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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Changing One's Mind is a Good Thing

I’ve always thought it odd that politicians are criticized for being “flip-floppers” when they thoughtfully change their mind on a subject. To me, changing one’s mind is a positive sign that we are continuing to analyze the situation and are open to learning new things. I believe it shows strength of character to admit that we no longer agree with how we used to think and change course.

The other day as I was visiting Mikko in Dallas, we went for a hike in TX Hill Country. It was a short hike, but it was pushing 90 degrees Fahrenheit and it got me to thinking. About half of my pending Pacific Crest Trail hike was scheduled to be through the desert of southern California. I was going to start at the Mexican border and work my way north to Yosemite. The original impetus for this particular hike was that I want to hike the John Muir Trail which is about 200 miles long and supposed to be the most gorgeous mountain scenery in the nation. But I also wanted to do a hike that would last closer to two months. It seemed simple to just start at the Mexican border on the PCT and hike up to Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite, a total of almost 1000 miles.

So I began planning for that trip. But as it neared I began to have second thoughts about how joyful of a hike it would be because in that first 500 miles of desert I’d be constantly concerned about finding water. Worrying about staying hydrated just doesn’t sound like a fun time to me, and I’m thankful for my hike and conversation with Mikko that finally jarred my brain into changing my plans.

I’ve noticed again with myself that when I have a plan and am moving down that road (whether it be a career or a hike) it is noticeably difficult to change away from that original idea. It’s real easy to get stuck with the status quo and hard to take a step back to re-examine the big picture of why I’m going down that road to begin with.

Hopefully I’m learning from these lessons and will be better about continually examining where I’m at, where I’m going, and where I really want to be going.

So I changed my route and will just skip that first 500 miles of desert by starting my hike farther north on the trail and then continuing farther north to make up for it.

As a result, I've been scrambling a bit the past couple days to re-plan all my supply points -- a hiker on the PCT has to mail boxes of food to themselves at post offices along the trail because there's just not enough food readily available along the hike.

Should be good to go now, though.

What Are Relationships For?

Read this the other day here and it really struck a chord with me...
So what are relationship for, then? I think they're for the growth of each person in the relationship. They may also be for comfort and security, sure, and for raising of children and sharing of financial resources, but there's no guarantee in relationships of any of these things. The one thing all relationships do – and are meant to do, I believe – is to challenge and support each person in their self-growth. If we think of relationships this way, then nothing that happens in them is a tragedy unless we make it so. Two people may grow apart. No tragedy. Two people may have struggles and conflicts together. No tragedy. Two people may break up. No tragedy. Two people may be more than two people. No tragedy. The only tragedy is if the people in the situation don't take full responsibility for allowing the relationship to help them grow and mature.

Relationships are primarily for self-growth and for supporting and challenging another in their self-growth.

I love it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Van Week: Denver to Dallas

5/5: Cinco de Mayo. Drove from Denver to Lamar, CO and had a very tasty Mexican dinner at a little joint on Main St. Had a Negra Modelo at a friendly and quite excellent little bar, too. Camped for the night in a city park / train station where the Amtrak stopped while I was there. Visited Comanche National Grassland for the first time and need to go back to the other unit by La Junta, CO to see the dinosaur tracks. They’re located 8 miles in and can be biked to.

Here's my lovely camp spot in Lamar, CO...

5/6: Drove into West Texas to find a nice place to camp for two nights. First place I stopped was a sickly reservoir whose water line appeared to be down 80% from when the dam was built. People who live in the desert need to quit drinking water or quit making babies. Moved on from there to a nice state park south of Amarillo called Palo Duro. It’s in a big canyon that’s about 5 miles long and has some decent mountain biking trails, the tamer of which I took the Fargo for a short ride.

Cooking in the van is a lot more rewarding than cooking at home...

5/7: Biked 75 miles today and was out for 7.5 hours in my training for the Almanzo 100, now only 10 days away. Again it was super windy like in western Kansas, but this portion of West TX is not as hilly or scenic as that which I rode in Kansas. I stopped at a gas station about 7 hours in to fuel up (Snickers bars and Gatorade) and noticed on my phone that the temp was 90 degrees. No wonder I was getting a headache even after depleting my substantial water supply. But again, I planned the ride so the wind would be at my back heading home. I’d hoped to maybe ride 9 hours today, but decided I’d had enough in these conditions. Hopefully next week in southern MN it won’t be 90 degrees with 30-mph winds, though I know it certainly could be.

After the ride I used my solar shower for the first time and it worked like a champ. It’s just a black plastic bag with a shower nozzle attached at the bottom. You fill it with water in the morning and let it sit in the sun all day. The sun warms the water (quite nicely) and then you can hang it from a tree or something and shower beneath it.

Next up: Slow drive to Minnesota for Almanzo 100 bike ride.