Top 5 reasons why I know I have the best sleeping bag on the face of the planet.

 

Right here … Here’s my love, the Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20 degree bag:

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#1 – Weight. When I first ordered this beauty, back in 2011, as I was getting ready for a PCT Thru-hike, it came in the mail at the same time as some hiking shoes, mini gaiters, a headlamp and other small miscellaneous objects. When I picked up the box, my face grew long … they hadn’t included the sleeping bag. I just knew. The box was too light. Then I opened the box, and lo’ and behold’ the bag was in there! I tossed it in the air, and it fell back gently in my arms. Yep. Love at first sight! Then a week ago, sending it to the WM factory for repairs, I was charged extra because “the package was too light.” Customers in line at the post office suggested I put a rock in the box – That’s light!

#2 – Comfort. The 20 degree UltraLite is not actually a bag, it’s a regeneration cocoon of love, fluff and warmth. I slept in it for 105 night straight of cowboy camping (no tent) on the PCT, without a wash (I have dedicated sleep clothes and socks), like in the arms of Angels. When I stopped walking and moved back into the truck, this was still the bag I used. If it was too cold, I added a blanket on top, if it was too warm, I used it as a quilt, or rolled it into a small body size friend and hugged it all night (yeah, single life in the truck …) It’s been damp and wet a few times, and I expected it to let me down, as down bags are wont to do, but no, a space blanket around it, and it was back to excellent zzzzzs.

#3 – Durability. When I didn’t know anything about gear and read all I could about it, I learned that one cannot expect a bag to last more than one thru-hike. That’s just one of the costs the repeat thru-hiker must factor in. Well, mine’s looking at a full PCT, several AT sections, all the New Hampshire 4000ers, 2 San Diego trails, a trip to humid Cuba, a trip to dusty India, Alaska, Canada, etc. … and 6 years in the truck, in some fashion. And that bag is not even close to being done yet.

#4 – Customer Service. Okay, so, with the oil from my body and the constant use, the bag did eventually lose a lot of feathers – I mean, you would too after 6 years of almost daily use! So I called Western Mountaineering. When I was on the AT, they were able to give me an emergency refluff – I think they mostly washed it a bunch of time. It wasn’t completely back to its former glory, but I was still impressed with WM tracking me down on the trail and getting the bag right to me without impairing my walk at all.  Now, 2 years later, I contacted them again after spending a few cold nights on the San Diego trails. Boom! Refluffed, broken zipper is fixed, all in a courteous, understanding, expedient fashion, and again they were able to work with my nomadic lifestyle and are shipping the bag right where I’ll be able to get it.

#5 – Everything else. I love its gorgeous deep blue, that hasn’t really faded. I love that it’s quiet when I sleep in it, no annoying nylon rustling. I love how small it compresses. I’ve even carried it in a day-pack to spend the night in a cave once. I love how it smells – oh, wait, that’s just my smell … I love that my best trail family members have the same bag, so we can feel like a special clique of people who scored in the gear department. I love the two drawstrings that keep the chill of the night away from my body, but my face still out to see the stars and breathe clean air. I love that the 6′ length gives me wiggle room for my feet, and extra storage for my clothes (I’m 5’4″). And … actually, there isn’t anything I DON’T like about this bag.

I get no kickback of any sort from Western Mountaineering for shamelessly bragging about their bag. I’m just assembling gear for my next adventure, and felt my gratitude and love for this loyal gear-friend needed to be passed on.

Love!

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Note: You’re actually looking at my bivy bag covered in dew here, the sleeping bag is inside. It turns out, I don’t have a picture of me in my bag, because either I camp alone, or I protect it with the bivy. You get this idea though …

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That’s what I do with your speeding ticket, town of Blanding, Utah!

For those of you baffled by my cryptic cursive handwriting:

“Dear city of Blanding,

Enclosed is a check for the speeding ticket I received while driving through your lovely little town.

I just wanted to point out to you that I am paying the speeding ticket not because you threatened to send a warrant for my arrest, but because of the kindness the officer that pulled me over showed me. He was doing his job, and I did come into town faster than I should have. But he showed me kindness, politeness, professionalism, and when it was over, directed me to an excellent coffee shop.

There are many unpleasant experiences in life, getting a speeding ticket is vexing enough. I am grateful it turned into a kind exchange.

I hope Blanding uses the funds well.

And I wish you all a beautiful day.

Melissa”

The best part about A Wrinkle in Time

I went to see A Wrinkle in Time, the visually-pleasing, Oprahesque, feel-good, inspirational-quotes-filled movie just out in theatre, and I have already included in this sentence everything I’m going to say about it, because the best part of the movie actually happened before the movie.

I arrived at the theatre early to get “the good seats”, the ones exactly at the center of the theatre, relative to the height of the room and to the width of the screen. I settled in a surprisingly deep soft seat while my friend Mikhael braved the popcorn line. I wasn’t exactly centered – some earlier birds had that privilege – but about a quarter in, with 3 seats between me and the lucky birds. These were great enough seats.

An older gentleman with a large gnarled wooden cane entered the row. He held on to the back of the seats in front and shuffled sideways towards me with visible difficulty. I stood up so my seat would fold to offer him an easier passage, but our combined girth plus his cane did not fit the space between the rows. I pushed myself further into the seat. He squeezed past me. When he reached the open seats on the other side, however, he didn’t sit right away. He lifted a baseball cap from his destination seat, and turned back to me with a question mark on his brow.

“Do you know whose hat this is? Was someone saving this seat?”
“I don’t know. There was no one here when I got here.” I had a flash vision of our squeeze-dance of seconds prior. If the cap indeed marked a saved seat, we had a second dance coming, and I couldn’t see to let the man struggle back to the corridor to fight another row. I could have, in hindsight, I suppose, offered him my seat. But I didn’t think about it … I didn’t think about it until I was schooled with kindness, which happens at the end of this story, and I’m not there yet.

The man moved the hat over and sat down. We chit-chatted about the accident on the road outside, the rain, the upcoming movie. Small meaningful words with a sole purpose of connection. He grew quiet and I settled deeper in my seat. Then I noticed a phone in my cup holder. “Why would someone leave a phone in a …” The answer was entering the row before I could finish the thought.

