Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oregon

The other day we just crossed our 2,000 mile mark! That was very exciting! After walking 2,000 mile you'd think there might be a couple of trumpets and a cheering crowd. Sure, we've got 660 miles of the trail left and all of Washington, but walking a distance 5 times as long as most European countries seems like a notable event to me. Yet the only cheer we heard was that of the birds as they chirped out their usual songs and the only banner we got was a small rock pile and a couple of stones layed out on the ground that read out "2000". We knew what those stones meant. They didn't have to say anymore. They didn't have to be written on an official forest service sign, or be carved into a plaque. Someone had just spelled out 2,000 with a couple of rocks. But that's how things are out here. No billboards or banners. No neon or flashing arrows. At best someone may put a few sticks together to make a makeshift arrow to show us where to go when the trail diverges. And when we left California, after 1,700 miles of walking through a gigantic state, we got a simple wooden sign posted on a tree that read "Oregon/California" marking the state line. But the woods don't often go by the rules of modern man. They are their own reward. And they remind you that state lines and round numbers are just a thing made up by man. Long before Americans ventured west, the birds were still singing and the trees were still waving in the wind, praising their creator. So, I suppose that we should be happy to be part of something larger and longer than the couple of years we've been around these parts.That's kinda what you feel in Oregon. You spend the first couple hundred miles from Ahland to Sisters walking through ancient mossy forests. Giant trees surround you and off each tree hangs decorations of faded moss as it flaps in the faint breezes. Through the thick wall of trees and the layers of green fern you can peep through and gaze upon either blue sky or misty gray hovering clouds. The sky seems to alternate. For a couple of days it will spit from overcast skies, then it will clear up and we'll put away our rain coats and dry our tents under the sun's welcome rays.For the first few hundred miles of the 450 miles of Oregon, the trail tread is pretty flat and easy going. Most thru-hikers are wlaking 25-30 miles a day here so they can get a little closer to their goal before the snows. Rose and I have consistently been doing 25 miles a day and walking from 8 am to 9 pm, using almost hour of daylight we can afford. Somewhere in the middle of all that, we'll take a lng lunch and laze around a placid lake and maybe even take a dip if it's warm. Once in awhile we'll even take a nap under the summer sun.Highlights of Oregon thus far:1. Crater Lake - this is the bluest blue lake I've ver seen. It is the deepest lake in America and the 7th deepest in the whole world. It was formed as a volcano exploded and then collapsed upon itself to form a 5 mile long crater that soon would be filled from form the purest snowmelt from its towering 8,000 feet high walls. There is even a little "mini-volcano" peak in the middle of the lake called Wizard Island and there is a ferry that takes a tour of the lake and drops you off to explore the island for a day. Crater Lake is so popular as a destination, and has such a draw as a natural wonder that it dons the Oregon license plate. We took the Pacific Crest trail around the lake as it traverses the rim of the lake and circles nearby Wizard Island. Just parallel to the trail, circling the whole perimeter of the lake is Rim Drive where tourists seeking views of the lake will drive around and stop off at one of many outlooks upon the stretches of marvelous blue. Rose and I were fortunate enough to have our friend from the Mercy Ship in Africa drive up from Grant's Pass, OR (a week before his wedding no less with a very hectic schedule). He picked us up at Crater Lake, took us in and let us use his showers and a nice comfy bed and then returned us to the trail the next day where we got to gaze upon the the sunset as it swirled and blazed over the Rim of the expansive lake. And with that we were off to see Rose's mom at Shelter Cove Resort on Crescent Lake...2. Seeing Rose's mom was also a highlight. Since she works 1 week on and one week off as a nurse in Portland, she has been able to drive down and see us a couple of times. This has enabled us to get a little cottage both times and spend some quality time together as a new family. Both times it has been super cool to conk out in a bed with comfy cotton sheets and eat real food that isn't Ramen or Snickers. It was even better to catch up with our mom and see what has she has been upto as well!3. The Sisters - these are some BIG volcanoes! Three of them loom at 10,000 feet in the distance and dominate the landscape for 50 miles of the PCT. Each of them is covered with snow and is massive, but each also has its very unique features. One is made of bright red rock and is quite obtuse with broad, spreading lines, while the other two are black and seem to have a more pointed, acute angle that gives them more of a "typical volcano" shape. The PCT never goes over these behemoths, but it does wind around them which makes for some very spectacular walking. After 200 miles of being surounded by lush green forest and being enveloped by mist on relatively flat grades, sudddenly we were transported to land of giants and we we were traipsing between their feet! The walking here is on and over several lava fields. The PCT carries you through lots of sharp lava rocks which make a consistent clacking noise as you traverse them and them rub against each other under the pressure of your foot. It is neat that someone took the time to make a level trail of rocks and pebbles where once their were only miles of sharp, broken rocks that would be hard to navigate becuae of their size and sharpness. After McKenzie Pass, we walked for miles over such a lava field. This felt like we were walking on the moon! Solid red and and black rocks littering the lanscape as far as the eye could see! Occasionally there was a small shrubby fir tree making it's intrepid way out of the piles of moon rock debris. One could only wonder at how such a tree put down roots and found nutrition in such a place where there wasn't anything remotely soft or soil-like for miles!At the edge of the field, when our feet were well ready to get back to the cushy tread of the dirt and conifer-needle trail, we finally stepped back into the woods and left the harsh but intriguing surface of the moon... (to be continued....)

Oregon (Continued)

The last higlight of Oregon thus far:

4. Breitenbush Hot Springs - Yesterday was August 27th. We have just a few days left in Oregon and we've been banging out the miles. But just as we were one third the way done one of our many 25 mile days, we started to ascend to a ridge at 7,000 feet on the crest of Oregon. Since we woke up yesterday norning, things had been hairy. We woke up to fog and drizzle and it showed no signs of stopping. This was a consistent Oregon rain. So we pakced everything up, folded up our wet tent, and through on our rain gear, hoping to make the best of the rain and heat up a bit from the chill by walking. our bodies got a little bit warmer, but we also got a lot wetter. The rain wasn't particularly fierce but walking against all the wet shrubs that covered the trail completely soaked our cloths in minutes. Everything was wet and the only thing we could do was just walk on! So we walked for a couple hours in the incessant rain and fog. It made for an interesting mood around us as w! e passed through the alpine bogs on the side of mighty Mt. Jefferson, which had upto today been very clearly visible as we scrmbled under its high rocky ledges. So we climbed a bit, and as we got higher the weather got worse. What had been a gentle rain before as we traversed the rivers full of milky snow melt now was a pretty cold, blustery wind as we climbed to an exposed ridge.

That's when we saw our fellow thru-hikers Spaceman Spiff and Nick. The only thing was that they were walking the other way toward us. We were a bit confused as to why they were walking the wrong direction sout back to Mexico, when they explained that they had climbed to the ridge and reached an impassable part of the trail and had thus turned around to bail off the dangerous ridge. In any other weather this ridge would probably have been just another snow field that hadn't melted yet in late summer. Though the trail might be covered for a couple hundred yards in snow, one could easily see the other side where the trail came out with the light of the sun. But this day - everything was whited out. There were no tracks or sign of trail on the snow beneath and here were no visible markers that could be seen through the fog, rain, and driving hail of the storm. So, finding themselves unable to locate the trail, a bit lost on a high, steep, snowy slope, and freezing cold, t! hey did the logical thing and turned back to descend to more cover down from the ridge. It had been a record snow year - more snow than this area had received in 50 years. And because of that there was still snow on top of the mountain where it usually wouldn't be at this time of year. Small creeks that would usually take a few hops across a few rocks to cross were still totally covered in banks of snow. And as you crossed the snow, you could hear the water rush underneath your feet from the large volume of snow that was melting and now rapidly cascading don the mountain. So we had seen the effects of the unusually large amounts of snow at lower elevations and we weren't too keen on finding out what was going to happen as we kept on going up.

This was the decision we were presented with: We could either climb the 1,000 feet to the windy, icy ridge and check it out for ourselves (probably meaning we would have had to wait out the storm so we could actually see where the trail went without getting lost) or we could take their word for it and bail with them. After a little debate, we figured they had good cause to turn around and there was probably no way we'd be any better or more well off than they were on top of the treeless mountain with visibilty of a couple of meters in front of you. So, we turned with them. Our minds wanted to go on, but our bodies said, "Get me warm! There's no way I'm gonna freeze on top of a mountain while lost today!" So we walked south a bit, cancelled our plans for the day and took a side trail about six miles off the PCT.

It turned out that Spaceman Spiff's parents were meeting her in the area, so we gave them a phone call, and explained to them that we were at a different trailhead on our satelite phone, hoping they would get the message and be able to rescue us from the middle of nowhere as we were soaking wet and ready for a change of scenery.A change of scenery, indeed! They drove us a couple of miles down the road to Breitenbush Hot Springs! This is a hippie resort that exists in the middle of the woods and is totally off the grid. It is a coop and a retreat center with several pools of natural hot springs, yoga classes, and all natural vegetarian food. It is entirely run off hydroelectric power and generators and has cabins, tent sites, and a lodge for its guests - who generally are sorta new agey people who are into Buddhist prayer flags, crystals, and dips in the clothing optional hot spring pools.

