stations on Pandora. I thought about it again when Mark asked me to meet him tomorrow afternoon for a hike: I felt the endorphins spike in response to the stimuli. My teenage self could not have known that at age 55, I would be healthier than at any other point in my life. She could not have known how the prospect of a five-mile hike in 40 degree weather would be the equivalent of a date at the movies. She would have been very hopeful.

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I remember, as a young kid, longing for the day when I would be forty years old. At that age, I reasoned, I would be a grandma and it wouldn’t matter to anyone if I was fat: how wrong I was and how sad that I thought my joy in life would be as a fat grandma, feeding my grandchildren cookies. Turns out I haven’t gotten any grandchildren yet, but more importantly, the last thing I want to do is bake cookies. There are mountains to climb, rivers to ford, trails to follow, and many places to get lost. Love where you live.

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Thankful Thanksgiving

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I posted something here. I’m the writing teacher, should probably be a little more consistent in my posts…

In my defense, it’s been “one of those” semesters. Without belaboring the details, let me just say I’ve found renewed reasons to be thankful. Let’s get started.

It’s Thanksgiving, almost, in less than six hours. In the spirit of the season, I’ve been thinking about what I’m thankful for, and not surprisingly, the word “people” comes to mind. I am thankful for my family. Like most families, we’ve had our differences over the years, and very often, I feel kind of “out of the loop.” I’m that relative, the one who lives away, the one who’s always been different, the one that no one understands. I get that. I don’t understand myself, so it’s all good. Nevertheless, my sisters are solid supporters and my mom is, well, my mom. Moms never give up on their kids. We had a great time this summer when my mom visited me in Montana City, and one year after my dad’s death, all of us are starting to recalibrate our lives.

Other family…my cousins, I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world when it came to DNA relatives. I get so much love and support from people who are related to me only by a parent…and I never, ever, take that for granted. I’ll call them out: Paula, Lisa, Susan, Joselle, Gayle, Nikki, and Jamie. Jamie, more than any other person, saw me through the pain of the last year, not only supporting me but sometimes calling me on my shit, saying, “Karen…what’s the truth here?” These women are truly selfless and loving and…family.

These people are the foundation of my life, the ones who allow me to have any sense of who I am. However, none of these people live and interact with me daily. Let me mention Mark. We met online in May, both of us a little nervous about another round with love, but we connected with our mutual love for the outdoors. We both have histories, stuff in our lives we’d rather not revisit. We both have sons, which gives us something in common other than our love for hiking and kayaking. We both have jobs that interfere with being together. This is the reality, but we’ve had fun together and enjoy each other, and so far, things are working pretty well. My mom thinks he’s nice because he sends her snapchats frequently. I’m happy my mom likes him.

Then there’s my work: this is where I get most of my sense of self, my confidence, my joy, my motivation. Without my work, I’d not know who I am or what I should try to accomplish. It seems kind of wild considering I didn’t start this gig until ten years ago…and then it was only part-time as a graduate student. This year, especially, I’ve seen the rewards of years of growth, from that insecure, uncertain English teacher in 2007 (which, by the way, my journal confirms was a conflicted, confused individual), to the relatively secure, sure English teacher of 2017. Maybe knowing what one doesn’t know is the key. When I mention my work, what I’m really focusing on is my students. They know who they are: we had a semester that should never happen. We were attacked in a way that is unconscionable, unbelievable, unfair. There were others involved, too, who suffered the effects of being subjected to scrutiny only because of their association with us, and yet we prevailed. And no matter any legal outcome or any professional scrutiny, I know…with 100% certainty…that I have made a difference in the lives of people who are not as “connected” [as if I am] or as well off, or as educated as I have been. I have helped to empower the next generation of people who will continue to question those in power, those with the authority, earned or not. And, oh, by the way, my students in writing are doing amazing, academic, smart, powerful work, and to think that I have had the privilege of inspiring that kind of scholarship…it just does not get any better.

