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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Ten lessons from the trail

My good friends Northstar and Shutterbug recently posted “Five lessons from the Trail“. I loved their post. The content rang exactly true for me. Inspired by their example I decided to add a few of my own.

First, here are the first five (by Northstar and Shutterbug):
http://wanderingthewild.com/2012/11/12/five-lessons-from-the-trail/

Senses awaken in nature. People are goodHike your own hike. Fewer possessions is freeing.  Wilderness is home

To these I would like to add …

Joy is our natural state. On the trail life is reduced to its most basic necessities: water, food, sleep, shelter, safety from the elements and natural beauty. Because our minds are freed from having to handle what Northstar and Shutterbug call the constant jumble of sensory information, we are open to tackle deeper and deeper levels of thought. Because the trail is so long, at some point we run out of things to ponder, analyze, consider or solve. When that happens, the void that is left seems to immediately be filled with a sense of joy and peace. So, at our most basic level, underneath it all, this must be our natural state.

Life is a mirror (you get what you give). I have experienced this more than once on the trail: If I approach the road in a joyful and optimist state, I wait for a hitch less than five minutes; if I approach it with a bad attitude, it will be a long while before I get picked up. The kindness and generosity we received as hikers I believe is in direct correlation to our own state of open-mindedness. The opposite is true also. Fear attracts scary situation. People who feared bears had bear encounters. I started the trail worried about poisonous plants and managed to get poison oak on one leg and poodle-dog-bush on the other. When I became grateful for the cortisone cream two generous hikers gave me, the oozy mess cleared up over night.

All you need is love and gratitude. Somewhere in the first few hundred miles of the trail, I became so frustrated with my UV water purifier and so jacked up on iodine that I stopped using any sort of water treatment. Instead, I held the water to my heart and told it, sincerely, “I love you, please don’t make me sick, thank you”. If you have read some of my previous posts, you know that the method proved excellent the whole trail, including with that one batch of “bear pooh water” (see “I believe in angels”). Inspired by my success, I also used this method as sunscreen (I love you Sun, please don’t burn me, thank you), bug-repellent (I love you spider, please stay off my tarp, thank you) and holographic deck (I love you trail, could I get a shady spot, mosquito free, by some water, thank you). Seriously, it works. Try it for yourself.

Freedom is an intrinsic quality. Before I left, a good friend told me that the PCT would likely be the one place where I could find enough space to accommodate my humongous need for freedom. All former thru-hikers I have met mention “freedom” as the greatest gift they received from the trail. All that fresh air, clean water and open space seeps into your soul and sticks. I think freedom is always in us, but sometimes our vision of it is clouded. Once we touch that quality within us, it remains wherever the end of the trail finds us. Some of us continue to wander, travel, explore or hike; others return to former lives and jobs from an expanded perspective. In all cases, you can take the hiker off the trail, but not the trail out of the hiker.

Laugh it off. Never mind great truths and life-changing discoveries; we know nothing. Any labeled identity we create for ourselves will be destroyed as soon as it’s uttered. I once wrote on this website that my feet hurt, the next day my feet stopped hurting. I once wrote that I preferred solitude, the next day I found myself  hiking with a small group of fun people and loving it. I once was very upset at the thought of no-longer being a “thru-hiker”. I think we all feel that way. That is in part why we seek the company of other thru-hikers post-trail. Am I still a hiker if I’m not hiking? Who cares! Each experience is worth its weight in gold. I think it’s important to not take ourselves too seriously and as Dacia so eloquently put, to get out of our own way, learn to surf the wave, revel in the power of it, and let it all come together.


I love you thru-hikers, thank you for the experience.
I love you readers, please forgive my many typos and grammatical errors, thank you!
XO. TheBobcat

I believe in Angels

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream

– Abba – “I believe in angels” –
Song stuck in my head for most of Washington thanks to my friend Margaret.

I have told you about the steep hills of Washington, and about my almost extraordinary night-time 40 mile adventure, but these were really just sidelines to my Washington experience; Washington was actually all about my angels.

I am blessed with amazing friendships (not to be confused with French hips). As I got within driving range of home, they all came out of the woodwork (Woodwork, you know, just west of Steven’s Pass) to spoil me rotten. Here they are, in order of appearance:

Mile 2155 – Cascade Locks – Bridge of the Gods, border between Oregon and Washington.
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I have several angels to thank right around there.

