Friday, August 29, 2008

Daring to dream

I read this today on Paul Mags' web site. He is more eloquent than I am about explaining how the end of my hike was not in Canada. He writes about the Appalachian Trail, but it is the same truth for the PCT.
If you feel that your journey is complete, and Katahdin or Springer have not been reached, don’t feel that you have failed. There are no real failures on the trail. Daring to dream is a rarity in itself. Daring to live out your dream is something that many people are afraid to do. If you do not reach Katahdin or Springer, you will still have an experience that most people would not even bother to dream about. It does not take a thru-hike to learn the lessons of the trail. The lessons come from trying, and your Katahdin might come at Harpers Ferry, Damascus, or earlier. If you know in your heart that you have pushed yourself to your physical, mental and emotional limit, then you have done more than most people have even attempted.
I pushed myself to my physical limits. Mentally and emotionally I think I could have continued, but I also felt that the universe was telling me it was time to go home. I wonder if it would have spoken so loudly if physically I had not been slowly degrading.

I suppose it does not matter much. What matters is I dared to dream. But the dream is still there. I'm not sure when it stops calling. Maybe it never does.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Six questions for following an authentic life

My life purpose, as I understand it, is to love nature. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail allowed me to do that in a deep and profound way. Loving nature is a vague purpose, and not one that is immediately money-making to my eyes. At the same time it is vague, it is also specific. Loving nature is not the same thing as helping others enjoy nature. It's not the same as teaching. It's not about children or raising money or making phone calls. To me, loving nature seems either a solitary undertaking or else a way to raise awareness of its intrinsic value so that others will be compelled not to ruin it with carelessness, ignorance or greed.

An exercise I have asks me to answer 6 questions. Here are a few of the ideas I have come up with, but I think maybe I haven't done a good job of brainstorming. There must be things I've missed.

How could I be paid to inform people about my interest in nature?
  • Write about nature, perhaps travel in nature and write about the experience.
  • Photograph nature but in all honesty, I'm not a good photographer. Maybe there are pictures to take that don't have to be masterpieces?
  • I have a web site about nature, specifically about hiking in Santa Barbara and about wild flowers, but the money it makes is minimal and I'm not sure how to make more money with that site.
  • Make a slide show/presentation about my PCT hike or about hiking or wildflowers and show it to people. I probably wouldn't be paid for this, though.
  • Make a book about wildflowers.
  • Make a book about trails.
  • Work for organizations that raise awareness about the environment.
  • Try to raise awareness on my own, or to slip in awareness-raising into other work not directly related.
How could I be paid to provide a service related to nature?
  • Make web sites for other people geared toward nature. My forte is building, coding but not designing or marketing so I'm not sure how far I could go there.
  • Lead hikes for people. Perhaps corporate team-building hikes would be an example of people willing to pay someone to lead them, so long as following a trail or reaching a summit was enough of a challenge and they didn't expect things like climbing ropes or playing games. Leading backpack trips could be another example. I would have to get over a lot of issues to do that, most importantly the idea that everyone on a backpack trip must be 100% self-sufficient and my belief that you don't go backpacking with just anybody. Showing wildflowers to people in spring is something else I could do.
  • I could work in an outdoors/gear store.
  • I could work in a flower shop or sell organic produce.
  • Habitat restoration. Is that a service?
  • Landscaping maintenance. I have to admit that these last two are probably above my level of physical fitness. I could do them part time, but not all day every day.
How could I be paid to perform this interest for other people?
  • In all honesty, performance is not something I want to do, except for maybe showing slides and talking about my PCT trip.
How could I be paid to create products related to nature?
  • Written word or photos.
  • Someone came up with a great idea to make bags for use when people shop at the farmer's market out of old t-shirts. I could make bags like that and sell them.
How could I be paid to assist people who are focused on this interest?
  • Other than getting some kind of job, I'm not sure.
How could I be paid to learn more about nature?
  • I could go back to school, become a grad student and TA some classes or be a research assistant
I don't have a lot of good ideas. Some are only vaguely good.

Part of the issue of loving nature is that there needs to be time enough for me to do that. An office under fluorescent lights is not nature. I'm reminded of my other goal, which is to be a temporal millionaire. Perhaps the work itself is not so important. Perhaps the time is more important. Work could support my ability to have time to enjoy nature if it was properly scheduled and adequately compensated.

I read something online recently about someone who downshifted from a corporate gig to a part-time gig just so that they could have more time to enjoy life. That kind of validated my desire to do the same. So much of full-time job life is spent supporting it. For example, part of the money you make goes for driving to work, buying lunch, buying suitable clothes, pitching in whenever they have a baby shower or whatever in the office, going out for drinks (looking like a team player), paying for a cellphone, etc. It's not a huge amount, but it's enough to make a dent in your salary so that just the act of working costs you. That's time you could spend not working instead.

