Back on the Grid…warning a tweet per hiking day to follow. #PCT2012

Before Hike

Halfway through Hike

After Hike

It’s taken me a few days to adjust to a full speed life.  One full of multiple threads, cars, phones, computers, many people and the organizing of all of these things.  Over the past week, from August 24 – August 31, the only stuff I organized was items in each stuff sack, the stuff sacks into the pack, thoughts in my head and potentially thoughts into writing in a journal.  Simple.  Easy.  Realistically unsustainable but enjoyable as heck while I was out there.

Out where you ask?  The High Sierras in Northern California.  108 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park to Hwy 4 at Ebbett’s Pass.  Desolation.  After the first day away from the Yosemite trailhead until the parking area of our last day at Ebbett’s Pass, we saw less than 15 hikers.  One day we saw a single hiker.  Desolate.  We saw more cows than people on the entire trip.  We hiked on more mountains too.

We?  Who’s we you ask?  Me and my friend Tom who has been one of two primary hiking buddies over the past 15 years (the other is my Dad).  Trailname:  Ironweed.  Until this week we didn’t know that trail names actually meant anything.  When you wife tries to contact you via normal means to relay some serious news, she doesn’t get you.  When she goes to extraordinary efforts to get a message to me via park rangers, they will only relay it via trail name.  Who knew?  In addition, it helps for the hikers to check bulletin boards at trailheads for these important messages.  The one and only road crossing/trailhead opportunity we had would have been at Hwy 108 at Sonora Pass on Day 5.  We didn’t check.  Message not received.  Funeral missed.  Lesson learned.  Discussions requesting me to carry a satellite phone have been held, considered and subsequently denied – I think I’d stop hiking before carrying that weight.  Bullheaded?  Yes.  Principled?  I like to think so.  The cost of missing a simple note on Wednesday of last week was being able to say goodbye to my sweet Granny with my extended family.  Seeing the note would have required a 50 mile hitch on 3 different roads (likely 3 separate hitches), many flight and airport changes and still a real chance that I would have missed it.  But, alas it would have offered a decision to be made vs. one rendered.  I appreciate Cindy and Tom’s wife Debbie for their efforts.  They were not small.  I also appreciate the wilderness officers who helped them.  Above and beyond.  I miss my Granny.

So, back to the trip…Was the trip good?  Yes.  Excellent.  Some basic highlights:

  • Perfect weather.  Lows in the mid-30s, highs in the low 70s.  Cloudless skies.
  • Tough but gorgeous terrain – I have a new appreciation for the word ‘canyon’ – we hiked several deep ones.
  • Fairly easy late-season water.  Only once did we have to adapt our hike to have ample water.
  • Benedryl on the next hike:  I was stung by a bee (a first).
  • Cowbell – many grazing cows in the final 2 days.  Their cowbells were fun.
  • Coyotes – howling at a full moon on our last night.  Don’t they know that’s a stereotype?
  • Bear Bin – no matter how hard you try, 2 days of food on an 8 day trip won’t fit in the Bear Bin.  Hanging food is a laughter-rich activity.
  • Avalanches/Mudslides/Rockslides – real activity in these parts.  Don’t mess with this kind of nature.
  • GoreTex – not only does it keep feet dry, but also cleaner than non-GoreTex shoes.
  • Sunburns – when you feel like the sun is behind you all day, even if it doesn’t make sense, reapply sunscreen to the back of your legs.
  • No mules, all llamas – most Sierra trips have been mule-filled.  This once was llama-filled.
  • Only a few revelations for me – one of them:  learn to make cheese. Another: the lower elevation a lake is the more likely it is to be a pond or even a swamp.

Altogether another fantastic trip.  Plenty of lakes and rivers to keep relatively ‘clean’ and great time with nature, thoughts and a good friend.  Glad to be back with my family but always looking forward to the next one!

Click here for a slideshow of the trip

Click here for all of our pics a la Flickr

Off the Grid

(Apparently this didn’t post prior to my hike…2nd time’s a charm, right?)

So here I sit…In flight at 35,000 feet on my way to SFO where I’ll take the BART to the Lafayette stop where moments before I’ll text my friend and hiking buddy Tom K (aka “Ironweed”, aka “The Colonel” aka “TK”) to pick me up and drive me to his family’s place just outside of Oakland, CA.  A quick pack packing, some chitter chatter, and off to my bed for a quick night’s sleep.  My last in an actual bed for at least 7 nights, could be 8 nights.  We will wake early and drive to Yosemite where we will grab our permits, meet a car shuttle driver and promptly disappear into the woods of California.  The first day will be about pacing, both our steps and our conversation.  An agenda might be set so we can capture relevant topics to catch up on, after all, it has been nearly 2 years since we last hiked together (Bishop to Whitney Portal via Mount Whitney Summit at 14,450 feet).  There’s lots to catch up on when you have only exchanged an occassional phone call and email over this time.  In my mind this is one of the signs of a true friend.

