Friday, July 30, 2010

Final Draft

I interrupt this blog to relate this long piece on our recent hiking trip. I only plan on leaving this up for a couple of days. I welcome your comments, suggestions and derisions!


“In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the god damned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something. Maybe.” Ed Abbey.

I want to see my backyard.

Not just the three acres that comprises my “off grid” home in Concow---no---I want to see the thousands of acres of National Forest--the People's Yard--that starts after you leave our Foothills home. Specifically, I want to hike the nearly fifty mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail which passes through Butte County. The Pacific Crest Trail is one of America’s longest hiking trails. It travels from the Mexican border in southern California, along the crest of the Sierra and the Cascades, ending in Canada. 2,650 miles in length.

I’m not expecting much. This section is not on anyone's "life list". It is supposed to be ugly, dry, logged over with less impressive views. Hiking books on the Pacific Crest Trail state that you should go fast through this section because it is boring, shade less, somewhat dangerous and dry.

We are loading up our gear at our meeting spot: The Dome Store in Concow. 6:45 am. My wife will transport three of us, 29 miles up the road to the Belden Rest Stop. Our goal is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Belden on Highway 70 to St. Bernard’s Lodge on Highway 36. Forty eight miles on the trail. We’ve penciled in five days of our lives to this endeavor.

Going with me are Jason, a therapist who has visited Tibet; and Joshua, a self proclaimed "Abbot" of a Lutheran Intentional Community in Paradise. Neither of these guys have ever backpacked before, but they are young (at 30 years of age), enthusiastic and full of testosterone. I've packed my sleeping bag, backpack stove, too much food, sleeping pad, old wooden hiking stick, topo maps, rain fly, rope, long underwear, spare t-shirt, rain gear, penicillin, ibuprofen, Vicodin, Lomotil, Benadryl, new water filter, a journal and a fifth of J and B Scotch. I forgot my copy of Walden. The Abbot packs sparingly, and has brought only trail mix and jerky for food and a huge bottle of 151 Bacardi Rum. "I want more bang for the buck", he says. The Therapist has more connoisseur tastes. He packs gourmet salami, farmers' market beef jerky, peanut butter and a half liter of Jack Daniels filled in a plastic bottle.

The Abbot has our hike programmed into his iPhone’s Global Positioning application. Move five feet to your left and the little blue dot that announces your position actually moves on the little screen. Fool proof hiking! No way to get lost! Or maybe not?

We drive up Highway 70 (a neglected, under appreciated part of the State Highway system). We get to the Rest Area where the Pacific Crest Trail intersects with highway 70. One last visit to the men's room, a struggle heaving the 40 pound pack onto my back, a kiss to my wife--and we are on our way.

I am familiar with the first part of the hike, as I visited Belden the week before. Belden, according to Wikipedia, has 26 residents; 13 households; and an average income of $8,500 per person. During my visit the week before, there were several hundred nearly naked, twenty somethings lounging in the Feather River that lies just below the town. Techno Music played in an endless loop; a large plastic, forty foot, inflatable Gorilla swayed in the wind watching over the beach. A Rave! Seemed peaceable enough.

But this early morning in late July, there is nobody around. We start our hike.

I am closing in on 50 years of age--twenty years my two comrades’ senior. I also am out of shape. I certainly couldn’t be inconvenienced by actually training for this hike. I’m Roly Poly, weighing 60 pounds more than the Abbot. I give him the two gallons of Gatorade to carry (weighing 16 pounds). Consider it his handicap.

The plan today is to hike up Chips Canyon to the Williams Cabin...a distance of some 6.5 miles. We start at 2,300 feet above sea level. We are on the trail early as the temperature is supposed to approach the century mark. Gotta get the miles in before we swelter.

About a half mile into the hike, I hear my name being yelled: "Allan!!!" Instantly I realize I have the car keys in my pocket. My poor spouse is left alone at Belden (unable to start the car) with our barefoot, sleepy grandchild in pajamas. I walk down the hill with my backpack on; return the keys to my loving spouse and only then realize I have to carry the damned forty pound pack back up the hill. Dumb!

I climb back up to where my buddies wait for me--who immediately comment on my lack of intellectual acumen in hiking the hill twice wearing a backpack. Being the planner and leader of this expedition, I can see in their eyes a glint of doubt that, perhaps, going on this journey just might have been a mistake?We hike along the Feather River, climbing all the way. Then we make the big turn up Chips Creek and Chips Creek Canyon. Our destination lays some forty eight miles up and over this canyon. It looks impossibly long.

We climb in shade, crossing several streams. On one stream a sign says: Rattlesnake Springs. The guidebook states that rattlers are very common along Chips Creek. The book also proclaims that this section (from hwy 70 to hwy 36), my backyard, to be ugly. Dry. Boring. A place to be hurried through.

That isn't what we are experiencing. The trail winds up the canyon with 1,000 foot granite walls on both sides. Given that the last winter was wet, and spring late, Chips Creek is raging with white water. As are the smaller tributary steams. Perhaps two gallons of Gatorade is overkill for this first day (when there is so much water on the trail)?

