[pct-l] Test

Jeffrey Olson jjolson58 at gmail.com
Wed Dec 6 20:50:15 CST 2017

On 12/3/2017 5:15 AM, Mike Flannigan wrote:
> Sorry for this test, but I have not heard from the list
> for quite a while.
> Mike 

This communication format is dying.  I think it needs to be more about 
stories than information.  The 2018 PCT facebook forum is fascinating.  
Naivete is the norm.  It's just faster than it was here 15 years ago.

Here's a story

After hiking with Dave I headed West and my heart sank as I drove over 
Donner Summit. There was pretty solid snow everywhere. I knew I was at 
least a month from being able to hike at 7500'. That was May 17, 2010. 
Part of me didn't care because I got to hang with my mom and see 
friends, play golf, read bad novels, and work around the house. I like 
that kind of vacation. I worked at least two or three hours a day, 
planting, pruning, weeding, installing $750 of pleated shades, replacing 
an exterior door, fixing, etc. I even got to take naps!!! I also spent a 
lot of time perusing maps and books of trail descriptions, trying to 
find interesting hiking that didn't go up into the snow zones. Finally I 
settled on hiking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, south of Yosemite Park, 
including the Mammoth area. I started on the West Side. The east side of 
the Sierra is pretty steep. Trailheads are between 7K and 9K go quickly 
up to 11K - you get into the high country in a day. The West side is 
much more gentle, with lots of reservoirs and ridges and miles and miles 
of roads that take forever to get you anywhere. I left Santa Rosa and 
headed to Merced, then up to Mariposa, then over to Oakhurst, and then 
to North Fork and 55 miles along the Minarets Road to Clover Meadow 
Campground in a little pimple of national forest surrounded by official 
wilderness. I'd stopped at a ranger station in Oakhurst to get a permit 
for the three hikes I'd planned. The woman there got a bit flustered - I 
was her first hiker of the season. She spent a half hour trying to talk 
me out of doing what I was proposing. As it was, we spent an hour 
filling out paperwork and talking. She told me stories of hikers who'd 
died, who had to be helicoptered out (thousands of dollars of cost to 
the hiker) and I kept saying I knew when to turn around. I've been 
backpacking since the first trip my dad took me on when I was 13, and 
had spent weeks and weeks in the wilderness over a bunch of summers when 
the folks hired packers to take the family into the Marble Mountains in 
the 50s. The woman was from a local tribe and was active in getting 
"Squaw Dome" changed in name to "Piyau Dome." Apparently "squaw" means 
female genitalia. This is "controversial" in the literature. 
Nonetheless, the word is no longer part of acceptable lexicon. A tribe 
in North Dakota is successfully getting the name of a college's teams 
"The Fighting Sioux" changed because it demeans... I got out of the 
ranger's office with my persona intact, but much more firmly conscious I 
was heading into more of the unknown than I was used to. I wasn't 
scared. Again - my loins were just more girded... The road from Oakhurst 
to Clover Meadows Campground is long and winding and narrow and I just 
wanted to be done. The ranger had said that the road had just opened to 
the campground - it was obvious it had been open for a couple weeks. 
There was lots of snow at 7000'. That didn't bode well for high country 
hiking. I put up my tent at the edge of the parking area, mostly to keep 
the voracious mosquitos away. The road to the campground proper was 
closed due to snow and saturated earth - mud. There was a ranger station 
there, manned during the summer, but empty on June 20. I lay on my half 
inch thick blue closed cell foam pad, my 20 degree rated quilt covering 
only my feet, and read one of the airplane novels I'd brought. I didn't 
get much reading done as I listened to the jays and descending silence. 
I slept pretty well for the first night and got up and ate muesli, not 
missing coffee at all. I don't carry a stove or pot or cookable food 
when I hike alone. That means my intense coffee habit sends me into 
withdrawl. I knew I would start having a headache pretty soon so I 
packed up and headed out on one of the many trails leading from the 
campground. This first trip was to take four days. I was going to head 
to the southern boundary of Yosemite, traverse along one of the 10,000' 
ridges and do a 35 mile loop back to the car. Four days of pack and food 
weighs about 20 pounds. The base weight of my pack is just about 11 
pounds now, with nine pounds of food. I knew I had too much, but for 
this first shakedown cruise, I wanted more than less. I was not in good 
shape, and hiked slowly through the forest. It was hard to develop a 
pace as there were countless snowbanks that had to be walked over or 
around. The trail was 18" wide and very clear. But I couldn't develop a 
walking pace. I'd get going, start to sink into a rhythm, and a three 
foot snowbump would appear. If the way were clear, I'd walk around it. 
If not, I'd go over it. Regardless, I felt I was more picking my way 
through the forest than trodding at 2 mph. After five hours and seven 
miles I reached a flat area that was filled with old growth pines, 5 to 
8 feet in diameter. There wasn't much undergrowth - just lots of fallen 
trees and nearly solid snow. This was at 8300'. Solid snow at 8300'. 
This made me think that my goal of hiking up to 10,000' was pretty 
unrealistic. If my friend Dave had been there, I might have been 
emboldened and tried it. As it was, I hiked about a half mile until the 
snow became solid. I'd lost the trail a quarter mile or so ago, and was 
navigating by blazes on the trees. I tried hiking from blaze to blaze. 
I'd get to one and stop. I'd cast my gaze in the general direction the 
trail was heading, looking for the next blaze. After a while, I realized 
the blazes were figments - or at least - so old that they weren't 
obvious. This is where the ranger's exhortations and castigations, 
warnings and dumbfounded looks showed themselves. I had a compass and 
decent topo map. I knew where I was (especially since there was a 
marsh/lake coming up). That said, I didn't feel comfortable heading off 
into the wilderness by compass and map. Again - if Dave had been 
around... I decided to find a clear place to pitch my tent and camp. 
That was on the edge of the marsh/lake, a little spot not much bigger 
than my tent. Everything else that wasn't covered in snow was wet and/or 
running with water. The days had finally warmed up and the melt was on. 
Once the tent was up I got into it and killed about 50 mosquitos and lay 
there at 4 in the afternoon - five more hours of daylight to come - and 
listened to the birds and frogs. The wind was blowing enough that a 
sibilant background had me listen intently for A BEAR!!! Creaking limbs 
and thoracic whooshes combined with my natural imagination to create 
lurking and hulking, hungry, newly awakened ursine presences that 
smelled my muesli and gorp and turkey jerky. All imaginative and 
fictional my rational self said. Still... I read until dark, fading in 
and out of a light slumber. The frogs really took off at dusk, and I 
wondered if I'd be able to sleep. There was one big boy that boomed his 
croak across the lake. I imagined him with gonads the size of baseballs, 
and bulbous, Peter Lorre eyes. I tossed and turned all night, getting 
enough sleep, but really getting used to the absence of my temperpedic 
mattress with its extra 3" memory foam topper. I awoke at dawn the next 
morning, and lay under my quilt so comfortable and warm and appreciative 
of being there. The sun came up, very slowly - hitting the treetops on 
the western ridge, then glowing through the treetops on the eastern 
ridge, and finally, shining on me in my little tent on the edge of a 
marshy lake seven miles from the nearest road and its path to 
civilization. I didn't lollygag when I finally got up. I put my "butt 
pad" on a snowfree log and ate muesli. Actually, I felt like I was 
choking it down. I wasn't very hungry. Hmmmm. Maybe I wasn't hungry 
because I normally drink a pot of coffee before eating anything. I broke 
camp in less than 15 minutes and headed back to over the snow to the 
point at which the trail disappeared. I got back to the car around noon, 
taking my time, and lollygagging. Rather than heading out for another 
attempt to enter the high country on a different trail I hung out at the 
Granite Creek Campground, sitting in the drivers seat of my car, reading 
an airplane novel, napping, wandering around the deserted campground, 
and setting up camp. I watched Granite Creek and noticed that it was 
increasing in depth over the course of the afternoon. From noon til dark 
it got about two feet deeper. The melt was on. I woke up the next 
morning and whole sandbars with vegetation were exposed. Again, no one 
was around. This was the second day I hadn't uttered a word or seen or 
met anyone. I got up the next morning and repacked my pack for a five 
day trip to the Mammoth area and back. I wasn't too confident I'd be 
able to actually complete the hike as there was a 10,000 pass to go 
over, and lots of the hike was over 8500'. I had to try it though. I 
packed up and drove the car back down through Clover Meadows, to a 
junction and up towards a pass leading down into the middle fork of the 
san joaquin river canyon. There was no parking where the trail crossed 
the road, and I basically parked off the dirt road at an acute sideways 
angle. No biggy. I hiked gently up from 7200' to a notch in the ridge 
that was about 8200' and the snow was covering the ground about 50%. 
