May 29, 2017

Keep clicking refresh

Blown up map on my office wall

So we come to the final installment of this one, two, three, four part story of the Turning Fifty/Wonderland Trail/will the hike be as long as these posts journey.

As mentioned before, I was pretty jazzed about this trip. I read books, attended an REI presentation, researched gear, and blew up a map of the trail to hang on my office wall. Whenever I felt buried in taxes, I would look up at that map like it was a literal window to the outside. When April 1st rolled around, I would constantly check my email looking for the all critical message letting me know I would get in. The website mentioned that you had seven days to respond to the invitation, so after a couple of days I thought to check my junk folder as well. If Google had marked it as spam and I missed it, my head may have exploded.

After a week or so, I logged onto the permit website and found this update.


I had previously had good luck with lotteries. Well, not lotteries for money, just ones where you sign up for the opportunity to beat yourself up for pleasure. I lucked out on the first try to ride Ramrod in 2013, and "won" again for the chance to run the St. George Marathon in 2016. The above notice told me the odds weren't looking good for a third round of luck.

I kept refreshing my email inbox at unhealthy intervals, but consoled myself that if I had to, I would go the first-come, first-served permit route for the few reservations they set aside each year. Work is a bit more flexible in the summer, so I figured I would drive down to the park, see if I could get in, and if not, go back to work for a couple of days. Then I would drive down again, rinse and repeat until I could get my foot in the door/on the trail.

Then I got the email denying me a permit.

I was pretty disappointed. I had really built this trip up in my mind to the point to where I was almost depending on it. I sort of sulked for a few weeks, wondering how realistic the day-of approach to getting a permit would be. At some point, I logged back onto the permit website and found this new update.

Click to embiggen

I am not sure how "a large number of the camps are now full on the entire circuit through the end of September" happens when they say they hold back 30% of the reservations, but whatever. This note made it pretty clear that I would not be hiking the Wonderland Trail in 2017. Having now made that decision (or having it made for me) it allows me to take summer plans off hold and hopefully get out on some shorter adventures.

The ultimate goal was to get outside and disconnect - and I suppose reconnect with parts of myself set aside. Getting outside always refreshes my soul, and The Wonderland Trail would have brought this to another level. However, I need to learn to recharge my mental and physical batteries on a more daily basis. You can't depend on a two-week getaway to make up for an entire year.

There is now an additional (great) complication that made an epic trip less feasible this year.

Shifting gears, but to be continued again.

May 24, 2017

Trying to get the golden ticket


So, as I mentioned in the first post, I was looking for something a bit epic to mark my fiftieth year. In the second post, I found that epic thing in the The Wonderland Trail, and just needed to get in.

There is a lottery to get a permit to hike the trail. They take applications from March 1st to March 31st and then start drawing names at random in April. If any spots are available after they get through the first batch, they take the ones after April 1st in order they were submitted. The website says that they hold back 30% of the spots to walk-ups, so theoretically you could show up on a random Tuesday in August and try and get in. For a trip of this size and necessary planning though, this would make things much tougher.

The permit is really a permit to stay overnight on the trail, as anyone can day-hike sections. To that end, when you submit your permit application, you send in a planned itinerary of when you will start, how long it will take you, and most importantly, where you will be each night. There are four major trailheads and a few smaller ones where you can start, you can hike either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and the suggested duration is from nine to thirteen days.

With all of these variables, it is fortunate that the people who wrote this great book have created an online trip planner. You can play with all the variables to try and dial in a plan that has you stopping at your desired campsites and having (somewhat) manageable distances each day. After monkeying around with things for several nights after work, I landed on an eleven day trek going counter-clockwise, starting at either Sunrise or Mowich Lake. The eleven days had me averaging about nine miles a day, and it made it easier to hit the campsites I was looking for.

I chose counter-clockwise for a couple of reasons. First, they say that the uphills are a bit steeper going in this direction, and the downhills a bit less so. The downhills seem to put more strain on my back, so I chose the direction with more gradual downhills. The other is that most people choose to go clockwise, so by swimming upstream, I would see a larger number of new faces. So when March came around, I had four different hopeful itineraries, starting at different trailheads, including one going in the opposite direction.

When you fill out your application, you can also check boxes that you are willing to have different campsites, go a different direction, etc. I checked them all to be as flexible as possible, hoping to increase my chances. I also left open the start date to a two-week window. I would have liked to have been even more flexible, but there are a few things on the calendar that limited things. First, because of the huge snowfall this year, certain campsites would not be open until July 31st, and by late August, the second tax season is in full swing. I filled out my first choice itinerary and clicked the button to go to the next page to enter in my second and third choices.

Except there was no next page. Turns out it was a waste of time to have multiple plans, and you only get one chance to throw your name in the pot. The website warned that it could be until mid-May before you heard whether your ticket was golden.

Now, all I could do is wait.

May 21, 2017

The Wonderland Trail


I have been watching a lot of YouTube lately. Probably too much really. For the last few months it has pretty much replaced TV/Netflix/Hulu so there isn't really more screen time, but it is all couch time. One of my favorite channels is the Vlogbrothers. I will write about them later but on one of the videos where they take questions, one of the viewers asked, "What are you most excited about right now?" Before answering the question, he praised it and said this is something we should always be asking ourselves.

It is easy to have your days and years become dulled when you lack a place to focus your passion. Adding to this, without that focus, passion dissipates. I assume this is not rare, but there are long periods of my life where the days pass by with almost no notice. The common question on Monday is, "what did you do this weekend" and many times I have to stop and think. It is not that I don't have semi-regular adventures great and small, but again the memories seem dulled. Without a level of passion, it is like I am not fully there.

