Tumbleweed on the PCT and Beyond

A Journal

Natural Balance

One of my objectives for the PCT hike was to re-enter a more natural relationship with nature than has been possible to me in everyday human life within our western culture. Short forays into nature even on a daily basis, walking and hiking around my beautiful southwestern home, left me unsatisfied in that I could not really take in all that I was seeing of the natural world. I’d always had a sense of being too walled off to take in the awesomeness of the beauty all around my own home, let alone the grandeur of close by wonders like The Grand Canyon or Zion or Bryce.

As an animal and nature communicator I have entered into the heart of the natural world in a mental/spiritual way that was satisfying up to a point, but I wanted more of a total immersion physical experience, a physical experience in which I might take in all around me as I take in air and water. I wanted to hear my cells sing with the place in which I found myself. I wanted the total unselfconscious physical and mental well being and sense of being of the earth that every wild animal enjoys as a birthright. 

Somewhere in the Sierra I found myself, if not totally with the animal unselfconsciousness I was after, as close as I think I will ever get. I noticed that state of being when I found myself one day, fully absorbed in ants harvesting crumbs from my snack. One ant found a fine large crumb which was three or four times his size. He picked it up and made a mighty attempt to walk it off to his colony. He staggered and swayed and made one step then staggered and swayed and took another step. He WAS making headway. It was a mighty feat of mind over matter. That ant was going to deal with that crumb no matter what! Another ant came to help. He got on the other end of the crumb and for a few seconds they worked it back and forth, not quite agreeing on strategy. Then the first ant circled with his end of the crumb and started dragging it. The second ant got the picture and pushed. This was going to work! They were making really good time when a third, smaller ant came along to help. He pushed against the side of the crumb, totally disrupting the progress of the first two ants. They all pushed and pulled the crumb around for a few seconds then the first ant won the day by pulling the crumb away from the others and proceeding backwards toward the colony. 

During the time I watched this part of an ant’s workaday life I was totally absorbed. Absorbed in the way a child would be. It lasted for quite some time. Then I noticed that I was absorbed in ant life and the unselfconscious moment turned back to more “normal” selfconsciousness. Once I became fully aware of watching, the magic went out of the moment and I was just watching ants going about their work.

sierraclouds

Noticing a beautiful scenic vista was somewhat the same experience. There would be that moment when I would notice myself noticing, rather than simply living within it naturally. The magic would morph into an “isn’t that beautiful” moment in which I could feel human me with the big brain standing back and evaluating a subject rather than simply being in the scene without thought. 

I found that both states of being are perfect when in balance. Our usual selfconsciousness and the unselfconsciousness of animals and small children are both beautiful manifestations of our humanity. It probably takes an outlandishly radical move, like spending long periods of time away from the usual pursuits and entering more natural settings for large blocks of time, to find that natural, well balanced and beautiful, human state of being. I know it took that for me. I’m glad I made the effort.

PCT Prep Best Advice I Have to Give

Now that I’m off the trail I have some words of wisdom for all, older women in particular, who may be tempted by the PCT.

1-Think of something easier to do, like shopping or watching tv or chatting with friends or drinking.
2-Always keep #1 in mind while contemplating any outrageous activity.
3-if you do insist on doing something outrageous, do it where there are fit young people around to ogle. It makes the pain of egregious activity almost worth it.
4-if you are pushing 70 and haven’t seen the body you were meant to have for 50 years or so, outrageous activity is probably worth it if only for the few days you achieve that body again before relaxing into the activities listed in #1.
5-Consider again just sticking with #1.

Deep Thoughts on Tumbleweeds

tumbleweed-bonneville-utah_37585_990x742Noxious weeds, tumbleweeds. Everyone who lives near their habitat, which is just about everywhere the soil has been disturbed in arid zones, will agree on this point. I live in such a zone. They grow in my yard and blow in from the thousands of acres surrounding my yard. They can leap tall fences in a single bound and block the entrance to the house within hours in a good wind. They get hung up on the fences they don’t clear, creating a fire hazard. They prick the hell out of you when you try to eliminate them from your life. Full grown they take up too much space to haul off to the dump in a truck so have to be burned. They burn hot and fast so the fire has to be monitored very carefully. On no burn days/weeks you just have to sigh and wish for an opportunity to come soon. Once the yard is cleaned up another wind comes and tumbleweeds clog the yard and fences again. When you are out walking your dog a gust of wind can send tumbleweeds hurtling into your path like something out of a roadrunner cartoon. They can make driving downright torturous in a high wind. Tumbleweeds are a real pain in the ass. Ask anybody.

Before leaving to hike the PCT I surveyed my back yard with it’s abundant supply of tumbleweeds and thought on that as a trail name – briefly – then when all those negative thoughts entered my mind I rejected it. Why take on the name of a noxious weed just because my life is surrounded by them for most of the year every year. Nope. Not going to happen.