I’ll start with the beautiful Ana Sofia, my soul twin. Ana picked me up at the Timberline lodge on Hood, not Cascade Locks, but her impact lingered, so I will include her here. Ana drove me to Portland, got me and all my clothes cleaned, took me on a civilization reintroduction tour, which included wonderful fancy restaurants, deserts and more deserts, then released me to Dacia in the afternoon (see Reintroduction Inoculation story). That day with Ana, I felt out of place in the off-trail world and maybe also resentful about my sudden loss of super-hero status. I have heard stories of besties falling apart after one of the friends hikes the trail. Nope, not us. A few nights later, we talked about the visit and its weird vibe. We would have been fine without the talk, but I think we both benefited from it. I know for my part I needed the feedback. I am not a thru-hiker any more than I am a geologist, a yoga instructor, or even Melissa TheBobcat Park. I am Nothing. These roles I step into are merely that, roles I play in the world for the purpose of learning, growing, awakening. I think it is much easier for people who dislike who they play in the world to operate from a higher plane. I just love who I play so much, I get sucked into the role – like when Val Kilmer couldn’t let go of his Jim Morrison persona after he played in The Doors. The greatest gift Ana gives me is to set me straight when I need straightening. We all need a ball-busting angel sometime. The second greatest gift Ana gives me, on a continuous basis, is rescue from anywhere anytime. It’s like having my own personal AAA. When I needed a ride to the airport to get on the trail, she took a day off, drove up to Bellingham to pick me up and back all the way down to the airport. When all my maps got soaked in the one of three rains we had, she reprinted and overnighted me the whole set. This list could go on for such a while that you’d probably fall asleep. Just know this: Ana is amazing.

In Cascade Locks also, my thanks go to Anne and Del. My God I was tired when I got to their house! They gave me precisely the combination of space and company I needed. I enjoyed getting a computer to myself for a whole day, and being able to nap without time restrictions, but I did spend a lot of time alone on the trail, so I equally loved chilling out on their back porch, catching up on life adventures (they have just returned from living in Dubai for a few years) and day-dreaming of next adventures. I can’t wait to see them again … it’s in the works.

Weathercarrot was my third Cascade Locks angel. He came from Portland to share with me a border crossing on my 42nd birthday. We hadn’t hiked together since before Etna in northern California, and it was fun to fall in step again and engage in mind-boggling conversations. Although I think Weathercarrot is the bee’s meow (and the cat’s knees), even when we “hiked together” we rarely actually hiked together. We quickly figured out that we shared a fierce independence and stubbornness about hiking our own hike. We understood and respected each other’s need for space. After he left the trail I indulged in the most delicious lonesome selfish hike ever. In turn, this made the occasional visit or phone call feel like a great trail treat. Weathercarrot, who has hiked over 20,000 miles – I was with him when he crossed the mark, and I sang him a “happy 20,000 miles” song -, says that at the beginning of any thru-hike you know that you are on the brink of meeting amazing, exceptional, fascinating people, you just don’t know who they are or in what way they will be fantastic yet. He definitely ranks as one of my top finds for this first thru-hike.

Mile 2303 – White Pass, WA
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There was magic at White Pass. In hiker’s speak that means that there was a tent setup at the pass with free food and drinks. The trail angels there, Mother Goose and Lost and Found, had vegetarian chili, fried zucchini bread and cookies for weary hikers coming out of Goat Rocks. In addition to this “public” magic, I had my own trail Angel – none else than the famous pilot and photographer John Scurlock. In order to meet with me, John drove all the way down to White Pass. On the way, he stopped and bought so much food for my ressuply that he probably could have resupplied ten hikers for all of Washington. He set up a tarp on the ground in the parking lot at the pass and literally covered it with food. When I told him “John, you went food-crazy!”, he replied “I just wanted you to have choices”. I have ressuplied at grocery stores that had far less choice than what John had mustered up in his little car.

John also was my Canadian Angel. He took a day off to drive up to Manning Park and get me and Deborah (BlueGirl) back to the USA. I was glad that John was our ride back. I alternated between the joy of being done, the excitement of the next adventure and a deep sadness at the loss of my trail, my trail friends, my open space, my silence, my trail lifestyle. I know they aren’t lost completely – they live in me -, but there are just things I might not get to do again for a while, like eating a half-gallon of ice cream sitting on the sidewalk in front of a gas station in the middle of no-where. Those were the thoughts that made me cry. John understood because he was a PCT hiker once himself, 39 years ago, and that made me feel better.

Mile 2402 – Snowqualmie Pass, WA
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By the time I got to Snowqualmie Pass, I really felt home. I used to live right down the hill from the pass and I have been up in that area and on all the trails around it extensively, though never on the PCT. My friend Margaret kidnapped me right off the pass. She hiked in a few miles to meet me and I loved that she did that. It was like being met “in my world”, a much gentler extraction than when I have to hitch to town or meet people at trailheads. I am a frequent guest of Margaret and Steve’s living room floor. They have taken me in on my way to and from the strangest adventures. The best part about staying there is that the spoiling is highly customized. When I am there, I get to drink my favorite tea in my favorite mug, Steve cooks exactly the meal I have been craving and Margaret supplements it with a full bowl of spinach (“Wow did you know I was craving spinach?” – “You ALWAYS crave spinach” – I guess that’s true). Their attention to details about my preferences is remarkable. I sometimes feel they know me better than I know myself.