After a few hours of constant climbing, we come to the Williams Cabin Site. The problem? It isn't there. I'd promised my buddies an evening of Bacchalian frolicking at the cabin which was supposed to be complete with a wood stove. Evidently, sometime after the guidebook was published, the cabin burned down. Unhappy with the campsite, we trundle on. Up to Myrtle Flat--just another mile up the trail.

When we get to our campsite, someone is already there. A Thru Hiker (a Thru Hiker is a person who attempts to hike most, if not all, of the PCT in one season). Taking off our heavy packs that feel like crosses on our backs, we relax. Make introductions. Relax. I bring out my Scotch and our day is done.

On all the long trails in the United States (the PCT, the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail) it is customary to have a “nombre de trail”. Your hiking name. This is your identity for the duration of your (sometimes) five month trip. A badge to be worn with pride. Hiking tradition states that another Thru Hiker must give you your name.The gentleman sitting with us is an old grizzled hiker; he introduces himself as "Old School".

"I got the name because of the old, outdated equipment I used to hike with", he explains. Old School is a college music professor. A bit portly. A veteran of the Appalachian Trail (a thru hike) who is now completing his last section of the Pacific Crest Trail. He has lost twenty pounds since starting his hike two weeks ago. He is funny. Kind. And well versed in hiker lore.

He tells us stories and introduces us to PCT etiquette. We share the booze and try out various trail names for ourselves. "The Abbot" is an obvious choice. The therapist doesn't particularly care for the title of "Pink Cosmo" (because he is drinking the 151 combined with pink lemonade). My wife has already given me a hiking nickname: “Trail Biscuit”. Later, a couple other Thru Hikers join us at the campsite as we cook our suppers and work on getting a buzz. Ben from Israel joins us. He is 27. Waifishly thin. Looking exhausted. He has been hiking 20 to 30 miles a day since May 4. My comrades and I had just done 7 miles. We feel embarrassed to tell him we only plan on doing forty eight miles.

Dusk. The mosquitoes come out. The Abbott hates bugs. All bugs. Despises mosquitoes. Can’t stand them. Before the hike I had told him that we wouldn’t encounter many mosquitoes (having grown up in the Mississippi River Valley, it takes nearly a million mosquitoes to get my attention).

“You promised no mosquitoes”, said the Abbott.

“These aren’t mosquitoes. They are California miniature humming birds”, said I.

We turn in. “Cowboy Camping”—meaning we aren’t using a tent. We lie there talking with nothing between us and the full moon. I fall asleep listening to mutters, curses and slapping sounds from my peers.

Day Two:

We make coffee; pack our packs and head out. We climbed 7 miles and 2,000 feet in elevation gain thus far. Today we climb up, up, up—out of the canyon and onto the crest of the Sierra/Cascades. 2,600 feet to struggle up before we descend to our next campsite at 6,400 feet (Cold Springs). The distance will be 13 miles.

But trails aren’t linear. They have an exasperatingly awful way of climbing 500 feet only to give up half that amount in a descent. Up 600 feet; down 300 feet. And so on.

The Abbot’s GPS Iphone is working well. It is easy to stay on the trail. But now a challenge confronts us. The path crosses Chips Creek. We must negotiate across the roaring stream. Hop from rock to rock, or, the way I did it, just plunge in and take your chances. I get across. The Abbot decides to try another route, requiring a young man’s dexterity and daring. Unfortunately, he drops his hiking pole into the waist deep water and impulsively jumps in before he realizes his Iphone is in his pocket.

Survey the damage: the Iphone is dead. No more GPS. From now on we will have to find our path the old fashioned way: with a Topo map. I dig it out of my backpack.

It takes us thirty minutes hiking without the GPS to get lost. We miss a stream crossing in an over-grown section of the trail. After some rousting about for thirty minutes, trying to withhold a certain amount of panic (I’d hate to have the Search and Rescue people come find us!), the Therapist finds the trail on the other side of stream. Relief!

This backyard of ours is beautiful! And if you pay attention, you can see the Sierra marry the Cascades within this section. You can watch the transformation by watching the granite turn into basaltic type rocks. The older Sierra gives way to the younger Cascades (of which Lassen is the first, most dramatic peak).

It is hot. I am sweating. Still---when you run across 300 year old Douglas firs, six feet in diameter—you can’t help but feel awe. And the Cedars! This hike is worth it for these reddish, barked trees. Huge. Some species can obtain an age of 1,200 years. It is like church to me. Every ancient tree a Cathedral.

Finally we climb out of Chips Canyon, through a mountain meadow filled with flowers that bloomed at my Homestead two months ago. Brodaiae. Mariposa lilies. Shooting stars. And the guidebook called this ugly? Boring? No way!

After seven miles we come to Poison Springs (the water was just fine; I drank from it without even using a filter—brave man that I am). Now that we are out of the canyon, the water sources become fewer and fewer. We could camp here for the night, but decide to push on to our destination: Cold Springs, which is the next water source. Six and a half miles away.

