Sorry about my driving, my wife is giving birth … and more

Hello beloved readers and other random internet wanderers.

Oh, I am feisty today. First, I had a chicory coffee and a massive stack of cornmeal pancakes with bacon embedded, drowned in maple syrup, so I’m in a delicious stage of sugar rush infused food coma, which should last only about half hour before I’m hungry again. But also, I am writing this on a Mac and nothing on here is intuitive to me, not even how to connect to the internet. I’ll write the story here, despite repeated distractions – you know who you are – and then, somehow, load it onto the site when I can. Maybe I can even find a PC to do so.

My life is a dream, and this dream got even better once I got to Sonora Pass. I know the Sierras are beautiful. Everybody hooos and haaas about them. Lakes and granite and postcard vistas in all directions, delicate flowers, impossibly transparent waters, colorful sunsets and so forth, day after day after day, filled my eyes but did not stir my soul as the desert had. I felt a little claustrophobic in all that granite. I had a moment back a few weeks ago, as I crested a long stretch of uphill uneven rocky trail on a muggy, buggy day, to find the most vibrant display of wild flowers. I said out loud to the trail “This is an abusive relationship!! Don’t give me flowers after you spent the last 3 hours kicking my ass”. I then looked around to make sure I really was alone. Luckily, I was.

The end of the Sierras (by my own definition), corresponding to the section from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite to Sonora Pass was a gorgeous mosquito hell. I enjoyed the opportunity to be creative with my daily physical requirements (i.e. how do you eat, sleep and poop while under attack from swarms of relentless blood sucking monsters?) As any good thru-hiker must, I aspire to carry the most lightweight pack possible. They say you carry your fears. I have very little fears apparently. I carry neither tent nor bug repellent (I also don’t have any rain gear, except for an ultralight poncho, no water-treatment or filter, and no sunscreen. I tell the water and the sun I love them, and that has done the trick for me so far. I do, however, carry dangly earrings, pieces of bark and feathers I found on the trail, a harmonica, several journals and a geologist hand-lens. I never claimed to make sense on that topic.) Going through bug-hell without a tent or mosquito repellent definitely challenged my equanimity. I came to a mental place where I was so grumpy and complainy that I started to annoy myself more than the mosquitoes did. I reasoned that since what I was experiencing was to be eaten alive by the little suckers, I might as well really have that experience. I sat on a rock, rolled up my sleeve and told teem “Okay, have at it!”. I observed them for a long while as they buzzed around and discovered that they don’t actually want to bite me. They land, hesitate, test it out, change arm, hesitate some more, then reluctantly take a drink. Mosquitoes have never really liked my blood that much, but I could see that I was the largest supplier of warm blood around and there were a lot of them to feed. Once I actually paid attention to the experience at hand, I realized that in fact I don’t mind them biting me, it’s the buzzing that drives me insane. The best mosquito repellent for me is simply to crank tunes. I fired up my iPod and my mood changed instantly. I even stopped in a particularly beautiful but infested area, right before mile 1000, and played the harmonica for a while with no further thoughts about them. As if the Universe acknowledged that I had fulfilled my obligations regarding the experience of being eaten by mosquitoes, they were gone the next day. That is when I got to Sonora Pass.

For 6 or so miles before Sonora Pass, the trail follows a volcanic ridge, the edge of an ancient caldera. It was like being back in the desert, with views so wide that it’s difficult to focus ones eyes on the furthest peaks. The inhospitable volcanic soil only allowed select flowers to grow, but displayed those with contrast and space, a much better showcase for them than the green valleys that preceded this section I thought. I felt perfectly happy along that ridge, but there was even MORE goodness to come. At the pass, trail angel Sleeping Bear was waiting for hikers with chips, salsa, beers and sodas, but also, more importantly, with an offer to take our bear-canisters to the post office for us. Poof! Magic. 3 Lbs out of my pack. Sweet delight! I love trail angels. Less than a minute after the bear canister was taken off my hands, a middle-aged couple came up to the pass and said “We are here looking for thru-hikers to take into town and buy them lunch”. That is how Creep, Twisted and TheBobcat were kidnapped and treated to a delicious meal out of the blue. Creep and Twisted stayed in town for the night, but I returned to the trail. The next day, Weathercarrot caught up with me and we have been hiking together since, through the most diverse landscapes yet on the trail. Everyday since Sonora Pass has been different than the preceding one, yet just as spectacular.

There is a story I have been meaning to tell you since the last decent internet connection. I wrote it in my journal so I wouldn’t forget. I will transcribe it here. It took place the same day as my last post (“the tyranny of the miles”):

“What an exhilarating, strange day today was! […] After the library, I had sushi and carrot cake in the parking lot of Vons before getting to the road to hitch a ride. It took 4 rides to get from Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows. It took less than a minute for my first ride to show up, two elderly ladies in a giant Ford F-something. They were eager to pick me up and had a million questions about the trail. They said I was very courageous and wished they could have an adventure of the sort I am having. At first, they said they could only take me to highway 395, which was fine, but the more we talked and the less they wanted to let me go. I told them I was going to the gas station in Lee Vining to have fish tacos, then to Tuolumne Meadows. Oh, they knew about the fish tacos. “Couldn’t we just take her to Lee Vining?” the woman in the passenger seat insisted. They discussed it for a while. They even spoke of having fish tacos with me and then giving me a ride to T-Meadows, but they had to call John (the driver’s husband), and maybe he would need the car, and they still needed to go where they originally were going when they picked me up, and finally, apologizing, they dropped me off at Highway 395, with all the good wishes one could have.

Three cars later, a young hispanic man in a lowered red honda civic that was blasting some death metal picked me up. The man was very nice, but he was driving like a bat out of hell. He asked where I was hiking and other usual questions, then, after a particularly intense 85 mph cut-corner, said “I am sorry for my fast driving, I don’t usually drive like this, but my wife is in the hospital right now giving birth to my first-born son. She’s already 3 inches dilated!” When I asked why he had even picked me up, he said in a very matter of fact way “You looked like you needed a ride”. I have a suspicion he was very excited and wanted to share his news with someone; I was at the right place at the right time. As an aside he also told me that the death metal band “Death”, which was playing, has inspirational lyrics. Apparently, despite the apparent “kill them all” voice and music, they sing of the one Soul and of unity in communities. Cool! I wished him good luck for the next 20 year and he dropped me off at June’s Lake.

Three cars later, two women and a man picked me up. I told them I was going to have fish tacos at the gas station in Lee Vining, and of course, they knew the one and could take me there. Soon after we got driving again, the man turned around and said “You are the Bobcat, right?” Wow. How in the world was I known this far off the trail? He turned out to be the work partner of the new friend I made in Bishop, the man who took me and Weathercarrot to the Death Valley hot springs. It was like being picked up by friends. We chatted the whole way to Lee Vining.

