Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Maps from Santa Barbara to the PCT

I created some initial maps to link Santa Barbara to the PCT. My maps begin near Ojai because I already know how to get from Santa Barbara to Ojai. I would take the Cold Spring Trail to Blue Canyon, then hike the road to Juncal Campground, follow the dirt road past Jameson Reservoir and over Murietta Divide to the road where my maps begin near Matillija Dam.

On my maps I drew the trail in TOPO! on a different level so in a couple of places I drew the line along a trail that does not exist on the level I printed, or else the line wavered a bit from the trail.

I think there are problems with my route. There is a section where I seem to go a very long way without access to water. Then there is the area near I5. I have no idea if the roads I have to walk are public or dangerous or what. There is also a connection I make to Mutau Flat that has no trail on the zoomed in level. I would probably end up taking the Johnston Ridge trail to Sespe Hot Springs instead. Who wouldn't want to go to the hot springs? They are nice hot springs!

Click here to see my maps. Any suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Am I authentic or is it just in the air these days?

Tony and I went to see the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. It was a good movie. I enjoyed it. The special effects and make-up are amazing. The story is good and actually quite believable. They made it seem completely natural to start out old and get younger.

I liked the messages in the movie about being true to who you are meant to be and how nothing in life is permanent. Nothing lasts.

I was bothered a bit by the movie, too. It seems like this decade's Forest Gump. Forest Gump was all about the baby boomers celebrating how great they were. I used to live with a baby boomer who wanted me to give gratitude for all that had been done for me. If it hadn't been for all their struggles during the 60s and 70s, I wouldn't have enjoyed such a wonderful life free from discrimination and full of great music. I found it oppressive and annoying to be constantly reminded of this.

Now the baby boomers are seem to be saying it's ok to get old, nothing lasts, we should all be true to ourselves and follow our dreams. Nothing wrong about that at all, but the whole baby boomer we're old now thing sort of distracted me a bit from the movie.

It also makes me wonder about myself. I'm too young to be in the baby boom generation but I tend to hang around people older than I am. Am I just dreaming of the PCT and an authentic life because I'm riding their coattails? Am I being subliminally brainwashed? Is their disillusionment at the emptiness of consumer culture contagious and I simply caught it from them?

A man wrote to the PCT email list today saying that now that the economy has crumbled and revealed the shaky ground upon which he was putting all his life efforts to find security, he's rethinking what he finds meaningful in life. He's thinking that perhaps chasing the American Dream is no longer working for him and it's time to embrace hiker trash culture. Put an end to materialism and start pursuing a more authentic way of being.

He says what I've been saying. He says what the movie I saw was saying. This is why I wonder, is it me or am I just part of some kind of new social movement? Am I being myself or just riding a wave?

On another note, I printed out my maps for my hike to go from Santa Barbara to the PCT. It's exciting to look at the maps. Even more exciting were some pictures someone posted to my hiking web site of the area I would walk through. It's so beautiful.

It would be fun to return to the PCT via my route, but would I want to re-hike the Mojave desert? I did not enjoy that section at all. I had a thought today that I could try to convince Tony to come with me and start at Kennedy Meadows and hike the entire John Muir Trail together. Then I could do the parts in the Sierra that I missed as well as some of the parts further along that were closed due to fire. I could redo my favorite parts, too.

I'm still dreaming about the PCT. I think I need to go back to get it out of my system. I can't really seem to function. And all around me I see movies, read books, talk to people, recieve messages from everywhere that say to just keep walking and let the rest fall into place. I wish I could see ahead to what "into place" ends up being.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guide to Homelessness

You'll probably think I am crazy, but I found this great web site called Survival Guide to Homelessness. It's a survival guide for people who may either choose homelessness or have it forced upon them but still want to work and have a decent life. In other words, it is a web site that offers strategies to survive that which most of us ordinary middle-class people fear is the worst thing that can happen to a person. Homelessness. That fear is what keeps us from doing things like following our dreams or starting our own businesses or speaking out against injustices.

