A Shadow's Shadow 31 March 2014

If there is one component of my personality that seems to cause the most difficulties, it is my questioning of nearly every component of my life, repeatedly and without mercy. Even when an internal consensus is reached on a topic and an action taken, I will still reflect on it long after the fact and possibly reopen the floor to debate after a suitable amount of time has passed. It is a rare topic that has an edict against further deliberation.

The recurrent one that I think most people can relate to is "why am I here?" Of course, at any given moment it might refer broadly to my continued existence on our fair planet or narrowly as to who I am socializing with at a certain time and place. It is a tricky thing constantly questioning each of your motivations, probable consequences of your actions, and willingness to accept those consequences. Something as simple as meeting a friend for breakfast will occupy a prime place on the carousel of my thoughts for days beforehand.

Because of that carousel, I rarely take action without being acutely aware of the influence that a choice may have on my life. Of course, I am exceedingly aware of how chaotic and unpredictable life is. You can ruminate as frequently and deeply as you wish, but you will never see the complete patterns of consequence until they are well behind you. With all of my deductive reasoning skills, knowledge, and experience I cannot even hope to reliably predict all of what will happen tomorrow, let alone the rest of my life.

Consider all the interwoven patterns of human interaction that you superficially perceive on a day to day basis, then think back to those moments in your life that were the <em>true</em>, root cause of a dramatic shift in the direction of your day/year/life.

Leaving my dorm room door open on a sunny Saturday morning Sophomore year; applying for a programming job that I was laughably underqualified for; jumping down from a rock ledge on Mt. Adams. I just want to laugh at the absolute absurdity of trying to prepare or plan for anything.

This is all a long winded way of introducing how I perceive my actions. There are absolutely no promises in life. Even if you believe in a God or gods, there is no guarantee you will get safety, comfort, or happiness. The Universe is rather ambivalent towards your needs and wants. For some, that realization means they seize onto whatever feels the most stable. That is not so much my public modus operandi.

Which is odd because I do not consider myself reckless or even particularly impressive in my accomplishments. Instead, I consider most everyone else timid and lazy. How can you possibly go through life wanting more and knowing you should do more, and then not do it? As a well known Dutch author once said: It's maddening; I get mad about it.

I have a tendency to think of my life as a narrative. There are certain themes and rules that I tend to follow, and I aim my actions to fall within those lines. I obsess over my decisions and carefully evaluate how I want to act, but once a decision is reached I take action. Discovering the "should" is the hard part, taking action is easy for me.

I grant there is a certain cold, clinical approach in how I disregard emotional considerations and physical comforts when I believe an action is called for. Breakups are emotionally painful, but if it is necessary there is no reason to delay. Leaving your warm, dry tent and getting moving in cold, wet conditions is unpleasant but you must leave and start hiking. I understand that others are motivated by these considerations in varying degrees, I really do, they just rarely affect my own actions; they lack potency.

I think our culture is making progress on accepting that there are a wide range of behaviors in humans. The entire introvert/extrovert distinction being one that is often brought up on social media. It bothers me that my actions are given less acquiescence than if I pretended to have those more tender sensibilities that others have and I often seem to lack. Almost as if by being me, I am somehow broken.

....

This entry took an exceptionally long time for me to finish. It is all true, yet it feels woefully incomplete and surprisingly one sided. There is a metaphor there, I am sure.

I think in the end, I am just tired. Of what, a single word cannot adequately explain. Feeling aberrant. Being lazy by my own standards and yet told I am exceptional. Caring, trying, and then seeing it all fall apart again and again. Never being able to, myself, accept why people act the way they do.  How the bloody hell I don't have a TARDIS.


Training 13 March 2014

There is a misconception among people that since I was able to complete the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail that my knee is magically all better. I am not sure how to politely phrase it to them how incredibly annoyed that makes me. Every single day I am made acutely aware that I have scar tissue in my tendon and a spot of missing patellar articular cartilage. I habitually massage my knee whenever I sit down; almost as if subconsciously I believe I can rub the damage away. My knee is never going to be "good" again.

