Sierra Day 6: Up and Out

Making the Pass

My last day in the Sierra was an early one. Wanting to get a start on the pass as early as possible to get out ahead of whatever weather was coming in, I woke in darkness, packed up my gear, and was on the trail before 6am. A mile down the trail, I came across the le Conte Canyon ranger station and the head of the Bishop Pass Trail. This began at about 9100 feet and climbed up to something over 12,000 in about six miles, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. On the approach, I couldn’t see where a pass might actually go; I finally figured out that the far-off notch between two seemingly inaccessible peaks must be the route. So off I went.

In the end, it took me about six and a half hours to go those six miles. Switchbacking up the side of the canyon, there were lovely views and gurgling water sliding over exposed stone, but all this soon became lost in the endless climb. Slowly the sun came up and made the rock faces shine; the forest fell away below, giving way to pale green shrubs and clinging clumps of grass and wildflowers. About three miles up came the Dusy Basin, usually a relatively lush area dotted with ponds and lakes. All of these were very low this year, and the vegetation was crisp and brown, quite different than I remembered from my trip with the Boy Scouts twenty-something years ago. Another thousand-odd feet of elevation awaited, so I wended between the ponds and into the bare rocks of the higher peaks.

le Conte SunriseDusy Basin

The piles of rock and towering cornices seemed endless, looming above as clouds raced across the sky. A bit after noon, I finally trudged up to the sign marking the top of the pass, pausing to feel the cold whip of the wind and celebrate the last major uphill crawl of the journey.

Getting ThereExtreme Slope

The downhill, as always, promised easy passage and my expectations were of a short, pleasant stroll. These sections always feel longer than I expect they should, though, and my anticipation of seeing my family was strong, so though the scenery was lovely, with autumn colors blazing under cerulean skies and its reflection in sapphire lakes, I was keen on reaching the picnic area at South Lake.

EgressIMG_2893I didn’t find anyone waiting when I emerged a bit after 4pm, so still without cell service, I cleaned up as best I could and began walking down the road to the east. I was shocked when I finally saw not my wife in our minivan, but my parents in their SUV pull up. Having offered to make the drive, they were there to rescue me from the wilderness (as they had, indeed, for each of the hikes I’d made this year. They are very good parents). They insisted that I scrape off the worst of the grime with a great many wet wipes, but they had brought clean clothes and cold water, so I was happy to do anything they asked.

A Last LookIn the end, no bad weather of any kind actually arrived: the hurricane that had been threatening to drive snow into the Sierra turned east, and I’m grateful that the hikers I met would have continued good conditions. I could have stayed out longer, but my timing to arrive home was good, and I felt I’d done well enough. It was time to turn to other adventures.

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Sierra Day 5

And then began the Day of the Long Climb.

Truthfully, it wasn’t particularly longer than the approaches to other high passes, but the need to do such long miles made this section seem extra uphill.

The trade-off for the difficult pitch was that the Evolution Valley is absolutely gorgeous. Even though (as oft mentioned before) it was a low-water year, Evolution Creek thundered down through multiple waterfalls, deep green pools alternating with eerily blue rapids. Each turn of the trail brought another panorama of rock-strewn lakes as I climbed above the treeline: long Evolution Lake itself, the aptly named Sapphire Lake, Wanda Lake, Lake McDermand, Helen Lake, and a dozen others unnamed on the map. The great towers of tumbled boulders returned, these more gray and stark than I’d seen since Selden Pass, but stretching further grasp the sky.

FallsCauldronEvolution

I also met another hiker, and an answer to prayer, that would deeply impact my hike. All night my concern was that, if I were to bail out at the Bishop Pass trail, I would need to contact someone to let them know of my change in itinerary. I hadn’t had cell service in days, though, and was still having no luck. My best hope at this point was to get to South Lake where there was a picnic area and try to get a ride into Bishop and contact someone from there.

As I was climbing up the valley, I kept playing leapfrog with another hiker, a fit woman who, amazingly, always had a smile on her face. My instinct was my usual: be friendly but keep to myself to avoid either annoying someone else or being annoyed by him or her. But as I huffed up the hills, I kept ruminating on the idea that the hike was supposed to provide me opportunity to stretch myself, to reach out and connect in some small way. Girding up my courage (needing much more for this than for being alone in the wilderness for a week), I started chatting with Mary on the next rest. We talked amiably about our starting points and destinations, our experience of the trail, our families, our shared desire to worship and meditate in the glories of the wild.

When I mentioned that I was trying to head out early and hadn’t been able to contact anyone, Mary whipped out a satellite phone and practically insisted I call my family. After some tricky electronic maneuvering, I did eventually get through and managed to briefly outline my plans to my wife before we lost connection. Mary even accepted a hug from a sweaty man as thanks for her kindness, which made a world of difference to me.

Onward, then, slowly switchbacking through the hot sun and cold cloudshade until I gasped up to the top of Muir Pass at 11,973 feet (which I thought would be the highest pass I’d cross; it turned out I was wrong). The afternoon sun was tempered by cold winds whipping around the fabled John Muir Hut which sat at the top. Far larger than I had imagined, the stone building was as solid as the surrounding mountains, though rather sparse and chilly inside. It was also a crossroads of hikers from both sides of the pass, and soon half a dozen people were milling around. Oddly, this felt rather crowded, and I moved on after a short lunch.

Muir Hut

A tired man at the top of the world.

A tired man at the top of the world.

Serescape North

The northern view.

Serescape South

The southern view.

The downhill was a welcome relief from the previous ascent, but the trail southward was made up of and continually cluttered with endless loose stone and huge boulders. The going was fantastically uneven for miles, and often the trail was difficult to find amidst long expanses of unbroken rock strata. (Twice I got lost and had to go crosscountry to find the trail again.) Once below the treeline things smoothed out a bit and probably the most magnificent forest I’d yet seen filled the narrow valley. Down, down, and down I continued, passing a crew of rangers who had been doing trail maintenance on their way up to the pass and other hikers I’d seen earlier in the day setting up camp. Finally, as the darkness began to make navigation difficult, I set down in a fine horsecamp on the bank of the Middle Fork Kings River just south of Big Pete Meadow, having made about 16 miles, only one short of the trailhead for which I was aiming. I set my alarm for 5am and listened for the herds of deer I’d seen several times in the evening, but fell asleep before any approached the camp.

Muir ValleyMuir Evening

 

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Sierra Day 4

[Now begin the reconstructions—without cell service, I stopped writing posts after the third day.]

After a fairly good night (despite having passed up the site I was looking for due to my lack of navigational skills), I moved along on this fourth day. The valley wended down past the Florence Lake Trail (which a few other hikers were headed out on), drawing up beside the South Fork San Joaquin River. I stopped early in the day by this, the largest river I’d come across, to rest on the rocks and wash whatever dirt I could off my legs. (I had done this a couple of other times, always an exciting event in the icy streams of the Sierra. I invented many a new and amusing curse phrase in the process.) Listening to the river roar past (even in this low-water year), resting in the shade, I thought that if I had to put up a cabin in the woods, this would be the spot. (Later in the day, I found an actual cabin.)

The trail wound through a lot of flats and drops, always opening onto more spectacular scenes—I almost started to resent every new panorama, since I felt compelled to stop and take a few high-definition photos every single time I saw one, which put a hitch in my pace. I started passing through broad meadows, but because of the drought, they were often only green-centered, with huge swaths of browning plants and dry creek beds beyond the main waterways. At Evolution Meadow I started catching sight of Evolution Creek, which would be my companion for the next couple of days.

By evening, I had reached McClure Meadow, which was the most glorious sight I’d yet seen. The sunset lit the expanse with warm gold; hillsides festooned with huge pines rose on all sides, and the granite peaks, majestic but often rather sere up close, towered in the distance. A small ranger’s cabin equipped with solar panels and a great fire pit stood hard on the meadow’s edge. In fact, the cabin got me in a bit of trouble: the PCT guide suggested that there were many good camping spots “around” the cabin, and seeing large expanses of flat, dry ground around it, I dropped my gear and started making camp for the night, since the ranger was out on patrol in the next valley. But then the ranger returned and let me know in rather decisive tones that the aforementioned camping spots were “around” the cabin in a much broader sense, and that hikers sleeping near the edifice were not particularly welcome. So everything went back into the pack and I trundled a hundred yards down to a more acceptable (and no less lovely) spot.

This night also started a turn in my fortunes. I met a nice couple camping nearby who were talking about their plans and who passed along the ranger’s warning that the following days might bring a change of weather—including the possibility of some significant snow. I hadn’t had any cell service for several days, so I hadn’t known of any changes. Being the alarmist person I am, and knowing that I could handle some inclement weather but wasn’t prepared to sit through a major storm, I started plotting where I might head off the trail a bit earlier than planned. After a great deal of mental anguish and prayer, I decided to try for Bishop’s Pass, seventeen miles south, and to get there as soon as possible. (Since the pass was over 12,000 feet and the weather was supposed to come in within a couple of days, I wanted to be over and out before anything started dropping.) As my longest day so far had been about 13 miles and I had Muir Pass to get over, I was daunted, but I imagined I had little choice. At least the sleep that night was a good one.

IMG_2726IMG_2742Meadow Wonderland

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Sierra Day 3

I feel like a fish brought up on shore: my mood flip-flops so often and so violently that I can’t catch my breath. I revel in feeling strong, then despair ten minutes later when a slight uphill leaves me wheezing and muscle-locked. I feel intensely lonely, then feel ill at ease in company and long for solitude. I am awed into stunned wordlessness, amazed at my blessings and the mighty works of my God, and five minutes later I’m groaning about how tired and sore I am, how heavy my pack is, and how much I wish I was home.

Man.

I did have some good inspiration today, though. I was slogging up a pass, berating myself for my weakness and slow pace.

And then I ran into Mike.

It was a little creepy. Mike looks like me in 20 years, though he has a soft Texas drawl. Mike’s pace made mine look positively rocket-like. Having recovered somewhat from earlier leg injuries, he wanted to do the JMT while he still could. His pack was huge, and he plodded along, grunting with each step up or down, slowly levering himself over his trekking poles to step up every stone. He’s been on the trail for two weeks already (most folks take 3 to do the whole thing), and will probably be out for three more. He is a friendly fellow, always willing to chat and help someone out.

Though he’s moving very slowly, Mike knows the secret. If you just put one foot in front of the other, you will get to the end. Why is it so hard for me to remember this?

I do think having companionship would make a world of difference. I’d stick with Mike, but I’d run out of food before we got done. I’ll try to keep his inspiration with me as I go. [I left Mike behind when he went to the Muir Trail Ranch to resupply, but his example helped me to keep moving through some difficult time in the following days.]

Came down from Silver Pass today, getting water at Squaw Lake, then trekked onward to Marie Lake. Crossed Selden Pass, hiking down along Heart Lake and camped just below the Sallie Keyes Lakes; headed for more big, pointy mountains tomorrow. The scenery is spectacular beyond all reason.

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No, it's not me, I swear. Unless I'm a Time Lord and visiting myself before my next regeneration...

No, it’s not me, I swear. Unless I’m a Time Lord and visiting myself before my next regeneration…

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Sierra Day 2

Today was a bit surreal. I walked through country that I would have thought possible only in fairy tales; I mused deeply, but more often fought to keep self-deprecation and inane babbling at bay; I climbed a mountain that seemed never to end (atop which I’m camped tonight and which I’m lead to understand is climbing toward the easiest pass in the range, Selden).

Have you ever counted your footsteps? It’s an activity that can lead to madness, but is also strangely calming: a mantra that not only quiets other thoughts, but also shows that no matter how terribly slowly you’re going, you are making progress. I did not allow myself this habit on earlier hikes, but it’s been a lifesaver here.

So I’m now looking at ending my journey at Kearsage Pass rather than Kennedy Meadows. It’s about 80 miles closer, which is really a far more reasonable distance here, and I’ll still have tasted the high points of the Sierra. Somehow, when I’m planning, I almost always overestimate what I will actually wish to and be able to do. I read that PCT hikers do 18 miles a day in the Sierra, so of course I will, too, even though I haven’t the training for it as they have, and many of them drop mileage over the passes. Of course I can make it 200 miles without resupplying—JMT fastpackers do it. Then reality shows up and kicks me in the butt. I’ve been managing 12 miles a day up here—not nearly enough to get through on what I have. And frankly, I still let the romanticism creep in. From home, two weeks seems like a lark; out here, it’s a grinder.

