Monday, May 31, 2010

Fixed my Chacos

I decided to give my Chacos another chance. I flattened out the toe strap and took and exacto knife to the part that rubbed against my heels. With my still-tender blisters from the other day, I went for a hike on the Jesusita Trail up to Tunnel Trail, a rocky, dusty trip of about 6 miles. I made very little effort to baby my feet. I wanted to give them a good test. No problems at all. The Chacos are fixed.

As I was walking down the Tunnel trail, I overheard two men as I was catching up to them. It sounded like they were talking about the Saufley's house in Agua Dulce. Finally as I approached, they stopped and just as I came up to them one of them said, "They're all hard core like this lady here with her sandals on."

I asked him what was he talking about because it sounds like the PCT. He said yeah, he was talking about the PCT. I told them about having just finished the trail last summer and so we started talking about the PCT. They wanted to know if I stayed at the Saufley's. I said that I did and that I got a ride to the REI while I was there. It turned out that one of the guys works at that REI.

We started talking about gear a little bit. They wanted to know if I wore the Chacos on the PCT. I said no, but I was really liking them now and I might be able to do the PCT with them. The PCT isn't like Tunnel trail. It's smooth and level mostly. They asked if I had a really big pack. I said that I did not. I told them about my light gear and that most of the space and weight in my pack was food and water. I tried to impress upon them that the longer you are out there the less junk you need to carry, and that I found that a lot of my gear beyond the main stuff was just recycled stuff, homemade stuff and bits and pieces of things. The news seemed to blow the REI guy away a little bit. I reassured them that most hikers wore shoes like what the two of them were wearing.

As I descended the trail, my feet did start to hurt a little bit. The Chacos are pretty hard. I think I could do the PCT in Chacos if I toughened my feet up a bit and maybe if I swapped back and forth during the day with Crocs. Anyway, I'm really happy I fixed my Chacos and I think they will be my primary hiking shoes for the time being. I'm glad I don't have to buy any hiking shoes for a while.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Went for a hike in Chacos, got blisters

I decided to wear my Chacos for a hike today. It would be a relatively easy 11 mile hike, first on a dirt road and then along a creek where we'd get our feet wet in the thigh-high, warm water.

The thing I noticed with Chacos is that I walk like a normal person in them, not like Frankenstein. Which is to say, normally my left foot turns in too far and I end up limping a little bit, kind of lurching down the trail like the Hunchback or some kind of zombie. Walking normal meant that nothing hurt. No knees hurting, no feet hurting. I liked that.

But, Chacos give me blisters. I get blisters from the toe strap. I should have gotten the kind without a toe strap. But I also get blisters from the heel cup. The heel cup is too narrow for me. But my feet are too small for a mens. I wonder if the wide Chacos are wide in the heel.

I brought some athletic tape because I was pretty certain before the hike that I'd get blisters. I always get them when I wear Chacos. I bought the tape from CVS. Recently all the good drug stores in town became CVS drug stores. CVS sucks. All their products are of the worst quality. The tape had no adhesive qualities whatsoever. I am not shopping at CVS again.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Life minimalism

I've read an interesting blog post about living a minimal life. I agree with almost all of these 26 simple goals even if I haven't completely achieved all of them, and even if my reason for achieving them is slightly different than the author's.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Whole food

My diet isn't all that great. It's probably better than some people's since I do not eat much fast food, but it's not that good. I have a weakness for pastries, cheese, wine and chocolate. What I really should do is eat more whole foods.

Now that summer is almost here, better food is arriving at the farmers market. Oddly, I seem able to grow better food in my own garden in the winter months than spring or summer. My roof-top container garden is very shallow and gets too hot and dried out in the warmer months. I do have a zucchini that is thriving (but not yet fruiting) and we've gotten a few volunteer tomatoes that fruited, but I can't grow anything with a deep root or that might bolt easily. The volunteer tomatoes came out of the compost. Sadly they still taste like the commercial ones they came from.

For breakfast I had poached eggs, spinach and tomatoes. Tonight I made fish, carrots, fava beans and sliced tomatoes for dinner. I usually feel really good after eating a meal of whole foods. Something about fish with vegetables, especially fish on salad, works well for me.

Whole foods, I believe, are the key to better health. I want to make a better effort to prepare healthy, whole food meals. Fortunately whole food meals are pretty easy to prepare. A little butter and fresh rosemary (grows on the parking strip in front of the neighbor's house) on the carrots makes it taste fancy. Mangos added to anything seems exotic. Chop up a bunch of cilantro on top of some boring Mexican food and suddenly it's gourmet. Plain sliced avocados makes a great side.

I believe that rather than try to fuss with supplements and manufactured super-foods that we'd all be better off if everything we ate still looked like what it originally was. Since I'm not on the trail and forced to eat food that stores well in a backpack, I really want to make a better effort to eat recognizable things as much as possible.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hiking sandals

I'm considering purchasing some sandals for hiking. I have many sandals but not all of them work.

I have some Teva Dozers. What I don't like about them is they are too soft on the bottom so after a while my feet get sore from the rocks. Also they give me a blister on the top of my foot. And the style, while being protective of your feet, lets in a lot of pebbles that then won't come out again. What is good about them is the traction of the sole.

I have some Chacos Z2s. I like how the toe strap keeps your foot stable when hiking but it also hurts. My foot feels too clamped onto the shoe and it gives me blisters on top of my feet. I have since flattened the toe loop so I can have the Z1 style without the toe loop. I don't think the tread is very grippy, either and the arch support sometimes feels way too high. But of the sandals I have, I think they work best for hiking.

ALP Sandals
I have some old ALP sandals that I bought 20 years ago at a craft fair. I think they eventually became either Tevas or Chacos because I remember that the idea of sport sandals was new and soon after I bought them sport sandals with similar lacing patterns using nylon webbing appeared in gear shops. After all these years the footbeds are molded to my feet. But the soles are almost completely worn through and there is no traction. It would cost as much to get new sandals as to have them resoled.