Two boys, one of them barely taller than the seats’ backs, slinked down past all the seats and my raised knees by the smug agility of youth.
“Excuse me, I just need to get my hat.”
“Oh! I’m sorry. Was this your seat?” The older gentleman handed him his hat, contradicting the implication in his question.
“It’s okay.” The taller boy said, sliding again past me, and picking up his friend’s phone on the way.
“I just noticed there was a phone here.” I said. The words were true, but the excuse felt flat and false.
“It’s okay.” The taller boy repeated before meeting his friend already on tiptoes in the corridor in search of a new set of seats.

The older gentleman turned to me, “Well, now I feel bad. I mean, they had saved the seats, fair and square. What’s the point of saving a seat if people just sit there anyway?” He had slumped deeper in his seat and seemed genuinely ashamed of his behavior.
“Don’t worry. They’re young, they’re adaptable.” The words were meant to comfort myself as much as him. I wasn’t too proud either. I looked to the corridor. The boys were gone. I hoped they’d find good seats.

A few minutes later, my seat lurched forward. A kick in the back. A boy’s voice. Another kick in the back. I didn’t need to look. I knew exactly who sat behind me and from whose little legs those kicks emanated. I heard rustling behind me. Another kick. And another. So … that’s how it was going to be. I wasn’t upset at the kicks. Maybe I felt they were justified – I had, after all, “stolen” their saved seats. I wasn’t upset, but still I didn’t want to watch a whole movie with the kicking repercussions for my unintentional unkindness.

I considered moving to avoid escalating from kicks to confrontation, but by then the theatre was getting almost full. And also, these were great seats. And Mikhael was bound to return with popcorn to this exact location any minute. And I couldn’t move one to the right or to the left, because the entire row ahead was populated by tall people, except for the seat directly in front of me. I had the only unobstructed view, the only seat to accommodate my short height in the entire row.

What to do? Talk to the boy? Yes, but gently. What would I say? I’d have to be very polite and kind. Should I mention the kicks? How would I ask him to stop kicking without sounding like I’m attacking? What if he mentions our theft of his seat? What would Love say? How would Love solve this. What would Love do?

A small hand tapped me on the right shoulder. It was the taller boy, sitting one seat to the right of directly behind me. I turned to find his boyish face peering between the backs.
“Excuse me. My friend is very short. We brought several pillows, but he’s still a bit too short to see the whole screen.”
“Oh! Does he need me to sink a little so he can see above my head? I didn’t think I was as tall as the back.”
“No, you’re fine. You’re not in the way at all. It’s just that he’s been struggling to get himself up there, and he just wanted to apologize to you for kicking your seat.”

Yep – right there! THAT is what Love would do.

“Thank you for telling me. I hope you two enjoy the movie.”
“Thank you. I hope you do too.”

There was one more kick after that, and I didn’t mind at all. I just hoped his pillows had not slid down. And I mindfully stayed deep in my own seat in case it helped.

Folks, if this is the next generation in charge, we’re going to be just fiiine.

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(Image by Laura Yewon Jun- deviantart.com)

Book #2 – Let the adventure begin!

The story starts in Alabama. A collision of worldviews between a woman living in her truck and a southern gentleman construction worker who has never seen anything like it. Book #2 picks up where Crazy Free left off. I have no title for it yet. And I don’t know how it ends, because I haven’t lived its end yet. I know it goes to Grand Canyon, Cuba, Alaska and will challenge me to learn and practice good character development as many quirky companions join my journey. But, beyond that … I have lots of room to breathe.

I’m in a library in Paonia, Colorado. The skeleton for the book is ready. How I got to Paonia – and why I’m still here – will likely be the next blog post. But today book writing is happening, so it’ll have to wait.

Yay! Writing! 🙂

“Most really good fiction is compelled into being. It comes from a kind of uncalculated innocence. You need not have your ending in mind before you commence. Indeed, you need not be certain of exactly what’s going to transpire on page 2. If you know the whole story in advance, your novel is probably dead before you begin it. Give it some room to breathe, to change direction, to surprise you. Writing a novel is not so much a project as a journey, a voyage, an adventure. ~ Tom Robbins”

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All Hail the Power of the Mighty Flu! – and a bonus story

I enjoy the flu. It’s not like its politically-correct cousin the cold. It doesn’t make you sniffle for weeks or let you dwell in the illusion of being functional while slowly draining your life juices away. It doesn’t care that you have prior plans or commitments, responsibilities, duties, chores or a life. It walks in like a cocky Senior IT tech, looks around and says “Little lady, you’re about to experience a complete system shutdown. Grab what you need and stay out of the way. We’ll let you know when you can resume.”

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[That’s the guy – pretty, isn’t it?]

I got the notice on Sunday, but my magician of a mechanical friend, Richard, had dismantled the Catmobile’s leaky air-intake system, and the new fancy replacement parts weren’t due to arrive until 3 pm. I crawled in the back of the truck stranded in the grocery parking lot – One of Richard’s many “repair shops” – and let the man speak to my engine while I made mental plans to accommodate my imminent and unavoidable collapse. The way this one was coming on, I knew I’d likely be down for days.

In non-nomadic life, I imagine people prepare by arranging for their kids to be taken to school, for food to be available for their pets, for bills to be paid, and so forth. In my world, the key components are 1) Find a place where I can park for days without a ranger asking me to move. 2) Orient the truck so that it is not only level, but also with its head to the east and back to the west. If the back points south, too much sun beats on the bed during the day, and I get too hot. If the back points north, I get no sun, and I get cold. And because I grow plants in the truck (Mint, Rosemary, Sage and Aloe Vera) and they prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, there’s just really one orientation that works. 3) I need two gallons of water for about 3 days. 4) The moon is about to be an exceptionally potent blue-blood-supermoon, so prepare for moon-time-female shenanigans (and double it). 5) That’s it. Everything else is already built-in. I have my whole life with me.

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The Catmobile got its shining new parts in. I drove up a hill, parked at the top, with the bed level and the back to the west, overlooking a huge vista of desert expanse from the red cliffs of Sedona to the Cottonwood-lined banks of the Verde River. I lodged a large rock behind each wheel, crawled in my den, and was instantly gone.

