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.

Oct 28, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 4

The following is Part 4 in a series of posts concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 can be found via the associated links. Each part has been adapted from journal entries, often written in the wild. Note that the date and time listed are when the journal entry was written, and that sometimes a current location (i.e. where the entry was written) is provided.

24 April: Tuesday—Pioneer Mail Trailhead Picnic Area
Today was challenging. Part of it may be due to my lack of sleep, but most of it certainly has to do with how much my feet hurt. Agony shoots up my leg with every step. Mostly, I think that it is from the calluses amidst the balls of my feet. It took a long time to treat and wash them tonight. I pray that my new strategy of leaving the calluses uncovered is successful. (Note: Duct Tape is essential on the trail, for just about anything, but especially for feet treatment.) I am not the only one with feet problems, though. It seems to be the main concern of many of my fellow thru-hikers. I just pray that my feet do not force me off the trail. Furthermore, my tick bite has a red ring around it, which is another source of concern.

Otherwise, Day 3 passed as well as it could. Just before the Laguna Post Office, I reconnected with Ryno as he was sitting in the shade to protect his red sunburned face, neck, and arms. Later he was wearing full long sleeves and a thin scarf for protection during his progress. The day was rather warm, but not bad. The landscape was somewhat barren, but still lovely in areas. I hiked half the 11 miles alone, seeing few people along the way. One was Paul, who later joined our campsite.

Penny Pines, which is at the entrance to Cleveland National Forest, is an oasis. Many hikers were gathered there to enjoy the purified water that its lone faucet provides. Rubik’s Cube was there. He said that Castle is pushing ahead strongly.

Ryno’s campsite neighbor from last night in Long’s Canyon was also there. Matt Chapko is from Arkansas, and is twenty-two years old. He has been another great hiking partner. We were both thankful for the company because we were both physically struggling so much. Before we left Penny Pines together, Ryno arrived. I did not think that I would see him again. He had considered stopping at Laguna Campground, so I was glad when he strode across the road to those of us unenthusiastic about quickly leaving our newfound oasis. Ryno eventually connected back with us at our camp here at Pioneer Mail Trailhead Picnic Area (PCT mile 52.7).

At first, Matt and I thought that there was no water available. Not to mention that the outhouse looked haunted. But then AT veteran “Nimble Foot” joined us; and one of the first things he expressed was how great the outhouse is because it has toilet paper. He also told us about a water cache that was left by trail angels up the road next to a horse trough. (Note: A “Trail Angel” refers to someone who supports the PCT in practical ways, often in the form of water caches or snacks, or offering a ride somewhere, a phone to use—as I have mentioned before—and sometimes even housing. They are a profound and unexpected blessing to thru-hikers.) An equestrian camp is set up across the road from us. Early I noted—and avoided—various “hints” of its passing.

There is a large group here tonight. Heather and Sierra (a.k.a. “Monkey”—my name stuck) arrived as well. Upon hearing what I knew of their mother-daughter story, John Muir Trail veteran, [Jimmy, if I remember his name correctly], soon made the connection that he had met Heather and her husband with infant Sierra in tow on the John Muir Trail about eight years ago. A bit of trail magic, as he put their reunion, also implying Monkey’s goal to thru-hike the PCT. Indeed. Curiously, the first thing that [Jimmy] asked when he arrived at our camp was whether anyone had any pot to smoke. He is a spiritual sort of person.

Completing my camp routine took too long once again. I managed to get a cell phone signal by the horse trough. It was good to talk with Mama & Papa. 

I am tired. I hope that my feet heal. I also hope that I stop getting bloody noses—from heat? from dryness? from the altitude? Minutes before I had even started the PCT, I had an unprovoked bloody nose. I have unwillingly offered blood at least once every day since then, sometimes more. The trail is difficult to appease.

Oct 27, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 3

The following is Part 3 in a series of posts concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found via the associated links. Each part will have been adapted from journal entries, most often written in the wild. Note that the date and time listed are when the journal entry was written, and that sometimes a current location (i.e. where the entry was written) is provided. Thank you, one and all, for your varying support before, during, and after this endeavor. Though little went as I anticipated, it has been a blessedly memorable year.

Chapter 1:

22 April: Sunday
“It’s a dangerous business . . . going on out your door . . .” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

24 April: Tuesday—Desert View Picnic Area
How does one begin a journey?

You take a step and start walking.

