Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Kid Against Climate Change 

We have always been a politically active family.  The Barracuda's first camping trip was an old growth logging protest along the PCT.   By 4 he could explain global warming and felt a strong desire for our household to be personally active against it.  We always watch the President speaking and regard it as our responsibility as citizens.  The Daily Show and Colbert Report have been household dinner companions frequently since he was 2.  There aren't many car trips which don't involve NPR before music.  These sorts of things.  So, it should come as no surprise to me when earlier in the week The Barracuda announces a desire to go to one of the Scoping hearings occurring for discussion about the coal trains.

Up for proposal is the largest coal production in the United States with direct exportation to China and South Korea.  The coal would come from Montana and be trained through our neighboring town and all along the Columbia River Gorge.  This would increase the current coal trains from somewhere between 4 to 10 a day, to one passing for 30 minutes of every hour, 24 hours a day.  We are talking a whole lot of coal.  Actually, very few people are talking about it and that is kind of scary.  To find out more, go here.

As usual, he was the only kid at the press conference.  By now he is used to that and it doesn't bother him.
The Barracuda feels this is irresponsible.  He doesn't think it is very forward thinking.  He doesn't like that such corporate decisions are being made as quickly as possible during the holiday season where people are busy.  Apparently, he has been thinking about it a lot and decided to go and let important people know about it.

"They don't have to listen to me, but I need to speak."

How exactly does one turn down your child when they say things like that?

This found us traveling by bus for over an hour each way to the local college to attend the press conference and then the hearings.  Along the way, The Barracuda asked me if I would take down what he wanted to say.  From watching others, he knows how easily you can forget what you intend to deliver and how quickly 2 minutes can go.  So I took dictation as stoically as I could as the bus slowly got quieter and quieter when they realized what The Barracuda was doing.  No one expected him to speak.  They just thought I was forcing him to go.  When they realized, they began talking to him like an actual person and preparing him for what he might encounter.

Since this was a formal hearing, The Barracuda had to provide a written statement of his testimony, his full name, address, and agree to allow what he said to be added to both the video record and the official transcript being documented by a stenographer.  No one was allowed to clap, the room had to be incredibly quiet, and the microphone was physically shut down at 2 minutes and 5 seconds.  There was a timer directly in your face so you could see where you were on the time limit.  It was much more intense than we had ever been to before. 

It was also a lottery.  That means anyone who wants to speak is given a ticket and only a certain number of tickets are pulled each hour.  Luckily, we got called.  The Barracuda was number 55 of 60.  So we listened to scientists, teachers, grandparents, business owners and citizens all talk about their concerns.  We listened for over 2 and a half hours until it was his turn.

He was undaunted by the formality and spoke as if somehow this happened every day.  I was a total wreck.

His testimony went as follows:
"Hi.  My name is Dae.  I am here to ask you to stop the coal trains. 
I understand that this is a lot of money.  I understand that people want jobs.  I understand that families in China and Asia want to heat their homes. 
I want that too.  I want my future family to have jobs, money, food and warmth.  I want my future children to have a world they can play in that is beautiful. 
In your generation it might not matter.  But, in my generation it might.  In my generation it will affect climate change.  In my generation it will affect the ecosystem. 
I know that people are worried about having a job.  They are scared because they want their kids to be safe and happy.  I want that for my kids. 
I am scared, too. 
I can't fix this.  I have no power.  No one in my generation does.  I am 8.  I can't be a governor.  I can't sit on a board to decide things.  I can't even vote. 

All I can do is trust you to make the right decision.  To think of me.  To think of my generation.  To think about a future from now where we will be trying desperately to fix a broken planet. 

Thank you.  Please be responsible with my future.
Some people clapped, even though they weren't supposed to.  Some people cried a little, even though they tried to look like they weren't.  Some people gave him hugs and some gave him high fives.

We went into the after-room for some snacks and found the mayor of Vancouver there.  He spoke at the press conference, so The Barracuda knew who he was.  The Barracuda thanked the mayor for standing up against the coal trains even though it could get him fired (not re-elected). He told him it was a brave decision and he was glad someone was standing up for the next generation and the future.  The mayor thanked him for the exact same thing.  They shook hands.  It was pretty cool.  The mayor went on to say, "You aren't really powerless you know.  You have the power to influence people just like me.  Judging from what you just did in there, you're pretty good at it."  The Barracuda smiled and thanked him while they both continued to eat snacks as though they were just two guys hanging out on campus.

The first of many potential political encounters.  I'm very glad this one went well.  Thank You, Mr. Mayor.

As the night turned cold and rainy we all boarded our bus once more and headed home.  There was much talk of where to go from here.  Beer was broken out, hummus passed around, political contacts swapped and strategy debated.  The Barracuda is working on a letter to the editor of the local newspapers.  He wants to hold a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) training so people better understand how the appeals, scoping, and hearing process works when companies violate or deliberately limit an EIS (Environmental Impact Statements).  He attended NEPA 101 that was held when I worked for an anti-logging organization way back when.  Apparently some of it stuck.

It is an odd feeling to be back on the political lines.  It is even odder to be in a complete role reversal - this time I'm following my child.  Our children are very powerful when we let them be - when we allow them to care about issues, when we support them in their pursuit to be heard, when we provide them the tools to educate themselves and others.  I can only imagine what the next 6 months will look like, but he's pretty fired up.

Watch out world, here comes one kid against climate change!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Becoming A Wild Woman

Today is my exercise deadline.  Do you all do those too?  A moment in time where the exercise must begin.

 No more procrastinating.  No more lounging.  No excuses.  Playtime is over.  

Well, today is my day.  Agility drills and running must commence daily.  So there, Self!

Wild Woman Trail Marathon and Relay
Last year's Wild Women in front of our mountain.  The mountain helped convince me to run. I can run in front of our mountain; it is known, it is comfortable, it makes anything possible.