Finally, there I was, after hearing about the world’s most famous and delicious fish tacos for the past 6 years, at the Lee Vining gas station. I was so excited to be there. I was in that state of joy I get on the trail, the one that is so large that it cannot be contained. I ordered my tacos and talked about the trail with the cashier woman then dropped the RedBeast by a booth and sat with my much-anticipated meal (Yes, I did have sushi and carrot cake less than an hour prior. I’m a thru-hiker, our stomachs are bottomless pits). I had just started digging in when two twenty-some handsome men approached my table. “The lady there (the cashier) said that you are the happiest thru-hiker she’s ever met, so we were wondering if we could join you?” Of course, they could. What a treat to be able to meet interesting people everywhere I go. My friend Ana always said that I lead a charmed life whenever I texted her from the Bellingham Bay with a morning mocha … I do indeed lead a charmed life. Great conversation with new friends while eating world-famous fish tacos, it really doesn’t get much better than that. After our plates were cleaned, the subject of my final destination came up. It turned out that one of them (the semi-pro hokey player with the gorgeous green eyes) had never been to Yosemite. I insisted that he should see it, since Tioga pass was right there. The driver (the well-traveled ESL teacher with the great smile) seemed to enjoy sudden spontaneous changes of plans as much as I do. We loaded the RedBeast in their little car and off to T-meadows we went. They dropped me off, front door service, right where I had left off a few days prior. We exchanged email and phone information and they continued on.

It was therefore in a state of exhilaration even high for me that I found two of my favorite trail friends, Mrs Peacock and Dragonfly. The news that they had to get off-trail for family reason, back to New York with no plans of returning to the trail this year, hit me like the non-sequitur bad news it was. I never lost the joy I had from the day, but it did get temporarily masked by the sadness of losing friends. On the other hand, I was grateful to have been deposited just there, just then, knowing that if it had been any other way, I would not have been able to see them off. I spent the night in camp with Mrs. Peacock and Dragonfly, and headed out alone the next morning, off to mosquito land, off to mile 1000, off to more adventures.”

That’s it for now. This should keep you occupied a while 🙂

The next section is a short one so I probably won’t try to write another story at the next town. Then after that, I don’t know. I need to look at my maps. These town zero days make me lazy. I can’t be lazy. I have many more miles to hike. As my favorite hiker from Georgia said the other day, we need to “hike like so–on’bitches, a marathon a day” if we want to make the Cascades before the weather becomes unpleasant.

Love to ya’ll.

TheBobcat

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The tyranny of the miles

It is Wednesday. It looks like I am back on schedule.

I have just emerged from the Sierras and have enough stories backed up in my head to fill a 12-volume “Essential of a Bobcat’s life on the trail”. As always, I love love love my life and have days when I feel my heart is going to burst from too much joy and gratitude. This is the same story every time I write here, because that is life on the trail. All this talk of love and joy and amazing serendipity might, however, become a bit obnoxious. Some of you might not even be reading anymore. So today, just to be contrary, I’ll tell you about the other side of the coin…

If hiking the PCT is so great, why doesn’t everybody do it? Let’s start from the ground up. My feet hurt. They hurt everyday, when I walk, when I sleep, when I stop, uphill, downhill, non-stop. I started the trail with a 6.5 foot. My toes are now crammed to the brim in a pair of size 8 shoes. I hear the change is permanent. So long boots I used to love, climbing shoes, etc. I am going to need a job just to replace my assortment of technical footwear left back in town. The easily popped blisters of the desert are also a thing of the past. These days, when I get one, it grows under a minimum of an eighth of an inch thick callus. Needles I used to pop blisters in the desert have been rendered useless. My foot surgery is now done with knife and scissors. I have perma-grime between my toes, dirt incrustation that might not leave me until the trail is long over and a regime of regular shower has been re-established (assuming it ever does, which is not a guarantee).

Walking less miles per day would likely help with this situation, but this is where the great tyranny of the miles comes in. You’ve all seen this in middle-school: If the Bobcat needs to walk 150 miles, and eats 3 Lbs of food per day, but can carry only 20 Lbs of food. How many miles a day will the Bobcat have to walk to avoid starvation before the next resupply town? For a bonus ten points, calculate how much food she will have to yogi (get for free) from other hikers if she decides to skip a resupply point and hike to the next, 35 miles away, because she thinks it would be fun to keep in step with a preferred hiking partner (taking into account she can get a bag of Cheetos and a can of sardine on the way)? You have 10 minutes. Please turn your answers in the comment section. Just know that your answer will be wrong, because arithmetic does not take into account the increase in appetite correlated to higher altitude, the daily elevation gain and loss, the gradual decrease in pack weight with each day of consumption, the days when it’s just too pretty to hike on, the food given to other hikers, etc.

There is also the problem of the Red Beast. The Red Beast is a case of manifestation misfiring. If you ask the universe for patience, it will not give you patience; instead, it will place you in all sorts of uncomfortable positions where you will have to learn patience. In a similar way, I wished I could be a faster hiker to have the leisure of longer breaks without compromising my daily mileage. My prayer was heard. the Universe outfitted me with the Red Beast, a big fat red Osprey “Woman specific” pack. I picked it up in Kennedy Meadows to replace my delightfully light home-made one because mine could not hold the mandatory bear canister. I went from an 11 ounce pack, to a 4+ Lbs pack and a 2 Lbs bear canister in addition to the extra warm gear, 6 days worth of food, gathered trail treasures from which I am not willing to part and random items I forgot to ship ahead. In other words, I went from a pack I could grab with one hand and swing over my back to one that necessitate the old lift-knee-twist-into-the-straps maneuver. Oh, I hated the Beast for the first week of the Sierras. Then one day, the fact that I was granted my wish for speed through training dawned on me. There is no better way to get faster than to carry a heavy Beast daily on steep uphills at high altitude. I have been thankful for it ever since and have used it as the training tool it is. 25 miles including two passes for a total of 6000 feet elevation gain in a day, no problem – that was fun too, because when I arrived at the Muir Pass hut (which is haunted) in the last glow of sunset, my friend Weathercarrot could hardly believe I had come all this way. My absolute speed is much improved since the beginning of the trail. The problem is everybody else is also getting faster, so my relative speed has not increased much if at all.

The tyranny of the miles also comes from social self-imposed constraints. I still prefer to hike alone, but ever since Kennedy Meadows, I find I happily and gladly trade my evening solitude for the great conversations and easy laughter that comes with camping where Weathercarrot does. He also has a knack for finding scenic camps. My friend LB (Last on Bus, who has fallen back due to a hurt foot) told me all about “pink blazing”. Pink Blazing is when a guy hikes longer miles just to keep up with a girl. I’ve been Orange blazing for over 9 days now (with reference to the color of his hair and beard). Orange blazing with a Red Beast on my back, climbing up to two passes in the 11,000-13,000 feet range everyday. If I were to climb Baker now, I bet I could make it to the crater in sub-two hours.