Thank you, universe, or whomever is in charge. On Thanksgiving Day, I’m very grateful.

And So It Begins…

Students in Writ 095 are currently working on their blogs. The first assignment is an “About Me” piece. Simple, right? Maybe not. “Pay attention to length,” said I, “and grammar and mechanics matter. This is a writing class, after all…”

What about you, Teach? (Spoken in a true, Vinnie Barbarino accent…look it up, you young’uns). Yeah, so I have been teaching at Helena College for five and a half years now, was tenured this last May, and plan to die in my heels. In other words, I’m pretty sure this is my last professional stop, despite my young age…and I have no plans to permanently retire. At some point, I’ll cut back to 3/4 time or part time…but teaching runs through my blood as much as merlot. Not gonna get loose of me in the immediate future.

So, teaching, English, writing, literature, learning, all these are some of my priorities in life. Student success is my biggest celebration, and I would not quit teaching if I were rich, but I’d like to try rich for a while…

I live alone, but I do have a cockatiel who’s my companion. His name is Leo, short for Leonardo, and he and I have weathered 20 plus years together. I have a son who’s 30 years old, and an ex-husband who I don’t write about but who was an important part of 25-plus years of my life. My other passions are hiking, kayaking, music, reading, and teaching, not in that order.

Fall semester 2017 is a new experience for me: it’s the first fall semester, ever, that I’ve entered college with the status of “single.” It’s the first fall semester that I’ve entered college without my dad. It’s not that my dad was especially critical to my teaching, but he was critical to my sense of self: I always had a mom and dad (lucky, I know). He died last October 31st. Every day since then has been, “the first _____ since Dad died.” November 1st will change that, but October 31st will be a tough day for me to survive.

You want to know “about me”? I was a mediocre high school student who grew into a pretty darn smart mom, who became a really smart college student who excelled, who became a competent, committed, caring college teacher, who lives her life to the best of her abilities without regret. Let’s get to work.

The Rockets’ Red Glare and Other Observations

Fortunately, I’m not paid to blog because, if I was, I’d be running a deficit right now. Neither am I paid to write, and that, too, would be a less-than-productive source of income for me based on the amount I’ve written lately. However, I AM paid to teach, and I’ve been doing a fair amount of work related to my teaching, especially and including The Rocket Project, formally known by the publication title, Helena’s Rocket Slide: The History of a Cultural Icon.

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Astute readers might be wondering at the lack of symmetry between this and my previous blog post where I stated that the summer of 2017 would be dedicated to play and nonacademic pursuits, but those who know me well will not be surprised. Without an overabundance of things to occupy my time, I subconsciously start seeking other projects, and no one is more surprised than I when suddenly there’s no time to accomplish them all.

I’ll begin with The Rocket Project: since last August, that silly rocket has been in the periphery and then eventually at the forefront of my consciousness until finally culminating in the publication. Never having done an oral history project before, I began with researching what such a project entailed. Next, I tried to imagine how I could get lots of different people to “buy in” to the project, including students who would have to push out of their comfort zones (challenged already by the whole college experience) and call, setup, and interview complete strangers about a local landmark. Putting myself into their shoes, I knew they would hate it, and they did. I also banked on the hope that my cultural capital with enough of them would float the project well enough to be successful, and it was a good bet. Everyone eventually carried out their responsibilities, and many of them found that they grew dramatically as students—and citizens—after meeting such fascinating and inspiring people who were also donating their time and energies to support the fairgrounds and the Rocket Project. After literally hundreds of hours of my own time planning, arranging and facilitating interviews, grading papers, listening to and editing transcripts, and then publishing the book, I came away with a new reverence for civic engagement, selfless service, and the importance of “place” in our lives. I will never forget the experience of The Rocket Project.

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At the unveiling of the rocket, May 13, 2017.

I will be at the Lewis & Clark Last Chance Stampede Fair next week, from Wednesday until Saturday, selling copies of the book. TRIO Club Students2Scholars fronted funding to purchase a dozen copies of the book to sell, and when they’re gone, we’ll take orders for later delivery. Come by and see me! Say hello and take a peek at the book! Help me pass the time on a hot summer day.

