“The Fool Who Persists…”

•September 1, 2010 • 1 Comment

“…in his folly will become wise.” -Blake

Late in the day there is only breath and the functions necessary to move forward and avoid sharp rocks. The longer I am out here the more I realize how fundamentally misguided our world-view has become. Language and differentiation, or perhaps merely the instincts of survival, have blinded us. Watts knows: “We have attained a view of the world and a type of sanity which is dried -out like a rusty beer can on the beach. It is a world of objects, of nothing-buts…”

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A spring cub skidding to a stop around a blind manzanita slope, straddling a big green rattlesnake after nearly stepping on him, watching fire helicopters circle the Belden fire,  scaring a bear larger than me into a tree 15 feet away by my presence, sleeping on the metal deck of a fire lookout atop the Sierra Buttes –these have been some of the exciting points during the long beautiful days in which I have met a range of people; from three round ladies who had blessed America to death with their apparel, to a 75 year old who goes by the name Tarp Man, to an Iraq war veteran bow hunting deer.

“Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance.”

“Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”

–Erwin Schrodinger

The golden setting sun has spruced each needle, Mt. Shasta glows purple, and I am nearly out of the long glorious state of California.

Muir Woods Words

•August 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“How much I enjoyed this excursion, or indeed any excursion in the wilderness, I am not able to tell..”  -John Muir

This is where the narrative breaks down–too many miles walked through golden dusks and purple twilights, each day so alike yet bursting with unique wonders and encounters–the feel of dense deep blue flowers on open palms, romping bears, the views of rock and ridge…

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Impossible to fully impart, so I will simply quote a man who probably spent more time in the California mountains than anyone before or after and who says it so well– John Muir:

“Come into the woods, for here is rest.  There is no repose like that of the green deep woods…  Sleep in the forgetfulness of all ill.  Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.”

“How boundless the day seems as we revel in these storm-beaten sky gardens amid so vast a congregation of onlooking mountains”

“The radiance in some places is so great as to be fairly dazzling, keen lance rays of every color flashing, sparkling in glorious abundance, joining the plants in their fine brave beauty-work…Toward sunset, enjoyed a fine run to camp enjoying wild excitement and excess of strength, and so ends a day that will never end.”

“Indeed some of the days I have spent alone in the depths of the wilderness have shown me that immortal life beyond the grave is not essential to perfect happiness, for these diverse days were so complete there was no sense of time in them, they had no definite beginning or ending, and formed a kind of terrestrial immortality.  After days like these we are ready for any fate–pain, grief, death, or oblivion–with grateful heart for the glorious gift as long as hearts shall endure…The sun shines and the stars, and new beauty meets us at every step in all our wanderings.”

The Sierra, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe are all behind, ahead is the halfway point and a move to milder Oregon mountains, as well as a return to solitary walking:  “Solitude is a sublime mistress, but an intolerable wife”– Muir quoting Emerson.

Lovers of “The Range of Light”

•July 27, 2010 • 2 Comments

“Presently you lose consciousness of your own existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature.”  –John Muir

Excerpts from the sparse journal of the John Muir Trail the past 8 long days:

Muir Pass is all half-frozen lakes and snow banded mountains in two huge basins either side of the stone hut adorned saddle…

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The one remaining thundershower booms to the West, and the mountainscape North draws my eye to its shifting shadows, black and red.

The iron-orange banded peak plummets to the still Rae Lake, exploding with millions of raindrops.

The sun and exhaustion of the day made me feel as though I were floating on a cloud of pain, hardly aware of my gliding footfalls–radiating heat as in a fever.

One of the best days.  Camped on a high bench below Lake Marjorie–we sat in wonder of the sunset view, river crossings, up up to Mather Pass–all rock and snow, then down to gorgeous granite lined Palisades Lakes for a dip and lunch–a paradise.  Each pass and each alpine lake astound.

Onward toward Yosemite tomorrow.

