Saturday, April 30, 2016

Day 0 : Hawaii night

Awake at 4:30 am! Time to get up? Nah… I lay about for fifteen minutes. Ok, now I can get up. It's amazing that I was able to get up this early for the last nine months. Now I've lost interest in getting up this early. Even on Zero day. Today is Zero day because tomorrow is my first day hiking. This is the day that everything changes. 

Kelli stops at Starbucks for me as we head to the airport in the predawn twilight. Venti Mocha! Yea! That divine mixture of chocolate, coffee, and steamed milk. Don't know when I'll get another one… Maybe tomorrow? We drive and chat amiably about our day. The light conversation about our plans and tasks belie the underlying sadness and sense of loss we are both experiencing. Keep the tears in till later. Bittersweet, excited about the new adventure, sad that it'll be a awhile till we see and touch each other again. 
Follow the herd. Obey the instructions. Stand in line. Then stand in line again, and again. Security checkpoint for those poor shlubs that don't have TSA-PRE on their boarding pass. I mistakenly assume I am a shlub. When I get to the front of the line, thirty minute later the agent directs me to the no line line. “You're not a shlub,” she said. Actually she said, “you are TSA-PRE screened. Go over there, you won't have to remove your shoes and it'll be faster.” I didn't, it was. Would have been even faster if I'd read my boarding pass.

I fashioned my own man-purse, murse, from a stuff sack and a mini-carabiner. This was useful in getting through the security checkpoint because I could empty my pockets into it and drop it on the x-ray machines conveyor rather than emptying my pockets into one of this bowls like the principal used to have in grade school. “Okay, boys, empty your pockets.” Looking for contraband like gum and the rubber bands we'd shoot at the back of the kids heads sitting in front of us in class. The murse bypasses that experience with the TSA officer. You can sling it over you shoulder like a fashionable lady. Although it's a bit short on fashion. For fashion you need to have an executive carry-all. This isn't that. This is purely a utilitarian accessory that requires one to be comfortable with their masculinity.

Arrive in The drizzle in San Diego and find the H stop where the trail angels said to meet. While I wait a guy walks up with a backpack wrapped in plastic. I meet Zolt, a guy about my age who has three weeks to hike the PCT before work wants him back. We stand in the drizzle and chat while we wait. He’s planning to hike to Big Bear so we should be on the same trail for a few weeks. Our ride shows up sporting a yellow Pom Pom which is our signal to climb aboard. We meet Frodo and nom nom who give us a tour of the San Diego airport access road while we drive to pick up Erica. Nom nom is volunteering at Scout and Frodo’s place. 

Hawaiian night! Only one all season and I am here for it. Before that though there are chores. To the Post Office to ship my duffle bag and murse home. Well technically it's no longer a murse. I removed the mini carabiner. Now it's just an extra unnecessary stuff sack. It's been fun hanging out with other hikers. They all have them same story as me. They live with a circle of friends. None of which have an interest in long trail thru-hiking. Here we all are together. It's like a family reunion. Like we have a common heritage that we didn't know existed. Scout and Frodo are our hosts. They are also thru-hikers. They host hundreds of hikers every year. They have coordinated rides for about thirty of us tomorrow.

Hawaiian night means decorations, and food, and Hawaiian shirts. We had lots of food and fun. I have met lots of hikers and learned lots of names. Too many to remember them all right now..
We have to be up and ready to go by five thirty tomorrow. The adventure begins!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Day -1 : The End of the Beginning

So, it's really happening. It feels surreal, after anticipating this trip for as long as I have it seems weird to transition from anticipation to reality. That all begins tomorrow. Today is the day for last minute things. Not that there are that many. 

I make a video of the stuff in my pack. I thought it might be interesting to people but as I drone on and on it becomes obvious that this is really boring. I speed it up and find it somewhat humorous, at least it mercifully ends sooner than it would have.

The local paper publishes a story about me and my trip. They interviewed me a while back and I was beginning to think that it wasn't news worthy. Instead there is a ginormous picture of me above the fold. Ok so it's on page 28, but still. I thinks it's cool that we are making people aware of Shelly's story and providing an opportunity for others to contribute to the funding for research to find treatments and a cure for A.L.S. Shelly was the principal of our local middle school here in our town. It's great that the community can support her as she gave so much and invested a lot into our kids.
I complete my last training hike. Again in the sunshine. As I hike I am passed by a police officer in his cruiser and he smiles and waves. I guess I don't look as dangerous and suspicious during the day. I'm glad, I smile and wave back. We have a great community here and our police do great work. Alas, this is the last hike for my shoes. I have walked just about every day for the last nine months, They are worn out. The uppers look fine, the soles are shot. I will be transitioning to my trail runners tomorrow. I figure they will last me for the first three hundred miles or so. I'll be buying a new pair somewhere around then. 
Ok, this nap thing? I think it's becoming a habit. I wonder if I'll keep it up during my trip. Hike for a few hours, take a break, maybe eat something, then lay down in the dirt and stickers and let bugs crawl on me. I'm not sure I'm up for that. Perhaps after a few weeks and I have acclimated to the new normal. After being dirty, sweaty and smelly for a couple of weeks, perhaps laying in the dirt really won't matter that much, maybe. It still makes my skin crawl thinking about it right now.

