Sunday, February 28, 2010

Flashbacks today on a hike to Chorro Grande

Today I went on a hike off Highway 33 near Ojai. We started at about 3000 feet and hiked up to about 7000 feet. It had rained heavily yesterday and so there was lots of snow on the trail at the higher elevations. It was so beautiful.

One thing I love about California snow is that whenever I go hiking in it, usually it's in February, it's always on a sunny warm day. So my feet will be in the snow but my body will be in the warm sun. Of course, you can get trapped in cold snowy weather here, too, but I don't hike when it's like that. I wait for the sun and then lob snowballs and make snowmen as it's melting furiously in the glorious sun.

I really loved the hike we did. The trail was called Chorro Grande, which is the name of the spring 2/3 of the way to the summit. According to our Spanish-speaking friend from Venezuela, it's a sort of slang for diarrhea. It means Big Spurt or something like that.

The spring itself was a concrete rectangular pool next to a lovely camp under oaks, pines and big cone spruce trees. It reminded me so much of the PCT. That's the kind of water source we would want to find in Southern California, a good clean one built long ago and still there.

The trail itself reminded me a lot of the PCT. The oaks were just like the oaks I saw in the ranges around Baden Powell. Walking in the snow under the oaks looked exactly like the day Tony and I hiked in the snow between Inspiration Point and the Vincent Gap trailhead to Baden Powell. Same kinds of trees, same kind of snow. A total flashback.

Up at the summit we sat at a picnic table next to a snow-covered dirt road. There were interesting boulders all around. I actually sat right in the snow, sitting on my rain jacket and my lined windbreaker. I was glad I brought 4 jackets, because while I sat on those two, I wore my down jacket and used the other to keep my legs warm.

After lunch, we went back down the way we went up. The trail was always gentle and well maintained. It was easy to go up and easy to go down. The only thing difficult was the snow. It was slushy, wet and slippery as the day went on. We postholed every now and then up to our knees. I fell a couple of times, but the snow was soft so it didn't matter. I twisted my foot a few times, which hurt a lot on the sesamoid bone that has hurt ever since the PCT.

Part way down I decided to run. It was fun running down the trail. I got a side-stitch and walked the rest of the way.

As I approached the bottom, with the highway coming into view, it felt so much like the PCT I kept looking toward the mountain range on the other side of the highway, looking for the continuation of the trail to see where I'd be going next. Of course, there was no continuation. But I still had that familiar feeling of dropping down to some lonely road only to cross and climb back up to the crest.

At the bottom at the road I sat down to wait for the others. I looked down that lonely road and it looked just like a lonely California highway crossing the PCT. I felt very homesick and right at home and sad that I would have to get in the car soon to return home to this silly world I have to live in that feels so meaningless, pointless and unreal. Real life is on the trail.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

My paycheck bounced

My paycheck was returned for insufficient funds. I think I'm going to have to find another job.

Transitioning back from a long distance hike

The transition process is different for everyone, and different for the same person who does it more than once. For some people it is smooth and for others it is not.

I met Frodo in Old Station and she said that the people who do best with the transition have something to go back to.

Some friends on the trail had to go back to work the day after they got home and they reported that it was the strangest feeling, as if the whole PCT hike had never happened and was only a dream.

Most people suggest taking some time to transition back. Things in the regular world will seem odd. Cars move too fast. People talk too loudly and about stuff that doesn't matter. I couldn't handle my type of work right away because it takes too much brain power and concentration. It's hard not to overeat. I've tried not to overeat and yet the pounds piled back on anyway. I think it's because on the trail your body thinks you're starving so no matter what you do, your body's going to hoard everything it can in case you start up again.

I hiked two summers in a row. After the first summer, I was reminded to bathe a couple of times. After the second summer I couldn't stop bathing it felt so good. I think that was because after the first summer, I didn't want to come home so I really didn't. I was home physically but in every other way I was still on the trail. Zero days until I could return.

After the first summer my feet were injured (that's why I went home) and I spent about 6 weeks walking around town barefoot to heal them. It actually worked. It took until almost the anniversary of when I left the Mexican border before I felt 99% back to normal physically. I met another woman who said it was about the same for her.

So far after this year's hike I am still physically a mess. Lingering injuries to my feet (different ones this time around) and generally I just hurt all over all the time. I went to the doctor and there's an elevated enzyme indicating muscle damage. Not sure what that means yet. I will probably be told to settle into my chair and drift off to the black hole of normal American life. A fate worse than death.

I'm left with a lingering feeling that this "normal" life is completely wrong, 99% meaningless and pointless and that most things people are so concerned about are not important. If the whole oil crash scenario were to happen, I would be cheering it on. Finally we can go camping permanently.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Going light as a new backpacker

I think that new hikers who have no gear at all should start with the lightest they can get without going to any rash extremes. There's absolutely no reason to "graduate" from heavy to light if you don't have to. Much of the light stuff is better than heavier stuff anyway.

Rash extremes would include gear from small companies that are asterisked with a note that if you have to ask if this item is for you, it isn't. Rash extremes would include buying 40 degree sleeping bags when you expect to hike where it's down to the 20s. It would also include buying a cuben fiber pack rated to carry 12 pounds maximum when you don't know down to the gram what your gear weighs.

If you have heavier stuff and feel like not having lighter stuff means you can't enjoy yourself, don't think that way. Just go. Before you do, though, go through what you have and ask if you really really need it. You can remove a bowling ball's worth of weight by focusing on the details.

If it's something that is consumable, ask yourself if you really need to carry so much of it. If I'm going for a weekend, I don't bring a pint of fuel. I bring a couple of ounces. Enough to spill once or twice. I don't bring a full thing of mosquito repellent. I bring a tiny visine bottle of it. I can go a weekend without deoderant (heck a whole summer, too.) A full first-aid kit probably isn't necessary. Just take a few of the more useful items and leave the rest of it at home.

