Over the last year while smiles were hidden, hugs were restricted, and gatherings were limited, a common phrase that came up in conversations with friends was “I can’t wait for things to go back to normal.”
As we slowly have transitioned back to our habitual activities and day to day pursuits, it has become more and more clear to me that normal has an ever-changing definition. Normal isn't actually normal and the old normal has honestly become unsatisfactory.
Slowing down has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last year. It’s allowed me to deepen my appreciation for the beauty that I am surrounded by every day: the mountains I am lucky to live by, the shades of green in the trees, the friendly neighbors, close friends, loving family members, strangers you meet in grocery stores, the short smiles exchanged at gas stations. Slowing down has been a crucial tool for my inner peace, happiness and mental health.
The Mini School Bus
This summer I took a trip to Oregon to slow things down a bit after spending the spring in Jackson Hole. I flew out to Oregon to help a friend move, and spotted a total gem of a vehicle that excited me beyond words along the way.
For the last six months, I’d been researching school bus conversions with the hope of buying an old bus, renovating it and eventually making it my temporary home while I travel across the country—seeking out my next adventure. It was pure serendipity, then, that during my trip to Oregon I found myself handing over a large wad of cash for a broken down 1987 mini bus; a bus that physically cannot drive faster than 55 mph.
Was it a good idea? Would I be able to keep up with the commitment of time, energy and money I knew I’d have to invest to realize my dream? While I was initially flooded with fear and insecurity, considering it all, I also had some immediate reflections.
When it comes down to it, it didn't really matter if it was a good idea or not. The coolest thing about life is that you get to choose if something feels good to you or not. And sometimes, when you commit to the uncertain and take that leap, you find you’ve kicked off a series of altogether rewarding surprises.
After taking the bus (which was in no shape to make the journey back to my home in Jackson Hole) to Portland for repairs, the mechanics diagnosed her with two weeks’ worth of necessary work. Admittedly, this put me in somewhat of a pickle.
I’d only planned on staying in Oregon for a few days, but with my only ride home requiring some serious TLC I’d just have to figure out how to turn the setback into an opportunity.
I had some calls to make.
First up was my dear friend, Mark Engel, who was at Mount Hood coaching for a ski race camp. If there’s anything you need to know about Mark, it’s that he’s an ex-Olympic Alpine Ski Racer, an incredible musician, and a trusted and incredibly supportive partner and friend. I’ve developed an unbreakable connection with Mark through music, swing dancing, skiing and talking about life’s ups and downs. He’s an all around badass of a human.
He graciously let me stay with him in his backyard in Government Camp, located at the very foot of Mount Hood, while I figured out what to do next.
With two free weeks in my calendar book, I was filled with inspiration to make the next chapter of the summer memorable, fun and exploratory.
With plenty to reflect on and a mighty peak at my doorstep, I threw on a pair of trail running shoes and my trail running pack and started up toward the Mount Hood Glacier from Government Camp. Across the dirt trails and onto the snow about 5 miles up, I found an exposed rock in a snowfield just below the base of the Timberline Lodge, a beautiful lodge that sits at the base of the glacier.
Gazing up at the glacier I felt some tears begin to bead up in my eyes. I started to feel uncertain about everything.
Generally, when I feel fear or uncertainty in life, I find peace and contentment in embracing the mountains I am surrounded by and spending time outdoors with friends that are close to me.
Knowing that Mark would be leaving in a few days and that I would be without a backyard to camp in, I steamed up an idea to ski volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest and embrace the time I now had here in Oregon.
Sitting on that rock, I dialed up one of my closest friends, Sam Williams. A wise and strategic adventure partner, also based in Jackson Hole, I was hoping he would be interested in heading up to Oregon to climb a few volcanoes, adventure, bike and—also—kinda rescue me from my future homeless and vehicle-less state.
When Sam picked up the phone, the tears that I had been holding back immediately poured down my face. I explained my predicament to him.
Sam is one of those unexpected friends that seamlessly becomes someone who helps you open your eyes to further understand yourself. He selflessly puts others in front of himself. I met Sam in Jackson Hole last year and he has turned out to be one of my best friends and partners in the mountains.
As I talked out my fear and uncertainties, he encouraged me to spend as much time outdoors as I could and committed to driving west to Oregon the following day to link up. When I hung up the phone and started making my way back on the trail, I was overwhelmed by my friends' kindness and patience to help me through this process. I have been able to count on them both through the ups and downs of this past chapter of my life, and I found myself amazed by their willingness to adventure in an area they’ve never explored before here in Oregon.
