Wednesday, December 23, 2015

ATV 101

When we made the decision to winter in Southern Utah, we also made the decision to buy an ATV.  Why?  The Southern Utah area, including parts of Nevada and Arizona, boasts some of the most beautiful red rock desert terrain on the planet.  And what better way to experience it than from the back roads?

We found both the ATV and the trailer in Lehi, Utah.  We actually bought the trailer first – at Cabela’s.  Really.  It was quite by accident.  I had pulled up to pick Paul up at the door after our annual holiday shopping trip, and there it was.  Right in front of us.  The trailer we were looking for.  I have to tell the world what a great experience it was.  Selling a trailer involves more than just running the credit card; the trailer has to be titled.  They don’t sell a lot of them at Cabela’s, but even so, the customer service there was above and beyond.  They even helped us put the new ball on the trailer hitch and put the trailer hitch on the car. 

We found the ATV on KSL.com, offered by a family in Lehi.  It is a Yamaha Big Bear 350, and it already had the storage/passenger seat attached to the back rack.  I call it the Queen’s chair.  The bad news is that it’s manual transmission, but that sounds worse than it actually is.  It’s pretty easy to change gears.  The lever is operated with your left foot.  No clutch involved.

We brought it to Hurricane this past Monday.  That same day I walked over to the Willow Wind office and bought a laminated copy of the local ATV trails.  A fellow camper saw me walk out with the map, introduced himself, and just like that, we were hooked up with the ATV riders in the park. 

So far we’ve been on three rides and have had a wonderful time – well, mostly.  We’re learning from each ride.  Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

1.  ATV riding is a really dirty sport.  When you’re riding in open air on dirt roads, you’re going to get some of that dirt on your clothes, in your hair, and of course, on the ATV.

2.  Going downhill as a passenger is challenging.  Our ATV doesn’t have footrests for the queen.  Paul rigged some rope “stirrups” to help me brace myself.  We’ve tested these on minor slopes; still need to test on really steep downhills.

3.  Forty degrees is too cold to ride – even if the sun is shining.

4.  Willow Wind RV Park frowns upon washing your ATV at the dog wash.

More adventures to come!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Baker’s Dozen Half Marathon

The postcard in the Howl-o-weenie Run was bright yellow, and in big red letters stated that this half marathon, relay and 5K would be held on December 12 in Hurricane, Utah.  The slogan, “Proudly exceeding the legal limit of racing fun.”  I was in. What better way to meet some fellow runners, I thought.

On researching the race, I had to think twice about running the half.  You see, the race involves four 3.25 mile loops, and at the end of each loop, each runner is required to eat a sweet snack.  Frankly, I didn’t think my digestive system could handle the intake requirements.  I signed up for the 5K.

Since I was only doing the 5K, and since the start line was only 1.5 miles from Willow Wind, I decided to run to the start line.  A good decision, since there were many racers and many cars in the parking lot and on the adjoining roads.  The racers gathered at the start line as the announcer reminded everyone of the rules of the race.

1. The race would not be timed.  This was not so much a race as a celebration of running.
2.  Each half marathon / relay runner must report to the “Sugar Shack” after each loop, eat a snack, and get their hands marked.
3.  Prizes would be awarded for best costume, best jump caught on camera, and most treats eaten.

And we were off. The weather was cold and crisp, but not nearly as cold as the weather app had led me to believe.  The racers spread out fairly quickly and I found myself running at a reasonable pace.  Twenty-seven minutes, 59 seconds later, I reached the Sugar Shack.  

They offered water, Dirty Doctor Pepper (hope there’s no trademark infringement going on there), and of course, several sweet treats.  There were doughnuts, cookies, and mini-pumpkin cheesecakes – not a protein bar in the mix.

It was fun!  Not racing against the clock, most of the racers lingered over the sweets, took photos, and chatted before starting their next lap. It was truly a celebration of running.

I didn’t stay for the prizes, but as I was running back to the park, I met one of the photographers.  “You’re going the wrong way,” she chided me.  I told her I was done; I had completed the 5K.  But I really felt a twinge of regret that I hadn’t done the half.  Next year – if we’re here – I’ll do the half, sweet treats and all.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Snowbird 101

We did it!  We moved our trailer to Willow Wind RV Park in beautiful Hurricane, Utah, and are now starting our first stint as official snowbirds.  Our plan, once the holiday season is behind us, is to spend the first week of each month in SLC and the next three weeks of the month in Hurricane.  There’s so much to do here – fishing, golfing, sightseeing, and of course, pollution-free running!

Many years ago we had friends living in St. George (just south of Hurricane) who would always lament the arrival of the snowbirds.  “Blue Hairs,” they would call them, or “FOPs” (OP stands for “old people”). Now that we’re the snowbirds descending on the southern Utah town, I have two things to say.  1)  My hair is not blue, and 2) I.  Am.  Not.  Old.  Amazing how young 59 really is once you’re there.

Willow Wind caters to snowbirds.  They have activities throughout the week, and there are two gathering areas with large propane fireplaces where we’ve been able to meet our fellow residents.  When we investigated staying here last spring, we were told to get our reservations in before the first of July.  Really?  Yep.  I made our reservation at the end of June and paid for our first month, with a plan to arrive on December 15.  Plans change, of course, and the staff at Willow Wind were very accommodating.  Our spot was available for us to arrive nearly a month early.

So now that we’ve started our third week of snowbirding, we’ve learned a few things.
1.  While very nice in the afternoons, Hurricane gets very cold in the mornings.  One of our first purchases when we arrived was an electric space heater.
2.  We’re paying our “newbie” dues this season in one of the less-desirable sites.  If we come back next winter, we’ll know which sites to ask for.
3.  It is challenging maintaining two households.  While there are some things that I don’t mind having duplicates of – mostly food items that we’ll use anyway – there are a few things I’ve discovered just have to be hauled back and forth each time we make the trip back to Salt Lake.  So far, all the toiletries, the vitamins, the running gear, and the recipe box travel back and forth with me.

I signed up for my first 5K in Hurricane – to be held December 12.  Where else can you run a 5K in the morning and play bingo in the afternoon?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Rules of the Roth

Question:  Can I take a distribution from a traditional IRA, have taxes withheld, and roll the remainder into a Roth IRA? 

According to the IRS rollover chart (left), it is legal to roll funds from a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, but the rollover must be included in income.  They want you to pay the taxes on it, one way or another.  But this still doesn’t explicitly state that I can have taxes withheld and put the balance of the rollover into the Roth IRA. 