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I ran out of water Wednesday morning. I don’t remember much in between. Or rather my memories of the interim days and nights are like a jumble of slides in a dusty box. There’s no date or time stamp on the slides, and the dust in the box is mathematical. My fever dreams are always mathematical in nature. My brain forms and gets caught in loops it must then exit. It believes its survival depends on it. And the only way out is to painstakingly attempt to organize the fractal nature of Life into clean, measurable, Euclidean shapes. The slides are those moments in between when I come up for air out of the mathematical madness, open my eyes to the world and take stock that it’s still there, in all its fractal beauty, and remember that it requires nothing from me.

One of the slides is of the blood moon, a perfect full lunar eclipse, positioned exactly in the center of my back window as viewed from my pillow, as though it were hanging on my wall, and the truck was its frame, and its shade of red had been carefully chosen to match the new comforter my friend Frieda gave me for my birthday last year.

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Another slide finds me angry, because somebody said I couldn’t have a Spirit Animal because I am a nonnative (A Facebook post from a few days prior). I see my brother Coyote, my companion of so many dreams and quite a few waking moments. It always visits when I need. It reminds me I’ve chosen to live nonsensically, and to just have fun with it. He’s a tiny shadow in the distance in a big desert, but I know his movement pattern. “Go ahead, tell Coyote he cannot be my Spirit Animal because my skin is white.” I think I say it out loud. And back to sleep.

Another slide is of gun shots. The gun shots are there the whole time, because at the bottom of my hill is a shooting range . There are acute metallic high pitch shots, others with drawls and rumbling voices, yet others boom up the hill and shake the truck and my bones with their shockwave. They’re at it all day. One man is less than 10 feet from his target. A puff of dirt to the left of the target. Half a second later, I hear the shot. Half a second delay between sight and sound, how far am I? The next mathematical puzzle. I check on the man a few hours later. Puff of dirt now to the right of the target. A few hours later, he’s hitting the target. Good job! At sunset, he packs and leaves. Quiet returns.

Another slide. My warm water bottle against my body keeps all the chills of the night away. I wake up at sunset for a few simple well-rehearsed gestures. Stove on. Water in pan. Boil. Water in Nalgene bottle. Put stove away. I can do it all from my bed, yet it’s the most exhausting set of gestures I’ve ever performed in my life. The Flu and the medicine run through my body. My heart thumps in my ears. My fingers tingles. I feel I am journeying elsewhere, out of my body. But the water bottle is my anchor in the waking world. Whenever I feel its warmth, I know I’m still here. I’m safe in the truck.

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I dropped down the hill on Wednesday. I wasn’t fully coherent yet, but functional enough to drive to the store. I filled up my two one-gallon jugs and bought a yogurt – first food since Sunday. Richard had settled in the parking lot of a long-gone Denny’s restaurant and boldly posted a Facebook invitation to anyone in need of mechanical consultation to stop by and visit. He’d check the leak he had repaired in my power-steering hose, he said, but only if I kept my flu at least 10 feet away from him. I stayed in the driver seat while he slid under the engine. But, Donnie Darko, his canine sidekick, did not understand why the usual petting was being withheld. He jumped out of Richard’s van and came to my door to demand his dues.
“Great! Now I have to disinfect my dog.”
Richard ran some alcohol wipes on Donnie’s coat where my infected hand had made contact, and sprayed a generous cloud of Lysol in both our directions for good measure. He made me laugh, which made me cough.

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I drove back to the desert to heal for another couple of days, but this time away from the shooting range, into the red dirt I used to call home. I found “my spot” was still occupied, by the same hunters. The large tent was gone, but a stinky pile of antlers and nondescript animal parts informed me that this particular “spot” might never be mine again. Even if all traces of them were gone, I’d remember that pile and the energy about it, and it would make me sad. So, I drove further.

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The first twenty or so spots I found along road 525 were occupied by either a van, a tent or an RV. In all the winters I’ve spent in the Sedona backcountry, I have never seen so many desert-dwellers. I finally found an unoccupied level area, but upon inspection discovered the prior occupants had pooped all around the campable spot, and left their soiled toilet paper for the desert maid to clean up. Same story in the next few spots. In fact, I hadn’t noticed prior, but there was toilet paper all over the desert – caught under the mesquite  bushes, in the juniper branches, and startlingly white against the red dirt everywhere – this is a different topic than the one at hand, but seriously, hasn’t anyone heard of Leave No Trace ethics anymore? Anyway, I finally settled on a little secluded piece of dirt, crawled in the back, and resumed sleeping for another day and one night.

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BONUS STORY:
I was awoken on the second morning by the sound of a man’s voice. A very close sound of a man’s voice! I had been out of it so completely that I didn’t exactly remember where I was, so I sat up to see whose voice that was, and how far from the next encampment I had set my home. There was a small city-type car about 500 feet away, but nothing closer. Then I heard him again.

He was less than 20 feet from my truck, a man about mid-fifties, with a grey hoodie over much of his face and cut-off jean shorts, sitting in the dirt. His legs were crossed and his hands in prayer position in front of his face, which I couldn’t see. His hands shook with each desperate incantation as though the man was pleading God to spare his very life. This was a new one … I wasn’t sure what to do, so I lay back down. He must have known there was someone in the truck, and this is a very big desert, so why pray right here, next to me? Out loud?

You’d think I’d have been more worried about it, but for one, I always feel safe in the truck, and for two, I was still sick and actually just fell back asleep immediately.

His prayer woke me up a second time. Still only 20 feet away. This time he had knelt in the dirt and placed his forehead onto the ground, facing the red rocks of Sedona in the distance. He whispered his wails, but I sensed he wanted to be heard. I turned my phone on, just in case, and got dressed with minimal movements within the truck, all the while keeping a discreet eye on him, but also allowing him some privacy for his prayer.

He finished his second round of imploration, walked a wide arc around the truck, got in his car, slammed the door, and stayed there for 5 minutes. He then got out of his car, walked a wide arc around the truck, sat back in the dirt, same spot, prayed, returned to his car … and so forth.