In all probability, gone are the days when I could run a half marathon before breakfast. Those intense trail running days where I would fly through the woods of Forest Park are likely behind me. Not only would attempting to run them be unpleasant but my orthopedic surgeon believes it would cause more damage in the long term. Alas, the medical technology does not exist yet where we can reliably regrow my cartilage and smooth the scar tissue.

Obviously, I can still be extremely active with it. Thanks to another month of physical therapy post-trail and constant work, I can reliably do three hour bike rides, swim two miles in the pool, and row nearly an hour on the erg without pain. Further, just last evening I was at the gym and after an hour of biking and rowing, I finally pulled off 200 lunges. If I am patient and slowly increase the length and difficulty of my exercises, I can strength my knees to a level where I can safely do mountaineering and full day bike rides, perhaps even on consecutive days. Patience and commitment are key though.

I love being active. Prior to my knee injury, I took a special joy in not giving a damn about races or training programs, yet still smoking serious athletes during runs or rides. Whenever people get too serious about stroking their egos, I get bored. Who really cares about PRs? Did you have fun? Was there joy in what you did? Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion and still grinning is one of the best feelings. Staring at a watch is boring.

Of course, I will never win a race. I lack the discipline and the requisite hardcore athlete psychological quirk that drives people to track their protein intake and heart rate. The idea of flying to another state to run 26.2 miles on pavement? My mind is completely incapable of comprehending how that could ever be fun or worthwhile.

My training is meant for one thing and one thing only, to allow myself to do more. I constantly daydream about biking 200 miles in one day (Hood River to The Dalles to Mt. Bachelor), doing another thru-hike, and organizing a weekend adventure race of my own devising with swimming, biking, climbing, and kayaking.

If you ever want to do amazing things with your body and push it to point of making things seem effortless, that is how you need to train, not for numbers or ego but for fun and joy. Or, at least, that is what I believe.


Mind and Iron 9 March 2014

Where do we begin...

My birthday was last week and despite my continued calls to absolve the day of any significance, I still find myself suffused with thoughts of the past 35 years of life. In inverse proportion to how much I like to publicly discuss my inner thoughts and past history, I am fascinated by how others perceive me. The first person narrative is the most important, but I have access to all the secrets and have evaluated most of the inner workings, so it lacks novelty. And ultimately how others perceive you is directly related to what you can accomplish in this world.

At one time or another I have been referred to as a reckless fool, manic-depressive, insane, black hearted, soulless, untrustworthy, asocial, utterly ruthless, vain, and unhealthy. Heartwarming to be sure and there has been a joke that all potential mates should be given a stern warning and a informative pamphlet. On the flip side, I have also been described–often by the same people–as calculating, reliable, loving, strong willed, charming, principled, and one of their closest friends. I find an emotional core strengthening program is important in preventing whiplash.

I question myself if I could be rightly called all those things and it is a resounding yes. Naturally, those labels pale in comparison to how I think of myself.

"All the world is a stage," goes the adage; one that often seems poorly rehearsed and written at the last minute–typically on a typewriter with a few sticky keys. But consider, if you will, that a play is just a three hour presentation, which has months and months of preparation and work behind it. That backstage perspective is how every single person thinks of him or herself on the stage of life. There are decades of memories and entire days full of positive/negative, emotional, and physical stresses behind every interpersonal interaction. That thought echoes through my brain every single time I interact with another person. It drives me a bit insane but it also gives me a much needed dose of perspective when things go awry.

Our actions are how others define us. What we are underneath only matters to us. That is one of the reasons I keep a great deal of my thoughts and machinations to myself. As much as people like to claim they are open and accepting, there are stigmas, stereotypes, and fears laying just under the surface. People like to name and categorize their world into simpler terms; understanding and accepting the underlying complexity is neither a pleasant nor relaxing way of living. Based on my experience, few are willing to put in the legwork and clemency on a daily basis.

If I detailed every single thought that flies through my head in a single hour, I think even my closest friends would be aghast. As much as it tickles me to idolize the likes of Sherlock Holmes, The Doctor, or Batman, there is a curse in their approach to humanity. Our ideals and heroes can shape us just as much as our experiences, and in my attempts to explore the depths and limits of who I am, I have lost a certain amount of approachability and even perhaps sanity. There are even days when I feel I am losing my humanity.

