Tumbleweed on the PCT and Beyond

A Journal

Archive for the month “January, 2014”

Lessons From Piss Ant Flat

A blast from the past has arisen due to a discussion on Facebook PCT Class of 2014 about how best to deal with wild animals when confronted by them on the trail or in camp. My usual advice is to stay still and they will lose interest, but if you are really in the moment with your body’s understanding, you will know exactly what to do in the moment.

This is a longish story but I think brings a lot of the me-ness to where I’m coming from with this whole PCT thing that has grabbed me in my advanced years :). The story begins with the root cause of my back problems…

Here it is, my little story, Lessons From Piss Ant Flat:

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.”-Mother Teresa

I suppose I was 13 years old that year. I was at Girl Scout Camp. Three of us, with one leader, decided to take a back pack trip which was to last several days. We thought it was a really good idea, due to the quantity of supplies we would need for such a long trip, to take a pack animal along to do the heavy hauling. I don’t know if the leader had any experience in handling pack animals but in hindsight I would say, NOT.

So we had this burro who thought it was a really bad idea to be treated as a pack animal. He was okay for the first morning but saw his opportunity in the early afternoon to rid himself of the pack as we were traversing a steep slope. He simply lay down and rolled over and over and over down the hill as we stood by in shock, totally helpless to do anything at all. This was a very successful ploy on his part as it spread the contents of the pack over a huge, nearly inaccessible area, broke the pack saddle, and freed him to run at large in the wilderness.

It took us a few hours to catch him and put everything back in some semblance of order, but finally it was sorted and off we went again. The burro continued his anti pack behaviour over the course of the trip and we were exhausted by the time we were on the last leg of the journey back. We certainly wished we had just taken heavier packs ourselves rather than this pugnacious animal.

Of course on the last day we encountered that same hill again. We made it almost to the top (crossing fingers all the way) when that ASS – yes he was an ASS by that time – did it again! Our endurance by then was at a very low ebb. Perhaps I was not paying attention but at some point in the repacking process I was behind the animal and got kicked. It sent me several feet in the air over the steep slope then off I went tumbling down to the bottom of the hill. My back was badly hurt – it’s an injury that still plagues me to this day. The rest of the day was a nightmare for me but one of the girls helped me out to the highway while the others stayed behind to repack the ass and carry the gear out. People were very kind to me.

Several weeks later a larger group of us were on another pack trip, this time I remember the destination well – Piss Ant Flat. The first night we were sitting around the campfire after a long day on the trail, when one of the girls became quite ill. It was decided that she should be taken back to camp with one leader and a volunteer. I really didn’t want to leave – we hadn’t even got to Piss Ant Flat yet and I was really curious to see what a place with such a name was like! But I was so grateful for the kindness that I had received on the last trip I volunteered to help get the sick girl out. It was a long night of hiking then hitching a ride once we reached the highway, but I felt warm hearted about helping and was happy to do it.

The next morning back at camp there was a debriefing. Apparently the leader we had come out with had reported that I was eager to come back to camp with the sick girl. It was put to me that perhaps I had been too eager. Perhaps I hadn’t wanted to continue with the trip. Perhaps this was further proof I was a malingerer, which they had suspected when I was hurt on the first trip.

I was stunned! I told them I had felt gratitude for being treated with kindness when I had needed it and just wanted to repay that kindness in some way. They were skeptical. More than skeptical. I couldn’t believe that anyone could so misunderstand me.


I always loved Scout Camp and all the leaders. Being there was a way to escape a less than pleasant home life for a month or so each summer and I appreciated everything about it. But these were really unkind cuts. I never held a grudge about that – at least I don’t recall even thinking  about it after that day. And I’ve seen the Mother Teresa quote quite often without it eliciting anything but a nod. Today though, for some reason that old tired quote struck me, as these things sometimes do, with this memory package, nicely wrapped, neat and tidy, fully illustrating from my own life, the truth of what Mother Teresa said. I think that experience was the one that inoculated me against the hurt that comes from the unkind judgments of others. I am grateful.

“The part of that trip I remember is when you hissed at the badger!” 


Thirty seven years later Mrs Wood, her daughter Rebecca and I were sitting around their kitchen table renewing our old friendship. We got to talking about that trip with the reluctant pack animal and laughing at some of our adventures. Probably the funniest part of the trip had to do with our language. Rebecca and I, with the leadership of her mom, and the inspiration of the ass’s behaviour, added quite a lot of color and flavor to our nice Utah girl vocabularies. Anna though, refused to succumb to our low level. She was such a lady! Still, after an especially bad incident with our resourceful pack escape artist, even she succumed. She looked that animal right in the eye and said with a great deal of fire, “Bad Burro!!!”

Strangely, to me, neither Rebecca nor her mom remembered my hurtling down the hill propelled from the heels of our wilful pack animal. No. Mrs. Wood said, “The part of that trip I remember is when you hissed at the badger!”

It wasn’t a part of the trip I had remembered at all, focused as I was on the lifetime of grief that kick down the hill caused, but slowly, slowly, the memory swam back to the surface.

