Monday, August 20, 2012

Day Five: Sierra City and Ursine Friends….

I didn’t even think about the bear footprint I saw until the next morning. I had collapsed into a coma in my tent; I left the food in my backpack just a few feet away from my tent. Bear, obviously, are in the area but I was lucky: no ursine visitors during the night.
It is only four miles to Highway 49 and, according to the map there is a short cut to Sierra City. Again, I skip coffee, drink water and pack up my tent and sleeping bag. It is early and I am anxious to get to Sierra City to call Joni to let her know I am okay. I know she is worried about me.

I heave the pack on my back and begin the walk to Sierra City. It is a delightful walk. Cool. Refreshing. Easy. Much needed.

But the adventure isn’t quite over yet.

I am hiking a very narrow drainage, v shaped canyon. The side walls are steep and relatively narrow. I come around a corner in this drainage and there, maybe forty feet ahead of me, is a female sow bear with one cub behind her. The sow has a beautiful cinnamon color to her.

They are walking the Pacific Crest Trail too.

Now I am carrying lots of smelly trash in my backpack. I have salmon and spam wrappers. In addition, I have around ten pounds of food in my pack. I freeze when I see them. Only one cub? Is there another cub nearby?  Am I between the sow and another cub? And why doesn’t this bear acknowledge that I’m here? Should I make a noise and get the bear’s attention? Should I stay quiet?

I do try and get my camera out of my pocket. And then I start to think that making any movement is not a good idea. I wait for the bear and her cub to leave the trail and head to the creek. I notice the huge paws on the mama bear as she leaves me behind.

The drainage is only fifty to sixty feet wide. That bear is down by the water. How long should I wait before resuming this hike? Again, should I make noise? I elect to wait for a few, very long, minutes and then scurry ahead on the trail as fast as possible. I look over my shoulder as I go through the section to see if I am about to become Bear Chow. One might say that I make record time the rest of the way to Sierra City.

At long last I turn off from the trail and take a short cut through Wild Plum Campground. From there a pickup truck stops and offers me a ride into town. I’d hate to have this good man’s generosity be rejected by turning him down, so I accept the ride. The gentleman who picks me up just happens to own The Red Moose in Sierra City. This is the place where all the hikers stop as they pass by on the PCT. Robert, the owner, has an “Obummer” bumper sticker; we don’t share the same politics; we do share a love for the PCT.

The owner tells me that I am welcome to camp in his backyard as long as I want to. He offers me a free shower. He tells me that I am the 1,249th hiker who has visited his restaurant and haven for hikers this season.

At The Red Moose I order breakfast (biscuits and gravy with eggs, delicious!). My cell phone doesn’t work, so the owner lets me use their phone to call Joni. Joni answers on the first ring: she had just posted her fears on Facebook and was thinking about driving to Sierra City to start looking for me. Joni is relieved that I am okay. She agrees to come get me: I am done hiking for this year.
You see the next section I had planned to do would have been much tougher. Even lonelier. Water is getting hard to find and I just didn’t think I had it in me for any further adventures. Time to go home.

Day Four: To Milton Creek… andTrail Delirium

I woke up early at the Saddle Campsite and decided to skip coffee and to skip breakfast and to just pack up and go. Hit the trail early. I had visions of burgers and beer, a shower and clean clothes and a real bed in Sierra City and thought I just might make it there with an early enough of a start.  Plus there was this pesky question of water; I didn’t have enough of it.

I drank about a liter before leaving. I saved half a liter of water for emergencies. That’s my policy: never finish all the water unless you absolutely have to. I was not going to drink anymore water until I got to Mule Ear Springs, 3.7 miles away.

But before that, there is this annoying mountain to climb. I leave camp and proceed with my burden up the mountain. From close to the top I called Joni and just described to her, briefly, that I was on the move and that I only had a ½ liter of water and that I was 3.7 miles away from a springs. I told I was planning on taking a rest day in Sierra City and that I planned to be there that night. I told her I would call her when I got there. This is where hiking with cell phones can cause increased worry and frustration: After I made that call and started down the mountain, I was then out of cell phone range for the rest of the trip.

Joni and I had made some contingencies as to when to call Search and Rescue. I told her if I didn’t make it to Sierra City in six days, and she hadn’t heard from me, she should call Search and Rescue. I knew the trail would be deserted and lonely. And the fact that over the last four days I had seen exactly four backpackers and one day hiker confirmed that. This is a section of trail that doesn’t experience trail boots often.

I was elated when I achieved the top of the mountain and then began the long descent to Jackson Meadows Reservoir. I managed to make it to Mule Ear Springs and stopped for a long, well deserved, drink of water. I still wasn’t hungry. I drank as much as I could, filled three liters of water and headed down the mountain.

Down. Down. Down.

At one point a sign warned about a Sierra Pacific Clear-cut operation and that any hiker should get the loggers attention before proceeding through the clear cut. I didn’t see anybody cutting wood. Later, another sign advertised just how wise it is to clear cut the forest.  The sign boasted that the particular clear cut we were looking at had been logged in 1992 and that we hikers could watch how painstakingly wonderful the forest would re-emerge. I looked at the clear cut and noticed almost no growth in the patch. There wasn’t much to boast of in the last twenty years when it comes to tree growth. Propaganda gone bad. This demonstration plot is certainly nothing to be proud of.

Sierra Pacific is the largest private landholder in California. The question of how to log, or whether to log, in the mountains of California is one asked only by idealistic Sierra Clubbers. We live in a culture where what you do with your land is your business and we certainly don’t want any Enviros or Government Bureaucrats telling us what to do. The problem is that logging can be very destructive to fish, wildlife, to watershed protection, biodiversity (think tree plantations) and, even, to our health (from the herbicides sprayed after a clear cut). The practice of clear cutting forests should be ended as being much too destructive to the land on any scale. It is the moral equivalent of bloodletting in humans. Our forests should be for watershed protection, wildlife habitat and recreation. Logging should be done on a micro basis, very selective and done with overall forest health in consideration. But don’t we need lumber? Yes. But let’s get it from places that make sense, log trees that make sense (smaller and rapid growing varieties) and let’s make the price of this resource cost enough that all wood is seen as being precious and rewards recycling and/or the reuse of wood.
Sermon done.

