Monday, February 8, 2016

I don't leave until April, but my PCT journey is already well underway

I've had so much stressy fun over the past few weeks, setting up the hike this April. The highs and lows, tedium and exhilaration, the plodding along and trying to remember to look up once in a while are a bit like traversing the many peaks and valleys of the Sierra.

The donations are rolling in, and I'll have some spectacular figures to report in the next post.

First, we have two events coming up:

Next Tuesday, Feb. 16, Plaza Grill is generously donating 10 percent of its lunch and inner proceeds to support the hike! Please consider eating out at the Grill, and maybe I'll see you there!

On Thursday, March 31, we’ll have a special event in the Plaza View Room. “Trails with Teeth” will highlight local trail, and progress and plans. 

Speakers include Fifth District Supervisor Mark Lovelace, reflecting on the history of the Sunny Brae Tract since the days of SANA (the Sunny Brae Neighborhood Association) and the citizen buy-out from Sierra-Pacific Industries. Arcata Environmental Services Director Mark Andre will give an update on the ever-growing Arcata Ridge Trail. Pacific Crest Trailside Reader co-author and Volunteer Trail Steward Rees Hughes will talk about the Pacific Crest Trail, so all ye local PCT hikers, this is the time to come hither!

There will be other speakers, including a short explanation about the Dental Angel Fund, which saves poor kids’ mouths. Maybe we’ll have a panel discussion of trail talk. Plus the usual noshing and vibrant social interaction. It sounds like a good time to have a silent auction to raise funds for the charities. If I’m brave enough, I may even bring my pack and PCT rig for more experienced hikers to shake down.

Here's the latest ad in this week's Union:

The 1,726.6-mile hike will take perhaps four months, which requires all kinds of planning. Unplugging (mostly) from your regular life for that long requires you to address some things you could otherwise put off – like setting up bill autopays, simplifying all your passwords and getting a security app and getting new glasses.

But the real planning challenge is, of course, the hike. There’s replacing and updating equipment, learning how to use it (that’s the fun part), training (also fun), getting medical clearance, figuring out food resupply, getting the right navigation and media apps, working out the electronics and so much more. I keep making lists, crossing things off and then making more lists.

I love planning projects, as do other PCT hikers now getting ready for an April launch. Conquering the known variables is part of the fun. There are some things I simply won’t know until I’m on the trail – like how I’ll handle the Mojave heat and Sierra altitude gain and loss. Those unpredictables will affect my rate of travel, which in turn affects the cost. 

How many “zero days” will I need to spend in towns, to do resupply, laundry and various chores – one a week? Two? I just won’t know before I hit a stride. Layovers can get costly, what with lodging and indulgent restaurant meals. My plan is to stick to the trail and stay in hostels or cheap motels only when necessary, because after all, I could do that here. I do plan to stop for a few days off trail at South Lake Tahoe, where we spent family getaways when I was a kid. That being after a 1,092 walk over deserts and mountains, a few zeroes might be justifiable at that point.   

I’ve never set up a charity hike before, so it’s OJT. Figuring out how to properly solicit and channel pledges and donations took some work, and audaciously asking people for support isn’t my comfort zone at all.

As with anything, fear of failure can have a dampening effect if you let it. Or you can boldly go, split infinitives and accentuate the positives and hope that others find value in it. Much to my relief, the pledges and donations have come first as a trickle, then a steady wave. That and all the rain have been enjoyable to have going on. 

The excellent new lightweight equipment available today is simply amazing in its technology and thought-outedness. Oddly, for things like sleeping bags (I’m actually taking a quilt and thermal pad), tents and backpacks, you pay more to get less – and less weight. Materials science has transformed some of this gear, with tough but lightweight items like Cuben fiber and titanium cookwear.

