Thursday, July 10, 2014

Journey's End

Seven weeks after departure I'm on a train heading back to Denver from Oakland. Actually I'm on the California Zephyr which will continue on to Chicago and I'm listening to Ben Gibvard's song "California Zephyr" on repeat. 

My last week was spent in Carmel, CA visiting my aunt and cousins. Carmel is a great place to have family. It's neighborhoods and ocean bay setting are like out of a fairytale. I am thankful for my living family. 

Highlights from Carmel included (1) spending quality time with my aunt and her wife and (2) riding her pink bike along the scenic 17-mile drive that winds through Pebble Beach golf course, past Lone Cyprus and along the gorgeous coast teeming with rocks and seals and otters. No Clint Eastwood sighting this time, but I did see former Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson at my cousins church Sunday morning. 

Lone Cypress...


This is the culmination of my longest ever journey, almost twice as long as the time I spent in Indonesia a few years ago. Traveling is something I highly prioritize and I'm always thinking about what adventure comes next. Six weeks in and around Paris is sounding pretty damn good next spring. We shall see. I've always wanted to just hang in Paris for awhile and get to know her. 

Trip Summary
It felt empowering to finally get confidently dialed in on my backpacking skillz. Backpacking is something I've dabbled with since trips to the Boundary Waters Camoe Area in my early teens. But it's never been something that I've done seriously. I now have the confidence that would allow me to just take off from virtually anywhere and go hike for a week or two. This is valuable to me because so many of the places I find truly beautiful in our world are off the main road a piece. And now a few nights out camping seems like nothing. Also, the joy that comes from witnessing beauty is heightened for me by being among few people as well as by the journey itself. As Clark Griswold said: getting there is half the fun. 

The most powerful emotional moment of the journey occurred on the day when I truly entered into the heart of the High Sierra. I'd been hiking with friends up over Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet. It was the gateway to Kings Canyon National Park and the amazing mountains and valleys I've written about previously. I put on my headphones and hiked out ahead of my companions for a couple hours. I sat down for a break to enjoy the phenomenal view of mountain peaks and was listening to the Morphine album "Cure for Pain" when the title track came on with the lyrics:

I'm free now
Free to look out the window
Free to live my story
Free to sing along 

It helped me feel excellent about the life choices I've made but made me miss my mother who died 13 years ago because I know how proud she would be of me. I had a really good cry as the confluence of the mountains, those lyrics and memories oft my mother was quite powerful. 

I'm not sure what this says about me, but  I seem to be in my most heightened positive emotional states when two of these three are present: a beautiful place, music that I love, a couple beers. There's gotta be room in there for a beautiful person too.  

Moment of Stupidity
After surviving six weeks of backpacking with nothing worse than a tear in the seat oft my rain pants from glissading down the snowfield from Mather Pass, I lost my glasses in the ocean in Carmel. My eyes are as bad as anyone I know and so I'm used to thinking that I can do nothing without my glasses. I intentionally didn't bring ong a spare pair because I knew its just be extra dead weight in my pack every day hiking. So I went surfing with my glasses in (including a strap). Even though I was just in the shallow water the strap want tight enough and they were taken from me by a small wave. I spent most of the next day at an eye care chain and am now wearing temporary contact lenses that allow me to see far just fine, but for which reading is extrely difficult. Please excuse any typos. 

The silver lining is that I ponied up to get the latest in bifocal technology called progressive lenses that I think I'll grow to appreciate. I used to think bifocals were for old people but clearly I was mistaken. 

What's Next
One journey's end is another journey's beginning. Back in Denver my goal for the next couple years is to generate an income stream that doesn't involve me having a boss or working for somebody else. The income stream does not need to be substantial for I have few obligations. Most important to me is freedom with my time. It'll likely include ownership of one or more SuperCuts hair salon franchises and maybe some rental real estate too. 

In Conclusion 
We only go around this crazy world once.  I'm trying to thoughtfully align my actions with my values by living fully and treading lightly (see prior tattoo post). I think I've been doing a good job in the physical or intellectual sense of living fully. But I know  I could do better on the emotional side and I look forward to exploring that further. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

On Nationalism

On this Fourth of July, what does it mean to be an American?