I have some Keen Newports H2 sandals. I can't believe people recommend these for hiking. Thanks to these I fell into a Spanish Bayonet yucca bush and stabbed myself in multiple places. No traction at all and little pebbles don't ever come out.

Native EarthI was thinking about getting some of these. They are from a company called Native Earth that makes footwear and other things for people who dress up for renaissance fairs. I like that you can order them with a real lugged sole. Also they do not have anything between the toes. They claim that the leather holds up well in water.

Piper SandalsI was also considering these handmade sandals. They are from a company called Piper Sandals. The thing that keeps me from ordering them is that they don't come with a lugged sole. So they would basically be less grippy, less archy and more hippy-style versions of my Chacos.

But maybe what I should do is hike around in my Chacos and ALPs for a while and think if I really do need new sandals since I already have quite a few.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My feet always hurt ever since my hike last summer

500 mile mark on the PCT On my hike this weekend I went 20 miles the first day and 12 the second. By the end of the first day I was limping and sore in my knees and feet and my hips a little bit, too. By the end of the 2nd day I had a blister on my left little toe. I was grateful I didn't have to walk the full 20 miles on my second day and I was also worried that if I didn't meet the crew for the ride to my car I would have to go 32 miles and I wasn't sure I could. It's a bummer not to be in thru-hiker shape. It's also a bummer to still have sore feet from my hiking last summer. I wish my feet would heal. Maybe they never will.

I've tried wearing minimal shoes since that was what helped in 2008 after my feet were broken by Montrail Hardrocks. But the minimal shoes haven't seemed to work this year to make my injuries go away. Maybe I'm just old and broken now. It was fun hiking this weekend but I realized while doing it that if someone handed me a million dollars and said go for a thru-hike, I wouldn't be able to do it. That made me sad.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Serendipity follows the PCT

Ice on the oaksI went for an over-nighter on the PCT this weekend. I decided to drive out to San Francisquito Road and hike north to Sawmill Campground, then come back the following day.

I tried to get an early start but partway down the freeway I realized I had forgotten my trekking poles. Without my trekking poles I wouldn't be able to set up my tent. I could sleep okay without a tent, but the weather report called for nighttime temperatures in the teens with a chance of snow showers. I was counting on my tent to help keep me warm and dry. So I turned back to get my poles.

I got started hiking around 9AM or 9:30, which wasn't too bad at all.

I could see three hikers on the trail even before I parked my car. I soon caught up to two hikers near a spot where I remembered peeing behind a bush in 2008. It was the same spot where I was trying to leave behind Graybeard. Graybeard was a nice man, but I just felt like hiking alone.

I met the two hikers and their names were Wildchild and Dash. Turned out they know my mother. My mother is so famous I'm going to have to call myself Pipers' Mom's daughter.

As I continued down the trail, I met a man from Lancaster. He seemed worried about his speed. People should not worry about their speed. If they feel they are falling behind schedule, all they have to do is get up earlier and hike later into the day. Take fewer zero days and soon you'll be ahead of schedule.

When I got to Elizabeth Canyon Road and the Red Carpet water cache, I was feeling a little disappointed. I should have started my hike here instead of at San Francisquito Road because the trail between the two was pretty boring. At the Cache were three more hikers in addition to the three I had already met. All were enjoying the water in the cache and taking a break in the freezing shade.

I realized I had forgotten to get a copy of the water report. I asked if anyone had a description of the spring that was coming up. They told me I should just take water from the cache. I thought I should leave that water for the thru-hikers. I really didn't need water, but was hoping to just get a sip to drink at the spring. They read me the description and it sounded like a tiny little drip.

A mile and a half up the chaparral trail I stepped in a mud puddle and found the spring. It was dripping with the tiniest of drips. I decided I would hold my bottle under the drips while I ate a Pro-Bar and when I was finished with the bar I had about half a Naked Juice bottle worth of fresh, cold spring water. I took a sip. It tasted good. I drank the rest. A few little floaties didn't bother me.

Up I continued into more chaparral. I was starting to realize that maybe this was not the really pretty section of trail I remembered and that I should have started my weekend hike somewhere else. I hiked through scratchy scrub laced with motorcycle tracks for quite some time. Then I saw a small glade of oaks ahead and I became very happy. I was going to enter the enchanted forest I remembered after all. The glade lasted only a few feet and then I was back in chaparral with a few interior live oaks to provide interest.

After miles of ravine cha-cha, I rounded a turn and saw a forest of pines that I remembered. There were piles of dead branches with pieces of plastic interwoven in the middles of them. It was very strange. I could see the three hikers I met at the cache sitting on some kind of structure. I read my guide book and it mentioned a guzzler was coming up soon.

I reached a faint road and decided I would go see if that led to the guzzler. It did. That was the structure the three hikers were sitting on.

I had carried with me from home 3.5 liters of water. I had drunk one of them already. I was not sure if I would find more water before Sawmill Camp and since that was my turnaround point, I'd need enough water to get there, camp and then return to the guzzler again. I decided I would get a liter of water here.

I dipped my bottle into the guzzler's standing rainwater basin. The three hikers were shocked. One of them took my picture. She called me the "crazy hiker who drinks from those things." It was my turn to be shocked. I asked them if they really never took water from a source like this. They said eww, no way. They always got "man-made" water. I got out my camera to take their picture. A picture of three crazy hikers who never drank natural water.

I treated the water and tasted it. It tasted terrible. Just like concrete. But it was clean and clear and would work for cooking pasta so I was happy. Off I went into the woods.

Soon the pines turned into big cone spruce with green grasses and wildflowers blooming around every turn. I had made it to the enchanted forest I remembered. I took lots of pictures so I could remember. Some of the big cone spruce trees were huge.

After a few hours of hiking in the freezing cold wind, I started to debate whether I should camp at Sawmill Camp or not. I remember it being a windy place. As the hour to reach the turnoff to the camp drew near, I started scouting out better alternatives just in case it was way too windy there. I checked my watch at each one so I would know haw far to backtrack.

