Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Six Months

Six months to go. Six months to train my replacements at work. Six months to plan and prepare for my epic hike from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Six months get in shape and train my body to walk eight to ten hours per day everyday (except zeros).

Six months to enjoy daily hot showers, six months of being a coach potato watching re-runs of Dirty Jobs and Deadliest Catch. Six months of sleeping in my warm comfy bed next to my wife. Six months of family and friends, visiting and being visited, dinners and wine. Six months of eating out at places where they prepare food for you. Six months of being clean and comfortable. Six months of challenging work in front of a computer; i.e. Scrum meetings, SQL server queries, reports, Node.js, HTML, callbacks and closures. Six months of safe predictable (inside) weather.

Six months till I lay it all down and venture into the wild with only the things that I can carry on my back. Laying down everything that I value in life to pursue something wild, intangible, untameable. To live life as it comes, weather, hardship, desolate places, loneliness, dirt, dust, bugs, rodents, snakes, bears, mountain lions, thunderstorms, wind, freezing rain, snow, impassable torrents, and physical demands of daily walking from morning to night.

Six months of getting up at four-thirty am to walk the same route through town with a pack on my back with twenty-eight pounds of birdshot in it. Six more months of being stopped by the local police. Apparently I look similar to a homeless person to them. Six more months and I will be homeless, with a tent made of chiffon-like cuben fiber, light and wispy, a thin layer to (hopefully) keep the rain off me as I sleep wherever my feet take me that day.

Why? To discover more about God by living closer to the things that he has made, to learn more about myself without the distractions of our twenty-first century life. To think, to feel, to be... without some pressing engagement or responsibility. I've lived the responsible life, My wife and I have successfully raised five children to adult-hood. Now they are all out living their dreams. I've got grand-kids. I want to share myself with them. One way to do that is to put my thoughts, opinions, and feelings down in words. That's the primary purpose of this blog. Perhaps someday Owen, Vivian, Nagisa, Charlise, Emery, Auren, or even another one that has not yet been born will find this and learn a little bit of what their grand-dad was like in 2016.

Why else? Why, to help my friend Shelly and Steve, Shelly's living life with ALS and Steve is her compatriot, husband and primary care giver. ALS is that dred disease that took Lou Gehrig's life. I want to help them by raising to people awareness the challenges that they face and the opportunities that we have as a society to vanquish this disease like we have so many others. I hope that my trip will perhaps inspire people to become part of the answer that Shelly needs and donate to her cause.

It all begins in six months.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Walking on sunshine

The sun is up and so must I be. I watch the sun rise over the ridge. The night quiet and still gives way to a new day filled with adventure and new beginnings. The dew settles in the hollow areas around the creek and my tent is damp with the cool droplets of sparkly water. 

Breakfast is eaten with the warm sun on my back. Granola and instant breakfast. I never seem to tire of it. Gear is quickly stowed after breakfast and we begin the climb to Beyer Lakes. It's funny how much shorter the trip seems this time. Though the trail up the hill is rarely used and sparsely marked we climb without concern or care. I've been here before and I know what to expect. 

At the trail junction we turn left and begin the traverse across the side of the mountain. Dee has settled quite thickly on the bushes encroaching the trail and it's not long till the water has saturated my pants legs and fills my shoes. Just like hiking in Washington state. The trail gradually climbs and after a few hour we stop on an open rock bench. I pull out my sit pad and lay on my back watching the clouds. I drift off and awaken a few times the air is a perfect temperature and the breeze caresses my face beneath my sun hat. A snack is in order and I munch on Oreos as I contemplate the shapes of the clouds. How long has it been since I've done this? I don't know, perhaps a lifetime? 

We finally decide to move on. I arise and slip on my pack. It's already lighter be a dinner and a breakfast. It is almost comfortable as I begin to climb. We reach the lakes in a few minutes and I get to nap again while fishing is attempted. I drift off to sleep again. So far the day's been restful and sonorous. We decide to circumnavigate the lakes and I find that I naturally keep about a hundred feet from the water. It seems easier to me to find a route here rather then at the water's edge. 

