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Oct 292014
 

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“Planning is half the fun”, we hear. And it IS! But I implore you to understand that you really are doing it just for the fun of it. About one week in, most people’s “plans” are already ridiculous. Here’s the top 100 factors that make it that way:

  1. Blisters
  2. Gear failures
  3. Bus/shuttle schedules
  4. Post office hours
  5. New trail romance
  6. Ending trail romance
  7. Ability to tolerate oats
  8. Money
  9. Holidays in small towns
  10. Snow
  11. Your mother
  12. Existential crisis
  13. Injuries
  14. Getting lost
  15. Insufficient rain gear
  16. Fires
  17. Dental emergencies
  18. Death in the family
  19. Bill collector finding you
  20. Irresistible side trips
  21. Missing someone
  22. Family or friends joining you for a section
  23. Music festivals
  24. Trail closures
  25. Trying to keep up with or “catch” your peeps
  26. Trying to lose or “ditch” your peeps
  27. Weddings
  28. Good beer in great trail towns
  29. What your friends are doing
  30. Extraordinary heat
  31. Running out of food
  32. Your kids having needs
  33. Knee/ankle/leg/foot issues
  34. Becoming sick
  35. Becoming pregnant
  36. Government shutdowns
  37. Hot springs
  38. The imaginary “weather window” proving incorrect
  39. Stehekin
  40. General Delivery
  41. Painful break-up
  42. Losing stuff
  43. Job offers
  44. Being too pack heavy
  45. Being too ultra-light
  46. Ultimatums from spouse/hiking partner/parents
  47. Food preferences
  48. Discovering you can hike 40-mile days
  49. Discovering you can only hike 15-mile days
  50. Giardia
  51. A “need” to see the ocean
  52. Need to replace lost/stolen ID or debit card
  53. Developed “bearanoia” leading you to decide to camp only where there’s bear boxes
  54. No luck hitchhiking
  55. Met new best friends hitchhiking
  56. Trail magic
  57. Trail angel houses
  58. Alternates
  59. Celestial events you reroute for to get best view
  60. Rushing up ahead to meet people who write funny stuff in trail registers
  61. 4th of July
  62. Offers for REI runs
  63. Crowded campsites or no campsites
  64. Dry water sources
  65. Irrepressible passion to summit everything
  66. Trail Association events
  67. Lost mail
  68. Deciding not to go back to school
  69. Deciding to go to school
  70. Missing your dog
  71. Having someone bring you your dog for a section
  72. Exhaustion
  73. High creek crossings
  74. Early bail-outs
  75. Helping someone who needs it
  76. Storms
  77. Booked hotels/campgrounds in trail towns
  78. Not enjoying yourself
  79. Skipping
  80. Magical places you can’t rush through/leave
  81. Deciding to move to a trail town
  82. All you can eat buffets
  83. House troubles
  84. Need to replace glasses/contacts
  85. Helping out at trail angel camps
  86. Drinking too much
  87. Eating too much
  88. 43 degrees and raining first thing in the morning
  89. Poisonous plant reaction
  90. Slowing down/speeding up to get away from the “herd”
  91. Losing too much weight
  92. Changing gear preferences
  93. Needing prescriptions
  94. Loneliness issues
  95. Need to wait for new shoes
  96. Someone stalking you
  97. Menstruation
  98. Bank account/tax/paycheck/bills issues
  99. Becoming fitter faster than you thought
  100. Desire to not have a plan you thought up in your living room one day

Just GO!! I promise it will be nothing like you think it will.

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Oct 082014
 

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Having an innocent cockiness about how you are in life opens up many doors to new experiences. It also gets you into some predicaments. Mostly, it’s something I value about myself, that I identify a desire to do something, and just go ahead and do it, trusting I’ll adapt to it along the way. Last week, I cursed that quality. I was not fit enough to hike a 104 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail through the Northern Cascades in Washington. Sure, I’ve walked many miles of difficult terrain in my life, 2600 in a row once, which in retrospect should’ve made me know better. You don’t develop sinewy bands of Herculean strength just once and then rely on them for all of eternity, you have to maintain them, or they go flaccid and fail you. It sucks that that’s true, but identifying that it’s “not fair” doesn’t make it any less true.