 On August 10th (tentatively) the Wild Women will race.  The Wild Woman Marathon is a 26.2 mile trail run at the base of Mt. Adams through the local National Forest.  Exclusively run and organized by women, it is designed to push every day limits and release your inner Wild Woman.  The secondary purpose is to unite the women of the community in personal strength and sisterhood.  There is a communal family camp out before the marathon, and the after camp out is set up to watch the Persieds meteor shower. All the food is local, organic, and vegetarian mostly served by the farm folk families of those running.

Running isn't my thing.  I never thought I would run a marathon.  Maybe a half, maybe if zombies were chasing me, maybe if there was a BlendTec blender waiting at the end, but never voluntarily.  I'll climb mountains.  I'll walk across the nation.  I'll swim across the Columbia River in a full wetsuit to protect from hypothermia.  Not running.  Running is my Kryptonite.

But then Jules decided he wanted to become an ultramarathoner.  And then The Barracuda decided he wanted to participate in adult triathalons (the kid ones around here are rather cutesy and no where near enough for him).  And then people started talking about the Wild Woman.  And now it is November 23rd and I actually have to start training!  I'm still mildly baffled at how I talked myself into this.

The Barracuda and I do these agility drills twice a day during school days.  They are total butt kickers, but who can't fit in 4 little minutes?

Currently my goal is just to finish.  I know I can finish.  I can hike 26.2 miles in a day, so I know I can finish.  Moving at 3 to 4 miles an hour it will take me 6 and a half to 8 and a third hours.  It would be pretty neat if I could finish in 5 and a half to 6 hours.  That still won't be a competing time (the average female marathon time is just under 5 hours), but I think it would pretty darn good.  We'll see what happens in a couple months.  I might just decide to attempt to compete.

I have just over 8 and a half months to try and get there, and a whole lot of family to run with.  Here's the current running schedule:  Each run is approximately 30 minutes in duration this month and there are 4 runs a week

Week One:
1st Run: 10 minute warm up walk; 1 minute run, 1 minute walk (x 5); 10 minute cool down walk

2nd Run: 10 minute warm up walk; 1 minute run, 1 minute walk (x 7); 5 minute cool down walk

3rd Run: 10 minute warm up walk; 2 minute run, 1 minute walk (x 5); 5 minute cool down walk

4th Run: 5 minute warm up walk; 2 minute run, 1 minute walk (x 7); 4 minute cool down walk

Week Two: 
1st Run: 5 minute warm up walk; 3 minute run, 1 minute walk (x 5); 5 minute cool down walk

2nd Run: 5 minute warm up walk; 5 minute run, 2 minute walk (x 3); 4 minute cool down walk

3rd Run: 4 minute warm up walk; 5 minute run, 1 minute walk (x 4); 2 minute cool down walk

4th Run: 5 minute warm up walk; 8 minute run, 2 minute walk (x 2); 3 minute cool down walk

Week Three: 
1st Run:  5 minute warm up walk; 10 minute run, 5 minute walk, 5 minute run; 5 minute cool down walk

2nd Run: 5 minute warm up walk; 12 minute run, 3 minute walk, 5 minute run; 5 minute cool down walk

3rd Run: 10 minute warm up walk; 15 minute run; 5 minute cool down walk

4th Run: 6 minute warm up walk; 18 minute run; 6 minute cool down walk

Week Four:
1st Run: 5 minute warm up walk; 20 minute run; 5 minute cool down walk

2nd Run: 5 minute warm up walk; 22 minute run; 3 minute cool down walk

3rd Run: 3 minute warm up walk; 25 minute run; 2 minute cool down walk

4th Run: 2 minute warm up walk; 30 minute run; 2 minute cool down walk

The goal of this first month being to sustain a 30 minute run.  Next month I hope to be able to sustain a 30 minute run at least twice a week and work up to an hour sustained run.

Everything we have achieved as a family began from seemingly impossible goals.  Somewhere in me, I always knew they were possible.  This is the first time I'm really having to leap without much faith.  Running seems rather impossible for me.  A 5k, sure, but not 26 miles.  Not over an hour of sustained running at a time.  Not running solid for 4 or 5 hours.  But here is to self-stretching.  Here is to the impossible.  Here is to becoming a Wild Woman!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, So Share It Maybe

 Upon this wonderful Thanksgiving day (because it is by far my favorite holiday) may we all learn a bit about sharing from our friend Cookie Monster as he sings to us "Share It Maybe".....

 I am thankful I am still learning from a blue fuzzy monster who loves cookies.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  May we all share the bounty of our lives with others.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's Time for a Turkey Slaughter!

We were up before 5 am this morning and out the door till somewhere just before 4 this afternoon.  There was a turkey slaughter to attend.  Yep, turkey slaughter.  It's pretty exciting and we have been looking forward to mid-November for quite a while.  Due to living on National Forest property we are not legally allowed to have much usage of the land our house sits on.  However, we live in a major agricultural area.  Our family - mainly The Barracuda and I - help a local farm bring in their raw milk, organic produce, slaughtering their free-range birds, mend or put up fences, and general farm work.  More than anything, this is a way for us to afford high quality food, help the local food bank (over half the harvest goes to the food bank), and practice hard work.  We work for food and maintain the local sustainable community of agriculture fostered around here.  From pigs, to raw milk, honey, fowl, beef and veggies, it is all grown within 30 minutes of our house and directly traded to create an off the grid food network.  It keeps our freezer and canning shelves overflowing, it shows The Barracuda exactly where his food comes from and helps him get his hands dirty.  At its core, it places the value directly in work since no money is ever exchanged.  It is one of the many ways we try to practice justice, love kindness, and walk humbly in our everyday existence.

This big boy is in rut and all he wants to do is snuggle!  If only he didn't stink quite so badly...

Often times there are Spanish Immersion lessons as well, since one of the moms (it's a family farm with lots of extended family) is fluent and The Barracuda has a bent for languages.  We harvested thousands of pounds potatoes while listening to multi-cultural stories in Spanish, we learned anatomy while gutting over a hundred chickens, and today we proceeded to turkeys.  When a calf died of bloat, The Barracuda got to hear all about ungulate digestion and various stomachs, as well as the special needle-tube used to piece the distended organ to let the pressure out. It was fascinating!  There is a skin to scrape, brain to smear, and a hide to tan.  He wants to make mittens.  Sometimes he gets to ride in the tractor, sometimes he gets to listen as the men fix the tractor, sometimes he gets to feed the pigs;  he always has fun.