That sounds dark. It is not, at least not to me; I think of it as all encompassing. I have suffered from depression, rage, and loneliness. Of course I have contemplated suicide or running away to a remote location. I have also contemplated true love, marriage, and children. The scope of my thoughts and reasoning are not bound in any way.

What it comes down to is that I want to be more than who I am now. I continually feel incomplete and unsatisfactory. Staying still is not an option. When I see people relaxing their guard and slowing down, I know in my bones that that is not who I am. I want to do more; no, scratch that, I need to do more.

----

Well, that is one of my perspectives at least.


Negative, Ghost Rider, The Pattern is Full 24 November 2013

The disconnect from self and society stemming from my thru-hike is rather difficult to verbalize. Ask me details about how to successfully backpack 2600+ miles and I can talk your ear off. Ask me how I am handling being back and how the experience changed me, and I stumble to find the right words. Hours and hours have been wasted trying to write it down with it never becoming sufficiently coherent enough for posting.

Thankfully, I have Amelia both as my best friend and a fellow thru-hiker. She captured perfectly many of my feelings and difficulties in reintegrating to society.

Friends have asked me if I am depressed. I cannot say for sure, but I do not feel like I am suffering from depression. Getting up every morning, going to work, eating healthy, daily exercise, sleeping reasonably well, and starting to make plans for the coming year. Instead of a lack of energy, I feel an overwhelming surplus of it. And time, so much time. How do you people handle weekends? And nights? TV and drinking are fun in small doses, but as a post-work ritual it has the misfortune of being rather unproductive. I have developed a previously atypical habit of going for long walks in the evening.

The denial is the oddest part of the whole shebang. I can understand the disconnection, listlessness, and feeling that I am a stranger in my own life. But, my mind is having a hard time accepting that the trail even happened. I have vivid memories of the highs and lows, the pains and joys; they come back every time I stare out a coffee shop window or log into Facebook to see a fellow thru-hiker's photos. And yet, I cannot accept that I finished. A sense of incompleteness surrounds the entire affair, as if I just woke up from a fragmentary dream with no ending. That proverbial other shoe has not dropped. There is more yet to do. I need to fall asleep again and figure out how it all ends!

Amelia proposes the idea of "dosing" ourselves with these adventures. And that is EXACTLY right. Fun Size, Cuddles, Hermes and Lotus, G-Bird, Goodall, and myself are all on Facebook planting the seeds for our next trips. Appalachian Trail? Continental Divide Trail? Antarctica? Himalayan Pass Tour? Just get us back there. We need to go back.


The Secret Life of the Thru-Hiker 9 November 2013

Returning to civilization has been more of a struggle than I expected. While thru-hiking I can only remember a few mornings when it was exceptionally difficult to get out of my sleeping bag and continue hiking. Most days that simple, focused, and uncompromising purpose of continuing North was sufficient motivation. That drive forward on the trail is so powerful that even serious injuries that should have been given a week off rarely got more than a single day. When I took two full days off, it was obvious to every single thru-hiker that I was in serious pain.

Back here in the Real World, it all feels so ridiculously complicated. There are so many considerations that need to be carefully Tetris'ed into my life: employment, money, living situation, bills, driving, socializing, rehabilitation of injured parts, and even what to eat. Over six weeks of being off trail and I am still experiencing a low level of anxiety every single day. It is not a pleasant experience. So bad that most times when I visit the grocery store, I only grab fresh produce and chocolate. Circulating among the other aisles stresses me out.

Not exactly fantasizing about being back on the trail either. That trip is over. But, I am definitely thinking about the next trip; the next time that I can get be out there. For me, "Why am I here?" is a constant refrain in my mind. Why should I not be out there in the forests, deserts, and mountains of the world? Isn't that where I belong? Staring out a coffee shop window at the gorgeous autumn weather when I should be examining spreadsheets for the new job is definitely reinforcing this feeling.

Still, I must bend my will to spending time here; refilling the coffers and reconnecting with people, relearning to labor and wait. Just for a while longer.