Aaawww … Baker. I miss Bake. I think about it often. All this super-human hiking power and no climbing to be had. I wish I could be in two places at once. My library computer time is about to end. No time for spell-checking …

Never mind anything I just wrote. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my life! 🙂
You knew this.

See you Wednesday.
XOX. TBC.

 

Place-holder story.

Here I am, brimming with stories to tell you, and no time to do so.

In the past 48 hours, a time during which I meant to write at least two stories, I came down from the Sierras high summit (Sunrise on mt whitney, highest point in the lower 48) and passes (I have been over 10,000 ft for a week now), came into Bishop exhausted but happy, completely out of food and under ominous stormy skies, looking forward to sleep, food and more of each. Instead, I was whisked away to my beloved Death Valley for more adventures. I met Weather Carrot’s friend ProDeal, a man who loves the valley as much as I do, something I would not have thought possible. The three of us soaked in a natural hot spring surrounded by infinite land below, infinite stars above. Meanwhile, a coyote ate all our leftover food. Beauty and hunger seems to be my main companions these days. For the past week, every day I am surrounded by more and more beauty and my heart can sometimes hardly contain how greatful I am for the gift of being here.

I wanted to tell you about all this in detail so I don’t sound like a flipped out elated looney, which I might still be,but the library was closed and I lost my wallet, ID, credit card, and the picture of a bobcat I carry. My day was therefore high jacked by todos.

Everything has been very different for me since Kennedy Meadows. Different pack, different clothes, different mood, different crowd. I feel like Igraduated to a new level of freedom, a new level of joy. What used to be great joy is now my base level, any spike in emotion is as a result much larger than I have previously known. The inconveniences of the trail, such as feet aches, pack pain, long days, shortage of food, stomach ailment, gear failure, etc. only add depth to the experience.

Yes, I’m in love with this trail, its landscapes and its people, addicted to the lifestyle and not sure I can ever (or want to) go back to whence I came. In fact, I’m applying for a park ranger job in death valley as soon as the application process open. That little side trip just dripped with serendipity. I’m the friggin’ luckiest person on the planet.

I’ll write, i hope, an actual story when I get to some computer in the next town, 7 days or so from here. I already filled my second camera memory card. It took 1.5 month for the first, 1.5 weeks for the second. I hope to be able to share some of those with you as well.

XOX

Hi to LB. I miss you and my gang. Sorry I had to climb Whitney before you got there, mrs peacock and Power Nap. Glad I met you, Maddog. I expect we’ll meet again. Just heal fast, I’ll keep my miles at 20 or so. Weather Carrot and Prodeal, I am glad I have you as alter egos in the world. Moss, I miss my sidekick. Even-keeled Scout, KristoKat, Quest, Hallmark, Shameless and all my peeps, thanks for choosing this year to hike the trail.

The Gantlet of Goodness

It’s Wednesday and I am writing on a computer again. In the world of free form in which I am living, I find this regularity suspicious. I imagine it won’t be kept up as the sections ahead are longer and more remote.

The last section was truly a gantlet. Although I still managed to maintain some solitude on the trail, the early section of the Mojave desert is a real social bottle-neck for thru-hikers. This is where friends lost miles back are reunited, groups are shuffled and new friendships are born. It takes the form of a series of must-stops. First there is a KAO with a pool and seemingly endless ice cream. 10 miles later, we hit the Sauffleys, 25 miles later, the Andersons, a day and a half later, Hiker Town, and sometimes, if one is as lucky as I am, there is trail magic on the way, in the form of a fancy dinner delivered to the trail.

The Sauffleys and Andersons are two trail angel couples who have for over 10 years opened their house to thru-hikers. The Sauffleys’ place is known as Hiker Heaven; the Andersons’ as Casa de Luna. The generosity of both couples surpasses what I could even describe here. In both places we are spoiled spoiled spoiled rotten, although in very different way. Both are necessary and complement each other. Hiker Heaven is run like a well oiled taking-care-of-hiker-business machine. In no time, my laundry was done, my resupply taken care of, packages received, packages sent, trips to the store and to REI accomplished. Hiker and pack content are cleaned, repaired, put back in working order and sent back to the trail rejuvenated. There is a two nights maximum stay at Hiker Heaven. We are provided individual cots, organized in rows under white shelter tents, one per person, first-come first-served, for a maximum of 50 hikers. We were maxed out both night I was there. 25 miles later, Casa de Luna is not run like a well-oiled machine at all, and that is what is most delightful about it. At Casa de Luna, we get hugged, fed and entertained.  Most hikers spend idle days lounging in large haphazard sofas, sipping beers and chatting with other hikers under a giant sign that says “Hippy Day Care”. Those of us who are more of the restless kind (like me) can hula hoop, swing under trees, play in hammocks, ride in a wheel-barrel or mosey on to the art table and paint rocks. Whereas Donna Sauffley greets hikers with an all-important updated water report for the dry section ahead and a list of chores she can accomplish, Terrie Anderson greets us with drinks and laugher and a monstrous and delicious taco salad. At Casa de Luna, you WILL get mooned, and likely motor-boated too. If you fall asleep early, you will get written on with permanent marker. Donna wears efficient khakis and a short practical haircut. Terrie walks around in a full body length leopard print coat over an apron that looks like a naked woman and currently has a self-titled “carpet muncher pink Mohawk” . There is a two night minimum stay at Casa de Luna, and no hiker gets turned away. The sleeping accommodation are patches of flatten dirt in an enchanted-looking manzanita forest. Every night, Terrie cooks taco salad; every morning her husband Joe cooks pancakes. I am not quite sure on the math, but we were at least 60 hikers the first morning I spent at Casa de Luna. I had three pancakes, but I’m rather small and men have been loosing more weight on the trail that they can compensate for. I’m estimating 4 pancake per person on average. That is a LOT of pancakes! I had such a wonderful time at both Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna. I felt I needed to spend an equal amount at each place to have my yin-yang balance in equilibrium. That is how I was off-trail for almost 4 days, in addition to all the half-days I’ve been taking in between. My only regret in leaving the gantlet was to miss out on chocolate wrestling, which happened on Saturday at Casa de Luna, but by then I was back on the trail. The appeal of “civilization” is only apparent when I’m in it. As soon as I get back on the trail, I seem to lose any interest in ever getting off of it again.