I'm not sure what is stopping me from taking the plunge into the part-time workforce. Perhaps it is knowing that I was once so well compensated and having to accept so much less hurts my pride. Maybe it's fear of what others will think, especially if I go and do something I have done before. What if this is perceived as a huge liability on my resume and I'm forever locked out of "the good life"? Maybe I just am not ready to shut the door on all the possibilities I have and commit to just one.

I'm enjoying the time to think about these things. I may be getting closer to an answer. One thing about me is sometimes things take a long time. On my PCT hike it took me over an hour wandering around on the frontage road near Cabazon before I finally figured out how to get to the Indian casino. And the answer was so simple, it should have taken only a few minutes. All I had to do was call a cab. So, I think it is helping to take my time to solve this question.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Using a hula hoe

I remember when I was a kid they used to have those Ronco TV commercials during the day. One I remember was for the hula hoe. I guess the hula hoe went legit because now you can buy them at garden shops. There was one in the tool shed at the La Huerta garden.

I hula hoed the garden today. It's hard work, but much less than bending over and pulling every tiny little weed. You just scrape below the surface and turn the weeds into mulch.

I just wish they'd invent something to remove Kikuyu grass.

After watering and weeding I felt pretty tired. I ate some figs from the garden to get me home. I also brought home some passion fruit for Ariel, our cockatoo, and a long, thin, light green melon that is supposed to taste like a cucumber. I traded my avocados for the cucumber. I have so many more. I ought to sell them for 50 cents a piece. Would it be strange for a full-grown lady to put up an avocado stand on the sidewalk like a little kid?

Working in the garden is very pleasant. I would be interested in a part time job in landscaping. Not full time because I don't think I have enough strength and energy to do it that much. I'll just put that out there and see what becomes of it, if anything.

Today I read an interesting quote.
In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally.
That seems to explain a lot about me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wealth on the Jesusita Trail

Today I took a solo hike on Jesusita Trail.

Jesusita Trail is mostly an easement trail that passes through several properties on its way to intersect with Tunnel Trail. It's shady and riparian most of the way, which is why I chose it on an August morning. I also chose it because the trail is the first trail of 9 in a hike/run called the 9 Trails or Ultimate Hike. I had been thinking that I might like to schedule a 9 Trails hike and have others join me for the adventure. I had also been thinking it might be nice to do it as a 6 Trails hike and turn around mid-way rather than have to figure out a car shuttle at the end. A 6 Trails hike would actually be longer — 20 miles instead of the 9 Trails' 17.5 miles.

I hiked from the trailhead near the water treatment plant up to Inspiration Point, a rather uninspiring high point on the trail, and down to the junction with Mission Creek, which was dry today. Most people who do the hike stop at Inspiration Point because it is the highest point on the trail. But the trail continues all the way to the junction with Tunnel Road, the paved road that begins Tunnel Trail.

Along the way I was disappointed by the stinky smell of dog poo at the beginning. Later, the smell was gone and people were sitting and taking a break from work right where the smell had been the worst earlier in the morning.

Most of the creeks on Jesusita Trail still had water in them. The water was mostly cloudy but in one spot it looked clean enough to filter and drink. This was not necessary, though, since I brought enough water with me and the trail has a nice water faucet available. The faucet is a beautiful sandstone drinking fountain installed next to a shady lean-to with a picnic table and chairs. It's a great place to take a little rest on your way and I feel grateful to the landowners who installed it. Later on my way back, two horses were drinking from the pooled water in the faucet. It has been designed for horses and dogs to be able to get a drink, too.

As I hiked up the trail, it seemed there were many more signs indicating the direction to go than there used to be. I think maybe people were getting lost and trespassing on the ranches and avocado farms and the signs help to prevent that.

A few other people were out hiking this morning, mostly couples and their dogs, or young women in groups. One woman traveling westbound, opposite my eastbound path, saw me descending toward Mission Creek and then ascending again later to Inspiration Point. She must have thought I was doing laps because she joked to me, "What, once wasn't enough?!" When most people hike trails they go to a summit and turn around, so her mistake was thinking I must be going for the summit a second time.