Off we go. Up to 7,000 feet. Legs quivering. Sweating. Sucking air. And this damned pack is so heavy. Just when you can’t take it anymore, you climb a ridge and Mt. Lassen appears. Our first view of this mountain.

After some 15 miles on the trail since we started, mostly climbing up, the trail becomes flat. Follows an exposed ridge with remnant of snow (on July 25?). We make good time. Some other hiker must have felt relief at the sudden ease in not climbing anymore as she (it must have been a she!) painted “I Love You All” on a rock. It is much easier to be filled with love when hiking downhill.

Just before we got to Cold Springs, we find Old School resting on the trail. We walk to Cold Springs and camp for another night. Again, the fraternity of Thru Hikers joins us. All male. All solitary. All thin. All of them wearing the requisite uniform of green nylon pants and a brown shirt. They have the same beards. The same GPS gadgets. The same smiles on their exhausted faces.

Thirteen miles done today. Cold Springs actually does have a cold spring. It rises straight out of a pipe, plunging into a trough at eight gallons a minute. I’ve never tasted water this cold. Or this good. We bring out more booze and pass it around to the assembled hikers. Make supper (Spanish rice). We wait for the mosquito horde. We feed ourselves; then the mosquitoes feed on us. Once again I fall asleep to t he sounds of muttering, curses and slapping.

Day Three:

Coffee. Oatmeal. And a prayer for Divine Assistance.

Yes, prayer is required today—as this is the day I’ve been dreading. From Cold Springs to Soldier Creek, a distance of 24 miles, there is no water on the trail. None. Zippo. Nada. Zilch. This is one of the driest sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Dangerous to those who aren’t expecting it. We met one delirious Thru Hiker who warned us that “two liters wasn’t enough water for that section!”

We camel up on water. Fill the gallon sized Gatorade bottles. Fill our other water bottles (someplace around three gallons of water for the three of us) and head out. Not only do we have 24 miles to cover to our next water, we also have to negotiate two mountains: Humbug Mountain (what a name!) and Butt Mountain (again, what a name!). No wonder we don’t meet any locals on this trip. Who would go there? Better to have named these peaks something more inviting, like Peace Mountain and Naked Lady Mountain. Poor marketing, if you ask me.

This section peaks out at 7,600 feet with various drops down to 6,100 feet. More elevation to climb with these pesky packs. These new “internal frame” packs absorb the sweat directly into them when you carry them. A terrible design flaw. The sweat accumulates in the pack---making it way too heavy. It’s like carrying a load of wet laundry up a mountain.

But the beauty keeps us from complaining (too much). Ridges. Views. Mt. Lassen getting closer. More obtainable. Keeping an eye on us.

In a meadow, some fifty feet away, a Bald Eagle takes off from a branch on a tree. We make good time and climb to the top of Humbug pass. Old School had left before us that morning. When we get to the crest of Humbug Pass, Old School calls out my name.

“Trail Angels!”

Three local couples had decided to drive their SUV up the gravel road to the top of the pass. Once every three or four years, they fill coolers with water, beer, sodas and fruit. They bring cookies, sandwiches, and a variety of chips. They lounge at the summit pass and wait to feed and water hikers. An answer to my prayer? Seems uncanny that they would choose to do this on the one day we would be passing through. It’s a 1 in 1,200 chance.

Trail Angels are people who help hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (and also other long trails, such as the Appalachian). Thru Hikers have an oral tradition of passing on who will help a hiker along the way. A Trail Angel will give a hiker a bed for the night; feed them a meal; let them use a phone; drive them to town; let them leave extra supplies in a “trail box”; pass on messages; let them take a shower in their own homes. Sometimes Trail Angels will leave coolers full of beverages and fresh fruit at the end of long dry sections. And these Trail Angels were there to feed and water us. Eight miles in to a 24 mile dry section. Trail Angels make a person believe in the goodness of humanity.

As will Thru Hikers. They share their food. Water. Booze. Give helpful advice. Pass on messages to other hikers. They leave the campsites in pristine condition. They build rock cairns in tricky sections of the trail. Point the way to water. A mutual aid society so very refreshing in our capitalistic, individualistic society.

Fed and watered, the Trail Angels applaud us as we leave. They call us Heroes. I smile.

The trail stays reasonably level as we do a giant horseshoe around a mountain valley. We can see the next mountain, Butt Mountain, which looks unbelievably steep and high above us. We could camp at the 12 mile point at a saddle just before the last leg quivering climb up the 7,660 foot summit. However, with all the beer, chips, soda and cookies on board we get grandiose and decide to shoot for finishing the whole twenty four mile, waterless section in one day. Twenty four miles with sunny, exposed climbs in the intense heat of a late July afternoon.

Every good hiking trail should have a section or two where great care should be taken not to fall to your death. A hazard. A place where your skills are tested. We encounter two such sections where the cinderly trails have slumped down a 500 foot plunge. Steep. Leaving no path across an impossible angle to negotiate as you look down at certain death. Easy to slip. We live.

