Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wild Effect

Is being felt everywhere these days.  

Reese Witherspoon's film Wild (based on Cheryl Strayed's PCT book of the same name) opens in the United States on December 5, 2014.  Yes, of course I am going.  Out of curiosity.  And because the trailer looks good.  And because the movie was filmed largely in Oregon and partly in its State Parks, and the Columbia River Gorge (my new stomping grounds).  And because even I am feeling a little bit of the Wild Effect.  It turns out the effects are not all that bad!

A post-trail essay appears on the Pacific Crest Trail Association's
new "Wild" page.  PCTA Wild Stories

I realize that I haven't posted in well over a year--and there are definitely a few things to catch up on--but I wanted to post now because I am excited to share that I will be giving another public presentation soon.  And, for the first time, in the Columbia River Gorge.

I am teaming up with my cohorts at the Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Lock and Dam for a presentation on Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 2 PM at the Bradford Island Visitor Center (access from the Oregon side.)  Just shy of a week before Wild opens.  Details to come.

I'd love to see you there, talk a little Trail, and give you a sneak peek into scenes to be on the lookout for in the new movie.

Until then . . . Bacon Bit

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Homeless or Thru-Hiker?

 * * Upcoming Talks:  October 10, 2013  Corvallis Parks & Rec, Senior Center, 7 PM.  $5, Register #11248 @ https://corvparksandrecreation.apm.activecommunities.com/Activity_Search  //   October 15, 2013  Salem, Louck's Auditorium, 7 PMFREE * *  

“What’s the difference between a homeless person and a thru-hiker?” Maddog asked one day in Washington.  He, Gumby, and I had been hiking together for most of Washington.  Maddog and Gumby took turns telling jokes to keep our minds occupied.  I only knew two jokes, and I had told them way back in California.  “I don’t know.  What?”  Pause.  “A Smartphone.”  I laughed long and hard and chuckled hours and days later.

Maddog and Gumby in Washington.
The Trail began and ended with these two!
I was reminded of this conversation the other week as I headed out to help another ranger to dismantle a transient camp that had been discovered within park boundaries.  It was the third camp from what appeared to be the same woman.  As we approached the camp, he described the other two camps they had found and how they’d also discovered soap and a washcloth by the creek.  I instantly thought of how many times I had jumped into a creek to clean up on the PCT and other backpacking trips.  How “laundry” in a creek was an every two to three day occasion during my five months on the trail.  I pushed out the thoughts and the empathy.  “Makes sense,” was all I said.

When we reached the campsites (there were three relatively close together, only one in use), my mind blanked and traveled back to the Trail.  On my right was a damp clearing in the brush—not a prime campsite, but doable in a pinch.  On my left was a clean, dry site below a cedar tree; it was on the upslope of a hill, slightly dug in, and braced by a few-feet-wide tree trunk.  I stopped.  It was a place I had camped.  It was cleared of brush as a PCT thru-hiker would clear it.  It was positioned at the base of a tree as a PCT thru-hiker would position it.  It was an area made flat by scraping into the slope as so many PCT thru-hikers would sculpt it.  I’d have chosen that site if I walked by it on the PCT.  I had slept in places just like that.

PCT transient camp with "the Canadians" in a cuddle puddle.
We approached the most recent camp.  Tarp over a sleeping bag, some clothing, a few coffee cups, and a book.  I tried to keep my mind in ranger-mode, but I found myself wondering how her sleep setup fared in the rain, when the last time was that she did laundry, how she managed to keep clean enough to hang around town and go to the library.  When did she wake up?  When did she read?  What was it like for her to go to bed and wake up outside day after day?  Where was she digging her cat holes?  (The area was remarkably clean.)  As we packed up all of her belongings, I couldn’t help but to feel a tinge of guilt.  I, too, had lived outside for months.  I had washed up in the creek.  I had headed to town to clean up and get a cheap or free meal.  I had had no place to go but outside, no one to talk to but Gumby and the birds and lizards, no belongings but those that I could carry.  Who was I to take apart someone else’s campsite?

After spending nearly 5 hours in a McDonalds eating
 and charging electronics and cleaning up,
I first realized that I was, indeed, homeless.

I thought about and have been thinking about the above for a couple of weeks.  And I cannot resolve it in my mind.  It is another way the Trail has changed my perspective—but it is so new that I don’t know yet what to do with it.  Clearly, what made Maddog’s joke so exceptionally funny was how painfully close was to the naked truth.  The line between thru-hiker and transient is drawn with 4G.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From Hiking to Crawling: Lessons Learned on a Long Walk

 * * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *

Recently, I wrote an article for my park's--Tryon Creek State Natural Area, Portland, Oregon--newsletter, "The Trillium Times."  It forced me to reflect on my thru-hike (and made me cry a few times), so I thought I'd share.  Enjoy!

“From Hiking to Crawling:  Lessons Learned on a Long Walk”

For nearly three years, walking has been my greatest obsession.  Last spring, I tackled my first long trail—a thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.  From the day I finally resolved to attempt it in 2010 to my first steps away from the corrugated metal fence that is the Mexican border on April 30, 2012, I obsessed with the idea of walking—planning and preparing for a journey I could not comprehend from my temperature-controlled home in Silverton.  For the next 151 days, I was immersed in the act of walking—traveling an average of 20 miles a day to reach Canada before the Washington snows hit.  And every day since those final steps on September 28, 2012, my time and thoughts have been filled with reflecting on and recovering from walking. 

Today, I look out the windows of the Tryon Creek Nature Center where I have just started working as an Interpretive Park Ranger, and I see countless people walking.  All hours of the day, all days of the week.

And so, it is in this light that I would like to write today about walking. 

