Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rocky Mountain High

I flew out to Ohio for my sister's wedding over the weekend. I had a great time, and I was very happy to re- connect with my family. On both flights I got stuck in the middle seat so I couldn't look out the window. Also, both trips had layovers in Denver with a few hours to kill. While I sat in the airport chairs reading the paper in Denver, there was a strong presence looming. An elephant in the room if you will: The Rocky Mountains. For some reason, I only took a quick peek at the mountain range through the airport windows. I did, but I also didn't want to look at them. Maybe it was because I knew that I would be getting to know them all too well very soon. Their sight and presence also terrified me. Most big mountain ranges do when I look at them from the valley.

I remember the first time I saw the Rockies. I was 19 years old and embarking on a western hitchhiking trip with my college roommate Zach. We had just finished our freshman year in college and summer had arrived.   We were ready for adventure. Zach had just cut his waste long hair to a new shorter look, and had died his brown hair blond. We were riding out with our friends Jaimie, Drew and Chris. Jaime was the quintessential hippy goddess. High positive energy, and beautiful. She gave me the book Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac to read.  Drew, had a long mane of black curly hair and a beard and was tall. He reminded me of Black Beard the pirate. He was a great guitar player, and threw parties at his house every Thursday called "Tequilla Night" during the school year. Those parties used to rage out of control. We were also riding with a guy named Chris, a quiet guy with a blond curly afro. Chris was the driver, and we all piled into his pickup truck. It's not often that I feel cool, but this was one time in my life, where I felt pretty hip. We all brought our backpacks, camping gear, and musical instruments. The five of us were heading out to Colorado!

Growing up in Maryland, this was a big deal. I remember as our truck left the eastern shore of Maryland, crossed the Bay Bridge and eventually arrived in the Appalachian mountains. Jaimie shrieked with delight upon seeing the Appalachians. "I love the mountains!" she exclaimed. I had never seen anyone so excited to see mountains before. I still think of her every time I see mountains in the distance. Her excitement awoke something inside me that day as well. I remember we all took shifts driving while heading out to Colorado. We drove nonstop.We were slowly gaining elevation as we got closer to Denver. The landscape began to roll. I remember seeing clouds that looked so close, only to see another layer way above. Windmills dotted the hillsides.

Then we saw them. The Rocky Mountains. Large jagged peaks on the horizon. I was amazed how big they became the closer we drove to Denver. I had never seen mountains like this. Eventually, it looked like an incredible wall, jutting out of the ground. We were all excited and in awe. We passed Denver and entered the foothills. Development seemed to just be beginning in the foothills. We saw new, large houses being built. We saw a house that looked like a spaceship. Not long after, we saw waterfalls, and snowy peaks for the first time in our lives. I was experiencing my first "Rocky Mountain High." None of us knew what the summer had in store for us. We were young, impressionable, and open to experience. I was seeing places I had never imagined. Even though this was my first time in the Rockies, I already knew it would not be my last...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sleeping Under The Stars

One thing I am really looking forward to on the Continental Divide Trail, is to sleep under the stars again. This morning I attempted to begin reading a book about Gnosticism. The opening paragraph started out describing the stars. My mind quickly jumped to nights along the trail gazing up into the mass sea of silver spots complete with satellites and meteors. Usually on the trail, it doesn't take long to fall asleep because you are so dog tired. Sometimes on the PCT, I had to force myself to stay awake for a few minutes in the middle of the night after taking a piss to enjoy the view of the stars. Usually after a couple minutes of star gazing, I'd become completely knocked into unconsciousness again due to exhaustion.  After my mind filtered through a few of these memories, I was reminded about the first time I ever slept under the stars. (As you can tell, I didn't get very far in the book today.)

I was probably 15 years old believe it or not. It occurred at my buddy John's house in the suburbs of Maryland. John's room was the ultimate "man cave." He had a kick ass stereo, it was always dark, but lit up by the soft light of a neon Budweiser sign. We played guitars, in fact John was my inspiration for learning the instrument. He had a sweet effects processor and a brand new Fender amplifier. I remember him playing the opening riff to "Back in Black" by ACDC, and "Spirit of the Radio" by Rush on his red Les Paul guitar. I was completely blown away. "I've got to learn how to do that!" I told him. John's older sister would buy us beer, and John always had a stash of pot to smoke. I was never a big pot smoker, but I had a lot to learn about life.

That night, John invited Jason, one of his neighborhood friends, over to the house. Jason was our age and he looked and played guitar like a rockstar. He already had tattoos covering his arms and his guitar playing was way above our level. Jason introduced us to some new music. The three of us grabbed our guitars and jammed while we drank our beers and passed the bowl around. One of the unique things about John's house  was that he had a fire pit in his backyard. After we had our fill with music, we went out to the backyard. John threw a few logs into the firepit and lit it ablaze. This was a new experience, a campfire in the suburbs.