Reflections, Writing 095, is in late production due to The Rocket Project, and I’m sweating bullets wondering how I’ll get it finished before school begins, but stranger things have happened, and I’m hoping to somehow pull off a miracle. Between that, planning fall classes, and my responsibilities as a member of the hiring committee of the UM President, I’m beginning to feel the pressure of fall pressing in.

The Rocket, however, has not entirely dominated my time, and Facebook friends know I’ve been very busy enjoying summer enthusiastically. I’ve hiked Refrigerator Canyon, Hanging Valley, Hauser Dam, Fleschers Pass, McQuithy Gulch, and Mount Helena, all new experiences except for Mount Helena, my go-to hiking area. I’ve kayaked Hauser Lake, Canyon Ferry, and the Reservoir and hope to get out on the Missouri before I head back to school. In terms of outdoor fun, it’s been one for the record books.

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Hanging Valley hike: thirteen miles round trip and a spectacular view (oh, and Train Like a Girl)!

I’ve made time for friends and cultural pursuits, too, and my high school chum, Cinda, visited over the 4th of July, just before all of us were jolted awake by the 5.8 earthquake on July 6th at 12:30 a.m. What to do in the middle of the night after being wakened by a house-shaking earthquake? Why, check Facebook, of course! All my local friends were up and chatting about the frightening experience of waking to an earthquake in progress, and my own thoughts reflected my literary background: I’m not supposed to die in an EARTHQUAKE! I wonder if that’s how it feels when the time actually arrives, if the person is annoyed or shocked at how it all goes down.

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Cinda and me: friends for forty years!

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My mother left today after visiting me for the first time since I’ve lived in Montana City. We took the Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour, the Last Chance Trolley Train, went sapphire mining at the Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine, and saw Tarzan at the Grandstreet Theatre. Along with a variety of Snapchat photos, meals out, and wine, I enjoyed the time with my mom tremendously and look forward to our next opportunity to spend time together. Since my dad died last October 31st, we’ve all been learning how to move forward as a family, and individually, without him here, and this was the first time Mom and I spent time alone, just us with nothing to do but have fun, and we did.

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What’s not to love?
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Mining for our fortunes

Finally, some people missed my December and January posts where I wrote about my failed marriage and were surprised by recent revelations that my hiking and kayaking partner is also a romantic partner. Mark is indulgent of my penchant for social media and indifferent to whether anyone knows or cares about our relationship, which I appreciate a lot. So, regular readers of my blog should expect to see frequent updates of the adventures of Mark and Karen, and I appreciate the many expressions of support and affection I’ve received, not only in the last couple months but the previous nine or ten months. I lived through several dark days and lots of self-doubt, but I’ve emerged on the other side, and though way behind in my goals for summer 2017, it certainly has been one to remember.

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Me, Mark, and Mom

 

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Appropriately, at the top of Mount Helena

Please come see me at the fair!

The Livin’ Is Easy

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

 

Hey all ya’all, and happy summer! Officially off the clock on May 17th, I’ve been busy in the best kind of ways ever since! This won’t be a post about teaching; I’m going to stray from the norm and write about the importance of leisure and the soul-soothing warmth of the summer sun.

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Hiking Fleschers Pass

Since May 2003 when I first started my college education, I’ve either worked or had internships or taught or took classes or did research or sometimes a combination of those during the summer months. I still enjoyed the slower pace and time for fun, but always in the background loomed some kind of major goal: create a new class; pass a class (or two); put together a promotion and/or tenure portfolio; read texts for ideas for assignments, etc. Not summer 2017.