For the non-consumables, ask a bunch of what-if questions and see if you can answer them by removing stuff and making do with something else. Do you really need heavy long underwear to sleep in? Can light long underwear and your rain gear keep you just as warm? Do you really need a cup, plate, bowl, spoon, fork and knife? Can you eat and drink out of your pot with just a spoon instead? Do you really need a full set of pots or can you get by with just one pot? Can you wear all your clothes at once and be warm enough, and if so, can you leave home all the clothes you can't wear at the same time? Do you really need a pillow or can you make one out of some of your other stuff? Are camp shoes really necessary if your hiking shoes are comfortable and dry quickly?

Now get out there and go! Start learning. I learned a lot hiking the PCT. I didn't know it all beforehand. I still know less than the average PCT hiker. There's a lot of stuff you can tolerate without dying. I still get to learn that lesson from time-to-time.

Good luck.

What I think about on hikes

On day hikes I talk and think about regular life (talking if there's someone else there.)

On a backpack trip I find it takes 2-3 days before home/work life is gone and trail life has taken over. Then I think a lot less, talk a lot less and my thoughts are all about what's happening in the moment on the trail.

On a long-distance hike my thoughts go a million miles an hour. So much happens on the trail. Every moment is jam packed with stuff happening. So much to see and think about.

I think about food, about writing stuff down in my journal about every little detail I see of the animals, rocks, plants, scenery. I think about about family at home. Music runs through my head and sometimes it gets stuck there, sometimes words get stuck in my head, too.

I think about what's coming up, how I'm going to split the days up to the next resupply, how many miles to the next water, food and more food, what I'm going to eat next on the trail, what I'm going to eat when I get to town. Sometimes I think fondly about taking a shower.

Oddly, even though my thoughts go a million miles an hour and trail life is jam packed with stuff happening, I feel slowed down, calm, like I could go weeks without ever saying another word. But when I meet another hiker, we both talk a million miles an hour about everybody we've met, great experiences we've had, trail intel and food.

When I get to town I feel assaulted by people who talk fast about things I no longer understand and sometimes I have a hard time making sense of what they are saying. The trail I understand now, not regular life. I love it when it gets like that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The best PowerPoint presentation ever

So here's an update on two threads from my life.

The Man, who had all his money stolen out of his bank account is getting his money restored. The bank was very understanding. They said they knew exactly what happened, who took the money and where it went. The person on the phone wanted to get this resolved for him as quickly as possible so that he could put the whole story in a PowerPoint presentation he plans to give next week. Best darn PowerPoint presentation ever!

Turned out what happened was that someone somehow got into his account (that part isn't clear yet) and to enable him to get away with taking the money, they launched a denial of service attack on our phone. This meant that the bank could not call us and we could not call them, and also that our lives would be consumed trying to fix the problem with our phone and not noticing that the money was being stolen. I wrote about our phone having trouble not too long ago. That was what was really happening at the time.

Some guy in in the US claims he was hired to wire money from a bunch of accounts to another account that then wired all the money overseas. He claims to be innocent, but I don't buy that. In any case, the bank has suffered large losses but The Man is getting his money back.

The PowerPoint presentation is all about this guy wanting to alert the industry to the problem. Nobody has ever heard of DNS attacks over the phone being tied to stealing money.

We still don't know for sure what caused the problem, but thankfully there will be a solution.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's a non-birthday birthday for me today

I'm really sore from my big, crazy adventure yesterday. My thigh muscles are sore and my feet are sore. I definitely over-did it.

I had blood tests and X-rays today. Blood tests for CPK (which I guess is a marker of muscle damage), thyroid, estrogen and cholesterol. X-rays of my knees and hips for osteo-arthritis. I also had to turn in a take-home exam and an assignment in my computer programming class. I didn't get any dinner. Happy Birthday. Is that the worst birthday every? Needle sticks, blasts of radiation, exams and no dinner or cake? At least I took the day off from work.

At least I feel good being so sore. It's like I actually did something. I told The Man how I was feeling so sore and that maybe I should slow down and just be old and he said no, you should fight it. Fight it with everything you've got. Okay then. Here's to another year of fighting.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A crazy long hike, part urban, part trail

With a minor milestone birthday coming up and feeling wistful for the long days and great fitness I had on the PCT, I decided to spend the last day being my current age pretending like I was still in great shape. I walked out my door and went to the Daily Grind for breakfast, then walked to Steven's Park. I thought I would just walk up to the junction with the Jesusita Trail and come back, but everything was so nice I decided to go up to Inspiration Point.

Lots of flowers were blooming. It's going to be a good year for flowers. Some of the ones I saw included:

  • Milkmaids

  • Stinging Lupine
    Stinging Lupine

  • Lupine

  • Blue Dicks
    Blue Dicks

  • Giant Phacelia
    Giant Phacelia, a fire-follower that can stain your clothes

  • Indian Pinks
    Indian Pinks

  • Chaparral Nightshade
    Chaparral Nightshade
This is just a sample. There were lots more.

After I got up to Inspiration Point, I felt a little thirsty, and having left my house without anything more than a little money and a windbreaker, I decided to head back toward the drinking fountain. On the way I found a small stream and drank right from it. The water was really good.

Once I got back down to Steven's Park, I was feeling a little hungry so I walked down to State Street. I decided to go to Jack's Bagels, but on the way I decided maybe I would go to Java Station near Modoc instead. They have soft sofas. I had a bagel with tomatoes and boy did it taste good! Drank a little more water and decided maybe I had overdone it and should go home. So I walked back home. I live on the Westside.

It seemed like a pretty long way, but I was out there only about 5 hours, so it wasn't like one of my big 25 mile days. (I just measured it with Google Earth. I can't tell where Inspiration Point is, so it's not accurate, but the line I drew is about 14.5 miles long.) I felt pretty darn sore toward the end and now that I'm home I feel like maybe this whole crazy adventure was a mistake. Time for ibuprofen and a toast to the last day being 44 years old.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Favorite drinks on the trail

Before I ever did any long-distance hiking, special drinks weren't very important to me. I was fine with plain water.