I turned up the side trail to the camp. I walked all around the campground looking for a place sheltered from the bitterly cold wind. I found some really nice places but the layer of soft oak leaves and pine needles was so thick there was not a chance I could stick a tent stake in and have it hold my tent up. I finally settled for a camp site with a picnic table that seemed a little less windy than most of them. I started my dinner cooking and since it was windy, I waited until it was finished cooking to go set up my tent. Normally I would set up my tent while it worked. I wrapped up my dinner in something warm and went to set up my tent.

I got my tent set up and brought my dinner inside to eat in the warm sun while I read a book. Just as I was cleaning my pot, I heard someone call, "Hey thru-hikers!" I responded thinking they might be another thru-hiker hoping to share my spot. It turned out the voice belonged to a PCTA rep who was out on a work project. He was inviting me to dinner and brownies and a warm campfire. I could not turn down a warm campfire!

I walked down there to see Wildchild and Dash already there. I spent the evening standing around the fire trying to stay warm. It was really very cold out. I worried I would freeze all night long. Two more thru-hikers arrived and I enjoyed the conversation with everyone around the fire. I was so grateful to have this company, this spontaneous happy happening, that I was willing to pay for it with a cold night. I was so happy I had taken the turn into the camp and that I had not backtracked to one of my back-up locations. This is what I call trail magic. Trail magic wasn't the fact that these people were here handing out food to thru-hikers but that the trail took care of me enough to provide me warmth and company on what would have been a cold and solitary night. That's trail magic.

After a while I finally tore myself away from the fire and found my way by moonlight to my tent in the frigid wind. I wore every single item of clothing I had brought, save the homemade dirty girl gaiters. I wore capilene tights, hiking pants, rain chaps and my fleece leg warmers on the bottom. Long sleeve shirt, long sleeve button-up "desert" shirt, Patagonia Houdini wind jacket, fleece balaclava, homemade Ray Jardine bomber hat and the Houdini's hood on top of it all. Fleece fingerless gloves on my hands. My down sweater wrapped around my middle like an extra blanket. My 20 degree sleeping quilt wrapped in a bivy sack inside my tent. I hoped for the best.

I actually slept pretty warm. I awoke to a cold morning and when I felt I could brave the outside, I got up and looked around. There was a little ice on my tent. Cold clouds swirled around in the wind. It was much colder than yesterday.

I packed up all my stuff and went down to the PCTA work crew camp to make my breakfast by their fire. Instead, they offered me some eggs, potatoes and sausage, and hot cowboy coffee. Who could refuse!

More hours around the campfire. The leaders offered me a chance to hike further north and then as long as I returned to Sawmill Camp by 2PM they would give me a ride all the way back to San Francisquito Road. That sounded wonderful so I took them up on it. At 8:00 I realized that if I left now I'd have three hours to hike out and three hours to hike back. So loaded up my pack and headed off. They offered to let me leave my pack in camp so I didn't have to carry it, but I didn't want to leave my pack. I'm glad I didn't because I had to keep shedding layers and putting them back on. It was good I had a pack to carry all these layers.

The trail left the enchanted forest and passed the number 500 written in pine sticks on a dirt road. A short while later I passed a marker that the trail crew had just installed marking the real 500 mile point.

There was no more enchanted forest for the rest of my journey. I hiked through frozen chaparral outlined in a rime of white. It was beautiful but very cold. I needed both my fleece balaclava to keep my cheeks and neck warm and my Ray Jardine bomber hat to keep the wind from penetrating my head. My bomber hat worked great. Thank you so much, Palomino, for giving me the kit.

I kept hoping to get a glimpse of the view I saw in 2008 that planted the seed that led me to try to hike from Santa Barbara to the PCT. But the clouds were low and the snow was falling fast, but not sticking to the ground.

Soon I reached a dirt road and the data book said there was another guzzler down the road. I actually recognized the spot immediately and turned to go check it out. I didn't need any water, but the guzzler is in a small little enchanted oak forest and I wanted to take a picture of it. These things are really quite clever. People could install similar things if they had space in the yard and collect rain water to use in the garden. The previous guzzler was a concrete catch that filled a concrete basin. This one was a slanted metal roof with a gutter that fed the water into a fiberglass basin under the roof. I stopped under the roof to get out of the snow and take a little break.

The oak trees glistened with white. It was beautiful. I considered for a moment why I do these crazy hikes. Yesterday the first half of the day had been really boring. But I enjoyed it anyway because sometimes it's nice just to walk without distraction. I knew the weather report was daunting but I went anyway because I hardly ever see it snow. I wanted to see snow fall. Here I was freezing cold but I felt alive. I don't feel alive working and always being in air-conditioning during the day.

I started back southbound happy I had had a good adventure. The clouds began to clear a bit and I finally got my view. I could see Slide Mountain Lookout where I had considered making my trail. I could see a glimpse of Pyramid Lake. I could see the mountains near the Buck Creek Trail that I missed and the Snow Creek bushwack that I got lost in. I could see interesting rock formations that I remember seeing in the Google satellite views when I was researching my route. I saw the old highway with all the old inns that is now just a favorite Sunday motorcycle ride. I didn't see the Topatopas like I thought I would and this made me wonder how I ever though I recognized any of those mountains. That must have been serendipity of the PCT as well.

Hiking southbound I noticed a water tank. I decided to go investigate. I could not tell if you could get water out of it, but I was at the road so I decided I would just walk along the road instead of the trail. Wildchild and Dash had been hiking the road all through here and they said it had better views than the trail and highly recommended it. The views were very nice. I could see far into the Mojave/Lancaster area. The Tehachapis were covered in snow now. Storm clouds stretched far into the Sierra Nevada. I felt sorry for the thru-hikers this year. It's fun for a weekend but every day for months would be exhausting being snowed so much.