I called Morgan Stanley, the holder of my traditional IRA.  I spoke to a nice man with a New York Accent named Sal.  He gave me the answer I was looking for.  Yes, I can roll over a portion of my traditional IRA to my Roth IRA, and yes, I can roll over the balance after taxes.  He told me I needed to start the paperwork at Scottrade (the holder of my Roth IRA) and that the paperwork would give me an option to specify taxes to be withheld.  He also told me that I would need a Medallion Signature Guarantee.  A what?

Per Wikipedia, “In the United States and Canada, a medallion signature guarantee is a special signature guarantee for the transfer of securities. It is a guarantee by the transferring financial institution that the signature is genuine and the financial institution accepts liability for any forgery. Signature guarantees protect shareholders by preventing unauthorized transfers and possible investor losses. They also limit the liability of the transfer agent who accepts the certificates.”  Makes sense. 

I found the Direct Conversion form at Scottrade.com, filled it out, and hand carried it to our Scottrade branch office.  Turns out I should have started at the Scottrade branch office in the first place. Troy, the consultant, explained to me that transferring a part of my traditional IRA from one brokerage firm to another could cause confusion with the IRS.  Yikes – we don’t want that.  He recommended I open a new account for the traditional IRA, and then do the partial rollover.  That way the entire transaction shows up on the same statement.  Again, this makes sense – even if it might appear self-serving on the part of Scottrade.

Done.  And by the way, the Medallion Signature Guarantee is on the bottom of the form Scottrade sent to Morgan Stanley.  Now we wait for the transfer to take place so I can do the partial rollover.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fifty-Nine-and-a-Half

Today I turned 59 ½.  For those of us who have been putting money aside in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401Ks, this is the magic age where we can start taking the money out without penalty! 

Just because I can doesn’t necessarily mean I should.  Or maybe it does.  The encouragement to put money into these tax-deferred accounts is all over the news and on the tips of the tongues of every financial adviser.  As I’ve followed financial news and read the doom-and-gloom predictions that so many of us baby-boomers won’t have enough to retire, I keep hearing “keep working and don’t take money out of these accounts.”

What is conspicuously missing in the financial planning realm is a plan to take the money out of IRAs.  I guess there hasn’t been enough demand for detailed planning on how we take tax-deferred money out, pay the taxes, and do something with the money.  I guess this is supposed to be the easy part. 

The IRS has thought it through.  We get 11 years – from ages 59 ½ to 70 ½ - to take the money out on our own schedules and on our own terms.  After that, we are forced to take Required Minimum Distributions from our IRAs/401Ks.  I don’t know about you, but I want to have a choice of when I take my money and when I pay taxes on it.  The clock is ticking…

We were also told when we started putting money in tax-deferred retirement accounts was that we’d likely be in a lower tax bracket by the time we start taking the money out.  This may be true for some, but for others – probably lots of others – it’s not true at all.  We’re not in a lower tax bracket.  Why would we even want to be in a lower tax bracket?  That means less money.  I think most of us, if we are really honest with ourselves, would prefer to stay in the same tax bracket as before we retired. 

So here’s the deal.  I want to start taking money out of my IRA/401K on an annual basis.  I don’t want to take out enough to put us in a higher tax bracket, and I don’t really need to use the money right now. 

For me, the solution lies in the deal the government gave us in 1997 – the Roth IRA.  Named after Senator William Roth, Jr. from Delaware and part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, the Roth IRA allows you to contribute after-tax money into an account where it grows tax-free.  There are limits on new money contributions, but anyone can convert traditional IRA money into Roth IRA money.  All we have to do is pay the taxes on it.  Oh, and report it to the IRS correctly.

I’ll be finding out how to do this in the next couple of days.  Keep tuned.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lake Powell Half-Marathon

The name of every registeredrunner is on this poster.  Pretty cool.
The Lake Powell Half Marathon is in the books!  I took third place in my age division in what was by far the most beautiful race I’ve ever run. 

I was actually surprised that I placed, considering I set a new personal record – my slowest half-marathon ever.  That said, I felt better than I thought I would.  Between the KT Tape and the preemptive ibuprofen, my back felt OK and I ran at a pretty good clip for the first half of the race.  I got tired toward the end, though, and ended up walking a couple of tenths-of-miles at around mile 10.  I guess that was the 3 to 4 percent of fitness that I lost by taking a couple weeks off running while my back tried to heal.

The Lake Powell Half is part of the Vacation Races series, which hosts eight different courses at or near national parks.  In addition to Lake Powell, Vacation Races hosts half-marathons at Zion, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yosemite. 

One of the coolest things about Vacation Races is their commitment to the environment.  While the course had ample aid stations along the way, there was not a paper cup to be found.  The company actually provided reusable hydra pouches to the racers.  These are lightweight, easy to fill and use, and easy to store on your race belt.  I didn’t take mine with me because I had my Camelbak vest, but I wish I had.  It would have been nice to get an electrolyte drink at the finish line and there were no cups there, either.  There were plenty of trash cans at the aid stations and at the finish line.  Their goal is no trash on the course – ever – and according to their web site they come very close to meeting it on every race.

I was also impressed by the Lucid Images, the official race photographers. 
I’ve been in many races where the photo packages were quite expensive.   Lucid offered a deal where if you paid $20 up front you could get all your photos, no questions asked and no extra charge.  They took 16 photos of me, and while a couple caught me blinking, most of them turned out great.  And I get to keep them.  All of them!

Sue and I had a great time running and enjoying the beautiful scenery, and had an even better time after the race.  After our traditional post-race mimosas, we took our race bibs and medals down to the beach for a photo op in the lake.  We also went to the Carl Hayden Visitors Center in the hope of taking a tour of Glen Canyon Dam, but apparently we weren’t the only ones with that idea because the tours were all full.  So we did our own tour, slowly walking across the bridge that we had run between miles 6 and 7 and taking lots of photos.

By the way, Sue took first place in her age group, came in well ahead of everyone in the age group ahead of her, and beat me by a good six minutes.  You go, girl!

Next year we’re doing the Yellowstone Half.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rants of an Injured Runner

I hate it when I get hurt and it interferes with my running!

While injuries to runners are not inevitable, it seems everyone I know who runs has been sidelined once or twice to recover from an injury.  According to an article in Runner’s World dated 2/3/2011, the top seven injuries to runners all involve the legs and feet, and about 40% of running injuries are knee injuries.

Never having been part of the in crowd, I tend to injure my back, specifically, my middle back.  Huh?  How does that happen?  I’m not really sure how it happens, but I’m sure that when it does happen I can really feel the pounding of running.  And it hurts.  And I hate it.