On a long-distance hike, having something flavorful to drink was a highlight of my day and really helped me maintain good hydration. Even when thirsty, it can be difficult to force down 20 ounces of plain water, especially if the water is not very cold or doesn't taste good. So drink mixes are a benefit.

I never saw a need for specially formulated performance drinks on the trail. On a long distance hike you're pretty much at peak performance all the time, being so fit. So really, the main reasons for drink mixes, in my opinion, are simply to enhance your ability to hydrate and to just make you happy. Morale is very important on a long hike.

I've heard people describe using pudding to make a shake. I liked pudding as just regular pudding, not as a drink. Butterscotch was my favorite, then banana and lemon were second favorites. A typical package of pudding mix requires about 2 cups of water to prepare, so besides being fulfilling in your stomach and offering calories, it was also a good source of water.

I drank Muscle Milk a couple of times. I liked vanilla and strawberry. I added Emergence-C to vanilla once and it wasn't half bad. Since I didn't have a wide-mouth bottle to drink from most of the time, I had a hard time getting the powder into a bottle so I didn't drink much of it.

My favorite trail drink of all was Crystal Light hydration lemonade with one or two Emergence-C packets added, either tangerine flavor or raspberry. Raspberry Crystal Light with tangerine Emergence-C was pretty good, too.

I liked diet drinks better than sugary ones. If I needed calories, I'd just eat some cookies with my drink. Diet drinks just taste tangier and more refreshing to me.

I also found that by quitting caffeine before hitting the trail, those few times I did have caffeine, it really lit a fire under me. I figured this out after a few times having a cafe breakfast, when a cafe just happened to be close enough for a detour or a quick return to the trail after a town stop. After I realized what a performance enhancement it provided me, I'd carry some chocolate espresso beans or something like that for those days when I really wanted a boost. It really worked, but would not have had any effect if it had been a daily habit.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology can't be trusted

So, if the only thing standing between you and somebody who wants your money is a flimsy little password (heck, I have had so many passwords at various times I have resorted to keeping a list of them under my keyboard), what's going to happen when the power goes out?

Despite being a web developer and taking programming classes, which expresses some kind of faith that this type of work will be available in the future, I have no faith in technology. I'm a Luddite in many ways. It's all too fragile and too dependent on technologies that come and go like fads.

Tony continues to be quite distraught. There's really nothing he can do. The bank quickly added a bunch of security precautions which basically shut him off from having anything to show the police. If the bank itself was responsible for stealing his money (and I don't think it was, but just suppose) there would be no evidence.


I was awakened last night to The Man sobbing. He had been trying to do his taxes when he realized he hadn't received a form from one of his banks. He called them and discovered that someone had hacked into his account and slowly stolen all of his money.

No matter what happens next, he'll never see his money again. All the time it represents has been stolen along with it. It is a loss of all the days in the past that he toiled to earn that money, and all the days in the future that he had hoped to enjoy in leisure.

The more I work with computers, the more code I see behind the scenes at various companies, the more I know that it's all so tenuous. It's all barely held together with tape and rubber bands. I have no faith in the system anymore. Not in the one that says if you work hard you will be rewarded and not in the one that says our way of life is the envy of the world. It is all just an illusion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Injured feet

Just as I thought, I have a sesamoid injury to my left foot and achilles tendonitis in my right foot. My doctor was pretty shocked that anybody could walk 30 miles in a day and even more shocked that I'd get right back up and do it again the next day, too.

I have to get some blood tests. There's probably nothing that can be done to help me, but my main complaint is that even now, 6 months after my big hike, if I go out and do a hike, I can barely get out of the car afterward. I'm so sore. I feel like I'm 100 years old. I limp and creak and hurt all over. Then I go to bed and feel fine the next day.

If I try new sports, like jogging or riding my bike, same thing happens. I get really really sore and then the next day, or maybe the day after that, I'm fine. If I bend over to pull weeds or clean the tub, I'm incapacitated for almost a week, though. My hamstrings just can't take it.

Because of all this soreness, it's very hard to find an activity I can do to try and stay in shape. I've gained back more weight than I lost from my big hikes, and I was hoping I'd feel better by now and be able to get some exercise and keep up my fitness. I was hoping to take up trail running so I could get that invincible, super-human feeling back again like I had walking so far every day. Alas, I can barely run down the street and back.

I guess I will have to stick to cycling. For the first time in my life, I live really close to work and now ironically, it's too close to ride my bike!

I'm too young to get old so soon. I thought I was just getting started.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Nutrition on the trail

Every year, lots of people hit the PCT with grand plans to maintain good nutrition. I was no different. The trouble is, it won't matter out there. You'll be so hungry you could eat anything, and you will.

Some highlights (lowlights) from my own experience:

Hummus and crackers make an excellent lunch. A little olive oil in the hummus gives you good calories. A little hummus goes a long way, so it's light and you can stock up and bounce it ahead to keep yourself stocked. I always had ample energy for most of the afternoon after a good lunch of this stuff.

But, when it ran out, candy. Yep. For over a month I ate candy for lunch.

Why? First it was mosquitoes. It's likely you won't experience the mosquitoes that I did because I was in Oregon in July and you'll probably be there in August. But with all those mosquitoes, I could not sit down and stir up my hummus and then eat it. I could not sit down. I had to pace around while I ate. It was easier to eat something portable. So all the candy I would bring for dessert starting becoming my main meal. I could pop peanut M&Ms down the trail under my headnet. M&Ms didn't melt, either. And they didn't require me to seek out scarce water, which how it gets once more in Oregon. Cookies worked out well, too. Since I loathed to stop and rummage around in my pack, giving the bugs ample time to bite my butt cheeks through my pants, I stopped eating peanut butter, too. Lunch went in my pockets before I left my tent in the morning, and the easiest thing to put in my pockets were cookies and candy. I also carried one packet of instant pudding each segment. If I was lucky enough to find cold water in a relatively mosquito-free area to make it, it would be my last resort toward unquenchable hunger. Sometimes nothing I ate would stop the growling. Nothing but a pudding bomb in my stomach.

