It’s time to hit the trail! I expect this will be unlike any hike I’ve done. There won’t be any updates here until I return, but Pete may manage some posts on pact.report and Instagram. Ann is dropping us off, mailing packages, tracking our progress, and joining Pete’s wife Heather to meet us at the end. This wouldn’t work without her, thank you Ann! And thanks to everyone who has supported this idea, I’m so grateful to be able to do such a nutty thing. Bye now!
On this day, May 31, in 1996, I hiked up a snowy Mount Whitney with my hiking partner Pete. We were 767 miles into an attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and had no inkling how much snow lay ahead of us in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was our first time wielding an ice axe. At the end of the day I said into my micro-cassette recorder:
And coming down from the mountain, it seemed like a beautiful and hard life we’re living. And I think that’s what it is, beautiful and hard. In many different ways.— 1996 Dylan
That was the really the first day of the hard part. We hiked the next 400 miles on snow cups, crossing creeks raging with snowmelt, hiking terrain I now prefer to travel on a splitboard, never knowing when it would end.
The snow did ease up a bit when we reached Tahoe, just a short drive from my current home in Reno. We thought we were home free, but the mountains had taken a heavier toll on us than we realized. By the time we reached the Oregon border we were both struggling with injuries, and I was out of money.
We had to stop, but we didn’t want to give up. So we made a pact to finish the hike, together, in the distant future but before we reached twice our current age. It was my 24th birthday, and Pete was still a tender 23.
You see where this is going. I’ll be 47 years old this July. Pete’s birthday follows in October. It’s time.
My mind often goes back to that micro-cassette recorder. It was one of only two battery-powered devices I carried, the other being a headlamp. Of all the things in my pack, that recorder looms large as the most powerful symbol of change.
In 1996 the Pacific Crest Trail Association recorded 81 completed through-hikes. Last year was a record 1163. I’m sure at least ten times more start and do not finish, like us. I wonder how many of those people can even imagine hiking with only four double-As in a headlamp and a cassette recorder?
I’ve decided to help them by doing it again. I’ll record my conversations and mail the tapes home to Ann. It will not be a podcast, but I will share the results eventually. I think it will be fascinating.
I may or may not post more thoughts before we head out on August 17. There are many topics to explore. How do our spouses feel about this? What happened to that suit Pete was hiking in? Is there a wall at the border? We’ll see.
This was a tough year for some of our friends and family, and though it had some challenges for us also I feel fortunate as it comes to a close. I’m finishing the year in good shape and gearing up for a big year to come. Here are some things that come to mind when I reflect on my 2018.
Despite a couple of good storms early in the year, the Tahoe snowpack was looking pretty dismal until March, when some big storms brought it back near average. Ann and I ventured up into the mountains during one of those storms. After helping to dig out stuck cars, overnighting in a grocery store parking lot, and having our truck starter fail in the snowbound Echo Lake parking area, we may have learned our lesson. Maybe.
Of course it made for some very nice skiing also.
In April I came up with an idea for combining mountain biking and backcountry skiing. Aaron was game. It’ll be the next big thing for sure.
After 9+ plus years on a vegan diet (four ovo-vegan, including eggs), I got a blood test to see if I had any obvious health issues. The results were predictable: low B12, everything else okay.
My diet has always caused a small rift between Ann and me. She eats small amounts of high-quality meat, as organic, local, and sustainable as she can manage. I’ve always respected that, and felt a bit sad not to share the nice meals she makes. I decided it was time to rectify that and join her light meat diet. After a small course of B12 supplements, it should help me maintain healthy B12 levels also.
I still don’t eat any dairy, and I don’t think I’ll start. My digestion just works better without it, and I don’t believe that humans need animal breast milk. So not to worry, I’m still a smug pain in the ass to have over for dinner.
I participated again in Adventure Scientists’ pollinator project with my friend Nathan. I had one particularly good day where I managed to catch and document 17 butterflies at my site, enough to win a friendly “pollinator marathon” contest in my region. Mostly I enjoy contributing to something important while enjoying the outdoors, and look forward to doing more of this in the future.
There were also many butterflies on my Willowa backpack trip, which I wrote about separately.
I was delighted to discover I have a cousin (once removed) living right in Reno. She happens to also enjoy rock climbing and the outdoors and is a treat to spend time with. Hi Brook! This is an example of the good side of Facebook. Without it she might have been here for years before we figured it out.