Along the way I saw a couple of dirt bike riders. Then I found a big baby bird laying in the road. It looked like maybe it had fallen out of the nest. I didn't know if it could fly yet. It looked lika dove. I picked it up and put it under a shrub to prevent it the indignity of being run over by a motorcycle or truck. It was soft, warm and heavy like my birds at home.

Eventually I reached a convenient place to get on the trail again and then I found myself back at Sawmill Camp waiting for my ride in the bitter cold. I got my ride back and enjoyed talking with Kevin of the PCTA. I hoped to see thru-hikers needing a ride to the Andersons when I got back to my car but there were none. I drove home fighting the urge to close my eyes and nap in the warmth of my car.

I'd post a picture but I can't figure out what happened to the network drive where I download them. It has vanished.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sewed my own hiking gaiters

homemade gaitersI made my own Dirty Girl gaiters.

I searched around town and the only place that sells spandex fabric is this place called Art from Scrap. Art from Scrap gets a lot of industrial waste and sells it to people who want to make art out of it. There are a lot of medical things, shavings from skateboard wheels, broken surfboards, leftover scraps and molds from the Teva factory and lots of other odds and ends. They had only about 5 scraps of spandex so I bought the best one and made these gaiters.

I used my Dirty Girl gaiters as a pattern. I do not have an overlock sewing machine, so I sewed with a zig-zag stitch to preserve the stretchiness. It worked! I think they came out pretty well, although not as professional as Dirty Girls. She doesn't have to worry about me encroaching on her turf, that's for sure! They're wild enough to look like real Dirty girls, however.

I hope to test them out this weekend.

I have not posted many pictures to this blog because I used up all my free space on Picassa. I still have a Flickr account, but it's also free so whenever I upload pictures I am not allowed to organize them into new sets. So they get lost eventually. I figure I could use Flickr for my blog because I don't really care if the pictures are organized for the blog.

More on navigating

A nice man on the PCT list described how the PCT is so easy to walk that you lose your place on the map. You can walk for tens or hundreds of miles without having to ever look at a map. His term for it is you "become situationally disconnected" from your progress on the map.

That's the best description of the experience I had trying to use maps on the PCT. I started to feel like maybe I didn't have any idea how to use maps anymore. I almost never had to look at the maps. So when I did, they were nearly useless because I had no idea where to begin looking for my location. I just couldn't figure the maps out. Even in the snowy Sierras when we had been using maps I felt like a map dunce.

As we neared Sonora Pass, my friends and I had been using a really nice Green Trail Map to find our way. It was very helpful as we traveled on top of snow. Soon we descended out of the snow into more forested realms. We followed the nice wide trail for a long time and did not look at the green trail map again.

The following morning, I set off ahead of everyone. I climbed into snow again and eventually I could not find my way. There was a post with directions but it was pointing the way I had just come and calling that North. My maps were useless because I had the little guide book maps. I never could figure those out. They are all out of order in the book and too small to be of much use. The description didn't help much because it mentioned a dirt road and I could see one but no way in hell was I going to risk my life trying to hike on it when it was covered in vertical snowfields.

All I knew was where North was and that there was an east-west road coming up. So over I go cross country down a large canyon. Eventually I find a trail. Eventually a lake. Faint foot prints. Then people. I knew by the time I saw the lake that I'd gone the wrong way but I figured out what lake it was by the shape so knew where I was. I found my way to the east-west road and back to my friends.

As an aside, at one point we were unsure of the direction, we were in deep forest and off trail due to looking for safe stream crossings and at that time, it was the guide book description that saved our butts. We found a dismantled bridge mentioned in the guide book described as one we would cross and from there deduced the way to where the bridge had been prior to its dismantling and found the trail again.

I believe it's good to have a lot of tools in your box. And when you are stupid, like perhaps I am, or when they fail to help you, then a great tool to have is to just not panic and use some horse sense. You are not guaranteed to die or be rescued just because you aren't following a path.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A GPS is superior in some ways to a compass

A GPS is superior in many ways to a compass. It is very hard to locate yourself with accuracy on a map on a clear day let alone under conditions where you cannot see or identify the surrounding peaks. I have triangulated myself using a geologist compass and protractors and even with perfect conditions it was still hard to place myself on a map. With a GPS I would be able to place myself perfectly even if there was fog or trees to block my view.

On the PCT I didn't have or know how to use a GPS and most of the time I never bothered with my compass. Instead I relied on my watch. After a few weeks I knew what my average pace was. With the data book and guide book and my watch, I could pass a point of interest, check the time, check for the distance to the next point of interest in the book and then calculate the time it would take to get there. At the appointed time, I could look around me for the point of interest. I could be within 5 minutes accuracy on a regular basis this way. I came to rely upon this means of navigation almost entirely.

By looking around, I mean really looking. I met a many people who missed things because they didn't look. I would find sticks that perhaps had once been aligned as arrows but now were scattered, very faint tracks in the dirt, signs facing the wrong way on trees that had fallen over, rocks that appeared out of place to me. With my watch, I'd know it was time to start looking and I'd look very carefully.

I am reminded of the book Clan of the Cave Bear. It's fiction, but I always remember how in this book when the people needed a map, it would not be a diagram of a bird's eye view of the land but of the points of interest you'd see as you went along. I read the book a long time ago and thought if this really was how things had been done at any time in our human history, it certainly makes a lot of sense to me because it is how I make sense of my landscape on a daily basis all the time. I am also reminded of the trees they have found throughout the eastern US that had once been purposefully bent so that they would form a directional pointer to the way to go to get somewhere.

Navigating by such ground-level means has been with us a long time. They are good skills to have and seem to be dying as much as compass-reading due to our overly distracted, non-introspective, non-observant culture.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What should I do this weekend?

I might go backpacking this weekend. I didn't hike last weekend. I haven't really gotten any exercise at all for a couple weeks now. It's bad. Especially since they make me eat donuts every day at work. (You don't know my boss.)