It felt good to be on the trail. I enjoyed seeing blunt-nosed leopard lizards and being yelled at by scrub jays. I enjoyed sweating in the heat and cool humidity of the coast. I saw a honey comb on the trail but the bees nest in the tree that has been there forever seemed empty. I played my pennywhistle on the way down. The trail seemed smooth and easy to walk on and I completely forgot that I was wearing sandals after a while. There were no big struggles, no spooky coincidences, no great epiphanies like there were on the PCT. It was just me enjoying my time among the oaks and bay laurels. Even right here in my own home town, I can feel the wealth of my limited time on Earth.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Finding things instead of buying them

People in my neighborhood are always leaving good stuff out on the curb. There is always furniture and clothing out there, sometimes it's even pretty good. The other day I saw a man push two bicycles up to a garbage can next to the bus stop and leave them there. I would have taken them but I was busy. I'm sure someone in our neighborhood found them and is putting them to good use.

Today I found another abandoned bicycle. It is a classic Schwinn Breeze ladies 3-speed. It was clearly abandoned as it had obviously not been ridden in a very long time and had been left leaning against a palm tree. There was a thick layer of grime all over the drive train that crumbled off easily. The bike had cobwebs and rust. The rear tire was flat and completely unfixable. I was not able to find a replacement tire at the bike shops I visited in town. That is probably why whoever it was abandoned it.

Also, the cable for the gear shifter had been cut and spliced back together in a lame fashion. The cable was too loose and 2nd gear did not work. I managed to fix that ok.

I put some duct tape in the tire so the tube wouldn't pop through and put a new tube in and pumped it up enough to see if the rest of the bike works. It does. It's not geared very well for my hilly neighborhood. But it sure is cute. Perhaps I can fix it up a little bit more.

I put some of my shoes on craigslist today. I don't know if people will buy used shoes, but I put the better ones on, such as shoes I had never worn or specialized shoes like my bike shoes. It's a drag that my feet are now two sizes bigger, but it's even a bigger drag that I have so many shoes that didn't even fit me before they grew that I just held on to and let clutter up my closet. And all those hiking boots I tried before my big hike that didn't fit. I wasted so much money! If anybody comes to try my craigslist shoes I'll offer them the hiking shoes that didn't work for free.

I joined the local free-cycle, too, and I found a local fruit and vegetable exchange, where people in the neighborhood get together and trade backyard produce, and sent a message to join that. I have a lot of avocados. I wish I had more vegetables but our yard has very little sun because of the avocados.

Not everything you need has to be bought in a store. By sharing unwanted things with others you can reduce consumption and help the environment. It's the reduce and reuse part of the recycling equation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Enjoying my time

I've been enjoying my time lately. I need to find a way to make all this time last. Maybe there is a way to get a job that doesn't steal all my time so I can continue to walk during the day, volunteer and play music. I've been considering working in a residential program for people with mental disabilities. I did that before and enjoyed it. I could do it part time to extend my savings and make my glorious time last longer.

One thing I wish I could do is do something about the plastic problem. There are a lot of organizations getting on board with that issue now. I do my part as an individual, but I wish there was more. I read about a junk raft that someone is sailing to the garbage patch in the gyre to raise awareness. That's the kind of adventure I wish I could do. I don't like water or boating so I would have to do something on land.

We had a great session last night. It seemed really fun. I had a better time of picking up new tunes I don't know. The old-time jam where I bring my dulcimer seems to help me learn how to learn tunes on the fly. People stayed a long time at the session and for once I didn't go home as soon as I felt sleepy. I ended up talking afterwards on the sidewalk until 11:00PM.

I learned that the fiddle class will finally return this fall. I have a fiddle, but I think I will bring my mandolin. I like mandolin better. It's easier and it sounds so lovely. Maybe someday I will be able to play it well.

I seem to have had a few days in a row of getting a good tone on my (wooden, not silver) flute. That makes me happy. The flute is a cruel instrument, giving you good embouchure days and bad ones. You feel great one day and then plunge into despair the next all because of embouchure.

I saw an ad for a sewing machine. I really wish I had one. Being able to fix things is good. If anyone has a free sewing machine, I would accept it.

I walked on the beach two times this week for two hours each time. I walked from Hendry's to More Mesa. It always seems to be high tide when I go. I've been thinking of hiking from Jesusita to Cold Springs trail and back. That would be a longer hike than the 9 trails hike, which is 17.5 miles long, and I wouldn't have to figure out a shuttle.

It seems that despite my fruit and vegetable diet, the weight is coming back. I guess when you hike a marathon every day your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism slows down. That's my guess anyway. I think 2 hour walks and 20 mile hikes may be the only way to slow down the weight gain. I wish I could have done that right at the start of being home, but only now am I starting to feel fit enough for that much exercise.