But what really buoys me are the donations I’ve received in per-mile pledges and flat sums earmarked for charity. It’s seriously motivating to complete the hike (not everyone goes all the way on their planned journey). It’s becoming some serious assistance for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, Arcata Ridge Trail (Forest Fund) and Union Labor Health Federation Children’s Dental Angel Fund, as you'll see in the next post.

Even beyond that, the moral support has been fantastic. Everyone is so encouraging and supportive. I’ve heard from people I haven’t had contact with for years. Turns out they’ve been quietly reading my stuff all along, including the recent hike announcement.  

It turns out that there are lots of people locally who have hiked the PCT as well as the John Muir Trail (the two overlap in parts). They want to meet, and we shall. Every time I talk to an experienced PCT hiker, I learn things. Especially helpful and inspirational has been my old friend Dirk Rabdau, former Arcata Union sports editor. He’s even sending me his bear canister.

Thanks to all the donors, sponsors and encouragers! 

It was also illuminating meeting with Michael Kauffman, who is helping establish the Bigfoot Trail, The 360-mile Bigfoot Trail also overlaps with the PCT in spots, and links Crescent City with the Klamath Mountains with parts south. So maybe next year I can hike the Bigfoot, or complete the PCT by starting at Manning Park, Canada, and ending in Ashland, Ore. where this year’s hike ends.

So when does all this strenuousness begin? Probably April 22, 10-plus weeks from now. I’m waiting for them to announce the date of the annual kickoff event, which I wish to attend.

Oh by the way, we need someone to do my newspaper work while I’m gone. Call Jack or me at the Union at (707) 826-7000 to inquire. Things are starting to happen fast, so stay tuned!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

As seen in the Mad River Union!

Here's the official announcement which appeared in our newspaper, the Mad River Union. The print version was a mite shorter, for space reasons.

Come by the office and pick up a book or cool Arcata Ridge Trail marker; it'll help pay for my food on the trail. 

Books, trail markers and more available at the Union.

Hey, guess what I’m doing next year? Walking 1,726 miles through the scorpion- and rattlesnake-strewn Mojave Desert, then palling around with bears and mountain lions in the Sierras. 

If all goes as planned, next spring I’ll take off on a section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, the section being California, from Campo at the Mexican border to Ashland, Ore. 

In fact, the critters whose habitat I’ll be tramping through are the least of my concerns, as long as I respect them and follow best hiking practices. I think I know what to do; it’s just one of the many things to be mindful of on a journey of this length.

The art of the hike is a fascinating challenge, and obviously the trek itself will be an immersive experience, to say the least. I’ve been on multi-day backpacking trips in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Lost Coast and Trinity Alps, but up until recently have reverted to more leisurely glamping, which is also a blast in its own way. After a while though, sitting around camp with an embarrassment of amenities, like Trader Joe's dinners, gets old. I was kind of bored on Mt. Diablo last time, so it's time for my bootheels to be wanderin'.

Now it’s back to the trail in a big way – four months big. I’m leaving at the end of April and won’t be back until September. 

I won’t be out of touch, though. These days, one is never away from the communications grid for very long. I’ll document the adventure via my blog, Crush All Boxes (, my YouTube channel, submissions to the newspaper and by live tracking of my location via a GPS personal locator beacon. It looks like I might be doing some radio shows too.

That level of on-trail tech doesn’t appeal to many, but it’s not uncommon and it sounds to me like a lot of fun – gathering imagery and other data by day, then editing it in the tent at night.

I’ll describe the rewards and setbacks, twists and turns of the trail, plus perspectives on Humboldt news from afar, describe the natural history of the areas through which I pass, and show interesting stuff I see and people I meet. 

There’s no one best way to go about an ambitious hike like this. Everyone has to find what works best for them, from equipment to schedule to goals. There’s a phrase  – hike your own hike (HYOH) – which sets the tolerant tone that is part of PCT culture.

In order to truly hike your own hike, you have to know why you’re doing it, and set out what you hope to accomplish. There are as many reasons as there are hikers. 