This is definitely hippies living in the woods in Oregon. Lots of tie dye and dreadlocks and people sitting around playing banjos and tin whistles. But it was also the perfect palce for a couple of wet hikers to get dry. Despite the hoaky sense of spirituality around this place, it had a charm and the people were very friendly. And the meals! Wow, the meals! They made our trek off the trail and our littld detour worthwhile. Hours earlier we were shivering in the miserable rain - now we were eating wholesome food all made whole made by the members of the coop. Picture a wedding - complete with the stainless steel serving trays placed out on perfectly white linen clothes with piping hot food in them. But all the food is organic and locally grown. In fact, there is no coffee or chocalate or alcohol allowd here. Just a giant pot of home brewed ginger tea. And thatks what everyone drinks for breakfast lunch and dinner. This is the total opposite of our usual fast-food culture. No microwaves, no greasy french fries - just natural home cooked foods with LOTS of veggies. There isn't even a phone here. They are too! far away from reception and they don't have a single pay phone.This is all part of the spontanaeity of the adventure. One minute you are in the middle of the rain, the next you are in a hippie-dippie hot spring resort. We love this trail and we love these crazy places it takes us!

Timberline Lodge

On the side of Mt. Hood is Timberline Lodge. Mt. Hood dominates the northern Oregon skyline at 11,245 and Timberline Lodge sits just halfway up the mountain at 6,000 feet, just 3.6 miles from the summit. In the blustery winter months the average snow depth around the lodge and Mount Hood is somewhere around 21 feet. Now it's the end of August, Labor day weekend, so the signs of winter weather were just starting to begin as we walked into the Lodge on this chilly last day of August. We got up at 4:30 AM this morning and took down our tent in the pitch black as the gentle winds around us pushed and pulled the treetops of Douglas Firs and made them sway in the wind. Occasionally you could hear their creaking sound against the quiet of the morning like a rusty hinge on an old abandoned farmhouse door. Sometimes the creaking of the trees even sounded a bit birdlike, but we knew there weren't any birds up at this early hour. It felt like we may have been the only things up ! and about in the forest for miles. So we strapped on our headlamps and walked through the darkness and the chill of the morning, hoping for those first rays of sunlight to warm our bones.This was a very unusual departure for us. Recently we had been sleeping in because it was just so hard to get out of our tent into the chilly hands of the Oregon mornings. Our norm had become waking up at about 7 or 8 making a cup of coffee and some warm oatmeal, and then heading out at 9 or 10 am. The flatter terrain of OR allowed us to stride out 25 miles by about 9 pm, almost keeping a solid 3 mph pace the whole way. But today was different. Today ws the day we were heading into Timberline Lodge. That meant we'd gain 2,000 feet, and pop out above treeline and into the giant Lodge where "The Shining" had been filmed. More importantly, it meant we were camped near Highway 26 at Wipinitia Pass, just 10 miles from one of the greatest breakfast opportunities a hiker could imagine. An all you can eat gourmet breakfast buffet consisting of Belgium Waffles, fruit, granola, eggs, and the best, saltiest bacon I've ever had (It might even make you proud to be a pig cause it! tasted so good!) The only thing was that the buffet ended at 10. So today our usual 10 o'clock departure wouldn't cut it. Instead we found ourselves getting up before most farmers do to walk 10 miles to eat a breakfast complete with Spiced Cider, fresh squeezed O.J, and scones. After the dark cleared and the first peeps of light came in, we woke up a bit and cruised along the misty trail, now glad we could see where we were going. But even under the welcome morning sun, it was hard to shake the chill off. As we walked higher and higher, the air got dryer, but colder. Eventually we popped out above the trees and saw a perfect view of Mt. Hood hovering above our heads, the snow glistening on the side of the mountain against the crisp blue morning sky. Anyone whoever even thought about climbing this mountain to its summit, had to start before daylight just to avoid running into deep unexpected snow crevasses melted under the summer sun. Fortunately, we didn't need crampons or ice axe as we walked on the sandy trail below this giant.But the ground was still hard with frost and the fog we had just popped out of was now frozen and blowing at us like tiny sharp crystals being driven into us by the wind. Above treeline we were no longer protected by the shelter of the firs and now the wind was blowing harder. But through the driving fog we could see our beacon of hope drawing closer and closer. We came around the ridge, small icy-crystal patches of snow staring to accumulate in the frozen footprints of those who had walked before us, and we saw we were so close to the lodge. The wind made a couple last attempts to harass us and blew Rosie's jacket off the top of her pack. I caught it from blowing away and tucked my head back down so the wind wasn't blowing crystalline snow in my eyes and continued to trudge up to the lodge. We traipsed into the back of the lodge (probably where the kitchen staff walked in and out the back door) and threw our backpacks down and took in the warm fireplace glow of the ca! stle-like lodge and dashed into the all wooden dining room and took a seat among finely pressed tablecloth linens, tall crystal glasses shimmering with ice water and a buffet spread fit for a king. Whenever we slip quietly into these places we never fit in. I'm wearing a dirty red plaid kilt and have a giant untrimmed beard with unkept greasy matted hair. Rose is often looking a little better, but still wearing spandex and clothes with mud and dirt stains rubbed well into the fabrics. Our shoes and socks alone are enough drive everyone who doesn't have a head cold away from the room. And we smell like rotten skunk as as our bodies have been pouring out sweat and salt all over our clothes for 12 hours a day for a week. And the closest we'd gotten to a shower was walking through the chilled morning mist. Amongst a crowd of men in khakis and polo shirts and women in their fine Sunday dresses, we look like a bunch of homeless vagrants who have somehow manged to wander u! p this mountain into a fine dining establishment. Our lack of manners probably doesn't help any. I'll just paw the sausage right out of he stainless steel catering serving trays (The really nice ones with a handle wrapped neatly with a linen napkin so the handle isn't too hot to touch - the kind you see at a wedding buffet) and plop into my mouth right in line. It's like a wild savage who hasn't eaten in days just grabbing and slopping food into his mouth like he might never get to eat again. There is no casual conversation, no light and dainty bites and not talking with your mouth full, no sense of propriety in taking "healthy portions". My plate was chock full and all the foods had been slopped together in one big mountain mush of steaming goodness. Emily Post would probably have fainted to see it all. Living in the wilderness for four straight months we had lost all sense of dignity. We expelled gases without a bat of an eyelash and shoved food in our mouth as if a fork and knife were an idle combination that had! n't yet been invented. Everyone would shoot us glances from across the dining room as if to say, "What are THOSE two doing in here?" But we were oblivious. All the stares and appalled faces in the world couldn't take away from our enjoyment of our meal. We were like kids unleashed upon expectant Chrisrmas packages - wrapping paper flying everywhere, as the kids' anxious hands ripped and tore through in seconds what had taken months to put together.

Monday, September 1, 2008







Celebration at the Oregon, California border

Millions of pancakes, pancakes for me.

Mom's fine doughboy sculpture.











We carried scuba gear an beach attire through the essert for our summit of the highest point in the U.S.

Forrester Pass is the tallest point on the PCT.










