The Next Little Thing

Dear Diary,

I did it. This city girl backpacked.

In the wild.

Alone.

With wild animals.

I knew that I had to pull the trigger on backpacking just so I could answer the question, “am I able”? How can I proceed onto The Next Big Thing if I’m not able to backpack one night alone on the mountain that’s practically in my own backyard?

Obviously I survived because I am writing this post. But just barely.

I made some significant errors in judgment, but you probably already knew I would dearest.

I learned a tremendous amount about backpacking (but to be fair, just driving out of the city with a backpack in my car is new) but unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, the biggest revelations were about myself.

I did a couple of things right;

I chose Mt. Baldy because it’s close and there are no bears (I learned there actually ARE bears, but thankfully I was blissfully ignorant on this subject going in). The downside to this however, is that it is a MOUNTAIN which means my options were straight uphill or straight uphill.

San Gabriels

The camp I chose I have hiked to 3 times now (sans backpack) and it is only 2.75 miles from the trailhead where I parked my car, so I would not get lost and could easily bug out if needed. The downside to this is that if you are unable to walk, it doesn’t matter where your car is.

Proud of me so far? Me too. Things began to go downhill from here though (except the trail, as stated earlier).

I had packed my backpack a thousand times in my mind. When I actually did it however; I over packed. In fact, I think I shall change my style of backpacking to be called overpacking.

In my defense…

  • The first aid kit I assembled included supplies for every possible scenario. An EMT would have been impressed. Why? Because I’m a Mom. Being a Mom is like having a disease called “worry in advance”, and I’m afraid there is no cure.
  • I brought clothes to sleep in and a change of clothes for the next day. That’s 3 sets of clothes for one night out. I brought a jacket. Evidently I thought I might spend all of winter up there? In addition, I brought all the hygienic products that one would normally use to keep themselves clean and minty fresh. I have only one thing to say here…city girl. Duh.
  • Extra food. This is one of the ten essentials, so I packed 3 days worth of food. Thank God I’m not a foodie and Top Ramen and Cliff Bars were my choices. I brought my cooking equipment along with the largest butane fuel thingy they make. Because it was already used in the Grand Canyon this summer and why waste it?
  • Tent. Unfortunately I chose my tent when I still thought my hubby would humor my calling to the outdoors. It’s quite roomy and heavy for one person, but what the heck I took it anyway.
  • The largest and heaviest bear spray made by Counter Assault, on the off chance I would meet up with a hostile animal or a psychopath. And I like the product name. I also included a boat horn and a flashing beacon light for self defense. Because I read it on the internet.
  • I took all of the things my Eagle Scout of a hubby told me to which was; enough para-chord to circle the Earth (even though I can’t retain how to tie a proper knot), a knife (again, don’t know what for but it is part of the 10 essentials  so whatever), a large tarp (he says it’s important to protect the bottom of my large tent), extra tent stakes (not sure where I would lose the regular ones, but God bless him he’s just looking out for me), a mattress pad to protect me from the cold (because it’s Southern California in August for crying out loud where there IS no cold, not even in the mountains) so I dutifully packed it.

I’m even boring myself at this point, but you get the picture. Add in all of the hydration equipment (including filter), navigation equipment, sleeping bag, and a book for entertainment and you’ve got a” bursting at the seams” situation. I weighed it on my bathroom scale at 33 lbs without water. I thought that was doable.

I called one of my selfish kids that had a day off to watch Lucy (my little grand dog and BFF) overnight so that I could concentrate all of my efforts on this outing of mine. No dice. Why was I surprised?

So I had to take her with me.

This required more water storage for her and some snacks for later, but I decided she had to carry them herself. I attached her doggy bones in a baggy to her collar with a paper clip and hung her water bottle from the same. Problem solved.

Never mind that little strip of black on her back. She chased a lizard under the car. She’s ferocious like that. Lucy packI filled up my hydration bladder with 3 liters of bottled water and was ready to hit the trail.

I was feeling pretty darn accomplished at this point.

I drug my backpack into the car, all the while convincing myself that it wouldn’t feel so bad once I had it properly attached to my body. Ah yes…the optimist self. Where is my pragmatic self when I need her?

I drove up the mountain and parked my Jeep where it would spend the night.

I went around the back, opened the hatch, and sat down in the back so I could strap myself into the overpack (remember that’s what we’re calling it now). How could 38+ (remember I added 3 Liters of water) pounds be so heavy? I had carried children that weighed that much.

No matter…I could do this. I HAVE to do this.

I threaded the handle of Lucy’s retractable leash onto the waistband of the overpack and we were off on our adventure.