Let me begin with a few of the lessons I learned during my six-million step journey:
My new park includes "Willamette Stone," the surveyor's monument that is
 the point of origin for  all of Oregon and Washington's public land surveys.  
So, in a round about way, this historic place led me through Oregon & Washington!
  • A good long walk takes the weight of years and worries off your shoulders.  You’ll lose as many pounds of actual weight as you do of worry.
  • Nothing is so worrisome that you can bear to worry about it for 14 waking/walking hours a day, 7 days a week. 
  • Rest is as important as anything else in the world . . . as is water and nourishment.  Without these three, nothing is important.
  • Nothing tastes as good as anything after a long day’s walk.
  • Anywhere really IS walking distance if you have the time.
  • “Walk it off,” is more than just a coaching cliché.  Many ailments, physical and mental, can be cured by a nice long walk.
  • Walking is for everyone.  The tall and the small, the young and the old, the injured and the well, the elk, the porcupine, and the goat.  I found them all traveling the PCT.
  • If you walk far enough, you will find answers.  You will not find all of them.  Rather, you will find answers you were not looking for and questions you did not know you had.  Rest easy knowing that your question to answer ratio will remain the same.
  • You cannot walk away from your problems, only into them.
  • Clarity rides on the shirttails of fresh air.
  • Christopher Robin was right when he said, “... we ought to eat all of our provisions now, so that we shan’t have so much to carry.” 

And last, but not least, for all those of us who have neither the time nor energy for an expedition-length walk:
  • A long walk is nothing more than a series of short ones.

My slowly-healing feet recently walked me around
Mammoth Hot Springs in northern Yellowstone National Park.
The above is what I learned while walking the PCT.  My most valuable lesson, however, came post-trail.

Since finishing the PCT, I have had a limited ability to walk.  In northern California, I developed plantar fasciitis.  1000 miles later, upon finishing the trail, I found I could walk no more than 100 yards—and at a snail’s pace as I attempted to balance pain with distance and pretend that everything was fine.  When I awoke at night with no one watching, I would opt to crawl to the bathroom rather than put weight on my feet.  This drastic transition from hiking 25 miles a day to hobbling to the kitchen has been one of the  most humbling experiences of my life.  My appreciation for the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has increased tenfold.  As has my awe and respect for all of you walkers—tall and small, young and old, injured and well—who make the time and effort to do it.  It has only been through reflecting on and recovering from the PCT that I have fully grasped the final lesson of a long walk, which is this:
  • Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is the most difficult thing you can do.  It is sometimes also the only thing you can do.
And with that, I bid you farewell.  I am out for a short ramble on my new favorite Tryon Creek trail, Big Fir.  Perhaps I’ll see you out there.





Sunday, February 10, 2013

If I Could Do It Again . . .


 * * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *





This is one of the most frequently asked questions post-trail.  Right up there with, “How many pairs of shoes did you go through?”  Let me say right off that I do not have any regrets about my hike.  However, if I had known then what I know now, there are things I would have done differently.  For those of you headed for the trail and for my own reminder to my future self, here they are:


By the time we left Crater Lake,
we had finally ditched most of  our extra gear.  Nearly 2  lbs.
Gear

Overall, I was happy with my gear selections.  I might have gone with the Big Agnes Fly Creek instead of the TarpTent Contrail, considered more seriously the MSR Pocket Rocket over an alcohol stove, picked the iPhone over the Droid Razr Maxx, and definitely have found a better solar charger than the PowerMonkey.  But, mostly, with gear, I would have just ditched it sooner. 

Items I sent home included:  zip-off pants (traded for shorts), extra socks, extra sports bra, a mug, hot hands, 50% of my first aid kit, 3 extra stuff sacks, the lid to my pot, a small Nalgene, an emergency blanket, an extra USB charging cord, my camera case, an extra camera battery, the “Lid” I bought for my Granite Gear pack, a couple of folds of my Z-Lite, dental floss (which I added back), a pack towel, half of my spare cordage, half of my roll of duct tape (wrapped around my trekking poles instead), a small journal, the “data book,” the baskets for my trekking poles, ace wraps, extra inserts (should have used those), my Crocs (handy in the Sierra crossings—not after!) 

I started with a base pack weight of 18 lbs; I was down to 16 lbs by Washington.  In Washington, I also sent my TarpTent home and shared with my cousin (the Contrail can squeeze two in a pinch—I also shared this with my 6’1” mate when he hiked with us).  So, I dropped to just over 14 lbs, but added foot braces and athletic tape for my feet, rounding me out to a solid 15 lbs.  Given my size and weight, I should have been at 15 lbs from the get-go.  If I did it again, I would start with less.


Timing

If we had started earlier, we might have called it a night as soon as we hit this!
Gumby and I finished in 152 days.  Not bad considering our tortoise pace.  We hit the Sierras on June 15 and made it to Canada before it snowed or really even started to rain.  If I did it again, I would start the trail two weeks earlier, hitch down for Kickoff (ADZPCTKO), and then hitch back up afterwards.  We could have benefitted from starting slower and from having a 2-week head start.  Since we were not fast hikers, we took less zeros and more neros to keep pace and make it to Canada before October.  We never stopped anywhere for long and skipped a number of town stops.  It would have been more relaxing if we had given ourselves more time in the beginning.  AND, we would have had more trail magic!  In the back of the Herd, you miss some of it by mere days . . . 


Food

I packed all of my food ahead of time and had it shipped to me in 25 resupply packages.  Overall, I would stick with the buy-and-pack-ahead-of-time method.  However, I would have done three things differently. 

