The last frontiers: Alaska, menopause and ascension.

I’ve been shifting – transforming. I’ve known some process was at hand, but I didn’t know what I was shifting into. And I might still not know, but I will write about it anyway.

I came to Alaska because the thought of doing so caused me such joy that I knew it was right. It was a case of ultimate follow-your-bliss, with a potency similar to what propelled me to walk the PCT or write Crazy Free. Pure must-do.

I came, and now I am leaving again, with no regrets. The long meditative miles, the physical work at the ranch and the Alaska environment precipitated the shift. Or maybe the time simply had come. I’ve been told that, from the outside, my life looks like constant uprooting. It seems chaotic, unsettled, maybe even pointless. Am I lost? Looking for something? Drifting aimlessly from place to place?

“You drove all the way to Alaska, only to turn around. That makes no sense.”
Sense is not something I concern myself with. Only growth interests me.

This is really 3 posts in one, but I view them as inseparable. As within, so without. Alaska was a perfect backdrop for the life metamorphosis I have embarked upon, which is a stepping stone experience in my greater quest for higher consciousness.

Alaska

alaska1My two favorite things about Alaska are the trees and the people, for opposite reasons.

The trees here carry some of the gentlest energy of any forest I have been lucky to meet. I mistakenly interpreted their short stature as the result of logging when I first arrived. But the land is so vast, it was unlikely that all of it could have been logged. Then I learned of the growth limit imposed on their roots by the frozen ground of intense winters. Trees can only grow as tall as their roots will support – the same is true for humans. Such gentle trees adapted to such harsh conditions. I have enjoyed their company and learning about the medicine they offer, and I will miss them when I leave.

The people here are some of the hardiest I’ve met. If it’s needed, it must be designed, built, foraged, trapped, hunted, raised, grown or self-created somehow. Summer lasts three months. The rest of the year is a dark and cold game of survival in which humans and Nature are on equal footing. This common vulnerability breeds strength, community, respect and humility. When I first arrived, I saw a world of diesel fumes, barb wires, guns and dead beasts’ skins. But it only took meeting a few locals to realize my preconception-perception goggles were distorted.  The cycle of life is simply streamlined from birth to table, and it is entirely in plain view. There are no hidden massive production, transportation, packaging, marketing, shelving. There is also little waste. Resources are too scarce to waste. When a beast is killed, necessary food is provided. When trees are cut, a cabin is built. When a cabin is dismantled, all pieces are saved for the next project.

When I said hardy, I did not mean harsh. As anyone knows who has lived off-the-grid, the smaller the community, the tighter the bond. The size of Alaskans’ hearts are a match for the land. The mountains, tundra and all of wild Alaska are breath-taking. But the real gold here, I found, is the people. I learned a lot here, especially from Goose and Pinky, the caretakers at the ranch, and masters at dancing the fine line between adventure and homesteading. I will see them again. Alaska is only a few gorgeous thousand miles away. My little trail brother, Kristo the Lion, has found home here and will be staying. Another reason to come back and visit some day.

I always wanted to come to Alaska, and now I have. If I had landed here when I was 25 years old, I probably would have stayed. But my days of needing to prove myself have passed. I just know I could thrive here, and therefore I don’t need to choose to experience it, not even for one summer. There is only so much lifetime left and priorities of experiences must be made. Which brings me to the next topic …

Menopause

Woman-Goddess-Nut-by-Maya-CointreauI think it is reasonable to assume that I can and will live to 94 years old. Which makes this year, 2017, the exact middle of my life. When I look back at everything I have created so far for myself, I get stupidly teary-eyed with gratitude. But just when I thought I had finally reached my cruising speed and altitude, comfortable in my own skin and living my dream of a nomadic off-the-grid life, metamorphosis began again.

My favorite thing about menopause so far are the hot flashes. Seriously. The sensation is similar to drinking a good whiskey, except instead of a traceable warmth down the throat and into the belly, the heat radiates from any starting location in the body and expands until it fills it fully. I love to watch it spread, like the flow of a private inner hot spring. The covers fly off. And 5 minutes later, I’m scrambling to gather them back. Hot flashes make me giggle.