Arriving back at our starting point we begin the climb to Baltimore Lake. This takes us over the pass and I find it's time for me to poop in the woods. It's a bizarre fact that I have come to enjoy this awkward and weird ritual. Modern conveniences left behind, it's squat over a hole time. Most enjoyable because of my recently discovered 'Tush Wipes' that are PH balanced so as to provide a clean and refreshing result upon completion of said event. No monkey butt or Klingons to be found when tush wipes are employed. The best thing is the used wipe fits back into its original wrapper and I then wrap them in a sealed ziplock. A most pleasant and satisfying event indeed.

We descend the trail to Baltimore Lake where I commerce with another nap while more fish successfully avoid the hook. A strang noise on he lake to my left reveals an otter swimming in his natural habitat. How cool is that! He swims past diving and swimming beneath the surface for over a hundred feet. I purposely left my earbuds at home this trip. I never use them. Only this time I could have used them. I got into a nostalgic sentimental mood and listen to a few Barry Manilow songs. They are all warm and syrupy and sappy, but I like them that way. I was transported back in time to my teens years. Reliving the moments when I first heard those songs. It's so strange how a song that you haven't heard for years can instantly bring back to memory moments of my past that I didn't even know I remembered.

We start hiking again and head to the abandoned Baltimore Tien site and wander around Wagon Wheel lake and another lake slightly to the west. No fish are caught and the day is waning. We are traversing cross country toward Fordyce lake and each the jeep trail in an hour or so. A jeep is climbing the trail climbing over boulders that I would have thought were impossible to climb over. Most impressive! Around the corner there were more jeeps. Jeeps filled with beer drinking fun loving off road enthusiasts. It'd funny but hiking is faster than four wheeling. We pass the jeeps and descend to Fordyce creek. Turning right we leave the jeeps and their drivers behind and descend quickly to the dam. I cross behind the power house successfully this time without falling off the wall. Last time I bruised my rear. I felt it for weeks.

We arrive at the lake just as the sun sets and we cook dinner in the twilight. Dinner complete, I complete my evening chores, including washing my flight feet in the lake. There are a number of off road enthusiasts here to. They have brought their fire arms. They spend a good half an hour expending shells too numerous to count. It sounds like we are in a war zone. Finally they run out of ammo and the night settles in like a comfortable blanket. Perspective is lost and the horizons shrinks to the end of my nose. I settle into my tent and sleeping bag amazed at the amount of hiking and exploring we do today. Time slows down, my eyelids become heavy, I can no longer teddy my iPhone. It's time to sleep...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Peace like a river

The threatening clouds were bluffing. From the moment we start hiking the clouds pretend to be harbingers for coming storms. That doesn't  happen. We hike a couple of miles in to the bridge at Fordyce Creek before we stop to set up our camp. Camp is a quite simple affair, two tents, and... that's about it. Setting up camp takes about a minute, could have been less but I need a rock to hold one stake in this thin rocky soil.

The temperature is roughly identical to Washington state in the summer. Low sixties and cloudy. We pass through the forest with the wholesome and natural scents of the mountains filling the air around us with truth and love. The previous rain has cleaned the air of the dust and the forest smells that wonderful way it does on the best days. Moist soil, wet rocks, cedar and pine. This is the penultimate moment of the day. Early evening, the trees stand silently as we pass. The sound of the road diminishes and finally becomes so faint our ears only hear our hearts beating and our slightly elevated breathing. The trail is silent, a carpet though and around puddles from the stormy weather of the morning. 

As we approach the creek the roar of cascading water gradually increases until we crest the hill above its serpentine path through the boulders. The laughing water cheers our arrival. The first leg is complete. A perfect camp just across the bridge right by the moving water. Wow! This is what I dream about. A smattering of drops from the sky encourage us to set the tents. The drips stop before the final stake is in the ground. This is too easy. If backpacking were always like this everyone would love it.