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I’ve had a difficult, challenging summer, so much that it pulled me out of my routine of fitness maintenance, actually any and all “maintenances” I usually cradle myself with. In short, I sat on my ass, and dwelled on “stuff” for injurious amounts of time. A walk in the woods was psychologically necessary, and I just happened to have a spectacular section of un-walked PCT, some free time,  and a week of good weather staring right at me. Why wouldn’t I? Oh, well I’ve been sitting on my ass for a couple of months, that’s why wouldn’t I, and this un-walked section just happens to boast being one of the most strenuously difficult of all of the PCT sections with no options for bail-out. I would have to walk out on my own volition, or “fly” out much to the consternation of search and rescue crews. I’d take my trekking poles. That was a good solution, as if I could just “pin” them onto my legs should they fail me.

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Immediately, the magic that gets set in motion when you’re about to do something that you are clearly meant to do was activated. The logistics of it all, how I’d get there, where I’d stay, how I’d get back to my car, all worked themselves out in a matter of about ten minutes. That “magic” was largely Kevin Weiderstrom, the same “magic” that kept me from going insane in Skykomish last year while I was waiting out the big storm and potentially facing my mission of completing the trail being smothered by snow, the same Kevin Weidersdtrom that dried a miniature train seat off for me and let me ride around on it in pouring rain in the middle of town to distract myself from that fact. He’s clearly on my side. Thank you, Kevin.

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I’m not sure why I hold so fast onto the idea that I’m going to figure out my entire life and solve all of my problems while I’m out in the wilderness. It never happens. I never even think about it. If I try, it usually goes like this: narcissistic pondering, narcissistic pondering, narcissistic pondering, and BAMMMM!! Something extraordinary enters my line of sight, obliterating every other abstract thought. I set off from Steven’s Pass narcissistically pondering, made it an entire 6 miles without falling off the tread doing so, when BAMMM, Lake Valhalla slipped into a little mountain canyon and spewed its wonderfulness all over my very important thoughts. Oh right, I’m out here for that. I wouldn’t even try it again for the next six days. And yet, I can’t help but notice that my life just kind of mysteriously did become all figured out and my problems solved. The emptiness and joy just took care of all kinds of inner housekeeping while I focused on the beauty and how I could make my trekking poles do most of the walking for my now dysfunctional legs. Those miles hurt.

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I’d like to go on about how truly spectacular it was, but I’m not going to. However,  I am going to go on about how the “magic” continued, even without Kevin Weiderstrom joining me. I was barely able to accept that I was walking the same planet I’d just been delivered from. The first factor was of course the spectacular and unique beauty. But the second factor was my vulnerable and highly sensitive perceptions and mind, a by-product of having been in “crisis consciousness” for the weeks preceding (yes, grief rips you open, my friends). I had auditory hallucinations the entire time, music, people laughing, the “hum” of the earth, deep voices talking. And dreams. I would wake up completely raked by whatever emotions had been roused in my sleep by the kind of dreams that pull your entire being into them. And coincidences. I ran into people I know. In the wilderness. In Washington. Some not even thru-hiking, but just happened to be there. I’m a social gal, but still the odds of me finding familiars in the Glacier Peak Wilderness has got to be pretty slim. And I met gorgeous others, people I actually like. By the time I got onto the ferry in Stehekin to return to civilization, I had many warm and fuzzy people I didn’t want to leave waving to me as I sailed off into the sea of Lake Chelan. I almost felt like I just thru-hiked again.