My Dad’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease intensified this year, and I made a few visits to spend time with him and help find resources to help him along. He has two residences now, the primary one in Indian Hills, Colorado and a second small home in Phoenix, Arizona where his wife Sarah gets world-class ballroom dancing instruction. Despite the circumstances we always find things to enjoy together, even if it’s as simple as throwing a frisbee to their dog Regal.
And my tradition of tallying things continues, so I can create my usual yearly graphs and introduce a couple of new stats. One has disappeared – though we did some rock climbing this year I quit tracking stats on it.
Hours Tracked (by GPS): 300.5799999999998
Outdoor Nights: 57|6
Miles on Foot: 807.3800000000001
Elevation Gain on Foot (ft): 199348
Ski Tours: 28
Counting ski tours is inspired by a self-proclaimed “anomaly” Walter, a 68-year old phenomenon I’ve encountered a few times (with partner Otto) who says anomaly status comes when you rack up over 3000 tours. I will have to live a long time to become an anomaly.
Books Read: 16
My end-of-year reading fail is largely due to not finishing Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker, which I recommend regardless.
And year-over-year comparisons:
I also read 1.7 million words on Pocket!
I spend much of my life online, something I once reveled in, but have always sought to balance by disconnecting and going outdoors. This year, 2018, I made the longest solo backpack trip I’ve managed since Ann sagged me on the Continental Divide Trail in 2004. On that trip my longest stretch between resupplies was eight days, an experience that transformed me mentally and physically in ways I never anticipated. Last August I wondered what I was in for this time when Ann dropped me off near Cove, Oregon for six days on my own in the Willowa range. There were much different questions in my head on this trip. How would my mind handle being offline? Does time alone in the mountains always heal and refresh, and how does that happen when it does? I took a notebook to record any answers that might come to me. Here are the pages from that notebook and some pictures from the trip.
Will we wake up on New Year’s day and realize that the crazy, chaotic, disaster-riddled mess of 2017 was all just a fever dream? I’ve definitely had my share of fever as I close out 2017 with a solid case of the flu, so maybe I’d better jot down some of what I remember before it fades away…
Our closest brush with disaster was early in the year, when the atmospheric river that buried the Sierra Nevada in snow also nearly overflowed the banks of the usually docile Truckee river that flowed by our apartment.
Luckily the water levels stayed below the major flood mark of 13 feet at 12 feet 3 inches, and the mountain snow provided a welcome distraction.
By late January I was getting anxious about my work situation, when along came a job offer from another small Reno software and hardware company called Synap. I knew the owner, Darryl Rubarth, from multiple tech meetups at the Reno Collective, and we quickly established a great working relationship.
The precipitation never let up. Residents along California’s Feather River were evacuated when Oroville dam showed signs of failure, while Aaron and I made use of the abundant snow above.
Floods continued to hit California and Nevada throughout the spring. Not entirely obsessed with snow, we visited Ann’s family in Forestville and ogled the Pacific ocean, and also made a climbing and running trip to Bishop with Gabe.
Over the long Memorial day weekend I made a 3-day ski backpack tour, a first for me.
All the winter and spring rain created plenty of fuel for fire. Ann and I went looking for lakes for her to swim in, and often found wildfire nearby.
We were fortunate that our week camping in July with Ann’s family at Cascade lake in Idaho was mostly smoke free despite fires to the east and west. I enjoyed coaching our nephew Nathaniel through his first marathon-length trail run. On our drive home we passed a complex of more than 40 lightning-sparked wildfires in Modoc national forest.
Last year Ann and I recommitted to living in Reno, and in August we reaffirmed that decision by purchasing our first home, a cozy condo a mile up the river from our apartment. While hurricane Harvey was busy destroying homes in Houston, we were moving into ours.
A month later hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the Caribbean, and a massive 7.1 earthquake rocked Mexico city. We were escaping on weekends into the Sierras and central Nevadan Toiyabe range.
October brought the Tubbs fire that destroyed at least 5,200 homes and structures in Santa Rosa, California. The desert was calling us, and we explored the East Walker river and Soldier Meadows north of Black Rock desert.
The fire season still wasn’t finished, and early December saw fires near Los Angeles that burned for days and destroyed at least 300 homes and buildings. We were in San Francisco to see Mike Doughty perform, and bump around the town a bit.
Finally I wrapped up the year with a visit to my Dad and Sarah in Denver for Christmas, coming home with the flu to end the year. Could be worse! I’m grateful for our good fortune this tumultuous year, and wish the same or better for you.
