trails

The Triple Crown

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” –Galileo Galilei

“In the death of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus

On April 7th, 2002 I got dropped off at the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail. I diffidently weighed my oversized backpack at the Amicalola State Falls Ranger Station before the approach trail to Springer Mountain. Impossibly, the scale tipped a massive 58 pounds. I had recently broken up with a girl that I loved and lived with for 3.5 years, flunked out of graduate school, and was homeless. Even worse the first few drops of a cold Georgian spring rain began to fall. Little did I know that it would pour for the following two weeks. I reckoned my success for completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was slim and none and Slim (me) just twisted his knee badly and had never slept alone overnight in the woods. Twelve years, 3 long distance trails, and 7,000 miles later, I ended my Continental Divide Thru-hike the same way I started the AT: in two weeks of rain.

Steady and I finished our triple crown together on September 20th, at 12:28PM at Copper Mountain, CO after flipping and hiking south from Glacier National Park. Miraculously the sun came out the afternoon before and we had a clear, starry night! The temperature dipped to 25 degrees but for the first time in two weeks we got to cowboy camp under the endless stars without being rained on. After an emotional walk up 3000 feet to Uneva Pass we took our “completion” photos with the requisite kitschy Burger King crowns that we awkwardly acquired in Frisco the prior afternoon. It still seems so unreal to not have any miles to hike tomorrow.

It has been my humble privilege to be tutored by these three trails. I have gained confidence that only comes with walking amongst the tallest mountains, harshest winds, oldest forests, and most extreme environs. I have loved and lived outside for an accumulated year and a half, walked through almost every possible ecosystem, and pushed the limits of my body in ways that I never could have imagined. On the AT I tried walking a girl out of my head, on the PCT I tried walking one in, and on the CDT I wised up and simply walked with one. I discovered the therapeutic effects of walking in the woods that have allowed me to come to terms with biggies like: the eventual cessation of my fast temper, the power of positive thinking, and going after whatever it is that I want out of life. I believe we create our own reality and think that anything is possible. I have come to be amazed by the beauty of process that exists in nature. The cyclical manifestation of processes like: photosynthesis, germination, sublimation, erosion, heating, freezing, breathing, and condensation are intuitively beautiful. But the symphony of their molecular machinations and chemical symbiosis are something that I have come to revere. The critical means of dispersion in nature is astounding. The crazy world of birds and insects give the woods and those wild places far removed from the hand of man a sense of movement. Joseph Campbell wrote that we do not seek the meaning of life but the experience of living. To that end the simple act of moving with my own two feet makes me feel connected to Her and truly alive. I was rewarded for my movement by bearing witness to a forest fire started by a lightning strike less than a mile away. I experienced honesty and camaraderie that only comes with walking with somebody for thousands of miles. I’ve heard the feral call of deer, bears, elk, hawks, packs of coyotes and the numerous quantities of bird songs, mating calls, and lullabies. I have felt hundreds of unidentified insects, spiders, caterpillars, dragonflies, mosquitoes, and butterflies crawl up the standing hairs of my arm. I have observed the intelligence of the forest and can barely fathom the millions of things we don’t understand about her. I have fallen in love with the texture and scent of pine, cedar, and fir sap. I have melted against sunbeams peeking out of week-long boxed up clouds. I have ached to sleep on soft pine needles, desert puffy sand, and the supine position of peering up at the inexorable night skies. Like Tesla’s imagination, I marveled at the mysteries and sensation of charged air from an impending thunderstorm. I have befriended and regarded as my equal hundreds of languishing plants, ebullient flowers, and my favorite: trees. I have come to know how phenomenal food can taste from my starvation, the ecstasy of cleanliness from my filth, the endless bounds of fellowship from my solitude, the paroxysms of joy from sadness and the triumph of accomplishment over my failures.

As we descended into the town of Copper Mountain I was astonished by the invasive sounds of I-70 echoing off the ridge and how nobody ever thinks about what is drowned out. Her voice is there for those that put away their busy schedules, agendas, cars, chainsaws, careers, ATVs, television sets, rifles and phones. Before you trade all your freedom away for comforts go to where you can still hear the call. It has become my beacon.

If you have followed my blog this trail; you know this trail has often been a slog. There have been some amazing highlights like the unparalleled beauty of Glacier National Park, the uniqueness of Yellowstone, and the desolate wonder of New Mexico. But in retrospect post-holing above tree line on impossibly sharp angled snow slopes, failed logistics, shitty water, dangerous fords, frightening lightning storms and thoroughly soaked bones and spirits were integral to the experience. I got to walk through the good and bad with somebody I love and that has been the difference. Without each other’s encouragement we would have gotten off this carnival ride awhile back.

    Acknowledgements:

Unlike the other trails, the CDT has a dearth of trail “magic.” It was the second to last day on a hitch to town we got picked up by an extremely passionate and affable man named Ira. His enthusiasm, honesty, and positive admiration for what we were about to accomplish was the first that we experienced on the entire trip. We were strongly buoyed and surprised by his sheer kindness and the force of his positivity. His huge pat on our backs was appreciated and needed.

When our package didn’t arrive at Benchmark, MT we were totally screwed. We were out of food and had another 100+ mile section to go. We were forced to hitch on an extremely remote road and hope was dimming after 6.5 hours in the sweltering sun when an honest, pleasant, and intelligent couple named Mike and his wife Mary picked us up. They drove us all the way to Helena and shared their home and stories. In essence they saved our skins and our trip.