One answer: It means you're a patriot who believes in the constitution, freedom of speech, one person one vote, a free market, the pursuit of happiness, apple pie and baseball. 

Another answer: It means you are a part of one small slice of (God's?) humanity who finds yourself living between certain imaginary lines drawn on a map. 

In a recent post I mentioned that you would be the first to know when I solved world peace. Upon further reflection, I think the only thing holding us back from world peace is cultural understanding and the empathy that inevitably results. 

In recent years we've seen the dissolution of nations that were devised by post-world war policies into smaller tribes defined by sameness of culture and beliefs. 

Nations are simply geographical groups of people who have a common government. Tribes are groups of people with a common cultural or ancestral heritage. 

Are nations a crutch used by humans who don't yet have the capacity to understand each other's cultural difference? 

Do nations exacerbate cultural differences through territorialism and war? 

Or are nations meant to be a ladder for humanity to help it reach something higher?

And does nationalism necessarily follow the creation of a nation? Is rooting for the USA in the World Cup (or in WWIII) any different than being a Viking or Packer fan? It's all essentially based on where we were born and that seems a silly reason for allegiance. 

The more I've had the pleasure of traveling the world, the more I feel the idea of nationalism is folly. Our nations are just like groups of NFL fans. We all think our nation is the best and tout its strengths with pride while overlooking its weaknesses. We rally behind a decorated flag and go to battle in support of ideals that are essentially the same as everyone else's. Only when it comes to the pursuit of happiness there are enough Stanley Cups to go around for everyone. 





Wednesday, July 2, 2014

PCT Diaries: Where To Go From Here

The first five weeks of this journey were spent hiking north for 500 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail and concurrently for 210 miles the John Muir Trail (which terminates in Yosemite National Park). 

The sixth week has been spent enjoying the breathtaking splendor of our most popular national park from perspectives and vantage points I'd never experienced before. 

So frankly, after the mind-blowing JMT and the beauty of Yosemite I'm having a hard time thinking that anything better awaits me north of here on the PCT. 

Yosemite has been a nice respite from the rigors of hiking long days without feeling that I had enough time to really stop and smell the flowers. The reality of the PCT is that it is often 100-150 miles between resupply points. The slower you hike the more food you need to carry and hence the slower you hike -- a downward spiral. So it behooves one to try to do about 20 miles a day and that means, for me, hiking about 7am - 6pm with some
short breaks but not enough long breaks. 

Five weeks and 500 miles of that was just the right dose for me. I enjoyed it greatly and I'm done going northbound on the PCT. 

But that doesn't mean I'm done. First I'm going to visit family in Carmel, CA and hopefully do some surfing. Then, as is now penciled into my date book, I'm going to head to Lake Tahoe and check out the 165-mile rim trail that circles the lake up in the mountains. Parts of it are supposed to be spectacular. Then I'll likely catch the Amtrak from Reno back to Denver. 

All this is subject to change of course. Don't touch that dial.

Yosemite Falls...


Saturday, June 28, 2014

PCT Diaries: Yosemite Detour

Technically I've been to Yosemite National Park before, but only technically. 

Once as a teen my family drove into Yosemite Valley, was turned off by the hordes of people more than turned on by the majestic beauty, and promptly drove out after spending a couple hours looking around. A couple years ago I made a similar visit and neither of them came close to doing justice to this place. 

This is me standing atop Cloud's Rest with Yosemite Valley behind and beneath me. Famous Half Dome can be seen on the left...

So now that I'm in Yosemite with no schedule to keep I believe it is time for me to do it up right. That means taking a detour from the Pacific Crest Trail hike for a week or more and exploring the place that first sparked the idea for national parks. 

Not bad, eh? Fifty shades of grey, indeed. 

And in how many places do three bucks cross a river right toward you?

 ...or can you see a coyote stalk a prairie dog?

The prairie dog was no fool -- it simply went underground. 

In order to keep hiking here I'll have to get backcountry permits and will need to go see a ranger about that. On the southern end of the park is the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees which was the original impetus for protecting this area. I'd like to see that. And Hetch Hetchy is a famous valley that was sadly dammed up for the damn southern Californians who keep reproducing in a place that doesn't have its own water supply. 

