Flash and I trudged up the switchbacks from Cajon Pass in the late afternoon. We had long heard about this steady 22 mile climb, often bereft of water and intense of heat. We had lucked out though; there was a pleasant breeze, and as our trail angel who gave us a ride (Swingman) had told us, the grade was not steep. Because this has been a flower explosion in the desert, we walked through tiny aromatic gardens. This 225 mile hike was starting off in a good way.
Blooming century plant!
At the Swarthout road cache, we didn't need much water, so we pressed on, leapfrogging a happy couple we dubbed The Brits. Finding a protected campsite at the 12 mile mark, we set up camp, soon joined by a couple of German girls (whom we never saw again. The trail is like that).
Camp, night one! Successful pitches after 12 miles.
Everyone around us was debating about Mount Baden Powell. At nearly 10,000 feet, on a typical year this mountain was no problem in May. This was not a typical year. There had been multiple rescues already, and people said grimly that spikes and ice axes were still needed. Flash and I had neither, and we were contemplating the alternate, a ten mile road walk. We weren't overly excited about the prospect, but slipping in the snow didn't sound too fun either. We would wait, we thought, and see what happened as we got closer.
Morning. The Brits tried to explain to us these were clouds, when it was really fog.
On the way to the next water source, a spring at Guffy Campground, we came upon a mansplainer. Sadly, trail life is not exempt from this species. "I was going to camp where you did," he pontificated, "but I decided to go farther." He proceeded to tell us how to hike, and how to approach snow in the mountains. At Guffy, he showed up to tell us that there was snow on the way to the spring. (Spoiler alert: we never saw him again either).
Passing by a closed ski resort, we noticed the weather getting colder, with some ominous clouds in the distance. After 20 miles, we came to a closed campground and decided to park it there for the night, due to the convenience of bear boxes. We were all alone as the wind howled above us. Surely it would warm up, I thought as I huddled in my tent. Previous year hikers had moaned about the heat, and how they had to night hike to survive.
An unwelcome noise awoke me. Not a bear, but the sound of...rain. Flash and I are used to rain, and so we packed up and headed out, bound for Highway 2. The rain and fog made it clear that this was not a day to summit Baden Powell. Up there, it would surely be a whiteout. Our only choice was walking Highway 2.
There are moments in everyone's life when they wonder just why they have signed on willingly for something, and this was one of them. The rain and wind buffeted us without mercy, and I could feel myself getting more wet and frozen by the minute. To my horror I realized my rain jacket had failed, and I was completely soaked. Miserably we fought hypothermia, walking the road until a beacon of hope shone forth in the form of....an outhouse.
We ran for it, and fell inside. Away from the rain, there was a superficial feeling of warmth. I struggled to open a bag of crackers. I had sunk to a new low: eating in an outhouse. Would this rain ever stop? Would I ever be warm again? Could this really be Southern California? Huddled in a toilet, I pondered my life choices.
To be continued...
I was still smiling at this point. That did not last. Photo by Flash.
Lately, the conversations between myself and Flash have included the following:
"Can you bring trekking poles on a plane?" "I really don't know how all this is going to fit in my pack." "I'm worried I don't have enough food." "So. Much. Food." "Are you bringing microspikes?" "I'm putting my poncho in my Bag of Indecision."
You've guessed it, we are off to hike another two sections of the PCT. For some reason, I have packed and re-packed, second- and third- and fourth-guessed. One reason is because the trail ascends Mount Baden Powell, a trail so snowy that people have fallen and broken bones and had to be rescued earlier in the season. It is allegedly better now, but hikers are still road walking around it. Do we bring our microspikes and then have to carry the darn things the next hundred miles? Also, we are carrying seven days of food rather than spend the time it would take to hitchhike into Wrightwood, which 99% of hikers do. With a big water carry at the same time, I am eyeing my pack to figure out what I can dump.