This is a long downhill stretch to the reservoir. I could feel hot spots developing in my boots. Thus far, I hadn’t developed any blisters. That was about to end.

I make it to the paved road at Jackson Meadows. There are two forest service developed campgrounds there. I think, briefly, about setting up camp in one of them.  Of taking a couple lazy days next to the artificial lake. The cell phone doesn’t work, so I cancel those plans. I will move on to Sierra City.

Sitting by the side of the road, I tend to my feet. Those seven downhill miles took a toll; I have blisters on my right foot. I put on mole skin. Then I lean back against my pack and fall asleep. When I wake up, I fill my water again from a stream. I’m still not hungry but I eat a granola bar anyway.

Time for the last leg to Sierra City--which has all the attractions of Paris, Amsterdam, New York, London and San Francisco combined to me right now. I find the trail head for the last leg and read the sign: Milton Creek: 7 miles. Hwy 49: 11 miles. Sierra City is two miles beyond Hwy 49. It is mid-afternoon and it is 13 miles to Sierra City. I realize I’m not going to make it there tonight.

Oh well, we move on. Off we go blisters! Into the forest! And why the hell must we go uphill again? Can’t I catch a break and walk on a nice flat forest path? Why must this damned thing go uphill? I am cursing the misguided fools who created this Pacific Crest Trail. It is as if they decided that torture and making things tough should be a pre-requisite to the trail. We’ll build those hikers character, the trail designers mutter to themselves, as they take out all their misplaced anger for every wrong ever done to them by creating the most uphill, gut crunching, despair inspiring trail ever. Or so it seems.
Anger often precedes Delirium.

And so I grunted my way through a canyon and then up a mountain. An endless climb. There was a spring at the beginning of the climb, but I thought I had plenty of water to make it to Milton Creek. After a couple hours of heavy sweating, I achieve the top of the mountain and look at the path down. I have a liter of water left.

The path down winds on a narrow ledge of rocky scree. The drop off is hundredsof feet. The exposure is extreme. It would be quite easy to slip and fall to a pummeled, meat tenderized, rocky death. The guidebook states that this is a “steep section”. Steep?! Hell, this looks like the Grand Canyon!  And this little rocky scree filled ledge is endless.

I start down. Careful. Watch your step, Allan. The canyon is a bowl shape and the switchbacks angle along about a quarter of a mile in duration. I take my time because, frankly, I’d like to not slip and die.

At the bottom of the canyon the path levels out into a nice inviting forest. I take my pack off and notice that I have half a liter of water left. There will be no more water until Milton Creek and there will be another dose of switchbacks before I find that creek. It shouldn’t be too far. But it is 7pm and I am tired. I'm sitting next to a bear track.

I look at the water in my last water bottle and I start having a rather bizarre thought: “I have to save this water for my friend”.
Right then, I knew that I was starting to have some bizarre thoughts. I, of course, had been hiking alone; I’ve been hiking alone for four days. The “friend” I was saving the water for was me! I was on the verge, or rather, I was having a dehydration based, delusional thought. Trail Delirium. I realize I’m on the very edge of becoming psychotic. Literally.

This scares the shit out of me that I’m having strange thoughts such that I heft the pack back on and set off in search of Milton Creek. I’m not going to dry camp tonight. I’m going to find water or die trying.

You can hear Milton Creek before you see it. That sound of running water with a bit of humidity as I switchback my way down yet another narrow canyon is tantalizing to my thirsty body. Finally, I find a spring just before the creek and sit down and drink some of the finest water God, or if you prefer, Gaia, has ever had the wisdom to create.

Another quarter mile and I am at Milton Creek in an ideal setting. I drink more water straight from the fast flowing creek. I don’t make supper. I set up the tent, crawl inside and fall fast asleep. It is 8 pm and I only wake up twice in the night to drink more water.
Before crawling into the sleeping bag, I try the cell phone to call Joni.  It doesn’t work. I know Joni is worried about me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day Three: To the Saddle Beyond Lacy Peak…

Awake early, but again, out of the sleeping bag late. I made camp last night at 7,600 feet elevation. I make my breakfast coffee and oatmeal, fill three liters of water from the creek (I used the iodine tablets this time). Packed everything up.  Experienced PCT hikers will tell you that you should get as many miles as possible in by noon. This sleeping in and out on to the trail late is highly frowned on in PCT culture.

But I’m on vacation.

This is where things started to go bad for me. First off, if I would have spent more time reading the map, I would have noticed that there was only one water source for the 15 miles I planned to do that day. Secondly, the weather turned miserably hot. Even though I was at the 7 to 8 thousand foot elevation, temperatures soared and I was in the sun much of the time. It was much too hot to hike comfortably or even safely.

The hiking was beautiful though. They don’t call it the Pacific Crest Trail without due cause; I hiked along magnificent vistas. I also noticed that I wasn’t hungry. Thirsty? Yes; Hungry? No. I barely touched my lunch bag. I drank my water sparingly.

After four hours of hiking, I finally made it to Lacy Creek. This was my one chance for water over the next 12 miles. I only had a liter of water left and I dared not to miss this water hole. The problem? The creek was dry. Close to the creek crossing, there was a sign that said: “There is almost always water if you follow the creek bed down ½ mile”. I abandoned my pack and did what the sign said. Sure enough, after climbing down the mountain for a considerable amount of time, the creek finally had a seep in it where I could just barely get my fill of water. Again, I cameled up and filled two liters of water and climbed back up the mountain to my pack.

Decision time. It is late afternoon and I have a climb to get to the top of Lacy Peak. There are storm clouds gathering much too close for comfort. Do I want to take a chance on being in the wide open, on top of an 8,000 foot peak, in a lightning storm in the Sierra? Ah hell, why not.

So I climbed to the summit, which was gorgeous and a table top type of mountain. No water though. I called Joni (and work) from the top of Lacy Peak. I had two liters of water left with another nine miles to go before I would find water again. I hiked down the other side of Lacy Peak and decided to make camp in a saddle between two peaks. I didnt' have the legs or the heart for another climb. My tent was perched a little too close to a thousand foot drop off on one side. The other side offered extensive views of wild lands. When I set up camp, I had 1 ½ liters of water left. I was so thirsty I could have drunk the whole thing then and there. I felt so parched that the backs of my eyes felt like sand. My lips cemented together because of the lack of moisture. I checked my own skin turgor, hoping that I wasn’t that dehydrated.