Outside of Pagosa Springs we got our first dose of magic from a previous triple crowner named Grizzly. He gave us free reign of his beautiful home in the mountains and rides in and out-of-town. His kindness was legendary.

To all the people who took a chance on us hitchhiking and gave us rides thank you so much!

To Hugh, Jason, Mike, Wayne, You guys are my brothers and thanks a million times over for bringing the “noise.”

To JB, Siva, Srin, Jen, Javi, Chris, Jennifer, Doug, Kelly, Smokehouse and MLK: I can’t wait to see you all and sink some pints soon!

To my Mom without whose support, unconditional love and service these trails never would have been possible. I love you.

To Heather my navigator, who saw me at my very worst and best, you made the bad times bearable and the good times epic. Thanks for steering the ship, keeping me afloat in the stormy waters, and demonstrating the importance that comes with a steady approach. Congrats, I am proud of you!

Thanks to everybody else for reading and those that have touched and inspired me along the way.

So this brings me to the very familiar and annual million dollar question, what’s next?
Next week I plan on taking some time to help with flood recovery for those good folks in northern Colorado doing whatever I can to help. After that and next spring, who knows? Whatever does come my way I know I will move confidently and embrace it. Maybe one of you will want to go for a little bicycle ride with me…

around the world?

Cheers!
-Skeeter

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Categories: CDT, Desert, glacier national parl, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Weathering the Storm

Howdy folks, I hope everybody has enjoyed their summers. I hope to finish this trail September 20th right on the cusp of the autumnal equinox at Copper Mountain. This trail has been one of extreme contrasts. The pendulum has swung from dry to wet, warm to freezing, easy to hard, etc. The rains started right after hanging out with my buddies Jason, Mike and Hugh. They brought great food, music, beer, and guns! Or as I say a typical night in Wyoming. They drove us to the Tractor Pull in Encampment as well. The tractor pull event has to rank right up with watching grass grow and paint drying in terms of excitement. But there was some good food and nice weather. It would be the last decent weather we would experience on the trip. The past 2 weeks since crossing the CO/WY border it has hailed and rained on us everyday! It rained at night, mornings, afternoons. It rained when we set up our tarps, and took them down. It rained at dinner time, breakfast, and lunch. The most unfortunate part has been the disrepair of my tarp. My luck with plastic zippers is catastrophically bad. I tried adhering velcro strips in place of my malfunctioning zipper in Lander thinking that it’s not going to rain for the remainder of the trip. I mean September is one of the most pleasant times of the year in Colorado with respect to mild weather, right? Wrong! Anyways this “biblical” amount of precipitation has forced us to take several zero days in our tarps and in towns. My compromised tarp has forced me to enter and exit it by scooting on my belly like a snake. It has also forced me to get creative in relieving my excrement at night. Lets just say yoga practitioners have nothing on me. On one of the really heavy rain nights I made a critical error in setting up my tarp on a slope that turned into a mudslide. I had to build a system of levees and irrigation ditches using a sharp rock. By the middle of the night I had a primary and secondary system of canals flowing seamlessly into a main ditch from just under my tarp. If we had spent another few days there I could have moved on to construction of a dam and possibly be generating some hydroelectric power in a week or so. One thing the time spent in my tarp has allowed me to do is write another chapter in my book and read a bunch of others on my Kindle.

The hiking has been difficult with the many mountain passes, rain and wind. Unfortunately most of the scenery has been obscured with all the rolling fog and dense, dark storm clouds. Colorado was supposed to be beautiful but the only thing we have seen is a bunch of condensed water vapor. It has been very AT-like but without the shelters to dry out in. I did see my first fox on this trail which was cool. The cold weather has grounded most of the birds and so I got to see a magpie being harassed by two much smaller birds chasing and attacking it. I cannot lie this trail has been an order of magnitude more difficult than the other two and for the first time in 3 trails I am looking forward to getting off instead of sad to be done. If everything goes right my next entry will be my last from the Divide. Cheers!

Categories: CDT, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Great Basin

Go where you think you want to go
Do everything you were sent here for
Fire at will if you hear that call
Touch your hand to the wall at night
Promises.
Words. -I. MacKaye