We were all feeling pretty good at this point. John had some nice reclining lawn chairs. We each grabbed one. John and Jason were talking about something I can't remember, and I was looking up at the stars. I was coherent enough to realize that I was getting ready to fall asleep and that I'd better get inside under a roof. Before I knew it, John and Jason were both asleep on their chairs, under the stars, out in the open air. Whoa, it occurred to me in that moment that I had never slept directly under the stars before without some kind of roof over my head. I also realized that I was probably missing out on some sort of spritual experience that somehow seemed to be ingrained in my DNA somewhere. I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and stared at the stars as the fire burned down into glowing coals. I fell asleep and woke up in the morning to a cold damp sunrise. I felt rejuvinated, ALIVE! Somehow, I knew this was probably the first night of many I hoped to spend under the stars...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

CDT Planning: May 18, 2013

Delorme Maps and Beacon's Data Book 
One month countdown has arrived. I've been trying to dedicate my weekends to CDT planning since I just don't have the energy during the work week to do much. I have been trying to get out and hike in the evenings if I get home from work on time, and so far I feel pretty good about that. Today I purchased some last minute gear. I've been trying to avoid any frivolous purchases lately, knowing that whatever I waste money on now is going to bite me in the ass in the fall when this trip is over. Today I couldn't help myself and ended up buying a few items that I initially was going to pass on, mainly a new rain jacket and new hiking poles. My current rain jacket is toast, and my hiking poles are just about useless right now. They've been trail-beaten so hard that I couldn't even unscrew the plastic tops to attempt to put on new tips. Not only that, the inside suspension in one of the poles broke and I had to jam duct tape into the sliding part of the pole to keep it from collapsing whenever I put weight on it. If I'm going to attempt this King of Trails, I'm going to have decent gear dammit. I also bought Aqua Mira for treating my water, as well as a bottle of bear spray, that I hope I never have to use. I also managed to get a hike in today and have started organizing all my paper data. I hope to have everything prepped by June 1st. That would be a miracle to actually have everything prepared before departure rather than running around at the last minute. All the little chores really start adding up time wise when doing something like this.

It's hard to believe that some Northbounders are already wrapping up New Mexico as I type this. For me, everything is starting to look different now. Nervousness and excitement comes and goes throughout the day. Whenever I read and look at pictures of the blogs of the northbounders, I get a little nervous. I feel closure beginning to set in on some of the relationships with people I have made friends with while living here in Northern California. Summer seems to be settling in around here. The days are longer, the sun rising earlier each morning. I'm ready to get hiking but it is not quite time yet. I'm trying to mentally prepare myself for Glacier. It has been described as walking into the Sierra on your first week. Blam! You are in THE mountains right at the get go.  I haven't been having any dreams of the trail. It's strange, I don't think I've ever had a trail dream in my entire life, despite spending so much time on them...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Humboldt Redwoods State Park: Johnson Trail Camp