I earned my tenure this spring (yeah, that’s a pretty big freaking deal) and my classes aren’t changing at all next year, so aside from putting together my syllabi, which I do every semester, I have no academic tasks to complete. I renewed my K-12 Class 2 license this year, good until 2022, at which time I’ll be 60 (gasp!!) years old and possibly will have won the lottery, so I won’t have to worry about renewal credits (better start buying some lotto tickets). All those years of working, planning, striving, studying and learning finally paid off and landed me here: the summer of 2017. And I’m going to enjoy it.

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Kayaking Helena waterways with June

So far, I’ve been kayaking twice, hiking five or six times, and out with friends. Some of that time was spent in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park and some was spent on the waters and mountains surrounding Helena, and mixed in with that has been later-than-usual nights and leisurely mornings, sleeping late and coffee on the patio, time for journaling and shopping and friends.

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On safari in YNP
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Hiking McQuithy Gulch with Mark

I’m still working on the Rocket Project, and the longer I spend thinking about and reflecting on that incredible event, the more privileged I feel to have had such an opportunity to be involved in it. The sense of community that I found in the audio recordings, the reminisces of the community members who generously donated their time and memories, is tremendous; it resonates like a marching band on July 4th and humbles me that I am able to compile and prepare an historical artifact that encapsulates the civic-minded spirit of Helena’s community over the past sixty years. Publication is forthcoming but dependent upon my ever-encroaching social calendar. I plan to have the book completed before the Lewis and Clark County Fair in July. Stay tuned…

Speaking of books, I haven’t even begun work on this year’s edition of Reflections, but it’s in queue, after the Rocket Project, and it will be published before the end of July also. I have a long list of “to read” books for the summer, beginning with The Name of the Stars, a sequel written by Pete Fromm, a look back, in a way, at Indian Creek Chronicles, one of my all-time favorite books. I can’t wait to read it.

The rest of the summer is filling rapidly with an upcoming concert, a family reunion, friends visiting from out-of-town, my mom coming to visit me for the first time since I’ve moved here, and more kayaking, hiking, and of course, wine! Today, I spent the day on the water with my beloved June Caudle, and my soul sucked up the nourishment of sunshine, warm temps, calm waters, and June’s friendship. Every day I have like that—and there have been several already this summer—sustains me during the trying times (midterm, anyone???) during the academic year and the bleakness of winter. These days, these friends, these experiences are just more reasons why I love my job.

The past year was a challenging one, with many, many dark days, loss, heartbreak, and difficult decisions. I can’t be certain I’ve emerged from the cloud of darkness that hovered during that time, but it sure does feel like I have. I am hopeful and happy and excited to see what the future holds, how many days I can spend in my kayak, on a mountain trail, enjoying a good read, a nice bottle of red, or with friends. This is going to be a summer to remember: Summer 2017.

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Ready for Summer 2017

 

Day 17

Happy Easter! It’s day 17 of alcohol abstinence; it was pretty challenging last night when my friends Karen and Mary and I went to dinner after the roller derby bout between Helena’s Hel’z Belles and the Great Falls team. They had drinks at the bout, and it’s such a raucous atmosphere, I would have enjoyed a drink, but I had a diet coke instead, all the while remembering a paper one of my students wrote last fall about how bad diet soda is for one’s health. She ruined diet soda for me; since then, I buy flavored seltzer water.

After the bout, we went to MacKenzie River Pizza for dinner, and I really would have liked a glass of wine with my salad, but I had club soda instead. More than anything, now, it’s getting tedious to talk myself out of it, but I’m pretty determined.

To celebrate my 17 days of success, I went hiking with Adam today. He and I haven’t spent much time together over the past year. He was traveling over the holidays, when we usually have time to reconnect, and now he’s getting ready to go back to work for the Forest Service this month, so we had planned to hike today.

I met him at the junction of Lincoln Road and Highway 200, and then we went a couple miles toward Lincoln and turned north onto a road that was supposed to take us to the trail head of the Lewis and Clark Pass Trail. We got about 4.5 miles from the trail head and couldn’t go any further due to snow in the road, so we decided to walk, not knowing exactly how far away we were. When we got to the trail head, the trail itself was only 1.5 miles more to the top, so after eating our lunches, we decided to go on despite the snow. In some places, it was probably about two feet deep, but it was still frozen enough that we didn’t break through.

