Trail journal from the most beautiful highway in the world

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

Wow.

And so it begins …

What happened to the professional Marijuana easy gravy train?

So you want to be a trimmigrant? You’ve heard the stories – girl trims weed for a few weeks in October, makes $5000 and writes or travels for the rest of the year, every year. Or maybe you haven’t heard the stories. Maybe you’ve been following blogs and instagrams of adventurers from behind your desk job and wondering, “How the hell …?”

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Well, it turns out most of us are not independently wealthy. Somewhere along the line, we just got lucky, fell into an experience at the right farm, at the right illegal time. We found the rocky Marijuana trimming gravy train, and tried our best to stay on it.

That’s how it started for me anyway. I had never heard of trimming, and as a non-Marijuana user, I had no reason to run into anyone in that world. A friend of mine got the job – a “job down south”, he said, vaguely – and asked if I could watch his cat during his absence for a few weeks. When a bar-tending job appeared for him in Portland, my cat-sitting gig disappeared, so I jokingly asked “Can I have your job down south then?” I wasn’t expecting “Maybe. Let me see.” … 24 hrs later, I was pulling into the farm, still completely clueless as to what “job” I had just landed. I didn’t care. I had just finished walking the PCT, was riding the greatest spiritual high of my life (yet) and had absolute trust that anything the Universe provided was for the Greater Good.

That fall, I worked at 4 different farms over the course of 2 and a half weeks. The pay ranged from $17 to $35 an hour, depending on experience. I fell into the good graces of the main man on the first day and started at $20/hr. This was standard at the time. Smaller farms paid trimming by the pound. $200 a pound was not uncommon. Either way, at $20/hr on 12 to 17 hr long days, or several pounds a day, money flowed fast and easily, no experience needed, just tenaciousness and stamina.

I loved the work instantly. As a provider of medical marijuana, the outfit was legal by the laws of the time. Card-holding medical marijuana patients could defer their growing needs to a professional grower. 6 plants per patient, 4 growers per farm, so 96 plants per farm. We worked outdoors,  in forests of luxuriant, beautiful, 10 feet tall plants. I felt an instant kinship to these plants, a natural heart-bond. I learned about cannibanoids, turpines, CBDs, and how they match the human brain’s receptors. I saw how tinctures and teas made from the THC-free leaves can cure cancer, aids, glaucoma, etc. I understood the spiritual significance of the plant in human evolution, and bemoaned the mundanity with which most stoners approach the medicine. I became an advocate for the complete legalization of the plant, even though, to this day, I cannot myself partake in the smoking or eating of it – (see Tripping Balls). Little did I know I was supporting the death of the Golden Goose.

The outfit was legal and the plants were legit. Sort of. Any surplus after the medical patients had their need fulfilled was wrapped in vacuumed sealed packs inside dog food bags and driven off to more prosperous places to be sold on the black market. That’s how the farm earned enough to pay us so much. And that is why utter discretion about the work was mandatory. Helicopters flew overhead daily, sending most workers to hide. I have no doubt that our license plates were noted, checked and tracked. I never felt unsafe – exhilarated by the danger, maybe, but not unsafe. I felt I was “sticking it to the Man”, part of an sub-culture of free-thinkers, and out of “the System”. I left the farm with a fat $3000 envelop and an invitation to return the next year.

A few weeks later, the main man was held at gunpoint and all the weed was stolen. Complete ruin. The main man paid us all anyways, and new plants were planted.

The following year, weed trimming wasn’t even on my mind. By harvest time, I was working in Colorado restoring historical windows when an invitation came in from my favorite grower. There was a special plant – the Ice Princess – a rare strain of 100% Sativa straight from Jamaica. She was grown for ceremonial purposes only. She was sung to, praised and loved every day for her whole life since seed. And she could only be harvested by women who understood Her sacredness. I grabbed my Colorado coworker and little Soul Sister and drove straight to the farm where the Ice Princess lived. The main man assumed I was there for the general harvest and I thought, “why not? I can use a few thousand grands.”

But things had changed. Stress was about the farm and much money needed to be recouped from the theft of the previous year. A trimming machine had been purchased, so much of the outdoor work was already done. We were just there to clean up the buds. like this …

We sat 50 trimmers on long tables in a closed room under neon lights and the uncompromising eye of one of the main man’s watchdogs. The main man had much else to do and rarely showed, but, on his behalf, the watchdog made sure that the task was as abject as possible. Gangsta’ rap was blasted at full volume to ensure we could not chat – chatting makes you slower. Breaks were timed, greasy food was provided, and if you dared to stretch your neck, a resounding “KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE” greeted your elevated gaze.