On his fourth of fifth visit, I decided my curiosity was greater than his need to pray right next to my truck. I waited until he was just within earshot, and pushed the back open to reveal myself and my home. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared as his feet with his hoodie pulled as far down as his nose.
“Good morning.” I yelled to him.
No answer. No movement.
“Are you okay?”
He shook his whole body “no”, then said “I go over there to pray.” and immediately turned around in place and still stared at his feet but facing away from me.
“Okay. That’s okay. You can pray here, I don’t mind.”
He shook his whole body “no” again, and walked away towards his car. He got in the car, slammed the door, waited 5 minutes, and came out. Same routine. This time he walked a very wide arc around the truck, then changed his mind, walked a very wide arc back to his car. With gentle, non-threatening nor fear-based gestures, I began preparing the truck for departure. I was about ready when I noticed him approach the truck with a large Tibetan singing bowl. I had crawled in the back to water my plants, so I met him right at the entrance – the tailgate.
“Hi!” my friendliest voice.
He shook “no” again, and moved his hand along the Sanskrit on his Tibetan bowl. I grabbed my notebook and a pen and handed them to him with an inquisitive look. Is that what you need?
“I broke my vow of silence.” He wrote very slowly in small caps, and I watched as he wrote trying to decipher the letters as they appeared.
“Ahhh. I understand.” I told him.
“I am not in a good way.” he wrote on the next line.
“Okay. I hear you.”
“I can only be friends with spiritual people.” on the next line. And upon writing it, he looked at me for the first time, with an apologetic look, as clearly, I didn’t qualify.
He then bowed and returned to his car.

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And I drove out of the desert, to Chris’s, to get a shower and attend to the aftermath of the flu – melted chocolate and wilted greens, fever-smelling sheets and clothes, and stories to tell.

The end.
For now.

XOX – Roaming Bobcat.

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Fractals!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ugly Truth about Living Life to the Fullest

I hear it all the time … “YOU truly live life to the fullest!”
Yeah, way to go, Roaming Bobcat! You are such an inspiration. Way to be free from society, jobs, obligations and Old World expectations, roaming by the will o’ the wisp in your valiant Catmobile, all smiles, gratitude and high vibrations.

Well, I’ll tell you what: I DO live life to the fullest. And it is not all you’ve cracked it to be…

2 days ago. My facebook status read “Sometimes, I feel so blessed, that my only hardship is humility.”
Last night. A friend offered I sleep in his driveway because I was cold, hopeless, and crying.

Crazy Free - new cover from Scott.

“Hi. I am doing a study on the homeless population in Sedona. May I ask you a few questions.”
The lady with the clipboard picked me first. Maybe because I was standing nearest the entrance at the Food Bank, waiting for my number to be called for a free bag of food to sustain me for the week. Maybe because of my three layers of down vests and jackets, the classic look of those of us without a heated space on cold winter nights. Or maybe it was my matted hair – she couldn’t guess of my choice to grow dread locks to celebrate my passage through menopause. Or something about my unhurried pace – letting mothers and people with jobs get ahead in line. I have nowhere else to be, and nothing else to do.
“I’m not homeless.” I told her. “I live in my truck, so I always have my home with me.”
She had a checkbox for that on her form. Vehicle dwellers count as homeless.
“No, I have no income.”, “No, I don’t have health insurance.” “No, I don’t pay taxes” “No, I don’t have electricity.” “No, I don’t use any substance, no drugs, no alcohol” … She had a checkbox for each of my answers.
“Well, I’m not your typical homeless person though,” I could hear the defensiveness in my voice. I mean, I live the way I live “by choice.”
She had a checkbox for that too.

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2 days ago, the Catmobile and I pulled into Slab City, California. The “City” appears on Google Maps as a small cluster of square blocks, complete with streets (Loners on Wheels Rd, Tank Rd, etc.) and neighborhoods (East Jesus, West Satan, etc.) But, in fact, it’s little more than a haphazard congregation of  “homeless” people of the wheeled kind, a mingling (not mixing) of nomadic hippie artists, air-conditioned northern sun-seekers, off-season disoriented burners, and Alexander Supertramp followers.


I fall slightly in all categories, but mostly in the latter.
The first time “Into the Wild” landed in my hands, I was a National Science Foundation Fellow with more annual grant money for my geophysics research than all the paychecks and under-the-table money I have earned combined in the 7 years since I threw caution to the wind and leaped into this strange life I now call my own. That book sparked something wild and unstoppable in me. I didn’t see the tragedy of a troubled young man’s untimely death; I read of a vibrant explorer with the balls to go for it, explore the edges, and follow only his own footsteps, to whatever end.

In time, I’ve become my own Alexander Supertramp. I’ve lived as I pleased, following nothing but my own wishes. I’ve run out of money, repeatedly – to a documented low of $2.62. I’ve slept in the dirt (as a thru-hiker) and on sidewalks (in Cuba). I’ve forgone showers and piled hundreds of thousands of miles on my odometer. I collected friends all over the country, with names as strange as Last on the Bus, the Big Elf, Grey Wolf, Weathercarrot, Quest or Rapunzel. Enough money has always appeared when needed, and not once did I use any one of my 4 college degrees. I taught yoga, posed as a nude model for art classes, worked as a Grand Canyon guide, painted buildings and houses, restored historical windows, dug trenches, shoveled pig and chicken shit, weeded organic gardens, trimmed marijuana, wrote a book about my adventures, and lived off the royalties for a while … and, I’ve had to borrow money, dumpster-dive (mostly for pies). I’ve sung Hare Krishna songs for a free meal, and occasionally relied on food banks and the kindness of strangers. Like Alexander, I joined the ranks of society’s misfits, roamed the desert southwest, and even moved to Alaska.

But our parallel stops there. Because his life stopped then, and mine hasn’t.

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Standing on top of Salvation Mountain, I sent Alexander Supertramp my love and gratitude for the inspiration. gratitude for all the adventures, the friends and the overwhelming freedom inherent to living life this way – our way! I then parked the Catmobile among my misfit peers, and basked in the glow of a gorgeous sunset from the comfort of my pillow. I felt like the Grand Winner of the Jackpot of Life, and fell asleep fully contented about everything in my world.

