Archive for the ‘Needless Discussion about Myself’ Category

We met a man who splits his life between the backcountry and a van. I go on few night trips to the backcountry. It is the right length. I like being warm, comfortable, and clean. I like being connected – to what, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t want to live in the woods. A second trip per year, a few more nights on each trip, that would be perfect, but I don’t want to retire from society.

Yet, whenever I leave the woods, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of existential dread. There is something very wrong with normative existence. There is something smothering, stifling, attached to life writ large. Having not touched my beleaguered fingers for days, I start idling gnawing on them once more. I feel my blood pressure rising, I feel the need to gird myself against a coming gale.

Every morning, I give myself a silent pep talk getting out of my car and walking into work. Something simple, “you can do this, you have this.” I take a deep breath and press against the weight of the world. A grown man, rarely flappable, repeating meaningless aphorisms to face standard existence.

I’ve mulled this, once more, these last few days. This likely isn’t the first time I’ve written about it. Having not written in some months, with months before that and years of limited output, I am writing to no one but webcrawlers and people who learned how to set up RSS feeds a decade ago but don’t know how to turn them off.

It comes down to a balancing of the humors. Competing personas. There’s the me who lives in the backcountry. Who runs to exhaustion (that limb is nearly severed). Who lifts weights and glowers ominously under the spell of the associated hormones. Who digs in dirt and grows flowers; listening to birds, encouraging the bees, drifting in the breeze, sweating in the sun. This is all one version, with the backcountry being the most extreme variant. This persona takes center stage only briefly during normal life, but in the woods wins out completely. It is physical, with little mental and social exertion required. Primal. Simple. But temporary.

Then there’s work, which I also tend to enjoy. It’s more aggressive, social but in a strategic manner. Mental. Humility as a tool to covert weaknesses into relatability. Eccentricity to hide awkwardness under a veneer of socially acceptable middling genius. It’s a tight-wire act, but one that I’m good at, and it’s the enabler of all other aspects of life. Sure, my profession itself is somewhere near morally bankrupt, but the day-to-day challenges are interesting and unique.

Domestic; there’s the rub. Socially exhausting, littered with failed expectations, constant responsibilities, and misplaced hopes and dreams.

Toward the middle of our trip, we took a wrong turn. We followed a gradually sloping rockface, toward points unknown. Eventually, we would come to a place where travel became difficult. We’d need to make a decision: confront our mistake and backtrack or embrace our mistake and push through. It is perhaps possible to get to the other side from where we are, but not easy. It is possible that this will waste even more time, or lead to an increasingly perilous situation, making matters worse for all parties. But one thing is certain: with each step down a path, one gets further from where he was supposed to be. And at some point, one finds himself on a different trail altogether. Maybe parts of the trail are good, but where does it go?

I’ve been cliffed out for years. I’m pressing forward. I have to. Too much is at stake. There is no way back. And one doesn’t walk alone through the domestic realms. Where would the victims of this meandering climb end up, and whose conscience would bear their own plights?

For completeness, add in a spiritual self. On good days, it connects all of these together with a sense of meaning; a larger world that makes suffering worthwhile and transforms minor things into eternal things. On the bad days, it’s a tin veneer, a delusion, a spit shine of a rusty hubcap, a wary bludgeon waiting to punish missteps or retreats.

In any case, given time, the humors balance. Potential alternate paths disappear into the mists that they came from. Purpose and clarity shine through the mire, not because something is fixed, but because something is. Being supersedes all other considerations. Existing requires effort, and this existence comes with its own worries and challenges. I’ve always made plans and followed them. One, followed by the next, followed by the next. The trail, whatever trail it might be, has this climb, then that turn, then I’ll be there, next I’ll be there, eventually, I’ll be elsewhere. Each stage, follow that stage’s plan. Sometimes it’s so godawful sad that it shakes the foundations of existence. Most of the time it just is. There’s some meaning in simply existing. Isn’t there?


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Weight, past 11 years, closest to today’s date (+/- 4 days):
2007: 167.6 (first year I couldn’t run)
2008: 161.8 (training)
2009: 161.4
2010: 166.0 (first year I permanently was not in racing shape)
2011: 166.4
2012: 165.4
2013: 167.4
2014: 167.4
2015: 167.6
2016: 167.2
2017: 168.6

If anyone wants $15, I will pay that to get all thousand or so datapoints entered into Excel. This requires a plot. I wonder how closely it mirrors global temperatures.