Numbers and Notes
Hours Tracked (by GPS): 326.48000000000025
Outdoor Nights: 48.5|3
Miles on Foot: 938.5899999999995
Elevation Gain on Foot (ft): 206202
Rock Climbing Elevation Gain (ft): 740
Ski Tours: 29
Books Read: 17
This statistical madness has now been going on long enough to compare a few years:
…and 360 or so articles read on Pocket, almost one a day.
Here’s the short summary of 2016 for me: many of the new things I hoped for did not pan out, yet I managed to hang on to the basic things that make for a quality life. An amazing life, in fact, when put in perspective. The perspective part is important.
I don’t want to fall into the the trap of becoming angry or dissatisfied about the few parts of my life that are not amazing, yet that trap seemed to be the media theme of 2016. It wasn’t just the election, though that was indeed a jarring example. Marketing in general is gaining the capability of zeroing in right on the thing that makes us unhappy, so it can promise a fix that will actually just deliver more marketing. This seems to me like a major ingredient in the unrest being felt here in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere. Now before you stop reading, this post really is about my year, that’s the extent of my rant.
I will suggest a way to counter dissatisfaction, though, and apply it to my year. When confronted with disappointing results, perform a Maslow check. This is a simple evaluation of your situation in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Here’s how it looks for me.
Air, water, food: check. Not just any food either, but largely locally grown organic food. I’m still a vegan, with the exception of local happy eggs. My diet is easy for me and I consider it a contribution toward a better future. I think it’s very possible that I eat better than the vast majority of humans who ever existed.
Clothing, shelter: check. Our small riverside apartment is full of such wonderful things, hot and cold running water, refrigerator, furnace, dishwasher. Electricity! The rare power outage reminded us how we depend on electricity. We’re comfortable almost all the time. The laundry situation could be better, to keep things honest.
Physical security: check. I continue feel most physically vulnerable in vehicles, with close calls on the road (one on I-25 north of Denver comes to mind) being the only physical threats I recall.
Economic security: half check. Things worked out okay, but uncertainty is high, causing some anxiety. I recognize this is largely by choice, though, and I could easily pursue more reliable income.
Health and well-being: check. I’m reveling in very good health and physical fitness. I discovered I have bone spurs in my feet, which cut short my July backpacking trip. I’ve recovered and believe I can prevent a recurrence. (Ann didn’t have it so easy. I’m mostly speaking for myself here.)
General risk exposure: half check. Health insurance was a challenge and looks like it will continue to be.
Love and Belonging
Friendship: check. As a natural wanderer I struggle sometimes to feel part of a community, but friends always appear regardless. We even enticed a friend to move to Reno this year, though he struggled to find work here and plans to move to Sacramento.
Intimacy: check. Marriage is good to me, one of my greatest fortunes.
Family: half check. I considered moving to be closer to my dad in Colorado, but ultimately decided against it. Instead I made a two week visit to each of my parents, and hope to make a practice of that.
Here we get into the more subjective end of the pyramid, but I give myself a check here.
Working in the software world has given me a core belief that helps keep my esteem up: good quality software may not be widely discovered and adopted. I feel certain that my skills are growing and improving even if my software products are not yet making bundles for me.
Oddly I suffer more self-esteem issues in my recreational life. My experiences on public lands are crucial to my well-being, but my contributions to protect those resources are minimal. I will mention that I contributed some bug fixes to iNaturalist this year, which I feel indirectly promotes a much-needed respect for nature.
Have I achieved my potential? I’m not sure I’ve reached this level of distinction. For now I hope my self-esteem is based on realized potential. I’ll consider it an achievement to face problems at this level.
Still feel disappointed?
I don’t know about you, but the Maslow check emphasizes my incredible good fortune to me. The disappointments are mostly about things that don’t matter that much, and could easily change. It’s been a year to feel good about. This allows me to honestly say to you all, happy new year!
Numbers and Notes
Hours Tracked (by GPS): 350.6199999999999
Outdoor Nights: 73|3
Miles on Foot: 1184.3999999999994
Elevation Gain on Foot (ft): 196615
Rock Climbing Elevation Gain (ft): 4155
Books Read: 13
This statistical madness has now been going on long enough to compare a few years:
I try climbing at Mores Mountain, then head for Ann’s parents house in Nampa.
We eat in Stanley, swim in Idaho city, and fill up in Boise before heading upward again to Mores mountain.
Our foot problems start to drive us bonkers, but extreme outdoor beauty helps.
Alien noises wake us up, we encounter heavy smoke driving along the Salmon river, and camp up a small side canyon.