This time I felt it after my dress rehearsal for the Lake Powell Half Marathon.  When I tried running five days later it hadn’t gotten better.  So I stopped running.  For twelve days.  Ouch.  I followed my friend Sue’s advice and went to see the chiropractor.  He directed me to stop running entirely during treatment.  About a week later he gave me the green light to try running again, but encouraged me to start slowly and not to run too many miles.  I was still somewhat weak, he noted.

Every article I’ve read about returning to training after an injury concurs with the doctor’s advice.  Take it easy.  Build back gradually.  Don’t try to get right back into the schedule and/or mileage you were doing before you were injured.  

What?!?  I have a race in less than a week!  On Monday I ran two miles.  I still had some residual soreness but it was manageable.  So I checked the first aid aisles of my local grocery store to see if I could find some sort of brace or patch or something that would help minimize the soreness. 

I found KT Tape.  I read the instructions and watched the videos for proper use.  FYI – the videos are really well done and quite informative.

On Wednesday I ran 3.75 miles with the tape placed as directed for mid-back pain.  (It was supposed to be 3.1 but we got off course.  Oh, well.)  Again, I felt it but it was manageable.  I noted that I was feeling pain in an area I hadn’t taped.  Note to self:  need a piece of tape stretched across the bottom of the bra strap.  I tried it for a short run the next day.  It helped a little.  2nd note to self:  One more piece of tape right above the pain area – taping for rib pain as directed in the KT Tape video.   At this point I’m going on faith that it will help.  Argghhh!

According to runnersconnect.net, “Even if you need to stop running for ten to fourteen days, the amount of fitness you lose is insignificant – as little as 3-4%.”  This is encouraging.  The downside of course, is that you do lose that 3-4%. 

Thankfully, I had already made the decision not to go for a new PR at the Lake Powell Half Marathon so I could enjoy the run and the scenery.  It may be more than 3-4% slower, but I’ll finish the race.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dress Rehearsal

The Lake Powell Half Marathon is now less than a month away.  Running coaches everywhere admonish us, “nothing new on race day,” so it was time to practice.  My dress rehearsal run – 13 miles – was Friday, September 25.  I put on the shoes (Altra Torins), socks (Feetures), and skirt (Pearl Izumi) I plan to wear for the race.  And I put on my Camelbak vest – fully loaded.

I ate peanut butter and jelly on a single slice of bread 1 hour and 15 minutes before I took off.  Most running coaches say to eat no sooner than 2 hours before the race, but for this race I won’t have two hours.  The race starts at 6:30 AM, and there’s no way I’m getting up at 3:30 AM just to make the two-hour mark.  If it doesn’t work I’ll have to rethink the decision.  That’s why we practice, right?

At about mile 3 I started to feel a bit of a twinge in my mid-back, left side.  I made a conscious effort to keep my posture straight and to keep the vest tight (the lower clip kept slipping) but by the end of the run my back hurt.  While I wanted to blame the vest, I’d run 11 miles with the vest fully-loaded with no problem.  Fully loaded, the vest weighs only 2 ½ pounds.  And in reality, I need the vest fully loaded.  Thirteen miles is a long way, especially in a desert climate.

At about mile 4 I started to feel a little bit of rumbling in my lower abdomen.  Thankfully it stopped within a few minutes.  The same thing happened at about mile 7.5 – after I’d eaten a Gu at mile 7.  Again it stopped quickly. 

At mile 9.35 the music stopped.  My running playlist had ended.  Yes, I still use an old-fashioned I-Pod Nano in an old-fashioned armband.  Why don’t I use my smart phone?  My smart phone is huge and my arm is tiny.  Besides, I want to keep my phone available for more important tasks – like taking pictures of the beautiful scenery at Lake Powell.

Two hours and 15 minutes later I pulled in.  I’d used most of the water in the vest.  My back hurt, but otherwise I was fine.  Here’s what I learned:
1.  It is safe to eat an hour and 15 minutes before the race, and one Gu midway through the race worked well.
2.  I can’t let my back get any worse.  Time to visit the chiropractor! 
3.  I need to add more music to my running playlist.
4.  Mentally I’m ready for this race.   Hoping the training I’ve done all summer will carry me through a couple of weeks of rehab.  Lake Powell, here I come!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cool Running Gear

 Now that I can officially call myself a serious runner, I’m always looking for serious gear.  My three “now that I have them I will never be without them” new running gear items, in alphabetical order are:

1.  Altra running shoes.  I had seen them advertised in running magazines.  The advertisement features words to the effect of “large toe box” and “designed for runners’ feet.”  The words spoke to me.  I’ve always had trouble with finding shoes that don’t hurt after about seven miles.  I’m pretty sure my friend Sue diagnosed my problem.  I strike forefoot, so after pounding the pavement for a while my feet start to swell.  If there’s no place for them to expand, they hurt. 

Altras are designed for the way I run.  The instruction card in the box even says so.  I’ve run in my 
Altra Torin 2.0s most of the summer and have had no foot pain.  All I can say is “Wow.”  Wish I had discovered them sooner. www.altrarunning.com

2.  Camelbak hydration vest.  My decision to purchase the Camelbak Circuit hydration vest was actually driven by two separate events, one of which was not related to running.  When I ran the Las Vegas Half Marathon last year, I felt great and had the lower altitude working in my favor, yet still finished two minutes slower than my PR.  I attributed the lost time to having to slow way down and maneuver in and out of traffic at the water stops.  Next time, I thought, I’m carrying water.

I already owned a water belt with a pouch and space for four small bottles, of which I usually carried two.  When I upgraded my cell phone, the new phone wouldn’t fit in the pouch.  I looked for a replacement pouch.  They don’t make them.  I looked at belts with large enough pouches to fit my cell phone.  The water bottles interfered with my arm swing. 

The vest is an ideal solution.  The Camelbak Circuit is the smallest of the Camelbak vests.  It holds 1.5 liters of water and has pouches for chapstick, tissues, Gus and Sport Beans, and yes, that huge cell phone.  www.camelbak.com

3.  My final “must have” running item is one I hope to never have to use.  It’s called a Road ID, and its purpose is to speak for me if I can’t speak for myself.  It’s a lightweight bracelet that gives my name, the year of my birth, and phone numbers for people to call if I’m found collapsed on the side of the road.  Again, I hope to never have to use it, but the fact that I have it gives me a sense of security, especially when I’m running alone.  www.roadid.com

Oh, and if you happen to find me collapsed on the side of the road, please pause my Garmin.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Running at 10,000 Feet

According to our very old GPS, Washington Lake sits at 10,016 feet.  According to my Garmin, once around the campground is .43 miles.  And for the first run at Washington Lake, that was all I could do.  Welcome – once again – to the world of high altitude running. 