Despite all this, I am looking forward to just walking for two weeks. As my PCT adventure winds down (I only have one more section after this), I want to think about all the different miles I've walked, and all the companions along the way, people like Cherry Pie, Short Cut, Man in Black, Beekeeper; and then all of the others whom I met briefly but won't forget for the moments in time we intersected: Continental Drifter, Diesel, Shepherd. I never set out to hike all of the 2,650 miles but somehow, it looks like I am going to.
I am rehiking about 60 miles I have already hiked, because Flash wants to and because it's challenging to bridge the gap up to the dirt road where Triscuit and I bailed in a snowstorm. It will be good to hike them; I still wish I had holed up in town to let the storm pass and hiked on. But there should be no regrets.
We have sent two resupply boxes and have a box to check at the airport (because the TSA says trekking poles are banned, although numerous accounts of those who have succeeded exist); I have a cork ball for foam rolling, KT tape for stuff that might hurt, two sets of insoles, camp shoes and a Kindle. Ultralight I am not. I plan to treat this section differently. Usually I rush through on a mission. This one I will savor.
I'll be back, friends, with desert stories to tell.
Elevation profile of the first 112 miles, postholer.com
I can't believe it, but I have lived in one place for ten years. The old me would have been horrified by this. Keep moving, see what is around the next bend, was my mantra. People who stayed in one place were..boring. (They really weren't, but I was young. Forgive me.)
Part of this incessant traveling was based in my line of work, which was largely seasonal, and necessitated leaving when I was thrown out of the bunkhouses. Plus, there was an always changing cast of characters who gushed over the exciting places they had been over the past season. Who wouldn't want to be part of a migration like this? It was an incredible experience that I wouldn't trade on most days, even those when people younger than I am can retire (we can have amazingly young retirements in this agency) and who come into my team at the same level as I am but are twenty years younger. Life choices, but I feel as though I made the right ones.
On Sunday, L and I made an annual pilgrimage to Freezeout Saddle. Some of us go there every spring. It is how we mark the beginning of renewal, and register the differences between the years. "The balsamroot isn't even out," she observed, unusual for this late in the year. Down in the canyons, we snagged boughs from a blooming feral apple tree. We climbed up the switchbacks to the saddle, where it lived up to its name as we burrowed in down jackets and hid behind rocks. It is never warm at Freezeout, but that is part of the ritual.
some snow over in Idaho
As we descended toward the sun, I missed my discovery days fiercely. It isn't the same, going on short jaunts away from the county. Back then, I moved to whole new ecosystems, exploring blank spots on the map. It is hard to admit that part of my life is over. At the same time, I listened to L as we drove down the somewhat creepily fascinating access road. She pointed out all the abandoned cabins. Who used to live where, the scandals and mysteries that made up this part of the landscape. "I've known Pam since the 1970s," she said. "She used to live over here." What would that be like? Here in a place with so much history, I am caught between two extremes--no longer a traveler, but not a local.
"If I were single, I'd be going to Greenland too," I whispered to Big Spindrift, who travels the globe doing temporary jobs like this. But would I? I don't know. He has a house, but he is never in it. Others take care of his dog. While we all flock to see him on the infrequent times he is in town, he can't maintain the same level of friendship as if he stayed. I've left really good friends and we promised to keep in touch--but invariably, distance separated us.
Maybe I'm always wanting what I can't have? I think about the canyon and the people who fought hard to stay there. The books I write, that are always bound to landscape. There's something to be said for familiar pilgrimages. There's also something to be said for adventure. How to merge them both, that is the question.
I trooped into the physical therapy office. All around me people moved slowly with canes, and I felt a little out of place as I bounded along on the elliptical trainer, "warming up." I would be remiss not to speak of adventure's darker side, which are the little, non-surgery-warranting issues that can crop up. Mine are the result of a trail running fall years ago, which somehow convinced my glutes to "not activate." Why things don't activate is a result of stronger muscles taking over when they shouldn't, and also, scar tissue.
