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How Things Change – Part 3

This is the third and final installment detailing my Kings Canyon/Sequoia first-timer, solo backpacking trip – the original plan was here and here are the first and second posts about what actually happened.

Day 4

Remember what I said in the original planning post?  That part of my interest in doing this trip was that I had heard “once you hit day 4 or 5 your body acclimates to just hiking all day, every day”.  Well.  It’s true.  On Day 4 I was hiking the John Muir Trail, I was going to be climbing a “Golden Staircase” as well as a significant mountain pass, Mather Pass, and yet I was no longer worried about the physical aspects of taking on such tasks.

This is a day with some climbing, but only 3865' of elevation? Bring it.
This is a day with some climbing, but only 3865′ of elevation? Bring it.

There are many cute names for badass things on this trail (Devil’s Washbasin, for example) and the “Golden Staircase” is a 1200 vertical foot wall with some 90 switchbacks carved out of it.  It was a few miles into my morning walk, which started at 6:40am, and wasn’t that bad – you know why?  Because it wasn’t 5400′ of solid ascent!

This was followed by some relatively flat walking along next to the beautiful Palisade Lakes and then by the early afternoon it was time to climb Mather Pass.  Around 1pm I started up and boy was I pleased that there were clouds covering the sun during my ascent, as well as adorable marmots, but also the trek up to 12,047′ was no big deal – you know why?  Because it wasn’t 5400′ of elevation in hot sun.

This is more the kind of trail I imagined hiking on before getting here.
This is exactly the kind of trail I imagined hiking on before getting here.

Getting to the top of my first significant mountain was fascinating.  I really hadn’t thought until that moment that I was going over the TOP of mountains. The word “pass” had conjured in my mind the idea of a valley between mountains, but nope – I went to the tip-toppest rock on that trail and then peeked around to see…

Peeking around the pass to see what I need to walk towards - oh, a thunderstorm!
Peeking around the pass to see what I need to walk towards – oh, a thunderstorm!

More mountains!  And yes, that’s a thunder (and lightning) storm in the direction I’m supposed to head.  Thanks for coming up the cloudy side of the mountain, tiny human, now it’s time for a 2800′ descent completely in the open.  There’s really nothing else to do but start walking down, so I do.  As I maneuver down switchbacks and into the open valley, I end up putting on my pack cover for the first time and also my poncho as it is drizzling on me a bit.  Magically the thunderstorm keeps moving away from me as I walk toward it so the rain never got too bad.

The open valley below Mather Pass.
The open valley below Mather Pass.

That night I stopped to sleep for the night at 5:30pm, a full hour earlier than usual.  I set up my tent in the rain with ease, and had time to bathe in the river before enjoying lasagna out of a freezer bag.  It was a magical day, actually.  The first where I started to feel the fun of the adventure and confidence in my routines & gear getting me through it.  I slept well that night and stayed dry.

Day 5

Once again I was on the trail before 7am.  By this time I had become pretty skilled at breaking down my camp (even when wet), having my water treated and my breakfast eaten within an hour of waking so I could take advantage of  the early morning’s lower temperatures & less harsh sun.  Today there would be another mountain pass, Pinchot, later in the day and my goal was to get to the junction with Woods Creek so that I’d have two easier days of hiking left – maybe 7/8 mile days each – and Sunday I would sleep in before going back to the car.  7 days, 75 miles.   I was in the homestretch.

Day 5: Just a regular, over a mountain kind of day.
Day 5: Just a regular, over a mountain kind of day.