My first experience in high altitude running was at Hoop Lake in the summer of 2012.  At that time I was training for my first 10K.  Three years, several pairs of running shoes, and many miles later, I was still a wheezing slug on my first run at Washington Lake.  Blame the thinner air.  According to renowned running coach Dr. Jack Daniels, at an elevation of 6,500 feet you lose 10 percent to 12 percent in VO2 max (the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during exercise) and at 7,500 feet you lose 12 percent to 15 percent.  By my rudimentary calculations, at 10,000 feet I was likely losing 16 – 20 percent.  The good news – at least that thinner air was clean! 

I built up distance over time, adding the surrounding area – including some trail running off the Crystal Lake Trailhead.  And I challenged myself – before I left Washington Lake I would make it to the Bald Mountain summit:  10, 759 feet.  I made it on August 20.  The distance, round-trip, was 9.5 miles.

Averages are so average.  When I calculated the slope of the route I ran regularly, I was dismayed with the result: 5% uphill grade.  That doesn’t seem like much.  But wait!  While the road is pretty much all uphill, there are a few relatively flat sections.  There are also a few really steep sections. Great practice for running both uphill and downhill.  Once I had acclimated to the altitude, I found that my pace was similar to what I normally ran – 11 to 12 minute miles on the uphills; 9 and under on the downhills. 

I had to refer to my original post, Running at 9200 Feet, to remind myself of one of the benefits of running in high altitudes.  In high altitudes the amount of oxygen in the blood is reduced because there's less oxygen in the air. To compensate for reduction of oxygen in the air, the kidneys secrete more of a hormone called erythropoietin, which causes the body to create more red blood cells.

The average life span of a red blood cell is 90 to 120 days. Runners are often able to train harder and perform better for several weeks after they return from about a month-long stay at altitude because their blood still contains the extra blood cells that were produced when they were training at high altitudes. 

It’s just over four weeks to the Lake Powell Half Marathon.  Hang in there, red blood cells!  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Washington Lake Group Areas

I know.  This post is out of order.  I just couldn’t leave my series on Washington Lake without writing about our group areas. 

Washington Lake has five group areas.  Four of the five group areas accommodate groups up to 50 people; the largest group area accommodates 100 people.  The group areas are named after former U.S. presidents:  Lincoln, Jefferson, Hoover, Roosevelt, and Kennedy.  These sites are available by reservation only at www.recreation.gov.

So why were these particular five presidents chosen?  Roosevelt – that’s Teddy, not Franklin – was President when the U.S. Forest Service was created.  Per http://www.fs.fed.us/learn/our-history, “Federal forest management dates back to 1876 when Congress created the office of Special
Roosevelt Group Area
Agent in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess the quality and conditions of forests in the United States. In 1881 the Department expanded the office into the Division of Forestry. A decade later Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 authorizing the President to designate public lands in the West into what were then called ‘forest reserves.’ Responsibility for these reserves fell under the Department of the Interior until 1905 when President Theodore Roosevelt transferred their care to the Department of Agriculture’s new U.S. Forest Service. Gifford Pinchot led this new agency as its first Chief, charged with caring for the newly renamed national forests.”

President Herbert Hoover also had an influence over the National Forests.  “During his presidency, Herbert Hoover added 3 million acres to the National Park Service (expanding it by 40%), oversaw the National Park Service Reorganization of 1933, and added 2.3 million acres to the U.S. Forest Service.” (www.nps.gov)

Early in his presidency, John F. Kennedy issued seven Executive Orders concerning the National Forests.   Per www.americanforests.org, “Even though President Kennedy never designated new forestlands, he did enhance and add to the forests already in existence when he assumed office in 1961. Even without a new designation, and having less than one term in office, President Kennedy made his mark upon numerous national forests throughout the southeast and the Midwest.” 
Kennedy Group Area


What about Jefferson and Lincoln?  Both pre-date the National Forest Service.  Maybe they were just the favorite presidents of the builders of the Washington Lake Group Areas. 

The group areas are about ½ mile away from the main campground, so the groups can have their privacy.  Well, for the most part.  A lot of people drive into the group areas looking for either the trailhead or for fisherman parking.  I have to laugh.  What part of “Reservations Only” don’t they understand?  We also get legitimate visitors – people who are investigating the group areas for a future reservation.  We’ve tried to encourage the groups to work together to keep the lower gates closed so they are minimally disturbed.

Each group area features multiple picnic tables, two grills and two Dutch oven tables, and a large fire pit.  Restrooms are a short walk from each group area.  A trail at the top of the loop (in the Kennedy parking lot) leads to the Washington Lake Dam and to the Haystack Lake trailhead.  The Washington Lake shoreline trail is less than ¼ mile from the entrance to the group area and leads directly to the Crystal Lake trailhead. 

All in all, the Washington Lake Group Areas are a great place to spend a few days with 50 – 100 of your closest friends.  Make your reservations early – they fill up fast.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Farewell to Washington Lake

…or what’s left of it.  The lake has been draining since the beginning of August to irrigate the farms in the nearby Summit County valleys.  We left Washington Lake on Tuesday, September 8, after closing the campground.

That’s right – the campground is closed.  This is unusual.  Normally Washington Lake is kept open until October 31, weather permitting.  This year, the Forest Service decided to bring in a logging contractor to remove the beetle-killed trees.  They will close the main road to the Crystal Lake Trailhead on the weekdays through September and open it for weekend hikers.  Fishermen can still park outside the campground and walk in, but the campground is closed for the season.

Labor Day weekend was also unusual.  We expected to be full by Wednesday, but found ourselves actually having people arrive after dark on Friday and get campsites.  Perhaps it was the late Labor Day; perhaps the cold weather forecast scared people away, but Labor Day weekend was relatively quiet.  Labor Day itself, a beautiful day, was more work than we had expected.  We had to turn dozens of people away so we could lock the gates by 1:00 PM. 

Just a couple of weeks before we left, I checked in a camper that looked familiar.  A little later he asked me if we had hosted in other places.  “Yes,” I said.  “Warm River?” he countered.  Wow – a camper who remembered us from Warm River.  Actually I remember his family group quite well – they were the ones who accused us of being too nice.  That was the thing about Warm River – they could have hired Attila the Hun as camp host and people would have still come.

Looking back on our experience at Washington Lake, it has a lot in common with Warm River. 
      Regular campers who come year after year.
·         The shuffle – campers who arrive early in the morning and wait for a particular site to be vacated.
·         Transfers from reservation sites to more desirable first-come, first-served sites.
·         Lots and lots and lots of people – all the time.  With Warm River it was floating the river.  With Washington Lake it was hiking the trails.
·         No place for fishermen to park – at least, not for free. 
·         A busy group area – or in the case of Washington Lake – multiple group areas.
·         Very few mice – we actually caught only two all summer.  At Warm River we attributed this to our co-host’s cat, John Wayne.  Not sure why there are so few mice at Washington.  Maybe they can’t take the altitude.
·         We were busy most of the time.  No rest for the wicked – or the good – camp hosts. 