I imagine I will learn someday. I’m hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

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Sierra Day 1

[I’m catching up on the posts I was unable to make during my recent Sierra trek due to lack of cell signal. Enjoy.]

Tonight’s camp is nestled amidst towering peaks of boulders just off from an argumentative stream. It gets dark quickly in these valleys, so though I had plans to continue for another mile or two, I’m slotted in for the night.

Actually, the real motivator to stop was my body. It said, “Stop,” so I did. I made 13 miles, which isn’t quite my goal, but they are 13 Sierra miles, so I’ll take them and be thankful.

I’ve had a couple of thousand feet of elevation change today, though I’m camped just a little higher than last night. I came up to a bit over 10,000 feet today; tomorrow (Lord willing) I’ll go over Silver Pass at almost 11,000, then down again. The PCT in the Sierra delights in dragging you high and then hurling you back down.

It was tough hiking (and old guys trotting past me did not help), but it was a gorgeous day. I’ve walked along elfin streams and leaping rivers; I passed Duck, Purple, and Virginia lakes; I ate lunch by a waterfall with a hundred-mile view and rested on a seasonal island. There really is beauty here enough to charm the world; I can see why half the hikers I meet are from overseas, drawn by this amazing, awe-inspiring place.

It's amazing to walk amidst mountains with water, even in this drought year.

It’s amazing to walk amidst mountains with water, even in this drought year.

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My lunch spot; I hope yours was as nice.

My lunch spot; I hope yours was as nice.

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Why Do I Keep Doing These Crazy Things?

And I’m back in the saddle again.

I had good, solid plans to write that other blog post, and to write deep things about my trek to Victoria, BC, but those must be set upon the back burner.

Today I began a journey through the southern Sierra, beginning in Mammoth and hopefully ending at Kennedy Meadows in two weeks or so.

I’m currently in my tent on a ridge at a bit over 9000 feet, starting from the Rainbow Falls trailhead and headed toward Silver Pass tomorrow and then onward. (And I just heard some kind of largish rodent outside my tent—I’m guessing pika? Marmot? Great Mountain Shrew? It’s something of a welcome change from the near silence that’s been reigning all evening.)

It’s been a day of ups and downs, as so often before. The family dropped me off on our way home from our delightful sojourn in peninsular Washington. The weather is quite warm and dry, but the mountains are gorgeous (though seemingly arid after the northwest, and especially this year). I made about six miles at my regular slow pace; I’m going to have to make some mileage on this trip, and I’d like to get home to the family in a reasonable time, so I’m looking at some long days. I’m attempting to apply all the great wisdom I’ve gained from my previous journeys, with mixed success. I sometimes wonder if I’m capable of any other kind. (And then I recognize that as my self-defeat script and beat myself up about doing this again, but eventually climb up out of the hole, dust myself off, and continue.) I’m doing well so far, and God is being faithful to stick with and teach even such an old dog as I. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

No great connection tonight, so no stunning photos (unless one sneaks in). Here’s hoping this makes it to press.

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Shame and Glory

When I was dreaming about thru-hiking, I used to read through as many hiking blogs as possible, keeping track of where hikers were, what challenges they were facing, what successes they were celebrating, and what advice they would pass on to me, the future trekker. During this time, I used to look with scorn upon those who quit the trail. Sure, there were people who broke bones or suffered hypothermia (problems I, in my wisdom and foresight, would avoid), and those people had every reason to abandon their forward progress. Others might be drawn away by family issues or other life tribulations. But those who simply felt homesick, or just didn’t have the heart for it, were weak: quitters who didn’t have the courage or conviction to continue. Never, I vowed, would I be one of these if I ever got the chance to do the hike.

And then I did get the chance, and now I have become one of the quitters.

I write this for those who are reading blogs and dreaming of their own thru-hike, who have their own fears of not completing the long journey or have determined that they shall never fail as others have.

(This is a long one. Strap in.)

This is a strange position in which to be. You spend so long planning and plotting, and devote so much time and heart to preparation, that it’s almost unimaginable that you would not succeed. So many people are pulling for you and following your progress (those you know and those you do not) that the pressure moves you forward. You work so hard to secure the time and opportunity to undertake such an epic journey that you simply must make it.

And then the real thing happens. You take your first steps on the trail, into the sunlight and sage. And everything turns out differently than you had imagined. The romantic fantasies of an epic journey marked by wonder and adventure (even with an intellectual assent that these would come with difficulty and hardship)—fantasies which you labored to make realistic and sensible—end up being further from reality than that for which you had prepared.

While I was out on the trail, I was not finding the joy that I was looking for. Perhaps I made my decision to stop too soon—many hikers suggest it can take weeks to adjust to trail life. Maybe had I continued, I would have discovered bliss. While I was hiking, though, I was feeling frustration and misery. The beauty around me was always shrouded in my own discomfort and a constant low-grade sorrow that the beauty I was seeing all around me was tainted by the constant need for progress and miles, miles, miles.

As you read the advice of hikers, you will find much that is contradictory. This is just the nature of advice: different people have different experiences and we pass on what seems right to us. Hikers are bombarded with the advice to relax, slow down, enjoy the journey. The phrase, “Canada will still be there,” is thrown around with some regularity. Yet you will also be inundated with the constant warning to hurry. The weather window is narrow. If you’re not in Manning Park by mid-September (which used to be mid-October, and then early October), you will get snowed out and you will fail.

As I walked, my consistent thoughts were about the next mile marker: how far I was going to make it that day, how much further that still meant I had to go, how I needed to increase my pace, and how I could not allow a pause or I would fall yet further behind. This is probably at least party due to my own obsessive, anal-retentive nature; starting behind the pack didn’t help, either. (A younger, fitter, less neurotic man would have most likely done far better.)

I think that to be a successful thru-hiker, the miles must be your overriding goal. All else has to fall before that (at least for hikers like me). My purposes were about writing, reflection, contemplation, worship, and the journey was a means to that end. But I think the journey for the thru-hike has to be the end itself. There are hikers who do 20 miles, then write brilliant reflections of their experiences at the end of the day, probably pausing to have brilliant insights into the nature of reality and solve quantum physics equations along the way. I did not prove up to this task, and the strain was killing my heart.

I was told not to quit on a bad day, but I was lacking other kinds of days. When I wept upon the mountainside the evening before I left the trail, I thought that a night of rest would make the morning light seem sweeter and the next day more hopeful. But all I could think as I emerged from my tent on that last day was that I was no more hopeful than I had been the night before. I recognized that the title of “thru-hiker” wasn’t something I’d miss as much as I was missing my family and the friends I’d left behind. I wanted everyone to be proud of and inspired by me, but I longed for their presence much more than I would have imagined. My greatest regret was not that I should not finish, but that I would be letting so many people down.

Sometimes I believe we don’t know what we want until we try something out for taste. In my head, though I strove to be prepared and thoughtful and realistic, I was building the thru-hike into a fantasy that reality did not support. It reminds me of the truism that a famous author stated: he didn’t meet many people who really wanted to be writers, but met a lot who wanted to have written. The same seems true of thru-hiking (perhaps at least partially explaining the 30% completion rate): I love the idea of having completed the thru-hike, but I didn’t love the thru-hiking itself enough to carry on day in and day out. I don’t know if I could have discovered that without trying it out.

I am not without regrets, but I do not regret being present for my family or the other activities I’ve had the chance to enjoy. The next post will include more of the positives about coming in off the trail, but for those either worried about their own ability to complete the trek or considering walking away, know that it is truly not the end to step off the path. It’s simply the beginning of something else, and possibly something that will bring you as much joy as those who make it to Canada have found in their journey.As Above Sky GuardianA few images of Port Townsend, a lovely place I might have missed had I not changed my plans.

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Catching Up, Part 2

When we last saw our hero, he was camped out on an island of soil amidst a sea of stone and snow. The night passed well enough, but not dry enough—it was still somewhat damp when I rose the next day, but at least I could see again.

This bit of the journey was my one experience with cross-country travel, using my topo map app on my phone. (I’m endlessly grateful I had it and had downloaded all the relevant quadrants for the PCT.) Using that, I angled downhill and spent a morning of climbing over fallen logs and hopping over rocks to finally reach the 7 Lakes Trail. It was good to be back on a track again.

The ridge I had crossed looked a little less threatening by morning light.

The ridge I had crossed looked a little less threatening by morning light.

From there, the weather grew a bit warmer, allowing me to finally get dried out again. I filtered too much water (as always—my paranoia about water usage meant I was regularly carrying a liter or two more than I needed, which is about 2-4 pounds of extra weight, but at least I was never in danger of dehydration) and caught the PCT again.

One of the seven lakes.

One of the seven lakes.

The day was a good one overall, with clear trails through airy forest. I met a couple of other hikers headed south who were making tracks as quickly as they could, so our conversation was limited. (All my conversations with hikers were limited, particularly southbounders.) As I trod through the gentle passes and valleys, the highlands of distant Crater Lake and other nearby peaks came into view.

A distant prospect.

A distant prospect.

A recent burn area which thankfully didn't last long. The signs of clear-cutting and burns were pleasantly infrequent in this stretch.

A recent burn area which thankfully wasn’t very large. The signs of clear-cutting and burns were pleasantly infrequent in this stretch.

I tended not to sleep well on the trail in general. Part of this may have been due to being alone and letting night fears plague me. Certainly, though, it was because I picked spots in the late afternoon or early evening for a couple of reasons: flat spots were at a premium, so I often hated to pass up one when it offered, and I didn’t want to be searching into darkness. Once the tent was up, though, I found myself without a lot of options. Bugs were too thick to make sitting outside comfortable (especially with no fire to satisfy my caveman urges); inside the tent the only thing to do was lie down. I wrote a bit, and read a few books of the bible (the only reading I had that wasn’t electronic, which was goofy on my part), but that quickly grew uncomfortable. So I would lie for a couple of hours, feeling exhausted but unable to sleep. I only slumbered fitfully, so by morning I was still tired and often slept in later than I ought to have done.

All this to say that, unusually, that evening was pretty good and I woke relatively refreshed. The prospect of making Mazama Village just downslope from Crater Lake by evening was also an enticement. Later that day I crossed a highway and started up rather a steep uphill section toward said destination. It was beautiful but warm and tiring; I reached the site by late afternoon.

Mazama Village is composed of a large campground, a wee store (with coin-op showers and a three-machine laundromat), and a surprisingly upscale restaurant (a grand Craftsman lodge in the old Forest Service style). It was the July 4th week, so the place was rather crowded, but they reserved some spaces for walk-ups. Though all the guides suggest that forest camping nearby is free, the lure of bathrooms and an actual table to sit at was too strong to resist (as was a jar of instant coffee to supplement my woefully dwindling supply). It was also nice to have a place to store my food and other goods, leaving my actual tent space for sleeping. After wiping out the salad bar at the restaurant, I settled in.

The following day, I knew I needed to make the 7 mile trek up to Crater Lake itself. (The campground is well below the rim of the crater for preservation purposes.) With a much reduced pack, up I trundled. Though I had thought the previous day was steep going, this was a real climb. The scenery was spectacular, though, with open meadows vying for space with shady forest and babbling streams.

It was strange to see water and not spend time calculating the best way to collect some.

It was strange to see water and not spend time calculating the best way to collect some.

The trail eventually comes to a highway, and then, from all appearances, simply disappears into open sky. I was a bit confused until I reached the very top and suddenly God’s own wellspring spread out before me.

Holy water

Holy water

I had never been to Crater Lake before, nor even read much about it save for rapturous descriptions by PCT hikers. Nothing could prepare me for the sight, however. (The visitor’s center has a multitude of plaques full of quotes by explorers, writers, and adventurers essentially giving that same opinion.) The sheer size and beauty of the place was overwhelming. I’m including just a handful of pictures, though I took about a hundred; most of them are about the same sight, seen from four feet further along the rim. Each time I’d glance at the lake, I was struck again and snapped another photo. I could probably make a slide show of a mile-long section of the rim if I were so inclined.