Once through the notch the snow was 100%. I got to a trail junction 
where I could either continue across snow to the area I had wanted to 
reach on the previous aborted hike, or cross a stream and head towards 
Mammoth - my plan. I could see the stepping stones that hikers normally 
used to cross the creek. But they were under three feet of raging, 
undulating, almost sensuous snowmelt water. The normally 15' wide creek 
was 25' wide and crashing down at 10 mph. I really didn't have a choice. 
Not only did the ranger's warnings echo through me - they were more an 
ironic parody of the choice I had to make - I realized I didn't want to 
hike on solid snow on a relatively unmaintained trail or cross the 
creek. Again, if Dave had been there we would have talked ourselves into 
the adventure. And again, I made the safe, prudent choice. I'm sure I 
would have made it. But there was a good 10% chance that I would lose my 
footing and be swept away, blubbering and pushing towards the other 
bank, watching for boulders to avoid, realizing I couldn't swim, that I 
really didn't have any control here - I just needed to GET OUT OF THE 
RIVER and survive. This was very clear to me as I stood there in 70 
degree warmth, sweating, sunshine on snow making me wear sunglasses... 
My wonderful imagination had no trouble supporting the rational decision 
to turn around. So I sat down and ate some turkey jerky, feeling 
melancholy. I decided to head back to the notch, walk up a granite 
slope, eat lunch, and take a nap, if the gods were so inclined... I 
spent three hours lounging on a little bench overlooking the whole 
western approach to the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I had three quarts of 
water. I had four days of food. I had a 400 page airplane novel. I had 
my butt pad and convenient granite to lean against. I was in slacker 
heaven... With a bit of punchy "I'm not quite awake and coordinated" I 
climbed back down the class three granite to the trail and hiked down to 
the car. I drove back to the Granite Creek Campground and set up camp in 
the same place. I sat in the driver's seat and read and napped. I took 
pictures of the creek getting higher and higher as the day went on. I 
drank a couple IPA's I'd purchased in Oakhurst. I wandered around and 
just fit into my environment - I was in balance and harmony!!!! I spent 
hours looking at the maps I'd brought. In between napping, reading, 
wandering, watching the creek rise, I'd bring out the big topo map and 
peruse the next days hike. I had hoped that all the snow reports on NOAA 
and the California water agencies were wrong, that I could really hike 
in mid-june above 8300'. The reality was unless I wanted to hike on 
solid snow and cross multiple raging creeks, this wasn't going to 
happen. So I went to the third trip on my itinerary. This was a four to 
eight day trip from the Granite Creek trailhead, down the canyon wall of 
the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, up it's other side, up and 
down and up and down to Lake Edison and then back. The four day trip was 
basically a down to the river, up from the river, hike along the canyon 
wall, and down and up again to the trailhead. The eight day trip 
involved hiking in forest with no alpine environs to lift the spirit. I 
decided to do the four day loop, down and up and down and up - and head 
back and hang with my Mom... The fourth morning of my sojourn in the 
mountains I woke up and packed again for a four day trip. By this time 
my inner world was raging just like the creeks I'd encountered. I hadn't 
spoken or met anyone in almost 96 hours. There were times when I would 
just melt into the raging Granite Creek below my campsite, and others 
when I'd be so deeply into the topo map I'd need a second pair of 
reading glasses to make out the details, and then have to recover from 
that magnified focus when a jay screamed at me. I wiled away hours 
engrossed in an airplane novel, sitting in the drivers seat of my Toyota 
Solara, the seat all the way back, dropping the book to my chest and 
closing my eyes and drifting, and waking and picking up the book again. 
The next morning I drove to the Granite Creek Trailhead, about 6 miles 
from the Granite Creek Campground, or tried to. The map said the dirt 
road turned into a four wheel drive road a mile or so from the 
trailhead. I would drive as far as I could and hike. About three miles 
from the trailhead a three foot pine had fallen across the one lane 
road. I could have driven round it, or attempted to, but that was more 
jeep stuff than Solara stuff. I turned around, drove 100 yards back down 
the dirt road and parked on a narrow flat spot. I put everything in the 
trunk, installed the sunshields behind the windshield, locked the car, 
and slid over the log. The walk along the dirt road offered views of the 
granite benches and domes at the upper reaches of the Middle Fork of the 
San Joaquin's canyon and high country to the east and south. I followed 
the tracks of a 4 wheel drive pickup that tore up the road and flora and 
fauna when he had to drive around deadfall in the road. I tried not to 
get righteous and irritated. I was on a hike, and would leave such 
desecration behind very shortly! I arrived at the trailhead and it was 
basically a sloping solid piece of granite upon which cars could park. 
It was solid granite!!! No human shaping - just some 300 pound granite 
boulders marking it's 10 or 12 spots. If you parked and forgot to put 
the car in park or the emergency brake on, the car would have gained 
speed, and in two hundred yards, bounced it's way down into the Granite 
Creek defile. Weird... The trail took me across a substantial bridge and 
then down 2500' to the San Joaquin River. The map said that this was an 
unmaintained trail. I've walked on "unmaintained trails" before. No 
biggy. That just means there's brush overhanging the trail and 
rocks/boulders to walk around. It's mostly a matter of not spraining an 
ankle. This "unmaintained trail" was different. It hadn't seen the hands 
of man for at least a decade, and probably longer. This segment of the 
trail was not difficult to follow. It would disappear for 20' and 
appear, and then disappear for 50' and appear, and so on. I was used to 
switchbacked trails. This one had switchbacks, but they were steep, more 
a miners trail than backpackers trail. Miners trails tend to go straight 
up and down, with switchbacks when going from bench to bench, or the 
terrain is too steep. I'd read in a book this was part of the 
"California Horse and Riding Trail" or something like that. I couldn't 
imagine a horse going down this with a rider on its back. There were 
times where I maintained four point contact as I lowered myself down a 
little cliff or vertical defile. I could see where horses had gone down 
or up the trail, but not for years. Normally there's evidence of hoofs 
striking granite - horseshoes chip granite. The chips were not fresh - 
they were definitely weathered. This wasn't a dangerous trail. For this 
I was grateful. But I was a bit flustered as I got near the bottom and 
poison oak appeared, and the trail would just disappear into it. Steep 
trail along granite walls with poison oak growing out of every little 
bit of dirt - not big, but there. I'd been hiking for three hours and 
had dropped 2000'. I had another 500' to go to get to the river. I 
wasn't anxious or scared or even irritated. But I was conscious of every 
step, of where I put my foot, and where my leg was, where my arms swung. 
I had poison oak once so bad that I spent four days in my house naked, 
drinking six quarts of malt liquor a day, smoking pot, and when my 
roommates came home from work, I didn't care that I was naked and drunk 
and high and obnoxious. I showed them how poison oak had invaded my 
crotch and butt crack... I was so impacted by the poison oak nothing 
else mattered. This is what I remembered... Consciousness - poison oak 
is here. Don't touch it... I made it down that last 500', mostly with no 
obvious trail through the benches and granite walls. I'm glad that the 
trail was 20% there. The next three days took what I learned and forced 
me to hone my trail consciousness even more. The trail, or where it had 
been, was invisible the last quarter mile. I couldn't imagine being on 
the "California Horse and Riding Trail" and crossing the bridge over the 
river and finding the trail. It was well hidden by brush and narrow 
cracks in the granite and poison oak and grass where there once was 
tread. I got to the bridge, and looked around for a good place to camp. 
