Gone Girl Comes Back

I’ve been thinking about my blog and how I’ve neglected it for so long.  Poor blog!  The longer I stayed away, the harder it got to make myself sit down and write a post.  I’ve been painting, and I’ve been writing, I just haven’t been putting it HERE!

So here’s a brief update:  I hiked in Sedona… and painted this:

Red Rocks of Sedona

Sedona was magical, I came home with a renewed love of the desert and so many more images to put onto canvas.  This is the first, but won’t be the last.

I hiked in the Three Sisters Wilderness with my dear friend, Amira and painted this next image. I struggled with capturing our faces and still feel out of sorts whenever I look at it.  But, I decided to add it to my blog so you can see that while I may personally have trouble with some of my work, I’ve learned that other people LOVE them!  And pieces I love, other people feel somewhat “meh” about. Who am I to say it’s good or bad?  It comes down to your own taste.

Cold July Camp

I was commissioned to paint a beloved family member.  Elkton was an older dog, and his photo’s didn’t do him justice.  I managed to shave off a few years and pounds and drop him into a regal hunting pose.  Here he is, surveying his kingdom:

Elkton the Wonder Dog

And I painted a portrait of my son and his girlfriend.  He was heading out for a job interview and Karen sent me a quick shot of their morning and a glimpse into their thoughts as she titled the photo.  I loved this selfie she took; I had to capture that smirk!

Dressed for Battle

Then I painted a view of my willow that seemed poignant, yet crisp and quietly vibrant. I hung it in the newly remodeled guest bedroom to bring a bit of the outside, inside.

Winter Willow

Followed by a few fantasy images to get in touch with my feminine side and to reflect the deep introspection I had been exploring of late.  I sustained an injury the previous fall that just managed to get worse over time. When you are dealing with chronic, long term pain, it helps to spend time listening to your body.  I kept asking that question…  what are you trying to tell me?  I think my body just wanted me to sit down for awhile.

The Hermit Girl Meditates

Connections of Love

Besides these images, I’ve tooled around with some odds and ends art projects and did some remodeling on the house.  I’ve had to readjust my life in the past year as I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury that really set me back in my activity level.  You wouldn’t know it by the new flooring and slate tile I managed to lay down, but still, 2017 has been my year of recovery.  I couldn’t ride or hike or do my normal kinds of things, so instead, I took my “Wilderness of Women” paintings on the road.  Literally.  I created a presentation about my art and hiking, how each one influenced the other and gave my lecture/slide show at REI stores from Portland to Medford. It was inspirational for me as well as for others and after it was over, I began to focus on a writing project that germinated from this dog and pony show.  I’ll devote another post to it, later, but for now, this one will have to do.

I think it’s time for this hermit girl to come on out of her cave and say  hello to the wide world of life.

Hello world!

Trail Magic

Good Morning South SIster

Good Morning South Sister!

Trail magic is when you find something you need or suddenly someone is there with food and water or even an ice cold beer.  It’s incongruous things that seem to be provided magically.  “The trail provides” is an oft bit of shared hiker wisdom, but I think it’s really life that provides.  If “provide” is the right word, really.  It’s just that on the trail the need that is provided for is seen so clearly for what it is, it doesn’t get lost in the chaos that is most people’s day to day struggle.  But trail magic happens all the time.

The other day I had misplaced my keys.  As I was searching for them, I found a letter that had fallen under a table.  A letter I needed because it contained key information about a project I was working on.  Immediately after finding the letter, I found my keys.  Coincidence or “trail magic”?

I could probably come up with a list of these kind of serendipitous moments, but really, they’ve become so common place I just go “ahah!” then move on with my day. However, their common place-ness doesn’t detract from their wow factor.  They are for me the exception that proves the rule, with the rule being, life is an amazing and magical place.  We are here to remember our connection to the magic, the universe, the “god-ness” of it all.  These little markers are our verification that that kind of energy exists and we are a part of it.

The above painting is from the day after my own magical day on the PCT.  The day I met Mowgli and Raven and blissfully walked  from the Minnie Scott Spring to this exact spot.  I set up my tent just outside of the above image and took the snapshot first thing in the morning as I got back on the PCT.  South Sister was indeed that blue in the morning and I was full of joy and happiness as I made my way to Mirror Lake.

It seemed fitting that it was my very first painting after I returned home from the trail and this seems exactly like the best spot to leave it in my running commentary/transcription of my trail journals.  I still have a few more days to put together, sadly however, I recently lost most of my photos from the last leg of my journey.  A crappy SD card is to blame, but I managed to upload some images to the cloud so I am still able to illustrate my journey.  For now, I thought the painting would do, along with a reminder that trail magic is all around.  It doesn’t exist solely on the trail. You just have to notice that it can be anything from a stranger’s smile to that $20 you found when you were hungry.

On BEing…. a trail journal part 7

Day 12  Onward to Mirror Lake

August 11, 2016       9 miles

Awake by 7 and on the trail  by 9:30.  Mosquitoes and condensation slow my packing up as I dried my rain-fly before stowing it in the pack.  I don’t want to carry any more water than I need to! Eventually I am on my way and I tell myself it doesn’t matter that it took me 2 and a half hours to get on the trail.  What difference does it make?

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

I wonder what marvelous things will happen today?  I am amazed at this part of the PCT, I’m on new ground, and it’s simply wonderful!  There are great views, nice campsites and a neat unnamed lake that had me very tempted for an early stop.  Alas, the surface was buzzing with mosquitoes so I go on by after taking a few pictures.  I run my battery charge down by taking too many panorama shots, a phenomena I suddenly notice for the first time. No wonder my phone was so inconsistent with holding a charge.

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn't find it, but I will one day!

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn’t find it, but I will one day!

I cross paths with an older solo woman hiker by the name of Honey.  We nod and keep walking, not even exchanging a word. I only learn her name later from 2  women I meet further down the  trail when we stop to talk about how unusual we all are (they were older too). I encounter few solo women, fewer still the ones who are closer to my age. There seem to be lots of 20 something guys, in pairs or alone.  Sometimes they are with a 20 something woman/girl/gal… chick?  I don’t know which term to use to describe a female 20 something… all my choices seem wrong.  Old fashioned or condescending, a product of a misogynistic culture that I am only recently becoming very aware of.  I don’t know how I’ve missed this part of the world around me, I guess I just never paid attention.  Maybe if I had taken a woman’s studies class in college it would have opened my eyes a bit wider to the injustice of it all, but I seem to be making up for lost time.  In the past few years I’ve been studying this subject most intently.

I remember being 17 and sitting in my mother’s living room as she and her girlfriend groused about life. As divorcees with children and no career options  in the 1970’s they had something to grouse about, life had not been easy for them.  “It’s a man’s world” said mom’s friend.  Being the know it all I surely was at 17, I completely disagreed.  “It might have been for your generation, but it’s not for mine!” I said ‘wisely’.  They were kind enough to let me figure it out for myself, but damn, it’s taken  me a long time.  I must have believed that the woman’s movement had changed everything and leveled the playing field, and I went on with my life as if it had.

For decades I thought it was just me if things were unfair.  I never saw it was because I was a woman… if some of the unfairness was because of my gender, I was blind to it.  I didn’t notice discrimination. Hell, I never even saw the blatant sexism in a job where the men used me as bait for customers!  I was an uninformed idiot, truly, and being unaware meant I could be manipulated and used. At some point I felt so used up, without even knowing why, I just wanted to hide in my quiet country life and not interact with the world at large.  As for gender roles, well,  I always just did what I wanted to do and didn’t think who’s “job” it was.  I was proud when I could run a skill saw or build something  better than my husband. He was proud of it too and gave me support to try all sorts of things.  I never heard messages that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman.  The day my girlfriends teased me about being more of another “man” around the place because I did things that their husbands usually did, (such as mowing, splitting firewood, building fences, sheds, a barn, my studio!) was the day I started to really wonder why they had limited themselves to traditional domestic chores. How had our society reinforced these kinds of roles? I see much of our cultural bias as restrictive but I think the things I’ve done fall under the category of “I didn’t know what I couldn’t do” more than a conscious rebellion against sexism.

As I write this it’s two days from a critical historic moment for my country.  I feel the sexism and misogyny here has reached a height that is surprising to say the least.  The persecution of a woman candidate who has dared to be herself and who did not play a submissive game and thus has felt the wrath of our media and any political hack who could post on the internet for not fitting the mold, is beyond belief.  It has been hard to hold on to my center, to my peace of mind, to my surrender.  The recharge that the trail gave me has been drained as we’ve gotten closer to this election process… but it’s no wonder as I’ve been taking some sweeping political panorama shots.  I’ll have to go hiking again as soon as possible for another charge of my emotional battery!

I cruise down the trail, happy and content in my solitude.  I’m glad I haven’t let my age or my gender stop me from doing what I wanted to do.  I preen a little when I come across a group of 7 women who are circumnavigating the Three Sisters together and they all admire my bravery.  I walk on feeling a little like the kid who got a gold star on their schoolwork. But my self satisfaction doesn’t last long as I consider how I was being proud of something that wasn’t really that hard for me. I figure it’s not really bravery if the emotional cost is low.  Courage is facing your fears and doing it anyway.  Hiking alone doesn’t worry me…. my brave moments were crossing the rushing glacial waters of the Muddy and the Sandy.  Both events witnessed only by myself and the universe.  I’m proud of myself for doing that. But hiking along this section of the PCT?  It’s a privilege in so many ways.

The women’s group offers me trail bars and food to help me on my way, but I decline, I’m carrying way too much as it is.  I need to lighten my load, not theirs!

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

I listen to Carrot Quinn’s interview on Real Talk radio  (listen here) and learn that she often cache’s food and only carries 4 days at a time.  I’m thinking this is a very good idea.  8 days of food is too much.  I’ve tried to eat more but that’s not always easy to do.  The trail falls easily downhill and I hike past a darling mini canyon surrounded by lava cliffs with a flat grassy floor.  The only way into the box canyon is to push your way in between a narrow grove of fir and spruce. I force myself in, I want to see this little canyon I had glimpsed from above as the PCT dropped down then veered off. I walk the perimeter and think about how this would be a good horse camp, you could practically let the horses go and they’d be corralled in among the lava walls.  The whole canyon is about 2 acres and is exactly the kind of side trip thing I’m glad I have time to explore. No water, so not a perfect camp, but I admire the secret space among the expanse of towering mountain views.

I get to Rock Mesa creek by noon and settle down for a rest/lunch break.  I was supposed to stay here after camping at Obsidian but again, it’s too early and when I look at the map again, I realize Mirror lake is only 4 miles away.  I’d rather end my day there and zero at the lake than stay here.  Not that I need a trail zero, but I wanted a day where I didn’t have to pack up… a day to just BE in a place.