As we get to the base of the last climb we say good bye to Old School (never to see him again). The Abbott goes on ahead, feeling fresh and full of vigor. He takes a gallon of water with him (untouched). Jason stays behind to baby-sit the elderly (me!). Together Jason and I talk religion, family, politics, Ed Abbey, Wendell Berry—as we begin the last climb.

Trudge. Trudge. Trudge. Climb. Climb. Climb. This sucks. Hurts. God this pack is heavy! Hours tick by.

Along the way, we meet a Thru Hiker coming the other way. He brings us a message: The Abbott has a full gallon of water at the top. He is waiting for us. Finally we catch up to the Abbott and share a late afternoon lunch of salami and bagels. Along with the cold water. At the 7, 600 foot summit we have 6 ½ miles to go before we reach Soldier Creek. Only 11.8 miles to St. Bernard Lodge on Highway 36 (our take out spot). We have two liters of water left; but the path is all downhill from here.

We are tired and moving slowly. I can feel blisters developing. The sun starts to set. The views are magnificent. Mt. Lassen is much closer. It almost looks like we could jump to the top of it. To the southeast, we can see the mountains which surround Lake Tahoe. We talk as we walk. Will Peak Oil change everything? Will technology save us? Will 2012 issue in a new era of higher, communal consciousness? Will the St. Bernard Lodge be open to serve us a Farmer’s Breakfast tomorrow? Important questions.

Darkness descends. We get out our headlamps as we descend (still no sign of Soldier Creek). We are walking on a narrow path along the side of a mountain. Trees all around us. I start to question whether we are still on the path (remembering getting lost before). Best to stop for the night. Don’t want to get lost. So we find a place where the plunge off the path doesn’t look lethal (only 30 feet or so) and pull out our sleeping bags. No booze tonight; we are too tired. We “cowboy camp” right on what we think is the path. There is a rock under the small of my back, but I am too tired to move. Too tired to move the sleeping bag to a new spot on the path.

I fall asleep.

Lying on my back, I feel something crawl past my ear. The movement continues down my sleeping bag and stops on my stomach. Jesus!! I gotta get out of this bag! I fall off the precipice feet first and I crawl out as the sleeping bag keeps sliding down the hill. The Therapist quickly turns on his headlamp to see what is going on. I’ve jumped out of the bag and I grabbed the top of it.

There’s something in my bag!! I yell.

I stand up while the Therapist uses his headlamp to shed light on the situation. I turn the sleeping bag over and a bat flies out of it! Wow! Thankful it wasn’t a rattlesnake, and also thankful the bat didn’t bite me (I don’t want rabies) ---I make sure the bag is empty and crawl back into it, ever so gingerly. With faith. A more gutsy thing I have never done in my life (including entering into three marriages).

Just then there is a crashing all around us in the woods. Branches breaking. It sounds like a rock band destroying their hotel room. The Therapist again uses his headlamp to scan the horizon. Looking for the glow of eyes in the illumination; none look back. Not satisfied, he stays awake the rest of the night holding vigil; half ways expecting to be someone’s moonlight snack.

Five minutes after the bat incident, and the crashing sounds---I am asleep. Too tired to care.

Day Four:

At dawn we all are awake. We finish off the rest of the water (no need to carry it anymore) and discover that we are still on the Trail. Yahoo!! Fifteen minutes of walking and we find Soldier Creek. We’d walked almost 23 miles the previous day! 3.7 miles to go to Highway 36. Then just a mile and a half more to our breakfast at St. Bernard Lodge. The trail leaves the pristine beauty of Lassen National Forest to enter private lands. We pass through a clear cut section (owned by Kimberly Clark) and witness the deforestation of this type of logging. It looks as barren as the moon. Such destruction--just so we can blow our noses and wipe our asses.

The trail is easy from here on out. We find the Highway, walk to St. Bernard Lodge, and despite the place being closed to non-guests, the charming staff compassionately agree to make breakfast for us. They took pity on the grungy dirty hikers.

Adventure complete. The Therapist’s relieved wife is on her way to pick us up.

“Beyond the wall of the unreal city, beyond the security fences topped with barbed wire and razor wire, beyond the asphalt belting of the superhighways, beyond the cemented banksides of our temporarily stopped and mutilated rivers, beyond the rage of lies that poisons the air; there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it.” Ed Abbey

This is our backyard. A treasure. Under-utilized by locals (we only met Thru Hikers on the trail, most of whom are from other states and even other countries). Why not dust off that old backpack and go see our backyard? Have an adventure! Get stung by a bee---get the bejesus scared out of you! Use those legs. They’ll remember what to do once you get that pack on. Climb down a rung on the food chain. It will make you feel alive. And you’ll be miserable enough to make you ecstatically happy! At least, that’s what it does for me.

Life was not meant to be lived indoors!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 208: Aftermath...