Worth the extra weight to spend over 2 weeks straight in the Sierras.
1)  I would have made sure I LOVED every food that I packed and not tried to save myself money with food I felt “okay” about.  Any food I settled for back home, I hated midway through the trail.  I also portioned out five months worth of jerky ahead of time—bad idea, it rots and molds in three weeks.  My shipper (my mate) had to pitch all of it. 

2)  I would have resupplied on trail a couple of times.  A few of the stops had great resupply stores; although many did not, I wish I had planned to resupply on trail a couple of times to give myself new food selections.  Food is an obsession on the trail—something new to obsess about is a blessing.

3)  I would have stopped more often.  There are two ways to plan your resupply.  One is to stop as often as possible so that you carry as little as possible between stops.  The other is to resupply less and carry more so that you have to pull off trail and hitch to town less.  Overall, I was happy with the places I chose to pull off, but there were times I went for a longer haul when a stop would have been simple and made my pack a hell of a lot lighter. 

Oh, I guess there is one more thing:  I would have carried less food.  I planned for nearly 4000 calories a day.  It’s a good number.  It turned out to be a little too much for 5’ 3/4” me.  I pulled into town with extra food 23 times of the 25 times I arrived.  Extra food is extra weight.  1 lb of extra food is 1 lb added to your base weight.  I would not have shipped myself less, it is nice to have the option of more, but I would have ditched more in the hiker boxes.


Photos

I wish I had taken more of these traditional landmark photos!
I took 3,000 photos.  If I were to do it again, I would take more.  More photos of the mundane parts of the trip and more photos of my fellow hikers—once you are back at home, the mundane on trail feels special, and the people are just as important as the places.  I also would have asked others to take more photos of me—it can be a little weird to ask people to do this (which is why I didn’t that often), but once you are back, you wish you had more candid shots.  Get over yourself and be a little vainer, you’ll be glad you did.


Travel

I hiked the trail with my female cousin, Gumby.  I cannot tell you how many times I found myself glad to have another around to share beautiful sights, funny stories, and end-of-the-day chats with.  And how often I was relieved to have someone there when I was crazy with the monotony, irate about my malfunctioning electronics, so sick I wanted to cry, so in pain that I was crying, and so exhausted that I just did not want to take another step.  Both joy and misery love company, and the trail has an overabundance of both. 

152 days of cousins!
That said, if I were to hike the trail again, I would take a few more solos.  I loved the company.  I also could have benefitted from hiking on my own more.  If I did it again, I might still go with a companion; I would just plan for sections of solos.  Oregon is the perfect place for a little one-on-one with the trail.  Washington and the Sierras are better with friends.  As in all things, think balance is the key.


Things I Would NOT Do Differently

I would not plan less.
I would not plan more.
I would not research gear more.
I would not pack less food.
I would still carry a Smartphone and a camera.
I would still carry a SPOT.
I would still have printed and electronic versions of HalfMile’s maps.
I would still have gone 18 days straight in the Sierras, resupplying once at Muir Trail Ranch.
I would still treat all of my drinking water.
I would still go to Kickoff.
I would still hike 1000 miles with plantar fasciitis and finish the trail even if it meant that 4 months later I would still be hobbling and unable to hike more than five.


The trail is an unforgettable experience.  There is no place for regrets.  Only new plans for next time.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gear Review Part 3: Electronics

 * * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *


I carried more electronics than some, less than others – certainly more than I had ever carried on a backpacking trip before.  Would I have gone with less?  The short answer is no, despite the extra weight and hassle.  Here’s what I brought:


SMARTPHONE:  Droid Razr Maxx & Otter Box Defender

I had never owned a cell phone before this Smartphone.  I thought I would get rid of it after the trip.  I have not.  However, I no longer have a landline or internet service, either.  I love/hate my Smartphone.

Catching up the outside world, near the Dinsmores, Washington.
PROS:  Better battery life than most phones, big screen, weathers well.  Extremely handy to have a phone available and internet in the palm of your hand (when a town is big enough to have service.)  Takes “good” photos.  Speaker sound is better than some.  Lots of memory.

CONS:  It is a beast and a little too big for my little hands.  The battery life is NOT as great as it says it is.  I bought the Razr Maxx over the iPhone simply for the battery life.  My cousin, Gumby, had an iPhone.  Her battery life was just as good as and better than mine.  My camera stopped working on three separate occasions – making it impossible to take photos to upload to my blog.  It would stop for a day or so and then miraculously come back.  This is fine when there is a Verizon store on the corner; it is not when you are in the middle of one of the most gorgeous places on earth, hundreds of miles from a Verizon.  The apps are okay – nothing to brag about.

BOTTOM LINE:  This phone is fine.  I would definitely bring a Smartphone if I did it again.  I kept a backup of HalfMile’s maps on it, used it for photos, to call home, to organize trip logistics, to play games on to relax at the end of a long day, to keep this blog – I wouldn’t go without one.  I just might use an iPhone instead.

OTTER BOX DEFENDER:  The Otter Box Defender is a bit bulky, but it is great.  I had no problems with moisture, dirt, or dinging.  Get one!


MUSIC:  SansDisk Sansa Clip 8G MP3 Player

The Sansa Clip is tiny and perfect.
I never, ever listen to music while hiking or running, but it was recommended for the PCT, so I bought this little Sansa Clip.  It saved my sanity.  I put pick-me-up music on there from Jazzercise as well as music I normally listened to.  I also had friends send me MicroSD chips with new music and with books-on-tape.  The new music and the books were essential to my mental health.  I highly recommend an MP3 player that can take chips so that your loved ones can send you a mental boost from afar!

PROS:  Small, light, easy to use, tons of memory, and takes a MicroSD chip!  I have never owned an MP3 player, and I could figure out how to use this little guy.  A fair amount of features considering the size and cost.