So that's the plan for now. I won't make it as far north on the PCT a originally planned, but this feels like a much better use of my time than just ticking off northbound miles. 

p.s. The most facial hair I've ever worn enjoyed waiting out the first real rain of the past five weeks. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

PCT Diaries: A Day in the Life

Of course every day is slightly different, but this one is pretty typical of a day spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. I'll do five or six of these in a row and then hit up a small town for resupply of food (beer) and a night or two in a hotel to rest up my feet and mind (beer). 

• Awaken around 5:30 to the sound of the birds welcoming the dawn. 
• Depending on how cold it is, get out of the tent around 6:30. If it's super duper cold like that night cowboy camping by the Kern River then I'm already up and on the trail trying to warm my ass up. And no, I'm not using a donkey to carry my gear. 
• Eat a Clif Bar or Pro Meal Bar for breakfast. 
• Hit the trail around 7am. If I'm planning to hike around 20 miles then it'll likely take me 10 hours to accomplish that, including appropriate rest and one good foot soak in a cold lake or stream. 
• Second breakfast around 9 or so. I'll stop for 5-10 minutes, eat something and rest my feet for a bit. 
• Keep on hiking, snacking, occasionally resting and admiring the gorgeous views until mid-afternoon, say 2ish. Food consists of sausage, cheese, Triscuits, nuts, dried fruit. 
• I've probably got a good 15 miles in by 2ish and the dogs are barking. It's time for a nap. Find a lovely spot preferably next to a babbling brook or singing stream and lay down. Shoes come off, socks come off and get hung in a nearby bush to breathe, and I spread eagle it out on my back and feel the fatigue flow out of me. Remain here for 60-90 minutes. 
• Crank out the last five miles with my rejuvenated body and search for a good campsite. Above 10,000 feet I'm more selective because the nights can get cold -- stay away from water and avoid geological depressions. For the past week I've been at low enough altitude that that hasn't been an issue. I'm using a 35-degree sleeping bag while most hikers are using more like a 15-degree bag. That means mine is smaller and lighter but I need to be more thoughtful about where I sleep. So far I've only had two nights that were too cool for comfort (see Kern River above) and the high mountains are behind me. Every night I wear long underwear, my puffy down jacket, rain jacket atop that, and a balaclava on my head. Maybe gloves. 
• Make dinner around 7pm. I'm eating one hot meal per day and that's normally at dinner. Beef Stroganoff is my favorite and the scrambled eggs with bacon are horrible. Note to self: try to trade rapidly accumulating bags of freeze dried scrambled eggs for beer or cheap liquor at next town. 
• 8pm hit the sack and read for a bit. Right now I'm reading "Lonesome Dove" and enjoying it very much. I've struggled to appreciate fiction over the past decade  so I'm happy when I find one I can get into. 
• 8:30 lights out. I'm beat. But twice tonight I will arise to empty my bladder and enjoy the glory of the Milky Way, the stars, and the moon when she is shining.  I think there has only been one cloudy night out of more than 30 so far. 


What Do You Think About?
That's 10-12 hours of hiking every day. Doesn't it get boring?
What do you think about?

The answers are, quite simply...
  it can
      and
  mostly useless crap. 

Allow me to explain...

When faced with hours of contemplative time day after day, I've found that mostly my mind thinks of worthless crap like "how would I describe this experience to someone who might ask me about it in the future" or "would I rather own a ski condo at Bridger Bowl that has no cell service or internet or own a condo at some bullshit Colorado faux resort where the ski terrain is lame?" Actually getting a song stuck in my head is a relatively good thing. Recently I've been reminded of amazing Minneapolis summers courtesy of Semisonic's "Sculpture Garden". 

Perhaps half this hike I've been hiking with other people and that can provide occasional stimulating conversation. When alone, I'll put on headphones about half the time and listen to music or podcasts that are good at energizing my brain. 

What I've found about myself is that left to its own devices, my brain is a long ways from solving world peace. It loves to ramble on and on about worthless crap. Perhaps it is self-indulgent crap. 