We have seen these birdies since they were small and fuzzy.  Now they live in the freezer.  There is nothing more intimate than watching your food grow and feeding it as it will feed you.

I'm learning as well.  Today it was the signs used to communicate with a tractor/fork-lift driver and how to anticipate the movements of a machine weighing in just over 11 tons.  We hauled fencing off a semi and will later use a power auger to string high power electrical fencing.  I get to learn electrical work from an engineer and taxonomical anatomy from people who raise and breed animals.  The continual reinforcement of learning outside a classroom is always a major perk.

That tractor scares the crap out of me.  The wheels are bigger than I am and I've seen my son crawl under it to pull out jammed debris that only he could reach.  Today I ran back and forth around said tires and under the forklift to help negotiate the moving of hundreds of pounds of fencing.  Conquering fears can be immensely empowering! 

In the shadow of our mountain, the farm grows on. This is their life and they live it out loud.  We go up and get our hands dirty in freshly tilled loam or the guts of freshly grown fowl.  It is an authentic existence with death, and birth, and dirt, and guts spoken of matter-of-factually as we gather around the slaughter table and dump goopy innards into 5 gallon buckets. 

As much as they think we are crazy for getting up at 3 am to eek out one last climb of the season or meticulously teach The Barracuda knots so he can deftly preform crevasse rescue if necessary, they have a tube-needle to allow excess gas out of their cattle's stomach if necessary.  Both lives are equally crazy.

Neither is seen as odd though. We are both safe in our extreme existences.  They slowly talk to him about how to make the proper cuts to a bird's jugular or the proper psi for the wheel barrings of the tractor.  They describe all the different potatoes, where in the world they come from, what the different varieties taste like, their growing seasons, the adaptations evolved for different elevations and vast amounts of knowledge both The Barracuda and I soak up like sponges it is so interesting.  We can talk about hikes in all different ecosystems; they can talk about food and life.

The Barracuda is checking the temperature of the dunking water and warming his hands.  By the end of the 40 turkeys all our hands were numb and having trouble working.  Today was wet and cold, but he held on manning is duties to the dunking water and the feather plucker.  He is working his way up to the initial jugular slicing and has frequently helped with guttings.

The more I look around, the more I realize we are not isolated in our desire to live out loud.  Authentic lives are all around us.  These people aren't playing; they aren't dabbling; they mean it.  It isn't something they do on the weekends or do just for fun.  They live it 24/7 three hundred and sixty five days a year.  If we were playing at life, they wouldn't have us come and help.

As an on-call farm hand, I often only get a couple days notice for harvesting.  Usually I'm given the time to show up a day or less in advance, and it is an all day long affair - or sometimes multiple days back to back.  When the birds are ready, we slaughter.  When the frost is coming, we dig.  When the weather is good, we work.  They need to know we will be there in the cold, the muck, the dark, whatever.  They need to know The Barracuda will put in 6 to 8 hours of solid hard work right along with the adults, learning as needed, paying attention and keeping his mouth shut.  They need to know that we really mean it.  It works because both families are all in with whatever they decide to do.

The farm is named Sunnybrook and that is Rebecca - Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  She and Micheal got married this past summer on the farm as we walked across the country.

These are our people.

We aren't so alone after all.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday's Funny Stuff on the Interwebs

As a homeschooling parent anytime I can find educational Internet gold that isn't annoying, obnoxious, contains bathroom/potty humor, and my child thinks is rad, I'm excited.  Here is just a bit of the awesomeness discovered this week.

Conjunctions song to the tune of Firework by Kati Perry....

And just to make your life a little more complete, here's prepositions to the tune Paparazzi by Lady Gaga...

Enjoy your week and have fun getting your learn on!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Re Entry

Coming home from a thru-hike hurts.  It is often masked by eating mountains of ubiquitous food, luxuriating in melt-your-skin-off hot showers, and sleeping in just because there is a bed covered in blankets.  But, once that initial joy has worn off , it hurts.  You have experienced something you cannot explain to others, but so desperately want to convey yourself.  The ineffable struggles, triumph, and insignificance that only someone how has lived out of a backpack for months can feel places you closer to most homeless people than your family.  In our society, most homeless people are viewed as crazy and you begin to wonder about yourself.  You are stuck in the position of being type cast as a person by an experience you cannot reiterate.

The isolation haunts you.

Clouds make you cry.  Birds cause you awe.  Everything moves so fast. Food begins to taste beyond divine, only then to nauseate you as your stomach stretches back to normal size.  People you once found comfort in now seem trivial.  The practices that once caused relaxation now feel vapid.  You are left re-defining everything in your life - relationships, occupations, basic choices.  You're a freak, and only you know it, for no one else has changed.

Watching my child go through this has been both heart-breaking and frustrating.  I can not ease his pain; no one can.  The lasting effects will exist within him forever. At first he toggled wildly between extreme isolation - taking 5 mile walks during the day to sketch or "just be alone" - and extreme clinging - not wanting Jules or I out of his sight even to sleep or use the bathroom.  This has slowed down now that we have been home for over a month, but he still has difficulty sleeping and struggles with fitting in with friends he once played with so happily.  He does not wish to talk about the hike with anyone except Jules and I, and even then it is only in passing or as a descriptor.  Quite often his reason is simple, "I don't want to be the weird kid."

I would love to claim that I have fared better, but my response was similar.  Unable to explain myself to others, I retreated dramatically, cried a lot, found our meager life gluttonous, and felt unworthy of most everything around me.  Jules and I bickered almost constantly about matters so trivial they could only be masking much larger emotional insecurity.  Divorce was mentioned, frequently.  So, The Barracuda and I play "the weird kid" together, and I try to steady the rocking boat that is our family.