I wander about, looking at an area near the creek where I camped over 20 years previously.  It’s odd to be at these spots full of old memories, I recall sitting out an afternoon of thunder and lightening in a very small tent with two large, wet dogs.  The places haven’t really changed much… the trees in the high country don’t grow like they do in the valley.  But they do grow and so too the brush.  The camp spot was still there, I recognized it immediately.  And 20 years later I see what a crappy little spot it was.  It had been much more remote… now there was a trail nearby, following the creek downstream. All those years ago we bushwacked our way down a half mile to the waterfall that was hidden below the Mesa Creek crossing.  Now, there’s a bridge on the PCT and trail heading downstream.  Who knows, 20 years from now, it could be forgotten and grown over, a faint line leading nowhere.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

After about an hour rest, I hike out and avoid the large group of thru hikers who are congregating in the sunny meadow.  They are laughing and full of fun, but I’m still in my solitary zone.  I don’t really want to interact right now so I wave at them in acknowledgment and move on. Some wave back.  The southbound trail is busy… perhaps I’d have had a better chance of hiking all day in my alone-ness by going north, a better chance of getting in a solo bubble and staying there. Oh well, that’s not what’s happening, so I surrender and accept.

Later, I meet a gal and her barnacle… I nick-name him the barnacle because she tells me he started hanging out with her and she hadn’t been able to get rid of him since the California border.  We exchange trail names, but I promptly forget them as all I can think about is the barnacle phenomena.  Earlier I met a hiker, Sweet Pea, who also had a tag-a-long dude.  I wonder if the guys are hoping for more or maybe the girls are liking the security and friendship?

Then I meet Safe Bet, a Brit who quit his job and moved in with his parents so he could hike the PCT.  He was carrying too much water, because he likes the safe bet… hence the name.  I climb up the Rock Mesa and laugh at how I used to think it was so hard (I’ve climbed it 4 times now).  After climbing up out of the Gorge, nothing seems as difficult.  SOBO Mt. Hood was a real bear of a section but the views were absolutely stunning!

I get mistaken for a SOBO thru a lot… one gal says I look so serious.  But I’m not sure if it’s my outfit or the determined look on my face she is referring to.  I hope it’s the outfit since I’m totally blissed out on the trail.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

The views as I hike are not as steep and epic as Mt. Hood,  but the Sisters have their own charm.  Rock Mesa continues south along the flanks of Faith (South Sister).  It’s open and arid and beautiful to travel the Wikiup plains which stretch way out into the distance.  It was hot by the time I got there but with my umbrella I did just fine.  I was listening to another hiking podcast, Sounds of the Trail and it was so perfect because it was all about how the hard days cause us to question why are we out here.  These challenging days cause us to rise above the hardship and release our inner grit.  And when you’ve risen to the challenge and have beaten it, then you are stronger.  Mentally as well as physically.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

Today was that mental challenge for me.  The unrelenting heat on the plains, well, I had some doubts that I should be venturing out.  I’ve had a few bouts of heat stroke, so when it hits 90, I try not to do anything physical in the sun. But under my personal shade, it was fine. Slogging along, I thought of my days in endurance riding.  Sometimes you are in the doldrums of the race.  It’s hot, you’re tired, your horse is tired, you just want to get to the next vet check or you think longingly about the end of the ride and never going through all this nonsensical torture again.

Looking back at the way I've come. Hello South Sister!

Looking back at the way I’ve come. Hello South Sister!

But you can’t quit.  You are in the middle of nowhere and you have got to press on.  I’ve had some hard moments on the endurance trail and sometimes you kind of hit a wall but you still… just…keep…going.  And then, you round the corner and you are done.

I trudged across this sandy desert of a plain and then, I was in the forest again. Ahhhh, shade!  On I march, now I’m listening to Amira’s book, (how cool is it to have an author as a house-sitter?) the second in the Seeds Trilogy.  The resistance fighters are turning to guerrilla tactics as well as infiltrating and destroying from within.  Listening to these stories keeps my mind occupied as I march through the miles in the heat of the day.  I save them for times like this and they transform the trail into something different from what I’ve experienced in the past.

I’ve been a backpacker for over 30 years now, before cell phones and the internet.  (Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.  HA!)  Technology has changed the wilderness experience, true.  I no longer feel so remote or out of touch.  But listening to a story or a song, lightens my load in the same way my hiking poles help me on the trail.  They are tools however, and not a crutch.  I still have to do the work out here, they just make it easier.  Sometimes I listen and sometimes I’m quiet and in the moment. It just depends on what I want to get out of that part of the trail.

I cross paths with a hiker who has her phone pressed to her ear.  She steps aside as if we were meeting in the cereal aisle at Safeway rather than on a remote trail in the wilderness.  She’s calling Elk lake to say she forgot something and would they…. at this  point, I’ve moved out of range.  I still think it’s odd to have phones in the wilderness, it’s so incongruous.  I forget I even have a phone… I think of it as a camera, an audio player and a GPS but then I remember and stop to check my own signal.  4G!!  Hurrah!  I turn off airplane mode and the Galaxy begins to ding.  Messages are checked (there are a few well wishes from my family) and I send out a few of my own.  Now people once again know where I am and the world feels a little smaller and definitely less remote.

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I used my umbrella to shade my tent while I lounged about inside after my swim.

I cruise into Mirror lake and walk it’s perimeter before I settle on a site on the far side, tucked up into a stand of young pine.  The mosquitoes aren’t too bad, but I do get stung by a yellow jacket when I was bushwacking between possible camp sites.  I’ve taken 2 Benadryl but think maybe one more might be a good idea.  I’m glad I don’t have to hike any more today as Benadryl sleepiness will soon creep up on me.  It’s the only thing that will minimize my reaction to wasp stings which seem to have gotten worse the more times I get stung.  I hate to say I hate yellow jackets, but I kinda do.

I’ve got a nice little spot among the trees, the lake is a short walk away across the soft mud flats and I’m far enough away from the usual camp sites that I’m alone even on a well used camping lake.  I do my laundry and take a good long swim across the lake where I haul myself out on a rock in the middle and sun myself like a turtle.  I feel so good!  Another 9 miles down and now I can take a zero.  Finally, my first zero on the trail.  The hotel thing was nice, but not quite what I was imagining when I put this whole trip together.

Later, I have a wonderful meal, another one of my homemade dried creations.  Curried sweet potato, vegetables and rice, so delicious.  I thank my past self who made this  for me now and chuckle at the concept of time.  There was a Sky in the past who cooked, dried and packaged this meal and then here I am, opening and re-hydrating this little packet of nourishment and love.  It feels complete.

Time… I’ve been thinking about time on this leg of my journey.  Reading the Power of Now will do that to you but being away from my normal time centric life also puts these concepts and ideas into the forefront.  Everything happens in the now… even planning for a future event is something you do in the now.  Ruminating over the past happens in the now.  I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of time travel.  As if one could leave the present now and actually zoom forward or past and actually make that your now.  But in a way, when we project or remember, we are time travelling!  In our minds, we leave the present now to visit these memories or imagined futures.  Problems occur when we cannot see the difference between what goes on in our heads with what goes on in our NOW.

I’m getting it… slowly.  I keep re-reading these concepts and each time, it becomes more and more my reality as it reminds me how to focus on the now.  How to be kind to myself as I learn, how to withhold  judgments of others and  judgments of myself.  The more I release these pains and sufferings, the more I surrender, the greater (faster?) my growth.  My peace, my understanding… my accountability to my soul.  The less ego, the less mind…  the more integration of my body, mind and spirit.

That’s a lot to digest for one day.  I step out and take pictures of the setting sun.  The sky is on fire with the end glow of another glorious day and I feel immense gratitude for my place in the world.20160813_055903

On Being… A Trail Journal Part 5

Day 8 Barlow Pass to Buggy Camp

In the morning, the amazing and much talked about (among the hiker community) breakfast buffet of Timberline is served. I am up early, all ready to get this next part over with so I can get down the trail. Some of my breakfast agrees with me and some does not, but the tasty vinegar, molasses, cider and ginger palate cleansing aperitifs really settle my stomach. I ask our server for another and this helps me over my weird bout of nausea and I am able to partake in as much of the buffet as I am able. We linger at the table and I watch the thru hikers hunker down with plate after plate. Some have come prepared with cards and begin playing games between what’s now become a 12 course meal. The sun is streaming in and I take the time to really enjoy the view, the lovely and rustic room, the guests, the food and my husbands’ company. I decide to relax about the trail. We are spending a small bundle on this tiny vacation in the midst of my trail journey so I decide to forgo my morning hike and “hitch” a ride down to Barlow pass. By cutting off 5 miles, I can spend more time with Joe and still have plenty of time to get to my campsite, wherever that may be.

We stuff ourselves as much as we can then wander about taking pictures and learning more of the history of Timberline lodge. We even step up on chairs to peek into the curators office, which in itself, looks like one of the educational display windows on the lower level.

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The Timberline experience.

Eventually it’s time to go and Joe decides to hike with me for a bit before heading back to work. We drive down the mountain to Barlow pass and everything goes by so fast! We are there in minutes, it would have taken me hours as the trail is steep and I have been babying my ankle, especially on the down hills.

I hoist my pack off the tailgate of the truck and together we go off on the PCT. I’m amazed he’s on the trail, it’s been 20 years since Joe packed with me. He seems to be enjoying himself and something about my hike has sparked a memory. He says he wants to backpack with me again and this makes my day. We talk about what a “return to hiking” trip would look like when I remember my socks.

I forgot my extra socks in the truck.

And so we go back and lo and behold, they are in my pack already. But all is not wasted as something tells me I will want my cashmere sweater. I sigh, not really believing that little voice, but since it’s more of a gut reaction, I go with it. I’m listening to my body on the trail, so it gets stuffed into my clothes bag. The weather does feel a bit cooler, maybe I’ll want it. Joe says goodbye at this point and I get to restart my trail solo… and that feels right too.

The trail is easy at this point. A gentle grade that follows a ridge-line. I get occasional views of Hood above the Salmon river meadows and stay under the cover of trees the whole way. It’s shady and so flat, I am surprised by the few times I have to climb up a hill or clamber over roots. Such a change from the previous trail. Miles roll along, nothing of note happens and I see very few hikers as I cruise along.

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If you look carefully at the timberline, you can see the ski runs of Timberline!

I finally arrive at a spring, the first water in miles and the first place that offers a campsite before a road crossing. I’d prefer to stay away from roads but I get to the spring so early, I start the inner debate… stay or move on farther? I get out my water bottles and filter from the spring, slapping mosquitoes as I do. This is a buggy little camp site, but the woods at this point are brushy and not looking very camp friendly.

There is a very nice young man camped here, we chatted a bit about school and how he’d quit his job to hike the trail. He was camped right past the spring, he stopped early so he could rest and read which suddenly sounded so absolutely wonderful, I decided to stay, bugs or not. It’s quiet here and I’m getting used to this communal camping scene. It actually is comforting, though I really did like my solo spot the day I crossed the Sandy. This camp has few choices and the spot I chose is a bit hilly, but there is a nice indentation for my hips, so I should be able to sleep comfortably on my side for once! I get all set up then return to the spring for more water.