By the time we were half a mile in I was aware of the change in altitude, the unforgiving terrain (the first mile in gains about 800 ft. in altitude and includes some rock scrambling), how much longer it was taking than without a backpack (4x as long), and that Lucy looked like a little white fluffy Scooby snack in the great big wild.

At the 3/4 mile mark I hiked down to the stream that ran alongside us and took off the overpack to fill my 24 ounce reserve water bottle and Lucy’s water bottle. Once filled, I realized I would have to carry her water bottle too. She could still carry her snacks, and she got a big drink and cooled herself off in the stream. Lucy water

I sat down on the rock and tried to hoist the overpack over one shoulder and “holy crap” was all I could think. It felt like I was trying to strap a recreational vehicle on my back.

At the 1 mile mark I thought (my wimpy self did anyway) maybe I should just cut bait and find a nice flat place by the stream to spend the night. Turns out the wimpy self might have been the prudent one.

I probably should have listened.

I kept pushing myself up the mountain until I finally hit the 2 mile mark. At this time I realized that I am going so slow that I may end up racing the sun. But I kept going.

At 2 1/2 miles I was having to stop and rest every 20 steps or so. My legs and back were in so much pain, my mind was oxygen starved (it felt that way anyway), and I knew there was a possibility that I would not be able to go forward or back. The trail was only 2 feet wide on a ridge so camping there was not an option.

And still the sun was going down faster than I could move.

Every time I had to bend down to untangle Lucy’s leash from around my legs, herself, or my trekking poles with that recreational vehicle strapped onto my back, I became exponentially fatigued.

Even my personal coach self was waxing weak. There is nothing she could say to wring blood out of this tired turnip.

Still, I inched forward.

WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

Then out of nowhere the seldom present “bad ass self” took over. Evidently she is a mad hiker, ’cause I heard myself yell “FUCKER” every time the camp was not just after the next bend like the personal coach self kept promising.

When I felt the need to rest after just 10 steps…the bad ass would yell in my head, “no way…you CAN’T rest your fat behind and make it before sunset. Keep going.”

So I kept going. Who knew this abusive bitch would be the one to get me to push myself so far beyond my limits? Never mind, the title of this blog says it all.

The bad ass promised I could drop my pack as soon as I saw the campground sign, and that’s exactly what I did. The sun had set, there was a little light in the sky, but I still needed to drag that overpack up a little bunny hill to my camp site.

I couldn’t do it. My legs were shaking, I was dizzy every time I stood up, my mind and body were exhausted by the superhuman struggle to get this far. I just wanted to lay down in the dirt and give up the ghost.

Thankfully, there was no one else around to witness that I had become the psychopath on the trail.

I disengaged my tent and tarp from the overpack and drug it up the hill. I picked up a small rock to pound in the tent stakes and could barely lift it far enough to bang it back down. It was not enough to drive them far, but I didn’t care.

As soon as the tent was up, Lucy and I fought to be first to get into it and lay down. A couple of chubby bitches that had been pushed too far.

I made myself get up and zip Lucy into the tent so that I could finally work without the leash.

I picked up the overpack and forced one last push up the bunny hill.

It was getting dark, and there was no moon. Crap.

I found my headlamp and switched it on. Then promptly broke the strap. Now I was working with one hand, but no matter. The hard part was done, the tent was up and my pack was in it. I would spend the next 2 hours unpacking what I needed and cooking my dinner of Top Ramen.

When my head finally hit the jacket (my pillow), I was grateful for the book because of the cacophony of sound coming from crickets and other insects and/or amphibians. There was an owl “who-who” ing in a tree overhead. I remembered my Grandma telling me that if an owl whoots only three times, someone in your family will die. If it is more than three, it is a lucky omen. So I started counting, and let’s just say I must be the luckiest darn person alive.

After an Ambien and a couple of more hours I felt myself fall into a delicious sleep, only subconsciously aware of giant heavy footprints outside of my tent, but very close to my head. Was it a good thing that Lucy began barking loudly to rouse me, but also to chase off a herd of what turned out to be big horned sheep? Not sure.

It was a long night for both Lucy and I. Unfortunately she could sense much more than I, so her constant unease, pacing, and occasional outburst of barking inside the large tent was not exactly soothing. She’s a city dog after all.

Finally she settled wearily on the sleeping bag, and I let her have it. Lucy sleepingbagAs I sat in my oversized tent going over all I had done in this day…I was finally able to move beyond whatever mistakes I had made, whatever sins I had committed (all that cussing), and I was left with a slowly burgeoning realization;  From what I thought was a little thing, I had accomplished something big. Really big.