Breakfast started slipping from its more nutritionally lofty perch toward Fig Newtons and various kinds of bars. Mostly this is because I started getting tired of the things I ate. Also, in Oregon the water was too warm for cold cereal and milk. It was really hard to choke that down.

Dinner stayed as good as I could do. But I fail to see how any of the dehydrated things I cooked could be as nutritious as a real dinner. It's full of chemicals and it's very scary to think that a lot of it was stuff normal people make for dinner every day. I did my best to add real cheese (as real as that stuff in single serving plastic wrappers can be) and once in a while I carted around a head of broccoli or a giant leaf of chard. A drop in the bucket.

In town though. Oh the miracle of refrigeration! Yogurt never tasted so good. Breakfast was full of protein and fat. Stacks of pancakes with omelets on the side. Four halves of English muffin each with its own egg, plus all the sides, and oh what the heck, how about an ice cream sundae for dessert. And the all-I-can-eat breakfast buffets where I did indeed eat all that I could.

I spent a full zero day in Ashland. First I craved fat so I ate bagels and cream cheese and giant muffins with hunks of cold butter added to them. I did the whole pint of ice cream thing, too, which was rare for me. Then I started craving protein so I went out for Indian food and got some kind of platter of dead animals and ate the entire thing. Then, finally, I craved fresh food and got some kind of salad-type meal.

But it was back to cookies, candy, bars, pudding and macaroni and cheese once I hit the trail again. This went on through the mosquitoes and then into the rain, as the rain also made me not want to stop and sit down to mix up some hummus or rummage around in my pack.

It was awful but it was the only way I could survive out there. Oddly, it didn't seem to matter. It still boggles my mind that I could eat so poorly and still churn out a daily marathon. I crossed the Canadian border after months of junk food, feeling invincible and strong. I am completely baffled.

Thank goodness it doesn't last forever. You can fix your diet once again when you get home.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Do your feet get bigger on the PCT?

My feet got bigger for several reasons:

1) They became wider. My toes now are visibly separated when before they used to be squished together. Having toes separated is normal. Squished together is a result of wearing shoes too narrow, much like the result of Chinese footbinding, only less severe.

2) They became longer. Not a clue why.

3) They got thicker skin. Thicker skin takes up volume.

4) They got more muscular. Again more volume.

During the hike, as my feet became larger, it was apparent in my older shoes wearing out too quickly, in having my little toes on the edges feel like they were sticking out too far and being stubbed on things, and in finding myself having to wear thinner and thinner socks in order to be comfortable.

Numbers 3 and 4 subsided after a few months. Because I refuse to squish my feet into too small shoes anymore, numbers 1 and 2 remain.

I suppose if I had bound my feet into stiff boots, my feet would have done what feet always do when cramped, which is adapt by folding the toes under themselves or forming a bunion. I didn't want that to happen because it really hurts. Especially when you have a neuroma like I do.

So, to manage this, I wore shoes a couple sizes too big. To me it felt good. I used lightweight wool socks and that prevented slipping. The one time I used nylon liner socks, my feet slipped around too much and this caused me to tie my shoes too tight and then I injured my feet. Bruised them or something worse.

With lightweight wool socks, there was no slipping and I could loosen the laces all the way up to ensure there was no pressure whatsoever on my poor abused toes. My toes that have been abused by years of too small shoes.

With very wide, loose shoes, I'm sure my feet were encouraged to become enlarged, especially the enlargement described in number 1 above. But the alternative was blisters, deformed toenails and pain.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Clothing/shoe systems for the PCT

Here are my clothing/shoe systems for both my long-distance Pacific Crest Trail hikes:

2008 May - July
Campo to N. Cal.
  • Long-sleeved buttoned "desert" shirt (nylon, Columbia brand, like the pockets)
  • Polyester tank top (thrift store, Champion brand)
  • Lightweight bra (Patagonia, little support, just for chafing)
  • 1 pair of underwear (synthetic fabric, Exofficio brand)
  • 1 pair of zip-off pants (Exofficio brand)
  • Wool socks (Injinji toe socks plus one pair thick wool for wearing - 3 pairs total, eventually ditched the thick socks)
  • Down jacket (Patagonia down sweater)
  • Windbreaker (Marmot driclime, lined)
  • Fleece hat
  • Fleece fingerless gloves
  • Heavy wool socks for sleeping (eventually ditched them when it was too hot)
  • Silk long underwear for sleeping (eventually ditched them when it was too hot)
  • Desert hat (Sunday Afternoons brand)
  • Nothing for rain until I found an umbrella
  • Cheap trail runners with goretex--big mistake.
  • Weird hybrid hiking/water shoes, Columbia brand--much better, 2 sizes too big.
  • Montrail Hardrocks--way too much motion control, gave me stress fractures, sent me home.
2009 May - June
Santa Barbara to N. Cal.
  • Long-sleeved buttoned "desert" shirt (nylon, Railriders brand, like the pockets)
  • Polyester tank top with shelf bra (outlet store, Columbia brand) Switched later for nylon thrift shop long-sleeved turtleneck when it turned out to be cold in the Sierras. Switched back to tank top in N. Cal. Used bounce bucket for storage.
  • Same underwear as above
  • 1 pair of zip-off pants (Columbia brand)
  • Cotton tie-dyed skirt in pink (thrift store--for mosquito protection)
  • Wool socks (Icebreaker bicycle socks, other random socks from my drawer - 3 pairs)
  • Down jacket (Patagonia down sweater)
  • Windbreaker (Patagoinia Houdini - unlined, only 3 or 4 ounces!)
  • Fleece fingerless gloves
  • Desert hat (Sunday Afternoons brand)
  • Homemade fleece balaclava
  • Homemade fleece leg warmers for extra warmth
  • Umbrella for rain/sun
  • Chaps (
  • Poncho until Kennedy Meadows for shelter and rain, but didn't use for rain
  • Brooks Cascadia trail runners--perfect (1 or 2 sizes bigger than any shoe sales person will recommend.)
2009 July - August
Oregon to Canada
  • Same desert shirt
  • Same tank top. Switched to same turtleneck for Washington section
  • Same underwear
  • Same pants
  • Same socks
  • Ditched the down jacket
  • Kept the Houdini
  • Same gloves until I lost them
  • Swapped the desert hat for a cap with side curtains
  • Same homemade balaclava
  • Same leg warmers, but now as arm warmers because no down jacket
  • Same umbrella, but it doesn't really work for rain, so I bought a gas station poncho and then it only rained once for 5 minutes
  • Same chaps, they're awesome
  • Brooks Cascadia trail runners--until my feet got too wide.
  • Brooks street runners in a 4E width and a size too big (beyond the normal 1 or 2 sizes bigger than any shoe sales person will recommend). Worked well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Adventure and Magic published!