For some PCT hikers, it’s escape, centering on a spiritual journey. Others go for trophy purposes, or to set records. Some are survivors of health problems, or violence. Others have media enterprises. It’s all good, and there is much cooperation and mutual respect for the diversity.

My motivations are many, but to be completely honest the central one is the fun of it. I love hiking, carrying my shelter and food on my back, and sleeping outside in remote places. It’s strenuous and meditative, relaxing and stimulating, cleansing and enriching all at once. That might be one definition of fun.

Since I’m going, there’s no reason not to leverage the hike to do something positive for the community that has supported me all these years, and the facilities that make it all possible. There are three wonderful causes for which I hope to gain pledges. 

First is the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which advocates for the trail and maintains it, supports hikers and does outreach and education.

Second has to be the Arcata Ridge Trail, which isn’t quite complete and needs support. You can do this directly through the Humboldt Area Foundation’s Arcata Forest Fund, or use the Union as a pass-through.

The Ridge Trail is proceeding apace, but still isn't whole. The southern Sunny Brae Tract section is (technically) disconnected from the main Arcata Community Forest. The Fickle Hill Crossing remains to be completed.

I've been using the Ridge Trail a lot for training hikes; it's pretty dang handy having a mini-Sierra situation just up the street.

As we did in days of olde with the Arcata Eye Ball, I’m once again fundraising for the Union Labor Health Federation’s Children’s Dental Angel Fund, also managed through the Humboldt Area Foundation. It provides funding for dental treatment of underprivileged children locally, with donations matched by participating dentists. More info to come on that.

Ways to donate to any of these funds via the hike are being finalized, so stay tuned. You can pledge a certain amount per mile, a set amount or whatever you like.

Anyone wishing to support the hike itself, and help make possible its various info streams and the help I hope to provide to the worthy causes, can easily do so. 

We’re selling genuine Arcata Ridge Trail markers in both traditional and rainbow flavors, the latter to honor the contributions of the LGBT community to the trail. My four books – both Police Logs and local history books – are also on sale, as are a few oddities. Proceeds will help feed me on the trail. 

Just stop by Suite 8 in Jacoby’s Storehouse, Plaza Level, and pick up a beautiful, tactilely-gratifying trail marker. They make wonderful gifts for trail enthusiasts.

I could make some sort of case for having contributed value to our community with my newspaper and other work over the past 23 years, and in return it has employed me. Now I’m asking for its help in making possible an ambitious adventure that will create some interesting reads and do some community good.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

An organo-freak's guide to Arcata and beyond

I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this thrift store find. A quaint dispatch from a simpler time, it was in the Arcata Eye several times, and in one of my Arcadia books.

I've tried to track down the Farleys with no success. Obviously their organo-freak flag still flies proudly in Arcata.

Anyway, this 1971-vintage item is off to the HSU Library's Humboldt Room, where it will be in good company with lots of similar cultural artifacts.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

TAM, Tyvek, and tent issues with Annabelle

I has the sads today, but it's an unjustified, self-pitying case thereof, only because I can't do absolutely everything and be everywhere I want to.

I'm not attending The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas this year, for various reasons – none of which is not wishing to do so. I'm good with the decision, but at the same time I'm looking at the pics of my dear skeptical pals yukking it up there, and I wish I was among them. I hadn't planned to attend TAM again until 2017, since next year at this time I'll be deep in the Sierras, but now I'm toying with the notion of nipping away from the hike for four or five days to hit next year's TAM... intriguing.

It's especially grievous in that this year may be the last one in which James "The Amazing" Randi will be present. He's such a sweet, brilliant fellow and the sharpest 80-something dude you will ever meet. The skeptical movement has its problems, but Randi represents the original idea of dispatching nonsense in a wry, intelligent and accessible fashion. Plus he made my glass of water disappear that time and it wasn't just amazing, but yeah, totally magic.