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Sep 112014
 

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  • Number of times I’ve nearly run over a pedestrian or into a car slamming on its brakes for a pedestrian: 74
  • Number of times as a pedestrian I’ve intentionally confused Portland drivers by crossing an intersection on a diagonal: 3
  • Number of times I’ve been nearly injured by a bicyclist both on foot or in a car: 6
  • Number of varieties of “local IPA’s” I’m not convinced are even possible but are being sold as such at every bar, store, and laundromat: 287,566
  • Average number of applicants for each open bar tending or serving position listed on Craigslist: 200
  • Chance of getting a bar tending or serving position in Portland unless well-schooled in the 287,566 varieties of “local IPA’s”: .08%
  • Number of “local IPA’s” I’m familiar with: 5
  • Number of bar tending positions I’ve held in Portland: 1 (that served only 5 varieties of “local IPA’s”)
  • Number of varieties of blackberries I’m not convinced are even possible but are being sold as such at farmer’s markets: 7
  • Number of cartons of berries I’ve eaten: 321
  • Number of times I’ve been hit on the head by a waterfall: 12
  • Number of people I’ve met that have walked the PCT, are currently walking the PCT, or who plan to walk the PCT: 64
  • Number of neighbors I currently have that keep chickens and/or bees: 4
  • Number of Portland residents I’ve heard make a reference to the show “Portlandia” in conversation: 0
  • Number of Portland visitors I’ve heard make a reference to the show “Portlandia” in conversation: 190
  • Number of Portland residents I’ve heard make the comment that “Voodoo Donuts” aren’t actually very tasty: 52
  • Number of truly awful weather days that were anything like what I had been warned about: 22
  • Number of days of hot, dry, and strangely southwest-like weather that occurred: 157
  • Number of varieties of things growing in my yard uncultivated: 130
  • Number of varieties of things that appear to be dying in my yard because of no rain but I’m not really sure because I have no idea how to care for anything other than cactus and gravel in a yard and maybe that’s just what they “do” in the summer: 130
  • Number of trips I’ve taken into Canada because, well, it’s “right there”: 1
  • Number of hours I was held at the Canadian Border because I couldn’t sufficiently prove I had any reason at all to return to the US: 2
  • Number of why-my-life-in-the-US-is-important documents I’ll carry next time I cross the Canadian border: 35
  • Number of van camping spots I’ve visually located in surrounding areas: 3,800
  • Number of Toyota Previas I’ve seen that have been converted into campers: 88
  • Number of people met who are living in their vans: 12
  • Number of times I’ve crossed the PCT in my van and stopped just to give the trail a hug: 72
  • Number of hopscotch grids I’ve unintentionally defiled by simply walking on the sidewalks: 31
  • Number of times I’ve said out loud “I love Portland”: 1,122

 

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Aug 202014
 

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     Long distance hiking adventure season is rolling to a close in the United States.  The hikers whose blogs you’ve been following are just starting to arrive at their destinations and post photos of themselves at their respective terminus’ jumping into the air and crying and hugging the monument markers. They look skinny and bedraggled and you can’t imagine what they’ve been through. It tears you up a little bit, doesn’t it?

     Well, it’s a trick. They haven’t been through any more of an adventure in the last five months than you have, rolling across the terrain of your own life. I’m not trying to demean an adventure traveler’s experiences or accomplishments, I’m just making the point that you had just as much fun this morning meeting friends for coffee before work. You got as genuinely close to the Divine in life when you felt the first sprays of hot water from your morning shower. You overcame the same tests of strength and endurance when you did 12 pushups from your former record of eight. In the last 5 months, you’ve met incredible people, and you’ve lost some. You’ve had to push through extreme overwhelm and exhaustion to get through a day. You went somewhere you’ve never been before and you’ve beheld the miracle of the animal world when your neighbor’s dog had puppies. You’ve cried or wanted to at least once.

     You don’t need to go anywhere.

     As a matter of fact, when you do go somewhere, you have to spend an enormous amount of energy just getting to a baseline of okay-ness, orienting yourself well enough that your survival instincts shut up and let you even begin to think about the more abstract things like who you are and what your mission in life is, let alone trying to establish any kind of rich spiritual life. No one is evolving rapidly in their life or in their self development any more than you are by doing extreme things like walking a long distance trail. I assert we may even be delaying it a bit. We are looking for water, and a way to recover from shin splints, and for a person that will listen to us speak for a moment so that we can feel some relationship. What makes an endeavor like long distance hiking seem so adventurous and rich in experiences is because it gives you the opportunity to be acutely sensitive to yourself and your surroundings. It puts you in participator mode, scintillates you, so that you really take in your experiences. Of course I will enjoy and value someone I’ve met on the trail more than someone I meet in the city, but it’s not because they are a more exotic or interesting person, it’s because I’m primed to embrace the occasion. I’m on full alert, and I’ve taken the time to remove myself from my routines and be open to them.  Really exotic and interesting people pass by me every single day as I go about my business at home. I won’t talk to them, generally speaking, but I could. There are absolutely stunning landscapes within 30 miles of right from where I sit this very second. As a matter of fact, my neighbor’s rose garden doesn’t seem like it could even be real its so beautiful. I’m not always looking at it. But I could.

     Right now, where you sit reading this blog post, you have very real and interesting challenges to overcome. You have beautiful people in your life and people you want to get rid of. You are immersed in an environment that offers exotic things to see and engage with. You could do one thing differently and grow as a person. Scintillate yourself. Be primed to embrace the occasion of the life you stand in. You don’t need to go anywhere. It’s a trick.