So far I have had two lucid thoughts:

1. See the prior post about abortion. Ha! You may not deem it lucid and it's only semi-formed and to be clear I still love abortions, but I think it makes a sound debate point at the very least. 
2. Upon my return I will be a sign spinner for SuperCuts DU. Yaaaay SuperCuts!!

Given what I've learned in my recent practice of mindfulness and meditation, I take this to mean that I have simply not yet reached the point where I'm able to clear my mind of all the noise and clutter that come with being a part of modern American society. It is also my understanding that few actually achieve this but I believe it is something worth striving for. I've read the blogs of other PCT hikers who talk about all the demons they are trying to overcome and I'm thankful that I don't have demons. 

So yeah. That's what I think about. Or don't think about. 
When I solve world peace you'll be the first to hear about it. 


p.s. Nice marmot. 


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pro-Life Stance Doesn't Go Far Enough

In the abortion debate that has thankfully taken a backseat in recent years to far more important national issues, the pro-life stance states that life begins at inception and that a fetus should be protected from being murdered. 

I don't believe that protecting a fetus from murder goes far enough. 

If the fetus is to be considered a citizen with human rights, then I believe we should protect it In other ways too - specifically from pollution (http://psychology.about.com/od/early-child-development/a/environmental-influences-on-prenatal-development.htm)

Millions of babies each year are born at a disadvantage because they were not allowed to develop properly due to all sorts of chemicals being forced upon their developing minds and bodies. There are established pollution laws outside the womb in our society, so why not inside too? If life begins at inception then I believe that life deserves the right to good health, too.

I'm Pro-Health, Pro-Happiness, Pro-Future, Pro-Hope. 

For instance, a pregnant woman who smokes cigarettes would be committing a crime. As would one who ingests too much processed food containing certain chemicals known to be unhealthy to a developing child. 

Obviously this wouldn't be the easiest law to uphold, but what it would do is teach young people over the course of a generation that it is wrong to poison children with toxins of many forms - not just drugs and alcohol, but junk food and soda. It would help us as a society to be more thoughtful about how treat our bodies and especially for those who don't have the ability to make their own healthy choices. 




PCT Diaries - Day 30 Mile 450

Kings Canyon National Park needs a new Marketing Director. Sure, there's a canyon there but its nothing compared to the Grand Canyon so most people aren't aware of it. Did Evel Knievel jump over it in a rocket car? Nope. 

This land is far too awe-inspiring for its national park to be so unknown. 

In Kings Canyon National Park the PCT and John Muir Trail (they're the same for about 200 miles) wind through some of the most spectacular and majestic land I've ever set eyes on. 

The past week was highlighted by four mountain passes over 11,000 feet that linked together five gorgeous valleys, each unique in its beauty. 

There was snow and ice and boulder fields and many many switchbacks. Lakes and rivers and streams and waterfalls. 
Cliffs and buttresses and cathedrals of rock at every turn. 

One valley was narrow, above timberline and the still frozen lakes gave an Antarctic vibe. Another was filled with glistening lakes connected by a stream like jewels on the necklace of a Barroness. 

To wit... Some High Sierras porn... 





Cool clouds. 


My finger ready to go for a chilly swim. 

Our gang outside the John Muir hut atop the pass of the same name (l to r: The Original Polar Bear, Wild Card, Beacon, me)

A cold morning hike down from Muir Pass. 


Today I'm in Mammoth, CA taking another well-earned day off and shopping for gear. 450 miles in and my Oboz shoes are still in terrific condition, but they do need new insoles. REI staffer appeared to have been right when she told me they'd last 1000 miles. But my sleeping pad has seen better days. It's five years old and I've patched a couple holes and still need to re-blow it up twice during the middle of each night. And even after submerging it in a motel swimming pool it is super difficult to locate what I now believe to be a number of very tiny holes. So I've bought a new one that will hopefully lead to better sleep at night. 

Next up is Yosemite in two more days of hiking. The trail just skirts through the park and I want to spend a few days there, so I'm going to try to score a home base campsite for a couple nights and get out on some bonus hikes. 