A comment I read sums up the hope this web site provides (I've snipped it for brevity):
...I have to work 50-70 hours a week, half a day on weekends...I lost half my savings in the market plunge, and it took me twenty years to save that much...The worry about bills and debts is constant and chronic, and keeps me up at night, and makes me depressed during the day. I have a nice car, a nice house, a great job...isn’t it strange that it doesn’t matter whether you’re homeless or not? Having things and a job does not make life easier AT ALL...I thought being homeless would be the most horrible thing that could ever happen to me. And it is that VERY FEAR that has driven my entire life and career. I never thought, “I need to be rich so I don’t have to live in a modest ranch home in Oregon. “ I thought, “I need to be rich so I won’t ever be homeless.” And reading your posts has been like someone throwing ice water on my face. WAKE UP! You are frittering your LIFE away on FEAR!
The author responds:
It is my hope to free my readers from debilitating fear, not necessarily to encourage homelessness, but to strip the threat of homelessness of its power to make our present lives a working nightmare.
The site is a breath of fresh air.

It's also a manual for how to extend something like a PCT hike outward from the trail. Some of these creative ideas could help a long-distance hiker save money on resupply stops. Some of these survival tips could help a long-distance hiker who quit their job survive without having to return to the trail to do it. In any event, anything that strips homelessness of its power to force us to endure bad situations in our daily life holds the possibility that equity could be restored, even if only a little, after so many decades of transferring wealth from the working class to the rich.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'm on Amazon!

My book, Piper's Flight, is now available on!

I've sold 41 copies so far, not through Amazon, as far as I know. Maybe I will sell more now that it's available there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Am I not finished?

I spoke to my neighbor yesterday at a party. She had heard about my trip and was very interested in it. Her interest was from a different perspective than most people. She had spent a month in silence at a Zen retreat. From what she had heard, she believed my experience on the trail, and especially afterwards, was probably similar to hers. So she was very interested in my after trail experience and some of the stranger, more psychic kinds of experiences she thought I probably had during the trail.

As we talked she told me that even though she did the retreat 8 years ago, she still experiences effects from it. Her after-effects are similar to mine. She does not see a need to speak as much, for example. She also feels a special closeness to those she shared the retreat with, much like the special bond that hikers seem to have out on the trail. We shared an experience so we have a special bond that comes from a shared understanding. It's lonely on the outside for both of us since we are not around the people who shared the experience and the outside world does not understand, and is sometimes even hostile toward the experience.

She said she felt certain that I was not finished with the hike. She said she had done the retreat twice and it was the second time where she finally completed the journey and felt ready to move on.

I agree that I don't feel finished and ready to move on. I would like to go back out there and complete the journey. I struggle with feelings that it's imposing on Tony, that it's irresponsible, that I should not chase this dream again, that I should be responsible and sensible. Hiking the PCT is just taking a vacation, right?

Even with my classes, I would finish them in May and that would be about the right time to do my crazy idea of starting the PCT from Santa Barbara. It would be so cool to start from my doorstep and re-do the Sierras, not skipping any of it this time, and get all the way to Canada.

Maybe this time I could keep the weight off, too. Jeez my thighs are huge now.

Anyway, my neighbor talks just like my mom. She says don't worry about what is right, just do what your heart truly desires and let everything fall into place. It was nice talking to her, especially since I've felt kind of lonely and isolated lately. I'm not very happy at the pet shop and I had just come from working there. I need to find a different job to take its place. The nice things it has taught me are: 1) I do not want any jobs that require use of the telephone and 2) even a $9 an hour job makes decent money if that's the best you can do.

Meanwhile, the Pink Motel is up for sale. Tony doesn't want to buy it, though. It's a dump, almost literally (<- the last link is my own picture. I did not know that was the Pink Motel when I walked by). I don't blame him, though. It wouldn't be my dream location for a place to live near the PCT, either.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Signing up for classes

I decided to sign up for classes at City College. I did it by online registration. This is the first time I have ever done online registration. There is something completely unsatisfying about the process. It's faceless and stressless. No waiting in long lines hoping the classes you want don't close before you get to the front of the line. No writing a check and fretting about the cost. It goes on your credit card. I guess I'm still a hold-out for the old-fashioned ways. The anticipation is much more exciting.