 

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Jul 312014
 
Who ARE these people?

Who ARE these people?

What if you could walk into a bare room that would be full of the next 20 most important people to enter your life and they would all be naked, without adornment, without any visual or contextual clues whatsoever as to who the hell these people are and where they have come from in life. You would be forced to meet them without any subconscious pre-judgments, any file to slot them into in the people organization parts of your brain. You’d have to let them talk. Or you’d have no idea who they are.

This is how meeting people on a long trail is. No, they’re not naked. But they are all more or less in the same appropriate costume. They are all dirty and stinky, regardless of socio-economic status. They’re all eating junk food. They’re all cursing without reserve. And  it takes awhile for a newly met person to ask, “What do you do?”. It seems like a silly question out there. Clearly, you walk. More likely, newly met people are asked when they started, or about their experiences over the high passes, or what the story is behind their trail name. Nothing else is relevant except the shared experience of the trail. And that’s how you get to know them.

As I get further and further away from my experiences on long trails and assimilate myself back into the normal world, I am noticing some residual habits developed during that time, and this is one. This is how I have grooved my perceptual habits to meet and interact with people. It doesn’t occur to me still to try to figure out their place in society, where they work, what religion they adhere to, or even if they are married and have kids. It’s just a “hello” and “hey what are we doing” kind of thing. And I am surprised when an attempt to comprehend my place is made. I am learning crazy amounts about my past habits of culture that I’ve always thought I was way too enlightened to perpetuate. If approaching people without judgment, without even a desire to judge or decide anything about them at all based on anything other than the present moment, is something I can be trained out of in just a few short years from a lifetime of habit, I daresay it’s our naturally preferable way to be, the “factory settings” we’re born with. Yes, common cause unites, and the trail provided us with that. But “nakedness” also unites and provides the anonymity required to suspend judgment and face new people openly.

 

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Jul 232014
 

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PORN: n. Media that is regarded as emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of a nonsexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest in their audience. (Dictionary.com)

~ or revised ~

PORN: n. Media  Any media, object, person, or sheer mention of something that is regarded as emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of a nonsexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest in their audience. 

These all qualify when you’ve been out on the trail/in the wilderness for over 2 weeks:

  1. Grapefruit juice
  2. Frothy soapy bubbles
  3. Clean underwear
  4. New gear
  5. A sit pad
  6. Another human being willing to talk or listen to you
  7. Music through good speakers
  8. Dry socks
  9. Detailed topographical maps, paper ones, that are clean
  10. A heavy fiction novel
  11. A water source that is a spring
  12. Baby wipes
  13. Anything cold and carbonated
  14. A wifi connection
  15. A full-sized toothbrush or, my God,  a Sonicare
  16. Hot tubs/Hot springs
  17. Somebody touching you
  18. The next trip idea
  19. Care packages with a handwritten card tucked into them
  20. Air conditioning
  21. Fire
  22. An empty piece of paper and working pencil
  23. Cheese
  24. A mountain to be summited
  25. Someone’s dog
  26. Ice
  27. A home-baked artfully frosted birthday cake
  28. A foot massage
  29. Actual sex
  30. Uninterrupted sleep and a good whopping eight hours of it, without dreams
  31.  French-pressed coffee
  32. A big fluffy pillow with a clean white pillowcase on it
  33. Bare feet on carpet
  34. Clean, smoothed, moisturized skin
  35. Costumes
  36. Mosquito free dinner time
  37. Memory foam mattresses
  38. Pedicures with pink pearlized nail polish
  39. The sound of someone you love’s voice
  40. A geeky month long projection of weather patterns and snow levels of where you’re heading into
  41. An encountered happy person
  42. Unexpected free stuff
  43. Unexplained side trails
  44. Really good sunglasses
  45. Sparklers
  46. Weekend campers having barbecues
  47. White shoes
  48. Blueberries
  49. Hot water
  50. Half a mile of flat trail
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Jul 122014
 