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Over the years, I’ve kept a journal while backpacking. I did it again this time, only I was more bored, so it is longer.  I don’t really proofread these, nor do they go through the same editing process that I go through when I type.  I don’t find the right words.  I don’t down select for relevance.  I just slowly scribble on a tiny notebook.

Some previous versions…


8/26/16 1415
At Deception Creek camp, having covered 13.3 miles and 2500 ft of elevation gain in less than 6 hours. A few miles ago, I was complimenting myself on my pace. Now, I’m tired. I should have broken that up more. I’ve set camp and am on my way for the first of many pumps [water filtering]. On the western horizon, which is maybe 4 miles away because it’s a ridgeline, there is an ominous haze of smoke [from the wildfire in the park]. Other than a very smokey few minutes in the car, however, the air has been clean. I think that will be changing by the morning [it did not].

So, a solo hike. So far, not that eventful. I had no particularly profound thoughts. I didn’t solve any problems or reform my life. I mostly just walked. Thought about walking. And what I would do if the volcano blew or the Cascadia fault line slipped…but mostly just walked.

I did come to the realization of how alone I was. Not lonesome, but spatially separate. I do not believe that it is an exaggeration to say that you could have drawn a 2 mile radius circle about me and, for a couple of hours at least, I would have been the only one in said circle. It doesn’t seem like much, but think about that for a minute. 7 billion people on the planet and I have 12 square miles [or 7680 acres] all to myself. Alone. Not so anymore, there are two other tents here already. But for a while, I was a solitary red dot walking my way through the woods in an area that would include 5 million people around Manhattan.

8/26 1834
I’ve been reading and doing camp activities all afternoon and evening – peaceful. My two neighbors are still nowhere to be seen. I got here before 2 and have not seen them since. My best guess is that they know each other and are on some common adventure – bushwhacking to the top of a nearby mountain or down at the Dosewallips River proper (we’re a few hundred meters up a tributary). since they haven’t returned and since they seem to be on the same schedule, I’m wondering if they will return together and find that someone (me) has set camp in the common area between the sites. I’m going to keep reading out there to see if they return. Note: there are too many hours in the day here. I should have gone longer. Optimal solo hike distance? 15-17 miles [not so on subsequent days!]. I’ll have to do another activity, less I get too bored.

8/26 2000
Still no sign of one of them. The tarp guy is a massive [not very] guy with long white hair. OK, not that massive, gold guy. Still no one for the Big Agnes site.

Deception Creek
First night video [Intro was chopped off. I am showing my sites to the girls.]
Near Lost Pass, between first and second night
Upper Cameron Basin outflow

8/27/16 1430
5360 ft. Stephen is not here. Normally I go with him. When Steve is here, when we get to camp at 2 PM and there is a 7200 ft mountain a mile away, you can be sure that a summit will be attempted. I always go too, out of a faternal obligation to keep one’s little brother from an early grave [or at least see where the body ends up]. I am getting old. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it as acutely as I did while gaining 2000 ft of elevation between Dose Meadows and Cameron Pass. I had to stop to catch my breath every ten minutes. I was majorly sucking wind. Steve would have left me in the dust.
But Steve isn’t here. So, rather than clumb the extra mountain, I’m going to lay down and ready a book. He can keep himself alive without my help.

I did take some time to drop my pack and scout for sites here at Upper Cameron Basin. Walking around the glacier fed meadow, with nothing but a hat brought me back to my time at Belly River at Glacier NP, many years ago. There’s something extra wild about being packless, away from everything. There is no one else yet at the basin. I may be in my 2 mile bubble all night this time [it was probably a 3 mile bubble, and I was].

There’s something familiar about this place. Imposing ridgeline shelters glaciers. Relatively flat meadow, sometimes with a lake, criss-crossed by frigid snowmelt. Rocks as large as schoolbuses where you cook. Water smells chalky, some distinct mineral, magnesium perhaps? Basin drains through cascading waterfall, you pump the water right near where it drains.
I first saw this place at Stoney Indian in Glacier and was overawed by the gradeur. Then again on our second night in the North Cascades. Then again at Heart Lake the first time I was in the Olympics. Here in the Upper Cameron Basin, I have the entire basin – who knows how much more with the nearest campsite 3 miles away as the crow files. But it’s still basically the same. Maybe that is why I enjoyed Big Bend so much last year – it was distinctive. Peaceful as it is here, I’m a bit bored and definitely dreading the 10 hours of waiting for dawn as I alternatively deprive my arms of oxygen trying to fitfully sleep while shivering in my tent.
And I miss my girls, all of them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and maybe I need that every so often.
BTW: today was 9 miles and 3000 feet. It took all of 6 hours –> 30 minutes per miles, 30 minutes per 1000 ft. Includes rest and lunch.