I'm not sure where to go. I could go back to the PCT and hike to Sawmill mountain like I planned to do last weekend. That would be fun because I might see other hikers. I could also hike to Pine Mountain Club near Ojai and probably see nobody at all yet be in wilderness that resembles the PCT in many ways.

On another note, someone sent me a personal message that they felt that whenever I send an email to a particular email list I participate in, that nearly all my messages rub that person the wrong way. Why would anyone go out of their way to say something like that to someone else? Lots of people bother me but I don't feel a need to tell them so. I really hate people sometimes.

I'm filing this under boring news even though it's not even news. It's even more boring than boring news.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kill myself weather

Such a difference from Agua Dulce Santa Barbara is. It's gloomy, cold and even raining a little today here in Santa Barbara. It's like winter has come. It was like driving into hell after enjoying the sun and warmth of Agua Dulce all weekend.

During winter we have such nice weather. It may be cold, we may have some severe storms, there may be snow in the backcountry, but where it's winter most places in the US, it's prime hiking season here in Santa Barbara. Then summer begins to approach and in the rest of the US it's time to hit the outdoors but in Santa Barbara, it's time to take anti-depressants and turn on your SAD prevention lights.

God how I hate June Gloom which has now become May Gray since it comes earlier than it used to when I was young. May Gray, June Gloom, the Fog of July, Fogust, September (don't have a clever one for September) and Nosunber. Then we arrive in fog-free December and enjoy some great weather again until the following May.

Overheard my co-worker calling it Serial Killer weather.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A weekend in Agua Dulce

Trailhacker and I spent a nice weekend in Agua Dulce.

We drove to the Vasquez Rocks in the morning. We hiked a little on the PCT in the Vasquez Rocks. The trail there is a dirt road until it decides to descend into a canyon. At that point, we walked a few feet down, but Trailhacker decided that without poles, he didn't feel too comfortable on the trail. So we headed back to the car. He was walking very slowly the whole way. I could see he was a little let down, having hoped for a miracle that he could get back on the trail soon.

From Vasquez Rocks we drove through town and stopped at the grocery store for ice. We had purchased a whole bunch of drinks and snacks at Smart & Final before setting off and now the ice was melting. From the parking lot we could see lots of people across the street near the cafe. Trailhacker thought he recognized Tarzan and Zelda. I thought it was wishful thinking, but indeed there they were!

We gave them a ride up to Hiker Heaven and then spent the afternoon hanging out with hiker trash, sharing our drinks and snacks and then chauffeuring people to town for dinner. Chuck Norris was included among the hikers, having arrived sometime in the afternoon. He is back on the trail but Tigger is back in Florida working. Chuck's plan is to actually hike the trail for a change. He's working up his fitness in California and once he feels good, he's hitting the trail near the Oregon border and finishing it up. Good for him.

We had dinner at the Mexican Restaurant, which was good but we both ate too much. Trailhacker had a hard time sleeping, but I slept mostly like a rock. I was awakened by a bug climbing on my hat in the middle of the night. I flicked him off and then noticed the stars. It had been the slimmest of new moons so the sky was full of stars. I saw a big cluster of stars and then fell back to sleep dreaming that the whole sky was so clear that all the stars were huge clusters of stars and the sky was nearly blue-white with all the clusters.

Another hiker there that we met was named JJ. He said he enjoys reading my posts on the pct-l list. He says I ruin all the fun because just when everyone is getting ready for a good wind-up I butt in with something sensible and shut everybody up. Sorry.

JJ had been trying to hike the PCT for a few years but every time he started hiking, he would end up passing out on the trail. The first few times he managed to go a few hundred miles before passing out. This time he only managed 60. He decided that maybe hiking the PCT was not meant to be, so he was helping out at Hiker Heaven instead, doing laundry the day I was there. It was nice to meet JJ. He seemed like a happy person enjoying his retirement.

Trailhacker and I were not planning to stay at Hiker Heaven since we were not technically hikers. The original plan was to go by Hiker Heaven and see if there was anyone who needed help, perhaps a ride to the REI in Northridge. We could leave the drinks and snacks and ferry people to Northridge, then move on to Casa de Luna. We weren't sure we would visit Casa de Luna, but the guide book said there was a campsite behind the ranger station in Green Valley, so it seemed like a tentative, play-it-by-ear kind of plan. But because we went out to dinner with Trailhacker's buddies from the trail, and because he was having such a nice time seeing friends from the trail that he knew, we ended up being at Hiker Heaven quite late. With permission we camped out under a grapevine. Good thing because there is no campsite behind the ranger station in Green Valley after all.

In the morning we decided to head out. I gave Tarzan and Zelda a ride to the continuation of the "trail" at the corner of Darling Rd. and the main drag in town. Then Trailhacker and I went for breakfast at the cafe. Breakfast was very good. Too much coffee, though.

After breakfast we headed home, but suddenly Trailhacker grabbed the GPS and punched in the location of Green Valley and the GPS led us there. I recognized the Heart & Soul cafe and from there was able to remember the way I walked to get to Casa de Luna.

Casa de Luna was eerily quiet. There wasn't a single hiker there. We walked through the manzanita forest and it didn't look as though anyone had camped in there at all yet this year. As we were getting ready to leave, Terri and Joe came out to talk with us and we spent a half our enjoying talking with them. They said they were expecting a hiker soon and were going to go look for him at the trailhead. We said we would look for him and if we didn't find him, we'd just go home. So, after dropping off one final box of cookies for the hikers, we drove up to the ranger station picnic table and then to the trail but found no hikers waiting for a ride.

We drove home and that ended our weekend of trail angeling and enjoying a little hiker trash company. I joked last night that if you are ever lonely I know where you can go have a party any time during the month of May.

