Dec 24, 2012

"For the World to be Set Right"

Though Glen Packiam's "How Advent Can Be Much More Than 'The Christmas Season'" was written weeks ago, the truth of his call for Believers to understand Advent and Christmas as different but complimentary elements of the holiday season is still challenging and inspiring to me.

When you journey through Advent to Christmas, you begin to see Jesus more fully. You recognize that His incarnation was the beginning of the redemption of the world and that His return is the completion of it. Advent pulls those two moments together. It overlays the joy of His arrival as a helpless babe with the hope of His appearing as conquering King. Both arrivals are anticipated in celebrating Advent. (Read more)

* * *

From the Introduction to "Footsteps to Bethlehem," a reflective prayer and worship experience offered by WestGate Church:

It's tempting in our hurried lives to rush from one thing to the next so we don't fall behind. Tonight, we want to encourage you to fight this temptation. God has done some amazing things in people's lives when they create space in their lives and allow themselves to slow down and listen.

As far back as Genesis this journey between God and His creation begins to echo through scripture. Donald Miller writes, 'All this makes me wonder what God must have felt, arriving on the scene just after the Fall, knowing all He made was ruined, and understanding at once the sacrifice that would be required to win the hearts of His children from the grasp of the seducer.'

This time is an invitation to walk with God and experience the reality of His love for you through His son Jesus.

My most poignant moments during the hour and a half that I spent working through the stations of "Footsteps to Bethlehem" was in response to The Magnificant (Luke 1:45-55):

YHWH confounds expectation:
reason and science and will.
Fills emptiness when there seems nothing:
shrill isolation--null.
Pours void over self-sufficient
Mammon pangs starving still.
Who is rich?
Who hungers, who knows a warm ready meal;
Come to eat: refraining, stirring,

May you have a blessed and memorable Christmas. And may the anticipation of Jesus's return in remembering his first coming fill you with hope, strength, and peace. Now and forevermore. Amen.

Dec 17, 2012

Authenticity vs. Intimacy

Authenticity is the ability to accurately share what is going on in our hearts, souls and minds. It is the task of giving form and vocabulary to those things that are inside of us. Intimacy, on the other hand, is the level to which we share those things. It has to do with just how far into our hearts, souls and minds we let other people see. Authenticity is about clarity, and definition. Intimacy is about depth. And in Christlike relationships, we see both.

Are we meant to experience intimacy with everyone?

I once read an article or chapter that compared giving away one's physical virginity to being on par with giving away one's emotional virginity. Granted, they are not quite the same, and may not hold the same consequences. For example, I would suggest that opening my heart to someone in a romantic relationship and then having that relationship falter and depart, leaving me disheartened and disillusioned as I anticipate any future relationship, is not the same as having had premarital sex with that individual. My character is generally [or should be] forced to mature as I open the authenticity and intimacy of my heart to another--whether in friendship or romance. There are benefits to intimacy outside of marriage. It is essential for holistic health. Yet outside marriage, can it be given too much or too often at the risk of emotional dependence or other unhealthy consequences that direct us away from intimacy with God? Can the consequences of emotional intimacy be similar to physical intimacy, namely when considered outside of the sacrament of marriage? There are many subjective facets to considering such a question, but hopefully the heart of the question is clear.

As I understand it, the important idea is that there is a certain necessity in being mindful of how often or to what degree I readily offer my emotional sacredness to others. I must not overlook the need to be strategic, in other words. Yet how am I to navigate such a delicate boundary? The only answer that I can readily give is that such a choice--like basically every choice for a follower of Jesus--requires prayerful discernment. Prayer for wisdom, for awareness of God's ever-present presence. Prayer for an outpouring of His Spirit in the relationship: that it be empowered by His love, that it be protected by His lordship. There is so much to pray for in relationships because I am so plagued by pride or selfishness, and because the enemy, Lucifer, desires my isolation. Healthy relationship--authentic unity--is a threat to his deception and chaos. I must be mindful.

Authenticity and intimacy. By God's power, these goals and desires can and are meant to equip each of us for the uncertainty that haunts life. One day that uncertainty will end for good. Until then, we must pray. We must begin with authenticity and intimacy with YHWH who offers that promise of certainty, who models that perfect unity. Amen.

Nov 6, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 12

The following is the final entry in a series concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. The previous eleven parts can be found via the “Blog Archive” down amidst the right-hand column. Thank you for sharing this part of the journey with me.

26 June: Tuesday
I have left the wilderness.

A lumberyard employee, Ben, with his infant son picked me up at Sonora Pass. Ben dropped me off at Kennedy Meadows Campground where I was able to access a pay phone and finally update Mama & Papa. What a blessed support they are.

I hiked out of the campground back to Highway 108 where an elderly couple, their son, and grandson eventually picked me up in a red pickup truck. They dropped me off at Dardanelle, but not before I learned of their Montana origins. As soon as I was out of the truck and ready to stick my thumb out again, I was waved across the street to enjoy a drink and apple with Jesse, a Mexican from Walnut Creek who is supporting a local PG&E project. So far, everyone up in these mountains seems to be interested in fishing and vaguely familiar with the PCT. Jesse’s hospitality was encouraging, exactly what I hope for in my travels. When the PG&E superintendent arrived, I thanked Jesse, shook his hand, and returned to the roadside.

