Sunday, January 31, 2010

Home improvement arms race

The men are at it today, at their periodic competition. I doubt that they recognize it as such. I have noticed that when one of them works on a home improvement project, the other one will all of a sudden start a home improvement project, too. It's like a crazy suburban man-ritual.

The Man is putting in a new vanity in his bathroom. Yesterday, the man across the driveway from us came over to look at the new vanity as it sat on the deck awaiting installation. The Man was discussing with him how he planned to carry out this project and the struggles he was having with it. The two of them consulted for quite some time. Today the other man across the way fired up some god-awful woodworking tool that made an unholy racket audible for miles around. Now he's got a project of his own.

I sometimes wonder if whenever The Man starts a home improvement project if the other man across the way, whose house floor-plan is just like ours, starts thinking that our house is improving in some way to become better than his, and therefore he figures he ought to get to some put-off project of his own lest his house lose value somehow, along with his manliness. It is like some kind of home improvement/manly-man arms race. We have never let him come inside, as far as I know. That is because our house on the inside is truly shameful. We don't want anyone to see the disgrace that is our hovel, our sty.

So the improvement war among them escalates with every new project, but we over here already know that they over there have long ago won the contest. So in a way, it's sort of tragically funny. At least from my womanly point of view.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Flute and running

My new flute in the key of E arrived. It's very nice. It's made of PVC plumbing pipe, which should make it look cheap and silly, but actually it comes out very nice and clean. It has a nice tone and the key of E has a nice feeling to it. It is made by Doug Tipple.

My plan is, since simple system flutes (flutes with just 6 holes and no keys like silver band flutes) play only two scales easily, is to use my E flute to play tunes in the key of A. On my regular Irish flute, the key of A requires one note to be played half-hole, covering only half the hole to make a G#. I find this to be easy enough on some tunes, but really hard on others. We play a lot of Scottish and Cape Breton tunes at my session, so I sit out a lot of A tunes. My E flute will play key of E and key of A easily. It's my new cheater flute so maybe I can play along with some of those tunes. The first one I'm learning is Frank's reel.

I went running a few times this week. Today I went for a run without shoes. It feels good to run barefoot. It's easier than running in shoes.

I run in a nice neighborhood in the hills above my house. The pavement is very clean up there and there aren't too many people driving by in cars to intimidate me bouncing all my blubber around.

You might think it's a lot more damaging to run without shoes, but actually it feels less impactful. Running barefoot is sort of a fad right now, or a movement, depending on your point of view. There have been lots of articles in the news and there are many web sites and blogs on the topic. One I've enjoyed is Barefoot Ted's site. He doesn't write often, but his site can lead you to others if you're interested in reading more.

My years of hiking have demonstrated to me vividly—with blisters, stress fractures and other skeletal problems—the damage that shoes can cause. My solution for hiking has been to wear my shoes 2 or even 3 sizes too big, get the widest I can find (4E is ideal) and wear them with the laces as loose as possible. I choose shoes without motion control and with as little to hinder the natural movement of my feet as possible. I've had better luck the more I've moved in this direction.

The result of all these years of walking has been to see my toes straighten out and separate. Only my littlest toes still bend a little inward. I get less blisters wearing big shoes. My ankles have always been strong like tree trunks so I've never felt a need for ankle support. In fact, the first time I went with low-top hiking shoes I was so amazed at the freedom to use the full range of motion of my legs to help me get up hills that I never went back to the restriction of high-top boots again.

Anyway, since I've become quite blubbery in the past few months of being home from the PCT, running is my new hope to get the weight off.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm lost

I feel lost. I am sad that another spring and summer are coming up and I'm not going to hike the PCT. There will be people out there hiking the PCT but none of them will be me. I don't have any plans at all, not for big hikes and not really for life. I feel aimless. Add to that my part-time job which leaves me with a lot of time on my hands, time I'm not using wisely. I have time and nothing to do, no goal to work toward. I practice my music for hours, I have a class that has started, but no real plan.

What happens to a person when they finally do something they've always wanted to do? What happens after that?

I am trying to keep a positive attitude and not feel down about this, but pushing these feelings down doesn't actually make them go away.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Boring updates

My rapini dinner came out well. Of course, anything combined with Italian sausage, garlic, olive oil and sundried tomatoes is going to be good.

I've uploaded my new book to and ordered a proof copy. I hope I didn't insert more errors when I made my last round of revisions. I'm getting tired of reading my own story.