The Duct Tape worked! The shoe held together pretty well, despite multiple stream crossings, 5,000 feet in elevation gain and one long, long day on the trail. We shall try to eke out one more trip out of these boots.

I am hobbling about the property today though. I've got a ferocious blister on the little toe of the foot that went into the Non Duct Taped shoe. Twenty three miles in one day would probably do that to any innocent foot.

Aftermath of the trip? I feel good. I have a sense of well being. Accomplishment. Getting to know a few of the Thru Hikers on the trail introduced me to a whole new sub-culture. And I've discovered that my backyard is quite beautiful.

I think sometimes people are scared to head out into the woods because they feel they have to be in perfect shape to take on such a project. I'm living proof that you can be portly, out of shape, nearing fifty years of age and still carry off a fifty miler. Let your own desire do the distance for you.

Off to Napa...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 207: Close to Soldier Creek to St. Bernard Lodge

The last day. We hiked down to Highway 36. Around five or six miles when all is said and done.

That is one tired, dirty, stinky Allan.

St. Bernard's Lodge was closed. Happily for us, they decided to cook us breakfast. We feasted on pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns, country potatoes and coffee. Excellent! And they were very, very kind to serve three really stinky patrons.

I'd read that this section of the Pacific Crest Trail is ugly. Boring. It is nothing of the sort. We only met Through Hikers the entire time on the trail. It astounds me that locals don't use this precious and wonderful hiking trail that is, literally, in our backyard.

This was a fun, fun trip. A great adventure. My friends were tolerant of the California miniature humming birds. They gamely carried water and made the best of a very strenuous hike. Thanks guys!

Day 206: Cold Springs to Just Short of Soldier Creek...

This was the day I was dreading. A hike with around 1,400 feet of elevation gain, partly above tree line with 24 long, dry miles. No water on this section of the Pacific Crest Trail. We tanked up at Cold Springs; filled our water bottles (around three gallons of water) and headed out.

The skies were ominous as a thunderstorm passed over head. I was worried about lightning on the exposed sections. We did get a few drops of rain, but the storm passed us by. A few rumbles of thunder warned us of our mortality...

Up the trail...

And boy did I sweat. Precious fluids sweating out of me...

The storm over Mount Lassen...

Trail Angels! When we got to the eight mile point without water, these kind folks fed us. Gave us beer. Sodas! Water! Fruit! Chips and Salsa! Some really good cookies! Our stroke of luck because the last time they decided to serve hikers was three years ago! For some reason, they decided to take their four wheel drive to this remote location in order to give us fluids and snacks. Such luck!

The northern end of the great Concow fire of 2008. The fire that nearly burned Joni and me out of our home (the first day we moved into it). This photo is some thirty miles north of our house.

More fire..

There is water at the twelve mile point--you just have to hike straight down the mountain for around a mile to get to it. We decided to forge on to our campsite at Soldier Creek and turn the day into a 24 mile day. 24 miles with 40 pound backpacks in the blaring sun is a long, long way.

We didn't' make it. Night closed in on us. We forged ahead with headlights on our foreheads, but the trail got a little tricky to find. So we plunked our sleeping bags down on a precarious ledge and slept there for the night.

Sometime after falling asleep, a bat decided to join me in my sleeping bag. I awoke with a start, slid off the ledge. The bat stayed in the bag until I turned the thing over, with the Therapist pointing a flashlight at it. The bat flew out of the sleeping bag.

The bat didn't bite me, but it sure did give me a fright. At first I thought it was a rattlesnake that had climbed into the bag with me.

I fell asleep soundly after the bat incident. My partners stayed awake most of the night listening to loud crashing and thrashing all around us. Later the next day, we found mountain lion tracks on the trail. We ended up backpacking around 23 miles that day. A record for me!

Day 205: Myrtle Flat to Cold Spring...

Day two was hard. Up a canyon on a hot, hot day. We climbed from 4,300 feet up t0 7,000 feet before descending to our campsite at 6,300 feet.

Here I am at the top of Chips Canyon..

Lots of water on this section. Roaring streams which (eventually) led to disaster...

More stream crossing...

And yet more stream crossing...

The Therapist in a mountain meadow...

Me, with Mt. Lassen in the background. We had so many beautiful views of Mt. Lassen that I stopped taking photos of it (I wish I had documented the mountain getting closer and closer to us)...

Up the trail...

PCT hikers are a kind and loving group...

The Abbot at Cold Springs. The water here truly was cold. This would be our last water for 24 miles...

And Old School joined us again at this campsite...

So what was the disaster? The Abbot went wading in Chips Creek and forgot he had his Iphone with him. We had a GPS loaded onto the phone. The result? We lost the global positioning for the rest of the trip.

We got lost within 15 minutes of losing the cell phone. The trail got real confusing and we spent around a half hour looking for it before the Therapist stumbled upon the trail. We missed a river crossing that was poorly marked.

Day 204: Belden to Myrtle Flat

Let me take the suspense out of this right now: We finished the whole forty eight mile trip. In record time. Go backpacking with a couple of young bucks and you will discover that the miles fly by. Expectations are exceeded. And the more elderly ones (me!) will be winded...