I had pushed myself beyond any prior capability. I had accomplished my goal of reaching the camp, however unrealistic it had been. When I had a minute from pushing myself forward to take a look back, I had come a very long way.

Not just the distance from the trailhead, but a long way from the depression of my empty nest, a long way from the daily struggle with my auto-immune disorder and adjusting to the retirement it forced me into, a long way from trying to get my hubby to look up from his ipad, and a very long way from the city girl who always played the supporting role.

A very big thing from something I thought was a small step toward a larger goal.

The next day I dressed into my white shirt that became black when I packed up my tent and belongings. I only had enough water (Lucy still had most of hers…but I couldn’t live with myself if I used it) for a cup of coffee or breakfast…so I had the cup of coffee.

The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

I belatedly realized I had not packed anything to brush my hair with, so I did the best I could with my fork (thank you Ariel) and carried on.

I made it down the mountain in record time. I suspect it was because I told myself I had to be down before Del Taco quit serving breakfast burritos. Whatever works.

And I made it down off of the mountain with a new realization that the next small thing may be the next big thing in disguise. And to never, ever, forget to celebrate your accomplishments….no matter the size.

You and your bad ass self are pretty darn awesome after all.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Off the Beaten Path – A Trek in the Redwoods

Dear Diary,

I made the decision to continue on into the Redwood forest from Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail and the Miners Ridge Trail (not sure why it’s called Miners Cabin Trail on this map) for a complete loop back into our camp on Gold Bluffs Beach. My trek looked like this, luckily I can walk in between the lines better than I can draw but only if you click for a closer look.

PrairieCreektrailmapNow normal people would just do the loop and their 8 miles or so, but I had to turn it into about 11.5 because I decided to double back and do the loop after I had completed the Fern Canyon loop.

But it was some of the most beautiful 11.5 miles I have ever seen. I can only thank God that I found this place by accident on a prior trip, because it would be so easy to miss.

And yes, I have been to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks and they are impressive, but they are also where everyone else goes to see the giants. This trail is well maintained and easy, and best of all I only met a couple of people (who were very nice) the entire day during the height of tourist season….just my cup of tea.

I felt sure I had all of the things I needed in my day pack so off I went on my solo adventure. I’m getting used to the solo thing…it’s hard to talk city folk into accompanying me on my recent outdoor madness.

Not to mention there is such a freedom in having every decision be your own, especially for someone like me who has lived their entire life in a supporting role to loved ones.

As I entered into the forest, the trail took on a Tolkien-ish quality. I expected to run into a hobbit or at the very least, a few of their homes in the Shire. tolkiensteps

The air is damp and fresh, the aroma is of old redwood and pine, mixed with damp green flora that line the path.

As I followed the trail, the feeling of getting smaller that I had experienced in Fern Canyon continued as the trees and plants got larger. I felt I had entered into a mysterious but magical place.

It strains a mere human to see the full length of a Redwood tree. It cannot be done while in motion, a Redwood demands that you stop any other activity to gaze on it’s entirety. Then it mesmerizes you.

I think that these must be God’s favorites, because he made them so close to him.

Here is a photo of the trees as they started to get larger, again I can only capture the trunk in a photo, it is impossible for anyone to capture a mature tree in a still photo.

Looks like a normal forest photo you say? Look again at the one below it with my trusty daypack as the only thing I had available to show it’s true size.giantnobackpack

Now with said daypack.giantwithbackpack

Now you see what I mean? My daypack is anything but mini I might add. I gotta have things. Like water. And food. And a phone. And a solar charger for the phone (for GPS purposes you understand). I would discover later that my cord to transfer said power to said phone was back at camp…luckily the trails were so well maintained, I didn’t really need the GPS.

Back to the trees. They were big, but not the old growth I was hoping for. Not yet anyway.

The forest was completely silent. I could not hear my footfalls on the trail covered in moist redwood chips. The trees filter any outside noise out before it could get to me.

The silence was deafening for someone who lives with city noises 24/7. Traffic, kids, dogs, cats, people, trash truck, mail delivery, parcel delivery, car doors slamming, house doors slamming, trains, planes, lawnmowers, and on and on and on. You know what I mean. I don’t even really hear them unless something stands out (like a car alarm).

Just silence in this forest. Nature’s reverence for one of planet Earth’s greatest.

Then I remembered the trail training I learned about bears (from where I have learned everything else about the great outdoors – the internet). You don’t want to startle them. You don’t want to sneak up on them. I guess they get grumpy and seek revenge easily.

So I sang. Let me apologize now to the big trees that had to hear my voice. I sang the only song I know by heart in it’s entirety because it’s easy and short. And as a prayer, it’s not that far off for my own life. Don’t judge.