An hour or so into my hiking on Day 5 I started meeting people on the trail.  First, a young couple who were friendly and upbeat.  Then an older man solo hiker who within 5 minutes of chatting I decided to pair up with for the day’s walking.  His name was Dennis and he was doing the JMT – had originally had a partner who bailed out earlier in the month – and he had just turned 64 on the trail.  He was a few days out from summiting Mt Whitney and feared that if the weather delayed him, he’d have to pop out for supplies.  I told him how I’d shaved my 11 day trip down to 7 and that I had some extra food to spare.  It was a match made in heaven.  I was very glad to be useful to helping someone else’s journey with my excess.  Later in the day we ran into another hiking pair – a young woman and her dad.  The six of us ended up at the top of Pinchot at the same time, and got to know a bit about where everyone was from.  The young couple were both science teachers in a Sacramento middle school and were on their honeymoon, this was their first major hiking/backpacking experience, they were doing the JMT.  The young woman was from Oakland and worked at TJ’s in Berkeley, her dad was from Nevada and they had come in over Bishop’s pass a few days before.  She had experience with both JMT and some PCT, but this trip was going to be 7 days for them and they planned to head out at Kearsarge Pass.

A little bit of snow going to Pinchot Pass.
A little bit of snow going to Pinchot Pass.

This day was a fun change up compared to the previous 4 days of deep solitude.  Meeting people on the trail and having short & excited interchanges, having conversations all day made moving the miles towards the goal so much faster.  Not only that, we had amazing weather and while there was the hint of another thunderstorm building up in the distance – it never came close to us. We got to our Woods Creek junction camping – which involved going over a cool suspension bridge – at a still-sunny 4pm which was my earliest end time to date.  Not only did I get to bathe, I was able to dry my gear out in the sun before setting it up and for the first time I washed my base layer shirt which was very salt & dust impregnated by that stage.  Thank heavens for wool though, cause it didn’t really smell bad after 5 days of no washing and constant wear.

Unpaid ad for Icebreaker - 5 days in the same shirt and I didn't smell like a monster.
Unpaid ad for Icebreaker – 5 days in the same shirt and I didn’t smell like a monster.

That evening I ended up making a plan with Kristen (the young woman from Oakland) to do the next day’s miles all in one go so we could get back to Oakland on Saturday night instead of Sunday.  It would mean 15.5 miles in one day, but it would be almost entirely downhill and I sure got excited at the idea of a burger for dinner instead of the freezer bag meals.

Day 6

You know how my original plan involved about 8 days where I would do more than 15 miles?  Well today I learned what 15 miles feels like and I now know with certainty that I’m not going to be one of those backpackers.  12-14 miles is plenty and I had a couple of those days.  15.5 miles, even when almost entirely downhill, left me walking on STUMPS  by the end of the day.

It's all downhill, except for the times when it's not. Gotta keep the trail interesting for day trippers.
It’s all downhill, except for when it’s not. Gotta keep the trail interesting for day trippers.

I packed up and got on the trail at 7:30am and started booting it toward Road’s End, I was so excited it was my last day.  Kristen caught up with me midday and we hiked the rest together.  As we got closer to Mist Falls, we were both dying to get in the river for a cool-off.  It’s such a tease to hike next to a roaring river for 13.4 miles but not jump in.  Passing through upper, middle, and lower Paradise Valley gave glimpses of beautiful, natural swimming pools, but we held out to Mist Falls so we’d be closer to the end of it all.  At a certain point in the descent I started to feel like I was returning to being a mere mortal – no longer one up on the mountain tops – and there was some sadness.  I was reminded of how I used to come out of the woods in Michigan after a week of hard work in the festival bubble.  We’d roll up to do laundry on a Sunday all covered in dirt & bruises, feeling feral and invincible – unreachable by the norms of the regular world.  I found that feeling again in the mountains and I didn’t realize it until I started passing day trippers on the trail. People who smelled strongly of detergent. People who didn’t know what I had just seen & been through for the last 5 days. We’d see babies and small children, or people with nothing but a tiny water bottle in their hands and start laughing to ourselves “if they’re here, we must be close to the trailhead”.  We were a little bit delirious from sun & constant descent.

We spent some good time together, mountains. I'll be back.
We spent some good time together, mountains. I’ll be back.

