Friday, May 13, 2016

The dream is alive, if not exactly kicking anything for the time being


Dr. Shah looks inside my inflamed feet.

Other than the PCT hike turning into a huge flaming trainwreck, I've had fantastic luck over these past few weeks. Especially with people.

Now, being a big high and mighty skeptic and all, I know full well that with, say, coin flips, your odds of getting heads or tails are always exactly the same with each trial, regardless of any results up till then. Coins have no memory and "streaks" are illusory. They're just part of the human compulsion to find patterns and assign supernatural agency to random occurrences. 


But c'mon, how many superkind people are there in the world?  And yet... this morning's medical adventure continued the streak. One of the reasons I decided to stay in the Bay Area was to have access to world-class sports medicine facilities. Apparently that was a good call, because all indications are that excellent care was exactly what I just experienced.

I went to a big old (newish, that is) office building in Walnut Creek which houses the Center for Sports Medicine. The center has all the trappings of high-powered medicine – wide, carpeted halls, corporate art, high-tech machines and so on. As a proud American I am fully impressed by such externalities, but of course what really matters is the physician. 

Here again – boom, she turned out to be nothing short of awesome. HOW. DOES. THIS. HAPPEN?

What do you want from a doctor? Oh, maybe to have the person take their time, listen to you, answer your questions, speak from experience and yet consider your situation on its own merits, 
explain all the possibilities and then make recommendations. Laughing at your dumb jokes is kinda nice, too. 


Meet Dr. Selina Shah. She did all that. First she let me describe my maniacal PCT aspirations, the tedious tale of what brought me hobbling to her doorstep, and what I'd like to do (resume hiking). Then she did an ultrasound on my messed-up feet, showing me the inflamed areas and confirming my tentative self-diagnosis of Plantar Fasciitis. 



Those horizontal black bands along the bottom and middle are the inflamed areas.

I have two issues – the PF and the external injuries from the initially ill-fitting shoes and insoles. The good news is that the hitherto hideous surface areas are on the mend. The sore spots are healing, and the nurse both dressed my feet and gave me a ton of hi-tech bandages to apply in days to come.

But the PF is the main problem. The severity has seemed to alternate between the feet, but at this point, the left one seems most afflicted. The ultrasound showed dark bands of inflammation remaining, and I can only imagine what they would have looked like a week ago – probably like a Spinal Tap album cover

The good news is that there isn't any torn tissue. It's just inflamed. And Dr. Shah confirmed my speculation that gobbling so much pain-suppressing Ibuprofen as I did might well have allowed me to continue hiking past the point where I should have stopped. But she said that I was wise to halt the hike when I did, as I was indeed headed for more debilitating injuries.


#unclearontheconceptbutthat'sOK
She prescribed turmeric infusions, coffee bean extract supplements, Himalayan salt poultices, and homeopathic tinctures with complimentary crystal energy healing sessions. It turns out my chakras just need encouragement. That all seems kind of odd, but... yeah, just kidding! This isn't Arcata.  

What's next is home therapy with frozen water bottles and stretches, a night brace, twice-weekly physical therapy, a follow-up visit June 1 to track recovery progress, and – yes! – some moderate practice hikes. 

There was one funny quirk, of course. There always is. After they bandaged up my feet again, I was given a pile of supplies and the big foot braces for nighttime. I asked if they had a discreet bag of some sort so that I wouldn't be advertising my infirmities to innocent passersby all over Walnut Creek. Well, they brought me a bag, all right, and wow, is it stealthy!

Bottom line, if I do everything right and the feet cooperate, I could very well be back on trail this time next month. I sure hope that happens, because I need to honor all those who placed their faith in me and donated to my hike and the charities, and earn more per-mile pledges for the worthy causes. 


Plus, I had just acquired a taste for the sheer beauty, the physical exertion, the intensity of feelings and sharpened perceptions, the joy of problem solving and of course, those sweet, sweet hiker boys and girls (of all ages) who I met during my Campo-to-Julian foray. I just want to be able to hike without foot agony eclipsing all else. And if the timing works, I'll be able to re-meet many of the great folks I encountered during that all-too-brief interval

So, thanks to your encouragement and advice, plus the crucial and timely assistance of several people whom I need to thank personally in the next post, plus of course my new medical mentor Dr. Shah and her excellent staff at the Center for Sports Medicine, the dream is alive.


According to experts, there's life in these pups yet.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Magic and frustration on the Pacific Crest Trail

All systems have been go – attitude, gear, stamina, knees, back... but not my feet.