In addition to being one of my best friends and an exemplary angel, Margaret was also my resupply person for the whole trail, i.e. the person who was burdened with storing all the crap I no longer wanted to carry on the trail but couldn’t bring myself to throw away so I just sent it home, the person whom I called whenever I needed something that I didn’t have time to find myself (new earphones, my passport, an emergency $100 when I lost my credit card, an ipod filled with fresh songs, etc.),  the person who kept an eye on my bills and paid them when they became overdue and I was out of reach (I’m all caught up now), basically the person who took care of all my off-trail affairs. She did so with gusto too. Any box I received had something meaningful to us but so quirky that it would be sure to have the post-master raise an eyebrow. I kept a lot of the boxes, they live in the back of my truck now and hold gear. When Margaret and I first met, we tried very hard not to be friends. I no longer remember why we did that, but that plan was an epic fail.

Mile 2595 – Rainy Pass, WA
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“2646 – that means nothing to me!!” … oh Deborah, my beloved BlueGirl. Deb’s timing for joining me was impeccable. I was just at the point where I ‘didn’t want to anymore’, and here was this ray of sunshine and enthusiasm to help me along. That is what she had signed up for. She told me about a year before I even got on the trail that she would walk the last section with me. The reasoning was that the weather would be ugly (fall in the Cascades) and I would need a cheerleader/ moral supporter to help me get to Canada. The weather turned out fantastic, but Deborah’s company was no less precious to me. She saw the trail with fresh eyes, got excited about vistas I was no longer noticing, and she did push me up that last hill after I stopped and flat out refused to climb up any more hills when the map showed an all-the-way downhill to Manning Park, BC, our final destination. Deborah made the trail fun again. We have a well established banter routine that amused us and other hikers. We didn’t lack in material to tease each other … everyday was filled with silliness. Here is a few choice stories of our four days together:

On day two, Deb discovered that I had no water-filter. She had assumed I’d have one. She didn’t know that for the whole trail my water-purification technique has been to hold the water to my heart, tell it that I love it and ask it to please not make me sick. So, on day two, there I was demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of my technique by scooping water straight off a little waterfall and drinking it in place. After about a quarter of the bottle, Deb said “Is that a big pile of bear vomit up there?”. I looked up and right in the path of my water source was indeed a big pile of something that looked like bear vomit. I stopped drinking with a look of stupefaction and sprayed out anything still in my mouth. It turned out to be bear poo, not vomit, and my love-purification technique worked just fine for me, even in the face of drinking obvious bear-poo-water, but I didn’t live down the bear-vomit-water incident for the rest of the trail.

On day three, we met a hiker we both thought was very handsome by the name of Gondo. I’m sorry Deb, yeah, I’m about to tell the Gondo story :-). Later that day, Northstar and Shutterbug asked us if we remembered the name of the man at the trail magic. Deb, in an effort to remember, said “G-g-g-g-g-g …”, to which I answered, “no Deb, that’s the sound WE make when we see him”. After that, all we had to do was mention G-g-g-g-g-gondo and we’d both laugh hysterically.

On day four, in the late afternoon, Deb and I got tired and irritable from too much walking, hunger and maybe slight dehydration. On the last hill before camp, Deb turned around and asked me how far the water was from camp, but since the water was at camp, her question confused me. Finally, I caught the part of her question about the location of the next water. My answer was “2646”. Now, any thru-hiker would have known that I meant mile 2646, counting from Mexico, which is how water sources are cataloged on the maps we almost all carry. But if you are not a thru-hiker, you might have Deborah’s reaction, “2646? That means nothing to me! Never mind!!” and walk on. That one was funniest after the fact, but then it was very funny.

It was such a treat to have a best friend on the trail. After only four days we had so many inside jokes that every break was an opportunity to laugh. It made me regret having done so much of the trail solo, but I got what I wanted in the end. I just think that I might consider hiking with others more on subsequent thru-hikes, and if ever Deborah can join me … she would be my top choice. BEST hiking partner ever!

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That’s all. This wraps up the PCT 2012 stories.

