Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Destiny of a Snowflake

Each day is like a snowflake. Delicate and precious and unique unto itself. There will never be another like it, once it's gone, it's gone. How often do I live with that truth before me? Not often enough. Days seem to come stacked up to overflowing, faster than I can cope with them. Like a snow flurry on a mountain pass, seemingly infinite and immeasurable. Yet that perception is false, we have so few days allotted to us. So many dreams and so little time.

I sit here in front of my computer, contemplating the marriage of my fourth child. The fourth out of five leaving the nest to set out on her own adventures. To live her life, I pray, with the same joyous wonderment that I have lived mine. To experience all the joys and sorrows of life, to drink the cup to the dregs and live without any regrets. Where did the days go? How quickly they pass. The little willful girl with the button nose whose smile or frown always came directly from her heart is leaving me for another man. It's sad and sweet at the same time, it is what I want for her. It is one of the crosses that dads get to bear; to see their precious, cute, daughters grow up and become beautiful young women. Who then fall in love with another man, and leave the man who invested so much time, energy, money, and emotion into their lives. Yet I am happy for her and excited about her new life without me.

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed's book, Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. My heart broke for her, to hear the pain in her words. A past so unlike my own, or my daughters. Lost, alone, searching for something that she senses is there, but just out of each. Looking for peace and comfort in an otherwise seemingly indifferent, and uncaring universe. Her story is not my story, her experiences are so different than my own.  

There is something unique about the people that choose to dedicate a few months of their lives to such a painful and self-denying endeavor as thru-hiking hundreds of miles of remote and desolate trail. I am not saying they are better, or worse, just unique, different. Some of them are like Cheryl, lonely and afraid, yet facing their fears rather than running from them. Are they looking for something? Do they have something to prove? Perhaps, but at least some of them also have something within that is calling them, compelling them, driving them to it. At least that is how it is for me.  My dream of hiking the PCT doesn't go away. Even in the long spaces between the postings on this blog. Much of my free thinking time is spent contemplating the trail. Cheryl's portraits of the trail are as real to me as my own memories of the John Muir Trail that I hiked last summer.

I am not consciously looking for anything, I don't consider myself a seeker. In fact I feel as though I have already found myself, and my 'purpose'. I am not conscious of a need to prove to myself or anyone else that I can actually hike the whole way from Mexico to Canada, in fact I don't even know if I can. For me it's more like the next step, the unfolding of something new, the unwrapping of the next stage of my journey. It's like everything in my past is driving me forward to the PCT; that to turn aside from it and not take it would be to reject the very reason that I was made.

It's weird because, career-wise it is dumb. Relationally it is strange and counter-intuitive. Rationally it seems like a foolish interruption of the otherwise successful and productive life that I have lived to this point. Yet I can't shake it, I can't leave it undone. I feel that if I happen to successfully walk two-thousand six hundred sixty two miles and I have one mile to go, that I will not necessarily be any wiser, more fulfilled, or complete than I am right now. I only know that if I don't go, I would be disobedient to that still small voice that is driving me to it.

There are other Cheryl's out there that need a friend while they hike the trail. There are Dougs, Jasons, and Sams too. They all need a friend, a companion, an encourager, and co-commiserator. I want to be that friend, I want to walk in the rain with them. I want to feel the sun baking our brains, to be dirty, and sweaty, and exhausted along side them. I want to share the journey with these unique people who fondly refer to themselves as 'hiker-trash'.

Life is too short, time passes, the sand is emptying from the glass. The days cannot be restored, they are gone forever. Like snowflakes in the spring, they are melted and pour down like water into the vast sea that is called the past. Then only memories remain of the glorious unique creations they once were. Live your life. Live it, love it, share it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Desert Hiking Plans

Desert! Hot! Sandy, no water, every plant and rock is out to puncture you and your equipment. Or so I have heard. I personally have no experience hiking in the desert.
What??? Hiking for over thirty five years and you've never hiked in the desert?
That's right, I have never hiked in the desert. A desert newbie, a babe in the cacti. There are miles and miles of desert on the PCT and if I am going to hike the entire PCT I am going to need to know how to hike in the desert. So...