Unlike the starting gun of a cross country or track race, the whistle of a referee, or the cheering of the crowd in a stadium, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) begins with a relatively unexciting step. For those who are fortunate to have loved ones present, there is certainly a degree of celebration. In a way I felt like all my supporters—family and friends—were there at that PCT Southern Terminus. They are all excited for me. They look forward to stories, to how it will change me. I will be happy to share such gains. However, I have this fear of disappointing them. There is a 50% dropout rate for PCT thru-hikers (i.e. those attempting to complete the whole 2650+ mile trek). In a sense that is motivating. I like to believe that I do not give up easily. But it is also sobering. Which statistic will I join? To learn the answer, I must begin by taking the first step.

I praise God for Ryno Terblanche. He was at the Southern Terminus, which is strides away from the California-Mexico border, when my grandparents and I arrived. Though he left about thirty minutes before me, I quickly caught up with him on the trail outside Campo. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa to Afrikkan parents, but having lived for the last eight years in London, England, Ryno is a perfect hiking partner for me. Thirty years old, wearing minimus running shoes or sandals, needing an umbrella to protect his fairer skin from the bright days, and with many mutual interests and perspectives, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. His pace was a bit slower than my goal, but I preferred the company. Fellowship with people has been the main highlight thus far.

Our starting day (Sunday) was rather hot, at least to be hiking exposed over dusty landscape. Ryno and I learned a hard lesson after skipping over a flowing creek in such temperatures without re-supplying our water stores: never do it. All that we could think about for the next 12 miles was that cool water that we had ignored. Thus we pressed ahead, desperately seeking the next water source of Hauser Creek.

Along the way we met an Israeli thru-hiker nicknamed “Rocky” while he was enjoying a casual nap. He later appeared at Hauser Creek. A curious thing around the middle of the day was a series of abandoned gear alongside the trail: a hoodie, pants, and then a camping pad. I joked with Ryno about coming across some half-naked, half-crazed hiker already broken by the sun. We also passed one couple that was going quite slowly: PCT veteran “Tebetan” and a girl who, according to a few others we later met, had no idea what she was doing (e.g. She shipped water ahead to a re-supply post. Does she not plan to refill her water along the way?). In the middle of the morning, Ryno and I met “Rubik’s Cube” sitting beside the trail in the shade, struggling from something that he had eaten that was causing him to periodically vomit. At Hauser Creek, Ryno and I met Appalachian Trail (AT) veteran “Castle,” who was a nice, but quiet girl. Aside from the dreams of water—gum helped a bit, but it has still been rough for me due to being sick with a sore throat; though the gum did seem to ease Rubik’s Cube’s stomach—my shoulders seriously struggled. My feet were also progressively getting worse.

Having overestimated myself—Note: thinking to maintain higher mileage in the beginning due to being “fresh” is unwise—I chose to camp at Lake Morena (PCT mile 20.6). It would have been agony to press on 6 more miles to my original goal of Boulder Oaks Campground. Besides, I just wanted to be with people, and 19:30 was late to be on the trail. Castle was there, as was a guy named Tommy. Rubik’s Cube also eventually showed up, having plummeted back into nausea during the earlier ascent. The camp’s hot shower was certainly appreciated by all.

Though only a dirty trickling stream, Hauser Creek was a hallelujah oasis. We drank water, ate food, and rested our feet in the sun before the ascent to Lake Morena. A mom and her daughter, the latter of whom I nicknamed “Monkey” for the stuffed animal that she carries, also caught back up with us at the creek. If Monkey completes the PCT, she will be the youngest ever to do so. She is eight years old. Passing them again yesterday (Monday), however, they looked like they were struggling.

I left Ryno at Hauser Creek because he planned to camp in that area, and I wanted to get farther. With my late night—and hence 9:30 start the next day (Monday)—it worked out that I caught back up with him almost right away. He is suffering from jet lag, hence usually starts hiking very early in the morning around 5:00. I was very glad to see him again. I seemed to be one of the last hikers out of Lake Morena, with one of the heaviest backpacks: a complete amateur. That is something that I struggle a lot with: feeling completely inferior at something. It is humbling. Add to that my average 1.25-2.5 mile/hour pace and continuing discomfort. Regardless, Ryno and I welcomed the foggy morning in comparison with Sunday’s heat. Eventually seeing Boulder Oaks Campground, I was glad to have stopped at Lake Morena. My grandparents (Mama & Papa) were glad as well. I used a trail angel Tom’s landline to call them Sunday evening while they were still en route to San Jose. Their support in this journey has been incredible. I doubt that I could have come this far without them.