My PT approached me with the dreaded Graston tools. These instruments of torture, which I have written about before, break up scar tissue. She ran one tool along the side of my hip, and I could feel it, a crunchy sound. Scar tissue can help a person initially but, ultimately, it's bad. Graston tools, foam rollers, little cork balls--any of these things can break up scar tissue. Then the affected part can move more freely.
"Your IT band is the victim here," she said. I had always thought the opposite--that the problem originated there. Dumb IT band! I had spent hours torturing myself with foam rollers and stretching, when instead it was my hip. Armed with a resistance band and some stretches, I bounded back out of the PT office.
To take this into a tenuous metaphor, I think all people of a certain age are walking points of scar tissue, although they may not know it. The scar tissue that is emotional can't be scraped away with a Graston tool. How does it hold us back?
Anyway, at least the physical part we can fix. I now am walking around with activated glutes, some KT tape along my IT band, and a happier outlook. Bring on the adventures.
This August I will have written this blog for ten years. Ten years! I started it when I was leaving Alaska and a life that was in many ways more adventurous than the one I have now (My job involved going out on 5 day kayak patrols. Definitely can't compete with that). Though it was dark and lonely at times, I had much more to write about than I do now. I often think, how interesting can this blog really be anymore? I have lived in the same place for a decade. I often hike to the same places. I don't travel internationally or compete in adventure races.
I don't like to push my books or have ads on here. It doesn't really serve a purpose other than to chronicle my life. Does the world really need another self-absorbed personal journal? Most of the blogs I followed back then are now defunct. People have moved on. Youtube channels are now the thing, going along with the limited attention span a lot of people seem to have now. Who wants to read anymore?
I also think about bloggers' roles in publicizing places. Part of what I always liked was discovery. I didn't need to know the elevation profile, or what a trail was like, or the precise coordinates of a lake. There were plenty of times when we floundered with a compass, stumbling upon the lake we wanted, or we didn't. Discovery. I think that's important.
Okay, now I sound old. I am going to keep blogging through the end of my PCT adventure, but I'm not sure beyond that. I'm not a full-time adventurer, or even a half time one. I don't choose to share tips or even how to get to a place (places are overrun enough as it is without my contribution). Is it even relevant? Should this just be a private personal journal?
The other day in the gym, my friend Big Spindrift, who travels more than anyone I know, financed by a lifestyle that includes stints in winter operating bases in Greenland, said that I travel more than anyone he knows. That doesn't seem true to me. My life seems smaller now. It's by choice, because I have someone I love, and pets, and friends I don't want to lose. Is that OK? Most days it is. Can you be an adventurer forever? Maybe you can. Will you want to? Maybe. Maybe not.
"Okay," Ashley said. "Everyone can hike their own pace from here to the rim." She glanced at our twitchy faces. "But no redlining!"
I had been on this otherwise great guided winter guided trip in the Grand Canyon (back in 2013), but the one thing driving me crazy with a guided group was the need to hike at someone else's pace. Don't get me wrong, the other hikers weren't slouches (I still hike with three of them to this day), but your pace is your pace. I eagerly booked it up the trail, free at last.
Not redlining at the Canyon
I've often thought about that comment though. Obviously, Ashley didn't want us to hike so fast that we would collapse and die (that wouldn't look good for their company). But there's a time and a place for redlining (which I define as pushing yourself as hard as you can, staying just on that edge). I tend to try to redline fairly often, though not for the whole hike, or run. And there are definitely days when I take it easy.
This week I decided to do some bike trainer rides and some walks. It's hard not to feel guilty about not pushing it, but a scratchy throat and sleepless nights persuaded me not to be a hero. In the past, I would have ignored all those things and pushed on regardless. I like to think I am wiser now. It's not like I'm training for anything but life.
Instead, I lumbered along behind the dogs, feeling sort of like a big blimp but also enjoying the chance to just look around. For example, here are some hard core pioneers in the campground:
And I discovered the joy of an easy run. Back in the day, I wouldn't have been seen dead running this slowly. But you know what? I don't care anymore! I even stopped to take a picture on my running route. The horror!