Thank you so much to all my readers for visiting and reading and commenting. I started the trail with a giant thirst for open spaces, freedom, solitude, walking. I feel I am now fully satiated on all fronts. I hope that the stories I wrote represented my states of mind and the trail accurately. This is the end of the PCT stories, but not the end of the adventure. My life is a crazy continuum … so keep this link. There’s more to come! 🙂

Thank you trail for taking such good care of me. I love you!

Love to you all too.

XOX – TheBobcat.

My 40-mile day, or how to shake off trail blues

I really felt there was kryptonite in the trail for most of Washington depriving me of my walking super-powers. For hundreds of miles I struggled to get even 20 miles a day. I was contemplating calling Deborah to tell her I would be late to our Rainy Pass meeting when a sudden last burst of energy kicked in. On that last day before Stehekin, I woke up feeling I had a lot of “walking” in me. I wasn’t planning on doing a 40; I just felt like walking fast and far. From my camp below Mica Lake, on the flanks of Glacier Peak, I went down about 1500 feet, back up 3000 feet, down 3700 feet and back up another 4000 feet (so, I had climbed the equivalent of Baker from Sandy camp twice that day before dinner). I stopped at the Suiattle Pass and ate a snack bathed in the golden light of a spectacular sunset over Glacier Peak. That’s when the idea first sprouted. I had already hiked 30 miles, I could just keep on going and do my first 40. It seemed fitting, this was my last full solo hiking day. I could have a grand finish. The next day would be a half day into Stehekin, then another shorter (19 miles) day to Rainy pass, then Deborah would be with me.

That 40 miler was one of the most fun adventures I had the whole trail. It took me another five hours to complete the 40 from Suiattle Pass. I crossed giant boulder fields in the dark, negotiated slippery terrain that glowed silvery in the full moon and relished the clear starry sky. To my right, a moon-backlit cloud flowed over the jagged dark outline of a peak like an ethereal wave. To my left, the interplay of light and dark shadow on the trees bark made them look alive. My friend Ninja believes that trees are mostly asleep during the day and awake at night, when they watch us go by. That is exactly what it felt like. I was walking under the curious eye of the entire forest. The vibe was neither one of approval nor one of disapproval. Curiosity is probably too strong of a word. The trees don’t really care, I think, that we walk among them, but they do notice us in a non-interfering kinda way. As the night got deeper, I had an increasing sense of conclusion to my PCT journey. This was the last stand of a vision quest, a five and a half month vision quest. Had I learned what I had set out to learn? I thought I might be granted a vision, maybe a totem animal to represent my growth progress. I suddenly remembered I was hiking alone in the dark and asked the Universe, aloud, that if a totem animal was to appear, to please have it be nothing large or scary. No sooner had I finished asking that a golden salamander appeared in my head-lamp. It looked exactly like my tattoo. I took a few more steps and found a golden toad, the same size at the salamander. I believe omens and totems always come in three, so I was expecting another small lovely golden animal. It took another half hour before I encountered the third animal.

I came around the corner on a very steep part of the trail to find my way completely blocked by a very large fully spiked-out porcupine. I was startled. My heart was beating so loudly that for a moment I couldn’t think straight. My first reflex was to turn to the full moon and ask “Moon, what do I do!?” It didn’t answer, or maybe it did … right after asking I began singing a Harry Belafonte song to the porcupine. Something about being sad to leave Jamaica. It made sense then, I promise. I am not sure how it affected the porcupine, but singing calmed me instantly. I extended my pole (That) to see if I could persuade it to move off the trail and let me by. It thrashed its tail violently at my pole and lodged several quills deep into the rubber on the tip. I was glad that wasn’t any of my body parts. I saved the quills. It took another fifteen minutes of pole probing and singing before the trail widened enough to allow me to run on by. By then it was almost midnight.

A little while later, I noticed that I was not very stable in my steps. I think by a combination of too few snacks and water-breaks and too many miles walked by the fading light of my head-lamp had left me dizzy. In this state of wobbliness, I came upon a wide wild river. The only bridge was completely destroyed and unusable. I could have slept there and negotiated the crossing with fresh legs in the morning, but no, instead, I found a log a hundred feet or so downstream and decided to cross it. I climbed over the roots and talked out loud to myself before letting go of the safety of this natural vegetation belay. I said “Riiight, so I am about to cross over a raging river on a slippery log, in the dark, on unstable legs, and absolutely no-one knows where I am.” That made me laugh. In fact, I hadn’t felt this alive in a long while. I could probably write a 2000+ word post about how living close to danger makes me feel more alive, but I want to get to the end of this post here, so maybe some other time … I took three full yogic breaths (Sequoia would have been proud of me) and suddenly felt my whole body focused and strong again. I crossed that log as though it were a highway.