After two creek crossings, one on a narrow branch, Ryno and I began the long ascent into the Laguna Mountains. Our pace was discouraging. We had a nice midday break at an overlook where a thru-hiker who I had seen the previous night, Bryan, was airing out his gear from the moist morning. Along the way, Ryno and I also passed one guy whose pack looked at least as heavy as mine. It was not much of a consolation.

At the suggestion of one day-hiker we passed, Ryno and I detoured for a half mile roundtrip to a waterfall. I am glad that we hid our packs to do so because the trail was very steep and it just felt great to hike without any weight on our backs. The trip was also invigorating—in the true spirit of the PCT, I thought—and fortunately, the waterfall was much more than a trickle. The region was surprisingly green for Southern California, but we know it will not last much longer.

We met up with Bryan later at Fred Canyon Creek. He was not planning to go much further that day (Day 3 for him). Ryno wanted to go a bit further, but was concerned about his feet. He decided to continue on with me into the mountains toward Long Canyon Creek instead of descending off trail to lovely Cibbets Flat Campground. Our pace was still slow, but the sun came out and provided a fantastic view of the southern cloud-flooded valleys. After passing a few camps with hikers like Rubik’s Cube, Ryno and I reached the Longs Canyon Creek crossing area. Ryno chose to make camp there with another thru-hiker. Having pressed through some serious foot pain, and with shoulders that seemed to be adjusting, I wanted to continue on to Burnt Rancheria Campground. I felt a new wave of resolve that I did not want to waste.

I pushed hard. Dusk had settled. Dark came soon after. But the stars shone brighter than I had seen for a long time. I entered quiet forestland. I really hoped to reach camp before 21:00. When I reached a sign for Desert View Picnic Area, I pulled out my PCT Southern California guidebook, and then realized that had passed the spur trail to Burnt Rancheria Campground. My pace was better than I thought.

Desert View Picnic Area is lovely. It even offers a decent bathroom. A few others were already settled in for the night. One was a pair of car campers, at least one of whom smoked in the bathroom, and both of whom were apparently watching TV in their tent. Ok, I thought. It was a reminder of a different culture.

I set up camp quicker than the previous night, and enjoyed some warm Madras lentils. I even had cell phone service. Heartened by my 22.6 mile day, it was very good to talk with Mama & Papa. Unfortunately, my feet were in relatively poor shape. It took at least forty-five minutes to treat them. I really hope that my doctoring helps, that they do not worsen. I even discovered a tick fastened to my ankle, and promptly removed it. Thus I went to bed at midnight, which is far too late.

* * *

I feel sleep-deprived. I keep waking up cramped or clammy, sometimes even sweating. It might by my 15F sleeping bag combined with the synthetic base layer that I wear to bed, but I want to have a layer between my skin and my sleeping bag to keep it clean longer. Furthermore, it gets too cold to sleep out of the bag. . . . I hope that I start sleeping better soon.

Today I plan to only go as far as Pioneer Mail Trailhead Picnic Area. It is reported to provide the last certain water for 25 miles, which is serious. The trailhead picnic area is only around 11 miles away. I have decided to try to complete shorter miles today because of my feet and lingering sickness, but also because this beautiful sunny morning welcomes sitting at this picnic table for a while to finally start journaling, and because I would like to enjoy a more leisurely evening tonight. That, at least, is the idea.

“The best laid plans of mice and men . . .” (John Steinbeck)

Oct 26, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 2

The following is Part 2 in a series of posts concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. The previous part can be found here. Each part will have been adapted from journal entries, most often written in the wild. Note that the date and time listed are when the journal entry was written. Thank you, one and all, for your varying support before, during, and after this endeavor. Though little went as I anticipated, it has been a blessedly memorable year.

21 April: Saturday
God did not calm the storm on Black Mountain, but did He make His presence immediately known in the form of a small outhouse. As a runner, there is often a heavenly glow over civilized restrooms, which includes porta potties. Most people do not seem to fathom how blessed that kind of shelter and toilet paper can be. Against the tempest of Black Mountain, this outhouse was a holy sanctuary. I was wet. I was tired. I was in a state of entry-level hypothermia. And I was hungry.

 I used the outhouse to first get organized in a dry manner. Aware of the danger of using propane in an enclosed space, however, I propped the outhouse door open, which served well as a windshield. Thank you, Jetboil Flash Cooking System. Hot soup has never been so welcome. I next assembled my tent partially inside the outhouse—a feat that would have been immensely miserable otherwise. I did still have to keep hold of the tent as I assembled it; for sticking halfway out, but protected by the open door/windshield, the wind sought to suck the tent into oblivion. It made me think of a mild tornado. With the tent completely assembled, and the stakes ready in my pocket, I held the solo tent firmly in both hands and walked out resolutely into the churning darkness.