Monday, August 18, 2008

The Pancake Challenge

You are almost to Oregon. You've walked nearly 1,700 miles and you are in the thick of your hike. You are walking almost a marathon every single day and you simply just can't eat enough to stay full. You are hungry all the time. No restaurant can come up with a meal big enough, calorie-laden enough, thru-hiker enough to fill you. You are a food eating machine. This is how the average thru hiker feels as he struts into the teeny Seiad Valley Cafe with hopes of testing his stomach at the famed pancake challenge. The Cafe is a small town operation run in a little hole in the wall - a place where the Post Office, the general store, and the cafe are all in the same building. Afterall, they are only serving a town of 300 people, why would you possibly need another building?The Pancake Challenge is a bit of a legend on the PCT - something that every thru-hiker talks of with reverence and awe. The deal is five pancakes, each weighing 1 pound, stacked high on a plate. You have two hours to eat them all. The thing is that these ain't no IHOP flapjacks. Each pancake is as big as a large dinner plate and one inch thick. Yes, I repeat, one inch thick. To give you an idea of how big it is, when you order it they bring you out a full sized round cake cover and say the pancakes are BIGGER than this when all stacked up. In fact, it took an hour just to get the order of 5 pancakes to the table because it takes the whole griddle just to cook all five, each with a 1 foot diameter. The batter alone takes up a stainless steel pot that is somewhere between the size of a 5-gallon bucket and a gallon milk jug.At the mere sight of this monstrosity, 5 whopper pancakes with 3 melted balls of butter on top, even through hikers shudder. In the 24 years the Seiad Cafe has offered this challenge only 11 people have completed it. And most recently, no one - not even a through hiker- has completed it successfully in the last 5 years. So it sort of stands as a bit of a Holy Grail of the food world. So much so that the Seiad Cafe was featured on the Travel Channel as the 3rd best place in the U.S. to Pigout for its infamous pancake challenge.This is what I sat down to this morning. I was not the biggest or the hungriest hiker to ever try the pancake challenge. Even our friend Yeti (who is as big and hairy as his name suggests) could only eat 3 of the 5 mammoth pancakes. So I went in with a keen and painful awareness that the odds against me finishing this beast were stacked as high as the pancakes themselves. The good news was that if you finish the thing (and become an icon of consumption) you get it all for free. The better news was that if you tried and failed (the more scientifically probable option given the fact that you are trying to stuff 5 pounds of dough in a sack as large as your fist) was that you only had to pay $10.95 for five pounds of food. That, pound for pound, turns out to be a better deal than most breakfast places. So I figured I could at least give it a go and, worse come to worse, save a couple giant pancakes for the road.So at 12 noon on August 9th, 2008 I started to consume 5 pounds of pancakes. The first couple of bites were quite satisfying. Warm golden fluffy pancakes, still piping from the griddle. They even give you a nice bowl of syrup to dip it in. But after a couple of bites, I lost all the joy because then the reality sinks in. That this is not an enjoyable experience. This is not Christmas morning breakfast with fruit cocktails and sausage links and toast. This is a gigantic doughy poofball and you can't eat anything else without putting your chances to finish at jeopardy. The pancakes are already too much food and to eat anything around it would just be sheer craziness. So, I hunkered down and thought I'd try a new tactic. A friend of mine told me that if you broke the pancake into tiny pieces and then balled them up like a wad of Play-Do and then dipped those into water that this was your best chance to compact the food to fit it all in your stomach at once. So I proce! eded to roll them up and stuff them in. I made pretty good progress on the first pancake. But then I slowed down alot. I was already full and I had only 20% of the challenge done. To eat just one pancake was quite a noble task, yet alone five of them. But I trudged on hoping I could just continue to eak out a couple more bites every few minutes, confident that the 1.5 hours left would allow me to make a sizable dent in the tower of dough. But with ever bite, the pancakes just got doughier and drier. They stuck to the top of my mouth and I had to keep drinking water to get them all done. Rose and her mom were a tremendous encouragement - they kept cheering me on and even made little pancake figurines out of the rolled up doughballs to lighten the experience. Surely, it would be easier to eat a fun shaped pancake man with cranberry eyes and his pancake dough dog. But despite the encouragement, every extra bite became a herculean task. I tried to take a bathroom bre! ak to relieve my tummy of all the pressure on it from the 1 pancake I had eaten thus far. That gave me a bit of a second wind but that didn't last long. Finally after a little more than an hour and about 1 and a half pancakes (including al the dough ball statues Rose and her had made that I had eaten) I was done. It became absurdly apparent that I was never going to finish this thing in the alotted two hours. So, I hung my head in shame and admitted defeat to this huge pile of pancakes. At that point the pancakes had gotten cold and were very hard to put down. And so we had to pay the 11 dollars and walked away another defeated thru hiker.

A Fire and a Volcano

It is July 23. Three days ago we just celebrated our 3 month anniversary of walking the Pacific Crest Trail. We left on April 20 and on July 20 we found ourselves right about at the halfway point on the trail at mile 1325 in Lassen National Park. This was particularly neat because Lassen National Park is home to Mt. Lassen, which like Mt. St. Helens, was once an active volcano. Thus we got to walk around and on the old ashes of the remnants of the last explosion. That meant the trail was covered in fine dust that is known as pumice. This is sort of a grey ashy material that is soft and almost beach-like to walk on, left over from the remains of lava and other volcanic dust. So the trail has definitely changed from the steep climbs over solid granite walks we found in the Sierras. Now it is almost entirely flat as we travel around 5,000 and 6,000 feet through the dense conifer forest that has overgrown the volcanic remains. In fact, one would never really suspect tha! t we were walking over a volcano because the trail seems rather lazy, forested, and unassuming. But under all this peaceful pine forest is a mass of boiling and bubbling heat, turning and churning waiting to release its tremendous fire. It is sort of like walking by a sleeping dragon, if you wake it, it coould very well spew flames. But, in all honesty, Mt. Lassen isn't showing too many signs that it will awake from its sleepy rest anytime soon. At best, we walk by signs that remind us it is still breathing its smoky fumes as we pass lakes and springs heated form the geothermal steam and some active geysers. In particular, the PCT goes by Terminal Geyser and we got to see plumes of steam spraying up from vents in the earth. This was pretty cool because right where the steam was being released from the ground you could see a natural hot spring boiling up from the ground! It looked like a pot of rolling, boiling water bubbling and frothing but right inside a pool of roc! ks on the ground! There were even signs posted that read, "Please stay on the trail as geothermal activity may cause vents and cracks to unexpectedly collapse resulting in scolding hot burns." We definitely noted that and suddenly, along with the smell of burning sulfur that permeated the forest like rotten eggs, were aware that there was some hot stuff going on right beneath our very feet!Additionally, we also got to see some pools filled with burning acid. These were lakes that had been filled by hot minerals leaching up from the earth and they were all sorts of colors - grey, red, orange, and yellow (from the boiling sulfur) and a mixture of those somewhere in between. What was interesting is that we saw a couple of mature bucks lounging by the boiling mineral pools. Here there was this tremedously hot acidic pool and these deer with these huge antlers were just laying mere feet away from the gurgling hot pit! Apparently they like the sauna effect and that is relaxing to them! In the middle of Lassen National Park is Drakesbad Resort. This ia an upscale resort for families on summer vacation. It runs something like 300 or 400 dollars a night for most of the simple, woodsy cabins and a few good meals. Now this is not exactly in the means of a thru-hiker budget, but they give us a pretty good discount that makes this place a hard stop to refuse! The five course meal they offer (complete with fresh salad, homemade bread, large portions, and peanut butter mousse) was ten dollars and worth twice as much as they charged PCT hikers. The best part was that after all the guests had eaten they brought us leftovers of their scrumptious meal. Rarely is it that hikers walk away from a meal totally stuffed. At Drakesbad they all do. That night, after the best dinner on the trail we stayed in one of their awesome cabins with no electricity and real old-timey gas lamps. What with the woodsy quaint cabin and the candle flicker on all the wooden boards of the walls, it was a very romantic and special night. We couldn't have asked for a better way to celbrate the halfway point on our 6 month honeymoon.Which may bring some readers to wonder: "How they did get halfway when just a little while ago they were a couple hundred miles away from that point?" The answer lies upon your television, and, perhaps, in some indirect way, on some unused hiking poles. You've probably heard from television new reports about the 1,000 some wildfires that have been rampant to California. At one time, just a few weeks ago most of those fires were raging and considered uncontained. Don't worry - we haven't had to walk through anymore of them, although they have affected parts of the trail. In fact, as we came to Donner Pass, site of the infamous Donner party and their tragedy in the snowy mountains of their winter trek, we realized that we would have to skip ahead on the trail because of a closure from fire. The U.S. Forest Service had officially closed the trail and had posted signs reading that anyone found on the closed section of trail would be fined 5,000 dollars. With that, and afte! r hearing stories of people who had attempted to walk through the fire and who said they could barely breath in all the thick smoke, we decided to hitch around that section. The other alternative to bypassing the fire would have been to road walk for about a hundred miles around the fire while dodging traffic on a narrow and hot paved road. We opted not to roadwalk and to find a ride to where the trail was open again. The trick was that this was a long distance to hitch. It certainly wouldn't have been impossible to find a ride, but it would've meant standing out on a road with our thumb out for a couple of hours while traffic zoomed by us in a frenzy!Enter the trekking poles into the story. After 950 miles of walking with my poles attached to my backpack, preferring to walk with my hands free and finding the poles a bit clunky and clumsy to walk with, it was probably about time to send them home. Admittedly they had helped steady me across some pretty hairy steep snow slopes in the Sierras, but we were out of the snow and the Sierras now so they had been dead weight on my pack for awhile. I kept thinking about sendng them home, but never quite got around to it, so they just stayed in their little niche hugging the side of my pack. But, nothing happens without a reason - even carrying a useless device on the trail for 950 miles. Turns out, we met some southbound section hikers named Ann and Paul. Both middle aged parents and avid hikers and outdoor educaters... (to be continued...)