This time it took a while longer. I can only imagine my impression on people swiftly passing by. Sadly, this is not the era of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. “There are too many assholes,” Mark, my next driver angel, would say. He actually passed me at first, but then decided that he had the space and that I looked harmless enough. He had just concluded a welding job for the Forest Service at a local vista point. He graciously drove me to the town of Sonora in his cramped, dirty, red SUV. I was very grateful.

Mark was interesting to converse with. A hippie who had hitchhiked across America in the early 1970’s, he talked about acid, music concerts, including seeing Jimi Hendrix and Santana—the latter of whom, in his musical prologue years, allegedly played at Mark’s junior high dances—being brought up not playing catch with his father, but rather joining him in mountain adventures, and dreaming of living in Sonora with his own horses on a small ranch. One anecdote involved a trip to nearby Leavitt Lake where Mark, his two brothers, and father survived an unprecedented September snow storm by breaking into a friend’s truck. Wearing running shoes, Mark and his youngest brother got frostbite and were out of school six months while their feet healed.

In all, we talked about life.

What else is there to discuss?

It is lovely.

* * *


Mama & Papa picked me up in Sonora, to which we drove back to San Jose.

It was not just the loneliness that led me to depart the PCT—that certainly affected my will—there were physical reasons. The heels of my feet were in bad shape, but would not have been too worrisome if I had not run out of band-aids. (Note: Do not underestimate the amount of band-aids necessary to protect feet during the first few weeks of heavy backpacking.) It was the backpacking diet that could not sustain me. There is much that I still need to learn in that regard.

Though this particular account is concluded, the story of my Pacific Crest Trail journey is not. While I would only consider a second attempt at thru-hiking the PCT if accompanied by at least one other person, I will certainly continue to “section hike” the PCT as opportunity allows. God willing, I will have a lifetime to do so. There is no hurry anymore.

I too often try to consume something quickly when it is sometimes best to partake in slower smaller bites. It is like being offered a succulent meal, where each small bite can be delicious and meaningful; but where instead I systematically devour it like a factory machine. Why? While I would certainly still benefit from caloric and even some flavor of the meal, having eaten it in fifteen minutes; why not allow its same gifts to be multiplied by an hour of enjoyment, including the blessedness of fellowship around the table? To me, the PCT is a holistic feast. There is so much to enjoy. Like people. Like God. I usually strive to not succumb to the cultural trend of “sound bite” digestion. We cannot really know someone or even most things well in such a rushed “productive” fashion. Relationship takes commitment, endurance, and perhaps above all, shared experience that can only be attained with repetition across time. Sometimes it even requires quiet. We generally cannot know all the answers after only one encounter. If we are honest, we generally cannot ever fully know—at least in this life. But we can be dedicated to a life of knowing: of trying to appreciate and to understand. That is not to say that we cannot know an aspect of something in a short while. Those respected few who have completed the PCT in one season have not necessarily experienced the journey in a lesser way than those who complete the PCT in sections across many seasons. They are different albeit equally worthy approaches. Even section hiking the PCT is limited in terms of really knowing the famous national trail. There are different ways to emphasize a subject. One of the most repeated and important truths about hiking the PCT is that it must be done in a way that is meaningful to the participant. There are different ways to get to know someone or something.

I have learned much from the PCT. I trust that I will continue to learn. Though I did not successfully thru-hike the PCT this summer, perhaps I have gained and been able to give so much more. The adventure is not finished. There are still many blank pages waiting for meaning.

Soli deo gloria. Amen.

Nov 5, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 11

Chapter 7:

24 June: Sunday—Falls Creek
Today, I pressed on past Wilma Lake in hopes of avoiding its plague of mosquitoes. I found a lovely breezy spot here on the rocky terrain adjacent to Falls Creek. Unfortunately, the wind stopped halfway through supper—despite my pleas. Therefore, this has become the worst spot that I have camped at so far with regards to mosquito activity. Bastards. Hordes. They infest everything. Though my face was the only flesh exposed—and reinforced by some mosquito repellent—the mosquitoes swarmed ferociously. I am surprised that I did not accidentally eat more of them than I did. They would just follow me around like a herd of demonic sheep. In the end, I decided to dash for my tent, crouch in the vestibule, close it swiftly, and practically dive into the main body. Surprisingly, only one mosquito made it into the tent. Naturally, it did not live long. I am thankful for my shelter, and the sluggishness of these Yosemite mosquitoes. But they are still bastards.

I have not yet been able to have consistent enough cell phone coverage to call family about my desire to leave the trail at Sonora Pass. Maybe tomorrow at Dorothy Pass—my gateway out of Yosemite National Park—will be different. If not, hopefully Sonora Pass. Either way, I may try to hitchhike west to get closer to San Jose—or to cell phone coverage, if need be. It has been a troublesome business. I should have sent a message with the ranger, Lisa, before leaving Benson Pass. According to my trail map, there is supposed to be a ranger station west of Wilma Lake, but I could not find it. My effort to scale a high rocky pinnacle at Macomb Pass also proved unproductive. Alas, the adventure continues. I am so tired. . . .

“Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip.” Psalm 17:5

“You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and found [loneliness, rage, brokenness, frustration . . . weakness]” (Psalm 17:3). What am I to do with these? I am still alone. I still have anger inside me, bent toward my weaknesses—myself. I am still a broken being. . . . Yet Jesus mends. There is hope in that. But how am I to proceed with these thorns digging into my resolve? Where do I belong? I am no hardcore backpacker—at least not solo. I am no PCT thru-hiker. I am a writer, a musician, a runner. I do love nature, but apparently it is too vast for me alone. I have realized that I am most excited about sharing it, even if only through photography. Yet what do I receive from being in nature, aside from learning to endure and adapt to its challenges? Granted, those are worthy gains. Perhaps they are enough. . . . No, there is more. There is life. There can be peace. Perspective: of God, of my smallness—of how little I control. There are limits. There is life. There is rest. Praise God. Amen.

25 June: Monday—Kennedy Canyon Creek
“I will love you, O Lord, my strength.” Psalm 18: 1-6, 30-31, 36

I pressed on 21 miles today to camp amidst a sizeable contingent of PCT thru-hikers. Most of them are familiar with each other—a curious and delightful band consisting of Last Minute, Stride, Pace, John T., Tortuga, Runaway Bride, Greg, and Albert, to name a few. I am thankful to spend my last night on the trail with such people. They are my greatest regret in not thru-hiking, in not having that sense of belonging. But I do not belong, not permanently at least. I glimpse one world to tell of it to others. I am a messenger, a chronicler.

We are all setting out for Sonora Pass tomorrow. I have still been unable to contact Mama & Papa. Many of my neighbors are hitchhiking east to Bridgeport to re-supply or for other endeavors. Sonora is further by comparison. Likely, being the only one going in that direction, I will have success with regards to hitching a ride.

Until then, it is colder here than anywhere else that I have been these last eleven days—and very windy. The 10,000ft+ ridgeline trail tomorrow is said to be worse: 60 mph winds—nothing unusual, considering my experiences with Colorado. I intend to wake up at 5:00 for a good start. Some of the thru-hikers may actually begin at 4:45. Either way, it will certainly be cold. Meanwhile, Yosemite is behind us. We are in Hoover Wilderness, which looks quite different: more arid and volcanic. It is fascinating how abruptly the terrain can change. Life can be like that.

* * *

My heart often races as I lie awake at night in the wilderness. Is it from fear? Perhaps. More likely it is an acute awareness of life, of a large world—a significant presence. It is God. It is His handiwork.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2

What truth do you speak, mighty winds of Kennedy Canyon? There is so much power beyond me. What am I to do under and within its swooping voice, its gushing breath? I am so small. I am a guest here. Speak to me, YHWH. I wish to listen. Show me your ways. Soften my heart. Lead me to where I belong.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:4

Nov 3, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 10

Chapter 6:

21 June: Thursday—Tuolumne Meadows Campground
“Dude, is that a box of Charles Shaw?”

No, I do not fuel my backpacking endeavors with wine. I just used the box for my re-supply. But how funny would it be if a PCT hiker did re-supply with some fine wine?

The beauty today was immense. The feet, however, namely my heels, are bloodied raw. I am concerned about them. The rock and sand trails as well as the stark descents and ascents have been hard on them. I pray that my feet do not worsen.

Otherwise, I have rejoined the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It is strange. I felt at home at first. But then there was the utter exhaustion of the last few miles—as if the spirit of the PCT does not approve of my passing. Furthermore, it took me a while to figure out Tuolumne Meadows Campground’s backpacker rules. But soaking my feet in the Tuolumne River was therapeutic. I wish that I could say the same for dinner: freeze-dried “Mountain Bean Stew”? It was probably too old. Or just horrible to begin with. The taste of the “stew” may haunt me for days.

22 June: Friday—A pond east of Miller Lake
I cursed a lot today.

The road was long. Many fallen trees blocked the path. I fell three times. I had to navigate stones across three streams. The wind blew. The wind blows. I am exhausted. Furthermore, I left my camera behind twice; fortunately, both times within one hundred meters. My pack is far too heavy. The air is cool. I am thankful for shelter, for warm clothes and a sleeping bag, for warm food inside me. I am thankful for general wholeness. Yet sometimes on days like today I feel utterly broken spiritually. 

 “Lord, who may abide in your tabernacle? Who may dwell in your holy hill?” Psalm 15:1
Even my body is frail. Can I make it? Will I fall short once again? The next two days will tell. In the meantime, hallelujah for Jesus. “You are my strength when I am weak.”

 * * *

“Hello, Mr. Bear. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. But there is no food in here. So you had better be moving along. Goodnight. So long . . .”