I made supper, beef stroganoff, and made an effort to finish off the Crown Royal. Whiskey is liquid. It should help.

Just then two hikers came down from the peak I had yet to climb. Youngsters. A male and a female. Looking fresh with their backpacks and titanium poles. They wore the correct sort of garb that you find amongst the serious hiking crowd: green hiker pants, nylon under shirt, tan Patagonia long sleeved hiking shirt, safari hat. Both genders wearing the exact same hiking garb. 
Now I was a bit into the whiskey at the time. I hollered enthusiastically to these first two humans I’ve seen that day. They stopped. The male had all the high tech gee whiz stuff: he wore a Garmin attached to his bicep; he had the PCT programed into his smart phone on 2 different programs. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was micro chipped too. His girlfriend was much more intuitive. I asked them how far to the next water: the girl said without hesitation: four miles. The guy said, “Let’s check the Smart phone” and so we looked at the trail and the blue dot which represented where we are. The next water would be at Mule Ear Springs, which was: 3.7 miles away. The girl said: “be careful, it is easy to miss and the next water is another six miles or so beyond that”.
They headed off, even though the sun was close to setting. I guess they didn’t want to camp with a half ripped, smelly, 51 year old male who looked like he might be undergoing the first few signs of a dehydration psychosis. (More on that later).

Only one more mountain to climb and then water. After that the book says it is downhill all the way to Jackson Reservoir. Should be doable to make it to Sierra City tomorrow. That thought was a mistake.
Again, I lay out and watched the night sky. Then off to bed in the tent, with my hiking stick as protection from all the sounds in the night.

Day 2: To White Rock Creek

I wake up early at the Peter Grubb Hut (which is one of a handful of Sierra Club cabins, free to all, on the PCT).  I am too lazy to get out of my cheap sleeping bag.  Finally, around 8:30 in the morning, I rally and climb down the ladder from the loft to see what all the ruckus from the mice was about last night.
I have my food in three separate plastic bags: a yellow bag for breakfast items; a white bag for trail lunches and a tan bag for dinners. I decided to pack for a full fifteen days on the trail, meaning that these food bags have a combined weight of ten pounds. Why did I do that? I wasn’t sure what food would be available in the small town of Sierra City where I planned to stop after the first 42 miles on the trail. “Might as well pack for the whole trip”, I thought. That way I would have the option of skipping the four mile round trip walk from the trail into the town. Of course, I was only deluding myself by thinking that; there was no way I was going to avoid getting a burger and a beer in Sierra City.

I get out the camp stove and make coffee. I have a jar of Medalia Instant Espresso along (this stuff is better than the Starbucks instant coffee at about 5% of the price). I heat up water and have a cup. Then I make some instant oatmeal and enjoy that.

Survey the damage from the mice: these deceitful burglarizing rodents decided to break into my lunch bag and my dinner bag. From the lunch bag, they have been feasting all night on my banana chips; from the dinner bag, they pilfered a Thai rice meal. These Sierra deer mice seem to have tropical tastes: bananas and Thai food. Exemplary preferences for rodents.

I sweep out the cabin, pack, swallow a few ibuprofen for good luck and leave.

There is supposed to be water in a stream about 100 yards up trail from the cabin. The guidebook states that this stream can be a bit treacherous during the runoff months. When I come to the stream, it is a shadow of its former self. Barely a trickle. I sit by the stream and drink directly from it. When packing for the trip I couldn’t find my water filter. I put it someplace where I would easily find it after my last backpacking trip two summers ago, and, of course, I couldn’t find where I stashed that item in its foolproof, easy to find place. Hiker’s law: the more you need something, the harder it is to find. I did bring along some iodine pills, but I didn’t care to take the twenty minutes to treat the water. I decided that if the water was clear and running freely, I would just risk drinking it. If I got water from a pond, I would treat it with iodine.

As I sit there, cameling up on water, a very fit 70 Something man comes up the trail. We exchange pleasantries; he is on a day hike up to Paradise Lake (which is some four to five miles away off a spur trail from the PCT). He is only carrying water. I marvel at his level of fitness: he looks like a walking commercial for age defying nutritional supplements.

The Septuagenarian hiker leaves. I wrestle with the monstrous pack and begin my Via Delarosa. We will travel two of the highest passes today, obtaining a peak elevation of 8,400 feet. Within the first couple of miles, there are supposed to be five stream crossings. When I get to them, only two have any water in them. Three of them are dry (I start to get a tad concerned because later in the trip there are two 20 plus mile stretches without any water on the trail). I stop and drink liberally from the springs. Giardia be damned! Now I wouldn’t advise anyone to drink directly from mountain streams. But someplace I read that the risks in the Sierra are quite low. Rarely do people get sick from water that is near the source high in the Sierra. Especially in wilderness designated areas where cattle don’t roam. I intend to test out this theory. Children, don’t try this on your trips. I am old, foolish and lacking in common sense.

When I reach 8,400 feet on the crest of the Sierra, I call Joni to tell her I’m safe. She is relieved and seems inordinately worried about me. Doubt enters my mind.

I have the mountains to myself; nobody is on the trail. I walk along some exposure along the mountains. Which mountain? Don’t know. Most of these are named only by their elevations: peak 8,431 and so on.

Well, I wanted to be alone and I am. The sun is blaring down. I did buy one of those fancy Patagonia shirts made of some synthetic material that dries quickly. Good thing too, cause I am sweating like a 400 pound eunuch in a Swedish sauna. I refused to buy one of those safari trail hats though. I use bandanas, tied hippie style over my head. I have six bandanas along, and I trade them out according to my mood and as they become saturated with sweat. One bandana is tied around my neck: the black “yin/yang” one. On my head I regularly rotate a blue one, a green one, an orange one and a red one. When used, I tie them onto my pack to dry.