... It turned out that Paul was having some pretty bad knee problems, especially in the steep descents of Yosemite Park. So, in a flash I threw off my backpack and whipped the poles off the side of my pack and gave them to Paul. As a competitive cyclist and a mountian man, Paul had worn out his knees enough to give him some pain on the jarring downhills and I hoped that the poles would support some of the weight as it came down on his cartlidge and his joints. So, that was the answer to that. I got to get rid of my poles and Paul got to equally benefit by finishing his hike with a little less pain and a little more support.A long story made short, I gave my poles to Paul and he said he'd mail them home to me. In exchanging addresses he told me that they lived in Truckee, CA and that there were some pretty bad fires there and said that he could probably give us a ride around them if we needed it. So, a couple weeks later, we indeed found ourselves sitting in Truckee and wondering how in the world we were going to get a hitch around hundred miles of fire closures. We remembered Paul and Ane and as soon as we called them they came and got us the next morning, cooked us an awesome breakfast of fresh waffles (they were even shaped like hearts for our Honeymoon) and eggs. They took us to look at shoes, got us to the grocery store, and drove us a longgggggggggg way ahead up to Chester, CA where we got off right by Lassen National Park. Thanks Paul and Ann! We couldn't have gotten around the fire without you!

Etna, Shasta and Beyond

It is fairly unusual to find myself eating chocolate-covered almonds, sitting in a plush leather chair, with my feet propped up in a vibrating massage machine rubbing away at my calves and sore feet. We don't usually get that kind of treatment after a hot 17 mile day. But the day we walked down from Castle Crags into Mt. Shasta ,CA (at about mile 1,500 on the trail) that is precisely what happened.We had been walking around Mt. Shasta for a long time. It is a 75 mile wide volcano at its base and towers to 14,100 feet at its prominent, rock and snow-covered peak. It is pretty formiddable. I heard one local say that you could fit something like 15 Manhattans just inside its base and even the tallest of tall sky scrapers wouldn't manage to come near it's almost 3 miles in height. For some reason, the PCT doesn't manage to get on top of this beasty, but it does take about 250 miles to get around its broad, hulking base. On a regular year, any thru hiker gets an almost entire 180 continuous view as they walk around the mountain. It seems to be a constant pivot point and direction marker for near to 2 weeks as it hovers in the distance as PCT hikers make their way north to Oregon. This year because of the fires and smoke, we could only see it for brief periods of time as it loomed in the disatnce against murky skies. Anyway, after circling Mt. Shasta and crossing sev! eral northern California logging sites we came to Interstate 5. We slept just a half mile before I-5 and could hear the busy traffic rushing by as we cuddled in our tent and hoped no one got off the interstate and saw us camping on their property. So we got off early the next morning and hit the interstate. Now, after hiking 1,500 miles, hitching had become pretty familiar to us. But normally we were used to popping out on some back road and anything from a Frito-Lay truck to a 32 Ford to a "soccer mom" van would pick us up. But this was a BUSY interstate with cars zooming by at 70 mph. As swarms of semi trucks peeled by and blew my hat off in their wake, Rose and I figured that this was going to be a tough hitch. Notoriously truckers don't seem to pick up hitchhikers and everyone else was racing by way too fast to seem to care for a bunch of tired and weary hippies. But just as we sighed and were about ready to sit down and wait for a hitch on the cruel and fast paced median by the I-5 off ramp, a trucker pulled over in the midd! le of the ineterstate. Rose and I, surprised but thrilled, grabbed our packs and shuffled on over to the giant semi as fast as we could scurry off the ramp. We clambered up into the cab of the truck and there was a long haired hippie named Murray driving barefoot with a scrawny pug hiding underneath his legs just behind the pedals under the drivers seat. One of the first things he said was,"I had to put on my pants to pick you up." From this I gathered that he spent most of his time as a trucker driving up and down the west naked and barefoot. Somehow, this seemed like a shocking revelation. I had always pictured truckers as good old boys who wore bow-legged jeans and belt buckles. But I guess it made sense that if one were to drive for 12 hours straight they might want to be comfortable and thus naked. After the few seconds it took to catch up on that thought, I surveyed the truck we had just now hastily entered. It was surprising spacious; it had a bed in back and some blue ruffled comforter strewn across it. Upon more careful observation, we saw there was a curled up body under the comforter and the trucker's claims t! hat "My wife will kill me for picking up hitchhikers" became a little more immediate as she rose up out of her bed just behind us. Apparently his wife had decided to ride along with him along with his dog and this was entire famliy affair. Usually, Murray said, his wife didn't like him picking up strange people off the road, but he figured she was riding along this time so somehow now it was okay. (Whatever his logic, we weren't gonna argue - we were just happy to get a ride). Either way she seemed a bit shocked when she stirred from the bed to find us right next to her in the truck cabin hurling down I-5. After sorting all that out, We told Murray where we were going and he dropped us off at the exit for Mt. Shasta. We hopped out of the truck in a hurry because he had just pulled off in the pullover lane and traffic was still daring by us. So as fast as we had jumped in, we were out of the truck and transported down the road. as the truck pulled away, Rose looked down at her pocket and realized that, in the hurried exit as dropped out of the truck, her cell phone had fallen out of her pocket. Now this random trucker was driving away with it and we had no idea how in the heck we'd get it back. We didn't even know what trucking company he drove for and even if we did, would we have called them and asked for "Murray the naked driver with the quivering pug dog." It seemed like a long shot and that we'd proably never see the phone again. So, facing that reality, we decided to cut our losses and head into town to get a hotel. We were both tired and need a rest. So with that we checked into a hotel at 9 am (darn it, if we were gonna pay for hotel, we were gonna get our 60 dollars out of it; which after 27 hours in the same room we thought we sure had succeed doing as much).We spent all day cruising around town and it was one of the best zeroes we hav e taken on the trail. We ate a gigantic brunch at the locall diner, went and saw the movie "Wall E", did our resupply at a local grocery store, picked up our maildrop and even got to go to a midweek Bible Study at a local church. All things that might be commonplace to a normal population of working day citizens were each spectcular and rare events to us! Every cold yogurt in the grocery store was like a trip to Sea World, every second of the movie like a live circus, and evry minute of the church service like a revival at a Billy Graham crusade. Well, maybe that is a little exaggerated, but the point is that the little mundane things that people do and experience every day are a big deal to us because we have so little exposure to them when alone in the woods with fawns.So it was a teriffic time. The next day before heading out we thoguht we'd stop by an old friend's house. Three years ago, just before leaving for Africa, Rose and her mom took a spontaneous road trip up the California coast. Somehow this landed them a few nights at the Shasta MountINN Bed and Breakfast. This little establishment was run by a fellow named David Knowles who totally out did himself...

David treated Rose and her mom with such extreme kindness that they would remember him even a few years later. With that fond memory, Rose looked him up and made a call and without a moments hesitation he remembered them as if they had just stayed with him and freshly checked out. Instantly, he told us to come on over and that he could take us back to the trail. Apparently Rose and her mom had made as strong as an impact on David as he had on them, and with all the coming and going of countless guests he still knew their names and their stories.So we made our way over to DavidKs beautiful old white historic farmhouse in the middle of downtown Mt. Shasta. Upon arrival he greeted us with warm hugs and showed us around his immaculate lodging. This place was complete with a perfectly green and manicured garden, a hot tub, massage tables, and comforters so thick and heavy with fluff that they could have killed a man when dropped from a height. This felt like a get away for the Queen of England. David, still cleaning the luxurious rooms from the previous night's guests, plopped us down in his living room fed us and promptly encouraged us to put our feet in his high class leather massage machines. So there we were sitting in his bed and breakfast getting foot massages. David popped in and out of the room next door to make sure we were taken care of and in the conversation it came up that Rose had needed to buy a new pair of shoes. Her old hiking shoes had gone about 1,000 miles and were well overdue for a change. M! entioning it in passing, we were just making conversation but apparently David saw it as a place he could help. Dacid popped out od the room again and we continued to sit and get pampered for a few more minutes, allowing him to finish his innkeeper duties. Then David stuck his head back in the door, holding the exact pair of shoes that Rose had wanted from the local outfitters (but had been wayyyyy too expensive for her to buy). He held them up and announced, "Hey, I had these lying around the house, I thought they might fit you." As we gazed on these baby blue brand new women's shoes in size 8.5 (the very ones Rose had put on hold a day earlier, hesitant to buy them because they were a little out of our price range) we wondered how it was that David- a single man- happened to have women's hiking shoes just lying around his house. Somehow he had gone to the store, taken them off hold and gought them for Rose while diverting our attentions with his delicate pamperings. ! This man, who Rose hadn't seen in 3 years, just outright bought us a pair of shoes and offered them to Rose as a wedding present. After rendering us speechless with his generous gift, David bought us lunch AND dropped us at the trail, thus saving us from the possibility of another hitch back on the interstate.Just after being dropped off at the trail to walk north, we met some folks who had walked southbound and they were getting a ride back to the place we were going to in 25 miles. So, thinking we could walk south down into town, rather than walking north away from it, we jumped forward with them and hiked back to Mt. Shasta. The next day Dacvid picked us up, fed us again and took us back to the trail. The second day at his house (and he thought he had aseen the last of us :) I found myself drinking soda and sitting in an automated full body massage chair that pushed and throbbed on all the places where my backpack had created stress with its 35 pounds of weight. This was even more ridiculous than the foot massagers of the previous day. As the chair shook and wiggled my body I closed my eyes and felt like I was being rocketed into space with the G-force of the Apollo 13 leaving the ground and taking off into the atmosphere. The chair continued to rock and vibrate and toss! me around while tranquil background music played and created a soothing atmosphere. This, I supposed was how David relaxed to get away from the drain of a days work. It was nice, I have to say, but I still think nothing can replace the human touch of my wife to get the knots and kinks out of my back. The vibrating space chair, however, was something novel that I probably would never experience again on this PCT hike.David, took us back to the trail for the second time and we were off to walk another 80 miles to the next trail town of Etna, CA. Rose and I rolled out a couple 25 mile days through the grandeur of The Trinity Alps. Rocky ledges and high cliffs (though not as "Alp-like" as anything in Switzerland) made this easily one of my favorite portions of trail. Steep, breathtaking views off narrow trail winding high across ridges made of loose talus gave it an extra push from the mundane into the extraordinary. We thereafter came to the Etna summit and caught a ride with a Forest ranger as soon as we hit the pavement. Within a couple of minutes, we were transported to the small but quaint town of Etna, with an elevation more than three times the number of people that lived there. This was pretty much a one-horse town. Or at least it hadn't yet gotten a stoplight, a McDonalds, or a Walmart. This made it all the more endearing to me and it was consequently nice not to be overwhelmed by the hub bub of a metropolitan sprawl. Even the Pharmacy in the middle of town (located a convenient block or two from either end of town) had class and personality.This was a 100 year old brick building that still had an old-timey soda fountain. Now for the baby boomers out there I know you remember this. Before Coca-Cola came in a can spat out by a machine, there was syrup. And the syrup got dispensed out of a bottle and then mixed with carbonated water that sprayed from a marble and brass fountain. This tradition, once commonplace 50 years ago, has since been mechanized and industrialized and streamlined with robots, factories, and chemicals. But to this Generation X kid, this was a pleasant remembrance of days gone by when things were a bit simpler and slower. It was nice to step back in time to Etna, CA. After cooling down with some Sherbert and some orange cream slush floats, we checked out the post office and tossed about our options for lodging in the town. Debating whether to stay at the local Etna Motel or the B&B we were in the middle of weighing the options between the two when an older retired pastor climbing back into his red T-Bird noticed my bright yellow shirt. Besides the color, he was attacted to the logo scrolled across my chest which read, "To walk by faith." Being a pastor, he recognized the reference from the New Testament and boldly looked at me and said...