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Song by Warren Zevon

  • Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The sky was on fire
    When I walked to the mill
    To take up the slack in the line
    I thought of my friends
    And the troubles they’ve had
    To keep me from thinking of mine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The moon has a face
    And it smiles on the lake
    And causes the ripples in Time
    I’m lucky to be here
    With someone I like
    Who maketh my spirit to shine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight

 

Luckily I was not in song mode when I met up with a few people this day. I am not that comfortable in my trail skin to not care if I look (or sound) crazy just yet.

As I continued to get smaller, I came upon a bridge that had a plaque inscribed by the most beautiful phrase that was far more meaningful than anything I could say about this place. It is the John Glascock Baldwin Bridge which spans a narrow chasm. I don’t know who you were John, except that you lived in Redwood City, attended Berkeley, and applied for a passport in 1923 at 21 years old, if it’s the same man (from a Google query, I’m not a stalker I swear).

Nobody could have said it better John, whoever you were. JohnGlascockBaldwinBridge

The stream below the bridge that offered the singing John referenced, indeed provided it for me as well. Stream

Have you ever been to a place where only a stream can be heard? No birds (I’m not sure why, maybe they are too high up?), no wind, no planes, no people, nothing but the singing of the stream and the majesty of the trees. Was this what it was like in early Northern California?  Will it still be here a hundred years from now?

Dear God above, please let it be so.

As I trekked deeper into the forest, all of the other cares of the world fell away. My soul soared.

I was shrinking at a fast rate now. Even the fern fronds and other unidentified flora (I am no Bear Grylls here) leaves were getting larger than my pack.

Then I was among the giants. The old growth. The trees that were born around the same time as Jesus Christ was.2giants

They defy description. I could only walk among them in awe.  anothergiantwbp

How does one reconcile walking alongside a living thing that has been here for 2000 years? What secrets do they hold? They have watched animal life evolve around them, yet are unchanging. They have seen 2,000 winters and summers. They have lived through how many fires? Been struck by how many bolts of lightening?

Until men came along, and wiped out whole forests of the old growth. According to the Save the Redwoods League, in less than a century 95% of ancient redwoods had been logged at least once. According to them, “The places that survived were either too difficult to get to, beloved by some family who made sure they were not logged, or purchased by groups like Save the Redwoods League.”

Thankfully the logging companies have gotten on board with more responsible habits, and the State and Federal Governments have worked together to set aside land for an aggressive regrowth program that will remain undisturbed…for now.

The ancient Ents in Prairie Creek state park are part of that 5% and are magnificent.big trees

Here is the size of a tree that the park service left alongside the trail, with the year it was born (by counting the rings). It was born in 1850, and my daypack looks normal against it. 1850treefixed

So how old was this behemoth when it fell?fallengiant

No pack in this one…I was starting to get a bit tired to keep running back to take the picture and strapping back in every time. Can you picture it by now though?

Remember the old riddle; If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? I’m pretty sure this one did. A mighty big sound.

But even the fallen soldiers provide life. This fallen tree has ferns and other plants growing from it, along with another tree. fernsfromdeadtrunk

While this younger fatality is hosting mushrooms. shroomsThis is a more recently fallen ancient, and I can honestly say it was taller than the second story on my house. treerootI had stopped singing long ago. I was imagining how easy it would be to picture dinosaurs here. I was thinking how lucky I was to be in this place, and thanking God for the ability to do so. I was thinking about my dead phone and wondering how far I still had to go. I was thinking how dark the forest is because so little light is able to get through where no trees have fallen.

I was not however, thinking about coming upon a big old pile of steamy bear poo. I mean it had just pinched this poo log. Even a city girl could see that.

Oh crap. Literally.

I thought about the bear pepper spray I had left back in camp. Dammit…how come I can only think of 8 or 9 of the ten essentials when I pack my pack? I thought about the canned air horn I was going to get to throw in my pack as another deterrent in case the spray failed, and never did.

Crap, crap, crap.

It’s amazing how “un-tired” one can get in a matter of just a millisecond. With adrenaline pumping through my veins I took off at a good pace (never run…according to the internet) but honestly, if it wanted me it could have gotten me. I’m sure I just oozed fear in the air for miles. Not fear, terror.

I’m not sure what terror smells like to a bear, but I’m sure I was as aromatic as a cheap whore on a Saturday night to them. Er…I mean cheap meal.

I started alternately praying and singing as I made my thinly veiled panic of an exit. Luckily my hiking partner is Jesus and he saw fit to have me finished this trek unscathed. In fact, I never saw hide nor hair of the poo perpetrator.