It was still difficult, but I managed to secure the tent while keeping one hand on top of the frame. Some spots of ground were too soft, which would later force me to leave the tent to rescue the rain cover. The first time would be just after I had settled comfortably into my warm 15F sleeping bag.

The wind continued to be truly relentless. I lost a lot of sleep due to noise—gusts of wind and rain—and concern over moisture breaching the tent and damaging my 600 fill-down sleeping bag. Due to the bare nature of the mountain, and the angled site of my tent—which the ranger claimed was probably the best option—the wind and rain were able to find their way under the rain cover. This would require a lot of air drying the next day. Furthermore, the next morning I discovered that my tent was leaning slightly to the side from the incessant brawl with nature.

It rained until a few hours after dawn. My departure routine was slow, particularly because of the wet conditions. I returned to the outhouse to get organized and have some breakfast. Equipped to the fullest, I eventually left the backpackers camp around 11:00. By then the mountain had calmed. A gathering of does dined nearby. The landscape was moist and beautiful. This is why I am doing this, I thought: for moments like these.

The journey back was about 16 miles, but it felt as long as the day before. The winding descent of Montebello Road was lovely, but I was very tired from the sleepless night. And being on a paved road once again reminded me of my slow pace.

Fremont Older was very muddy. The trek across town was uninspired. I hope to never feel that way on the trail. Not to mention being reminded of the frustrating labyrinthine nature of suburbs. I experienced a few failed shortcuts. Another good lesson for someone with little energy: stay on the known course. My body was thoroughly exhausted. The trip did serve its purpose well, but I was thankful to soak my feet in warm Epsom-salted water later that evening.

* * *

The days that followed, like the days before my aforementioned backpacking trial, were a bustle of trying to complete various preparatory tasks. This last Wednesday night, April 18, I was up until 3:30 working with Mama to complete my food resupply packages. I really am a mountain runner posing as a mild-mannered backpacker. What an amateur. 

Thursday’s drive to Los Angeles was good. The highlight was a lunch stop in Pismo Beach, one of my favorite California coast towns. The day was bright and warm. The sand glowed. The ocean dazzled. In such a place I find rest. To me, the mountains offer adventure while the oceanside offers serenity.

Now I am in San Diego at the Marriott Hotel on Scripps Highland Dr. Due to weariness and a sore throat, I have delayed my start date another day. Tomorrow I depart. I pray for rest today. I pray for success in completing my remaining tasks. I pray for the will—courage, strength, and wisdom—to do what is necessary. Soli deo Gloria. Amen.

What are you afraid of?

Oct 25, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 1

The following is Part I in a series of posts concerning my experience with The Pacific Crest Trail. Each part will have been adapted from journal entries, most often written in the wild. Note that the date and time listed are when the journal entry was written. Thank you, one and all, for your varying support before, during, and after this endeavor. Though little went as I anticipated, it has been a blessedly memorable year.


11 January, 2012: Wednesday
It is not that I am scared of the many unknown miles. They will be hard, but they will be full of beauty. It is the isolation that haunts my nights. I am scared of the loneliness.

7 February: Tuesday
Every so often I lie awake not from strained thoughts, but with a strange energy. Tonight it seems that even reading cannot quell my roaming mind. Perhaps writing will succeed where others have failed. After all, it is written that it is better to give than to receive. Words are my soul pouring out to the quiet: an unknown audience, myself. How will the words be read? I cannot say. I am but the giver. To give is to humble oneself, to lower a part of one’s defenses. It is faith.

Lately, I wonder how these moments will feel out in the wild, on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It was raining earlier. Even with the bedroom window open, the night is kept somewhat distant; the walls and roof of the house like a levee. But out in nothing more than a tent, it will surround me with the greater advantage. It will move through me, for good or ill. I will be exposed, vulnerable. I will be free. I yearn for it. I fear it. But can there be too much freedom?

20 April: Friday
One week ago, starting Wednesday night, April 11, I tested myself and my gear for the journey ahead. The first night was spent on my grandparents, “Mama & Papa’s” back lawn in San Jose, California. I slept poorly due to gusts of rain, which kept me more alert than I would have liked. But the Big Agnes Lynx Pass 1 tent and Sierra Designs Ridge Runner 15 sleeping bag proved more than capable. After a late start the next morning, I left the house on foot with 50 pounds on my back, which was more than I had ever carried in that way. I must give some credit to the impressively supportive internal-frame design of my Osprey Aether 70 backpacking pack for making it seem possible. Or maybe I should curse its alluring deception . . .