It was obvious there was a huge meadow on the other side of the river - 
the RIVER!!!!!!!!! All those snowmelt creeks that were raging torrents 
flowed into the middle fork. It was 100' across and 20' deep at the 
bridge, and just flat out angry and NUTS!!!! There were boulders near 
the bridge that were under water and created standing waves five feet 
tall with churning holes behind them. Downstream the river narrowed into 
a granite sided, vertical canyon. The threaded currents were compressed 
into one flow that didn't seem to make noise or have much surface 
action. But you could tell there was incredible power there - there was 
a constant four foot bulge in the north edge of the river where it 
flowed over an underwater obstruction. When it hit the south wall as the 
gorge turned, it looked like it had a six foot flow up the wall before 
sliding down to even out with the rest of the river. The river at that 
point wasn't level. Very weird - I'd never seen anything like it before. 
When I got home I spent a couple hours checking out the middle fork of 
the san joaquin, and apparently, it's one of the fringe kayak runs. 
There are utube videos and blogs describing checking out the canyon and 
running it. I was just captured by the constant roar of the water. There 
was so much of it!!! I crossed the bridge and entered the meadow. It was 
sand and pines and warm and paradise. I found a spot behind some thick, 
tall pines that would be in shade for the rest of the afternoon. There 
is nothing like setting up a tent under the erroneous assumption it will 
be in the shade on a hot day, only to find it slowly being warmed to 
oven like temperatures when the sun drops 15 degrees from vertical 
towards the horizon. This isn't a problem when there are no mosquitoes. 
Just open the tent up and let the wind flow! This trip had a constant 
undercurrent of mosquitoes. They don't much bother me in terms of being 
bit and itching. But they bother me when there are 50 or 60 within three 
or four inches of my face - when I can hear them and the buzzing gets, 
well, intolerable...! After reading and napping and munching for hours, 
listening to the river, drifting in and out and back and forth, I 
finally stripped down and put on my sleeping clothes. The dusk lasted 
for a long, long time, but I wasn't really aware of it. I was in a 
perfect space, spiritually, emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally. I 
was in balance and harmony. I'd been close the previous days, lying in 
the car, reading, the breeze flowing through the car, lying in my tent 
next to Granite Creek, spending a couple hours on the edge of the snow 
covered alpine world with a view to the west and warmth. But this, and 
the night I spent upstream 48 hours later, were two of the most perfect 
relaxing afternoons and evenings I've ever spent. The next morning I lay 
in my tent at first light. I was ready to go back to sleep - I wasn't 
going far that day - but suddenly I felt the "call of nature" in an 
urgent feeling I couldn't ignore. This happens every time I go 
backpacking. After a couple days I am forced out of my warm quilt/tent 
because I have to take a dump. I don't have a choice. The urgency begins 
with me awakening to a sensitivity to being, to "having" a "fullness." 
I've awakened and in the last 20% of being asleep, desperately attempted 
to relax and sink back into dormir. This has worked, but not often. I 
can't fool my body. There is a point at which consciousness emerges to 
include bodily functions and everything just revs up. After a week of 
backpacking I try and remember to dig a cathole the night before so I 
can crawl out of my warm bed, stumble to the hole, and do my business 
without having to dig and feel my "fullness" move to a sphincter clench 
that threatens to blatt its way into my long underwear. I've never shat 
in my pants, but I've come close, little uncontrollable spasms of the 
sphincter that have me forget digging a hole or being out of sight of my 
hiking mates. Whew... I ate muesli, packed up, and began to hike on the 
faint trail at the edge of the forested meadow. I knew this day wasn't 
starting out well when I got to the end of the meadow a quarter mile 
downstream and there was no trail. There were lots of animal trails, and 
I think I followed most of them over the next hour. Finally, I ended up 
at a place I'd avoided that looked like the trail might have once gone 
through. But it was a poison oak patch. It was overgrown with bushes and 
there was lots of dead-fall to step over while avoiding the poison oak. 
I passed this point five times before stopping and realizing that the 
trail most likely headed where I didn't want to go. Once again I "girded 
my loins" and headed into the poison oak. Luckily it lasted only 20' or 
so, and on the other side of the brush that intermixed with it, there 
was an obvious trail. It took a real act of will backed with underlying 
despair to have me head through the poison oak. Coming down the 
northiside 2500' canyon wall was an introduction to "abandoned trails" 
Going up the southside on the California Riding and Hiking Trail took me 
to the next level. The bridge was at 4800' and the poison oak stopped at 
5300'. The trail had no switchbacks. It wound its way from bench to 
bench, sometimes flat for 100 yards, other times straight up for 100', 
in a 100 yards. And there was no "trail" to speak of. I not only had to 
watch my feet - every step was a potential ankle twister - I had to stay 
10' to 100' ahead of myself to look for the next little bit of abandoned 
trail. I got pretty good at anticipating where the trail "should" go, 
and trusting my developing intuition that where I was walking would 
eventually reveal itself to be THE TRAIL!!!! I know I'm fixating on THE 
TRAIL or its lack. I can't emphasize enough just how disconcerting it is 
to a backpacking guy used to following an 18" wide trail, step after 
step, head down, unthinking, just one step in front of the other, 
working when it's up, letting loose and noticing stuff when it's flat, 
and taking care when the trail heads down. A trail is a given for 99% of 
us. We are camp centered, hiking from point A to point B. The trail is a 
way to get from one point to another, the vistas and creeks and vales 
and defiles and lichen all to be appreciated and "grokked" but the 
overall point is to get where you're going. I'm thinking there is a 
metaphor here. Most of us (I) are most comfortable when the way is 
clear. When it becomes obsfuscated for any reason, we feel anxiety and 
wonder and sometimes get neurotic and sometimes within neuroses get 
weird... I found myself feeling despair that I had to cast my gaze to 
find the trail bits as I walked. When I'd find a bit after 100' of 
trusting my intuition where the trail "should" go, I'd feel a rush, a 
high! I wanted the comfort of a clear trail, but felt triumph when 
absence gave over to presence. I reached the top of the canyon. There 
hadn't been many views because of the vegetation, and I only knew I'd 
reached the "top" when the way flattened out in the forest. I came to a 
junction I'd anticipated since beginning the day. I was headed south for 
the rest of the afternoon, and then the next day was going to turn 
around and come back. Once I got back to this junction I would head 3 
miles down the other trail and drop another mile and 2500' to the other 
crossing of the river, and a different 2500' climb out back to the 
trailhead and three mile hike on the 4 wheel dirt road to the car. The 
sign at the junction was in three pieces on the ground. There was no 
post. Forest service trail signs are wood with cuts making up letters. 
The letters on this sign were almost unintelligible they were so old. I 
realized in another dimension of understanding that I was walking 
"abandoned trails." I doubted at this point that rangers patrolled this 
area. I hadn't seen anyone in four days, seen any footprints on this 
"trail" or spoken a word. I was out there in the wilderness by myself 
and that was what was. The trail I would follow tomorrow disappeared in 
50' - in the grass of a small meadow before an old growth stand of big 
pines I could see was populated by lots and lots of dead trees piled one 
on another. I must admit that I felt a bit "spooky" as I continued to 
follow the abandoned trail south. I was getting better at just hiking, 
walking where I would have put a trail, and for the most part, finding 
I'd made the correct choice. I was actually making time, and averaging 
more than a quarter mile an hour. I crossed a snow fed creek that 
wouldn't be there in three weeks and ate lunch. I spent two hours on my 
butt pad, book in hand, my face and legs and hands covered with DEET, 
trying to relax and be in the moment. The mosquitoes were voracious 
until I put on the DEET. After than they didn't swarm and pretty much 
did what mosquitoes do where there is no food around. But they were 
still there, and as I closed my eyes and listened to the forest they 
were definitely a part of it. I hiked for another couple hours and 
realized I wanted to stop. I filled up my three quart gatorade bottles 
at a seasonal creek and found a ridge top with some minor views. I 
walked a couple hundred yards up from the trail and laid my tent out on 
a flat spot in that would be shady for the afternoon/evening that was 
about six inches deep in forest duff. I think that's the word - duff. 
