Reassessing

All the Way Down

O strange and stumbling journey!

I’m writing from home once again, recovering from minor injuries, securing new equipment, and wrangling with surprise administrative details. I came off the trail Sunday evening, wrung out and frustrated, knowing I needed a new plan for the whole hike or I would not survive with mind and heart intact. When I told my wife I needed to come home for a bit, my only fear was what to tell all the people who have been encouraging me and following along. It turns out to have been a fortuitous decision in several ways.

Since my last post, I hiked on for a couple of days, climbing near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell and then descending erratically and slowly toward the desert. The scenes shifted from shaded woodland to arid scree, and water sources were scarce (and much appreciated when they appeared). I saw few other thru-hikers on my trek, being so near the back of the pack (Little Ripper—who is much nicer than her name would suggest—and Dr. Extreme being the only ones I spoke to even briefly) and a number of day hikers, but usually had the trail to myself.

I will not equivocate: the days were rough, and by Sunday morning I was weary; by afternoon, I was frayed. I was facing a gaggle of problems:

Equipmental: My battery pack which energized from my solar charger was no longer holding a charge. I can’t use my phone directly with the solar cells, so I was constantly nursing the pack along, trying to keep 5-10% charge for checking my maps and the occasional message to the outside world (when I could get service). This also meant that posting here was right out, and I didn’t get to take many pictures. (I did capture several on my digital camera, though, so there’s a good reason for lugging that around.)

I also broke the buckle of the hip belt of my pack, so it was just badly tied together. Given my load, this was a problem.

Physical: While my ankle has been holding up well and my other traditional foot and leg problems have been absent, my little toe (the skinless one) has been suffering, poor thing, and I’d developed a blister on my left foot about the size of my fist that I seemed unable to effectively treat. In trying to avoid worsening it, I was altering my gait, which was starting to have negative effects on other bits. My body was adjusting to the rigors of the trail, but not enough to keep me moving at the pace needed. (I recognized the value of the advice not to be concerned with speed and distance, but on the thru-hike, these are paramount: there’s no way to avoid the constant need for evaluation and planning of how far one must go every day.) And while some suggest that you can “train as you go,” I suspect this advice is rather more applicable to college students in their 20s, and who perhaps get an earlier start.

Mental and Emotional: Admittedly, the other issues were secondary to these. Saturday was a hard day, ending with me ranting and weeping on a mountaintop. Sunday was a fairly good day, and even in that I recognized that I wasn’t enjoying myself. The moments of beauty I was experiencing were lasting just as long as it took to snap a picture from my digital camera and then tramp on; everything was in service to continuing to move. Starting at the last minute, I’m always pressed to push.

While having the title “thru-hiker” is appealing, I realized it wasn’t really the point of the journey. This was supposed to be about challenge, about pilgrimage and spiritual journey, about the experience of connecting to God through time in His creation. What it was becoming was a slog, a burden to be carried, a series of mileposts to be checked off. Standing at the crest of a high ridge watching the land fall away didn’t inspire awe; it was just a place to collapse for a few minutes before hefting up my gear and marching on.

There are many things wrapped up with all this, but the upshot is that I will be recovering for a time here, then setting out to pick up sections of the trail as possible through the end of the year. Things are still up in the air too much for me to have a solid plan yet, but I intend to do the Sierras at the least, and hopefully Oregon and Washington sections. By giving myself more time and not being ever followed by the monsters of deadline and schedule, I think I will find much more of what I set out to seek.

The timing of this pause ended up being providential: I returned to find several messages from the school about additional paperwork that needs to be completed (which, despite my asking months ago about what was required, was not mentioned) and a sabbatical leave bond that has to be secured (which I had no idea existed or was required), which will be both time-consuming and expensive. (This would have been good to know some time ago.) I will also need to make certain that these changes will still meet the requirements set out in my sabbatical agreement.

I will continue to post here and keep you updated on where my travels take me next. This blog has been a source of comfort and connection; keep your eyes on this space.

My previously mentioned hillside sleeping roost.

My previously mentioned hillside sleeping roost.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “Reassessing

  1. Joel Schonbrunn

    Please know that we are proud of you for every step you have made on this journey. God is with you always, but you have to also remember to be with God. Spiritual enlightenment usually comes when you least expect it and in the most unlikely of places. My big catch phrase as of late has been “Hope Springs Eternal”. I wish you health and happiness for all of your journey, even if it is not the journey you have planned for. Your fans love you Michael.

    • Joel, you are awesome. That was a tremendous and reassuring sentiment, and it’s hugely appreciated. This journey is shaping itself differently than I had anticipated–but then, that was part of the point. Thank you.

  2. John Eldevik

    What the heck is a “sabbatical leave bond” — you have to post bond that you will actually return to work or something? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

    • I had not heard of it, either, but it seems to be just as you outlined: a way to make certain I don’t spend my sabbatical on the beach, drinking Mai-Tais and surfing, and then spin a glorious yarn about my academic work. It’s always nice to be trusted.