But I suspect he/she knew all about me.

After I got home, I was able to identify the poo (or scat as it’s called by wild men) as being from a mountain lion.

Oh, I feel much better now.

Guess who took their bear spray (also can be used on mountain lions) on the next day’s trek down a mostly inaccessible beach? Yes, that would be me. But I forgot something even more important. Dammit with the 10 essentials.

I guess I’ll have to get the list tattooed on me somewhere.

Until next time dearest.

The Noob Files #1 – Out of Step

 

Dear Diary,

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Who would have thought I would ever quote someone like Friedrich Nietzsche? Surely this is a sign of how topsy turvy my life has become since answering a call to the wild.

A city girl gone mad.

And I have a toenail to prove it. What’s that you say? Let me explain. After 40 years of successfully competing in the male dominated world of Logistics in suburban LA, a lifetime of raising children and cultivating a spousal relationship, all while keeping house, and finally to being sidelined by a devastating auto-immune illness…my time is my own.

I finally have time to listen to the inner voice that had been silenced so long by the manic pace of keeping up with my overdeveloped sense of responsibilities. So what was the first thing that inner voice said to me after a lifetime of silence?

“So what now genius?”

Really? My inner voice is a smart-ass? I should have known.

It has been 3 years since the sudden end of life as I knew it, and I have to say it has been a long lonely road to where I am today. I said lonely, but so deeply satisfying. It’s almost as though my life is beginning to come full circle. Once in a while I can feel the joy I haven’t felt since I was a child, the joy of just being alive. Really alive.

But…

This most certainly has caused me to be out of step with those around me.

I should say MORE out of step with those around me. More out of step than just being the only one of my friends that still has their original boobs, original flooring in their home, has not or ever will have appointments with botox, and now…can’t even get a pedicure, thanks to the toenail that has been lost to traning for The Next Big Thing.

And to add insult to injury, I have discovered that being a Noob is a thing. Not a good thing either. Geez, to think I am a Noob at this age to anything is both gratifying and insulting at the same time.

But the truth is what I don’t know about the outdoors is staggering. And there is not a single survival skill I have learned in my previous life that carries over into this world (ie; being able to find parking in Beverly Hills, being able to meet tight budgets, etc.).

But I’m learning.

2 years ago I took my first solo trip, up the west coast from LA to Seattle. An epic adventure that started it all. A year ago I started walking. 2 months ago I started hiking. Yesterday my toenail fell off (Oh my gosh…is that normal?).

And beginning in June, this Noob has an epic adventure a month planned for the rest of the summer. And at least half of them are solo. I have truly become a mad baby boomer.

June – The North Rim of the Grand Canyon

July – The Redwood Forest and Gold Bluff’s Beach

August – The Lost Coast

September – Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon

And the rewards for all of the aches and pains of being an auto-immune riddled late blooming hiker? Too many to list, but a very tangible one is that my rare disease rheumatologist says in his entire career he has rarely seen not only a halt in my rapid bone loss, but a bone density gain of 10% over where I was last year.

The little engine that could.

I ran into one of my Bunco Club babes at Target the other day. We talked about the summer Bunco nights planned and I realized they were all in conflict with my epic summer plans.  When I stated so, my friend said…”Chris, you are so ADVENTUROUS (I put this in caps to illustrate her emphasis on the word)”.

I was stunned. Never in the history of the world would I have thought that I would ever be described as adventurous. The me who is afraid of just about anything that moves, the me who is a compulsive planner, the me who is an over-achiever, the me who is competitive, the me who dreads the unknown, the me who hurries to fill all of the expectations put on me along with those I put on myself, the me who is a chronic worry wart, the me who is frankly…pretty boring. Surely I am all these. But adventurous? Never.

Until now.

I am increasingly aware that I no longer belong in the manic world of keeping up with “fill in the blank”, nor do I yet belong in the natural world of the great outdoors. But I am embracing my in-between-ness.

And I understand now why nature calls me.

It does not care what I am wearing, how old I am, or how quickly I can scale it’s mountains. It doesn’t care that I am there, yet while I am it seems to be it’s most beautiful for me.

Nature is not embarrassed for me when I am gasping for breath or fall on my butt. It doesn’t grow impatient as I sit in wonder of it. It impassively awaits me as I work through my terror of heights and falling (there, I said it).

Nature doesn’t laugh when I accessorize my outfit with color. That’s right, I said color. Check out these gloves.

Pinkgloves

Thankfully Jesus walks with this Noob. So I may be solo, but I am never alone.

If the journey is the destination…then I am already home.

Where I can be found dancing to the music that only I can hear.

Finally.

Until next time dearest.