We read a lot more now, if that was even possible.  Our discussions of classical literature have jumped a few more octaves as The Barracuda now has so much more suffering to relate to.  So much of the heroes epic, the plight of the human condition, the experience of the outcast, have now been felt first hand.  We read Ozymandias and after extracting its description, The Barracuda will come at me with "Human life is so fragile.  Why do we hold onto it so tightly?....It's like we go Lennie on it and never give it a chance." (Lennie is a reference to a very simple-minded character from Of Mice and Men who loves things so much he doesn't realize his own strength and crushes them with misplaced affections.)  These are questions that have no answers from me.  Do they have any answers anywhere?  These are the reasons classical literature will remain enduring the times.  Now he gets it in a way I could never teach, and he's not letting go anytime soon.

It requires a whole new level of emotional honesty from me and character education.  I'll admit, as of late I'm falling a bit short.  In so many ways, that is the brutally tough part of the whole lesson: we can work, and strive, and get infinitely close, but in the end we all fall short somewhere.  We have never coddled our son, or sheltering him from the world in some misguided attempt at innocence.  Innocence is a way of approaching the world when you know all there is; naive is being ignorant to the darkness.  If there is one thing we never want it is an ignorant child.  So we talk, and we read, and we forge into the unknown of where we are going.

All of this might seem remarkably bleak or at least a very distressing outlook to come home to.  However this topsy-turvey life re-evaluation and personal soul searching is what any great pilgrimage requires.  Religion must be worked at...If you truly take religion seriously it has to transform you.  We are transcendentalists.  To hike is to live our faith, not merely out-of-the-box as Thoreau did, but more in the fashion of John Muir.  We wish to get our hands, lives, and souls dirty, not just play at kitchy, counter-cultural references.  We wish to stretch ourselves: to grow into the uncomfortable places and to be chanted by what we find there.
"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey of miles, a journey of one inch, very arduous, and humble and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home."
~Wendell Barry; "Unforeseen Wilderness"

Our very arduous, humble and joyful journey has brought us back to look at our own feet and rediscover home.

Monday, October 29, 2012

We're Back

I haven't been writing; I know.  It isn't that there isn't much to say as much as my lack of desire to say it.  The trail changes you.  It is so very cliche, but true.  I don't have a pretty way to sum up our thru hike, so have been avoiding it.

At 4:30pm on September 13th, The Barracuda crossed over into Manning Park, Canada.  The Barracuda ended a totally different person than he began.  His maturity was so very apparent when he wrote his final remarks in the register, "From the cursed saints and cold-blooded rattlesnakes of the desert to the hallowed and beautiful North Cascades, it has been an incredible journey, but I'm ready to be done."

  The reality is any thru hike is a personal battle with yourself. Your demons come out if you really mean to hike and not merely play.  It is as though you are personally embodying Naturalism every day for four to five months.  Ultimately, you have even less of an idea about your own issues than you do how to solve them.  A few hundred miles in, they begin to take shape and you begin to rage against them.  Whether you are even aware of it is hard to say, but hindsight is always 20/20 if you want to  look.  At around a  thousand miles, you begin to realize you are stuck out in the middle of nowhere with yourself so you'd better listen.  The next thousand miles are the listening, denying, feeling and coming to terms with yourself.  These are the hard ones.  You either walk out the other side a better person, or you bury your head in the sand and remain vapid forever.

The hike has helped me to see myself differently.  It forced me to cut all the crap out of my life that I gave value to, that muddled the waters of emotion, that seemed to matter so much.  Once that is gone, all you are left with is yourself.

The Barracuda and I fought our battles together because we had to.  Whomever is by your side day in and day out will inevitably play a large emotional roll in the outcome.  They will feel the wrath, fear, glory and triumph of it all, and you will feel theirs.  But quietly, in the hours upon hours of walking, you battle personally as well.

Watching the Mohave fall behind us was the largest relief of the trail.  It meant we had successfully crossed the driest place in the United States and we were winning the battles.

I could post a stack of cutesy pictures and flowery verbiage, but if you are really doing it long distance backpacking is raw. It rips your guts out and then throws up in the cavity left behind. It turns you into someone you never were before and couldn't have envisioned.  You come back, and though everything is the same, you are not.

How could you be?  The fear is raw, the beauty is raw, the knowledge you are tiny and insignificant is raw.  Brutality is what happens when nature is in control.  One-hundred-and-eight degrees and no water for 30 miles isn't cute. Fourteen thousand feet up with 25 pounds on your back, altitude sickness, and dropping 5,000 feet in less than three miles isn't cute.  Poison oak, poodle dog bush, rattlesnakes, fire ants and razor sharp yuccas weren't messing around.  No sleep for over 4 days due to gale force wind in the desert sands - stakes won't work and neither will rocks until you learn to read the sand - and having to keep a tent up for your child isn't cute.  Losing 20 lbs you didn't really have, but still carrying 45 lbs for a 7 day resupply so you and your child don't starve, isn't cute.  Tying yourself into trees and laying on your child so the 85 to 90 mile an hour winds don't throw you both off the side of a mountain is nature in serious mode. (The wind was so strong it ripped the bite valve off my Camelbak).  That was just California.

You won't find much of any of that written here, because we discovered it wasn't about that.  All the stories, all the entertainments, seem to belittle the experience.  It wasn't some epic story; it was the reality that humans are so very unimportant.  Our over-ramped and inflated self value is our way of over-compensating.  We dramatize our existence because we aren't really living at all.  We have now seen things so beautiful it is hard to leave, so wild it creeps under your skin, so much joy in the tiniest things, so much triumph in the smallest moments, and so little of it really mattered in the grand scheme of things.

There is no way to really be present and miss the fact you are pathetic compared to the earth.  We can inflate ourselves all we want behind a screen, in our offices, or snuggled in bed, but Nature will prevail and ultimately remind you that you don't really matter at all. 

The Barracuda announced to one curious day hiker "I'm not a monkey; I don't dance!" after being asked the same question  for the fourth time that day. He was called a legend, a hero, and a stack of other flowery names for what he was doing and finally began telling people, "I don't want to be your hero.  You need to become your own hero."

Anyone can conquer the unconquerable.  He truly believes it and lives it every day.