Under other circumstances, I might have lasted longer, but I had brought a little sister into the madness, and I felt responsible for her well-being as well as mine. I explored the situation for a few days. I almost quit several times, then found silver linings. I could take this opportunity to learn to trim faster – the watchdog was, after all, one of the fastest trimmers I had ever met. I pleaded for different music, and different food. Some accommodations were made, reluctantly. But my greatest sin was to take a “personal day” off to harvest the Ice Princess. I was not just sticking it to the Man, I was sticking it to the main man. “Bobcat, I love you, but you’re causing trouble.” he said. “You can’t be coddled while everyone else bust their asses.” He tried to fire me, but I quit simultaneously – possibly making me the first person in history to be fired from a pot farm for instigating a rebellion. “What? Do you want a union?” It seemed ludicrous then … but that was then.

The little sister and I drove away that day with a fat envelop each. A few weeks later, the main man was again held at gunpoint and all the weed stolen. Once again, he paid all the workers. Those sure were crazy times, and I was done with that scene. I truly believed I would never trim again.

But that heart-bond the plant and I share magnetizes situations to my life. I never seek it out; it finds me and permeates my world. If I meet a man randomly, he invariably turns out to be a grower or a medical patient or one of the key campaigners in legalizing the plant. How is that? Is there a particular pheromone that people in the weed industry give off that I am particularly attuned to? When Colorado passed legal full recreation Marijuana, one of my best friends quit his daytime job and became an indoor grower. I became his trimmer. I had a whole room filled with veg beauties to myself, my music, my food, my schedule, $20/hr, 10 hr days, for a week … enough to hike the AT. A few months later, I fell off hiking the AT, knocked down by some mysterious disease, and the first job I landed was a trimming job in Maine. That job paid in weed, which I couldn’t smoke, so I sold it to a friend and made just enough to move back out west. The very definition of a trimmigrant.

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California, Oregon, Washington and Maine passed legal full rec. That’s right about when the gravy train derailed. By then, weed trimming had become a staple income in my wallet. If the Grand Canyon tourist season didn’t pan out, Colorado was only 12 hrs away.

Down the street from where my CO grower lived, a couple was shot dead because thieves thought it was a grow house. They had the wrong house, but that incident sparked severe and likely justified paranoia in anyone with more than a few plants. When the plants flower, when they are ready to harvest, the smell is so potent that even from a closed room with incense burning the whole neighborhood is alerted of what lurks in the basement. It is legal, but it is also highly prized, because other states still have flourishing black markets. The speed of harvest is a grower’s best safety. And young stoners are catching on. Colorado now has teams of professional trimmers. $15/hr. They bring enough people to do the job in a day. They work all over the city, a different grow house every day, and therefore have a steady income. But not me – I only had one grower, and if my load is shared with a team of $15/hr trimmers, my income drops from $2000 to $200 a harvest.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, many of the 16,000 growers in Jackson county lost the legal right to grow. Weed is legal, but farms and grow-houses cannot be in residential zones.  The main man for whom I once worked was able to place himself on a commercial zone just in time. He now runs the largest legal grow operation in the area and has a small army of full-time trimmers/operators on staff, whom he pays minimum wages.

And in California’s Humboldt County, once the scene of a mad Green Gold Rush, trimmigrants from all over the states are washing out in towns, jobless and penniless. In Eureka, they gather behind Wall-mart, on the Devil’s Playground, where hundreds of homeless hopefuls have set up camps. I only saw it from a distance, but close enough to break my heart.

After a sad journey through the fallen glory of what once was a lucrative black market, I once again figured I would give up trimming. But just then, Tabitha found me.

Tabitha is a placement agent. Unlike the loose assembly of trimming stoners I met in Colorado, she creates teams of people with skills and respect for the plant. Her vision is to provide adventures and artists a means to finance their dreams, and to supply farms with a sort of elite skilled labor force. She contacts farms, signs contracts and provides paychecks. She offers her teams available gigs, and we get to pick when and where we want to work. She charges the farms more than they pay their own employees, but we make the sticker price worth their while. She pays us $14/hr, much less than the black market, but how many jobs let you travel all over, sleep in your truck, work when you want, and surround you with free-spirited like-minded people?

So, I gave it a shot.

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I did. I actually had to file a W4 and a job application for the first time since 1997. On site, we have to wear gloves and hair cover when we handle the plants. We have mandatory breaks and we pay taxes. I even have my own fiskars and a dedicated work apron. I am no longer a trimmigrant, I am a “professional marijuana processor”. Oh, that Man! He sure knows how to get you back into “The System”.

So, all that to say that if you are one of the people who contacted me, asking if I could “get you in”. Be aware that the gravy train was loaded onto a ship, and that ship has sailed. In those states where it is legal, trimming weed is now a job just like any other one. You won’t make $5000 fast, and it will likely not pay for your next adventure.

There are, however, still a few good reasons why I love doing it … but I’ll save that for another post. 🙂

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(top image by Katie, middle images by Jimmy James and myself, last image by Google).