The meadow at Upper Cameron Basin [sideways]
My camp at Upper Cameron Basin
Grand Pass between night two and three

8/28/16 1422
Arrived at Grand Lake a little while ago and scramble to set camp in the rain. I say scrambled, but I’m not actually moving quickly. Nothing out here does. Even the flies are lazy.
I’ve been talking to myself more today, though I actually felt stronger on the trail today. That might be because I made two walking sticks to serve as trekking poles. It made a big difference climbing to Grand Pass. So, it’s raining and I’m basically killing time until 6 AM tomorrow when I can break camp and hoof it out of here. One downside of being stuck in one’s tent? One is confronted with one’s overwhelming stench. I haven’t really felt complelled to jump into the 53 degree lake or 45 degree river – to wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway without soap. I’ve been rinsing my shift, shorts, and briefs in bodies of water, and that helps some. But they don’t call it swamp ass for nothing and no amount of lipstick is making that pig smell pretty. Or something.

One noteworthy event! I had human interaction! So, 25 or so miles into my adventure, and I finally saw another soul on the trail. And wouldn’t you know it, it was a lost young couple in need of assistance, having only meager navigation skills and subpar maps!

No, no, I swear, I haven’t spent 3 hours starring at this map in the last three days! It was nice to help. I miss people, it turns out. You see, I’m a extrovert in a narrow range of social scenarios. First, I can’t compete for attention. I’m an introvert around dominant personalities. But when I’m the dominant personality, bam, let’s all talk and acknowledge my cleverness and wit. Want to hear about the time I lugged 50 lbs on my back for 4 days? I was all by myself! Picture a 2 mile circle!

Vanity, vanity. I should have a blog! I can control the discussion, framing it in ways to make my views unassailable. Or talk radio? Or maybe I’ll just dominate meetings at work!
All this self-reflecting, you know? But I already knew all these things, enlightened and self-aware as I am. I’m just bored and trapped in a tent with nothing to think about but how much I stink.
(Full circle! Get it? OK, I’ll stop.)

8/28 1556
I think it’s important to do things like go backpacking. It forces you to confront things that you take for granted in your daily life.

The acquisition of water. While I have two hundred viable water sources on this particular route, that wasn’t the case in Big Bend. In fact, we ran out of water on our first hiking trip in New Hampshire. I dreamt of faucets that night. Then there’s the provision of food. Calories and protein, but also fiber. Then you have to force yourselve to eat it. I, for instance, currently have a profound lack of “give a shit”. I mostly just want to sit and sate. But, I suspect this is due to too few calories and too many miles on too few hours of sleep. Low blood sugar. Low something. Whatever the case, this apathy is something I only get under this specific set of conditions. Then there’s shelter. You have to BYO shelter.
And warmth. Last night, I wore 4 shirts (aka, all of them), pants, two pairs of socks, a winter hat, gloves, a silk liner and a sleeping back largely because I neglected to bring my own bag and am borrowing my mother-in-laws’ and she’s not 6′ tall. Sleep. Hard to do on the ground. Hygiene? A losing battle. And there are 7000 ft mountains (they were 11000 feet in King’s Canyon and the Uintas). Maybe hoardes of mosquitoes. And wild animals! Everyone knows about mountain lions and bears (I have no idea why I have yet to see any!), but also goats and deer that will chew on your clothes for salt if you leave them out.

Goats don’t chew your clothes in normal life. Water comes from faucets. Beds have blankets and pillows. Houses have bathrooms and in them you can wash off your filth and dispose of your excrement.

Trust me, it’s good to do without every so often. You should totally try it sometime.
Grand Lake

Badger Valley
Badger Valley again [BTW, it’s possible to get to this place with a strenuous 7 mile day hike. Worth it.]
Deer Path to Obstruction Point, nearer to Obstruction Point
Maiden Peak

8/29/16 12:34
Today’s walk was a celebration. Broke camp early, on the trail by 7:25. Finished 10 miles and about 2000 feet in just under 5 hrs. Felt strong and cheerful. Badger Valley and the ridge were both beautiful. Waiting for extraction, eager to see the girls.