Pine needles and sand and it's like a tick mattress - very comfortable. 
Again, I spent five hours of daylight hanging out, first against a tree, 
and then in the tent when I got tired of the swarms. Dusk and dawn are 
worst for mosquitos. But the late spring let them hang out in their 
swarms during the day too. I realized that I was at the 
halfway/turnaround point of the four day trip. I knew I could have 
continued south for as many miles as I wanted, but to be honest, I just 
didn't want too. I like hiking, and love being in the wilderness. But I 
like rising to alpine worlds and they were closed to me - snow. The next 
morning I leapt out of bed to the urgent drive to defecate - earlier 
each day - today at 7AM. A part of me was watching - the witness - and 
from the outside, I dumped, packed up, ate some breakfast, did the final 
packing, and hit the trail, or its ephemeral suggestion... From the 
inside I was stridently in dialogue with myself. I didn't have a quiet 
moment in the morning. All the routine stuff had internal verbal markers 
guiding me. What seemed to be moving from one task to the next on the 
outside, from the inside was a constant blathering stream of talk that 
ranged from how to pick up a tent stake and locate its bag, to a sense 
of universal connectedness that was a smile as I moved through the 
moment in the packing. I realized once again I was discovering a kind of 
balance between big and small that was life's lesson revealing itself 
again. There is peace in this realizing. What emotions exist between 
behaving and perceiving were backgrounded in the exquisite performance 
of a daily act - getting up, dumping, packing, eating, surveying camp to 
make sure all was as it was before I intruded, then beginning the day's 
walk. I watched myself do what I was doing and my perceiving was a 
ribbon wrapping the present, a dance in the midst of energetic living, 
an opening to what the world and universe were giving me there in the 
woods and wilderness... The end of a day's hike has a spectrum of 
emotion. I'm tired and sore and all the acts of setting up camp involve 
bending over and standing up, bending over and standing up. in the 
morning I bend and raise, bend and raise, but each day there is an 
increasing competence, an increasing sense of rhythm and balance that I 
think comes form being in better shape - physically, emotionally, 
mentally and spiritually. When the day is done I struggle from one task 
to the next. I'm tired and sore and stiff and I hurt. In the morning I'm 
stiff, but not tired - energized. My world is different. I anticipate 
the trail to come, the climbs, the vistas, the surprises. At the end of 
the day I appreciate the moment and that's about it. I have no future 
orientation. Sometimes I'll figure out the next day by spending time 
with the map. But most of the time I have a sense of what that'll 
entail, and I don't need to leave the moment of being-tired and 
satisfied and appreciative. I'm the frog with Peter Lorre eyes without 
the baseball sized gonads... I headed back down the trail I'd hiked the 
day before. I recognized points at which I'd mentally marked when I was 
confused about where to hike. I remembered a little vale with downed 
trees at either end I had to climb over, that yesterday I'd almost hurt 
myself when I slipped and bounced off a broken branch that was two 
inches from poking a hole in my thigh. I remembered a little lake 
becoming a meadow that swarmed with exponential numbers of mosquitos - I 
almost ran through that couple hundred yards trying to fool them about 
my being there - it didn't work and I just put up with the ebb and flow 
of the hoards finding and losing me. And in a little over an hour I got 
to the junction with the degraded sign and trail that disappeared into 
the big forest and unmitigated fallen tree brothers and sisters. I spent 
three hours hiking three miles. There was no trail. I made my way along 
benches at the rim of the canyon of the middle fork of the San Joaquin 
river. I shouldn't say there was "no" trail. Every once in a while a bit 
of trail would appear, but after a while, it was hard to tell what was 
abandoned trail and what was animal trail. The first part of this part 
of the hike was through old growth forest. That means no undergrowth and 
lots of deadfall. I crawled over lots of trees and realized I would be 
better off if I worked my way to the narrow meadow heading in the same 
direction I was. Crawling over dead trees is the most dangerous thing I 
do hiking cross country. There is so much room for slippage and so many 
little spikes and branches ready to puncture big muscles. I was so 
careful... I was in a different reality. No trail. Primeval forest. And 
lots, and lots, and lots of bear poop. As I headed along the narrow 
meadow I kept stepping over piles of bear poop. Most, if not all of it, 
was old, most of it from last year. I poked every pile I ran across with 
my hiking pole, and felt safe when it revealed itself to be dry. 
Nonetheless, in the half mile I walked along and in the narrow meadow, I 
came across at least 50 piles of bear poop. Each sighting raised my 
adrenaline, and with each poking and discovery it was old, I faced my 
fear and let a little bit of it go. I did see a bear. It was grubbing a 
log - a cinnamon colored yearling. I walked over a little hummock and 
there s/he was, nose in the ground. As soon as I crested the bear leapt 
into the forest and within two seconds was gone. A fleeting glimpse - 
that's it... It's a gift to see a bear. They are hunted in most forests, 
and have a primordial fear of humans as a result. We are so loud, and 
they are so sensitive. I've seen bears before and most of them were 
feeding, relatively oblivious. By the time I got to the end of the 
narrow meadow I knew I was on my own - no trail at all. Not even 
vestiges of trail. The map had the dotted line of unmaintained trail, 
but I'd finally reached the edge of civilizations decline - the vestiges 
were overgrown and had sunk back into a natural state. I was faced with 
a choice - turn back and hike down the way I'd come, or continue 
forward, trusting my ability to read a map and read the terrain in the 
map's perspective. Honestly, I didn't know if I could read a map well 
enough to get to the place where I could descend the canyon wall to 
river and its bridge. I remember starting out on a 750 mile, 75 day trip 
with my fiancee who had never backpacked before. I taught her everything 
I knew - we were a team. What revealed itself early in the trip was that 
she read a topo map far better than I did. I gladly gave up that 
responsibility and was very patient when she got anxious about her 
choices. Invariably - that means ALWAYS - her choices were right. She 
had me check her choices, but even then, when I was 40, my eyesight was 
less than stellar and I needed glasses to see fine detail - glasses I 
hadn't brought. It was early in the day though, and I knew I could turn 
around at any point and find the narrow meadow and the junction and the 
way back if I needed too. Maybe this is what makes the choice to enter 
the unknown palatable - the knowledge I can turn around and find the 
familiar. Thinking about this as I walked, I realized this was an option 
not available most of the time. I make a choice and there is no going 
back. There is coping, backtracking, reveling and celebrating - but 
seldom is there the ability to turn around and go back. I made my way 
along the canyon wall. It was made up of benches and manzanita and 
forested glens 100 yards long. There was no sense of an "edge." I knew 
from the map I needed to drop 200' vertical feet in the next mile and 
find a creek that led to a waterfall. I climbed up and down on granite 
slopes to 20' wide benches of pines and manzanita that petered out in 
cliffs that had me backtrack and climb up or down to get to the next 
bench, and the defile with a creek and a waterfall at its head. The 
total 200' drop ended up being much more than that - the ups and downs 
and retreats probably tripled that elevation drop. What bugs me now, as 
I put this narrative in web form is I didn't take any pictures from the 
sign at the trail junction to what eventually was that night's camp. I 
was way too into the moment to take pictures. At one point I knew I had 
to drop down a granite face 40' or so. I could see a creek at the 
bottom. I had to go back 100 yards to find a safe way to wind down to 
the creek. I was hot and tired and thirsty.. There were last fall's 
leaves on rock, and I slipped when I didn't step well. There were little 
pine trees and manzanita hanging over granite I had to step over or walk 
around. Every movement on that backwalk and descent to the creek was an 
effort that threatened to hurt me. I could feel malevolence and it 
wasn't coming from the terrain. I'd entered some sort of weird space 
that made everything in the environment dangerous, a space/place where I 
could hurt myself. It wasn't the "wilderness" that would hurt me. It was 
me - my perspective on behavior as I put one foot in front of, or 
behind, the other. I had lost the sense of 
being-part-of-the-environment. I was jerkily alive within my almost 
uncoordinated efforts to make my way down the slope. I hadn't felt this 
before on this hike. I'm familiar with this feeling, but not in the 
all-pervasive way in which every step was threaded with danger, with the 
imminent actuality I could hurt myself. A part of me succumbed. I gave 
in to the malevolence. I was bereft, lost, my presence nothing more than 
tactile edges maintaining contact with the rock and dirt and trees and 
bushes. What larger perspective I'd had was gone. The balance and 
harmony I'd felt was disintegrating into fractured emotions taking me 
away from my ability to navigate my way through the world. I got to the 
creek. I'd slipped and fallen three times in the previous 100 yards. I'd 
wrenched my back catching myself in one of the falls. I stopped and took 
a 15 minute break, downing two quarts of water. I was breathing heavily, 
and it didn't abate. I felt panic - intense anxiety - and it took most 
of that break to slow my breathing and stop my intense sweating. I drank 
the two quarts and with each swallow, felt the panic's edges settle down 
into deep breathing... I hadn't realized just how intense the previous 
10 minutes had been. When my larger perspective re-emerged, I found 
myself revisiting the intensity within a larger, cognitive context, and 
the fractured sense of being ruled by malevolence that was another pair 
of eyes staring at me lessened. This is all emotional. There was always 
a part of me that monitored my loss of perspective and grasping for 
handholds and footholds on the edge of the canyon. But it was thinner 
and shallower than was normal for me. It was as if it was 1974 and 
Robert and I were eating LSD on Stony Point Road outside of Cotati and 
finding the rock-bottom-base-line. I'd forgotten the effort required to 
maintain when things get heavy, or hard, or really, really threatening.. 