Last meal at home tonight. Last night sleeping in a real bed with my wife for a while. Last day for lots of things that have become the everyday events of my suburban life. I am going to miss most of it. I like my comfortable life. It's not like I am trying to escape it or run from something. It's different than that. This is a stepping into something or maybe a better way to say it is stepping out of something. I want to do something that inspires and uplifts me. I want to write about for my grandkids. I want to help my friend Shelly and in the process invite others along for the journey. 

Living Wholeheartedly

1 Peter 1:8-16 (ESV)Read it yourself

Holy. What is that? What does that word even mean?

No fellowship with darkness.

Take no part in sin, do not associate with it, do not identify with it. This is not the same thing as identifying with and having fellowship with sinners. If that were the intention we’d all live a Pharisaical life in isolation from others. No, engagement with the world is critical to your spiritual health and to what God desires for you. How else can you be salt and light without being in a place where salt and light are needed. Salt and light are helpful, they serve and meet a need.  Sinners flocked to Jesus and enjoyed being with him. If sinners do not enjoy being around you, then you are not reflecting the nature of Christ.

Paul distanced himself and makes a distinction between himself and his sin. Romans 7:17 is not I but the sin living in me… This suggests to me that even though you still fail, still ‘miss the mark’, still sin, it is not a reflection of your evil heart, but rather a reflection of the sin still clinging to the dark corners of the closets in your mind. It is these closets and dark areas that Jesus wants to expose and bring to light, to free you from the darkness, superstitions, and pagan idolatry that you were born with (your former ignorance).

Holiness, without which no man will see God - Hebrews 12:14. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” - Matthew 5:8

Obedient children

Obedience is an opportunity to express love to God. Love is more than words, it’s action. How can you love someone you cannot see, hear, or touch? Though doing what He wants.

Expressing love has a certain characteristic: e.g. When you give, give cheerfully and generously. There is no begrudging or whining in your generosity without it no longer being generous. The difference between generosity and miserliness is the state of your heart. Love is not love if it is done out of duty and obligation.

Love for God can only happen when your heart is changed. Doing things because you are ‘supposed to’ is a lifeless adherence to ritual that is done from obligation and fear. God blesses those that he calls with a heart that longs for fellowship with Himself. Expressing love from your heart is so much more fun and interesting than living from the old nature you were born with.

God’s word, the law, exists to show you his character, his righteousness, his goodness. He does not co-mingle with evil. There is nothing evil or malicious in his character. He wants the same thing for his children. As his child, you will naturally take on his same character. When you are born-again and made new your heart desires to obey God.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Day -2 : The In Betweens

The in betweens. That's where I am. Unemployed and freed from the demands of heading to work to bring home an income justifying my existence. I wake with my wife. It's still dark as she begins her day. She and I are different. She loves work, accomplishment, ‘getting stuff done’, completing lists of tasks provides her with a sense of well-being. Me, not so much. I have always worked for money. Accomplishing stuff is important. But bottom line I work in order to provide an income. I'd rather be doing other stuff…

Like making breakfast. I head downstairs while she dresses for work and put together scrambled eggs and hash browns. I make a mocha, and stand in the kitchen staring at an aerial picture of the Sutter Buttes hanging on the wall. My friend Todd is a photographer/artist. He took the picture from a plane while heading from one photo shoot to another. He left his corporate job years ago and makes a living doing what he loves. What do I love? What am I passionate about? I don't know, beyond the truth that I love to hike. Not sure how to produce an income with that, but in a few days we’ll see if I really like it as much as I think I do.

Kelli heads off to work. I head to my desk and read a bit and write a few notes about the significance to me of what I read. This is something else that provides me with a sense of groundedness. A connection with reality that I seem to miss when my primary goal for the day is tied to being somewhere to make decisions the hopefully make a company better off than it was the day before. Some people love doing that. So far, I have to be honest in that it's not my first love. It's not what I walk up in the morning wishing I could do more of. 