And wondered in vain what these tracks were from (below).
I can't make every day an easy day, but when I do, I really enjoy it. The redline will return when I'm feeling better.
Please bear with, because in the ten years I have been writing this blog, I have had many offers to put ads on it, have guest posters, and review stuff. In those ten years I've only allowed two products on here, and I don't have sponsored posts, because if someone pays me to write, how can I say if I don't like it?
So when Colorado Aromatics approached me about reviewing their face cream, I hesitated. But I went to their website and looked around. I read that their products are herb-based, and they don't test on animals or use animal products except beeswax. Also, they participate in farmer's markets and their skin care is meant to help those with "outdoors skin." Those things I can get behind. However, even if they sent me a free jar, I wasn't going to say glowing things unless I meant it.
Oh, how I rue the days when I "laid out" on the back porch, reeking of Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil with 2 spf (2!). Later, I worked at high elevations as a wilderness ranger, not putting on sunscreen because I thought I looked better with a tan. I worked outdoors most of my adult life and as you all know, I love to be outdoors. Now I slather myself with sunscreen but the damage is done. Plus, I live in a severely dry climate, in a house that is heated with wood. My poor skin. I have spent a small fortune on hopes in jars.
Which brings me to Colorado Aromatics. So far, I'm a fan. The cream isn't one of those heavy ones where you feel like you are putting spackle on your face. It's light and my skin drinks it up. It has a light scent, which might bother some people, but to me it smells "herby" and nice. I've been also putting it on my hands, which are severely dry and awful looking, and I've seen a difference; the dry patches seem to be improving. The ingredients are actually real extracts like green tea and fennel and raspberry seed.
I have a lovely red "solar spot" that I raced to the doctor in concern about, only to have her say it's from the sun. I've been putting the Springtide Gold on it and it seems to be fading. As far as my wrinkles, I still have them, but nothing topical is really going to change that.
The only downside, if there is one, is that I try to wear a moisturizer with sunscreen during the day, so I can only use this at night. But sunscreen is problematic as well, because who knows what's in it? Colorado Aromatics, make a natural sunscreen!
Mainly what I love about this cream is the mission and the commitment to natural ingredients. And that they make it for outdoor skin. The price isn't bad either. So, if you are in the market for a face cream, check them out. They have tons of other products too, not just face cream. I'll report back after I finish the jar.
Thanks for reading this product review. There won't be many of these--three in ten years isn't too bad. If I do it, you know I like it.
Younger peeps--do not use tanning beds! Use sunscreen! Trust me on this one.
"You don't need to take the pack test," the coordinator said. "Not if your highest fire qualification is ABRO. In fact, you're not allowed."
I sat there feeling a little tearful. Not take the work capacity test for firefighting? I had taken one every year since 1986. (Now is the time to say that when I was a lot younger, I used to think it was cute and adorable to chirp, I wasn't even born then! when people would bring up a date far back in history. Sadly I now see how annoying that is. Please don't do this.)
Let me explain(long backstory, skim or skip if you know this). My first "permanent" job was as a wildland firefighter. Before that, I worked seasonally as one. I also mixed in some years on a trail crew and as a wilderness ranger, but back then it was all hands on deck. If a crew was going out, everybody who could swing a tool went out, whatever your job label was. (This has changed now.) For the years that I was in "full time fire", I worked on fires twelve months out of the year. Even after I jumped ship to recreation management, I was recognized for having lots of experience, so I went out a lot. It was only when I moved to my current location things changed. A combination of my job situation (not a ton of support for it) and the fire organization here (heavy on the men component, not very interested in outside help) that it changed. I lost a lot of my qualifications, keeping a handful, one of which is ABRO (aircraft base radio operator), but I always had line qualifications, where you actually trudge out on the line and dig, until now. In order to do that, you have to take a work capacity test: walk 3 miles in 45 minutes or less with a 45 pound pack (harder than it sounds).