Around 2pm we got to the promised bottom of the falls and rushed to the water, leaving our packs, tearing off clothes and then sitting in the rushing river, in the sun, cooling off and refreshing our feet. Eventually it was time to get back on the trail – maybe 30 minutes later.  Those last 4 miles from the falls to the parking lot were the hardest.  At 2 miles to go, we were on a wide, flat, gravel trail to Road’s End that was completely sun-soaked.  The two of us were zombies by then and our river time felt like a totally different day.  Funny enough, I ran into the same ranger I had picked up my permit from a week before (Ranger Sailor!) and had a short chat with him about how I had changed my route.  When I said my original plan was overly ambitious for a first time solo trip he expressed that he’d thought so too (even without knowing it was my first time) and it makes me wonder to what degree rangers will interfere with people’s plans…like, how intensive would it have to be for someone with experience to interrupt and say “No, you actually can’t do that”.  Doesn’t matter in my case because I found my own way to create a transformative instead of destructive itinerary, but I’m just curious. I took an 11 day, 156 mile plan and reshaped it into a 6 day, 75 mile experience and I learned a ton figuring that out on my own.

We got to the car around 4:30pm and hit the road to Fresno.  In n Out burgers were had and Kristen ended up deciding to go to her parent’s place in Nevada so I dropped her at the Greyhound station and then did the 2.5 hour drive back to Oakland alone, with music and a call to my moms.

I think I’ll make a separate post at some point about how I’d adjust my food planning for future trips.  I have leftover food and it beckons to be taken out. I’m wondering how late in the season one can still do short trips because maybe in October I can go visit those mountains again…there’s a ‘popular’ loop around Rae Lakes that’s only 42 miles…

Only 42 miles?  Count me in.
Only 42 miles? Count me in.

How Things Change – Part 2

This is the second post about my Kings Canyon/Sequoia first-timer, solo backpacking trip – the original plan was here and the first post about what actually happened is here.

Day 2

Woke up from the stressful fighting with ex dream, checked on food & other things I had left near the bear canisters and everything was fine and untouched.  Thank you bears for not destroying my stuff in the night!  I stiffly went about preparing myself to try and do a second long day of backpacking – again with a heavy pack and a lot of elevation to deal with.  Today’s hike would take me over my first mountain pass (Granite Pass) and then down 5600′.  All the work I did yesterday, undone. It was depressing to think about because I worked so hard that first day to lug myself and my 11 days of food UP.

So much downhill should be easy, right? NOPE.
So much downhill should be easy, right? NOPE.

That first morning I did not enjoy the oatmeal I had brought for breakfast and I buried it after one bite.  Was able to drink miso soup and a protein powder shake to get some nutrients into my system for the first couple of hours of hiking.

Once I was packed up and headed back to the main trail, it was 8am (this would be my latest start of the whole trip) and the older couple from Utah were already gone.

Only 0.8 miles to my first pass.
Only 0.8 miles to my first pass.
Approaching Granite Pass.

The main challenge with Day 2 was trying to quell my internal fears about getting further and further away from my car, from any sense of safety, and what that would mean if I was to become seriously injured. Traveling in this rocky and remote terrain, by myself, locked my brain into an intense level of survival mode, which comprised of both an overwhelming awareness of how every single step needed to be careful and solid as well as having no additional space for deeper thoughts – my brain kept looping snippets of the same song for hours each.  Where was the experience I’d imagined – the one where I was listening to Spanish podcasts and teaching myself a new language while robustly traversing meadows on packed dirt trails?  Where were the life-altering ideas that had been dormant, awaiting the opportunity to catch up with me but too suppressed by urban busyness? Not to be found on Day 2.  What I found instead (TW: suicidal ideation) is that I got really despondent and there were many times I imagined just letting myself fall over into the rushing river below – even going so far as to imagine putting rocks in my pockets – because I could only imagine how to end this, right here, right now.  I’m happy to report that for whatever amount of my brain goes to those dark places, there is fortunately some other part of me that keeps my feet going, played loops of songs, and bombarded my thinking with the mantra “Just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo so that I was able to push on.