I sat next the creek and breathed heavily and drank water and slowly 
centered. I knew things had turned when my breathing went from deep and 
constant to me forgetting to breathe, and then, a big sigh/breath. The 
damn forest was the same, and the creek was beautiful and burbling and I 
was walking cross-country with no trail. Life is good!!!!!!!! I finally 
put my pack back on and started up the creek. 100 yards from my rest 
spot there was the waterfall. The waterfall was on the map. I was only a 
couple hundred yards from where I thought I was!!!! Now it was time to 
descend. I was feeling good - well hydrated, knowing where I am, where 
the trail should go. Unfortunately, the trail down the canyon wall to 
the river didn't begin with an open hand and welcoming presence. There 
were a number of benches with manzanita and pine trees, and one would 
fade into a ten foot drop and another bench, and there was no place it 
seemed like a trail would go. In a matter of 200' I would turn around 
and go back to the last vestige of trail. I did this at least three 
times over a half hour. I would take a couple steps and search intensely 
for a trail. Animal trails were prevalent. There was no way to tell 
those from the unmaintained in 20 years people trail. That half hour was 
couched in the larger perspective I'd gained sitting for that 15 minutes 
at the creek. I knew I'd find the right way down the canyon wall. And I 
did. There turned out to be a bunch of two and three stone cairns 
marking the way down to the obvious trail. I'd been too wrapped up in 
what was on the ground to see them or, I think I saw them, but 
discounted them because they made no sense... The map says I need to go 
north but what I see in front of me has me choose to go south... This is 
where mistakes are made that cost lives. I could feel just how important 
each decision I made was in terms of me continuing to live. Sure, I 
could have gone all the way back to the junction I'd reached four hours 
ago. But that wasn't a real option in those hours I spent at the top of 
the canyon. I was going to get down to the bottom of the canyon and make 
camp and read my airplane novel and revel in the warm breezes and 
background sound of the river. The trail was more obvious now, a miners 
trail through the manzanita, granite, descents, pines, leaves, dirt and 
heat. It was straight down after leaving the multi-benched rim. The 
cairns I'd found continued, but they took me straight down the canyon 
wall. Every step was one that teetered on the precipice of a twist or 
fall. The intensity of my focus narrowed to the ground in front of me, 
no more than one or two steps ahead. When the trail wasn't obvious I'd 
stop and breathe and extend my focus to find a safe way through, no, 
down, the tree shaded cliff. When I could, I placed my poles and 
cushioned the 18" steps that threatened to blow out my knees. When I had 
to, I leaned back, and used my hands, grabbing the rough granite for 
purchase, holding my weight as I lowered myself down to the next little 
foot rest. This was a 2000' drop. It wasn't a "cliff" like you think of 
Half Dome. It was a canyon wall that had a 60 to 70 degree slant. 90 
degrees is straight up and down. There were no places where I was 
climbing down. It was all walking, mostly with poles, but so steep, it 
wasn't hiking. I used bushes and trees and granite to slow my descent. I 
stopped often to breathe, to reconnoiter, to wonder just what the hell I 
was doing. Yes, I did wonder, but for the most part I was in the moment, 
where I needed to be to successfully complete the day's hike. I'd walked 
for three miles cross-country with infinite bear poops. Now I was 
descending a 2500' canyon wall. No biggie. LOL I was open to the 
malevolence, but after finding the waterfall, then the cairns leading 
down to the wall from the lip, it was absent. What was present was a 
sense I needed to be present and paying attention to what I was doing. 
What I was doing was dangerous, and to some, I could easily imagine, 
foolhardy. If I slipped and fell and broke a leg, there was no way 
anyone would find me. I was on an abandoned trail on the wrong side of a 
river canyon. Every step included the possibility of actually dying. 
Wow... To be in this feeling, doing, not thinking. All the existential 
philandering I've done over the years faded in the face of dying being 
but a step away, step after step after step. Such an intense focus I had 
to maintain. So intense - too intense... About half way down the canyon 
wall I came to a drop that required me to step from one granite slab 
down 24" to a granite boulder covered with last fall's leaves. These 
were leaves that had fallen, been covered with snow over the winter, and 
now, were flat and slick ready to decompose into threads. From the 
boulder I would need to step another 24" down to a small flat spot of 
dirt. There was a small pine tree next to the boulder. This was the 
50th, 100th, 200th little maneuver I'd made to make my way down to the 
river I could hear blasting along the canyon's bottom, far below. I put 
my right hand's pole on the leaf covered boulder and began to lower 
myself. I put my right foot and weight on the boulder, but was not 
"centered." My foot slipped off it and the next thing I knew I was 
spinning out into space. It would have been a simple matter to lower my 
left hand and catch myself on the granite slab, but when I reached down 
to do so, my pole caught on the boulder below, and my hand scribed an 
arc forward into space. I found myself falling backwards, twisting 
around my left hand's pole. I did my best to collapse rather than 
actually fall, figuring it would be better to skid down the incline. 
However I'd gone to far and had to actually pull my right hand around my 
head as I fell. I landed on my pack and bounced off the boulder. I 
continued to twist my body through the fall and ended up spreadeagled 
with four point contact over the little dirt spot I'd meant to step on. 
I'd managed to land on my back and then do an intentional 180 degree 
flip/fall and land on feet and hands. My poles made my landing awkward, 
but I didn't scrape my face or head or body. I landed in a spider 
position and hung there for a moment before collapsing into the dirt and 
rock of the forested canyon wall. I let loose with a groan and little 
whimper. I felt like crying. I lay there on my face for maybe 10 
seconds, still in the midst of the fall, reliving it, before I started 
taking stock of my physical well-being. My hands were both scraped a 
bit. That was it. That was it. I gathered my sense of self and rolled 
into a sitting position. I stared down the cruddy drop/trail, another 
1000' of what was essentially class 2 and 3 climbing, made more 
dangerous because it was DOWN, which is always harder than up. Even with 
tender knees, give me up over down~!!! I sat there for a couple minutes 
rocking and twisting my back, freeing my hands from the poles straps. 