I write this from Julian, Calif. where I’m stuck for a few days with what appears to be Plantar Fasciitis. It’s rather agonizing to be off trail, luxuriating in a nice, touristy hotel room when my every instinct screams to be back on the rocky, rocking footpath to Ashland. These problems aren’t uncommon among hikers, especially during the first few weeks. So I’m sentenced to live in trail town luxury for a few days as I work through the foot issues.
So Called Thoughts
The first week-and-a-half of my Pacific Crest Trail hike has mixed pain, pleasure, tedium, fascination and overall I-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-doing-thisness. The trail is never the same from day to day, and it’s all fun.

If you are going to commit to being out in the wild for months, the PCT is a great choice. Just in Section A, from the Mexican border to here, you’ll experience a stunning variety of climes and hiking conditions. I’ve crossed streams, clambered over logs and boulders, walked through canyons and valleys, across rocky desert, dense forest, arduous mountains and gusty passes, all filled with stunning sights to behold. Yet you’re never too far from a friendly, resource-rich trail town to rest (and shower) your bones. For the first time in my life, I’ve hitchhiked to get to and from the trail. For me, that’s pretty edgy.

Since I lack any desert background, until now I’ve not fully appreciated what I might know intellectually about this complex, bountiful ecosystem.

Lizards bask on rocks, scampering away as you pass. Squirrels and jackrabbits give you the eye and scurry off. Shiny black beetles lumber about on their business. Unseen birds sing exotic songs we never hear in Arcata. Cacti and chaparral make wicked, wonderful sculptural statements. Toxic, weed-like Poodle Dog Bush invites the unwary to have their skin erupt and boil off. Rock formations assume shapes no human could ever imagine, embellished with rich and detailed colors no painter could ever paint. It’s waaaay beyond anything Disney might contrive, but all real and free for the immersing.
Colors unretouched. Sights like this are commonplace along the trail. 

Thrusting rock is lined with sedimentary strata laid down over eons, but the stripes are vertical because subsequent eons have upended that ancient lake bed and made it into a mountaintop. The rock seems so solid and changeless, yet you know it is always in motion and, over time, just more fleeting ephemera like yourself. Still, wading through these building-sized wonders, you really “get” the scale of geologic time compared to our flickering lifespans.

One can’t resist taking pictures of the many jaw-dropping sights and delights along the way, but if you break out the camera to capture every worthy image, you’ll never get anywhere, so you just have to let a lot of it go.

The PCT culture offers another set of surprises. My first day on the trail, I met Randy and Deb. They turned out to be friends with none other than Rees Hughes, co-author of the Pacific Trailside Reader and volunteer trail steward. Later, when I got to my first campsite that night, I was greeted with a friendly, “Hi, Kevin!” It was Randy and Deb, already set up for the night. 
The first night's campsite, with Miriam and David.

Later, a young couple named David and Miriam showed up and shared the campsite. Miriam was having foot problems, and soon, so would I. They said they’d followed me up the mountainside, saying “There’s Umbrella Guy” again and again.

My first trail magic came the next morning in the form of two big jugs of water left at Hauser Creek, right before the hot, hard climb up to Morena Butte. That really helped my water margin. Funny, you’d never drink anything found sitting on a sidewalk in Arcata. But two anonymous Sprite bottles full of plain old water in the middle of nowhere, and you’re a-guzzlin’.

There was more magic down the road at Boulder Oaks campground. As previously noted, every other hiker is an instant friend and ally out in the middle of nowhere. Everyone shares, and there’s a lot to share.

Just as I was getting ready to rehydrate some mashed potatoes that night, this nice guy named Steve showed up with four pizzas, cookies, sodas and chilled apples for the PCT hikers there. I, Phillip and Isabel from Montreal and Alex from Napa dined royally.
Later, just as I was dropping my $14 park fee off at the kiosk, a woman a ways behind me said, “Sir? Sir?”

It was Ettie, here with Ethan by way of Arizona. And she had yet more pizza offered by yet a different trail angel – “some lady” –  right when I was getting the hungries again! Yes, I actually had a free pizza delivery while walking past my tent in the woods.
TRAIL PIZZA! Ettie delivers. KLH | Union
TRAIL PIZZA! Ettie delivers. KLH | Union
The next morning, a guy named Legend showed up in his fanciful cook truck to makes us all M&M pancakes and hot coffee. The trail love was truly felt.

Other than campgrounds, I’ve tented at several remote trailside removes. Available tent spots tend to fill up late in the afternoon and evening as hikers, some gasping and wheezing with exhaustion, straggle into camp. Some just throw up their tent and zonk out; others chat and socialize into the evening.

In Mt. Laguna, I ran into David and Miriam. They said they missed me, aww. She’d found some better-fitting shoes in a hiker box and was sending her old ones home (which I should have done). While visiting outside the store, I left a small box of groceries unattended for a few minutes, and when I got back David had stashed two PBRs in it. Some people ...