It's bad to edit your own work, but it's fun to make lulu books.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I finally figured out what was growing in one of the sections of my garden. It is rapini. I forgot what I planted where. I'm glad I didn't pull it up when it first started sprouting. At first I thought it might be weeds, but I wasn't sure.

I found a farm that has a web page about rapini. Apparently rapini is used in Italian and Asian cooking. This is perfect for me since we mostly cook Italian, Thai and Indian-style food around my house.

I picked a bunch of it that was showing flower buds and I plan to have it for dinner tonight with some pasta. Here's hoping it is an edible meal.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Seed Exchange jam session

I played my fiddle with the Glendessary jammers today at the Seed Exchange. We were lucky there were sunny skies. It has been raining every day like cats and dogs all this week and the rain is supposed to return tomorrow. There's even a layer of snow on the tops of our mountains. This is not a usual occurrence. You can bet there are people up there building snow mans and little kids seeing the snow for the first time in their lives.

The Seed Exchange is one of those events that gives me hope for humanity. People were there just giving away seeds and gardening advice. Nothing real elaborate.

The reason the Seed Exchange gives me hope for humanity is because it's the exact opposite of what I learned about watching the movie Future of Food (or see their web site here.) There is true evil in the world and it's well described by this movie. Sometimes I go back and forth between whether I want any hope for humanity or whether it would be best to allow the evil described in that film to win. Maybe humanity isn't worth saving. Anyway, hope does feel good and things like making your own home-grown music and home-grown food provide big doses of it.

At the seed exchange I picked up some scarlet runner beans and pole beans seeds and some kind of herb I already forgot the name of. My little garden is too small to get greedy about free seeds. Lots of lettuce is growing. I made a nice salad the other night. Not sure where the beans are going to fit. Maybe in some pots.

After the playing the music, I walked down to the music shop to get new rosin for my bow and a new chin rest for my fiddle.

On the way home, I decided I would walk home in my bare feet, a distance of about a mile and a half. Some kind of street tree has dropped all kinds of sticky berries all over the sidewalks. It was difficult to walk with them stuck to my feet, forming a crust of sticky seeds all around the edges of my feet. It was kind of awful, but once I got that stuff on my feet, I didn't want to put my shoes back on.

Speaking of music, I decided to order a plastic PVC flute from Doug Tipple in the key of E. I placed my order this afternoon. With an E flute I will be able to play A tunes using G fingering. They sometimes play A tunes at the Irish session and I can almost pick them up on the fly, but that darn G# always messes me up. An E flute will make that easier. Or if not, at least it'll make for a nice camping flute.

They had a reed E flute made in India at the music shop where I got the rosin for only $16. It sounded really nice. It seems each key has it's own feeling, and E sounds rich and lovely. I suppose I could have gotten the reed flute instead. But it might not have been in tune. Doug's flutes may be made of simple materials, but they are of excellent quality and are in tune. They sound great too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New book is coming

I've finally got my butt in gear and I'm getting my book done. I wrote Piper's Flight, which was my trail journal from 2008. Now I'm working on my trail journal from last year, making it into a new book. I'm adding information that wasn't available in my online journal as well as information I didn't write down in my journal at night.

This time around I'm not going to create the ISBN number until I've had a few people read it. Then I will be able to change things if they find mistakes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

List of PCT media

Plan Your Hike has a great list of PCT books, movies and other media. There are many I have not heard about before. It looks like a great resource for PCT dreamers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hiking a local trail and having memories of the PCT

Today I hiked the Tequepis Trail in the rain.

If anyone read my trail journal of my PCT hike, they know from my travails in Washington how much I do not like hiking in the rain. Today it was not so bad.

I was smart enough to bring a rain jacket, something I didn't have in Washington. I wore that but kept it zipped open so I wouldn't overheat inside. I also stripped down my zip-off pants to shorts so my pant legs would not get went, which would be colder than having wet skin that can dry more easily.

I also wore Chaco sandals on the hike today. Strangely, my socks were drier hiking in sandals in the rain than they normally are hiking in shoes on a dry day. My legs stayed dry, too, since there was no brush on the trail to get them wet. I guess my nice, plump body serves as a good umbrella for my legs.