We are home now.  The trailer is unloaded and packed away in storage, waiting for its next adventure.  Where will that be?  Keep tuned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

One Car - That's All

The graded road that starts at the entrance to our campground and ends at the Crystal Lake Trailhead parking lot is less than two tenths of a mile long.  On the east side there are five “No Parking” signs.  On the west side there are four.  I think the Forest Service is quite clear on the fact that they don’t want anyone parking along that short stretch of road.

Wikipedia’s entry on “herd mentality” (also known as crowd mentality or mob mentality) reads, “describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items.”  The term often has a negative connotation, and the case of the Crystal Lake Trailhead is no exception.  On busy weekends, when there is absolutely positively no parking to be had at the main trailhead, eventually one car will park illegally.  Maybe just in front of the “No Parking” sign.  Then another will park just behind it.  And another.  And another.  And the fact that they are parking directly in front of one of the nine “No Parking” signs just doesn’t seem to matter.  It takes only one car to start the whole mess.

Every weekend the Forest Service has a heyday writing tickets to these people who are very blatantly parking illegally.  It’s not a cheap ticket.  The fine is $125.  So why do people do it?  I guess when crowd mentality kicks in, common sense gets kicked out.  Sometimes we see a car parked directly behind a car that has a ticket.  What are they thinking?  Apparently they’re not thinking.

If we actually catch someone parking on the road, we let them know.  “I know it’s none of my business, but the fine for parking here is $125 and the Forest Service will be here today.”  Usually they move.  We got a laugh out of one young man that we had advised of the fine only seconds before the Forest Service arrived.  He pulled out in front of them and made a quick escape.

When we first arrived in camp, we had a few cars sneak into the campground and park along the road.  This is a bad thing.  We have to be able to get large trailers in and out, and we have to be able to get emergency vehicles in and out.  While the Forest Service has expressly told us that cars cannot be parked along the road, they won’t ticket in the campground.  It’s our job to enforce that parking regulation – and all we can do is charge a fee.  So we’ve had to do all we can to keep that one car out. 

The number one thing we’ve done is to take away the visual temptation.  There are orange cones on the road leading into our campground, and we insist that our campers park all their vehicles in their camp spots.  Nobody parks on the road – not even our campers.  We also just happen to be out in front of our trailer on busy weekends.  If our cones don’t deter the would-be illegal parker, our presence often does.  And if they stop to ask, we’ll gladly direct them to the overflow parking.  We’ll even give them a trail map.

So when you come to the trailhead, remember that “but Mom – everybody’s doing it” just doesn’t fly.  There’s lots of parking at the overflow area.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Crystal Lake Trailhead

Crystal Lake - 1/4 mile from trailhead parking lot
One of the most popular trailheads on the Mirror Lake Highway is just two-tenths of a mile from the entrance to our campground.  The Crystal Lake Trailhead provides access to more than a dozen small lakes including Crystal Lake, Wall Lake, Long Lake, Island Lake and Marjorie Lake.  Hikers, scout troops, backpackers and fishermen flock to the trailhead each weekend to take advantage of the varied hikes into the high Uinta backcountry.

There are actually three trails that begin in the trailhead parking lot.  The trail on the west side takes you above Crystal Lake toward Long Lake and Island Lake.  From this trail you can also access Cliff Lake, Marjorie Lake, Weir Lake, Pot Lake, and Duck Lake. 

The trail on the east side takes you past Lily Lakes to Wall Lake.  This trail continues on to the Notch Mountain Trail, where it passes Hope Lake, Twin Lake, Clyde Lake and Ibantik Lake.  This trail goes on to the Notch and finishes at the Bald Mountain trailhead.

And how, you might ask, do you get to Crystal Lake?  That trail is not well marked, but it starts at the restroom on the east side of the parking lot.  From there it’s less than a quarter mile to Crystal Lake. 

Did I mention that this is a very popular trailhead? 
Wall Lake - 1 mile from trailhead parking lot
One of the reasons may be that there’s something for everyone.  Inexperienced hikers and parents who want to introduce their children to the joy of hiking can go short distances and still reach a beautiful destination.  Back country enthusiasts can start out here and hike throughout the Uinta Mountain trail system – going as many miles as they want and camping along the way. 

Because it’s so popular, the main parking lot is full by 9:30 AM on Friday morning and stays pretty full throughout the weekend.  The overflow parking is ½ mile south of the main lot.  I’m always surprised when people complain that they’re going to have to hike an additional ½ mile.  Really?  You’re hiking anyway, and the trail up from the overflow parking takes you along the shoreline of Washington Lake.  So I really appreciated one of the hikers we directed to the overflow parking who replied, “Cool!  We get a bonus lake!” 

If you’re coming up to the Crystal Lake trailhead, here are a few pointers. 
1.  There is no water at the trailhead, and no water in the campground.  Bring your own.
2.  There are restrooms at the trailhead but on busy weekends they run out of toilet paper early.  Bring your own, or you’ll find yourself walking back into the campground.  (Of course, the campground restrooms are always clean and well-stocked.)
3.  You will need the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass to park in the trailhead parking lot.  The nearest self-pay station is just half a mile down the Mirror Lake Highway from the turnoff to Trial, Washington and Crystal Lakes.  It’s on the left side of the highway as you’re coming up.
4.  Don’t forget that bonus lake.  If you enjoy hiking and don’t mind an added half mile, the Washington Lake shoreline trail is a beautiful addition to your hike.  Park in the overflow lot.

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chasing Water

Paul and I had initially ruled out Washington Lake as a potential summer site because of the lack of a water system.  We had no intention of pulling the trailer out of camp once every couple of weeks to fill our tanks with water.  We learned last year that American Land and Leisure provided a water trailer to the hosts.  But when we arrived at the lake on June 18, we were told the trailer was in use in another campground and that we wouldn’t get it for at least a week.

You have never seen such a concerted effort at water conservation as we made the first week in camp.  We used as little water as possible to clean restrooms.  We used two cups of water to wash the dishes; four cups to rinse.  I had visions of running out of water mid-shower, with my hair and eyes full of shampoo.  Thankfully our conservation efforts paid off.  Our area managers refilled our tank after the first week; we got the water trailer the second week.