The Heavy Beauty of the High Sierra

•July 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The sky turned from milky-banded black to orange, purple, and blue, taking the rock along with it as we reached the summit of Mt. Whitney for Gretchen’s birthday sunrise.  We lounged alone at the highest point in the lower 48 for over an hour watching the Sierra stretch its colors and crags above the desert.  A hearty hard thunderstorm had welcomed us to the highlands a few days before, and it has been all wonder, beauty and elevation until the present moment, where I am sitting at a roll-top in a Lone Pine Hotel surrounded by no less than 10 signed portraits of John Wayne, and Badwater 135 mile runners limp by.  At snowy  Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,200 ft., the high plateaus of Sequoia National Park spread in one direction, and the dragon-scale peaks of King’s Canyon National Park in the other.  The valley walk down had a hint of Pandora in its lushness.

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During the final stretch of desert, while Gretchen was warming up her hiking feet, we saw no others on the trail, lost a sandwich and nearly our lives at the hands of a oxycodon high, twice stabbed, Led Zeppelin blaring pickup driver in Fourth of July surrounded Lake Isabella while resupply hitching, and I dug cat-hole debris directly onto a luckily genial rattlesnake that I discovered once squatting.

The adventure continues with another 8 day stretch, bouncing between 8,000 ft valleys and 12,000 ft passes.  Ate my first golden trout, and plan to catch more.

The Walk

•July 15, 2010 • 1 Comment

“At the crack of dawn, our eyelids crack open to see the faint glow of
red light peaking up over the eastern horizon. Dew heavy on our bags,
crisp cool air tempting us to stay burrowed. He rolls over to light
the stove he prepared the night before, as I lay curled up in the down
of my cocoon. Water boils and mountains in the distance begin to turn
shades of peach and rose.  Hot oatmeal lures me to enliven my body, to
sit up and open my eyes to the world around. Vast hemispheres of
shadows, with slivers of light showing through. As the sky begins to
fade from dark blue to a sea of orange, we begin to pack up our
belongings, huddling close to our sleeping bags, as we clutch to
comforting thoughts of warmth and rest. Finally, shoes have been tied
and alas our packs heavily slung to our bodies, a familiar burden, but
one that makes the hiker feel whole. As the legs awake and the poles
crash to the ground, we begin another day of trekking through the
infinite lands. Inviting shadows guide our feet, colors so vivid and
rich in the land, eyes are ignited, and in the coolness of the morning,
perfumes from the grasses rise as they lure the bodies senses into
the peaceful meditation of the Walk.”

-Gretchen Leggitt

The Arrogance Quelching Arrigetch

•June 28, 2010 • 1 Comment

The glacier crossing had gone smoothly, soft snow and rock on top of ice, and we stood at what we thought was Independence pass at the limit of the snow in the fog.  Perched on bouldery talus we peered at an unbroken face of granite cliffs rising all around.  While Russell calculated our position I scouted the only exit upwards along a loose rock shelf under the righthand cliff.  After a short scramble, the full affront of the spiry Arrigetch was shocking my senses as the fog lifted.  I yelled down and we were soon exuberantly exposed at the top of the pass.  In two days we had travelled the equivalent of half a day on the Pacific Crest Trail, having taken many trying steps through thick brush and a swamp, down-climbed a waterfall, and boulder-hopped a stream bed, not to mention all the rock and ice on the approach to the pass.   Later, while descending Talus Top Pass, a two ton boulder somehow dislodged by my weight rose up like a tombstone and started to crash down towards Russell.  As I fell back he heeded my warning to watch out,  jumping behind a larger boulder with catlike agility, though it came to rest just above where his head had been with the stinging smell of flint.   He likened the hiking to an endless and constant mountaineering approach over large unstable rocks, and I couldn’t disagree.