Alexander was older now. He was walking through the desert, but only I could see him. The rows of RVs had their generators going. That was in the world. So, the noise from the world was in my dream. I was relatively sure this was a dream. I could date Alexander since I could see him. He’d be my invisible boyfriend.
“You died just in time.” I told him. “If you had continued on, you’d have run out of steam, eventually.” He wasn’t listening, but he held my hand as we walked. “All that freedom, it’s exhausting after a while.” Still not listening. “It’s like having so many options paralyzes you, because how can you choose when everything is available?”
There was a banquet for a wedding. A table covered with delectable meals. All of which I had tasted already. He sat and ate.
“Alexander, I think I don’t want to be homeless anymore. I want a kitchen, and a bathtub, a garden to grow my own food, a room for my sewing machine, and a yoga studio nearby where I can teach, and a steady income to buy gear and pay for adventures.”
“Then stop.” He kissed my temple just before I drifted elsewhere, to another dream.

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skinny slit separatorThere were no restrooms anywhere in Slab City, and no bushes thick enough to hide behind, so I left before sunrise, at the urgent request of my bowels. Then I drove 2 hours and almost ran out of gas before finding both gas and a bathroom.

“Then stop.” he had said. Well, but, I can’t. Just like I can’t stop in Slab City if I need to poo. There’s this urge to always move on. A fear of missing out if I don’t. I can’t go back to where I was before I got on this journey, because, at this point, it’s so far ago and I’m such a different person that I wouldn’t even fit at all “back there.”
And, also, I don’t want to stop for the sake of stopping. I want to stop because I find a spot or situation that I deem worthy of stopping. I’m not just gonna pull in the middle of the desert and say “I stop here. Here’s just fine.”

And what if I did stop? There were towns along the way where I’ve considered stopping, like North Conway, NH or Sedona, AZ. Would I build a peaceful hole to call my own? Get a steady job? A job would bind my daily hours, and the assorted taxes, insurances and utilities would bind my income. So I’d have the money for adventures and gear, and no time to partake in them. The eternal dilemma … I think I’d just shrivel up under the weight of a life ill-fitted to my particular genetic makeup. In fact, I’ve tried to stop in each of these towns. It didn’t take.

When I finally pulled into Sedona, and caught my first glimpse of Thunder Mountain, tears welled up in my eyes. Tears of sadness. An overwhelming sense of stagnation washed over me. I was here again. I always returned here when I didn’t know where else to go. Why? Why always Sedona? Because it’s easy. Because I know I can camp out in the desert, and get my mail at friends’ addresses, and meet people for tea, and hike trails I’ve hiked a hundred times without having to buy a map or ask strangers. I have a “spot” here. Just having this “spot” made me feel stagnant. So, not only I can’t stop, but I can’t return too often either. A pretty dire case of wanderlust!

Then I drove through town – for the first time in over a year. My favorite yoga studio is now closed, as is my favorite coffee shop. Most of the pullouts in the desert now have “no camping” signs, and worse … there is a “camping” sign on my secret road, leading straight to my secret spot – “My” spot, where I have spent months, where I know each cat-claw bush, coyote song and firewood pile. There was a massive camp in “my” spot, with enough water to last an entire season.

So, here is where it stands. The Sedona I always return to no longer exists. It changed while I was gone. So, I can stay here and pretend it’s a new town. and I know I’d discover new “spots” and meet new people. I could even find work here – I have contacts- and save enough to hike the CDT – my next dream adventure.

Oooor … I could go somewhere else, someplace new. Anywhere. I can go anywhere at all. I can go soooo anywhere that I don’t even know where I’d go.

And THAT is the ugly truth about living life to the fullest. How do you define who you’d like to be when infinity represents the boundary of what you can create? How do you narrow it down? How do you remain content with your choices when you can just look over the fence and see the green grass of a small home with a kitchen and a bath? How do you ward off stagnation when movement becomes your norm? How do you reconcile growing your own organic vegetables when you are addicted to the view outside your 32 square foot window to always, always, always be different?

What would Alexander have done, if he hadn’t died?

desert

skinny slit separator

P.S: So … I started writing this posted “The Ugly Truth about Living Life to the Fullest” intending to write about how, often, people think I live in a state of La La Land-happiness about how awesome my life is. And anyone on Facebook could easily think that, because I only post when I’m happy. The “Ugly Truth” I wanted to write about is that life comes with great joys and deep sadness, moments of despair and confusion, the whole gamut. The key to “living fully” is NOT to be happy all the time, it is to live everything that happens. Reject nothing, it’s all good … that’s what I came here today to write about, and then, my fingers wrote something else entirely. Probably something I needed to read myself, to know where I’m at. Live Blog Therapy, of sort.

And also, this morning, as the story was writing itself, I got an offer to go live in a cob house with a friend in Colorado. I’d still have the truck as a bedroom, but there would be a kitchen and bathroom, and a wood stove, and a room I could make into an office to finally record that audio book I started years ago. And it’s in a spot I’ve never visited before. So … ??? Stay tuned.

Thank you for reading! XOXOX

[drawing of the two ladies on the cliff by my friend N.Scott Driscoll as a potential new cover for Crazy Free]

 

 

 

 

 

Are you feeling the Shift? (also about hospitals and mechanics)

Here is a set of strange thoughts on the status of the current world and on being in the hospital and having the truck in the shop.

Exactly a year ago, I was getting out of the hospital in Vermont. I landed in the hospital because of a pain in my lower belly that caused me such worry (because of fear caused by internalized stories about appendicitis) that I left the trail. While in the hospital, I was cared for by the most attentive doctors and kind nurses. Everyone was genuinely concerned with my special case and determined to solve the mystery. After state of the art CT scans, ultrasounds, xrays, blood samples, etc … the doctors were still at a loss as to what caused my ailment. But, just in case it helped, I was fed heavy doses of antibiotics intravenously. I didn’t like the method, but had to trust the process. I surrendered because I had no choice. I left the hospital on my own two feet carrying my own pack after 5 days. The pain was still a little present, but I knew I needed out. I couldn’t keep getting zapped and poked and fed high fructose corn syrup and white wonder bread. I just couldn’t.