Howdy, pardners! We have reached the boom bust town of Rawlins, WY. We started this stretch from the historically epic South Pass City. Strolling through this abandoned ghost town conjured up images of gunfights over rightful possession of horses, cowboys being thrown out of saloons, and pioneers finding passage via the Oregon Trail. Unfortunately, as it sits now you won’t see authentic cowboys but rather Japanese tourists wearing oversized cowboy hats, tattered brochures in kiosks scattering the road and tumbleweeds sailing across the street’s boundary. I was looking forward to the 120 mile walk across the Great Basin as a respite from the stormy and torrential Wind River Mountains. However by day two, the record triple digit heat began taking effect. Unlike the Southern California desert on the PCT there is not even a semblance of shade. Worse yet was the deteriorating water situation. Most of the “drinkable” water had to be filtered and retrieved from defecatory bovine puddles. It doesn’t matter how many times one runs this water ordure through a Sawyer Squeeze filter the taste of feces never goes away. Steady discovered that Peach Tea flavoring was the best palliative in obtunding the taste of this water. I had Wyler’s Lemonade that did a considerably less effective job. In fact the taste of lemonade for me may have been permanently and irrevocably ruined by its newly discovered correlation to fecal coliform. There was a surprisingly abundant supply of wildlife in these harsh environs. We saw herds of bounding antelope, sage grouse ambuscades, hundreds of insouciant cows, and heard the canorous call of Canus latrans every dusk and dawn. The most beautiful time in the desert for me was in the cool evenings when the angry sun finally decided to settle behind the horizon. The constellation-stuffed, night sky was the clearest and brightest that I have seen on this trip. I saw tons of shooting stars, satellites, and galaxy clusters. There were so many stars I could imaginarily draw the lines in the constellation like some gigantic, connect-the-dots painting. I was strongly reminded why I like this state. I have always enjoyed Wyoming not for the things here but for the things omitted. There are not undulating car horns, suffocating crowds of people, cacophonous traffic, or the cloying pablum that plagues most cities. These desolate landscapes have always indulged my sense of self-reflection and space. Out here I feel like I have room to think. The highlights of the desert came on the third day when we reached Brenton Spring and the only tree in the 120 mile trek. We spent the entire afternoon drinking water, talking, and napping. We also met an ultra fast, first time thru-hiker named Raffle. He was attempting to hike the entire basin in 3 days. We spent a couple of hours exchanging hiking stories. I couldn’t imagine starting with the CDT as my first thru-hike but he was doing better than me and well on his way to finishing his goal on the Day of The Dead in Mexico November 1st. The basin is also home to a great deal of oil and gas production. We saw these tireless workers in their heavy coveralls toiling in the hot summer. I may have been hot and uncomfortable in my running shorts and short-sleeved t-shirt but they had to be flat-out miserable in their attire. Most of these workers were also very friendly and more than one offered us water and asked if we were doing ok. They must think we are absolutely nuts to choose to walk through such an arid and harsh place. I think the same of them working out here but at least they are making copious amounts of money doing what they do.

Tonight and tomorrow we are spending some zero days in the culturally necrotizing town of Rawlins. My mother has been extremely kind to come and put us up in a motel to rest our tired soles. We plan on catching up with some missing calories and strenuously working out our air conditioner. Next weekend we will be meeting up with my fellow band mates for a cookout up on Battle Pass. The walk south will become a little more serious after that but until then I am going to enjoy this last gasp of summer.

Categories: CDT, Desert, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Cirque of Horrors

“I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected
enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired, to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
of our divinity and still be a human.” -Maynard Keenan

This last week of trekking began with an air of uncertainty. Steady and I decided to attack the venerable Wind River Range with separate routes. This has been the longest we have been solo on this trail. I took a high mountain route that started at Gunsight Pass at the northern entrance of The Wind River Mountains. Unfortunately, on the yonder side of the pass there is an active forest fire that has closed the trail. I know the smoke is horrible for my breathing but the strong scent of burning evergreens and aspens painted some pleasant memories of Christmas Tree hunting when I was young. I bushwhacked through hundreds of blown down trees with a trekking pole in one hand and my GPS in the other. I crossed the paludal Roaring Fork Creek depression and eventually emerged 3 miles later on the closed trail descending onto the banks of the beautiful Green River. I probably saw 30 hikers on that stretch of trail and felt like a bad ass powering past them on my strong trail hardened legs.

I have to preface this next paragraph by saying that along with Evolution Basin in the High Sierras and my summit of Katahdin in Maine at the conclusion of my Appalachian thru hike; the Wind River Mountain Range ranks in the top three of the most awe inspiring places that I have backpacked. It’s one of those places you have to experience it to believe it. However, by day two the trouble began early. I was rudely awakened by a deluge of rain at 6:30 am. I was cowboy camping (sans tarp) and started the day already behind the 8 ball with a soaking wet sleeping bag, socks, shoes, and backpack. It was extremely difficult walking after that. I found myself constantly being rattled and hurried by reverberating thunder and lightening strikes. Often times the trail would inexplicably disappear or seemingly false cairns placed that misdirected my orientation. On top of these constant colluding factors was my consistent fatigue and speeding heart rate from the ultra steep gradients, boulder scrambles and thunder inspired adrenaline flow. I fell down four times in two days narrowly missing a particularly nasty, upright and protruding tree limb mere inches from impaling my gaunt abdomen. I also rolled my left ankle severely and hobbled to camp on day three where I set up my tarp in marble sized hail and granite resonating thunder boomers. I endured two electrical storms throughout my days above tree line and never slept as peacefully as I would have liked. I compare this section of trail to a mixed martial arts fight. I was lucky to watch one of my best friends training partner fight on national TV in Dubois last week. His name is Matt Manzares and he represents the Black Dragon Mixed Martial Arts Gym in Cheyenne, WY. Coming off a severe knee injury, he was fighting the younger brother of a UfC fighter. He eventually won the fight with an unexpected and devastating arm bar but he took a number of hard strikes in the previous round. That was like me in the Winds. After a few days of being constantly battered something goes off inside and it becomes personal. Context is everything. I remember seeing an episode of Northern Exposure the TV series back when I owned a TV. The town radio DJ and local philosopher, Chris wrote a paper about striking out in baseball. His English teacher called it cliché and simplistic. The details are a bit blurry to me but somehow Chris had his teacher take his place at home plate. Every pitch that sailed past his teacher made him exponentially more frustrated and increased his desire to simply connect with the spiraling sphere until the final pitch. After striking out and completely dejected and humiliated it became more than a mere English paper.  Like a lump of visceral failure hitting him in the gut amidst the smell of dirt and the taunts of Chris he finally understood the context. It’s one thing to write and read about hiking solo in the Winds over 7 days, famished, blistered, bruised, drenched, and frightened over steep mountainous terrain but entirely different in that moment.