I published my 2009 PCT journal. I didn't get an ISBN number. Perhaps that is why it appears to be cheaper than Piper's Flight. I call it Adventure and Magic because I had so much trail magic. Unless I get an ISBN number, it won't be available through Amazon. I haven't decided if I will do that.

Update: I decided to get the ISBN number. That bumped up the price. Bummer. I doubt anyone will buy it anyway, but maybe somebody will. At least I have a copy for myself. It is nice to have my journal so nicely printed up as a memento.

My metabolism sucks

Not only am I not a thru-hiker anymore because I don't eat M&Ms on the ground, I'm not a thru-hiker anymore because I'm so fat now.

Even though I've been running every other day about 20 or 30 minutes (I'm working my way up) and hiking on the weekends and walking a 3 mile round trip to work every day, the pounds keep piling on. It's very distressing.

I recovered pretty well from the first hike, gaining the weight back but keeping some off, but two in a row seem to have destroyed my metabolism. It's very sad. This is not a PCT Reentry issue I am fond of at all.

I'm not a thru-hiker anymore

Well, it's official. I'm not a thru-hiker anymore. As I was walking down the street there were M&Ms on the sidewalk and I didn't eat them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Surviving broken

I've been working at a small company. They've been paying me like a contractor. The boss said he'd like to put me on the regular payroll, full-time if I want or part-time. I chose part-time.

The boss is a bit of a bully. I don't want to commit in case I can't stand it after a while. Other than that, the atmosphere is laid back. The thing I like about it is I get to write lots of code and do interesting things. I also can come and go when I want.

I noticed that there are people in the office he does not bully. Mostly those people are men and sales people and white. Other men he teases. Women he speaks to condescendingly. He also has absolutely no idea about how computers work on the inside and this makes it difficult to be a programmer for him. He's intimidated and overcompensates by being unreasonable about things. For these reasons I won't commit to the job. I'll just do it while I can tolerate it.

I do not like bullies. Meanness is something I got away from at the name-brand job I worked at. When I left, I swore I would never put up with working with sociopaths again. It's too damaging and not worth the money.

I was bullied all through my school-age years by other children and by people in my family, too. Back then everyone drilled it into me that I am ugly and worthless. It is true, I am ugly, or at least I know I'm not pretty. Not being pretty meant that I found other ways to be valuable.

One of those ways was by being smart. I'm not the smartest person in the world, but I'm smart enough. At some things anyway. At other things, I'm hopelessly stupid.

Another way was through hiking. That was quite accidental since I was also bullied for being non-athletic. And here I am in my older years an athlete, a hiker, a long-distance hiker, and some would say that makes me an elite athlete, although I don't think walking a long way takes any super-human capabilities.

Another way I found to have worth is through making a valuable contribution to my community. I have a web site that helps people and makes people happy (not this one, but my other one.) It's the most successful thing I've ever done in my life. I may not be an activist or someone who works with the disabled or something like that, but I make people happy every day.

I seek out things to do that make me happy. Like playing music and hiking and following my interests wherever they lead. I'm not just a lump. I get involved and stay challenged while having fun.

Still, whenever someone is mean to me, I instantly remember all the feelings I had as a kid. I felt worthless and wished I had never been born. I often feel like I'm just waiting for the end. Waiting for it to all be over with finally. It matters little that I can walk 35 miles in one day or that I can write a computer program or that I can play a musical instrument or that I'm able to reinvent myself every few years. I'm worthless, shouldn't have been born, don't belong here in this mean world. Sometimes I think to myself that I hate this mean world as much as it seems to hate me. I wonder how to escape.

People say you shouldn't let those old messages control you, but they don't understand. I can stand apart from what is happening, see that my new boss' behavior has nothing to do with me, and yet it doesn't make the feelings go away. The Man can tell me I'm beautiful but I am not blind when I look in the mirror. I know the truth. In the regular world, there are mean people and they are mean because it works and they never go away and they never stop being mean and there never ceases to be more mean people wherever you go. And so all there is to do is tolerate them and wait for the day when I never have to deal with them again.

At the same time, I know a place in the world exists where none of that matters. It's out on the trail where I get to be just me, where my body moves like anybody else's body, and works as well as anybody else's and doesn't have to be beautiful to bring beauty to me.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Tents and packs in the wind and rain

Waterproof pack cover
I'm no expert about rain, but I found that a huge lawn and leaf-type trash bag makes a great outer pack cover. You can keep your stuff dry inside with compactor bags, but if the pack itself gets wet, it gets heavy. The lawn and leaf bag never tore or punctured. I only needed one.

You have to poke some holes for the shoulder straps and it is a pain to put it on because you have to undo the straps, stuff them through the holes and then reattach them, so you don't take it off until you're sure it's not raining. It also doesn't fit tightly by nature, so you have to rig up ways to keep it from puffing out and making a lot of noise when you walk. But it's super cheap, super light and works well.

Setting up a Contrail in the wind
I had a Contrail-style tent for part of the distance. I found it's not the best tent in the wind, unless you set it up perfectly into the wind. You have to set the tail end pointing into the wind or else the sides bow in way too far. If the front is into the wind, it puffs up and will fall down if the wind is too hard. If you get it pointed in the right direction, it's as spacious and nice as when there is no wind.