CONS:  The battery lasted about 6 to 8 hours.  It seemed to last longer with books-on-tape than with music.  Sometimes it turns off for no reason at all.  You have to hold the power button for 30 seconds for it to reset.  This always fixed the problem.

BOTTOM LINE:  Bring an MP3 player.  Put books and pick-me-up tunes on it.  You’ll need them both.  The Sansa Clip is great.  Charged with the same cord as my Smartphone!


CAMERA:  Canon PowerShot ELPH 300

I knew I wanted a camera in addition to my phone camera for higher quality photos.  While my phone did well, my camera did better.  Now that I am home, I am glad to have some fantastic scenic shots from the camera.  I also took videos although I have yet to process them.

Macro on the Canon.  The wildflowers were amazing the entire trip.
A camera is better with lighting
than a Smartphone.
PROS:  This camera does really well with low lighting and macro shots – two things my Smartphone camera does not.  Canons seem to be very intuitive, so it was easy to figure out the features without reading every page of the manual.  The battery also lasted far longer than I expected.  I carried a second for a while, but eventually found that I could make it to town and recharge the battery without it dying in between.

CONS:  My lens jammed about halfway through the trip.  This camera is not rugged enough for consistent outdoor use.  Although it held up through to the end of the trip, I lost the ability to zoom somewhere in California. 

BOTTOM LINE:  I recommend a real camera in addition to a phone camera.  Canons are great.  This particular model is adequate, but probably not the one you want.  Find something more rugged.


HEADLAMP:  Black Diamond Spot LED

I love headlamps, and hands-free lighting is essential on the Trail.  I ditched this one in Tehachapi.

PROS:  Bright with a fresh battery.

You will night hike.  You want a headlamp that lasts!
CONS:  Heavy and it eats lithium batteries for breakfast. 

BOTTOM LINE:  The BD Spot went through batteries ridiculously fast.  I went to K-Mart in Tehachapi and bought a lighter and far, far cheaper Energizer LED headlamp.  I tossed my Spot in the hiker box and used the Energizer clear through to Canada.  The only downfall of the Energizer is that it likes to turn itself on when stuffed in your pack – however, it does have a red lens!  The Spot is not worth the weight or the cost; my cheap Energizer was better.


SOLAR CHARGER:  PowerMonkey eXplorer

I carried a solar charger to keep all of my electronics alive.  This particular model uses a solar panel to charge a battery.  And then you use adapters to charge your electronics from the battery.  It was useful, and I was glad I had one.

We were constantly putting our panels in the sun.
Gumby's is positioned behind her on a rock.
PROS:  Kept my electronics alive.  The battery can charge by solar panel or through a USB. 

CONS:  It would take 3 days of solar charging to bring the battery to full power.  One full battery charge could give me one full phone charge.  In short, it wasn’t always enough to keep my phone alive for the long stretches.  The adapter went on the fritz in Big Bear, CA.  The company is in the UK.  I didn’t get my new adapter until 2 months later.  Fortunately, they also sent a new battery because my old one died the day I received the new battery and adapter.  In Oregon, the solar panel connection also started to go on the fritz.  Gumby had the same brand of charger, but a bigger panel and battery.  Hers also went on the fritz. 

After my adapter went bad, I stored the new one in its case.
BOTTOM LINE:  The PowerMonkey was okay enough that I carried it most of the trip.  I sent the panel home new the WA border and just carried the battery as a booster.  There are better solar chargers out there.  I don’t have a recommendation; I just don’t recommend this one.


PERSONAL LOCATOR:  SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger

Peace of mind.
My cousin and I both carried SPOT locators on our trip.  We checked in every night.  I had mine set up to contact 10 people and tell them I was okay – family, a couple of friends, my mate, my work supervisor, and my mountain climbing leader / Wilderness EMT / fix-it-all / I’ll-save-you friend and mentor.  (Actually, my mate, my work supervisor, and climb leader are all the sorts you want called when things go south.  I had no doubt that they would keep tabs on me and rescue me as needed.)  As two small females on Trail, it was a relief for everyone for us to check in and to know for certain that we were okay.  I was glad to have the SPOT and, personally, would not tackle the Trail without it.

PROS:  People enjoyed following our progress.  Although we did not publicly post our GPS locations, my mom works in GIS and posted a map a few days late.  My ten people also kept all other family and friends in the loop as to where we were and how we were doing.  The SPOT is easy to use and reliable.  I had no problems at all with it.  It only used one set of Lithium batteries.

CONS:  I suppose it is heavy.  And the associated website is a little clunky to use.

BOTTOM LINE:  The SPOT is peace of mind.  For your loved ones if no one else.  It also works!  I had an incident at a fire lookout on Christmas Eve.  The message got out, and the right people were contacted.  We managed to self-rescue and didn’t need assistance, but is good to know that it was there if we needed it. 


OTHER NOTES ON ELECTRONICS

I stored my Smartphone in a cloth stuff sack to keep the daily dust and grime off it.  Gumby would probably advise Ziplocking it at creek crossings – she fell in in the Sierras.  Couldn’t get a new phone until the Oregon border!  (It was on the fritz until then – a constant source of frustration.)  I kept my phone and my camera in my fanny pack.  I kept my SPOT on my shoulder strap.  I kept all other electronics in a waterproof stuff sack.

Get your hands on a wall charger that has TWO USB ports.  I could charge my phone and PowerMonkey at the same time and only occupy one outlet.  Outlets are at a premium at town stops.


"Where's Chris?" and Gauge met me through my blog.
And then saved what was left of my feet for me in Washington.
I cry when I think of how many people helped me through the Trail.
Electronics in the wild *are* frustrating at times.  They will fail.  Their batteries will die.  You won’t have service at times when you could really, really use it.