Next year's adventure is to the desert. Two weeks, Three hundred forty two miles of blistering, scorching, sun-baked, dusty, blinding, bliss in the wilderness. I am planning on hiking the PCT from the southern terminus to Interstate 15. Last summer I hiked the John Muir trail plus a few extra miles for a total of two hundred forty three miles in fifteen days. The plan is to hike an additional hundred miles in the same number of days.

I will attend the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO) event at Morena Lake before setting off to push myself further than I have ever pushed myself before. Even though there are not as many high passes as the JMT there is still significant elevation in climbing up and over San Jacinto Peak. I think the hardest part of this trip will be the challenges of finding water and surviving the harsh desert temperature extremes.

One of the most exciting aspects of this trip is going to be meeting the other hikers that will be attempting to hike the entire trail and the trail angels that volunteer their time and effort to assist hikers.

Now that I have set a target I have something to start working towards. For the first time in months I went to the gym and worked out today. What a weakling I have become. A pudgy weakling with skinny arms and a well rounded middle. I am having difficulty lifting my arms and legs they are so sore. It's amazing how much more motivation I feel now that I have set a goal. I find that without a goal I simply have no motivation to get in shape or stay in shape.

I'll be writing more about my plans and the stuff I learn as I prepare. The trip starts at the end of April, 2015. That is less than six months from now! So much to do, so little time...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Alone, but not really

Darkness, silence, the crickets chorus in synchronicity. A streak across the starry sky, the death of a nameless rock as it plummets to its fiery death in the upper atmosphere. 

I walk, quiet but for the rythmic sound of my shoes against the pavement. Thoughts flicker across my consciousness. Alone, but not really. The end or a new beginning?

Yesterday a casket is mourned, the remains are honored. Those that cared stand in silence as a country pays homage to a hero. Tears, a choking constriction in my throat. My face grimaces and contorts as I fail to hold back the emotion. 

The airman stands head bowed holding a folded flag. Three volleys punctuate the stillness of the moment. Taps is played mournfully with soulful passion. I feel the notes move through my soul. Alone, but not really. Woe, and sorrow. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 

The last notes linger for a moment as the pastor says a few last words. Revelation 20:4, tears, no death, no mourning... they have past away. A future is promised. A future incomprehensible from my present vantage point. Hope and faith. Love and loving. Intangible? Yes, but no less real.

The tension melts as the service mercifully ends. People hug, mill about engage in tears, whispers, more hugs. A peal of laughter as someone recounts one of a million moments from the past where the hero was being who he was. More tension dispels. 

The casket lies there in the pool of living humanity. Someone places a sticker on it, "I voted early!" More laughter, more talking. Everyone pretends to not notice as the grave diggers wheel the hero away from the living ones. To be placed in silent testament with his brothers in arms. A remembrance to the cost of the life we hold dear. Life, precious, yet at the same time we waste in countless frivolous meaningless gestures.

Life is too short to live without purpose yet too long to maintain the passionate intensity required to really express it's value. The colonel's last mortal remains lie in a fresh grave in Texas. Alone, but not really. The colonel lives on, free at last from the constraints of mortal existence. He can't join me, but someday I shall join him.

I sip my coffee. The familiar sound of steaming milk. The acoustic echo of the disembodied voice and guitar emanate from the speakers in the darkness above my head. Starbucks. A place of reflection and personal space. A quiet oasis of light in the surrounding darkness. A place to be alone, but not really.

There is life still to be lived. Am I up to the task? Inadequacy and inability are my two best skills. Too much to do. Mountains seemingly impossible to climb. Problems innumerable and intractable to be solved. Solutions and fruitful paths hidden and seemingly non-existent. Discouragement and fear lurk behind me, waiting for a chance to leap out and paralyze any forward progress. 

Keep moving. Take the next step. Do what you know. Don't over-think it. There are things that are obvious to do. Do them now, with passion. Ignore the dark. Live in the light. Volitional will, the opportunity and ability to choose. Precious and fleeting. Use the time you have. Only you can choose what you will do. Choose and live, you can't stand at the crossroads and continue down the path at the same time. The choice is yours alone, but not really.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Meditations on James 1:1-12

James 1:1-12 Read it yourself

See it as a joyful event when you have trials because these trials produce steadfastness.