Quiet camp indeed, there are two hikers who’ve been hanging out, filtering water and talking among themselves. D and Laura are two hikers from Switzerland and they are contemplating where to spend the night. We talk about trail, how far they’d come, miles and the challenges of the trail. I take another opportunity of find out more about Russel creek. They say it is very do-able. He jumped, she mostly jumped but for the last leap where he pulled her over.

Only the toe got wet,” says Laura pointing at her shoe. It wasn’t very deep, they tell me not to worry.

Okay,” I say, “but imagine your eighty year old grandmother wants to cross it. Can she do it?” I am using this matrix to judge point of view. If someone thinks an 80 year old can make it, then I can relax. D just narrows his gaze at me. Is he thinking “crazy American”?

Ya, well, you’re not 80,” he says logically. There is no arguing with this fact. I guess I am spry enough for Russel, but Russel is too hard for grandma. I asked about the snow bridge, they tell me it’s still there, and while snow doesn’t bother them as, “they are Swiss!”, the bridge was too dangerous. They’re only a couple of days behind the guys from the lodge, so that gives me an idea of their judgment. It seems quite sound.

Funny thing though, as we went on to talk about mileage and battery power for our phones, the intrepid Swiss reveal an Achilles heel.  D says he doesn’t have any issues with his battery lasting as he puts in big miles and can get to places to charge without trouble. He keeps his phone on airplane mode at night, which I find surprising.

Really? Even at night? You don’t power down to conserve the battery?”

No, I like to listen to audio books when I fall asleep. I need the books to help me sleep otherwise I listen to all the sounds in the woods and wonder, ‘what was that?’”

So there you go. Not afraid of rivers or snowy slopes or glacial creeks, but rather, of the sounds of the woods at night. Even after months on the trail. Which is something that doesn’t bother me at all. Fears are not universal it seems.

Joe and I talked about fears while at the lodge. He opined, “Fears weigh you down.” Which makes sense, fear being a thing that would make you more dense and thus, less enlightened.  Now if I could only talk some sense into my gut reactions to thoughts of river crossings, I’d be as light as they come out here. Sometimes the hubby has good insights. He has his moments.

I really do need to work on getting mentally stronger.  It feels like I’ve been climbing some mountains in my mind as well as with my legs.

I’m glad I was able to surrender at the lodge and be okay with skipping 5 miles. I felt so much better once I relaxed. With all the planning and prep I’ve done, it was hard to just let go and roll with what was happening. I get into a “have to get on the trail” and “how many miles do I have to make today?” mindset. I find myself being swept along with the rush even though I am going against it. Maybe because I am going against it, I see so many thru-hikers and section hikers with agendas. Everyone is on a clock of some sort.

Even the Swiss. D talked about his miles and how Oregon was a vacation because that’s when Laura joined him. Even though they are doing 20 miles a day, every day. Laura talked about when she had to get back to Portland, when her flight left, how she’d be flying to Turkey which would take 3 hours more. “But it was a significant cost savings, so the 3 hours would be worth it.”

See? Time and money… no escaping it, even if you are on vacation. Well, considering the uprising in Turkey, I can see why it is cheaper, I sincerely hope she makes it home safely.

Oh, time, such an intriguing concept. If fear is the mind killer, then time must surely be poison to your soul. Tolle talks about how the egoic mind needs time to stay in control. So it’s no wonder that living and dying by the clock is so universal. Especially in 1st world countries.  Time is the pathway of the ego, by focusing on it you forget where you are in the Now.

It’s contagious too, here they were in this nice, albeit buggy camp, with fresh water and a lovely, flat surface and they wanted to leave. All because they needed to make 2 more miles. They have a schedule to keep!. So I found myself pouring over my maps and wondering if I should have gone all the way down to Timothy lake to make better use of my day.

Argh! I riffle through my half mile maps, consult my app, check my elevations, and think about my hike tomorrow. I am debating my over night at Timothy so I can make some stupid arbitrary deadline. Really, who cares? I have to meet my next resupply at Hwy 20 nine days from now. I have the ability to slow down, I built the trip this way deliberately but just talking to other hikers has me second guessing and wanting to do more miles. I even have permits to stay at Jefferson Park for 2 nights so I can relax and hang out… but those are on specific days so I have to stay on some kind of schedule. Suddenly all my plans seem so restricting and they bind the edges of my journey in such definite ways, I am wishing I didn’t ask anyone to be involved and that I had just mailed boxes to resupply points. A box can wait as long as I need it to. Reservations and people, not so much.  At the time I made my plans, it seemed like fun to have family and friends meet me, but now they are targets I must hit so I can’t slow down or speed up or re-route on the fly.  I can change plans as long as I have cell service and if the reservation can be changed or the friend can be flexible.  Well, speaking of flexible, now is the time for me to be IT.

I probably should set aside my journal and read some more Tolle. That always helps to take the edge off and recenter me. The weather has cooled down and it’s starting to get darker in the woods. I’m glad I brought that cashmere with me and I’m finally wearing it for the first time. It’s so cozy! Wool makes me feel good for some reason. Silly sheep.

I’m tucked up in my bag with my wood leggings, wool socks, wool sweater and wool beanie. Wool me!

 

Day 9 Down to Timothy and Home Again

It’s cold this morning, glad for that sweater, I wore it all night. I awoke feeling off and have spent the last hour trying to figure it out. I started getting ill at the lodge, thought it was the food. Now, this morning I’m not quite right. On the trail I was fine and last night I just had Ramen, didn’t want anything complex after the big Timberline breakfast. My early morning constitutional wasn’t as good as I’d like it to be, I actually felt a little dizzy as I was coming back to camp, so my thoughts are running wild now. Could I have Giardia? How did that happen? I’ve filtered everything but the one spring where the water came out of a crack deep in a cave! No animals could have possibly contaminated that water… but my mind is feeding my paranoia.

Are you sure? How are you going to get out of here? It’s over 30 miles to Olallie, are you going to be okay?

On and on, it’s loving messing with me. Truly, my mind is saying some weird things and I want to tell it to shut the hell up. Instead, I have a cup of peppermint tea to calm my stomach, which is actually very helpful. I made grits for breakfast, but the first spoonful had me wondering if I was going to be able to eat at all. It’s like my fears are trying to stop my progress down the trail! What the fuck, mind?!

Ooooh! Scary water! Go back! Oooooo! Hmmm, okay you won’t go? Then we will make you sick… or make you think you are sick!

Two cups of tea later and the grits go down followed by a fig bar and I feel like myself again. I read in my book and that helps stop the run away train that is my mind. I’ve identified with my mind for so long, it’s become detached from my body so I no longer trust the things I feel. And by living in the future of what might be, I get all wound up and further removed from what is.

I came to the woods and trail to find the pieces of myself I may have missed while excavating my heart and soul these past few years. I came to reconnect with the simplicity, to disconnect from the never ending rounds of chores and daily farm life. I came to read, to think, to process, to just enjoy the wilderness.

But I’ve found something else. I’ve found that most hikers have an agenda and a schedule, they march hellacious long miles to get to the end. And then what? They keep busy as they take on the never ending footsteps through the wilderness, on and on, they have got to get somewhere. Every day, there is a somewhere that needs gotten to. There is a goal, a purpose, a point, a place or a number that must be achieved. And I find myself being tugged along in this tide of purpose.

I see now I may have made an error. No, not an error… in this case, error is a judgment. I’ve come to a realization. The months in preparation, in talking with friends, family, in gearing up for a goal that was met with astonishment, envy, surprise, and excitement only fed my ego. And my journey, the one I take internally, doesn’t need to be a trip for my ego.

An ego trip.

Why do I need to get to the end? Why do I have to do all these miles day after day? So others can get excited by it? (Oh! I know someone who did this!) Some want to live vicariously through me and knowing that I carry them along with me, drives me too. I’m feeling pressure to finish what I started for their sake but I don’t want that responsibility. It’s not what I want. I’m searching for enlightenment, illumination, understanding of self.  It’s funny, that even while I was preparing, I felt as if I was running away from home, I see now that I wasn’t doing that either.

I’m making problems where none exist. So what if I feel restricted. So what if I woke up feeling off. That’s happened before, at home even… so what? So it’s cold and I don’t have my gloves or heavy socks. So what?

So it’s 7 miles to Timothy lake. So it’s 3 days to Olallie resupply. So it’s 10 mile to water. So, so, so… so what?

My mind rambles on, catastrophising and issuing warnings. But I’m here to be. Be in the moment, be in the Now. I am being tested in my beingness when I meet other hikers and it’s all, “gotta get going!” They are racing time and I’ve been swept along with it. I went SOBO to learn what was ahead, but all I’ve learned it that everyone has their own perception of danger and they pass along their fears as truth. I now have to wade through these truths and perceptions.  I’ve set myself up to weigh, discern and judge, sifting through the opinions to see what is real for me.

I’ve also come into contact with so many personal stories. Most everyone wants to share who they are, what they are doing, where they are from and where they are going. Some want to share, and some want to know my story too.. they have time to stop and chat on the trail and treat it as if it was a speed dating party. How much information can they squeeze out of you in a few minutes of a chance meeting? There were a few of an interrogative nature that felt invasive. Others don’t have the time, a friendly hello or a nod, they are in the zone, in the groove. Some don’t even have time to say hello and after a week on the trail myself, I hardly notice. It doesn’t even blip on my radar as unusual or unfriendly, it just is.

And so, I find myself this morning wondering what many hikers have probably contemplated as they trudged the long miles… what am I doing this for? All my other trips where I lazed about in blissful enjoyment, that’s not happening. I’m swept along with the tide of hikers. I’ve joined the movement and the movement is north or south but either way it’s about the trail and getting the fuck down it!

This is not the path to enlightenment, for me, this is the path to self destruction. I feel that this goal of miles and an endpoint is just another focus on the future and takes me out of the timeless Now that I’m seeking to experience. I’m in the Now as long as I walk along and focus on the trail and my steps and even when I look at my maps and my journey. But then, I cross paths with a fellow traveler and the hiking community (it’s bonding and joyous and totally lovely in it’s welcome camaraderie) which takes me out of the Now and back into the Goal. This very thing I am liking is redirecting me from my own purpose. I have yet to learn how to not be affected by others.

And here is where I part ways with the madding crowd. Today I walk to Timothy lake… my first lake on the trail. Still water always helps calm my mind. I will gaze upon the waters where I hope to find a relief from the goal of “finish”. When I did long distance endurance riding, the motto was “To Finish Is To Win”. But that’s bullshit. There is no “winning” at the end, the journey is the win. I seem to have inadvertently supplanted one long distance endurance sport with another. Minus the horse, but still, there seems to be something about making miles that draws me but also now distracts me too. To be still and at peace… that’s the present goal.

I set aside my musings and got about the business of packing up camp. I’m getting faster, I’ve developed a system that makes things easier. When I get in my tent I put my empty bag at my feet, my kitchen things to my left, my paper things (map/journal/kindle/plans and TP) to my right. My hat and beanie at at the head of the bed where I need them, the stuff sacks, under my pillow. I can stuff my bag, then roll up my thermarest, my pillow and sleeping clothes. I set it all aside, pull up my backpack and toss it outside onto my thin mat. I’ve brought a body size sheet of thin foam under-layment that has had so many wonderful uses. It was a remnant from installing a new floor and is tough and provides a a thin pad for sitting during the day, a little extra insulation at night or even a door mat.