We were a little concerned as this trip was the first time there had been water in trailer’s holding tank – ever.  The previous owners had always been hooked up to a water system.  So had we.  We weren’t sure the pump would work properly.  Thankfully it worked with only a minor glitch.  We found a small leak in the system.  Paul repaired it and we’ve had no problems since.  Now I vacillate between remembering to turn the pump on and remembering to turn the pump off.  Remembering to turn it on is easier – if no water comes out of the tap, you turn on the pump.  Seems I’m always forgetting to turn the pump off.

Like our campers, we pull the water trailer to Lost Creek campground to fill the water.  The tank holds 110 gallons; it takes about half an hour to fill it – if you use only one hose.  It took us three trips to figure out that if no one else was at the water station, we could use both hoses and cut our filling time in half.  I guess we’re not the quick studies we thought we were.

When they built Washington Lake in the 1990s, they made the conscious decision not to put a culinary water system in.  We actually met one of the builders in camp during our first two weeks here.  When I asked him why there was no water system, he looked me in the eye and said, “Cost.”  Not only cost to build, but cost to maintain.

Our Washington Lake Veterans know this.  You can tell the veteran Washington Lake campers – they’re the ones with four or five large blue water jugs parked under their 35 – 40 foot trailers.  They’re also the ones who come into camp, secure their site, leave something or someone in it and then go get water.  It’s much easier on the tow vehicle if you don’t pull the trailer all the way up the mountain full of water.  But we do get a lot of messenger-shooting from the folks that don’t know.  What do you mean we have to drive all the way to Lost Creek to get water?  Lost Creek, by the way, is less than 2.5 miles from the entrance to our campground. 

It could be worse.  When we had water issues at Hoop Lake, we advised our campers to boil the water rather than sending them 30 miles down the road to Mountain View.  Still, if you want to avoid leaving camp, bring your water with you.  In fact, wherever you plan to camp – bring a supply of drinking water.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What Were They Thinking?

Washington Lake from the Dam
When they built Washington Lake Campground in the 1990s, they built a campground.  Unlike some of the more popular lakes on the Mirror Lake Highway, we have no fisherman parking, no day use area, and no boat ramp.  So while the water access for campers is superb, the water access for non-camping visitors is almost non-existent.  But forget “if you build it, they will come.”  They didn’t build it.  People are coming anyway.

When we have campsites available, we are able to sell them for day use.  It’s really not a tough sell.  The site runs $20 for all day access to the lake, complete with picnic tables and fire rings – not to mention clean restrooms.  We sell several on Sunday afternoons after most of the campers have cleared out.  But when the campground is full, we have to send day users to the Crystal Lake trailhead, which is about ¼ mile walk back into the lake.  We do allow them to drop their canoes, kayaks, float tubes, etc. before they go outside to park.

Boat Ramp?
There is a closed graded road that leads to the Washington Lake Dam, and when I walked it, it looked like there had once been a graded boat ramp and parking for five or six vehicles.  I asked the clerk at the Kamas Ranger Station why they had closed the old boat ramp.  She told me that it had never been a boat ramp.  The access was strictly for the water company to maintain the spillway.  Apparently access for non-camping visitors was not in the plan for Washington Lake.

Fisherman Parking?
It is open season on messengers.  People’s emotions range from slight annoyance to all-out anger when told that they will have to park outside the campground and walk in to fish.  We’ve had people stop us and rant at how unfair it is that the only people with access to Washington Lake are the campers. 

The situation turns worse when we miss someone at the gate and find them later, parked in a prime lakeside spot.  I have yet to master the art of asking someone to either pay for the campsite or leave it.  It’s negative – no matter how I try to soften it.  A few folks will laugh at my economics reference.  “It’s Economics 101.  I can sell this site to a camper for $40.  I can’t let you use it for free.”  But mostly the reaction is annoyance to anger, with a few audible references to my apparent resemblance to a female dog.

To the fishermen reading this – we welcome you.  We wish we had better parking, but since we don’t, please be prepared to park outside and walk in.   Bring your lightweight gear.  Come on in and drop your watercraft.  There’s plenty of room at the lake for everyone.  


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Surviving July

Dispersed campers below Haystack Mountain
OK, July isn’t over just yet.  We still have three more days, including the 31st which is not only a full moon but a blue moon.  But wow, has July ever been busy.  From the 4th of July weekend on, our campground has been packed.  We’ve been completely full every Friday night and most Saturday nights, and we actually had to put the “Campground Full” sign up on Sunday, July 19. 

And it’s not just us.  Every campground along the south slope of the Mirror Lake Highway was full last weekend.  I spoke with two distraught dads after 8:00 PM on Friday, July 24.  The trailer was packed, the family was excited to go camping, and they just couldn't find a spot.  I advised them to go up and over the pass and try the campgrounds on the North Slope heading toward Evanston – or to just pull off on a dirt road and camp.

Yes, you can do that.  Our Forest Service reps tell us that people are allowed to camp pretty much anywhere along the Mirror Lake highway – which is one of the reasons they instituted the Recreation Fee program.  They call it dispersed camping, and a lot of people do it.  If you’re self-contained, or at least self-reliant, dispersed camping can be a fun experience.  The upside – it’s a lot cheaper than camping in an improved campground.  Your $6 Recreation pass covers you for three days.  The downside – there are no restrooms, picnic tables, or improved fire pits.  Also, no cool camp hosts there to answer your questions and sell you dry firewood.

Campers are actually just a small part of what’s been keeping us busy this July.  Washington Lake is located less than a quarter mile from the Crystal Lake Trailhead, which leads to several lakes and is extremely popular with hikers, backpackers, and scout troops.  According to the Forest Service, there is room for 57 cars in the trailhead parking lot.  It’s usually full by 10:00 AM on Friday. 

We were warned by the Forest Service that last year so many cars parked along the roads of our campground that trailers couldn’t get in or out.  So we’ve been very proactive about directing hikers to the overflow parking.  We answer a lot of questions about the hiking trails, give out a lot of trail maps and sell an occasional recreation pass.  Good customer service to be sure, but it’s more for the campers in our campground than for the hikers.  And it takes a lot of time.

We finally got a breather on Sunday, July 26.  Most of the campers left, and just a few arrived to take their place.  We actually had a chance to do some cleanup, and then to sit on our front porch and enjoy the afternoon.  We think the worst is behind us – at least until Labor Day weekend.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

First Come, First Served

Our first reservations came through last Friday.  Fourteen of our campsites are now reserved pretty much continuously for the rest of the summer.  So for the first time this summer, we had to tell people on Wednesday and Thursday that while we were not technically full, we had no sites open for the weekend.  And we had to explain the Forest Service concept of “first come – first served.”