Past the Gantlet of Goodness is the Mojave desert. At last! Other thru-hikers fear it, avoid it, hike it at night, but this is the section I had been so looking forward to. Some true desert time. I relished every step of it and purposely reduced my miles per day to maximize my time in it. It is dry, hot, barren. There are coyotes, lizards, jack-rabbits (some hikers also saw a bobcat mom and kittens, but unfortunately I didn’t). The Mojave is flat, open and infinite and I loved it. The heat doesn’t seem to affect me like others. In fact, I come alive above 90 and am good until about 110. Some of my friends looked rather fried. One started to smell like ammonia because at some point under extreme duress the body will start eating itself. Others were flirting with heat exhaustion or overall not hiking so well. We all made it out safely as far as I know.

The Mojave wasn’t all about the heat though. The first night out of Casa de Luna, I was snowed on. Since I don’t carry a tent and the bivy bag I am currently borrowing is the Minimalist, which is rather thin (and light), I had to make a shelter by rigging my rain-poncho onto This and That (my hiking poles). I hid in this small space until the storm passed. It made me giggle. I really like extreme weather. It’s not so much about the heat or the cold, it’s about being pushed past a comfort zone and finding out that I am just fine and happy regardless. That is what makes me feel most alive. The next morning was pleasantly cool by some other hikers accounts. I’d have none of it. I stayed in my sleeping back until 10 am that day. Usually I am already walking by sunrise. In fact, that day I walked 5 miles and took a 40 minute nap, then passed the 500 mile marker – yay! – sat down and played the harmonica for a while. I probably would have done a 8 mile day if it weren’t for Shameless and Tickled Pink catching up to me then.

Me: Why is your name Tickled Pink?
TP: Because I’m always happy.
Me: Always? No one is always happy. Even I, out of 37 days on the trail have had two sad days. Today is one of them.
TP: Oh no! I’m sorry … Have you tried push ups?
Me: No, I haven’t. [I tried it. After about 7 I did start laughing at the silliness of the suggestion].
Shameless: There. That worked. You should hike with us. I sing loud songs and he has flatulence.

I did, and it was fun, and there were loud songs and flatulence as promised. I left Shameless and Tickled Pink at mile 14 for that day, when I ran into Weather Carrot, Owl and Orbit doing trail work. They invited me to an Indian dinner, complete with naan, rice, saag paneer, desert and after-dinner tea. It was lovely trail magic!

There is much more, as always, I could write, but my laundry is done and I’ve been hanging out in the lobby wrapped in my cape for the past hour, so I think I’ll get dressed and head back out to the trail. Last night I ate my own weight in sushi and went to see a movie in a theater. I think I’ve extracted enough slacking out of this town.

Love to you all!

XOXO – The Bobcat.

 

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.

————-

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.

———————

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!).

Teaching The Bobcat to walk

My relationship to the trail has entered a new phase this past week; it is testing me. “So, you claim to love me so much”, it said, “but what about now? Do you still love me when both of your ankles are so swollen that every step sends shooting pain up to your mid-calf? Now that I have lined up both sides of the trail with Poison Oak so you cannot get through without touching it? Poison Oak not enough, how do you feel about the evil Poodle Dog Bush, chest high, unavoidable? What if I remove shade and raise the temperature to over 100 and cook your brains out? Scorpions? Tarantulas?” and I say “Yes, trail, yes. I still love you, unconditionally.”

And so it said “Good. Then I shall teach you to walk.”

I have spoken with thru-hikers whose hike this year isn’t their first. The painful swollen ankles and outrageously large blisters seem to be a common rite of passage. I’ve been hiking on painful ankles for two weeks now. At first I had a sprain, but now it’s definitely something else. I feel I have metal bars on the outside of each of my ankles that ram themselves into the bone with each step. A few days ago, as I wobbled down the trail in the cool morning air, I had a vision of Forest Gump with his legs in the metal walking apparatus. I feel the day the metal falls off, I too will soar and get my true speed. I’ve gotten only glimpses of it so far. The trail is teaching me how to walk: If I roll on the inside, the blisters hurt, if I roll on the outside, the ankles hurt, so for the first time in my life, I’m walking straight. I have also learned to propel myself with This and That, my trusty hiking poles (“This” and “That” are their names). Up until this week, I mainly used them to amuse my hands. My walk is now a full body workout and I appreciate the gained efficiency, especially since I have a feeling that this walking long-trails business isn’t just a passing fad. There is no way I’m doing the PCT and stopping there. I already know this. I love it too much, pain and all. Learning to walk properly and efficiently seems like an essential skill to acquire and I am grateful for the opportunity to get my walking gait tuned in early. Oh, the places I’ll go once I learn to walk …

Aside from learning to walk straight, I have also noticed subtle physical changes. I haven’t lost any weight. By now, men on the trail have dropped 10s of Lbs, but most of us women have either stayed even or gained a little. The main change is beneath my feet. I am developing pads, like below cat’s paws. I suspect I am slowly turning into an actual bobcat. That would also explain the ravid taste for packaged tuna (I’ll likely die of mercury poisoning before the end of the trail at this rate), the growing need for solitary roaming time (bobcats only get social when mating), the hightened sense of smell (I can spot ponderora pines and freshly showered day hikers hundred of feet before I see them) and the growing whiskers (I’ve plucked them). I have not acquired any more quirks than those I had originally, but those original ones are getting well ingrained. My friend Ana mentioned to me this morning, as I casually mentioned my cape, that I would have to give it up when I return to civilization. One more reason not to return to civilization.

In truth, the trail isn’t challenging me, of course. I am challenging myself. I just make up conversations with the trail in my head because I am hiking alone, have an overactive brain and have foolishly sent my ipod ahead in my bounce box. The trail is just a lovely ruban of dirt through some amazing landscape. It does not test or judge us. The magic and challenges are in us, thru-hikers. I have been hiking solo for almost a week now and it has brought me to meet delightful characters. I hiked an entire day with WillWay (“where there is a will, there is a way”). WillWay was spiritually wise beyond his late-twenties earth years. We fell in step naturally, talked excitedly all day and forgot about the miles. We did 24 miles that day, and that included several stops to jump in creeks, one brief stop at the hot springs, which were overrun with drunken weekenders (“Hey, you with the hat, come down here and play drinking games with us”, was my final incentive to move on). I only regretted not staying at the hot springs that night because trail news brought me the story of a man who claimed to have been a ball of energy in outer-space until some angels commanded him to take human form and come to earth to save us. I would have liked to meet him. I’ve never met an energy balls in human form before. Anyway, WillWay and I agreed that the trail doesn’t provide, life provides! The main difference is that people on the trail expect magic, so they are open to it. I liked WillWay, but he’s a fast one. He’s far ahead by now. I’m glad I got to walk with him for a day.