AT&T might be slightly better overall than Verizon.  (Gumby had AT&T, I had Verizon.)  AT&T is better in southern California for sure and slightly better in the Sierras.  Verizon seemed a bit better in northern California and definitely in Oregon.  Washington was about equal. 

A solid handful of town stops do not have any cell coverage at all and no internet at all.  BRING A PHONE CARD!  I had packed one out of habit (I never had a cell phone, so I was used to using pay phones) and was thrilled to have it when no other options existed.

As much as electronics weigh and as frustrating as they can be, both Gumby and I believe that they are well worth it.  These devices allow you to reach out to family and friends, and they’ll give you the morale boost you need to keep going. 


Blogging was one of the best decisions I made for the trip – all kinds of people cheered me on.  Knowing people were following helped me through the hardest days.  I had more care packages sent to me and more trail angels visit me because of my blog.  I set out on my own adventure.  But I’ve returned feeling like an entire community took it with me.  The electronics were well worth their weight.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Gear Review, Part 2: Footwear & Clothing

 * * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *


SHOES:  Brooks Cascadia

Bacon Bit, High Life, Maddog:  All in Cascadias!
I went with trail runners.  I didn’t know which to use, so I started with the Montrail Mt. Masochist.  It turns out that these were NOT the shoe for my foot, and they started to mess up my ankles and calves.  An emergency pre-trip to my local running store put me in the Brooks Cascadia.  These were the perfect shoe.  I wore five pairs of Brooks Cascadias on the trail.  It eventually became the single most popular shoe on trail.  We would figure out which way to go at unmarked intersections by tracking the Cascadia print.

PROS:  Light, sturdy, and an overall “neutral” shoe.  Fun colors.

CONS:  Good shoes are expensive.  These ran $110 a pair.

BOTTOM LINE:  These are great shoes.  Yes, you can wear them for 1000 miles.  NO, THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED.  The structure of the shoe is gone after 500.  Buy new shoes.  And consider a sturdy insole.  Many people were happy with Superfeet.  I did NOT add a sturdy insole, I let my shoes go a little too long initially, and I was not religious about stretching.  I developed a nasty case of plantar fasciitis.  I have not hiked more than five miles since I finished on September 28, 2012.  I cannot run.  I tape my feet every time I go to Jazzercise.  Take care of your feet—they carry you to Canada!


JACKETS:  Patagonia & Patagonia Nano Puff Hoodie

A very COLD Mojave walk! 
I went with a rain jacket I already owned (a lightweight Patagonia) and carried it the entire length of the trail.  I also purchased the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoodie.  I was happy with both.  I won’t say much about the rain jacket, any lightweight will do.  We only were rained on about three times – I used my rain jacket more for warmth and wind than I did for precipitation.  Be forewarned, though, if you wear it often, it’ll become less waterproof at the rub points.  On to the Nano Puff!
The Nano Puff went on and off constantly.
I kept it behind my pad on my pack.

PROS:  This jacket is light, has a hood, has pockets, and is synthetic.  I wanted a hood, I wanted pockets, and I wanted to be able to wash my jacket freely and not lose insulation if it got wet.  This jacket did everything I needed.

CONS:  I’ll admit that I was jealous of everyone else’s down puffy jackets.  They are a smidge lighter and looked like they were warmer.  After I dried my jacket in a way-too-hot drier in northern California, it lost a bit of loft, but, fortunately, wasn’t destroyed.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you want to be able to wash your jacket and not worry about it getting wet, go Nano Puff Hoodie.  It did everything I needed it to do.




PANTS/SHORTS:  Sierra Designs Hurricane Rain Pants, REI Saharas

I went with the Sierra Designs Hurricane Rain Pants and my old REI Sahara zip-off pants. 

Swimming in my Saharas by Warner Springs.
PROS:  The Hurricane pants are light and come in petite sizes!  And they are very reasonably priced.  The Sahara zip-offs have pockets and easily convert to shorts—they also clean up well.

CONS:  The Hurricane pants do NOT breathe.  I did not have to wear them often, mostly in town while I was doing laundry—HOT.  The Sahara’s . . . I shipped them home in Northern California.  I had to sew seams twice.  The REI petites are no longer “petite,” and after losing 10 pounds, I was swimming in them.    These are NOT my favorite pants.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you want reasonably priced rain pants that are very light and will serve you, go Hurricanes.  If you are going with pants, do not go with the REI Saharas.  I DID like having pants on cold Sierra mornings.  Northern California was hot, and I could have ditched the pants at Echo Lake.  I was fine in Washington with leggings, shorts, thigh-high leg warmers, and my rain pants.  People wear pants in the dessert for sun block, but running shorts are so much more breathable!  If I did it again, I would have left the pants at home.
Shorts and a sleeveless top.  Perfect in Oregon!

SHORTS:  I had a pair of thin, lightweight Nike running shorts sent to me.  I cut out the liner.  I LOVED these shorts.  I wish I had had them sooner.  The navy color hid dirt and grime well.




BASE LAYERS:  Patagonia Capilene 3, *local* M.L. Williams

Love the Capilene
I went with Patagonia Cap-3 top and bottom.  I tend to get a little cold, so I wanted the warmer base layer.  I carried both the entire trail – mostly.  I traded out the bottoms at the Oregon/Washington border for fleece pants I typically wear running – read on for how to get these pants!

PROS:  These layers are warm, hold up well with constant wearing and washing, and are pretty good about not holding odors.  They also have a nice cut, so look half-decent in town.

CONS:  None at all with the top.  I had a mock-turtleneck with a zipper.  I loved it.  The bottoms didn’t flex/stretch as much as I needed, so I didn’t get full movement of my legs, and when I bent over, they’d tug down a bit at the backside.  The bottoms are very cute, not very functional.  I might be different with different bottoms—I had boot tops since I really needed a petite that they didn’t offer.  Oh, Patagonia gear is, of course, pricey.  I bought both of these on sale.  Get the weird colors for the sale price.

