The weekend is here early! This will be my last “weekend” for a while – the last weekend that has work looming on the other side. Wowzers!
It’s nice to feel that my trip is actually coming up soon, instead of remaining impossibly far away. It’s been feeling like the carrot on the end of the stick – so close, but never closer. And there still remains the herculean tasks of moving, bills, logistics, taxes, 8-hr engineering exams. Heaps of the mundane. I think the world doesn’t like you to try and break out of the ordinary, so it makes it seem impossible. It overwhelms with you ordinary. “I could just go backpacking on the weekends,” you think, “then I wouldn’t have to figure out how big of a storage unit I need to store all my stuff.”
Looks like I’m really going to make it out of the grind though.
There are so many tiny odds and ends that I still need, that I just know I need, for this trip. I keep acquiring these bits, flotsam and detritus of gear, tiny LED lights, bitty leathermans, featherweight mirrors, lengths of skinny cord. I don’t think I’ve made it all the way to the lightweight mentality yet – what’s lighter than lightweight? Nothing. Oh well. I’ll shake the crumbs out as I go. Can’t turn myself into hiker trash overnight.
Today I went to REI to fill my need for consumer goods. The aisles filled with nifty gadgets and ingenious gizmos failed to contain almost everything I was looking for. Shiny items all down the row and an empty hanger for me. I paid for most my new, pricey crumbs with a refund on a broken water filter (if anyone decides to buy the katadyn vario, be careful with it – the intake nipple broke off on the first use). Despite having had the filter for years, the first time I tried to use it was a few weeks back, and it broke. Looks like I’ll be replacing it with something else.
Then when I tried to take it back at the checkout, the manager at REI informed me that the return policy had changed. What?? Isn’t the magical return policy the entire reason anyone shops at REI? I always wondered how that policy was working out for them; turns out it wasn’t. (For the curious, you can now only return items within the first year after purchase.) After hassling me a bit the manager ended up giving me the refund anyway, looking the whole time like I’d spat in her breakfast. Serving up favors with a side of scowl, I guess. I can’t see the point of helping somebody out if you’re just going to be mean about it, but I’ll take the refund and skedaddle.
I wish it was time to go, that all the chores were done and apartments cleaned and boxed and licensing exams writ and nowhere to go but forward.
Deciding to hike the Pacific Crest Trail turned out to be just one of many decisions. My initial online sleuthing sent me out into deep morass of innumerable options. The internet quickly informed me that the backpacking gear I already owned wasn’t good enough, light enough, or awesome enough, but couldn’t seem to come to a consensus about just what gear WAS good enough, light enough, or awesome enough.
About this time, I ended up randomly chatting with a guy at a coffee shop who had hiked the PCT the year before. Not only that, he’d managed to squeeze all 2,660 miles in his summer break from med school. His secret? The Ray-way, pioneered by Ray Jardine.
“He’s the king of backpacking ultra-light,” said random guy. “I carried less weight and hiked 30 miles a day.”
I’d heard Ray Jardine’s name before, but only in a climbing context. He invented a new piece of gear, the “Friend”, that ended up revolutionizing traditional rock climbing. I’ve taken falls on them before myself, and a Friend in need truely is a friend indeed.
Ok, first attempt at posting audio. The plan is to try some podcasting while I’m out at the PCT. I’m trying to work out the kinks before I go – this blogging business is more complicated than it looks.
I was surfing around on craigslist the other day and happened across a listing for a bear canister for sale. “Perfect!”, I thought. “I need one of those!” I ended up going over to buy the canister that evening. I walked up to the address the seller had given me and looked in. The front door was open, and inside was a dude and his girlfriend, sucking face.
“Uh, knock knock?” I quiered. Dude and girlfriend quickstepped apart. “Uh, you must be here for the bear canister”, said the dude.
We chatted a little bit, exchanging post-transcation pleasantries, and somehow rock climbing came up. So, naturally, I invited the dude to come climbing with me sometime. Right after I said that, I realized that inviting a total stranger that you just met from craigslist to go out into the wilderness with you and hold the rope that keeps you from crashing into the ground was possibly a weird thing to do. I can be so awkward sometimes.
But, it looks like it was awkward for the win. J and I met up with craigslist dude today for some casual Saturday climbing. Craigslist dude is great, and hopefully a new friend. The weather was perfect. I redpointed a project. It’s spring in Tucson, and the sun is shining, and the smell of citrus blossoms haunts the streets.