I got a little bit of a chill on the way down, finding it harder to stay warm with the reduced effort of descending. It reminded me a lot of hiking in Washington. There was a section near Snoqualmie Pass where I was very cold hiking in the rain and I worried if I stopped I might get hypothermia. I relied on my gloves a lot that day to keep me warm. I miss those gloves. I lost them on the trail in Washington near Glacier Peak. I keep forgetting that I no longer have them.

There is a camp at the bottom of the Tequepis Trail. It's the sort of place that people can hire for retreats or for summer camps for children. There was a group having a retreat there today. I found myself slipping into my old PCT thoughts. I kept thinking that maybe when we got there they would invite us for lunch or offer us some hot chocolate. Then I would have to remind myself I'm not in the PCT world anymore.

Later today, on a completely unrelated topic, I found a link to a web site about bears. Lots of people ask me if I was afraid of large animals while hiking the PCT. I was not afraid. I think this web site is a great resource to help dispel myths about bears. Check it out: Learn about bears.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Future of Food

I watched a documentary today called Future of Food. These companies that patent life really make me angry. This is why I am trying to learn how to grow my own food and why I like to shop at the Farmer's Market. And why I volunteer at La Huerta garden.

I often wonder, when I hear things like what is discussed in this movie, what it is going to take for us to get our country back from the big corporations. I am quite ready to pick up my pitchfork. In fact, I often feel like I'm just waiting for all this to finally fall apart and come to an end.

Sometimes I feel that all the hope in the world lies in the so-called Third World. It will be where the ideas that help us start over will originate once all this insanity in the First World finally collapses.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm learning to play the fiddle

I've been trying to learn to play the fiddle. It's been a long, slow, sporadic adventure.

I bought a fiddle and starting attending the adult education fiddle class about 12-15 years ago, but I didn't keep up with it because I had to sneak out from work to attend the classes and then leave early from the class. Eventually, I didn't go back to the classes.

Not long ago, I was playing my flute in the Irish session when someone suggested I come to the old-time jam in the park. So I started attending that with a dulcimer. The dulcimer was too quiet. I could not hear if I was playing anything right, so I started bringing a mandolin. I remembered the fingering from trying to learn fiddle long ago and the mandolin has such a sweet sound even the wrong notes don't sound bad.

I wasn't particularly drawn to the music, but I liked it because it seemed easy to learn by ear. It turned out to be great ear training that has helped me be able to learn to play Irish flute by ear. Being freed from sheet music, whatever tenuous hold I ever had on it, is great. It makes music so much easier to learn and more fun.

In addition to finding the jam to be a great way to help me learn Irish music, it was simply a good time spent with really nice people. They have the jam every week, so I kept coming back. They also get hired to play paid and unpaid gigs once in a while, so I attend those when I can and sometimes earn my dinner or a little cash.

Attending the jam each week, I muddled along with the mandolin, learning the tunes on the fly by ear. I never could remember any of them when I got home, so I started taking the adult education fiddle class again so maybe I could learn the tunes. I had given up on the fiddle all those years ago. It's not easy to play, but I had to bring it to the class or look like a wuss even though all I really wanted was to hear the tunes slowed down enough to get all the notes.

Through the class, I learned a few of the tunes but the class was canceled this year. I have been bringing the fiddle to the old-time jam and trying not to play too loudly that I cause others pain. The teacher from the adult education fiddle class attends the jam and she tries to help me a little here and there, but it's hard to learn the tunes on the fly on such a relatively difficult instrument. I keep bringing the fiddle because the teacher is there at the jam and I don't want to disappoint her. But I also keep bringing the fiddle because it's starting to grow on me. I am starting to enjoy it more and dare I say it, sometimes I even think it's starting to sound a little like music.

One of my friends at the old-time jam pointed me to a great web site with lots of tunes called Mossy Roof. It's like having brought a recording device to the jam and bringing it home to practice and learn. I can play the tunes back as slow as I want with Quicktime and learn them. Today I learned Grasshopper Sitting on a Sweetpotato Vine.

My arm is killing me now. I have to put the fiddle down for a while.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I hiked barefoot today for about a mile

I went hiking barefoot today. My goal was to hike barefoot to the third creek crossing on Rattlesnake trail. (The second creek crossing if you don't count the first one right at the beginning.) I made my goal.

It was mostly very pleasant hiking barefoot. There were a few challenging places with sharp gravel or acorns. After a while the constant stimulation to my feet got a little annoying.

When I put on my sandals, it felt strange and unnatural to walk with rubber slabs strapped on my feet. I think I understand now why people say they don't like shoes after they get used to going barefoot. If I can feel that way after walking only about a mile barefoot imagine how odd shoes must feel when you are used to being barefoot.

