Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rain, Rain, Rain

We had a huge rainstorm hit the area yesterday afternoon and evening. These pictures were taken on the way to work this morning. This creek is called "Flynn Creek." The creek joins the Navarro River and winds its way to the Pacific Ocean a couple dozen miles away or so.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Different Kind of Hike

I went for a different kind of hike today. It was more like a walk. A walk on a bike path. But, I consider it a hike because I did get "off path" a bit. I also probably walked a good five miles or so. I think its official, my legs have now atrophied.
The ocean looked quite rough today in Ft. Bragg. Huge waves crashing into the rocks. I have yet to see any surfers up here. When I drove down the coast many years ago, I remember seeing surfers everywhere, north and south. Maybe there just aren't enough people living in this area to produce a crop of surfers.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Logging Road

I went for a hike a couple of days ago up an old logging road near the town of Navarro. I'm still somewhat surprised that despite the thick forests that blanket the land near the coast, I can't find any trails that allow a person to walk through them. Perhaps I need to buy a book of local trails.

This particular day, I was looking for a trail, but all I could find was an old logging road. I probably was not supposed to be in this area, but I did not see any signs indicating that I was trespassing. So, I seized the opportunity to walk amongst some redwoods and other conifers, and travelled along an eyesore of a clearing that allowed loggers to find and haul out their booty.

Who was flying above the trees to offer another greeting? The raven of course!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

California Snow/Water Content

Click for California Snow/Water Content.


The Marmot. I bought a tent while living in Maryland many years ago designed by the company "Marmot." Back then, it was just a company name. I didn't bother asking, or attempt to figure out what the name actually meant, or what it referred to. It was a nice tent, that's all.

That is until I hiked the John Muir Trail in August 2009. My first encounter with the Marmot, I can't recall. They quickly became a fixture on the JMT however, and I never tired of seeing them around. I think I was quickly drawn to their inquisitive nature. Whether it was walking through a meadow, or over a high rocky pass, I always got a blast at seeing them run up onto some rock to see who was trespassing on its property. Sometimes they would just watch, sometimes they would retreat into their homes, (a medium sized hole in the ground, usually under a rock,) and sometimes they would let out a high pitched whistle, voicing their displeasure.
I could never help whistling back to them, although my whistle was more of an acknowledgement.

Marmots along the PCT in the North Cascades, Washington. This one is keeping watch over his domain, while soaking in some of the last warm sun rays of the season.

Their homes are built in the most scenic places on the planet. They tend to stick to the high altitudes. They hibernate during the winter. Often, I will see them basking in the sun, warming themselves on a rock. If Reincarnation is an option in the next life, I'd like to return to earth as a Marmot.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


The Raven. Black. Song? I guess you can categorize a "caw" as a song. There doesn't seem to be anything special about them. To me they are the dandelion of birds. When I grew up in Maryland, I remember seeing them flying around the neighborhood, usually with a couple of smaller songbirds attacking them from above. I would wonder what the raven did to warrant such an attack. I remember seeing a raven, or maybe it was a crow, eating a baby bird that I assume he stole from a nest. I guess that's why his presence was despised. Often times in the city, I would see ravens gathered around a trash can, picking garbage out of an alley. I did not really have pleasant memories or associations with this bird.

When hiking around LA, every time I reached a peak and would look out over the city, or into the rugged mountains of the San Gabriel's, I would search the skies for birds. Usually I would see one from a distance and wonder, "Is it an eagle? Is it a hawk?" To my disappointment, 99% of the time I would discover that it was just a raven. "Oh, it's just a raven."

This routine seemed to unfold time and time again.

I don't recall when the switch in my mind occurred. Eventually, as I climbed the mountains, I would see a bird in the distance and wonder, "Is it an eagle? Is it a hawk?" Then exclaim, "Oh, it's the raven!"
While on the PCT, the routine changed a little more. While hiking along a high mountain ridge somewhere, the question became, "Is it the raven? Yes, it is the raven!!"
They have become constant companions in every mountain range my feet have stepped upon. Without fail, despite the weather, despite the elevation, the raven has been there to offer its greetings when hiking through and over the mountains. Now, no longer a pest, I am happy to offer my greetings as well. I still cringe however, when I see such magnificent beasts eating trash in a filthy ally. "Don't eat here," I want to say. "Head for the mountains!"