I never had the pole slip out and puncture the fabric. To avoid that, set up the four corners first, even if they aren't in the perfect position, and then put the pole in the grommet and place the bottom end where you want it while holding the sharp end in the grommet and the front guy line with one hand. Then while holding the front guy line taught and with downward force, pull it out to where you want to put the stake in. The pole ought to stay in the whole time. If you slip, let go immediately so the pole will just fall over/out.

I found that I could use the tiny titanium stakes on the four corners but needed some sturdier ones for the front and back ends. I found these sturdy ones on the trail. I had a Y-shaped one and a large aluminum hook and both worked well. Enormous rocks on top of the stakes were also necessary in difficult conditions. Those are the times when I'm happy people don't practice LNT and leave their fire rings set up!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Someone reviewed my book

Someone reviewed Piper's Flight, the journal I published about my hike in 2008. I can't believe anyone actually took the time. It's a well-written review and largely positive. Probably more positive than I deserve. Only people who like long trails will like my book. People who like good literature will probably find very little of value.

The reviewer says I traded one cage for another when I left my job to hike the trail. I suppose that is true. I wonder if I finally broke out of the cage when I completed the trail this year.

I hope someday I get my 2009 journal finished. I've got a proof, but already on the first page I want to rewrite some of it.

How the energy of others helps you keep going

Someone asked me how you get used to trail life at the beginning of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I said that you are helped by all the energy of the people around you. They thought this was too external a reason to have.

I don't think people hike the trail for external adulation. It came as a surprise to me that so many people were so encouraging and admired what I was doing.

At first when I was out there I did not even think about how long a hike it would be. I just focused on getting to Warner Springs and all throughout I only worried about whatever scary thing was just ahead. In Section A, that was Scissors Crossing.

By saying that the energy of the others fed the internal fire, I was trying to suggest that you are helped in getting used to it. The trail is a totally social thing. This surprised me. I thought I would be alone in the wilderness. With all the other people hiking the trail and being supportive in town, it made it so there was no adjustment at all. Maybe it's primitive, but it helps. You go out for your own reasons and you find that there are lots of people with the same reasons (wow, other people are like me??) and lots of people who wish they could do what you are doing. It certainly made me feel better for quitting a good job and walking into a completely uncertain future. And it also helps when you still haven't quite figured out how to set up the tent or the ground still feels too hard to sleep on.

The fire in people's eyes is there at the start. I saw it in the northbounders when I did a section hike near Idyllwild around the kickoff. I saw it in the southbounders when I was in Oregon, too. I felt sorry for the southbounders that they had to meet me when I felt the fire had burned out of me. I felt sorry for people in town who wanted to see that fire in me, too. I tried not to be too much of a downer. I realized after a while that many of the people who helped me and wanted to meet me had the dream to do it too, and I didn't want to dissuade them. I was giving them more than they were giving me. That energy goes both ways, I guess is what I'm saying.

Even while I was feeling quite burned out, there were moments when I would see a vista laid out behind me, or realize how freaking long the trail really is, or like the day I crossed the log on the Suiattle River and realized I had made it through every scary thing thrown at me, and I would be completely moved at what I was capable of. As the hike went on, these moments became more private and I became more protective of the experience, not as willing to share it with other people who weren't also hiking the trail. I did not want anyone to admire me because no matter what they ever said to me in admiration, they never understood. Their admiration almost cheapened the experience.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Starting out slowly on the Pacific Crest Trail

Someone on the PCT email discussion list posted some math he did that suggested that if you are to complete your hike from Mexico to Canada you had better go out running from day one. I thought his calculations were a little unreasonable, especially since he seemed to assume that people who ease into the hike do so by hiking 10 mile days.

Most people are able to hike more than 10 miles per day after the first week, and even within the first week. You are almost forced to do this, adapt or die of thirst basically.

Hiking lots of miles is just a matter of how many hours you want to keep walking. It's not a matter of how fast you go. So to increase your miles you just have to hike more hours. This is actually quite easy. You can walk only 2 miles per hour and after 10 hours of walking, you will have gone 20 miles and still have plenty of daylight. The real challenge is going less than 20 miles. You aren't on a camping trip. You're on a hiking trip. The difference will become apparent once you get out there.

The only kind of shape you need to be in is the kind of shape where you know you can put on a pack and hike all day. It doesn't have to be any more than that. If you can do that but you are 100lbs overweight, that's ok. If you can do that but you are a slow-moving old lady, you'll be just fine.

People go home early on because of acute blisters or other injuries or because the trail wasn't the experience they expected or wanted. Because the trail is so very consistent in the grade and in the way it is laid out, all it takes is a little blister and you start favoring your foot and then you start walking a little off kilter and then the repetitive condition of the trail starts beating that little off-kilter gait into your bones. Next thing you know, your knee is shot or you have even worse blisters or your back is whacked. Eventually you may be totally ruined. Even more than being in tip-top condition, you have to have awareness of the little problems and take care of them before they snowball.

I am 45 years old. I'm female. I'm not super human by any measure. I did not hike the entire trail in one season (I did it in two), but both seasons that I did the trail, I was able to easily hike between 20 and 35 miles per day. Usually right around 28 was a typical day for me.

So, yes, get in shape as well as you can, but don't sweat it. Hiking the PCT is not a super-human endeavor requiring you to grit your teeth and go all out like a race horse. Even more important than completing the whole trail is the experience of living 3, 4, 5 months out there on the trail. It's an amazing and wonderful lifestyle. Since coming home, it seems most things about our "normal" way of life are just wrong. We are meant to move our bodies and be out in nature. Even if I had never seen the Canadian border monument, I would still have had that wonderful awareness of being fully alive. Completing the trail is only one reward. The others are much bigger.

Resupply strategy for the PCT - 2008 and 2009

Someone asked me for a list of places where I resupplied. He wanted to know about California. I combined both the years of my two hikes and added Oregon and Washington to make the list below.

