Month: May 2014

The Randomness of Mountains

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The mosquito bites aren’t as plentiful or irritated as I worried they might be, but walking on the flat, carpeted floor feels a bit more like balancing on a tightrope than I would prefer. Amusing, considering that I’ve significantly upped my running distances for the past two weeks without such obvious side effects. But the randomness fits in with the rest of the start of this Wyoming summer.

Let me back up. I received my job ‘offer’ letter back in March and it decreed that I needed to be in Wyoming by May 14th, ready to begin work on the day after. My new boss didn’t actually call me into work until the 20th. Since that first day, my schedule has been a patchwork of being told my hours the day before, getting called in the middle of the afternoon to come in for a brief two hours of work, and texted information day-by-day.

weeks of randomness can affect one's sanity

weeks of randomness can affect one’s sanity

Random is one word to describe it, but most of all, frustrating. Hours have been few enough since I got here that I don’t want to miss out on a chance to work, but I don’t want to spend my free days glued to the golf course waiting for possible calls. Yesterday, by the time I’d ascertained that I did, indeed, have the day off and evaluated my options for the afternoon, it was 3 p.m. I was running low on provisions and decided to go ahead and make a grocery run rather than trying for a long bike ride. I outfitted myself for easy walking, thinking that I might go ahead and stroll around downtown and maybe stop in a cafe for a while and write.

I drove across Jackson to the everyday half of town (as opposed to the tourist half) and bought a few random supplies – super glue for the mug I’d managed to toss off of the nightstand, an underliner to make my in-room pantry more functional – before re-evaluating my options. I’m trying to stay aware of how much I’m using my car and not waste money using it to travel simply because I have it with me, so I elected not to drive back across town to the downtown area. I would only need to drive right back to where I was for my grocery shopping and thanks to being here without a car last summer, I knew I was perfectly capable of getting across town without driving.

cross-country travel can leave the feet dusty

cross-country travel can leave the feet dusty

But I didn’t really feel like waiting around for the bus, especially after spending the entire morning waiting around for a response from work. I could have walked to the downtown area, but I did that so many times last summer that it sounded like a dull option. So I elected to walk over to the town trail system and explore. I only discovered the entrance to the hillside trail area late last summer, so it was ground that I had only covered, at most, once before.

The first brief section of hiking led to a connection with the Snow King Trail that I had walked last year, so I turned off a relatively horizontal trail for the more familiar and much more vertical one. A lot of panting, red-facedness, and friendly dogs later and I made it to the summit, where you can stand and see the entire town laid out before you, followed by the Elk Flats and behind them and their lakes, the Tetons.

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Still retracing my steps from last summer, I hiked along the top of the mountain ridge back across town. One side of the mountain drops down to town, the other opens up to acres of open ground. The trail was mostly clear, with only a few really slushy or snow covered sections. After the hard work of the climb the cool breezes at the top were quite pleasant, except for the clouds of mosquitoes who seemed pleased with all the portable snack bars that were traveling through.

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At the far end of the ridge, the path turned back into a series of switchbacks leading down to the same area of town that I had started from. Narrower and dustier than the path I’d walked up, but no less steep, they took a fair amount energy to navigate. By the time I’d regained pavement, my legs were feeling shaky and my phone clock told me that my possible stroll downtown had turned into a three hour hike over and across a dusty mountain.

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It seemed silly to leave the grocery shopping undone, since it had been my original purpose, so I didn’t. While I already knew that shopping while hungry can cause you to buy an excess of food, I now know that shopping while thirsty and dirt-coated leads me to buy a lot of fruit. Today, I’ll have to see if my sore muscles will allow me to balance long enough to put it all away.

How to Make a Stunning Entrance into a Room of Strangers

My run started out innocuously enough. I drove the 1.5 miles through the little golf course village and across the highway so that I could use my car as a shoe and water station if need be. I’m a bit behind where I’d like to be for half-marathons in October, but between the altitude switch and a strong desire to remain uninjured, have so far managed to talk myself into keeping the pace slow and steady. I started downhill toward the town of Jackson, and by the half-way point on my timer had looped back to the car. There were no other runners on the path anywhere near me, but I was passed in both directions by multiple bicycles. I briefly evaluated my feet to see if I wanted to grab my Zems out of the car, but they were holding up just fine and I knew from an earlier bike ride that I could count on smooth surfaces for the remainder of the run.

A few minutes into the second half of the run, I passed my last bicyclist of the day who called out a cheerful “hey, barefooter!” as he breezed by in the opposite direction. Having run further continuously than I’d managed on my previous long run at altitude and with the weather cooling down plesantly, I was starting to feel like I was falling into a nice, paced, groove. There was a slight uphill rise to the trail, but nothing horribly noticeable and I was beginning to hope I could fall into a zone for the final 30 minutes.