It was at the base of the Cirque of the Towers I had a paroxysm of ecstatic reverence and epiphany. Staring up at the towering granite, jagged spires eating my lunch by the aptly named Lonesome Lake and observing the ominous gathering storm clouds, I decided to stop hurrying and embrace the chaos. Strangely, once I resigned myself to the fact I was going to get bombarded by lightening; it never came.

I am currently in the lively and outdoorsy city of Lander, WY camping for free at the city park. It’s awesome to chill out with fellow SOBO hikers, soak my swollen ankles in the river, sink some pints of beer and share our Winds horror stories; summer life is great! -Skeeter

 

 

Categories: CDT, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ennis, Montana

We are almost through the Big Sky State. We are in Ennis, MT and should be at West Yellowstone in a few days. We have been pretty indolent in our travels through this section. Coming out of Whitehall we entered the gorgeous Tobacco Roots Mountain Range. After confabulating with some locals in Whitehall, we were warned that there are grizzlies and lots of black bears roaming about. Unfortunately we have seen very little evidence of ursine activity. On the third day of our trek through this beautiful section we traversed past the 9400 ft Nicholson Mine. The walk up provided us views of discarded mining equipment and abandoned living quarters. Evidently, it was a primarily a gold and silver mine. It has been run continuously since its beginning in the early century. I found a great piece of quartz walking over Hollowtop Pass and have picked up several other possibly gold-encrusted rocks. I have been carrying a smooth river rock for a couple hundred miles now. I find that it keeps me centered throughout the day. The rock is split in half as if it was literally torn across. We have made a decision to continue hiking the lower mileage days. We are not necessarily thinking about completion of the trail as a thru-hike this year but still not given up hope. That being said, taking it slower has been extremely nice. I know a lot of North Bounders this year are churning out the 30+ mile days trail pounding and walking from dawn to dusk. Steady nor me find this enjoyable. We would rather get to camp around 3pm read, write, watch clouds, or hang out down by the plentiful rivers in these sections. I have started writing my book on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail from eleven years ago and love the time out in the wilderness to capture the details and nuances that only being in the woods and away from the city can afford. Once we get to Yellowstone, we plan on going through Old Faithful and some of the touristy places since Steady has never been there. The CDT has felt like a nice several month-long summer vacation at this point. I personally am looking extremely forward to the Wind River Mountains after Yellowstone. I will be back in my native state and on my slow walk home.

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Tourist Horribilis

“Winnebago Warrior”

Roughin’ it in the great outdoors
Guidebooks tell us where to go
Winnebago Warrior
Slow down traffic climbing hills
30 gallons to the mile
Honey, quick, the polaroid[Chorus]
Winnebago Warrior
Brave as old John Wayne
Winnebago Warrior
A true yankee pioneer
Stop at Stuckey’s for a meal
Blab all day on the CB
Winnebago WarriorLittered campgrounds, folding chairs
Feed Doritos to the bears
Honey, quick, the polaroid[Chorus]

Kill some fish down by the creek
Hang their picture by the sink
Show your grandson who’s the boss

Tie your two toat-goats to the front
U-Haul trailer full of souvenirs
That you buy along the way -Jello Biafra

Hey folks I am very pleased to say that we have made it through Glacier National Park.  It has been very beautiful country and I would have to rank it on par if not greater than the Sierras in terms of the “awe” factor.  The peaks are all glacially cut into towering granite spires and covered in patches of snow and rushing waterfalls. Our decision to flip up north has proven to be a true stroke of genius. I have been invigorated and am feeling great. This coming after my bout of giardia and fending off the swarms of mosquitoes. The camping restrictions have been a real pain.  The biggest hassle has been the mandatory campsites each night. This system has forced us to scale down our mileage through the park and has forced us to camp with others. On Canada Day we were at the Poia Campground and I thought some of our neighbors were messing with us.  They were yelling and whooping it up. Then we heard a ferocious sounding growl and realized they were yelling at a grizzly bear to get away. Every overnight camper in Glacier is required to watch a horribly acted video that goes over what one should do in case of a bear encounter. Depending on if the bear is in an offensive or defensive stance certain things should be done. One of the things the insipid video calls for is to yell “hey bear.” This notifies the mammal of your presence with the intent that it moves along. This chant is akin to what Daniel Boone must have done to woo his dates. It isn’t very fierce sounding. Unfortunately the cacophony of clapping, whistles and profanity laced screams weren’t any better and only seemed to agitate the beast. Steady and me after about 15 minutes just wanted our neighbors to be quiet but they continued their deafening din for at least an hour. The grizzly bear only continued to growl and once it got dark they finally stopped hollering at it. Steady was snoring within five minutes of their noise cessation. I didn’t get much sleep that night knowing a grizzly was just a matter of yards away the entire night but when I finally awoke around dawn I heard the growl again. This time we decided to pack up and depart early from camp as the renewed chants of “hey bear” started up again. We didn’t actually see the bear but are certain it was one. We have had to put together all of our back country skills through this wonderful national park.  We have had to bear bag, ford, cross snow fields, and of course bushwhacking. The weather has also been very inconsistent. Two nights ago we got poured on and were rocked by several loud thunderstorms.
It is striking to me the behavior of tourists in these parks. We watched the video at the ranger’s office trying to subdue our laughter for the most part. But then you actually see people doing things that are mind-boggling. We witnessed people not properly storing their food, hikers without water containers, a guy wearing jeans, and overnight hikers carrying what looked to be 60 pound packs. Our very quiet 4th of July lunch was spent watching the teeming peregrinations of all the tourist traffic racing through the little area of Rising Sun from across St. Mary Lake. I could see the stress manifested even from miles across the lake with their honking, extreme braking and teetering RV’s with names like Yukon, Montana, and Freedom Elite. I think the only way to travel through these great national parks is on foot and experience the amazing vegetation, wildlife and scenery. I did come up with a song while walking over a particularly beautiful pass called Triple Divide.  It’s called Grizzly Land.
Grizzly Land
If you’re hiking the Great North
Its best not to guess
Don’t take your chances
with arctos horribilis
So whistle while you walk
and whistle while you pray
In case he don’t hear ya
bring some pepper spray
When they see you a comin’
it’s best not to fight
you’ll probably shit yer pants
and not have time to wipe
(chorus)
You gotta sleep with one eye open
and keep the other one close at hand
sleep, she ain’t forthcoming
out here in Grizzly land
out here in Disneyland
(Verse II)
Practice your no trace ethics
and heed the ranger’s advice
hang your food up high
‘cuz bears don’t play nice
We are ever encroaching
into claimed territory
Pack out all your trash
don’t be a tragic news story
the predator becomes prey
we’re not the top of the chain
you’ve got nothing to lose
and everything to gain
(repeat chorus)
The last few verses kind of suck I know. Luckily I have plenty of time to make them better. Tomorrow we might take a zero day at the hostel here in East Glacier. The next section is the very remote and isolated Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wildernesses. I am not expecting to get cell reception for the duration until we get to Lincoln, MT.  So it will be another two weeks before I can update. Anyways hopefully everybody enjoyed their 4th of July weekend. -Skeeter
Categories: CDT, glacier national parl, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Mortgages and Giardia

“Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and esthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one.”
― Edward Abbey

Hi folks, my apologies for the long delay between updates. I am very pleased to report that we have reached Interstate 70 at Copper Mountain, Colorado. We recently took a much needed break in Cheyenne, WY. We have spent the majority of the last section on the Colorado Trail. I have done several sections of it in year’s past and my anticipation of the mosquitos, umpteen ascents and descents, and magnificent views has proven true. We decided to take the Creede cutoff alternative route out of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. This path bypassed much of the San Juan Mountains and the deep snow pack still above 11,000 feet on most of their peaks. The route we took was no walk in the park. Once we hiked back up to the official trail we encountered a 70 degree inclined snow field. The traverse across was a bit disconcerting but worse yet was the following day when we descended down the Trout Creek Trail. If we had checked the forest service’s website and the conditions prior to hiking down this route, we would have seen that this trail was closed due to the numerous blowdowns. The pine beetle infestation has decimated the forests in this area. After seeing all the dead and rotting trees I am  certain that burning the entire forest is the only real solution to this problem. The fire hazard in this region will always be high as long as their is such a ready amount of fuel awaiting a lightening strike. When we weren’t high stepping, ducking under, or navigating around the numerous blowdowns we were  forced into extremely strong river fords. Steady is a bit of a professional in crossing these rivers but I am very shaky and lack the confidence in making these fords. We were forced to cross the Trout “Creek” six times before finally I lost my balance on a ford and luckily was able to turn around.  If not for my trekking poles I would have probably been sent on a trip down into the class 3 and class 4 whitewater rapids. By process of elimination, we decided to bushwhack up the side of a very steep mountain through some scree and thick blowdowns. After only making .7 miles in two hours we finally came to a forest road and were able to escape.  This was the first time I have ever been in the woods where I felt a sense of panic and anxiety closing in on me.

A few days ago I found myself squatting over my cat hole and lo and behold I saw a Great Horned Owl looking at me. Owls are eerily similar to humans. The way their heads move and eyes makes it seem like they have no neck. Another thing I have been tuned into lately are bird calls. I lost my Ipod back in the aforementioned snow field and so I have been forced to listen to the sounds of nature a lot more often. Birds have become fascinating to me. Some of their calls irritate me due to their redundancy. Others are very complicated and melodic. We also saw a porcupine the other night making its way right towards Steady. I put my headlamp on him (the only time I have used it this trip) and it stopped him cold. He looked liked an unnatural animatronic carnival attraction as it tried to twist and contort its body around. It was moving in very slow motion until finally it faced the other direction. I was half expecting it to shoot a volley of quills at us but luckily it slinked harmlessly away.

Another setback has been my contraction of Giardia lamblia. I started treatment this past week on a 5 day supply of Metronidazole and hopefully I will be feeling better soon. I have had some nausea but mostly it has just been the discomfort of having very low fecal viscosity plus the sensation of having two feral kittens fighting over a scrap of food under my stomach and intestines. My stomach is constantly gurgling and grumbling like an angry volcanic fire god that was not properly appeased. The worst part though is the diarrhea. I have even entertained the idea of using Depends undergarments to control the leakage. A recent commercial I saw while in Cheyenne was one where Depends are now marketing to a 35-50 year male demographic. I was thinking it might be nice to have one for just hanging out playing video games and eliminating the need to take bathroom breaks. Now instead of using them recreationally it will be out of necessity. Unfortunately this bout of lamblia has exacerbated my weight loss considerably. I am now at a lean 140 pounds when soaking wet. I am down almost 20 pounds total and we still are not even halfway done.  Good news has been the recent sale of my house! Interesting to me is the meaning of the word mortgage. In french it literally means death contract. I understand that being tied down to one property offers security and a piece of mind to some people but I view it through a literal and decidedly  french lens and see it as an albatross of financial commitment until my death. I feel so much better to have my possessions down to what I can fit in my car. I am happy to be free of my “death contract” and have concluded home ownership is not for me. The classic Fugazi lyrics come to mind: You are not what you own.