Washington Lake is the only campground on the Mirror Lake Highway where most of the sites will accommodate large trailers.  As we well know, it’s a pain to hook up and haul a large trailer, and most of us won’t do it unless we know we’ll have a place to park it when we arrive in the mountains.  We’ve had several campers come to our campground hoping to pay for a site for Friday – on Wednesday.  If we were a capitalistic organization, we would take their money and hold their site.  Hey, if they didn’t show up, we’d still have the money, right?  But while we work for American Land and Leisure, a for-profit company, we are bound by Forest Service regulations.

The U.S. Forest Service policy intends to ensure equal access to the campgrounds for everyone.  This is why every campground has “first come – first served” sites.  To purchase one of these sites you have to arrive at the campground, move into the site, and pay for it.  These sites can never be paid ahead.  As Paul puts it, “Get possession first.  Once you’re in the site, we’ll get your money.” 

Many of our campers seem to know the drill.  On Friday we had four non-reservation sites come open.  The first trailer looking for one of these sites was in camp at 8:00 AM.  He selected his site, spoke with its current occupant, and proceeded to wait.  Check out time is 1:00 PM, and this particular camper had every intention of staying until then.  Why not?  He’d paid for the site, and it was a beautiful morning.  So the new camper waited.  By 10:00 AM we had four trailers waiting for sites to open, and when the fifth pulled in – a massive toy-hauler whose owner had tried to purchase a site the Wednesday before, we had to send him away. 

What advice can we give to someone looking for a first-come, first served site at Washington Lake?  Our crystal ball is still on back-order, so we can never predict availability and can never guarantee that a site will be available.  Historically, on a non-holiday weekend we fill up on Thursdays.  A few sites come open on Fridays.  We usually have several sites come open on Saturdays.  Arrive early in the week, and arrive early in the day.  See you at the lake!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Emotional Intelligence in Customer Service: Assume Good Intent

It was the Monday after a really busy holiday weekend.  We had spent most of the day Friday and Saturday directing the overflow traffic from the Crystal Lake Trailhead toward the overflow parking – and away from our campground.  While most were polite, we did get a few that pushed back.  “We bought a recreation pass.  We should be able to park anywhere in the canyon.”

So when we discovered the lone Toyota occupying a lakeside double site with a recreation pass posted to the site marker, we had had enough.  We wrote a note on the recreation pass that it was not valid in the campground and put it on her windshield.  We moved some belongings to the windshield as well.  Then we noticed that the car’s occupant was asleep in the back seat.  We knocked on the window, waking her up, and proceeded to advise her that she could not park in our $40-a-night campsite.

“I understand that,” she said.  “I stayed up all night and drove here at 3:00 AM so I could get a campsite for my family.  We come here every year, and I wanted to be early enough to get a double site.”  She continued, “It says on the recreation pass envelope to post it on the site post if you are camping.”

We looked.  Sure enough, that’s what it said.  The envelopes were dated 2009; and while the requirement to have a recreation pass in the concessionaire-managed campgrounds was lifted two years ago, the envelopes had not been changed.

We felt terrible.  We apologized profusely and accepted her payment for the campsite.  When she asked about firewood, we went to a campsite that had left a box and brought it to her – free of charge.  We believe we made it right with her.

The bad weekend may have explained our emotional reaction to her presence in the campground, but it was clearly no excuse.  We know better.  How much better it would have been to assume that she planned to camp and to wait for her to wake up before charging in with guns blazing.  If she hadn’t planned on camping, we could have then asked her politely to move. 

A good lesson learned as we proceed to manage this very busy campground.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Frank Review of Washington Lake

A guest post by Frank

Hi, I’m Frank, Paul and Cheri’s traveling companion.  You can read my story at The Story of Frank.  Last year I wrote the review of Shady Dell and Cobblerest to rave reviews.  OK, so there were no reviews, but here I am again to write about Washington Lake.

Washington Lake has 39 campsites.  Nine are on the lake; another eight are across the road from the lake, all campsites are an easy walk to the lake.  The campground is completely paved.  Each campsite has a concrete patio with a picnic table, raised fire pit, and dutch oven table.  Talk about luxury!  They forgot only one thing – water.  There is no water system at Washington Lake.  We send our campers to either Shady Dell or Lost Creek.

Washington Lake is the newest campground on the Mirror Lake Highway.  As such, it was built to accommodate larger trailers.  Most of the sites will fit a 32’ trailer easily; some sites will accommodate those 40 – 45 footers that have such a difficult time finding a spot in the National Forest.  So, to all of Paul and Cheri’s friends who couldn’t come to see them at previous sites because the sites didn’t have a spot large enough – now’s your chance.

But be warned!  This is a very popular campground.  So far they’ve filled up every weekend.  Fourteen of the campsites can be reserved at www.recreation.gov; the other 25 are first-come, first-served.  There are also five group sites, but since they haven’t opened yet I don’t know much about them.  I do know that they are only available by reservation, again at www.recreation.gov.

The campground sits at 9,980 feet according to Paul’s GPS.  It is surrounded by evergreen forest and some of the most famous peaks in the Uintas – Bald Mountain, Haystack Mountain, and the Notch.  The views are spectacular, the air is clear, and the stars seem to have all congregated in the skies about this delightful spot in the mountains.

To reach Washington Lake, head up the Mirror Lake Highway from Kamas.  Make a left turn toward Trial Lake just past mile marker 25, but instead of turning right toward Trial Lake, keep going up that road.  You’ll see a sign marking the right turn to our campground – the same road as the Crystal Lake Trailhead.  Paul and Cheri’s trailer will be the first one you’ll come to, and they’ll be the first to welcome you to beautiful Washington Lake. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

End of an Era

Photo Credit: R. LeVon
Last Tuesday, when we reached the magic mile marker #2 on the Mirror Lake Highway where cell service begins, my phone began beeping frantically as 23 text messages came through.  Who was sending me 23 text messages?  It turned out to be a group discussion, complete with photos, of the tear down of the venerable Cabana Club swimming pool.

The Valley West Cabana Club was built in the early 60’s when the Valley West subdivision was built.  According to neighbors who have lived in our neighborhood since it was built, it was turned over to the neighborhood.  It was run like a business through a volunteer board of directors.  The pool charged a membership fee which allowed members use of the pool during open hours.  Members could also rent the pool after hours for private parties.  The only paid employees were the lifeguards, who also taught swimming lessons.  Volunteers staffed the snack bar, which sold soda, candy and Popsicles.

We discovered the Cabana Club in 1994 when we moved into the neighborhood.  We joined the pool soon after we moved in.  We spent many an evening at “Family Swim,” and got to know many of our new neighbors.  This was a real plus for us, as we do not belong to the predominant religion in Utah and didn’t attend the church directly across the street.  We met the couple who would become dearest friends at the Cabana Club.

