Tagged: travel

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.
day_2_granite_pass_trail
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.

day_3_waterfall
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.

SuperBetter: Travel and keeping up with my challenge

This is the first in what I hope will be several blog posts about my SuperBetter challenge, to cut sugar out for 30 days (month of March) and then to switch to only having sugar on Sundays for the next two months (at least).

Most of my sugar-free March went really smoothly.  I have gotten a lot of practice at doing my ’30 days without sugar’ exercise so I have developed plenty of coping mechanisms.  This time around I hardly needed them.  I mostly got through with sticking to mealtimes, being vigilant about preparing ahead for meals, and drinking lots of water.  I think that this is because since my last attempt, I have actually reduced the amount of sugar I keep around me significantly.  However, there’s a big glaring spot in my life where sugar is ALWAYS present – at the office.  Our office has a wall-o-snacks for the taking (this is some Silicon Valley thing I have never experienced before).  I’d wager at least 60% of the snacks are high in sugar, another 20% medium sweet and then there’s a handful of savory things like pretzels, cheese sticks, and V8 — that’s my triad of workplace snack right there 🙂

The snacks aside, no-sugar March was cruising along and then Jenny and I went to Mexico for her spring break.  We went to Tulum, which is down at the bottom of the Carribean side of Mexico, a place of Mayan ruins and lots of snorkeling.  Mexico (the parts I’ve been to anyway) is a great place to avoid sugar because they don’t seem to do much in the way of deserts.  Sure, if I wanted to I could have bought candy at the store before we headed to our out-of-the-way palapa on the beach but since I didn’t, there wasn’t any temptation at all.  When you have a meal there it’s just the meal – no desert is offered.

The first four nights of the trip were excellent and full of rest and adventure in equal amounts.  I think I really pushed my record for how much time I spent reading in various hammocks.  On the fifth night though, I woke up to an unpleasant illness that wiped me out and left me hollow and dehydrated the next day.  Unable to eat (or really want to try eating) any more of the food provided at our resort, I really had no choice but to have a bit of Fanta orange soda so that I’d at least get a little energy.  This was a bit of a bummer to me because not drinking soda is something I’ve really conquered in my life.  I’m not going to be too hard on myself though, I was sick and in a strange land.  If I could have been at home I could have made myself dry toast that wasn’t WonderBread or I could have had some chicken broth for energy instead of a soda.  The next couple of days were a little bit loose with sugar too because I like to be nice to myself when I’m sick so when we went to the Mayan ruins the next day and the parking lot craziness included a Dairy Queen…well, I’m not the kind of person who easily ignores ice cream 🙂

In the end, I made it to March 29th without having sugar and then when we got home I re-committed to my epic win where I now only have sugar on Sundays.  It’s Wednesday now and I’ve got a Canadian chocolate bar in the cupboard waiting for me on Sunday.

If anyone is interested, here are a couple of my tips for traveling when I’m trying to work on my eating:

  • Bring snacks you like and can eat.  I bring dried fruits, jerky, and if I’m eating sugar I bring Clif bars as a breakfast option in case there’s nothing good where I’m staying.  They are also useful if I’ll be in hotel with a gym so I can eat something right away after working out and avoid impulse purchases of breakfast pastries.
  • Have a reusable water bottle with you. Fill & drink it empty often, especially on the plane. First of all, it keeps you hydrated (and flying is super dry) but also it helps you feel full and less likely to impulse-shop in the airport gift shop or duty free both of which taunt you with massive amounts of chocolate and candy.
  • Buy a salad (or a sandwich if no salads are appealing) in the airport to take on the plane. Most of the airline food will have sugar in it or sugary parts to the snacks included.  It’s incredibly hard to resist eating while bored/full on a plane because it’s already such an altered state and planes don’t really sell salad.

That’s  all for this post, thanks for reading.