The four of us, Mrs. Wood, Rebecca, Anna and I, plus of course the ass, were negotiating a switchback in the trail and inadvertently cornered a badger. It hissed ferociously at us and we were petrified. It was pretty clear that if anyone moved we might be in big trouble. Then, with a stroke of just knowing, I knew exactly what to do. I lunged to within two feet of that badger’s nose and hissed even more ferociously than he was hissing.

He found his own way out of the situation immediately!

That may have been my first really effective experience with animal communication!


Chair to the 2014 Grand 2 Grand Ultra Marathon – HUH?

I started a blog last year, September 27th to be exact, because I had the bug. I called the blog, The Journey From Chair to The 2014 Grand 2 Grand, I’ve Got the Bug. To see how one can get that bug, here is the gist of the race from the g2g web site:

It is the first stage race to start from the awe inspiring north rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and finish on the summit of the Grand Staircase, one of the world’s most iconic geological formations. The course takes you through a desert landscape of sand dunes, red rock canyons, buttes, mesas and hoodoos. You will navigate compelling slot canyons and cross a tributary of the Virgin River. Experience the remotest part of continental America in the way of the earliest settlers, Navajo and Paiute Indian tribes. This is where Montezuma’s gold is still reputed to be buried.

Observe nature up close in an environment rich in flora and wildlife – from unusual and threatened cacti to big horn sheep to the endangered California Condor, the largest bird in America.

Challenge yourself in the company of an international group of participants who are all eager to complete a world class course, one which has been experienced by very few people.

Here is a video taken during the 2012 race. It’s awesome:


I was volunteering for seven days out in the wilderness with the race support team, I had the bug and I wanted to race in the 2014 g2g. So I started a private training blog. This is how it started:

In the Beginning

I’m 68 turning 69 in a few weeks.

Very top end of “normal” BMI and Body fat.
*Height 5’3
*Weight 137
*Body Fat 36.5%
That’s all up from last winter so I really feel pretty fat.
*In physical therapy for chronic back and knee issues.
*Doing Power of 10 workouts 2 times a week.
*Walk the dog twice a day adding up to 2 to 3 miles.

I intend in the first month to intensify weight training, add consistent yoga, bike, hike with run walk run time as well as continuing my walks with Benny. He will enjoy a bit of run time too. I also intend to get my weight down to 115 before spring so that when I add a 20 pound backpack to my workouts I won’t be loading my knees and hips with any more weight than I am loading them with right now!

All the crew and volunteers and racers had a kick off meal last night. It was scheduled for 6:30 but didn’t happen till 7:30 so I had time to do a workout at the gym. It’s amazing how much more intense I made the workout just by having a super high goal. That’s a big part of this whole thing.

This is what I am going to do with this next year – train.

It’s going to be great!

I had someone take my photo for the “Before” picture on day one as we set out. Here it is:

mebeforepicI really honestly think I look a lot better than that but I did want a sort of objective photo which I hoped would make it look like I’d come a long way in training for the g2g 2014. On a side note, They don’t make tec t’s to fit the girls. Not a look I love :P.

Anyway; A few days ago I noticed that I had this blog from the ancient history of my life so I took a look to see what was there. I posted a little update:

Well this is Strange!

I have just revisited this blog that has been left abandoned for what seems an eternity. Everything about this initial post is exactly what I am now doing with one BIG exception! The event has changed from the G2G to the PCT.

The volunteer experience on the G2G left me cold. I thought it was going to be a wonderful alignment of the best of humans with the awesome best of nature and it just wasn’t. It was all about the race. It was a marvelous production. There is no doubt the thing took an amazing amount of orginizational klout and it really was a tour de force in that respect. And the athlets were awesome. I met some AMAZING people. I got reved up to push my own limits. Just not in that venue. I want more of a “becoming nature” experience for myself.

SO. I decided I’d do the Pacific Crest Trail. I will be putting in 25 mile days for 6 months rather than 6 days and It WILL be self supported! They call the G2G a self supported race. They have to carry everything WITH THE HUGE EXCEPTIONS OF tent, water, stove. No one will be welcoming me at the end of my long days with cheers and cowbells and hot water and a tent to dive into. Nor will a medical team be there for me and I’m pretty sure Ray Zehab won’t be dropping by to lend his motivational support. Nope. My adventure will be entirely self supported, mentally, physically and emotionally.

So the PCT it is. The training remains the same. I have been following the training plan I outlined in my first post except for the yoga. The teacher and I just never made it to the same spot at the same time. The physical therepy has been a resounding success. I sold my car to pay for the UL equiptment I need to have a prayer of finishing the treck from Mexico to Canada and so I do walk a lot, bike a lot, run the dog, all I set out to do a few months ago when I started this blog.

I am feeling great. I weigh 133 with 33% body fat. I’m just now getting back to losing weight but still intend to get to 115 – 120 so that I have less weight on my feet and joints. I still have a long way to go with training but it is all coming together and I have no doubt that after starting the PCT with 10 miles a day and working my way up to better hiking fitness as I go, I will be able to stay the course.