July 14th

Well. It finally happened. After 1030 miles we finally had rain. We had successfully walked the first 2 and a half months on our hike without a drop of rain and we were wondering if it might just not rain the whole trip. Of course, we did walk through 700 miles of desert and it did rain once while we were zeroing in a hostel, but we still thought that it was pretty amazing that everyday we walked we had blue skies.But I suppose it was inevitable; we were really just waiting for it to happen. And happen it did! Yesterday we were eating lunch on a prominent ridge at about 8,600 feet. These days we've been up pretty high walking on ridges beween 8,000 and 9,000 feet. In that particular spot, we had just finished lunch and took off happy and full to be done with any hard climbs and able to just walk on top of the mountain saddle between these amazing rocks and some neat looking twisted, gnarled cedars (the trees almost looked like giant bonsai trees growing unexpectedly out of craggy rocks). But as soon as we took off, the winds picked up and some pretty ominous dark clouds rolled in. Before we knew it, the sunny picnic turned into a chilly rain storm. So Rose and I threw our pack cvers on and our rain jackets and walked in the down pour. We picked up the pace a lot and scooted down the saddle as fast as we could as we heard lightning booming all around us. I kept looking around d! own the ridge for groves of trees in case the storm and lightning moved right over us, knowing that travelling on top of the ridge was a dangerous place to be. But fortunately, we dropped enough elevation that I felt a little more secure and the storm passed over within an hour. Within the next hour, it was no longer so scary. The spine tingling lightining gave way to gentle, spitting rains and we were glad to be safe and that God had protected us from harm. Though we were a bit wet and cold, it was spectacular to walk through fields of sage, lupine, and indian paint brush along the lower saddles. They were so fragrant and colorful and the plants each held little droplets of fresh rain on their newly refreshed leaves. It was the kind of rain we were actually grateful for - it felt like a pretty good release from the hot, humid climbs.But the storm of that afternoon was just a taste of what we would walk in a day later on July 14. That was today. And it seems like afternoon thunderstorms may very well be a pattern in this central CA area juat before Lake Tahoe. Again, today we stopped for lunch after crossing a road and reaching a half-way point in our 20 mile day. This, time, however we were much lower and in a much less precarious place. But, just like yesterday, no sooner had we finished our latwe lunch and the clouds rolled in. This time the lightning was closer and the thunder was like the ruckus of having your head right by the end of a bowling lane after while someoneis throwing a powewrful strike. This was close. But we gelt okay being closer to a road and not so high so we carried on. First it started out as a downpour just as the previous day had, but then tiny white balls of hail the size of peas started falling. We couldn't believe it! It was hailing in the middle of the summer! So! on the little pebble sized hail got bigger and became the sixe of decently heavy marbles. It was falling fast that we could see it pinging everywhere on the ground like it was one of those crazy machines with all the bouncing lotto balls. As the hail got biger and fell with great force, it started hurting. At first it had seemed kindsa novel, but now it had almost turned outright violent! I could definiitely feel it pluck my head through my rain coat hood! Fortunately, Rose had her umbrella so she was a little more protected than me. But both of us just tried to walk fast so we could avoid the daunting frozen moth balls whacking our bodies.As soon as the small hail got bigger, it also got wetter. So now we weren't just cold, but wet too! In just a few minutes the wet hail started to come down with a chilly rain and the the whole trail had become a giant river flowing with mud and washed away hail stones. Five minutes ago the ground had been brown and dry and then with the onslaught of hail it had become covered in white dots and was a big slushfest of water and ice! Nothing had the slightest chance to stay dry - our shoes were sopping from splashing threough icy puddles, and our raincoats had been soaked throguh rather quickly, too. In particular, I can say that my hiking kilt was soaked and I could feel the freezng air even inside it on my thighs, which usually remained warm from all the muscle activity of hiking! We were soaked form head to toe from the wet hail and it didn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. So we just put our heads down and folowed the trail as best as we could. We stopped nd tal! ked to some other hikers who, unlike us, had bunkered down under a tree for protection from the hail. Us - we figured we were wet and cold so it'd be better to generate a little body heat by walking rather than sitting in one place.We finished chatting to the couple huddled under the tree and continued warring on through the freezing rain. We went over a meadow and the hail let up. soon it became a dull rain and then we turned a corner and the sun came through. Oh, it felt soooo good to have the warm sun dry our clothes. My fingers had felt damp and chilled and now they were warming nicely under the bright rays. So the sun came out and the storm blew over. But as the mist cleared and left the plants sparkling under the newly blazing blue skies, the land took on this vibrant intensity! The air was so clear with no humidity in it that the greens of the firs and cedars were brilliant as the neddles glistened under their dewdrops! The flowers were shimmering brighter than I've ever seen them! Some how this is what I imagined life was like for a blind man who had just regained his sight in an instant miracle! Suddenly the darkness and vagueness was gone and there was just pure light. Everything was just more alive and more radiant after the storm had cleared, it was like a veil had ben lifted from our glazed eyes!We walked with absolute amazement at the clarity and goodness of the world around us! We took our wet coats off and just soaked up the new warmth. It was better than a cup of hot cocoa after travelling througha winter blizzard! The rain was gone and the sun lit up the red rock chimneys and boulders all around us!

As the sun came in, it beat down on the red rock cliffs and chimneys around us and the mountians shined so bright that they may just have thought themselves stars for a few minutes!So we walked under blue skies for the last 7 miles of the day! It was truly a neat experience to see hail cover the grund as it did. But what was even cooler was the way the chilling rain turned into the clerest, most beautiful sunswept day! So fear not if you are going through a storm in your own life. Just around the corner may be a rainbow, and the sun will peak through those clouds very soon and you'll be warming yourself as if you were on a perfect sandy beach! Thanks God that you help us through all our storms and that You promise Sun (and your Son) on the other side for those who know You!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Latest Edition of Pictures





































Ben & Rosie Reach Kennedy Meadows

(Ben and Rosie reached "the other Kennedy Meadows" on Saturday, July 12th. This "Kennedy Meadows" is north of Yosemite, but still in the Sierras. This is the latest pocketmail that we received from them a few days ago).