I also had the pleasure and great honor to hike with Billy Goat! Billy Goat is a trail legend. The PCT is his only address. He’s been hiking it every year for 10 years. He’s a 70 year old charmer full of enthusiasm and tall trail tales. Billy Goat told me that the trail changes thru-hikers in a way so deep and gradual that this change is imperceptible while it is taking place. Each step, each day, each mile, each encounter change us, and when we get to Manning Park, we are completely transformed in the eyes of the to the outside world. Maybe it is imperceptible to the inattentive, but I definitely feel gradually different – and I’m not talking about whiskers and padded paws. I feel more real, mostly, more me. Others I see become more accustomed to magic in daily life. I came with trust in the magic of life, so that part isn’t so obvious of a change for me.

You want to hear about trail magic? Oh man. There is so much trail magic, it’d take all of my library time to tell you those stories properly. How about this one? … I needed to get off my feet and ankles for a full day, but despite the trash-can-trail-fund money, I am always hesitant to spend a bunch of money on an hotel room. But here I am, staying at the Little Red Barn. A Trail Angel named Dolores, whom I have never met, owns this red barn remodeled into a small house with several bedrooms, which she graciously leaves open for all of us dirty, smelly hikers. It is better than the best hotel room I have stayed in. I have my own room upstairs, with a comfy bed, full kitchen, clean bathroom, absolutely free! When was the last time you stayed in some random person’s house for free? Trail Angels continue to amaze me. Also, the lady at the coffee shop this morning, gave me a second free delicious blended iced mocha. That was extremely generous, but My, am I bouncing off the walls right now! Bouncing Bobcat on caffeine. What could go wrong?

Oh, and speaking of sleeping arrangements. I slept ON the San Andreas fault a few nights ago. I saw a couple of tarantulas but was disappointed in the lack of movement on the fault. Cool rocks though. Metamorphism galore around there.

That’s all I have time for, so this is your weekly update, whoever is reading this – Hi! Thanks for stopping by, by the way. Bottom line: I survived the treacherous plants stretch, the desert heat, the drunken hot-springers and the swollen ankles. My spirits are high and I’m gobbling miles faster than I should given my physical condition. Santosha (contentment) fully activated. Oh yeah!

Quotes of the week.
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Billy Goat: “I remember Wild Child. 10 years ago, yes. He hiked the long trail with my son”
Me: “What’s your son’s name?”
Billy Goat: “Son of Billy Goat”

Me: “What did you do before you walked the trail for a living”
Billy Goat: “Thought about it”

Hitchhiking ride in Big Bear City: “You know how groups have names, like a pride of lions or a gaggle of geese, you guys should be ‘an odor of thru-hikers'”

Me: “How did you learn so much about the formation of our solar system?”
Hiker: “I read a lot … and I eat mushrooms”

Lunging tiger, twisted ankles.

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I wrote the first section below last night, but the computer I was on blue screened. Anybody who’s used Windows in the 90s will remember the blue screen of death, I am sure.

On more recent news. I found $185 in cash in a trash can this morning. I invited my peeps and a cool chick I met at the store for lunch with it. I plan on using it for shared purposes, since it was in the trash can of a shared hotel room – probably would still be there if I hadn’t accidentally dropped my knife in there. The trail provides, and then some!

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The computer I am on seems to have an aversion to blog writing, so I am typing all this in an email to myself and will post it when I can. Just a disclaimer that by the time you read this, it might be old news. This week flew by so fast that I wouldn’t believe it was already Wednesday when I was informed of the fact this morning. I try to keep track of the days along with miles in my journal, but out here, the former is rather irrelevant. Much has happened since I last wrote. I will try to recount here the highights of the week, which, yes, do involve a tiger, so read on …

Death on the trail
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I left Idyllwild in the late afternoon in a state of bliss. My friend LB, Pepper and Chili, whom I thought several days behind pulled into town that morning. We had a fun day in the lovely Idyllwild, where every person is a trail angel and every meal is delicious, where a dirty trail girl can get a shower, some sparkly blue earrings, super-hero goggles and numerous avocado sandwiches for just a few bucks. I got some new soles for my shoes, and headed back out with a joy and boyancy I hadn’t felt since the first week. I hiked uphill with a heavy fully resupplied pack and a happy heart for a couple of hours when right around a corner, bathed in the perfect light of sunset, in the middle of the trail, the sight of an injured pika stopped me dead in my track. He looked in bad shape. I dropped my packed and asked it if he was okay. It didn’t answer. It was still breathing, but was unresponsive. I tried to feed it some nuts; it jerked away. A few drops of water on its nose produced the same reaction. I was still within cell phone range, so I tried calling all the people still in town I knew, to see if they could find a wildlife rescue center in Idyllwild, but to no avail. There was only one vet in town, and they were closed, and as Pepper pointed out, they probably wouldn’t disturb themselves for a dying pika anyway. By the look of it, the pika seemed to have been bit by something, I thought it looked like snake bite marks. Why wouldn’t the snake eat it though, if that were the case? The cell reception was so spotty that Pepper had understood from my message that *I* had been bitten by a snake. I was glad I was able to speak to him again, lest my friends down in town worry further. I felt so inadequate and useless and sad. What’s the point of wearing a cape and super-hero goggles, if I can’t even save a small pika? I moved it off the trail to a comfortable protected place. I apologized to it for my unability to help and hiked on. It’s not easy to hike when tears blur your vision.

Testing the edges.
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That night I stopped up on a ridge between two leftover patches of snow. I stayed warm in my bag, but had some intense dreams. The three I remembered in the morning all involved me getting to the edge of something, and knowing that I would get hurt if I went any further. I left camp shortly after sunrise with a firm resolve to be wise in my decisions that day, and to pay attention. I hike alone. It is easy to get yourself in a pickle when you are alone in unfamiliar terrain. Most hikers chose to skip the alternate PCT route that climbs to the top of San Jacinto Peak because of the high snow level. I pondered this as I got to the fork in the trail and decided that I would know if I was being unsafe, that I could always turn around, and that I was willing to lose hours and miles in exchange for a scenic sidetrip. I made it to the top of the Peak around 10 am. I had whole top of the mountain to myself. The view down to the valley floor, 9000 feet or so below was incredible, and so worth the climb. The trouble started on the way down. It was clear from the steps in the snow that few people had gone this way, and after a few miles, it was even clearer that those who had  had all gotten lost. Any set of footprints with a semblance of a purposeful direction would invariably stop after a few hundred feet and get that “flower of indecision” look. You know, step this way, no, turn that way, no, that way, no, okay backtrack. At some point, I found myself on a blank canvas. No more steps to follow. I figured, “I have 5 days of food, 2 maps and a compass, plenty of daylight, and I can always climb back up and the way I came”. So I wasn’t worried. Somebody recently said to me, “The first thing you should do when you are lost is stop, drink some water and eat a snack”. Actually very good advice, because it removes any potential for panic. So, I did just that. I got my compass out, located myself, saw that all the creeks on this side of the mountain were intercepted by the PCT, ate some carrots and sweet potato chips, took a few photos and finally started the bushwaking adventure down. I found a creek right away and followed it down as planned. In less than two hours, I was back on the trail. I did a little victory dance, but no one was around to see it.