A campfire ban is in force so we sit around the vacant stone ring and prepare dinner. My turkey chili and trail brownies are quite the meal for such a simple and short hike. I am building calories for tomorrow's climb up to Beyers lakes and beyond. I am the camp cook as I am the keeper of our only stove. My specialty is boiling water. I boil it as well as a chef at a three star restaurant; flawlessly and without burning any of it. 

After dinner I complete my chores and climb into my tent. My companion has headed off to fish the creek, I don't fish so my time is better spent reflecting on the moment. Living in the here and now in God's wonderful creation. The darkness slowly descends and the air cools to a pleasant sleeping temperature in the low fifties. Everything I need for the next few days is arranged around me as I lay in my warm comfortable sleeping bag and drift off to sleep listening to the comforting sound of the creek churn in its bed. Sleep... comes... and... peace... iLife a river fills my soul.

Thank you God for these awesome moments with you.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rejoice in what you love

Today I got out of the office early and got to the trailhead by two thirty. Oh what joy! A night in the mountains! The weather in California's Sierra Nevada in the summer is absolutely stunning. The temperature drops three degrees for every thousand feet of elevation gain. Ninety three degrees at the office, seventy two degrees on Signal Peak. 
My heart is filled with the joyful exuberance of a soul set free. Living in a tent without the constraints of civilization. I walk where I want and I walk at the speed I want. There is a lightness in my step. A free and easy pace through the trees and up, up, up. I climb the peak without a trail. I follow a waterfall that is mostly dry, but not completely. The forest is alive and buzzing. Summer zephyrs whisper through the trees. They say, "enjoy it while you can, it's not always like this!" 

On the peak there is a structure built of concrete and rock. The view extends from Donner Summit in the east down to Nyack in the west. Not sure exactly what the structure was used for, although watching and perhaps signaling seem to be the most obvious choices. A little ways across the ridge is the communications facility with a couple of technicians that I chat with briefly. They are leaving the mountains tonight. I will be staying. I pass over the summit and head down the other side. The sun seems transfixed high in the western sky. It's almost the longest day of the year. Seemingly unending daylight as I stop to pull out my map and compass and traverse through the trees following a bearing that will bring me to Fordyce Lake.

Halfway through my traverse I stumble upon some old diggings. For what? I am not sure. A mine, tailings trailing off in different directions. Piles of rocks. An old foundation, weather beaten old scraps of lumber. A hole, quite large. Water fills most of it, water seeps and drips down the side. There once were people here. Filled with hopes and dreams. Riches from the earth. All you have to do is dig them out. Dig they did. And now they are gone. The place is forgotten. Trees have grown through the old foundation. Scars and scrapes are all that remain. Silent and forgotten. 
Off road enthusiasts travel down the dirt road. Still technically on a road, but road is a generous term for this track. They motor by oblivious to my presence. I stand motionless as they pass. They are staring at the road, the next chuckhole the rock jutting out. They pass, jeeps, quads, motorcycles, more four wheel drive vehicles. Then they putter around the corner and it's quiet again. A cloud of dust lingers over the road. A silent witness of their passing. I step into the cloud and pick up their trail, at a much slower pace. Slower than them but faster than my previous cross-country self. It's much easier to follow the road than trying to make a route through and around boulders and downed trees. I catch them at the lake. A busted rear-end converts one of the former quads into a couple hundred pounds off useless junk. They are attempting to convert it into a caboose for the other quad. It's a long walk back if they can't get their train built. I pass them and head down to the lake.

Dinner on the shore. The sun slowly moves behind the ridge. Shadows lengthen. The long day slowly descends into dusk. No animals, no birds. It's eerily empty and quiet on the shore. I cook dinner. Split pea soup with sausage and rice. Trail brownies for desert. The riders parade past on the road above unaware of my foray into camp cuisine. 