There's something vaguely primal about wishing to participate in your tribe's rituals, and feeling slightly diminished for not doing so and affirming one's status with the herd. But in the overall scheme of things, it's just a matter of entitled Little Lord Fauntleroy (me) not being able to do absolutely every little thing he wants to. So I have to stay in Arcata and have different fun, boo-hoo. Anyway, I think I need a break from the skeptical world... I'll get into that some other time.

Among the enjoyable tasks I had this week – not counting working on a delicious mini-scooplet for next week's paper, bwahaha – was cutting out the footprint for my tent. It's a Eureka Spitfire that I bought last year when I wasn't thinking about ultraight backpacking. But at two pounds, 12 ounces, it's kindalight and a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a new tent. 

I'd like to get one that uses the trekking poles I'll be bringing anyway, thus saving the weight of tent poles, like the one pound, 14 ounce Big Agnes Scout Plus UL2. But I still have to buy a backpack and sleeping system plus other newfangled items, so for now I'll stick with the Spitfire (even though I hate the annoying exclamation points all over the rain fly).
The Spitfire, with rain fly attached and Tyvek to be marked. 
Rather than shell out the $40 or so for a nylon ground sheet that weighs five ounces, I bought a sheet of Tyvek for $16 that weighs "nothing," plus some grommets, set up the Spitfire over it and drew an outline. This activity of course drew the interest of the cats, who had to conduct kitty investigations. Then when I got inside, of course Annabelle trundled over to hang out. Anyway, I have some Tyvek left over to make a hiking wallet. There are some cool designs and how-to's for that on YouTube. It's about as close as I'll ever get to bushcraft.

Annabelle tries out the tent as a hound house. 
I wound up with a 2.8 ounce tent footprint, so my whole shelter rig is under three pounds. I guess that's OK, but my pack's base weight is already up to 11 pounds even without a sleeping bag (or maybe a quilt). I'm finding that, just as the hardcore ultralighters preach, all the little ouncey items really are adding up to pounds, so what I'm doing is listing all the things that I'd like to bring on the equipment spreadsheet, whether I own them yet or not. Once I see the total weight, which will be too high, I'll start trimming away items based on cost/benefit, want/need. I see these hale and hardy 23-year-olds complaining about lugging weight and sending things home, so it's probably wise to err on the side of lightness.
The finished ground sheet/footprint. Hopefully it will protect the tent floor and help keep my sleeping pad from popping while I'm in the sharp and rocky desert. 

Two other things I wanted and needed are a couple of books. The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader, edited by Rees Hughes and Corey Lee Lewis, available at Northtown Books, $19.95. Looks like a delicious and inspiring read. I also ordered and will soon receive Yogi's PCT Handbook, $40 through Yogi's Books, which I understand is an essential planning resource.

Nine months and one week out, the PCT prep mission continues.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Well, this is new... again

I abandoned my Zappa blog what, six years ago? That was when I stopped doing my Zappa's Grubby Chamber show on KHUM.

My life has changed a lot since then, but it's still basically the same – working at the newspaper, enjoying Arcata and all my little hobbies and interests.

Though still fond of Frank and all who sail in him, I've added some fresh obsessions to occupy my brainpan. Rather than start a new blog to document them, it occurred to me that Crush All Boxes is not just good advice, but a suitable platform for other things 'n' stuff.

Miraculously, I was able to log right on and start cleaning up all the crap spam comments that have accumulated over the years. I'll be reformatting the blog too, but there's no big hurry.

My initial plan for this new/old blog is to talk about my preparation for next year's planned Pacific Crest Trail hike. I'm hiking from Campo at the Mexican border to Ashland, Ore. That's 1,726 miles over four months. It starts next April.

I'm incredibly fortunate to work at the Mad River Union, where my co-workers are letting me go away for this extended period and yet remain technically employed. Thanks, guys and gals.

As we all know, planning a trip can be as much fun as taking it, and since this one requires extensive and meticulous prep, it's quite absorbing. Even though it's roughly 10 months out, there's so much to do that I do feel a sense of urgency. Every day I try to do some little something.