Gear Review - Clothing 27 October 2013

According to the PCTA, the Pacific Crest Trail travels through three national monuments, five state parks, seven national parks, 24 national forests and 47 wilderness areas. It traverses deserts, forests, mountains, and snow. You reach an elevation of 13,153 feet at Forester Pass and go nearly to sea level at Cascade Locks. Temperatures on the trip will range from 0°-110° Fahrenheit and include everything from scalding heat to downpours to a couple feet of snow. And, lest we forget, swarms of mosquitos and wind storms make regular appearances. One's clothing is, thus, incredibly important. Here's what I had for the duration of the trail.

Daily

Everything here is highly recommended. The Hiking Shirts and Pants are designed to be lightweight, dry quickly, protect you from the sun and mosquitos, and provide airflow in the desert. By Oregon the pants had worn out in the bottom, so it was replaced with just the shorts portion of an old pair of REI convertible pants. Been using the ExOfficio boxers for years both in the outdoors and when I travel, they are perfect.

Socks

I started out with SmartWool lightweight running socks and then switched to the KEEN socks when they arrived. Neither survived more than a couple weeks. Seemed like every other town stop I was trying a different brand of socks and none of them were surviving the sweat, grime, and dirt of the desert. Finally, I caved and bought two paris of Darn Toughs. Do it. They are thicker and warmer than the lightweight socks, but they will last. I only had a single pair develop a hole and the company replaces their socks with no questions asked. Because they are thicker, they do take a while to dry, so I had four pairs through Washington (rain, rain, rain) opposed to my usual two pairs.

Insulating

Again, everything here is highly recommended. In parts of California it was too warm for my sleeping bag, so many nights I just put on my underwear and slept that way (after a Wet Wipes bath). The long underwear became my nightly wear in Oregon and Washington thanks to the colder and wetter than average conditions. Nothing like getting out of your wet hiking clothes and sliding into dry wool before bed.

The gloves were probably used only two or three times in California, so I tossed the old pair I had into a hiker box early on. However, I bought a new pair in Oregon and was grateful for them in Washington with all of the cold mornings and snow towards the end.

Rain/Snow

I started the hike with just a poncho, but thanks to our first rain storm being rather windy, I decided to get a lightweight jacket in Big Bear Lake. For Washington though, I was really grateful for my Arc'teryx jacket. I have owned (and abused) it for years and it is an excellent piece of gear. The rain pants did not join me until Washington either. Would have been nice to have them for parts of Oregon when we got drenched for a couple days, but I survived without it.

Overall

I did quite a bit of research into gear in the months before my trip and have had decades of experience in the outdoors before then. I know how my body responds to sun, heat, cold, wind, and wet quite well. Everyone is a bit different though. Amelia is so pale that she burns in no time in direct sun. I can survive in dry, cold, and wet just fine but if you combine heat and humidity you will see me wither. Do a bit of research about outdoor clothing (desert/winter, synthetics/cotton, layering) and experiment with what works for you beforehand.

Additional Links

Andrew Skurka's Clothing System in Alaska
Amelia's PCT Clothing


Post-Hike First Aid Kit 19 October 2013

When I was building my first-aid kit for the Pacific Crest Trail, oh so many months ago, I was aiming for a balance between weight and what my training would realistically let me handle in the wilderness. Naturally, there is a great deal of disagreement and debate on what should be taken for first aid in the outdoor community–both on solo and guided trips. On one side is this perfectly valid point from Andrew Skurka:

Even if I carried 50 pounds of medical equipment and was a certified EMT, I’m still not equipped to treat serious medical problems in the field over the long-term.

Based on this, he goes to one extreme and carries only what he considers the barest essentials. If something more serious goes wrong, he pulls out the satellite phone and calls for help. On the other end of the spectrum, there are organizations like Reed College that have a legal obligation to send their guides out with both a satellite phone and a substantial first aid kit–one with enough supplies to treat the majority of wilderness medical issues, perhaps for days on end.