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A place for everything and everything in it’s place.

Before leaving the tent, everything goes out the door and onto the mat. I pull up stakes as I walk around the tent releasing the fly which gets balled up and stuffed into the tent bag. Then I can pick up the tent and shake out needles and dirt that have hitchhiked their way inside. While holding the partially opened tent in the air, I can unhook the tent poles and gather up the deflating structure of sil-nylon and mesh, ball it up and stuff it next to the rain-fly, all without touching the ground. The ground cloth goes in last, I fold it dirt side in so it doesn’t get my tent dirty. I know I’m living outside and dirt is a part of the package, but every little action that minimizes contact, adds up and ultimately saves on the amount of water and clean up I need to do at the end of the day.

Tent and sleeping pad goes into the bottom of my pack and has to go in first. I miss my old frame pack where it was compartmentalized with pockets and dividers. I never had to unpack it totally when on a trip and used it as a sort of portable cabinet. But the new pack has to be completely emptied and repacked every day. Other than my locator beacon and my rain gear, everything gets used and has to come out. It’s time consuming, but it is a lighter system so I’ve surrendered to the exchange of weight for time.

Next in line is my clothes then food bag, cook set, electronics. Toiletries, first aide on top of that, water purifier goes on top. The whole pack is structured with heaviest items on the bottom, things I need to get to on top. Lunch for the day has to be separated from my food bag, otherwise it’s buried too deep to get to without a major excavation.

I head out onto the trail after all is stowed and tucked away and realize I never took a picture of the camp. It’s my ritual to take a pic of the tent in camp each evening, but I guess I was too distracted by my body . I keep thinking my stomach is acting up because I am anxious about another glacial river crossing, which bothers me that I can’t control my worries. I’m worried about worrying… argh! It’s exhausting!

As I leave camp, I notice a pile of black poo next to the trail. I stop to toe it, checking to see how freshly laid it might be, softness an indicator of time. It seems to be a few days old so I continue on and wonder what animal left that so near the spring. I see these black poo piles at home and usually attribute them to coyotes or raccoons. I’m glad I filtered the spring water, no need to give my mind more ammunition for worrying!

The trail is an easy grade through the woods, I’m doing about 2 ½ to 3 miles per hour and at this rate, I figure I’ll be at the lake by 11 AM. And so I was! At the north end is Little Crater Lake. An odd turquoise blue pool of subterranean spring water that undercut the land and formed a steep sided pocket of water in the midst of an open meadow. The water is 34 degrees and looks so freakishly blue. I stop off for a few minutes of contemplative rest but find a group of man/boys jumping off the banks and doing a great deal of hollering. Not a place to relax, nor even linger. I guess they hiked in from Timothy where you can boat all the way to the end for easy access to Little Crater.

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Freaky blue… like big Crater, only little and not a crater.

 

 

I backtracked across the boardwalk trail to the PCT and headed south for Timothy. I kept expecting it to show up, but it was another mile and a half before the lake actually hove into view. From the north end, the trail comes out first on a leg of the lake and is intersected by the Timothy lake trail. The sign says it’s 15 miles to circumnavigate the lake and I’m surprised. I had no idea this lake was that big. When I finally see it however, I don’t feel delighted or joy at the prospect of a swim. What I feel is very, very tired. I think I need to rest and to eat, I feel shaky and lightheaded. I had snacked on the trail and managed to keep down my breakfast but I felt poor which is odd, the trail was so easy. According to my app, it was only about 6 miles or so to the lake trail bypass, so why do I feel so awful? It’s at this point I realize something far more than my anxiety or a vegan reaction to eating a bit of lox is going on. Something is definitely wrong.

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Surprisingly large Timothy Lake.

 

 

I picked up a 4G signal at the end of the lake so I shoot out a text to my house sitter, Amira.

Hey… what are you doing tomorrow? I may need a bail out. I’m at Timothy lake and I have some weird symptoms. It started at Timberline Lodge but I wanted to push through. I’d like to camp for the night and see how I feel in the morning. But I feel like I’m going to throw up or faint. Was trying to pretend this wasn’t happening. Damn it. Just want you to be aware and maybe available?

I walk on and in a few minutes she replies with an affirmative on the bail out, she’s able to come get me. I text back but it fails. This starts a frustrating on again off again signal that corresponds to the further I go down the lake, the worse the connection. But every once in awhile the phone dings I have a message… sometimes it’s from her, sometimes it’s my own failed text coming back. I plod on looking for an empty site but it’s Sunday and every place is taken with boat campers. I follow a side trail to the lake shore where I am accosted by two very large and very hairy Newfoundland type dogs who vigorously protest that I have walked too close to their camp. A woman holding a baby comes screaming up at the dogs and once the slobbery guards back down she asks me questions about the PCT and trail life. I am too tired to be scared of the beasts or to be more than baseline polite to her. I move on.

I am passed by an international tour group. They all wear matching packs and take up a 100 yards of trail with their strung out line of hikers. There must have been two dozen of them all together, a violation of wilderness rules and basic trail etiquette but I don’t suppose they know anything about that as they are obviously part of some organization. For all I know they are here to hike the 15 miles around the lake and will stay out of the wilderness proper. One can only hope.

A half mile and no signal later, I find a rocky point that’s unused. It’s high above the shore and windy, but there is a sunny spot between the rocks and I throw out my thin pad and sink down onto it whereupon I curl into a ball and doze just enough to take the edge off my utter exhaustion. I get up after a bit and still feeling woozy, find a lower, more protected cove to set up my tent. As I am setting up, two seagulls come and hang out on the little beach. Is mom watching over me?  If so, who is she hanging out with?

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My 2 hour camp.

 

I think I had a bite to eat, I really don’t recall, my thinking is muddled and I lay down again. This time, inside my down bag where I shiver trying to stay warm. And that’s when I know I am really sick. I thought it was a cool day, but there were people in bathing suits, swimming and playing in the water… those guys were jumping in Little Crater lake for crying out loud!

My symptoms were very much in keeping with what I knew about Giardia. So that did it for me. I needed to go home and get some medication, no way was I hiking 30 miles to Olallie like this.

All I needed was a signal but I really didn’t want to hike a mile and half back to where I got that 4G band. I climbed the hill behind the camp until I got a 1X and a teeny, tiny bar. A sliver of texting hope, I sent out a signal to Amira.

Test

Got IT! She replied.

So I called and it was decided that she’d leave right now to come get me. We agee to meet where the PCT comes out near a horse camp and she Googles how long it will take. I’ve got 3 hours to meet her there so I go back to my camp to rest before packing up. I don’t get another chance to sleep as some day boaters come into my cove and hang out for almost an hour, talking and laughing loudly.

The wind dies down after they leave and now I can smell something really bad in this camp. Something has died nearby and this really adds to my happiness quotient. Not!  I pack up again for the second time today. It’s 2 miles to the horse camp, I have plenty of time to get there. But as I climb back onto the PCT and check my Halfmile app, it says it’s 3 miles and I have only an hour left to get there. Ugh… 3 miles an hour with how I feel? This will not be an easy stroll.

I hurry along and work to keep my momentum as I climb over roots and rocks. The trail climbs away from the lake and adds elevation into my hike, not too hard but tough enough. I didn’t even stop for water even though I really wanted to and needed it. But I make it to the trail-head only 15 minutes late, hoping there is a bottle of water in the car for me as I’m down to my last swig.

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End of the line for now.

Amira shows up shortly afterwards and we take a series of back roads down towards Olallie where I think maybe we can swing by, I’ll pick up my hiker box and that will save me an extra trip later. But the roads twist and turn and we take several dead ends. I’m too tired to navigate and there are no maps in the car that show where the hell we are. She’s relied on her phone to get her here, but of course, there is no signal.  She’s a different generation, my old school ways aren’t her way, which is fine providing the phone does its job.  After a few tries, we agree to quit messing around and get back on the road we know and head home. It’s 10:45 before I make it to bed, the end of a very long and disappointing day. I can’t even think about what just happened. I’m off trail and sick and WTF? So I set it aside and snuggle in my bed, the dogs nestled around me like sentinel lions. They were so happy to see me, though Scout has lost a lot of weight for her… it’s odd that she got sick and does’t seem to be recovering.  

Just before turning out the lights I pick up my phone and do a quick Google search for Giardia symptoms and the very first thing that pops up is “symptoms in dogs.”  What?  Could my dog have Giardia too?  I click and read and from what Amira has described to me, it sounds like that could be Scout’s problem and then it hits me.  Symptoms show up 1 to 2 weeks after exposure.  Both Scout and I started to get sick at the same time and 10 days ago, the dogs drug home a possum.  But it was only Scout who rolled in the black, tarry, nasty possum poo and it was ME who bathed her without gloves or any concern at all for touching the gunk.  And black, tarry poop?  That’s the calling card of Giardia.  

All this time I am wondering what these animals in the woods are eating (a picture of the black poop I saw this morning flashes in my mind) when I should have been wondering what was eating them!  Why did I think wild animals are running around all healthy and happy in the woods?  Hello?! Some of them are sick!  

Well, that’s all it takes to convince me… we both have the same symptoms and we both got sick at the same time.  I am so very happy to have come home.  Poor Scout would have been sick all month… no one else knew what had happened.  Even if she had been taken to the vet, she still might not have been treated properly without this part of the puzzle.  Finally, I can rest easy knowing a trip the doctors is in store for us both.  I give her an extra hug and turn off the light.

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Her Scoutness… why yes, I’ll eat that!

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

On Being… A Trail Journal Part 2

Day 4    Down to the Muddy Crossing

It’s a funny thing about going SOBO.  While I am out there, I meet most everybody on the trail who are heading north. I cross paths with NOBO hikers, and there are a lot of them. I get to ask what’s ahead. I also get to hear a variety of reports based on their individual perceptions, opinions and confidence level. My first clue this may be a problem, was the woman who warned me about the narrow Eagle Creek ledge. I kept looking for a part that was so death defying, I’d have to take off my pack and push it ahead (like she did). I never found that part.

Now when the Seven told me of the upcoming Muddy Creek crossing, they said it was no big deal and there was even a rope to hang onto if I was worried. So, I put it out of my mind and focused instead on the Sandy River. This one they said was more, well, sketchy. A bundle of narrow trees was the one and only bridge; they crossed by getting in the water and hanging on to the bridge for support. This seemed like a good fall back position so while the crossing had me worried, I tried not to focus on it. Well, not too much.  Even though I was recognizing I was getting a variety of perspectives on the crossing, I did continue to ask for the opinions of many of the thru or section hikers coming my way.  Like, most all of them.

And then, there was today. Where I learned much more about being in the moment and paying attention to where I was actually at, as opposed to where I would be in 11 miles down the trail.

Nothing to worry about!

Nothing to worry about!