I have signed up for a database course and a course in UNIX operating systems. I have a Mac and know a little UNIX but I want to know more. I hope they do some shell scripting.

There was a technical writing course that seemed interesting, but it was an online course, and call me old-fashioned again, but online is going too far for me. I'm not against online learning exactly, but it seems so unsatisfying. And I'm not in it only for the knowledge to be gained. I enjoy meeting people in the class and making connections for jobs and things I might not otherwise hear about.

The best part about signing up for classes is I will get a bus pass. Now I'll be able to walk to the bus stop (a little over a mile for the mail local line) and take the bus for free. It's like being able to walk anywhere in town for free and get much further than my feet alone can take me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Training hike of sorts

My friend Tom, who calls himself the Incredible Bulk, a name I refuse to use because he is well on his way to shrinking out from under such a name, does frequent evening training hikes. He puts me to shame with his regular training and 70lb weight loss so far.

Since returning from the PCT, I've put almost all my weight back on. At least 20lbs. It has come on strange, too. My thighs seem extra large. I don't like it at all.

I've lost a lot of my fitness from my hike. I'm sure Tom can hike circles around me now. I think I still have the endurance and much of my cardio abilities, but strength is lacking. At least the pain is gone. I think I could do 20 miles a day again right now. I wonder how my sweetly soft feet would hold up. Would they cry out with blisters and hardened shields of dead skin again?

Anyway, feeling terrible about being so sedentary, and looking at the threatening sky and feeling like there should be no excuses, I went for a hike today. Just a short one. I hiked up to the meadow on Rattlesnake trail. I took the trail by the round horse trough instead of the regular route. I'm not sure, but it might be shorter than the regular route. From my front door and back home again it takes 2 hours. So any time I have two hours to spare, I know I can slip in a hike.

It felt nice to be back on the trail. The ground was soft and moist and covered in pastel-colored oak leaves. Some of the trail is burned and I could smell it a little. Most of the trail is fine. The creek is flowing, but not high.

It felt like I was walking at the edge of the world. I could see the ocean, the islands and beyond with a heavy blue-gray sky of undulating storm clouds and a yellow band of sky hinting at golden places far beyond. It was a beautiful day for a hike, and despite carrying my umbrella, it did not rain.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Being loopy

I read a nice article in Orion magazine today. It was written by a man who got an internship with The Nation in college with the expectation that he would work his way from internship up the ladder to success. Instead he quit the internship to ride a unicycle across the country. Since then he never quite got on the career track and lives somewhere in Kentucky off the grid with a solar oven.

I keep asking the universe to send me an answer to my "what next" question. The question the PCT never answered. The question I can't seem to answer now as I vacillate between wanting to hike the PCT again and wanting to be successful in the work world and then feeling terrible because the only success I'm likely to ever have is on the PCT, making me a failure when measured against all the successful people living their orderly lives, making money, saving for retirement, having health insurance and babies. I really don't want that, but I don't know how else to survive, and I've spent my whole life believing in careerism, believing it is the right way to be, the proper way to live life, the definition of success. I can't shake that belief even though I can't live up to it either.

I really have to face facts that I'm worse than a nerd. I'm a total misfit. I'm babyless and always will be. I'm houseless and always will be. I'm careerless and probably always will be. My car never starts because I don't drive. I ride a bike and motorcycle. I have never worn make-up and never will. I'm getting old and wrinkly and can't hide behind youth anymore. I own parrots instead of dogs and cats. I like being alone better than being with people. I'm a weirdo. In the author's words from the article above, I'm loopy.

Instead of getting excited about careerism, which I seem incapable of doing, I had ths idea the other day to do the PCT again, but start from Santa Barbara instead of Campo. There ought to be a way to hike to the PCT from Santa Barbara. I took the following picture from the trail a day out from Casa De Luna. The picture is so hazy as to barely show anything. I took it because the scenery looked familiar, as if I were looking into my own backcountry from the PCT. That is why I think there might be a way to get there.