But it happened, as all good trail names do, right on the trail, and amazingly it happened within my first hour of hiking. It takes awhile to get to the trailhead at Campo, CA from San Diego so by the time I hit the trail I really had to pee. I had my handy dandy pStyle, a funnel type thing that allows women to stand up to pee, and was outfitted in a skirt for ease of execution. My hiking partner was close by taking notes, as we were both new to this and hungry for info on real time execution. It was really just gear testing afterall. Well I got bashful bladder and couldn’t do a thing. Finally I said, “Oh hell. I’ll just squat!” forgetting that I still had a 30 pound backpack on. I toppled bare ass over tea kettle and got my trail name immediately. Tumbleweed. There ya go. It was just meant to be.

In the next 800 miles I had plenty of time to reflect on my actual similarity to tumbleweeds. Yes I can be prickly but mostly only if people get too close and try to control me. I bounce along and leap happily with whatever change of wind comes along but also can get hung up on various attractants from time to time. I am quite capable of lying around waiting for the next gust to take me wherever, whenever. Mostly though while I may appear to be simply drifting along, as viewed from the usual cultural paradigm, I am tenacious, hearty, cover a lot of ground and sew my seeds everywhere I go.

By the time I was finished on the PCT at mile 800, I was indeed very connected with my tumbleweedness. I AM and I am happy to call myself Tumbleweed.

Blogger Failure!!!

hikingfeetI walked 800 miles on the PCT in just over three months. It was full of ups and downs. I didn’t mention one word of it here on my PCT blog to say nothing of even finishing the story about my Zion shakedown hike. That probably constitutes the greatest blogger failure of all time. You know how much I regret that? ZERO! Not at ALL!

I learned from two of the most awesome trail bloggers of all time, Carrot Quin and Wired that keeping a decent journal takes a LOT of time and ENERGY. While I applaud those who are able to pull off their blow by blow accounts of long trail hiking while actually hiking, I was pretty sure right from the start that I didn’t have the kind of desire and motivation to be a writer and a hiker at the same time. Now that I’ve been a hiker for quite some time and quite some distance I know I made the right decision to just let the writer have a rest and get on with the hike.

I did make a number of videos when my iPhone would allow me adequate battery power and storage space, which wasn’t all that often. Here is my YouTube channel where you can find a hodge podge of videos of the trek in no particular order with widely varying quality. Take a look if you have the interest and some time on your hands.

I do intend to maybe write a book with the trail experience as the center theme. It will not be a blow by blow account but a sort of life overview inspired mostly by my wildly appropriate trail name, Tumbleweed, the working title being, Drifting Along by Tumbleweed. Stay tuned 😉

Zion Shakedown Part 2

Stopping for a snack is a different sort of process for Lori and me. She eats something quickly and wants to get going. I eat slowly and like to linger for a bit. Once we learned that the camp was at the top of the hill, “and on a bit from there,” Lori was ready to get going. I was ready to linger so I told her to go ahead. Off she went while I enjoyed relaxing in the knowledge that someone had actually seen camp #3 and that I would find it in due course. As I was getting my pack on Lori waved and yelled from way up there saying it was loose dirt and slick and lot like Squaw Trail and to be careful. Squaw Trail is here in our little town of Kanab in Southcentral Utah and goes from the town up to the top of a bluff and has some tricky, slippery, straight up sort of footing, so I got the idea before starting up. It was a fine little scramble and while steep not so tricky as parts of Squaw. It was a lot like our familiar trail though and I enjoyed the hike up. She didn’t tell me about the rattle snake she’d come upon there until later. I’m really glad about that. I don’t think I’d have stopped to take video of the scenery had I known that there was a rattler under a rock somewhere along there! 

After several huffing and puffing stops and another shout out from Lori saying she’d found camp #3, I reached the top of the hill and strode out with ease until I came to a T junction in the trail. Each direction looked equally promising. There was a sign but the names with the arrows didn’t mean anything to me. Since our map had put the camp at the bottom of the hill, what I remembered of it didn’t give me much of a clue which way to go. I yelled for Lori but got no answer. I started one direction, looking for her boot prints but didn’t see them in the mass of prints on the busy trail. All the prints seemed to be going the other way though so I turned around and tried that way. Again I couldn’t find her prints and all the prints seemed to be going the other way from me. I engaged my intuition and turned around again. I tooted my whistle trying to raise Lori to no avail so kept going with the intuitive direction. Finally I heard voices! They came toward me and woohoo it was two women coming toward me. I asked if camp #3 was up there and they said YES! Well.

Shakedown Lesson #2. Don’t let the person with the map take off without getting some idea of what you will be coming to up the trail when it comes to a T junction.

My Zion Shakedown

zionhikeSo I thought I’d take a real life hike rather than just endlessly trying to buy gear to cover every imagined scenario that might be encountered on the PCT.

My friend Lori and I decided on a perfect 2 night trip that would push my mileage a bit and offer temps around the high 20’s to check out gear.

We were unable to reserve campsites online so we showed up at the Park Service Station at 7:30 to make sure to get there before anyone else to claim our chosen campsites.