The part of this journey that initially drew me out here is almost done -- the John Muir Trail. I've been out a month and have one month left, a month in which I expect to try to slow it down a bit and enjoy more days off. My goal is not to bust my ass hitting certain mileage, but to maximize the time that I have in this beautiful country. 



Thursday, June 12, 2014

PCT Diaries - Day 22

It's been two weeks since I last had cell service aside from a brief signal at two high places. 

The highest and highlight of those high places was atop Mt. Whitney, the crown of the contiguous USA at 14,505'. 

Some friends (Polar Bear, Beacon and Wild Card) and I decide to summit Whitney for sunrise. There is a trail to the top and we began our 3.5 mile and 4000' ascent from Guitar Lake at 2am. 

This was the view from my tent...


And this is the more famous view from the other side of the mountain (via http://marlimillerphoto.com/Ig-01.html)


A couple other hikers spent the night on the summit, including our crazy Aussie friend who brought along a bottle of rum which tasted pretty good at 6am from the top of the world. 
(L to r: Polar Bear, Solstice, Aussie, Beacon)

The top of Mt. Whitney is the southern terminus of the 210-mile John Muir Trail which is the reason I'm out here. It begins the stunningly gorgeous hike through the Sierra Nevada mountains including Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. These photos will not do it justice. 

Guitar Lake from where our Mt Whitney hike began...


Wild Card hiking among the Kings Canyon cathedrals...


In the photo below see that notched low point? The one with the little slab of snow in it? You might need to zoom in to see the snow. That's Forrester Pass and we are hiking up and over it. The trail carved out of the near vertical face felt like something out of Lord of the Rings. 


Atop 13,200' Forrester Pass that's me (Cut-Out) on the left, then Beacon, Wild Card and Polar Bear...


Today I write from the town of Lone Pine, CA where I'm picking up a resupply box. 
It was fun to hit the bar last night and my feet are appreciating another full rest day. 
Last nights bar where I watched game four of the Stanley Cup with some Kings fans and had latenight beers with Wild Card, Beacon (both sisters from WI) and Polar Bear (from AK). 


Summary
I'm feeling good and getting into the groove. Most days I hike around 20 miles and the next week will be defined by more idyllic mountain scenery and several difficult climbs up and over mountain passes. The passes are tough because the north side of each still has snow. It's important to get to the snow early in the day before it softens up too much. So some logistical planning is required. 

One challenge I'm facing is that my 35-degree sleeping bag isn't really warm enough for the cold mountain nights. Most nights are fine because I'm now sleeping in my tent and wearing many warm layers of clothes to bed. But I've had two nights so far that were a bit too chilly. I'm learning not to camp near water  or in a depression in the land that would collect cold air. Sometimes camp options are simply limited. 

Many hiker faces reflect the ecstatic and exhausted trials of the trail. 
(oldest to newest clockwise from upper left)

That's it for now. Not sure when I'll have communication connection again but it could be another couple weeks. 


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What's In a Name?

Long distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail adopt trail names that they use when hiking. I believe this practice started years ago on the Appalachian Trail and has been carried over to the PCT. 

For example, in the past few weeks I've met Camel, Camelita, Sideshow, Wild Card, Sad Fish, Banjo, Uke, Ewok, Shrek, ManBearPig, Leftovers, That Guy and Just Another Guy. The trail names are much easier to remember than normal names because they're so much more interesting and descriptive. 

My name is Cut-Out and there are two potential stories behind how I got the name. Which is most accurate?

1. While taking a zero day (day off) in Tehachapi, CA it was proposed by Camel that he and Salty Dog and I go see a movie. We went to the local theater for the late showing of the latest X-Men farce and may have been slightly under the influence. In the theater was one of those cardboard cutout movie ads for a summer buddy cop blockbuster starring Jake Gylenhal as the square desk cop and somebody else as the hip streetwise cop. Gylenhal's character was wearing nerdy glasses like mine so it was noted that he kind of looked like me. After the movie ended close to midnight we may have still been under the influence and thought it would be a good idea to steal the life size cardboard cutout. As the three of is exited the empty cinema we were greeted by the short "whoop" of a cop car siren that was parked right outside. Oops. Busted. 