After I put on my sandals, I continued up the trail to the meadow where I played a few chunes on my pennywhistle. Then I walked back down the trail.

When I got back to the old dirt road at the beginning, I decided to take my sandals off again. It felt nice to walk on the cool earth.

Several people made comments about my bare feet. I replied that I was trying to toughen up my feet. It's true. I want my feet to be strong and I want to be able to walk without pain on any surface without wearing shoes. Sometimes I think it feels vulnerable not to be able to walk easily with just my "birthday shoes."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Update on my garden and my job

My garden is doing well. The romaine lettuce is huge. The other lettuce is growing nicely. The chard looks lovely. I wonder why people don't landscape with chard, it's shiny, showy leaves are so pretty. The cliantro is prolific. There are also lots of things sprouting that I can't seem to remember what they are. I hope they aren't weeds.

Last night I made a dish with my cilantro and broccoli and kale from the La Huerta garden. I stir-fried thin-sliced beef, onions, garlic and the vegetables with some bottled Thai peanut sauce. Cilantro and chopped peanuts on top for garnish. Served over rice. The Man loved it.

I've been working 3 hours a day or so at my web development job. I'm not sure what I'm doing there, but whatever it is, it often doesn't feel like enough hours. I like web development and sometimes three hours isn't enough.

I do wish I had a more concrete skill set than that, however. I wish I could work with my hands and that I knew a trade.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hiking to Hiawatha and Chuchadas camps

I had a lovely time on the hike this weekend.

We met at Sierra Madre Road and Highway 166. Bryan had a key to the locked gate. We drove in on the dirt road for a very long time, then set up our car shuttle.

Where we parked the cars on either end had no visible sign of a trail that I could see. The entire area had been obliterated in a fire last year, the La Brea fire.

We set off down the hill at around 10 a.m. or so and actually found faint trail tread to follow much of the way. We descended all the way to the bottom of the canyon, from somewhere in the 5000 ft elevation zone down to the 2000 ft zone. It was a long climb through burned limbs and yucca stumps.

At the bottom, there was a camp called Roque. We explored around the area, finding burned trash and camping equipment and the old ice can stoves rusting in a state of advanced decay. After exploring and finding lots of interesting things, we continued along the "trail", which was more like following a line on a GPS than a line on the ground.

We climbed out of the canyon and rolled up and down over the ridges between canyons. We stopped at one nice creek canyon with burned oaks and green meadows. We ate our lunch here. It seemed like there should have been a camp here, it was so nice. At this point our "trail" continued down the creek and did not climb any more hills for the rest of the day.

We went down the creek with no trail in sight. The creek was full of silt. It looked as though during a heavy rain the creek had washed out the entire width of the canyon. The walking was relatively easy, however, because there was hardy any growth to contend with. No poison oak, no getting tangled in brush. We simply walked along seeking the path of least resistance.

Soon we reached Hiawatha Camp. There was an ice can stove and a large pile of rocks marking the spot. It seemed cold and gloomy at Hiawatha. The canyon walls were high and the trees blocked out any of the remaining light. The sky was cloudy but not cold, but it seemed cold in the dark, dank campsite. We rested briefly and continued down the creek.

As we walked down the creek, an old faint dirt road became apparent. We continued to follow the dirt road and as the canyon opened up more, the hiking became very easy. We hiked easily all the way to our hoped-for destination, which was Chuchadas camp.

Chuchadas was a nice place. There were some nice ice can stoves and a fenced in apiary. There were no hives in the apiary, just the electrified barbed wire intended to keep the bears out of the honey.

We camped in a meadowy clearing and had a nice fire. Clouds had covered the sky all day, even rained on us briefly, but after sunset they cleared. The evening was strangely warm. None of us wore jackets all evening. The stars came out and at first there were many, and then the smaller ones seemed to fade away leaving only the bright ones.

There was plenty of water in the creeks the whole way, but the water here at Chuchadas was very silty. I had to use a piece of fabric to keep the sand out of my water bottle but that did nothing for the finer silt. The water was brown and by morning, enough had settled to leave a layer of sand at the bottom of our bottles.

In the morning we made another fire for cooking breakfast. Then we packed up and headed out around 9 a.m. Our original plan was to hike up an old trail to our cars at the other end of the shuttle, but we changed it to try and find a camp that had been marked on an old topo from the 1940s. So we went back up the creek to Hiawatha and then continued up the creek, eventually following the branch where we hoped to find the camp.