Here we are at the trailhead in Belden...

I didn't care much for the name of this spring...

The Abbot. Like a camel, he rarely needs to drink water. But that didn't stop him from carrying two gallons of water the first day (which turned out to be unnecessary). He was a trooper!

At our first campsite in Myrtle Flat. Around seven miles with a two thousand foot elevation gain...

The Therapist in the foreground, cutting some salami. The Abbot in the background (putting on bug dope--more about this later)...

The Abbot with a bottle of 151 proof Rum...

We hit the trail early that morning. Joni was kind enough to drop us off. About a mile into the hike I heard a scream behind me: "Allan!". I'd run off with the car keys and Joni was stranded at the trail head. Add an extra mile for that!

The first day was a beautiful hike up Chips Canyon. Lots of water in this leg. We had planned on camping at a cabin on the trail, but sometime between the time my guidebook was written and the time of our hike, the cabin had burned down.

We were joined at the campsite by "Old School" (people take trail names on the PCT). Old School was completing his last leg of completing the PCT. He also had completed the Appalachian Trail and had many stories to tell and much advice to give.

We were "Cowboy Camping", meaning we didn't sleep with a tent. We unrolled our sleeping bags right under the stars. I wasn't much bothered by the mosquitoes; they are minor nuisances to me. I told my partners: "We don't have mosquitoes in California".

"Then what are these things biting me?" the Abbot asked.

"California miniature humming birds", I told him.

I slept well. The Abbot swatted at California miniature humming birds all night...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Days 202 and 203: Wine and Backpacks...

Yesterday, after work, I show my 22 year old Progeny the gastric hedonistic side of the Napa Valley. Is sitting and eating at an outdoor restaurant an outdoor activity? How about the swollen belly walk thereafter?

Home today. I finish packing the moleskin, the J and B Scotch, two gallons of Gatorade, two water bottles, an extra pair of shoes, Walden, clothes and various other implements of carrying your home on your back. This blog will be silent for awhile. Tomorrow Joni will drop off the Therapist, the Abbott and Yours Truly at the Trailhead.

This is an ambitious hike. Alternative plans might need to be made on the trail. I'll be back with a full report next week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 201: Duct Tape...

On a hot July day, Angel and I head out for an hour-long, noon time walk. All the long grasses are dry and brown. We are in the hot days of summer. Amazing how fast time travels. This is day number two hundred, and it just seems like yesterday that I was making the decision to continue this blog for another year.

This blog does get me outside (which is its purpose). After some 566 days now, I think this having some daily time outside has become a habit. An addiction. A good thing.

And I used shoe goo and duct tape to fix my hiking boots. We hope to get two more long trips out of these things before retiring them to the scrap heap of pedal history.

The soles are falling off. Hopefully the glue will fix it. Just in case, I shall bring a pair of tennies for backup on the backpacking trip.

Day 200: Packed!

Since I will be in the Napa Valley for the rest of the week, I had to get my backpack ready to go. I went through the list, collected the items, bought the food, made a decision on which sleeping bag to bring and got the backpack ready to go. It weighs 27 pounds without water. Add another ten for carrying the H2O.

We leave Friday at 6:30 in the morning.

Met with my hiking partners last night to finalize plans. The Abbot has downloaded a GPS program into his Iphone which will (hopefully) keep us from wandering too far astray. He also has a solar charger for the thing (it needs six hours of direct sunlight to gather the charge). I'd like to see if we could get the thing to download the hiking trip onto this site. Would you want to track our progress?

Looking at the itinerary, I can see that I have (once again) been grandiose in my plans. What was I thinking?! Six miles the first day; Thirteen miles on day two and three (which also happens to be the days we climb the most); nearly Eleven miles the fourth day---and (thankfully!) just Four miles the fifth day. All of this would be good if we were trail hardened muscle men. We are not.

We are a group of Nerds. And in checking the weather, it looks like the heat is going to continue through out this sojourn. Yikes!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 199: Checking On Belden (The PCT)

I talked the 22 year old female Progeny to spend a few hours on the Pacific Crest Trail up by Belden. The 27 mile drive to the trailhead is quite magnificent. The Feather River Canyon is deep, scenic with large granite domes and a beautiful 2 lane highway that was built in the 30's (back when we still had beauty involved in public projects).

The temperature was in the low 100's...

The trail is well maintained. Well marked. And, unfortunately, largely uphill.

J. at a bridge...

I didn't want to turn around. Friday we will continue on. Straight up the trail above. 46 more miles. I went through a liter of water in two hours (high temps!). Since there is a 23 1/2 mile section without water further on, well, this might be interesting...

Day 198: A New Canyon

On a hot day, we explored a new canyon (we drove to the bottom). This is another branch of the Feather River. We ventured to a new swimming hole.

