Aug 11, 2014

Feet of a Runner, Part III


The following is Part III in a trilogy of posts concerning my recent experience on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Each part has been adapted from journal entries written in the wild. The date and time listed are when the journal entry was originally written. Read Part I or Part II.

9 July, 2014: Wednesday

I am writing later due to having climbed Tinker Knob (mile 53.7). Setting up camp was also very arduous.

The ridgeline north of the knob is quite windy. It took about three solid attempts and intermittent cursing to get my tent up. This was mainly due to trying to adjust to the direction of the wind—not wanting a repeat of Dick's Pass. Using rocks on top of my tent pegs, and throwing gear inside to weigh down the tent, I finally managed to do it.

This was all after taking considerable time to acquire water from a nearby snow bank. Thank God for the snow, though. I misunderstood a day hiker's comment that there would be other water sources after Squaw Creek, which is where we met. I was preparing to load up there at Squaw Creek, but she assured me that one good spring was still to come before Tinker Knob. Along the way, I kept looking for something more substantial than seepage across the path. I skipped three of these in hopes of something more. Unfortunately. Nearing Tinker Knob, and eventually my campsite, feeling quite spent, I began to brace myself for the necessity to make a mile return trip to the nearest "water source" with all my water carriers. The snow saved me the trip. Though the effort to clean up, boil snow, and generally accumulate water was taxing, it did save my feet.

These feet are in a bad state. It is mostly the left foot—again. It is actually the same problem as Section A: blistering under the callous of the palm of the foot. It hurts so much. It must be the softness of my running shoes combined with too much pack weight (still), rocky terrain, and maybe an overly aggressive last two days. Damn it. I will figure this out someday. My foot treatment only seemed to make it worse. I pray that a night off the feet will strengthen them for the final 11 miles to Donner Pass tomorrow. This repetition of history is discouraging.

It was a better trail today, though. Most of it was on ridges that afforded glorious views of ski resorts, including Squaw Valley, as well as the hilly region north of Lake Tahoe. I left North Fork Blackwood Creek at a good time (7:45). All but the TRT hikers had departed.

At various points of the morning, I caught each party of PCT thru-hikers. One man was wearing a kilt, and later even carried a sun umbrella. Yet in the end, I know that I am not one of them. I am an outsider, an enigma. Some thru-hikers are friendly, talking about hopes like a cheeseburger at old Donner Pass (Highway 40). Others admired the view with me. All proceeded on past Tinker Knob, however. I envy their conditioning, and their autonomy. I envy the fun a group of them was having talking in front of a video camera—an interview of sorts, likely for a documentary by the fellow thru-hiker doing the filming. I just do not seem cut out for distance backpacking.

The sunset panorama from Tinker Knob made the whole day worth it—and then some. I may hobble back up there at sunrise. What glorious creation. Hallelujah to the LORD of heaven and earth.

10 July, 2014: THUR

There is an immense stillness.

The wind sleeps. No birds sing. Save the occasional jet drone or, if you listen carefully, even the sound of a laboring car driving up Donner Pass, all is at rest. The land. My spirit. Even the pain in my body. I could not sleep. Perhaps it was the silence calling me outside my tent to gaze at and listen to the truth. God. It is like stepping outside of my frailty and circumstances for a brief respite—a time of communion with God unhindered by distraction. Only holiness remains, a sacred ground.

A waxing gibbous moon shines brightly behind a glowing cloud-dappled sky. Lights glow far to the west, and some to the east. Lights shine above: those not overcome by moonlight. This is the land between civilization. Mankind labors to cross it as expediently as possible. He runs past it. Yet I desire to run through it. Not so much for speed, but for joy. Why do birds glide, or deer bound? Because God made them so. Well, He made me to run. In that I am free. In that I am at my best. I must find a way to journey this divide as myself, no longer pretending to be someone else. I do not really like long-distance hiking, yet this wilderness is undeniably my home. I belong here. I must find a way to continue, to adapt and not give up. I must stop pretending. Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

12 July, 2014: SAT [Regarding July 10]

Tinker Knob at dawn is just as lovely. If only my feet were in a better condition. From observing a neighboring party of campers—maybe fifteen of them—doing Thai-Chi, to packing up a somewhat dusty camp, I felt a certain trepidation at how the 10+ miles for the day would be.

The first hour of hiking was encouraging. Despite a rocky path, I made aggressive progress. After that, however, pain and exhaustion crept in. Every step became a trial of the will. Those seven miles felt particularly long, especially the last three between Highway 40 and Highway 80. I just never seemed to get any closer to the end. Waiting for large groups of hikers to pass by the other way—the trail being too narrow for both of us to pass at the same time—did not help. The pain reverberating up my leg, besieging my mind, was too similar to Section A. Still, not long after observing a yellow-stripped garter snake, I made it to bustling Highway 80.

After clarifying my position via cell phone with Nathan, and seeing his red pickup truck pull to the side of Highway 80, I hopped in, enjoyed a Gatorade, and felt my feet and body shut down. Because of how my body felt, I had little sense of victory in completing this 64-mile section of the PCT. I still have so much to learn. I need to adapt running to the journey.

In the meantime, Epsom Salt baths for my feet and general rest are what I need to regain my body and soul. Being in Lake Tahoe for another weekend is welcome. The water on the Nevada shores is especially beautiful today. Lake Tahoe is a glorious place, truly a gem of California. I am fortunate to have been able to experience its grandeur in such an intimate way. I recommend it to everyone who appreciates the outdoors.

* * *

Some thoughts about adventure

Adventure is costly.

