The Fire Wastelands

I’ve been walking for a month now. I feel like I started yesterday. I feel like I’ve always done this. Simulteneously.

I seriously could write a blog everyday. This is such a rich, eventful environment populated by colorful, diverse people. Life on the trail is the best of all the worlds I love. It’s like being an outdoors expats. Thru-hikers become more than co-workers (if you check on Facebook we all work at “Pacific Crest Trail” – not sure what my official title is or how it will fit on my resume), we’re family. You know, family, not always like friends, like people to which you are connected even when you don’t get along that well. Though I haven’t met one I didn’t like yet.

Because I have too much to say and not enough time to do so. I’ll first answer some comments on the last post, then tell you about the wastelands briefly, and if I don’t get kicked off the computer, I’ll tell you some of the things I’ve learned out here. Lessons from the trail.

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Let’s start with Breeze’s Mom. Thank you for reading my crazy posts. I met Breeze the day before I wrote the last post. He slept on the San Andreas fault too, the same night. I left early, right at dawn. A few hours later, like his name implies, he went flying by me. I saw him later chilling in the shade with Danimal and one other hiker whose name I now have forgotten. All three of them went flying past me a few minutes later, as I was doing a little Poodle Dog Bush avoidance dance on the trail. I think it is unlikely I will see him again. He’s one of “the fast ones”, but if I do, it will be my pleasure to pass on your Hello.

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Now, for all of you who are worried about my ankles. Last week, as I was wobbling on painful ankles through a particularly badly poison oaks infested part of the trail, I told it (the trail), “No! I will not get poison oaks. I can only handle one ailment at a time!”). I returned to the trail to find, to my amazement and delight that my ankles were 100% better. I climbed the steep hill to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell as though it were flat ground. I took a long break at the top, ate lunch, played my harp, chatted with other hikers, and … discovered the poison oak on my leg. One ailment at a time; the trail heard me. I have filed your suggestions for future reference, just in case.

Right now, I am a walking laboratory for poisonous plants. On my left leg, a big patch of bumps from a brush with poison oaks, on my right, an ugly blister from Poodle Dog Bush. If you’ve not heard of PDB, that’s not surprising. It grows only after devastating fires, where no other species can compete with it, and even then, it lives only 8-10 years. It’s covered in little nasty hair that gets into your skin and produces oozing blisters. Other than that, it produces very nice purple flowers and make hills that would otherwise be completely black and bare nice and green.

The last trail section, since I last wrote, was mostly about dealing with the repercussion of the 2010 Station Fire. 1/4 of a million acres burnt. The story goes that it started with one match by an arsonist in LA. For anyone contemplating the beauty of the butterfly effect, look no further. Hills after hills completely burnt, now taken over by poisonous plants, two dead firefighters, an entire town burnt down to the ground, and for us, detours and detours. Some of the detours followed now abandoned paved roads, which was actually a nice change of pace. I spent some time testing out my ability to take a nap while walking (I can do it while paddling). I did get into a nice hazy zone, eyes half closed, and the miles went by. Still, I was glad when the detours were over and I could return to the trail. It welcomed us back with an explosion of colors from flowers up and down the hill ande more of them after each corner. It’s been colorful. It’s been very hot. It’s been wonderful. I’m pretty damn happy out here.

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Random notes I took on the trail.
– Ants smell sweet, almost fruity, but taste slightly bitter. Also, if they get trapped in your beef jerky, even if you leave air intake holes, they will all be dead within 12 hours.

– When I eat M&Ms, I organize them by color and eat them in some sort of order that only makes sense to me, and is not consistent from one time to the next. Apparently I always do this, and had never noticed until I was called out on it.

– Black beetles in the desert react differently to different people. When I am alone, they go about their business without care, but when I hike with someone else, they stick their head in the dirt and their butt in the air, like ostriches. I have pointed out to them that they are not any safer that way, but they might not have been able to hear me with their head in the sand.

– If your hat is made of 100% paper, it is unwise to try to use it as a water filter. I have been without filtration system for a while now. I simply hold the water to my heart and tell it “I love you, thank you, please don’t make me sick”. So far, it’s worked quite well. PackPax was dubious of my methods and getting off trail; he gave me his spare iodine, so now I have a backup for very contaminated water.

– The trail still provides. Within an hour of me noticing the poison oaks, Cortisone cream was given to me by two generous hikers, Sister Sue and Sherpa (mother and daughter). It’s kept both the poison oaks and PDB blisters in check so far.

– You can actually cook almost all your meals in ziplock bags. They’ll hold boiling water and facilitate dish washing.

– I get woken up every day by birds that sing only two notes. They are always the same two notes, and they sound like the beginning of Carmina Burina.

– Ponderosa pines do not all smell like vanilla. Some smell like caramel, like brown sugar, like maple syrup and anything in between.

– I am much more musical than I knew. When I hike alone, I almost always sing or hum. I only know a few songs though. I just was reunited with my ipod (it was in my bounce box for the past 3 weeks). It’ll be nice to learn some new ones.

– My daily routine: I wake up at dawn, i walk on a dirt trail and smell trees, I eat snacks, I take breaks in the shade, I meet amazing people, I take care of ailments, I soak up sun and heat and dirt and desert love. As the sun set, I slip in my bag and by the time the sun is set, I am already asleep. Repeat.

– And sometime, I pull into town, eat insane amount of food, including ice cream, watch solar eclipses, meet up with trail friends I haven’t seen for a while, and sleep a lot.

That’s just the 5% of the tip of the iceberg.

Time to give up the computer.

Follow your dreams. They might turn out more awesome than you ever thought possible.

XOXO. Robert Feline (but friends call me Bobcat!).

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3 thoughts on “The Fire Wastelands

  1. So cool to hear about you and i am vicariously receiving my love for the forest through you ! missing the west cost , yet enjoying the beauty of Bali. I would love to hear more about whats in your pack, how much does it weight ! > LOVE your blessings your water !! its all about the vibrations. Love to you xo

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