We have also made the decision to flip-up to Glacier National Park and begin hiking southward back to Copper Mountain. The main reason for this is to give us a slightly longer time frame for completion and to change-up the scenery. My mother was generous enough to drive us up to the border. Obviously being off trail for a few days and being weakened by Giardia; It will take a little time to get back into shape but we are planning on doing some small mile days initially. Mostly we are just happy to have left Colorado!!! Onward and southward!-Skeeter

Categories: CDT, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Canada-Manning Park, BC (2668 miles)

I crossed the US Border into Manning Park, BC on October 1st, 2012 at 4:17pm.  I would like to say I walked the past 2668 miles but it was a bit more involved than that.  I crawled, limped, danced, agonized, glided, soared, ran, jumped, scooted, forded, fell, slipped, funambulated, hopped, and generally strolled for 156 days from the metal corrugated fence along the Mexican/US border to the Canada/US border almost 2700 miles later.  The past two days in Washington State were cold and misty.  North Cascades National Park is the beauideal of natural wonder with its rugged and jagged peaks.  Recently, the leaves have been changing into their fall line of fiery reds, resplendent yellows, and every shade of imagination in between.  I have come to think of hiking long distance trails in the same way I eat huckleberries.  I know that if I eat those purplish-blue, delicious morsels of tasty goodness that eventually I will be absquatulating  from my sleeping bag at 5am with my headlamp and filling a makeshift cat hole with huckleberry seeds and the remnants of peanut butter and Raman noodles from the day before.  So it is with hiking.  I know that re-entry into normal life after hiking for 5 months is a very difficult and uncomfortable time.  Yet I can’t resist the call of the wild despite how hard I try.

How remarkable a feat by simply moving my feet one in front of the other!  My senses have all sharpened to razor like precision.  I noticed my heightened sense of touch as I plaintively walked the last few kilometers with my hands outstretched running along the fall foliage across thimbleberry leaves, transuding fern leaves, and sap eructing from the Western Lurch and cedar trees.  I felt similar to what a sports icon must feel as he runs off the field through a swath of high fives, and congratulating  fans after his final game.  My sharpened physical senses allowed me to feel as close to feral as I have ever been.  More importantly, was the realization of my other senses.  My sense of belonging, connection, camaraderie, and wonder.  I think I may have raised a few eyebrows with the title of this blog.  To me the name came from watching Tom and Jerry cartoons as a kid.  Sometimes when Tom had a moral dilemma two caricatured manifestations of his conscience would suddenly appear on his shoulders.  An angel with a halo on one side representing the right thing to do and a devil with a pitchfork on the other side representing the wrong thing to do.  Most of the time in my life I have done the right thing.  Obviously quitting my job to go walk in the wilderness would probably fall in the department of the guy with the tail and the horns, hence the title.

I mostly hiked to recharge my creative battery.  After working 8 years in energy research and production with the majority of those under a nano-managing boss in a windowless, unventilated building full of coal dust; I was becoming uncreative and depressed.  I ran to the trail for sanctuary and to hike against the dying of my light.  The trail provided much more than what I sought.  I was afforded an opportunity to peer underneath the frippery and thin veneer of modernity.  I shut off my phone, listened, observed, walked, and thought.  I thought about everything.  I thought about the importance of recess as adults.  I thought about the importance of simply moving and interacting with our surroundings instead of blankly gazing at a twinkling screen for innumerable hours a day. I thought about all my friends, family, jobs, ideas, book outlines, movies, and memories.  It is amazing the things I remembered.  Things that I have not thought about in decades came rushing to me: like the neighborhood water, snowball, and firework fights I experienced as a kid.  I thought about getting busted for cheating in church school. I thought about my old Siamese cat, Kitsy and my grandparent’s dog, Jake.   I thought about playing old Atari video games on my family’s black and white television in the basement with my best friend Johnny.  I thought about watching The Price is Right with my Mom when I was very young and how I wanted the alpine climber to make it to the top of the mountain even though I had nary a clue as to how the game worked. I thought about a really early memory of my father modeling play dough on the kitchen, dinner table into a raft with a knapsack and a sleeping bag. I figured this was probably my first introduction into the possibility of sleeping in the woods.  I thought about television, mobile phones, Facebook and other indicia of American ennui.  I thought about the quote from Chief Seattle, “The earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.” I thought that maybe the converse of this could be true.  Perhaps if we adore the earth and hold her in the highest esteem, reverence, and escalate our environmental stewardship than maybe that respect and love will also befall us.  I thought about how much I hate the sound of chainsaws.  I thought about how little of respect I have for hunters no matter how nice they all always treated me and my fellow hikers. I discovered how intimate the CO2 to O2 exchange between me and the plants and trees (some of them over 500 years old) can be.  I thought about how my 5 month long beard felt as the brisk autumnal breeze coursed through it. I thought about the delicate thorax of a recently metamorphic and endangered Laguna Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus ruralis lagunae) as it perched itself on my arm for 20 minutes flapping its wings together and not moving.  I watched as it was content there like I was a natural part of its daily routine.  I thought about all the great people I met along the way and how I came to know more about them in a thousand miles than most of their family, spouses and friends will ever know.  I discovered patience is more than a mere virtue, its a survival mechanism.  I thought about how I didn’t experience a single migraine headache precursor or “”aura”” the entire time I was on the trail except the last night before the border. I discovered the best connections are not artificial or virtual but rather visceral, tangible, and symbiotic.  I learned to look up and enjoy the view instead of staring down all the time at the trail or a phone.  Most of all, I discovered the importance of actually making time to smell the proverbial roses.   It is in regards to these journeys of realization that I will always be profoundly and indelibly aware.  Peace out. -Skeeter PCT class of 2012