The lake is almost 2,000 feet deep (with water clarity allowing for viewing down to almost 150 feet) and six miles across. It has no inlets or outlets, being entirely filled by precipitation and losing water only to evaporation and seepage, which is why the water is so spectacularly blue and clear. It’s simply overwhelming.

Phenomenal clarity in every sense.

Phenomenal clarity in every sense.

I spent several hours meandering around the rim, reading the informational placards and observing the crowds. It was somewhat surreal—after so long on the trail alone, to suddenly be surrounded by hordes of visitors was discomfiting. Some of them were staring as rapturously as I was, but others fit that unflattering stereotype of tourists: loudly jabbering about new songs by popular artists or upcoming television shows, lugging coolers of beer and sandwiches to the edge of incomparable beauty to shout at one another and grouse about office work, spending more time buying souvenirs than observing at the glory before them. My curmudgeonly ways were not lessened in those moments, though I did feel badly about them later. I suppose being used to just observing and ruminating in solitude had shaped my expectations of what effect nature is supposed to have on us, and I was frustrated that everyone else wasn’t using my frame of reference. (Entirely unjustified, I’m sure, but there it was.) There was more reflection on society and my reaction to it in those hours than I had anticipated, certainly.

Only ruminating poetically in an open meadow afterward brought any restoration.

Only ruminating poetically in an open meadow afterward brought any restoration.

After another night, my crazy sister and parents came in from Idaho to pick me up. I had decided at this point not to hike further. I wasn’t sure, given my pace, if I’d reach a pick-up point when the deadline to return home had come, and there was word of more snow further north. They journeyed through the night and invaded my campsite early in the morning: a 75¢, 4-minute shower, a change of clothes, and a day-long journey later and I was in Boise, where I spent several days doing absolutely nothing but eating good food, sleeping, and stuffing entertainment into my head. It was a welcome respite and a wonderful break. (Lots of thought went on then as well, but we’ll save that for a later post.)

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Catching Up, Part 1

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been off the trail for a few weeks after making it to Crater Lake and meeting up with my parents and sister. I spent a lovely few days in Boise with them, then journeyed home to my much missed family. The tale of the reintegration and handling of domestic and professional affairs shall come soon. The short version is that I will not be attempting the thru-hike, due to a combination of timing, physical condition, a change in focus, and other considerations. I’ll be altering the blog to reflect this in the coming days.

However, I wanted to catch up on the days when I was still on the trail, though out of contact internet-wise. This is the first part of the trek from Fish Lake to Crater Lake. The second installment will follow soon.

After I left Fish Lake on that fateful Thursday, I entered the true wilderness as defined by the fact that I couldn’t get cell service at any point.

The rain had tapered off when I left, but it was still quite wet, so I packed up ready for water. All the vegetation was soaked, and soon, so was I. The temperature was pleasantly cool and the cloud cover was nice, but it was a very damp day. Every time my shoes and socks had warmed up with walking, another sluicing wash of cold water would sop down my legs.

It was also my first day of mosquito madness. Even covered in DEET (thank you, modern chemicals!), they came nosing around in clouds any time I stopped. Thankfully, the poison worked and I thought I had come through unscathed (though I had to put on my head net to set up my tent, then had to throw my pack and myself inside, and then had to relentlessly hunt down the infiltrators that came in with me). Checking later, though, I found a great many bites on my arms, legs, and torso, inflicted by the sneaky beasties by either making their way in though gaps between the buttons or attacking directly through the fabric.

I try to stay at the cutting edge of fashion even on the trail.

I try to stay at the cutting edge of fashion even on the trail.

The forests in the mist were primeval, with huge garlands of hanging moss on dark, close-packed branches. Many a tree was down across the trail, and one of these gave me my first fall of the trip. (God watches out for children and fools, though, and I managed to land on soft, damp ground.) Much of the hike for those days was nearly silent, with little birdsong and only the occasional breeze through the trees.

Fish Lake feeder stream.

Fish Lake feeder stream.

The swamps of Oregon.

The swamps of Oregon.

The next day was meant to be warmer, but if it was it was imperceptibly so. Clouds soared across the sky before gusting winds all day. I stopped a few times when the sun would peep through, trying to spread out my gear to dry, but the cursed daystar would then immediately go into hiding again.

Cloudstrewn

I made my way past Shale Butte, then the ominously named Lucifer and the Devil’s Peak as evening was falling. (O, strange pioneers, with your penchant for naming any anomalous geographic feature after the devil! He didn’t really play a part in sculpting the landscape, you know.)

The evening took on darker, more ominous tones.

The evening took on darker, more ominous tones.

And here’s where the adventures really began. The north slope of Devil’s Peak was covered in snow, too deeply and steeply to cross. Clearly some folks had glissaded down the slope sitting down, but in the evening light, it was more than I wanted to risk. The wind was a cold gale on the ridge, and the fog was blowing in and out, so I couldn’t hunker down and wait for the next day (at least not nearby). I explored further down the ridge, looking for a clear patch to descend, my heart pounding as I scrambled along, holding on to leaning trees and loose stones. But no way offered.

A dangerous crossing.

A dangerous crossing.

Feeling defeated, I climbed back to the trail and retraced my route, hoping to catch the 7 Lakes Trail, which would add a few miles but would circle around to meet up with the PCT eventually.

I found the side trail and started down.

Then I found that it, too, was snowed in. The slope was steep and made up of jagged, loose rocks, varying from sub-compact to fist sized. Darkness was descending, so, feeling no small amount of trepidation, so did I. I climbed about halfway down the slope before it grew too dim to continue. I found a small island of soil and trees amidst the scree, pitched my tent on a flat-ish slope, and curled up for the night.

Sleeping amidst a sea of stone.

Sleeping amidst a sea of stone.

To be continued…

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Water, Water Everywhere

The rain came in today, so I wisely stayed in place and used the day to invest in some quality relaxation and eating. It also gave me a chance to dry my clothes, make repairs, check my supplies, and do some thinkin’.

I did take a couple of long walks, enjoying the misty beauty of the landscape. I found a Forest Service shelter with a beautiful fireplace and wood stoves built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps; I learned about the natural history of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness (including that Brown Mountain and Mt. McLaughlin are composite volcanoes built up from older shield volcanoes around a huge caldera); and I met Temmele and Anna, two young Canadians out to cross Oregon (and whom I subsequently convinced to get a cabin of their own to get out of the rain. I should get a commission, really).

A thoughtful day. I’m including some pictures of Fish Lake in the rain, which was ghostly and lovely—so, lhostly (which is better than “glovely,” I think).

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Civilization, of a Sort

Every night, there comes a point at which I awake in the dark, hearing something moving about outside the tent. Being in the dark, in the tent, alone, sounds are amplified and warped, so it’s almost impossible to tell what size or how close such beasties are. A squirrel can sound like a prowling bear. (I have yet to find out if a bear can sound like a squirrel; if one has done so, I’m glad I don’t know about it.) As I type this at about 3:45am, something large (as indicated by the cracking branches) just went slowly by, pausing near the tent before moving on. I’m guessing it was a deer based on the gait, but the animal fear that crops up is always unnerving.

That particular phenomenon I wrote about early this morning is interesting as tonight, I’m holed up at the Fish Lake Resort, the kind of fisherman’s camp that would not be out of place in a Garrison Keillor monologue. (It has “rustic” cabins and a kind of combination gift shop/bait shop/store/diner that sells fishing gear, Native American crafts [which seems only appropriate, as I had to hike over Dead Indian Memorial Road to get here; ought to give them a little nod, I guess], cooler-appropriate snacks, and “men’s books,” which mostly appear to be 30-year-old spy novels.) My cabin was clearly hastily retrofitted with a wee refrigerator from the ’50s, a hot plate, a cheap Formica apartment-sized dining table, and a sink with only a cold-water spigot that is plainly a repurposed hose bib. I don’t have my own bathroom; the showers are coin operated; and I could spend the evening and not finish cataloging the code violations. But after days in 23 square feet and four feet of headroom, it’s paradise. I’ve washed myself and my clothes in the sink (don’t ask what I’m wearing while they dry…) and am drinking copious amounts of bad coffee while sitting in an actual chair with actual cushions. And a bed of sorts awaits. Amazing.

I pushed something over 30 miles in the past two days, which isn’t great but is a big deal for me; I may take another day here to recuperate (especially given that there’s meant to be rain tomorrow) and let the legs and feet and back and shoulders and every other part heal a bit. Today included quite a lot of crunching through great swaths of volcanic boulders: huge courses of tumbled black stones flowing like calcified rivers down amongst the trees, with just cinder paths cutting across them. These seem to be ideal homes for huge wolf spiders that spring off as you scrabble past them, put off their hunt for the giant black ants that have been so prevalent since I arrived in this state.

Partway through the day, I made it to the South Brown Mountain Shelter, a small cabin set up mainly for snowshoers and cross-country skiers. It was built in the old style: log beams, heavy timbered walls, and dominated by a huge wood stove from the dawn of metalworking. It even had a hand pump for water. It was a charming spot to stop before the long, long tramp of the afternoon began.

It’s getting close to time to climb into that nearly actual bed. (I think it’s some kind of futon on a frame, but I admit to being a bit afraid to check it too closely.) May we all enjoy our amenities this night.

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Yesterday’s water source.

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Hills upon hills.

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The South Brown Mountain Shelter.

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Rivers of stone.

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Mt. McLaughlin, quite a bit closer than before. (Thanks to those who helped identify it.)

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What Is Love?

Oh, Oregon: I know you don’t like people from California moving up into you, but once they’ve seen you, can you blame them?

I’m ensconced tonight in a dark forest with the daylight streaming through the trees as it slips away. The wind has kicked up, and it’s sort of beautiful and haunting.

The good news is, I made about fifteen miles and I feel entirely in working order. We shall see what tomorrow shall bring, but I didn’t have any problems during the day’s journey. It was a lovely day again; my concern is that all my pictures are just endless shots of the trail disappearing among the trees. The photos just can’t capture the endless layers of hues and shapes kaleidoscoping into the distance. It’s certainly the most beautiful landscape I’ve hiked through.

Now for a whining bit. (I am actually quite concerned that people are going to stop reading this entirely due to my endless complaints about the adventure of a lifetime. To you all, I can only apologize: I’m trying to capture my feelings and thoughts honestly, and I just can’t put on the mask and shape them into a narrative of simple triumph, much as I’d like to.) Today I met a fellow hiker, Quad (and since I’m far ahead of the pack, I may not meet many others). Quad was a genial, gangly young fellow swanning down the trail. He’s been hiking for about a month and a half, and upon my asking how he was finding it, he replied, “Oh, I love it.” We parted soon after as he pulled away at speed.

My only thought and question after this was a simple one: why am I not loving this? It seems like every element—nature, solitude, romantic adventure—is in place, and there are certainly moments of peace and beauty, but the daily journey feels like a weight. I suppose it’s a clash between what I imagined myself to be and what I actually am. As I suggested to my wife, that’s valuable information; it may be wiser to discover it without sinking oneself into enormous and costly projects, however.

Despite this philosophical rumination, I’m doing okay tonight. Here’s looking forward to greater and greater wisdom in the days to come.

I’m not sure this will get through tonight, so I’m not attaching photos. Imagine a picture of a trail wending into an magical forest, and you’ll have the right idea.

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Staying Put

Today was a quiet day. I had contemplated staying another day at the campground I ended at yesterday; my ability to injure myself in sleep did not fail me, and I awoke with sharp ankle pain, which settled the question.

It was meant to be a day to put my feet up and rest, but I probably ended up walking five or six miles anyway. The PCT hiker camp is pleasantly isolated, but it’s a march to the restroom and water, and further still to the lake and few amenities. I also spent some good time gathering firewood: this is the first place I’ve been on the trail where I could have one, and like the hot shower, it was not an opportunity to pass up. Somehow it’s much more restful to watch the flames dance than to sit and stare out into the darkness, even when the heat is unneeded.

Really, today was much more the kind of day I’d been hoping for all through the journey: a time to read and contemplate, to enjoy the nature about me, and to explore at leisure. I walked along the lakeshore amidst clouds of hundreds of blue dragonflies; I poked about the old dam and spillway; I watched the light dance and shift among the thousand shades of green in the trees; I watched what was probably an osprey dive and hunt for fish. I seem far better able to corral my thoughts without the intrusions of worries about water, distance, pain, and timing. Apparently, what I’d really like is just an isolated cabin and some time: I’m clearly more Thoreau than Muir.