The truth of the matter is, when you discover your insignificance at 7 years old, it is hard to ever be normal again.  The truth of the matter is it was otherworldly and no words can ever portray to you the ineffable.  The truth of the matter is that your house is safe and warm.  Your job is good, your spouse dependable, your life well scripted.  The truth of the matter is, you know deep down what lurks along the trail out in those woods.  Things get real when you leave society for a week-long stretches and resupply in only 18 hours chunks, when you sleep in a tent instead of a wooden shelter, when your clothes begin to literally rot off your body, when the simple act of food becomes a luxury forcing you into tears.  All of your society armor is gone and you are left with your dirty, smelly, starving, tired self and only one looming question, "Am I good enough?"

Then you realize the scariest part of all - no one even cares about the answer but you.

Regardless of the frigid temperatures, we would huddle together in our quilt and watch the scenery.  There are a few things in the world you should never take for granted.  Reverence for beauty is one of them.
Dad is another one.

There was a one section in Washington State where we had 14 days without much of a real resupply and plummeting temperatures.  For 3 days we didn't shed a single layer and hiked in everything we owned, including multiple pairs of socks.  In the same stretch there was a 13 mile bushwhack where The Barracuda would literally disappear feet in front of me due to the overgrowth and your body was ripped up with Devil's club.  In temperatures that low, with that significant a level of energy output, you can never eat enough.  Your stomach hurts constantly as you carefully ration your food and have to dutifully fight the impulse to eat.  In the same stretch the scenery was incredible.  We walked past Glacier Peak which is one of the few mountains (10,514 feet) which cannot be seen by any highway and must be walked into.  We hiked in what is considered some of the most remote and wild lands in the United States.  The days and nights were so crisp it was as if C.S. Lewis himself was writing your life in Narnia.  As The Barracuda and I huddled on a ridgeline trying to avoid the spitting ice, slicing wind, and regain feeling in our fingers and feet, he looked at me and said:
"You know what God is, Mom?"
"What do you think?"
"God is the voice that lives inside you that screams, and cries, and can't breathe all at once.  God reminds you that you are alive because He is here, but at any second you could die."
 There are no better words than that.

And so, that was our summer.  It was a summer to experience God.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Damn Cat

When we came home from climbing Mt. Adams, Jules called The Barracuda outside for something and I paid no attention. I went inside to use the bathroom.  That is what moms do when they come home.  It is a rule.

Apparently, there was quite the adorable Siamese cat just milling around the woodpile and Jules wanted to show it to The Barracuda.

Now, is there a single mother in the entire world that doesn't know how this story is going to end?!?  

Meet Kitty Kitty.

Kitty Kitty doesn't have a formal name yet.  She just has a 7 year old boy's complete adoration.  He made a "house" for the cat.  He insisted food be purchased for the cat.  When Jules and I went to the store, he stayed outside, in the dark, just to talk to the cat. He didn't sleep much worrying the cat might be eaten or run away.  What is more, he has the undivided attention of this feline and she tends to have chosen him as her person.

Jules appears to be a bit hooked as well, since Kitty Kitty bears striking resemblance to a long lost pet from years previous.

....Remember that whole long distance backpacking thing?

...Pacific Crest Trail?

...Vicious Doberman named Guadalupe?

...Obviously loved cat whom someone lost and might miss?

Yes, Barracuda, we can teach Kitty Kitty to climb the ladder so she can sleep with you.  How can I say no to this face?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mazamas Here We Come!

Some people react quite extremely to poison oak while others get only mild irritation.  I'm a mild irritation person when it comes to poison ivy and sumac.  They are annoying, but no biggie.  Apparently, not so much when it comes to poison oak.  Somewhere around 1500 miles, I came into contact with this dreaded plant.  I didn't know it until approximately one week later when I awoke with over half my leg blistered and continuously weeping.  It went down hill from there.

Don't worry, no nasty pictures.  Just a pretty Mt. St. Helens shot.

We decided to take a train home from the California/Oregon border and go directly to Urgent Care.  The lady at the hospital was very nice.  She grimaced at my description of the problem, flagged my chart, and told me she would put me on "fast track."  This is the nice way of saying 'stand aside and wait patiently without sitting on, touching, breathing near, or in any way potentially infesting anything so we can get you out of here as quickly as possible.'  I was also periodically informed to stop scratching and to wash my hands.

The doctor was also very professional.  He only recoiled once.  He did a very good job of concealing his disturbed shock when he asked how long it had been this way, and I responded, "Only about 4 days."

I was put on 2 oral steroids, one hardcore topical nerve suppressant, and oatmeal baths.  The doctor then began the directions:

I'm not allowed to get hot, sweaty, or irritate my skin.  No scratching. Regular bathing with special soap and a return visit if it doesn't begin to seriously clear up in 4 days. Anymore blisters aren't okay.  Any full coverage spreading (not tiny little bumps) isn't okay.  Any facial breakouts or crotch issues, aren't okay.  Wash everything you own. If it isn't important or it can be replaced, just throw it away. Most importantly, NO HIKING.

My face must have foretold my dislike of this last edict. I asked about short, 3 or 4 day hikes.  

 I asked about day hiking. 

Weekend Warrior style? 

Car camping? 

I was not pleased.  I tried to explain about the closing of the season, about the snow in the Cascades.  I tried to talk about The Barracuda, 1700 miles in.  The problem of losing momentum.  The issue of each day lost being almost 30 miles, how that really tends to add up.  

 He was a very nice man, but wasn't having any of it.  In a quite authoritative voice he began to explain:

When infections begin to cover 80% or more of your body they reach a point of no return and must be treated like an invasive Staph infection.  I was at 75%.  Though only one leg, my butt, and my lower back were completely blistered and weeping now, in less than 2 days my entire torso was likely to become infected. Soon after my other leg would have symptoms.  The symptoms take about 3 days or so to appear and the reaction was too extreme not to have spread.  I was hiking in 100 degree temperatures, sweating, not bathing, using the same infected clothes and gear for days and generally doing everything possible to spread the poison.  NO HIKING!