A few hiking days later, when the feet again got too painful (and probably unwise) to ignore, I found a road and held up my “HIKER TO TOWN” scarf. After a half hour, along came Zach (trail name Astro). A PCT thru-hiker himself, he’d actually intended to stop at a picnic area and chat with some of this year’s “trail trash.” Instead, he saw me and pulled over. “I’m trying to get to Julian,” I said. “Let’s go!” he said, and drove me right to the hotel here. Then I think he gave another hiker a ride out to the trailhead.

So for now, I’m unplugged from the trail life I’ve just been learning to savor –  laid up in Julian, nursing tootsies with what appears to be Plantar Fasciitis. If that sounds like some freaky form of foot fascism, well it is. It’s immobilizing, and you just have to wait it out. Stewing and moping seem fairly mandatory, and I’m great at that. But at least there’s beer. I wish the nurse at the local clinic had been on duty today to verify my diagnosis and offer advice.

While I literally cool my heels for a few days, I’ll get new shoes in nearby Ramona; something I should have done in Mt. Laguna. (Later note: none of that happened.) My plan is to hitch back out to the Sunrise Trailhead or Scissors Crossing after my doctor visit on Monday and unless I’m advised otherwise, hit the trail again, hopefully with fortified feet and lessons learned. (Note: None of that happened either, except the lessons learned.)  Meanwhile, I’m learning the intricacies of foot taping. It really helps.

It’s frustrating to be waylaid like this, but from what I’m told, it’s all within the range of mini-adventures people commonly experience on this living ribbon of rock and soil, sand and sunshine we know as the Pacific Crest Trail.

Week one reveals the PCT's pleasures and pains

North of Lake Morena. Photo by some guy. 

Day 8, May 3, 2016

Week 1 has been everything a PCT hike is supposed to be. All boxes are checked - ups, downs, exhilaration, tedium, trail magic, incredible views of scenery and wildlife, instant friendships, challenges, problem solving, potential showstopper issues in whose whose dour face I laugh in defiance... in short, adventure. I expected the unexpected, and my expectations have been fulfilled.

Some assumptions have borne out. It's true what they say about trail camaraderie. Everyone is so friendly, and there is a lot of mutual support in terms of sharing of information food and water sharing. I think the reason is that all of us out here have the same basic needs: water, cool campsites and other resources. There's no pretense, just the joy of discovery. Who are you? Where are you from? What's your goal? What are your issues?

It's also true that the trail clarifies one's priorities, and I already have learned a lot. Among the lessons: I wasn't careful enough packing. Why do I have six pens, a tape measure, a book I'm too tired to focus on at the end of the day and other weighty nonsense? All that and more redundant oddments totaling five pounds of dead weight are being sent home from Mt. Laguna.  Apparently this is quite common, and the hiker boxes here in town are loaded with prime but superfluous gear people have sluffed off.

My gear works great. The pack handles like a champ. And even my hokey front pack (which I think of as my toy box) turned out to be a good idea. My umbrella is one of my favorite bits of gear, and miraculously, it mounts fuss-free in my pack strap and definitely helps lower the temperature 10 to 15 degrees.

My trekking poles are also invaluable. I have weak ankles, and am very concerned about rolling one on irregularly surfaced trail. The poles help take weight off the feet; they help me climb steep stretches and lower myself big steps in the trail; and they help arrest slides when one is walking over gravelly or otherwise slippery spots.

The Enlightened Equipment quilt, Thermarest pad and Big Agnes tent all make for very snug, comfortable nights. My no-cook approach also worked out well. There's no way I'd want to fuss with cooking and cleaning after a day on the trail, at least during this shakedown phase. My lukewarm mashed potato and soup concoctions taste just fab, but then so do the nice sandwiches in towns.

I'm figuring out how to quickly set up camp and transition to evening activity, and how to pack up and head out in the morning. So far I'm staying in established campsites or campgrounds. Others I've met prefer to find wilder spots off trail.

I've also learned that fatigue isn't going to be a problem, nor fortunately, will my knees, back or shoulders. Others have had trouble in those areas.

I can handle heat pretty well, and long stretches of elevation gain are just a matter of pacing and persistence. The PCT is really a series of day hikes, and each day might be thought of as a succession of micro-hikes. That hot climb out of Hauser Creek was where I learned to go a few hundred feet, rest, drink water and resume, and then get to the top in good shape.

The sole (pun intended) limiting factor on my mileage, stamina and enjoyment has been my feet. It turns out that for all my planning, I neglected to put decent insoles in my Merrill Moabs for this initial stretch. The ones that come with the shoes, it turns out, are paper-thin and have been transmitting the full shock of each step right into the soles of my feet. I was wondering why I felt every sharp rock right through the soles.

