Tuesday, February 23, 2016


West Yellowstone, Montana, a small mountain town that consists of less than one square mile and sits at almost 7000 feet above sea level, had me at its edge last week. Suddenly, and without warning, I was overtaken by a funk of sufficient size. Was it boredom? West Yellowstone's version of Island Fever? Mountain Fever perhaps? An apt name for the big sky blues, I thought, as vast mountain ranges loomed in every direction. Never thought I'd tire of the mountains though.

Yet, I found myself dreaming of Bora Bora and yearning for open water. My kayak, hibernating in the garage, depressed me. I was sick of bundling up every time I wanted to take the dogs for a walk and I missed my sneakers. Thai food too. Even the snow covered meadows, my winter playground, became tiresome. The mountains drew close. My mood was as heavy as my boots, and something had to be done. Something would be done. Years ago, probably by accident, I learned the way to break through a funk and return to a happier place is to take action. Get moving. By taking positive action, I know I'm also taking control of my emotions, and that feels good. Really good.

The first thing I did was write to my uncle, explained to him my circumstances. He lives in a small town in Northern Vermont and has for decades. I figured he should have some insight. "Cabin fever," he wrote back later that night. "You've got a case of it." His cabin fever, he said, sets in after five days; I'd been in this less-than-one-square-mile-town for a month. My fever was high. 

"Go," he wrote. "Go to Bozeman, go to the coffee shop, take a drive with a good CD. Just go." A drive with a good CD sounded wonderful. I hadn't listened to music in weeks, I realized. "Go", he said again at the end of his email. "Going is the cure-all for cabin fever." 

Cabin Fever, a condition not found in the DSM-5, but one psychologists agree exists is, as explained by Dr. Josh Klapow, a psychologist at the University of Alabama, "Your mind's way of telling you that the environment you're in is less than optimal for normal functioning." Hmm. Dr. Klapow continued, "It's when you're in a space of restricted freedom for a period of time that you can no longer tolerate." Right. Time to go. 

So, that's what I did. I went. I snapped into my cross country skis and popped in my earbuds. I put P!nk on shuffle and repeat. I took the first left onto a black diamond trail I knew would challenge my ability. I wiped out almost immediately. I found myself smiling. On the next downhill turn, I narrowly avoided a tree. I tacked on a second five mile loop on a day I lacked almost all motivation. I came home with a black and blue toenail. I wrote my Yellostone/Birthday blog. The words, as if locked in cement, came hard at first, but I made myself push through and ended up with a fun post that people liked. My mood improved. All the while, P!nk played in the background.
                   Where there is desire
                   There is gonna be a flame
                   Where there is a flame
                   Someone's bound to get burned
                   But just because it burns
                   Doesn't mean you're gonna die
                   You've gotta get up and try try try
                   Gotta get up and try try try
                   You gotta get up and try try try

There's a saying in snowmobiling, something I've been doing a lot of out here: When in doubt, throttle out. Lay on the gas. Propel yourself forward. Take action. Go. And watch yourself break through. Because you will. You absolutely, undoubtedly will.  

2/25/16 Update: Interestingly, this post generated zero buzz on my Facebook page, but on email, it went crazy! I enjoyed reading everyone's own experiences with Cabin Fever from how long it takes to get it (2 days to almost never) and the steps they take to cure it (the most popular being GO!). If you get a chance and are interested, please share your experience, ideas, and/or solutions in the comments below. I'm curious! Thanks, Lisa

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Birthday in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) has very strict rules regarding winter travel on its roads. Basically, the roads are closed to all travel except Yellowstone-permitted snowmobile or snowcoach commercially guided tours. Snowcoaches, or slowcoaches as I like to call them, are vans whose wheels have been replaced with tracks for over-snow driving. They work great, but the tracks prevent them from exceeding speeds of 25 mph. Hence, slowcoaches. One other way to enter the park during the winter season is on XC skis with a National Parks pass. And that's it, unless you win the lottery. Beginning in 2015, YNP began a non-commercially guided snowmobile program that allows a person like you or me to guide a group into the park. A total of five snowmobiles are allowed in each group and only one permit is granted per day to each of the park's five entrance gates months in advance. In other words, only five of these permits are given out on any given day for the entire park, and I got one for February 5th- my birthday! I figured it to be a truly special experience and wanted to share it with my partner Kimi and someone else special to me, but who? Yellowstone's winters, especially in early February, can be finger-freezing, toe-popping, mind-numbing cold, so I knew it had to be someone hearty. Someone tough and not a complainer. Marilyn, I thought, Kimi's 70 year old mom. She would be perfect. And she was.

