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.)