As a certified Wilderness EMT, who is trained to handle a serious emergency in the field for days, even with minimal resources, the severe minimalistic approach to first aid that most thru-hikers subscribe to is foolhardy. Quite a few head out with no more than duct tape and ibuprofen. Essentially, they are operating under the assumption that nothing bad will happen or if it does, someone else will rescue them. This thin margin of safety would often extend to their food and water. A number of thru-hikers would be out of food the night before their next resupply or would show up at water sources having been empty for miles. While the PCT is reasonably well traveled and usually less than a day away from civilization, there are 5-7 day sections without a single road and no reliable cell service. Further, even if someone does show up within a short amount of time (not always the best assumption itself), it does not mean they will have the materials or skills to help you out. Nature is unreliable and relying on luck is no way to head into the wilderness. The Boy Scount motto rings true: Be Prepared.

Please think clearly about what your skills are and how much you are willing to risk. Humans–and thru-hikers especially–are a hardy and resilient lot. Things do go wrong though and if you are not prepared, it can cost you dearly. Shortly after I finished the PCT this year, a series of snowstorms hit the Cascades. Hikers continued heading out even though they had not adequately prepared for the winter conditions (snowshoes, extra clothes and food). Multiple people had to be rescued, a few by helicopter because Search & Rescue could not safely reach them by foot. They were unprepared for those winter conditions and risked their own lives and the lives of others by their foolishness. Whether you head into the wilderness for a day hike or an expedition, it is grossly irresponsible to be ill-prepared for the conditions and challenges of being out there.

So. The most important part of any first aid kit is your mind: education and knowing what to bring and how to use it. One of the things that bugs me about Skurka's opinion is it seems to gloss over the educational aspect of first aid. You can do more with bare minimal supplies and training than just minimal supplies. I highly suggest that if you are doing any kind of backpacking or hiking, you find a Wilderness First Responder course nearby and take it. You will not regret it and it is often a requirement for any sort of guiding. If you want to get really serious about wilderness first aid and have a free month, look at becoming a Wilderness EMT. I do not recommend taking a Wilderness First Aid course. It is too short and the friends who have taken it did not have a high retention of the material.

PCT First Aid Kit Supplies

One of the critiques that Amelia brought against my original PCT first aid kit was that I designed it not for myself but for everyone else. This is a mindset that I gradually moved away from in the first few weeks. My final first aid kit was designed solely for thru-hiking.

  • Mini-tweezers
  • Safety pins - Also useful for hanging socks on the back of the pack.
  • Mini-Scissors - Far better than a knife for cutting moleskin and gauze. Perfect for trimming dead skin too.
  • Ace bandage - Never used. Given the number of joint injuries out there, still seems like a good idea.
  • Ibuprofen
  • Benadryl
  • Loperamide - Trail food has been known to cause intestinal issues.
  • Neosporin w/pain reliever - Also useful as a minor lubricant underneath tape to prevent it from sticking to loose skin.
  • Mac Smack's Ultimate Fix - Great for cracked and problematic feet. Also useful for burns and minor cuts.
  • Johnson & Johnson Sports Tape - The best athletic tape out there. A far better choice than duct tape for hot spots as it sticks better and is also breathable.
  • Moleskin
  • 2nd Skin Blister Pads - When things go bad, these can really keep you going as the hydrocolloid pad promotes healing and provides light padding. One problem is that thru-hiker miles causes the outside adhesive to fail in only a couple days while the inner part will continue sticking; athletic tape backup was necessary.
  • Callous cushions - When moleskin is not thick enough.
  • Bandaids - Only had a few, but there are some cuts that really need a bit of protection.
  • Gauze pads - I had a few blisters that went really bad. Gauze + athletic tape gives you absorbent, non-stick padding. Also handy for more significant bleeds.
  • KT Tape - Discovered this in Kennedy Meadows. It is designed to stick to sweaty skin and provides just a hint of padding. During the desert, I used this quite a bit on my heels.

Gear Review - Not Clothing 8 October 2013

Sleeping Pad - Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

A sleeping pad is critical to any sleeping system nowadays. Gone is the era when four hobbits would cuddle together underneath an outcropping with their wool cloaks wrapped tightly around them, a rock their only pillow. If you ask me, we have all lost a little of ourselves by letting that go. Anyhoo...

Pros: Lightweight, compact, excellent insulation, no slipping.