On a less self-important note, I did discover that, despite my compulsive checking, I had come away without my spoon. I trekked to the store and cadged one from the owner (who also was talked out of a bar of hotel soap, so I scored big). I turned into MacGuyver when I realized that the spoon was too flimsy to stir my potatoes. Solution: a tent stake for the stirring! Then, upon adding water, I discovered there was a hole in the bag. Solution:… Um… Eat through the hole! So I sucked up my mashed potatoes, which is an operation I wouldn’t recommend.

Tonight, I sit by my fire and contemplate. (No one told the mosquitos that they’re not supposed to like woodsmoke.) I plan on hiking on tomorrow. How far and how fast remains to be seen.

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The view across (very low) Hyatt Lake. I’m not certain what mountain that is in the distance.

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The sky over my campsite. It doesn’t come through really well, but there’s a rainbow at the leading edge of the clouds.

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A day’s work.

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Deep Thoughts

I think I’ve started to suss out why second days are so hard.

Firstly, your body starts to rebel. The first day is such a shock, it generally goes along with little comment. But the second day, it puts up a fight. My legs felt like lead; I didn’t seem to have any stamina at all. My knee was barking at me last night–it’s continued grumbling all day. I made seven miles today and wasn’t sure I’d make that. They say this weakness passes with time, but I’ve yet to see it.

Secondly, and more importantly, it’s the day when your brain starts to realize it has only itself for company. The distractions of everyday life have run out, and you remember why you immerse yourself in them—they’re far more palatable than your own thoughts. With nothing but the crunch of your boots on the path (and your groans as accompaniment) and the open sounds of breezes through branches and insects droning, your train of thought runs in directionless spirals, spinning aimlessly and unpleasantly. Trying to direct them more usefully lasts for perhaps eight minutes before the madness sets in again. My thoughts seem endlessly petty, repetitive, and (unsurprisingly) self-critical. I have been waiting upon enlightenment. I wait still.

At least the homesickness isn’t too bad: knowing I’ll see the family in a couple of weeks is a comfort that sustains.

The trail itself was pleasant enough, and I’m settled tonight at a campground with flushing toilets and showers, so it’s practically a luxury resort. (One of the conclusions I did reach in my mental gyrations today: I’m a man who likes to be clean.) I’ve got some time to relax, so ideally that may end the day well, in addition to allowing me to figure out the plan for tomorrow.

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It’s not all fairy-tale shadowy forests here; there are also open hillsides overlooking vast valleys.

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There hasn’t actually been much running water, which surprised me. This is Keene Creek below Hyatt Lake Reservoir.

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There are still large quantities of fairy-tale forest, however.

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Shift in Position

If you’ve read C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, you know of Harfang. Our protagonists are trekking through the wild, tired and hungry, and a scheming witch tells them of that city, populated by “gentle giants,” where they will be cared for and fed and housed. The children drive themselves to distraction thereafter with thinking of all the pleasures they will enjoy upon reaching the city after their arduous journey.

Today, the Greensprings Inn was my Harfang.

(Thankfully, unlike in the book, [spoilers for a work published sixty years ago] nobody attempted to cook and eat me. My story has a happier ending. So far… [end spoilers for a book you should really read right now if you somehow missed it up until this point in your life])

I set out from just south of Ashland, near Callahan’s Lodge, and found myself on a planet far removed from my Southern California experience. The air was crisp and cool, with low clouds drifting overhead. The trail was gentle and soft (save for occasional stretches of volcanic rock). And everything was green! Landscapes come in colors besides brown! Who knew?

It was a beautiful day; I took so many pictures I feared my phone might burst. My body was a bit shocked to be back on the trail, but got into step reasonably well. I walked amongst moss-draped pines and along volcanic ridges; I hiked past a peregrine falcon nesting area (no sightings, sadly) and saw the distant prospect of Mt. Shasta to the south; I wandered through meadows strewn with a yellow and white and purple-blue and red profusions of blooms. I planned on going just 8 or 10 miles.

But then I read in my guide of the Green Springs Inn, with its fabulous hamburgers and free camping for hikers.

So here I sit (on the deck in the cold breeze so as not to offend other diners—they would have let me sit inside, but I didn’t want to be rude), 18 miles later, stuffed with an amazing bleu cheese and avocado burger and a whopping piece of apple pie, sipping coffee and typing this. I’m the first hiker they’ve seen this year. With something as simple as skipping 1,300 miles of trail, I’ve suddenly gone from the back of the pack to the front. Amazing.

It was worth it. Tomorrow will be an easy day, though; my legs don’t seem to want to work…

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Setting off.

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World of green.

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Pilot Rock, the peregrine nesting site (which is really hard not to see as a smiling giant’s head rising over the trees).

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Sweet.

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On the Road Again

Just a quick note to say I’m headed out once more. Much of the logistics and paperwork for the hike remains in limbo, but I needed to do something to keep from losing momentum entirely and losing more time. The body is mostly healed, and I’m armed with a new pack buckle and an amazing new battery pack, so I’m basically Batman.

I caught a ride with my progenitors on their way up to visit my sister in Idaho; they’re dropping me off tomorrow morning outside Ashland (where we’re staying tonight). I’ll hike north for a couple of weeks, and they’ll snatch me up on their way back south (Lord willing, and assuming this isn’t just an elaborate prank to strand me several hundred miles from home).

I’m nervous and excited all over again. The landscape up here is beautiful, and I’m praying for more and shinier adventures on this chunk of trail.

Just for visual interest, here’s an unrelated photo of helicopters on the deck of the USS Midway, taken on Flag Day when my boys were performing with their Fife & Drum corps. Though this broken schedule has been annoying in many ways, the chance to see the family (and really appreciate that time) has been a huge blessing.

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Delays and Plotting

I am adrift on becalmed seas. The voyage has become mired in the doldrums, and the days pass slow and heavy. But soon a fair wind will fill my sails once again and I shall surge forth once more.

Forgive the sailing metaphor; I just wanted to spice up this pedestrian (or, literally, non-pedestrian) post.

If my journey northward is a pilgrimage and an epic adventure (in a less metaphorical context), then certainly the enemy of all plans is hot on my case. This pause in the hike, as previously stated, was a blessing inasmuch as it allowed me to tackle the administrative issues that arose while I was gone. But the wheels of bureaucracy turn exceeding slow—I haven’t yet heard if my modified plan will still meet the expectations and requirements of the original sabbatical proposal. (I imagine it will, but given the track record so far, I’d really like confirmation on that before I make any firm decisions.) Then there is the matter of getting the official release paperwork done and applying for this bond to prevent me from running off and squandering my sabbatical (as opposed to me sitting and waiting during my sabbatical…).

My foot issues are healing somewhat slowly; I’m pretty certain I could take on the trail again now, though where I will jump back on remains a mystery. Entertainingly, new issues have arisen on the other end of the body: a tooth that had been annoying me suddenly lost its filling, necessitating some amusing dental work yesterday. Now I must wait to find out if I only need a crown or if I get to enjoy a full root canal (which means another stop back home in a few weeks). Oy.

Exciting stuff, isn’t this? I wish I had more adventures to report, but currently I’m trying to work out finances (affording the premium on this bond is a puzzle I haven’t yet worked out), relaxing and enjoying technology far too much, and becoming addicted to mid-morning baths (to soak my feet, ostensibly). Ideally, new and thrilling tales will be forthcoming. Prayers to that effect are much appreciated.

A few shots from the last couple of days on the trail:

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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

Looking Forward (but Only a Bit)

A short entry tonight—it’s later than usual and my battery charger seems to be dying on me, so not much juice in the wee phone.

It was a better day today. I suspect there may be many peaks and valleys along this trek, which is difficult for a guy who likes to work out patterns and systems to make things consistent and smooth. Part of the journey is working to find the joy in the uneven and rough, since that reflects life far more accurately. As many of you suggested, it really is about living in the moment, a task to which I am currently ill-suited, but which I hope to learn by doing.

The family met me along the trails and we shared a delightful few hours filled with chicken fried steak and eggs (the first time I think I’ve ever eaten that favored dish without feeling guilty), gallons of iced tea (I dream of iced drinks in quantity and Popsicles as I climb hot mountains), and just enjoyed their general nuttery. It was hard to leave them again, but the trail passed more quickly this afternoon, and my heart is lighter for getting to see them again (and holding on to the promise to meet up with them again in about a week).

The trail was up to its old, cruel tricks again today. After a long, lovely descent through oak-thick hillsides, trailing happily adown to the valley below, after a road junction I suddenly started to climb God’s own stairway: a series of switchbacks toward Mt. Baden-Powell that just will not quit. I stopped here at the first flat spot I could find. You know those terrifying pictures of mountaineers with tents pitched precariously on sheer rock faces ten thousand feet up, held in place only by a few guy lines? It’s like that.

Tomorrow, I rise early to finish the ascent and thence on toward the desert. Here’s to a safe night with no rolling over.

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Second Day Blues

It’s disheartening to peck out a blog post on your iPhone in a tent and then lose it to the electronic ether. It’s the capper on a rough day. I continued climbing up toward Wrightwood, gaining about 4000 feet in 12 miles. It was a long, hot tramp, though it’s ended in some lovely pine forest and a charming campsite. The world’s most insanely steep path leads from the camp to a dribbling cold spring, which was used to supplement my dwindling water supply. Thankfully, it’s a short jaunt tomorrow to the highway to meet the family for resupply.

There send to be something about the second day back on the trail. I have only two second days to compare, but that’s one more than most folks get. (I’m praying this phenomenon does not repeat after resupplies or zero days.) The first day seems to go well, but the second brings up all the pains, all the worries, all he frustrations. Physically I’m doing well, but mentally I’ve been all over the place. All the worries about my slow pace, my dragging gait, the immensity of the task before me, my missing my family and the comforts of home… They seem to crowd in and take away the joy I’m looking for out here; right now, it all feels like work. It may just be withdrawal from “regular” life, or a settling-in period, but it’s frustrating. The few other hikers I’ve seen are all young people, powering past me as I lay sprawled beside the trail once more. (One pair of young gents—Handy Andy and Gilligan—did stop to chat briefly and interviewed me about my trail name.)

It feels churlish and ungrateful to even complain about such things after so many years of mooning about and whining about wanting to go, and months of planning and warping my family around this singular dream. At any rate, I’m doing well physically; if I can get the mental on track, I should be well set up, indeed.

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Lovely views from up high.

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The inside of a real thru-hiker’s tent!

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Inferno and Insects

I’m sitting in my tent, slowly melting like an abandoned candle on the dashboard of a silver VW Beetle. After promising to keep my mileage down on my first days back on the trail and a hot, long climb up from the Cajon Pass, I stopped when I found a flat spot on a high ridge overlooking the valley. If I could leave the tent, I would be able to see all of the southland from Oak Hills down to San Bernardino and back along my track across the 15 Freeway all the way to the back side of Lake Arrowhead. But there is no shade on this ridge, meaning I’d be fried like a greasy onion if I step back into that sun. So here I hunker, sweating in only a pair of shorts, waiting for the sun to go down below the ridge, playing Knock-the-Ants-Off-the-Tent-Screens. (I picked the least ant-bestrewn level spot available, but it’s still a popular Formicidae hang-out.)

My war wounds seem to be healing well, and beyond the heat, it was a good day. It occurred to me, though, that I spend little time describing the glorious things I’m seeing and the sense of adventure (however small and planned out), but on random thoughts and general musings. I feel like there are a lot of guides and blogs out there all about the splendors of the scenery, and even the pictures from my spotty iPhone do more justice to the views than my words.

But my random thoughts are what make my blog a different monster than the others from other people seeing the same thing. Perhaps this will change as I continue—this isn’t the first time I’ve thought a piece of the process was the final result, always and forever. To learn and grow is the point of the exercise.

Missing the family again, but I’ll see them for a resupply in a few days, and the sideways gift of the ankle trouble gave me another dose of love to keep me going. I’m not focusing on the long, long trail ahead, but on one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, and any other pithy aphorisms and seventies’ sitcom titles to keep me moving.

Now, back to the bulwarks.

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The journey up from the pass.