Categories: hiking, long distance hiking, Manning Park BC, PCT, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cascade Locks, OR (mile 2155)

Sorry folks for the long delay between posts.  There has been a dearth of computers since Etna, CA.  I have now hiked 2155 miles and am only 0.5 miles and the Bridge of the Gods away from the border of Washington.  It is the lowest point along the PCT; a mere 200 ft above sea level.  The trail crosses the Columbia River before ascending sharply 3000 feet up. It is Labor day as I write this and yesterday was a beautiful section of trail called, Eagle Creek.  It is an alternate non-PCT route that follows the fast-moving Eagle Creek through a series of breathtaking waterfalls meandering past lush, verdant, and humid forests of thick  moss-covered trees.  I found myself bushwhacking to an old and condemned bridge taken off current PCT maps but still left on my 2005 data book.  I irreverently trudged over the precarious trestle with my gang of miscreants nervously watching.  Comically, each one followed me and waited as the rest of the group crossed one at a time.  It was either this bridge or a difficult stone-to-stone hop and ford across a rushing glacial fed river.  The scenery and misadventure had me believing that I was in a deleted scene of the movie, The Goonies. I have posted a picture of Tunnel Falls.  The trail goes behind a tunnel of the 50+ foot waterfall and is the single coolest thing I have seen this trip.  The partners in crime that I have been hiking with are: Hamburger, a painfully looking thin, 62 yr old retiree and tall German from, (you guessed it) Hamburg, Germany, Legion a boisterous, loud-mouthed, ex-LARPer from New England, and Steady a 28 yr old very good-looking, introvert from upper peninsula Michigan.  She is a GPS master and in the constant know of trail closures, re-routes, weather, and water source locations.  She has allowed me and the rest of the group to not worry about logistics and has freed me up to focus on my book and musical ideas.  The other great thing about her is that she shares the day’s news every night around the dinner “table” which always leads to lively discourse.  As a whole the group are all former successful AT “thru-hikers” and we all share a prevailing philosophy of doing no more than 20 miles a day with very little”zero” days.  The theme being slow and steady like the tortoise.  This way of hiking has allowed my feet to heal and given me more time to write and read at camp.

On the day out of Etna, CA- I got caught on an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm.  I watched and heard a loud boom within 2 miles of me as lightening hit a tree! The air became charged and singed around me as I observed with the hairs on my arms standing up; the surreal bolt sustain for at least a full second and strike a tall tree.  The tree started smoking and once it got dark, I could see the orange flames spreading in every direction.  A Czech couple nearby attempted reporting the fire by calling 911 but couldn’t get any cell reception.  The next few miles into Seiad Valley were entertaining.  Evidently this region of Northern California is very politically conservative as evidenced by the “No Monument!” and “Jefferson State” slogans spray painted on the numerous corrugated sheds and trailer homes.  The majority of the local denizens are rallying against a proposed law to make their area a national monument.  The shirtless, early thirties, bald pate proprietor of the Seiad RV Campground explained to me that the monument status would hamper their logging and development efforts and drive out jobs.  Like the Texas Secessionists, he also believes that Northern California and parts of Southern Oregon need to be a different state known as Jefferson, the 51st state. http://www.jeffersonstate.com/ Due to my contrary nature, I couldn’t resist writing “Monument Now!” and “Keep Jefferson out of the Union” in the trail register at the cafe/grocery store.

Oregon has been a blur, literally and figuratively.  It is only 450 miles from border to border and when I started the hike through the state; there were 4 major wildfires burning.  I have had to do about 55 miles of painful highway and road walking to get around the closed sections of trail.  Once in Oregon, I spent a day off in Ashland eating at an AYCE Indian buffet with Steady and sampling a few of the local ales at the Rock Bottom Brewery.  Before the trip I had a physical to make sure I was in good condition to make this trek.  My doctor recommended to me to drink more beer daily to help raise my good cholesterol.  So to make my doc proud I have been trying to imbibe pints of medicine at each one of these towns.  Luckily for my health it turns out Oregon has the most breweries of any state.