It got pretty bad yesterday as I approached Mt. Laguna. Each footfall was a painful jolt, and I had this fleeting vision of my feet as masses of shredded roast beef at the end of shards of bone. I was glad to get a room at the Mt. Laguna Lodge, then head down to Laguna Mountain Sports for foot care items.

What a trippy store. Imagine talking all of Pacific Outfitters' inventory and cramming it into a shop about the size of the Union's office. You literally have to bushwhack through floor-to-ceiling forests of hiking clothes, tents, sleeping bags and other gear. Somehow Mountain Dave packs every conceivable piece of gear and gizmos into that tiny place. There were lots of things I've never seen before, even at REI. It reminds me of some of the crazy-overstuffed knick-knack shops in Malaysia. Matt there was wonderfully helpful, very kind.

Back at the room, I tended to my hammered, hamburgered feet. I won't show you the pictures, because they're gross. Blisters, dead skin, purple toes, oozing... Almost as bad as Cheryl's feet were in that movie. And yes, like her I had contrived some primitive field dressing using Gorilla (duct) tape and gauze just to get me to town.

But now I have the real stuff. Some supposedly high-tech, shock-absorbing insoles, plus leukotape and more moleskins. So I can properly armor up for the next leg of the journey.

Still, as of last night, I was in no condition to continue the hike. My feet were swollen, bleeding and throbbing. I could barely walk at all, and could only hobble around the room by walking on the sides of my feet. Not good when you have almost 1,700 miles to go. By the end of the night, I couldn't even lower my swollen right foot to the floor without it feeling like it might explode. I had to keep it elevated, wrapped in a wet towel.

Overnight, it was hard to find a sleeping position since my feet were so sensitive. In a funny way though, I could feel them healing. My sore heels were tingling, almost buzzing, and I took that to mean the restorative processes were underway.

When I woke up this morning, I could once again walk - gingerly - on the edges of my feet. After several steps, I could plant my foot firmly on the floor. Now, in the afternoon, I can walk almost normally and mostly without pain. In fact, I probably could have left today, and all my impulses were to do so even though I knew it would be premature. I was waffling because I really want to get to Julian, the next town stop.

Then I read this incredibly timely post by Carmen McNerny on the PCT Class of 2016 page. She runs Carmen's Place, a Mexican restaurant in Julian, a place much-beloved by hikers:

"Well, crap. Been a tough couple of days at mile 77. Some pretty rough injuries. Two that are bad enough to take them off trail. Breaks my heart. I'm sure not a fraction of what they are feeling. All those months (if not years) of planning and saving to attempt a monumental journey. To have it all end so close to the beginning due to an injury. Injuries that could have been avoided.
"I have seen quite a few that have left because the mental toughness is not there. Cool. It's not for everyone. But to have to leave because your body says no must be so devastating.
"I am by no means a long distance hiker, but I've talked to many over the years. May I hand out advice?
"The 1st week or two are brutal. Your body is adjusting. The weight you are carrying, the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, back and your sad little feet. By the time you see me you've already figured out that your tent, shoes and pack suck.
"Please be kind to yourself. IT IS NOT A DAMN RACE!!!! LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!!! Take it at your own pace, love. Don't feel like you need to prove you can keep up with the pack. Persistent pain should NOT be ignored. Take a day or two now or 8 days later in a hotel you can't afford.
"Or of course the worse... leaving the trail all together because you felt like you had to "push on." There is so much pressure... especially at the beginning. Relax, enjoy the ride. That's what you're here for, right? Don't push it, kittens..."

That was all I needed to make the responsible decision to spend the $60 and stay another day in Mt. Laguna, letting my feet heal. I must admit that after a week on trail, I'm enjoying watching cable TV news about the fine lunatics vying for the presidency. That's only gotten worse it seems.

The trail has really worked with me over this past week. There was an initial elevation test for a taste of things to come, then a series of well-defined campsites, water resources and resupply townlets.

I read somewhere that when pack trains used to resupply at Brizard's before heading out for the gold mines in the Sierras, they would stop at Alliance and Spear to rejigger everything - shift loads around among the animals and make other adjustments needed   after that first couple miles. That's how I'm thinking of this pause in Mt. Laguna - a place to drop 5 lbs., smarten my setup and relaunch.

The plan is to be all packed up and set off around dawn tomorrow. With water resources ahead somewhat sparse and funky, I plans to carry five liters. If my feet start to hurt, I can pull off after just five miles at Mt. Laguna Campground, which has full facilities. Or I could keep going and camp somewhere else along the trail, maybe Oriflamme Canyon 12 miles up the road if I have truly regained my trail legs (feet). Fortunately it looks like a relatively gentle amble to Julian.