I'll be sharing my plans, posing questions and once the hike starts, posting updates here. I'll also be sharing my imbecilic opinions on things, plus blurbettes about my hobbies and interests.

So, welcome back, me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Zappatude – September 11, 2009

This has nothing to do with the week's theme. I just like looking at it.

What I've noticed over my Frank Zappa-liking career is that the same things you and I adore about him are what normal people don't – that is, if they know anything about him at all other than his kids' funny names.

The sheer imagination and freedom of expression in Zappa music must overwhelm musical tastes calibrated to narrower bandwidth. The blistering, dissonant guitar, rhythmic complexity, weird textures, wacky topics and all that naughty, naughty talk.

At the core of Frank's formidable armamentarium of sounds and ideas is his attitude. That's what animates everything, from his most intoxicating guitar solo to his most caustic appraisal of human nature, it's the Zappatude that makes it all possible. It's what really closes the deal between Frank and his devotees.

It's doubtful though, that as close as we may feel to what he's saying during various moments of his music, any of us has really taken in the whole of Frank's vision. But when we get it, we really get it.

So that's what it'll be Friday night when I sit in for Scatch: songs laden with Frank Zappaness. Engorged, even.

I always feel compelled to start the show with something that Chas's blues audience can vibe with, so a good, attitudey song for that purpose will be "Nig Biz." Then something else, and something else... and whatever you request.

We'll foment Frankitude for the Sept. 11, 2009 Zen Through Zappa's Grubby Chamber.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

To Pretend That You Are Stoopid – June 12, 2009

A random relic from a foamcore promotional
display for Tinseltown Rebellion.


Frank, unlike those of his contemporaries who were also ultra-competent at their craft, never shied away from sheer, relatively unbridled stupidity. He embraced his inner dunce, parodied stupidity, celebrated and condemned it and – thankfully for us – leveraged it for massive musical reward.

I can't see Weather Report or Return To Forever ever lowering themselves to play "A Little Green Rosetta" or "No Not Now." Why would they, when they can be noodling at 392 miles per hour in 17/9? Only... Frank could do that too, and did, but he also obtained acute enjoyment factors from doing stupid music (I mean that in the best sense of the term).

Of course Frank never did anything genuinely stupid. He couldn't help himself. There's cleverness bombs riddled throughout his most retardated repertoire. Have you ever seen a simulated child's drawing in a TV commercial? Sorry, you can always tell an adult made it. The one element of his music Frank couldn't seem to control was resisting the temptation to imbue even the most dopey ditty with brainy fun.

Hats off, by the way, to Pat Metheny, who doesn't suffer from the "elite muso syndrome" that afflicts so many of his fellow hyper-advanced jazzmen. (Tsk tsk; it's such a tragedy to lose someone to Seriousness.) If you haven't heard "Forward March" off First Circle, all I can say is, it's really stupid and also Zappa-worthy, and that's the highest compliment of all in the musical kingdom. I'll play "Forward March" on the June 12 show.

And our world famous/infuriating Friends of Frank segment will also feature the dumb/dumber doings of the likes of Mike Keneally, Steve Vai, Russ Stedman and... wait for it... Frank Fucking Sinatra.

I swear to god, if there's any artist that annoys – no, offends me the most it's Old Blue Mouth. I'd gladly listen to Bobby Goldsboro's oeuvre over and over with low-voltage shocks being applied to my gen-pack for all eternity than listen to Artanis and his asinine croonings. I depise Sinatra and his "wine" voice more than anyone in show biz. Except maybe John Wayne and David Broder. But the Chairman of the Board fucked up big time on a b-side, and you're going to hear it. If you know the backstory, feel free to share once you hear this masterpiece. Again, that'll be during Friends of Frank in the second hour.

So that's the deal: Stupidity Supreme on the June 12 Zen Through Zappa's Grubby Chamber.