When I get to Muddy Creek, I am taken aback.  It’s a silty, glacial, roaring torrent of a creek! The water was much more than the “walk in the park” I had imagined when I arrived after an eventful and long trail. I stood on the bank and looked at the 20 foot wide stretch of white water.  It was moving fast so I dropped my pack and tested the crossing. I took my shoes off and barefoot, used my trekking poles to probe the depth.  It wasn’t too bad at 2:30 in the afternoon and I  got half way across before I retreated back to contemplate my next move. Camp or cross? Camp on the other side, or continue on? After everything that had happened, I just wasn’t sure, it seemed too early to stop for the day. Hungry and tired, I sat under a tree by the log crossing and ate. I was surprised by the strength of the creek and suddenly, I was overwhelmed with fatigue so I lay down and took a nap.  The noise of the water drowned out my thoughts, the sun was warm, the grass was soft and I was just so tired. I felt like Dorothy in the poppy fields (Wizard of Oz reference here).

Some time later, I awoke and decided to try the log crossing…  just to see if I could.  Across the creek lay some seriously large trees.  Amazingly, they had fallen over right at the edge, they bridged the creek and they were level!  A natural bridge of two big logs with exposed roots on one side (that you’d have to climb over), then using the rope on the top log, you could walk on the bottom log right across. Easy, right? Shades of Eagle Creek, right?

Wrong. Imagine if you will, very large trees, and when you crawl out on the bottom one, you notice the rope you are clinging to is frayed and somewhat rotten. Added to that, the top tree is so round, it pushes you away from the log in an arch…. and you are carrying a heavy pack AND you have fallen 3 times already today so you doubt your surefootedness.

After my nap, I thought I would try it without the pack. For practice. Did I mention how these logs are at least 10 feet in the air above the creek? Fear of heights? What fear of heights? I got to the logs, walked out away from the edge about 5 feet and was scared by the drop. And the weak rope and my own weak grip. No way I’d do it with a pack on. I’d have to lean out over the bulge of the log and all the stubby branches too. Dear GOD! I got back to safety and stood at the end of the root side as a young hiker approached the logs from the south side. He was thin and tan, his long light hair swung about as he nimbly leaped on some lower downed logs. He was wearing neon yellow running shorts to go with his lightening print gaiters. Then he came over to the double log rope nightmare. He tested the ropes, walked easily across and right up to where I was standing at the root ball.

Are you a thru hiker or a section hiker?” he asked.

A section,” I replied, shouting a little over the noise of the rushing creek.

Cool,” he said, then asked, “How far?”

I’m going to Crater Lake.”

Cool.”

His level gaze was unsettling.  I stammered, “You made that log look easy! It’s too scary for me, I’ll have to ford it.”

Well, I can take your bag across for you if you want,” he offered.

I took a split second to ponder this offer and I did not turn it down! “Really? That would be great! I was just trying to decide if I should go over now or in the morning.”

He looked at me seriously. This was one serious kid. He said, “Well, you’ve got to cross it sometime.”

We talked a bit about campsites and he said there were some on the other side but they were expecting people to be coming in later and if I went now, I’d get to pick my spot. Well, there was no denying this young man’s logic. He scouted about while I put my pack in order and then he hefted it up and nimbly waltzed across the top of the log like a squirrel.

Note the squirrel hiker.

Note the squirrel hiker. Looks easy from here.

I made my way down to the ford and took my shoes off again, tied them together and draped them around my neck.  Taking a deep breath, I began to wade. The water was higher from when I first got there. I didn’t think that much time had gone by, but what had been up to my knees was now pulsing up mid thigh and seemed even stronger. I used my poles, trying to find the shallow places, the water was white with silt, I was stabbing blindly, feeling around the submerged rocks. My focus intensified to one step, hunt with my pole, another step, shift my foot. Then the next step. Then a deep drop off, hunt again, there, upstream it was shallow… step forward then over and then, finally, a few more steps and I was out. Phew! I was so glad someone had been there, just in case! But when I turned to look, my trail angel was gone. My pack was there to greet me, but I was alone.

I laughed a little at myself, I’d heard you should never cross alone.  But just knowing someone was there boosted my confidence.  Looks like I could cross a creek alone if I had to. It helped that I didn’t have the pack though… that thing had already tossed me about enough today. My heart was pounding when I got to shore and I sat down on a rock to put my shoes back on.

I shouldered my pack and climbed up to the south bank campsites. The forest was lovely, moss covered old growth trees in a grove of soft moss bedding that stretched up along the creek. I found a wonderful place to pitch my Ultra Light tent and while I did, my trail angel and his friend came over to visit. They were two High School students from Southern Oregon. The tent was admired and stories were shared. I was impressed that two young men were on the trail together.  They hadn’t even finished High School yet.  What an adventure for them!

Earlier today, while on the trail, I vowed to “stop telling my story”.  Everyone does it, ‘where are you going?  Where are you from? ‘ It’s become a right of passage, or, your ticket into the trail club. I think about it and wonder why. I feel like my ego is getting off on this whole trip. “Here I am! Here’s what I’m doing! Yes, I’m going solo! Yes, all the way to Crater Lake!” Which I already feel weird about since I had intended to go to Ashland, but now my trip is truncated. And sometimes I even add that in the story, for what reason I don’t know. I get to practice this vow and break it over and over… frankly, my lack of self restraint is bothering me.  I found myself narrating my tale again to this new audience, then later feeling annoyed at myself for yet again, breaking my promise.

This morning I got on the trail early, skipping breakfast because I knew I had 11 miles to cover. I went 4 miles in 2 hours, past a logging operation, past the sizzling high voltage towers, past the car at Lolo pass who’s back window had been shattered and presumably its’ contents ransacked.

Hood peeks thru the towers of power.

Hood peeks thru the towers of power.

I was walking along and eating “second breakfast” when I tripped and flipped forward into the huckleberry bushes. There are bushes everywhere along the trail, the berries are at their peak and have been a big part of my breakfast/snack routine for the past few days.  I crash right into them and roll onto my poles. I’m okay, but a little shook up. It was such an utter surprise, I did not see it coming, nor could I stop it from happening.

I climb a few more miles when I cross paths with a 70 something woman and her younger companion who were hiking all of Oregon and Washington. You GO girl!! She was inspirational… I wish I’d gotten her trail name. She teases me for eating all her berries, I tease her for eating all of mine. I was glad to meet a hiker who was taking the time to enjoy the wonderful huckleberries, they really were everywhere and so worth a pause here and there. I climb on before finally hitting the ridge then down into the Muddy Creek basin. I was thinking to myself I was making such good time, I could cross the Muddy and continue on. I felt great! And then, before I knew it, my foot slips, my hip rolls and off I go, pitched right off the trail and into the pine needles along the side of the trail. WTF? Again?! I’m glad it’s a soft landing but my ankle rolled a little on the way down. I’m stunned that it happened so fast and for the second time. I think of all the sketchy places where a fall like this could mean very bad things. Places where there is no side of the trail to land. Probably need to put my personal locator beacon, the INREACH…. actually in reach!

I also think about how the previous night, talking to my camp-mates, when they say they are scared of cougars… I reply with this nugget:

You’d be lucky to see a cougar. The things to be scared about are falls, spraining your ankle, maybe even lightening. You’re much more likely to encounter one of those fears.”

So prophetic. Well off I go again, I focus on the trail and tell myself I had better just stay at Muddy and rest up before crossing. Then, in a few more miles, I begin to think about how much ground I’m covering and how I’ll get over the creek and get closer to the Sandy when, WHAM! A rolling rock slides out from under my foot and this time I went down on one knee and the PCT has her payment as blood is drawn.

Okay! Okay! I get it! I’ll stay at the Muddy! I promise!”

You can bet I was focused on the trail after that. Every single footfall. I made my mind stay on the present moment, And having focused so intently, I was so very tired by the time I reached the Muddy. My body was tired and told me so in the only way it could. Just because it was early didn’t mean I could push past 11 miles. I hadn’t really rested, just a quick stop or two all day. I need to take it easy and stick to my plan. My body needs to rest, it’s having some issues with the trail. Tomorrow is some major elevation gains, another 3 thousand feet, and now my ankle is a little tweaked.

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The trail down to the ford. High water in the evening.

Anyway, SO GLAD that is over! I went back down to the creek before bed and it had rose even more. Tomorrow is a two mile hike to Sandy. Gulp. I will be getting to it first thing, so it should be easy to ford. I keep hearing how the logs are narrow and sketchy and even slippery and wet. But, as wonderful as that sounds, I will leave it for tomorrow. Right now, I’m all cozy in my tent. I don’t have a problem right now. I trust in the Universal energy to make my way smooth, the trail do-able. I’ve been learning about the power of NOW (reading EckhartTolle lately) my mind is not in charge. So, there, mind! You and your fears can just step aside for now.

Mossy site. So cushy!

Mossy site.

Day 5 Crossing the Sandy (lived to tell the tale). And finally, a solo camp!

I know I am sometimes all over the map chronologically, so today I will do my best to be sequential.  But wow… what a day!

I awoke just as it was starting to get light, the birds were singing their first song of the day and I was eager to get the Sandy River crossing over and done with!  I packed up as fast as I could and this time, made a hot breakfast to fortify me for what I saw as my greatest challenge so far.

My mind had been entertaining me with looped songs the past few days, yesterday it was Sarah Bareillis’s “Brave”, but today, out of nowhere, came an old Neil Diamond song from the Jonathan Livingston Seagull album.  This is an old soundtrack from a movie, circa 1973.  The movie and the book it was based on, was a favorite of my mother’s.  If ever there was a spiritual theme that resonated with her, it was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  So to have Neil Diamond in my head, first thing, and that particular song… well, I felt my mother’s presence so deeply that morning.  I felt she was watching over me, she was there to help me face this river.

I was the first hiker out of camp that morning, it looked like tent city right down the trail from me, but no one was stirring.  I was on the trail by 6:50 and it felt good.  The air was crisp and Neil was singing:

LONELY LOOKING SKY
Lonely looking sky
And bein’ lonely
Makes you wonder why
Lonely looking sky
Lonely looking night
Lonely night, lonely looking night
And bein’ lonely
Never made it right

Sleep we sleep
For we may dream
While we may

Dream

we dream , for we may wake
One more day

Glory looking day
Glory day, glory looking day
And all it’s glory
Told a simple way
Behold it if you may
Glory looking day

Lonely looking sky

He was right there in my head, the violins, the piano, the horns, the whole orchestra pulsing around me.  I didn’t walk far before I began to cry.  Quiet tears of joy, of love, of the sheer beauty of the world that was waking up all around me.  I watched the sun kiss the top of the canyon as I took the Ramona Falls bypass up to the Sandy River, just 2 miles away.  And I felt my mother, who had passed away 4 years ago, I felt her presence…  she used to be so scared of my wilderness trips.  But now, she wasn’t scared any more of any thing, finally at peace and lending me her strength.  Somehow, I knew I would be across by 9, just a few hours from the start of my day.  I’d be across and I’d be safe and all was as it was meant to be.