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I lost everything else I typed last night, and today my time is limited, so I’ll give you the abridged version.

Shortly after finding the trail again, on a steep downhill along Fuller Ridge, I somehow accidentally hooked my pole under my arm pit, so that when my stepped forward I found myself suspended on it. Momentum took over and twisted my entire body over this pivotal point and the whole edifice came crashing down. And that is how I sprained my ankle.

It didn’t really hurt at all at first, and I was going at a good pace, so I kept on going. It might have been okay, but there were a few agravating circumstances. First, I had been hiking in so much snow that water was the last thing on my mind. I tackled the descent from fuller ridge with less than 1/4 of a liter of water. I had gone another 5 miles before I realized that the 3.7 miles to the next water as the crows fly would take 15 miles by trail. That trail was ridiculous. Each switchbacks went all around the mountain, visiting each flower, each rock, each lizard. I ended up hiking 24 miles that day. I would have done the 27 to water if my ankle hadn’t let itself known. As for not having water, I did what my Dad told me competitive runners in Death valley do: I took a mouthfull of water and breathed through it, so that my body stayed humidified with each breath and I never actually felt thirsty. Yay for random survival skills.

I’ll skip the long crossing of the hot valley in the noon sun, the trail magic under the bridge, the free foot bath at Ziggy and the Bear’s and get to the full moon hiking.

I left Ziggy and the Bear’s house right at sunset. The moon was about twice the size of a normal full moon. It glowed orange behind a field of wind turbines. As the sun set, the decibel level fell to the lowest I have heard yet this trip. Complete silence except for the surreal sound of wind turbines in the distance and an occasional cricket. The night was cool and every plant seemed to glow. I was walking in an Ansel Adams painting. I thought about that lady at the Insurance agency who was so worried about me before I left. She would not have taken well to the idea of me hiking alone in the dark. I loved it. LOVED it. My ankle held up until about 10:30 pm, then made itself really know. I hiked down towards a creek and came to a place with picnic tables and what looked like man-made wading pool. I slept hard and fast on one of the picnic tables. There were two other hikers on other tables. I never met them.

The next morning, Sunday, I woke up to a line of cars pulling in right to my sleeping table. I was at Whitewater Preserve, a favorite hiking spot for the L.A. crowd. There was shade, green grass, creeks, pools. I decided to take a full zero (day off) there and soak my ankle in the cool creek. It was a glorious day. I did almost nothing. Played some harmonica, wrote in my journal, napped. That evening friends started pouring in from the trail, and a trail angel with beautiful legs (Lake to Lakes I think was her name) showed up with food for all of us. Despite the pain in my ankle, I cannot think of a more perfect day than that day.

The next two were long (16 and 19 miles respectively) days up along an ugly creek. I had good company though. I had not seen one single human being from the time I left the saddle above Idyllwild to Ziggy and the Bear’s house, so a little company was nice. LB made me take breaks and pain killers when I wouldn’t have on my own. The trail will even provide you with external wisdom when you don’t have much of your own.

The experience of hiking alone or with another person, or with a group, for me changes the whole trail. The focus is different. When I hike alone, I notice everything, inside and outside. When I hike with LB and we talk all day long, and sometimes too late at night too. I get to know another human being. I enjoy both the solitude and company, though I only crave the former.  Our conversations have morphed from when we first met. We’ve increased the bredth and depth, and the topic of food is daily gaining ground on other topics. I estimate in a few months, food will dominate abotu 50% of our conversations, by Washington, maybe up to 80%. This, I am told is normal for thru-hikers.

Oh, yeah, the tiger! I forgot … so, LB and I were hiking up towards Big Bear city, where the trail goes right by “Randy’s  Predators in Actins”. It’s a center for animal actors, with lions, tigers and bears, oh my! I made a bee-line for the tiger. We could hear him growl before we even could see it. There were two layers of cages between TheBobcat and that tiger, but our eyes locked. He was not happy about that. He growled and beared his fangs. I spoke to it, something abotu its beauty, magesty, fierceness. Either that really pissed it off, or I hit some magic acting word, but suddenly he lept up and towards us with a full blown roar and crashed into the first fence separating us. That got all the other animals riled up, bears gorwling, lions roaring. I couldn’t beleive it. I don’t ever condone animals in cages, but I must admit that having a tiger lunge at me really really made my day.

That’s all for now. I must hike on. My gang’s been waiting patiently reading magazines while I typed this. I’m not even proof-reading. I apologize abotu typos and non-sequiturs.

More in a week …
XOXO. The Bobcat.

“The trail provides”

The honeymoon is over, but my love for the trail remains. In fact I think it grows daily. I had my fist serious blister (the kind that turns into a small geyser when pierced), I had my first downpour (the kind that gets all your maps soaking wet and unreadable). As the first-miles rose-goggles fell off, I had my first sad day on the trail, my first cold day, my first getting lost day. I also found that the adage my friend wrote on the last ressuply box is true: “Wherever you go, there you are” and that off-trail drama resurfaces in one’s mind with the miles. I am glad that it does.I like to think that it is bubbling up to be released into the wild, and I would much rather have it get released than buried and festering behind a veneer of joy. The trail provides and lovingly accomodates all my needs without judgement.

Trail magic usually refers to finding unsuspected gifts along the way (like on day one, when I found a crisp $20 bill laying on the trail), but I think it goes beyond that. When thoughts of my off-trail life and its complicated relationships bubbled up, the lovely Moss appeared, a willing ear and understanding trail sister. When a small wave of sadness set in, the trail provided me with a very tall granite boulder overlooking an amphitheatre of a valley and an hour hiatus from any other hikers in which I could channel that sadness into harmonica tunes, and slowly get back to a place of joy. The trail also knows when my attention is elsewhere. It places bright flowers along the way when I need a presence reminder, PCT signs when I’m about to get lost (or when my map falls out of my pocket), shade when I am tired or hungry and friends when I can use the company, even when I don’t know I need company. My energy is definitely less exuberant than it was the first week, but my love for the trail gets deeper with each mile, born of a deepening sense of trust and belonging. The trail does not belong to me; I belong on it, yet know that I am always here by choice. This is ultimate freedom and I do not take it for granted. There is nowhere I would rather be than right where I am.