... On the note of mosquitoes, I recall the misery of the other day. I went off
the trail to take a poo-poo. This is normally a very calming and restful
experience. After compressing your belly all day as your knees take high stewps
over big rocks, I have to say it is a release to be able to take the pressure
off the belly, especially as it is pressed upon by the backpack hipbelt. But
the other day, no sooner had I flipped the kilt up and was aiming for the cat
hole in the dirt than a swarm of mosqitoes flew right up my butt! I don't mean
to be obscene but I couldn't even wipe without running away! I'm glad no one
was coing around the corner because they would've seen a half-kilted man
frantically running about with toilet paper dangling this way and that just
trying to find a few seconds to wipe and throw on his backpack before he got his
inners eaten by voracious mosquitoes!
So, all that to say, Yosemite is spectacular. There are waterfalls and huge
cliffs with rounded smooth rock. There are ferns and tall cedars and pines. The
climbs offer great views, though it has certainly become more green and forested
compared to the pure stark, open jagged rock of Mt. Whitney and its subseqent
passes. But for all the ups of Yosemite, it can just be hard to walk because of
the darned bugs! Today we walked almost 8 or 10 miles just running away from
the mosquitoes. To even stop to tie the shoe or take a sip of water was almost
unthinkable. As soon as I'd pause for a couple of seconds the relentless horde
would envelope me and I'd have to run away as if I'd just walked into a angry
beehive. This made it hard because not only were Rose and I constantly swatting
mosquitoes off our moving bodies (even while we were covered in 100% DEET) but
we couldn't stop. We tried to take a break and we ended up getting eaten alive.
Usually we stop and take our packs!
off for a couple of minutes just to rest our shoulders from carrying the load
and to give our calves a rest from the steep ups. Today we couldn't even do
that. We just had to slog on, through some pretty muddy, miserable sections of
the trail just so we could keep ahead of the cloud of mosquitoes eager to stick
their little probes into our skin!
So, these last few days have had some frustrating moments! But, we figure that
even the toughest, most grueling day on the trail is better than the best day
back in the "real world". The days may have their challenges - tough climbs,
hot weather, swarms of annoying bugs, etc. - but all those things fade into
oblivion when we see a field of flowers dancing in the wind or a sunset over a
lake, or the sweeping view of a granite mountain peak looming just above our
heads. God's glory is evident here and we get to hear Him and see Him in ways
that most people never will. He has so many secrets hidden in these beautiful
woods and we are the ones who get to find them tucked away from the streets and
the cars. We get to discover what so few have, but what so many dream about.
And all the mosquitoes in the world can't take that away! We are so thankful to
be here and as the card said that my mom sent me, "Romans 8:18 - 'I consider
that our present sufferings are not worth com!
paring with the glory that will be revealed in us!'" This hike is making Rose
and I closer, not just to each other, but to God. And because we are here we
get to see His glory manifested in so many new and unique ways! We love this
trail!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rosie & Ben's Sierra Diary Part I

Last time we left our brave heroes, they were steeply ascending the highest point on the PCT at 13,180. They did, indeed, make it up and over the pass and happily descended down to a wonderful lake where they plopped down and fell asleep in the afterglow of a sunset upon high alpine lakes composed of icy snow melt.Since Forester Pass, we've done about 1 pass a day. Our days for the last week have consisted of about 15 miles a day. In that space we probably ascend 3,000 or 4,000 feet in a couple of miles as we crest out over a pass at about 12,000 feet and then proceed to lose all the elevation we just gained. While losing the elevation we cross several rushing streams that originate from the melting snow pack. Now this is clean water! It starts from the very clefts, bowls, and peaks of the mountains and you can see it flow right out of the snow! There is no doubt about its source and its purity. Whenever we go in town it's almost hard to drink down the tepid chlorinated tap water because it's just not the same as this crystal clear, ice cold, gurgling delight.After swigging down some of this refreshing mountain water, we continue to descend down a pass. As we drop elevation, the small mountian trickles gather into giant alpine lakes. These lakes are incredible. The water is almost a perfect dark blue and, at times, still has some patches of ice floating on its surface. It just makes you cold to think about it!Eventually we descend past the gorgeous, sparkling lakes, each snuggly tucked into a niche below granite cliffs, and the lakes flow out and take the sudden course of gravity. This produces some terrific water events. We are almost always walking next to a roaring river that is steeply plunging to the valley ain parallel to the trail. Where the terrain is steep there is lots of churning, powerful whitewater pouring and spewing over boulders and drop-offs. As we level out from a million switchbacks we come into a meadow and amble across tints of pink and lavender blooms in green grassy, lazy meadows. The water we walk next to seems to somehow parallel our own journey; it descends with us and tells us what might lie ahead by its various tones. Like the trail sometimes it thunders like a powerful lion trampling everything in its path, but other times it just whispers woodsy secrets to the attentive ear. As the water slows and calms down in the meadows, the trail can beco! me rather boggy. It has been a given that everyday we will come into camp with swampy, wet feet. Our socks and shoes are usually soaked from either the streams flowing down the path and or from the many river crossings.About river crossings. They say that on the Pacific Crest Trail you cross more rivers in a single day that you do in the whole six months and 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. After hiking the AT, I can verify that is never more true than in the Sierras! (Just a hundred miles ago we used to read the trail Data book and water report religiously. It determined our whole lives - where we camped, how far we walked, where we took breaks - because we constantly had to be aware of how much water we needed. Now we don't even bother to look to see where water is because its just everywhere. At any given moment I can go over to one of the lakes, rivers, or streams dip my water bottle in and call it good.) Now the stream crossings vary. From just a little brook that can be easily crossed in one quick hop to larger fords that reqire a knee-deep slog across a 50 foot wide rushing current. Its funny to see different strategies for crossing the creeks and rivers. Some hikers! spend several minutes wandering up and down the stream trying to figure out the easiest way to cross without getting ones feet wet. This usually involves some fancy foot work across logs and some protruding rocks and even some extensive use of hiking poles to steady you on top of rocks as white water pours just beneath your precipitously balanced feet. To me this seems nearer to an Algebra problem that, with the wrong calculation, could produce a disasterously wet end. I, however, recognize that I have the coordination of an ox on roller skates, and that I prefer to never use poles (so far they've ridden 874 miles on my pack and I've only pulled them out a couple times to steady myself on the snowy cliffs of the passes.) With that realization I opt for the quicker and less dainty route of just plunging right in the river with full acceptance that I am going to wade across knee deep water. This is really quite freeing. I don't have to spend lots of time bumbling about! to keep my feet dry when they are probably going to get wet anyway.So the whole long and the short of it is that we are thankful for all the water. It all its forms in the Sierras it is quite idyllic, whether it be the still reflection of a mountain in a quiet lake or the intimidating gush of whitewater as it pummels down a ravine.After a long but beautiful week we have arrived at a little oasis. The Sierras are particularly rustic and thus aren't known for their abundance of amenities. So in this section of the trail involving some of the hardest days over the steepest passes, hikers are pleased to stumble upon Vermillion Valley Resort. Don't let the name fool you. It's not totally a resort. It's more of a high mountain camp for hikers and fisherman. There is a dirt road that comes up to it, but judging by the staff shirts here that read, "I survived the drive up to Vermillion Valley Resort" I would suppose that it is pretty well off the beaten path. vermiliion Valley Resort, or VVR for short, is tucked away in the heart of the Sierras just a couple miles off the PCT at about 7,500 feet. Now compared to the climbs we have done in the past week, 7,500 feet is just a wee lad. But compared to Fresno, CA - the closest sizeable town 3 hours down the hill - we are high up WAY above civilization. Th! e interesting thing is that right after crossing a great wooden bridge over Mono Creek, you see a sign that simply says "Ferry" and "Edison Lake" and points off the PCT with engraved arrows. So we followed this little detour for about a mile and then came to a landing on some sun-bleached rocks that formed a rocky beach upon Edison Lake. So we waited until 9:45 a.m. (the ferry comes across the lake twice a day at 9:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.) anda little pontoon boat took us over and around the lake to the other side where it dropped us off at a van parked alongside a beach. We hopped out of the ferry onto the other side of the lake opposite the PCT and jumped in the back of a white van which took us to see the VVR camp.