I jog to the gym. The sun, the glorious sun shines, the birds sing, the breeze cool but not cold. It all reminds me I am alive. Last day of this particular activity. I negotiated a one month membership and paid it in cash. Saturday is technically the last day but I will be flying to San Diego that day. So today is it. Working out in a gym is such an anonymous thing. Most of the guys working out mid morning are immense, giant rippling muscles. They have no necks. I don't think they'd be able to scratch their ears if they wanted to. The women seem to all be in a zone. Probably as a defense mechanism from all the macho men trying to hit on them. Not being particularly the typical weight lifter, I lift my dumb bells alone and anonymously. I feel good as I jog home. Muscles aching and exhausted. Protein shake with blueberries and bananas is the preferred recovery food after my workout. Today is not an exception. This is something I am going to miss on the trail. Frozen fruit smoothies. Wow! Satisfying and cold. 

Rejuvenated and showered I consider the tasks for the day. I sit down and reprint my gear list with my latest changes. Perhaps they are my final changes. I think they are, I posted them to a new page on my blog, now that they're published, there's a certain finality to it. With the printed list in hand I visit my pack. Calmly sitting in the corner waiting for me. I slowly pull every item for it and create a sack of gear. My pack is a bag filled with bags, a sack of sacks. I can identify most things by the sack/bag it's in and the place I've pulled it from. Most but not all things. I empty every sack/bag and examine the contents. I remove to gloves. They look disappointed. Being cut from the first string and relegated to the bench is never a pleasant experience. Even if you're a pair of gloves. “Sorry,” I whisper silently, “It's your weight.” I would gladly bring them if they didn't weigh anything. 1.6 ounces less, I can't even tell the difference. But the gloves and the water filter and the other things that were cut together all add up to more weight than I want to carry. I repack my pack yet again. It still looks just as full. Mentally though I know it weighs less. 

I call my daughter and ask her if she would admin my blog during my trip. I know it's kinda last minute but it's become obvious that I'm going to need someone to do a few housekeeping things from a computer that I cannot do using my iPhone. She agrees, we agree to meet. She brings Vivian and Charlise, two of my grandkids. Two of the people that I am writing this blog for. I wonder if they'll remember this day when they are reading this in the future. I make them grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Vivi insists she wants lettuce and tomato on hers. I didn't even like lettuce and tomato when I was three. Kris and I go over the things I need help with and then we do the important stuff. We all walk over to the playground and play on the slides. It's the first time we've ever been to this one. The slides are bigger than the little kid one. Vivi immediately climbs to the top of the biggest one. She launches herself down. Zippity-do-da she flies down to the bottom. It twists and turns, it bucks and jumps. She has a look of terror in her eyes as she flies past my head. The slide unceremoniously dumps her in a heap on the ground. Vivi is stunned and shocked. I can see it in her eyes. She's trying to process what just happened. I clap and cheer, “Yay, that's the fastest I've ever seen anybody ride a slide,” I say. She decides that if granddaddy is cheering she must be ok.

This is the best thing I could be doing right now. This is so much fun and fulfilling. Charlise warms up to me and let's me start her down the smaller slide to mommy. It's just as fast, though not as twisty and bumpy. Mommy catches her as she soars off the end of the slide. Wow, I wonder if any kid has ever been hurt on these slides. They are definitely professional grade slides. They should have double black diamonds at the top of them. They play hide and seek. I sit in the shade and watch. There really isn't any place to hide, so mommy pretends that she doesn't  really see them and searches a few places before ‘finding’ them. Vivi learns from mommy. When it's Vivi’s turn to seek, mommy hides in plain sight at the bottom of the slide. At the end of her count Vivi pope a her eyes, spies mommy , and pretends to search for her in places where she know mommy isn't. It's so funny, she's obviously enjoying herself. It's really not about the finding it's about the bonding and it brings tears to my eyes. Then we play “throw bark in the air” until mommy said “that's enough” just like her mommy did when she was their age. 

Nap time means the important part of the day is over. We say goodbye and both my granddaughters give me a hug. Nothing better in all the world than a hug from your granddaughter. They head home for their naps. I head upstairs to mine. I lay on the floor and practice my afternoon nap. This needs to be a part of everyday. I drift off for an hour of blissful rest. 

I awake to a text on my phone from work. From people doing productive things with their lives. Questions about a system that I used to be responsible for. I respond and they get it resolved. Won't be able to do that much longer. I won't remember, nor will I be able to answer. My phone will be in airplane mode and mostly likely out of cell coverage. I'm glad to help while I still can.

If You Can't Stand the Heat...