I am now far away enough from the freeway that I can’t hear it anymore. Bliss. Damn this pack is heavy! I go up and down a couple of passes. 800 foot climbs up. Then down. Then up. Then down. Repeat as required. I come to the spur trail to Paradise Lake and decide that it isn’t worth the diversion to go for a dip in the lake. Laziness presides. I march on for another hour or so and come to White Rock Creek. There is another spur trail up to another White Rock Lake (actually a reservoir). I spook some deer. I hike along the creek for a while, and since it is around five pm, I stop for the night and make camp by the creek.
Supper is dehydrated backpacker spaghetti and crown royal whiskey. Along with healthy dollops of crick water. I set up the antiquated, dinosaur Eureka! tent that Joni first used twenty years ago when she was practicing for doing a tree sit. She purchased this tent to use at an Earth First! Rendezvous training back in the early 90’s before the FBI cracked down on this organization. This was before Julia Butterfly sat for two years in Luna (an ancient redwood that she momentarily saved until some hate filled nature hating extremist tried to chop down the 800 year old redwood). Twenty years ago, this tent was state of the art; today it weighs way too much. Ultra-light is the new buzzword for backpackers and with good reason. More on this later.

Supper finished, the mosquitoes decide to make me their supper. Buzzing, whirring nasty little bloodsuckers. Just then, a couple of twenty something males come up the trail. They appear to be hauling items that look as large as grand pianos in their backpacks. Pleasantries exchanged again, they too are on their way to fish at Paradise Lake, where they intend to spend some time. They must be setting up for an extended stay, cause, from the size of their packs, they appear to be hauling chairs, tables, lawn furniture, barbecues, portable generators, kitchen sinks and a multitude of tackle and fishing gear. I exaggerate, but only a little.
Campsite Number 2: White Rock Creek
I am making slow progress on this hike. I pop a Norco that my doctor prescribed for me to deal with the pain of this physical exertion. My feet look good: no blisters. Yet.
White Rock Creek
Darkness descends. I retire to the tent, kill a dozen mosquitoes that have followed me into the structure and since the forest is full of sounds tonight, I bring my walking stick into the tent with me for protection. Earlier in the day, I thought I found a faint puma footprint on the trail.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

To The Peter Grubb Hut

Not Wise.

Thou shalt not buy a double/double cheeseburger at Inn’n’Out with Animal fries and a chocolate shake in Sacramento (altitude 5 feet) then drive your fat ass up to 7,100 feet at Donner Pass (yes, THAT Donner Pass), pick up your brand new Osprey backpack that weighs sixty pounds--stuffed with 15 days’ worth of food, 20 year old Eureka two man tent, five dollar Walmart special sleeping bag (it’ll keep you warm down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit!) and a gallon of water in an old milk jug tied to the pack with a carabineer; find the Pacific Crest Trail and then climb up through Castle Pass  (elevation 7,900 feet), five miles, uphill, hoping to make it to a Sierra Club Canyon hut before dark, burping up said burgers, fries and shake all the while. Fifty One year old bodies used to lower elevations and a mostly sedentary squishy life just shouldn’t do that in one day. It ain’t natural.

I did it anyway. Joni (my spouse) and two step grand-daughters dropped me off at the trailhead. We were amazed at the sheer bulk of my pack. A Himalayan Sherpa would have trouble carrying such a pack.  Joni cries. “Be careful”, tears streaming down her cheek.

Off I go.

I grunted, farted, labored and sweated up the first mountain with the main continental east/west traffic of I-80 squarely in view behind me. I’m heading north. A smart man would have headed south to the more friendly inhabited vistas of Lake Tahoe. Better scenery in that direction; instead, I’m heading north with grandiose visions of walking from Donner Pass to Belden, California--which is a mere 29 miles from my off grid home. I’ve allotted 15 days for this 150 mile journey. That’s the plan anyway.

What’s to worry about? I’m headed north into a lonely, lesser travelled section of the PCT at the end of the season in extremely hot weather with three major forest fires burning to the north of me. I could trip, fall, be bitten by a rattlesnake, catch the bubonic plague from the chipmunks, breathe in mice poop and die from Hanta virus--not to mention catching West Nile Virus from the mosquitoes.  The winter was warm without much snow, which means finding water might be a problem. Sunstroke and dehydration are high on the danger list. And with my added winter girth that I haven’t shed yet (plus fully loaded sixty pound pack), I need lots of water. I meant to get in shape for this trip that I’ve been planning for over a year. That was my plan. The reality is that life got in the way and I decided to let the trail do the training for me. Let the adventure do the work.

It is hot and early August. Beautiful views. I’m in alpine environment—high enough to enjoy a not too shy Pika. I’ve read that global warming will probably impact the high altitude Pika first; in fact, it already has as they need to climb higher and higher into the mountains to find friendly environs.

Castle Pass
I’m planning on spending the first night at the Peter Grubb Hut. We make it there, my new boots and I, just before 7:30 pm. At Castle Pass, I was able to call Joni and leave a message on our answering machine. Bringing a cell phone was a concession of sorts in my mind. A form of cheating. Should a person be able to call home from the wilderness? Shouldn’t we be off trail, off grid, off technology while having a back country experience? I’m a backpacking Luddite. I know it is polite to your loved ones when traveling alone in the wilderness to let them know you are safe, but, by doing this, I feel a little like a kindergartner calling home to announce that I’ve learned how to spell “cat” and that I’ve managed not to soil my pants all day.

All these smart phones with their global positioning satellite readouts and Fifty Somethings with space age lightweight shoes and titanium poles make backpacking more of a weekend warrior sports competition rather than an authentic exploration of the wilds. Hobbies should be hobbies--not exercises in conspicuous modern consumption. All these gadgets! What would John Muir, the thin bearded walker, have to say about these petroleum based shirts that dry in ten minutes and dehydrated backpacker meals that were designed to feed astronauts? Muir did fine with just a loaf of bread. Getting lost is half the fun.

Back to the Peter Grubb Hut. Peter Grubb died back in 1937 at the tender age of 18 of sunstroke (let that be a caution to you Allan!). He loved hiking and skiing in these Sierra Mountains. His family built this fine two story cabin in tribute to him. A fine tribute it is. Set in a scenic valley just beyond Castle pass with tall Hemlocks surrounding, nay, protecting the cabin. I go inside the cabin. No one home. It is getting dark and I will have the place to myself tonight. I sign the guest log and read through the entries. Someone was here last night.