With all the excitement of the totem animals, porcupines and log crossing, I hadn’t noticed that my back was soaked. My back had been soaked for a while, but earlier that day I had been pushing some 3.2 to 3.5 mile per hour speed up steep hills, so I had assumed it was sweat. Now it was night and I was walking much slower because my head-lamp didn’t allow me much foresight, and I was still soaked. Horror! After five years of faithful service, my platypus water-bladder had finally turned in its resignation letter. My pack was soaked, my sleeping bag stuffing sack was soaked, my pants were soaked. I wasn’t upset though; I was mostly sad. That platypus had been with me up and down baker at least 17 times, and up Rainier, and to India, and down the Yukon River, and 2580 miles out of 2660 miles of the PCT. The seam was open, I wouldn’t be able to repair it. Also, even if I could have, the drinking tube looked like a corroded artery, the mouth piece was disintegrating and so dark that it would likely have made another hiker than myself sick, the main bag was tinted yellow from bad water and iodine. Once the initial sadness had passed came the realization that it was almost 1 in the morning and that I was going to have to sleep in a wet down sleeping bag. I had a little conversation with the Universe. I said “Is there any chance that my sleeping bag could be dry in there?”, It said “It would take a miracle.” I said, emphatically, “I believe in miracles!” but the Universe said that that would be a big miracle, even for someone with as much faith and magic as me.

I got lost after that. I walked around in the woods for a while. I was still on the trail, so I wasn’t technically lost, but I could not find the camp spot and the water that were marked on my map. There were no other place to stop. I was out of water. Once again, that made me laugh. I felt so tired, and loopy, and alive, and just so damn happy to be having one, possibly last, adventure on the trail. I switched off reasonable mode, reason apparently could not figure out where on hell I was on that map anyway, and switched on intuition mode. I followed my instinct blindly and within fifteen minutes caught sight of a reflecting square in my head-lamp. That was a tent, which meant camp, which meant water. Then all was well. I dropped my pack and located myself on the map – I was exactly 40 miles from where I started that morning, to the first decimal. I ate some of the hunters cheese (see last post) and drank a full liter of water. I had decided that I would sleep in my rain gear to stay warm and just unpack my wet sleeping bag so that it could start drying. When I got the sleeping bag out of its stuff-sack, it was completely dry. I couldn’t believe it, and yet I did, because I do believe in miracles.

It was 1 am by then, I was only 8 miles from Stehekin and feeling a happiness of a magnitude I hadn’t experienced since the early days in the desert. I felt rejuvenated and walked much stronger for the rest of the trail to Canada after that day. Spending three hours at the Stehekin Bakery also helped ….

… Still more to tell … but this is all for now.
XOX – TheBobcat.

Washington – Kryptonite

One of the Universe’s funnest games is to prove me wrong in whatever I claim to know about myself.  In my last post, for example, I claimed to have thru-hiker super-powers. I can walk 30 miles a day and sustain 4 miles per hour, I told my friends. The next day, I walked across the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River, the border between Oregon and Washington and found out that a villain had planted kryptonite in the thick green underbrush that accompany the trail for most of Washington. My God, Washington is steep! Suddenly completing a 20 mile-day was an impossible feat.

I had heard that Washington was the hardest section, but I assumed this stemmed from a trail burnout state of mind. This was partially the case for me. Entering Washington felt like the beginning of the end. The exuberant joy of my desert days were a thing of the past, the stage where the trail felt like my living room was fading, the next stop actually was Canada. Canada – wow! My friend Weathercarrot had come to the bridge of the Gods to wish me a happy birthday and walk a few miles with me. When he pointed out that I had less than 500 miles to go, I broke down into tears.

With 500 miles to go, I felt heartbroken to have to leave the trail, ever. But the trail provides all that is needed, even if what is needed is the incentive to leave it. With 400 miles to go, I grew more excited about the prospect of a real bed and flush toilets. With 300 miles to go, I had to acknowledge how tired my body was and began fantasizing about sleeping for entire days once the trail was over. With 200 miles to go, I became tired of the solitude for the first time. I joined a group briefly, but that didn’t work for me either. I longed to see my off-trail friends. With 100 miles to go, I did not want to do *this* at all anymore. I didn’t want to walk, or dig a hole to poo, or eat another fuel-stove meal, or have another nuts and fruit snack break. I was done. Except I wasn’t, so I kept on going. Whereas at the beginning of this journey I berated myself for missing even the tiniest part of the trail to day-dreaming, music playing or other mind-distracting activity, here I was in one of the most beautiful sections of the trail doing all I could to forget where I was. I turned to ipods, internal mind-games, even counting marching ants (they go walking one by one, hurrah, hurrah …). Occasionally I stopped and looked around, then invariably felt guilty for my lack of appreciation and apologized to the trees and mountains.