Ben & Rosie's Sierra Diary Part II

So we entered VVR. It is a rustic hideaway with tent cabins that are made of the same thick canvas material that Army tents are made of. But the real thing there is that they offer homemade meals and have a professional chef who makes different dishes every night. The meals are a little spendy - to the tune of 15 or 20 dollars each- but to the travelling and weary hiker home cooking is awful tempting. So we decided that we couldn't pass up the food but didn't want to drop more money on a meal so we did a little work for stay. So the guys at VVR put a couple of rakes in our hands and we worked to clean up the property for two hours. So two hours of raking pine cone and pine shats to spruce the place up for the 4th of July bought us a fine pizza and spaghetti dinner that night. So we went to sleep with full bellies and awoke the next morning in our canvas tent. We couldn't resist a nice breakfast the next morning and then afterwards we got to have a Bible study with one of the VVR employees named Phil. Phil was our ferry driver across Edison Lake and was a kind Christian man who had some French heritage. We got to talk alot with him around the campfire the night before and it was neat to share and read the word of God with a new friend. Phil even gave us a few gifts as a rememberance.So we walked out of VVR and climbed a couple thousand feet up Goodale Pass. This was a trail that paralleled the PCT and eventually dropped us back on the PCT and it's conjoined partner, the John Muir Trail. So, we were supposed to take what was called the Fish Creek Trail off the PCT to go soak in some local hot springs and then to again rejoin the PCT, but we missed the turn off. So we skipped the hot speings and just made a good push into Mammoth Lakes, CA. Although we were bummed to miss the hot springs, it was neat because as we were getting up from a lazy morning and about to start late at 10 o'clock in the morningwe saw two celebrities of the trail: Scott Williamson and Tattoo Joe. Now off the PCT those are probably two nobodies, as common as any other Tom, Dick, or Harry. But in the small community of long-distance hiking these men are untouchables. Both men are best friends and are known for setting the speed records on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tattoo Joe is a burly man weighing near 250 pounds with a pretty sizable belly - not exactly what you would think is a man who could walk 2,600 miles in just over two months. But, despite his appearance, he is a tremendous athelete. His long hair and tanned body that is covered with tattoos hint of his past as a surfer on the professional surfing circuit. When asked what drove him to his career as a long distance speed hiker he'd probably say that it was, in fact, his younger days as surfer. At times, he says he had to lose 10 pounds very quickly so he could have the perfect weight to surf and compete at his maximum potential (apparently weight is very important as you are balancing on a pointy board with several thousand pounds of frothy water surging over you). To lose the weight, he'd just take off into the woods ad see how far he could walk. After speed walking through the woods at near-inhuman speeds, he found he had lost the necessary weight from the intensive mountian climbs. I suppose after his surfing career finished he just stuck to the hiking hobby and has never stopped since. What does this mean today? It has lead him to hike the PCT 3 times and establish the incredible time of 79 days as the fastest time to have walked from Mexico to Canada via the PCT. If you do the math, 2,650 miles divided by 80 days le! aves about 34 miles a day. That's hauling! But what the amzing thing is is that while some hikers might do a 30 or a 40 mile day once or twice in an entire through hike as a mere bragging-rights novelty, this is what these guys do every day! It's crazy to think about. These guys carry tiny 8 pound packs and cruise at 3 and 4 mph - which is very quick considering they are charging up some pretty fierce hills. Let's put it this way: Rose and I started on April 20 and, with exception to the many days off we've taken, have hiked at an average pace of about 15 miles a day in the Sierras. We're in shape to do it, but we are still wiped at the end of the day. Scott Williamson and Tattoo Joe hike double this every day. When we were at mile 650 in our hike, celebrating my birthday on June 6, these guys were just about to start in Mexico. They started two months after us and yet at the nine hundred mile mark we were standing in the same place, us getting up to walk 15 miles after 11 a.m. and them having past us having already finished more miles than we'd do in an average day. Legendary, I tell you, legendary!So when I was bumbling around camp and I saw this pair racing by I thought at first they were goofy day hikers because their packs were no bigger than a substatial day pack. But I recognized Tatoo Joe because I had talked with him at the kick off and when I saw Scott Williamson, I just knew it was him. If Tattoo Joe was an excellent athelete with an unexpected form, Scott Willaimson was just the opposite in regards to his appearance. This was what you expected an ultramarathon man to look like. Tall and lankey, not a scrap of fat on his lean body, Scott has a chiseled face and legs that have the most gigantic and oxygen- rich veins protruding from his calf muscles. Scott has hiked the PCT 11 times (which probably is world-record worthy giving him near 30,000 miles of walking, approximately the circumference of the globe at the Equator) and is famous for not only going from Mexico to Canada in ridiculously fast times but then walks back to Mexico. And Scott does all th! is in the same time that a normal thru-hiker has completed the entire PCT once. If we were swimming, the length of an olympic pool, he'd be lapping us! His famous trips from Mexico to Canada to Mexico have earned him several sponsorships and put him in a world-class athelete status. But for all the hoopla about these two speedsters, I was quite honored that they'd stop at our piddly little camp spot riddled with clouds of mosquitoes, and eat a snack and talk to me and Rose for a couple of minutes. It might be like some young aspiring actors meeting Mel Gibson. But what I found out as these two incredible men sat before me on a fallen log in the Sierras was that they were just a bunch of good, kind folks who loved walking and, who like me, valued this tresure we called the PCT. Granted these guys are doing the hike in a radically different way.

Ben & Rosie in the Sierra's Part III

But though these guys will never stop in a town for more than 5 hours (and Rose and I just stopped in Bishop for 5 days to get her shoes back after we left them in a car of a friend) we are all out here for the love of the trail. And whether you walk it at 1 mph or 4, we are all bonded together by a common experience no matter how different we are off the trail!So, Scott and Tattoo Joe walked off and I'm sure that we'll never see them again on this trail this year. But it was cool that they stopped to talk and even recognized Rose ad I as the honeymooners. With that, Rose and I took off and climbed 1,000 feet in the hot sun as we gazed down on the pristine lakes below. We walked 16 miles that day in the footprints of Scott and Joe and made pretty good time (though we never caught those guys!) We ended the day walking down a gentle ridge covered in the shade of giant fir trees. That ridge was particularly cool because it was an old-growth forest that felt like the magical Ewok village of Star Wars! As we descended into a burn below us, I half expected to see a storm trooper ripping by on one of those hovering galatic speeder bikes. But I never saw one, or anything at all related to George Lucas, for that matter.Once down the hill, Rose and I spread our tent in the midst of an old forest burn that had been overgrown with underbrush and bright purple lupines. The hill was gorgeous as the pillars of burnt and broken wood stood tall against a bright blue sky with puffy clouds and the knobs of iron-red mountains in the background. We camped just 1 mile before Red's Meadow, a pack station that served tourists and fishermen wanting to make wilderness trips on horseback. We walked by several stables of beautiful brown horses, took a picture in an old horse carriage and jumped on the bus that took us down to Mammoth Lodge. This Lodge was home to the premier ski resort and many chalets and Condos that housed millions of eager Los Angeles families during a winter for their skiing and vacation pleasure. We caught a bus down to thetown and celebrated the 4th of July. Through a series of meeting some folks in town, we ended up getting invited to a bluegrass concert and barbeque. So, we found ourselves at the top of McGee Creek watching fireworks with some kind strangers while listening to live bluegrass music. We found a ride down that night with some people we met at the party and stayed a a local campground. The next day we got yo go out to a few local restaurants and even a Saturday night church service with some folks we met in town named April and Renn. After a great stay in town we are off to Yosemite National Park and to see Devil's Postpile. We expect that we'll be in South Lake Tahoe in 2 weeks. That will put us at mile 1094 giving us about 1,500 miles left in the trail! Thanks everybody for all your support, prayers, and special mail drops! Those are always a nice surprise when we get to town!

We'll keep you updated as we get to Tuolomne Meadows and Tahoe!

We love you and miss you lots!

Ben & Rosie

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ben & Rosie Summit Mt. Whitney!

Rosie and Ben took a side trip off the trail and scaled Mt. Whitney earlier this week. At 14,505 ft., Mt. Whitney is highest peak in continental United States. When we talked with Rosie this evening she said the last four days have been the most incredible days of her life. Right after Whitney, they also went over Forester Pass (13,153 ft.), the highest point of the Pacific Crest Trail. Going up and over the pass and then coming down the steep grade was scary, but they came through fine. A couple of hundred other hikers are ahead of them so the trail was well marked and worn. Rosie said it has been comfortable hiking through the snow during the days even though they have been hiking at elevations between 9,000 and 12,000 feet every day. It does get pretty cold at night, but by the time it gets dark, Rosie said they are snuggled in their sleeping bags. Though parts of the climb have been very strenuous, Rosie said they are in the best shape of their lives so it hasn't affected them too much.


Right now they are off the trail at Bishop, CA getting resupplied. They will be staying in Independence (which is south of Bishop on Hwy 395) for the next two nights and then will pick the trail up again at Kearsarge Pass on Monday.


Their next major mail stop will be at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, arriving approximately July 1. You can mail things to them at:

C/O General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite NP, CA 95389

Thursday, June 12, 2008

They Finally Make it to Kennedy Meadows

(Ben and Rosie arrived a Kennedy Meadows yesterday, the last stop before heading up into the Sierras. Kennedy Meadows marks the end of the desert, 700 miles into their hike to Canada. Here is the first part of Ben's massive Pocketmail journal entry. Most of what he is describing happened several weeks ago).