Poor Trailhacker. He admitted he had been hoping for a miracle and that he might be feeling like he could return to the trail soon. Instead I think the attempt at hiking just showed him how much more recovery he has left to do. I suggested that perhaps he could hike the southern section of the PCT in October. There would be no snow, the air would be cooling and he might even meet some southbounders. Or perhaps he can try again next year. It remains to be seen what the plan will be.

As I sat around enjoying time with hiker trash, I noticed I did not feel a pull toward a trail. I was enjoying knowing I did not have to hike in the heat and push myself through the pain in my feet. But then we stepped on the trail for a short distance off San Francisquito Road and I saw all the wildflowers still in bloom and once again I was wishing I was hiking again. Incidentally, I think we could have camped on the trail just southbound of the road crossing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Trail angeling planned for this weekend

My plan while The Man was hiking the PCT was to go for an overnighter this weekend on the PCT. I planned to hike from San Francisquito Rd. to Sawmill Mountain or so. The Man wasn't due to be there, I just felt like I wanted to revisit the spot where I looked to the west and thought I could see mountains from my home turf that I recognized. That sense of looking home stayed with me and eventually led me to hike from my home to the PCT. I got to walk through those mountains I saw. I hoped to have a chance to go back to that spot and look at those mountains again.

But The Man has been home recovering from his sprained ankle instead of hiking the PCT. He feels quite a bit better lately. I suggested that maybe instead of me going backpacking by myself that maybe the two of us could try to be trail angels for the day. I offered various scenarios like maybe he could hang out at the Casa de Luna while I backpacked out to Sawmill Mountain. Or maybe we could go to Agua Dulce and see if people needed a ride to REI in Northridge and I could drive to Northridge while he hung out with any hiker buddies he might know. He didn't seem eager for any of it so I kept trying to suggest alternate plans.

Today I came home from work and noticed that he had packed his backpacking backpack. I guess he wants to go. I asked if he really thought he could walk on his ankle. He wasn't sure. He might be up for a short walk in the Vasquez Rocks or maybe he just wants to camp behind the ranger station on San Francisquito Road. We'll play it by ear. Maybe we'll just show up in Agua Dulce and nobody will want anything, we'll get his bandana and come right home.

I picked some avocados to give away but they won't be ripe for at least a week or two. I have a couple pairs of decent shoes to give away if anyone needs any. We'll probably pick up some drinks. Hopefully we can be of help, although nowadays it seems like hikers have so much help they can hardly appreciate it anymore.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Comparing ultralight shelters to more traditional ones

The thing with ultralight gear is that it takes more effort sometimes to stay warm and dry. That doesn't make ultralight gear less worthy. Much ultralight gear is not made for people who don't want to think about the external issues involved.

Ultralight tents in particular depend on you adding a few crucial ingredients, including choosing a good camp site where there is limited wind, katabatic air (cold air that sinks), condensation etc, and choosing a good spot in the site where there won't be a puddle of water forming and where trees and bushes can provide some additional warmth, shelter and condensation protection. Very frequently this means that the typical backcountry campsite that most people aspire to, such as a nice lakeshore site or a spot in a meadow, are rejected because these sites will be cold, wet and uncomfortable. Much better will be a mid-slope site protected by trees. Sometimes you have to pass by the nice lake-side site or select a tent site a small walking distance away to be able to attain the kind of warmth, dryness and protection that a more robust and heavy tent will provide. Not a problem to me because the hours I spend at night are unconscious while the hours I spend hiking are enhanced by a small pack.

You can't just throw up a shelter like a Z-Packs hexamid any old place and expect it to work as well as a heavy, double-wall shelter. But with care you can choose a good site, arrange the ground sheet and other items well, and sleep warm, safe and dry. That is the trade-off. Easy warm safe and dry with a lot of weight, or warm safe and dry with a little extra thought and care. So it's only with the thought and care added that ultralight and more traditional shelters can be compared.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Show and Tell - Going Light

I have used up all my free space on my various photo hosting web sites, so I posted a topic on Backpacking Light with pictures of my gear from the trip I took on the Sisquoc last weekend. You can see it here.

I don't really know what the weight of my pack was. I know when I left for the PCT last May my pack was a little heavier and weighed in at 12lbs without food. But I had a few other things (like journal and guide books) and a different pack. So my guess is that it's about 10 pounds now before food, and for 3 days I probably had about 4.5 pounds of food.

The key to my light pack is really the tent, which weighs a little more than a pound and uses my trekking poles to set up, the sleeping quilt which weighs only 16 ounces, the pack which is about a pound and my cook kit. After that, the key is never bringing a change of clothes. I walked 3000 miles without a change of clothes, I can certainly walk 45 miles without one. Also, hiking the PCT I really learned I don't need much to be comfortable. I learned how to be kind of a McGuyver about things and not really mind a certain amount of gear-induced discomfort. Hence my do-it-yourself gaiters made of stuff I found on the trail.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Use of phones on the long trails

The only real problem I have with cellphones is that the constant connectivity is becoming a mandate. It's great that people can go for a hike for two months and still do their jobs, but that is a two-edged blessing. If it becomes possible for the boss to have that "freedom", then how will the rest of us plebes get to take a two month vacation without being expected to work?

The other mandate now is that some people consider you to be irresponsible if you go into the wilderness without a phone or SPOT. It's fine if you want all that safety and security, but it makes it harder for those of us who feel we don't need this to do things our way.

I brought a cellphone on the PCT and was happy to have it. I used it to keep in touch. I didn't use it very often. I am not against cellphones.

I do kind of feel bothered by this new situation that seems to be happening where people have all these phone numbers pre-loaded so when they approach a town they just call someone for a ride and arrange their hotel accommodations before they arrive. I suppose I shouldn't be bothered by what other people do, but with the water caches and now even little stores popping up on the trail it kind of takes the "seat of the pants" adventure out of things. Makes it too easy. Lowers the bar so more idiots can get into trouble, too.