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pacific Storm

Several more days of rain in the forecast for Mendocino County as another storm rolls in off the Pacific.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The Coyote. An animal that will stir different feelings amongst different individuals. For some, he may be seen as a frightful animal, a creature that will attack and kill an unsuspecting individual or pet. For some, he may be seen as a pest, a creature to be eliminated, a thief, a cattle killer. For some, he may be celebrated, an animal that has adapted to its surroundings at all costs, a freedom fighter, a survivor.

One of my first encounters with a coyote occurred almost ten years ago. I was driving through Joshua Tree National Park for the first time, on a cross country adventure from my home state of Maryland. While driving into the park near sunset, I saw a coyote that appeared to be injured, lying in the middle of the road. As soon as I stopped the car, the coyote stood up and walked over to my door and stared at me. After a few seconds, it dawned on me that he was begging for food. I can't recall whether I gave him anything, but several miles down the road, the same thing happened again. Another coyote was lying in the middle of the road, and as soon as I stopped the car, he walked up to my door, begging for food. "Crafty little beasts!" I thought to myself from the safety of my car. At the same time, I was also surprised to see that they were no larger than a medium sized dog.

During that trip, I remember camping several nights and hearing the howl of the coyote and his companions in the middle of the night. At first, it stirred feelings of fear. Are they going to attack me in the middle of the night? As I became more accustomed to the sound and realized that they were probably more interested in things other than the weary camper, I began to enjoy hearing the howls and yips in the middle of the night. Usually I'd wake up, think "Ahhh the coyote," and then go back to sleep.

While living in LA, I used to practice playing my guitar in my car in the zoo parking lot. My car provided a sound proof box, the zoo lot provided a quiet place away from my neighbors, who I'm sure would have quickly grown weary of hearing me play. Anyways, there were a pair of coyotes that would come down from Griffith Park each night, and scowl the parking lot for food left over from zoo visitors. As I would sit and play, I would watch the coyotes scan the lot with their noses, find a small bag of leftover fast food in a vacant parking space, pick it up, run into the woods, and then return a few minutes later after they, I'm assuming, devoured whatever leftover food was in the bag. I would see them from time to time during my hikes around the LA area. Usually, it seemed as though I was greeting an animal brother.

While on the PCT, there was one particular night that comes to mind when I think of the coyote. Answerman and I were hiking near the Big Bear Lake area. As the day was getting late, Answerman and I started looking for campsites. At one point, after rounding a bend in the trail, a large coyote appeared amongst the chaparral, and after taking a quick look at us, ran up the mountainside. He was one of the more healthy looking coyotes I have seen. He was plump, had a shiny fur coat, and was rather large, almost like a wolf. After failing at getting a picture, Answerman and I returned to the task of finding a campsite. About a half an hour later, we found one. It was a great spot on top of the mountain, with views of the lake below. It was a warm, comfortable evening, not a cloud in the sky. The setting sun turned the brown grass that surrounded us into a red, brick color. Answerman and I decided to cowboy camp, and after a warm meal, bedded down for the night. I was looking forward to a nice evening of star gazing under clear skies.

While we were getting ready to sleep, I commented to Answerman that I was starting to feel my city layers peel away, that it was refreshing to begin connecting to the wildness inside once again.

"Oh I've been there for quite some time," was Answerman's response.

Indeed he had. While visiting in LA before the PCT hike, he was the only person I saw walking around town in bare feet.

While we were talking, there was a distressing yelp coming from one of the nearby mountains. It had not yet come to the fore-front of our consciousness. We continued to talk while the sound remained constant in the background. When we finished our conversation, the sound became more prominent.

"Do you hear that?" I asked Answerman.

"Yeah, sounds like a coyote," he responded.

"Sounds like it's injured " I replied.

The sound was a very high pitch cry, almost like a shriek. It continued on for several minutes. As I climbed into my sleeping bag, listening to the cries and staring at the stars, I envisioned the coyote stuck in a steel trap. Just then, we heard BANG! BANG! BANG!

Answerman and I remained quiet. The evening sky was silent except for the low rustle of the wind through the grass.

"That's it," I said.

I felt a sadness for the coyote. Was it the one I saw earlier in the evening? Was it one of his brothers, sisters, or his mate? At that moment, I felt more kinship with the coyote, than the man who ultimately took his life.