The other physical symptoms, I love less. I traded periods for monthly migraines, which prompted me to research natural medicine with a greater sense of urgency. My eye-sight acuity is now inconsistent, but my sense of smell is keener, which makes working on a hog ranch a real challenge. My brain gets cloudy. Some days, I’m just plain dumb. Functionally dumb – I can still read about and understand the intricacies of quantum physics, but I just can’t fathom how to put that pin in that hole that ties the whatchamacallit to the tractor, or remember where I put my glasses. My physical strength so far seems unaffected. “The old that is strong does not wither” (Bilbo Baggins). She might not wither, but neither is she thinner. I can walk, shovel or dig all day until my muscles are pumped and my core is solid. And still, the good bits sag and the middle thickens.

The greatest ride of this metamorphosis, however, is in my mind. All the moody moons of the past decades culminate now. And I cannot falter in my self-awareness or the thoughts take over and drive me nuts. All the stored repressed feelings, fear, guilt, shame, etc. are coming up, amplified. Menopause – isn’t that what happens to old people? Should I prepare myself for the crone stage of life? I’m probably too fat to be loved anyway. I should just be a spinster with a bun on my head and a cat on my lap in a rocking chair. I watch thoughts and feelings arise, and breathe through them until they move on. It helps me to think of it as a detoxification process. Whatever I see is no longer hidden. Like with a thru-hike pack shakedown, I get a chance to decide what I want to carry for the next leg of the journey, or not. It took 47 years to acquire and store all these internal dramas, so I expect the process might take a little while. But I’m on it – like a hawk.

I created most of the experiences of the first half of my life unconsciously. Given the same number of years forward, and now in full awareness, if I do this transition right, the second half of my life should be spectacular.

Ascension

Accessing_Higher_Levels_of_Consciousness__WOUNDS_David_Icke__GrEENZILLA__158215Ascension is a funny term with unfortunate religious connotations. I’m not physically ascending anywhere or leaving my physical body to become a “light being”. Like the trees, I am growing deeper roots so my canopy can reach higher. Higher what? Higher vibrational frequencies, higher levels of self-awareness, higher consciousness and clearer perception of how and why I create what I perceive to be reality.

It’s an ongoing growth journey. And each stage (an arbitrary division on a continuum) seems like an achievement. But I have long understood that enlightenment is a verb, not a destination. And anything I think, say or write, could be revealed as over-simplistic or inaccurate at the next stage. The climb itself is the sought-after experience, not the standing at the summit. Which is why I still use the term “ascension”.

While my body was exploring the rawness of Alaska, and my mind releasing the densest stored energies about and within me, a new knowing entered my consciousness. I felt it coming for a while. I’ve been feeling restless and unsettled. Then one morning, at 4 am, it revealed itself – “The mind that sees all paths, sees the map, and therefore no longer needs to choose a path.”

The understanding that came with it was visceral and wordless with ramifications extending to all experiences and connections past, present and future. The vantage point extended beyond (and including) the body, the self, the higher self to Source itself.  The timeless blue-print behind the script of reality and the scaffolding of beliefs through which stories are told about the script, are in my own handwriting. Like a beating heart, consciousness expands and contracts from self to Source and back again. Because it is more exciting “down here” and less chaotic “up there”. On the screen of my mind, the world is a perfect reflection of everything I am -everything that composes “me”- and vice versa – “my” experiences and “my” self (the experiencing part of consciousness) are locked in a chicken-and-egg dance, an Ouroboros meal. Why create reality? Absolutely everything is a choice of an experience, a keystone detail, the most important thing ever to exist. That’s why.

And, simultaneously, none of it matters … including this so-called ascension process. All of it is make-pretend. How awesome and freeing is that? No need to work so hard to manifest/create something better. It’s already perfect and inconsequential. “There is nowhere to go, nothing to see, no one to meet, nothing to read.” (Christopher Loren)

So, let’s just have fun with it. I get to be a middle-aged goddess. And I get to live in Alaska for another day or so, before the truck and I point south again, to Nelson, British Columbia, for the next adventure.