I tried the pre-arranged ride once on the PCT but it didn't work out for me. When I got to the pre-arranged meeting place two hours early there was somebody there willing to give me a ride right then. I canceled the pre-arranged ride. I decided that trail magic and serendipity would do the job well enough and just went with that from then on and had some of the most amazing adventures of my life.

People who rely too much on cellphones are starting to morph the meaning of trail magic and trail angels to mean mundane things like coolers of soda (often with advertisements for accommodations in town) and people who you can call to give you a ride when it used to mean learning about the gift economy of the trail, how it takes care of you when you let it. I feel sad that people are missing out on that very special magic.

Result of my gear choices

So my choice of tent for my trip was a good one. Biting flies ate me alive so it was nice to have a refuge.

My choice of skirt was not so good. Like shorts, they allow your legs to get torn up by scratchy brush and stickers. A skirt is better than shorts but not as good as pants. I do like how with a skirt you can easily add layers underneath, so I will definitely use a skirt in the future, but only on clean, bug-free trails.

My choice of shoes was a disaster. Keen sandals are the worst of all possible worlds. As a shoe, there is no traction on the trail. I fell twice, once into a yucca bush that stabbed me deep into the muscle of my arm and punctured my hand and leg. In the water the shoes let in all the gravel and won't let it out again. Sand and gravel chewed away my skin as I walked. The trail was overgrown with foxtails which pierced the fabric of the sandals and collected inside. I was constantly being poked by foxtails. I finally resorted to fashioning gaiters and shoe covers from a stuff sack to protect myself from foxtails, but nothing could save me from the sand and gravel.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Last minute gear choices for my trip

I've decided to bring my tent on my trip this weekend. Even though I have a poncho tarp and a big 8x10 tarp that I could bring, I always come back to my Gossamer Gear One tent. It's really the lightest option of all my choices even though it's not the lightest individual thing. With the other tarps I still have to bring lines and stakes and some kind of mosquito net and then I'm stuck without a generous space of protection against mosquitoes and flies. So basically, I get significantly less with a tarp for only a few tiny ounces of weight savings, if any. So I always come back to my tent as the best option for weather and bugs. I think I'll sleep out under the stars, though. It'll just be extra, unused weight, which is unfortunate, but I don't want to be ill-prepared.

I'm still wondering about the skirt. I've never backpacked in a skirt. I worry that poison oak and scratchy brush will bother me. I have leggings I can wear but will it hold up under foxtails and scrub oak? Nothing to do but give it a try.

As for footwear, I am leaning toward my Keen sandals with liner socks to prevent blisters which I always get on the top of my feet. They are so clunky and stiff, but I wore them yesterday and my feet actually felt good at the end of the day, so maybe I'll be happy with the choice.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The So Cal section of the PCT is NOT DESERT!

Someone asked why PCT hikers tend to be so ill-prepared for the weather in southern California. This was my response:

I see a pattern that if someone can't find the road to Cabazon or they turn up freezing cold at Mike Herrera's house or their tent falls down in 50mph winds (really, whose wouldn't?) the list (PCT-L, an email list about the PCT) tends to bring out discussions of why these people were so ill-prepared.

But okay fine, let's go on the assumption that these people are ill- prepared. Are they entirely to blame when the tendency for PCT listers and hikers, including seasoned PCT hikers, alike is to dismiss the entire first 700 miles of California as "the desert"?

I have argued with people that it's not the desert and they've disagreed with me despite me providing links to show the facts, so ingrained is the belief that it's all desert. I even spoke to someone on the trail who told me how much they loved the desert, having never visited before. Easy to say while they were under the forest canopy of the Lagunas.

There are only a few small places where hikers are actually truly in the desert as defined as a place with very little rainfall and sparse vegetation. The rest of the time you are hiking through all kinds of areas from riparian woodlands to oak woodlands to oak savannas to juniper and pine forest to the big cone spruce forested north facing slopes to interior live oak, blue oak and black oak forests and yes, a lot of chaparral. But chaparral isn't desert either. It's a forest adapted to conditions of hot dry summers, frequent droughts, wildfire and a COOL WET RAINY SEASON that stretches from OCTOBER TO APRIL.

But most people dismiss southern California as "the desert" and say things like "only 700 miles of desert and you'll be in the Sierra where the real hike begins". The tendency then is to believe you can start your hike in March as if you were going for a hike in Tucson. When my boyfriend wanted to start in mid-April I thought that was a little early but since previous years have been pretty nice and more and more people seemed to be starting earlier and earlier, maybe it would work out. I started my hike in May using Ray Jardine's PCT Handbook itineraries. I think it's interesting to note that even his longest itinerary doesn't start until May 7.

So maybe the blame lies in people using the shorthand "desert" to talk about hiking in hot, dry southern California. It's no desert. You are hiking from sky island to sky island. You are reaching nearly 10,000 feet forested mountain conditions within a few days. You touch true desert only a few times and spend only a few days here and there in it. And if you start your hike in April, you are still within the rainy season.

(P.S. I still wouldn't bring an ice axe. I would find another route or turn back. I am pretty sure you can still get injured falling with an ice axe. I believe every hiking party needs one scaredy-cat female not afraid to turn back with them.)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A little better day today

I survived another Sierra Club hike. This one went better. Mr. Cloud of Perfume showed up but didn't ride in my car. He ate a block of cheese and a salami for lunch. I'm off the hook for leading hikes until the end of the month. There goes my Memorial Day weekend.

I plan to go backpacking next weekend. Leaving Wednesday evening actually. I'm struggling with what to bring. What shoes to handle the 300 creek crossings? What shelter to carry unused without too much resentment for the unnecessary weight? Will there be mosquitoes? Bare legs that get wet in streams and scratched up on bushes or wet pant legs and no scratches? Try out no-cook food or enjoy the usual stuff I'm used to?

The weekend after that I think I'd like to drive out to the Casa de Luna area on the PCT and hike out to Sawmill Mountain and back. Maybe The Man would like to come with me. He could stay at the Casa and experience the debauchery for himself while I hike by myself pretending to be a real hiker for 48 hours.