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I was sitting next to a guy named Jonathon at a meeting today. After noticing me fixating on his notebook for a while, he asked me what my deal was. “That’s my middle name,” I said, motioning to his book, “but I can’t decide if it’s spelled the same way or not.”

But I forgot my middle name. Anyway, Jonathan. I checked my birth certificate. It’s with an a.

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Last Tuesday, I escaped from snowy Connecticut. It’s been 6 weeks since I’ve lived at home for more than 2 straight days (well, OK, I was there for almost a week when our flights to WA were canceled), and it’s been a strange adjustment. When you live somewhere else most of the time, you start to develop bad co-habitation habits. Maybe you drink more milk, knowing that you’re not going to be paying the price of empty milk, because you’ll be living in a hotel in a day. Your life becomes very existential. Eat, drink, for tomorrow you go back to Connecticut. I actually only ended up coming home twice between 12/13 and 1/18. I went home for one day on my anniversary, and two the first weekend of January. Jen bought a little pet dog when I was gone, but when I came back I opened the door, and threw a strip of bacon outside then closed it and made believe it no longer existed. I think it moved to a farm in the country.

OK, there was no dog. I could make up stuff for a while, but instead, I’ll just go to bed.

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Jo wants to know what I’m going to wear. Today I’m wearing a button down shirt (with stripes, vertical) and khakis. I have a full complement of under garments as well. I intend to wear shoes.

Tomorrow will likely be similar.

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As far as I can tell, I never posted this from Algonquin last year. I’ll have to do that sometime. This year I hardly had a chance to write while we were out in the wild, but here’s all of it, plus a recap from tonight.

7/9/10 2344 MST
We’re here at J’Ann and Scott’s palace in Par City, Utah. 30 ft ceilings, granite everything, just high quality. We drove here from the airport in a marginally terrifying Chevy Rickshaw (Aveo) which can barely do 65 mph on flat roads. The rental car guy was full of glad tidings – “it’ll rain on you every day. I saw a grizzly. They’ll open your car like a tin can. But you’ll love it.” It has been thundering intermittently since we got here – interesting weather and sporadic storms are in the forecast for our future as well.

We’re already at 7000 ft – good for adjusting slowly to tomorrow’s altitudes. Should be an adventure.

7/11/10 1610 MST
I’m currently sitting in the shade at Lightning Lake, having just submerged for the sake of cleaning myself. The lake is at something like 10,700 and the water, ringed with occasional snow, is somewhere near 50F. I had intended to write earlier, but things have been a little crazy. Right before we were supposed to leave, we noticed the tire on the rental was flat. We fixed it, then left for Kamas, where we were to pick up the last minute supplies. For some ridiculous reason, none of the three places we went had butane for ultralight campstoves. Somewhat daunted, we shrugged and left without it. All food would be prepared on fire. Turns out that at 10,500 ft, cooking food on a fire is more easily said than done.

We proceeded to the Grandview trailhead. Chevy Rickshaws are not designed to climb 3000 ft up narrow, lumpy dirt roads. After 7 perilous miles, which Scott was kind enough to lead us through, we were there. 9500 ft and on our way at around 1 PM.

Two general comments on the Uintas. First, the mosquitoes, who are hounding me as we speak, are maddeningly awful and omnipresent. Second, the shelf life of any given weather pattern is about 30 minutes. When I started writing it was sunny, 70. Now a cloudy 60. It was a windy and rainy 45 this morning. 2 hrs into the first day, it hailed on us. Or snow pellets, or some thing in between

Day one drove me to exhaustion. I didn’t eat enough, didn’t drink enough, and got a mild bout of altitude sickness. It was 7 PM before we got to where we would set up camp – an obvious wildlife refuge at 10,500 beyond the Four Lakes Basin, about 12 miles out. By the time Steve, with much difficulty, got a fire going, we were running out of daylight. We choked down the gross Pad Thai, pumped some water, hung the food and went to bed. Having seen moose prints and moose scat every 50 ft, we knew they were around. No sooner had the sun gone down, we heard several very close moose [actually Elk, upon further review] calls – a very loud version of a yip that a coyote might make. Or a 1000 lb bull frog. We found it difficult to sleep. Our moose trespassing and altitude sickness headaches kept us both up until a 1 AM sortie to the food bag retrieved tylenol.