Rejoice in testing because it produces perseverance, tenacity, steadfastness.

This presupposes that steadfastness is a good thing, a thing worth having, a desirable trait, something of value.

Why is perseverance a valuable trait?
This trait or property of steadfastness is generative, fertile, fruitful, virile, productive. When it exists and it is given room to grow, it expands and brings completeness.

When steadfastness has had its full effect, you will be complete, lacking nothing.
What does it mean to 'lack nothing'?
When you lack nothing, you have everything you need. You have no deficiencies, there is nothing missing, you are full and complete, whole, holistically complete, without defect, exactly what you are intended to be, fulfilled, content.
Do you lack anything? Do you have needs? Those needs can be met by experiencing trials, because trials produce steadfastness, steadfastness, when given room, brings abundance.

If any lacks wisdom, let him ask God…
Lacking is a symptom, it is not the problem. The problem is perspective. Consider it joy… Instead of joy, avoidance, cynicism, despair, self-pity are the attitudes associated with trials. The lack of wisdom is a lack of perspective, instead of joy, there is something else.

Ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach.
  • God is generous, abundant, overflowing, beyond what you ask for, more than you expect.
  • God gives to anyone who asks,
  • God gives without nit-picking or fault finding, or conditionally, or with an intent to manipulate or maneuver the asker into a position of slavery or subservience.
But let him ask in faith, without doubt.
Is faith a prerequisite to the asking? Will God only be generous to those with faith? Does doubt negate God’s generosity? Is God’s generosity conditional? No, No, and No, God gives generously to all without reproach.

Then what does doubt have to do with it? Why is asking in faith encouraged while asking with doubt discouraged? Because God’s wisdom is not natural, or better stated, it is not discerned or apprehended in our natural state. Our natural state is a state of fallen-ness, a state of inability to see God or his generosity, like a young child being fed healthy food, we are unable to see the goodness in our circumstances or events that occur, without faith it is far easier to succumb in despair and accommodate or appease evil. We are born in a state of rebellion that manifests itself in our ‘natural’ rejection of God and his wisdom, this leaves us exposed to the vagaries of evil and hostile entities that would devour us body and soul.

In our natural state we will always miss the obviousness of God’s generosity not because he isn’t generous, but because we don’t want to acknowledge him. Faith in this context is an acknowledgment that God exists, that he is generous, that he gives without reproach.

In contrast to faith, doubt is the negation of one or more of those propositions. God doesn’t exist, that he isn’t generous, and that he finds-fault.

The problem with doubt is not that God will not give generously when you doubt, but rather that doubt will mask your ability to see what God is so generously giving, and that it is good.

Metaphors for this are: lacking a gene that allows your body to process food, or trying to see without opening your eyes, or not believing that the compass in your hand is actually pointing north. Faith is the gene, faith is opening your eyes, faith is assuming the compass is accurate.

Without faith in God’s generosity, faithfulness, and kindness it is impossible to keep moving in the same direction. You are tossed about like a cork on the waves. Like a sailboat with “three sheets to the wind”, out of control, at the mercy of your circumstances. Doubt leaves you at the mercy of external forces, those forces determine your destiny. With doubt, there is nothing that you can do to change your destination.

Let the lowly boast in his exaltation...
If you lack, exult in your lacking, if you don’t lack, seek humility. Humility comes easier when you consider that your life is transient, passing quickly, completely outside of your control, and whatever riches or abundance you are currently experiencing is transient and not of your own making, nor will you be able to maintain it or keep it because you yourself will fade away despite your best efforts to the contrary.

Conclusion: You are blessed when you live with tenacity under trial, when you have stood the test you will receive eternal, abundant life which God has promised to those who love him.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hiking Monterey

I head north in the predawn darkness towards the coast.
The air is clean and expectant, waiting for the coming sun. There is no breeze 
A large flock of crows celebrate their survival for another night in the trees above. The constant din sounds like the the screeching whine of metal against metal, as if a ship were being slowly wrenched apart. It's impossible to distinguish each crow's individual caw. They head of through the sky together towards the pier, descending on the unsuspecting tourists like a pack of motorcycle thugs

Seals lounging, back flippers pointed in the air as if they want to keep them out of the water. They lay across the tops of the rocks like they are doing the plank. They are waiting.