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Sometimes the trail passes through strange places.

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Categories: Pacific Crest Trail | Tags: , | 10 Comments

Determination

After my week-long hiatus, I’m hitting the trail again this morning. I’ll be taking up where I left off; I’ll also be trying to reduce my mileage by a bit to start back up. That may be one of the most difficult challenges; the pressure to move forward is only mounting, but I don’t want to take myself off the trail entirely with aggravated injury.

This past week of inaction left me a lot of time to contemplate my motives. Wise sources say that one of the most important factors in finishing a thru-hike is your motivation: what keeps you moving when times are tough. I know I’ve really only just started, but I’ve already been through waves of regret, doubt, indecision, and sadness. I’ve found some joy on the trail, but it’s all mixed up with these other emotions that other hikers seem not to evince. Part of the struggle this last week was the feeling that I was happy to be home again.

But that’s also part of the push. I missed the opportunities the trail affords for wonder, for reflection, and for challenge. I find it so easy to avoid challenge in my everyday life, blessed as I am, and I am work averse to a ridiculous degree. Part of this journey is about pushing myself, and having something to look back upon that is inspirational—for others, but, I think, mostly for myself. I know that God has allowed me this opportunity, at my insistent asking; I want to find out what’s on the other side of that desire now that it has become a reality.

So I’m headed back into the hot desert today to continue. We shall see what the days bring, and I hope to define that purpose more sharply.

Once again, voy con Dios.

The Beckoning Trail

It appears my wonderful backpack dye job may still be unstable (though the pack still looks fine). I'm wearing abstract art.

It appears my wonderful backpack dye job may still be unstable (though the pack still looks fine). I’m wearing abstract art.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail | 2 Comments

Homebound

I’ve been at home for three days since my injury, and it looks like it may be a few more before I feel able to get back on the trail again. Even that’s sketchy: the doctor did not give me a definitive length of recovery (his exact words when I asked were, “If I tell you a week, it’ll be ten days—your body will let you know”), so I’m wrestling with determining when I’m ready. Return too early and I risk further injury; too late, and the trip may be jeopardized. I recognize that the latter is preferable to the former, but it’s still a dilemma. This is complicated by my distrust of my own body. I can’t tell if the pain I’m feeling is the kind I should push through, or the kind I should give way before until it’s gone. Should I stay off it as much as possible, or try to reintegrate some walking as it’s healing? So many questions.

I’ve spent far too much of the past days mulling over options, concerns, fears, ambitions, and plans. Time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions. My wife has suggested that I take it even easier when I’m back on the trail, but this would put me even further behind schedule—and at something like 8-10 miles a day, I’m not certain I could make it between resupply stops. A lot of this is theoretical, and could probably be sorted out on the trail itself, but it makes for exhausting mental gymnastics while I’m laid up.

Meanwhile, I’m eating real food and sleeping in a bed, which were comforts I didn’t appreciate as much before my very brief trail jaunt. I’ll be going through my pack soon to get her cleaned up and try to drop off some gear to lighten the load as much as possible. I’m also trying to discover the best way to wrap an ankle for tendon issues.

The trail beckons once more; now it’s just up to the unstable combination of my body and mind to find the right time to return.

Here are some of photos from my digital camera of those first days to brighten this rather dull post.

My first of four horned toad sightings. Each had different markings, interestingly enough.

My first of four horned toad sightings. Each had different markings, interestingly enough.

The lands of home, from my high point on the first day.

The lands of home, from my high point on the first day.

The standing reminders of recent fires.

The standing reminders of recent fires.

A teasing view of distant refreshment.

A teasing view of distant refreshment.

Life hanging on in the desert.

Life hanging on in the desert.

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Day the Fourth: Pilgrimagus Interruptus

Or Peregrinatio Interrupta, for the more scholarly and pedantic.

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I’m in a funk.

After a long, mouse-filled night at Silverwood Lake, I packed up this morning, intent on having a good day and getting to Cajon Pass to meet my family for a resupply and much-needed set of hugs.

About a mile down the trail, the tendon in my left ankle, which had been hurting off and on, suddenly went, “Twang.”

It was not a good twang.

With swelling setting in at a rapid rate and a lot of pain upon stepping up and down, I decided prudence was the better part of valor and called in the cavalry.

So I’m currently at home. The doctor I saw is convinced it’s tissue damage; I’m not so sure it isn’t related to the tendon, but anti-inflammatories, ice, and rest are in my future for the next several days at least.

I am resting now in the hope—nay, the conviction—that this is just a “blip” (as my dad puts it) in my journey; I’m planning on resuming next week. This may mean moving up the trail a bit, to fill in this section later. It’s all up in the air and rather flexible at the moment. But I’m trusting that God has a plan in this (perhaps to help me avoid the sudden snowstorm that came dropping down on the mountains today), and that it’s part of the epic adventure of overcoming adversity to conquer.

Keep your eyes on this space. Thanks again for your continued support and encouragement, which are helping keep up my uneven spirits. You are all special and lovely.

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Day the Third: Trail Lessons

One: You know how your little toe has skin on it?

Yeah. Mine, not so much.

Lesson the First: Don’t go in the water with Moleskin on your blister. If you do this thing despite warning, at least take it off immediately afterward.

Two: I’m camped tonight at the Lake Silverwood State Recreation Area. $5 is so worth flush toilets and piped water. Since I’m not stealth camping at a picnic area, I have the place to myself.

Lesson the Second: You haven’t been out long enough until a campground bathroom and table seem like heaven.

Lesson the Third: It may be the height of first-world problems, but it’s very sad to find coin-operated showers when you have no coin.

Lesson the Fourth: Carry coins.

Three: It was a long, ugly morning, but things improved by the time I reached Silverwood, had a very cold swim, and ate dinner. I met up with Thumb’s-Up, First Class, and Coach, all folks well into their sixties, and by far the best conversationalists I’ve met on the trail. They are also all former teachers, out here after retirement.

Lesson the Fifth: Teachers are awesome.

Lesson the Sixth: I’m barely keeping up with retirees. This is not the most encouraging sign.

Lesson the Seventh: I’m getting a handle on things out here. Except when I’m not.

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The family at Silverwood Epic Beach.

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Not many pictures from the dry high desert today, but there were innumerable beautiful moments, even in the painful bits.

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Bedhead. Thanks for the comfy wool cap, sister mine. It’s excellent for sleeping.

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Day the Second: Emotional Amusement Park

A really long walk today. (I think all my posts ought to start with that from now on…) My 15-mile day turned into because the canyon I was descending had no place to set up camp. I’m ensconced in my tent now, listening to the breeze flutter through willow branches by the spillway of the Mojave Dam. I’m texting away on my phone because that wonderful keyboard I mentioned decided to stop typing C, V, and M; much as I like a challenge, I didn’t think I was up for that. (Anyone want to pitch in to get me an iPad mini?)

I’m not up for much right now, really. It’s been a day of emotional ups and downs. I struggled with pain in the morning, then started getting into a groove, especially after meeting my first PCT hikers, Catch-Up, Shiny, and Half-Double. I spent most of the day alone, though, wending down the canyon above Deep Creek, cruelly far above the deep, green, cool, and lovely waters far below. The trail would seem to be headed down toward that aqueous Nirvana, getting tantalizingly close, then turn at the last minute to head uphill again. Cruel PCT.

Finally, though, worn-out and weary, I followed the path down near the hot springs, which were annoyingly filled with loud teenagers. Just down the way, however, I found a sandy beach, with a shady grotto and a whipping breeze to cool things down.

It was brilliant.

Then the long slog at the end, with uncertainty about water and a short call home because I hadn’t checked in yet and had service. Hearing my wife’s voice nearly made me lose my composure.

Now I’m going to write an epic fantasy in which the protagonist cries a lot.

I’m feeling a bit better now, but it’s going to be a long journey..

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Leavetaking

My first blog post from the trail is a bit trickier than I had hoped. My shiny silicone flexible Bluetooth keyboard is swell, but doesn’t work so well when there’s no flat surface to set it on…

I’m at mile 295 or so, sitting in my tent as a cool breeze and clouds roll through the sky. I only went about 15 miles today, as per a promise to my wife to take it easy at the start. I’ll have to see how well I can keep that promise tomorrow–I’m not certain there are any camping spots within easy reach.

I’m at the Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp, a wide, flat area with fire rings and nothing else. This, as have been most things on my journey so far, is appropriate. We used to come here with my Boy Scout troop when I was a kid. It was here (during one of those trips) that I dislocated my knee a second time, necessitating my father running miles down the trail to catch the group on horseback that had ridden through earlier in the day, and with whose help I rode out of the canyon behind Ed from Apple Valley on a horse named Wheat T. And it was here, on a cold January day ten years ago, that I first started seriously getting back into backpacking and dreaming of the PCT.

The most difficult part of the day, by far, was actually leaviing. i’ve been itching to get on the trail while also being filled with wonder and terror at the idea, but it wasn’t until I had to say goodbye to my wife and kids that it fully struck me how little I’ll see of them for the next several months. They, too, are excited for me, but I was weepy all morning after my departure. (Thankfully, this was somewhat mitigated by my leaving behind my gaiters and gloves, requiring a return to the house and another round of leave-taking, this one with more amusement.)

Now for my overly sentimental nerd thing for today. Remember in Gladiator how, at the beginning of the film, we see Maximus pull out little clay representations of his family, to remind him of them and their importance? Well, I had my loved ones build Lego mini-figure versions of themselves to carry with me. You can see their picture below.

The trek from the house to the trail was a long one, with a lot of elevation loss and gain. I met my first stranger about 5 yards along the PCT: a fisherman plying Holcomb Creek. Our conversational highlight went like this:

Fisherman: Are you just out here hiking?

Me: Actually, I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail; you’re standing on it now. It runs from Mexico to Canada.

Fisherman: Wow! That’s amazing! Where did you start?

Me: Right here.

Fisherman: *much gufffawing*

Since I only hiked about 3 miles of the actual PCT, I didn’t see any fellow trekkers, though a few pairs have passed me since I set up camp. I have a feeling I’m going to be at the very back of this herd soon…

The wind is rising; I’m off to prepare for bed. Tomorrow: will I survive tonight’s Siracha? Also, it would appear thieves snuck in and stole my hair!

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Odd Repeat Post

My first blog post from the trail is a bit trickier than I had hoped. My shiny silicone flexible Bluetooth keyboard is swell, but doesn’t work so well when there’s no flat surface to set it on…

I’m at mile 295 or so, sitting in my tent as a cool breeze and clouds roll through the sky. I only went about 15 miles today, as per a promise to my wife to take it easy at the start. I’ll have to see how well I can keep that promise tomorrow–I’m not certain there are any camping spots within easy reach.

I’m at the Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp, a wide, flat area with fire rings and nothing else. This, as have been most things on my journey so far, is appropriate. We used to come here with my Boy Scout troop when I was a kid. It was here (during one of those trips) that I dislocated my knee a second time, necessitating my father running miles down the trail to catch the group on horseback that had ridden through earlier in the day, and with whose help I rode out of the canyon behind Ed from Apple Valley on a horse named Wheat T. And it was here, on a cold January day ten years ago, that I first started seriously getting back into backpacking and dreaming of the PCT.

The most difficult part of the day, by far, was actually leaviing. i’ve been itching to get on the trail while also being filled with wonder and terror at the idea, but it wasn’t until I had to say goodbye to my wife and kids that it fully struck me how little I’ll see of them for the next several months. They, too, are excited for me, but I was weepy all morning after my departure. (Thankfully, this was somewhat mitigated by my leaving behind my gaiters and gloves, requiring a return to the house and another round of leave-taking, this one with more amusement.)

Now for my overly sentimental nerd thing for today. Remember in Gladiator how, at the beginning of the film, we see Maximus pull out little clay representations of his family, to remind him of them and their importance? Well, I had my loved ones build Lego mini-figure versions of themselves to carry with me. Meet the family:

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The trek from the house to the trail was a long one, with a lot of elevation loss and gain. I met my first stranger about 5 yards along the PCT: a fisherman plying Holcomb Creek. Our conversational highlight went like this:

Fisherman: Are you just out here hiking?

Me: Actually, I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail; you’re standing on it now. It runs from Mexico to Canada.

Fisherman: Wow! That’s amazing! Where did you start?