Some people take drugs for insights … I drive 3000 miles every month ūüôā

May all your creating be delicious.
Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

XOX

Roaming Bobcat.

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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.
IMG_3655
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.
IMG_3722
2,800 miles in 3 days later. I live on a ranch in Alaska.

Wow.

And so it begins …

Alaska!

Wow, this is it! Tomorrow morning, first thing, the truck points North, up the Al-Can, across Yukon and to Alaska. Destination known. Return uncertain.

I still can’t believe it.

Seriously, 2 months ago, I changed the background on my laptop to a picture of Denali. I figured the constant visual reminder would help me manifest a trip north. As the Roaming Bobcat, I can go anywhere, anytime. But to Alaska, I didn’t want to go alone – because such beauty should be shared – and I didn’t want to go as a tourist – because I’d quickly run out of money, and then what? And it all landed on my lap perfectly, better than I could have asked. Someone quit, a team of two was needed, Kristo (one of my favorite people in the whole wide world) was on his way to take one of the positions, and I was at the exact right place, along the way, at the exact right time, when the other man quit.

Our destination is a yak-hog-alpaca ranch in Gakona, ran by a couple of thru-hikers. They were 3 days behind me on the PCT in 2012. I never met them, but Kristo did. The Cats (Lion and The Bobcat)’ first task will be to build an outdoor shower – it seems we need to build it, if we want to shower – then a long fence around a large pasture, then we’ll get the pasture ready for the animals.

The couple at¬†the ranch, Goose¬†and Pinky,¬†systematically tried to dissuade me from taking the job. There is no social life whatsoever, they¬†said. The nearest town is¬†5 hours away. Trips to town for groceries are¬†once every six weeks. The ranch is at the edge of the St. Elias mountain range – the largest continuous wilderness preserve in the world. There are¬†wolves, grizzlies, and mosquitoes so fierce that I’ll go crazy before the large predators can get to me anyway. The perimeter of the property is guarded by geese (which scare me more than wolves or bears), but any intrusive predator will be shot on sight (to the girl who feels murderous pulling weeds out of a garden!) Also, the sun set for the last time 3 days ago. It will be daylight 24 hours a day when I get there, and the sun will not set again until after I leave. Most people feel too isolated, and quit.

I heard “adventure, more adventure, best adventure ever!” and my heart almost exploded from excitement. It’s like my life was waiting at the train station, feeling a little stagnant, and looking at the time table and wondering which train, out of the infinite number of possibilities, it should jump on. And then I saw it. It was blindingly shiny, and I ran and yelled “I want on, wait for me” and jumped up at the very last second. And I can’t even believe how lucky I was to catch it. But now, it’s going and all my life choices have been reduced to one certitude.

Rapunzel, the lady of the organic farm where I spent the last 3 months, prepared for me an assortment of seeds and plant starts. There will be no fresh greens at the ranch, unless I plant and grow them. I also have some mung beans sprouts growing in a tupperware and a fresh batch of kombucha brewing in a crate next to my bed in the back of the truck. It should be ready right when I get there, and I’ll be discreet about it.

Goose and Pinky warned me, “We don’t want to be the weird hippies up on the hill”. The county of Gakona is home to conservative authentic Alaskans, about 3 of them per square miles. I can expect big trucks, wolf skins and “Vote for Trump” signs. We make no waves. We don’t engage in political debates. This is important.¬†I’m thinking that if I meet a man wearing a wolf skin, I will likely have a lot of questions, and none of them of a political nature.

So, that’s a full inventory of what I know about what I’m getting into. I should have wifi at the ranch. And I am expecting there will be stories.

In about 10 minutes, five friends from the PCT, class of 2012, will arrive at the farm for a mini family reunion and to send Kristo and the Bobcat off to Alaska in style, so I leave you here for now.

May all your adventures be spectacular.

Wooohooooo hoooo hoooo!

XOXO – TRBCMount Mckinley
(the picture that started it all – from Google)

AT D-01. Pre-partum

Last minute inventory. Gear is packed. Check. Truck has a home for 5 months. Check. Bobcat is ready … question mark.