I really don't feel called to go back and fill in the little gaps of places I skipped in southern California. I feel more drawn now to just being part of the trail again. Making my own hike out of it. It's about the life of the trail and not just the miles for me. I kind of wonder if I could bring my bird, Fergie, with me. Here's a picture of me and Fergie on a hike in Goleta:

This time on the PCT, being that I have less money and less a sense that I can just drop right back in to the high-payed corporate world again, I would want to do the PCT without stopping overnight in towns, unless I can do so for free. No hotels. Super frugal. And super solo because I'd be doing my own hike by starting in Santa Barbara.

I have TOPO!, which is a computer topo map software from National Geographic. Unfortunately it makes me have to keep putting in different CDs all the time so it is extremely difficult to figure out how to get to the PCT from Santa Barbara using this software. I wonder if they still make good, old-fashioned maps that I can look at.

Here's my attempt to create a route. Zoomed in I was able to draw the red line on trails most of the time. Sometimes on roads. Sometimes I wasn't sure what I was drawing the line on. Since this is so close to my backcountry, I have no idea if the trails are even hikeable.

My mother emailed me and asked if I would like to stay at her house this summer and do trail angeling. That is another option, if I don't hike the PCT and don't have a good job. I could do some web design while staying there. But I'd really rather hike. I suppose I could camp on the trail instead of stay in the house all the time and then feel sort of like I'm on the trail again. Or do some angeling during July and hit the trail in Dunsmuir at the end of July and pick up where I left off.

Oh there I go again. Fantasizing about the trail instead of getting my butt back into real life again. It's probably silly to think of hiking from Santa Barbara. There may be a huge desert without water in my way. But it's fun to think about it.

I applied to City College so that I can take a class. I want to take a database class to improve/develop skills in that area. I still need to work even if I have become a drop-out loser these days. Perhaps having database skills can get me better temp and freelance jobs and allow me to keep my freedom to return to the trail again while allowing me to earn enough money to get by.

Another crazy little thing in the back of my head is Mendocino. I drove through there once and liked the area. Lots of weirdos like me live there. Maybe I should go and join them. I think Tony resents me and my drop-out lifestyle. Maybe he'd be happy if I wasn't here to be a drag on his life anymore. I can't make him join me hiking anymore. And it's bad I have depended on him lately. I don't blame him for resenting me, if he does.

Well, that was rambling. Sorry about that. I just want an answer to what I should do with my life, and I'm afraid I'm not satisfied with the answer I keep getting: just be the weirdo I'm drawn to be and let the career issue work itself out. It's so nebulous that way.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Locked out forever?

I've been feeling a lot of guilt and a sense of being a failure lately for dropping out of the high-powered life. I look at these professional women out there with their nice clothes and professional savvy and feel like I don't measure up. I play music (earned $11 the other night), analyze audio files, work in a pet shop and sell old bikes. Can't really flaunt that. I wonder if I've locked myself out of the work world forever.

On the other hand, I have secret feelings of relief and happiness. A low-powered life just feels more like I'm being true to myself. And many women leave work for a while to raise children so I ought not feel that I'm locked out of a career forever. I know that chasing a fancy career really is not for me anyway. The stress of a high-powered career feels to me like making a dying rather than making a living.

Still, society does not always agree with the kind of life I'm living and may punish me somehow.

There are some good classes in the City College schedule this semester. I should sign up and take them. Expand my database knowledge. Learn a little more programming. Make some connections so I can find work when my current well runs dry.

The other day, while doing my somewhat boring whale audio analyzing job, I felt very happy. It is boring but I really enjoy it. It does not take all day to do the job. I can come and go as I please. It pays somewhat decently and I'm surrounded by nice people. It's very low stress.