This peaceful moment, gazing forward to the majestic beauty of the Tetons, feeling like there were wings on my feet despite my measured pace, enjoying the wash of light from the setting sun to my left, was naturally when my nose began to bleed.

Now, even when I live at a steady elevation, I have a proclivity for nosebleeds and in the past year of sudden elevation changes, I’ve noticed that they tend to cause even more bloody noses. So I’m not particularly startled or distressed when it happens, although I am frequently exasperated. I also hate allowing normal occurrences to interfere with my training plans. Since the blood wasn’t painful or dangerous, I simply continued on.

You recall that the weather was cooling down? A large part of this was due to the light headwind that I was running into. So as the blood splashed across my face and I periodically wiped it with one hand – half off and half around my face – the wind caught every drop it could and spread them across the shoulders of my shirt, splattered my legs with a few lucky shots, and caught my watch and iPod screen with a few dashes as well.

So picture this, then. I’m running in the middle of a huge stretch of nothing, just me and the highway splitting the sagebrush in one direction from the sagebrush in the other. I’m barefoot, panting with effort, and my hands and face are covered in a wild smearing of blood. I worried about how it might look to the cars passing on the highway, so I did try to look as carefree and casual as possible. This may have only contributed to an overall impression of insanity. I’m not sure.

sane or insane, you decide.

sane or insane, you decide.

The nosebleed stopped before too long, but not before my face paint was truly impressive, coating my nose on both sides and continuing in a fairly solid mask down across my mouth to right under my chin. Just as I made it back to my car, a couple did pull off the highway to ask me if I was okay, but they were the only close contact I had when my appearance was at its most frightening. With the help of my water bottle and the edges of my shirt, I washed most of the blood off and thought that I looked considerably better.

Then I made it back to employee housing and grabbed a towel and soap to finish off the final nooks and crannies. When I stepped into the main living area – home to the kitchen, television, and sofas, there was a moment of shocked silence as the three guys in conversation observed me. They recovered enough to ask me if I was alright and as I reassured them and slipped into the bathroom, I overheard “looks like she’s been in a fight with a wild animal.”

So I want to reassure everyone who might be worried that I’m not spending enough time getting to know my new housemates. Sure, I avoid talking to them most of the time and tend to be quiet and brief even when I do, but it’s not the quantity of interaction – it’s the quality. And I think I gave them some quality impressions today.

Coping with Communal Living

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Awkward. It really is. One moment, you’re living in your family home and the only people to argue dish duty with are parents and siblings. The next, you’re sharing employee housing with a group of strangers who may or may not have any interests, demographics, or habits similar to your own. I’m not certain if I’ve met all of my housing companions yet, and even more sure that I wouldn’t pass a cursory quiz reviewing the introductions I’ve received so far.

Here at my current assignment, it’s complicated by the fact that nearly everyone I’ve met seems to be older than me. Being the obvious youngest in a group tends to shift power away from me – something I never approve of, but can deal with. This coupled with the fact that we will be working together, in a relatively isolated location, for the next twenty weeks adds a level of stress to my living situation that I never encountered during my other brief stints away from the homestead. Perhaps the low stress of those occasions is due to living with sisters?

But my time in Wyoming last year, followed by the experiences in apartment living in Colorado had me somewhat prepared and one of the perks of driving out in my own car was the relaxed weight and space limits. In Colorado, luggage restrictions forced me to buy more than one item that I already possessed in one form or another. Here, I seem to have lugged along everything that I need for my immediate survival and happiness.

With the support of my ever expanding possessions, I’ve begun testing living systems that might make my life easier for the next few momths. Some systems seem to have already been agreed upon before I arrived. For one thing, there’s no arguing about clutter in the bathroom because the room in question is stark, barren, and empty. Well, there are the usual sink, toilet, shower, and tub fixtures, but no towels on the towel rack, no soap on the counter, and no cupboards or shelves in which to leave items. This can make using the bathroom a more complicated ritual, but I see the benefits of not having six girls fighting for room for their hair dryers.

Another system that I appreciate is the labeling of refrigerator shelves, designating this portion of the fridge for one person and that portion for another. Although we had a casual understanding of this in the Colorado apartment, I’m still fairly certain that some of my food ‘vanished’ after roommates had guests over. I’ve never been a fan of aggressive labeling (TOUCH AND DIE), at least in part because it always makes me want to touch and see what happens. A few passive/aggressive notes in Vail have turned me even further off of notes as a form of communication with strangers. So the refrigerator system is a nice, basic way to segregate cold food without crazily punctuated turf wars breaking out.