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We saw lots of scat on the way, wolf scat (which I’ve never seen before) and elk scat, and Adam found a grizzly paw print in the mud. He said it looked like a small bear. We didn’t see any live animals on the entire trek, nor did we see another human the entire time. Adam works for the Forest Service, in the Lincoln district, and he said the trails in that area are lightly used. I guess there’s no big attractions out that way to draw people in. I definitely plan to go hike that trail again this summer, and maybe I’ll even go on from the top. There are a few different trails that lead off from the top of that one.

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I left the house a little after 9 a.m. this morning and returned home about 5 p.m. After a hot bath and a light supper, I’m just about ready for bed. What a great day it was, and the best part is that summer isn’t even here yet. This is just the beginning of another great summer of adventure!

Day 10

You’ve been wondering; haven’t you? Come on, admit it: you’ve been wondering how I was doing with my April abstention. Fair enough, it was a lofty goal, but as my bff June said to me today, when I make a decision, I’m like a bulldog with a bone. It’s gonna happen or I’ll die trying.

That might be what happens, actually, because I have been very under the weather this week, and it seems to be getting worse. Now, I caution my students about drawing conclusions about causation where there’s only correlation, but this seems to me too coincidental: I quit drinking on March 30, and I started feeling a little ill soon after. A sore throat, head congestion, fatigue, those were the initial symptoms, close enough to my usual spring allergies that I ignored it at first. As the week went on, the symptoms got worse: terrible head congestion, plugged ears, headache, fatigue, sore throat, and now, today, a cough! The congestion has begun to move from my head to my lungs, and I get to coughing so hard sometimes that I nearly pass out. I quit drinking—I get sick: coincidence? I think not.

Nonetheless, I’m stubborn that way, and if I can make it ten days (albeit with pneumonia), then I can make it another twenty. And besides, anticipation precedes satisfaction, right? Think how great that first glass of wine will taste on April 30th, and even better, my tolerance will be down, so I’ll only need two glasses before I’m giddy as a teenage girl.

Due to my illness, I’ve not been able to hike. I did walk about four miles today, between fits of coughing that double me over like a punch to the gut, walking to the store in Montana City for a newspaper. A man came up to me and said, “I like your socks!” I was wearing one of the mismatched pairs I got as a gift from Pam, a student from the fall of 2015. One was a bright, neon pink with green stripes, the other neon yellow with pink stripes, and I love those socks (one of several she gave me) because they remind me of her, and because they’re silly. The man went on to say, “It reminds me of how I dress!” I noted his Carhartt ensemble and his long, messy hair and wondered what that says about me.

April continues to move ever closer to summer, and I’m not gonna lie: that makes me very happy. My birthday is just days away now, the big 5-5, which brings me around to that other “A” word from last week. I didn’t have any mystical experiences this past week, which is a little disappointing, but I still had some encounters with beings I would consider angels. A male colleague, a friend who shall remain nameless, asked how old I am, and I told him 55 in 10 days. He said, “You look good! I would have thought you were in your forties!” We will be friends forever, now. And then there is Kiera, a student from last semester, creative writing class, who’s also a member of the newspaper club that I advise. She emailed me Thursday morning and said she had a gift for me and when could we meet? She came to my office that afternoon, with her father in tow, to deliver a beautiful rock-like mineral called a geode that has dark purple crystals on the inside. She got it for me in Arizona while on her spring break, and the fact that she thought of me at all during spring break makes me feel like I won the lottery.

And so it goes, friends. That is a recap of week one, addiction detox. Do me a favor, will you? Leave a comment, so I’ll know who’s been visiting my blog. My stats show visitors from all around the world, and I just can’t imagine who in Australia or Romania or Canada would have any interest in reading the blog of a middle-aged teacher in Montana who quit drinking wine in April. But thanks for reading.