      It’s a California law; I don’t know if any other states have similar statutes. Given the abolition of tenure here recently, it seems teachers are, indeed, rather an untrustworthy bunch that needs to be monitored carefully.

  3. Jason R.

    Totally understandable. Do what feels right. We support you either way. It is no easy task and if it’s (literally) painful all the time, it isn’t worth trying to push through. You may end up doing more legs than you anticipate at this point…or less. It’s still more than I could accomplish at this point, so kudos to you!

    • Thanks. It really is a balance between finding some pleasure in the journey as well as pushing myself. I have some desires about what I want to accomplish: if the constant push north makes those impossible, then it seems to be defeating the purpose. Ideally I’ll find a balance soon.

  4. What Joel said! Grateful for your sensitive ears, soul, and spirit, brother.

  5. We are all here to support you and root for you in whatever challenges you face. Isn’t it surprising how our plans twist on us? We all have such different views of what our futures (even the immediate ones) will hold from the vantage of now, but once we’re in the thick of it there are so many other things we just couldn’t have fathomed. Here’s hoping you are able to work out the administrative side quickly! 🙂 Best wishes!

    • So true, sister. I’m guessing this is also true for you in your wild, crazy life at the moment. I’ve never been one to roll with punches easily, so this is quite the challenge. I hope I turn out the better for it.

  6. oneofmanycircles

    I must have just missed you around Wrightwood! I just left Lil Ripper and Dr Extreme at the Saufleys’. The start of your trip sounds a lot like mine. Try toe socks for the pinky toe blister, they really helped out Dirtnap. Otherwise, tape and glacial gels and limping have been the key for me. Thru-hiking hurts more than I expected, but I promise it gets better. Hope to see you down the trail! -Gizmo (www.oneofmanycircles.com)

    • Thanks for the advice. I did try toe socks for a bit, but found that the Injinjis I had were not standing up to the abuse. I’ve been pretty happy with my Darn Tough socks, and since the blister issue is only on my right little toe (possibly because I have weird feet), taping that one digit may be more effective.

      Rips and the Doctor were talking about heading up to the Saufley’s; glad they made it. I made it a bit further on around the endangered species detour, then had to hop off the trail. I’ll most likely be hopping back on some way further north, so ideally a reunion may be in the mix.

  7. Ingrid

    No matter how much preparation one does for a big endeavor, the plan never truly survives contact with the enemy. It sounds to me like you’re showing the flexibility and regrouping skills that are necessary for getting through. Strips will be taken off of you, the closer you get to your goal, and the pain of that is inevitable. I’m still looking forward to meeting the you who comes out the other side.

    • Thank you very much, ma’am. These are wise words, and I am endeavoring to make them come true. I hope that future me is as awesome as I hope!

  8. Suzie Bloomer

    Dan Jr. and I were just talking about you today. Many of our thoughts have already been said. My thought…In God’s time. Thankfully you are safe.

  9. Shelley Rice-Renison

    Mike, it seems to me that you have no idea how inspiring you have already been! Trust me when I say that those of us following you are living this experience through you, the good, bad, and the ugly, and you have not let us down! No matter how this adventure ends up, it has been a pleasure to be part if it. Thank you!!

    • Well, we’ve certainly had a lot of bad and ugly coming out of me so far. Ideally the good will come along soon. And I hope to have more experience to share soon.

  10. Deb

    You are being very wise. The journey should at LEAST meet your expectations, not defeat them. So glad you found out about the bond -yikes!!! That would have been good to know at the “Honey, what do you think?” stage. Love the photos you have posted so far!

    • I intend to suggest to the district that laying out what will be required before one applies for the sabbatical would be extremely useful. Thanks for the support.

  11. Anthony Slusser

    To win a woman’s heart… to prevail against great odds… to accomplish the inspirational, these require constant calculation, careful approach, and reevaluation of the now. No one can advise enough, no single plan or prediction will be sufficient. It is the careful considered constant determination of a committed soul that wins the day. To the fore once more… as providence provides.

    • Indeed. I want a plan that takes all contingencies into account, but such a plan does not exist. Learning to ride circumstances wisely, rather than attempt to control them, is a skill I’m continually working on.

  12. Joel Lamore

    HR is so messed up to not have caught the bond thing well before you left! Alas. It makes one want to disappear into the wilderness … um, if only the modern conveniences didn’t make that nearly impossible. I think the re-evaluation of mission and goals is honest and brave. Hope to hear you are back on the trail soon.

    • I hope to hear that, too! I think the district is a bit lax in promulgating information; they may have succeeded this way for the most part because most people won’t actually set out on their sabbatical until the semester starts–I did get rather a jump on the process. Still, it ought to be made clear from the start.

  13. I’m glad you are looking after yourself and I look forward to more of your Ramblings as they appear – my best to you and your family

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