Saturday, November 23, 2013

My why, Why I am planning on hiking 2600+ miles - Part 3

There are two sure things in life - death and taxes, neither of which is natural or normal, regardless of our attempts to deal with them and accept them. Especially the first, it stares at us with it's hollow eyes from every dark corner. On sunny days and when we are with others in a jovial mood we can pretty much ignore the leering skull under the black hood standing in the shadows... waiting. But you can't escape the reality that someday death comes for you.

Tragedy struck my life again in 2010. The scythe swiped through my life and separated me from my friend Bruce. We met in 1994. I was in my early thirties and showed up at his church with my young family. Bruce was a pastor. We began meeting for lunch and for whatever reason, he was drawn to me, and I to him.

I thought perhaps he needed someone to help out with the youth program or something. Perhaps he did, but he never vocalized it, or if he did, I said no, and that was that. Our relationship blossomed into a heart-to-heart friendship not unlike the one described in the Bible between David and Jonathan. We spent years having the same types of discussions about the Bible and theology that I had with my dad. Bruce was there for me when my dad died, and I was there for him when he lost his mom.

There are times in my life that I have experienced a "transcendent moment", an instant in time that I felt like I never wanted this moment to end. Bruce and I shared a lot of those moments. Bruce was a simple guy and liked simple explanations. He liked specific things and didn't like other things. Once his mind was made up, it was almost impossible for him to change it. There were just a few times where I was able to change his mind. The fascinating thing was that once his mind was changed he was just as dedicated to his new position as he once held his old.

The tragedy of Bruce's life is the opposite of my dads. Bruce's memorial was attended by large numbers of people, all of which seemed to remember moments like mine. He had a large number of "close" friends. In my mind I thought they all had a similar understanding of Bruce's theology that I had come to know. However, once Bruce was gone, suddenly everyone had a different understanding of what he was about. It's a sad fact that the apparent 'band of brothers' that Bruce had gathered around him were neither a band, nor brothers and quickly went off in their own directions.

With that being said it is remarkable that Jesus' followers not only remained together, but built one of the worlds greatest religions. Something that demonstrates to me not only the strength of Jesus' words and life, but the veracity of the claims of his disciples that He was the divine Son of God. Otherwise, none of us would have ever heard of him. They, like Bruce's "friends", would have wandered off into obscurity and anonymity.

Like I started to say earlier, the tragedy of Bruce's life was opposite my dads in the sense that a great number of people experienced a profound loss on his passing. But very few would agree on exactly what it was that made Bruce so special. For myself, I can only say that I am the person I am today because of the profound impact that Christ had upon my life through my friendship with Bruce. He lived his life in the presence of his creator. He lived in the conscious expectation that God would judge his every action and word.

At the same time that Christ was leading and drawing me through my friendship with Bruce there are a few people who were more interested in being an FOB (Friend of Bruce) than being a FOC (Follower of Christ). They have adopted some kind of weird antinomian libertine lifestyle based on a philosophy of "If it doesn't feel good, don't do it" that they would attribute to something Bruce said. It is fascinating to me how different people can be so differently affected by one person's life.
My life journey has a character metaphorically similar to what I see when I think about the PCT. Just as the PCT passes through a number of breathtakingly beautiful places in a seemingly accidental way, in reality it is a planned, furrowed, specifically defined track that you are either on or you are not. It is deliberate in its apparent randomness.

From a distance my life may look like a accidental meandering journey with starts and stops and unpredictable switchbacks and turns. For me, as I live in real-time, it feels like I am being driven or guided or compelled. I feel as though I am living in a story with an origin in the mind of someone outside of myself. That the journey I am taking and the path I am on is in a script where I have a part to play and I cannot decide to not play my part without denying the person that I am becoming. There is a deep sense of purpose and reason in my desire to hike the PCT. In order to be true to the person I am becoming, my path lies squarely down the track of the PCT.

The purpose of this journal is to provide to the reader my thoughts and feelings as I take this journey. The reader I have in mind as I write is first of all my future self, and secondly those who want to know me, and finally those who want to know what is like to plan and hike the PCT. It is also my intent and purpose to point you subtly toward the author of my life that you might experience life as I do.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My why, Why I am planning on hiking 2600+ miles - Part 2

Dad died in 1998. I had heard of tragedy prior to then, but had never really experienced personal tragedy. In theater, drama, movies, and good stories, there are two basic story lines; comedy, where the hero wins and "everyone lives happily ever after" and tragedy where the forces of antagonism win. In 1998 I felt real tragedy in real life.