The pain came back a few times. Determined to self-heal, I hit the Google and books hard and settled on a regiment of turmeric and ginger tea, raw garlic and watching my stress level and the energy I fed to the worry. Not only did it dissipate the pain, it also started a whole branch of research interest in my brain. Plant-based medicine, which led to Ayurveda, then to plant intelligence, and ongoing …

Now, get this … history repeats itself so precisely.

In my dreams, the truck (the Catmobile) and I are interchangeable. I am the truck and the truck is me and we can walk, drive or fly or do whatever we need to.

This year, the truck version of my extended Self is in the “hospital”. It landed there, again because of my worry, based on beliefs I hold about mechanical failures causing more damage than symptoms. Once again, I encountered nothing but kindness, goodwill and dedication to my cause from all 4-5 (or however many, I stopped counting) mechanics who made it their personal quest to solve the Noise mystery. State of the art diagnosis tools failed to find a cause. This week (assuming I figure out the finances), the truck will return to me with its mystery unsolved. I feel, as I did a year ago, that I need it out of there. One of the early mechanics damaged my front wheel bearings while trying to investigate – the truck’s corn syrup equivalent. The Noise remains, and I am determined to solve it via alternative methods. No, not plant based, but feeling based …

In my research on the topic of plant intelligence I have come to understand (believe) that everything – everything! – is alive. If it is made of matter, it is a coherent system of smaller parts, by definition. If coherence has emerged, then necessarily, responsive intelligence of its own particular kind also exists. And if that is the case, then it is up to me (the human) to refine my listening tools to communicate with this intelligence. Other organisms already do this. I talk to plants and they respond in healthy growth. I talk to my body and it responds with cravings to let me know what it needs. Muscle testing also works for me. But talking is easy – true, deep listening much less. It requires suspension of beliefs, expectations and preconceptions – a good exercise regardless. I have been talking and “listening” to the truck for 17 years. It has demonstrated its own sharpness of listening skills – like actually starting with a completely dead battery after I pressed my forehead on its steering wheel and explained how far and stranded we were (just one of many incidents – I have stories!). The truck has kept me informed of its basic needs. I “know” when it needs an oil change or filter change, regardless of mileage. The truck “tells” me. That’s a start, but I need to “hear” even deeper and more accurately. That’s how the Noise mystery will be solved, not in a shop by changing every possible part that “could” make a noise (and I mean that with much gratitude for what was done so far … I got it from here).

The world is shifting. And these two seemingly “negative” mysteries in my life are nudging me to shift with it.

One last esoteric thought on the topic … I think each identifiable form (you, me, that truck, that tree) is a part of a greater whole. I think the shift that is occurring is an emergence of coherence, the realization of the consciousness of the “Sum”, which is greater than its parts. And a shift of perception from individual to Whole Intelligence. The intelligence of the Whole system, all included – and the discovery that Free Will exists at that level (and that we have been calling it “fate” all along). And when we get there, I would like to hope that channels of communication between the parts will be wide open. Man, what a world to live in that will be, when we can communicate with everything.

So, yeah … that’s what’s on my mind today. :

croppedfromdeb(loves, soon reunited)

The last frontiers: Alaska, menopause and ascension.

I’ve been shifting – transforming. I’ve known some process was at hand, but I didn’t know what I was shifting into. And I might still not know, but I will write about it anyway.

I came to Alaska because the thought of doing so caused me such joy that I knew it was right. It was a case of ultimate follow-your-bliss, with a potency similar to what propelled me to walk the PCT or write Crazy Free. Pure must-do.

I came, and now I am leaving again, with no regrets. The long meditative miles, the physical work at the ranch and the Alaska environment precipitated the shift. Or maybe the time simply had come. I’ve been told that, from the outside, my life looks like constant uprooting. It seems chaotic, unsettled, maybe even pointless. Am I lost? Looking for something? Drifting aimlessly from place to place?

“You drove all the way to Alaska, only to turn around. That makes no sense.”
Sense is not something I concern myself with. Only growth interests me.

This is really 3 posts in one, but I view them as inseparable. As within, so without. Alaska was a perfect backdrop for the life metamorphosis I have embarked upon, which is a stepping stone experience in my greater quest for higher consciousness.

Alaska

alaska1My two favorite things about Alaska are the trees and the people, for opposite reasons.

The trees here carry some of the gentlest energy of any forest I have been lucky to meet. I mistakenly interpreted their short stature as the result of logging when I first arrived. But the land is so vast, it was unlikely that all of it could have been logged. Then I learned of the growth limit imposed on their roots by the frozen ground of intense winters. Trees can only grow as tall as their roots will support – the same is true for humans. Such gentle trees adapted to such harsh conditions. I have enjoyed their company and learning about the medicine they offer, and I will miss them when I leave.

The people here are some of the hardiest I’ve met. If it’s needed, it must be designed, built, foraged, trapped, hunted, raised, grown or self-created somehow. Summer lasts three months. The rest of the year is a dark and cold game of survival in which humans and Nature are on equal footing. This common vulnerability breeds strength, community, respect and humility. When I first arrived, I saw a world of diesel fumes, barb wires, guns and dead beasts’ skins. But it only took meeting a few locals to realize my preconception-perception goggles were distorted.  The cycle of life is simply streamlined from birth to table, and it is entirely in plain view. There are no hidden massive production, transportation, packaging, marketing, shelving. There is also little waste. Resources are too scarce to waste. When a beast is killed, necessary food is provided. When trees are cut, a cabin is built. When a cabin is dismantled, all pieces are saved for the next project.

When I said hardy, I did not mean harsh. As anyone knows who has lived off-the-grid, the smaller the community, the tighter the bond. The size of Alaskans’ hearts are a match for the land. The mountains, tundra and all of wild Alaska are breath-taking. But the real gold here, I found, is the people. I learned a lot here, especially from Goose and Pinky, the caretakers at the ranch, and masters at dancing the fine line between adventure and homesteading. I will see them again. Alaska is only a few gorgeous thousand miles away. My little trail brother, Kristo the Lion, has found home here and will be staying. Another reason to come back and visit some day.