And later that night, celebrated a birthday...22!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 197: Our Spare Room and the Muir/Jesus Method

With a visitor due in tonight, this will be my home for the next three weeks. It has been reported to me that we have an aggressive mountain lion in the vicinity displaying some highly unusual behaviors. I'm normally quite the defender of the mountain lion, but this one has been (so I'm told) charging people. I'm always skeptical of such reports, but seeing as people all around us have been reporting mountain lion activity--well, caution is advised.

Best not to have the visitors be eaten, so I will give up our bed and move to the tent. I'm not as appetizing.

Hot today. I took a walk with Angel in the heat. Sweating. Still sweating as I type this. Last night Joni and I were up at 3:00 am enjoying the cool night air. Listening for mountain lions.

And one week from today, a Therapist, an Abbot and a Psychiatric RN will leave on our 46.5 mile hike through the ugliest section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Once again, I'm not in shape for it; will suffer, no doubt.

The Abbot states he is going to take minimal provisions with him: 7 items. We call this sort of backpacking the "Muir/Jesus Method". John Muir went on his rambles taking only a loaf of bread with him. Jesus told his disciples to not carry a knapsack or a staff on their journeys. The minimalist approach.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 196: Floors and Coyotes

Kylie and her friend's idea of how to make a mud floor.

Human powered activities. Lots of that today. Working on the floor. More weed whacking. Moving things. Cleaning up. Getting ready for a special visitor tomorrow.

Chicken update: Joni saw a coyote in our driveway when she got up this morning. Now that the chickens are bigger, they seem to have drawn some four legged interest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 195: Chickens!

I usually take it easy the first day after a work run. A personal Sabbath. Just a couple of doggy walks around the ridge.

Our chickens are getting big. Welsummer chickens. In a couple of months (should they survive the predators around here), they should start giving us eggs.

Having chickens is new to me. The six chickens we have are quite good at scratching about for food. They delight in finding an anthill. It certainly saves on the cost of feed. They also are quite social: When I come home from my travels they run up and greet me like a dog.

As for the dogs? Abbey, the new puppy, loves to chase them around. Takes great joy in this! Right now the chickens outweigh the pup, so it is an even match. Angel has adopted the chickens as more creatures in her brood to protect. When the chickens turn in for the night in their chicken coop, Angel will stand on the deck above the coop and keep an eye out, occasionally barking, warding off skunks, bobcats, mountain lion and other creatures of the night.

So far, the chickens have escaped the red tooth and claws of nature.

These are happy chickens! They roam all around the property during the day. They siesta under the Apricot tree during the noon time heat. At night they put themselves to bed in their "bomb shelter". Joni closes the hatch and tucks them in. Angel watches over them from above. So far, so good.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Days 193 and 194: Much To Do...

Work. Sleep. Work. Drive. That week wore me out!

I'm back at the Homestead. On my three and a half hour drive I saw a hawk kill a ground squirrel. He nabbed the poor critter, and then hauled him off. An early supper.

We now head into a frenzy filled time. We have special visitors coming. I'm a week and a half away from starting a backpacking trip (that I'm not in shape for). We have much building to do. And then there is my work for pay job too. The next couple of months shall be a blur...

Much fun to have. Much work to do...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Days 191 and 192: Just Work...

At work in the Napa Valley. Just a couple of evening walks.

One of my nurse colleagues had breakfast in St. Helena today. Much to her surprise, Nancy Pelosi decided to have breakfast at the same establishment. Nancy and her husband have a house here in the Napa Valley and are seen out and about on occasion. Nancy is third in line to the Presidency. My friend reports Nancy had a couple of gentlemen with sunglasses and ear pieces accompanying her.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 190: Baseball...

Slept last night in Springer's backyard under the stars. The Monastic Dorm was full and I couldn't get a room. Springer obliged me with a place to throw my sleeping bag down.

Summer in Napa. The fog rolls in off of San Pablo bay, cooling the place. After work, I went and enjoyed watching Springer's son play baseball. A fine team, and a fine game. Springer's son pitched his heart out.

Best organised outdoors sport? Far and away it is baseball for me. The beauty. The grass. The sound of the baseball hitting the catcher's mitt.

Golf is for the rich. Soccer is silly. Hockey is soccer with ice and fights. Football (American style) is barbaric. Tennis is boring. Baseball combines speed with strategy; coordination with finesse'. Sprawling fields. Hot dogs. Beer. Tradition. The best sport of all.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 189: An "Off Grid" Home

Morning chores. All done outside (the way I like it).

Hard to leave this place to go to work for five days. Just being outside moving this and grunting with that is a treat. Birds sing everywhere. Jack rabbits wander by. Turkey vultures circle above (keeping an eye on us?). In the evenings, we sit on the couch above and watch the stars slowly emerge. Later in the evening, a breeze rushes down from the mountains, with the sound of the wind through the Ponderosa. God's air conditioner: the temperature perfect.

Yes, it is hard to leave this place. But the Napa Valley has its own charms.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 188: Another Mountain Lion Article

Some cultures see animals as a deity.