For months, I had loved every step, sight and day on the trail. With 100 miles to go, I hit the proverbial “last mile”. Quitting wasn’t an option for me. It actually never even entered my mind. I might have been done, but I wasn’t about to not complete the trail. Instead, I found ways to distract and entertain myself. One day, I climbed on a ridge to get cell reception and called my off-trail friends (and discovered that all of them were at work – wait, what day is it?) The next day, I stopped for two and a half hours by Greg and John’s fire. They were two hunters with enough food for a small army. Not only did they cook me a sumptuous meal, including elk sausage of their own hunt, but also loaded my food bag with cheese, chocolate, nuts and yummy gummy bears. The next day, I laid on a grassy meadow with my friend Bow Leg and didn’t leave for several hours. I also slept in, stopped before dark, and indulged in long flower photo shoots. I didn’t hike more than 17 miles a day that whole stretch. After all these short days, I felt deflated. I wasn’t sure I still had the walking super-power of which I had boasted just a few weeks prior, and I was falling dangerously behind on my schedule if I wanted to meet Deborah at Rainy Pass on time. So, the next day, I walked 40 miles.

Next … the 40.

Done deed

2012 PCT thru-hike completed. Distance hiked: 2,663 mi (4,286 km). Finish date: September 29th, noon-ish.

Terminus companions were Blue Girl (Deborah) who joined me at RainyPass, Nugio and Pounce, whom I met a few days prior, Oregon, whom I met in Oregon, a day past Ashland and Shutterbug and Northstar, whom I met way back in the desert then didn’t see again for several months until our paths crossed again and repeatedly for the last four days.

There is two more stories to come. I just need to write them, I’ve been indulging in a wild Bobcat’s sleep schedule (18 to 20 hours a day, with occasional breaks to catch prey).

All is well. I miss the trail and am glad to be off simultaneously. More soon …

 

Reintegration inoculation

This week is my birthday week. I will be 42 in two days … I’ve been milking it for all it’s worth. My arrival at the Timberline Lodge, on beautiful Mount Hood, coincided with Labor Day weekend, so I decided to take a zero (0 miles, rest day) in Portland to rest my feet and eat something else than Ramen.

Seeing my friend Ana walk up the paved trail that joins up to the PCT was surreal. Here she was, hair done, perfect makeup, perfect fashionable outfit, perfect high heel shoes, a vision out of a magazine, smelling delicious, but unlike anything you’d smell in the woods. and here I was a happy thru-hiker. Of all my ratted hair, torn pants, tapped pack and other hiking side-effects, the smell was what offended her most about me. She lovingly insisted that “we need to get you cleaned up. You can’t go out in public like this.” I actually don’t smell as bad as some of the other hikers. My pack does a bit. The foam’s acquired a bit of a funk in the muggy heat of  the early Oregon days (it’s in the wash as I type this). Her insistence to have me “cleaned up” and more conformable to society’s standards bothered me a bit. We all get attached to our self-image sometimes. I love the trail, and I love who I am on the trail. Melissa is pretty cool, but the Bobcat is free-er, wilder, greater. I like that I smell like dirt, twigs and sweat. I like that my feet’s calluses are permanently black, with encrusted dirt that cannot be washed away. I love that my life weighs less than 20 Lbs and comes with a different scenery everyday. I love the people who live in my world, and the fact that I feel like a super-hero, and have been treated as such for the past 5 and a half month … but I’ll get to this.

So, I got cleaned up, and Ana and I went out to some of the best restaurants in Portland. Hanging out with one of my best friends was like a dream. The whole scene was like a dream. People looked so clean that they seemed fake. It’s not so much that I didn’t fit in as much as I wasn’t in. If you watch fancy people on the red carpet of the Oscars night on TV, it really doesn’t matter that you are laying on your couch at home in sweat pants. That’s how I felt. My dirty trail shoes and unwashed hair were absolutely irrelevant to the scene at hand. I wasn’t there, but I was fascinated and probably staring more than was appropriate. The strangest part was the sudden anonymity. Even in trail towns, I am still a hiker in a town. People either know, guess or are curious about thru-hikers. Then come the questions. Where are you hiking from? WOAH! Mexico – what!?? You’re going how far!? Canada! – that’s amazing! Congratulations! Those who know usually have an envious awe. “I’ve always wanted to, but now <insert excuse>”. Those who look at us in disbelief at first, but since we look the part, they must in the end expand their mind to accommodate the new information that there are pretty normal looking people out there who can walk from Mexico to Canada. You get used to being a super-hero really fast. But there I was in Portland, wearing jeans and without a pack, completely unspectacular. On one hand, I didn’t like being anonymous, but on the other hand, there is a strange internal strength that comes from knowing you can do exceptional things, even when nobody else can tell. I think that’s how Clark Kent and Peter Parker cope with it.