The next year we were involved in management.  I developed a membership database; Paul kept the books.  Being on the Board meant we got a free private party, which over the years we used for the kids’ soccer teams and church parties.  Both our kids worked there as lifeguards; our daughter managed the pool for two years.

But all good things must come to an end.  Like Little Jackie Paper, our neighborhood grew up.  As the children moved out, couples (including us) didn’t renew their memberships.  The Board tried to supplement membership income with single day passes, but that didn’t cover the increased expenses.  State laws forced us to have paid lifeguards all open hours.  Insurance costs made it prohibitive to keep the slide.  New health department regulations forced the closure of the kiddie pool.  Three years ago the Board threw in the towel.  The neighborhood just couldn’t keep it going.

The neighborhood Council did, however, convince the City of Taylorsville to take over the land and build a pocket park.  On Monday, June 22, the backhoes came in.  The building was demolished, the pool dug up and the hole filled in.  The mature trees surrounding the pool – you know, the ones with the leaves that kept falling into the water – are all that remain of the once proud neighborhood institution.

With the exception of the fond memories of a grateful neighborhood.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Welcome to Washington Lake

We got the call on Wednesday, June 17.  The Forest Service had cleared the fallen trees and had deemed Washington Lake safe to open.  How soon could we get there?  They really wanted us open for the weekend.

So we kicked it into high gear.  Paul brought the trailer home and we spent all afternoon packing and loading.  Thankfully we had already cleaned it and had done as much as we could prior to the final load, but as all of you who own trailers know well, it’s still a lot of work.  That said, we pulled out on Thursday morning at about 10:30 AM.  It was not exactly a stress-free departure, but we won’t go into that…

We stopped at Shady Dell to pick up our keys and fill up with water.  Our area managers were delighted to see us and promised to bring our supplies that afternoon.  With that assurance, we headed up to set up the trailer.  The plan was to lock the gates behind us, set up our trailer, wait for our supplies and open to the public on Friday.

When we arrived at the gate to Washington Lake Campground, a truck with a pop-up trailer and an SUV parked directly behind us.  Of course, we were now blocking the road to the Crystal Lake Trailhead as we attempted to open the gate.  None of the keys we had would open the lock.  One would go in, but would not turn.  We managed to back up a little bit so traffic could go around us. 
The man in the truck with the pop-up came to help.  He and Paul diagnosed that the key was bent, so he fetched a hammer and some WD-40.  They pounded out the key, sprayed it, and we got the gate open.  Of course, we weren’t going to tell the man that had just helped us so much that he couldn’t come in and camp, so he followed us in.  We shut the gate behind us.

As we were setting up, a young lady and a dog came under the gate.  “Can I please camp here?”  I told her we only had one bathroom open and one roll of toilet paper, and that none of the sites were clean.  That was OK, she said.  So we let her in.  Soon after that another pop-up trailer came up.  Resistance was futile.  We opened the gates.

As campers came in, we gave them fair warning.  The sites had not been cleaned.  Only one stall in each restroom was open, and there was only one roll of toilet paper in each.  Oh and by the way, we’re still charging the full campground fees.  We’ll bring a receipt as soon as we get them.  Nobody left.

By the time our area managers rolled in at about 9:00 PM with our supplies, we had filled eight sites.  By Friday, after working our tails off, all 38 of our sites were full.  Looks like it’s going to be a busy summer.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Are We There Yet?

It’s June 12.  I should be well into the summer routine of blogging weekly about our adventures in camp. The trailer is clean, the generator is gassed up and the propane tanks are full.  The hitch is installed in the truck.  The bedding is washed.  The pantry food is packed.  So why aren’t we in camp yet?

We knew when we requested Washington Lake that it usually didn’t open until mid-June at the earliest.  But with the mild winter we had this year we were sure we’d get in earlier, and planned accordingly.  Then May hit, and single-handedly brought our water year up to normal.  Rain in the valleys has always equaled snow in the mountains.  We just didn’t think it would be that much snow.

The US Forest Service policy is to open campgrounds only when the snow has melted naturally.  As of last Wednesday, this process was happening at an accelerated rate now that the snow has (finally) stopped falling.  But there’s another snag – a couple of trees were uprooted by strong wings and need to be cleared out before the Forest Service will deem the campground safe for campers.  When they will do this is anybody’s guess.

So we wait – not exactly patiently.  I’m sure that has a lot to do with managing our own expectations, combined with minimal communication from our new area managers.  In their defense, the area is new to them and there’s a lot of work to open the lower campgrounds.  And they have no more control over the weather and the Forest Service than we do. 

Our current planned departure date is Wednesday, June 17.  Will we make it?  Keep tuned.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Emotional Intelligence and Body Language

I recently had the opportunity to hear Laura Arellano, Senior Leadership Trainer for CHG Healthcare, give a keynote presentation on emotional intelligence in leadership.  As part of her presentation, she confirmed that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and applied to leadership, particular to leading volunteers.  My takeaway from her presentation, however, had nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with body language.

I’ve always had trouble controlling my physical reaction to being startled.  The best example is when I am riding in the passenger seat and something that is happening on the highway startles me.  I literally jump.  This in turn startles the driver (usually my husband) who has been known to react to my reaction by chastising me for reacting. 

But that’s not my only body language faux pas.  That same week I was accused twice of being nervous when I felt no nervousness at all – at least, not consciously.  From my vantage point, I was merely standing and patiently waiting.  Apparently when I stand and patiently wait, I appear very anxious.

Fortunately, I’m doing OK at controlling the verbal outbursts that often flood my mind after being chastised for my body language.  Why are you yelling at me for something I can’t control?  Be calm??? You might as well tell me to be six feet tall. Here’s where Laura’s message comes in.  She gave what she called a Profound Statement:  The job of the Subconscious Mind is to do what the Conscious Mind tells it to.  She then went on to say the brain follows the body.  The two statements almost sound counter-intuitive, but when you think about it, they can be complementary.  Calm the mind – calm the body AND calm the body – calm the mind.

It’s not that I can’t control my body language.  It’s that I haven’t tried.  Those of you who know me personally know that the word calm and my name are never used in the same sentence.  It’s time to try to fix that.  And the fix will need to come from both calming the mind and calming the body. 

So I’ve been practicing.  I’m trying to move a little more slowly.  I sit in the car with my feet on the ground and my hands folded in my lap, and I’ve noticed that just that posture has helped me control overreacting to what’s happening around me.  I’ve tried to sit quietly and take deep breaths to calm myself.  Is it working?  Time will tell.  Hopefully I will not only take Laura’s lessons to heart, but to mind and body as well.