23 June: Saturday—Benson Lake
Today I was just tired. My hope was low. The ascent to Benson Pass (10,140 ft) was laborious. Yet at the top my spirit was renewed. I met a charming Park Service Ranger, Lisa, amidst her 9-day scouting trip of the area. Not long after she and I connected, a lone PCT thru-hiker joined us for a while. Up to that point, I had not interacted with anyone for a whole day. It is telling how much just talking with some friendly strangers encourages me. Yet the curse of parting ways lingers. I passed the PCT hiker further down the west side of the pass, and did not see him again. The long meandering descent to Benson Lake for the remainder of the day wore my knees out.

While the views from Benson Pass were noteworthy, Benson Lake was like stepping into another world. It is known as the Benson Riviera to some. With its long beach of sand, it is a hidden paradise in Yosemite’s Sierra Mountains.

The wind is very strong and chilling, but at least the mosquitoes are kept at bay. There is another enemy, however. Some breed of small black bird shit on me three times and my tent more than once. It seems that I placed my tent under their outhouse tree. Or they are just spiteful. Alas. There always seems to be something that makes the environment even more challenging. 

There is a sense of fear within me in this wilderness. Part of it is being days from any road access to civilization. I have yet to find any cell phone service. Benson Pass taunted me with two bars, but then abruptly took them away. I am not sure how I will update family about my desire (or need) to conclude at Sonora Pass (Highway 108). I must focus on each day at a time. To think beyond is disheartening. I have really only but to go on, to finish this small PCT section of 76.4 miles. I am weak.
“Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust. . . .  You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:1, 11

It is somewhat comforting to have other campers nearby. None of them are PCT hikers, but are instead amidst a Twin Lakes circuit. One reminds me of Dave Duguid. Thinking of Dave, he has a far grander adventure than mine approaching. May he and Cara’s marriage be blessed. Amen.

Nov 2, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 9

19 June: Tuesday—Little Yosemite Valley Campground
The highlight of today was meeting Rod and Sue from Chestershire, England. They are my Little Yosemite Campground neighbors. They have been avid backpackers/mountaineers all their lives; their children even grew up thinking of vacation as sleeping in a tent. They are a charming couple. We dined together and talked.

Otherwise, the day was very tiring. I welcome the shorter day tomorrow because my feet have some trouble spots. I blame the rocky stair trails around Yosemite Valley. They are quite taxing on the body. I did enjoy a few hours on the Merced River beach near the chapel. My water filter has me concerned, though. I hope that the filter is not clogged.

Generally, I still have little inclination to continue the 50+ days of hiking essentially on my own after Lake Tahoe. I will try to wait to fully decide until then. Yet against such a question is another daunting question: What, then, would I do as an alternative? To which my response would be, I am not entirely sure. I have a few weak ideas. Ideas. . . . Waiting.  They are all amidst doubts and a humbled perspective of my strength: themes of this year. Regardless, may I respond wisely. May I be responsible. May I be bold.

Amen. Psalm 9:10

20 June: Wednesday—Merced Lake
The wilderness is full of voices. Have you ever heard them? It is not the sound of animals or the songs of birds, or even the cadence of wind through the trees. Perhaps they are all part of it, but it is surely the water that resonates the most. Not so much a waterfall or a raging cascade, but the trickling of a stream. Perhaps it is in all these things. Perhaps it is in none. The voices may be something in the wilderness, or they may be within me: my echoing hopes—in my mind. I want them so much that I almost hear them—see them, touch them. Yet they are so far away. They are so unknown. The wilderness shows me myself. The longings come out in the quiet. Meanwhile, the day is full of cursing weakness. I praise God that each day ends in peace—like life, or so I believe. Yet the road can be so hard. Lord, give me the strength to see it to its end, for I have no one else.

“In the Lord I put my trust; how can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain?’” Psalm 11:1

I no longer wish to flee to my solace, to my sanctuary. In truth, I have none. This is God’s domain. If it were not so there would be no beauty and no peace—no fellowship. I love being by water. Living water. Rock. Mountains. These are YHWH. Yet I am a spectator, an observer—one to share this truth. As an artist, I seek to do so. I have the means, but I need a place to belong. How long, O Lord, must I wait? Is there more for me to do? Or must I just wait? Actively? Passively? I do not know. Or do I? Are my desires veiling the answer? God, I hope not. I trust you, Lord. I await your command.

Meanwhile, Lucifer seeks to deter my attention. Mosquitoes, spawn of Hell. It is very discouraging to think that tomorrow at Tuolumne Meadows it will be worse. God forbid. I have found some solace beside this waterfall just north of Merced Lake. A mild breeze also helps. Mosquitoes are certainly at their worst at dawn and dusk—my favorite times of day. The enemy seeks to claim what I love most. Well, he cannot have this peace.

Thank you, God.

What is there left to write? . . .

Nov 1, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 8

Chapter 5:

17 June: Sunday—Sentinel Falls
Behind me, merely a few feet away, drop the tall southern cliffs of Yosemite Valley. Further across the valley waits El Capitan: tomorrow’s destination. The sun has dropped behind the mountains, a gentle breeze stirs, and Sentinel Falls rushes tirelessly to my right.

I am alone.

I lingered at the Glacier Point amphitheater for a few hours after Andrew and Matthew departed for San Jose. I really do like being around people. There are so many who come to visit this natural grandeur. I am thankful for that.