The Peter Grubb Hut

There is a field of granite boulders nearby. I sit on one, break out wine and cheese and watch the stars come out. I can still hear the freeway in the distance. I haven’t met one hiker these first few hours. Alone, I’m forced to drink the bottle of wine (somebody has to). I teeter off to bed in the hut, climb the ladder up to the second floor loft in order to be safe should a bear try to break into the cabin and fall asleep (quickly) on the wooden floor. During the night, I hear the mice breaking into my food that I thought I hung securely earlier from guy wires hanging from the ceiling of the first floor.

I am alone and happy.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fully Packed

Packed up my new Osprey pack, filled with two weeks worth of food and a gallon of liquids and took her for a test drive. This is gonna hurt. I'm going to suffer. Bad.

Eat a whole lot at the beginning--that's my motto. Lighten that load. Hiking a mile long loop with this monster pack on, it seems impossible to carry it some 130 miles or more. I thought about bringing along a book about Everette Reuss, but Joni nixed that idea. I opted only to bring a journal and no book this trip.

I just need to pick up some iodine tablets because I can't find my water filter. I also need some First Aid stuff like mole skin and bandages. After that, I'm locked and loaded. I stepped on the scale this morning so that I will be able to compare before and after weights.

Joni drops me off tomorrow. Ready or not, here I come.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Yesterday I threw a bunch of books into my new backpack and hoofed it down the canyon. Intolerably hot weather; sweat pouring. Felt good. I'm sore today.

Went to Paradise today and bought the food for this trip. Buying food for backpacking has gotten a whole lot easier now that packaging is much more condense. There isn't any need to buy the expensive, fancy, freeze dried stuff sold at backpacking stores. I bought a couple of those anyway. I decided to go ahead and pack for, at least, fourteen days on the trail. I also bought new boots because, well, Joni made me. Concerned spouse that she is, she wanted me to have good tread on the trail. My other ones were getting a little tired and worn. I'll break the new boots in a bit tomorrow.

I still can't find my water filter or my stuff bags. The food is packed. Most other items have been found. We shall finish packing tomorrow and I'll take the backpack out for a test run. With water, I expect the thing to come in around fifty pounds.

The sleeping bag I'm using is an old one we picked up at Target a few years ago. It was one of those cheap "four sleeping bags and a tent" packages for forty bucks sort of deals. The tent I'll be using is twenty years old and certainly not state of the art. I have a certain aversion to ultra techy hikers with space age products. Backpacking is a trip into the woods---not a trip to Mars.

I did buy one of those synthetic Patagonia shirts because they really do dry nicely with all the sweat I produce. Cotton is nice, but it doesn't dry and it weighs way too much when wet. I'm still sort of feeling weird about it though. Not very Luddite of me.

And I bought a cheap Malbec from Argentina with a screw cap. This will be a water bottle after I've consumed it (I feel this is my sole innovation and contribution to the sport). I also bought a bit of Crown Royal Whiskey; helps you make friends on the trail if you have a libation or two. And I might need to make some friends this trip.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) part of the Pacific Crest Trail is closed due to fire. The very last forty miles I planned to do are closed. And containment of this fire isn't expected until the 21st of August. I think Joni is a little bit relieved that my trip might be cut short. If the trail is closed, Joni will pick me up at Buck's Lake Tavern on Buck's Lake.

If you want to follow along and see the status of the Chips fire that might jeopardize my trip, just go HERE and look for the Chips fire.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Three Days Out...

So where has the summer gone?

I leave for this trip on Wednesday, August 8. I have practically done everything wrong getting ready  for this backpacking experience. Mainly, I haven't trained at all. I'm taking a "let the trail get you in shape for this trip" approach. Hope it works.

I've decided to not bring along Abbey the dog. Why? Because I think I'll be so worried about the dog's well being that I'll forget about my own well being. And I haven't been able to take a practice hike with her so that I think it might be a tad unwise to have a 150 mile trip be Abbey's first experience on the trail.

What are my concerns at this point? There is a big fire (the Chips Creek fire) that is not supposed to be contained until August 15, 2012. This fire started (on the PCT) where I will be finishing the trip. So smoke might be bad on the trail towards the end. Fire is always a danger this time of the year; especially this year when we didn't have much rain during the winter. On top of that, there is lightning in the forecast.

Other dangers? Rattlesnakes, tripping and falling, dehydration, exhaustion, getting lost, mountain lion, electrical storms, Lyme's disease from deer ticks, sunburn, hypothermia, drowning in creek crossings, bear, hanta virus from deer mice, my own stupidity. Probably more.

Undeterred, Joni will drop me off at the rest stop at Donner Pass on Wednesday. My first day will be easy; I'll be shacking up at a Sierra Club cabin called the Peter Grubb Hut. I plan to tramp in with wine, steaks and whiskey in order to have a luxurious first meal. If you are going to hike, do it right!

I've purchased a brand new backpack for this trip. A nice Osprey that promises to make my burden easy (easier?). I'm also using a tent, choosing not to just sleep on the ground, "cowboy camping". I'm bringing an old dinosaur Eureka that Joni has had for 20 years. She used this tent at Earth First! events back when Earth First! actually had some promise to it. My pack will be heavy--filled with not state of the art equipment.

There is one section of the hike where there is no water on the trail for 24 miles. Luckily, if a person gets desperate, there are ways to hike down to water within a couple of miles (but who wants to do that?).  This stretch doesn't occur until I'm some seventy miles into the journey, so I should be trail hardened by then.

I know I'm going to suffer. The first few days are going to suck. I will be bringing a journal and a pen. A book too. I'll be able to journal just how miserable I am (and just how stupid it was to try and attempt this thing without the correct physical preparation).

Below is my packing list:

I will be bringing a cell phone that isn't too smart. No trail maps on the phone. The phone will be used to call in (hopefully) updates to Joni as to where I am. Joni will use my account on Facebook to let people know where I am and that I'm okay.