So there is another story about what got me going on this current obsession. Many starts to the things we do till we just find ourselves living them out. Strange.

My First Attempt at Tent Pitching

On a Positive Note

You will be very prepared and you will be very well-connected and if you ever have a problem you don’t know how to deal with, just ask anyone around you and they’ll be happy to help.

You will face challenges and you will overcome them and you will surprise yourself with your own strength.

You will make wonderful friends and take amazing pictures and you won’t be the same person when you’re done.

You’ll never look at maps the same way again. You’ll never think about “miles” the same way again. You’ll redefine the words “dirty,” and “tired,” and “hot,” and “cold,” and “wet” and “dry.” And let me be absolutely clear:

You will be very very very very very very very hungry.

This wisdom was passed on by an old timer while sitting in a meadow on a sunny day surrounded by new hikers with awed looks on their faces with inspiring music playing in the background. Not.

It was passed on via Facebook by Christopher IPoď Condap who wrote it in his pajamas on his couch while trying to decide if he should get up and make frozen meatballs for lunch. (He did, and says they were delicious.)

My New Traveling Companion

mewithpackFully packed with all the clothing for the entire 5 months of wildly varying weather, food for about 5 days, tent, ground cloth, sleeping pads, sleeping bag, stove, all of it! Only the 4 litters of water I will need the first day on the trail are missing. This on it’s own weighs 18 pounds. There may be another 2 pounds added by the time it is all sorted out. With the weight of the water, 8.8 pounds it will all be 28.8 pounds. My goal of under 30 pounds is a reality! WooHoo!!!


Growing Bolder

Well it exhausts me just watching this guy for a few minutes but he and I do share a mission. The question is, do we decline because of age or because of a cultural meme that says old people decline? As we get older do we expect, from what we have been shown all our lives, that we will slowly disintegrate and just relax into that belief, or do we stay active in every way, maybe even get more active since we have more time? We DO have a choice in spite of the mass hypnosis that serves to drag us into oblivion. We do. Check it out.


johnmuirClimb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

“…a good life is one hero journey after another.”

gaian-tarot-seeker-fool-joanna-powell-colbert“The hero journey is one of the universal patterns through which that radiance shows brightly. What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There’s always the possibility of a fiasco.
But there’s also the possibility of bliss.”

Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

True Grit?

In contemplating a 2,660 mile journey one must ask one’s self, “Do I have what it takes?”

Frankly my answer started out with, “Probably not.”

But then as I thought on my general lack of persistence in any endeavor and the total lack of a need to prove myself to anybody, including myself, and my anathema to goal setting, I thought back further. I thought back to my childhood when excellence in physical endeavors was a passion. I worked tirelessly at improving my skills in baseball, basketball and football. I pushed and pushed to make it all the way up that hill that no one had succeeded in biking up before. Balancing acts, climbing feats, getting closest to the edge of cliffs that dropped off into nowhere, even though it scared me to death, anything that I feared became a challenge that I felt compelled to take on and win. I was that kid. So what changed?

It was barely tolerated in the 50’s for a girl to pursue the kind of life that made me tick with joy. People did tolerate it though, UNTIL… And I was able to better the boys in most sports and feats of daring and strength, UNTIL…

I will never forget the day the neighbor boy beat me in a wrestling match. That had never happened. I’d always won. Then one day I didn’t. And I really tried! Something had changed. Wouldn’t you know it, I was an early bloomer. I was 12 and had grown tits. He had gained muscle mass. It was over.

Had it been post-title nine I may have carried on in a different venue. I could have taken my skills from the sandlot and the streets into some recognized sporting endeavors for women. Alas, it was pre-title nine. Even when other girls did get to play a game of some sort in PE or at scout camp, I found the competition totally lame. I kept up with Girl Scouts which saved me in a way with wilderness camping and backpacking, but…

I was talking with my younger son on the phone recently and trying to express to him how good I was feeling in my body. I said, “I haven’t felt this good in my body since, well…” and I cast back and back and back in my mind until I reached that day I lost the wrestling match to the boy next door, “since puberty!” That was a shock! I may be 69 years old and I may need to work quite hard at getting in anywhere near the kind of condition I need to be in to even start the PCT, but I feel more empowered right now than I have felt since that day.

True grit? You betcha! I’ve got it. I may have misplaced it for half a century but I’ve got it and I’m dragging it back into my life.


The Shoe Conundrum

I don’t have naturally happy feet. They get into shoes and one part or another complains about one thing or another. They are happy in sandals. feet

They are happy bare. summer_feet

They were happy for a time in some New Balance Minimals but they got over that.

Today though, after testdriving several different pair of several PCT favorites and finding them disapointing, my feet are HAPPY! We just got back from a 6mi test drive of my new TrekSports. It is good! treksports

I’m not sure they will be okay for the long haul but my feet don’t care right now. Phew.

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