Leaving Ashland, the next stretch of trail loops past unspectacular wilderness running the gamut from dense trees, to less dense tress, to sparse trees to burned out trees until finally reaching Crater Lake, NP.   Crater lake is a ridiculously clear blue and very deep lake formed after the collapse of the Mazama volcano top.  I spent several hours in contemplation overlooking it and enjoying my lunch.  The weather through that stretch was rainy and cold with temps below freezing for a couple of nights.  Finally, my 15 degree sleeping bag felt comfortable! After Crater Lake and since then, the PCT has been wonderful.  It goes past all three Sister peaks, Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson and finally Mt. Hood.  I saw views of Mt. Saint-Helens, Mt Rainier (looks a lot better in 3D than on the cans of beer of the same namesake), and Mt Adams before descending into Cascade Locks. The past 100 miles have been berry nice.  I have been able to forage at least a half gallon of blueberries, thimble berries, raspberries and the most delicious berry of all time-the huckleberry everyday.  I put them on my granola/peanut butter tortilla wraps for lunch and breakfast and can’t seem to get enough of them. I have had to identify which berries are edible and which ones are not by tasting them all. So far my technique has been working but sooner or later it may behoove me to get a book on them.  It looks like Washington is going to be beautiful, remote, and rugged with cooler temps and possibly rain already rumored to be heading my way.  It doesn’t look like I will be taking off another day until I reach the end so my next blog entry will probably be the last for this trip. Stay tuned as I sum up and conclude this adventure. -Skeeter

Categories: hiking, long distance hiking, PCT, sierra national park, trails, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Etna, CA (1606.3 miles)

Well Folks, giddy up as Skeeter and his miscreant cavalcade of adventure and mountainous high jinx blows through yet another dusty, California town.  The common theme among the last few towns is that they were mostly built upon the boom or bust ethos.  I would have to assume the latter as evidenced by the dilapidated condition of the majority of buildings.  Some of the old mining towns like Belden have tried to reconfigure themselves into tourist towns, or logging based towns; evidently met with ersatz results. My hiking mien has been very similar to the prevailing philosophy of these towns.  Some days, I feel like I am gliding down the trail with nary a care in the world.  Recently, I was able to churn out a 31 mile day, followed by a 38 mile day and another 30 mile day going into Castella, CA (almost 100 miles in 3 days).  It felt like walking in high cotton.  I drank several ice cold mango lemonades and enjoyed several homemade bean and cheese burritos made fresh in the deli at the store in Castella.  This after an eight day’s worth of resupply of food and weight departing from Burney, CA.  But then in the bust column: I lost my sunglasses, mosquito head net, and water filter in the span of 2 days. Today’s difficult 20 mile stretch into Etna was arduous due to record heat and a very difficult footway laden with sharp white granite stones.  Fortunately, the scenery has been nice.  I would compare it to the vistas and valleys associated with black and white spaghetti westerns or an old John Wayne movie if you were ever able to stay awake through one.  The mountains have spanned from densely wooded to sparsely wooded to clear cut.  Often times I will see relics the of a mining past in these hills like a spavined, rusted chain or cog half buried in the woods covered in  bright green lichen.  The trail has also taken a peculiar, frustrating path around Mount Shasta.  The mountain is amazing and grand in it its size (14,100 ft) with spectacular, snow covered slopes, and a permanently, ensconcing cloud cover.  Frustrating as all heck; the PCT has zigged and zagged itself to the east of Shasta, then closer yet to the east of Shasta. Eventually trailing  back south of it, and finally exiting through the Trinity/Alps and Russian Wilderness to the northwest.  It has been an infuriating stretch of trail when you are seemingly headed back to Mexico and you know you need to be going towards Canada!  I have to remind myself that I am here for the journey and not necessarily for the destination.  I guess the next section will head back due East before eventually straightening out north again as I head into Oregon in less than 100 miles.  Speaking of the next 100 miles, I will soon be walking through the town of Seiad.  A town renown by PCT thru-hikers for the infamous 5 lb pancake challenge at the Seiad Cafe. The challenge is a 2 hour timed, gluttonous affair that if the hapless hiker is able to eat five, one pound pancakes in the aforementioned time limit with butter and syrup (written into the requirements); the 13.95 fee is waived.  I probably will not attempt it as memories of the Cherry Jubilee ice cream challenge from the AT still haunt me to this day.

Physically I am holding up quite well.  I received some new shoes that Elizabeth overnighted me when I was in Burney, CA.  A bright, red and white pair of Asics Nimbus Gel 13’s.  Or my golden chariots of victory as I liike to call them.   I had to take a zero day there to wait for them and had a blast.  An older couple from Oklahoma named Steve and Steady bestowed a great deal of trail magic on me.  Apparently Steady, who is in her late fifties and is also a triple crowner (hiked all 3 major long distance trails), has been cherry picking certain PCT sections to hike this year while her hubby Steve tools around in his suburban supporting her.  In a fortuitous twist of fate, I ended up camping with her right before Burney and so I walked out onto highway 199 at the same time as her husband drove up.  He drove us to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, bought me dinner and my motel!  I wouldn’t have let him do that but he paid for my room surreptitiously, handed me the key, and wouldn’t take my money.  He did give me his card later and so I plan on doing something extremely nice in graditude for them.  The following day we went and played a game called, Carcassonne at McDonalds for several hours and then grilled out later at the motel with  a hiker couple named Shaggy and Grolar Bear.  Nothing says summer like freshly grilled corn on the cob, onions, and fresh watermelon.  The simple pleasures become epic out here on the trail.  So now I am in the small town of Etna, CA staying at a 20 dollar a night hostel called the “Hiker Hut.”  I am about to go to the Etna Brewery with a hiker named Sunday and get some dinner, yeah! I plan on taking another zero day tomorrow as I sort out the logistics in getting a new water filter sent to me in Ashland, OR from REI. Anyways, just wanted to let everybody I am doing well and having a good’ol tyme, feeling the goldrush vibe as I journey onward into Oregon and beyond.  Canada or bust! Peace out, Skeeter

Categories: hiking, long distance hiking, PCT, sierra national park, trails | 5 Comments

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