Of the entire trip, today is the toughest day.  Goodbyes for 9 days to the kids and Cindy.  Last minute chores (mowing, shopping) and life’s great pleasures too (solo coffee in a coffee shop on a work day, dropping my youngest off at school, lunch with my best friend and wife Cindy) made up today.  Today, I’m no closer to being back with my loved ones.  In fact, today, I only get farther from them.  Tomorrow, as of the first step onto the trail in Yosemite, I’m at least a step closer.

The blessings in my life are all too amazing.  A wonderful wife who I admire and love, fantastic family who I adore, perfect parents who have taught me so much and more of everything than I need.  I take all of this for granted way too often which is precisely why I feel this draw to these hikes.  A reminder or wakeup call to myself of what I tend to fall away from with the insertion of life’s routines.  A reason to connect with my thoughts and come back a better husband who thinks more proactively about my wife and how to contribute to our marriage.  A more patient father who finds more opportunities to connect with my children in fun, memory-making ways.  A father who remembers fatherhood is not all about teaching lessons but showing love, grace, peace and character.  A son who experiences his parents as they grow a bit older rather than one who worries about their quirky characteristics, some of which are brought on by them growing a bit older.  Ultimately, I am a seeker of perspective.

There are some great other benefits of being “off the grid” for 8-9 days.  Exercise.  Roughly 6-7 hours a day of it.  Routine.  Pack up, walk, unpack.  Nature.  So much of it you actually have trouble seeing it after a few days.  Internal cleansing.  No more pesky dairy products getting in the way of what would be an otherwise normal digestive process.  Facial hair.  When else can you go nearly 2 weeks without shaving?  Friendship.  Ever spent 8 solid days in nature with one of your close friends?  8 solid days anywhere?  Again, back to why I’m so blessed and thankful.  I know, I’m also likely not brave enough to hike in the desolation of wilderness on my own.

So, I have been asked some interesting questions as I have told folks of this hike:

What do you do with your stuff while you are hiking?  Carry it – ideally in my pack.

What about bears?  Ideally we co-exist peacefully.  If not, run downhill in zig-zags if chased.  If caught, play dead and pray.

Do you share a tent?  Nope – unless you count my backpack as a tent-mate.

What do you eat?  Mostly water-based foods, processed foods, light foods, compressable foods – 23 meals plus snacks have to squeeze into a bear bin roughly the width of two 2-liter bottles and the height of one two liter bottle.  And cheese.  This trip a nice hard, dry Gouda of the non-smoked variety.

Boots or shoes?  Hiking Shoes

What do you do when  you aren’t hiking?  Mostly pump water, cook/eat, write in my journal, relax, stare at the landscape/stars/moon, sleep.  Occassionally swim if the opportunity arises.

What do you do with your journal writings from your hikes?  Right now, stuff them in my nightstand drawer.  I aspire to documenting them online in a database of sorts…one day.

Do you see other people out there?  Yes, mostly of the backpacking variety.  2-4 per day would be typical.  Sometimes more.

Well, that’s about all for this entry.  The world as we know it right now?  The Curiosity Lander made it successfully to Mars.  This was a cooler event than I thought it would be.  Twitter is one of my favorite time-waters (@jasut is my handle).  The current President is trying to get re-elected.  His economy isn’t helping his cause.  His opponent (Mitt Romney) is helping his cause.  I’m not undecided.  Our approval rating of Congress is at an all time low.  Primarily because divorcees get along better than our two political parties do.  The Summer Olympics just ended.  The USA did well.  I miss them a little – even with NBC continuing to push tape-delayed prime-time coverage.  Large banks are still hurting.  People primarily read from electronics.  I’m one of them.  Network television is getting crushed by cable content which is getting slowly eroded by online content.  2  people at a movie can run you $20 just for entry.  $40-45 if you decide to eat food from the theatre.  A dying way to get movies for sure.  Netflix won’t stream anything of relevance but somehow they’ve hooked my 3yo on unlimted curious george episodes.  My Grandmother is very ill.  Pray for her.  There’s no person on Earth who has embodied peace like my sweet Granny.  Mother Theresa called her for tips on good intentions, peace and goodwill to others.

So you waded through this rambling article and feel like you need something to come from it.  Ok, that’s fair.  I’ll offer two things: 1) Here’s some pictures of me and the family from the past month or so.  Just regular life.  Some funny shots, a Lazy5 Ranch visit, the first day of school, teeth losses.  2) A write-up from the hike.  Enjoy.

Click here for a slideshow of our past month.