 I did everything I was supposed to for 4 whole days.  Do you know how hard it is to go from moving all day long, to sitting your itchy butt all day long?!  We picked a gallon of blackberries.  We sorted through all the clothes The Barracuda had outgrown.  We sorted through all the clothes that we should give to the needy box at church. We did a trip into the city for a Goodwill run to find gear for eBaying.  We tried being lazy, getting coffee, and reading magazines.  Jules watched an entire season of Breaking Bad on Netflix.  The Barracuda read an entire chapter book in less than half a day.  We were going crazy.  There had to be something I could do that wouldn't irritate my skin, cause me to sweat or be overheated, but still meant we could do something.

Plus, I need to do a trial run to see if I could realistically hike anytime soon.  Things seemed to really be getting better. The infection was clearing up dramatically (though the doctor was right about the spreading).  I had been through almost all of my major steroid and gauze pads weren't necessary any more.

 So we went mountaineering!
Yes, the dog goes too.  She has a sweater, boots, and I'm working on fitting some microspikes.

Mountaineering met every qualification.  The air is cold, no overheating.  With adequate layering, you don't really sweat.  It was close enough to our house (less than an hour drive) meaning we didn't really need to go camping. I could take my required shower and regularly bathe since it was only a one day thing.  You are covering so much elevation that the pace is so slow you definitely couldn't be considered hiking.  Even better, you get up at 3 am, work all day long, and don't get home till after 7pm.

There is something quite wonderful about getting up before the sun and watching it slowly crest the top of the mountain.  The contrast between the snow, the sky, and the rock is always so striking.

The Barracuda is developing quite a thing for mountains.  After summitting Whitney, he is rather determined to take on more than a couple 14ers.  Mt. Adams has been a frequent playground of ours and his skill level is high enough now that we don't worry much.  This was mostlikely the last trip we will bring the harness and ropes for, and the pickets were left at home completely.

See, this is not hiking.  This is walking in the snow.  We were merely walking in the cold, cold snow.  No overheating. Totally acceptable.

People don't exactly know what to do when they meet a small 7 year old clad in mountaineering pants, steel 12 point front spike crampons, and wielding a very flashy ice-axe.  They are even more baffled when the see the dog.  So much of the time people tend to think of these sorts of activities being out of reach when you have a family or a pet.  Kids and dogs can climb 6,700 in less than 6 miles - think about it, that's only about a thousand feet per mile.  It is steep, and it takes determination, but it isn't un-doable.  Don't underestimate yourselves!

The boy has some unfinished business with that mountain.  Rainier is calling him. 

This next year's homeschooling curriculum is going to be dealing a lot with rope work, protection, and the math/physics/geological issues which come into place when mountaineering.  He has enough technique down the crampons no longer worry me, and his ability to Prusik out of a cravass far surpasses mine.  At this point he merely needs enough knowledge of alpine environments to work on his judgement calls and knee-jerk reactions in dangerous situations.

Yes, I climb mountains in a bikini.  It helps with that whole no-sweating thing.  Plus, the giant disgusting rash concealed by The Barracuda's head and my mountaineering pants make it far less attractive.  Generally, though, it is the most comfortable thing I've found to wear with all the sun exposure.

Mt. Adams stands at 12,326 feet and is the second highest peak in Washington, the third highest in the Cascades (Rainier and Shasta stand taller).  Sporting 11 glaciers it qualifies our family to join the Mazamas and makes The Barracuda one of the youngest official members to not be grandfathered in by a parent.  He was very specific that this whole "family membership" thing wasn't going to cut it.  He wants to take Intermediate and Advanced Climbers Education classes and Jules wants to learn ski mountaineering.  The Mazamas are sort of the top of the line for learning that sort of thing.  I kinda like the idea of weekends at the private, alpine lodge and the rescue/body recovery/life-flight insurance, but maybe that is just me.

Oh it is terrifying, completely insane, and really does feel like you are going to throw yourself off into the abyss.  Our family LOVES it!

The best part of the climb is definitely the glissade.  A glissade is the controlled slide down the mountain.  You remove your crampons (very important!), put on a coat and gloves, sit down, and proceed to slide hundreds of linear feet down the ice and snow using your ice axe to slow yourself.  On popular climbing days a rather deep trough is plowed into the slope by the previous glissaders.  When we went, the trough was over two and a half feet high on either side making the glissade much like a very extreme waterslide. You'd find yourself beginning to slide up the sides, swirling around the turns, and reaching some fairly terrifying speeds.  It was rad!  There was giggling, squealing, and cheers.

To most parents, putting you small person into a rather extreme snow chute and helping scoot/shove them off the side of a mountain without any form of protection might seem slightly negligent.  But it is seriously thrilling.  The Barracuda has only been sledding once, and at this point has no desire to go again.  Glissading just can't compare.  He is bouncy, laughing, and so hyped up at just the idea of the glissade, that saying no would be ridiculous.  Plus, forcing my child to slog down over 5,000 feet (you slide down darn near all the elevation gain) in crampons seems a bit more dangerous and cruel. 

Our son is a climber.  He has been a climber since he could barely walk.  I know I'm never going to stop him; he is far too determined.  Better to strap on a harness, rope up, and show him the appropriate way to self arrest.  It is a fairly awesome way to do some serious family bonding.

We were home by around 7ish and eating taco salad for dinner as it got dark.  I took my required shower, with my special soap, doped up on anti-histamines, and slathered myself in nerve suppressant.  I'm definitely not ready to hike.  Anytime I got even remotely damp from sweat or body heat my torso began to itch and tingle.  It was definitely a sure sign I'm still a few days off the trail.  However, I'm almost done with my extreme steroids (thank goodness because they make me crazy irritable and just plain angry for no reason) and only have to take the anti-histamines when I go to sleep.  All in all, it was a fantastic day. 