2. I had to cut out a chunk from the side of my left hiking shoe because it was rubbing against that bone that sticks out from the side of my ankle. 

One of the above is true and left me with the trail name Cut-Out. 

PCT Diaries - Day 14

This post was originally penned a week ago. I'm now standing atop Mt. Whitney watching the sunrise at 14,505' the highest point in the lower 48 and only cell service for miles. More on that later. 

----
Day 14
Mile 250
The temperature was in the 90s, there was no shade for miles and I hadn't seen a cloud in a week. 

The next water stop was forty-four miles down the trail, unless the water cache set up by some trail angels 20 miles in still had water. 120 gallons was reportedly there 5 days prior. 

Unlike some others hikers, I'd planned to not rely on the cached water, but in order to do so I had to ration my 8 liter capacity over two days and those 44 miles of scorching heat. 

As I approached the cache around 7pm I was tired and thirsty. 24 miles hiked through temps in the 90s and absolutely no shade. It was hot. Damn hot. I was thirsty. Damn thirsty. 

I passed  three hikers going the other direction - back the way we'd all come. The cache was empty. They had relied on  it to provide a much needed refill and when it turned up dry they had to hike back 10 miles each way in the dark to a spring that was two miles off the trail. 

I had about 3 liters of water left to hike the next 21 miles to a cistern at a USFS campground that would almost assuredly have water. The strategy that worked in the heart of the Mojave desert would be tried again - the 3am departure to beat the heat. 

Hiking that early in the morning is quite peaceful. I liked to play a game with myself as I kept my eyes peeled in the 6' lit diameter of my headlamp: Stick, Shadow or Snake. 

The shadows were always the scariest cuz they appeared to be moving as my light bounced along the terrain. Tonight there would be no snakes.

The best part of early morning hiking is watching the unfolding of a desert sunrise and this one timed out perfectly as I topped out after a long climb. 

But after that all I could think of was slowly rationing my water and favoring each small sip by rolling it around in my mouth in an attempt to get the most out of every drop. 

This was the terrain...


Then this...


And this is what still lie ahead...


After trudging along at a sluggish 2mph pace the magic happened. As I approached the camp where the cistern was supposed to be located, I heard some clapping. It started out slow and then it grew. It was a slow clap, the mark of other hikers welcoming me to the trail magic of pop-up party tents (shade!), chairs and food!

It was glorious. A 10-yr old kid came up to me with an ice cold can of Pepsi. Despite not caring for sugared soda for the past few years I chugged that can in under 5 seconds. So good. 

These are the wonderful folks who provided me with 4 meals, water, Gatorade and a wonderful rest spot... 
l to r: Oakie Girl, Jackalope, Bear Bait (in front), Cut-Out (that's my trail name), Yogi

Fast forward two more days of desert hiking as I approach Kennedy Meadows which marks the end of the desert and the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  

Hold the phone...
What's that?
Could it be...real actual flowing water?
I haven't seen real water in 250 miles. 
Hallelujah! A river!


Felt sooooo good to soak my feet in the cold water of the Kern River. 

A few miles later I arrived at Kennedy Meadows and their General Store where 30 hikers greeted me with another slow clap.


And here is The Grumpy Bear Saloon down the road where a bunch of us had breakfast...

...and drinks later that night. 


War stories are flowing. Beer is flowing. Gonna take a full day off here to do laundry, take a shower and rest up my feet. 

The Thrill of Vic-toe-ry
When last we spoke about my feet I was battling through blisters. Thanks to some suggestions I crafted a solution that's been working for a week so far. First, I got Vaseline to rub into the balls of my feet in order to ease the friction. Then I got a pair of compression socks to use as liners. Vaseline + 2 pair of socks is doing the trick. My feet are still getting tired and sore after 20+ mile days, but overall they're in very good shape. Rest days are also helping a lot. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day 6 on the PCT - Deadly Snakes

When last we spoke I was going to bed early so I could be on the trail by 3am to hike through the Mojave Desert. 