Never again - never will I go down or up anything that is remotely iffy 
with pole straps around my wrists. My worst nightmare - broken leg on an 
abandoned trail, little water, no way to move - slowly dying... Just 
take of the poles straps so I can let go of the poles to cope with 
falling down canyon wall cliffs... I slipped and lowered and traversed 
and marveled my way down the rest of the trail - still straight down the 
little defile/valley that got larger and larger as I got closer to the 
river. I didn't walk. I slithered and slipped and stepped and 
reconnoitered and lowered myself. It felt like hours, but the last 1000' 
really only took a half hour or so it was so steep. When I got to the 
flat, forested, sandy, five acre glen that was the descent's reward, I 
strode forth and reveled, so damn high and filled with a sense of 
competence and, and luck??? I didn't think about the descent at all. I 
just opened to the beauty of old growth pines, no undergrowth, and the 
sound of a river raging. I followed the intersection of the canyon wall 
and valley floor to the left, thinking the bridge across the river would 
likely be in that direction. I came across a horseman's camp, with trash 
and saw hewn benches and tables and a pair of new new balance running 
shoes. Go figure. Horse people's camp. No self-respecting hiker would 
leave this kind of trash and desecration of the wilderness. I took my 
time walking along the floor, just soaking in the warmth, the breeze, 
the river's roar, the slanting sun - the perfection of intersecting 
natural forces coursing through me, through my world... I came upon a 
bunch of granite slabs, 20' high, one leading to the next. I walked up 
them to a high point, and a couple hundred yards of river became 
visible. It was 150' across, 20' deep, and moving at more than 10 mph. 
The water was roiling - the power. It was just overwhelming... It was 
hard not to be carried away by the threaded currents, formed by rocks an 
boulders - massive boulders that created five foot holes behind them, a 
kayakers nightmare. The sun, the breeze, the river, the canyon... But no 
bridge. I walked out to the end of the granite slabs and saw a bunch of 
one inch bolts embedded in the rock, twisted and rusted. It was obvious 
there had been a bridge here at some point. It was also obvious that a 
great flood had washed it away. I'd started the hike guided by a book 
published in 1991 that talked about the bridge at this point on the 
river. The map was ambiguous I saw - later. I figured the bridge had 
washed away between 1991 and 2010. Here I was, stuck at the bottom of 
the middle fork of the San Joaquin River, faced with the prospect of 
climbing back up the harrowing, miserable, dangerous, steep and horrible 
trail to the rim, back cross country to the junction, and back down the 
canyon wall to the crossing over the bridge I'd walked two days before. 
Then I'd have to hike back up the tenuous trail I'd started the trip on. 
That was two extra days of hiking. That was an extra climb up and down - 
2500' up and 2500' down. I can't begin to describe the feelings coursing 
through me as I stared at the twisted bolts embedded in the flat granite 
slabs above the roiling river. Well, yes I can.. The "biggest picture 
Jeff" opened to the challenge and reveled in the thought of the 
hardships I'd encounter. The "moment-to-moment" Jeff felt great 
dissipation and lassitude. All I could see was the pain of climbing up, 
climbing down, and climbing up again. I stood there and felt the whole 
of my summer. I had spent time with my Mom. I'd been beaten down by 
snow. I was hiking in conditions that were ideal, warm, relatively buggy 
but beautiful... I saw the next three days - one huge slog after 
another, and for what, for what purpose??? This is the question that I'd 
faced over the last 16 years of long distance hiking. I'd set off on a 
trip planned to last 30 or 50 or 75 days, and come up against the 
question, "Why am I doing this?" To this day I've not come up with 
answer to this question. I can't tell you why I want to hike for 75 
days, or the whole 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail over 5 months. Not 
after having spent a number of months on five or six different trips 
hiking for three weeks and longer. Or this trip, three days long so 
far... I begin these trips with exuberance. The planning is fun. The 
purchasing of food and repacking is fun. Putting food into boxes my 
folks or sister will mail is fun. Once out on the trail - not so fun. I 
go to the pattern this expresses, and I see a frontier. Planning is fun. 
Hiking alone is hard work. And here I was, two extra days of really, 
really hard and dangerous hiking in front of me that I hadn't planned 
for. I felt discombobulated. I see a frontier. I know what the edge of 
my next evolutionary dimension is. My brother is a Buddhist monk and he 
doesn't have to say anything to teach me. My sister is grounded in a way 
that intrigues and puzzles me. My mother inhabits a space I can only 
hope to inhabit when I'm her age. But my next life's step involves this 
frontier of being-alone and finding the center - Wo'Lakota- where all is 
in balance and harmony, moment to moment, day after day... Day to day 
life in the world is filled with distractions that use to deviate from 
this core life's presence - maybe aim, maybe focus??? The fact there is 
no bridge upon which to cross the river is ultimately heartening. But I 
don't know this yet. I'm not "conscious" of "the biggest picture Jeff." 
I'm really bummed out. I really, really don't want to have to backtrack. 
I wandered back to the flatness of the forest floor and meandered east 
upriver. I came upon another horseman's camp, with its trash and hewn 
tables and benches and decades old firepit. The two camps were only a 
couple hundred yards apart, but separated visually by old growth pines. 
The five foot thick trunks of fifty or sixty trees were enough to insure 
privacy. After the second horse camp the forest floor developed some 
sandy rises and brushy areas. I walked disconsolately, bereft of 
perspective or hope. I figured I'd explore the whole of the valley 
before settling down for the night, girding my proverbial loins to make 
the climb up the canyon wall in the morning. I knew I was coming to the 
east edge of the forested glade - the canyon wall as getting closer. I 
felt its looming presence - the malevolence was beginning to leak 
through again. I didn't care that I was projecting my despair onto the 
canyon wall and making it into a "presence." I was tired and discouraged 
and emotional and vulnerable. I REALLY didn't want to hike back up the 
canyon wall. To be sure there was a part of me, no matter very small, 
that reveled in anticipation of the challenge to come, both the up and 
down and up again - despair underlaid with a hint of macho... But mostly 
I was tired. The river was massively flowing. I could see where it had 
been four feet higher earlier - a week, two weeks? I couldn't tell. But 
the brush and sand and trees had twigs and grass intertwined and wrapped 
around everything up to the same elevation. The river was awesome right 
then, probably five or six feet above normal reservoir outflow. The 
white noise would have had someone with a quiet voice unheard. I pushed 
through some brush and saw some angularity - straight lines that weren't 
natural. There was a tripod about 20' high. A cable resolved heading 
from the tripod's apex back to the right to the ground. On the other 
side of the tripod was a platform, and a little car with two benches, 
hanging from the cable on two eight inch pulley wheels. I stood there a 
bit dumbfounded. I pushed through the head high brush and lo and behold, 
there before me in all its 19th century glory, was a cable crossing the 
river and another tripod with platform on the other side. I walked up to 
the tripod and followed the descending cable to it's anchors in solid 
granite. I pulled on the giant, one inch bolts in the granite and they 
didn't move. I started back to the platform. It was a suspension bridge. 
It was obvious - you climbed up the tripod leg on horizontal bars welded 
to the vertical 2" schedule 40 steel pipe, got into the car, untied the 
rope holding the car to the tripod, and hand over hand, pulled oneself 
across the river. Oh happy day!!! OH HAPPY DAY!!! Yes, when jesus 
walked, when he walked, he washed our sins away... I had stupid stuff 
bouncing round inside me as threw my pack to the ground and climbed up 
to the platform. Across the river was a little log building with no 
windows - probably the hut the guys who took river readings used during 
the winter when they came down here. A weird kind of civilization. I 
pulled on the cable and pushed the car. Finally, I sat in the car and 
looked across the 150' river. My exuberance folded over into 
nervousness. While rationally I knew that crossing the river was 
probably 100% safe, I'd never done anything like this before. I saw I'd 
have to cross the river with my pack. Then I'd have to let the car go 
and get into the other car now docked on the north side of the river. 