First of all, when I was first planning, I wanted to minimize resupplies. Then I realized it was better to maximize them. I could carry less and have an extra chance to get some food. I also learned that you should never ship food items you can get almost anywhere, such as cookies, candy, or other similar items. Only ship food you really must have and know you can't find. Shipping food is expensive.

Here are places I actually resupplied. The location is in bold with the type of resupply I did next to it. Notes about the location below in parenthesis.

Warner Springs post office
(Very small mini-market. You could supplement. You could also make use of the store/post office at Mt. Laguna to reduce pack weight. The store has a decent selection and is kind of like a mini-market. You could also further reduce your pack weight by using the town of Julian for a resupply. They have a post office, restaurants and a small grocery.)

Cabazon post office
(I recommend Idyllwild instead. It's 1.5 days earlier on the trail. They have a medium-sized market. $3 campground with hot showers. Cabazon has a mini-market that I didn't look inside, an outlet mall and an Indian casino.)

Big Bear Lake shopped
(Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake are two different places. Can take city bus to Big Bear Lake from Big Bear City. Good restaurants in both towns. Hostel is in Big Bear Lake in "the Village." A small market is within walking distance. For larger stores you need to take the bus.)

Cajon Pass enhanced my supplies at the Best Western
(I stayed at the Best Western because it is not a good place to sleep next to the interstate. The Best Western had a good continental breakfast. I stocked up on frozen breakfast burritos, apples and bagels with cream cheese. McDonald's on the trail here, too.)

Wrightwood post office
(They have a decent grocery store. You could shop here. Host families you can call are listed at the hardware store. You will probably be faced with a long road walk or reroute here this year.)

Agua Dulce grocery store
(Grocery is sort of small, but you can resupply here.)

Hikertown mail drop to Gil’s market
(Market is not well-stocked. Good for beer, ice cream and chips. Hikertown is a nice place to rest.)

Tehachapi grocery store
(Full sized grocery stores. Big K-mart.)

Walker Pass post office
(Long hitch to Onyx. Just a mini-market there, not many items for hikers. It was good to hike out of Tehachapi with a lighter load—big desert, huge distances without water—so it was worth the long hitch to the post office to have a lighter load. Some people go to Lake Isabella. I never could get it straight whether there was a full grocery store there or not.)

Kennedy Meadows mail drop to store
(Store is small and since every hiker in the universe spends a day or three there, it gets wiped out of supplies.)

Lone Pine post office/store
(Medium-sized grocery store. Most people hike on to Kearsarge Pass and go to Independence. There is a mini-market in Independence that tries to stock hiker food. You can take public transportation or hitchhike to Bishop or Lone Pine for supplies.)

Bishop grocery store
(Good sized grocery store. It's a long hike over Bishop Pass and a very long hitch from the trailhead to get there. Or you can hitchhike or take public transportation from Independence.)

Mammoth grocery store
(Full-sized grocery store.)

Tuolumne Meadows post office
(Small store there is better stocked than expected. Good food at the cafe, too.)

Bridgport/Kennedy Meadows Resort grocery store
(Small grocery store in Bridgeport. Stealth camped near the Travertine Hot Springs. Kennedy Meadows is west of the trail. They have a well-stocked small store and restaurant. You might be able to resupply here if your food needs are flexible. I think they hold packages. And it's only 3 or 4 days onward to Echo Lake/South Lake Tahoe.)

Echo Lake/South Lake Tahoe post office/grocery store
(Huge full-sized grocery store in South Lake Tahoe. Only sent a package because I kept ending up with extra food and didn't want to throw it away. The store/post office at Echo Lake is on the trail. The store is small but has a good selection, plus ice cream. I wouldn't rely on it 100% for resupply.)

Sierra City post office/store
(Small market serving very small town. They had fresh fruit! Friendly post office.)

Belden post office
(Restaurant on the trail. Post office a mile down windy highway. I actually did not use this resupply as I was helped by my mother.)

Chester post office/store
(Full-sized grocery store. My mom lives here. The following 2 days from Highway 36 have ample food along the trail. You can get away with a very light load of food in your pack to Old Station and supplement it with meals at Drakesbad and Old Station. If you plan it right, you can eat at Drakesbad for dinner, then stay nearby and eat there again for breakfast, with liberal enjoyment of the warm pool in between. Arrive in Old Station in time for a late afternoon pre-dinner meal or snack.)

Old Station post office
(Small market available. Could supplement your resupply. Do stay at the Hideaway. Just tell the person at the cash register in the store that you want to stay with the trail angel and he'll call a ride for you. It's very relaxing and there's food.)

Burney Falls mail drop at store
(Campground has a small market. You could supplement your resupply or even do a resupply if you are not picky. Store serves campground. Burney Falls is different from the town of Burney. The town of Burney is about 3/4 day before Burney Falls and they have a Safeway.)

Dunsmuir/Castella would have sent a package to post office in Castella
(Dunsmuir has a very small grocery. I didn't visit Castella. Most people send a package to Castella. I would have done that, but I went home here in 2008 and in 2009 I used my mom for resupply.)

Etna post office
(They have a medium-sized grocery store. I could have shopped.)

Seiad Valley shopped at store
(They have a small market that tries to carry hiker-oriented items, but the selection was limited when I came through. I probably should have sent a package, but I made it on what they had.)

Ashland shopped for most of Oregon
(Full-sized grocery store, great health food store. Assembled and shipped all packages throughout Oregon here. Also picked up a package at post office with leftover food I was drifting ahead. I didn't want to throw the food away. )

Fish Lake Resort supplement
(Made a supplemental resupply at Fish Lake resort when some of my food was moldy. They have a small market and restaurant.)

Crater Lake post office
(Mazama market has enough food for a resupply. I could have just shopped. It's a small market but I could have done well enough.)

Shelter Cove mail drop to store
(They only accepted UPS packages. The store had good coffee and some decent hiker food. I was glad I sent a package, but I probably could have gotten by on what was in the store.)