Local spandex fleece to Canada!
BOTTOM LINE:  The Cap-3 top is amazing.  I still wear it.  The bottoms are cute in town, but not reasonable for trail.  I traded my bottoms out for these spandex fleece bottoms I got at Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon.  They are TOASTY warm, very light, and extremely easy to move in—they don’t have the odor resistance of the Capilene, but they’re worth it.  If you live in the Portland area, go to Saturday Market to pick them up OR contact the maker!

HOW TO GET SPANDEX FLEECE BOTTOMS:  Marie Williams makes these in Oregon.  If you want to go local and affordable, go this way!  You can go to Saturday Market, March through Christmas, or contact her directly:  thefleecelady@aol.com  I am 5'3/4" and went with the x-smalls.


SOCKS:  New Balance Expression, Legwarmers

We both (Gumby and I) went through tons of socks.  And we both settled on a favorite, the New Balance Expression.

PROS:  These running socks come in a six-pack, were available at general outdoor stores in Oregon and Minnesota (a friend brought us some from the Midwest), and were very affordable.  They are thin, but well made.  Three pairs could get us through 2 to 3 weeks.  Different colors help you rotate.  Wool socks are thick and hot—causing blisters and more!  They also dry quickly after stream washings.

Gumby sporting our leggings, legwarmers,
and shorts system in Washington.
CONS:  None.  Everyone has a sock that they swear by; this was ours!

BOTTOM LINE:  We decided that thin was best.  We both had thicker, warmer socks for night/camp.  There was also a Columbia short sock that we were happy with.  They were a gift . . . I don’t know the model!  Whatever you do, I recommend going thin.  AND, I recommend asking for socks in care packages!  We got lots, and we were eternally grateful.  The Trail eats socks.

LEGWARMERS:  Both Gumby and I added legwarmers at the CA/OR border when we sent our pants home.  I had thigh-high fleece socks from Fred Meyer.  She bought socks at Crater Lake.  We ripped the toe seams open for legwarmers.  On chilly mornings, we’d start out in running shorts and pull our legwarmers over our knees.  We’d push them down when we got hot.  We’d pull them pack up at breaks when we got chilly.  I HIGHLY recommend legwarmers as part of a pants alternative!


HATS:  Various, the Buff

Love the Buff.
I switched sun hats three times.  Not big enough brim, to floppy of a brim . . . I finally found the hat that I stuck with at K-Mart in Tehachapi.  Light, wide brim, breathable enough, and a sturdy fabric.  I do not have the perfect answer on a sun hat. 

My K-Mart hat.
For a warm hat, I had a Turtle Fur fleece beanie that I’ve had for years.  I love fleece hats.  No windstopper and roomy enough to pull down over my eyes when cowboy camping under the full moon.  I recommend fleece!

I also had a Buff.  I used this as a scarf, as a hat, and as a headband.  Gumby eventually bought one, too.  A buff is multi-functional and can cover your dirty, nasty, greasy hair when you’re trying to catch a hitch into town.  I recommend getting one.  And, yes, plenty of guys wear them, too.


UNDERGARMENTS:  Patagonia & Under Armour
SPORTS BRA:  I switched sports bras three times.  We both started with two and both sent the extra home.  I finally settled on the Patagonia sports bra.  The thin straps didn’t bother my shoulders with a pack on (my Reebok sports bra chaffed like crazy); and it breathed reasonably well.  I’d recommend it.  Gumby was happy with a Nike running sports bra. 
Hot springs!
UNDERWEAR:  I went with the Under Armour Boy Shorts.  I rotated three pairs.  They aren’t the most breathable, but are great for swimming and changing anywhere.  Gumby went with lacy underwear (which breathes GREAT!) and eventually added a pair of Under Armours for swimming.


TOPS:  Various
Mellow Yellow usually sported a silk long-sleeve.
Hawaiian at the Andersons!
I never found the perfect top.  I started with long-sleeve button-down.  This was hot and stained quickly.  I went through two and then ditched them altogether at the beginning of the Sierras.  In the Sierras, I went with a black poly Helly Hansen long-sleeve and a thrift-store poly sleeveless shirt I had had for years.  This was a great combination.  I *did* use more sunscreen.  I melted the Helly Hanson into a plastic ball in northern California.  In Washington, I ditched the sleeveless for a Columbia t-shirt and added a Patagonia “R” fleece jacket that I had found at a thrift store.  Washington got cold.  I was happy to have added the thick fleece.  I kept the Patagonia Cap-3 top throughout.

OTHER CLOTHING GEAR:  Gaiters, Gloves, & Headnet

GAITERS:  I bought the Dirty Girl Gaiters.  Light and fun, the made my socks last longer.  I’d recommend them.

GLOVES:  I ended up going with a Brooks running glove that I found at REI.  These were spandex/fleece with a windproof and spandex flap that doubles over the fingers.  The real bonus was that the thumb had a little flap to pull back so that you could use your Smartphone.  I was happy with these gloves, but did not love them.  If it had gotten really cold, I would not have been warm.

HEADNET:  You need one for the Sierras.  This saved our sanity.  I carried it through the desert, too, but never used it until the Sierras.

I am still wearing my May 25 birthday bracelet.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gear Review: Part 1

* * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *


Well, I am keeping up on the PCT-L (the Pacific Crest Trail email forum), and it looks like the Class of 2013 is thigh-deep in planning.  And I am infinitely jealous.