It's funny how life works. Like, when you ask for help and you show love and kindness, there are people who are there for you. Over the years I had a bad habit of not asking for help, and more recently than not I have been learning that asking for help doesn’t make you weak, or helpless, or unworthy. It actually allows you to become stronger and build stronger relationships.
Surround yourself with these people—the ones that have your back and share similar passions for life, skiing and for adventuring into the unknown with no particular plan or itinerary— and you will find that any wrench in your plans transforms from a miserable obstacle to the exact tool you need to grow and learn through these experiences.
While we waited for Sam to arrive, Mark spent each day up on the glacier, coaching and skiing, and then coming back home to find me in his backyard, where he would give me snow condition beta. I could feel his boiling excitement as he returned from each long day on the mountain.
With Mark leaving Oregon in a couple short days, we all agreed to ski Mount Hood for our first mission. The three of us were excited to climb and ski the glacier so, three days after my phone call to Sam, there we were, drinking lukewarm coffee in the parking lot at Mount Hood, packing the last snacks and equipment we needed into our packs.
Our main goal was to summit and ski from the top of the glacier, but because we all identify as skiers more than climbers, we knew we wanted to do it in the best possible conditions: corn.
Corn snow is the skier's dream during the warmer months of the year. In the warmth of the day, snow crystals melt and become slushy, refreezing when the cool of the night sets back in. For a small window of the day, it becomes just soft and forgiving enough to ski before the sun turns it to mush. To catch those perfect conditions, we knew we had to nail our timing, getting to summit so that our entire descent down the volcano would be in that fun, slushy, arc-able snow—top to bottom.
At the break of dawn we bootpacked up the mountain, eventually approaching Crater Rock, a sub peak of Mount Hood at about 10,500 feet. Traversing across the hill, I suddenly heard a grumble that I initially thought had come from my stomach.
I scanned the area and caught sight of rocks falling down towards our group and another party in front of us. I took a few steps back from the fall and hollered “Rock!”
With eyes carefully following the plummeting rocks, both groups were fortunate enough to be outside their path. We watched them pass us and tumble down the mountain, out of sight. Feeling relieved, I took a deep breath, evaluated the situation and surroundings and checked in with Mark and Sam.
During the summer months on a glacier like Mount Hood, one of the major hazards of climbing and skiing is rock fall. Set off by freezing and thawing snow, other climbers or any number of other factors, they can come down surprisingly fast and unexpectedly sudden. There are a few areas that day, on the glacier, where our group would stop, recognize the hazards and then continue moving forward with caution. I felt confident in myself and my partners’ decision making.
We approached the next section of the climb, a personal favorite of mine. Having done this climb three years prior, I looked back to how I first felt on it and how I felt now. Excitement rushed through me as we all gazed up at the Pearly Gates, large iced-over rock towers that almost glow in the dark and shimmer in the sun. From where we were standing, the route steepens in a short push to the summit, but it’s definitely the most breathtaking. Because the conditions at the top are usually more icy and hard-packed, we strapped on our crampons and ascended with ice axes towards the large glaciated towers.
We went one after another, making the final push to the summit. Climbing up and over the short chute, one step at a time, checking in regularly with each other until reaching the top of the peak. We all exchanged hugs and high fives as we admired the views from the top of Mount Hood, appreciating each other and the effort we all put in.
In the distance, I could see the peak of another volcano, Mount Adams, piercing the skyline. Intrigued and inspired, I began to think it’d be perfect for my next mission.
After a short snack break, we knew our time to shred had come. We began our descent with a few icy hop turns, exiting the couloir we had just climbed up, and then made a hard left footed turn which led to a beautiful open field of perfect corn snow. Our timing was impeccable.
We skied the mountain, linking Giant Slalom-sized turns all the way to the bottom. With my legs burning and heart full, I looked over to my friends at the bottom of the glacier and told them I felt grateful for them and lucky to be alive.
I thought about how awesome it was to be able to share an adventure in the mountains with the two of them—two different people from different backgrounds, with different skill sets, and different ways of showing passion and love for the world.
After our adventure on Mount Hood, I didn’t forget the striking peak of Mount Adams in the distance. I was excited to tackle another volcano, and it would be perfect for our next mission. Sam took no convincing at all, either. He had already been talking non-stop about how pumped he was for another epic adventure.
I hugged Mark goodbye, thanked him for joining the adventure, for letting me stay in his backyard, for always reminding me to love myself, and for accepting me. The world needs a little more acceptance in it. I watched as he drove off on the road back home.