Me: Right here.

Fisherman: *much gufffawing*

Since I only hiked about 3 miles of the actual PCT, I didn’t see any fellow trekkers, though a few pairs have passed me since I set up camp. I have a feeling I’m going to be at the very back of this herd soon…

The wind is rising; I’m off to prepare for bed. Tomorrow: will I survive tonight’s Siracha? Also, it would appear thieves snuck in and stole my hair!

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Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Night Before

It’s nearly midnight. After a day of delay, the trail starts tomorrow.

I’m not certain how to feel. Waves of fear, enthusiasm, anxiety, excitement, regret, and anticipation are slamming into me, one after another. The day has been full of plotting and planning resupply strategies with my wife, packing and repacking Idris and my food supply, updating lists and ledgers and and addresses. I’ve been unsubscribing from email feeds so my inbox doesn’t explode; my SPOT is hooked up and ready to relay my status to my family; maps have been sorted and stored for future pick-up.

My brain is in so many places that I’m not certain any of this makes much sense. But I thought it would be useful to inaugurate my daily blogging on this eve before the journey begins.

On the night before an epic quest, does every pilgrim feel this?

My pack weighs 32 pounds, with about 8 pounds of food and another 4.5 pounds of water. At times, it feels monstrously heavy; at others, I’m surprised I have as much crammed in there as I do. My whole life reduced down to 60 liters.

The most important parts of my life I’m leaving behind me, though they are squarely in my favor, and I’ll be seeing them at resupply stops along much of the way. After long talks with them this evening, I’m more enthused, more determined, and more heartbroken about leaving.

Poncho Denver Born Dancin' My Better 7/8ths

One foot in front of the other. That’s all I need to worry about for the next many months. Voy con Dios.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | 7 Comments

Motivation

I imagine that some significant portion of my time on the trail will be spent in thinking about why I am out there in the first place. (I’ve certainly spent the many years of dreaming about the trail and the last several months of actually planning for the hike thinking about such things; I don’t see that ending just because I start walking.) Many people have asked me (as they ask all thru-hikers), “Why are you doing this?” It would be nice to have a compact, orderly, powerful answer to satisfy the curiosity.

But I don’t have such an answer. I have a few dozen answers, and they’re hard to articulate, and none of them of their own accord carries enough weight to carry me a couple of thousand miles. Still the desire burns.

Here are a few beginnings of answers:

Generation Tree

Denver, Poncho, and Born Dancin’ with Granny.

These are my kids, posing with their grandmother at a recent picnic—a kind of bon voyage celebration with Granny, since I won’t see her again before I head out. There’s a lot that I love in this photo.

Many folks are incredulous about my wandering the wilderness for a few seasons because of the existence and youth my offspring. With still-growing children at home, how does one walk away for so long? (“And where,” many a man hath cried unto me, “does one find a wife such as would allow—nay, encourage—such extravagance?” Bide, gentle petitioner. She shall have her own post anon.)

This has been one of the stickiest points of my own contemplations. A part of me does wonder if choosing so much time on my own is not colossally selfish, leaving my poor family to make do without their father while he swans about in the woods.

A lot of this journey, though, is about them. I want them to know that no matter how big, crazy, impossible, or difficult their dreams may be, it’s worth chasing them. I prayed about hiking the trail for more than ten years, most of the time barely believing that it would ever happen. Now I’m leaving in three days, under circumstances I could not have imagined a decade ago. I don’t know what will come of this, but I do not think I will look back later in life to regret accepting the challenge and making the attempt.

It also helps a great deal that they will be my cheering squad and emotional support. Even when they mention that they will miss me, they quickly add that they are excited for me and what I’ll be accomplishing. It’s probably immensely self-serving, but a part of me absolutely lights up to think that I will be making a journey that reminds them of the epic odysseys that the characters from the fantasy novels we read (which I’ve pushed them to love for so long) have undertaken. There will be hardships and hard times, without doubt, but I hope those help them to see their inner strength and joy, too—as I’ll be finding mine. I want to be the hero of their stories, and for them to become the heroes of their own stories, wherever that leads them.

G Mel and DJ Jolly Green

Here are Granny and I again. I have to say, if anyone can be blamed for the wild fancies that sometimes make me hare off into the wilderness, it might be her. Since I was very small, Granny was always the one jetting off for adventures and finding joy in every place she could. When I told her about the hike coming up, tears sprang up in her eyes, and she could not stop repeating her conviction that this will be a defining event, a peak around which other parts of my life will rearrange themselves. I think there is a part of her that wishes she could make the journey as well; the thought that I am blessed to make the trek—as so many others cannot—will, I hope, keep me moving forward.

I take it as a very good sign that the people who have been most enthusiastic and the least concerned about my adventure are grandmas. It seems like they should know what’s most important in a well-lived life, and if they are thrilled for me, then so am I.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | 7 Comments

A Tiny Preview of the Trail

As preparation continues for hiking a couple of thousand miles, it turns out that the bit of training that gets omitted is the actual hiking. Between trying to wrangle my classes and grading into shape, taking care of paperwork, trying to get our house and the family squared away, buying equipment and supplies, typing blog posts and support letters, and heaven only knows what else, I’ve only hit the trail sporadically of late.

This is why I was pleased during the kick-off to take an afternoon to hike a mile or two up the trail from Lake Morena. It was on Friday, as the weather transitioned from hot and sunny into the freezing rain and blasting wind gusts it would devolve into that night.

The trail tread leaving the lake is sandy and wide, crossed by many dragon-tracks of bike riders and off-road vehicles. The path wends through weedy oases, green and blowing in the vales that rise from the lake itself into scrub and stone.

Window on Morena

The Road Goes On

The weather was shifting and wisped clouds were beginning to race across they sky; the cool breeze was a benediction. I climbed up gently from the valley below, watching stone and sage unfold around me in undulating waves.

Our Lord's Candle

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At the peak of my walk, I decided that the barefoot walking style might be most accurately accomplished if I was, in fact, barefoot. The trail tread was soft and clear, so it seemed a good point at which to give it a go. It turned out to be a great thing; on good stretches, I’m hoping to continue the tradition. I didn’t feel any grand, mystical connection to the Earth and all her creatures, nor did I somehow feel more powerful and primitive, but it was pleasant to have sand and soil beneath my soles, and it certainly made me mindful of each detail of the trail.

It's a long way down.

It’s a long way down.

As I made my way back toward the gathering, the breezes grew more chill and I trod through alternating sun and shadow as the clouds grew. One standing stone greeted me upon my return.

Revelation

It was fortuitous timing: by the time I got back, changed into warmer gear, and got dinner, the wind was blowing fiercely and the cold began to set in. That night, the temperatures dropped into the high thirties and bursts of wind-driven rain hurled themselves against my shelter all night. (My tent stood up to the onslaught very well, I’m pleased to report, and my layering system kept me warm, so that little preview of what may lie ahead was reassuring. Many hikers were not so lucky.)

May all the journey turn out so blessed, and may I have the strength and resiliency to carry on with a bright heart when it does not.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

ADZPCTKO: The Other Days

Clearly, I need more practice in posting from the trail. My first attempt was pretty paltry. As I’m perusing the blogs of others, I’m finding much work out there more lyrical and philosophical than my own, and I am filled with jealousy. I’d love for the blog not only to be a record, but a kind of long-form poem, winding its way through my life and around my journeys like a thread of incense twining about my days. I’ll work on that.

To report on the rest of the Kick-off: it was a strange and surreal experience for me. I volunteered at the registration tent for two mornings, and that was probably my favorite part of the event. I doubt I was of much help, but I did put a lot of wristbands on visiting hikers and tried to soak in as much wisdom as I could from the veterans around me. It was kind of thrilling and odd to run into so many people whose names had existed only as hiker legend and as voices from books and mailing lists I’ve been poring over for months.

Part of me was looking for more connection there; that’s some of the impetus for the whole journey, really. Yet I still find that while I’m endlessly personable singularly, I’m not good at fitting into groups. I don’t know how to talk to you other humans. Conversations around me did not offer openings for newcomers to chime in. The hikers who were walking in were mostly already on the trail, and had either come with their companions or were making them as they journeyed. I was of an age that didn’t fit in with the young and powerful college kids, yet I hadn’t formed the bonds that the later generations clearly already had. As usual, I assumed everyone in a Patagonia down sweater and toting a battered Z-Lite pad was wiser and more skilled than I and didn’t particularly need some green trekker nosing into their conversation. My comments tended to be fawning compliments on the one hand or jokes that others either didn’t get or by which they felt slightly insulted on the other.

It probably didn’t help me fit in that I wore my frock coat and carried around Idris* for most of the weekend. I got a few compliments and a lot of very odd looks, with the occasional snide remark thrown in for good measure. I realized that it was too much a part of what I am and who I am to leave behind during the event, and, of course, I wanted to be special. It turned out that in a crowd which included folks wearing tutus, purple hair, and full-body tattoos, a vest and tails didn’t stand out that much. It was still fun, though.

Everyone should imagine me this way all the time.

Everyone should imagine me this way all the time.

I suppose it’s a lesson in just being who I am and not worrying much about what others think (a lesson, one would imagine, I would have learned many years ago—yet here I am). This is what attracts us to others, and what gives the experienced their confidence, and, I suspect, their joy in whatever they’re doing.

Much as I want to be something else, it’s time to come to terms with the fact that I am a goofy college professor, epic fantasy enthusiast, linguistic geek, self-important showman, and not-so-secretly neurotic follower of Christ. My skills lie in literature and theater. I have a schtick, and it’s one that makes me happy. I’m always a bit let down when others don’t enjoy me as much as I’d like them to, but there it is. I may be something else—something changed, something added to—by the end of the trail, and I certainly believe that’s all for the better, but working for it will only make the journey a false one.

I was talking about the Kick-off at one point, wasn’t I? On that subject, the presentations were excellent across the board. I attended talks on hiking the Camino del Santiago (which I’d love to do with the wife and possibly children one day), hiking in the desert, avoiding repetitive use injuries (in which my decision and training to walk in barefoot style was roundly confirmed—huzzah!), and a few others. I didn’t attend the discussion on the water report; I suspect that in three weeks, the situation will have moved on. My colleague had perhaps the best advice on planning: pretend I’m on Arrakis and carry a stillsuit.

And look like Patrick Stewart, if possible.

And look like Patrick Stewart, if possible.

So a useful and interesting weekend. I’m hoping to return next year, where I’ll meet up with the throngs of trail companions I will have made, share jokes about not dying, and feel as though I can contribute usefully to the conversation.

*Yes, Idris is the name of my pack now. Yes, I will be naming other pieces of gear. They will be my friends. My very good friends. They will help me hike. Yes. I will also most likely have to take the frock coat now, as so many asked if I’d be wearing it and expressed disappointment or disdain at the suggestion I might not. One of my fellow volunteers started calling me Coattails. And it will also need a name. Yes.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

ADZPCTKO Day One

This is my first attempt at blogging from the trail.

You’re welcome.

Actually, I’m more sort of near the trail, at the Lake Morena campground for the aforementioned ADZPCTKO gathering.

So far, it’s been a little strange. I arrived late, so nearly everyone who is here for the start was already settled in, and in the darkness it’s difficult to greet fellow hikers. I’m in a campsite with half a dozen other folks–mostly young men if a cooler vintage than I. I am ensconced in my wee tent, listening to shifting and shuffling all around. I have interacted with few people, and of course, from outside, everyone seems more experienced and confident than I feel.

I fully expect tomorrow to be more convivial, though, and it’s been nice to see that there’s a wide range of ages represented, so I don’t feel like the only non-college-age fellow here.

The weather is great, clear and pleasant, so I was surprised to see almost everyone else wearing jackets and knit caps. Maybe it’s a hiker fashion statement; maybe after some time on the trail, it just becomes your go-to evening wear. I’ll have to ask tomorrow.

Since I have no cell reception here, we’ll see if this posts when I’m in technological range. Wish me luck.

A shot from the morning following this post.

A shot from the morning following this post.

Taken with the SticPic attachment and my camera at the end of my trekking pole.

Your host, heading for volunteer duty.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

Kickoff Whirlwind

No, I’m not starting out on the trail yet.