I don’t actually have a choice. The thought of not walking the trail makes me much too sad to even consider. But, this is definitively a different trail, and I am definitively a different person.

When I say I’m a “different person”, I don’t mean the gentle meme version with the inspirational quote about embracing change and¬†one’s¬†natural evolution. No, this past week I went through a complete alien takeover. The alien who¬†occupied my body was a freaked out basket case. Suddenly, I was afraid of encountering¬†bears, of getting Giardia from unfiltered water, of running out of money, of being lonely out in the woods, of sleeping¬†on hard, cold ground, and of feeling trapped in the green tunnel for months. My foot started to hurt, the tip of my pole bent, my headlamp disappeared, I couldn’t get a ride to Katahdin. I cried a few times and hid in my truck in the woods. Total dismantling of the Bobcat I know. Where was the superhero cape wearing fearless woman of the PCT, the one who¬†talks to bear and filters water by loving it?

The new moon has come and gone. I survived the wave of doubts. Not sure what that was all about. Maybe it was the moon. Maybe I was PMSing. Maybe the sudden contrast between the desert southwest and all this New England green threw me off. Or maybe the AT was sizing me up. It sent its thought-form ambassadors ahead to run through my mind¬†every possible horror scenario to¬†see if I’d shrivel away. Meet the guardian at the gate, the first selective round¬†before being granted the privilege of walking the trail.

I’m glad I freaked out. I needed to be certain.¬†Decisions made in the desert need not always be upheld in the forest,¬†and I am committed to following my heart even¬†when it changes its mind. If I had discovered that I no longer wanted to walk, I would have postponed or canceled without qualms. But through the fears, doubts and obstacles, my¬†AT dream remains.¬†I passed the first test and was rewarded with my first bundle of trail magic, all delivered within a 24 hour period. The moment I said “Yes, I’m walking this trail, no matter what. Even if I have to beg, hitchhike, fast, hunt and limp.”the sky opened up and fireflies filled it. I have a ride to Katahdin, an unexpected rise in book sales royalties, new tips for my poles, a gift of a new headlamp and some Arnica for my foot. All will be well after all.

I start the AT where others finish. My first carry will be¬†my heaviest and longest of the whole trail. 8 days through the hardest and¬†most remote section – the 100 mile Wilderness. I feel like I’m stepping in complete unknown once again. Man oh man. Excited, scared, psyched, nervous, rapidly¬†cycling on repeat.

I suppose it wouldn’t be as fun if it wasn’t scary. Right?

Next post will be from the trail …

 

 

 

 

Appalachian Trail. Gear Check.

[Update … wooohoooohoo. Got some heat for that post. I’ve removed the “adopt a cat” (donation) button at the bottom of the post. Sensitive business, I guess, suggesting others help you fund your hike. I’ve supported others in the past, so I thought nothing of it. Now I know. Hey, it’s all good. I was just trying something new, and apparently it doesn’t fit. The AT is happening, regardless. I have left the missing bits in red. I’m not suggesting anyone get them for me – Cheers!]

AT GEAR LIST (in red are the missing bits)
Planned start 7/4/2016 – Kathadin, southbound Maine to Georgia.

The big 4:
Shelter – Six Moon Trekker – 24 oz
I only used a bivy bag on the PCT, and cowboy-camped every night until mid-Washington.
For the AT, I expect a lot more “weather”. I just purchased Onager’s (PCT 2012) tent. A sweet Six Moon Trekker with side entrance.
Pack – Ray Way home-made pack – ~ 11 oz
I meant to use my home-made pack again on the AT, but the trip to Cuba finished it off – it’s time to let it go. It came back from Cuba held together by Duct Tape, and I had to put a pack cover over it while hitchhiking across the US because potential rides thought me a homeless person. I’ll be sewing a new one, same design, same color, same belt.
$89 for the fabric and instructions from Ray Way website.
Sleeping bag – Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree mummy bag – 16 oz
My Western Mountaineering love will be of the journey again. I’ve been sleeping in that bag since 2011, almost nightly. It’s a little thin and flattened. Western Mountaineering suggested I wash it 4 times with Dr. Bronner’s soap to get all the oil out of the feathers. The first wash did fluff it up a bit, I’ll keep going. If I’m still cold in it, they’ll put feathers back in the bats for a maximum of $30.
Sleeping pad – Therma-rest Trail Scout 3/4 length – 14 oz
The same one I had on the PCT. I place my pack under my feet to complete the length to 5’4″. I sleep well on it.
==> ~ 4 Lbs