On my way to the falls, 2 crows stopped to shout “Caw!  Caw! Crrook! Crrook!”  I stopped to “Crrook !” right back at them.  I’ve always felt crows to be messengers for me.  My mother’s bird of choice has always been seagulls but that would have been something very strange indeed to see a seagull up here.  I asked the crows if they were sent to watch me,  in keeping with the magical theme of the day.

“CAW! CAW! Crrook! Crrook!”

I told them, I would take that as a yes and continued on to the falls.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

I spent a little time at the falls, but mostly I walked in a blissed out state up and around until I came across 3 hikers who warned me of the crossing and jolted me right back into reality.  They talked about the logs, and how they had wanted to ford the river but it was too cold.  Startlingly cold.

I’m starting to think I am suffering from “too much information” anxiety!  But as I leave the nervous hikers behind, I slip back into listening to Neil Diamond sing and focus on the moment as it unfurls before me.  And then there is the Sandy.

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The Sandy River lived up to its hype.

I inspected the narrow logs.  They did not look very supportive so I tested out a ford by sticking my poles in as far as I could.  The water was swift and deep at that spot so I began to walk upstream looking for an alternate crossing.  Last winter I read a blog by an Oregon  woman who had hiked the same trail solo. When she came to the Sandy, she walked upstream until she found a safer crossing and in messages, she advised me to do the same. Now last year, it was a very low snow pack year, so the strength of the rivers were not quite what I was seeing.  But still, sound advice.  I kept testing along the way, until finally I came to a bend in the river where a gravel bar jutted out into the stream and the water fanned out into a shallow channel and one short narrow stretch.  It was an easy stroll across the shallows and the short part was not as deep.  I found my crossing!

I unhooked my pack and loosened the straps a little so if the worst case situation arose, I could get my pack off.  I took the time to attach my phone (in a waterproof bag) and location beacon to my body and tucked it into my shirt.  Crystal had done the same thing at this point and I thought it was a very wise idea.  I left my shoes on so I’d have better traction.  The Sandy seemed to have more volume than the Muddy and the day was going to be sunny and warm.  Better to have wet feet than a broken ankle.

I stepped into the channel and noticed the water wasn’t as cold as the last hikers had thought.  Cold, yes, but teeth chattering cold?  Hardly.  One foot after another, I thought heavy thoughts and planted myself firmly with each step.  The river was swift and strong and pushed back at me, wanting to uproot and sweep away.  No time to be anxious, I was in the midst of it all and there was no where to go but across.  It was narrow at this point, so just a few steps and I was scrambling out the other side.  I made it!  Hurrah!

“WOO HOOO!”  I shouted out loud and danced in a little circle.  Another solo crossing.  I snapped a few pictures and noticed the time.  9:01

The Sandy River

Things to do today: cross the Sandy River.   Check!!

After my celebratory dance, I filtered water from a clear stream (glacial silt streams are not good for water filters) and prepped myself for the 3 K climb to come. It would be another short mileage day, but that was how I had planned my trip.

Mileage and elevation and fitness were a consideration when I was sitting at my dining room table thinking about where I would camp and how many days I would need to hike. I then made reservations at Timberline Lodge, Jefferson Park, Obsidian Limited Entry and Crater Lake’s campground at Mazama. These dates gave me structure to what seemed to be a major undertaking. Like rocks in a creek, they served as stepping stones along my path. But, like a random creek crossing, they also wound up being too far apart or too close. It became hard to adjust as I was mid-stream. Adding in the friends who wanted to meet me, the zero days and additional hotel accommodations for such a short segment of the PCT (all of the PCT in Oregon is only about 450 miles), I wound up tying myself to a timeline that soon felt constricting. It’s hard to be in the moment and “see how you feel” when you have to meet a deadline. Sometimes I gave myself too much time, other times, not enough.

But on this day the 6 miles seemed just about perfect. Pack adjusted, I stepped on the steep trail with my wet shoes and immediately came upon a crow feather. It was soft and black and just waiting there for me as if to say, “see, you made it!”. I smiled to myself then noticed Neil had quit singing in my head. I was alone on the trail once again.

Alone, but not lonely. Loneliness is not something I usually experience, I’ve always been quite content in my solitude. Maybe it’s because I feel connected to nature, the world around me, the stillness I find within. But the handful of times I’ve experienced loneliness were always the result of being with people who wanted nothing to do with me, not necessarily in a malicious way, but more of an “insider” vs “outsider” fashion. So it’s interesting that I would experience this on my first day out and yet, not feel lonely. Just different. I don’t always notice the ways in which I feel different from others, but really, deciding to hike solo across Oregon… yeah, how different is that?

For the first time, I put in my earpiece and listened to Radio Lab podcasts as I hauled my pack up the ascent. I was climbing Mt. Hood proper now, the views below of the river canyons and glacial washes affirmed I was up on his flanks. And since I started at sea level and was going to be spending the night at above 6 thousand feet, it was pretty much a climb in my book. Not a summit, but definitely a climb.

And then there was this interesting rock on the trail.

And then there was this interesting rock on the trail.

Mt Hood is a big, beefy mountain. Called Wy’east by the natives and given a masculine gender, I felt that big, tough guy persona. He’s one impressive dude and he got my attention at all the best places. It was quite the haul up and my feet squished along in my wet shoes. They felt a little cold and good on that warm day. I had had some issues with my shoes, actually and had been taping my heels every day to ward off blisters. So far, so good but I wondered how long my luck would hold out. Blisters seem to be a normal part of trail life and something I was trying to avoid. Much to my surprise, the wet shoes actually molded to my feet as they dried and became a better fit as I went along.

Getting higher!

Getting higher!

I remembered a day hiker I saw, she was limping down the Eagle Creek trail, a shirt tied around one foot, a running shoe on the other. She apparently lost it while exploring one of the waterfall pools. Well, that’s what happens when you play in the water, which is why I had tightened my laces before I crossed the Sandy. Miles and days from a trail head, I did NOT want to suffer the same fate. Wouldn’t that have been a bummer of a tale?

Beefy Wy'east

Beefy Wy’east

The wildflowers began to show themselves in abundance, a mile from my destination, a hummingbird zoomed past me after feasting on the Indian Paintbrushes. I marveled at it, as I had named my pack Hummingbird with the hopes it would be light and fly down the trail. At this point however, Hummingbird was still heavy and weighing me down.

Avalanche Lillies, no avalanche required.

Avalanche Lilly, no avalanche required.

The views continued to be glorious and I followed the trail from one wonderful place to the next. I met many hikers along the way.  Most everyone was friendly and feeling those high mountain vibes.  One guy had managed to hike all of Oregon in 13 days.  He was averaging 35 miles a day and looked pretty wrung out. Another was on his way south after pretty much mountaineering his way through the Washington snow.  It’s been a late season for snow.  Just as I was about to look for a camp in a level bit of topography, two hikers came down the trail. They were a couple of guys around my age and once again, the credentials were exchanged. “Two Guys” asked about water, they were running a little low, and they wanted to know about the upcoming trail. I asked if they had the Half Mile app for their phone, as it lists all places for water along the PCT. Guy #1 said they did, but he was proud that they had yet to use it on their entire trip across Oregon. They were relying entirely on maps which were buried in their packs.  And apparently on other hikers to fill them in on things like, well, where’s the water? You know, unimportant things like that.

Now, I love maps as much as the next person. Well, maybe even more as I went back to school a few years back for surveying and mapping and actually worked as an intern in my local county’s cartography department for a year. So, yeah, I get maps. And I have them and they are accessible. But I also appreciate new technology, the apps and GPS on my phone are pretty dang impressive and helpful. Especially in situations such as these.

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The water was down here. Literally, right around the corner.

I gave Two Guys instructions about the upcoming trail and water. Guy #1 asked me again, the same question. I repeated my instructions. Again. He chatted on about where they had been and what they were doing… maybe just in case I had missed how important his story was? Then he asked again about water. WTH? How have these guys made it this far with this short of an attention span? I gave him the shortened version of what I had just said, twice and moved on down the trail.

“Okay, bye.  Have a good hike!” and I left before my face could contort itself into a shape that said, “Dude,  you have got a problem.” 

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Wy’east getting ready for bed.

Two Guys  moved on and I slipped off the trail and down a path that led to a frequently used campsite. I moved deeper into the wilderness, still looking for that elusive solo camp before settling on a lesser used spot tucked away behind some fallen trees.

Hood over my tent.

Hood over my tent.

That night, no one stopped at the communal site… it wasn’t listed on the Half Mile app, so I guess it wasn’t on the thru-hiker radar. And finally, I had my solo night. It was peaceful, beautiful in it’s solitude and the perfect end to an absolutely epic day.

On Being… A Trail Journal Part 1

This post will take a step sideways from my usual art blog format.  I’ve made some changes in my life… mostly to the way I think and process and thus, believe and behave.  I no longer feel driven to create art as a way to keep my head on straight. I still want to create and paint and feel closer to that muse than ever, it’s just that I no longer feel driven. And while I have yet to get myself back into the studio to see how all this shakes down, what I did do is return to the hiking life that used to fill my soul with an extreme form of joy in being alive.

And so… I hiked.  130 miles.  In the wilderness.  Alone.

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What I hoped to find was a greater presence of peace within myself as well as more imagery to add to my series, “The Wilderness of Women”.  I did find those things, and along the way, a few more unexpected truths.

My solo journey began in late July after many months of planning and packing.  Testing gear, training, making my own vegan trail food and modifying equipment.  The trip was planned, but then, before I could even start my border to border hike across Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail, changes were made.  Circumstances shortened my time away from home.  I compromised and rearranged the journey.  Friends got involved and stepped up to bring me resupplies… which was great, but it meant that I now had to schedule within their availability.  This had an unforeseen affect on the length of my hike, but was really just another facet of the gem that was my journey.

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Sorting out my resupply.

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Lets see, do I have everything?

I kept a journal and took the time to write every day; details of things that happened along the way, thoughts that came to me.  Observations and musings…  sometimes it read like a log book, other times it’s profound and poignant. I’ve whittled down the entries to include what I consider the most interesting and relevant parts.  Here it is… my trail journal, part 1:

Day 1: Eagle Creek Trail (PCT Alternate) (AKA Too Many Tourist Heaven)

Joe drops me off after a quick goodbye. Later I feel bad that I was so distracted, but I was eager to GO and focused on getting to start my hike after all this planning.  He wanted to help me so much, but I wouldn’t let him.

“No, no… I have to do this!” I exclaim when he moves my gear about.

“Fine,” he laughs and teases, “Get the hell out of my truck!”

“Okay, BYE!” And I pretend to walk off.  After 30 years of marriage, we know we don’t mean anything by this exchange. We hug and laugh but then I really am on my way.  It’s hot and mid-day and the trail is full of tourists.  Some are coming back to the parking lot, some heading out to see the waterfalls along the Eagle Creek Trail.  Some are slow, wearing flip flops. clutching purses or carrying small children.  Some are fast, unencumbered by 35 lb packs on their backs, they skim over the rocky trail and quickly climb out of sight.