Yet I wish that I was sharing this with someone: this view, this twilight. How will this isolation affect me in the end? Sure, I will have some adventure. But will my character change? Can I even make it? There seems to be so much ahead. Even curtailed from my original plan, the trail is daunting. I must not think too far ahead. Yet the present seems so slow. I should be grateful. . . . I am grateful. This experience is a rich blessing. Yet I find myself constantly thinking ahead to when I will be with family or friends again. I do not want to go back to the previous routine in San Jose, though. No, I want vision in action. That is what this is, but then why is it so hard? Perhaps for this outdoor adventure, my vision is still taking shape—in ways, at least. I need to truly commit to it to succeed. Yet mentally that seems to be a challenge.


My low point today was atop Sentinel Point. The views did little to improve my spirit. I had come from a high of talking with Mom & Dad and then Mama & Papa. As I prepared dinner this evening, I prayed for God’s peace—to connect me with people when needed. God does answer prayers. Not much later a young couple came out to enjoy the view from Sentinel Falls. They live in Alabama, but are from Oregon and Texas originally. That small interchange did wonders to my spirit. And this place . . . It is difficult to believe sometimes.

“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness. You have relieved me in my distress . . . I will both lie down in peace and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4


18 June: Monday—Ribbon Falls
It is incredible how being clean can make such a difference to one’s sense of well-being. Furthermore, a lovely—especially epic—place to spend the night adds to such contentment. Cleanliness. A grand environment. What else does one need? Well, for one, a companion to share in all of it. The addition of a community would help it toward perfection. Food is also essential, as is adequate attire. Also water, one of the most important fundamental physiological needs, cannot be forgotten. All of these can be found in nature. Thus I am only missing a few facets to complete my contentment.

It seems that when I am tired—namely, in the morning and just before finding camp in the evening—I am the most emotionally vulnerable. But today was good. The descent along 4-Mile Trail from Glacier Point was hard on the body. The ascent of Yosemite Falls was worse. The hour reprieve near Yosemite Village along the beach near the bridge, however, was wonderful. I dialogued with a couple from the East Coast. He contended, from only being in Yosemite Valley three hours, mind you, that the Grand Canyon is more spectacular. I told them that they should visit Glacier Point. The Grand Canyon is certainly worthy of comparison, but I might argue that it is not greater.

Meanwhile, Ribbon Falls is lovely. The steady stream rushes with a cool chorus nearby. There are so many sounds in the wild. They awaken my imagination—usually while I try to sleep, unfortunately. I hiked 18 hard miles today. Hopefully that puts me to sleep. (Still no blisters, praise God.)

Oct 31, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 7

The following is Part 7 in a series concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. The previous six parts can be found via the “Blog Archive” down amidst the right-hand column.

Chapter 4:

15 June: Friday—Panoramic Point
I have returned to the wilderness.

I must confess that it is with some trepidation that I have come. How will my feet do, and what of my spirit? I have taken some measures that will hopefully improve the former, such as wearing better shoes. Currently, my spirit is positive because I will be accessing the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) via Yosemite National Park, which is one of my favorite places. Today my friends, Matthew Whitlock and Andrew Thomas, and I entered this most glorious of sanctuaries. We first drove the somewhat long, albeit expansive, roundtrip to Tuolumne Meadows so that I could drop off a ten-day re-supply box for my northbound PCT journey to South Lake Tahoe. I will set off on the actual PCT in one week. Meanwhile, the three of us will enjoy a weekend climbing Half Dome and exploring some of the high country. They will leave Sunday, to which I will linger to explore the main Yosemite Valley from every vantage point along its tall rim. So far I have had an excellent overview. After Tuolumne Meadows we drove into Yosemite Valley. It brought back memories of the Chris and Christina Mahoney wedding. It has been five years since I was last here, which was with Nathaniel Moore hiking Half Dome at night—a few months after the wedding. It has been too long.

Our current permit allowed us to enter the Yosemite wilderness via Glacier Point. What beauty. A gentle thunderstorm passed as we began our descent to Illilouette Creek. The sun eventually shone through, illuminating a rugged eastern Yosemite landscape. After a steep westward ascent, we made camp off the trail on Panoramic Point. Someone else with a fire and bright light is camping near the trail below us. Andrew is already sleeping. Matthew and I are basking in the growing starlight—while also being mindful of mosquitoes. I only hope that no bear tries to get our food bag suspended from a tree limb; for I could not fit all of our food into my Bear Vault BV500 Food Canister. Otherwise, the weather is pleasant. The moon has not yet appeared. Nevada Falls provides a soothing lullaby from a few miles away. Tomorrow we shall climb Half Dome. Until then, rest. Praise you, YHWH, for second chances. Amen.

16 June: Saturday—Little Yosemite Valley Campground
I am tired, so I will be brief:

Andrew was up early this morning. I struggled to rise due to a restless night hearing real or imagined activity around our wilderness camp. The bear defenses did hold, though. Lacking water—we were all quite dehydrated—we waited to eat breakfast until reaching the top of Nevada Falls. I love that area. The water is so clear and cool in Yosemite; everything one could want.