My dad was one of my heros. He was misunderstood by most, an enigmatic character in a story that played out in fifty eight short years. Raised in poverty in the Central Valley of California his mom was a migrant worker who worked in tomato packing plant. His dad was an alcoholic who caused caused him so much pain that we rarely heard about him. He would show up every year or two and dad would pack the three of us kids and my mom into the car and we would go the the Chinese food resturant for dinner with grandpa. I would eat jumbo prawns and fried rice while watching the big goldfish swim around in the fish tank.

I knew my dad's parents were both Russian immigrants and that they both came to America in different ways and at different times. Grandma came with her parents and was part of a strict Christian sect called Molokans. Which apparently means "milk drinkers" in Russian. Grandpa was pretty much unknown to me, purposefully so, by my dad. He kept us three kids in the dark as to his origins or experiences as a kid. I am guessing his childhood was pretty dark as we didn't hear many stories about it, even though dad was an amazing storyteller. Dad was born and raised in San Francisco, he lived there all of his life, that is where he died.

Dad is one of my heros because in spite of the hand he was dealt, he played it well. Rather than perpetuating the "sins of his father" into his family, he always told us that Jesus was our heritage and raised a family that to this day is a pleasure to be a part of. Dad was a follower of Jesus. He wasn't much for the politics and programs of church, but his faith was deeply rooted in Christ's redeeming power to transform human lives. I believe his faith was deep because Jesus had transformed his life. Dad lived his faith without hypocrisy or fanfare. He was a real Christian in his thoughts and actions and didn't give a whit to what other people thought of him. At the same time he wasn't one of those Christians who annoyingly wear their faith on their sleeve as if they had to prove their devotion to Jesus by "winning souls" or "converting sinners".

After I was married in 1985, dad and mom would come to visit. Dad and I would get into deep and fascinating theological discussions that at times gave my mom concern that we were angry and arguing and she would come into the room and try to tone us down. She didn't realize how much fun we were both having. It is hard to find someone with whom you can disagree with agreeably and take opposing sides in a discussion without feelings being hurt or damaging the friendship. I had that with my dad and we both grew in our faith and understanding through our late night discussions.

The tragedy of 1998 is a tragedy because his story ended without many people ever getting to know his story. There are less than ten people alive today who knew him very well or who experienced any significant loss at his passing. One of the reasons for my hike is that I intend to begin blogging more so that anyone (I am thinking of Vivian and my other future grand-kids) will know me through the words I put into this journal. At the very least they will be able to judge from my words themselves as to whether their grand-dad was a man worth being a grandchild of.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My why, Why I am planning on hiking 2600+ miles - Part 1

In August of 2006 while I was solo hiking in Yosemite I wrote down a list of 'Reasons why I like backpacking' in my journal. Back then I used a primitive journal that required a pen.

In fact it was a space pen sorta like the one Jack gave Jerry Seinfeld in "The Pen" episode, "Take the pen Jerry," "I'm not taking your pen," Jack goes on to tell Jerry that it can write upside down and astronauts can use it in space. So when I saw a really small version of it, I bought for packing...

Anyway, I wrote a list that I have often pulled out and thought about. Asking myself, "Is this still true?" and so far the answer to all seven things is still true. They are especially true for a thru-hike as demanding as this one will be. So without further ado... oh wait, I also wanted to mention the other significant thing I learned on that 2006 Yosemite trip.

That was the year that the tiles around the perimeter of the pool we once had developed some calcium deposits. I went to the pool store to ask about how to clean it off, hoping for some easy, "Scale-way, remove deposits with a quick spray and wipe." Instead the guy showed me to the pumice stones and said you had to rub it off. Oh okay, how hard could that be?

Ha, about the only thing somewhat enjoyable about it is that you get to be in your pool. Except it's really hard to apply any force to the stone because of the laws of Newtonian motion, especially that pesky third law which keeps the diligent tile scrubber constantly fighting to keep himself from being pushed to the middle of the pool by his own efforts to scrub scale.

So I bought the stone, I scrubbed the tiles for most of the summer and by early August my once grand and formidable stone was but a small sliver of it's former self. It was rounded on all of the corners and small and smooth. Did you know the pumice floats? Me neither, but it does. So as I sat there on the steps of my pool admiring the beauty of the tiles and the warmth of the air I had what would prove to be one of the stupidest ideas I have ever had.

My feet had developed some pretty (that's not the right word), hefty callouses. They where rugged and ugly. They were embarrassing appendages drooping off the sides of my sandals. And worst of all, they would snag on my sheets when I slide my feet into bed.

The first thought wasn't a horribly bad thought. Like the thought to move a little closer to the edge of the top of a gravel covered ledge so you can look down the face... what a cool view that would be... what a cool feeling it would be if my feet didn't snag the sheets every night. Before I knew it, my feet were soft and tender as a baby's butt. And it was so much easier than calcium deposits on tile.