Along the way we saw lots of bear prints and a few mountain lion and bobcat prints.

Around lunch time, we did find a camp, but I never heard if it was the one we were looking for. The camp was marked by debris, not an ice can stove. We rested by the creek, which now had nice clear water full of leech larva. We loaded up our water bottles for the steep climb to our cars. We estimated that for every 10 feet of forward progress we would be making 4 feet of elevation gain. This estimate seemed to bear out. It was a difficult climb, sometimes nearly straight up.

As we climbed, we went through burned yucca patches, tangled dead manzanita forests and finally stopped to admire the views from a small knoll with a box of MREs sitting under a bush. I didn't take any of the meals. Beef ravioli didn't sound very appetizing to me.

One last push and we finally reached the road once again. The views were amazing. To the south west we could see the Pacific Ocean glistening in the sun. To the north east the snowy crest of the Sierra Nevada was plainly visible behind the ranges bounding the Carrizo Plain.

We stopped on the way home at the Santa Maria brewery for some of the finest beer I've tasted. The amber is highly recommended. Finally, I returned home after dark a little sore and with blisters on my pinky toes. I was a lovely time. I had never been out in January before, and was amazed how warm it had been. But not so warm that walking in a treeless expanse was unpleasant.

Most of us had packed very light. Even with my very light pack, I still had a few unused items. I didn't need some of my warm layers, although I did use my jacket to sleep in. I didn't need a map since I was following Bryan and his GPS. The extra camera battery was also unnecessary. Otherwise, I had all that I needed and the weight was so light I didn't mind some of the crazy hill climbing we did.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Going out to enjoy nature this weekend

With luck, I'll be going out into the backcountry tomorrow.

Here is my gear list (sorry I have no scale for weights, but it's very light):

ULA Relay pack

Clothing carried
Fleece balaclava
Fleece sleeves
Fleece gloves
Wool socks
Rain chaps
Patagonia down sweater
Patagonia houdini

Golite Ultra-20
1/2 Z-rest
1/2 blue foam pad

Gossamer Gear One
Polycro groundsheet

A small aluminum pot with foil lid (cooking by fire)
Lexan spoon

2 1-liter platypus
1 1-liter plastic bottle
16 oz Naked juice bottle

Personal items
floss/sewing needle
bandaids/tape/gauze/random pills
stick-pic (for taking self-portraits)

Clothing worn/things carried
I'll decide tomorrow. Probably zip-off pants, long-sleeved baselayer, long-sleeved button-down shirt, light wool socks and trail runners.
Trekking poles (2)
tiny knife
lip stuff
Mosquito headnet (in case of flies)
Small digital camera

Wow! All that for just one night!

We'll be hiking about 15 miles over Saturday and Sunday through a section of the Condor Trail burned by fire last year. There may not be a trail. It might be difficult going. Hopefully I can get a new battery for my truck tonight and not wake up with a cold tomorrow. The Man has been sick since New Years and I keep wondering when I'm going to get it.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

New Years Resolutions

I guess I have figured out my New Years resolutions. It is hard to come up with a good goal when the PCT isn't on the list anymore.

1. Go Barefoot. I want to be able to walk around barefoot without pain. I want to go hiking barefoot. I want to go running barefoot.

2. Ride my trike in the Wildflower Century. I signed up for San Luis Obispo bike club's Wildflower Century. I signed up for the 50 mile ride. There is a 75 and a 100 mile ride. If I feel up to it, I might decide to do the 75 miles. Signing up for this means I won't be attending the ADZPCTKO since it is the same weekend.

3. Hike the Condor Trail. The Condor Trail doesn't exist yet. I want to hike pieces of it this spring. Here's a link to a map. I hiked a little of it on my Santa Barbara to the PCT hike and a little of it a few weeks ago when I hiked the Don Victor trail.

I have a chance to hike a little of the Condor Trail this weekend. If my car will start. Right now it's not looking like it will. Maybe it's time to finally go carfree. I drive my car only a few times a year. The battery doesn't stay charged between trips. This leads me to use it even less as it is no longer reliable.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

On being alone and afraid

There are a number of people who admire me for hiking the PCT. When I show up for various local events, they like to introduce me and tell everyone that I hiked the PCT. That invariably leads to several people coming up to me to ask me questions. Two of the questions they ask me really bother me, and they are the questions I'm asked most often. They involve being alone and being afraid.