I went to the kickoff party. After the week of solitude, the KO was a bit of a shock to my system. Can you picture 680 smelly hikers in line for a burrito? It looks massive. I was glad I went though. I met wonderful like-minded people there – many of them!  I was also able to sell my tent to a thru-hiking friend and buy another tent much more to my liking. I weathered the first downpour by hitching a ride into Julian where Mom’s Pie Shop provides free pies and coffee to all thru-hikers. We really are a spoiled bunch. I have met only a handfull of Trail Angels so far, but they spoil us from the goodlness of their heart without ever expecting anything in return. They should be issued wings, for sure. I will count my friend Ana and Cynthia, the Campo post office lady in that lot, the combination of which got me new maps to replace my wet unreadable ones overnight, delivered in hand at the kickoff. My gratitude also to Trail Angel Mike and all the other ones I will never meet but whose water caches in the desert are life-saving, literally. Little Brown also deserves mention for rescuing us from a 3-hour failed attempt at hitching a ride out of Warner Springs (and letting me ride in the back of his truck, which was so fun it should be illegal – oh, wait, it is!) and taking us to pies and second breakfast, and then back to the trail. And there is Tom, from Kennedy Meadows, whose full time job right now seems to be shuttling smelly hikers to and fro, and delivering pizza when the paradise Cafe is closed. He says that since hikers are not at Kennedy Meadows yet, he’ll just hang around and help out down here until the bulk of us get into the San Jacinto mountains.

Oooooh, the San jacinto mountains!!! Holy Smokes that was beautiful!! The trail follows vertiginous cliffs, 8000 feet or so above the flat desert floor below, where the sprawling town of Palm Springs seems like a lego set. Last night, the wind was howling. Long lenticulars rolled in and wrapped themself on the jagged peaks we spent all day climbing up and down. Then the sun set, and the whole gorgeousness turned pink and orange. It is so easy to become accustomed to mind-blowing beauty when you live in it daily. Last night for example, when the sunset took on such epic proportions, I sent my friend Luna off with my camera to take photos of the sunset because I was much more interested in a hot meal at that point.

I have been hiking alone, but my solo nights have mostly come to an end. This early on the trail, hikers are still too bunched up to really be avoided. The first trail family in which I was adopted was composed of a solo viking-looking Minnesotan and a father and son, LB (Last on Bus), Pepper and Chilli. Chilli is only 13, but he’s seen more than most 25 years old I know. LB was my first trail friend. Last I heard he set camp one hour north of Warner Springs … I’m already two days ahead, I might not see him again for a while. I was slightly faster than that group, so I ended up in step with a second trail family. Beating the trail odds for male-female ratio, we are three girls (Moss, Luna and me – Luna was maya, then was Focus, she might still change name before the ordeal is over), and three guys, a duo of super-human fast hikers collectively refered to as “the Cousins”, and Opus. We also occasionally have Joe with us. He doesn’t have a trail name yet. That group is overall faster than me, but they are so fun that I have been pulling daily fast 20-milers to stay with them. That was unwise. I bruised the bottom of my feet. I am now in town for a zero day, a rest day, to recover. My gang might or might not hike on, no judgement, no expectations. This is ultimate freedom. If I lose these, there are more trail families out there, more wonderful people to meet, more solitude to be enjoyed. Every encounter is a little gift, as is the lack of encounters. I am glad I learned the lesson about not following other people’s pace early on. I am back to selfishely listening to my body. I am grateful that the trail provided me with a great little town for a zero day when I needed one. The trail provides anything and everything I might ever want or need. In fact, the trail friggin’ SPOILS me!!

Some select quotes of the week:

Legion (laying in the shade after 9 miles): “Our motto is ‘don’t over do it'”.
Snapper: “I didn’t think we had enough energy to come up with mottos”.
Legion: “You’re right, our motto is meh …”

Greyjay (Cousin 1): “Moss is fast – you can tell because the scratches on her legs are horizontal”

LB: “The trail provides” (which he says as one would say “the dude abides”).

Love to you all. Life is good here!

XOX – The Bobcat.

Expectations – reality – honeymoon.

Day 8. Mile 109. No zero days. 1 Nero day (sucked into a tarp’s shade)

I love this. I mean, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I love every step, every day, every person I’ve met, every plant on the trail, every star over my sleeping bag at night, every friggin’ molecule, second and ounce of this trail. And I love these lovely trail angels here in Warner Springs who just fed me breakfast and have computers for hikers to use. This is the magical world I always suspected existed.

I also fit well in it. I expected the first step of the trail to feel amazing and emotionally loaded, but no, I just put on my pack and started walking as if that is what I had done my whole life, a stroll through my living room, as natural as breathing. I didn’t even sign the start register. I got overwhelmed with gratitude a little down the hill from the Mexican border and spent most of that first mile crying from too much joy. I was alone, so I didn’t have to explain myself. I had expected barren, dry, open desert. I was looking forward to the stark beauty of a deadly desicated landscape, but instead was greeted with a green desert in full bloom. I have been walking a week and every day has brought one more amazing wide open landscape after another and new wonderful people to inhabit my world. Two days ago, I was walking alone along a precipitous trail surrounded by chollas, ocotillos and fat cacti taller than me, all in bloom. Today I rolled into town through gentle grassy hills and perfect bucolic scenes with a long line of new friends like some Tolkienish fellowship. I loved both, and everything in between.

I have mostly been hiking and camping alone, by choice. My need for space is finally accomodated. I’ve danced barefoot on the trail, studied how bees collect pollen in cacti flowers, played my harmonica to the stars, got spooked by rattlers, and so on … the list is too long. I am keeping a journal and it is already pretty fat after just a week. Because I tend to have a natural pace faster than most hikers I’ve met on the trail so far, I have been catching up with individuals and groups serveral times a day. Hikers also congreggate around water holes and in the rare shady spot, just like wildlife. I spent hours hiking with just another hiker here and there. I’ve had fascinating conversations about anything from the theology of the human body to quantum physics to bodily function and more. I spent an entire afternoon under a tarp with a motley crew of eight thru-hikers ranging in age from 12 to 61, laughing so hard that by the end of the day my cheeks hurt. I only hiked 12 miles that day.

Mileage is completely unimportant to me, but I do seem to have a lot of “walking” in me. When the day is over, I still want to walk. When others want to stop, I still want to walk. I wake up before dawn and walk, I walk after dinner in the golden light. And as Little Brown pointed out, “So far, you’re the only one without injuries or gear problems”. It’s actually not quite true: I have a small blisture between my toes, I had to repair my pack with a piece of cut-up water bottle and two socks (the fix is holding so far), I discovered that a cat peed on my tent while it was set on the Toledo house’s patio (I’ve only set it up once, because of ticks) and my self-inflatable pad is now a self-defletable pad. Mostly, I’m just so happy out here, I couldn’t care less about these small setbacks, so maybe I just complain less.