As the trail snakes up the canyon, it hugs  basalt cliffs.  In places it’s so narrow and precarious, only a cable hammered into the wall keeps you from pitching into the abyss.  One woman says she was terrified and couldn’t look down.  I focus on the slick rock and hope I don’t meet anyone coming in the opposite direction.  I do, but in places where I can safely be passed.

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The dangers of Eagle Creek. Don’t look down.

It’s a Saturday and the place is LOADED with people.  I didn’t bother to count, but I probably passed a 100 people by the time I got to 7 1/2 mile camp. At this point, the trail is brushy and the forest deeply shaded. I made  good time,  climbing 1500 feet by 4:30 PM, but the site is right on the trail and unappealing so I continue on.  There aren’t many places to camp, Eagle Creek is mostly a canyon and any other possible campsites are taken.  I hiked another half mile, taking my pack off twice to climb over, then under fallen trees.  I needed water to camp, I was running out, but the trail left the creek and began to climb up into the deep forest.  The thick under-story of Devils club, salal shrubs and cedar trees did not lend itself to rough camping.  I tried to find a place but it was getting darker in the canyon and I was tired.  I finally gave up and retraced my steps.  I had to climb over and under the logs again then asked a group if I could use the empty  tent space next to their camp.

They were very friendly, two University teachers and their friend, so I felt quite at home among them for my first night on the trail.  The creek was right off the camp but I had to walk through their “living room” to get to it.  They are welcoming to me, especially after I say I went to the same school and had been a teacher myself.  But later, the friend is quite interested in my journey and asks many questions … and I get very talkative, which results in the teachers getting quiet.  I feel like I’ve overstayed my welcome so I retreat to my tent, whereupon the laughter and camaraderie resume, loudly.  It confirms my party crashing vibes.

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My damp home away from home.

They stay up rather late, there is bourbon involved after all.  It feels strange and I wonder if I feel lonely, but I don’t. I feel more “out of place” and knowing that, I choose to be okay with all that is happening. This is a journey of discovery and of being in the moment. This particular moment is noisy and a little annoying as they laugh and shine their headlamps on my tent. Accidental? Maybe. I do wish I had the chance to camp alone my first night, but there were so many people up and down the trail, I’d rather camp near these intellectuals than the group of flannel wearing men with furrowed eyebrows I saw just around the corner. My camp-mates may run hot and cold, but I feel safer here. And so I sleep as they party on into the night.

Day 2:  Up to Indian Springs (Brutal Climb)

I made it to Indian Springs!! It was a grueling day, I climbed about 3 thousand feet…  in 5 ½ miles. Ugh. The most gain was the last 2 miles and it took me almost 3 hours. At first, I’d count 100 steps then stop and take a breather. Then it was 50. Then 20 and finally 10. I’d plod 10 steps and stop to breathe. It was brutal, grueling, hard…. how many words can my tired mind come up with for steep and exhausting? Not many apparently.

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Destination, top of the ridge. And NO this picture does not quite capture how hard this trail really is!

Long, low miles,  it was 3 PM when I stepped out of the woods and into a party. The abandoned campsite of Indian Springs had a truck, tables full of food, water, BBQ grills, lounge chairs and 7 women. One looked up at me and said, “You made it!”

I made it!” And wondered what the hell was going on. Turns out, these 7 women, all from the same family ( sisters/aunts/in-laws) had hiked from Timberline lodge to this spot. Where they were met by an uncle/brother who drove the difficult road bringing the party trimmings, including a propane shower!

I was welcomed into the family party and plied with water, food, wine and a hot shower. I declined the last two items, (I don’t really drink… much) and the shower? Well, that’s some amazing trail magic, but it was only my second day after all! I didn’t feel deprived enough of the luxury of showers that taking one in the abandoned Indian Springs campground was worth the effort. I was holding out for a high mountain lake!

The Indian Springs party was so warm and welcoming, such a difference from how I started my day. The Eagle Creek women were rather cold to me, I barely got a good morning and it was very quiet as I packed up. One of them pointedly turned her back to me, whenever I looked over at their camp all  I’d see were backsides.  It was odd, I mean, you have to work at maintaining that position. Finally, I shouldered my pack and said “Bye, have a nice hike out!” One quiet “Bye” was all I got in return.

Well, I hoofed it out of there by 9 and had a laugh at myself for even noticing the morning cold shoulders… was my little ego wanting to take a “poor me” ride? Silly ego!  I focused on the trail and the moment and in a short time I met two very friendly thru hikers (hikers trying to go from the Mexican border all the way up to Canada). They both stopped to chat about the trail and were happy to answer my questions about the river crossings and other trail conditions. They asked where I was going and where I started and suddenly I felt like I was part of the trail hiker community. Not just a camper or a day hiker, but someone who was out to do some real mileage. Someone out to accomplish something bigger than themselves.

They  warned me that the Indian Springs trail was steep and hard.  I gulped a little inside.  If a thru hiker who’d already seen so much, including the Sierra Nevada range, said it was steep… uh, yikes!  But that was the way I had to go, so go I did.  Just at the trail junction, I came across a group of women who were cheerfully day hiking from a nearby lake.  As they went past me, I noticed one of the had a Hamsa tattoo on her leg.

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And since I’d drawn a few and happened to be wearing a shirt with a Hamsa on it I called out, “Nice TAT!”  And for some reason, they came back.  They were chatty, but mostly wanted to know how to find Indian Mountain.  Then they showed me their directions for a loop hike that would take them back to their lake.  No map, just printed directions from an internet hike site.  I pulled out the map, had them take a picture of it, then pointed at the Indian Springs trail which they had just missed.

“You’ll need to go that way for 2 miles, then turn left to get back to the lake,” I told them.  They were very happy they had come back and asked for help, as they would have gone all the way to Eagle Creek before they had figured it out.  As they left up the steep trail I told them the Hamsa was a sign of protection.

“I guess it’s working!” said the tattooed girl.

I took a big swig of water then started up the trail myself.  The thru hikers did not exaggerate.  It was steep alright.  At times I had to roll myself up a step as high as my waist.  There was no way to “step up”.  My calves were screaming, so to shut them up, I’d turn around to rest, just so the incline went the other way while I paused.  After an hour and a half, I looked up my location on my phone.  I have an app that works off satellite GPS and tells you where you are on the trail.  Unbelievably, I was only half way up the trail.  I was pretty shocked and since I was hungry and tired, I sat right down on the trail and had lunch .  Food always helps.  20 minutes later I pressed on.  I met some more thru hikers, this time from England who were already disheartened by the steepness.  They were hurting, just different parts.  Everyone I met seemed to agree, downhill is worse, though it was hard to relate as up, up, up seemed to be my only experience so far.

And then, 3 hours after I saw the Hamsa tattoo, I found the spring and the end of the trail.  And the most welcome welcoming committee ever.

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Best trail magic EVER! The Seven.

So tired… will write more tomorrow.  Reminder:  write about the lost hiker and her brother.  And about the 54-Days-Out-Boys.

Day 3:  The Ridge Above Bull Run Watershed

I went to bed early, but the party lasted into the night.  I was tired from my hike, they don’t call 9 PM “hiker midnight” for nothing.  Most are pretty wiped out by then.  But the “Seven” (as I began to call them) had a pretty flat hike the day before and were jazzed by the family trail magic.  They had a campfire, which generally means you are staying up late and enjoying the fun.  It would be quiet for a while, voices murmuring in the background as I drifted off to sleep, then the group would erupt with laughter, startling me awake.

OMG, What kind of trip was this going to be? So weird to start off with my second communal camp and second night of a trail party. I sincerely hoped things would quiet down once I got further down the trail.  Indian Springs ends, or begins, depending on which direction you are going, at the PCT.  Maybe getting on the Pacific Crest Trail will make a difference.

Before I wrapped things up for the evening, a hiker came up the Indian Springs trail with a frantic look on his face.  He asked us if we had seen his sister, describing her in detail.  He hadn’t seen her since 2:30 that afternoon when he stopped for water.  She, however had hiked on and rather than wait at the trail junction, had kept going.  Apparently she missed the turn off just like the Hamsa tattoo girl.  Her brother, thinking she had made the turn and wasn’t waiting for him, hiked up the Indian Spring only to come out at the top and discovered she wasn’t there.

I helped him look at a map, pointing out what she had probably done.  And suggested he go back down Indian Springs and meet her as she was most likely climbing up right now.  But he opted to drop his pack and head the opposite way in case she completed the loop and was circling around to our campground.  We told him we’d be on the look out for her and not let her leave should she arrive.

About an hour later, the sister popped out of the woods… she’d figured out she was going the wrong way and (as predicted) had backtracked and climbed up Indian Springs.  She was entreated to stay and given “Seven” hospitality.  Since she was in very good hands, I retreated to my camp where I listened to my neighbors chat about Harry Potter books for another hour.  These guys had come in right after the brother and settled into the site next to me.  They had been on the trail for 54 days and this was their last night.  Three 20 somethings, they appeared all trail hardened and looked every bit the bearded survivalists they had become.  And then they started chatting about Harry, Hermoine, Dumbledore and Snape.  It was rather adorable actually.  First thing upon awakening in the morning, they picked up where they left off… who had the greater challenges, who was the best character, what Harry would have done if Ron hadn’t…  so cute.

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My camp at Indian Springs in the morning. That table came in handy.

I packed up, did some yoga stretches and said bye to the Seven.  In my first 200 feet on the PCT, I met a group of older gentlemen who also had hiked down from Timberline.  They were very interested in my “hands free” umbrella set up.  As we chatted, I found out that I was meeting the Chairman of the Board of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, John Crawford!  He gave me his card, solicited my membership and shared his trail name, StormChaser.  The other two were also on the board, apparently there had been a meeting at Timberline that year and they were using the annual meeting as a springboard for a section hike.

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And just like that, I was above the trees! I believe that is Mt. Adams back there.

Around the “corner” I came across the brother and sister team (Will and Anne) who’s reunion last night was met with cheers from the Seven.  I could hear Will shout from my camp,  “Where the FUCK were you??!!” as he came back from his search. Apparently that was accompanied by leaps of joy and huge hugs all around.  We chatted a bit about how to avoid that situation in the future, and considering they were hiking SOBO (south bound) from the Canadian border to Mexico, it was a good idea they develop a strategy.

The rest of my day was rather uneventful.  I met section hikers Smudge and Toaster, two 63 year old women who were on their way to Canada.  They had started at the Oregon border and looked great.  So capable and strong.  They actually looked better than many other thru hikers I saw later, which goes to show you, wisdom and experience really do make a difference.

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For you Star Wars fans: The forest of Endor? Nope, the PCT above Bull Run!