Being Alone

One of the questions that bothers me is being asked if I hiked alone, and then responding with incredulity when I say yes. They usually ask me if I was lonely next. I tell them that yes, I was lonely, but that was okay because it reminded me that there were people at home that loved me and that I loved, too.

That satisfies some people, but others cannot understand how it could be pleasant to be alone. I found that I saw more, experienced more and remembered more when I was alone. When I was with others, time would pass and I would realize that I hadn't seen where I had been for the past few hours. I felt sad that I had missed out on portions of the trail by engaging in smalltalk. I preferred being alone so that I could experience things 100%.

Sometimes I wasn't alone. I met people almost every day and a few times I hiked with people for a few days. I found that after about 3 or 4 days, I was pretty tired of being with someone and was ready to go back to being alone again. I enjoyed hiking at my own pace, not having to hide in the bushes to pee, not having to wait for others, not having to take breaks when I didn't feel like it or camp earlier or later than I wanted. This was my adventure and I wanted to do it my way. Being alone made that much easier.

When I was in Lake Tahoe, I met a couple who had hiked all the way together from the Mexican border but they were going to split up for a few weeks. They figured that if they hiked separate for a while, it would be like getting two hikes for the price of one. When they saw each other again, they would be able to share their individual experiences with each other. I always wished I could do that with The Man. Maybe someday I will be able to. He can go on his hike and I can live it vicariously through him and he'll finally understand what my experience was like. As someone explained, "I wish you could be alone here to experience this with me."

Sadly, many people cannot understand any of this. Many people think that it is a huge breach of some kind of rule of femininity for a woman to go anywhere alone. They think I have been incredibly irresponsible, reckless with my life and with the lives and feelings of my loved ones. I should have at least had a dog with me. I find this to be very sad. I do not live in Iran. I can go anywhere I please without an escort. Do not try to shame me into following some out-dated ideas of what women can and cannot, should or should not do.

Being Afraid

Of course, since I was alone I must have been scared, so that is usually the next question. When I try to tell them that I was not scared, I get a range of strange responses. Mostly people just cannot understand that I was not scared. They dismiss me saying there's no way they could do what I did because they would be scared. I find this to be very sad. They quit before they ever try. They don't even dare to dream.

Some people actually get mad at me and insist that I was being irresponsible, that wild animals or injuries or bad people could have hurt me. I have a hard time explaining why there is no reason to be afraid.

The reasons not to fear are many. First of all, being afraid is a response to messages people receive in civilization. Media, advertising, messages from public "authorities" all try to make you afraid to go outside. People are much more controllable if they stay indoors at home. If they are always afraid, they can be ordered around. If all they feel safe doing is going to the mall, they'll keep consuming. They'll never know their power. They'll never question the reality they are given. They'll do as they are told. Just keep those messages about the dangers of nature flowing into their home, make it look really complicated and super-human to go out there and soon they never will. Then it's so much easier to cut down the forests and pollute the rivers because nobody will know they even exist.

Only "experts" should be allowed to go out into the wilderness, the messages say, because the wilderness is full of danger. You see shows on TV of people suffering from horrible accidents or animal attacks or getting lost or injured and being rescued. There are wildfires on TV, the weather channel tries to scare you to death about weather, and those survival guy shows make it all look so complicated. It is all exaggeration and hype. The wilderness is the source of our life, it is gentle and kind. It cares absolutely nothing about you, so you do have to have what you need to stay warm, safe and dry, but beyond that, it will be kind to you if you let it. To experience the kindness of nature, you have to go out without guns or an attitude of war. Leave the "bomb-proof" gear at home. Nobody is dropping any bombs on you. You also have to go out with intelligence and respect and not behave like a Darwin award candidate. It really is not that complicated.

Being afraid of the wilderness often involves fear of large animals. Large animals have a lot more to fear from us than we do of them. My experience being outdoors shows that unless they've been tamed by easily-available garbage and food stored in cars or campgrounds, black bears are terrified of humans and run away as soon as they see them. Once you get out into the real wilderness and away from places that tourists visit, animals are not tame. They run away. There is nothing to fear. All you have to do is be smart and not tempt them and you will be fine.

As for Grizzly bears, I know nothing about them. But again, intelligence is your friend. Learn what is needed and behave accordingly. Then go out there and enjoy yourself. Nature is too good to stay home in your cage afraid.