1 Peter 1:6-7 (MSG)Read it yourself

Feeling great! Even with the aggravations and frustrations of this life. Your feelings are inconsistent with perceived realities. Why? Because of the brand-new life God granted to you. Whatever messed-up confused state once existed in the darkness of the past, it is gone. Replaced in the newness of the present. A new day, a new life. A life without end, filled with purpose and meaning. Filled with abundance and acceptance. Filled with belonging and identity. With a promise of future wholeness and healing.

Gold is gold even when it’s embedded within rock, or ore. Ore is crushed and mixed with toxic chemicals, then smelted under high heat in a furnace to separate the gold from the dross. That provides a pretty rich metaphor for the trials and tribulations of this life. Even though life is often filled with unbearably joyful moments, there are times, lots of times, where the weight of events crushes down on you. Sometimes the pressure is intense, and the heat of the moment seems overwhelming.

Peter captures those feelings and reminds you, this stuff is not a mystery, it’s not capricious or wanton chaos. It’s not happenstance or accidental. The stuff that happens in life is there to prove your faith is genuine. The proving is to you. God already knows you to your core. The problem is you don’t know you. Along with everything else in life you don’t know, the greatest mystery is your self. Who are you really?

Jesus on the inside provides you the strength of character to go through horrific and terrifying events in this life and emerge on the other side stronger and more refined than before. Lord God, I pray for my friend Shelly. Grant her your grace and peace in her life and cause her to be filled with your gracious love and abundance.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Day -3 : Lose the Hair Already

Awesome sleep... I awake to the sound of my wife getting up. It's still dark. Sure didn't take long to adjust my sleep habits. No more early morning cold hikes in the dark because the prime part of the day, the part where the sun is up, is taken up producing an income. I roll out of bed and head to the kitchen to make breakfast. I am excited to try my hand at a one-egg ham and cheese omelet. My wife's request. I still don't have the timing down yet. I finish it too early. That's what microwaves are for, to keep food warm until people are ready to eat it. Kelli comes down, has breakfast and heads off to work. I stay home, barefoot in the kitchen.

Until I head up to my desk. I drink my coffee and have my morning quiet time. I love my quiet time. I spend a few hours reading a little Scripture and thinking about it. Putting my thoughts down... well, I was going to say 'on paper' but that's not accurate. Putting my thoughts into arranged bits in the mysterious cloud. The sun comes up blue skies beckon me from the windows. I need to get outside.
Sunshine means a hat is in vogue. Well, maybe not the style, but it keeps the sun off my face. I am not really interested in having a surgeon carve more of my skin off my body. So I wear a hat, and long sleeves, and long pants. Quite different from my younger self running around like a native in shorts and flip-flops. It's amazing what a melanoma diagnosis and surgery does for my interest in sun-bathing. 2007 was the year it changed for me, ugly melanoma moles itchy and bleeding on my shoulder carved off with a whole bunch of the skin around it. I was out for the whole thing. I remember waking up in post-op. Laying on my back after the most relaxing comfortable sleep. I just wanted to lay there forever. The nurse sees I am awake and adjusts my bed into a sitting position. I was mad at her for disturbing my sleep and making me wake up. Almost ten years ago now. Lots of thoughts go through your head when heading for surgery. Perhaps that was the beginning of this journey I am on...

Today's hike is different. Why hike through neighborhoods when I can hike along a ravine? So I do. I head towards my old home and along Auburn Ravine. Past the dog park, around the ponds and back. Almost two hours of hiking fun. I start with calves burning, they are stiff from my work-out yesterday. After a while they begin to loosen up and I feel powerful. The breeze is cool and steady, coming from the south. It feels almost like it's coming right off the ocean. Pollen fills the air, normally it doesn't bother me. Today something catches in my throat. I cough and gag. Shoulda brought water. I've been hiking without water since its been so cool and I am only hiking for roughly an hour and forty-five minutes or so. So I can only cough. for fifteen our so minutes something keeps stickling in my throat. Hack, gag, hack, hack. I finally move away from whatever plant it was and breathing returns to normal. I hike a different route than before and it keeps my interest. There is so much more to see when you can actually see. Thank Mr Sun.

Lunch today is with friends. Eric, Greg, and Craig. We meet at a Thai place. I haven't seen any of these guys for over a month. It's great to see them. We talk about my up coming trip. Eric and I have backpacked together quite a bit. He's always trying to get me to carry more stuff. Its funny bantering back and forth. He's actually right, there are a number of possible scenarios where my gear is not going to be enough. I really appreciate Eric's questioning as he helps me consider all of the things I might not have thought about. Greg is hoping to do the John Muir Trail this summer and I hope he does. He is a busy guy and its hard for him to find the time. I would definitely go with him if I was already committed to my own trip. Craig is a strong hiker that really wants to do more. I hope that one day in the future we all get out together on a trip somewhere. I really like these guys, they are my fellow travelers, even though they aren't coming with me on the PCT.

