I decided to get this blog rolling with my most recent adventure. I have a surplus of words that I’d like to share from other adventures, as well as my thoughts and opinions that spur from everyday life in regards to gear, relationships, and the evolution of who I am.
For now, let’s focus on the latest overnight camping trip. My original intention was to leave from Bend’s popular Devil’s Lake trailhead and then proceed along a lesser frequented trail to Wickiup Plain. For those who have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, it’s a stunning vista overlooking South Sister and the massive lava flow that rests before it. After a few miles, my intention was to veer cross-country, up past Chambers Lake to Camp lake. There, I’d ascend to the summit of Middle Sister, where plate-size shale presents a slow and meticulously-footed climb to the 10,047-foot summit. Then, I’d return to the aforementioned lake, descend to Green Lakes and skip my way back down toward the car. Due to a lingering forecast in which the local meteorologist failed to predict, this epic adventure has been postponed for another weekend. But that didn’t stop me. I needed a get out and hike, and a solo one at that.
For months I’ve been going into the mountains, with friends and without, as a measure to test my endurance as well as my gear in preparation for my upcoming thru-hike. If I haven’t already mentioned—which seems rather uncharacteristic of me—I’m headed to New Zealand at the end of the year. Me, my backpack and 1,800 miles of what I can only imagine as a superb, quintessential thru-hike. But that’s a subject for another time. Right now I want to talk about just a few of the things that go into the preparations of the upcoming thru-hike. You see, I’ve never trained for a thru-hike. And to be honest, I’ve never assembled my backpack until the last minute. Turns out that this old dog can learn a new trick. A few in fact.
Training isn’t forcing myself into the woods beneath the burden of a heavy backpack. I go happily—ecstatically—as backpacking has become an obsession that I’m head over heels in love with. And because I’ve become more conscious of each ounce that will be accompanying me in New Zealand, I think I’ve become even more infatuated. I’ve used the last several backpacking adventures to dial in my gear, taking note of what I can change or what I’ve forgotten. Like camp shoes. I really don’t enjoy flip-flops, despite seeming to live in them during summer. At camp, they are just a hassle because at camp I like to wear socks. At camp I like to slip my feet, socks and all, into a shoe without the hassle of having to dig an impression into my sock so that the thong of my flip-flop can fit into. Additionally, I’d like to have a pack-towel and/or handkerchief. I have one, it’s just that I keep forgetting to affix it onto my backpack. Last, but certainly not least, I need to remember to bring my HeadBuff along. It’s an exceptional piece of gear, regardless of how small it might be. It’s a headband, hat, balaclava and shoot—a handkerchief. Yet another epiphany in my quest to be ultra-light.
Anyway, I’ve been learning alot on these recent hikes. In addition to gear, I’ve evolved as a person. As I set foot from the trailhead, destined for a different route than I intended for, I realized that I was perfectly okay with this. In the past, I would have been disgruntled. A little alarm would’ve went off in my mind as my usually tendency to micro-manage would have fallen into a state of chaos. But I have grown as a hiker and I have grown as a person, especially in the last few months. After 29 years and nearly 8,000 miles of backpacking long-distance trails, I’m starting to discover who I am—about time, right? I’ve let much of the east coast mentality go, and now seek for that of which takes me outside of my comfort zone. I seek challenge and especially with hiking, I now seek trails that stem from the norm. I seek for the cross-country adventure, the unexpected detour, the side-trail that goes unmapped.
My change of plans involved an otherwise unscenic tour through the woods. I thought it would be more like the hike I’ve taken to the north, one that traversed though meadows abundant with wildflowers while a stunning view of South Sister loomed above. It didn’t. To be honest, I felt like I was on the Appalachian Trail again. Lots of green. But there were rewards, like a quick side-jaunt to view of Sphinx Mountain, which like it’s Egyptian counterpart, was of course impressive. There were also nice creeks, refreshing springs and to my delight, a just-slightly-less-than inflated yellow balloon with a smily face. The leave-no-trace hiker in me decided to pick up the balloon and affix it to my backpack with the intentions to eventually pop it or to tie it to the PCT as there it would no doubt bring a smile to a thru-hiker. I toted Mr. Smiley around for at least five miles. But then, not wanting to be bothered by the sound of a balloon bouncing upon my pack, I popped it. I stuffed it into my pack, proceeded a few more miles, and camped at the side of a meadow overlooking a lava flow. It was nightfall and just after eight when I reached camp. In late August, the sunlight is drastically less than that of the Summer Solstice. I boiled my dinner, crawled into my tent, starred over my maps and fell asleep.
I had a restless night, but nonetheless felt rejuvenated the following morning. At that point, I pulled on my pack, hiked six miles to the trailhead and then drove back to town. By 11AM I was back to work. It was just another ordinary day, but this time, I was adrift with the things I wanted to do to further perfect my pack. I was adrift in the thought of the trail and the pieces that go into making such an experience work. It’s a good place to be, I might add, as it’s the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Soon enough, I will be in New Zealand.