In case any of the 2013'ers are reading old blogs for tips on gear, I thought I'd review my gear from 2012.  Here are a few of the big ticket items:  (I'll review more in a couple of days!)


PACK:  Granite Gear Vapor Ki

This pack is no longer made by Granite Gear (it was on sale last year just before Kickoff); I believe it was replaced by a heavier, but much "cooler" colored pack.  Many people went with the ULA or Osprey packs, but as a 5'3/4" female, I have to say, I think that this was the best possible pack for me.

Fully resupplied!

PROS:  The Vapor Ki is as light and as comfortable of a pack as I could find.  The hip belt and shoulder straps are thick and stayed thick for the entire five months.  The stitching and fabric also held up remarkably well.  The lower side pockets are big and deep.  This "no-frills" pack did not fail in any way.

CONS:  The upper side pockets are almost useless because the zipper lays so tight to the pack that once your pack is full, you can barely get your hands in.  There are no hip belt pockets on this no-frills pack.  I ended up adopting a front fanny pack for my camera, sunscreen, phone, lip balm, bug juice, compass, and snacks.  This fanny pack saved time and sanity.  I wouldn't use this pack without one.

BOTTOM LINE:  Great for petite women.  Just sport that fanny pack for practicality.


SLEEPING BAG:  Feathered Friends Egret, Small

This 20-degree down bag, "Ruby", was one of my best (and biggest) last-minute purchases.  I researched bags forever and kept going back to the Marmot bags, but could never find the right fit.  Finally, I went to Feathered Friends and found bags for small women!  And under 2 lbs!  I knew as soon as I got off the phone with the sales representative that I had made the right choice.
The right bag means good sleep.  This is an investment!

PROS:  1 lb, 20 oz of fluffy warmth.  I did not wash this bag the entire trip, and even today, it fluffs up like it did on day 1.  I was sure that I was going to have to trash whichever bag I took on this trip, but Ruby is as good as new.  AND we camped out under the stars almost every night.

CONS:  When Ruby is damp, she kind of smells like wet duck butt.  Of course, I smelled no better.  So together we smelled like wet duck butt and old sausage.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you're looking at a Feathered Friends, go for it!


SLEEPING BAG LINER:  Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner

I bought a liner for extra warmth and cleanliness.  I *LOVED* my liner.

PROS:  This added both warmth and comfort.  Additionally, I used it as a laundry bag and wore it as both a skirt and a scarf.  When I was blogging at night under the stars in the mosquito hell that was the Sierras, I'd pull the bag over my head and use it as a bug net of sorts to keep bugs from flying at my screen.  I machine washed and dried my liner regularly.  It stayed remarkably clean consider that it only came in WHITE.

CONS:  Who makes a white *anything* for backpacking?!  Oh, and I got tangled in it exactly three times and each time burst out of my bag in a fit of claustrophobia.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you want to keep your bag clean, get one.  You'll also sleep warmer.  Or cooler if you use it as a sheet!  This was one of my favorite pieces of gear.


STOVE:  Homemade Chimney Jet Alcohol Stove

My mate made me a stove for Valentines.  The "CJ" that made the five-month journey with me was one of the first models.  We learned to get along by the end of the Sierras.  Yes, it took that long.  And, yes, it was a relationship.

Oh, CJ.  This was one of my most trying trail relationships.
But I never gave up on him!
PROS:  CJ is light, and his fuel (HEET or denatured alcohol) is plentiful on the PCT.  This particular design performs much faster than most alcohol stoves because it is pressurized.  The stand also rotates in and out for packability.  Even if tipped over (which happened a few times) the stove stays going and doesn't seem to spill alcohol.

CONS:  The first half of the PCT is WINDY.  And alcohol stoves do not like wind.  I brought my MSR stove's windscreen, and this helped, but did not solve, the problem.  I would also use my pack and stuff sacks as a windscreen.  Which is great.  Until your pressurized stove builds up too much pressure (too much pre-heat is the cause!) and decides to turn into an alcohol fireball TORCH.  And threaten to melt your pack and your stuff sacks.  It'a a good show for fellow hikers, but not so fun when you really just want to cook your dinner and go to bed.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you are willing to sacrifice ease for weight, go with the alcohol stove and consider CJ.  He's the best homemade stove I saw on the trail this year.  If you are going to lose it when it takes 3 tries to get the pre-heat right to get your stove going and everyone is cleaning their pots by the time you take your first bite, go with the MSR Pocket Rocket.


SHELTER:  Henry Shires Tarptent Contrail

Both my cousin and I went with the Tarptent for the sake of weight.  We set it up as little as possible and often cursed it when we did.

Shelters became more necessary in the cold, damp Sierras.
PROS:  This is the lightest bug-proof shelter system I found for myself.  We all have different requirements for shelters.  Having hiked plenty in the Oregon Cascades, I wanted something that would do well in rain and  thick mosquitos.  This kept out the bugs.  And was light.  And kept out the bugs.  And was light.  That's it for me!

CONS:  I found this a little frustrating to set up in higher winds and on hard ground.  I always found a way when needed, but was definitely jealous of those with the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 -- the *other* tent I was considering.  When the Tarptent is wet, it sags, and then gets your bag wet (not much foot room), making it smell more like wet duck butt.  It's single-wall and got wet often.  They say you can wipe the walls down, but that just makes drip lines and the problem worse.  On wet mornings, we'd pack 'em up and dry 'em at lunch.

BOTTOM LINE:  You don't need to camp under a shelter all that often on the PCT, making my issues with this bearable.  Additionally, Gumby and I were able to send one home in Washington and share one tent for those rainy / damp days.  These shelters have room for two if you're good friends!  The Fly Creek is more comfortable and easier to set up.  The Tarptent is slightly lighter -- definitely worth it if you are going to share.  But, if not, I wanted the Fly Creek UL1!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

And the "Real World" Comes Crashing In . . .