Tales From the Trails

I got a little crazy last night and started experimenting with some templates. I wanted to retire the above photo since the Angeles National Forest is sadly no longer my hiking home. The current photo (at the top of the page), was taken in the Northern Cascades along the PCT in Washington State. This also is not my hiking home, but it will be a substitute until I find a photo that best captures the essence of Mendocino county.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Valley View Trail 2

Lots of newts on the trail

I wanted to check out the Valley View Trail a little more this afternoon, and see how far it went. It's really quite a strenuous hike. The first hour is all uphill, I'm guessing at least 1000 feet in elevation gain. I was hoping that this hike would be a little more peaceful than last. It was not to be however. Once again, as soon as I reached the point where the trail finally begins to level out, it sounded like World War Three in the canyon. Guns were a blazin.' In fact, at one point, I thought I heard a machine gun. Anyways, I debated whether to continue on. Not one to give into fear, I decided to press on anyhow, despite bullets piercing the evening skies. Thankfully, the trail came down off the ridge and into a valley where the gunshots were muffled, and I came to a nice creek. That's where I met the trail junction to the Mayacmas Trail. One of these weekends, once the weather gets better, I'll have to see where it goes. Since the sun was getting ready to set, I decided to turn around. I was greeted by a couple of owls hooting in the trees near the parking area.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Valley View Trail

I was looking for a local trail in Ukiah to hike yesterday. In Los Angeles, it seemed that you could drive to the base of any mountain and eventually you would find a park or a trail head that would take you into the back country. I tried that strategy yesterday, although the mountains to the west of town seem to be completely claimed by landowners. Signs of no trespassing, and territorial claims were everywhere. These mountains are completely off limits to the common man. As I drove through one of the neighborhoods, I asked a lady walking down the sidewalk if she knew of any local trails. She recommended the cow mountain recreation area, so that is where I went. I found the Valley View trail and decided to explore a bit. The trail was just like many I have walked in Southern California. Vegetation was mostly manzanita, scrub oak, and chamise. The lighting was pretty terrible for photos. It was a good trail for solitude as well as a physical workout. I hiked about an hour or so before turning around due to gunshots. Somebody was hunting, or more likely taking target practice, because there were shots every 5 seconds or so. Bullets were ripping through the air in every direction it seemed. I decided to retreat down the mountain rather than get struck by some stray bullet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Short hike before work

Since moving to Mendocino county on Wednesday, it has rained practically non-stop. 5 days of rain. I've been longing for the trail more than ever. I was feeling trapped and bogged down in town. Today was a gift from God. I started my first day back to work and had to drive 60 miles to Ft. Bragg, a small coastal town. Along the way, I drove through some state forest, miles and miles of forest. The sun began to peak out. I saw what looked like a trail junction and slammed on my brakes. Since I was an hour early for work, my heart leaped at the chance to walk through some woods. All of the weight of the last few days fell from my shoulders as my eyes saw a small trail. Rain drops continued to drip from the huge trees all around me. The smell of the earth was overpowering, rejuvenating, refreshing to my spirit and soul. A huge smile came across my face as the sun streamed through the forest. I was home again. I had my work clothes on, and I felt like a dog ripping off a winter sweater as I found some gym shorts and hiking shoes to replace my civilized clothes. As I wandered around, the trail seemed to fade and went in no particular direction. No matter, I simply took deep breaths of the fresh mountain air. Just then, I thought I caught a glimpse of a trail across the stream. I ran back to my car and found my Crocs. I forded the creek which brought back memories of the numerous stream crossings we encountered on the PCT. Sure enough, the trail continued on the other side. Again, the trail sort of faded. After wandering about a bit, I decided to head back. All in all, I was walking for no more than 45 minutes before I returned to my car. It was one of the most rejuvenating short hikes I can remember having in a long time.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I just finished reading a book called "Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice" by Mark J. Plotkin a couple of days ago. The first line that caught my eye when reading the book's description was when the author described that every time a shaman dies in the rainforest, it's like a whole library burns down. Basically, the author went to the Amazon in the 80's and 90's to study the indigenous people and their medicinal uses of the plants in the rainforest. In return, he agreed to give the people a written record of all the plants he studied so they could pass the knowledge down to future generations.

Huckleberries in Washington

Indie and I had numerous discussions while hiking the trail. One thing we talked about was food. By food I'm not referring to Spam, trail mix, or Mac and Cheese (although we did discuss burgers, ice cream and pizza cravings!), I'm talking about food in the forest. On one hand, I felt empowered by the sense of freedom and independence the trail life bestowed on me. On the other hand, a sense of discouragement arose inside the more I realized how dependent I was on store bought food. Other than raspberries, fish, miner's lettuce, huckleberries, and deer, I was clueless to identify any sort of food source while hiking. Just as learning the names of numerous wildflowers in the San Gabriel's opened my eyes last year to the variety of plants in the forest, I imagined how empowering it would be to see the woods as my grocery and hardware store, rather than a blank canvass which it so often seems to be for me. The only way that mental shift could occur would be to know the uses of the plants.