Other thoughts: Yes, it might be foolish to take off for a couple of weeks in not the best of physical shape. This fifty-one year old body doesn't do what it used to do. And I am soft and squishy. I may be a fool, but a fool should do something foolhardy once and awhile. A little danger is good for you! We lack such Adventure in our lives that sometimes we have to let the Adventure condition us. That's my approach this trip.

See you on the other side. Belden or Bust!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

No Surgery

My second day alone here at the cabin. Feasting on apricots from our sole fruit tree and the eggs (free range organic). I also found some tilapia fillets in the freezer which made a fine dinner. The dogs had some too.

The Loma Linda Surgeon didn't recommend surgery. Just too risky at the current time.  Looks like we'll try like hell to find a decent pain management specialist for Joni. Joni is relieved.

There is a fire up in Shasta which has made the sky all weird and orange colored. I took the dogs for two hikes today. On the second one the sky was just all bizarre and I had the strange premonition that we were being watched. Angel stayed close to me the entire walk. Our new dog, Little One, kept running off, excitedly sniffing, trying to find whatever seemed to be stalking us. Even Abbey was excitable, but she listens to voice commands well and stuck around. What was out there? Nothing? A Raccoon? Skunk? A mountain lion? A bear?

There has been a bear active on the ridge. One of our neighbor's storage sheds has had a bear visiting it nightly. Turns out he stores his garbage in there. We haul our garbage out weekly and keep it locked up in a shed. No ursine visitors at our place yet.

Joni is home tomorrow. Then I am off to spend another week in Napa starting on Saturday. I look forward to taking the entire month of August off. Should I do this trip? I'm not in shape. I don't spend enough time with Joni. There is a ton of work to be done on this mud hut. Yet, is there a better way to get in shape? And I'm not getting any younger. And I haven't been on the trail in oh so very long. Decisions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Drove across California late last night. I got up and got the dogs out of a kennel where they were boarding for a couple of days. Joni is in Los Angeles, undergoing tests and meeting with surgeons. I'm writing this in an empty cabin---and I think this is the first time I've been alone here in a long, long time. The girls are in Georgia visiting with one of Joni's brothers.

The only food I've got in this house is a carton of eggs and about 1,000 apricots. Our tree was bountiful this year. This diet seems fine to me: no need to go to the store. In fact, this should hold me over just fine until Joni comes home on Friday.

I took the dogs out on a hike in the 104 degree heat this afternoon. Dogs panting; me sweating. The dogs were overjoyed at the reunion after having been kennelized for the past three days. I didn't take the dogs down the canyon as there was somebody shooting in that vicinity. It's bone dry and somebody decides that shooting a hot weapon on a 104 degree day is a smart thing to do. Not a good thing to do in wildfire season.

As I look out the window, I think I can see smoke from a fire across the valley.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Well, things are on hold. I don't know if I will be able to make this hike this summer. As such, I haven't really been training. I take the dogs down the canyon when I'm home, but mostly I've been working extra, paying for airline tickets for Joni and the girls and generally trying to keep our heads above water.

On Monday, Joni flies to Los Angeles to meet with a surgeon. She is investigating whether surgery will restore some increased function to her legs. If she has the surgery, I probably won't be doing a hike this summer.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


"In the end, for all our differences and conflicts, most women and men share the same food, work, shelter, bed, life, joy, anguish, and fate. We Need each other." Ed Abbey

And so it is Summer. And Joni and I don't have the girls for the next two months. Generally, we've spent most of our time sleeping, taking naps and then going to bed. It is quiet. We take walks together. Our newest dog, Little One, managed to find and kill another skunk on our walk last evening.

I spent the day today building a new dog run in the yard. (Get that smelly dog outside!)

We are using this childless time to make some weighty decisions. Joni's back has deteriorated over the last couple of years. She was able to manage much of her pain with an opiate but then she started developing cardiac problems from this drug. We've tried many other pain medications--done almost everything, but her pain, and level of functioning, continues to worsen. We are using this time to talk with surgeons to see if Joni might be helped by going under the knife. We met with one surgeon yesterday, only to find out that he can't do that particular sugery in northern Calilfornia.  Unfortunately, with our insurance, the only place Joni can have this complicated of a surgery is in two hospitals in Los Angeles. Joni will have to fly down there for those appointments.

We are doing the research and weighing the pros and cons. We are talking to all the utilization review people at two different insurance companies. Talking to case managers.

And so my trip just might be on hold. If Joni decides to have the surgery, I will have to fore go a hike this year to take care of her following her rather extensive recovery. Doesn't matter; it is all good.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Lazy Boy

"As a confirmed melancholic, I can testify that the best and maybe only antidote for melancholia is action. However, like most melancholics, I suffer also from sloth." Ed Abbey

Joni and I now have our very own separate Lazy Boy chairs. After nine years, we have finally arrived in that state of bliss where each of us can lounge in comfort. You see, we used to have just the blue one on the left. It was always an act of love to give up the "good chair" for the other member of the household. Now we each have our own ($20 at the thrift store---a major score on Joni's part).

Okay, so this isn't a training reference. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm mostly just gonna suffer on the trail. At least I have a nice place to lounge while I contemplate the need to train.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sleepless in St. Helena

That which today calls itself science gives us more and more information, and indigestible glut of information, and less and less understanding.” Edward Abbey

I've been at work the last three days and haven't done much of anything but show up for work. I've been reading "The Hunger Games" which has kept me up much too late at night. The hospital maintenance staff, for some reason, has decided to use those leaf blowers on the parking lot, early in the morning, even though it is spring and there is not a leaf to be seen anywheres. I don't know why they have decided that 6:00 am is a good time to turn on these jet engines. Loud! Probably because there isn't anybody parked in the parking lot at that time. But who can sleep through such racket?

Part of me suspects that the maintenance staff enjoys the early morning solitude. The early start to the day. It is a most delightful time of the day in the Napa Valley, as the fog sallies up the valley and the air is moist, smells of the ocean and cool.

The building I stay in comes to life about 6 am. That's when doors start banging, showers are taken in the communal shower and the day shift takes the short cut through this building, past my room, taking the elevator which was invented when soft shutting elevator doors weren't invented. All of this to spare themselves a 100 yard walk around the building. The room I stay in is next to these elevator doors that sound like the drums of Mordor when they shut.