We're all caught up? Good. Anyway, this would be the first year in (gasp) 34 that I wouldn't be taking the test. And I am thinking of not keeping the ABRO; it's interesting but mostly sitting with a bunch of radios. I do a lot of sitting in my real job. So that would mean no qualifications in fire at all. Giving it up. For good.
When I mention this to people, they say things like, "you haven't really gone out in a long time." "That was a long time ago that you did fire." "You have other things you like to do with your time." All true. But it feels strange to let it slip through my fingers. Something that has woven itself into your identity, even if you no longer actively pursue it, is hard to let go. My letting go of marathon and half marathon running was the same, even though I knew that in order to still run in advanced age, I had to do it.
Another thing is that in letting go, I feel like I am leaving Roger out there on the fireline. Which is silly too, since he died on the line in 1994, a lifetime ago. If he were alive today, he would be happily retired. Staying tenuously connected to firefighting feels like I can still see him, that he is not fading from memory.
Letting go of things you used to do feels like a retreat, a concession to aging that I don't want to admit. At the same time, you have to know when to call it. I don't know why fighting fire was so important to my identity, I wrote a whole book about it and I'm no closer to the answer. I don't know why it still feels so relevant even though it's been years since I hiked on the line itself. I don't know why I still feel like that girl with a braid carrying a pulaski, a girl who would rather be nowhere else than where she was.
But still. Part of life, if you are going to stay interested and interesting, is evolving. Getting out of ruts. Getting away from "used to be" to "am." I'm fascinated to see where I decide to go.
As I sat to write this blog, my cat Puffin plopped himself on the keyboard. When I had to reach around him to get to the keys, he growled. I get it, Puffin, I do.
If you look around you on social media, it will seem like everyone but you is constantly on the move, having amazing adventures. Nobody really writes about the times in between, when it's all kind of...ordinary. When you just go to the gym, and to work. Please tell me you have those days too.
Now this would be something interesting. My gym just has people lying on the floor doing exercises by the machines I want to use.
I've been in this space since returning from the tropics. Winter has lingered on, but the snow isn't great for skiing. It's been burnished to a hard sheen, perfect for catastrophic falls. The trails aren't giving up their snow either. You posthole and slide on ice, neither condition good for running or hiking.
It's at times like these that I'm glad that my life doesn't revolve completely around the outdoors. Every day doesn't have to be an adventure worth documenting for others to like. What have I been doing? Revision, mostly, trying to decide if my kayak ranger memoir is worth publishing. Finishing up my latest novel to send to my agent. This is mostly a seesaw of despair and elation, a one person, solo ride that nobody really cares about, much. My other books continue to sell, slowly, not at a rate I would like but better than nothing.
I've been getting out as much as the country will let me. Ruby and I made a couple of brief forays, one to the lake, where we walked along the edge and dreamed of swimming someday (well, she swam, but I'm not that brave).
We also attempted a hike on the East Fork Wallowa trail, but the snow was impossible (though not for the dog), so we wandered through the closed campground instead. It wasn't incredibly satisfying, but better than nothing.
I've also been slowly prepping for my next PCT hike which will take place in about a month. Much to my surprise, Flash has decided to go with me. That makes me happy. I've agreed not to charge up the hills (my superpower) as long as she doesn't leave me too far behind on the downhills (her superpower). When I first decided to do this section in May, the locals there had dire warnings of how hot it was going to be. "You should go in the winter," they warned. But this has been a snowmageddon in California, and people are currently skipping parts of that section. So it was the right decision after all. Since the section begins at a McDonald's, I've decided to pack out a milkshake. I rarely darken the door of a McD's, but 20 mile days are the exception.
It is easy for me to get grumpy at the current conditions, but I keep telling myself to do something every day, something is always better than nothing. Maybe it's someone telling me they loved one of my books, or a stroll along the moraine with a friend. It's not exciting, but it's still good. Hang in there friends, summer is coming.