One concern in night hiking is the Mojave "Green" Rattlesnake. It's one of the more aggressive and deadly snakes in North America and I'd be walking with limited visibility through its turf during feeding time. But pshaw! A local I talked to who has lived in these parts for 45 years has only seen them 5 times, so what are the odds? Of course, I was secretly hoping to see one but from a safe distance. 

Getting an early start turned out to be a good idea for a few reasons...

First, I got to slowly observe a beautiful desert sunrise unveil itself to me while walking directly east for over an hour. It was preceded by a gorgeous red crescent moonrise, too. Rise and shine, Joshua Trees.


Then, while walking next to the Los Angeles aqueduct which the PCT parallels for a few miles I spotted it!

And just as I'd secretly hoped, this most deadly and aggressive Western "Green" Rattler was lazily chillin' in the rare shade of a scrub bush. It was quite green in color, too. Like, really green. Emerald even (which unfortunately doesn't come through in the photo). 

From Wikipedia:
  "...has venom that is considered to be one of the most debilitating and potentially deadly of all North American snakes..."

I asked other hikers and nobody else saw it, probably on account of the pick-em-up truck that came blasting through here about 5 minutes later at a rather high rate of speed given that it was sharing the road with many hikers. Lucky me!

And third, it was good to get an early start because it was hot. Damn hot. Someone said 98 degrees and the only shade for miles was at this bridge 17 miles into the hike. By the time I left the bridge for another 7 mile hike to the next water there were about 30 of us trying to stay cool in the moving shade. I spent 5 hours under that bridge. 

A consistent 20-40 mph wind helped keep me safely cool during the hike. The Mojave has multiple massive wind farms and solar arrays...


Yesterday the trail began to climb in elevation which helped with the heat. I have about another week in desert conditions, but am now in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

Tehachapi, CA is a little town about 10 miles from the trail and I planned on using it as a resupply point because it has a grocery store. Got here yesterday and had the good sense to pop into the VFW for a beer on Memorial Day. Met some nice folks there and I'm going to spend today here for my first off day. 

The Agony of Da Feet
I'll never take my feet for granted again. Legs feel fine. Lungs have been good. My pack fits well and my sun protection strategy is working as planned. 

But my feet are my most critical and most sensitive asset. Since I was simultaneously training for that Almanzo 100 bike ride I didn't put as many training miles on my feet as I had hoped. 

It seems almost everyone hiking out here got blisters in the first couple weeks and many also developed different stress-related ailments (like a tight Achilles or aching knee) around the third week. Everyone on the trail told me to take it easy the first couple weeks to avoid injury. 

I was doing a good job of that, hiking 15 mile days instead of the 20 I'd planned on. But that plan went to hell in the desert where one has to hike certain long distances to find shade and water. Sunday I did 24 miles and 17 more Monday. So today I rest and will do some laundry, buy some food, and try to take care of my feet.



Saturday, May 24, 2014

3 Days on the PCT

I'm sitting in a pickup truck camper that's on stilts on the property of some desert rat trail angels at the edge of the Mojave Desert. Around me are the storefront remnants of old Hollywood western movie sets - jail, hotel, general store. Apparently the former owner of this property collected these film relics and now the are used as bunk houses for Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hikers for $10 a night. I think I got one of the lamer ones.


Jail. Gun shop. 
Look close to see chickens in the jail. Not sure what they're in for - perhaps they've ruffled feathers by repeatedly breaking a.m. curfew. 

There are about 20 hikers staying here this evening waiting for the sun to set and the desert to cool off because we have a 17-mile hike to the next water source. Then it's 14 miles to the next one. Many of us will make the hike after dark. My plan is to get some sleep until about 2am and then hit the trail because I'm still recovering from today's hike. Everyone else here is hiking the entire length of the PCT from Mexico to Canada and they all have a month of hiking and 500 miles under their conditioned feet. My feet are still getting broken in so I've done three 15-mile days so far. 

After I get through the desert I'll start climbing into the mountains -- the real reason I'm out here. 

So far things are going well. I've been taking frequent foot rest breaks and limiting myself to 15-mile days based I. The advice of everyone on the trail. Almost everyone has had blisters and other foot ailments that sometimes lead to knee and hip and shin issues. So I'm trying to allow my feet to get used to the mileage. I've had one blister, but treated I this morning and it's feeling better. 