I always wanted to come to Alaska, and now I have. If I had landed here when I was 25 years old, I probably would have stayed. But my days of needing to prove myself have passed. I just know I could thrive here, and therefore I don’t need to choose to experience it, not even for one summer. There is only so much lifetime left and priorities of experiences must be made. Which brings me to the next topic …

Menopause

Woman-Goddess-Nut-by-Maya-CointreauI think it is reasonable to assume that I can and will live to 94 years old. Which makes this year, 2017, the exact middle of my life. When I look back at everything I have created so far for myself, I get stupidly teary-eyed with gratitude. But just when I thought I had finally reached my cruising speed and altitude, comfortable in my own skin and living my dream of a nomadic off-the-grid life, metamorphosis began again.

My favorite thing about menopause so far are the hot flashes. Seriously. The sensation is similar to drinking a good whiskey, except instead of a traceable warmth down the throat and into the belly, the heat radiates from any starting location in the body and expands until it fills it fully. I love to watch it spread, like the flow of a private inner hot spring. The covers fly off. And 5 minutes later, I’m scrambling to gather them back. Hot flashes make me giggle.

The other physical symptoms, I love less. I traded periods for monthly migraines, which prompted me to research natural medicine with a greater sense of urgency. My eye-sight acuity is now inconsistent, but my sense of smell is keener, which makes working on a hog ranch a real challenge. My brain gets cloudy. Some days, I’m just plain dumb. Functionally dumb – I can still read about and understand the intricacies of quantum physics, but I just can’t fathom how to put that pin in that hole that ties the whatchamacallit to the tractor, or remember where I put my glasses. My physical strength so far seems unaffected. “The old that is strong does not wither” (Bilbo Baggins). She might not wither, but neither is she thinner. I can walk, shovel or dig all day until my muscles are pumped and my core is solid. And still, the good bits sag and the middle thickens.

The greatest ride of this metamorphosis, however, is in my mind. All the moody moons of the past decades culminate now. And I cannot falter in my self-awareness or the thoughts take over and drive me nuts. All the stored repressed feelings, fear, guilt, shame, etc. are coming up, amplified. Menopause – isn’t that what happens to old people? Should I prepare myself for the crone stage of life? I’m probably too fat to be loved anyway. I should just be a spinster with a bun on my head and a cat on my lap in a rocking chair. I watch thoughts and feelings arise, and breathe through them until they move on. It helps me to think of it as a detoxification process. Whatever I see is no longer hidden. Like with a thru-hike pack shakedown, I get a chance to decide what I want to carry for the next leg of the journey, or not. It took 47 years to acquire and store all these internal dramas, so I expect the process might take a little while. But I’m on it – like a hawk.

I created most of the experiences of the first half of my life unconsciously. Given the same number of years forward, and now in full awareness, if I do this transition right, the second half of my life should be spectacular.

Ascension

Accessing_Higher_Levels_of_Consciousness__WOUNDS_David_Icke__GrEENZILLA__158215Ascension is a funny term with unfortunate religious connotations. I’m not physically ascending anywhere or leaving my physical body to become a “light being”. Like the trees, I am growing deeper roots so my canopy can reach higher. Higher what? Higher vibrational frequencies, higher levels of self-awareness, higher consciousness and clearer perception of how and why I create what I perceive to be reality.

It’s an ongoing growth journey. And each stage (an arbitrary division on a continuum) seems like an achievement. But I have long understood that enlightenment is a verb, not a destination. And anything I think, say or write, could be revealed as over-simplistic or inaccurate at the next stage. The climb itself is the sought-after experience, not the standing at the summit. Which is why I still use the term “ascension”.

While my body was exploring the rawness of Alaska, and my mind releasing the densest stored energies about and within me, a new knowing entered my consciousness. I felt it coming for a while. I’ve been feeling restless and unsettled. Then one morning, at 4 am, it revealed itself – “The mind that sees all paths, sees the map, and therefore no longer needs to choose a path.”

The understanding that came with it was visceral and wordless with ramifications extending to all experiences and connections past, present and future. The vantage point extended beyond (and including) the body, the self, the higher self to Source itself.  The timeless blue-print behind the script of reality and the scaffolding of beliefs through which stories are told about the script, are in my own handwriting. Like a beating heart, consciousness expands and contracts from self to Source and back again. Because it is more exciting “down here” and less chaotic “up there”. On the screen of my mind, the world is a perfect reflection of everything I am -everything that composes “me”- and vice versa – “my” experiences and “my” self (the experiencing part of consciousness) are locked in a chicken-and-egg dance, an Ouroboros meal. Why create reality? Absolutely everything is a choice of an experience, a keystone detail, the most important thing ever to exist. That’s why.

And, simultaneously, none of it matters … including this so-called ascension process. All of it is make-pretend. How awesome and freeing is that? No need to work so hard to manifest/create something better. It’s already perfect and inconsequential. “There is nowhere to go, nothing to see, no one to meet, nothing to read.” (Christopher Loren)

So, let’s just have fun with it. I get to be a middle-aged goddess. And I get to live in Alaska for another day or so, before the truck and I point south again, to Nelson, British Columbia, for the next adventure.

Some people take drugs for insights … I drive 3000 miles every month 🙂

May all your creating be delicious.
Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

XOX

Roaming Bobcat.