I sat next to someone who clearly did not like the job. He spent most of the hour that he was there coloring circles on a piece of paper and jiggling the work bench. When he wasn't doing that he was texting his friends on his phone. The phone buzzed every 30 seconds or so. It made me feel a little angry that he didn't appreciate the job. Then I just felt sorry for him.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Being a Free Agent

Here's a really interesting article about people leaving traditional work to become part of what has been called the "Free Agent Nation."

I see myself in some ways as having done the same. In other ways, I see myself as having just dropped out. I wish I could find more web development work. I really do enjoy that kind of work. It has not been easy to find enough work to stay busy at it and also get paid.

I also wish sometimes that there was some kind of real, face-to-face group of other web developers I could be a part of. I miss the good old days working with Patrick and Will and talking shop and cracking lame programmer jokes at lunch.

Someday soon I hope my two jobs will be finished and I can put them on my resume. If they don't ever finish, I may have to rethink this free agent thing.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Here There and Everywhere

Today I read the book Here There and Everywhere, a story about a Lorikeet parrot captured for the pet trade and then released back into the wild. It is a childrens book and intended to provide instruction about parrot conservation and issues of the pet trade and keeping parrots as captive pets. The story is told mostly from the bird's point of view.

While reading it, I couldn't help but feel a sense of familiarity. While hiking the PCT I felt much at home, as though I were living out a truer existence. It felt right to be outdoors in the wilderness, using my body strenuously each day, walking purposefully, and meeting others of my "tribe" along the way. I even had a wild name to go along with my wild way of life. Then I came home. The feeling is much like becoming a captive bird.

It is not natural to live surrounded by noisy cars and freeways with nature so very far away. It is not natural to be so terribly domesticated, perfumed, coiffed and sedentary.

Do we all, somewhere deep inside ourselves, call out to our flocks still living somewhere in the wild?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bike rides and repairs

This morning I went for a bike ride. I rode down to Carpinteria to meet some recumbent bike riders from Ventura. I have a few local friends who ride recumbent bikes, too, but since my hike I'm too out-of-shape to keep up with them. The folks from Ventura are slower so I thought I would ride down to where they were meeting and ride with them on my way back.

Well, they are too slow for me. So I'm stuck in the middle with nobody to ride with at my speed.

I also rode my bike yesterday to work. Maybe I can get back in shape and be able to ride with my faster friends in a week or two. The main issue is that they ride pretty hard and I find that to be hard on my knees as well as very tiring. They mostly ride recumbent tricycles, too, and since my hike I'm not very fond of my trike anymore. It seems really hard on my knees compared to my recumbent bike and oh so slow. I'm reluctant to sell it, though. It is a fun ride.

After my ride, I decided to take one of my found 3-speed bikes down to Bicicentro. Bicicentro rocks because it's a do-it-yourself bike shop. You can bring in any crappy bike and they will never give you attitude. They love crappy bikes. They live to help poor people who need bikes for transportation. They all speak Spanish, too, which makes me jealous. I wish I could speak Spanish.

My 3-speed bike is a little too big for me. I decided I would also bring one of my wheels from my other found 3-speed so I could get an opinion as to what size tires it needs. I wasn't sure how to get down there with the bike and wheel so I attached the wheel to the bike with a zip-tie in a really stupid configuration. It rendered the bike unridable. I was too lazy to fix it. It was going to be a long walk.

What I ended up doing was coasting on the downhills and then pushing myself along with my foot like a skateboard on the flats. It took a while to go the 3 miles to Bicicentro, but I made it and got a second work-out in the deal.

After working on the bike a little, they charged me only 11 cents for the part I used. They also ordered two tires for my other bike.

I reattached the wheel with zip-ties in a better configuration and was able to ride my 3-speed bike home. With the seat all the way down, I could pedal just fine. But I had to be careful when I came to a stop since I can't stradle the cross tube. Ouch. Sensitive area right there.

The bike has a really nice gear range. I was able to ride all the way up Valerio St. to my driveway. Valerio is quite steep. I hope whoever buys this bike will be happy with it. I certainly would be if I fit the bike better and could get used to the coaster brake.

Hopefully my two workouts today will help. The PCT weight-loss is but a memory now.