My medium-term goal is to continue trail acclimation and start achieving better mileage each day. But at the same time, there is so much to savor in terms of sights and smells, people and places that I'm perfectly happy going slow for now. Eventually I'll hit a working stride and whatever that turns out to be will be fine. Feets, don't fail me now!

That went ridiculously well, and April 26 is rushing up quickly

These final days before the hike are a merry maelstrom of proportion, panic and – at least it didn't happen a week from now – getting over a horrible headcold.

Week before last I had, as Dave Letterman used to say, more fun than humans should be allowed to have. Honestly, everything has been swinging my way to such a ridiculous extent lately that I feel kind of guilty, even nervous about it. I also feel kind of funny taking up so much space talking about my stupid life, but people tell me they like reading these updates, those who may not don’t have to read them, and I leave town for four months on April 20 anyway, so all this shameless self-promotion will cease then.


It’s as though everything I love the most about Arcata is intensifying. The Ridge Trail is getting better and better; we’re finally – finally! – seeing sanity insofar as cannabis policy, with new above-board facilities being established after all this time; Arcata Main Street has gotten serious, and seems poised to fulfill its downtown mission; and so much more. I'm going to miss out on the Humboldt Crabs season, all the fairs and countless canap├ęs at all the mixers. I won't get to camp on the roof of Jacoby/s Storehouse for the North Country Fair, and I'll miss the Mad River Festival at Delll'Arte. After all these years, my metabolism is basically synchronized with these yearly events.



Dysfunctional, frustrating Arcata has never been more vibrant and engaging. Joni said we don’t know what we got till it’s gone, and I do wonder which of our awesome town’s amenities I’ll miss the most. Probably Brent yelling at me about “fraudulent mediaaaa... bleargh yammer yammer.” Or not.

I was so pleased that we got to put out an Arcata Eye for April Fool. Making an Eye again was an absolute blast. I had kind of forgotten that paper’s design logic, having been laying out Union pages for the last two-and-a-half years. But once I got back into it, it was like riding a bike.


Interestingly, and while lots of folks said they were glad to see the Eye again, there was one common reaction to its re-emergence that I hadn’t anticipated – routine acceptance. Several folks enjoyed the funny stories without initially noticing that it was all packaged as an Arcata Eye. Even a few weeks before the faux edition came out, City Engineer Doby Class referred to the Union as the Eye at a City Council meeting. That paper did serve Arcata every week for 17 years, so I guess it’s inculcated into our mindset to some extent.

Homework passes on his backpacking lore.

Plus, as usual with April Fool and to my mischevous delight, some people believed – briefly – some of the stories; for example the Tunic Town takeover and the Cabin on the Plaza pieces. And of course, it wouldn't be an Arcata Eye without a stupid typo in one of the stories. So that that was fun.

The next major fun last week was attending my new friend and fellow Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hiker Trevor Homework McKee’s Wednesday night rig rundown at Humboldt State. Homework embodies all the best values of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) culture in terms of friendliness, plus sharing of information and experience. He and his friend Heather Briggs revealed their backpack contents and differing approaches. I learned a lot of things, and made some key revisions to my hiking setup.

Maureen McGarry explains RSVP/VCOR.

Then Thursday, my sendoff event at Hotel Arcata went well. I showed off my hiking gear, talked and answered questions; dentist Dr. Robert Berg spoke about the Children’s Dental Angel Fund; Maureen McGarry discussed RSVP/VCOR; Mark Andre talked about Arcata’s trails; Rees Hughes gave a fantastic overview of the PCT and Volunteer Trail Stewards; Homework talked about the PCT and his trail outreach (he’s hiking the Continental Divide Trail in a few weeks!); and then Glenn Branch of the Center for Science Education gave us a great talk about climate change denial. What a night.

Friday evening was the Companion Animal Foundation’s Fixer Mixer (see page A2), and there I learned how delicious lettuce wraps are.
Ian Harris and Joey Fabian meet part of their local fan base, a
pizza-engorged subset of the Humboldt Skeptics.

Just when I was nearly maxed out on good times, I met with my fellow statistical outliers, the Humboldt Skeptics at the Jam. There we noshed on excellent GMO-free pizza before proceeding over to the Arcata Playhouse.
There, in a well-attended show, I beheld the brilliant musical stylings of Joey Fabian, skeptical musician and fellow Frank Zappa fan. He did a fantastic version of “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” and closed with “It Ain’t Necesssarily So.”