If I'm not sleeping, I know the patients aren't. It's hard enough to get sleep in a hospital, what with the poking and the prodding (lab draws start at 5:00 am) so that the doctors can get the information by their 7 am rounds. Healthcare is often more important to the practitioners than it is to the patients.

And so I'm quite exhausted. Feeling droopy. Ready to get home so that I can get some sleep. Back to Concow tonight---where Joni tells me we've had a chicken apocalypse. The coyotes ate 7 of our 11 chickens the other night.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Weed Whacking...

"One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain't nothin' can beat teamwork." Edward Abbey

Spent the day weed whacking. This end of Spring ritual which takes the better part of a few days work. The nice thing about California is, unlike most other places in the US, once you've weed whacked the yard, your mowing is done for the year. I mow/weed whack once a year.

Friday, June 8, 2012

On Foot

 “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” 
Edward Abbey

Down the canyon again, through the burned section, down to the tree. Training for this here 150 mile hike. Dogs in tow. Fun!

This is cheap entertainment. Good for both canine and human. No gym membership required. No special equipment needed other than a decent pair of shoes. All that is needed is a couple of workable legs and a set of eyes that can still see ruts, snakes and other perils.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


"The earth is not a mechanism but an organism, a being with its own life and its own reasons, where the support and sustenance of the human animal is incidental. If man in his newfound power and vanity persists in the attempt to remake the planet in his own image, he will succeed only in destroying himself — not the planet. The earth will survive our most ingenious folly." EA

It has been a bad year for the Mariposa lilies. I've seen a few here and there, but for the most part, very few have bloomed thus far. A strange year. When I look back at other journals, I see that since I've lived here, the Mariposas have bloomed as early as April 22. Another year they bloomed on Memorial Day weekend. So, perhaps, we are just a little behind this year.

I took a strenuous hike down the canyon with my dogs. My herd of canines. My pack. It is time to get serious about training for this here march I've decided to take. Gonna have to shed some weight; go on a diet. Quit my affection for the best, most politically correct burger, fries and shake on the West Coast: In/Out.

Two months until Abbey the dog and I head out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Skunks and Meaning...

"The world is what it is, no less and no more, and therein lies its entire and sufficient meaning." Edward Abbey

The last day of school. Back at the farm.

I took the dogs for a walk before dinner. While walking a woods loop, the new dog I call "Little One" wandered off and started barking in earnest. Then she came running back. A bit of mist encircled her, and then, that lovely odor of skunk. She didn't get a direct hit; just enough to give her a bit of aroma.

I kind of like the smell of skunk. In small doses. When we got home, Joni juiced some hothouse tomatoes (and added basil). We soaked Little One in the juice, washed her off. Other friends had other remedies in mind. The tomato juice worked. All is well. All smell fine.

Which brings me back to Abbey and the quote above. More and more I agree with him that all we need, in fact, all we will ever have, is right in front of us. This planet, this life, this rock, this house, this skunk smell---forget the guru on the hill, the mystic in the Los Angeles Mall, the ever present search for immortality. All we need is here. Let's not screw it up.

So does that mean we don't need spirituality, a "heavenly Father", a Nirvana, Jungian synchronicity? Questions. I'm not ready to abandon a greater possibility---but I do think that it distracts from living our life here. Now.


"Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of truth." Edward Abbey

Well, that election had all the satisfaction of expecting a stay at the Four Seasons and ending up with a room at the Motel 6. What did we learn? That money and populism works in Wisconsin.

Locally, our Assembly District 1 guy, Robert Meacher, came ever so close to making it on to the ballot. Despite no money and very little name recognition, Meacher did a good job of defining what it means to be a rural Democrat. In fact, if the Greens in the district (who got 6 percent of the vote) jumped on board Meacher's common sense environmentalism, Meacher would have made the ballot. When are the Enviros gonna learn the lesson of 2000? And so now we have a choice between a very right wing Bosetti and a lesser right wing Dahle who is staunchly anti-choice. Both of them will sell their souls to Sierra Pacific.

Robert Meacher won in Butte County, thanks to some awesome writing by Jaime O'Neill and a campaign appearance by Meacher where he wowed the crowd.

Charles Rouse came in second in Assembly District 3. A good thing. We now have a soft spoken Anti-Logue candidate. Speak softly and carry some Rationality.

And we can take a whole lot of satisfaction that Sam Aanestad finished with only 14 percent of the vote. The one poll that was taken by La Malfa showed Aanestad and La Malfa  ahead of the Democrat Jim Reed about a month ago. After Aanestad got a bit of exposure on just how vapidly creepy he is, he dropped ten points.

And so we toil on in our silly corner of the State. When I was a young man, I had the opportunity to ask Petra Kelly, the great Green leader who helped found the Green Party in Germany, some sort of high falutin question that had no basis in political reality. I forget now what the question was, but I will always remember her answer: "Are you kidding? You'll be lucky to stop Fascism in the United States, that's your battle". I think she was right.

I remain convinced that our area is evolving. We aren't as hatefully right wing as our reputation. We just need to keep showing up and speaking out.

Onward shipmates!

Saturday, June 2, 2012


"There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California." Edward Abbey

I love California. Especially northern California. Good ole Ed made fun of California a whole lot; he used to call it "Californication". But I love it here. And I intend to stay here.

Mountains and Napa Valley wine. San Francisco, which is a city that is unlike any other--where you can hang out in bars that the two Jacks (London and Kerouac) used to get hammered in. You have the beauty of the ocean. Fresh seafood! Towering Mount Shasta. Mt. Lassen. The Sierra. Deserts. Agriculture. Fresh citrus. Bigfoot. Gold towns. Ghost towns. The Pacific flyway. Gary Snyder and Jerry Brown.

Almost all the great writers I admire have lived here: Jack London, Gary Snyder, Ed Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, John Muir, Ken Kesey, Michael Pollan, Joanna Macy--to name a few.