I have supplemented these methods of keeping the peace by bringing along my own dishes, dish towels, and finding places to store them in my room. If I keep my dirty plates in my room, I don’t feel guilty about cluttering up the main area and it’s easy for me to remember that I need to clean them up still. And since the dishes are mine and mine alone, I don’t worry that I’m leaving the rest of the people living here without a clean fork or cup.

The final step I’ve managed to take toward keeping spaces individual is setting my dry goods pantry up inside my room. I can evaluate what food I have on hand without blocking everyone else’s access to the kitchen and when I want a cup of tea at midnight, I don’t have to rattle around and disturb the peace.

So far, the ability to keep spaces and items individual instead of communal has lowered the possible points of friction rather drastically. I’m sure that, as time passes, my coping methods will evolve – but for now, I have managed to create enough private spaces that I don’t panic over having to deal with public spaces and that’s all I need for now.

The Start of Summer the Second

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I have arrived in Wyoming. The drive itself felt new, because I only drove bits of it, once, a year ago. But there was a pleasant familiarity when I finally made it to Jackson – along with relief that my lack of a navigator did not seem to significantly or negatively impact my travel time.

My quarters at the golf course are another pleasant surprise. I had thought, based on the descriptions given me over the phone, that I would be sharing a bedroom with a co-worker. Last summer’s four-girl room wasn’t horrible and my roommates and I ended up getting along quite nicely, but sharing space with complete strangers is significantly different from sharing space with friends and sisters. This far away from familiar faces I do like having a place I can hole up in to find complete privacy. My only quibbles with the room are the lack of a doorknob and the false drawer fronts on the desk. Whoever designed it must like playing mind games, eh?

Currently, my heffalump army guards the desk and the remainder of my things are a visual definition of the word ‘strewn.’ Reminder to self: beginning to read a novel never increases cleaning productivity. And despite the convenience of the fridge and freezer (I can reach them while still standing inside my room) I am beginning to feel a strong lack of food. Hopefully, HR check-ins, manager check-ins, housing check-ins, orientation and various other forms in triplicate won’t consume all of my time today and I can provision myself with something more than spices and a box of cornstarch.

Apart from the gnawing hunger pains, it’s definitely more fun here at this point than it was last year – things feel familiar, I know a few faces, and the beginning of the second year in this program feels like the second half of a dinner party or the last 45 minutes of an hour-and-a-half’s bike riding. It’s simply a bit easier to relax into the realization that the thing you are trying to accomplish is starting to be more rear-view mirror and less never-ending distance. Mentally, I can reassure myself that it’s downhill from here on out.

So here I am in Wyoming for the next 137 days, thinking of hiking and biking and working the summer away. Oh, and there’s the half-marathon I’ve promised to try to run at the end of it and the car that means exploring town and nearby acquaintances of friends can go on my list.

Yup. Mountains. Forests. Lakes. Summer. I think I’ll be able to manage *some* fun.

Preparations

leaving the house

I’ve survived my first year post graduation. It’s actually more like a year and a half by now, but the first five months after I stopped paying money out to the university didn’t really change much in my routine. I tried out a job in Sun Valley and was horrified by the attitudes and atmosphere and then I applied for an internship type job where I could get paid and gradually transition out of homework task mode. With a year of that behind me and two re-locations to Wyoming and Colorado, I’m soaking in the goodness of family and friends before I have to strike back out for Wyoming.

Due to transportation complications, I’ll need my own vehicle while in Wyoming and so have spent some of my precious at home time visiting the DMV and buying my first ever set of license plates. It feels so nice to know that the government is continuing to monitor me. The seven-hour drive to Jackson will be the longest car trip I’ve ever taken alone and it’s making me and my mother both a bit apprehensive. My packing plans are definitely more relaxing though, knowing that I won’t be restricted to two suitcases or 100 pounds of luggage. Both issues complicated my return trips this past year, because I strongly exhibit the human inclination toward accumulation of things.

Sadly, my siblings have all found steady local employment, so I have not convinced a single one of them to abandon the home state and come explore the eating habits of bears in Wyoming. The disadvantages of being taught at home showing again – I’m sure if I had a harder time getting along with my siblings I would miss them less. Although it’s not simply individuals I miss, it’s logical thoughts and rational discussions. And so I’m back on the blog before I leave and considering how to commit to blogging while I’m away. Because when I’m suddenly immersed in a pool of disparate lifestyles and beliefs I forget that writing out my thoughts on the subject can help me properly evaluate what I’m being exposed to and (hopefully) reduce stress-levels associated with listening to blanket judgements and logical fallacies all day long.

Maybe this way, I’ll manage to muddle through my second-year P.G. and the continuation of my awkward journey to self-sustenance.