Push on, indeed.  That second day included an incredibly dusty 5600′ descent, 6.6 miles, with no water, in hot sun, that took 4 hours to complete.  I pulled up to the first water source – a small stream – at about 6:30pm that night.  I’d passed the Utah couple on the descent and they arrived about 15-20 minutes after I did.  All of us were monosyllabic and exhausted.  I had set up camp at the first opportunity prior to the creek, they went over to the other side and found a spot, and we both hit the hay early.  For me, that was after trying to eat dinner and finding that I could chew the same bite of food for minutes and never want to swallow.  A second night of burying dinner.

Me and another woodsy loner facing off at dinner time.
Me and another woodsy loner have a staring contest.

It was starting to occur to me that maybe this trip wasn’t supposed to be about miles per day.  Maybe I was supposed to figure out how to have a good trip, a trip that would leave me wanting to do this again. I had joked with a friend back home “sometimes I do these extreme things and then I never want to do them again” – like running the half marathon, doing a triathlon, or cycling a century.  I never wanted to do any of those again after doing them once (though currently the idea of a triathlon has been circulating and I’m tempted).  She said “don’t do it then!” very concerned, I guess, that I would never want to backpack again.  In the 13.5 hours of hiking 13+ miles that day, I had started to wonder if I should consider shortening my route so that I would be able to enjoy it more.

That night I put in earplugs to sleep because I was finding that the sound of running water and random bird noises was not calming or sleep-inducing.  They helped me sleep deeper but I woke up a few times in the night, yanking them out, feeling like someone was speaking to me.  At least I didn’t dream about fighting with my ex again, or dying.

Day 3

I never got their names, and I never saw them again after this day, but boy am I grateful for the existence of the Utah couple – practically my only points of human contact on those first 3 days.  I got up at 5:30am (which was now the norm) and was packed and boiling water for breakfast at the creek by 6.  The man came to the river to get water for his breakfast & prepare for that day’s travels so we had a chance to talk a bit more – both of us now rested, hydrated, and able to form complete sentences.  I confessed to him that I was scared, this was my first big trip, and I might have scheduled a more intensive itinerary than I could do.  He shared with me that he had done the JMT, that he hiked 500-600 miles on average per year, that he and his wife had just completed the PCT over the course of 39 years of doing segments, but how even for them yesterday had been a supremely challenging day.  This helped me immensely.  I needed to know that I wasn’t weak for finding the last two days so hard.  Our conversation turned to what their plan was – 75 miles in 7 days, turning back towards Road’s End at Woods Creek Trail.  When I suggested that I was torn between turning back or going forward he spoke of some people he ran into yesterday who did turn back and how he felt that going forward was actually the less difficult option.

More uphill, but only 2700'? Easy.
More uphill, but only 2700′? Easy.

I’d still been turning over the idea of retracing my route back to the car, it would mean another day of going up 5600′ – this time with no water – and then at least another day of going down…though I could maybe stretch it into two smaller days.   It felt so defeating to think of going backwards though.  The Utah couple’s itinerary sounded good to me and so that morning I decided that I was going to do it too, and that decision enabled me to move forward with curiousity about what lay ahead and removed my dread at the thought of having to go back.

I’m glad I kept going and got to see so much more than just Granite Pass & Simpson Meadow.

Once I got moving and changing scenery, a lot shifted.  I wrote in my journal that night “I didn’t think about suicide today” and that felt like a huge accomplishment.  On this day I passed the Utah couple on their first break in the morning and then never saw them again.  I made good time towards my next goal (I was still on track for the third day of my original itinerary and was in fact going to go further than planned).   I started to take electrolytes at each of my timer-alerted 2 hours breaks, was able to down snacks, and my body was beginning to acclimate to a full day of hiking.  I felt more energized and able to take on anything, even more elevation.  The slow-going uphill treks were just taking the time they took and I didn’t dissolve into a puddle of self-doubt anymore.  I started noticing a feeling of being grateful for how strong my heart & lungs are and that my legs and feet were doing a good job of tackling the various trail compositions.  From chunky granite rocks to stone stairs to packed dirt to gravel.  My toes were a little numb but otherwise everything was functioning pretty well and while I would have little moments of noticing new ways that injury or death could occur in this environment, nothing overtook my thinking as in the previous days.

