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

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