The Fire Wastelands

I’ve been walking for a month now. I feel like I started yesterday. I feel like I’ve always done this. Simulteneously.

I seriously could write a blog everyday. This is such a rich, eventful environment populated by colorful, diverse people. Life on the trail is the best of all the worlds I love. It’s like being an outdoors expats. Thru-hikers become more than co-workers (if you check on Facebook we all work at “Pacific Crest Trail” – not sure what my official title is or how it will fit on my resume), we’re family. You know, family, not always like friends, like people to which you are connected even when you don’t get along that well. Though I haven’t met one I didn’t like yet.

Because I have too much to say and not enough time to do so. I’ll first answer some comments on the last post, then tell you about the wastelands briefly, and if I don’t get kicked off the computer, I’ll tell you some of the things I’ve learned out here. Lessons from the trail.


Let’s start with Breeze’s Mom. Thank you for reading my crazy posts. I met Breeze the day before I wrote the last post. He slept on the San Andreas fault too, the same night. I left early, right at dawn. A few hours later, like his name implies, he went flying by me. I saw him later chilling in the shade with Danimal and one other hiker whose name I now have forgotten. All three of them went flying past me a few minutes later, as I was doing a little Poodle Dog Bush avoidance dance on the trail. I think it is unlikely I will see him again. He’s one of “the fast ones”, but if I do, it will be my pleasure to pass on your Hello.


Now, for all of you who are worried about my ankles. Last week, as I was wobbling on painful ankles through a particularly badly poison oaks infested part of the trail, I told it (the trail), “No! I will not get poison oaks. I can only handle one ailment at a time!”). I returned to the trail to find, to my amazement and delight that my ankles were 100% better. I climbed the steep hill to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell as though it were flat ground. I took a long break at the top, ate lunch, played my harp, chatted with other hikers, and … discovered the poison oak on my leg. One ailment at a time; the trail heard me. I have filed your suggestions for future reference, just in case.

Right now, I am a walking laboratory for poisonous plants. On my left leg, a big patch of bumps from a brush with poison oaks, on my right, an ugly blister from Poodle Dog Bush. If you’ve not heard of PDB, that’s not surprising. It grows only after devastating fires, where no other species can compete with it, and even then, it lives only 8-10 years. It’s covered in little nasty hair that gets into your skin and produces oozing blisters. Other than that, it produces very nice purple flowers and make hills that would otherwise be completely black and bare nice and green.

The last trail section, since I last wrote, was mostly about dealing with the repercussion of the 2010 Station Fire. 1/4 of a million acres burnt. The story goes that it started with one match by an arsonist in LA. For anyone contemplating the beauty of the butterfly effect, look no further. Hills after hills completely burnt, now taken over by poisonous plants, two dead firefighters, an entire town burnt down to the ground, and for us, detours and detours. Some of the detours followed now abandoned paved roads, which was actually a nice change of pace. I spent some time testing out my ability to take a nap while walking (I can do it while paddling). I did get into a nice hazy zone, eyes half closed, and the miles went by. Still, I was glad when the detours were over and I could return to the trail. It welcomed us back with an explosion of colors from flowers up and down the hill ande more of them after each corner. It’s been colorful. It’s been very hot. It’s been wonderful. I’m pretty damn happy out here.


Random notes I took on the trail.
– Ants smell sweet, almost fruity, but taste slightly bitter. Also, if they get trapped in your beef jerky, even if you leave air intake holes, they will all be dead within 12 hours.

– When I eat M&Ms, I organize them by color and eat them in some sort of order that only makes sense to me, and is not consistent from one time to the next. Apparently I always do this, and had never noticed until I was called out on it.

– Black beetles in the desert react differently to different people. When I am alone, they go about their business without care, but when I hike with someone else, they stick their head in the dirt and their butt in the air, like ostriches. I have pointed out to them that they are not any safer that way, but they might not have been able to hear me with their head in the sand.

– If your hat is made of 100% paper, it is unwise to try to use it as a water filter. I have been without filtration system for a while now. I simply hold the water to my heart and tell it “I love you, thank you, please don’t make me sick”. So far, it’s worked quite well. PackPax was dubious of my methods and getting off trail; he gave me his spare iodine, so now I have a backup for very contaminated water.

– The trail still provides. Within an hour of me noticing the poison oaks, Cortisone cream was given to me by two generous hikers, Sister Sue and Sherpa (mother and daughter). It’s kept both the poison oaks and PDB blisters in check so far.

– You can actually cook almost all your meals in ziplock bags. They’ll hold boiling water and facilitate dish washing.

– I get woken up every day by birds that sing only two notes. They are always the same two notes, and they sound like the beginning of Carmina Burina.

– Ponderosa pines do not all smell like vanilla. Some smell like caramel, like brown sugar, like maple syrup and anything in between.

– I am much more musical than I knew. When I hike alone, I almost always sing or hum. I only know a few songs though. I just was reunited with my ipod (it was in my bounce box for the past 3 weeks). It’ll be nice to learn some new ones.

– My daily routine: I wake up at dawn, i walk on a dirt trail and smell trees, I eat snacks, I take breaks in the shade, I meet amazing people, I take care of ailments, I soak up sun and heat and dirt and desert love. As the sun set, I slip in my bag and by the time the sun is set, I am already asleep. Repeat.

– And sometime, I pull into town, eat insane amount of food, including ice cream, watch solar eclipses, meet up with trail friends I haven’t seen for a while, and sleep a lot.

That’s just the 5% of the tip of the iceberg.

Time to give up the computer.

Follow your dreams. They might turn out more awesome than you ever thought possible.

XOXO. Robert Feline (but friends call me Bobcat!).

Teaching The Bobcat to walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quotes of the week.

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

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

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

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

Lunging tiger, twisted ankles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More in a week …
XOXO. The Bobcat.

“The trail provides”

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

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

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

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

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

Some select quotes of the week:

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

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

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

Love to you all. Life is good here!

XOX – The Bobcat.

Expectations – reality – honeymoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it begins …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all I can think of.

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

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

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

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

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