 I decide its time. Haircut and shave, make it happen. Thank you Sam! Thank you Schick! I am shorn for the last time for the next five months. It'll be fun to see the transition from normal suburban Scott to wild and wooly mountain Scott. My face isn't used to a razor. I nick myself over and over again. Yikes, what a pain. I think the skin on my face must have had callouses on it or had gotten thicker back when I shaved everyday. At least I won't have to do this anymore for a while.

A photo posted by Scott Gnile (@gnarlyriver) on

Living the Dream

1 Peter 1:3-5 (NIV)Read it yourself

In his mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope.

The essence of my faith is that Jesus came to give life, and life to the full. To the full! Is life full when I live to please people? No, people pleasing is not a path to full living. People do not have the capacity to provide the affirmation and acceptance that my soul longs for. People always disappoint, even the best of them fail and falter.

At least I know I do, and everyone I’ve ever met has too. Yet I am built with a longing to connect and be seen by others, to be known and to know. I find myself born into a rich and wonderful place. Out of none of my own efforts I find myself existing between emptiness and eternity, between the past and the future, I exist for but a short time. I find others in this wonderful place called the present. We live move and have our being here. Life is an overwhelming flood of grace and providence. Yet how often do I squander it on meaningless pursuits? On things that don’t matter to me, on things that don’t fill me with joy and hope and faith?

Living Hope

Hope is not an emotion, it's a way of thinking. God has changed how I think. Cynicism, resentment, negative and critical thoughts. The need to compare myself with others in an attempt to find validation and affirmation. These were part and parcel of the nature I was born with. In my pursuit of self I found that there were others in the same pursuit. Like a pack of wild dogs, these people will verbally tear your self-worth to shreds in an attempt to validate their own existence. Many of them seem nice and friendly, they might even go to church and practice religion. Yet their core is rotten, and like vampires and zombies they will suck the life out of you and eat your brains. I will not allow these people to define who I am.

I choose to associate with fellow pilgrims on this wonderful journey called life. People that encourage and build up rather than tear down. That empathize with my failures and struggles. Fellow travelers with broken and messed up lives, living in hope of an inheritance that cannot be destroyed, rot, or fade. An inheritance saved up for us through a promise guaranteed by Jesus sacrifice. I consider the fact that eternity being what it is, I am technically quite young, even though fifty plus years might seem like a long time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Day -4 : The Calm Before the Storm

Huh, no work today. Feels strange, like I climbed off the treadmill and am somewhat at a loss as to what to do next. I make breakfast for Kelli. One of her favorites, a Croissant with a fried egg and a slice of cheddar cheese. What fun! I savor the opportunity to not have to run off and produce an income. I make myself an egg-in-the-hole and a mocha. Uh oh, I'm out of espresso beans, I'll get more. I spend some quiet time reading and reflecting. This is what I need more of. Time to think and reflect. Cool thoughts, all is right, at least in my immediate world. I think about hiking and gear and realize that without my wall charger I will not be able to charge my phone in town. I get my charger and cables and pack it into my pack. Time moves slow.

Up and out I jog to the gym and work out. My second to the last time before I begin my hike. I run in the sunshine for the first time in over eight months. I have time during daylight, wow, this is cool. I enjoy the sun, I take the alternate path through the greenbelt on the way home, running on a real trail. I find myself feeling the rhythm of the path the wild grasses leaning over the path soak my shoes and feet. I feel the water squishing between my toes. I embrace the feeling of being alive and having the power to drive myself down this path. I am careful on the up slope because I have no tread left on the soles of my shoes. They are worn-out. Four more days before I toss them and head for the trail.

A video posted by Scott Gnile (@gnarlyriver) on
The stores are empty during the day! I am in and out. Espresso beans and the last few things needed for my resupply box for Idyllwild. I head over to my daughter's house and ask my granddaughter Vivian to help me finish my resupply box. She helps me by adding stickers, making it easier to locate when I pick it up. We finish up and I bring the box to the post office and drop it off.

Home in time for some more reading and a nap. I schedule lunch tomorrow with a few of my close friends using text messaging. It's a nice break and transition from the treadmill work-a-day world. A few more days and this easy life will be just a memory. The life of struggle, sweat, blisters, dust and dirt will be my lot. I find it so strange that even when I phrase my hike in those terms I still find myself eager to begin.