I pass a passel of divers socializing in their black neoprene, partially worn, the empty arms giving each diver an extra set of floppy appendages. They wait, they some smoke, others stretch, but mostly they wait, beings half human and half seal. I don't wait, I only observe as I pass through the wharf and marina of Monterrey.

The sky has lightened since I began. Its a gray morning. The sky casting a dulling silver tint muting the colors of all below its misty pall. The glory of the sun and the brilliant blue of a clear sky may have never existed here. It's hard to remember something as foreign as a clear sky. The cool air is tinged with specks of mist that instantly evaporate as they sparkle on my upturned face. The overhead power lines buzz and crackle as jillions of amps traverse the wire to feed the hungry electrical needs of the waking city. 
I am not alone. A homeless guy laying on the sandy beach shuffles around in his squalid blanket as he carefully avoids dropping his cigarette while flipping sand at the gulls that stand around him waiting for a handout in an ironic twist of roles. A team of Army personnel stand around in their PTs stretching and bantering with each other. Commanders and soldiers blended together into a single unit of will and competency. Fishermen lug their buckets and duffle bags filled with gear across the lot to their waiting boats bobbing in the languid translucent water of the harbor. I move on, never stopping, moving, stepping, almost striding. The path is long and I am in the first few miles of it.

Pacific Grove is jammed and blocked. It's triathlon day as athletes swim out and around big yellow inflatable triangular buoys. There are more spectators than participants. I think people feel healthier when they watch others exercise. They stand with their decaf soy latte in one hand and their other hand wrapped around a breakfast wrap. Cheering between mouthfuls. I pass through the crowd as I watch the first men exit the water and head for their bicycles. Stripping their wet suits as the announcer relates his own experience when he was a contender. Striving and practicing to remove his suit in ten seconds or less.
Riders pass me, some bent over with helmets making them look like lanky space aliens on wheels. Others are overweight weekend warriors who will be remembering their participation every time they move for the next two weeks.
It's low tide as I move along the coast. Heaps of decomposing seaweed lending the air a salty strong odor that is synonymous with spending a day on the beach. 

After a few hours tracing the coastline, sharing the road with cycling triathletes, I leave the steady constancy of the ocean and head up through the Del Monte forest. When in a vehicle, it's the Seventeen Mile drive through Pepple Beach. If you're walking, the route is sandy trails through pine forest interspersed with hair-raising walking on roads without shoulders as the rich and famous and those that wish they were rich and famous zip past in their cars. I pass by the homes and second homes of the uber- rich. If there is a place where I feel out of place this is it. I am the only one walking. I see signs, piles of horse pucky, that prove equestrians favor these trails but there are no other hikers. No pedestrians of any kind. Everybody drives, the lack of sidewalks or shoulders on the road confirms it. 

I reach Carmel in about five hours. I am wiped out. The muscles in my legs are bunched and knotted, they scream at me at every step, they refuse to take any step bigger than a small shuffle. I need to eat. I need to stretch. I find Neilsons Market and see that Mr Neilson is grilling hotdogs. 

A hot dog, power drink, and chocolate chip cookie later and I am heading down to the beach. I pass through the crowds of shoppers and gawkers perusing the wares of the downtown Carmelites. Where Pepple Beach is for cars. Carmel is for foot traffic. There are people walking everywhere and every which way. My way is to the beach. The beach is over cast, like everywhere else. It's sort of warm. The sand is soft and forgiving as I flop on to the ground. I lay in the sand and stretch my hamstrings. They are tight and achy. Slowly, slowly, with much gasping and sighing, they slowly begin to release. I am only half way. Now I have to go back. Fortunately my muscles don't know that. They are rested  and ready. Not realizing the punishing trail they are about to experience all over again.

The way back through the forest is not as confusing as the morning. But it's still confusing. Without the sun to use as a reference point it's easy to walk the wrong direction without knowing it. I intermittently use the mapping app on my phone to determine how far and in which direction is the next turn.