This weekend, though, is the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off (usually referred to by its elegant acronym ADZPCTKO, which I still don’t know how to pronounce). It’s three days of meeting with current thru-hikers, former thru-hikers, potential thru-hikers, trail angels, ultralight equipment vendors, well wishers, lovers, dreamers, and me. There are presentations on trail conditions, hiking tips, water reports, general trail silliness, and all kinds of interesting things. I’m much looking forward to it—so much so that I signed up to volunteer at the registration table, so hopefully I’ll be able to help people coming in (many of whom are already on their journey and are walking to the event—it’s held at Lake Morena, the first stop for many along the trail) and meet many fellow eccentrics.

Speaking of eccentricity, I’d been plotting every since I got my lovely Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack about ways to personalize it, and I hit upon an idea I thought was brilliant but was afraid I’d not be able to pull off. Thanks to the useful example on Brian’s Backpacking Blog and the tremendous artistic skills of my long-suffering best friend Devin Parker, my dream came true.

Here’s what the Mariposa looks like out of the box:

GG Mariposa

And here’s my beauty now, post modification:

Yes, it is bigger on the inside. That was the whole point.

Yes, it is bigger on the inside. That was the whole point.

Utterly silly, and yet it makes me monumentally happy. We’ll see how the design holds up on the trail, but I’m rather hoping I have the only blue Gossamer Gear out there this year. The more people that associate me with Doctor Who, the more delighted I shall be.

I have to finish preparing for the upcoming journey, so I’ll leave you with this fantastic photo of me, taken by my son, to show off my amazing sense of style with my fleece vest, sun hat, and grandpa oversized sunglasses.

No one knows fashion like I know fashion.

No one knows fashion like I know fashion.

Look out, ladies!

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Preparation Continues

My plan for the trail—and for life—is to be mightily prepared, to have all my ducks in a row, all the blocks stacked up in order by size, color, and shape, all my ingredients measured and staged. And in regards to the trail—as always in my life—my preparations in these passing days have been erratic, random, and slapdash. It’s kind of whatever I can get to, when I can get to it.

Part of this lack of plan is plan. That is, I am intentionally trying to stay flexible and see what the trail will throw at me without overplanning. It’s frightening, but I think it’s important for my journey.

In that vein, I’m just getting to some of my limited resupply boxes. I cruised through the supermarket, trying to pick up the kinds of things I might on a resupply stop and attempted to compile seven days worth of food. This was the result:

Don't judge me. It's what I have to work with.

Don’t judge me. It’s what I have to work with.

This is probably a bit of overpacking. They say that it’s pretty common for the greenhorns to carry more than is needed. Then again, by the time I need a supply box this large, I may require this many calories.

I was fairly concerned about packing this, but after about six tries, I got everything into the postal boxes I have to work with:

It's like Tetris, but tastier.

It’s like Tetris, but tastier.

Two problems made themselves clear:

1) This does not include the maps and other incidentals (sunscreen, toiletries, et cetera).

2) After testing some of the ingredients, I’m really lamenting the amount of processed stuff that shows up in here. It’s a necessary evil of supply along the way, but I’m hoping to be able to balance with as much “real” food as I can get away with.

Given that the resupply boxes can be made with some care, I am planning to make them as power-packed as possible.

On the shinier, simpler end of things, the great folks at Tarptent did a fantastic job of patching the holes I managed to put in my little beauty. I set her up in the yard (in a safer position this time) and sealed the seams a couple of days ago. She’s fantastic; my home away from home for the next many months. Something about it just makes me happy.

My home away from home for the next many months.

The fantastic side entry and vestibule.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | 6 Comments

Training Hikes

Life has been complicated. With the end of the semester approaching and family issues keeping me away from home and on a bizarre schedule these days, I have not been training at all like I’d planned. I can feel it some days, and I can see it in the mirror most days. It’s frustrating, though I also recognize it’s an excuse: I could be fitting in more exercise if I made it a priority. It’s my normal response to a looming chunk of work (and little looms larger than this hike, though in the best of ways): avoid it most of the time, and fret about it fiercely the rest. At least in this case it’s a thrilling, exciting, hopeful giant chunk of effort ahead, so I’m far more positive about it than, say, grading research papers.

A few weeks ago, though, I did work in a few days of hiking.

Journey the First

The first of these trips was close to home. I was making my traditional journey to town and back, when I realized that every time I do this, I pass a deep valley on Forest Service land which I had never entered. Feeling uncharacteristically flexible, I turned onto the faded and rutted path that lead steeply down. It shadowed a creek on steep hillsides, often nearly disappearing, and then finally petered out within sight of Deep Creek. I have been on the lower end of Deep Creek, but have never seen this section I’ve lived next to for over a decade.

The hidden vale just beyond my usual paths.

The hidden vale just beyond my usual paths.

It was lovely, though clearly a hangout for folks who have no particular devotion to Leave No Trace philosophy. Interestingly, the roads and paths here seem to be from a much earlier era of the community’s development, with some signs of old waterworks. My shot at artistry came from taking a photo of the stark, aching remains of an old bicycle that had clearly burned and melted in our last fire.

The Song of the Lonely Velocipede

The Song of the Lonely Velocipede

Journey the Second

The much bigger training came a week later. In an attempt to discover the path I’ll take on my departure date, I set off from home in the early morning to scout the route. I did find an old forest road on my topo map and passed over Deep Creek once again on my way up to Green Valley Lake and from thence, the trail. I was a little surprised to find a private camp at the top of that road, so had to stealth my way across the grounds in my first act of PCT-related larceny. In my defense, I was looking to find an employee to ask if I could have permission to pass through; I just didn’t find one before I got to the main road. (I do know the organization that owns the camp, though, so I will be speaking with them before I begin the full trek. I am nothing if not a coward before the law.)

Manzanita NurseryThe path was long and winding, but it was kind of glorious to be taking a lengthy walk with my trail gear. I managed to get to the PCT and onto a section I’d done some years before. The area had been sweptby the fires of recent years, though, so much of what I remembered a towering pine forest was now mostly charred scree and some areas of haunting desolation. Signs of returning life were beginning to show, though: it seems that clearing out the forest floor allowed a kind of manzanita nursery to appear with explosions of olive green from the sandy ground, and the stark chimneys of scoured oak trunks were sporting collars of sapling sprays.

Multilith

Sere HillIn all, I made approximately 25 miles, which is more than I intend to do on my first days on the trail by a chunk. I was certainly pretty worn by the time I arrived at my campsite, which was on a windswept plateau that used to be a copse of pines. I got my tent up and got inside just before dark, when a haunting moon rose over the distant hills.

Moontide

It was an eerie night: with so little vegetation, the wind made no sound except the ruffle against the side of my tent, and there were no insects or other night creatures that could be heard. It was so bright that I kept waking throughout the night, each time thinking it was morning.

When morning did arrive, I discovered why experienced hikers tell you to start with lower miles. I felt okay to start, but once out on the trail my body would just not respond with the gusto I had the previous day. It was slow going, and by the time I climbed back up to a main road at around mile sixteen, I realized I could make it the rest of the way but wouldn’t be very happy for it. Thanks to cell phone technology, my wife came to ship me home.

In all, I was fairly pleased. Though I was beat that second day, I did not suffer any lasting ill effects the next; I kept my feet and the rest of me in good shape; my gear all worked well; and through all the emotional heights and valleys, I felt like I had gotten a fleeting glimpse of what may await.

I leave you with a short video clip I made on the morning of the second day. Forgive the sniffing from the nose of the cold hiker. For some reason, I thought turning about while I was filming would allow for some sense of my surroundings; I think it may induce vertigo instead, so watch at your own risk (for that, and so many reasons).

 

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | 5 Comments

Ponderings

It’s been quite a while since the last post. There is a reason; it’s just not a very good one.

Part of the idea of this blog was to record my activities and thoughts without a great deal of wrestling with the prose and second-guessing. The combination of being an English professor, an aspiring writer, and an anal-retentive perfectionist has made this quite a difficult row to hoe.

In truth, it’s more that I’m an idealist perfectionist: in my planning and plotting, I aspire only to greatness, but because I cannot reach that lofty goal, I keep putting off the attempt until I feel “ready.” This readiness, I’ve found, will never arrive. That’s part of the impetus to hike the trail, really: it’s a project that must start at a particular date or I won’t make it through the window of opportunity. I can’t keep dithering or making excuses not to go. Add to that the weight of a sabbatical and my job riding on me at least attempting the journey and I’ve put myself into a position where I must simply leap and do my best.

This post, for example, was started weeks ago, meant to record some of the hiking I’d been doing in preparation for the trail. The longer it sat, the harder it was to get back to it. I’m doing so now just to get it out, clearing the decks for more frequent posting. It still won’t be what I’m hoping for, but—to grab the oft-quoted aphorism oft attributed to Voltaire—the best is the enemy of the good. Acceptable and concrete is far better than ideal and abstract, really. I want to be a deep philosopher, but I think I have to come to grips with the fact that I’m more of an amusing rambler. That’s good enough for now.

This also brings up the worry for me about how to post from the trail. Add in to these issues the fatigue from hiking all day and my natural laziness, combined with sitting in a tent somewhere in the wilderness (not the ideal workspace) and I am concerned about getting in here often enough. I know that the blogs I most enjoyed and which were the most helpful were ones updated with some regularity. It’s a project, and one of the many which I won’t really know how to tackled until the time comes. Pray for my flexibility and determination, won’t you? Thank you.

I’ll leave this here as a record, and go on to put the training hikes this was meant to be about in the next post. It will be full of excitement and adventure and burned bicycles! I promise. Here’s a picture of the old mug that no one asked for—taken during my last big hike—to keep you amused until then.

Cogitation, or constipation? So hard to tell.

Cogitation, or constipation? So hard to tell.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | 10 Comments

The Agony of the… Oh, I Can’t Finish That

Bad puns are bad. There’s no way around it. That old joke should be taken out and shot.*

But foot issues are real things. One of the most prevalent issues on the trail is that of feet. Footwear, walking styles, gait, treatment, injury—few things will raise more opinions among long-distance hikers than discussions of the nether extremities. There’s good reason: your paws have to carry you an awfully long way. They’re the contact between you and the ground, and the most consistently taxed component of your body system. By my crude estimates, I’ll be taking something on the order of nearly 5 million steps over the course of a season.

So here’s a story no one was asking to hear. For the past ten years or so, I’ve had various minor foot and leg issues: none were consistent enough to rise to the level of major injury, but they were often annoying enough to sideline me for short periods. A jarred heel, a twice-dislocated right knee, some strange left knee deterioration, a heel spur, bouts of metatarsalgia and possible plantar fasciitis seem to pop up with disturbingly frequent irregularity. Nothing lasted long enough to warrant a major overhaul, but each episode would lead to frustration and concern. (Most likely, my attempting to compensate for one set of pains lead to the creation of others.) If my minor walking issues could get me limping just from short bouts, how could I hope to tackle the long trail?

Conditioning and training are helping, and losing weight is almost certain to reduce stress. After many a fruitless doctor visit, I tried out Superfeet orthotics, which did, indeed help. I still had flare-ups, but things were certainly improved, so for three or four years I’ve been walking about on those. Still, though, the problems did not vanish, and as my training has become more focused in the past year, injury has been creeping back.

With the thru-hike looming, last year I started experimenting with different orthotics and shoes. Each was more frustrating than the last, and such experimenting is not cheap. A visit to the orthopedist netted a recommendation for yet another orthotic. It seemed as though nothing was going to help.

About four months ago, in frustration, I pulled a new and useless set of insoles out of my shoes, figuring it was better to at least let my feet relax.

Bam. The pain was gone.

For the past several months, I’ve been hoofing around with as little cushioning as possible, and it’s been the best four months of walking I’ve had. It was stunning how thoroughly effective this move was.

I’ve since read Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, a book about trail running that ranges all over the map but really focuses on how our natural physiology is built for movement. He doesn’t quite completely advocate barefoot running, but certainly the ethos of “less is more” is championed. I might have been skeptical before, but I’m a convert now.

I’ll be trying out a variety of brands and styles of shoe on the trail, and these will probably change as my foot size and composition changes. (Reliable reports suggest that your shoe size will increase by 1-2 sizes by the end of the journey, most likely never to return to pre-hike standards.) I can’t say that I’ll be pulling the insoles from all of those (a thin, flat pad for particularly rocky sections seems to be working so far), but it may well be how I start. Had I more time, I’d continue conditioning my feet until they were more hobbit-like. Until such time, minimalism is my watchword—in this, and so much else.