Ok With Being An Exile

1 Peter 1:1-2 (MSG)Read it yourself

  • Exiles scattered to the four winds. 
  • Not one is missing, not one forgotten
  • God the Father has his eye on each of you.
  • [he] has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus.
  • May everything good from God be yours!

Peter is ‘ok’ with scattered. He was ‘ok’ with exiles. Earlier in his life, when Jesus said they would all be scattered, Peter said, “Not me!” At that time Peter was all about comparison. Readily pointing out to Jesus that “You can count on me!” Trying to prove his dedication and devotion. Peter lived in a delusion, I think he truly believed what he was saying. He didn’t know himself very well and because of that he didn’t know Jesus very well either. Jesus often called seeing people blind.

Peter once was blind but now he can see. He sees grace. He sees grace because Peter came to the place of despair. He sees grace because he heard the words of Jesus about his own denial and then saw them come to pass. He sees grace because in spite of his denial Jesus came and found him. He sees grace because he now knows that his life is in God’s hands and that God is faithful and true. He sees grace because he has experienced grace. It wasn’t until Peter experienced the despair of his own denial that his eyes become open to the truth and he could finally see the hand of God even in scattering and exile.

How do you know if you are blind? What do you see? Do you find yourself judging and comparing? Do you find the need to prove your devotion or goodness? Do you feel good when you see others fall, fail, and struggle because, “at least I’m not like them.” When you live in the darkness of your own pride and self-sufficiency you are blind. When your life is ‘All about me’, then you are blind. When you hang on to the comfortable and familiar thinking you are safer here than being an exile, then you are blind.

Jesus invites you into his life of adventure. you can take him at his word, you can trust him. God does not forget you no matter where you end up, no matter where life scatters you. God has his eye on you. It is his Spirit at work within you that is keeping you, changing your desires into his desires. Literally changing what you want. The big question is, Will you begin to move in the direction of your new found desires, or will you play it safe and stay with the familiar and comfortable?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Day -5 : LDOIPW!

My last day of income producing work (LDOIPW) is today. So far it's a fairly typical day. Awake at 4:15 am, out the door by 4:25 am. It's cool but not as cold as it was a few months back. I feel rested and strong. The muscles in my hamstring s, calves, and quads move with a synchronicity trained into them through the bleak cold rainy dark mornings of winter. I move without conscious effort, a ghost, a transient apparition through the neighborhood. I pass a skunk foraging in the lawn, tail waving black and white like a pirate flag, what do skunks eat? I ponder. Snails, slugs, mushrooms? Don't know! Carry on, fellow keeper of the night! I move quickly, and arrive home a recipe breaking ten minutes earlier than the norm.

Stretch and shower. Make coffee, the  routine is strong with this one. I consider that my routine is about to change . My trusted insulated coffee mug looks at me is disbelief. "We won't be spending the summer together?" It appears to be saying. "No I answer, you're too heavy I am leaving you behind." It stares back in stunned silence.

LDOIPW! What do I wear for this occasion? I wear what's comfortable. Jeans and an untucked shirt-sleeve shirt. What are they going to do? Send me home early? 

I unpack my pack and riffle through my gear. I find the eight pound training ball that is substituting for four liters of water. I set it aside and pile the testify my gear into a disorganized heap. 

What goes where? What makes the most sense? What will I need and when? Why am I doing this? Excited energy! I can't sit still. I will unpack everything again at least a few times more this week. Not that I need to. The demands of the trail will dictate the proper location for everything soon enough. This exercise is more an exercise in visualization and relaxation. Confirming to me that year I do have that item and yes I will be on the trail soon. For now though it's off to the office.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Day -8 : Grace in Friendships