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The thing about most dire situations is that you don’t realize they are dire until you’re standing smack in the center of the them. For example, when I left Kennedy Meadows to begin the Sierra segment of the Pacific Crest Trail last year, I was feeling a bit achy, a bit tired, and was having some uncomfortable cramping in my lower abdominal area. Truth be told, I felt like that pretty much all the time since the Mexican border, so no caution alarms were going off. It was 3 days into the 7 day section that I realized I was feverish and pissing blood and really in quite a lot of pain, the unmistakeable symptoms of an advanced bladder infection. At home this is a no biggie. I’ve had them before. All it means is a phone call for a Cipro prescription, brewing a witchy concoction of juniper berries and cranberry tea, and a marathon stream of Netflix movies until I feel better. In the Sierra, I didn’t have Cipro (or Netflix) and I was a healthy 3-day no-bail-out distance from my next town visit. A lot can happen with a bladder infection in 3 days. They develop into dangerous and debilitating kidney infections very very quickly left untreated which had happened to me a couple of miserable times in the past. I don’t “untreat” them ever. There I was, just getting past the point on the trail I had to be helicoptered off of the year before from a brain hemorrhage, and there was NO WAY I was going to have to be helicoptered off because of an untreated bladder infection that led to kidney failure. I refused to DIE in those mountains and this time I insisted on coming off of them on foot.

So that was the dire situation for that day.

I love emotions. Emotions connect us to one another, invite intimacy, empathy, giddiness.. Emotions cue us in to moments of great beauty and potential revelations. Emotions have zero places to stand in a dire situation. As a matter of fact, it is emotion that is calling it a “dire situation” in the first place. It’s not a “dire situation”. It’s a “problem”. And I learned how to tell the difference by inviting my emotions to play in a different corner of my brain for a minute while I asked myself these questions:

“Am I a dangerous level of hungry?””Am I a dangerous level of dehydrated?”””Am I freezing cold or deliriously overheated?””Am I unable to move?”

If the answer was “no” to all of those questions, then I could safely and exuberantly say that I have a problem to solve, not a dire situation to wallow in. Emotions are then welcome to come back and be briefly acknowledged while the more rational aspects of myself figure out how I’m going to solve this problem I have. And all problems are solvable. They really are. Not always in the preferred Plan A sort of way, but they are solvable. I created a reliable habit of reacting to trail “problems” this way. It IS what made me able to do it.  I’m a bit geeky in that I love a good “problem”…math, logic, strategy, whatever..and when I see it that way, tackle it that way,  figuring things out makes me happy. If I let my emotions become involved, including free reigning fear or feelings of defeat, I would have accepted every challenge on the trail as evidence of my inferiority, vulnerability, and mental weakness and decide it was time to quit.

Here I am now on the trail of life and facing what my emotions are itching to call a dire situation, basically still standing in a big fat “What NOW??” after many years of traveling with no real concrete plans on exactly how to proceed. When I feel overwhelmed by this, I catch myself knee-jerkedly asking myself, “Am I hungry? Thirsty? Cold or hot? Am I unable to move?” Of course the answer is “no” and I can relax and get scratching at the pleasurable task of crafting a post-trail life for myself. It’s just a new problem to solve.

By the way, the bladder infection problem was immediately solved upon the discovery that the person I was walking with just happened to (intelligently) be carrying Cipro. All I had to do was say something.

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Jul 012014
 

flip-flops

Dollar store flip-flops are, well, a dollar. And every town with more than 35 people in it has a dollar store. What that means to me is that I have a somewhat destructible ultralight piece of gear that I can easily replace on a long distance hike without the expense and peskiness of having to have someone mail a pair to me. Did I just call extra shoes an ultralight piece of gear? I can feel the true ultralight backpackers cringe right now. “Extra shoes are wasted weight” is lithographed into the true ultralight backpacker’s bible (which I’m sure exists because I’ve been measured against it many a time before). But before you dismiss the idea, let me make a case. Dollar store flip-flops average about 4 ounces of weight per pair. You can make your own and get them much lighter as shown here and here. Or you can order an even lighter pair from this source. That’s about the weight of a Cliff bar (which I personally measure every single piece of potential luxury gear item against and toss out yet another Cliff bar until I have almost no food but tons of comfy luxury items). Another lithographed rule in ultralight backpacking is that gear must have many different uses to earn it’s place in the pack. And so I present to you not 2, not 3, but 20 uses for dollar store flip-flops on a long distance hike, well worth the 3-ish ounces on your back.