Truth is, I actually don’t feel that exceptional. I walked over 2000 miles. So? I have girlfriends fire-fighters, ultra-marathon runners, single moms and full time workers. Those are the people who deserve the super-hero capes. Me, I am mostly indulging in the most open-space unbridled freedom I have ever experienced. That really doesn’t require any special skill or extra fortitude. I’m at the point now where I have seen many friends leave the trail. I wouldn’t be one of them. I feel too much joy out there. As Maddog said, there are days when your Serotonine is through the roof. I like to think of it as perfect alignment with my higher Self. In either case, for those of us for whom the trail provides the greatest joy we have ever experienced, quitting would be challenging; walking 2650 miles is the easy path.  There are, of course, some things about the off-trail world I miss, and getting a taste of civilization for 30-some hours brought them back to mind. I miss sleeping. I’m just really tired these days. I just want to get off trail and sleep for a month, and not walk anywhere. I miss driving, mochas, earrings, movies, flush toilets, friends you can visit, food that isn’t cooked with just hot water, fresh fish, beds long enough for your body including feet and head (I sleep on a very comfy pad, but it’s a small, and I’m taller than a small). Huh … That’s actually it.

On my second day in town, my friends Dacia and Matt treated Weathercarrot (who is off-trail in Portland) and me to an amazing four-course meal that included steak, two different kinds of raw fish dishes, fresh-made pina colada and other wonderfulnesses. In one fell swoop that covered almost all the things I had been craving, including time with off-trail friends. Dacia released me to the wild the next morning, right where Ana had picked me up. I felt like I had gone home. There are even more things about the on-trail world I will miss when this is all over, like freedom, open skies, mind-boggling vistas, quirky instant random trail friendships, fresh water straight out of streams, the smell of dirt and pine trees and flowers, the comfort of knowing what today’s task is (walking!). I will miss having my entire life in a pack and knowing I have all I need, nothing more, nothing less. I will miss peace.

Yesterday, I took the Eagle Creek alternate route, which features waterfalls every 5 minutes – funny, just the day before Panama Red was telling me he felt there weren’t many waterfalls on the PCT. Well, I hope he took the alternate. There is even one with a tunnel, so you can walk underneath the waterfall. So cool! – where was I? Oh yeah. At one of the waterfalls, I sat down for a snack. Since it’s my birthday week, I treated myself to a resupply at Trader Joe’s. My food bag is ri-di-cu-lous! It is unnecessarily heavy for a three-day section, which I ended up doing in two days anyways. I’ve got dried pineapples, pumpernickel pretzels, sugar lemon cookies, heavy Indian pre-cooked meals, and more. Mmmh mmmh mmmh. I sat with my ridiculous delicious food bag for a while and was amazed that I was even there. The green all around me was so vibrant, the water so clear and refreshing, the silence so pervasive. If there is an image of peace, I think I was sitting in it. These are the moments on the trail that I will likely never adequately be able to share with you, not with words, nor with photos. They just need to be experienced. I often feel a state of euphoric joy when I first leave town. I think it stems from a combination of proper nutrition and a sense of returning home. This time, the section was so short that it was carried over from Portland to Cascade Locks. I have it right now. It’s like internal heaven.

Another reason for my state of euphoria is all those volcanoes. Oh, volcanoes everywhere!! The Jefferson wilderness and the Sisters were some of the most scenic sections of the trail. I loved California, but Oregon I must say takes the cake for mountain vistas … and I haven’t even gotten to the big volcanoes I know and love. Washington might yet prove to be where my mind explodes from too much beauty. Already, yesterday I could see Adams, Rainier and St. Helens in one vista, right before entering the Columbia River Gorge, and that is after two days of being on or in plain sight of Mt. Hood. I just love the Cascades so much. I am definitely a Pacific Northwest girl. The vegetation has been morphing to the lush greens of my Bellingham home and the weather is turning to a crisp cold in the morning. If you are on Facebook, you’ve seen the photos. Fall is definitely approaching fast, if not here already.

Less than 500 miles to go, one more season (fall), a handful of volcanoes, and still friends to meet and surprises in store. One month of walking left.  I am not ready for the trail to end yet. I might never be ready …

May you all follow your dreams and find yourself with dirt under your nails occasionally – except you Ana, you wouldn’t like it 🙂

XOX – TheBobcat.

 

All downhill from here

“I was fair as the summer day
Now the summer days are through
You pass through places
And places pass through you
But you carry ’em with you
On the souls of your travellin’ shoes”
(The BeGood Tanyas, “The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs”)
(in my music collection thanks to Jen Wright).