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After five passes in 6 days, I turned to Russell and proclaimed this the most rugged, challenging, sublimely beautiful trek I’d ever been on.   We were blowing up our pack rafts in an overly hasty attempt to float the upper Noatak River [we did a fair amount of river walking in the shallow grey-blue water].  Soon the rapids dwindled into a lazy river float and we approached Portage Creek on schedule to meet our float plane in two and a half days.  The Alatna was an even faster and more pleasant conduit for our tired bodies, and soon we were relaxing and eating our spare food in the sunshine with the Arrigetchs’ monster jaw skyline looming in the distance–we had done it, eight days, five passes, 113 miles, two crossings of the Arctic Circle, one black bear, two hail storms, swarms of mosquitos,  two airplanes [one of which was dropping off the only three other people we saw], and some stunning scenery.   The float plane arrived on time very near our drop off point, and I watched the reflections blossoming on the tundra ponds below while discussing the possibility of burgers in Bettles with the pilot.

I flew to Fairbanks today feeling satisfied and awed by the Gates of the Arctic.  The Native man from Alakaket behind me on the plane summed it up:  “Shit man, you guys were walking in the Arrigetch, WALKING?  That is rough country, God’s country”.

The Green Mojave to the Chilly Chena

•June 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The snake gave little warning, a single shake of its rattle, before springing out from a shrub at chest height, mouth open, landing writhing on the trail directly in front of me.  I somehow had reversed my forward pace based on that little warning and a flash of movement seen from the corner of my eye, swept a trekking pole in defence, and narrowly avoided any direct contact with the angry, aggresively hissing serpent.  Later, in a shady decorated cache, I learned of the Green Mojave, its predilections, 3 kinds of venom, and general disagreeableness. 

I left the strange movie-storage HikerTown for the dreaded 16 mile stretch of LA aquaduct desert, arriving at the next water at 10pm.  I was now nearing my goal—560 miles, a trip into Bakersfield [thank you gracious hosts], and a flight to Fairbanks Alaska, all of which went more than smoothly—and pushed out the remaining 20 miles before 2, in a blasting wind that finally destroyed my decaying straw hat from the farm.

Post wonderful wedding historical reinactment, the groom[ Mike, a friend since kindergarten] took three of his buddies for a paddle down the Upper Chena River.   It was more than pleasant–grayling caught, midnight sun shining–until suddenly I am sitting on shore, watching an overturned canoe round a bend with no canoers in sight [they were still clinging to a large pile of sweeper logs, or swimming to safety in the fridgid water].  Knowing that our trip would be severly handicapped without the second canoe, or the kitchen, I took off my Extratufs, pants, sunglasses, and hat, and waded in.   A hard swim put me on a pine in the current just below the hung up canoe, where I grabbed a loose paddle.   Mike arrived with Bill in the other canoe, and the shivering red two of us were able to right the canoe and make it back to shore to pick up a shaken and scraped Ty.  In the end nearly everything was recovered, and the details of the incident were hashed out over a fire in the rain–lost paddle, bad position, large strainer, fast current, etc.

Tomorrow the adventure continues.  I am packed and ready to begin a 10 day packraft trip along the Noatak and Alatna Rivers that crosses the Arctic Circle twice.  A trip from a trip from a trip.

Heaven, and Other Pleasures of the Trail

•June 3, 2010 • 1 Comment

White tents of cots house a regiment of exhausted hikers, gear strewn, hastily opened packages from home overflowing with goodies.  It is difficult but not impossible to tell which of the limping, sunburned denizens of Hiker Heaven toughed out the 37 mile road walk detour after climbing 9,400 ft. Baden-Powell in the snow,  and those that thumbed rides into Agua Dulce.  Most likely the man eating an entire gallon of ice cream walked the line through the heat, as did the one soaking battered feet in a tub of brine.  The Frenchman that you last saw weeks ago happily washing his pack did not, though it matters little as we approach the 500 mile mark.  A flip-flopper who just arrived for her first day of hiking is inundated with stories of woe [self-extracted ingrown toenails] and helpful advice [ditch at least two of your three books].  Everyone appreciates the Saufley’s extreme hospitality:  rides, showers, towels, clothes, kitchen, internet, a garage handling more packages that most P.O.s, and everyone’s laundry magically done for them.  Bones plays his songs by a pallet fire for the weary until they disband, unable to stay up long past sundown.