A few more miles after dinner bring me to the dam. A structure that converts the valley into a reservoir. A continuous stream gushes for a pipe at the bottom . Moving water. White noise. The sound of a good night's sleep. It accompanied my evening preparations. A quick sponge bath by the lake. The water, warmer than I expected, is clear and comfortable. If it wasn't so late I might have jumped in. My teeth brushed, bowels evacuated, and water replenished, all while being harassed by whiny little suckers that create itchy bumps on my arms and head. Dusk turns to night, a sliver of a moon in the west giving notice of a dark night. I enclose myself in my tent, keeping most of the bugs on the outside, killing the ones who insisted on joining me. Peace, tranquility, cool breezes caress my tent as I drift slowly out of consciousness. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

ZPacks Hexamid Solplex tent review

I have used a ZPacks Hexamid Solplex tent for two thru hikes. It is my favorite tent... ever!
Room with a view
What do I want from a tent? A tent needs to be able to protect me from the elements. Cowboy camping may be great and if that's your thing, HYOH. For me though a tent is my chance to escape from the elements that are up close and personal whenever I am outdoors. I am not a back to nature nut, nor do I make any attempt to use only 'natural' fibers. In my opinion, man is as much a part of nature as a silkworm. If man can invent and produce a fiber then it is a natural fiber, even if it is man made. Cuben fiber is a fiber that is almost supernatural. In my opinion it is worth the money to buy it if you can afford it. 
Stay dry = stay warm
My old sil-nylon tent was great, but it always sags when the dew settles in it in the evening. It can stretch and be stretched. When I set up my Solplex it stays taut and doesn't sag. Cuben fiber doesn't stretch, is as waterproof as plastic, and is incredibly durable. I was skeptical that a fabric so light and fragile feeling could be so strong. I was sure that the wind was going to, at the very least, rip out the guy points. It did not.
What about wind driven rain? Like what happened this year on the Friday at ADZPCTKO? I got back from the first twenty mile leg of my hike in time to see the clouds of the squall approaching the campground across the valley. I oriented my tent so the back was facing the wind. (I have since found that my tent would rather take on the wind at an oblique angle, not square to the wind). Other than having to reset the back stake that pulled free once, I did not get wet. Even with the rain driving against the back of the tent. The design lets the air circulate freely through the tent, but water does not get to defy gravity and follow the air. 
Side entry in Desolation Wilderness
The integrated bathtub floor is high enough on all sides that you could be set up in a swamp and still be dry. The size is about thirty inches by one hundred inches which is enough room to fit all my stuff inside my tent. My only rule is that my shoes are never allowed inside, they stay right outside the door under the vestibule, where they stay dry, or at least don't get any wetter than they already are. With all my stuff inside I always know where, in a general sense, my stuff is... In my tent. 
A place for my stuff
The tent came with a loop up in the top corner by the tall pole. What it needed was another loop on the other side by the short pole. I set that request to Joe at Zpacks and he sent me a stick-on cuben fiber reinforced loop and said that from now on all to new Solplex's will come with the loop. What's so great about the loop? I have attached a line between the loops which gives me an indoor clothes line. Wash your socks and hang them above you and they'll be mostly dry by morning.
Guitar lake before summiting Mt Whitney
One of my favorite features of this tent is the side entry door. I can set up the tent with a left handed door or a right handed door. I get in on the side not the end. I can sit in the middle of the tent and it is high enough that my head is not bumping the top. Everything is I reach from the center of the tent. 
Palisade Lake, John Muir Trail
The tent doesn't need a ground cloth or footprint. But I like one to keep the bottom of the tent from getting dirty or muddy. I use a length of polyoleofin plastic, the kind that Lowes sells for insulating your sliding glass doors. This is a heatshrink product that I use as a ground cloth. The weight of a thirty inch by one hundred inch piece of this material is only one ounce. I have used the same piece on two thru hikes camping for more than thirty days on the same piece on rocks, mud, sand, loam, whatever and it is still working. A piece of Tyvek of the same dimensions would weigh in at six ounces.
Extra guylines to hold it down. I was surprised the tent didn't rip!
I have a shelter solution that I feel confident will protect me from the element that only weighs about one pound. My bivy sack and tarp was slightly lighter but I didn't  have the luxurious room that a tent affords, especially when you want to escape the rain or the mosquitoes.
I'd rather eat in my tent than in the rain. Try this in a bivy sack.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Day 13 : A Journey Ends - Big Bear City