In adventure, the self is both surrendered and gained. Like love. Adventure is about intimacy. It demands vulnerability. It demands risk. There are no long-term guarantees. It would not be adventure if all was guaranteed.

There are a few things that seem necessary to have and to hold the hope of success. There must be faith—in the potential and adaptability and even limits of the human mind and body—but more so there must be faith in something beyond myself. There is a power beyond myself that inspires me, that helps me to stand time and time again, and to take another step. I can overcome challenges because God overcame far more as a man, as Jesus Christ. He overcame for a reason. He overcame to provide a promise of purpose that transcends mortality. He offers me meaning. He offers me life. I am just asked to trust his word. I am called to be courageous, to face each day with action. For without action, there can be no intimacy. Without action, there can be no adventure.

Adventure does not mean comfort, though comfort can surely be found. Those with eyes to see the glory of God will never want for deep joy and peace. The surface will suffer a barrage of resistance. At times, joy will seem distant. Peace may feel illusive. Adventure does not mean perfection. There will be failures.

But there will also be triumphs. There will be mountaintops blessing you with cleared perspective and unfathomable beauty. Would such gifts be as profoundly moving had it not been for the long road leading through and up from the valley? The road that strains the body and will, the road that empties the heart, is the same road that fills you with wonder. Adventure is about being emptied to be filled. It goes well beyond backpacking and outdoor adventure. It takes many forms. Yet at the heart of it is the richest of lives. At the heart of it is the richest of loves.

May it be so for you.

Aug 5, 2014

Feet of a Runner, Part II

Arduous Ardor

The following is Part II in a trilogy of posts concerning my recent experience on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Each part has been adapted from journal entries written in the wild. The date and time listed are when the journal entry was originally written. Read Part I.

It is curious how similar ardor is to arduous, at least by sound and at first glance. Yet their meanings are quite different. Ardor is synonymous with words like intensity, zeal, loyalty, and passion, while arduous is synonymous with difficult, strenuous, and steep. Granted, perhaps with some consideration they are not as contrary as initially thought. Perhaps they actually compliment each other, too often allying to define the adventures of life. The PCT certainly seems to harbor such sentiments.

8 July, 2014: Tuesday

Nathan felt a bit better this morning, but still lacked an appetite. So it was decided that he would return to South Tahoe via the Bay View Trail. Either he ultimately hitchhiked out or called Aunt Minja. I hope that he made it alright. Fortunately, this does now mean that I have a definite ride back to South Tahoe from Donner Pass at the end of this section.

A harsh storm swooped in last night around midnight. Bouts of rain were of little concern, however, when compared to the violent gusts of wind. I imagined the spirit of the wind making pass over pass over our campsite, as if to drive us off the mountain. Fortunately, as with Black Mountain, my tent proved up to the task once more. Still, I probably should have moved the tent out from the open. The sporadic bursts of enraged noise reverberating from my quivering tent kept me too alert and awake. I probably only had about five restless hours of sleep. This added difficulty to today.

Aside from the descent from Dick's Pass to Velma Lakes, and the last few miles after Barker Pass to North Fork Blackwood Creek campground, the 21.4 miles today were rather monotonous. The sun came out cheerily after lunch, which improved the mood from the mildly damp morning. More starkly, the day was marked by level woodland plagued by mosquitoes. When I concluded that it was time to put on repellent, I was attacked with a fury. Thankfully, the mosquitoes seemed to completely diminish after the sun came out after lunch. And I am thankful for their scarcity at this campsite.

It is lovely to sit outside relatively undisturbed as the sun sets, its radiance glowing on nearby Twin Peaks and even Lake Tahoe's distant eastern range. The creek cascades down toward the valley running a few miles onward to shore. Birds sing. The air is fresh and dry. I am glad for a few neighbors. One group, comprised of three students, is hiking a section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I wonder if the two across the creek are PCT thru-hikers.

The highlight of the day was meeting Ken. He passed Nathan and me as we said farewell to each other at the Bay View Trail/PCT junction. I then quickly caught up with Ken at Dick's Lake. I was somewhat surprised to hear that he is a thru-hiker. His two-day rest at South Tahoe may have something to do with it: he packs very light and looks rather clean. We hiked and talked for a few miles. He had me lead the way. I was never entirely sure if he really wanted my company.

Ken is from Washington, began the PCT in mid May in order to work and save money for gear and so forth for a while longer. We reconnected at lunch at Lake Richardson. He was excited to have seen a golden-furred black bear. An ATV disturbed some of the ambiance, but we enjoyed talking further about backpacking and how we runners adapt to it. I later passed him as he slept in a meadow by a brook below Barker Pass. He caught my footsore tired self just before the descent to North Fork Blackwood Creek. He then ate supper as I made camp across the creek. I waved him farewell as he continued on, intending to cover a few more miles before nightfall. May God bless and keep Ken as he hopes to complete the PCT in September.

The sky is painted violet and pink, yet the light quickly fades. The view from Twin Peaks must be glorious right now. Alas, I need the rest. This is a great campsite. It reminds me a bit of Sentinel Falls in Yosemite. Hopefully the sunrise will prove even more glorious, especially considering how there was no vibrant light this morning on Dick's Pass due to cloud cover. 

God, I need real rest tonight. I am sore and tired. My feet may be developing blisters: on the right heel and under the calloused palm of my left foot. The latter troubles me, being similar in nature to what happened in the first PCT section. YHWH-rapha, I need you.

I am at peace right now, though. Many times today, I longed to share this journey with someone. I really do find strength in the company of others. Hallelujah for Ken.