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!