When Indie and I were hiking in Oregon, we crossed paths with a group of Ukrainian men picking mushrooms in the forest. Each man had a 5 gallon bucket filled with shrooms. They were growing everywhere. Indie, who is also Ukrainian, described how many of these people are taught as kids to identify the mushrooms in their homeland. Because they can be so lethal, the knowledge must be exact. Oh, to have that understanding! We often discussed how nice it would be to throw some fresh forest mushrooms into our dinners at night!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Road into Campo

First sign looking north towards Canada
The Southern Terminus
Border Fence
My register entry almost 6 months ago.
Answerman's entry. Although we split paths after Mamoth Lakes, we kept in touch via phone throughout the hike. Answerman finished the trail in Manning Park with Blackgum and three other hikers two days after Indie and I finished. Again, it was neat to see my friend's names in the registers during this last stretch of trail, although I did feel a bit envious at times knowing they were home relaxing while I was still battling the elements!
The final ascent
It is finished!
Allan and his kids Marion and Jake
I finished the trail on November 3, 2010. I could not have done it without the help from my hiking friends, the trail angels, Pete and Fabio assisting with resupply, Hikestrong donaters, and the grace of God, blessing us with exceptional weather for the month of October. Thank you all!!!
Unlike Manning Park (the northern terminus) where I was filled with elation, relief, and a bit of disbelief, the finish at the southern border was mostly filled with a feeling of satisfaction. While in Washington, Indie often would ask me whether or not I was going to finish the trail. Most of the time I answered that I was not planning on it, that I got everything out of the trail I wanted to get out of it by hiking Idyllwild to Manning Park. Finally, one day he said, "You need to finish the trail. You don't want to have any regrets."
The PCT ended with one last piece of trail magic. Allan picked me up at the monument at 12:00 sharp and drove me all the way to San Diego. It was the last piece in a long, long, string of human kindness that has made this trail so amazing and memorable. The views were unforgettable. The physical effort has been greater than anything I've attempted up to this point in my life. The community of hikers is exactly what it is. A community. Something that can be hard to find in this day and age.
I took away from this hike, that at the end of the day, I have nothing to worry about. As hard or desperate life gets, our basic needs will be provided for, somehow, someway. It may be uncomfortable, it may be scary, it may take time, it may be frustrating, it may not turn out the way we want it to, but we will be provided for. It's a very comforting realization. Thank you PCT...
On a side note, I'm going to be moving to Mendocino county tomorrow and starting (or resuming) my job working with autistic kids with my old company. I will say goodbye to southern California, and start a new chapter of life in northern California. Although I don't know anything about the area, I'm hoping to find some good trails and take some good pictures while living there. Until the next post (which I hope will be sooner rather than later), happy trails once again!


Cool little discovery in my old neck of the woods...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Last Full Day on PCT

View towards I-8
Walking under I-8

Granite arch
Lake Morena (above/below)

Camped in a burn area just outside Campo
I get nostalgic looking at these photos. It was my last full day on the PCT. Weather was perfect, although a bit breezy still. The morning started with hiking towards, and then under the I-8. During this time, I was working out lyrics to a PCT song in my head. By mid morning, I arrived at Lake Morena. The campground was completely deserted, but all the facilities were still in working order. Better yet, they had a shower house, where I was able to enjoy a long, hot shower. It was heavenly. I dried off sitting on a picnic bench, basking in the glorious, warm sunshine, and enjoyed a snack as well. After drying off, I filled up my water bottles and began hiking towards Campo, the end of the trail for me.
It was cool to notice that the terrain resembled the Sierra in some ways, at least the rocks did. I was walking amongst granite again, and evidence of glaciation was present once again. The closer I got to Campo, the more I noticed random articles of clothing thrown amongst the bushes. Evidence of Mexican immigrants, no doubt. By evening, I reached an area that burned fairly recently. It was time to find a campsite. Unfortunately, it seemed some great sites burned in the blaze. Nevertheless, I chose a flat spot amongst the charred manzanita bushes, and camped next to a huge boulder to try and get some shelter from the breeze that picked up again.
It was a satisfying evening. I called Allan on my cell phone and arranged a ride for the next day. I lay in my sleeping bag, staring at the stars, trying to soak in my last night under the Milky Way. I felt excited, sad, pleased, fulfilled to know that I was just 8 miles from the finish. Life was about to change once again, but for now, I tried to stay in the moment.