I intersected with the John Muir Trail at around 4pm that day and I’ll admit I had a moment of fan excitement.

You have arrived at the John Muir Trail, pick a direction.
You have arrived at the John Muir Trail, pick a direction.

My other human encounter on that day was a young woman who was doing the JMT Northbound solo (for the time being).  She said she’d just finished grad school and this was her ‘treat’ to herself but she had to laugh at calling it a treat.  I was inspired to hear again that this type of experience was challenging other people, not just me, and I happily pressed on beyond my expected day’s goal (8.5 miles to the junction). Now that I was planning to do the 7 day loop, i needed to hit at least 10 miles that day, but I knew I could and it was still early.  I had started at 7am that morning and by 5:30pm I had set up camp beside the river. That night, for the first time, I enjoyed the hot dinner (beef stroganoff) and tucked myself into bed feeling excited for my first full day of hiking on the John Muir Trail.

Stay tuned for one more post that will cover the two days on the JMT and the day getting off the trails.

Tech Job #2

Today marks the end of my third week at my new job (Technical Program Manager – Mobile) @ Pinterest.  It coincides with May Day and a Twitter stream today about #talkpay which was triggered by an article by Lauren Voswinkel over on Model View Culture.  The hashtag comprises of people “outing” their salaries over the years, location, levels of training, job titles, and a variety of other factors.

My participation was as follows:

For people who have also class-jumped or who understand what it’s like to live on social assistance or other low income realities, you will know from the above that it was not easy to leave my first ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  But I did.  I took a leap of faith (and a strong referral) and turned it into my second ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  ALMOST a pattern here…if I could only put aside impostor syndrome for a second and believe that I have transferrable skills and marketable ones to boot.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is to document for myself the differences now that I am in a new job and have gotten a bit of distance from the old one.  It’s important, also, to note that I am now able to reflect on my past 6 years as being a job.

Key areas I want to cover at this stage of being only 3 weeks in are recruiting, onboarding,  and culture. Here we go!


Mozilla got me through an internship and I left said internship with a job offer for when I completed my final year so I never did the all-day panel of interviews or any sort of salary negotiations.  I took what I was offered (because it was AMAZING) and I was quite happy about it.   Being ‘recruited’ by Pinterest was a wonderful experience.  I got to come in for the day and interview with 6 different people from various areas I was going to work with (iOS/Android engineers, product managers, and then a ‘culture fit’ interviewer that was just about the happiest person I’ve ever met).   In retrospect I worried they were easy on me because I was a referred candidate.  At some point I should ask them if that’s the case.  On my end I felt like it was all too easy.  I had some conversations, I asked some questions, I learned a ton about what they were doing and how different teams within the org operated, and then I went home with a nice notebook.  It didn’t feel stressful and shouldn’t interviewing for a job be stressful?  I suspect my experience was more laid back because I was coming from a place of already being employed and so I didn’t really need the job but I was curious about it and was being diligent about ensuring it would be a good fit for what I wanted to try next.  It was. I’ve read a few things about salary negotiations now and so for this job switch I tried out the advice. I’m quite pleased that it worked and felt good to do if only to test out the advice I’ve been giving others over the years but have never gotten to try.  The rest of the process was smooth and everyone had excellent communications – just the right amount of checking in and communicating status.  I appreciated that my Permanent Resident status coming in a week late, pushing out my start date, didn’t cause any problems.