My error did not become apparent until Peeler Lake. What is this strange sensation on my heel. I got these ginormous blisters that not even a Sacajawea dollar would cover. Note to self: snag your sheets or bloody heels, choose your poison.

But this post is about the reasons why I like backpacking, and they are:
  1. It's physically demanding, requiring stamina, fortitude, and tenacity
  2. I enjoy navigating and using a map and compass, estimating time and distances
  3. I enjoy doing without, it makes me thankful for what I have
  4. I enjoy planning and executing processes, attempting to refine them and make them as efficient as possible (like how to pack my pack so that stuff goes in and comes out in the right order without a lot of digging around, or like what is the most efficient way to setup camp and cook dinner, or like how do I setup my shelter, get inside it and reasonably dry while in the middle of a storm)
  5. Changing scenery, spectacular views, wildflowers and waterfalls
  6. Sleeping outside, listening to moving water
  7. Simplify, simplify, simplify - Henry D. Thoreau
So those are my starting point, they are from a previous me. There has been a lot of distance between the me of then and the me of now, yet somethings still remain true. I will expand upon and add to that list in future posts.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why and how do you plan to walk 2600+ miles?

Proverbs 16:9

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.(ESV)

For the last week and a half I have been putting together my plan to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. I started by using Craigs PCT Planner and Yogi's Pacific Trail Handbook to create a first draft plan of my resupply points.

This is where my experience on my two-day sixty two mile marathon comes into usefulness. In order to plan you have to know roughly how fast you are going to hike. Since I had never hiked thirty miles in a single day before, not to mention days back to back, I didn't have a context as to what I would be capable of. Now I know what it's like and what it will feel like.

Using my pace as a starting point I began to consider the key elements of the hike. There are a couple of important drivers for the this project. (I noticed my project management experience kicking in). They are:
  1. The best time to get a ride from the Onion Vally Trailhead into Independence is on a weekend. This doesn't happen until seven hundred and eighty nine miles into the hike.
  2. You don't want to leave Kennedy Meadows any earlier than mid-June as there will be too much snow. Meaning the passes are harder to cross and the melt in the streams make the crossings harder. Also there may not be anyone in Red's Meadow. 
  3. I want to attend the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off (ADZPCTKO) that happens typically on the last weekend of April.
  4. You don't need a permit to climb Mt Whitney if you are a PCT thru-hiker and you stay to the west of the divide.
What I like about Craig's PCT Planner is that you can make changes and the dates ripple down to the end updating when you will arrive and depart the various resupply points. This is great for knowing what to ship where and when but it didn't tell me if I would be able to make it there by then and where I might camp, get water, and take a zero day.
I am planning on camping here the night
before attempting to summit Mt Whitney

So I then downloaded all of Halfmile's maps and began visualizing the route. Halfmile also has the entire PCT in GPS tracks and waypoints, which I also downloaded and opened in Google Earth (GE). Wow, what a cool setup! I could basically fly the entire route, compare the map to what it looks like in GE, and determine if my plan is realistic or not.

Same camp in Google Earth - way cool!

The reality is though, that regardless of the planning I do, the real hike is going to differ from it. There are too many unknown variables for me to be able to predict the outcome. All I can do is my best to mitigate the risks and the variables. So I planned extra days and flexibility into the plan to allow for changes so that they can be made without completely tossing out the entire plan.

In working through this exercise I have found some of my ideas were completely unrealistic. What is interesting is that when reading Yogi's book I found that some parts of the trail contain few entries, giving the impression that the distance is less than it really is. When I began to follow the maps and the route it is truly staggering how far the distance is between some of the entries.

So what's the point of the Bible verse at the beginning of the post?

I been thinking about all of the mental effort involved in putting this trip together. The reality is though, my days could end tomorrow, in which case this is my last post. Even if the summer of 2017 finally comes, the plan is irrelevant until day arrives and my feet hit the ground at the Mexican border, and even then there are a myriad of unknowable, unpredictable possibilities that are going to shape and change the plan even though I put my best efforts to it.

So why plan? Because if I don't plan it, I won't do it. I hate cliches but the one that goes "Those that fail to plan, plan to fail" could be said of me as I have never planned for anything as epic as this trip because of the fear of failing. So I didn't necessary plan to fail, but I also never dared pursue a dream big enough that failure could have a significant impact on my life.

Most people I talk to don't understand why anyone would hike from Mexico to Canada much less why anyone would want to. I will try to answer the why, at least my why in a later post... assuming I live till then.