I've got my journal entries and blog postings into my book up to the last day on the trail. Just a little bit more and I can go back through and try to replace "today the trail was really pretty" with more meaningful descriptions. It is fun to relive my hike. It changed a lot from the beginning to the end. It started out as a regular adventure and eventually became some kind of inward journey. I suppose that's what happens when you spend so much time alone with nobody to talk to and not even an iPod or anything to pass the time.

I wonder if there is a way to make having adventures and writing about them the way I make my living. That would be too good to be true. But that is why I'm resisting returning to corporate life. I want an authentic life riddled with adventure. There is no way to do that if you sell all your life's precious time to someone else. Time is the only thing you have. Everything else is in trade for it.

That reminds me. I have to clean out my junk. I still haven't unpacked from my trip. There are boxes everywhere of things I mailed home. I have too many things. I can't stand having so many things. And my room smells of stinky under arm sweat when I close the door because of my backpack.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Piedras Blancas

Yesterday I went on a hike to Piedras Blancas in the mountains above Ojai.

It felt good to be on the trail. The dirt tread of a trail feels so much nicer than concrete and asphalt on the feet.

The scenery was very interesting. We walked through the Piedras Blancas, which was a large, white sandstone formation. You could see lines and layers from the ancient sand dunes they used to be. It looked like something the PCT could only wish to walk you through.

Then we hiked up the trail in the heat through the burn zone to reach the creek. We rock-hopped up the creek to a huge, deep, crystal blue swimming hole. The water was very cold but we jumped off rocks and swam anyway. It was very refreshing on a hot summer's day.

I thought if I brought a lot of fruit and one Clif bar that would be enough. It seems my body says, Oh yeah? This again? You better feed me! I was so hungry I felt weak and wobbly and dizzy on the rock-hopping part.

Afterwards we ate at that biker hangout on Highway 33 in Ojai. The barbecue was pretty good. I felt much better after eating.

One thing I really noticed — and I noticed this on my last hike to Fish Creek, too — was how different it is to hike with people who are not afraid of the chaparral on a hot summer day. These people were not dreading it, were not mistaking chaparral for desert, weren't thinking of it as something to get through as quickly as possible in order to get to the "real" stuff further on. They wanted to be there, they felt comfortable and enjoyed it. It felt nice to be among people who feel at home in Southern California.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Today I woke up and had the usual aches and pains but I felt even better than yesterday. So I went for a much longer morning walk than yesterday. I didn't feel quite so peppy on the way back, however.

Every time I take a walk the resulting pain puts an end to the siren call of the trail temporarily. Tomorrow I'm going to go for a hike. Maybe that will make me deaf to the trail for a little while.

Volunteering for the garden is a wonderful gig. I got some squash last weekend and decided to make a lasagna with them. The type of squash is like a giant zucchini. If you let it stay on the vine, it becomes pumpkin-sized, orange in color and not very good. We harvested them small enough that they are green like zucchini and ought to be tender and sweet like zucchini. It's cooking right now.

Continuing to use the Force to let new opportunities come my way, I discovered something called Green Drinks. It's an international organization of people who work in or study or who are otherwise interested in green issues. They meet once a month for drinks and networking. I'm going to go. I don't work, but I do lead hikes for the Sierra Club and my experience on the PCT certainly qualifies as green.

But how green am I really? I mean, I actually argued with a Greenpeace activist this afternoon. I thought it was very naive of her to believe that our votes actually matter anymore. I mean, look at Nancy Pelosi. She decided that maybe increased drilling for oil is ok since Americans want cheaper gas. Americans don't really want cheaper gas. They want a way out of this system that holds them prisoner and takes all their money. They want true alternatives.

And as far as alternatives go, don't get me started on wind power. I have walked for days in windmills. I have tried to sleep under windmills. I nearly got epileptic seizures from the flickering of the sun due to windmills. I saw a bear near a windmill. I hate windmills. They are ugly and noisy and each and every one has its own little dirt road. They are a blight on the landscape. They are just another quick, technological fix so that we don't have to make any sacrifices at all to change the way we live in our wasteful culture.

Meanwhile, we'll never get a politician who is willing to address the cold hard fact that we need to fundamentally alter our way of life if we are to truly address environmental issues. And since all the politicians are bought and paid for with corporate donations, voting is just a formality. There is hardly a choice to be made. It's corporate drone A or corporate drone B. I don't have any belief anymore that any of them will make any kind of change.

Doesn't mean I won't vote, though. You have to pick the devil who is likely to do the least damage.

Anyway, as someone who walked almost the full length of California and witnessed the reality of global warming, took time during the hike to write a letter about it to the LA Times that was printed, and who realizes the truth that we are all downstream and that rampant consumerism does not make you as happy as frugality and simplicity, I think I qualify to network among Santa Barbara's Green drinkers.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My astrological forecast

Today I woke up with the same old pains. The achilles tendons still hurt. The knees, too. I hobbled in pain to the bathroom and then to the kitchen. My feet still felt tender on the hard tile floor. But I felt infinitessimally better. These rest days may be helping.