I split my time between the excesses of the Napa Valley and the backwardness of Concow. Enophiles and Foodies versus Rednecks. It is a life of extremes. My off grid ridge versus the estates of movie stars and nutrition bar entrepreneurs. It is a rich life. It is a life of extremes. I like it.

But how is the training coming? Slowly. Steps today; I'm sore.


"Little boys love machines; girls adore horses; grown-up men and women like to walk." Edward Abbey

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Top Two

"For there is a cloud on my horizon. A small dark cloud no bigger than my hand. Its name is Progress." Edward Abbey

I'm home for a just one day. I pulled in around 2:00 am this morning; couldn't sleep. I fell asleep as the sun was making its appearance.

When I crawled out of bed around 10 am, Joni and I took a walk. A nice walk in the woods. Then errands and a yeoman's effort to get some of these weeds whacked. Looks good (sorry no photos). The Chico News and Review had a nice editorial today regarding my story on Sam Aanestad. You can read it here.

Election day is next Tuesday. Then we shall find out who the "top two" will be in the November election. I'm hoping that one of the top two will not be Sam Aanestad.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ed, Guns and Signs

"Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. 

 If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws."  Edward Abbey

Ed was wrong on this one. I don't really appreciate some parts of Ed Abbey's cowboy anarchism. Since I live in an area where owning guns is the norm, my safety, as an outsider who has views that aren't part of the cultural norm, well, I'm at risk. My own ridge has had multiple mishaps with firearms over the last four years we've lived there. One suicide by firearms. Alcohol, poverty, substance abuse, high value semi-legal agriculture and gun ownership is a frightening thing.

Guns are not the first defense. They might be the last defense for a society--hence Che' picking up the rifle to protect the poor from the oppressors. But having more firepower often makes you the oppressor.

So what is the first defense against tyranny?

1. Education. A free and literate society.
2. Free speech.
3. An egalitarian society. For more see the great book "The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkenson and Kate Pickett.
4. Courageous people who speak up against oppression. One Gandhi can go a long way. Or Jesus.

All these are more important than a Winchester.

I took a forty five minute walk in Calistoga this morning. Training for this hike has led to me getting my day started a whole lot earler. A good thing.  I saw these signs along the way:

 This is what happens when you don't have socialized garbage collection.

 Is this tyranny?

And I'm starting my hike this summer at Donner Summit. This bumper sticker stating we should save Donner Summit is something I need to investigate further.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

104 Steps

"There is something unnatural about walking. Especially walking uphill, which always seems to me not only unnatural but so unnecessary."  Ed Abbey

I drove down to the hospital on Memorial Day, getting passed along the way by pick up trucks towing monster recreational boats (gotta hurry up to the lake so we can slow down!)---to earn my RNey keep.

This morning I was awake to confront "THE STEPS". 104 of them---or sometimes when I try to count them, 105 of the creepy things. I was doing penance for the Mac And Cheese buffet that we had for the patients yesterday. We are never going to be able to suffer through this here upcoming hike on a diet of plate loads of gooey Mac and Cheese. One coworker quipped to me I should: "Just take an extra Simvastatin".

I took some Mac and Cheese back to my room last night for that midnight feast. Bad.

I spent a half hour admiring these steps this morning. I will push myself away from the extra Mac and Cheese I put in the fridge of the place I stay. Let it tempt another nurse.

Ran across this article on the benefits of walking in the woods today.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Suitable Companion

"Balance, that's the secret. Moderate extremism."  Edward Abbey

Every year it is the same thing: I search for a hiking companion. I usually write e-mails to every friend I've ever had and to every friend I wish to make, in the search for a companion to hit the trail with me. Yes, I'd love for Joni to come with me but her back has ended her days on the trail.

This year I wrote my college roommates to ask if they would like to take a "Reunion Hike". None of them wrote back. I asked work friends. No go. No use.

And so I've decided to do the thing myself. I'll meet friends along the way.

However, this year is a good year to take a dog along. The Sierra snows were only 50 percent of normal; the snow pack is low. This means that most of the dangerous river/creek fords will be less hazardous. Meaning a dog can do it.

But which dog? I have three (which is about two too many).

Angel is the elder. Our Yellow Lab. She is four years old now and totally devoted to her girls--that'd be Kylie (age 12) and Jazzy (age 10). Angel is getting to the age where her hips (like mine, but more on that in another post) are getting arthritic. This limits her ability to scamper across rocks. Plus she does like to wander off. Nope, I won't take Angel.

"Little One" (the smallest dog in the photo above) is the newest addition to our family. She is less than a year old and has a bit of the wild left in her. She is just about the friendliest dog I've ever met. She hurls herself into most laps. Her problem is that she likes to run off. Plus she has a tendency to get in trouble. On one walk, she wandered off much too long. Finally she came back---but was being chased by a few coyotes. Little One will find every bit of trouble to get into; she wanders too far; and if there is a doggy virus to catch, she'll catch it. As loving as she is, I think I'd lose her.

So that leaves "Abbey". Abbey is the perfect trail dog: she never leaves my side; she doesn't require a leash; she is fiercely loyal (she chased off the coyotes that were on Little One's tail mentioned in the last paragraph). Abbey does have the wrong color for the trail---being black she requires a lot of water in the hot sun. But I'm comfortable taking her; she will be a good companion.

Abbey will carry her own food in a pack. I'll carry our water. We will take a couple overnight practice hikes before we hit the trail in August.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Abbey and Me...

In August of 2012, my dog "Abbey" and I will take a little 150 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from Donner Pass to the town of Belden. Abbey is named for my literary hero, Ed Abbey---and so this blog will consist of a quote from Ed Abbey (provided on a serendipitous basis from the great Eric Temple and his Ed Abbey Facebook page), followed by some sort of training log, thoughts and whatever from yours truly.

To start it will be a training log. The trip itself will be written about after it is completed. Some folks have followed me in other blogs: welcome. Others might be new. What ever happens, I hope it is fun.

And so, the first Ed Abbey quote is from today:

"A young man should be an adventurer. A middle-aged man should be a producer of useful goods for his fellow humans, a good husband to a wife, and father of children. And an old man should again be an adventurer, not physical as in youth, but an adventurer in ideas."

Sounds like a good place to start. I'd only add that it is important for an old man to be an adventurer physically too.