*The feet. The agony of “de feet.” That’s the joke.

I tried to warn you.

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Seeing the World

“He was getting excited and interested again, and so forgot to keep his mouth shut. He loved maps…”

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Items of note:

1) Last week my maps came! Halfmile, thru-hiker and greatest guy in the world, makes a set of PCT maps available for free. They’re wonderful, with notes about points of interest, water sources, and all that a hiker might want. (They also synch up nicely with an app you can use for self-location.) The tricky bit: there are almost 200 double-sided full-color pages to print out! The wonderful bit: Yogi, who also sells the Pacific Crest Trail Handbook that I’ve found so useful, teamed up with Halfmile to offer at-cost printing and shipping. So a lovely box full of beautiful maps landed in my post office box.

Manifold maps!

Manifold maps!

The first thing that popped into my head was actually Bilbo’s line from the Rankin-Bass cartoon: “Oh, I do love maps. I have quite a collection!” This will be divided up and I’ll only carry the sheets for the section I’m traversing at any one time. This will nicely compliment Halfmile’s app and Guthook’s Guides, which have a terrific feature that shows your position and facing in relation to the trail.

2) Today marks exactly 3 months before my intended start date. Crazy chicken world.

3) After going through all the number crunching and agonizing and technical jiggery-pokery of putting together my gear list, I’ve found that I seem unable to get my base weight (the weight of everything in my pack but not including what I wear or carry in my hands) down below 18 pounds. This is relatively light, but the ultralight gurus would mock me. 15 pounds would be great; many hike in the 10-12 pound range.

So at this point, I’ve decided not to care. Now that I’ve stripped down to what I think of as the lightest load I can devise, I’m going to stop worrying and just carry what I have. No doubt, as all the experienced folks say, I’ll start shedding items I don’t use as I go along, and may even pick up some pieces of gear that end up being wonderful.

This is an exercise in me letting go. This is me leaning into trust. This is good.

“He loved maps, as I have told you before; and he also liked runes and letters and cunning handwriting…”

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A Dyad of Daguerreotypes

What, ho! The long trail is a harsh mistress, but I am well prepared for such an endeavor. No element of readiness has been neglected. Onward, to glory!

Traveling with Propriety

So often, the desert sun evaporates the starch from one’s linens.

A Pose for the Ages

A wise traveller is always prepared for any exigency.

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Milestones and Paperwork

A couple of days ago I turned 41.

When it comes to PCT hikers, I’m part of a very small cohort, age-wise. There’s a significant number of hikers who hit the trail in their twenties: people taking time before they get to college, or between college and a career. Then the numbers dwindle as the graph approaches middle age, as we are entrenched in jobs and families and other adult-type responsibilities (that I am so good at shirking). The numbers jump again in later life, as trekkers who have dreamed of the trail all their lives retire and finally get their chance (or continue coming back, after having been enraptured by the trail in earlier travels).

I don’t mind at all being in the statistical minority; I’m actually fairly happy about it. Hopefully this means I’ve come to my senses (or am setting out to find them) later than some, but earlier than others.

So on my birthday, I set out to walk from my house to the post office—a little 6-mile jaunt—with my pack near pack weight. It was also a chance to test out my new camera. The images here are the result, and they look pretty fair to me.

The Winter Hills

This might normally be covered in snow, but not this year.

The Burned Spires

Remnants of a burn a few years ago.

The Winter Leaves

Beauty in surprising places.

Dry Landscape

The hills descending to the desert far below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also walked past the first house I ever rented, the house Joanna and I shared when we were first married. It’s a beautiful little cabin, old-fashioned and quaint, and though it was excessively tiny, I still miss it.

My first cottage.

The most charming house I’ve ever had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want more media file fun? Here’s my first attempt at filming video, which I may do from time to time along the trail. It’s dull and rather pointless, but then again, so often, so am I.

Man, it’s hard to watch oneself on video. Sorry for the low angle—I hope you enjoy my nostrils! I also enjoy how ridiculously huge my hat looks. Ideally I’ll iron out the bugs as I go along.

The real challenge of hiking is 2,660 miles, though, as it turns out, is PAPERWORK. I kid you not. There are multiple permits to be applied for, and these have not been bad. (The PCTA actually issues one thru-hiker permit good for all the state parks, national monuments, national forests, and federal wilderness areas the trail passes through, which is a blessing.) It’s the national border that’s tricky. The Canada Entry permit form is oddly byzantine, and I’m pretty sure when I mailed it, it was wrong. We’ll see if they let me in anyway. Getting my passport has been a week-long slog of endless forms and expenses. (Oddly, I don’t need a passport to get into Canada, but I do need one to get back from Canada to the US.) County of birth record checks, postage fees, notary fees, application fees—half my gear didn’t cost this much, and didn’t take half so much time and effort to gather.

In any case, these details are getting knocked out bit by bit. I’m just grateful I started somewhat early to give myself time to navigate through all the jigs and jags.

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Electronics Day!

Yesterday, the stars aligned and I was inundated with a flood of technology. My solar charger arrived in the mail, I picked up my SPOT device for the hike, and I purchased a digital camera. I am now a cyborg.

It felt like Christmas; it was overwhelming. It felt like buying a new car: the same worries about cost, the same butterflies in the stomach. In the end, I think they’ll prove well worth it, but it still feels so self-indulgent to get so much stuff.

The wee panels that will power my devious devices.

The wee panels that will power my devious devices.

First up: the solar charger. My dear, far-too-kind sister gave me this gift in support of my effort. It’s the Suntactics sCharger-5 solar panel, and it’s a thing of beauty. Clocking in at about 8 oz., it’s light, and it’s about the size of a small paperback. With a few holes drilled in the frame, it will ride on the top of my pack. (Huge kudos to Northstar and Shutterbug and their terrific blog, Wandering the Wild, for the equipment and mounting ideas. It’s also just a great read.)

Just making things easier for the NSA.

Just making things easier for the NSA.

Next, the satellite messenger. Bringing one of these along with me was a condition of doing the hike. This little baby—the SPOT Gen3 Satellite Locator—will let me check in from time to time, track my progress, and let me call for help in an emergency. That is, assuming I can get signal, which (since it’s a GPS device) is fairly likely. It’s small and light and makes me feel all warm inside.

Tough. You know because it says so.

Tough. You know because it says so.

The real trick here was getting a picture of the device I’ll be using to take pictures. Wheels within wheels, my friends.

This is the Olympus Stylus TG-630, the water-proof, dust-proof, shock-proof camera I’ll be toting along. (I’ll find out how everything-proof it really is fairly quickly, I imagine.) I debated getting a camera for images rather than simply using my iPhone, but in the end I couldn’t find a good protective case for the phone that also allowed it to take good pictures, and with this, I can save the battery of the phone for maps, journaling, and so on. The speed and quality of this beautiful wee beastie, and its capacity for storage, pleases me.

I’m still a bit overwhelmed by all the technical details and the sheer decadence of it all. Now, back to reading technical manuals for me.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

There and Back Again: An Academic’s Holiday

“He often used to say that there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary.”

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I’ve always had a deep love for the epic. I’m also a huge Anglophile and devotee of good writing, so of course I’m a slavish Tolkien fanboy. The Hobbit was my favorite book when I was a child. (I had the soundtrack from the Rankin-Bass animated version on vinyl and wore the record out as well.) I wrote my first grad school paper comparing Gollum to Grendel. When my wife was pregnant and watching television made her motion sick, I read to her from The Lord of the Rings books every night. (Despite her wishes to the contrary, I continued to do all the character voices. Treebeard’s dialogue takes a really long time to get through.) I read the trilogy to my boys twice before they were ten.

Given this, I can’t help but frame my journey in terms of a quest. I would have taken the trail name Bilbo, in fact, but I think it’s been done. Radagast was a second choice. (Tolkien-inspired trail names are, unsurprisingly, fairly popular. I’ve seen more than one Gandalf, and Frodo is the nom de sentir of one of the more famous thru-hikers in the community.) I considered naming the parts of the blog after elements of the books (so that the Home page would be “Bag End,” the itinerary would be “The Red Book,” and other über-nerdy things, but I figured that would just be confusing).

Nerd Fitness—a fantastic site about exercise, diet, and all manner of inspiring stuff geared to geeks—has a great article about walking to Mordor (A Hobbit’s Guide to Walking), taking information from the Eowyn Challenge that shows the distances of the treks the characters make in The Lord of the Rings. It turns out, I’ll be walking about a thousand miles further than Sam and Frodo to get to Mount Doom, and about the same as Aragorn traveled to get to Minas Tirith. (And yes—I have an atlas of Middle Earth to prove this if necessary.)

So the fact that I’m walking into the journey from my own front yard—and walking back home to it, in the manner of both hobbit protagonists—holds real appeal to me. As Bilbo used to tell his nephew, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door… You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The adventure is the journey.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , | 2 Comments

A Dream Unfolds

This is the text of my first post from a few weeks ago up over at my Postholer site.

It has begun.

I have dreamed of hiking the PCT for at least the last ten years, and after much prayer, planning, thought, and soulful contemplation with my (amazing) wife, this coming year it is becoming reality. Having been granted sabbatical from my college, I’ll be hiking from my front door onto the trail, heading north, then flipping down to the Mexican border and hiking back home. This puts me in mind of The Lord of the Rings, and that pleases me greatly.

Right now, I’m continuing my training regimen and starting to plan. Given that I’ve been obsessing about plans for the past several months, this is nothing new, but now it has a certainty that continues to come upon me in odd moments as kind of a shock.

I’m looking forward to a journey that is physically taxing, mentally challenging, spiritually enlightening, and ultimately like nothing I planned for. I’m frightened and thrilled and humbled and determined.

Here we go.

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Pilgrimage

I feel it’s important at the start to make clear that this journey, for me, is a spiritual one. There isn’t any way in which I would want to imagine or try to accomplish this task without my God. He is the source and sponsor of this dream, and it is through Him that I will or will not accomplish whatever comes from this. Each step so far has been accomplished with His prompting and providence, and I will not make it if He is not beside and before me in every step of 2,660 miles.

I am not being amusing or careless when I call this a pilgrimage. I am sure the journey will be amazing for a thousand reasons, but its core is faith. I want to walk with my Lord, both symbolically and literally (in the traditional sense of the word). My thoughts and actions and words, Lord willing, will reflect that.

I’ve always felt closest to God in nature. The glories, beauties, terrors, and wonders of the natural world make me reflect on the glories, beauties, terrors, and wonders of their author. I am a man of faith and I do not want to give the impression that this is only a personal challenge, or just a fun excursion with Christ tacked on as a kind of little flag of identity.

I admit to wanting to be the Christian that folks on the trail meet who breaks their perception of what Christians are like. This is a big change: I really have to grow to reach out and connect with others, because it doesn’t come at all naturally to me. It’s part of my personal path, and something that started before I had any hopes of hiking the trail this year.

I hesitate to write at all on this subject, and that is to my shame. A part of me wants to simply continue on in a chirpy, positive light, keeping my faith unhidden, but also unheralded. I mean to keep God close and bring joy and hope to the people I encounter on and off the trail by trying to act as much like Christ as I am able. I’m not plotting to harangue my fellow hikers, but I want to be fully who I am without shame or regret. Part of this odyssey is all about being openly and honestly myself–to give of myself completely and walk away from the posturing, from the false front, from the masks I wear in everyday encounters. I’m really hoping that it’s an ethic and lifestyle I hang on to long after the trek concludes, but this is my chance to give myself time and space to practice and learn and listen. I’m still going to be as goofy and pompous and anal-retentive and verbose and ridiculous as always, but I want no pretense as to my motivation and sustenance. Christ cannot be only a passenger; I cannot step forth without Him at the helm.

I hope dearly that I don’t drive away readers or my fellow sojourners. This is too critical to the soul and center of this journey for me to stay quiet about. I expect the journey to change me in fantastic ways, most of which I can’t even imagine. I wait upon Him to show me what He will do with me and through me during this time; I’m nervous and hopeful and excited to see what that will be.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , | 6 Comments

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