The thing about mosquitoes is that they force you to be in constant motion, lest 70 of them congregate around you at any given moment. Rain keeps them at bay, as it did this morning. Forced to evacuate camp rapidly ahead of the approaching gales, we were on the trail by 7:45. Two hours later we had crossed the 11,500 ft Rocky Sea pass, navigated a 30 meter snow field on the edge of a mountain and gotten down the other side. It’d be rainy, windy and frigid one minute, then temperate the next. After twisting my arm to climb again to Lightning Lake, we arrived at noon, around the same time the sun came back. It’s been a nice afternoon. We can see for 10 miles to 11, 12, 13000 foot mountains on all sides. Our site is perched near the edge of a 500 ft drop – it’s definitely a top-3 site for us. We had delicious pasta, olive oil, salami, cheese, salt and pepper for linner (dunch) around 3, and now Steve’s working on trout for dinner…and it looks like he finally got one.

7/22/10 – Before things get too distant, I’m going to write, on the computer, a stream of consciousness hindsight log of the last two days in the Uintas. My last entry was written at the shores of Lightning Lake – though there were far fewer mosquitoes there than either of the other sites, they were still driving me mad as I was writing. Steve did indeed catch a trout, the first of two that we had for dinner. Dinner was actually light, lunch, at 3 in the afternoon, was a full spaghetti, salami, parmesan, salt, pepper, and olive oil meal. I hard just plunged into the frigid water to bathe again, and we walked around exploring the waterfall dumping out of the lake. I urinated from spectacular vistas, 600 feet above a lake and stream filled valley. It was the high point of the trip, Lightning Lake. We went to bed a little later, having walked aimlessly around the highlands after dark picking fights with animals. We saw a few deer and had a bat dive bomb us several times, presumably aroused by Steve’s “Borg Light”. Though I always thought they were blind other than the sonar or whatever.

Anyway, the next day was a challenge. We got out by 8:45, and started what would be an epic day. We went all the way down Rock Creek to near to Stillwater Reservoir, then took a hard turn into nowhereland, trudging back up the West Fork to Granddaddy Lake. 8 and half hours, 18 miles and 2300 feet of elevation lost then regained – driven mercilessly by mosquitoes the whole way back up – I was done, finished, spent. It was just a little beyond what I could comfortably handle. I promised myself I’d jump in the water to clean off after we got there. I did, then the wind started howling as I stood mostly to completely naked on the shore. I spent the next hour and a half shivering miserably, hunched over in full goretex attire, surrounded by mosquitoes and almost completely apathetic. I choked down some food (same as the night before) and slowly recovered. By bedtime I was reasonably well constituted again.

Some highlights from that journey, let’s see. Well, we got to a fork in the river a few miles in. It was the first time we had to swap over the crocs for the day. Steve decided that instead of stowing his real shoes in his bag he was going to chunk them across.

“Think about this,” I, the perpetual Voice of Reason, said, “if you don’t make it, you’ll be walking the next 20 miles in crocs.”

“I’ll make it. You don’t think I have the arm for that?”

And he did. Plenty of arm. So much in fact that the tree limbs dangling twenty feet up swatted his huck right down into the stream. Now, stream means “rapidly gurgling creek, 25 feet wide and 1-2 feet deep”. His shoe landed about 5 feet from the opposite shore and was flushed downstream…until it miraculously got hooked on a rock 6 feet away. He is the luckiest person alive, always.

We saw our first person about 5 miles later – the first person we had seen (in person at least) in about 48 hours. Then they came rapidly, probably twenty of them in the next 5 miles. In the category of “things I wish I had a picture of” was the 35 year old hulk of a man carrying his 2 liter while his 8 year old son trudged uphill with what looked like a 35 lb pack. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was borderline child abuse.

After we crossed the bridge, we were immediately out of people, we wouldn’t see them again until we got to the car the next day. The West Fork was wild, a bit overgrown, and decidedly off the beaten path. I’ve often thought that I prefer uphills to downhills, and this only affirmed my opinion – a gradual uphill is much easier on your body than any sort of downhill…which is good because the 10 miles down we already did had spurred several classic blisters.

Anyway, back off that digression, back to Granddaddy Lake. That night was all about mosquitoes. 200 of them stood guard outside of the tent screen, a couple dozen of which made it inside during our mid-night pee break. We smushed them, spending 10 minutes at 2 in the morning committing insect genocide inside the tent. Morning was no better, so we packed up and got the hell out of there. The trip back to the car was uneventful, we made it the last 5-6 miles in just under 2 hours, then back to the palatial estate of J’Ann and Scott.

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