I sometimes wonder how many good, interesting people that I’m surrounded by that I will never meet. How many lifelong friends living down the street, that I never introduced myself to. It’s strange to think about.
There was a small wolf in the office today, being wolf-sat by my co-worker for his brother. At 7 weeks old, it’s pretty adorable. (The wolf, not my co-worker, sorry Bill.) Bill said that even with rigorous socialization, when it’s fully grown it still can’t be left alone in the house with other dogs, cats, or small children.
That’s because it might eat them.
I asked him if his brother had ever considered getting a domesticated wolf? They’re not too hard to find, just search google under DOG. He laughed, said he didn’t think a pet wolf was a good idea either. We discussed entering an office safety learning in the official safety learning database, to help meet our yearly quota. The wolf-pup rolled around, then curled up at our feet for a nap. Vicious predator.
In other news, signed the paperwork for my leave of absence from work!
I went to talk to my boss today. After discussing some details on my current assignment, I turned, closed the door, and said: “I’d like to take 6 months off. Is that ok?” He said, “well, sure.”
So this is real. I’m really going to hike the pacific crest trail.
I was undecided for a while on whether I should ask for a leave of absence or just quit my job altogether. The idea of being totally free, totally uncommitted to anything but my dream – it’s appealing, but I’m not ready to go there, not yet. I’m ready to let go of the paycheck for a while, but not the job title. I’ll be an Engineer for a little while longer.
Gear-wise, I’m almost ready. J is working on our two-person shelter, but otherwise we’re down to odds and ends. I’ll get a gear list together before we go for the gear junkies out there – maybe even find a scale and weigh everything. I don’t weigh myself, so why weigh my pack? It’s about twice as light as my old backpacking setup – no scale needed to figure that out.
With this trip coming up sooner and sooner, every day has started to feel like a Friday – an extended Friday as a prelude to a very extended weekend…
I was able to hit one day of the Banff Outdoor Film Festival when it came through town this weekend. It’s an amazing collection of unbelievably crazy people doing unbelievably crazy things in unbelievably crazy places. I wish my mother had seen some of these films; I think she’d be a little less worried about my PCT hiking plans. I’m not skiing over cliffs with a paraglide chute – I’m just going for a really long walk.
A line from one of the shorts, 35, stuck with me, so I’ll leave it here:
“Dreams aren’t worth much if you leave in the drawer marked ‘someday’. ”
It recently occurred to me that, in order to make the mileage I’ll need to finish the trail before the snows, I’ll probably need to wake up at the crack of dawn… EVERY DAY. (The butt-crack of dawn. Sunrises are over-rated.) And although part of my reasons for doing this hike are to remove myself from the daily work grind, to set myself free of the treadmill of deadlines and endpoints, I’ve chosen to do something with a deadline. The PCT isn’t a wander through the woods, it’s a journey, with an endpoint, with a definite deadline. (SNOW, the deadline is called SNOW.) On my list of vague worries about this summer, one is that I will not be awake enough to see the world around me, that I will be on the endless, brown treadmill of dirt, and never stop to look up, to hear the birds, to enjoy the view.
I’d like to be a real explorer someday, but I just don’t know about alpine starts…
I first heard about the Pacific Crest Trail about 7 years ago, when I was standing on it. I was up from Arizona, visiting a friend in Hood River, Oregon, and we were hiking in the greenest place I had ever seen. I had had no idea that there could be so much water, everywhere. Lakes rivers streams clouds mist rain and dripping moss. I thought I’d been dropped into a fairytale.
I thought about the trail again a few years later, during the too long/too short training period before starting my Peace Corps service in Suriname. They had brought all us new volunteers into the city for a few days, a short reprieve from the other greenest place I’d ever been. (Rainforests are funny like that.) We sat around comparing skin infections and bug bites and host family horror stories. I told Kate it looked like she had a fungal infection on her face (she did). Then Kate and I started talking about dreams and plans that didn’t involve culture shock and new languages and we started planning our PCT hike for two years later, when we got back.
When we got back, it turned out I didn’t have any money, and besides I needed to finish grad school, and things were different after Peace Corps.
Last year, J mentioned the PCT as something he’d like to do someday. Oh yes! I thought. The PCT… I’d forgotten about you… and it started to simmer. Then in January, I realized that I had enough money, and health, and time. And this time PCT fever seized me completely. Preparations began!
So I’ll be heading out onto the trail this summer. Plans are still fuzzy, gear is still unbought/unmade, and logistics remain to be tackled. But this time, it’s time.