Bend shopped at grocery store
(Full-sized grocery store. You can get a ride with Lloyd Gust who posts his contact info on the trail. Made a stop for a supplemental breakfast at Big Lake Youth Camp, which was well worth it. I had originally planned to shop in Sisters but was stuck at Elk Lake for 3 days waiting for shoes and a tent so I decided to save some time and buy enough supplies to get to Government Camp. REI in Bend, too, if you need it.)

Government Camp shopped at grocery store
(Small but well-stocked grocery store. Only two days from here to Cascade Locks. Great food at Timberline Lodge!)

Cascade Locks shopped at grocery store
(Medium-sized grocery store. Purchased food for all of Washington.)

White Pass mail drop at store
(The Kracker Barrel. They have good sandwiches and I thought there was enough food to resupply. I would send a lot less food in the future.)

Snoqualmie Pass mail drop at store
(The Chevron mini-market is huge by mini-market standards. I could have resupplied here. There's also a small grocery. Family Pancake House has big portions.)

Steven's Pass mail drop to post office
(The small store in Barrow had enough to supplement but not enough for a full resupply. There's a post office in Barrow, but I used the one in Skykomish. Stayed at the Hiker Haven.)

Stehekin mail drop to post office
(The bakery is to die for. Some people resupplied with baked goods. The baked goods were very heavy so I don't think this is a good idea. There's a small store there. You could supplement your resupply quite well. You could probably resupply completely with a combination of the store, the bakery and the restaurant. The restaurant rivals Drakesbad. I think it was actually better.)

Cultivating the mental discipine necessary for a long-distance hike

Someone emailed me and asked how to handle the mental discipline of a long distance hike. They wanted to know if it helps to start out slow and ease into the hike.

I think starting slow helped with the physical aspect, not the mental aspect. It seems that most thru-hikers have this fire in their eyes at the beginning. They are excited about the multiple-month thing, about living their big dream and doing something amazing. The admiration you get from people in towns and when you get rides feeds that. And the trail community helps, too. So the mental adjustment at first is really pretty easy and you are supported all along the way to keep that fire alive. I think if you don't feel fully alive and burning with passion for what you are doing right away, it will be harder to adjust, and I don't know what it will take.

Even so, keeping the fire alive is difficult. I know that I lost it and hiked for a huge amount of the time just wanting to go home. That's when the mental discipline set in for me. It hits everyone at a different time in the hike, but seems to hit a lot of people in northern California. It hit me in Oregon.

I think there are two ways to deal with the mental discipline. You can fight against the desire to go home. That's what I did. I refused to go home until I was finished with the trail, because I gave up the first time I tried it and knew how terrible that feels. I think it also helped that I had endured so many scary and difficult things that I took on an attitude that nature could keep throwing obstacles at me and I wouldn't back down.

The other way, and the way I think works better, is to have an unwavering positive attitude toward every hardship that comes your way. This is the attitude I saw in all the thru-hikers I met in Oregon and Washington. They were happy no matter the weather or the bugs. Nothing could break their positive attitudes.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Born to Run and how to be joyful

I just read a book called Born to Run. I bought it for The Man and also for my father. I thought The Man would enjoy a John Krakaur-style adventure tale and I thought my dad would enjoy it because he is 70 and runs in races and sometimes wins in his age group. Also, he likes unusual health fads and this book is a proponent of running in minimal footwear.

I enjoyed the book for the adventure story. I also liked the anthropology in the book.

In the book, a few anthropologists and non-anthropologists wanted to figure out, if the conventional wisdom is that we are not intended to run because we're too slow to catch anything to eat and too slow to outrun anything wanting to eat us, why do we have all these anatomical markers of running animals? Why do we share certain bone structures and other physical characteristics with horses and other running animals and not similar bone structures that pigs and other non-running animals have? And if we are a running animal, why are we so slow? What's our advantage?

The answer to the last question was endurance. We don't have to run fast, we just have to run far. We can outrun our food and possibly our predators by simply running them to death. No other animal can run as far as humans can. Every other animal has to stop eventually. We can keep going.

The anthropologists also linked our big brains to our running abilities. We are empathetic so that we can sense how our prey is feeling, sense when it is getting tired. We are smart enough to track and follow creatures that may be way out ahead of us, reading the signs left behind. This made a lot of sense to me because as a hiker, nothing gives me a bigger thrill than to be able to read the signs around me and find someone out in the wilderness, or follow a trail that is barely visible. I once went out and found The Man in the wilderness using nothing more than intuition and the ability to read things like footprints, broken branches and other signs.

As I read the book and the story of the 50 mile race, I was struck by how similar the ultra runners seemed to long distance hikers. The giggly joy of being so completely physical, and dirty, and the joy of eating tons of food and taking bad care of yourself right before you go out and do another big mile day is so typical of hiker trash out on the PCT. I loved pushing myself. It was a thrill and a joy. I couldn't slow down and do lesser miles because every day was a new chance to take this old body out for a spin and see what she could do. Pushing myself while on a starvation diet, or a diet of junk food, or after a night without enough sleep, or after doing it too many days in a row made me giggle inside. It was still a fun thing to do. It just felt right.

I think there's a sense out there among many different groups that we've strayed too far from our natural humanity. The barefoot running and ultra-distance running described in the book is one way people are finding their way back. I see it all around me elsewhere, too. There seems to be an increased interest in gardening and farmer's markets, in tiny houses, minimalism and simple living, in apocalypse movies that feed our fantasies of starting all over again, in peak oil, and lots of other topics. We long to return to something we lost but can't quite put a finger on what it is. I say it's the joy of being physical animals out in nature, of moving our bodies and using our minds in concert with our bodies, and not just on abstract thinking. We've exerted ourselves too far toward the abstract and are in danger of permanently losing what makes us truly alive and we want to somehow change course.

It often feels, here in the boring, mundane world, that we are all forced to go down the wrong path, down a trail that is 180 degrees from happiness. We were not meant to sit in buildings all day, and spend all our lives in cities surrounded entirely by the artifacts of civilization. We were meant to be running animals out in the natural world. It is not just healthy. It's joyful.