I've changed clothes!
I cannot believe it has been three months since I have posted. I have had the best of intentions, but my life since the PCT has been eventful to say the least. Actually, it has been about as chaotic of the end of the year as I've perhaps ever had. I was going to post my Christmas letter for all of you, but the truth is, I still cannot figure out how to post PDF's as photos and I have neither ink nor money for it. However, I can type up an update all the same! So, here goes.


Work:

I returned to my position at Silver Falls on October 16. All went relatively well while I was gone and with my return. However, during the two weeks between finishing the PCT and starting back at Silver Falls, I applied for a position at Tryon Creek State Natural Area in Portland, Oregon. And, what do you know, right around Thanksgiving, I found out that I got job! Just before the New Year, I left Silverton and Silver Falls and moved to a Portland-meets-hillbilly heaven, Oregon City. I started at Tryon Creek on January 2. It is a little too early to say too much, but Oregon City seems to be a perfect fit, as does the new position. I am happy in work. And happily getting rid of the accummulation of living on one house for three years.

Health:

Well, my Christmas letter would have said a little something different about my health. I would have told you that my feet have gotten better but have plateaued. This holds true. I have started seeing my chiropractor for therapy and am being vigilant about stretching, icing, massaging, and wearing my braces. My letter would also have told you that my vision improved with my trip! Yes, it is true. I am nearsighted and my distance vision improved by two "clicks." Proving that a backpacking journey does, indeed, lead one to take the long view. What's more, happily, my height remains a whopping 5' 3/4" despite five months of a pack on my back. AND my long walk may just have been the remedy to kicking on ongoing health issue. Hooray!


Merry Christmas to all!
This is what you would have heard from me pre-Christmas. Post-Christmas, however, you'd have heard how my little pinky saved my life. For Christmas, my mate, another couple, and I rented a fire lookout in southern Oregon. Pickett Butte; I highly recommend it. Christmas Eve, I slipped while I was headed down the ladder/stairs to use the outhouse. I stopped when I got to the landing and found that my hand was caught. When I doubled back to free it, I found my pinky dislocated and stretched 1 centimeter longer, the tissue between the bones squashed down to a few millimeters and wedged an inch deep between the railing and a support post. When I could not free my finger myself, I called for help. After about ten minutes, my mate freed me, and my friend drove us the hour and a half down the snowy fire road, through the blink-of-an-eye canyon towns, to the ER in Roseburg. We made it home by 3 AM on Christmas morning. I spent the day napping and on painkillers. It actually was a nice quiet Christmas despite everything!

Pickett Butte.  Gorgeous.  And memorable.
And, fortunately, my mom flew out two days after Christmas to help me function and move with one hand. She has been here since and leaves on Saturday. It has been extremely helpful and pleasant to have her around. With the help of my mom, my mate, and my steadfast Silverton friends, I was packed in one day and moved to Oregon City the very next. It turns out that the Trail was not the end of my needing help. My finger is, hopefully, on the mend. The specialist has me splinting it for 6 to 8 weeks in hopes that the torn tendon will repair and reconnect. I am following all doctors' orders these days.


Mate:

My mate and I took a 2 1/2 week whirlwind trip to the Midwest over the Thanksgiving holiday. In addition to the feast, it was my youngest sister's wedding and his mother's birthday. We spent over half a month traveling, meeting family and friends, and being generally gluttonous. It was wonderful and exhausting, as those trips often are. With my move, we are now half an hour apart rather than an hour and have the opportunity to work together on the occasional project. (He's the manager of a nearby park.) I am as in love as ever with this tall, handsome, intelligent, and gentle Minnesotan.

My emotional rock.

Dakota:

My kitten is quickly becoming a cat. He is the perfect mix of loving and playful, smart and not-so-bright. He loves drinking water straight from the faucet and waking me up with one huge, startling chest compression. Dakota is the most social of cats that I've had the pleasure of welcoming into my home, adorably but not annoyingly so. What can I say, I adore him. And I may someday be a crazy cat lady.

PCT Talks:

I gave my first presentation about my PCT journey in mid-December to an audience of 80 friends, co-workers, and Silvertonians. I think I only cried three times. It was the most difficult and meaningful presentation I have ever given.

For those in the Portland or Salem area, I have two upcoming presentations scheduled:

· March 7: Oregon City Library, 7 PM
· March 26: Straub Environmental Learning Center, Salem, 7 PM

Other News:
Let's see . . . in other news . . .

· I bought 48 steaks on a whim and a quick sales pitch. I now own a George Foreman. So much for vegetarianism.
· This winter, both car and my truck decided to collapse. The truck is back; the car is getting repairs equivalent to its value. I am debating which of these beloved 90's era vehicles to sell.

· Thanks to the trip, I now depend solely on my smartphone for both my telephone and my internet. Yes, I am hooked.
· I have found a Jazzercise class in Oregon City a mere 4 blocks from my new place. It isn't the same as Andi's classes, but I am happy to be dancing my way back into health and happiness.
· Although I still don't have television, I have gotten into "The Office" television series. I finally get it. And I could be addicted if I had better access.
· Gumby has moved to Florida for a gymnastics coaching job.
· Kindergarten Cop will return to the PCT in 2013 to finish Oregon and Washington. I'll be trail angeling him.
· I have been reading the occasional PCT posts and questions from 2013 thru-hikers. I long for the Trail.

Stay Tuned:

I have a few other posts planned for the next few weeks reviewing gear, food, logistics, etc. If you're planning a 2013 trip and have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me!


Thanks for checking in!

Bacon Bit


On the shores of Gitchi Gumi.  Midwesterners in their element!