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.

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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

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.