Trail journal from the most beautiful highway in the world

Day 1 – 10 pm. Both Kristo and I got lost right after crossing the border, and that was the last of our hardships. Traveling up the Cassiar hwy was a dream. No unfamiliar places. I have been up these parts before. But my eyes are different – these eyes now are on their way to Alaska. And everything tastes just that much more delicious.
We are sitting on coolers and tailgates in old western caravan style with Ally, a new vehicle-dwelling friend from Victoria. Kristo is strumming the guitar,  elks are singing the song of their people. We have shared bear stories. Summit Lake is pure Stillness. All is peace and quiet … Except for us, according to one local. He came up the hill to see “what the ruckus was all about”. He said he’d worry about us more if we were quiet. Obviously, if we were up to no good, we’d be more discreet. In other parts, this would have been a “you can’t park here. Move along.” but, this is Canada. Instead, he gave us recommendations on what not to miss on our journey north (Liard hot springs, a must-not-miss) and welcomed us to use the toilet behind the hall. “There’s even toilet paper.” Oh Canada!
The 10 hr drive went by in a flash. Every ten minutes BC outdid itself in beauty. Especially down by the border where the road climbs up in pines trees along the Fraser River and the freeway clings to the flanks of snow-capped mountains. And that sunset. It went on for 3 hours with 2 sets of double rainbows. For a while, it looked like the end of one rainbow was right on Kristo’ s truck.  It probably looked like it was on mine from Ally’s, whom we hadn’t met yet.
Today was a very good day.
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Day 2 – I kept a list today. 12 bears (including one in a tree), 3 cubs, 7 moose, 5 elks, 4 bighorn sheep, 7 porcupines … then I realized how ridiculous. How very human of me to reduce this experience of pure happiness to a list. It cannot be comprehended, so let me catalog it. Numbers are safe. We drove for 14 hrs. It felt like 2. Kristo’s truck passed 250,000 miles. Meanwhile, the spectacle explodes my mind. I already now it is futile to try to describe it with words and possibly rude to try to capture it with a camera.
Gratitude for perfection. We are parked across the road from the Liard Hot Springs.
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Day 2 – I want to meet a man who makes me feel the way the Alaska Highway makes me feel. I would marry that man.
It goes beyond the hot springs before breakfast, the remote untamed wilderness, the glaciated peaks, the forest, the lakes, the adventure, the freedom, the quiet stillness when the engines are off, and that space, so much space … It’s not about any of that. I don’t think it can be explained. It only can be experienced.
A magic journey anchored by dramatic landmarks. “welcome to the Yukon” Yes, Yukon, you are indeed larger than life. A reunion with the Yukon River, like a visit to a former lover for whom I still have feelings – too brief, too superficial, too much time has gone by. My favorite coffee shop in Whitehorse was closed. I found a baby pine tree in the trash at the gas station. I will plant it at the ranch.
It’s 11:30 pm, broad daylight. The view from my pillow is of the Kluane National Preserve, with the Wrangell mountain range framed in the opening of the truck.
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Day 3 – “Pinch me” Kristo said when we got here. I don’t think he’s leaving – ever. Today was a short driving day by our standard. We got into Tok in mid-afternoon and stopped by the grocery store. Goose and Pinky recommended the 3 bears grocery store –  5 aisles of guns, amno, fishing gear, camo clothes, bear spray, 1 aisle of potato chips, 1 cooler of beers, 1 cooler of ice creams. I expected as much. It felt like a stamp on my passport. Yep, I’m in Alaska. I walked around minding myself to not look too much like a tourist. I looked at all the guns, and all the knives, got some fuel and drove on. 100 feet further a second 3 bears grocery stores, with actual food. ahaaaah!
We are here.
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2,800 miles in 3 days later. I live on a ranch in Alaska.

Wow.

And so it begins …

Alaska!

Wow, this is it! Tomorrow morning, first thing, the truck points North, up the Al-Can, across Yukon and to Alaska. Destination known. Return uncertain.

I still can’t believe it.

Seriously, 2 months ago, I changed the background on my laptop to a picture of Denali. I figured the constant visual reminder would help me manifest a trip north. As the Roaming Bobcat, I can go anywhere, anytime. But to Alaska, I didn’t want to go alone – because such beauty should be shared – and I didn’t want to go as a tourist – because I’d quickly run out of money, and then what? And it all landed on my lap perfectly, better than I could have asked. Someone quit, a team of two was needed, Kristo (one of my favorite people in the whole wide world) was on his way to take one of the positions, and I was at the exact right place, along the way, at the exact right time, when the other man quit.

Our destination is a yak-hog-alpaca ranch in Gakona, ran by a couple of thru-hikers. They were 3 days behind me on the PCT in 2012. I never met them, but Kristo did. The Cats (Lion and The Bobcat)’ first task will be to build an outdoor shower – it seems we need to build it, if we want to shower – then a long fence around a large pasture, then we’ll get the pasture ready for the animals.

The couple at the ranch, Goose and Pinky, systematically tried to dissuade me from taking the job. There is no social life whatsoever, they said. The nearest town is 5 hours away. Trips to town for groceries are once every six weeks. The ranch is at the edge of the St. Elias mountain range – the largest continuous wilderness preserve in the world. There are wolves, grizzlies, and mosquitoes so fierce that I’ll go crazy before the large predators can get to me anyway. The perimeter of the property is guarded by geese (which scare me more than wolves or bears), but any intrusive predator will be shot on sight (to the girl who feels murderous pulling weeds out of a garden!) Also, the sun set for the last time 3 days ago. It will be daylight 24 hours a day when I get there, and the sun will not set again until after I leave. Most people feel too isolated, and quit.

I heard “adventure, more adventure, best adventure ever!” and my heart almost exploded from excitement. It’s like my life was waiting at the train station, feeling a little stagnant, and looking at the time table and wondering which train, out of the infinite number of possibilities, it should jump on. And then I saw it. It was blindingly shiny, and I ran and yelled “I want on, wait for me” and jumped up at the very last second. And I can’t even believe how lucky I was to catch it. But now, it’s going and all my life choices have been reduced to one certitude.

Rapunzel, the lady of the organic farm where I spent the last 3 months, prepared for me an assortment of seeds and plant starts. There will be no fresh greens at the ranch, unless I plant and grow them. I also have some mung beans sprouts growing in a tupperware and a fresh batch of kombucha brewing in a crate next to my bed in the back of the truck. It should be ready right when I get there, and I’ll be discreet about it.

Goose and Pinky warned me, “We don’t want to be the weird hippies up on the hill”. The county of Gakona is home to conservative authentic Alaskans, about 3 of them per square miles. I can expect big trucks, wolf skins and “Vote for Trump” signs. We make no waves. We don’t engage in political debates. This is important. I’m thinking that if I meet a man wearing a wolf skin, I will likely have a lot of questions, and none of them of a political nature.

So, that’s a full inventory of what I know about what I’m getting into. I should have wifi at the ranch. And I am expecting there will be stories.

In about 10 minutes, five friends from the PCT, class of 2012, will arrive at the farm for a mini family reunion and to send Kristo and the Bobcat off to Alaska in style, so I leave you here for now.

May all your adventures be spectacular.

Wooohooooo hoooo hoooo!

XOXO – TRBCMount Mckinley
(the picture that started it all – from Google)