Ian Harris.
 Local comic Kim Hodges followed with her unsparing appraisals of the colorful personnel one encounters in Arcata, saying the things you can only say in a comedy routine. Then comedian Ian Harris had everyone rolling in the aisles with his insights into popular culture and misapprehensions about science. You have to see his bit on that useless Airborne immune-boosting garbage; it’s absolutely hilarious.
Joey Fabian performs Frank Zappa's
"The Meek  Shall Inherit Nothing."
Says Joey: That's an Eb major chord,
so the sound coming out of my mouth
was either "what it's worth, when
it," or "really wrong, if you,"
 "hair  is all gone, the" or "friendly but,
that" or "leave a little tip, and help the..."


What else seems to be intensifying is Arcata’s mad social whirl. I’ve been literally gorging on all the amenities this town has to offer, since it is all to end for me very soon. On April 26, I start out on my 1,726-mile walk. No more mixers, no more catered spreads, no more of the privileges Arcata has bestowed on me. For four months I’ll be in the land of rattlesnakes, mountain lions and kind folks like Homework.


My food resupply boxes are just about ready, and other final details are nearly wrapped up. What I have to do now is close out several work projects and then hit the road, then the trail. 


Meanwhile, consider supporting the great charities for which I’m hiking. You can tax-deductibly donate directly to the PCT at razoo.com/story/kev-s-pct-hike, or to the Arcata Ridge Trail and Children’s Dental Angel Fund at hafoundation.org. 
Charity donations are tax deductible, or send any donation via me. Make checks payable to Pacific Crest Trail Ass’n, Arcata Forest Fund or the Children’s Dental Angel Fund. If you have questions, contact me at (707) 826-7000 or news@madriverunion.com.

One last thing. Various people have told me how admirable this is or I am. Thank you, but I assure you, I’m not worthy. Two things: 


1. I haven’t done anything yet but prepare for this hike. 


2. I would direct any admiration to others in our community who are far more worthy. If you want to acknowledge my effort, here’s how: be extra kind to the woman who puts in eight hours per day at CVS, or who cleans rooms in the Valley West motels, supporting her family. Or send some appreciation to the smart folks at City Hall who keep our sewage system working and drinking water flowing. Or the firefighters and police officers who put themselves on the line at all hours to head directly into difficult and dangerous situations. Or the social workers who daily deal with tragic, emotionally wrenching situations involving families and children ... and many, many more. Those are the folks who deserve adulation. Me, I’m just walking around, or will be.


Thanks again for all your support, everyone. After April 26, you’ll next see me on YouTube and other e-media, from a place far, far away.

Outta here

Thirty-five hours from now I leave Arcata for four months. It's odd knowing that one's life is going to radically, profoundly change in almost every way. Most of the daily challenges, anxieties and pleasures in Arcata will be replaced by all new ones, many of which I've never experienced, in places I've never been. 
I guess every adventure includes problem solving and resilience, and all the issues I can anticipate are fully navigable. Seriously, this is not going too be easy, but neither is it a Lewis & Clark expedition. I have the near-best equipment available, know how to use it, well know the route and all the waypoints, including many fine restaurants. It's what I don't know that will provide the excitement.
But the way I figure it, I consume and process so much media every day on appliances that I won't have with me on the trail, that I'll have to amuse myself playing wth the phone, blogging and compiling all the raw video I'll be taking into various productions. I have a long list of episode ideas I could make for my YouTube channel, requiring hours of processing. Or I may be too knackered to lift a finger once I lay down, at least at first.  
I don't have any illusions that I will produce any original or even interesting media on the PCT, as there are so many captivating bloggers and YouTubers already – in fact, they were my inspiration. (Them, Dirk Rabdau, Suzanne Bones Stafford, Rees Hughes and Trevor Homework McKee, that is.) 
However, several dozen people at this point have either sent in or personally handed me donations while saying, "I'm going to follow your progress," or, "I've always wanted to do this and am going to enjoy this vicariously through you," that I consider the documentation of my journey for my friends fairly mandatory.  
Some of the PCT aspirants complain that their friends and associates tell them they're crazy, or disparage their dream. I've had the opposite – massive backing and encouragement. And astounding strokes of OK, not luck because after all I'm such a mighty skeptic. But good fortune, made possible by good people whose indulgence I must repay with my eccentric drivel that they unaccountably express interest in.
OK, gotta carefully pack my backpack for the last time in Arcata. Tomorrow is going to be insane, then Wednesday a.m. it's bye bye Arcata for a third of a year – the longest I've ever been away.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Miraculous hot sauce packets pretty much encapsulate this whole project



I’ve never bought a lottery ticket, but I sure should have last week. I’ve gotten so much support, some lucky breaks and one outright miracle in preparing for my Pacific Crest Trail hike, which starts 27 days from now.