Cons: Can be punctured. I very foolishly put a bag with a sharp object underneath it in the Sierras while elevating my feet. Went right through both sides. Thankfully, the tenacious tape worked spectacularly and held the rest of the trip. Also, I admit it is a bit noisy at first. After the first week or two, I stopped noticing.

Bottom Line: Recommended? Yes, oh yes. I am not the best sleeper and never having to worry about rocks, roots, or cold ground was fantastic.

Cooking - JetBoil Sol Titanium, Grease Pot, Snow Peak Titanium Spork (Purple)

When you absolutely positively have to boil water quickly, the JetBoil cannot be beat. While most thru-hikers were still figuring out where to safely put their alcohol stoves, my water was already boiled. It is actually so fast that I spent less time boiling the water than finding the food I wanted to eat in my food bag. So, if all you are doing is rehydrating meals of potatoes, oatmeal, instant rice, noodles, et cetera and you are not fond of the wait or issues with alcohol, then this is the stove for you.

However, you cannot cook with it. Well, that is not entirely true, you can cook with it, but it is a pain in the ass. I used the ol' trusted method of cooking food inside of a freezer bag placed inside the boiling water to cook a few meals. Did not find it particularly enjoyable or easy. During the first week I tried, foolishly, to cook some noodles in the JetBoil, completely against the recommendations of the manufacturer. There are still burnt marks on the bottom of the pot.

The stove also sips fuel. One of the small 100g canisters typically lasted me 3 weeks when having one or two meals a day. A fellow hiker gave me a full canister of one of the larger sizes (230g, I think). It lasted me all the way from Echo Lake, CA to Timberline Lodge, OR. A distance of over a thousand miles. That is damn impressive. If you do choose a JetBoil, leave the stand at home. I never used it.

The Grease Pot was a great vessel for my meals. Lightweight and very resilient to the beatings of a thru-hike. And during the day I put all of my snacks inside it on the outside of my pack. Worked out great. As for the Titanium Spork: it survived the entire trip completely intact. I think the "fork" aspect is unnecessary though. I used it more for opening packages than I ever did for spearing my food.

Pros: Fast boiling, sips fuel, lightweight, and the envy of morning coffee drinkers with an alcohol stove.

Cons: Bit heavier than an alcohol stove. No simmering. Fork aspect of spork was not necessary.

Bottom Line: Recommended. Would probably choose a titanium spoon over the spork and insure it is of a size that it would fit in the pot.

Water Treatment - Aqua Mira

In retrospect, starting with the Sawyer Squeeze Filter was a nice experiment but it should have never gone on the trip. Even during testing at home I became impatient with the amount of time it took to squeeze a couple litres into my Platypus Platy Bottles, especially since the bottles were flexible and did not stand up well when empty. Thru-hikers simply want their gear to work quickly and well, but once you leak water onto your pants for the tenth time, forget to bring the filter into to the tent on a freezing cold night, or have issues back flushing...the Sawyer filter has failed that test.

So, my backup water treatment was two wee bottles of Aquamira. Once I started using those I never looked back and bought more on Amazon and shipped them to myself as necessary. Towards the end even Amelia was using it. Many people complain online about the 5 minutes required for the two chemicals to react before being put into the water. Honestly, if you think about how long it takes to fill up the bottles, go pee, and grab a snack you are essentially at 5 minutes. I had two 1-litre bottles that I cycled through for drinking that were in one of my side pockets, so I added the Aquamira and kept on walking. 15 minutes later, I could drink the water. Pretty darn easy.

There are other ways to treat water in the wilderness (such as bleach), but chlorine dioxide (aka Aquamira) is more effective against Cryptosporidium and Giardia while also improving the taste of the water and not creating any harmful byproducts.

Pros: Quick, easy, reliable, better than bleach or filters, reasonably cheap

Cons: None unless you are really impatient.

Bottom Line: Recommended.

Water Containers - Bottled water bottles, Platypus Platy Bottles

When you have to carry more than 2 litres, say in most of California except for the Sierras, the Platy bottles are fantastic. Large capacity, lightweight, and collapse quite small. They only lasted me about 800 miles before developing a leak though. For everywhere else and for daily drinking, I used bottled water bottles put into a side pocket of my pack. Replaced them about every three weeks or so.