As I took my morning walk feeling just a little stronger than yesterday, it occurred to me that southbound thru-hikes usually begin at the end of August. There is still time to return to the trail. The added bonus would be that I could pass by many of my old friends on a southbound journey. But is that something I want to do? Or is it just the trail calling me?

A friend of mine says that even years after his hike the trail still calls to him every day. Are these just zero days I'm passing through? Should I return to the trail? When? August? Next April? In a few years? I wish I knew the answer to the questions "if?" and "when?" I felt exhausted just thinking about hiking again. Maybe I should just section hike a little every year. Maybe I should be a trail angel.

On my walk I stopped to read the newspaper. My astrological forecast suggested growing pains in my new role may be uncomfortable, but that they were preparing me for big opportunities on the horizon. Would this mean this path off the trail is leading somewhere wonderful? It suggested my "new role" involved increased awareness and influence. The only thing I'm more aware of is the connection between me and Nature. As far as influence goes, I feel increasingly invisible in this world where people walk past each other and never speak and increasingly sorrowful at the intense disconnect between daily life and the natural world. City life is maddeningly lonely, noisy and polluting and I have as much influence over that as an ant does on a runaway truck ramp.

A favorite movie of mine is the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I love parrots and enjoyed the philosophy of how all the drops of a waterfall are separate but they are the same river. As I grew more comfortable on the trail living in Nature I could feel that philosophy as a palpable sensation. We are not separate from Nature. We only think we are.

At the same time, I felt almost bitterly rejected by the way animals and birds ran from me. I wanted be their friends. They universally did not. It felt lonely out there.

The man in the movie, Mark Bittner, also wrote a book with the same title. I enjoyed reading about his life. He is now writing another book about his life before he found the parrots.

I feel like his life is similar to my own. I am not homeless or studying eastern philosophies, but my life isn't following a traditional path so I empathize with his untraditional path. I'm looking forward to reading his next book.

Sigh. Another zero day on the PCT. At this rate I'm never going to make it to Canada.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


At the garden I learned a little about bananas.

After the tree fruits, you remove the stem that held the stalk because after it fruits the stem dies. You cut it off to about knee-high with a saw. Cut it in cord wood sized chunks and let them fall to the ground around the base of the tree as you go down. You should be careful of the sap the comes out when you cut the stems. The sap is the basis for indigo die and can stain your clothing black. I got some sap on my shirt but didn't see any stain. I did see some stain on my arm, however.

If you want to tidy up the banana tree, you can cut off old leaves and also leave them around the base of the tree. Cut them off at the petiole. The banana will start new shoots to replace the old and the chunks of old stem and leaves will nourish the new shoots.

I also learned that a couple of Costa Ricans had said that a banana tree should have a mother, father, son, daughter, aunt and uncle. They meant that's how many stems the tree should have.

I learned from my own observation that the fruit lasts a long time on the stalk but once you cut some off, you better hurry home or eat them quick because they go bad quickly.

I pruned all the banana trees in the garden today and found out the garden needs a web site. I offered to help with that. I also got a lead on a part time job listening to tapes of whales in the arctic. Soon the adult education schedule will be out. I know I will find more things to do through that avenue.

Sometimes it is good to just let life unfold as it happens. It's just like the trail. I didn't know where I would sleep each night and I didn't know what the trail would be like each day. But every day I followed the trail and never failed to find a place to sleep.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Started writing the book

I started assembling my blog posts and my paper journal into a book. It will be a self-published book. I hope it will be affordable. There are a few things I never wrote about in my blog so I hope it will be interesting, too.

It's been fun reading over my hike, reliving some of the earlier days. Things changed so much over time. I'm amazed how strong I was in the beginning. I wish I could have kept up the strength. I am surprised how detailed my memory still is for each and every day, too. I can remember not just the trail but also people's names, place names and my feelings.

I still feel so sore and stiff. I'm trying to eat more protein and I can tell that it helps, but the recovery is taking much longer than I ever thought it would. I still struggle with wanting to eat more food than I'm letting myself. I know I'm not active enough to eat as much as I want anymore.

I plan to go to the farmer's market again today. There really is a difference in how much better the fruit and vegetables taste when you buy the locally grown and organic food there. I think it's a conspiracy of the regular supermarkets to sell bad tasting vegetables and fruit so you'll buy more junk food instead. I think it's also a conspiracy of the natural food market to have such high prices for produce that still isn't as good as the farmer's market.

