Thursday, May 31, 2012

Agua Dulce - Mile 454

It is 10 o'clock.  That is 2 hours past Hiker Midnight.  I would not classify myself as exhausted, but my body is definitely asking what's up.

Staying up late at the Saufley's in Agua Dulce, wearing a hiker box pirate hat, loving the fully charged iPod. Over 40% of hikers have now dropped out, less than 5% will drop out now.  Agua Dulce means we have made it.  It is definitely a time to celebrate.

Backpacking is all about routines, and due to the nature of The Barracuda, we are even more strict than many.  The boy is very Type A and watns things very specific.  Pushing the usual 8 pm bedtime isn't going over very well with my pineal gland.   But we are zeroing tomorrow and there are blog posts to be written!  My pineal gland can suck it up!

During the day at home, I will frequently jot down notes when I go about my day.  Out here, I talk to myself in my head as I walk since note jotting isn't going to happen.  More often than not, the ideas tend to revolve around realizations about the character of our intrepid son.

Mile 400!

The Barracuda always walks in front of me.  Originally this was so that I could monitor his pace, his water consumption, his walking (for blisters, pack burns, and other such issues), and all that other mom stuff.  However, it has now turned into me following him because he is significantly faster than I am.  The boy has found his 2.5 mile an hour pace and is quickly working on gaining a 3 mile an hour pace.  Hiking has given him a sense of personal actualization which seems to be taking off.  This goal is one which can be made or lost all by himself and there haven't been too many of those instances in his life previously outside of his schoolwork.

More than anything I am struck by his desire to continue into unknown territory quite boldly.  At first I took this to be a level of naive childishness.  However, now that he has experienced dehydration and calorie loss, the desire to forge on seems only more secure.  It is a level of confidence which seems so foreign to me. Each night we discuss the coming miles; each day he presses on through heat and tired trudging. As we enter the Mohave desert (where water is quite questionable all the time and temerpatures reach somewhere between 120 and 140 regularly) he takes a deep breath, sets his shoulders, and heads out in the morning.

Hanging out on top of Mt. Baden-Powel.  Yep, that's snow in the background.  The pine trees are completely frosted solid and with the windchill it got down into the teens the night before.  You'd never know we were in the desert!

Somewhere along the line, he has gained the prespective that this too shall pass.  He has come to see that there are many things which we cannot control, but those he can, he will.  He can control his mindset.  He can control his pace.  He can control how hard he tries.  He can control that each day he leaves it all out there on the trail in the pursuit of tomorrow.

I would love to declare that I have taught him this - that somewhere my incredible parenting is shining through the grit, grime, and stentch of a stressful trail - but I cannot.  On the contrary.  Many days it is he who is teaching me.

There are 9 of us total who are hiking together from all over the United States. The Barracuda hikes on with everyone else.  Even through the miles of road walks, the hitchhikes, the detours, he continues on playing at the end of the day with everyone in any way he can.  He started out as "The Boy" and has quickly become "The Barracuda" who is listened to like any other member of the group when it comes time for opinions and voting.  He's earned his place, one step at a time. 

  "Am I willing to give up what I have in order to be what I am not yet?  Am I able to follow the spirit of love into the desert? It is a frightening and sacred moment.  There is no return.  One's life is charged forever. It is the fire that gives us our shape."
 ~Mary Richards

Monday, May 28, 2012

415 Miles Down - Missing the Family

(Brynn never gets any pictures of herself.) 

I live for evenings when I get a call around 7:00pm; I run to the cell hoping it's Brynn.  When I'm not disappointed by a telemarketer, I listen with awe at all that Dae and Brynn have seen and accomplished.  Tonight we talked about a detour they were having to take due to some scrub brush that was running rampant.  It seems this plant, that had grown back in abundance after a recent wildfire destroyed its competition, has very nasty burrs that work their way into your skin and cause severe itching and possibly blistering.  Thus, a road walk was today's adventure.  

Sure, Brynn cuts in and out as reception isn't always the best, but it lifts my spirits knowing they are at camp, settling down after a long day, cooking, and preparing to snuggle down for the night.  Brynn and I have a pretty great relationship, largely due to simply talking with each other on a regular basis.  This sounds like something every couple should do, but I'm reminded more and more by friends and acquaintances that this is all to often something that gets put aside or lost in the multitude of other chores.  We are blessed with a dock that now overlooks a sand flat, but it does offer solitude, quiet, huge views of the stars, and the ideal spot to spend an evening talking with a partner.  It is a ritual that Brynn and I do consistently, so these phone calls have really been a great solution while she is away hiking.  