Apples to apples – Pinterest is winning big time here.  At Mozilla new hires are introduced at an all-company meeting and then they are off with their team learning the ropes for their jobs.  We had an onboarding portal (I checked it out last year when my team had a new hire) and it contained some videos and wiki pages, a bit of direction for weekly tasks to accomplish.  While I know that it took a lot of work by some amazing people just to get that much set up, Pinterest is really firing on all cylinders when it comes to integrating people into the company.  They do a 3 week process where in the first week  you and your cohort spend 2 full days together being addressed by various company areas of importance to the larger goals and mission – it’s just the right mix of immersion and indoctrination – meanwhile you’re becoming familiar with, in my case, 17 people who will always be familiar faces to you going forward regardless of the diversity of work areas you’ll be in later on.  They also have 101/bootcamp classes over the next week or two to get folks on the engineering side learning all the tools, data, systems that are currently in place so that you’re not so green when you move into the next stage:  fixing some bugs.  Mozilla should really consider doing this sort of bootcamp, get new engineers to fix bugs from various parts of the code base as a way to learn how the whole picture works before going deep in their assigned areas.  Finally, at the end of your first week you are introduced to the whole company as a cohort and you must speak in front of everyone at the Q&A that happens on Friday afternoons.  At that point you and your cohort have bonded and you design and lead the theme for that week’s happy hour – all these little things give you tangible experiences to reminisce about as you go forward and that means a lot when trying to integrate into a 500+ person org.


Oh this is the big one, isn’t it?  This is the all-important catch-phrase of the knowledge worker class.  What is the culture? Are you a good culture fit? Here’s the thing:  when I first joined Mozilla the “culture” wasn’t a thing that was being discussed and analyzed yet.  I was excited to be part of a movement, a community, an ethos, and a politic of open-ness/transparency and general things do-goodish on the Web.  Culture as it is currently examined came later than my start date.  It came in the form of starting Homozilla, a mailing list for queer employees and their allies because I was starting to feel isolated not knowing if there were many other people at Mozilla who were also queer.  I was happy when I kicked that initiative off and there were all sorts of people that I never would have pegged as being LGTBQ.  It also came up when a handful of paid and unpaid contributors started highlighting awareness of diversity and inclusive behaviour in Mozilla communities.  I did a lot of work on that issue and put a lot of my ‘extra’ time into trying to drive materials and discussions around how Mozilla could be a strong player in encouraging, retaining, and promoting a welcoming culture.  I also put a lot of time and energy into building out opportunities for Mozilla to be a leader in educating and onboarding new contributors in more varied spaces – LGBTQ youth, lower income, PoC, any community that wanted to learn more about how to develop or integrate tech into their activism and community-building initiatives. Sadly, I don’t know how successful I was because without me driving them, those partnerships are not carrying on.

I’ve only been at Pinterest for 3 weeks but in that time I’ve learned that there is already a queer employees group (yay, I don’t have to create it!), there are already people working on diversity and inclusion at a level that surpasses our fledgling efforts at Mozilla (they have executive-level support and are building out programs and recruiting efforts in measurable ways), and there have been several instances where I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the positivity and open-ness to change/build/grow whatever is needed to support employees.  Example:  I emailed the workplace team about our new building’s plans to have non-gendered washrooms on one of the 3 floors – I asked if that would be possible to have on all floors – and the response was quick, warm, and welcoming of the feedback as well as being clear that having non-gendered washrooms was as much a priority (as build-out would permit) as having mother’s rooms and quiet rooms.  Both of those two things being already in existence in the current space because of there being employee need for them.  The takeaway for me?  I can ask for what I need and be heard and supported in (eventually) getting them.  That’s some great culture, in my opinion.  I wasn’t made to feel weird or out of order for asking for something that is probably always going to be an edge case in the workplace and I really appreciated that.

Wrapping Up

It’s been a whirlwind the last three weeks.  I’ve been getting up to speed with what I’ll be doing and I’ve got 30, 60, and 90 day roadmaps.  I’ve had a great time learning about things I’ve never done before – like iOS releases.  People have been super happy to hand off work to me, and I feel like I’m managing the work I’m taking on as well as having lots of energy for what’s to come – when I’ll have the basics down and can work on creating more ways to add value to a lean, fast-moving company doing very interesting things.  So all this to say that I’m grateful for all the years and roles at Mozilla, the people I’ve learned from, the experiences I’ve had and at the same time I have a ton to look forward to in this new space.