I was going to walk there, but I think I'll ride my bike instead.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I went to the Daily Grind this morning to read the paper. When I turned the page to the obituaries, for some strange reason, I started to cry. The lead obituary was for Bernie Mac whose show I never cared for, but it wasn't his death that saddened me. I got sad simply reading the heading at the top of the page.

I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because now calling myself Piper feels really strange. Piper's gone, I guess.

I like reading obituaries. Some of the best ones are people who have succeeded at unusual things. None of them ever take an ordinary path to arrive at their success. Their lives are usually full of adventure, risk and failure. I take comfort from their stories that my atypical path through life isn't wrong even if it hasn't reaped me any marvelous success.

Maybe I felt sad because I've achieved a success that always hung out of reach in some far off future and now I don't know where to go next. Maybe the pressure at home to return to my conformist previous life was bothering me. Maybe the word reminded me of the Middle Earth I discovered on the trail and how I'm not there anymore but not really here yet, either.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Several people have said I should write a book about my trip. I don't know how to write a book. I don't even know how to write a story.

I was reading something online from a web site devoted to personal development and one thing that it said was that you will know when it's time to do something when people start asking you for it. I guess that means I need to take a writing class and write a book.

I never intended to write a book about my hike. I met others on the trail who were hiking it for that very purpose. I didn't think those people had an especially interesting story to tell. There were some out there who did have an interesting story and I encouraged them to write books. But I never felt like my story was very unique or interesting.

I never saw myself as a bumbling idiot like other personal accounts of long distance hikes. My story isn't particularly funny, nor did I have any brilliant revelations about the Meaning of Life. I set no speed records, have no tales of incredible bravery or physical prowess. I wasn't especially heroic or pure about the trail. I didn't even hike the whole thing. I don't understand yet what the hike accomplished in my life, where it will lead me, or what it ultimately means to me.

I do see that it has themes of birds and cages, freedom and following a path. Of course it has the last two. We all shared that theme. That is why I think a writing class will help me. I hope I'll learn how to take my blog posts and make them coherent and meaningful and not boring or forced. I hope that I can write something worthwhile. If not, making the attempt to write my story as a book ought to help me in some way.

I remember when I was in the second grade we had to cut out construction paper in the shape of right and left feet and write a story about feet on them. I messed up my story by starting it on the right foot instead of the left, so my feet forever hung backwards when displayed taped to the wall. But the story itself was pretty clever about a pair of feet that ran away, had a big adventure and then went home and put on a body.

I thought of that story often as I hiked the PCT. It seemed like I was living a real life version of it in some way.

Because of that story and many others I wrote in childhood, people were pretty certain I'd become a writer. I thought I would, too, until writing was beaten out of my by English classes and jobs where I was made to understand with absolute certainty that I am most definitely not a writer.

So, don't expect a book to come out of me. It might not. But it's worth a try.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Beach backpacking

I was thinking today that I could just load up my backpack and go. The PCT isn't the only trail in the world. But then I remembered it is August and August is way too hot where I live to go backpacking.

Then I remembered that I live on the coast and I could hike up the beach to El Capitan or Refugio or beyond to Gaviota State Beach. What would a beach backpacking trip be like? What about high tides? I know a few places along the way that can strand you at high tide. Planning something like this could be a fun challenge.

It's good to be home. I live in Paradise.

My shoes part II

While I was on the trail I had ordered a replacement pair of shoes from Zappos and had them sent to Vermilion Valley Resort. But I never made it there because I left the trail at Bishop Pass and then returned a little further down the trail. So I never got my shoes.

I tried to call the resort a few times but never got a person. Just an answering machine. I have heard things about the resort, like how they like to accumulate leftover hiker stuff and sell it, so I gave up and figured that's probably what they did with my shoes.

I called Zappos yesterday to ask if they still had the shoes in stock so that I might order a new pair. They decided to send the resort a return label so that they can return the shoes and I can get a refund on my credit card.

That's good service! I didn't even ask for that. I figured I would just have to accept it as a loss.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My old shoes

I fixed my old shoes, the ones I bought in Cabazon and wore through the Sierras until they fell apart coming over Bishop Pass.

I sewed the broken lacing hole thingies back together and put a new shoelace on.

I tried them on. If only I'd had that second pair I ordered and never received because I never arrived at Vermilion Valley Resort I might have made it much further on my hike with much less foot pain.

These things are like slippers. Ahh.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

La Huerta Garden

I never got a response to my inquiry about volunteering at the garden. So I decided I would just show up.