  1. camp shoes/town shoes : The most common and all-on-its-own justifiable reason for carrying flip-flops. It’s easy to logically perceive camp-only shoes as a luxury item until your regular hiking shoes are soaked and smell like 3-week old yak vomit and you need something to slip on at 2am to go and hide from the drunk hunters in.
  2. hiking replacement shoes : We didn’t know we needed these until the book “Wild” came out and we had a real breathing example of the fear of losing a shoe materialize.  But even if we don’t actually lose a shoe, soles do fall off (and we’re out of duct tape), or we need to dry the insides of our hiking shoes, or we have foot rot and need to introduce our skin to air, or we have infected blisters to protect, or we want the foot massaging benefits of “barefooting” without slicing the bottom of our feet open, or our toenails are falling off, or, or, or..
  3. water shoes: I’m not talking about using these for deep and rushing river crossings as I’m pretty sure you’d lose them or yourself pretty quickly in a pair of these. But they are great for low water crossings when you just don’t want to soak your hiking shoes quite yet, or for walking out away from the banks of ponds and lakes for silt free water sources.
  4. campspot clearer: You could pick up each individual rock, stick, and pinecone before you pitch your tent/tarp…. orrrrr… you could just lightly sweep the site with a flip flop. You can “sweep” your tent floor with one too.
  5. wildlife frightener: The instructions for what to do should you encounter a mountain lion in Wilderness Survival For Dummies reads, “Make yourself as large as possible and do not appear infirm”. An infirm person would never raise 2 flip-flops over their head and smack them vigorously together making an unnaturally resounding THWACK noise over and over again. They wouldn’t.
  6. rehydration cozy: I rehydrate my meals in a ziplock, which is difficult to keep in an upright position and also difficult to protect from overly rapid cooling. Nesting the rehydrating meal between two flip-flops solves both of those problems.
  7. pillow booster: Especially during those nights when most of my clothing stays on my body because it’s crazy cold out, my flip-flops add an almost smell free cushy height to whatever’s paying pillow duty that night.
  8. sit pad: Kept in an outer pocket of the pack, flip-flops make a great quick-to-grab sit pad for breaks in butt-aggressive terrain.
  9. shoulder strap cushioner: On the first day out from a resupply when your pack weighs 3,500 pounds from the extra food and the luxury quart of grapefruit juice you can’t live without, you can slip a flip-flop underneath each shoulder strap to keep it from slicing your clavicles apart.
  10. hip belt extender: It happened to me last year that I got so skinny (probably because of unloading Cliff bars) that I couldn’t adjust my hip belt to be any tighter and my pack kept riding down my ass until I put some weight back on. A couple of flip-flops underneath the hip belt would’ve tricked it into thinking I was thick enough for it, and provided me some relief from the now loose-ish hip belt chafing as well.
  11. tent mosquito swatter: I don’t know how they get in there in the 2 and a half seconds the bug netting is unzipped, but they do, and they must die, or you will never sleep. You could do it one by one with a finger… orrrrrr….
  12. snow digging tool: Not as easy as a camp shovel (which a true ultra-lighter would never carry), but can be formed into a scoop like shape and used to clear snow from a campsite.
  13. hiking shoe emergency replacement sole/insert: Yes you can duct tape a flip flop to the bottom of an existing hiking shoe, or slip it in as an insert. Really handy when your sole is just done and you’ve just hit the lava fields in Oregon.
  14. pack bottom liner: I would like to submit my revelation that “there is no such thing as ultra-light waterproof anything” up for debate. You’ll lose. I’ve observed with some reliability that anytime actual water is involved, the water-proofedness of ultralight gear seems to fail pretty damn quickly. This bothers me the most when my down sleeping bag is involved. Something (NOT  your ultralight stuff sack) that is actually factually waterproof, like foam flip-flops, at the bottom of your pack will prevent you from performing the equivalent of tossing your bag into a lake every time you put your pack down on wet earth.
  15. makeshift water insulator: You can prevent the sun from beaming the fires of hell into your platys filled with fresh spring water by placing a flip-flop against the exposed side.
  16. gear dryer: When trying to dry a rain fly or any piece of gear that would be sensitive to tearing if you were to place it on a tree branch, you can instead wedge the heel part of the flip-flop into a tight branch junction and hang the rain fly (or whatever) through the flip-flop loops that usually hold them to your feet. You’re welcome.
  17. stream funnel: You can funnel water directly into your platy from a flowing water source by creating a water tube with your flip-flop. 
  18. knee pads: You don’t need to be injured (further) while gathering water from a reluctant source. Relax. Make yourself comfortable. Get on your knees.
  19. pot holder: For moving around hot things, or holding coffee that’s still in the Jetboil, or placing it underneath a meal recently rehydrated with boiling water.
  20. drink/stove holder: A cup will have substantially greater stability placed on top of a flip-flop and nestled into the top straps. You can also add a little stability to your cookstove by doing the same thing.
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Jun 122014
 