So that night at Hikertown we slept amongst shelves of old World War II hats, fuzzy Russian bombardier hats, old sheets, and a plethora of old Thrift Store clothes probably once used as props in various movies. It definitely felt like the actor's closet that time forgot. We woke up and said goodbye to the curiously intriguing sites of Hikertown into the winds of a desert filled with incredible Joshua Trees. So, we were off onto the famed aqueduct. Basically it was 20 miles of a flat, almost perfectly straight road walk that traversed the major supply of Los Angeles' water as it ran off the Sierras and was pumped to the suburban, congested metropolis south of us. As I mentioned before, this section was the subject of many a hiker story. In fact, this was supposed to be one of the hardest, hottest sections of trail, which could only be walked by night because that was the only time it was cool enough to pass through the desert safely without risking heat stroke. I recall, even, seeing a picture of some hikers (who had been brave enough to hike it under the full blazing afternoon sun) taking a mid-day nap under the only meager shade available for many miles: a small cement box that was raised above the aqueduct to allow access to the water system. For the small band of shade no bigger than a foot that the box provided, those guys were just plain desperate! Fortunately, everything we had seen and heard about the hot aqueduct walk was totally turned upside down as we sauntered along during a cold front in 70-degree temps with a nice breeze! There was even a guy who drove along on his day off and handed out cold sodas. I suppose he did that thinking that that stretch was going to be hotter than it was. So thank God for the unusual grace. We may very well have been the most spoiled, comfortable hikers to have ever crossed that aqueduct! As we passed the aqueduct and stepped off the flat road back onto the trail, it felt good to get back on a narrow path again. Somehow, walking on a road just feels a little unnatural and its nice to get back into what feels like wilderness again. So we walked along some rolling windswept hills and then bunkered down for a night in a teeny nook of the mountain where the wind wasn't beating us too much. Though the cold front brought with it cooler weather, it also brought pounding 60 mph winds - winds that we'd find over the next week were often hard to walk in as our bodies braced against them to try to maintain our balance without getting blown around like wind sails. So we got up from our niche in the valley the next morn, and from there walked into a mind-blowing section of the trail. Now we knew that the first 700 miles of the trail was desert. But up until this moment the desert had at least had some cactus blooms or Joshua trees or yucca - signs that even in a dry climate that received less than 10 inches of rain a year still gave some hints of green and life around us. But that morning we were walking through an entirely brown landscape. We walked over and through giant sand dunes that had traces of dead, twisted wood lying around that had been burnt and bleached by the hot sun. With not a single trace of green, this was a desolate place that felt like we were walking on an endlessly rolling beach, but there was no water or sea to be found anywhere around us. Only sultry, hot sand. The only trace of life in this area was the mountain bike tracks that ran willy-nilly across the PCT every now and again. Apparently these sand dunes were a playground for dirt bikes that plummeted down the mountainside. In fact, because the dirt bike trails cris-crossed the PCT so many times it was hard to distinguish the actual footpath at times, except that one could see the faint footprints in the loose sand. For this reason we actually came upon a girl who was hiking a section of the PCT and she had been lost for the last 4 or 5 hours all around the dunes. She had spent that morning wondering around the desert, confused and unable to find the trail after she had accidentally taken a path that was not the PCT and had aimlessly walked some 10 miles across these sandy mountains. It was very understandable that she could've gotten a bit turned around because there were no trees or rocks here and the whole place was just a vast expanse of desert that looked exactly the same. This was truly divine providence that we saw our lost friend, Quill. First of all, we had spent a good deal of the day playing around in the san dunes. This was unlike any other thing we'd ever seen and we spent a good deal of time taking photos, writing and drawing in the sand, and taking lots of breaks and naps on the soft sand. So because we spent a lot of time lollygagging around all our friends we were hiking with had gotten several hours behind us. This meant that they had all gotten ahead of Quill, although they thought she was ahead of them. You see, Quill had left camp first that morning trying to get a head start. But when she got lost off the trail all her hiking partners had unknowingly gotten ahead of her. In fact, when they got to the road to hitch into town, there was no sign of Quill and, as we later found out, had called Search And Rescue to go out and find her in the desert expanse. So had we not been taking it slow that day we would have never found Quill wondering near the PCT without even knowing that she was so close to the trail. Literally, had it been 2 minutes earlier or later, Rose and I would have never seen her.



Ben's PocketMail Part II

Rosie with her Mom in front of Rick Strausser's house in Tehachapi
(This is the 2nd part of Ben's most recent pocketmail journal)
So we saw our friend Quill and she was pretty shook up after being lost for near on 5 hours in the sandy desert. Her friends hiking with her had called search and rescue just in case because they hadn't seen her all day. This was very ironic considering her hiking partner's trail name was Hoffa, given to him because a search and rescue party had been sent out for him (even though he was never really lost) just weeks before due to a miscommunication with the forest service. In Hoffa's case there were even flyers posted with his picture because the forest service hadn't seen or heard from him in awhile. Fortunately, it never got that far for Quill. We found her and walked with her the rest of the way into town to help keep her mind off her aching blistered feet and her recent confusion. So we hit the road. Here a hiker has the choice to either hitch right to the town of Mojave, or left to Tehachapi, CA. Both are considered viable re-supply points for the PCT and probably each town gets about half the hikers coming through. Because we are town rats - we opted for both :) As soon as we hit the road, we saw the legendary white van that belonged to Gordon. Now Gordon is a very interesting character. The story goes - as I've heard from others and as I've talked to Gordon a few times myself - that he broke out of a nursing home to drive a giant white van that would support three of our fellow thru-hikers along their way: Nimblewill Nomad, Sheltowee, and Slider. So every day, those guys walk about 20 miles and Gordon drives his van over all sorts of backcountry roads (and his floorboards sure show lots of damage from the rocks and bumps) just so he can meet his three hiking friends and give them Gatorades, and snacks. Then the three hikers meet up with Gordon and stay wherever he has parked and then do it again the next day. The reason he is a bit of an icon on the trail, is that we (and those around us) see him at least one time a day and inevitably as we cross a road and pass his white van, he is playing the same tape with the same folk song about hiking (it's all he ever listens to). Then he hobbles slowly out of his truck and kindly offers us a free Gatorade - which is always most welcome after a hot day in the sun. Gordon is an older man who should be using a walker or a cane but refuses to do so because of his stubbornness. So when he walks, it takes him a very long time to amble out of his driver seat and to the back panel of the van where he keeps the cooler of icy Gatorade. I am pretty sure I could probably put down about two of those Gatorades in the time in takes him to walk around the van. But - we don't mind waiting a bit because this is what he loves to do. Gordon may not be able to walk very far or very fast like all the hikers around him, but he sure has a lot of love for those who do. And somehow the fact that he is out here doing this time after time and day after day getting no pay or no reward - except the sheer joy of helping us - that is just amazing. So we were very glad to see Gordon at the trailhead after descending through a wind farm with 100's of giant wind turbines hovering and whizzing over our heads as they collected free energy from the desert winds. So we jumped in Gordon's van and he took us into Mojave where we got a room at the Motel 6 to rest for a day. A side note: for anyone ever planning a trip to the west coast, I'd recommend not including Mojave in your itinerary. First of all - it is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, so it is a given that it is unbearably hot all summer long. What the winter is for the people of the Northeast and the Midwest - a time of hibernation inside - the summer is that to the people of Mojave. Often at 100 to 110 degrees, it is almost unthinkable to venture outside for anything more than just running to your car. Additionally Mojave is basically just a truck stop that runs parallel to a full service railway line (I say full service because all night long Rose and I could feel our hotel room shake from the roar of the trains as they passed by just across the street). Between the railroad ruckus and the domestic arguments that occurred in the middle of the night in the motel parking lot, our sleep was broken at best that night. On the upside, we re-supplied at the grocery store and got to go to the local Thrift store where Rosie found some fine additions to her hiker wardrobe and I bought a cute fluffy stuffed bunny with a floral dress (The purpose of the bunny was so that I could sneak it into one of my friend's packs when they weren't looking with a note that read, "Please take me to Canada, I'm cute." Thus it was merely a means to get some big, burly, bearded man hiker to carry a cute stuffed animal a a joke :) After spending a good deal of he morning overfilling our bellies with the giant potions of Denny's, we decided to make a late departure at 4 pm. This, of course, cut our miles down that we could do that day. But that was actually all part of the plan because, unexpectedly, we had just learned that we would get to see Rosie's parents in a few days and we had a few days to kill so we would meet them in the nearby town of Tehachapi. So we hitched out of the dumpy town of Mojave with hopes to walk another 8 miles, hit the next road and hitch back in to Tehachapi where we would meet Rosie's mom and dad. What we ended up with was far better than we could have ever hoped for. We stood outside of the town with our thumbs out for near to half an hour. Cars zoomed by us, pretending not to see us as we tried to look friendly for each potential ride that passed (in these instances I usually make Rosie stand in front of me because I think she looks less scary and less intimidating than a bearded man in red pleated skirt). It had become ridiculously obvious at this point that these people driving by us had probably never even heard of the Pacific Crest Trail and never had once thought about wearing a backpack for anything other than walking the halls of their former high school. After Denny's, we had tried asking some folks at the gas station for a ride and that had gone over like a lead balloon. Now we were standing on the highway with equally as much success. But then, just when we thought we might never get a hitch, a blue Chevy truck pulled over and we popped in without hesitation. This was Rick. He was a retired fire fighter and, as we would soon find out, an everyday hero of sorts. So Rick went out of his way to take us to the trail. He had performed lots of wilderness Search and Rescue work for hikers and climbers along the PCT in Central California.