I went to the Mission and saw a few others looking for the garden. We walked through the parking lot and I was disheartened to see a large, empty, dried-up looking patch of land with a few people working in it. I figured I'd just make the best of it.

It turned out that wasn't the garden at all. The La Huerta garden was like the Garden of Eden. It was filled with food plants and many of them were in full harvesting glory. I was immediately introduced to the organizer and a few other workers and was invited to pick off the tree the creamiest, sweetest banana I've ever tasted.

I spent a couple of hours pulling weeds with a lady named Nancy. Nancy does a lot of bicycling trips and understood what it's like to do a long distance adventure. She also leads cycling trips for other people. If it weren't for liability issues, I might like to lead hikes so I asked her how she deals with that. She solves the liability issue by doing her trips through an organization, not all on her own. I'm not sure an organization would accept a backpacker like me who sent her compass home and never missed it.

After 2 hours I was encouraged to call it a day. I was getting quite tired and the sun was giving me a sunburn so I was happy to put my tools away.

I was led to a pot of popcorn made from the garden's own corn and popped in macadamia nut oil. I was told to go ahead and take anything in the garden that I wanted. I picked a tangerine and with a chuckle a man said go ahead and taste that. It was bitter. It wasn't a tangerine but a bitter orange used for marmalade or cooking. I got to take home a bag full of the little bananas and after resting in the shade eating popcorn talking with some nice women I went home happy I found such a nice volunteer opportunity.

A trip downtown

I went downtown yesterday.

First I went to a meeting of the Bicycle Coalition. I'm always impressed by the savvy these folks have being able to get things done. They understand how to work the system in a way I never will.

After the meeting was over I attempted to kill time wandering around downtown waiting for the farmer's market to get set up and open. I bought a salad and wedge of delicious wheat bread at the Natural Cafe and ate it by myself.

When the farmer's market finally opened I bought a ton of fruit and vegetables. It all looked so delicious. All I need is some cheese and maybe some fish and yogurt and I can feast on fresh food for a while.

I realized that I spent the whole day surrounded by people but I felt almost completely alone and invisible. Mostly when I did speak to another person the conversation was transactional. The trail brought out in me an openness toward other people. I would see another person on the trail and we'd just start talking to each other. It's not like that now and I feel myself retreating back into my shell.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Working in Nature

My feet still hurt a week later and I still walk with the hiker hobble. I'm still strong. It's strange to be strong and weak at the same time.

I went for a bike ride on my recumbent trike yesterday. It seemed difficult at first, then I felt pretty strong, then my knees started to hurt and I got a ride home. Riding my regular bike feels better and I enjoy the mobility that riding a bicycle gives me compared to the slow pace of walking.

My plan for re-entry has been to spend some time volunteering and taking some classes.

The Sunday paper has the volunteer opportunity page so I picked up a copy yesterday. I found a nice opportunity to work in the La Huerta Historic Garden at the Mission. I hope that it works out. The coordinator is the former City College department chair of the horticulture department. My hope is to learn from him and possibly find other opportunities through him beyond this one.

I spent 3 months walking without any kind of distractions to bother me. I had a lot of time to think. I could not think my way through what to do after the hike. But I feel it may be appropriate that if I no longer live in Nature perhaps working in Nature is the right thing to do.

I sense that Tony does not agree with this. I realize it is a risk to give up on work that pays well for work that pays nothing but sacrificing my life for money doesn't seem right anymore. I only have a limited time on Earth and I want to spend it on Earth, not battling corporate inanities inside a dark room with air conditioning.

One thing I understood out on the trail was that the wealth people seek in cities is an illusion. It's also unsustainable. It's not necessary to have so much. Happiness comes with having less, with working less and enjoying life more. The question is, can I actually live an authentic life with less money? It's possible in Santa Barbara to have not enough to live on. It's not just possible but probable. I don't want to get there, but I don't want to sell my life away either.

I guess I just have to take a step and hope for the best. And contacting the volunteer coordinator was the first step I took.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

It's hot here

Today I hiked a local backcountry hike to Fish Creek with the Sierra Club. It's considered one of our easier hikes because the trail has hardly any elevation change. It still kicked my butt.

They say the PCT puts you in the best worst shape you've ever been in. What that means is you can walk a marathon every day but that's only because the trail is relatively level and smooth. Walking forward is about all you can do anymore. Even too many rocks on the trail had me stumbling like a drunk.

Today's hike was relatively level and smooth but I swear it seemed steeper. Plus all these day hikers go so fast. I couldn't keep up.

And then of course I'm still sore in the legs and feet with that hiker hobble everybody, even the dogs who do the PCT, get.