Digital Device - iPhone 5

Best thing ever. Camera, GPS, navigation, email, browser, music, videos. Damn thing does it all (and extremely well) and is a phone too. While having a digital device is not necessary for a thru-hike, I would say it is extremely worthwhile. When mine was stolen in Castella, it really knocked me down. Losing my photos and videos, connection to the outer world, and entertainment was a huge blow. Thanks to it happening after a really challenging stretch, it was probably the closest I came to quitting. Thank goodness for an automatic online backup in Burney the week before, otherwise I might have lost over 500 miles worth of photos and notes.

Since it is an electronic device and you are going backpacking for five months in all kinds of conditions, it makes sense that it needs a bit more protection than what is required in civilization. I put mine in an Incipio case and then a Loksak bag to protect it from dust, sweat, and rain.

There are a few apps that I recommend you look at:

The Halfmile app is based off Halfmile's notes and maps, which are the maps for the Pacific Crest Trail. Using your GPS coordinates, it can tell you where you are on the trail (or how to get back to it) and also the distance to the next Halfmile landmark. However, after the Sierras, Halfmiles notes are fewer in number and you will start becoming frustrated when you walk by additional water sources or campsites that are never mentioned. Guthook's apps fills in the blanks with far more water sources (springs!), campsites, and additional details + photos. When you are hiking 20-30 miles a day in all kinds of conditions and terrain, it is helpful to know if the next reliable water source or campsite is around that next bend or 6 miles beyond. The Guthook app was a bit buggy at times and does not give you any calculated distances to destinations, but it was regularly updated while on trail so hopefully it will continue improving.

The PCTHYOH app is simply a nice way to cache PCT related information on your phone (ex: PDFs of Halfmile's maps). Found it handy a few times when I wanted to look at Halfmile's elevation profiles in my tent. Eventually I stopped using it as the other two covered 99% of what I needed.

Pros: Amazing digital multi-tool. Able to order stuff from Amazon while on trail. Replaces physical maps. Apps for everything!

Cons: Expensive when you consider contract. Can be stolen or broken, so you have to protect it. Requires power (see next review).

Bottom Line: Highly recommended. My favorite piece of gear.

POWER!! - sCharger-5 High Performance Solar Charger

With the iPhone being used every single day and there being 4-7 days in between towns, it was necessary to have some manner of way to recharge the phone on trail. The Wandering the Wild blog highly praised the sCharger-5, so I gave it shot. It does not have a battery and the iPhone 5 requires a strong, steady stream of power, which requires that you use it primarily during breaks when there is full sun. Not a problem in most of California and Oregon. The only time I had to conserve power was when the charger stopped working (manufacturing defect, apparently) and was without it. Easily recharged my phone in 1-2 hours, perfect for lunch breaks.

In Washington, I switched to the Suntactics USB Battery and sent the charger home. That also worked extremely well and could recharge my phone at least 2 times, which is perfect for a 4-6 day stretch. Only complaint there is I think with a bit more engineering work (cost?) they might be able to make the entire device a bit smaller.

Pros: Simple, fast, and more reliable than other brands. Company was extremely responsive when charger stopped working and shipped me a new one via priority mail.

Cons: It did break at a rather inopportune time. Pricey.

Bottom Line: Recommended for California, especially if traveling with friends who want to use it too. I found their USB Battery so reliable though that I would recommend it as a lighter, cheaper alternative.


Thru-Hiking the PCT in 1977 8 October 2013

While reading another thru-hiker's blog, I discovered this collection of photos from 1977 from a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker. Mind blowing how much has changed in the past 35 years and yet still seeing familiar locations from the trail. I started backpacking almost two and a half decades ago, so while those packs look completely unreal from today's ultralight perspective I remember having one of my own way back when.


Gear Review: The Big Three 5 October 2013

Taking a cue from Amelia's first post-hike gear review, I am breaking my reviews up into slightly more manageable chunks. This first one will be about the big three of backpacking: the pack, the sleeping bag, and the tent. All totaled, these three items were 4.9 pounds of my base weight and cost $975.00. Definitely earning the name Big Three as that is a third of my base weight and about half of my gear cost.

Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1

I originally started out with a Tarptent Contrail, which Amelia greatly loved, but I found myself becoming more and more annoyed during the first couple weeks thanks to the wind storms and poor staking conditions; to the point that there were situations where I really should have put up my tent but I did not want to trouble myself. Not a good sign, so I ordered the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 1 at the Big Bear Lake hostel and had it delivered to The Saufleys in Agua Dulce.

Chose the Copper Spur for a few reasons. It is a free standing tent, has a side vestibule (compared to the front vestibule on the Fly Creek), and is longer than the Fly Creek (I am 6'1"). The weight was around half a pound heavier than the Contrail, but I got a tent that would not collapse under wind or snow, had slightly more head room, and if it was a gorgeous night and I just wanted bug protection I could still see the moon, stars, and the occasional meteor shower. Was pleased with my choice.

Pros: Sturdy, free-standing, easy to stake, simple setup, great for buggy environments, dries super-quick, and tough.

Cons: Bit heavier than most UL options, comfortable but not roomy for a large guy, rather pricey if you do not have a famous REI 20% coupon.

Bottom Line: Recommended. I was happy with my choice. Might be tempted to try another ultralight option in the future though (ex: Hexamid), if I had spare cash, as the weight did bug me a bit.

ZPacks 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag (Wide, X-Long)

Like many thru-hikers, I did my research and was intending to use a Western Mountaineering Ultralite down sleeping bag. Right towards the end of the trip planning phase, while reading Yet Another Hiking Blog (YAHB), I discovered ZPacks. The Western Mountaineering Ultralite long was 31 oz, while the ZPacks Wide, X-Long was only 21.7 oz. And it was cheaper. The ZPacks bag is basically what happens when a down quilt and a down sleeping bag have a baby, with a couple genetic enhancements. It was fantastic.

The only real downside really had to do with the trail itself. Quite often a 20 degree bag was overkill in the desert. And yet, three days later that bag could be indispensable when a freezing cold night happened. Washington rained on us almost a third of the times, so I protected my sleeping bag by putting it inside a trash bag inside a cuben sack inside the trash compactor bag lined part of my pack. Even with that, a handful of times it got a bit damp while unstuffed in my tent.

Pros: Warm, lightweight, compressible, did not cover my head (I suffer from anti-mummy tendencies and prefer a hat), worked great as a blanket. When it was really cold, it was AMAZING!

Cons: Expensive. Bit too warm for about half of California. Constant vigilance required in Washington to keep it dry.

Bottom Line: Recommended. If I had to do it again, I might consider using a higher degree bag and then carrying a liner for the Sierras and Washington.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

Sadly, I do not have a good shot of myself using this backpack in the wild. Typically I was carrying it on my back, so I suppose that is not completely unexpected. Stock photo to the rescue!

Probably one of the pieces of ultralight gear I was most skeptical about. Currently, I have four other backpacks that I use for all variety of purposes: guiding, mountaineering, quick summit hops from basecamp, et cetera. For me a pack needs to hold the right amount of gear comfortably for days while making my gear easily accessible. Surely a pack that ways less than 2 pounds could not handle all of the trials of a thru-hike. I was wrong. Except for when it was overloaded with a bear canister and/or 6-7 days worth of food, it worked perfectly. It was meant to carry 35 pounds or less, and I think that is spot on. Go over that and your pack (and you) will suffer for it. The aluminum stays and padding is just not capable of handling more than that amount of weight or strain. You have been warned.

By the way, its removable pad for sitting is a great idea. I used it constantly during breaks and meals. So much in fact that I eventually had to replace it in Echo Lake. Hat tip to Gossamer Gear for that idea.

Pros: Lightweight, cheap, durable (2668+ miles and still usable), perfect volume for a thru-hiker.

Cons: Both grommets came out and had to be repaired with floss and needle. Not ideal for heavy loads in the Sierras. I am hard on my gear so I tried to be a bit more gentle with this pack to insure it survived the journey.

Bottom Line: Recommended. They informed me via email that they know about the grommet issue and are addressing it. For the Sierras, I think I would have mailed myself one of my heavier and more sturdier packs (Osprey Atmos?) to make the large loads more comfortable.