Every step was noticed. Minutes were little better, which was very disheartening. The tension mounting throughout the fibers of my trapezius (shoulders and back), hip, and leg muscles, as well as my feet, scared me. I was to hike about 21 miles that day. The terrain would not be particularly difficult. So how would I do more, and actually enjoy the journey, when the real PCT hike begins? I tried not to dwell on it. I tried to focus on the beauty around me.

Fremont Older Open Space in the West Cupterino foothills offered lovely vistas. The sky was spotted with clouds, the temperatures perfect. I found a new trail into the park. I had what I needed: I was in nature, in its laws, but free of the bustle of work schedules and car traffic. I was blessed.

Yet the difficult march continued. The ascent through Steven’s Canyon felt long. During the first miles, I tried to console myself with the idea that part of the trouble was that I was on a paved road, thus ever reminded of civilization and swifter forms of travel. So many miles can be thoughtlessly—or at least effortlessly—traveled in a car, or even by running. I found a new appreciation for that. In part, I trust that conditioning will occur on the PCT; that I will eventually not feel every single foot of a mile.

I managed to cross two streams in the canyon without getting wet. Despite the constricting and unbalancing nature of a heavy pack and the drizzling rain, I managed to each time carefully climb a fallen tree and cross. I did miss my pack-less running agility, but I had no choice. And I liked it. I am thankful that I did not slip or lose my balance and tumble into the creek, however. I would have to do a wet crossing the next day to return to Steven’s Canyon Road, but that was good in that it gave me a sense of the necessary process.

Once I finally reached the ridgeline of Skyline Boulevard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the weather abruptly changed—or revealed itself. The sun was veiled. The wind was strong from the coast. The rain increased, and the temperature dropped. I realized that I had been sheltered in the canyon. Isolation began to haunt me. I saw only a few people throughout the day. My company was the forest, creeks, numerous salamanders, rain and wind. My discouraging pace never ceased to talk. Reality set. It was good. It made the journey important.

Black Mountain loomed across the valley. As I refilled my Nalgenes with filtered water from a pond surrounded by Christmas tree farms—note: the Sawyer Gravity Walter Filtration System is admirable—the rain really began to fall. Be careful what you say. The day before, I said that I was ready for anything. The mountain must have heard. It brought its full force against me in those last ascending miles. The winds seemed to range from 80 to 100 mph, carrying the rain with a fury. Even my Arc’teryx Beta AR Pro Shell jacket was tested to the max. Rain puddled in my pockets, dampening my hands. My legs went partially numb. But I made it.

At the top, a park ranger waited for me in the shelter of his pickup truck. I was very thankful to interact with someone. I quickly learned that I was the only one [crazy enough] to be camping there that night. Did I want to go through with it? the ranger asked with a somewhat dubious expression. Yes, I answered. The training was important, for I hoped that the current harsh conditions would prepare me for the worst on the PCT, especially in the Northwest. “Well, have as much fun as you can,” the ranger said. As he drove away, I too wondered about my sanity. It was 19:45. The night had only begun.

Oct 8, 2012

What is Poverty?

My cousin Tara Wawelo worked years in Africa, particularly Uganda. She is married to Ivan Wawelo, who was born and raised in Uganda, and was even one of Compassion International's sponsor children. Their recent transition into the United States has been difficult, but full of wonderfully profound insights about American culture. Ivan, especially, offers a really valuable contrasting perspective to the common American worldview.

"Why are there so many missionaries to the poor in Uganda?" he asks. "We need more missionaries to the rich!”

That is not the typical call for missions in Africa. Ivan continues, “So many Americans come back from Africa and say ‘The African believers really challenged me. They have so little and yet they have so much faith.’ Why? Does that mean if those Americans had nothing, they would lose their faith in God? Is faith in God dependent on material possessions?. . . God is still God, whether we are rich or poor.” Social justice is important. Serving the poor and widows is the calling of the Church. But do the Church and mission agencies need to reform their approach to the subject? 

So what is poverty? It is an elusive concept. There is relative poverty and absolute poverty. Relative poverty means you are poor compared to those who live next to you. Absolute poverty means you don’t have food to eat or water to drink and your life is actually in danger. To put this in perspective, to be considered impoverished by U.S. standards, you are still richer than 85% of the world’s population. (Tara Wawelo) 

I encourage you to read the rest of Tara's recent blog, "Poverty?"

Ivan and Tara, thank you