Tonight, I was talking with the Barracuda, which mostly consists of me taunting him about the hugs, kisses, and snuggles I'm going to give him when I see him.  I've coined the day we see each other as "SnuggleFest 2012".  I'm being silly with him, and he breaks this out on me.  "You know, this trip has been a lot harder than I thought it was going to be when I said I wanted to hike the PCT."  He said this not with dread or in weakness; instead, he was enthusiastic and talking about how he was working on his 3 mile an hour pace.  And how could he, a child who still doesn't fully grasp scale yet, possibly imagine how huge of a challenge he is taking on.  That he wakes up happy and excited to meet this growing realization of what lays before him is simply inspiring.  I can't imagine all the things he's done and experienced, but I don't think my boy will be the same kid I dropped off at the border two month earlier.    


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Desert Sucks

(Still no camera.  We've taken a slight detour and will be in Wrightwood, picking up the camera by Friday.  If we miss the post office, then we will be picking it up Tuesday or forwarding.  At this point, we're just winging it. :)

Every bit of the mother in me says we should just go home.  I look at my dirty, scuffed up little ruffian and know he is suffering.  He is severely dehydrated, massively lacking calories, and sweltering in the heat.  But, I also know how much his heart is in this.  I know what it would mean to him for me to stop us.  I realize that in this instance the physical sacrifice is much more important than the emotional burden of failure.

Some time ago I wrote about how every true backpacking adventure has a moment where you think "What the hell am I doing?!"  If it didn't, it wouldn't be an adventure.  This morning as I was holding my son over the sink for him to dry heave, I had that moment.

What the hell am I doing?

Let me start at the beginning.

Three days ago, The Barracuda began fussing about 3 miles into the day.  I handled it magnificently by telling him to drink a lot of water, provided a gulp of Gatorade, and demanded he suck it up.  At mile 5, he passed out.  I tried to keep the horseflies off him and let him sleep for a half hour as I contemplated my Child Protective Services report "Mother of the Year" speech.  The boy had burned every spare calorie his body had in reserve and could not eat enough to sustain the calories he had been burning during the day.  This resulted in severe sugar shock.

The day continued with 100+ degree temperatures, 100 percent exposure, contouring with no where to stop, and swarms of horseflies everywhere.  It sucked monumentally.  We did not have enough water to make a full meal (it was a lengthy waterless stretch and extreme heat so lunch was going to be tuna fish), but I pushed every spare piece of food possible into The Barracuda.  Two moon pies, a package of cheese and crackers, 4 liters of Gatorade, 3 liters of water, a block of cheese, 2 tuna fish packets, some Sun Chips, a bag of Doritos, and 4 trail bars later.  We made it Silverwood State Park.  By that time we were out of water, exhausted and had undergone the single worst day of backpacking I have ever experienced.  I had only eaten a Snickers bar the entire day and thoroughly must have looked it when a startled Ranger directed us to a closed group camp one mile away.  He said we could stay for free, following up with, "The showers are locked up, though." You forget how much you smell out here.

We took a 15 minute break where The Barracuda shared an orange with another hiker who kept flashing me nervous looks. He left us with, "Kid, you are tougher than I will ever be."

Trail Magic is a funny thing.  It perks up whenever you think everything is lost.  The group campground next to us is occupied by the Tree House of Sequoyah School - just about the greatest bunch of 3rd and 4th grade campers I've ever met!  The Barracuda and I were invited to eat dinner with them - pesto pasta, salad, bread, sausages, strawberries and cream - share a campfire, play games, and generally treated amazingly well.  There are many Trail Angels out there, but the best ones are the ones who you don't expect and aren't trying to do anything but show extreme generosity in bizarre coincidences. They made our day melt away.  They made the next day easier.  They helped in times when all seemed lost and didn't even know they were doing it.  Thank you, Emily and Treehouse.

The next day we hiked 13.6 miles to the trailside McDonalds (there is even a wooden trail marker), ate 2700 calories each.  In another bizarre coincidence, a fellow hiker lived in Riverside, California, the exact suburb of Los Angeles my high school friend works/lives in.  We were given a ride and are currently sitting out the trail on a very much needed zero day.  The Barracuda has recovered from his morning puking and is currently watching cartoons in Marjorie's air conditioned studio apartment.  The laundry has been done and giant burritos have been consumed (more calories the better).  Everything has been charged up and we head out tonight to catch our ride back to the trailhead.