Another observation from the hike: day hikers are really loud. At times I found it a bit much all the shouting. In the past I would have considered that just talking but now it seems like yelling.

It felt strange giving people my real name when asked. Who am I anyway? Piper or Diane? Did Piper get left behind on the PCT? Did Diane get left behind when I started the PCT? Who's here now?

It bothered me to sit at Fish Camp with the backpackers there. They were sitting in their own filth of fish bones and banana peels and not concerned in the least. Later I felt sorry for the poor pond-locked fish whose pool we jumped into with our deoderant and suntan lotioned skin.

I thought maybe the hike would seem like Hat Creek Rim but instead it seemed more like Deep Creek. It was about 100 degrees. The creeks still had some water in them and it was pretty refreshing to soak my shirt and feet but with no shade it was quite tiring to be in such heat. My warm water was adequate but not refreshing and there was no cold lemonade made from a cold fresh spring today.

We all went out for dinner after the hike. I was starving. I hadn't brought enough lunch. I figured I've been relaxing this week and maybe my metabolism is winding down some. But apparently a little hike in the hills has my body saying, Oh yeah this again? Well, let's turn on the heat. I ate a cobb salad and was still hungry afterwards.

All during the hike my pants were falling down. I think I'm still losing weight now at home. That's a good thing since I worried about gaining it all back when I got home. I've been trying to restrain myself from eating like a PCT hiker now that I'm not one anymore. I've been satisfying my desires for fresh fruit and vegetables but maybe my metabolism is still running on boil and wishing for some pancake sandwiches.

I took some ibuprofen during the hike. It helped a little. I hope my legs and feet recover some day.

I wish I knew better how to recover from something like this. I just have to hope it'll work out I guess.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Some post-hike observations

Yesterday I went to my Irish session. My embouchure is horrid but I felt more confident and my fingers seemed to go a lot faster after my 3 months of practice with just a pennywhistle and no other learning aids but my memory.

My session-mates were amazed at my hiking accomplishment. Nobody asked me "why didn't you go all the way to Canada?" I admit I worried what others might think and they might think that I didn't go the distance and discount my achievement. I guess I didn't quite learn how to Hike My Own Hike and not care what other people think.

About the concept of an "unfinished" or "failed" thru-hike. Many sources seem to write about a hike that ends before "the finish line" as somehow incomplete. They suggest we who don't complete the full distance should learn from our mistakes. I suggest that they rethink what makes a long distance hike a success. Is it going to the end of the trail or going to the end of the hike?

My hiking website organizes the hikes not as individual trails but as adventures you can have. Many of the adventures start at one end of a trail and go to the other end. Others are loops involving a series of trails. I always suggest that if the overall rating of a hike is too hard, simply hike less of it. To me it's all about the adventure, the experience. I had a full and complete experience on my thru-hike.

Today I decided to walk to the bookstore. It was a roadwalk, and I really hated those. Cement and asphalt are really hard and painful to walk on. I liked the small portion of the walk where I walked on the dirt next to Oak Park.

On the way back from my walk I saw someone resting sitting on some steps by the sidewalk. My first instinct was to stop and talk and begin the conversation by asking if he was thru-hiking. But I stopped myself when I realized neither of us is thru-hiking and this isn't the trail anymore. All I said was "Hi."

My new size 10.5 Keens are a little too narrow if I wear toe socks. I'll have to wear my thin socks instead. Monstrous feet I have now.

I wanted to scream at all the people in their Priuses "You're still driving a car, you know. Why not really care about the planet and walk or ride a bicycle instead?"

Even idyllic, supposedly environmentally aware Santa Barbara lacks safe places to walk on some streets.

I'm trying not to let my residual hiker hunger get the best of me in my new, less active life-style. It can be hard, though.

I mostly want to eat fresh, real food and not processed crap. This can be hard when 3 tomatoes cost $11 and you don't have a job.

I took as long as it took in the bookstore to find the right books. Before the hike I would have been less patient about how long it took. During the hike I did whatever there was to do for as long as it took to do it, whether that was walking for 20 miles up hill, finding a flat spot to camp, going for a swim, climbing a scary High Sierra pass. Seems like the only way to do things now.

There is a Sierra Club hike tomorrow to Fish Creek. I find myself looking forward to it. It will be hot, dry, shadeless and nearly waterless. It will be burned out, too. Just like hiking Hat Creek Rim without the smoke and humidity. And I get to hike with that good day hiker smell, not the thru-hiker stink.

Last night at the Irish session many people took their shoes off while they played. Everyone has such tiny feet, even the men. I always knew I was near a road when the footprints got tiny. Thru-hiker feet are big. Muggle feet are tiny.

Nothing profound here. Just some observations.