Eel River
 I drove up to Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Saturday with the goal of testing out my new ULA Catalyst backpack. Let me just say, I love it! The packed worked and felt great. I'm very excited to go hiking again. It also felt great to be on a trail once again.
 The plan was to go on a short 7 mile hike to Johnson Trail Camp and spend the night there. I left my vehicle around 2:00 and began hiking. The trail was a real treat. At first, I hiked through a short section of big redwoods along the flats, a place I explored several months ago. Soon, the trail started it's ascent. I would spend the rest of the afternoon walking uphill.
 Of course I got distracted by some big trees. At the last minute, I decided to bring the measuring tape along.  I was glad I did. I quickly measured some of the biggest Douglas Firs I have seen to date.
Douglas Fir
 The trail was excellent, despite the uphill climb. There were plenty of switchbacks and the climb was gradual. The forest was awesome. It was the first time I've experienced several miles of pristine old growth forest, with no sign of man's intervention other than the trail itself. The mixture of Douglas Fir, redwood and madrone created a feast for the eyes.
 The vegetation was extremely thick off trail. I can't imagine how anyone got through it in the old days. They must of had machetes. The Douglas Fir's I measured were all visible from the trail. I just didn't have the time, or the energy to do much exploring. It was very hard to move around off trail.
Smaller redwoods in higher elevation. This tree still had some girth.
 The redwoods are smaller on the drier hillsides. However, it was neat to observe how much taller and larger they grew near springs or creeks coming down the mountainside. They must simply gorge themselves on water when they have the chance. The forest also had a different smell in the higher elevation.
Douglas Fir: cbh 21 feet, 7 in.
 I thought a lot about the CDT while hiking. I was glad to re-implement old hiking systems: ie retrieving and treating water, checking maps, listening to my body. I'm looking forward to simplifying my life once again. I barely noticed my pack, although my feet were getting sore by the end of the day.
Douglas Fir: cbh 27 feet
 It took a bit longer than I thought it would to reach Johnson Trail Camp. I guess that's because I was looking at trees. At one point, I thought I must have missed it, or taken a wrong turn. I finally reached the camp around 6:00 or so. It didn't take me long to decide that I wasn't going to camp there. It had a creepy feel, with a couple of dilapidated shacks. Some of the redwoods nearby had been cut down, and it was swarming with mosquitoes. There were so many peaceful, and inviting spots on the way up, so I decided to turn around and hike back to one that really called me.
Douglas Fir 30 feet, 5 in.
 By the time I reached the spot it was about 7:00. Mosquitoes weren't much better here, but the place was really tranquil. Thankfully the mosquitoes weren't at all aggressive. They were more of a nuisance flying around my face. I cooked a quick dinner, and it wasn't long before the forest started to become dark. I decided to cowboy camp, I didn't bother setting up my tarp. I spent the next half hour with my usual anxieties. As I laid on my back, staring up into the canopy, I imagined branches crushing me in my sleep, or getting mauled by a mountain lion. Not a healthy way to drift off to sleep. The drone of mosquitoes in my ear eventually lulled me to unconsciousness.
Doing a backwoods jig at Johnson Trail Camp
 I slept decent, despite the bad thoughts. When I woke up in the morning, I had an experience that I think will  last a lifetime. I've mentioned before that the whistle of the varied thrush is one of my favorite sounds in the redwoods. Usually I hear about one or two at a time. Well this morning, I awoke to a chorus of whistles, coming from several birds in the grove. They whistled for about an hour or so, until the sun came up, and then suddenly stopped around the time the sun's rays lit up the canopy and the mosquitoes came back out. It was a great way to start the morning.
Campsite for the night
 It didn't take long to refill my water bottles, eat breakfast and hit the trail. I was back to my car in no time. Before heading home, I decided to stop by one of my favorite spots in HRSP and visit the Stratosphere Giant.  That is one beast of a tree.
 Overall, it was a successful trip. I do need to continue to walk as much as possible to stay in shape before beginning the CDT. I'm feeling good right now, and hope to ride the positive momentum all the way to Chief Mountain in mid June...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Valley View Trail: Training Hike

Monkey flower
 High temperatures and dry heat returned to the area this week. I've started to hike the Valley View trail again to get in shape for the CDT. It's a good place to train. I was hoping to get a hike in early yesterday but had to wait until evening.
 I commented to my roommate how this heat reminded me of hiking in Southern California on the PCT. It was too dangerous some days to hike during the afternoon. In the desert, we often stopped around noon, found or created a place for shade, and would re-hydrate and wait for lower temperatures to arrive by 4:00 or so.
Poison Oak covered trail
 So, I waited until about 5:00 to hit the trail. To my surprise, when I left the house, the sky was filled with clouds, it became really windy, and it started raining. I hadn't heard a weather report, but it seemed a front of some sort was moving through. Never mind, when on the trail, you have to hike, despite the weather. I decided to head to the trail head.
 It turned out to be a fantastic evening to hike. The temperature dropped just a little. It was not too hot, nor too cold. I was perfectly content to wear short sleeves and shorts. The clouds made for nice lighting for picture taking. The only drawbacks were the poison oak and damn ticks once again. I found three ticks crawling on me, including one that just started to embed itself into my side, despite being very careful where I walked. It's very discouraging. The amount of ticks I have encountered the last couple years out here really can be a deterrent when it comes to hiking and exploring. I feel like I'm playing Russian roulette with my health, every time I go for a hike. They seem to be everywhere.
 I reached the ridge line after an hour or so. It occurred to me that it has been a while since I've hiked along a ridge. The views and openness of the terrain were thrilling. Everything always seems purer on the tops of mountains. I heard the occasional gunshot fired off in the distance at the shooting range. Actually, I'm not sure it's really a shooting range as much as it's just items set up by locals who enjoy the target practice.
 The return hike down the mountain was uneventful. I continued to watch my step for poison oak and pieces of grass where ticks may be hanging out. My legs felt a little shaky on the way down. Further proof that I need more exercise.
I thought about the internal universe that composes my physical body. I wonder if it is aware of the beating it's about to receive in the coming months while out on the CDT?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Redwood Trees: By Smellslikesugar

A beautiful song called redwood trees...

Thanks Lloyd Gust, PCT Trail Angel!

Lloyd Gust, PCT trail angel steps down. Here is a great article about Lloyd Gust, a trail angel Indie and I met briefly on the PCT in 2010. Indie sent the link to me yesterday. It's a really nice article, well worth the read...