Kitchen
My thru-hike cooking system is the exact same one I use in the truck every day. I’m actually a thru-hiker on wheels:
Alcohol stove with aluminum wind screen, denatured alcohol bottle, REI 1.2 L titanium pot with lid and 1 nalgene bottle to make hot water bottles on chilly nights and for re-hydration the rest of the time.
I will use the same water purification system I used on the PCT – hold the water to my heart and ask “Please don’t make me sick. I love you. Thank you.” It’s worked so far.
==> ~ 1.7 Lbs with a filled fuel bottle

Ditty bag for the day
The same one I had on the PCT, which I also use in the truck.
Plastic spoon, pocket knife, lighter, MP3 player, headphones.
I’m leaving the harmonica behind this time, replacing it with an iphone and a way to charge said iphone on the trail so that I may write stories on the go.
Need – solar charger? battery pack? Not sure how to work this out yet.
==> ~ 5 oz before the phone and charging system TBD

Ditty bag for the night
The same one I had on the PCT, which I also use in the truck.
Small journal, 2 pencils, headlamp, toothbrush+toothpaste (REI Toob – love it!), clean wipes, small bottle of Purell (or hippy equivalent).
Because there are so many towns along the AT, I won’t carry a supply of tampons or spare batteries as I did on the PCT.
I will add some coconut oil in a small container, which will serve both for cooking, lotion, hair conditioner and other things (“other things” ‚ėļ )
==> ~ 10 oz before the coconut oil. I need to find a tight, lightweight container for it.

Clothes
I’m still sitting on this. I have everything I need and could look exactly as I did on the PCT – Prana hiking pants, blue home-made tank top, black Patagonia shirt, Patagonia puffy, Mountain hardwear lightweight rain layer, Cascadia 7 shoes. I have all the pieces. They are my “Grand Canyon guide outfit”. But, I’m thinking I’d like to add a little fashion, a little sass, to my AT hike. I’m thinking yoga pants, purple skirt, colorful scarf … they just can’t be cotton is all.
We’ll see what finds me between now and Kathadin …

Misc
My trusted hiking poles will also be of the journey.
I’m thinking about not taking a camera, since I’ll have the phone.
Maps? Are there maps for the AT?
Compass – probably

Food
This is the one area where I foresee my AT hike will be much different from my PCT hike.
I ate well on the PCT, especially compared to others, but still succumbed to the temptation of cheap options, like Ramen, Pasta Sides and such. In my perfect world, there’ll be none of that on the AT. This Bobcat runs on clean food. I am devising a whole food trail diet. I plan on carrying green freshies, raw cacao, chia seeds, almond butter, coconut oil. I am looking for clean proteins beyond packet tuna and canned Vienna sausages.
I can hike the trail on the extremely limited budget I have.
I can hike the trail with a whole food diet and finish healthier than I start – rather than gaunt and with no muscle mass as I have before.
I’m just not sure I can do both.
I’m estimating about $100 a week for food, taking into account the increased quantities needed. This includes no town meals – just me and my food bag. For a 20-week hike, that’s $2000 just for food. Right now I have about $600 and 3 months to departure.
I think it can be done … especially if someone adopts a cat!

Would you like to adopt part of a cat? It can be a small part!
It all goes to the AT fund. If you do, contact me in person, or visit my Crazy Free book page¬†…

Thank you for being in my world!

XOXO – The Roaming Bobcat

appalachiantrail

 

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 good. Hike 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! ūüôā

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 Рwow! 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 …