I try to tell people that the worst animals out there are two-legged, but those bad people are very few out in the wilderness. Bad people generally live in civilization. By going out into nature you get away from bad people and you are safer than staying at home. Bad people generally are never far from their cars. Bad people are generally quite terrified of large animals. All you have to do is get far enough from a road and you will not see any bad people. I never saw anyone except for other long distance hikers more than 10 miles from a road. I never saw anyone without a backpack more than a few miles from a road. And I never saw anyone who looked dangerous anywhere on the trails.

The people I met on the trails were some of the most interesting and wonderful people you will ever meet. These are people who will help you, laugh with you, share what they have with you and want to be your friend even without knowing anything about you. Not everyone out in the wilderness is like this, but on a long trail they are mostly like this. On shorter trails, such as in my own backcountry, people are generally friendly or else they are not but they are almost never bad.

Civilization is where you have to be afraid. That is where the bad people live. That's where people on their cellphones will run you over with their cars. That's where corporations will try to kill you with their medication side-effects and pollution. Civilization is where the stress is that leads to real health problems. Go to civilization with a wary attitude but go out into nature without worrying too much. If you have been hiking a lot you are strong and you can probably get away from anyone and anything you don't like.

Being strong is a wonderful feeling. You are meant to be strong and to use your body. When I was first getting into hiking I was amazed at how much I was learning through my body. I learned what it was capable of, what it needed, how much to eat and drink and all manner of little amazing things. These things I learned were not facts and figures from fitness authorities but real knowledge gained from the experience of moving my body through nature, in hot sun and cold wind, in rain, fog and snow, up hill and down. Knowledge is power, as they say, and building up your bodily power is also building up your knowledge. I don't have to fear situations that occur outside as much when I know how to be comfortable and survive through them.

I remember going to visit Death Valley with my mom a few years ago over New Years. We went for a drive in the jeep and had some kind of mechanical failure out in the middle of nowhere. I remember feeling so grateful knowing that if I had to, I could walk out of there to get help. I would not be rendered helpless from a lifetime of not moving my body. I was not dependent upon a machine. Physical strength reduces fear and makes you safer.

I'm sure I haven't changed anyone's minds, especially people who are the most afraid. But there isn't much more I can do other than live my life and hope that by really living it, others might try living, too.

Spring in January

Another hike today. In the heat. It was hot, maybe 80, and felt like a spring day. Purple Blue Dicks bloomed all over the barren, burned hills.

I'm glad I was not leading the hike. Some people bit off more than they could chew. I did not have to concern myself with it. I did have to wait, however, but on such a nice day, I did not mind. Gave me time to hike barefoot for a while.

Seems like spring happens so quickly that winter lasts about a week anymore, if that.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Group hiking etiquette for the new year

I went for a hike today. I had to lead other people.

I don't think it is fair to the others to show up for a hike listed as strenuous if you are not able to maintain a 3mph pace yourself.

I don't think it is fair to the others to show up for a hike listed as strenuous and then stroll along like you are window shopping at the mall even though you are capable of walking faster and can plainly see that everyone has vanished up ahead of you.

And I definitely think if you have decided to take up hiking because it's the New Year and you have a resolution to lose weight you should stay home if the hike is rated as strenuous.

So please, everyone out there. If you see a group hike listed somewhere and it says the hike is strenuous or that there is 2000+ feet of elevation gain or that the pace is going to be fast, please, please stay home if you are new to hiking, or if your doctor said to get some moderate exercise or if you don't have proper gear for hiking. The gear does not have to be elaborate or expensive, but the things you have with you should indicate that you understand what is required to hike for 4-6 hours comfortably.

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year

Yesterday The Man and I went for a nice 11 mile walk to the Gibraltar Mercury Mine. The mine is fenced off now, but it is still interesting to look at. The hike is pretty easy because it's all along a dirt road. The mud on the road was sticky and gave us Frankenstein shoes.

We actually stayed up late for New Year's Eve. We had a party invitation. It was a fun party. People brought musical instruments and we all played Irish music together all night long. The funniest part of the evening was when they turned the Dreidel song into a jig with the Mexican Hat Dance as the B part.

We toasted the New Year with a little bit of champagne. Then went home and went to bed.

Now it is a new year. My big hike was last year. I have no big hikes planned. It is difficult to find purpose and something to look forward to without a big adventure planned.