After getting organized, we began our Half Dome ascent. (Note: While there is a “lottery” to acquire a Half Dome Day Permit, if you acquire a general Wilderness Permit—for wilderness camping—which is not difficult, you automatically qualify for a Half Dome Permit.) As expected, there was a lot of hiking traffic on the trail. Andrew struggled; thus our pace was quite slow. Below the rim that borders the Little Dome, Matthew and I left Andrew—at his suggestion—while we completed the climb. What sobering vistas Half Dome provides. 

I wonder where else I will explore while here in the Yosemite Valley region. I do not look forward to doing it alone. I am Adam in Eden without Eve.

We chose to camp in Little Yosemite Valley Campground. It is busy, but I like it. We were sure to indulge in drinking as much water as possible. While eating dinner on the bear locker, we had a neighbor arrive who was quite high. Not long after he managed to crack a sapling while sitting down in his hammock, exposing more rear end than a plumber, he smoked a cigar and offered us some pot. Eddie. . . . The characters one meets in the wild. Also, the mosquitoes are quite ravenous in this area. They seem to be worst at dusk. Anyway, tomorrow my companions shall depart. I am glad for their company. I am glad that Andrew came to visit California. How will it be after their departure? I do not yet know. It is a strange and somewhat unsettling freedom.

Oct 30, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 6

The following is Part 6 in a series of posts concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. The previous six parts can be found via the “Blog Archive” down amidst the right-hand column.

Chapter 3:

28 April: Saturday
Thursday morning, April 26, I awoke to scattered rainfall. Fortunately, it cleared enough for me to pack away a relatively dry tent. Yet again, aside from those not going far, I was one of the last to depart Scissors Crossing. The rain came and went, as did the sun; and the wind was tireless as I climbed the limbo of in and out, up and down, that marked the SanFelipe Hills. Looking west across the valley at the mightier Pacific Crest (Volcan Mountain), I cursed the private landowners who forced the PCT to make such a long easterly detour. I cursed a lot that day, some out loud. That was the low state that I was in.
I was still very tired. I wondered how my friends were doing. I saw no one on that long 24-mile stretch until reaching my goal, Barrel Springs, at 19:30. The questions—the doubts—plagued me to the fullest. Why was I doing this? Did I really want to hike 2700 miles (my estimated amount including detours and alternate routes) in four months? Could I even hike that far in that amount of time? Some of my responses that day were that I am not built for this: I am a runner; I am an artist: I cannot abandon half of myself for a third of a year; I need to be with people; I need to rest. Yet I do love being on the trail. It is beautiful. I love the sense of ever moving forward: that one does not have to return by the way that he has come—like most of the outdoor courses that I have tread. I love witnessing the change of environment, of geology. It is educational. It is stunning, a testament to life’s diversity and complexity—its variables. Most of all, though, I think that I love the community: the sense of belonging. That is the hardest aspect to leave. If demoted to a section hiker, will I still belong? I will miss being part of that long journey together with people from all places and walks of life—like a church. And yet, would I have mourned equally or greater at the end had I succeeded in completing the trail? Would we have gone our separate ways once again, keeping in some contact at first, but eventually dissipating our communication? Who can say for sure?

I called Mama around 10 miles into the day. I told her where I was at, literally as well as physically and prospectively. Checking back in over an hour, it was decided that they would drive down on Friday (yesterday) to pick me up at Warner Springs. Their sacrifice, dedication, and encouragement are unparalleled. Again, I do not know where I would be without them. Thank you, Mama and Papa.

It was very difficult, but I made it to Barrel Springs before dark. A few others were there, including Castle. She seemed to be doing much better than I was. A trail angel had left cold drinks and cookies. That kind of trail magic goes such a long way. Never underestimate even the simplest of gifts. It was a calmer night. Probably from holistic weariness, I slept better than ever before so far on the trip.

I left camp shortly after a young couple that I had seen at Penny Pines departed. I may have seen them camping at Desert View Picnic Area as well, but I am not sure. About halfway through my 8.5-mile journey across the lovely rolling fields and cow pastures that fill Warner Springs’ southern border, I met the young woman of the couple coming the opposite direction without her backpack. She had lost her husband, apparently. Later, at the Warner Springs Post Office, over some delicious homemade cookies that they shared with me, she told me about that she had accidentally taken the wrong path at San Ysidro Creek. They too were not going back to Lake Morena for the PCT Kick-off. I would have liked to get to know that couple better. As they sat in the back of a local woman’s red pickup truck—the same blessed woman who had given me a lift into town—I could not help but feel regret.

The main highlight of the day was stopping to climb the small hill to see Eagle Rock. Nature has a curious sense of humor. 

As if to give me one last slap in the face, as I lay under a Handicapped Parking Only sign between the post office and a “sold out” gas station, a bird shit on me: three small white bombs, four if the small stray moisture that hit my upper lip counts. There are a few ways of interpreting the gesture.

On the PCT register at the post office, I wrote next to my name: “Defeated by my feet . . . for now.” I had realized that morning—and I certainly realize it now—that my feet were in very poor shape. In an effort to compensate, my legs began to also be at risk of serious injury. I could feel the pain gradually moving from my feet to my ankles, up my shins, and beyond.