I met “In and Out” who chatted about gear with me.  Again, my hands free umbrella set up was the icebreaker.  He took a picture of it so he could make one for himself.  I probably should explain…  I have, along with many other hikers, a silver colored umbrella that works as a marvelous portable shade as well as a rain cover.  But, if you use trekking poles, like most hikers are now-a-days, you can’t hold your umbrella.  I figured out if you cut a paint roller, drill a couple of holes in it and attach it to your backpack strap, you can stuff the handle of the umbrella down the short tube and voila!  Hands free!  It was the talk of the trail as hikers asked what my roller was for…  if it wasn’t being used.  Otherwise, many were envious of my set up.  That shade saved me more than  once!

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Hands free shade!!

It was nice to have relatively flat day after climbing up out of the Columbia River Gorge.  I was starting to understand why even section hikers went NOBO (northbound).  Day three was mostly ridge walking along the Portland watershed known as Bull Run.  I caught a glimpse of Mt. Hood, it was nice to see where I was going for once! I also caught glimpses of jumbo jets.  Apparently this portion of the trail was right on the flight path of PDX.  Every 10 minutes or so a big old jet would wooosh on by.  I’m sure the passengers were getting gorgeous views of Mt. Hood, but for me, it was definitely disturbing the peace of my hike.

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My first glimpse of HOOD!! Hey there, big guy!

There were signs all over warning hikers to stay on trail, no camping allowed.  So I headed for a site at a trail junction.  Just as I was checking it out, a group of women came in, also looking to bed down for the night.  They graciously offered to move on, but the site I had just passed was so fly and mosquito infested I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!  So I stepped across the trail to a flat spot that wasn’t a part of the camp and let them have it.  I’d rather camp with the 4 women then an unknown mixture of who knows who.  I was literally feet from the PCT but the flat spot was far more cushier than the regular site.  It was full of fir needles and was my softest bed yet.

And better still, everyone was tired.  My friendly neighbors who had been buddies for over 25 years all tucked themselves in by dark.  Finally, a quiet camp!

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A good nights rest was had by all.

 

Blue on Blue

PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA  A field of blue lupins echo the deepening sky as day turns to night.  (Based on the photo by Gabi Fulcher 2014)

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When I started this painting I had no idea how blue it was going to go.  I had been doing a lot of inner work, thinking about my inner self, my concepts, my ideas, my integrity, my weaknesses.  Why do I think this way, what lessons are there to learn from our emotions… when I get frustrated or upset, what does that come from? Does it come from the situation at hand or from a lifetime of similar situations that make the current crisis seem bigger than it is?  I examined all my inner wounds like a forensic investigator, trying to make a case for guilt, innocence or acquittal.  I had no preconceived notions of the outcome but one word rose to the surface and I followed it like a flashlight in the darkness.

That word was compassion.  That I find the compassion in myself, that I nurture the compassion and choose the compassion rather than the hard edged anger and meanness that was trying to gain a foothold. I don’t like the hard edge… though I admire the strength anger has given me.  Anger is a good emotion, it’s a powerful one, but not one that should be driving my car.  You can’t make anger go away, but you can recognize it’s usefulness.  Anger is the fire that burns away the pain and takes you down to ash so you can rise again, clean and new and reborn.

Anger turned inward is depression.  There were too many times I had taken that anger and smoldered the flame with my body, inhaling the toxicity, allowing depression to take a toehold deep inside. And so, with the gray skies of the Pacific NorthWest dumping their seasonal load upon my home and myself, I found a deep blue streak staining my life. I had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit.  I just couldn’t do it, that blue funk was everywhere.

But then there was compassion.  And compassion led me to stories and places and videos and chat groups and forums and a greater understanding.  I followed every lead, turned over every rock, searched in all the drawers, cupboards and forgotten shelves.  The anger that had masqueraded as depression was swept out and dealt with.  The light began to shine again as we rounded the equinox and the sun literally returned to my part of the world.

With gratitude, I stood before a blank canvas and painted yet another in my Wilderness Of Women (WOW), a series of paintings from the trail.  All paintings are from photos taken by women hikers.  So far I’ve only done one from my own photo, the rest were taken by other women hikers.  This image of the PCT is from the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington State. It was sent it to me last winter by the photographer/hiker, Gabi Fulcher.  It’s been hanging in my studio for some time now… and well, now seemed to be it’s moment.

All these WOW paintings have a vivid saturation of color that connects my deep love of these wild places to my heart.  This one was the same in intensity, but different in just one word.  The word is “I”.  As in “I” painted it, because it doesn’t feel like “I” actually did.  I stood before the canvas after sketching it out in my normal fashion.  I was between the 6th and 7th chakra painting in my last series (see previous post) and using the same palette of color I was about to start when I hesitated.  I’ve done this before, and usually with good results, so I trusted the pause.  And I said to my muse: go ahead… you got this one.  Do what you like, I’ll just hold the brush.  And so, she did. Or he… it doesn’t matter, my muse is gender neutral.

Blue on Blue can speak for itself.  It’s so much more than me.  Just like the word compassion.

 

Wait?! Summer’s over already?

Hello everyone!

I was going to title this How I Spent My Summer Vacation, but after seeing the title of my last post… well, I just had to go with the theme. Quite the span of time, from late June thru to mid Sept, and while I may have committed the blogging sin of allowing too much time!! to go between posts and losing readership… well, consider me a sinner then. The weather was beautiful and there was just too much to do outside than sit inside hunched over my laptop. As it was,  I barely got around to paying the bills and keeping our financial world afloat. What I did do, was pay homage to my love of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder by making jams, juices, canning and drying assorted veggies/fruits, pickling and other homey pioneer type chores.

We rebuilt the pump house, upgraded our water system, fenced the garden.  I fixed gutter, gate and shed as well as replacing porch boards and molding around doors and windows.  In between the myriad of chores and duties of the small farm owner, there were the half a dozen or so camping trips (with horse and without), visits with friends and family, a new puppy and the 24 chicks in my coop that are growing up to be our new layers and fryers.  All amidst the crushing drought and crazy ass wildfires of the Pacific Northwest.

We are not out of the woods yet with that, major fires in Northern California and Washington are devastating lives and homes.  We escaped a lightning strike fire just last week as fast acting neighbors and the local fire department put out the flames on a 100 foot tall Douglas Fir tree a mile from our home!  We are all looking forward to the rain these days and hoping for cool weather that won’t bring thunderstorms our way.  While careless people do start fires, the majority of fires out here are started by electrical storms.  Hot summers, drought and thunderstorms are a bad combination.

Storm clouds roll in on my camp... this was taken moments before a storm hit my tent. Scary!

Storm clouds roll in on my camp… this was taken minutes before a severe thunderstorm hit my tent. Scary!

And so, my art has taken a back seat.  The painting I started in June became a thorn in my side, so it was removed from the easel and is awaiting a time when I can look at it objectively as opposed to the sneer I give it now.  However, good news on the muse front!  Inspiration was found on a wonderful 4 day solo backpacking trip to the Pacific Crest Trail.  After painting visions of other women’s journeys, I have found my own while traversing the famous PCT.

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My backpacking art kit got some use!

It’s funny, I knew I was on a mission to take photos of the trail so I could add my own image to the Wilderness of Women series, but the one I picked to paint wasn’t what I had planned.  Well, life doesn’t work according to plan sometimes.  The second I took the shot, I knew what I was going to do.

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It was time to put my studio dog, Scout, into another painting.  Dogs have been a big part of my backpacking experience and she especially has been an integral part of my studio life.  It all just made sense.

Scout on the PCT

Scout on the PCT

The balance needed for my painting however, is different from the snap shots I take in the field.  Sometimes a photo is perfectly put together and I don’t have to do much manipulation, but that day, in that place, I couldn’t get the exact image.  The painting is a compilation of 4 images, strung together and overlapped into a panoramic view.  It captures my actual view while Scout and I sat at an elevation of 6850 feet and had a well earned lunch. It was a beautiful day and as I studied my position, I realized that by climbing up to this pass, I had hiked every bit of the PCT, from top to bottom on my map.  It was a very good feeling, which must have made my muse happy because as soon as there was a lull in all my food preservation activities, she gave me this: (click on image for a full view)

Lunch with Scout on the PCT

Lunch with Scout on the PCT

North of Walker Pass

With all the recent attention given to the Pacific Crest Trail because of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, and the movie, and the Oscar nominations, there seem to be some who worry that their beloved trail is going to see a huge spike in activity. While most hikers are generous, caring, helpful and kind, there is a seedy underbelly of fear that has prompted a few on social media to be… well, less than kind in their criticism.

From what I can see, it’s all just a tempest in a teacup.  Twenty six hundred miles of trail is a long, long haul and the dedication and hard work involved in just getting to the PCT will thin the herd.  The trail will not be loved to death, there is still plenty of long, lonely miles to cover.  If anything, more attention to the PCT will ensure it’s protection in the future.  Sure, there may be some growing pains, but time marches on and interest will ebb and flow.  There are many other trails out there and new ones to blaze.

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I myself have trod more than  a few of those miles and will continue to visit the wilderness for its beauty, solitude and the replenishment of my soul.  I love it out there and always have.  I was the girl who  played in the woods, and I grew up to be the woman who dives deep into the forest.  Spending an afternoon following a deer path almost always sounds like a good idea to me.  When I die, I’d like to curl up under a tree on the edge of a meadow with a view of the mountains and let my soul escape to the wilderness.  My idea of heaven has craggy peaks, moraine lakes and clear blue water.

Fishes and Wishes Oil on Canvas 12"x16"

Fishes and Wishes
Oil on Canvas
12″x16″

The older I get, the more all the facets of my life appear to converge into one vanishing point.  That point seems to be focused in a small cedar sheathed studio in my backyard.  As I painted Hope Pass (https://skyevans.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/hope-pass/) I was struck by how easily this landscape came to me.  I hadn’t done a landscape that I felt so moved by until Hope Pass. It spoke to me and brought life to a seed that I had forgotten.  That seed was my favorite place and I found myself longing to see it again.

Three Sisters Oil on Canvas 22"x28"

Three Sisters
Oil on Canvas
22″x28″

So I am returning to the wilderness, but this time, I am returning to be inspired.  Because it seems as if images of the trail inspire me in that lightning bolt way that I am yearning for.  That bolt struck me last week as I was flipping through Facebook, reading posts by women hikers.  I came across another image I had to paint; thank you Jennie Norris for taking that wonderful photo and generously allowing me to use it.  That is the spirit of the hiking community, a heart that is so full of joy from the trail that they just want to share it with the world. It’s not the trail itself, the hardships, the gritty, dirt, sweat, heart pounding work that we want to share.  It’s the joy and the feeling and the emotion of wonder.  That’s something that can’t be boxed or quantified.  You can get out there and experience it for yourself or you can find someone to recreate that feeling.  Someone to move you.

Moving tools

Moving tools

It takes poets and writers, musicians and artists to do that.  Which is why Ms. Strayed’s book is so powerful.  That’s what great writers do, they move you to feel something.  If she didn’t move you, well that’s ok, she’s not for everyone.  But she DID move thousands and maybe eventually, millions.  And that, my friend, is powerful stuff.

I hope my art can move you too.  Because it is moving me.  Tremendously.

North of Walker Pass on the PCT

North of Walker Pass on the PCT