0 miles today
2663 miles to go

Wow, so this is what dreams are made of! Some of my friends put together a ‘send-off’ for me last night. First off, I am not a party person. In fact I actually felt a little drained as I thought about it while driving over to their home. I used the excuse that I am introverted and being in large crowds is a draining and exhausting experience.  It is true that I often feel this way at big social gatherings. 
Shelly and I pose while Vivian dances
Once there though I forgot about all that and was myself. I had lots of fun. I brought my gear with me. I set my tent up on the lawn and got to demo my alcohol stove a bunch of times. I was able to let people see my Saranwrap thin tent, my solar charger, my Neo-air mattress. I got to talk about the trail, my food plans, itinerary. It was fun to talk about stuff that I am really interested in. I've always been envious of people who show up at a party and talk about what interests them. I want to do that more. I want to stop posturing and posing for the crowd. I want to risk being me more, rather than being the ‘me’ that I think people expect.
Me and Viv
Shelly and Steve Hoover came. I felt truly honored by the affirmation and encouragement I received from them and all of my friends. As I was driving home I reflected that I didn't feel drained at all. I was tired but that was because it was so late, way past hiker midnight. It is humbling and emotionally moving that people showed up. I have friends! People that took time out of their busy schedules to come to an event that is all about something that is an important personal goal of mine. I think that maybe a big part of why I feel so drained in large settings is that deep down I have ‘people pleasing’ tendencies. This is not a positive trait. I think it's based on a fear of not being enough, that I have to meet the expectations of ‘the crowd’. I don't want to be this way. I am reading a book called The Gifts of Imperfection by BrenĂ© Brown, PhD., L.M.S.W (I have no idea what all those extra letters mean, but it makes her title look legit). I find her research compelling because it rings true to my own subjective experience. Her descriptions describe me. She talks about living with courage, compassion, and connection. That these three are critical to living a Wholehearted life. This is what I want to do/become. 
Friends are priceless!
To realize that there are people in my life that care about me as I am and not as how they think I should be is an incredibly freeing experience. This was exactly what I needed before heading off  on my hike. I also heard from a number of other friends who wanted to be there but couldn't. The fact that they took the time to reach out to me and say they wanted to be there just increased the revelation that I am so blessed to have a wide circle of gracious and loving people who care about me. 
Mom's a friend too!
One week from today I catch a plane that leaves everything familiar and comfortable. This Monday is my last day of ‘work’. By that I mean income producing work. If hiking two thousand six hundred sixty three miles isn't work, then there is no such thing as work. Some people use the word ‘calling’ to describe what they do. That might be the right word for what I am doing. I truly feel called to do this. I am not sure what that means or how it fits in with the rest of the things going on in the universe. All I know is that this is a dream I have been pursuing for years and I will be changed by the experience. I am hearing a voice (not audible) that no one in my immediate circle of friends hears. I have ignored it and put it off for way to long. For better or worse I am committed to following the voice to see where it leads me. I feel so alive, like I am waking up for the first time in a long time.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Day -16 : Flippity-flopping On Gear Choices

Now, thats a knife!
Suddenly its sixteen more days until I begin. I am mostly ready now. Mentally and physically anyway. How much does it really take to prepare? Probably less than I have. I tend to be an over-planner which is why this trip is going to be good for me. I think the unpredictable, unknowable aspects are going to be the hardest things for me to deal with. That means that the mental and emotional challenges will probably the most difficult. I noticed today, again, for the... I don't know... millionth? time how much I enjoy routine and doing the same thing over and over again. I come up with an optimized way of going through the day, most people would call it a rut. I am already a little anxious about my resupply package not being at the Post Office, and I haven't even shipped it yet. Throwing me out into the unpredictable variability of a thru-hike,  wow, talk about feeling uncomfortable!

I still haven't completely finalized my gear list. They say your pack weight reflects your fears. With all of the unpredictability I am finding that I have ample opportunity for fear. It's a constant battle to not add a small extra here and there. Before I know it, my pack is a pound heavier. Currently my pack weight is 12 lbs 11.6 ounces, but that is subject to fluctuate up and down a bit prior to leaving. I will update you with my final 'start' weight / list after I have actually left home. There are so many things that could be planned for that, the odds are, they are not going to occur. I am constantly weighing the probability of them and trying to take the least amount of things. One of the things I keep telling myself as I take things off the list is, "I can always have this thing shipped to me if I find I really need it." It seems to be helpful to do that. I happen to believe that fear is one of the greatest enemies keeping people from their dreams and goals. I don't want the weight of my pack to become a factor that causes me to be unable to accomplish my goal. So I deliberate and flippity-flop from dream-crushing fear to irrational optimism, I am not sure if there is such a thing as a 'happy' compromise between the two. I am looking forward to starting for the simple reason that the decision will have been made, the die will have been cast, and for better or worse, I will have to deal with the consequences of my decisions.

It looks as though we are in for some warmer weather for the next week here in California. The snow is beginning to melt. I drive to work each day looking at the Sierras to the east, wind-whipped and white, covered in snow. It looks really cold. A few months from now I will be traversing across the tops of those ridges. The snow will probably be mostly gone, I picture the trail by Tahoe, a section I am familiar from a number of hikes I have made on it.  I wonder what my thoughts will be after I will have hiked one thousand one hundred miles to essentially arrive back where I am now. Seems kinda crazy to even consider it. However, life is the journey, not the destination. Its not about where you are, its about the path you experience as you live out each day. I want to spend more time doing things I love. I feel that this hike will bring clarity to me about what I want and love.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Day -27 : The Beginning of Something Dramatic

Fifteen days of work left. For the last year I have been working really hard to put my employer into a place where my leaving on my hike will cause the least amount of disruption possible. I informed them in September 2015 I would be leaving on my hike at the end of April 2016.