There was a point at which I’d decided just to do the hike without any big hoopla. But then I realized that there was no way I wasn’t going to share my experiences, so I may as well set up available media – YouTube, my blog, Instagram and all that rot – for trail access. That’s because in a  way, it doesn’t seem like something has really happened until I’ve told someone about it.

When I announced that I was going on this walk across California the long way, folks began asking how they could help so I needed to establish ways for them to do so. Thinking that through, I realized that there was ambient support to be had, and that some of it could be diverted via the per-mile pledge route to some causes that are special to me. At that point, we were off and running.

A lot of difficult prep issues have resolved themselves, or more accurately, been resolved through the generosity of many folks in the 
community.

Things seemed to really get going when I picked an interim trail name. Apparently people can name you based on some spurious fragment of verbiage, or you can sort of defensively pick a name out so you won’t be named Raccoon Sandwich or something. I thought and thought about it, then as usual it came to me at the periphery of my consciousness. I’ve always felt like I was in a spiral of one kind or another.

One of the current ones is that all three of my Mac computers are old, obsolete and basically dying. So I spend a lot of time looking at the spinning beach ball o’ doom – another spiral. So there it is, then. If you see me on the PCT, just call me Spiral.

Spiraling upward are the donations, to the charities and to my trail expense fund, and the validation that comes with that. The cash contributions have been forwarded to the beneficiaries, and we still more in per-mile pledges.

Going away for four months is no small project. In several cases, major challenges were resolved almost as if by magic. At risk of not listing everyone and everything, here are some key contributions:

First, my old friend, Arcata Union Sports Editor Dirk Rabdau, sent me the food-protecting bear canister he used on his PCT hike a few years back. It was full of goodies and some very wry letters of advice. His wisdom and experience on numerous planning points have been invaluable, and the bear can saves me a chunk of change.

Then, Aaron Ostrom of Pacific Outfitters kicked down an incredibly sweet tent, a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. It’s lighter, tougher, more thought-out and PCT-friendly than my good old, old-school Eureka tent. Another great break.
Aaron Ostron of Pacific Outfitters, me and my new Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent.

Four months’ worth of food is a daunting expense, but Aaron Gottschalk and Amber Madrone (and of course our friend Mr. Ricord) of Wildberries Marketplace came through with a major load of trail mix, dehydrated grub and other delicacies.

Routes to the PCT trailhead at the Mexican border are pretty well established, but complicated and inefficient time-wise. I was fully prepared to navigate all the trains and bus stations at all hours to get there, but it was not to be. One of my friends in SoCal, Scott Chatfield, has pretty much demanded that I let him transport me to the Southern Terminus, arriving right at dawn! (That will allow me several miles of hiking before the desert temps rise and require me to stop and take shade for a few hours.) Getting there at sunrise requires leaving Chatfield Manor (as Mike Keneally calls it) at 4 a.m. or something, and commits Scott to a massive drive, but his calculation is this: “It might be wretched and shitty, but it might be fun!” Well, that’s the kind of reasoning that has basically guided my whole life, so why change now?

Thanks, Dirk, Aaron, Aaron, Amber, Phil, Scott and everyone else who’s kicked in one thing or another.

The warm and welcoming PCT hiking community has been embracing my little effort, with folks I don’t even know, who have a lot more experience, coming my way. A kind fellow whose trail name is Homework came to the office to interview me for the Sounds of the Trailpodcast. That was fun, though I’m not at all confident that my naive insights into trail life will hold up over time.

Oh, about that miracle.

With so many major milestones accomplished, there is still a small army of niggling details that are proving elusive to the end. One was hot sauce packets.

I’ll be able to buy tortillas and string cheese in towns along the way. They will be viable for a few days on the trail, making possible rehydrated bean burrritos. But no one wants a bland burrito. I didn’t get pro enough to dehydrate this year, and sauce packets aren’t easy to come by in the quantities I would need – not a lot, but more than I’d feel comfortable nicking from Taco Bell. I was resigned to carrying a tube of hot sauce; yet another fussy thing to keep track of and manage.

If I told you, “I’m just going to go walk around Arcata until I find a bunch of hot sauce packets on the ground,” you’d doubtless think me daft! The odds of a saucy groundscore are simply impossible. And yet, that’s just what happened.

The ultimate groundscore!

No, I didn’t go out looking for such  a thing, because who would? But as I was power-walking around Sunny Brae one dusky eve, what did I happen upon? A FREE box containing – seriously, this is all but impossible – two bulging Ziploc bags loaded with trail-ready hot sauce packets. And in two flavors – extra-hot and Sriracha!