I'd have to pull myself across the river, pushing the first car in front 
of me, and retie it to the south side tripod. I'd then have to get back 
in the north side car and cross the river for the third time. I have a 
kind of acrophobia. I've lost my inner ear on the shoulder of Mt. Ritter 
and a peak in the Enchantments in Washington. It was all I could do to 
cling to the rock as my world spun and my stomach lurched and breathed 
trying not to vomit. The cable was probably 20' above the river, but it 
was "above." I climbed down from the platform and meandered back to a 
sandy glade 20' from the river and its wonderfully soothing white noise. 
I set up camp, crawled into the tent to put a barrier between me and the 
voracious mosquitos, munched on goldfish, jerky and gorp while I read my 
airplane novel. Every once in a while I'd stare off into space, into the 
next morning, and feel my stomach clench. I was not looking forward to 
crossing the river. The despair I'd felt at the absence of a bridge was 
gone. Just wiped away... I woke up the next morning, lay in the tent as 
the dawn turned into a bright presence on the canyon wall across the 
river, into sun streaks through the trees on the canyon floor. A gentle 
breeze moved the poplar leaves and made the pine boughs almost sway. I 
lay there knowing I had to get up, pack, cross the river, and hike up 
the north canyon wall. I was willing to luxuriate in the 55 degree 
warmth for a long time but the call of nature had me up within minutes, 
grabbing the toilet paper and plastic shovel. No choice here. Two 
seconds of pooping, wipe, bury, and that's it. Back to tear down the 
tent and pack up, eat some more muesli, and then over to the cable. I 
climbed up to the platform, took off my pack, and placed it in the seat 
on the little car closest to the river. I tied it down with my 50' of 
black quarter inch nylon rope so that if the car fell into the river, 
the pack wouldn't float away. Don't ask me why that mattered. If the car 
fell into the river, I'd be swimming for my life to get to the other 
side before being swept into the class six gorge a couple hundred yards 
downstream. I guess it made me feel more secure. What's ironic, is that 
if the car had fallen into the river, I could have used the pack to 
float/swim to the other side. Tied to the car it would go to the bottom 
and stay there forever... I stepped into the car, my feet on the 
platform under the seat just ahead of the foot bar. I untied the rope 
holding the car to the tripod and sat down. I grabbed hold of the inch 
thick cable and put my feet on the foot bar. The car began to move. I'd 
decided without consciously deciding, that I would move hand over hand 
across the river. The car wanted to pick up speed. I stopped it and hand 
over hand, let it down the cable toward the middle of the river. The 
cable was almost at arms length so hand over hand involved a little 
bracing of the feet on the foot bar, my back against the seat back, so 
that I had a modicum of control. Hand over hand I braked my way down the 
cable. There was a strip of steel that kept my hands from being caught 
between the pulley and cable. As I approached the middle of the river 
the car lost its urge to run and I felt much more in control. I began to 
pull on the cable, pulling the car on its two eight inch pulleys. To 
this point I'd been looking at the cable and pulleys and across the 
river along the pulley. I hadn't looked down into the river. Feeling 
brave I looked down. I saw the water flowing at 15 mph and lost my inner 
ear. I grabbed hold of the cable, closed my eyes and tried to locate 
myself in space - in the space of being in the car, somewhere solid. My 
stomach wanted to void itself of the morning's muesli and water. It only 
took 10 seconds or so, but I managed to ignore all the physiological 
sirens going off and start doing what I had been doing, pulling myself 
across the river. The pulling got harder the closer I got to the other 
side of the river. I think the two platforms were probably pretty close 
to being at the same elevation. That meant that the suspended cable 
dipped a couple feet - maybe three or four - in the middle. I got to the 
north side platform, pulled myself up against the other car, put my feet 
on the platform underneath the foot bar, and grabbed the railing 
surrounding the platform. I'd made it. I was shaky. I put one foot at a 
time outside the car, holding onto the railing and the car at the same 
time, until I felt myself on solid ground/platform. Whew... Wheww... 
WHEW..!!! I tied off the south side car to the north side car and then 
took my pack off. I looked at how the north side car was tied to the 
tripod, got in the car, untied the rope, and began to lower myself down 
the cable again, hand over hand. Because of the extra 200 pounds or so 
of the other car, I worked a lot harder crossing the river. I didn't 
look down. I got to the other side, tied the south side car to the 
tripod, and got in the north side car for my third trip across the 
river. This time I just let go of the cable and let the car run. What 
could happen??? The car got up to about five miles per hour and it 
hummed, an increasing pitch that slowed only when we started up the 
other side. I didn't have enough momentum to take me all the way to the 
platform so I had to pull myself across again. I was ecstatic. I could 
do this all day, and I bet i could even look down and not throw up!!! 
But I didn't. I put on my pack and climbed down the 12" long ladder rung 
pipes welded to the 2" tripod leg. I had no interested in exploring the 
little windowless log cabin. I didn't even go over and read the sign 
that probably said what it was. I just wanted to get back to what I knew 
- hiking. There was an obvious trail that disappeared into the brush 
leading to a creek splashing its way down the treed canyon wall. Hoping 
against hope it would continue I started following it. It disappeared 
after 50'. I must admit I stopped, dropped my shoulders and head, and 
wilted as much as you can standing up. I made it across the river even 
though there was no bridge. I had only seven or so miles and 2900' 
vertical to hike that day. On my seventh day of being alone, not talking 
out loud, I was ruing what I was about to do. This would make four days 
of moment to moment trail finding and steep, sometimes dangerous hiking. 
I was tired, not physically, but emotionally. Being emotionally tired 
manifested itself in images of me taking one step after another in 
abject, defeated, hot misery. I took a deep breath and looked ahead for 
vestiges of the trail. I began walking, knowing I would eventually get 
to the car and the drive back to Santa Rosa. The despair emerging at 
facing another unmaintained trail was caught up in sitting in the 
drivers seat, turning the key, and beginning to drive. That was the 
slacker call - sitting and driving... So much for balance and harmony. 
Torn emotionally I put one foot in front of the other and made my way to 
the creek burbling its way 100' down to its convergence with the river. 