Angel and I took a walk in the evening. An article in the Chico paper, once again, shows our utter and total fear of mountain lion. These pieces usually start with the report of a sighting, followed by a "what to do" if you see a mountain lion--then followed by a number to call at the Fish and Game Department in order to have the mountain lion dispatched. These pieces are meant to install fear into the reader.

Luckily, the article has a comments section on line. I got into a bit of a tussle with a "Ranger" regarding the state of mountain lion in California. You can read the article here. The comments section are at the bottom (as they usually are).

And if you visit, say something nice about the mountain lion...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 187: Wendell Berry Rules!

It is hard to read Ed Abbey and not want to take a walk. It is hard to read John Muir and not want to head out to the Sierra, loaf of bread in hand, climb a tree and ride out a thunderstorm while swaying in the storm. Same goes for Wendell Berry.

Take this paragraph for instance (which is at the end of the 70's classic: The Unsettling of America): a people we must learn to again to think of human energy, OUR energy, not as something to be saved, but as something to be used and to be enjoyed in use. We must understand that our strength is, first of all, strength of body, and that this strength cannot thrive except in useful, decent, satisfying, comely work."

Wendell Berry makes a person want to become a farmer. With horses. And now, after re-reading this classic, it is sooooo much fun to see the tide turning. All those organic farms and farmer's markets are making a difference. The next revolution will come through food: we will suddenly be eating a whole lot like our grandparents did. And we will benefit.

So I worked today. After doing the requisite mud work, I cleaned up the property. Good, sweaty, dirty work in high temperatures. Four heaping scrap wood piles became one. Things got cleaned up. Moved. Tidied.

Reading Wendell Berry makes you either want to plant a seed or take care of your property. Joni did the former; I did the latter. A good day! And I am enthusiastically happy!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 186: Bring the Outside In...

The past two days we've had to rescue a wayward Lesser Goldfinch that has meandered into our house. All the doors open; windows open--the birds go from our feeders and, rarely, into the house. Being birdbrained and all, they have a hard time finding an exit. I practice capture and release.

But we leave the windows and doors open anyway, as we do not have air conditioning. It is hot here in the foothills (during these hot spells I'm reminded of the summer in France that killed thousands of the elderly when it got unusually hot). A quick search on Google leads me to the stat that now only two percent of businesses and households in the US do not have AC.

The hospital I work at didn't get AC until 1981. My family back in Minnesota didn't get AC until the early 70's. Air conditioning is really a very recent phenomena. And one that has spoiled us in my view. Better to deal with the heat the natural way: Do nothing! Take a dip in a swimming hole. Pour a bucket of water over your head. Be active in the morning and in the evening. Take a siesta during the heat.

Gone are the days of sleeping on the screened in porch during warm nights. A shame really. All these industrial conveniences lead to missing out on being a creature in our environments.

Sometimes it is best to bring the outside in. To let the inside be the same as the outside. Lose the artificial environments.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 185: Thoreau's Anniversary

On July 4, 1845 Henry David Thoreau moved into his one room cabin on Walden Pond. In honor of the anniversary, I made mud plaster for our little cabin.

No fireworks tonight. No military music. No parades. Just Joni and me enjoying our secluded off grid home. And tonight I will read a chapter of "Walden" before turning in. But let's quote the funny little man with the strange beard one more time:

"The opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are called the "means" are increased. The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor" - Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Days 183, 184: Travel and Chains...

Cash coffers getting low, I picked up an extra shift last night. Drove to the Napa Valley, with the intention of working the shift last night, and then catching a talk by Jeffrey St. Clair and Josh Frank at the Socialism Conference 2010 in Oakland today. Sponsored by the Socialist Worker Newspaper, the people speaking at the conference are an eclectic mix of anarchists, socialists and other malcontents. An interesting bunch.

Got up this morning and overslept the Ferry to Oakland, so I drove home; skipped the conference.

I commute 165 miles to work. One way. Soon I will be doing this weekly. I'm not happy about the carbon impact of such long distance commuting. Thus far, I haven't found a way to avoid it. Gotta work where the work is.

The drive would make me nuts if it wasn't so gosh darned beautiful! And rural. I take the back roads across California. No cities to hazard through. Just the Northern Sacramento Valley and the Coastal Mountain Range.

My three hours plus on the road often corresponds to overlapping a meal time. All too often I've given in to the Burger Whop, Jack in the Jail sorts of places. Lately, I've decided to frequent the local diners instead.

The one below I stopped at today. I got an overpriced Tri Tip sandwich (which actually was quite good). This place (The Oasis) is on Highway 20 in the middle of nowhere.

It's a tourist trap.

But the fireplace is nice.

And the long deserted bar, a good place to relax...

Tonight we shall take a walk on the ridge. The mountain lion have been at it again. A visitor just told us some turkeys were snatched away the other night from a nearby property (once again I awoke to the pop of a pistol). I'm not sure livestock, poultry and wilderness mix.

As far as I'm concerned, we are guests on the mountain lion's property. Such losses are to be expected.