When I reach Asilomar beach for the second time today my pace is dropping and every step is an effort. I imagine a massage, a foot massage, a spa, with hot water jets, the muted roar of the bubbles and the pounding of the water against my tired aching feet. That doesn't help. Only makes it harder to keep walking. I stop at a bench and sit down. The cool breeze coming off the ocean feels good. Others are bundled up as if it's a frigid November day, it's technically still summer. I don't feel frigid, or even cold. Just very glad to be sitting down. There are still miles to go and I am running out of energy and daylight. I stretch my legs again and head north and then east along the coast. Where the road was blocked for the triathlon this morning it is now open. Cars with sightseers line the beach where cyclists zipped past earlier. I pass car after car with people sitting inside eating and looking out at the crashing waves. They only want to spectate. They don't actually want to experience the ocean, the wind, the sand, they just want to look at it.

Our culture has produced a crop of people who only want to watch. Preferably from the comfort of a warm comfortable chair and with some kind of food or drink in hand. We are used to that. It's what we do when we get home from work or school. Sit and watch. Sit and watch and push buttons. Working out the muscles of our fingers. It hurts and is uncomfortable to get outside of your comfort zone, wouldn't want to that, we think. 

But as much as I sit and ruminate, it doesn't get me any closer to my own comfort zone. I struggle to my feet and begin shuffling on. The waves crash, the rocks and tidal pools that were exposed this morning are under the tide now. The water is clear and effervescent. It sparkles and foams like champagne on the sand. It wraps the sand around the rocks and slowly slides it off again. It crashes and splashes with power and without effort. Unlimited energy to work and mold the coast line. To wear and grind the rocks into a fine powdery white sand. Where my energy is at an ebb, the ocean continues it work. Pound and slide, pound and slide, like thunder followed by cheering, Boom... Yay... Boom... Yay... Clap, clap, clapping... Boom

I eventually make it make to Monterey harbor and graciously my wife comes and pickups me up. Saving me from at least another hour of walking. Flopping into the passenger seat of the car I am amazed and overwhelmed with just how comfortable it is. I am moving effortlessly through space and time without using a single muscle. Thank God I live in a place in history where walking is a optional thing. It's going to take some time to recover from today, or perhaps it's time to get back into shape?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Raging Winds and Parched Lips

I awake to the sound of a small trickling from out in the meadow next to the small grove of trees where we have made camp. The darkness is less now and I can see the distinct individual pieces of gear surrounding me. I was so tired last night that I didn't spend a lot of time organizing my things. They are sort of just pile up around me like a fortress wall of stinky socks, sweaty clothes, headgear, various electronic gadgets, and my Platypus water bladder. The cool morning air is almost perfectly still and I am completely relaxed and rested.

Up and out of the tent, attend to the morning rituals and breakfast. As we eat the sun begins its sojourn across the azure sky. we see it's progress behind the trees rimming this meadow above the deep blue of Lake Tahoe. The recuperative powers of a good night's on a human body are incredible. From last's night's stumbling plodding into camp to this mornings readiness to take on the final twenty seven mile leg of this mini thru hike.

We pack quickly, well sort of quickly. Jon packed quickly, I seem to have innumerable little tasks that keep me from getting packed. I need more water, my socks need washing, The maps for today need to be arranged, etc. Then finally we are off. We hike at our own pace with the agreement that we will stop at the trail junctions and re-group. This means that Jon quickly pulls out in front with his long gait. I watch the dust reflect the morning light in the spaces between the trees as I scurry as quickly as I can getting further and further back.

On relatively flat or downhill trails I am relegated to the back. I take pictures, I eat snacks, I enjoy the fact that I am still healthy enough to do this. When the uphill starts, Jon's stride shortens up to the point that I can catch him. My favorite kind of hiking is going uphill. The grind of pushing out another step and another, while the landscape drops away beneath me. Switchbacks are especially enjoyable as I get to watch the same scene slowly change as the perspective increases and the ridges and valleys morph into a vast panorama to the horizon.

We make great time this morning and we replenish our water at Five Lakes Creek. The water is still flowing, and it's cold and clear. It's downhill so Jon is out in front as we head deeper into Granite Chief wilderness. I stop for water at the last water until the other side of the mountain. I had mentioned it to Jon at our last water stop, but I don't see him now. I quickly drink all of the water in my water bottle and fill my three liter Platypus and also my twenty five ounce water bottle to the top. I also need to poop.