With temperatures hovering around 5 degrees, we set out for Firehole Falls and Old Faithful from the west gate. Despite the cold temps, the day looked to be a stunner. Being cold is expected, what you're hoping for is blue skies and visibility, and it seemed we just might get it.

Firehole Falls is a popular 40 ft falls, and we had it mostly to ourselves. Often, that's the case with Yellowstone in the winter; the crowds aren't there, but as we made our way to Old Faithful, traffic picked up. Suddenly, the three of us were surrounded by fourteen hundred pound animals in every direction. My heart, like I imagined their hooves would should they decide they no longer cared to share the road, pounded in my chest. One kept turning her head back and throwing us dirty looks. Eventually, Kimi and I recognized the look and started to laugh. It was the same exact look our beagle gives us when we're late with dinner or to go to bed. It was the look of annoyance. I think that's when I knew we'd be okay. Our presence may have been annoying them (or at least one of them!), but it certainly didn't appear to threaten them. 

Some, such as the one below, even took a nap. 

Cute, but also problematic. Old Faithful was due to erupt in an hour and we needed to make that eruption in order to get the snowmobiles back to the rental shop in time. From Old Faithful, we could expect an hour and a half ride to the west gate, and that's without bison jams, elk, wolves, or whatever else might present itself in this most magnificent place. That said, we did not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. With temperatures in the negative 30s the past few nights and daytime highs of 10, these animals were not about to pass up the afternoon sun for us. So, there we sat amidst the snorts and the snores. Just one of the herd.

Because of the bison, we did miss Old Faithful and Marilyn was understandably disappointed. Old Faithful is arguably the most famous feature in the park, and the one we grow up hearing about, but in terms of eruptions, it's not the most impressive. I checked my phone for the time. We'd be cutting it close, but we had to stop. "Sometimes," I told her as we parked our snowmobiles at Fountain Paint Pots, "the most impressive geysers are here." The prettiest too.

And there, past the mud pots and blue pools, were two geysers blowing water 20-30 feet into the air as if trying to outdo each other.

And no one was there to watch them but us. Fountain Geyser, above, according to YNP literature, is one of the most unpredictable and beautiful geysers in the park, and after seeing it blow, I entirely agree. 

The stormtrooper returns to her ship after exploring the other world.

My story ends there, but the pictures don't. Keep scrolling to see a little more of winter in Yellowstone, and what I think is the best season in the park.

Bison napping along the Madison River. 

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. 

Elk make some of the best subjects in the park. Even a Royal Bull Elk (note the six points) will give you a smile, 

look toward the camera,

and give you his best side. 

What a great birthday! Thank you Yellowstone, Kimi, and Marilyn!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Polar Opposites

The temps have been slightly cool recently...

Wisdom, who, despite being born in Salem, Oregon must have Arctic blood in her somewhere, isn't fazed at all.

And then there's this one…

~Polar Opposites~

Two Top Loop

I knew the day would be a good one when I let the dogs out and saw Lionhead Mountain lit with morning sun.

Choosing the Two Top Mountain loop as our destination, we followed the trail into West Yellowstone's winter wonderland.

But our adventurous side got the best of us, and we soon said good-bye to the groomers and headed for the trees...

The ghost trees, that is. 

All winter, the wind blows snow into these trees freezing them into what I call

West Yellowstone's own Stonehenge.

After Two Top and its ghost trees, we stop for lunch with views into Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. Somewhere out there the bison are trying to survive the harsh and unforgiving winter and the grizzlies sleep. 

Meanwhile, at one of our favorite pull-outs just before town, a moose drinks from a stream, and I think: this is how it should be. The moose drinks, the bear sleeps, the bison, and all of us, survive. This is, of course, not up to the moose, the bear, or the bison. It is up to us. Only us. I understand- the weight of this responsibility is enormous. But so is the alternative.

Later, the way good experiences often go, we take the long way home. We pass Hegben Lake and the Trumpeter Swans who call it home. The cold is beginning to set in; I can feel its edge creeping through my gloves and under my jacket. As I crank up the hand-warmers on my snowmobile, I'm again awestruck by the animals who call this place home in winter.

Including these two… 

Happy day!