We were the first to get there but alas, tis Spring Break and all the wilderness campsites but one were fully booked. So we took the one, on the southwestern desert trail that may may have higher temps and may or may not have water. Okay. We’d stay at a close in campsite, 3 miles in, easy hike, then go to another the next day quite far in, 7 miles or so, on the preferred trail and add an extra day for another site the next day. Good. All set.

So we loaded up on water for the possibly dry hike/camp and set off. The first thing I learned is that my beloved Five Finger Spyridons were not going to work. A fully packed hike a couple of days before had left my feet tender and once I started this trail it became apparent my feet were demanding more cushioning. Thankfully it was an immediate lesson and I was able to run back to the car to change into my Altra Lone Peak’s. So I have come down to the Altra’s as the one shoe I will take on the PCT. Sad but good in that I won’t have to take the weight of extra shoes to determine the best on the trail. One shakedown lesson down, off we went again.

Soon we came to the creek which we were told may or may not be dry and it was running nicely. We sat down and got some water, just because we could, and the sawyer squeeze filters worked a treat. My method of getting the water from the stream and into the tiny opening of the bottles that fit the filter worked perfectly. It was a beautiful day and I basked in the sun and did some stretches. Life was good. While we were basking there in the sun and enjoying the prospects of the short day and plenty of water, two spring breakers came down the trail and stopped to say hi. We said we were going to camp #3 and they said they were supposed to stay at camp #3 the night before but were unable to find it. They walked and walked and walked and finally turned around and stealth camped at another one they had passed. Hum…

Oh well. We are super sleuths. We will find camp #3. Off we go. Pretty soon we turn up the dry wash indicated on the map. All is well. It’s a beautiful day and we are feeling good. We walk the distance indicated on the map and by the ranger that should put us squarely into camp #3. None of the landmarks we expected had yet appeared. We walked some more, and some more, and a bit more. Hum…

So we decide to stop and have a snack. When in doubt, stop for a snack. That’s how we roll.

While we are snacking we hear people. Pretty soon we see people. They are about 800 feet above us. Above us as in straight up. We yelled, “Is camp #3 up there?” Yes was the answer, then as they came down to us they said it was up there and quite a way on from the top. Hum…

The ranger and the map had camp #3 before that steep trail to the top of the bluff. In fact we were snacking in just about the exact spot where camp #3 should have been in relationship to the proximity of that trail. Hum…

Okay. Fine. Off we go. More or less straight up. At one of my huffing and puffing breaks up the trail I took this video.

 

To be continued.

 

Part 2 Milking the Platypus 

I brought along my new Platypus Hoser 3L Hydration Bladder to try even though I’d had leakage issues from the bite valve ever since getting it and trying it out at home. I really wanted it to work because it is only 4 ounces as opposed to my tried and true Osprey at a hefty 10 ounces. If you can cut 6 oz. here and 6 oz. there you have a pack that you can actually enjoy hiking in as opposed to it being a grueling slog on the trail. And, being rather old for this game, I want to give my feet and joints every chance to endure a walk to Canada. So I have become not only a “gear head” but a real “gram weenie” in my efforts to reduce pack weight.

At home, since the Platypus was leaking for no particular reason that I could see, I installed a cut off valve from my Evernew system. Yes, I have gear for parts now. My dining table, kitchen counters and buffet are the equivalent of a redneck’s front yard. All that stuff may not work now but the parts could be valuable some day. With the bite valve and it’s new cut off valve in place and working as expected I thought I had every chance of success on the trail even though it did leave a tiny puddle on the dining room table while sitting there overnight. Hum…

From the first moment getting into my pack it was oozing a bit if I bent over or moved in any way it didn’t approve of. I tried various configurations of anchorage to my pack to no avail. It wasn’t a BIG problem, just a very annoying problem. Another annoying thing was that while it felt free to dispense water at will, it basically refused to dispense water at MY will. Getting water from the thing was really fairly tricky when I actually tried drinking from it. But hey, I’ll get the hang of it. Right? Hum…

 

Loving this Life

I’m hiking every day with a bit of weight to get ready for my big start day just three weeks from now.

Two miles into today’s training hike with 19 pounds on my back this shady place was just too hard to pass up. I kicked back to enjoy the view.

hikingshoes hikingtrish

All together I did 4.60 miles (I thought it would be further than that) with a hike time of 1:23 hrs. I took trekking poles which I have only used one other time and by the end felt like a pro  I think they quickened my pace a bit because I generally only do 3 mi per hour. The 19 pound pack was very comfortable and actually had everything in it for what I think would be the usual distance between re-supplies except for my puffy jacket (7 oz) microfleece beanie, gloves and some electronics.

It was a very pleasant hike and I fell in love all over again with where I live. Miles and miles of beauty and solitude right out my door. I am a lucky woman.

There are moments when we experience a supreme appreciation for where we are. I had that heightened sense on my hike today. I thought, as I saw all the beauty around me and felt so good in my body and in my life, that if for some reason this was the end of this whole PCT experience, it would have been worth it all anyway. It’s that good, this journey.

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.

And now I say WHO CARES WHAT MY MOTIVE WAS ANYWAY!

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!” 

hissingbadger

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3toxwQQE2wE#t=3

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

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