My tale is not uncommon. I have joined the rumored 50%. Once again, I realize that I cannot do everything that I set out to do. I am weak. I can easily lose will and strength. Almost like a testament to that, a chunk of my yellow LiveStrong bracelet has broken off. I am no hero. I am just like many others.

Only, I try to live in courage, to take serious risks. I try to get back up when I fall. I like to think that I do not give up easily, that I endure. Not everything, but as much as I can. On that road ascending through the San Felipe Hills, I thought of Jesus carrying the cross up Golgotha. Who am I to complain? I was not being mocked, beaten, and scourged. I was not separating myself from God for a time by choosing to receive justice for humanities frailty. I am not worthy. Praise God for grace and for redemption.

So what do I do now? There are many pages to fill—that need to be filled. First, I heal. And while I heal, I gather what I have learned and consider my options. I am not done with the PCT. That is sure. Though I have been defeated after only 110 miles in six days, There is more will in me. It needs refreshment. It needs a new strategy. It needs redemption. I already have the latter. I only need to let the One who has an unfailing will, work my circumstances to His Kingdom’s glory. I am willing. Come, Lord Jesus, come. “Where you lead us, we will follow . . .” (Jars of Clay/Gungor). Amen.

“. . . and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to” (J.R.R. Tolkien).

Oct 29, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits: Part 5

The following is Part 5 in a series of posts concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 can be found via the associated links.

Chapter 2:

28 April: Saturday
Failure. After only 110 miles, only one completed PCT section (A), I am defeated. How? Why? To what end? These are questions that I must ponder. But I do not think that there are any immediate or clear answers. In some ways I am very disheartened by all this. Yet in part, I consol myself by recognizing that most of the choice—at least the one made in hope of wisdom—was not really mine. In other ways, I welcome the oblivion of uncertainty: the disruption of the unknown. Faith. I find great power in redemption, in how it manifests itself regardless of our human boundaries. But there is still grief. There was so much anticipation, so much preparation—so many imagined memories. As often is the case in my life, I got ahead of reality—or at least tried to. Perhaps that is what defeated me. Can hope be an enemy when it is courted by pride?

To begin to answer the questions, I will first outline my final three days on the trail. In these circumstances there may be some clues.

As usual, I was the last to break camp (Wednesday morning). There is too much that I like to do to prepare for and close a day. I was never even able to do it all. A significant realization that I later had is that my mileage approach to the PCT led to a sort of workaholism—let us call it “trailaholism”: when each day is driven by getting from A to B with little or no true rest, when all that is done is to keep the body progressing. Progress. . . . I hoped to escape it for a time. Yet it dwells within me. How dare I bring it into the wild? No wonder Nature resisted. I forgot why I loved being in nature. I forgot my greatest memories. They are nearly all in stillness: atop a mountain or hill, in a whispering valley—anywhere that I can stop and just listen and receive quiet’s blessings. Naturally, to reach those places takes work, but I let the work define my journey from the start. Timelines. I need to recreate my approach to the PCT. There needs to be lower daily mileage. There needs to be a greater emphasis on people. There needs to be more peace. A new aspect of peace has made itself known: embracing slowness. It is not a profound or new truth. I just understand it better now.

Anyway, I felt tired and footsore as I left Pioneer Mail Trailhead Picnic Area. I hoped to catch up with Ryno and Matt that had left about two hours and an hour before. The day was cooler with scattered clouds and the promise of evening rain. The views were lovely and lonely. My foot pain was my main companion, stealing my attention, my will, and my joy. Yet I pressed ahead steadily.

Not long after passing a “SoBo” (South Bound; I am a “No Bo” apparently) group thoroughly enjoying themselves—where was that celebration in me?—I caught up with Ryno and Matt. Their feet were also causing some grief. Yet I wonder how it compared with mine. A highlight of the day was, after passing Monkey and her mother, when we crossed west over Sunrise Highway (S1) toward Cuyamaca Reservoir to rest at a horse trough in a small field of grass buzzing with unobtrusive insects. We restocked our water supplies with our personal filtration systems, took our shoes and socks off, washed our feet, and then let them dry as we propped them on our packs and laid back to nibble and review maps or guidebooks. This is what the PCT is about.

Eventually, we packed everything up and walked the half mile east back to the PCT. At the junction, a young veteran SoBo couple was picnicking. I first heard the NoBo-SoBo terminology from them. Ryno had heard the term “NoBo.” I replied, “like hobos . . . or nobodies . . .” with a smile. The couple was going to the official PCT Kick-off at Lake Morena during the upcoming weekend (i.e. presently). We were thoroughly encouraged to attend. Probably nine out of ten people we meet encourage us to do so. Many people hike the first section (A: Mexican Border to Warner Springs) before attending the kick-off. They are then afforded a few days to rest and heal. That seems smart. As lively as it sounds, I was not sure that I had been convinced to attend. A lot of drinking is apparently involved.  Many people get their trail names during that weekend. For example, one seemingly unfortunate lad lost a drinking contest to a woman. She, as a reward, named him “Mangina.” Apparently, he is proud of the name and was only too ready to tell others about it. Regardless, I mostly justified my reason not to attend by the fact that I did not have the extra supplies or transportation coordinated to backtrack and forth those few more days.