So, I love walking, apparently even more than I knew I did.

A wise man told me that one finds out who he or she is very fast on the trail. Wow. This is me? The Bobcat is something else. I recognize myself, but barely. I have soooo much energy and joy here, all the time. I meet people on the trail who say “Oh, you’re The Bobcat. We heard about you”. Social filters are extraneous here. I can be as quirky as I can be, and the depth of my quirkiness is surprising even me. Amongst other trademarks, I have been wearing a super-hero cape from 10 am to 5 pm everyday, and in just a few days, this has become absolutely normal to me. Nobody cares. In fact, they encourage quirks and occasionally match them. This is freedom of being as I have not known it before. Again, I can’t imagine how I’ll ever go back to the off-trail world. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about that for a while.

I’m in town for a few days. I need to shower – clean hair, woohoo!! – fix some gear, get food ressupply for the next stretch, etc. I will be hitching a ride back down to attend the Kick Off party. I wasn’t going to go, but a series of strange events, which I will not recount here because I need to get moving, led me to change my mind. I have had zero interest in turning my phone on or contacting the outside world. For this I apologize. I am grateful for your understanding. Just know that I am well, happy, and in excellent hands (whoesever those happen to be, mother nature’s, the trail’s, the angels’, the other hikers’, etc.).

That’s all for now. Love to all.
XO – The Bobcat.

And so it begins …

Wow. This is it. My last night in civilization. I am staying with friends in southern L.A., my gear is exploded onto their living room floor because, like all first timers, I have the uncontrollable urge to go through it one more time. My fuel bottle is full, my food bag is ready, my camera is charged, my phone is suspended and goodbye tears are but a sweet memory to pack with me on the trail (memory of goodbye tears: 0.6 oz).

Right before I left, several people have asked me what my greatest fear is for the trail. Last year, before going into Death Valley for a 4 day solo fast, I was asked the same question. My answer then was ‘to go insane’ and in a way, that is what happened. I don’t think a spiritual quest can ever be complete without having to face one’s greatest fear. Fear is not a place in which I usually dwell however, so I have mostly eluded the question up to now. What do I fear? What would I admit to fearing knowing that is most likely what I will have to face?

I do not fear solitude, I seek it. I do not fear bugs, bears, creepy crawlies, stomach ailments, stalkers, leeches (humans and animal),  hardships, weather, aches and pains, doubts or confusion. I do not fear having to get off the trail because of injuries or lack of money. Although both exist in the realm of possibilities, I feel I was always meant to walk this trail. I didn’t decide to walk it, it called me as one of its own. I don’t believe the trail would call one of its own this strongly only to break her down quickly. It will break me down, I know this, but I don’t expect it would get so bad as to make me want to quit completely. It could delay or postpone my plans though, and there are valuable lessons in that eventuality  – Lessons I hope I don’t have to learn. I do fear life lessons – I fear those unexpected twists of fate that are so inconvenient and from which you learn so much. Life lessons. Ughhh! Eeek!

I fear that one of those life lessons would take me off the trail completely because I don’t have a back up plan. I fear having to return to “normal life”, I mean a job, bills, 9 to 5, etc. I don’t know why I fear this; I have not had that sort of life since I was 23 or so. I guess the fear of entrapment will likely live in me all my life. I welcome it, it keeps me on the go, it makes me who I am, but still it is a fear nonetheless. Let me specify here (because some have felt I was judgmental on the topic) that I am not belittling the 9 to 5 “normal” kind of life. I think there is a sweet freedom that comes from knowing exactly what tomorrow brings. There is freedom in stability. In many ways the random life I have been living has less elbow room because it is channeled into specific adventures. I mean, when one stays put in life, he or she has the luxury of growing friendships deeper, take harmonica lessons longer, sit on the patio and enjoy tea and the smell of fresh cut grass with the peace of mind that a steady paycheck imparts. I’ve gone another way. I’ve replaced a set of problems with another. That’s really all it is. I do not claim my lifestyle to be better, just more to my liking for now.

I fear the end of the trail, for all the reasons mentioned above and a little bit of past experience with getting off a trail. When I returned from field camp, after sleeping for 6 weeks under the stars, I found society and having a roof over my head unbearable. My need for space had grown so wide it even cost me a marriage (it wasn’t the only reason, but it did contribute). I don’t fear the unknown usually – I have a hefty genetic dose of optimism from my Dad’s side that leads me to believe that all is well and all will be well, no matter what -, but I must admit that not knowing where I will want to go, what I will want to do, whom I will be with, if anyone, and who I will have become makes for a lot of unknowns in one’s brain. But then, that was the best part about coming to the USA, 20 years ago, so what has changed? Maybe I just know better. Looking for work and being broke sucks. Especially when all you want is to be back in the woods. So, yes, I definitely fear the end of the trail, but that won’t happen for a while. I’m shooting for longest time on the trail, no speed record here.

I fear poisonous plants, like poison oaks and that dogwood brush nastiness people are saying is all over the trail. I don’t react well to those.

I fear toothaches. I actually feel one coming on. I hope it just goes away.

I fear obligations. A loved one told me that the trail actually has enough space available to even accommodate MY need for space. If that is so, I might not feel confined for the first time in my life. If I do get into that space in my head, I know I will resent having to touch base with the outside world, even loved ones, because any obligation leads to a lessening of freedom, and if I ignore the sense of obligation to touch base , then I will get guilt about my own selfishness. Either way, if I get to a place of ultimate space, I’m going to have to flex my non-attachment muscle to keep myself in check and get some balance. Balance … mmmh … I guess I am back to fearing a life lesson. Ack! Arghh!

I fear the low moral and bad attitude that comes from eating bad food. I’ll have to keep an eye on that. Just because I will be burning calories faster than a coal train doesn’t mean I need to jump on the hiker trash diet of doom bandwagon. I might not always have a choice. We’ll see.

That’s all I can think of.

I look forward to everything else. I was just sitting outside on the patio in the warm California evening air with my friend and host Chris a minute ago. I can’t believe it is really here. I leave tomorrow. Wow. There is part of me that feels so incredibly lucky that it almost feels unfair to the rest of the world. I feel like I am the Golden Girl of the Universe and I might just need all that open space just to contain the gratitude I feel about being allowed to do this.

And this last statement will be very fun to read later on if it turns out I really hate it, won’t it? 🙂

I am exhausted, so I’ll go crash. My plan is to make my way to my first resupply stop in a couple of days, pitch my tent and sleep for 24 hours straight before continuing on. I think a fresh rested mind will alleviate about 80% of the fears I do have and allow me to extract more out of the trail.

Stay in touch, either here, or via mail, or send me snail mail.

A tired haiku:
A roaming bobcat
Another wild adventure
Thank you Universe

XO