My body isn't needing as much food as I planned on and, from what the others are saying, it's probably because I'm able to burn through some body fat until that gets more depleted. In a few weeks I'll likely be chowing many more calories. 

The terrain has been sandy soil on rolling hills with scrub trees and bushes. Parts of the trail have been closed due to active fires and to the aftermath of last years fires where firefighting techniques destroyed sections of trail. 

Last night I cowboy camped (no tent) for the first time and it was a beautiful night. 


This photo is of the home of one of the trail angels along the route. Trail angels are people who live near the trail and open their homes to dirty hikers. This one pictures hosts about 30 hikers each night for the high season that lasts a few weeks and is occurring now. 

Beautiful morning mountain fog the other day...


That's it for now. Early to bed, early to rise. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

PCT Hike 2014 Starts Tomorrow

For the past few months I've been simultaneously planning for this past Saturday's Almanzo 100 bike ride and also for hiking 1000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in California.

The bike ride went great (see previous post) and suddenly tomorrow is when I fly one-way to San Diego to begin the hike. I'd never purchased a one-way airplane ticket before and will rely on bus service to get me back to Denver from wherever and whenever I end up. From San Diego I'll ride the train to Los Angeles, a bus to Santa Clarita, and then a local shuttle van to Agua Dulce where I'll join the trail.

If I didn't admit a slight apprehension with the hike I wouldn't be being completely honest. Will I need a compass? How much food will I need each day? Will I be able to find enough water to keep properly hydrated? How hot is it going to be in southern California? How many detours will there be due to forest fires? Will I have to hike through snow in the Sierras? Should I have boxed up those crampons and mailed them to myself at Kennedy Meadows in Yosemite? Will I gel with any of the thru-hikers who are hiking the entire trail that I've been following online or will they look askance at me because I'm only doing 1000 miles?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not freaking out or anything. But this is just a partial list of questions that I'm sure virtually everyone has upon embarking on such an endeavor. Many have gone before me and I'm grateful to have been able to learn from them. There was apprehension before the bike ride, too, and it went swimmingly.

Here's my gear...


I'll be carrying about 15 pounds before food and water. Food will weigh about 2 pounds per day and I'll be carrying 4-7 days worth upon refill. Water weighs 8 lbs. per gallon and I'll be carrying around 7 liters and allowing you to do the math on that. I've learned a lot about being smarter with pack weight and have upgraded most of my gear (especially tent & backpack) in the past year. But I'm still not a super ultralight guru that cares to focus too much on that stuff. But ask me again after a few days on the trail and I could very well be dying to drop weight. We shall see.

I'll try to update this blog during the hike.


Almanzo 100 Recap

Saturday I rode 100 miles on my bicycle for the first time ever and did it in style -- all on hilly gravel roads in beautiful SE MN in the Almanzo 100, one of the grandaddys of the booming gravel grinding movement.

It was great fun and went really well as I finished in 8.5 hours, a solid hour or more ahead of my expected finish time. 

There were over 1000 riders and the course winds it's way through beautiful and varied terrain including farmland, forest, some steep hills and even a water crossing.

The night before the ride I met up with friends Dan, Craig and Mark in Rochester where we went out for dinner and beers. Dan and Mark would be riding alongside me while Craig would be photographing the event for the fourth or fifth year. All those guys had ridden the course multiple times over the past several years and were valuable resources to me as I tried to figure out what clothes to wear and how much food and water to pack. This is technically an unsupported ride meaning each cyclist is responsible for all their own food and water.

Craig Lindner took some amazing photos. Go here to see the full set and below is a sample...


Start: Downtown Spring Valley, MN


Prepping the machines (me, Dan, Mark)


Ready to roll (Mark, me, Dan)


Me in the yellow cranking uphill


Downhill is easier


 Beautiful country


The water crossing


Local traffic


More local traffic...how cool is this!


100 meters to go... where's the beer?


Buddy Dan at the finish and shaking the hand of race organizer Chris Skogen who 
does the same with each finisher.