The miles are going by so fast now. I was in Ashland, complaining that the library there wasn’t allowing me enough time to write a story to share with you, just a minute ago it seems. Half of Oregon is already gobbled, now nothing more than memories, photos and wear on my shoes – oh, and smoke in my lungs. We have been blocked by fire closure after fire closure since we entered Oregon. To mix it up a bit, I avoided the forest service’s recommended road walks by bushwhacking and linking up non-PCT trails. As long as it takes us north, no rule* is violated.

I have been hiking mostly alone, except for those fire detours. The first fire detour I navigated with Weathercarrot, my friend of 1200 miles or so now – a miracle given the size of both our need for space; the second with the handsome Maddog. Maddog and I have been playing catch up without ever catching each other since we last hung out on the tallest point in the lower 48, a good place for a meeting. This is one of the greatest gift this trail offers its thru-hikers: the temporal space to get to know amazing human beings. In the off-trail world, friendships have to be build piece-meal over the course of months or years of short interactions, but out here, we have the opportunity to hang out all day and all night, for however long we chose to (or can keep up with) . We sleep under the same mountain shadow, fire up our fuel stoves at the same time and test each other’s ramen noodle enhanced dish of the day. We can talk or walk in silence with each other for hours, and laugh and cry and share, or not, like we do in the outside wold with only our closest of friends. I have loved everyone I have met on this trail so far. I had a nemesis, but now we are friends again – that’s unfortunate, now I have to find another nemesis. The trail attracts the kind of people I would like anyway, but also, I have been very happy since Campo and have some serious love-goggles on for the whole world. That is fine by me. May we all have love-goggles on more often. Reality is whatever we chose to see it as anyway.

I did go through a day or two of “funk” back in the northern California forest – that “Virginia blues” of which I wrote whenever I wrote last. That didn’t last too long for me. Oregon has provided mind-boggling beautiful views every day. The vegetation changes constantly, more and more volcanoes are silhouetted in the orange light filtered through the smoke in the air, and because we are all hiking more miles than we ever did, towns are coming by faster, which means less food to carry, so lighter packs, so less foot pain, so more fun. It all works out, perfectly and in the proper time-frame.

My experience isn’t a universal hiker’s experience, however. Most of us are getting stronger, faster and more motivated by the impeding finish line (still 650 miles away), but I also have friends forced to get off-trail temporarily due to giardia, stress fractures, or the need to recover from trail burnout; a few have quit, some are thinking about it. I do not take my good health, high spirits or happy feet for granted, not by a long shot.

This library computer is cutting me off.
I will be in Washington before I have a chance to write again. I will also be turning 42. 41 was friggin’ amazing and I can’t imagine 42 will be any less wonderful. Yay for the forties!

Thank you for visiting, whoever you are, my 70+ readers!

Love to you! and happy trails.

XOX – TheBobcat

Halfway!

Okay, I have 15 minutes left … and Go!

I have passed the halfway point. That is the ‘miles’ halfway point; with the faster pace I am currently keeping, the halfway point is less than halfway in time spent on the trail. And still I am not out of California. Pretty close though.

I’ve hit that mental place in the trail they call “the Virginia Blues” on the Appalachian trail. Trail friends are quitting, other are just unmotivated. For me it takes on the form of a greater incentive to get home. I miss Bellingham. I miss Baker. And still there is no place I’d rather be than on the PCT. There are days when I don’t feel like walking, but I still do, and then I love it again. Whereas the trail was once the main focus of my adventure, it is now home, a backdrop against which my growth, exploration and experiences take place. Do you still “see” that coffee table as you walk through your living room? Sometimes you do, but most often, you walk by with other things on your mind. That’s what it’s like, except the coffee table is a wondrous piece of art that is different everyday.

Oh, and speaking of wondrous pieces of art. I am in the Cascades. Wooohooo! Yay! Volcanoes!!! I was so happy when I first caught sight of Lassen Peak. We could see it abotu 5 days before we got to it. I climbed a cinder cone, I stood in the sulphur of a geyser, visited boiling pools of mud and felt right at home. Lassen passed us on to Shasta, like a relay stick. Shasta now looms so large above the trail that it takes up most of the northern horizon. From here, there are volcanoes all the way, and that is a comforting thought.

Heading on home, 25-30 miles a day at a time.
I love my life.

I have much more to share, but my library time is almost up and I am off to go see a movie with Sidhartha and Weather Carrot.
Have I mentionned I love my life? 🙂

Happy Holy Day of Obligations to the woman I love most – you know who you are 🙂

XoXo – TheBobcat.

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