This climb is the first of the two significant climbs for today. We climb the backside of Squaw Valley ski resort, specifically, Granite Chief. The air warms as the day transitions from cool morning to dazzling mid-day. Jon is somewhere out in front but since we are heading uphill it's simply a matter of time until I catch him. The canyon is as remote and untrammeled by civilization as anywhere that I have been. The trees are immense and I don't see any stumping that would indicate that it has ever been logged. The water and any indications of water are far below in the valley. The trail is dusty and dry. The air is still so the dust hangs there in the air above the trail as you pass by. As I look back along the trail it looks like my own dirty, dingy version of a contrail that a jet leaves across the sky, except mine wends and winds around the trees and bushes of the trail.

I catch Jon about three quarters of the way up. Actually I don't catch him at all. He is waiting for me at the trail junction. We climb the rest of the way to the top together and drop over to the water source at PCT mile 1143. We stop for lunch as I watch the backside of a bear with blond highlights in his fur scurry away from us down the hill. I have heard that there are bears in the Sierras. This is the first one I have seen in years. At first I thought it was a dog, but he was much to nimble on the boulders to be a dog. Then he was gone.

We sit in the sun and chat with the day hikers coming up from Squaw Valley. This is definitely the busiest part of the trail so far. We've done fourteen miles so far today and we only have twelve more to go. We replenish our water and eat our lunch. Mine is salami and cheese with Fritos. I also restock my trail-snacks taking the last food out of my pack and stuffing it into the cargo pockets of my pants. We crawl under some boulders and reach way back into the dark to a cold and clear little waterfall to refill our water bottles.

I am waiting at the top of the trail at the junction by Tinker Knob. The wind is howling over the ridge and I duck down below a rock outcrop to avoid being in the path of the full force of the blasts. I look at the blue waters of Tahoe and the boats which are white specks that move so slowly across it's surface. I'm sure the experience is much more exhilarating to the occupants that it looks from my distant vantage point on the top of the ridge. I have a perfect view of the trail so I will see Jon at least twenty minutes before he arrives.

When I took my phone off of airplane mode I receive a text from Jon. He lost the trail and bushwhacked up to the ridge. He is actually in front of me by about a mile. I gotta go...
I wonder how this got here? In someone's pack? A practical joke perhaps?

The wind continues to howl over the ridge and the trail follows the ridge for miles. I put the strap of my hat under my chin to give myself the dorky hat-wearer fashion statement but at least I still have a hat. The brim of my hat is pushed up on the side from the wind. So I look like a dorky Australian bush hat-wearer. My face is exposed to the sun. Ah yes, that task I forgot this morning, applying sunscreen. I can feel the heat irradiating my exposed face at the same time as the wind is blasting it with dust and grit. My lips are cracking and feel swollen and the stick to each other when I try to open my mouth to take another swig of water.

I am using my trekking poles because the trail traverses a bunch of boulder fields and loose rocks that make it really easy to roll my ankles, slip, or misplace my foot on an unstable rock. I look for the big rocks and place my feet on them in hopes that they aren't going to shift on me.  I am moving as quickly as I can, first to get out of this wind, and second to catch up to Jon. There is slim hope of catching Jon as we are going downhill.

I meet a solo female hiker heading south and she shouts, "Are you Scott?" I can barely hear her, but I read her lips. She is the only hiker I have seen on this entire sand-blasted ridge. "Yes", I croaked out. The wind quickly grabs my voice and tosses it over the edge of the ridge and into the abyss. "Your buddy is waiting for you drop there behind the rocks," and she points to a dark spot on the rocks below. The spot seems to be waving it's hands.

I have finally met up with Jon. His tale is his story to tell but suffice to say, he is a better hiker now with more experience under his belt. We finally escape the ferocious gusts when we move behind Mt Lincoln. Our water is essentially out. Not unexpected, but it's still a bit unnerving to be low on water. The last bit of the trail is a series of treacherous switchbacks across giant boulders and through crevices between them. There are steps but they are all sideways and sharp. Each step is made for a giant so I feel like a mouse trying to negotiate my way down. I meet up with Jon at the trail-head. A friendly generous family has given him a couple of gulps of water. We made it, and we still have daylight.

Let's go home.