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Thru-hikers are masochists. They have to be. What other personality trait could coerce them into thinking it’s actually preferable to spend 5 months more or less in a constant condition of suffering when they could, easily, instead choose to be cradled in a society wholly created to foster an illusion of non-stop comfort with bouts of occasional pleasure? Life isn’t like that as we all know too well, but we expect it to be, and suffer emotionally when it doesn’t live up to that expectation. But thru-hikers expect months and months of super condensed suffering, followed by months and months, if not years or an entire lifetime, of super condensed psychological suffering in trying to integrate an experience that has ruthlessly changed them into someone who no longer finds society relevant.

So what exactly does such a time rich in injuries, super human exertions, fear, isolation/loneliness, bug bites, broken relationships, infections, diseases, sorenesses and inflammations, torn muscles and identities, hungers and thirsts, sleep deprivation, financial drainings, and the complete letting go of sanity offer us? Much. But one enduring gift I’ve recently come to appreciate is that feeling good is no longer even in the top ten on the list of requirements necessary for me to make a positive decision in my life. I’m okay with some suffering. Especially if there is a wallop of incredible benefit to it. In my pre-trail days, I’d NEVER let myself get hungry, would rampage through my day with great irritating aggressiveness if I’d slept less than six hours, nauseousness would send me straight to bed, a surge of unpleasant emotion would catapult me crying to my most available friend. Now, peripheral discomfort is barely even noticed, and acute suffering is accepted, and for the most part, gracefully moved through. I’ve learned through persistent immersion hardwiring how to revel in beauty, even in a moment that contains suffering, and to not let the pain drain me by emotionally reacting to it. Not being comfortable is not even a valid “condition” in my psychology anymore. And that indeed creates an enormous amount of freedom.

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May 082014
 

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“Dromomania, also traveling fugue, is an uncontrollable psychological urge to wander. People with this condition spontaneously depart from their routine, travel long distances and take up different identities and occupations. Months may pass before they return to their former identities.”

Wikipedia

“True dromomaniacs are obsessed with travel and are always planning their next trip or making sudden preparations to flee. Like a gambler or arsonist, they feel a build-up of pressure and anxiety that is only satiated once a certain task is performed. In a dromomaniac’s case, when they have bought their ticket and their plane is in the air (editor’s note: or van on the road or pack on their back). Once back home the cycle begins again.”

The Globe and Mail, Kira Vermond

 “Jesus had dromomania, evident from his frequent traveling from Nazareth. “

an unnamed group of French psychiatrists

I don’t think I’m comfortable with calling a passion for travel a “mania”. And I don’t think anybody else is either as I’m almost sure you’ve never even heard of this “condition”. And yet I’m sure you know someone like this. My own passion for travel is verifiably intense. It expressed itself in my twenties as an impulsive and radical frequent changing of not only where I was, but also who I was and what I was doing with my life. It’s matured into carefully planned (though frequently long and life changing) excursions, quests even, with very few casualties of safety or responsibilities. But it’s still a very very present and constant drive.

I would have taken it out of the “uncontrollable impulse” file of my brain, except that 3 weeks ago, my mother suddenly passed away. I was just pulling into the parking lot at work when I got the call from my stepfather. Once I felt it was possible to safely drive again, this was my impulsive reaction to my mother’s death. I drove home, grabbed only my coffee and filters, and started driving away. Moving quickly through time and space NOW seemed like the only thing that would alleviate the intensity I was feeling. And it worked somewhat until I got my wits about me (with the help of some loving friends) and returned home to more carefully plan out how I would join my family back in Arizona, which involved some changes of clothing and an airplane ticket. But that initial reaction provided me a window of insight into my relationship with travel.

Travel changes things. Always. At least for me. It brings me back to my center of being alive without the identifications of career, relationships, and geography. It’s the epitome of personal solidarity as it provides zero routines or familiarities to rely upon. Feeling personally solid is an important state for me to be in to feel happy and alive. Feeling personally solid would help me immensely with the news of my mother’s death. And traveling brings me there rather quickly.

Am I a “maniac” because I use travel to heal, find joy, and feel alive in this world? I could think of worse things….

 

 

 

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