Now that’s a Christmas miracle, or at least it feels like one. Thanks, cosmos at large. I went back and left a couple of Finnish Country Sauna tub tickets for the person who had set out the sauce.

This week’s grand effort is to finalize all the resupply boxes. There will be 14 in all, as I am going with the hybrid approach of pre-mailed items and buying things in trail towns. I still need contributions, and if you’d like to help with any food or equipment, contact me and I’ll tell you what and where to send it.

This is a huge week for the hike in terms of events.

Wednesday, March 30, Abruzzi is generously donating 10 percent of its net proceeds to hike support. Hopefully I’ll see you there.



Thursday night, March 31 at 6 p.m. is my sendoff event in the Hotel Arcata’s Banquet Room, with pizza provided by The Jam (thanks, Pete Ciotti!). There, as the ad on page C6 notes, check out my awesome PCT hike rig, then talk trails and more with Mark Lovelace, Sunny Brae Forest pioneer; Mark Andre, Arcata Environmental Services director; Rees Hughes, author of the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader and Volunteer Trail Steward; Robert Berg, DDS, chair of the Children’s Dental Angel Fund; and Maureen McGarry, director of RSVP/VCOR. Hope to see you there, too.

Here’s still another serendipitous bonus: Glenn Branch, deputy director, National Center for Science Education, will be in town. He contacted the Humboldt Skeptics about giving a science talk March 31. Since I had the Hotel Arcata venue already booked for the hike sendoff, we just tacked his talk onto that. So, at 7:30 p.m., Glenn will discuss doubt and denial about climate change and how it affects science education.

All this mad whirlwind of events will, within a matter of days, result in my delivery to the Mexican border south of Campo, Calif. At that point, my life’s goals will be reduced to putting one foot in front of the other, staying healthy and making my way to Ashland while communicating the adventure to those wishing to follow it.

Here we go...

Friday, February 26, 2016

60 Days Out

At long last the hike planning is nearing completion. Just in time, too, since I hit the trail in 60 short days.
So much has been happening behind the scenes. I'm simultaneously planning my itinerary, acquiring gear, managing the many donations (thank you), doing test hikes of various kinds and participating in the many online fora for PCT hikers.
That and trying to keep up with my work duties. It's a heady and affirming time.
The things I hear most:
• "Are you hiking alone?"
Yes and no. While I'm setting off on my own, I read that many of not most hikers do hook up with others of similar pace and sensibilities for a time.
Also, since I've starting out at the Mexican border April 26, there will be hundreds of people behind me who are leaving in the ensuing days. Most of them are younger and probably faster than I will be, so some will be overtaking me. It's kind of good to know that if I get into some sort of situation on the trail, there will be others coming along before very long.
So I'm guessing I'll enjoy a nice mix of solitude and camaraderie.
Check here to see the Mexican Border Availability for April and May. I'm deeply embedded in "the bubble," just as I'd planned to be.
• "Have you seen/did you read Wild?"
Yes and no. The movie was OK, kind of Hollywoody and not super-useful for trail planning. I may or may not get to the book before I leave. Anyway, it doesn't have a lot to do with my approach, which involves significantly less heroin, nor did I decide to go on this hike because of Wild.
• "I'm really looking forward to reading your dispatches from the trail!"
And I am looking forward to writing them. And shooting and editing them.
Being an expressive creature, I do plan to describe the journey in blog posts here, on Facebook, in the Mad River Union and on YouTube. And Twitter, if I can ever get myself into the habit of using it.
In fact, January and February have been consumed with, among myriad other details and arrangements, acquiring and testing out the iPhone apps I'm going to use to transit my multimedia blurts.
March is going to be about proving the media setup and getting into the swing of frequent postings, beginning with some of my test/training hikes. Also, packing up the food resupply boxes and preparing them for mailing.
And, it will also be about my big sendoff event, Trails With Teeth, that takes place Thursday, March 31 in the Plaza View Room. More on that soon. One thing you'll be able to do there is personally scrutinize the contents of my pack and give me wonderful advice.
Here are links to both my (never quite finished, always evolving) gear list and itinerary. This is what I've been spending so much time on lately. I'm extremely interested in any thoughts you may have!
Meanwhile, Below is the newest hike ad running in the Union.
I'm deeply gratified to report that as of this writing, we've raised $2,985.95 for the three charities! Thankyouthankyouthankyou... And checks and pledges are still rolling in.
The hike has also gained astounding backing from local businesses. Acknowledgement on all that is imminent as well.
There are Union stories in the works on both RSVP/VCOR and the Children's Dental Angel Fund, which I'll link to here once they're published.
That's it for now. E-mail me with any questions. Expect a torrent of dispatches in the March run-up to my departure. And thanks for reading!