Excerpts:

There is a point when you hurry towards your stopping place, sure it is immanent, then an impatient hopelessness full of expectation sets in, and finally, my favorite–a complete cessation of caring.  Just moving for the painful movement itself.

Outside Big Bear City a VW Westphalia bus stops to pick me up.   The older well rounded gentleman and his friendly dog would be happy to take me to the trail–“Back when I was married–a long time ago–we thought about riding our motorcycles down to the Straights of Magellan…decided against it, too many desperate people, more desperate than you, and heavily armed.  Well, we were all heavily armed back then, but who wants to get into a fire fight if you don’t have to?”

Pink swirling clouds fly by–it has never been such a pleasure to lie on the ground…

Grass flutters purple-topped,

Specks sparkle the pavement black,

Sky fades blue–hill-cropped.

The Gorgon of Gorgonio Pass and ThunderSnow

•May 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“What is the difference whether or not you find this freedom, this enlightenment?  You will not be there to benefit from it.”

–U.G. Krishnamurti

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Sunning spiked lizards–blue, purple, orange, white wildflowers–legs pounding the shimmering crystal-gold dust–instantly in my element,  the element–basic needs plus joy.  Endless days through the desert heat–threatening snakes rattling, searching for shade, crawling under brush to listen to Stacks’ ukulele…

At overlook bivy, 6000 feet to desert dawn below right, many shadowed mountains sunsetting left.  Looked, watched, slept.  My mind rebels against the solitary silence, busy pop-culture dreams.

Only what is.  Not this or that, me or I.  What Is.

At the hottest, driest moment of the San Felipe’s, full load of water on your back–one comes across a small metal box labeled:  “2010 lead cache–take only what you need.”  It is full of lead weights.

High Alpine!  Bouldery crags, big pines, views, four miles of slushy snow to hide the trail…a pile up of six at cold slopey nearly 9,ooo feet, saving Fuller’s ridge for the morning–five miles of slush drifts.   7,000 feet down plops us in a 85 degree windstorm [the Gorgon rears it’s head, sandblasting us into stone] forcing us take refuge in an abandoned ranch house by the interstate.  24 hours later, back at 8,000 feet, the San Bernadino thundersnow began–five hours and a beard full of snow later, Worth the game warden suggests a day early hitch into Big Bear City.  We don’t regret it.  250 miles down.

“When wanting ceases, even for a moment, thought is absent and you are left with the simple matter of taking care of the bodily wants–food, clothes, and shelter.”

–U.G. Krishnamurti

Vanaprastha–Forest Dweller

•April 28, 2010 • 1 Comment

“A person reaches a certain point in life when he says, ‘I have had enough of all this.  I am simply tired of making life not worth living, by constantly living through the horrors of what might happen, for the sake of efficiency and membership in the community.  Let me just get away from it all for a while and find out what the score is for me, myself.  I am tired of being told how I ought to see, how I ought to behave, how I ought to feel.  Let me find out for myself who I really am.'”  —Alan Watts

“Discard such definite imaginations of phenomena as your own self, thou human being, thou’rt a numberless mass of sun-motes:  each mote a shrine.”

“The-Attainer-To-That-Which-Everything-Is, the Sanskrit Tathagata, has no ideas whatever but abides in essence identically with the essence of all things, which is what it is, in emptiness and silence.”

“What does it mean that those trees and mountains are magic and unreal? —It means that those trees and mountains are magic and unreal.  What does it mean that those trees and mountains are not magic but real? —it means that those trees and mountains are not magic but real.  Men are just making imaginary judgments both ways, and all the time it’s just the same natural golden eternity.”

“They’ve long known that there’s nothing to life but just the living of it.  It Is What It Is and That’s All It Is.”

Jack Kerouac.

Some things I’ve been thinking about as I shed worldly possessions and prepare to walk the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.  I hope to update occasionally as the journey progresses.

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