It was time to pack up my camp from the backyard and move on towards our next objective. With another week to adventure, explore, and experience Oregon, Sam and I took off towards Hood River and spent a few days biking, trail running and camping in the area.
After exhausting ourselves with summer activities, we were itching to ski again. Mid-week, on a sunny afternoon, we drove over the bridge and into Washington, listening to a few downloaded podcasts, and made our way towards the trailhead to Mount Adams where we set up camp.
Sam and I geared up for the next morning, packing our bags with skis, skins, snacks and supplies before cooking up a healthful pasta dinner as the sun went down. Another early morning came, along with a loaded bowl of oatmeal and warm coffee, and we slipped on our Crocs to begin our journey up the dirt trail.
We only anticipated we would wear our Crocs for a few miles until the trail turned to snow, but when we hit the glacier about three miles in, it was hard to take them off.
Sam and I gazed up at the 2500 feet of steep elevation above us, looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
“Well, should we just continue going up in our Crocs?” I asked with a smile.
“Well Mads, I don't know why not,” Sam chuckled back.
We pushed on. One step at a time, as the slope steepened, our dedication to summiting in our foamy clogs only grew stronger.
Climbing this volcano was already really fun, but wearing an odd pair of shoes while doing it kept a smile on our faces and a laugh with every step we took. We were encouraged on by other climbers, who hollered and gave us high-fives for our silly feat as we passed by.
It wasn’t until we topped out at the false summit and pressed on towards the peak that my feet began to get pretty darn cold. Soggy, pruned and slightly frostbitten, I told myself, “Come on Madison, you got this, just a little further.”
I looked over at Sam, who was grinning ear to ear, as he skipped across the snow field, gazing up at the top of the mountain.
Speed wasn't the game we were playing, but we definitely were trying to make good time as my feet started to numb. This adventure was purely about the enjoyment of it, embracing whatever we encountered and skiing the heck out of this mountain at the end.
We crushed the next 1000 feet pretty rapidly, trying to regain circulation back to my feet. For a while, the only thing I could think about was getting to the top and letting my toes be free, airing out in the dry warm air. Sam was charging ahead with me behind him, both of us quiet as we saw the prayer flags and snow-covered hut at the summit.
Shifting into hyper speed, we practically ran with our heads down for the last 100 yards to the summit.
In the final steps, when I picked my head up, I saw Sam turning around with that unforgettable grin as he raised his hands in the air and greeted me with one of the biggest hugs I’ve ever received. We’d made it to the summit.
We both stood at the top of the volcano, stoking out and proud of our achievement, shoes and all. We shared a few sips of beer while we aired out our feet, embracing the beauty of the mountain.
We spent a long time at the summit, until the anticipation of skiing completely took hold of our attention. We transitioned our equipment, clicked into our skis and then made our turns down to the Southwest Chutes of Mount Adams, where 4000 vertical feet of corn snow awaited us.
Skiing down the mountain felt like a dream. The snow was perfect and our bodies were warmed by the sun and by the adrenaline pumping through our veins. We took our time linking together turns down one of the longest corn runs of my life. As always in summer conditions, we got to the bottom of the chute completely exhausted with burning legs. But the adventure wasn't over quite yet. We still had many miles to go, navigating the bottom of the glacier and through trees, cliffs and rocks. Excited for our lunch back at camp, we made fast time finishing up our adventure, bushwhacking down the mountain and then hiking down the dirty snow patches until finally making it back to our camp at the trailhead.
We did it. I’m not sure if this volcano has been summited in Crocs but, if it hasn’t, then we are claiming it now. It goes.
PS: We have to note that for safety reasons, Osprey recommends mountaineering in the proper footwear!
After a week and a half of skiing, biking, hiking, camping and adventuring around the Mount Hood area, this place started to feel like a home away from home. A home built simply by being stuck somewhere beautiful with no initial itinerary. Climbing and skiing volcanos. Not taking life too seriously, but seriously enough. Slowing down and appreciating this wonderful place in the world.
It was hard to say goodbye to this adventure-filled place, but the time finally came to pick up my bus from the mechanic. After a week and a half of labor, it still looked like the same old 1987 white school bus I had dropped off—and it still only drove 55 mph, max. And that was just alright with me.
To be able to have amazing experiences in the mountains with such patient and special people was exactly what I needed to learn about myself and about the world.
The drive back to Jackson from Oregon was another adventure, perhaps a story for another time. I’m looking forward to more adventures, with the bus instead of despite it next time, and anticipate that I will continue to learn more about myself and the world in the process. After all, I’ve already learned so much before it was even running.
Written by Madison Rose Ostergren(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), Osprey Athlete