Last night we got to sit in on her graduate class about the implications of manners in the development of the Novel.  It was quite an interesting experience to be sitting, stinky and covered with dirt, in a classroom full of strangers discussing what it means socially to have manners.  Oh the irony....

We are back to the trail in the morning to bust out 20+ miles to Wrightwood!

Town Stops

 (The Sparrow & the Barracuda at one of the great town stops along the way.)

Town stops are hedonistic.  This morning our roommates were getting rid of some Nutella, so The Barracuda and I ate spoonfuls in bed while watching cartoons and drinking soda.  We finished off the last 2/3rds of the container. It was a great breakfast.

Earlier in the day we went to Sizzler and ate until both of us thought we might puke.  There was an endless salad bar, and endless taco bar, and an endless dessert bar.  We stayed for over 2 hours.  It was an awesome pre-dinner.

On the way into town we grabbed 4 sodas out of the cache the hotels had set up as advertising.  We don't drink pop at home, but it contains too many calories to waste out here.  They were a delicious pre-lunch.

Before we caught our bus back to the trailhead, The Barracuda ate an entire large pepperoni pizza himself.  It was just over 2,300 calories.  I thought I would get a slice or two, but apparently not.

But the greatest part has to be the "hotel."  I use that term lightly.  There are hotels in most towns, but our trail budget doesn't really allow us to stay in them.  Plus, we are just too dirty.  They call it "hiker ring" when PCT hikers get out of a bathroom or shower and the highly visible dirt ring lingers.  Let's be real, we're foul.  However, considering that anything even remotely couchlike, a microwave, and hot water are mystical luxuries, we don't require much.

This last night, we stayed at Nature's Inn.  It is a place on the trail people talk about for a good 40 miles out.  The manager is a little wacky and the employees have enough prison tattoos for there to be no doubt they have served some serious time.  You have to share a room with other hikers who are total strangers - if you even get a room, they will house you anywhere, even in a back closet - and often times that can mean sleeping on a couch.  The back patio advertised is a ram-shackled deck sort of thing looking out on 3 feet of patchy scrub grass and the Wi Fi is the world's slowest laptop in the back room.  But everyone tends to come.  Hikers hang out on the front porch swings.  They congregate in the back room with ancient board games containing improvised pieces long since missing the originals.  They laugh till all hours and then pass out everywhere.

Do not be fooled - The Natures Inn is a major destination. 

In every room there are jacuzzi tubs!  This post was written on crinkled, water sploched notebook paper from a full sized jacuzzi with steaming hot water and bubbles!  There was even a fresh new razor to my left and a soda on my right.  There are few luxuries on the trail, but, my goodness, this is one was divine!

It was just like the movie Pretty know...if Julia Roberts was a long distance backpacker who hadn't bathed in over a week and there was no Richard Gere.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Sparrow and The Barracuda's Grand Adventure

The Sparrow and The Barracuda's Grand Adventure
Mile Post ~ 270 Miles

The last 2 ½ weeks have been busy ones for the Barracuda and the Sparrow, but I am very happy to report they are in excellent spirits and moving north on schedule.  I feel fortunate to be able to relay their experiences as I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing their voices and talking with them on evenings that cell reception allows.  Each day, as they gain experience and confidence on the trail, they seem lighter on their feet and more absorbed in the thru-hiker culture of the Pacific Crest Trail.  They are now talking the talk and walking the walk. 

Trying to convey another long distance hiker’s experiences, either physical and emotional, seems rather short sighted, as each hiker’s journey is so individual.  I still can’t get my head around how amazing and challenging this PCT hike must be for the Barracuda.  And I never fully understand my amazing wife, so what follows will be my bird’s eye view of their experiences based on my own past long distance hiking.  

(I can tell you one of the Barracuda's favorite things is eating!)

Working Out The Bugs:

I find weekend and week long hiking trips so difficult, because you don’t truly have enough time to learn to live out of a backpack.  By the time a short trip is over, you're just starting to learn all the quirks of setting up the tent, preparing meals, and doing the routine hiking chores.  About the time you figure out how to load your pack just right and how those shoulder straps shift the weight around it is the end of your trip.  The Sparrow and the Barracuda have crossed over that line at this point and have worked out most of these little issues.  They have established a routine, which is truly crucial for the Barracuda, and both of them know their responsibilities. 