Even better, I only look like I have a moderate case of leperacy, instead of rolling in toxic waste.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pictures from the Trail

Don't worry, I haven't abandoned you all.  It is more an issue of Northern California not really having great Internet access.  Most of the towns between Echo Lake and the Oregon border don't really qualify as a city.  Town would be a reasonable term, but that is town with a very little "t." Access to a computer is limited; access to the Internet is challenging; access to a reasonably modern computer with decent enough Internet to upload pictures is down right unheard of! It's an issue that Jules and I are mulling over for future long distance hikes.  A solution hasn't quite presented itself adequately, but we're still working on it.

There are so many pictures.  We have seen and done so many things.  Here are a few that stand out as favorites, exciting moments, or just fun images of what life has been like for the last few weeks.

Both of the boys got altitude sickness pretty quickly after entering the Sierras.  It was nothing major or terribly horrific, but it really takes it out of you.  For a couple of days our mileage was really low and there were frequently naps in the sun.  I'd filter water, they'd pass out.  The dog would take a break for a minute, so would they.

Altitude sickness or not, when The Barracuda heard he could summit the highest peak in the lower 49 states, a detour was necessary.  We did a 20 mile day the day we summited Mt. Whitney, climbing over 5,000 feet of elevation gain in less than 3 miles to reach 14,505 ft.  At 7, The Barracuda tied Tyler Armstrong as the youngest person to summit in a single day (most people take 2 days) and Guadalupe is one of only a handful of dogs to have made the top.  Summiting a 14er has been on his Life List for a while and he hopes to climb both Mt. Rainier and Mt. Shasta next summer.

Shortly after leaving the Tahoe Rim Trail and getting back on the PCT (they overlap a bit), my shoelaces got all caught up and I went face first into the gravel.  It was stupendously awkward - and Olympic quality blunder.  My lip was split, all my front teeth loosened, and both my nose and sinus cavity were bruised.  There were tears.  There was cussing.  Jules comforted me and then snapped a couple pictures (I was thrilled with this decision as you can see). But thankfully, I did not face plant a couple hundred yards earlier.  If I had, I would have tumbled into shale talus most definitely broking my nose and knocking out most of my teeth. 

The Granite Chief Wilderness was spectacular in its ridgelines and mountain spines. It felt very Tolkein in many spots and reminded me that in the next year or two our family should read The Lord of the Rings series (neither Jules or The Barracuda have read them).  Looking over the expanse on all sides has us thinking that in a summer or two we might put in a bid for a fire tower and spend the summer overlooking some desolate place in northern Montana.  Afterall, most fire towers are larger than our house so it would be an upgrade.

We have climbed some gorgeous views in these past few weeks.  The Barracuda really enjoys scrambling up on the large boulders to scan the viewpoints.  Jules doesn't appreciate The Barracuda's enjoyment of heights quite as much and worries significantly.  Sometimes we eat lunch.  Sometimes we take a water break.  Sometimes it is just a glimpse to sigh and appreciate being able to spend a third of a year doing nothing but walking the U.S. together.  After having been through the desert and some of the lowest points in the United States, and then up through the Sierra and the highest points, it is nice to spend a bit of time in the middle. 

If you are a member of the Forest Service, just disregard this picture.  It would be very wrong of us to have a fire anywhere in central/northern California outside of a designated campground.  You have been in the woods too long and are hallucinating.

Backpacking as a family means doing things a little bit differently than most thru-hikers.  Instead of continuing on, we stop after 25 miles to 27 miles, have a fire, watch the stars, and drink cocoa.  It might only be 7:30 pm, there might be another good hour of daylight and a 30 mile day, but watching the sunset and reading a book as a family is an experience worth so much more.  The Barracuda has never really been car camping and finds the concept rather mystical.  Backpacking or not, we try to make sure there is plenty of time to just sit around a campfire being a kid.

So, we're still going at it!  Here we come Oregon and Washington.  We're in the home stretch now and there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.  More than anything we are realizing just how much this lifestyle suits our family. It hasn't always been pretty - there was that time when Jules and I got in a knock-down-drag-out fight in the middle of the Grocery Outlet parking lot, or when I was so frustrated I picked The Barracuda up by his pack straps, or the instance where the 7 year old looked right at me and screamed, "You are going to f*$k everything up!" and then burst into tears.

Oh, the memories....

But considering we have crossed 700 miles of desert in a drought year, we've been swarmed by Africanized bees, we've summited the highest peak in the lower 49,  we've run from mosquitoes thicker than I've ever seen, dodged the Forest Service more than a couple times, slept outside train stations and on the wrong side of a few tracks, hitchiked miles into towns not knowing anything about where we would sleep or how we would get back to the trail, almost killed the dog with heat stroke, had to discuss both marijuana consumption and illicit drug usage with our second grader, and we're still smiling after walking across the longest state in the nation, I'd say we're doing pretty good.  The Barracuda has quite a nice list of fairly significant outdoor goals and we are more than happy to go along with him for the ride. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Suck It Mohave! - 702 Miles

We have officially cleared all of southern California.  For those of you who do not realize, that means no more desert.  I had an extreme moment of clarity a few days ago, when the thought came to me that if given the opportunity to hike through the desert again, or have another baby, I'd choose the baby.  For anyone who knows our family, that is really saying something!

The Barracuda pulled a 29 mile day to get us into Kennedy Meadows, but the show put on during the sunset was well worth it!

We are currently in Kennedy Meadows - 702 miles.  It is the gateway to the Sierras and quite the milestone.  As far as I am concerned, we've made it.  We are mountain people.  Cool breezes, serious elevation gains, passes, ridges, those are our kind of hikes.  I have no worry about snow.  I know how to judge the wind.  I know how to keep a tent down on rocky outcroppings.  I'm all over that.  Searing heat, swirling wind from everywhere, complete sand with no rocks, and gale force no thank you.

As you can see, The Barracuda loves the desert as well
We are about to enter the largest continuous wilderness stretch in the United States.  Needless to say the cell phone/internet coverage is a bit scarce.  We will be checking in as much as possible and posting up pictures when we can.  All in all the John Muir Trail is waiting for us, the Sierras are waiting for us, and the Mohave has been left behind!

Here's to another 700 miles.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

7 Day Countdown - PCT Trail Update

 The Barracuda & Sparrow working on their tans in the desert.