Wednesday May 6, 2015
10 Miles Today
276 Total Miles
Last picture on the trail
It's official, I've left the trail. Big Bear City was always a possibility. In fact my plan was to take a Nero (Near zero) day here. I was going to stay over night at one of the  hiker friendly Inns and Hostels here and then head out on to the trail again tomorrow around noon. That's about when then weather is forecast to change, bringing wind, rain, and snow. Most of the hikers I've talked to are planning to weather over here in Big Bear. I would too except that the weather is supposed to clear on Saturday which is when I am already supposed to have walked the last seventy five miles. Ah well, that sometimes happens to 'The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men', at least according to Robert Frost.

I finished off the last five miles of the hike with a highlight. As I was sauntering off the steps to the end, a hiker came speeding up behind me. Zack, a hiker who started about a week before me has found his trail legs and was now pounding out miles in true thru-hiker style. I got sucked into his wake and drafted him out to the trail-head. During that time he and I chatted about all kinds of things, what I found at the end was a companion that I would have enjoyed spending more time with over the next few months. I hope to meet up with him again when he gets to Tahoe which is relatively close to home. Zack's blog can be found here. I look forward to reading about his journey north.

Thru hiking is as much a social event as it is a journey into stretching your boundaries. I learned that on the last day. Perhaps it was the self-imposed parameters with which I enclosed my plans. The tight schedule and large mileage early on did not provide me the opportunity nor incentive to socialize or to deviate from a schedule that demanded that I be at such and such mile by a certain time. Making a choice like diverting to a delightful place such as Idlywild something I didn't really consider. Or having the luxury to hang out with Zack and some of the other wonderful people that I met on the trail. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Day 12 : PCT Mile 256 Arrastre Trail Camp

Tuesday May 5, 2015
25 Miles Today
266 Total Miles

Last night during the commotion with the wind and all a guy came up to my tent and asked me my name, then he said, "Oh, you're the section hiker", perhaps it's because section hikers are so rare in these parts. It's possible that I am being overly sensitive but I detected a slight tone of condescension in his 'section hiker' remark. He said he was planning on camping in the next site. During this time the wind continued to buffet and howl. Like a skateboarder riding up and down the canyon walls the wind would zip past first in one direction. Then turn around and come whipping past from the opposite direction. 

In my 'bomb-proof' tent the wind was manageable enough to cook dinner. After dinner I went over to visit my new neighbor and found him laying on his tent. He said, "This is the fifth time I've set this tent up, the wind keeps blowing it over." I suggested that perhaps he needed bigger rocks. "I Have rocks", and he showed me the baseball sized rock that he was using to pound in stakes. As he lay on his tent he was perusing the instructions that came with it. "Perhaps for hints on setting up in the wind," I thought. I went and got a bowling ball sized rock and helped him place it over one of his stakes. He didn't seem overly enamored with a 'section-hiker' helping him so I left him to his own devices. 

As I sat in my tent planning tomorrow's (which is really today's) route, I heard a "Aarghh" of brief frustration. How else to become an expert but by experience. Some day he will be an expert at setting up a tent in the wind. 

I woke this morning to the trickling sound of water dancing from rock to rock down the canyon. It was so windy last night that it was impossible to hear. But with the silence of the morning it sounded delightful. It's one of my all time favorite sounds. As I lay there I noticed I could hear it a lot better from my left ear. I reach for my right ear and found the companion to the missing ear plug that escaped from my left ear during the night. It's been twice now on this trip that I've fallen asleep to howling winds to wake to silent still air.

A rare soggy trail

Mission Creek, I camped in the wind down there last night

Last view of Mt San Jacinto in the south

Wow, first time I've seen this.
I got up and thought about my new neighbor, how did he fair? I walked to his site and he wasn't there, nor was any of his stuff, no sign. "Gone with the wind," I thought, as I peed on his tent site.