This has been a huge breakthrough for the Sparrow, as much of the hiking we have done in the past has been together.  I’ll admit I have a pretty ingrained system that works for me based on my past hiking experiences, and the Sparrow has generously yielded to that pattern when we are together.  As the sole parent hiking with our son though, she has had to throw off those past routines because the division of responsibilities isn’t an option.  Nearly every task, from filtering water to breaking down camp, now resides on her, and my system simply didn’t work for one parent.  The great news is I get the feeling that establishing her own methods and tricks is liberating, as we usually approach a problem form completely different angles.  

(Both the Barracuda and The Sparrow are pretty amazing.)
 The Sparrow, with grace and patience, has somehow managed to figure out how to live out of a pack, route find, plan for water needs in the desert, prepare food after long, tiring days, and set up and take down camp.  While that may sound like what any other hiker does, the remarkable part is that she has figured out how to do all that while also parenting the Barracuda.  On top of the regular obstacles and challenges of hiking, she is mom: checking for blisters, making sure the Barracuda is drinking enough, providing encouragement (often when she is tired), and generally putting her needs behind that of our son.  Words can’t express how awed and impressed I am in her abilities and strength. 

The Terrain:

(A water cache provided and stocked by trail angels.  This is the only water source available for many miles.)
 Based on my short experience on their first day, I can only say it is hot!  The Laguna mountains and San Jacinto mountains have offered a harsh introduction to the trail, with full exposure to the sun on very hot days.  They have climbed ridge-lines in full sun and traversed ranges in high winds.  Several days have broken the 100 degree marker, and water is scarce.  Budgeting water and timing water sources has required a pacing schedule that has necessitated planning, and once or twice hiking a mile (or three) with empty water bladders.  One rule of hiking that quickly becomes apparent when you lift a backpack is that 1 quart of water weighs 2 pounds.  Some of the hiking has required the Barracuda to carry 2 ½ quarts and the Sparrow to carry up to 6 quarts of water to reach the next source.  Even with a light base weight, this quickly adds to their loads. 

The irony is that they also face dramatic swings in temperature at night.  While the days may be scorching, the evening temperatures often drop into the 30’s.  Because they are becoming use to the heat, the contrasting evening temperatures often find them wearing every scrap of clothing they own.  

(A cold start after a colder night.  The temperatures will quickly warm up.)

The Hiker-Trash Culture:

The Sparrow and the Barracuda are not alone one this journey to Canada: each year the PCT hosts a new batch of migratory hikers all striving to make the trip.  These are fellow travelers who have trod the same ground as them, feasted on the same natural wonders, and suffered the same challenges.  This forms bonds unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, and the Sparrow and the Barracuda have made quite a few amazing new friends.  Hikers, like everybody else, are drawn toward the Barracuda, and his charisma and zest for fun has even gotten tired trail hikers to play tag after a long day.  The Sparrow has found support and friendship among the community, and it is great to hear her talking with these hikers.  They are a tight knit group, and the cost of entrance to the group is shared experiences and miles.  I am thankful for each of these people.  Though I don’t know them, they have camped with my wife and son when they were close to the Mexican border for added security, provided encouragement and warm smiles, bartered and given food to an always starving stinky boy, literally  given the Sparrow the shorts she lives in, and made the trip one that the Barracuda will never forget.  If you’ve never experienced the long distance hiking community, it is simply unbelievable and will quickly renew your faith in humanity.  

I'm counting the days until I can meet up with the Sparrow and the Barracuda.  I can think of no better way to spend the summer than hiking with my crazy family. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Things You Find

Hiking is dangerous business!

This sign showed up in the scrub desert just outside Mt. Laguna.  It seemed a bit nonchalant, but then what do I know.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Pacific Crest Trail – Update on the Kick Off

Pacific Crest Trail – Update on the Kick Off

 (The Barracuda standing at the official start of the PCT in Campo, CA.
Behind him you see the ominous fence marking the U.S/Mexican border.)

If this format doesn't match what you are use to seeing, it is because I, Jules, will be posting weekly updates to the blog while the family is hiking the PCT.  I will do my best to keep the same tone and vibe you are use to reading, but I will confess upfront that I am a bit of a Luddite and not very computer savvy.  This post will also be a quick update, but I will post again this weekend with more details. 

As I type this, The Barracuda and Brynn are well into their first hundred mile section of the PCT.  After all the stressful days of planning and packing, I think they were both happy to be underway and in the car this past Thursday.  After a two day, 18 hour rode trip, we made it to Campo, CA.  I was lucky enough to hike the first 20 mile section with them and see them off.  Despite truly sweltering conditions and many dry water sources, they are in great spirits and moving north.  As you can imagine, I'm quite proud of them both.