After our conversation, Ryno, Matt, and I left the couple, and I felt a wave of focus and strength—and relative painlessness—rise within me. I pushed ahead with an ambitious sense of getting back on schedule by reaching Scissors Crossing that evening, which would result in a 26-mile day. I sort of regret this decision. I loved being with Ryno and Matt. I just got distracted by the “necessity” to reach Warner Springs before Saturday (today) in order to guarantee picking up my first re-supply box without delay (the Post Office is closed Sundays). Yet I feel like I abandoned them in my brief period of strength. Do I often distance myself from people with my sense of resolve or discipline or call it what you want? I usually fear being abandoned by others. It has seemed to happen a few times. Though those people may have had different reasons than me, perhaps I would be a hypocrite not to recognize the same essence within me: abandonment justified by some personal conviction. Have I really ever sacrificed, purely without selfish motivation? As I recover and reorganize, assuming Ryno and Matt are still on the trail, I hope to get in touch with them to reconnect somewhere further along, such as in Yosemite National Park.

Meanwhile, I felt invigorated. I felt my old strength. I passed Heather and Monkey. I passed SoBo hiker “Don’t Panic” as I made the steep descent to Chariot Canyon. I climbed up to the ridge between it and Rodriguez Canyon, hollering back to Ryno and Matt a few times as I noted their slower progress below. I reached Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail just before dusk. Paul was there, setting up camp along with another couple. I cannot remember his name, but the husband and I spoke some German together. He had studied near Hannover for six months.

I knew that Ryno and Matt would probably camp at Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail for the night. It was a lovely spot. The San Felipe Valley stretched out below. I probably should have stayed. Yet my timeline lingered—persisted even—in my thoughts. I was tired. But I was determined.

The next 9.2 miles were lovely, especially with the sunset over the San Felipe Valley. That glorious view was God speaking to me about redemption. A few F-16 Fighter Jets even flew south over the valley toward the training zones east of the Laguna Mountains. I passed one other SoBo hiker along the way. I quickly began to tire. Seeing a house nearby at one point, I imagined a trail angel family welcoming me into their home where other hikers were staying for food, fellowship, and civilized comforts. Alas, it was to be a lonely night. I became fatigued. Once I reached what Don’t Panic had called “No Man’s Land”—Earthquake Valley between Granite Mountain and Grapevine Mountain—I was struggling to walk steadily. A few miles away from Scissors Crossing, I found shelter from increasingly harsh winds behind a large bush to cook what I intended to be my first dinner course: a freeze-dried meal. It helped. As the sky darkened, others creatures began their own supper routines. A few silhouettes of what were either desert foxes or coyotes ran stealthily across my path. After refilling at a blessed water cache near the S2 (road), I left the trail in hopes of hitchhiking the last 1.2 miles. That was unsuccessful. In a dark loneliness I continued, with a small circle of light from my flashlight to guide me.

At last I reached the bridge that marks Scissors Crossing. A camp consisting of four tents was setup on the sand under the bridge. The men there were friendly. They had selected that spot to avoid the expected 1.5 inches of rain to come that night. They told me of a water cache waiting across the dried creek, at the other end of the bridge. I chose not to camp with the men mostly because it was a bit crowded, but also due to the wind and sand blowing, and only slightly because I was not in the mood to socialize more with what seemed to be four gay men—a few of them started singing together after I left.

A few other camps had been set up a short ways away out in the open. My feet were really killing me. I was tired and grimy, and not in the mood for a stormy evening. I stumbled around awkwardly for a while. The bridge group led me to think that there was a campground nearby. A curt word from one uninterested camper let me know that I could just camp anywhere. I was hoping to find someone familiar, but it was just too dark and late.

I eventually found what seemed to be a suitable spot. Its disadvantage was that it was surrounded on three sides by a briar patch. When this settled into my now half-conscious mind, I was already too progressed with setting up my tent to feel like seeking another spot. My fingers were stabbed by the briars a few painful times as I used my Leatherman saw to remove branches that could potentially snag my gear or myself. This took too long. But I did not want to stumble out of my tent in the rainy night in hopes of relieving my bladder to instead get tangled in the embrace of an angry plant. Now, the advantage of the campsite was that it was protected against the wind, not to mention any intruders. Like lions . . .

By the time everything was set, I was in no mood to cook again, though I was hungry. My weariness took precedent. After going to the east side under the bridge to try to tend to my feet—somewhat in vain—I retreated to my tent, not even bothering to brush my teeth. I was tired and demoralized. My feet were grievous. I felt grimy from blowing sand. I was hungry and lonely. I could barely think to get organized in my tent—a challenge amplified by bad weather and doing so at night—and my clothes smelled rather putrid. Not to mention that I had cursed to myself more than I like. God forgive me. I eventually found some sleep. I was in too poor a mood to want to call Mama & Papa.

This was a low point.