Today's hike was a much different one from yesterday's. I climbed out of the desert in the forest. It was like walking into a cathedral. The tall trees like columns supporting a green canopy above my head to shield me from the desiccating rays of the burning sun.  Ponderosa pines, red cedars, Douglas and silver-tip firs all vied for attention from my tree starved, desert burned eyes. Oh the joys of experiencing anew the wonder of the forest. 

The entire day was spent above the desert, entering Big Bear country. I passed trail magic from Papa Smurf and Mountain Mama and a sofa and tool locker filled with goodies placed by the local hostel. Tonight's camp is at Arrastre Trail Camp, where a local Eagle Scout completed his eagle project making us a table to eat at. I am camped here with Silver, Diogenes, and Chillie Willie. It is they that bring tidings of changes in the weather forecast with rain, wind, and possibly snow forecast for the area covering the last seventy five miles. Hmmm... something to sleep on. FYI it's really cold here tonight.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Day 11 : PCT Mile 231 Mission Creek

Monday May 4, 2015
20 Miles Today
241 Total Miles

This many miles per day is beginning to wear me out. Desert miles, arid, dry, dusty, and rocky. Each deserty section I pass through in unique in some ways, but over all, the beauty doesn't take my breath away like the mountains do.
Ziggy and the Bear have a carpeted backyard!

Longest five miles on the PCT, the desert from the Snow Creek faucet to Ziggy and the Bear's

This gate keeps short posts out

Quail scurrying about
Have I mentioned the wind? No, wow, how could I have forgotten that? It is buffeting my tent from multiple directions. Tearing at it, clawing and shredding. This is some of the strongest gusts I have ever been in in a tent. I took pictures of my extra precautions on the guy points, we'll see if they hold up. I think that I am going to wear ear plugs tonight, the rattling is so loud it might be hard to sleep.
Wind-proof tent setup!

Three guylines from every guy point, each with a rock! My tent stayed up while other's collapsed!
It was windy last night at Ziggy and the Bear's. I thought that might have been because of their location, this location, is probably windier. If anything comes undone or snaps, I think I am just going to duck my head and wait for morning, If this tent comes apart half my stuff will be blown out into the desert. I am camped in a canyon along side of Mission creek. The elevation is high enough that it isn't as hot as the desert below.

Today I actually contemplated giving up the notion that I could hike the entire PCT. It was hot, I was tired and this is my ninth? Tenth? Twenty plus mile day. I am tired of hiking and especially tired of this wind. One of the things I grew up with every day in San Francisco was the wind. I loath it, it is the one thing that will drive me inside quicker than anything else. I detest being in it. So there's that too. 

My thoughts about hiking the entire thing... I miss being inside. I don't like having to cook every night. I was going to say I am sick of the food, but tonight I made 'Mamas spicy Italian soup' and it was really good. Even if I did have to eat it in the wind. I am rambling I know, but I don't know how to express the mixed thoughts that I am having about hiking right now. My low point came, and went, this afternoon. I had stupidly assumed that I had enough water, too lazy to check how many miles to the next water. Well I ran out five miles before the next water source. Mentally it is really hard for me. I start making compounding mistakes, such as since I can't drink I can't eat because eating makes me thirsty. When I don't eat my pace slows down and I start feeling drained and worn out. Each step is a painful plod up the trail, slower, and slower. 

When I reached the water source do I fill up? No again I made a stupid mistake. I knew that the trail crossed the stream twenty one times in six miles, why carry water? I can just stop and get more any time. Who wants to carry water? It's heavy. So I try that and my pace slows even more. I can't reach the water on my pack, I don't want it in my hand. Argghh! Finally the logical part of my brain overrode to goofy part. I stopped and filled up my two liter water bladder and began eating nuts and M&Ms drinking as much as I wanted. Finally back on track my pace picked up but the thoughts about hiking, or rather not hiking, didn't go away. I am thinking that I am due for a zero day.

The lazy dummy who didn't refill his water at Whitewater before he knew he was going to run out.

Weather at Big Bear?

This snake didn't rattle.

Right across the trail

As if to say, "Don't tread on me!"