Lunacy

​Lunacy. A real thing.  Alone on the Wolf Moon in a desert I love,  like so many other nights.  Midnight. A truck full of screaming drunken men races up my dirt road. There’s metal banging.  The engine roars. I can’t tell if the scream is of pain or joy. I feel the fight or flight hormones rushing through. The truck is now open and I’m ready. I could run and hide up the hill.  I know this desert better than they do.  And leave my truck open to vandalism?  Never. What weapons do I have? 1 ice axe, 2 fire staffs. No gun. No need. I wouldn’t shoot. I know this. The screams are closer now. Pots and pans must be tied to the bumper. What feeling is this?  The opposite of feeling safe. Would I feel safer if Jim was here?  I can’t rely on others for my feeling safe. Would I feel safer if I believed I was safe? Yes. I used to believe. I don’t know why it changed. Would I remain aware and believing in a loving, kind universe if these men got here? Fascinated by the inner dialog, I feel it all,  like an observer and a potential victim both.  

They turn around less than 20 feet from the truck. I am parked on a muddy dead end road.  They never saw me.  I find their tracks in the morning. They drove back and forth through the thickest of the mud. They broke some trees and drove over cacti. 

I follow their tracks all the way to the paved road. They were on a rampage. Mayhem and destruction everywhere they drove. I knew their path before I saw it. As they left the desert, I could hear their screams and see their red fading lights for miles. I wished those lights stay red.  Don’t turn around. Don’t come back here,  lunatic wolf moon madmen.

[Reposted here from a Facebook post from a few days ago]

*the Wolf Moon is the first full moon of the year. 

My 32 square foot home – the bedroom

Some day, in a distant future, I might again live indoors, with a ceiling, running water and indoor plumbing. I imagine at that point I’ll look back on my current life and wonder “how the hell did I fit my entire life in 32 sq fit for all these years?” So, in case you are curious too, and since I am cleaning the truck anyway … here is how:

Bed of truck (bedroom)- 6X4 = 24 sq ft
Behind the seats in the cab – 2X4 – 8 sq ft

Part 1 – the bedroom.
20160610_155059Blank canvas. Almost … 6X4 truck bed outfitted with Vision high ceiling cap, 6 climbing bolts (3 on each sides), metal wire shelves and Tibetan prayer flags.

20160610_155238Side shelves, design of my own – plywood sheet cut and joined with piano hinges, rest on the wheel base, held in the bed liner grooves.

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Waterproof barrier. The shell has been leaking for a few years in spite of having the seals redone. This keeps my mattress dry.

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Ikea firm mattress, with zippered cover. Makes it easy to wash.

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1.5″ memory foam – the secret ingredient in the camping->home alchemy.

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Jersey cotton sheet stretch to fit. Regular sheet are almost impossible to get smooth in this setup. The secret ingredient in the home->palace alchemy.

20160610_175359_Richtone(HDR)Lower shelves. On the right, trash bags, winter hiking boots, stove and fuel box (alcohol stove, windscreen, lighter, funnel for fuel and spare straps), zero degree sleeping bag and winter camping pad. On the left, hiking poles, hiking shoes and sun shade for the side windows, bag of climbing gear and mountaineering bivy bag. Bedding goes underneath the shelves when not in use.

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Middle shelves. On the right, bedside basket (toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, pencils, headlamp, solar lantern, solar lamp, pocket knife, assorted crystals, bio-tune tuning fork, Ganesha statue found in the sea on Nantucket island), medicine box (lotion, vitamins, tiger balm). On the left, book shelf (books in progress, coloring books and pencils, local hiking maps, journal). On the shelf-above-the-feet, denatured alcohol (fuel), water ninja (1 gallon, in a tee shirt for protection), kitchen box (pots, pans, etc), food box (including a full spice rack and nice selection of oils and vinegars), nuts and seeds box, small suitcase of clothes. Welcoming mat for the tailgate.

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Top shelves. To the right, tea box (great assortment of green and herbal teas) and wolf-friend, utility box (scissors, batteries, lighters, candles, tampons, sage bundle, pins, compass, pens and pencils, spare reading glasses), towel, bathroom bag. To the left, hats and gloves box, socks box (I’m packed to be gone all winter, possibly for a couple of years), underwear and truck window curtains. Back shelf, jackets (rain and puffies), pants (yoga, work pants and 1 pair of jeans). Protective sheet of plywood slides under the mattress for sleeping.

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Driving mode – the boxes come down from the shelf-above-the-feet for a clear view out the back. Toys come in (2 fire staffs on the right, a hula hoop on the left) and cooler in the back for easy access.

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Final touch for New Hampshire departure. This time I’m also packing a bin of climbing gear (ice climbing tools, ropes, crampons, ice climbing boots, mountaineering boots, harness, helmet, etc …) and a pair of AT skis.

All that is left is to decorate.

“Courage cannot be tested cautiously” (with the sea horse).
“Follow your heart and know you are loved.” (note from Margaret)
The green bungee cord holds the recorder I use to create the audible version of Crazy Free. It hooks to the other side of the truck when in use, rests on the same side when not in use.

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This one is indispensable for extended stays in the desert. It has been on the wall of several brick and mortar bedrooms before gracing the side of the truck.

That’s the bedroom. Next, the living room (cab)).