There was an obvious crossing - stones 18" from each other, but under 
water. I strode through the brush to a spot 100' upstream where i could 
step from boulder to boulder and cross the 10' creek without getting 
wet. The trail was pretty nonexistent, but the way was obvious to my now 
sensitive eye. The despair I'd felt when the trail disappeared on the 
shady, brushy flat had dissipated and I was full into one foot in front 
of the other, monitoring my aerobic functioning and the ache in my leg 
muscles. The "trail" wound its way up along and from bench to bench, 
getting higher and higher above the creek, which after a while was only 
a promise at the bottom of the canyon 600' below. It was a miners trail 
again, no switchbacks to speak of. It was a south facing slope, so there 
were relatively few pines and lots of deciduous trees. And it was 
getting hotter and hotter. The previous days hikes had temperature in 
the 70s. By 10Am, it was easily 80+ degrees. The map showed the trail 
crossed three creeks on the ascent, so I wasn't worried about getting 
dehydrated. I stopped every 100' to 200' or so, for a couple seconds, 
for a minute or two. I stopped once at a rock where I could keep my pack 
on and lean back and be supported. There was a 30' tall tree with broad 
leaves in front of me. Four hummingbirds, red and blue and green and 
yellow, played/fought in front of me. I sat there for five minutes 
watching them and marveling. The despair and fractured emotionality had 
given over to acceptance of the slog up the canyon wall. And in this 
break, there was a pristine beauty in the bird's play that helped move 
me towards the balance of larger healthy perspective and smaller moment 
to moment emotionality, both fractured and holistic - the 
melding/wreathing/weaving of both that makes up the act of living. This 
was hard work. Every once in a while the trail appeared, and every once 
in a while, the trail flattened out for 100 yards or so. These little 
moments heartened me. I felt strong and looked at the views that I 
didn't see when slogging, one foot in front of the other. My exuberance 
was tempered when I came to the next steep slope and the need to slow 
down, breathe more deeply, and put one foot in front of the other... I'd 
started with three quarts of water and after two hours of hiking, and 
getting maybe half way up the canyon wall, I wondered about the 
"reality" of the streams on the map. When I got to the first one, and it 
was flowing, and in the shade, I threw my pack down and filled my 
gatorade bottles and drank and drank. The one constant of hiking is 
drinking water. I've hiked sans parents for over 40 years now, and can 
remember only a couple times where I've drank too much water. Some 
people carry water bladders with tubes and sip as they walk. I tried 
this, and gave it up as a bad deal. My way of drinking water is to carry 
as little as possible, and when I get to a water source, drink a quart 
or two. I can tip a gatorade bottle of cold snowmelt and drink it down 
without pausing. This causes both consternation and amazement when I'm 
hiking with others. I slam my body with water. If I haven't peed in a 
couple hours, I make sure I down two quarts. If' I'm peeing, and it's 
relatively clear, I'll down a quart at a stop as a preventative measure, 
and hike on. A quart of water weighs two pounds. Why carry it when the 
map says there is water in two miles/an hour??? The trail climbed to 
7800' from 4800' at the river. The trailhead was at 7200'. The extra 
600' takes the hiker over the top of a ridge offering stupendous views 
of the Sierra south of Mammoth. The trail became more obvious as the 
forest retreated from deciduous and pines and undergrowth to pines with 
little undergrowth. Maybe because it was more obvious, it became a bit 
mellower. As it approached the apex of the ridge it was climbing, the 
views obviated the soreness of walking. This is what I remember. This is 
what hiking in alpine environments does to me - I get high. What this 
means is that weariness and despair and slogging fade away. The one foot 
in front of the other backgrounds as the foreground expands to one vista 
after another. "I" gets diffused into the world and it's majesty. "I" is 
no longer a kernel coping with pain in my foot, calf, thigh, hip, waist, 
shoulder, or head. "I" am stretched to the horizon of my vision, 
including all that is. Perhaps my most vibrant experience of this 
expanded sense of "I" while backpacking occurred when hiking south from 
the San Joaquin River to the Muir Hut at the top of Muir Pass. There is 
a stretch of trail that leaves the Evolution Basin, itself incredibly 
awe inspiring, that rises to 11,400' or so. It's the head of the 
canyon's cirque and gives over to a treeless lakes basin beneath Muir 
Pass two miles long. This 600' climb switchbacks up and offers ever 
larger and larger views south over Evolution Basin and the invisible 
Evolution Valley below the basin. I'd spent the night at the San Joaquin 
River in the forest. It was 14 miles and 4000' to Muir Pass, my goal for 
the day. The day began with an 1200' climb up the canyon wall along 
Evolution Creek to Evolution VAlley. Then there was another 1000' climb 
to Evolution Basin. Then the walk up the cirque wall between Evolution 
Basin and the basin below Muir Pass, another 1000'. Finally 700' or so 
to the pass. On my way up from Evolution Basin to Wanda Lake I met a 
fellow who'd been smoking pot. He was almost incoherently nonverbal 
(make sense of that one!). We spent a half hour talking. I turned down 
his offer of a joint numerous times. When we finally split I found 
myself energized. I was so high. My body was a finely tuned machine. I 
walked two miles an hour and saw the world unfold before me. When I 
stopped and looked down the basin I just got higher. My weariness was an 
edge to my holistic connection with the rock and sky and snow and water. 
As I got closer to the top, monitoring my progress on my wrist 
altimeter, I felt this connectedness again - not as strongly, but 
present nonetheless. All the emotional ups and downs concresced into an 
ongoing moment of being-in-balance-and-harmony. All the pain was there. 
All the joy at being at the top of the world was there. "I" was hiking 
in the wilderness on a warm day under a sky with fluffy clouds creating 
pockets of shadow on the landscape unfolding before me. Ahhh... I 
reached the top of the ridge and trod across it - the nose or shoulder 
actually - and began a switchbacking descent on a real trail. I was 
still a mile or more from the bridge crossing Granite Creek I'd walked 
three days before. I now felt my body hurting. Each step down was a 
jarring reminder that I'd been stressing my body for a week now. 
Everything hurt. Not all at once - more sequentially. I think everything 
hurt at the same time, but I couldn't notice the "whole" of hurting, 
just the parts. The soles of my feet hurt when I stepped. My thighs hurt 
when I stopped myself from speeding up. My back hurt when a step dropped 
me more than a couple inches. My butt hurt when I twisted to catch 
myself stepping down. My neck hurt... 600' down. I hate hiking down... I 
didn't see much on the descent. I entered the forest and knew the 
junction with the trail dropping down the canyon wall I'd taken three 
days earlier was only a couple hundred yards away. I passed the junction 
and reached the bridge crossing Granite Creek. I'd been hearing the 
irritating buzz of two stroke engines for a half half hour and while the 
motorcycles were gone, they left their mark in the torn up trail leading 
from the bridge to the trailhead parking area. While much of the trail 
from bridge to trail head was on granite, enough was on dirt, and they 
hit every patch. Grrrrrr... I'd left a little pouch on the sign at the 
trail head. I'd gotten two of them a month or so ago. One I put on a 
shoulder strap and it held my camera. The other I put on my waist belt 
and it was to hold snacks. After the first hour of hiking from car to 
trail head I knew that I wouldn't use the waist belt pouch, and it would 
be more of a pain in the butt than a help in making little things 
accessible. It was still there and I stuffed it into a shirt pocket. The 
two or three mile hike back to the car from the trailhead was mostly 
gently uphill. I was sore and tired, but the overwhelming feeling that 
let me put one foot in front of the other with resolve and joy was that 
of accomplishment, and gladness to be nearly done. There were some big 
views I appreciated. I even stopped a couple times and let the "big 
picture" visual scope carry me away. But really, I just wanted to sit in 
the drivers seat of my car and drive. I was done with hiking... One of 
the background themes, minor for those of us who are relatively healthy, 
major for those who are quirky/neurotic, is the wondering if the car is 
ok. I wondered about this as I walked up the road, but maintained a "let 
it go" frame as I realized that I could do nothing about whether the car 
had been broken into or not. My brother and I went backpacking into a 
very rough/wild part of the Cascades for four days a couple weeks after 
he and his wife separated. We got back to his 1972 Datsun station wagon 
the folks had given him, and the rear window was blown out. Bad karma... 
Nonetheless, the wondering added impetus to my walking, a strange 
motivation anticipating a whole other set of challenges. There were two 
big logs across the one lane dirt road. I crossed them both and knew the 
car was around the corner of a treed bend. I walked round the bend and 
there was the car - just as I'd left it. I dropped the pack, fished out 
the beefy ziploc bag with my license, credit cards and key, unlocked the 
Solara's trunk, and stripped. There I was, sweaty, but cooling off. I 
gazed around me, wondering if I was offending some morally upright or 
officious American. Suddenly, I didn't care. Wearing only my shoes and 
socks, I raised my fist in exultation. I leapt into the air, fist held 
high, and let out a whoop that faded in a minor echo through the forest. 
I jumped up and down, up and down, whooping joyfully, wrapped in a sense 
of well-being that had me twirl a couple times before sinking into 
bodily soreness... I slumped against the trunk and grabbed the clean 
shorts and shirt I'd left there four days ago. I was done. I took off my 
shoes and socks and grabbed my Tevas but didn't put them on. I threw the 
pack in the trunk, got into the drivers seat and just relaxed - just 
sank into the seat. My body was so sore, so ready to just sink into a 
five or six hour drive... LOL... Jeffrey Olson 10-4-2010

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