Now, then is almost now.

My goal has been to work myself out of a job. The last thing that I want for the company is that they find that my leaving has left a huge whole in the organization. This is a very strange place to be. There is a part of me that says, "You fool! Make sure that they know how valuable that you are so they'll miss you and hire you back." There is another larger part of me that says, "Be a man of integrity and character, do the best you can do. Don't worry about whether there will be a job for you in the fall. Make  the best decisions you can to make the company successful even if that means they don't need you anymore." I've been listening to the larger part. I don't expect the company to hold my position for me, or even guarantee me a job. On the other hand, I don't know what I am going to want to do or even if I will want to go back if and when I finish this hike.

It's hard to believe that things will ever be different. Even though my mind says 'Only fifteen days left,' it feels like things will be just like they are. I have found that life is always like that. Things seem to be fixed in stone, always as they have ever been. Then, wham o! Something dramatic happens and things are never the same again. The difference is that in those situations the event is always unexpected so you are not sitting day after day waiting for it to occur. This is different because I am the instigator of the dramatic in my own life. I am being purposeful on a scale that I have never been before and my feelings are heightened by the unknown, huge, change that I have purposefully imposed on my life. I fully anticipate being changed in some way by my hike. That change includes the possibility of an upheaval in my priorities and what I want to do with my life. It's all on the table and all open to whatever is in store. Well not quite everything, my relationship with God and my relationship with my wife are not on the table. I expect that those will be brought into greater clarity and purposeful pursuit. The other stuff that I leave behind in the pursuit of those two relationships is what is open to change.

Today  I received  the latest spreadsheet from the trail angels I am staying with in San Diego when I fly down to start my trip. As I look on the date that I start I find that I will be starting with about nine other intrepid souls. I am looking forward to meeting them and hearing their stories. It'll be fun to get to know them and find out if any of them end up hiking about the same speed as myself. I think I am an average-speed hiker, whatever that is and that at least a few of them will be average too. I imagine that we'll all be dropped off at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail at the same time. Some, no doubt, will be in a hurry, sort of like I was last year when I only had two weeks before I had to return to work. I plan on enjoying my springtime jaunt through the desert at a pace that leaves me time to read, reflect, and write on my blog. I am also looking forward to sharing Shelly's story with them and seeing if I can get a volunteer or two to post to #shellyspct on Instagram so she can follow more than just my trip.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Day -28 : I Was Made For This

Less then a month. I wake up early and I am out learning a new route through my new neighborhood. The air is warmer, not because of my new location but because spring has come. The air is filled with the with the fragrances of all kinds of blooming trees and shrubs. I've been told that the Sacramento valley is one of the worst places on earth for those suffering from hay fever and allergies to all things pollen. I don't seem to have that susceptibility at this point so I breathe in deeply. The moon is brilliant in the deep blue early morning twilight. Little bunnies hop nonchalantly from my approaching footsteps. My tread is soft. The soles of my soles have just about worn through. I have just the mid-sole left under the balls of my feet making for a soft, almost slipper-like step on the concrete. The bunnies seem to know that Ian no threat, as they don't try very hard to escape being near me.

The flurry of activity that has been my moving life for the last few weeks is finally winding down somewhat. Just in time to pick up for my last minute preparations and final trip plans. Our new place is three stories and it seems that everything that I am looking for is always either one flight up or one flight down. I have been doing a ton of stair climbing. That combined with my early morning walks should keep my legs toned and ready for the trail. 

As I think with anticipation on my upcoming trip I feel excited and filled with curiosity as to the adventures and unforeseen situations of the future. I consider what I currently spend the majority of my waking hours doing and project to a different routine in the near future. My current livelihood requires a significant amount of thought and concentration. I come home from work exhausted and tired from the amount of thinking I do in a day. In less than a month I anticipate do no less thinking but rather adding to it by being physically active eight to twelve hours per day. Hiking an average of about twenty miles per day for five months. That will be my new job, my day, my life. I find it to be epic when I think about it. I've never attempted anything so grandiose in my entire life. In imagining the dirt and sweat, the bugs and snakes, rain and stifling heat, drought, thirst, clammy wet clothes in the rain, snow, wind, and the extreme effort it will take, I feel a sense of 'I was made for this.' There are no second thoughts, no regrets, no changing plans, anything but to move forward would feel like a disappointment.