Maybe the weekend after that I can attempt Fuller Ridge to Snow Canyon. Or maybe go for heat and hike from I10 to Mission Creek and back. Or maybe even return to Casa de Luna and hike to Agua Dulce and back.

I think living as I do with the PCT within a 200 mile radius of me means that I could actually keep a connection to the trail with some determination.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

I'm a hermit in the making

I had a dream last night that I owned a tiny house. Inside I had painstakingly painted it so that it had the appearance of having fancy crown molding and even extra rooms. Somehow magically when you went inside it was bigger than it appeared outside. Some of the extra rooms were real. I was in search of a place to put my tiny house so I could live in it.

Today I woke up and realized I needed to charge my camera if I was going to be able to take pictures of wildflowers on the hike I was leading for the Sierra Club. I searched high and low for the camera charger but could not find it. I assumed it was probably with The Man's PCT things and attempted to look in his various boxes and bags all over the house. I couldn't find it, but just the process of looking for it angered The Man. I think I will go live with my mother or maybe live portably out in the forest for a while.

The Man embraces pain as the natural order of his life. Physical, psychic or whatever kind of pain. If there is pain in his life, he holds on to it tightly. I can't think that I am anything more than one more painful thing that he is hanging on to. I think it's time for me to go.

I agreed to lead the Sierra Club hike today for someone else who could not make it. The hike was to have an early start time, an hour earlier than usual. I went to the meeting place to wait and the first person there was an obviously mentally ill person. A few more people arrived and all of them thought the hike was a different one than was scheduled. That is because every time The Man makes up the schedule and sends it off to the newsletter to be printed, a bunch of the leaders will only then notice that the schedule isn't right and then they want changes. Because there are so many web sites that post the schedule, we who have web sites have been happily updating our copies of the schedule to keep up with the changes. The problem now becomes that almost every single time I lead a Sierra Club hike everybody assumes it is a different hike because they saw the printed schedule or they saw a schedule a few weeks ago and wrote it down or somehow or another they got confused. You can no longer trust the schedule. But then who gets blamed? The person who has the most popular web site (me) or the person leading the hike (me because I usually am the one who gets bumped around to accommodate other people's schedules.) I like to lead really strenuous hikes and then I get all these weak and wimpy people who have no water and are unprepared but since the hardest part of the hike is getting up on a weekend early to go to the meeting place, they come anyway and then complain that the hike is too hard. That's what happened to me today and it wasn't even my hike. I'm really tired of it.

The mentally ill guy was carrying a bag of a groceries but no backpack. He had a perpetual smile on his face. He sprayed himself often with perfume which ruined the hike for me because the whole outdoors smelled like cheap cologne instead of sage and fresh air. He smelled every bite of his food before he ate it. He had a half gallon of orange juice but no water and so he didn't drink anything on the hike and then got dehydrated. He plans to come on my hike again tomorrow. I told him that if he didn't have at least a half gallon of water tomorrow I would not let him come on my hike.

I drive a pick-up truck. It seats only one other than me. I had to give the mentally ill guy and his cloud of perfume a 40 minute ride to the trailhead. Trapped in the car with him and he never gave me any gas money. Tomorrow I'm riding my Vespa so that won't happen again. And when the schedule runs out, I'm quitting the Sierra Club because I'm tired of hanging out with people I wouldn't choose to spend my day with.

After the hike, which gratefully ended early because the road was closed on the way to the 15 mile strenuous hike we were going to do, I went to buy a door to replace the one the Big Bird chewed. A Big Bird lives in our house. She is an umbrella cockatoo. She used to live next door, her owner a mentally ill drug-addicted woman who got kicked out and became homeless. The poor bird was left behind, locked in her cage on the porch with several blankets covering the cage all day and night. I could not stand to look at that so I left a note that I would take care of the bird. They gratefully gave her to me. This has been a constant source of consternation for The Man. He didn't want the bird. Naturally the Big Bird took to him and she worships him like the Sun. He threatens now and then to give the bird back to her old owner. I hate to think of it, but what can I do? I do not own the bird technically. Anyway, I felt bad because the bird chewed a huge hole in the door when The Man and I were away at the Mexican Border starting his journey on the PCT. She had not been locked in her cage when we left. That should have been done.

But it matters little that the Big Bird chewing a hole was caused by The Man leaving her on purpose outside of her cage. It is my fault for bringing the Big Bird into the house to begin with. So I bought a door. A door costs only $25.

While I was out getting the door, I decided to buy a camera. The Man bought me a nice camera for Christmas. He said he did research and chose one of the better ones. Then he bought himself a crap camera like he always does and now he complains that his pictures come out horrible. Then he did research and found out that everybody who bought his same camera complains of horrible pictures, too. Why he can't give himself a nice camera I do not understand. So I bought myself the camera I really wanted, a smaller one that isn't as nice because I don't need such a nice camera to take good pictures, and I put my old camera with all its batteries and wires and things into his bounce bucket where hopefully he will find it someday when he's searching for his camera battery charger.

Now I'm on my way to the thrift store to get rid of 3/4 a truckload of old clothes and shoes. I'm finally getting around to getting rid of all the shoes I outgrew after the PCT. I've got bags and bags of them. Bags and bags of clothes too. I have a tendency to thrift store shop and then my wardrobe gets too full and I have to pare back again. It'll be nice to have finally made some progress toward reducing the number of things I own.

Now, if I could figure out how to store my remaining things so that I can live in the forest and not have my cast iron sewing machine rust to crap or my remaining Little Funny Bird die or exposure or loneliness, everything will work out well. I could live portably, shower with my Pocket Shower, go to work each day and save all my money so that one day I can just hike and hike and hike. I was reading on Whiteblaze that there's a new trail in Utah and when it's completed you could theoretically hike for a year and a half continuously. Anyway, I'm on my way to living my tiny house life one way or another I guess. A hermit in the making, fed up with people.