Please forgive the time it has taken to get a post update on the Sparrow and the Barracuda’s PCT thru-hike.  The end of the school year, packaging mail drops, and completing projects around our little cabin has been occupying a lot of my time.  Because of the rustic, simple life we are fortunate to live, items like putting back a year’s supply of wood for the coming winter is crucial before I can feel good leaving to hike for the summer.  One of our neighbors, who lives in an expansive house up the road, once commented that we are “camping out” in our cabin.  As I was chopping this year’s wood, I couldn’t help but think that our humble little cabin and the voluntary simplicity that we practice has likely made the Barracuda’s transition to hiking easier for him than it might be for other adults and kids alike.  The Barracuda is comfortable being outside.  Heck, we have a healthy population of bears, cougars, and bobcats that roam the woods our home is surrounded by.  On the trail, the Barracuda has impressed other hikers by making the campfire, but it must seem so common to him due to our lifestyle a home.  I’m glad he is comfortable camping out, because it allows him to focus on the physical challenge of hiking and to appreciate the things around him. 

 "Camping out" at the cabin last winter

Since the last post, the Sparrow and the Barracuda have walked through the Mojave Desert section of the PCT.  In addition to the heat, they had 50-60 mile an hour winds during the evenings.  As a result of this wind, they had difficulties keeping their TarpTent erect in powdery soft sand that refused to hold stakes, and this caused a few sleepless evenings for the Sparrow as she struggled to brace the tent.  They have hiked approximately 630 miles and should be reaching Kennedy Meadows sometime tomorrow.  I say approximate because our phone provider has zero coverage in the area they are currently traveling through, and there were 5 days with no contact from them.  The first 3 days were easy, but the over protective husband and father started to worry after day 4.  So I was thrilled to get a call from Brynn the other night from a borrowed cell phone.  They are in great spirits and just as determined as ever.  Their pace and confidence is up. 

From where they are currently, they are beginning their climb up into the mountains.  While this means they have some serious elevation to climb, it also means cooler temperature, real trees for shade, and a greater abundance of water.  After their hike through the desert, they will happily take the elevation change for these benefits.  By the time I connect with them, in 7 days, they will have climbed to almost 11,000 feet.  From Independence, CA I will be hiking with them throughout the summer with the goal of reaching the Oregon/Washington border before I have to return for the 2013 school year.  I simply can’t wait to be with them on the trail.  I’m so very proud of both of them, but I’m eager to take some of the physical and emotional weight off of Brynn’s shoulders.  She’s carried a lot these past 630 miles.

I can’t wait to be a complete family, including our crazy dog, moving nomadically up the PCT.  It has been 11 years since I’ve hiked a long distance trail, and I’m looking forward to the peace and serenity such a journey leaves one with.  To be able to share that experience with my wife and son makes me feel like the richest man alive.      

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Agua Dulce - Mile 454

It is 10 o'clock.  That is 2 hours past Hiker Midnight.  I would not classify myself as exhausted, but my body is definitely asking what's up.

Staying up late at the Saufley's in Agua Dulce, wearing a hiker box pirate hat, loving the fully charged iPod. Over 40% of hikers have now dropped out, less than 5% will drop out now.  Agua Dulce means we have made it.  It is definitely a time to celebrate.

Backpacking is all about routines, and due to the nature of The Barracuda, we are even more strict than many.  The boy is very Type A and watns things very specific.  Pushing the usual 8 pm bedtime isn't going over very well with my pineal gland.   But we are zeroing tomorrow and there are blog posts to be written!  My pineal gland can suck it up!

During the day at home, I will frequently jot down notes when I go about my day.  Out here, I talk to myself in my head as I walk since note jotting isn't going to happen.  More often than not, the ideas tend to revolve around realizations about the character of our intrepid son.

Mile 400!

The Barracuda always walks in front of me.  Originally this was so that I could monitor his pace, his water consumption, his walking (for blisters, pack burns, and other such issues), and all that other mom stuff.  However, it has now turned into me following him because he is significantly faster than I am.  The boy has found his 2.5 mile an hour pace and is quickly working on gaining a 3 mile an hour pace.  Hiking has given him a sense of personal actualization which seems to be taking off.  This goal is one which can be made or lost all by himself and there haven't been too many of those instances in his life previously outside of his schoolwork.

More than anything I am struck by his desire to continue into unknown territory quite boldly.  At first I took this to be a level of naive childishness.  However, now that he has experienced dehydration and calorie loss, the desire to forge on seems only more secure.  It is a level of confidence which seems so foreign to me. Each night we discuss the coming miles; each day he presses on through heat and tired trudging. As we enter the Mohave desert (where water is quite questionable all the time and temerpatures reach somewhere between 120 and 140 regularly) he takes a deep breath, sets his shoulders, and heads out in the morning.

Hanging out on top of Mt. Baden-Powel.  Yep, that's snow in the background.  The pine trees are completely frosted solid and with the windchill it got down into the teens the night before.  You'd never know we were in the desert!

Somewhere along the line, he has gained the prespective that this too shall pass.  He has come to see that there are many things which we cannot control, but those he can, he will.  He can control his mindset.  He can control his pace.  He can control how hard he tries.  He can control that each day he leaves it all out there on the trail in the pursuit of tomorrow.

I would love to declare that I have taught him this - that somewhere my incredible parenting is shining through the grit, grime, and stentch of a stressful trail - but I cannot.  On the contrary.  Many days it is he who is teaching me.

There are 9 of us total who are hiking together from all over the United States. The Barracuda hikes on with everyone else.  Even through the miles of road walks, the hitchhikes, the detours, he continues on playing at the end of the day with everyone in any way he can.  He started out as "The Boy" and has quickly become "The Barracuda" who is listened to like any other member of the group when it comes time for opinions and voting.  He's earned his place, one step at a time. 

  "Am I willing to give up what I have in order to be what I am not yet?  Am I able to follow the spirit of love into the desert? It is a frightening and sacred moment.  There is no return.  One's life is charged forever. It is the fire that gives us our shape."
 ~Mary Richards

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