Anyway, for the past few months, I had an answer for "What are you most passionate about?" Through all the long days and short nights of tax season, I was thinking and planning for The Wonderland Trail. When I got home each night, I would be researching the trail, watching videos about backpacking advice and following people who were hiking the Appalachian Trail to try and get a sense of what it felt like. Over the past few years, I have slowly accumulated the necessary gear for a long backpacking trip, but now the focus would be on trimming back on the items to reduce weight and make the hike a bit easier. Every ounce saved would make the hills seem a bit less steep.

And there would be hills.



The Wonderland Trail circles Mount Rainier, covering some 93 miles. Though you don't climb anywhere near the peak, you still climb and descend 22,000 feet in the process. Looking at a profile of the hike, it seems like there are no flat spots, and you are always on one side of a climb.

There are several designated campsites along the way where you must camp, so no pulling over at some random spot in the woods. You not only need to get a permit to hike The Wonderland Trail, you must have a planned itinerary before heading out, reserving a spot in each campsite you plan to hit. In other words, you don't get to decide that you are feeling a bit sore and take an extra day in camp. You have a place to be each night, and miles to go before you sleep. Even getting away from it all has necessary structure.

The reason for the structure is that they allow only a certain number of people on the trail at one time, This is both due to the number of campsites and also to balance access with keeping the park in good/wild condition. Due to these limitations, each year there are more people that want to hike the trail than there are spots. Much like popular marathons and other events, there is a lottery to get in.

This year seemed perfect for The Wonderland Trail. This longer trip was sort of a progression from the backpacking I had done in the past few years. I had most of the gear, some of the know-how and enough experience to (think that I could) do it. In past years, I have had overlapping running and biking goals that interfered with each other. This year, there were no crazy runs or rides to train for so I could pretty much focus on backpacking. Plus there was that fiftieth birthday knocking on the door. This would be the year.

I found what I was most excited about. Now I just needed to get in.

To be continued (again)....


May 11, 2017

The mountains are calling...again

"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

~ John Muir

One of the things that kept me (relatively) sane during the long hours of tax season was thinking about escaping to the woods.

I grew up in a family that camped and hiked, but for some reason the desire to be out in the woods only grabbed me again recently. Sure I have always thought outside > inside, and have enjoyed any excuse to get out on the road by foot or pedal, but being among the trees brings a different level of escape and renewal. There have actually been studies that show that being in the woods helps reset something inside of us

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain

This is Your Brain on Nature

Or - is Nature right for you?



I have Cherie once again to thank. She is the one who got me into biking, running and now backpacking. Her father had always backpacked, and they had rediscovered it as a family more recently. They invited me along on their trip in 2013, and I was hooked from there on. We get away for a five day trip each summer, and I have been trying to sneak in more day hikes to be among the trees.

I turn fifty in June. 50! Seems like such a large number now that it is fast approaching. Age has never meant that much to me, and on most days I still feel 26 in my head. The body however... Sore muscles in the morning are not terribly new. They were usually a sign that I had done something active or ambitious the day before. Now I wake up with soreness unearned, and I cannot deny the passage of time.

Or can I?

I wanted to do something big, maybe a little epic to celebrate my fiftieth trip around the sun. The original plan was to run fifty miles on my fiftieth birthday. Though I have run a number of marathons, I have never ticked past that 26.2 mark. I could have friends run with me for parts of the fifty mile route, and the run could finish at a local watering hole where we could celebrate the long run I have had on the earth and road.

But it began to feel needlessly complicated. Who knows if I would be able to finish, and even if I did, were people supposed to be on call to show up whenever I managed to drag my butt across the finish line.

And the mountains were calling.

There are the truly epic hikes of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Coast Trail - hikes along the ridge lines from the southern to northern boarders of our country, covering some two thousand miles. These are trips that would require half a year's time to complete, and like the thought of biking across the country someday, they are left as dreams until life allows me to step away that long. But I found a trail in my own backyard that seems a perfect combination of epic and realistic. And it circles the peak that has called me before - Mount Rainier. It is called The Wonderland Trail.

To be continued...


March 5, 2017

Missed connections

My cousin Liz wrote a beautiful post the other day.  She and her husband Rick (OK, he is technically the cousin) are in Thailand for a couple of years, and Liz is a counselor at an international school there. Now that their own kids are grown, they sold their house and took this two-year left turn on their path because they could.

Rick is headed back stateside for a month to attend to some family matters and Liz wrote her post about the coming separation. It is longer than they have ever been apart, and the foreign residence must certainly add to the disconnected feeling she will experience. She wrote honestly about what she is feeling, and sharing these vulnerable moments is what brings people closer together.

I don't think I have ever felt this sort of separation, and that is my loss. I think I am a little too comfortable being alone. I also don't know that I have ever shared my whole being with someone, at least not at a time when it mattered. I am always sort of disconnected.

I am a pretty classic introvert. I am that nerd that flags passages in books with sticky note flags and carries a tiny notebook in my jacket pocket in case a good moment or phrase crosses my path. I am more comfortable in the company of a few than in a crowd. I have no problem spending the day doing things by myself. I go to restaurants, movies, hikes, etc. flying solo. I seem to run out of social energy if I hang out with others for too long. I can be awkward at times, saying the wrong thing or not saying enough. At parties, I will gravitate toward the dog.

I have been sick the past few days, holed up at home with Nyquil and a Neti Pot. I typically get sick very slowly, recover just as slowly, but the sick doesn't usually hit me all that hard. Basically it is a long shallow curve, but this one has taken me down for four days so far. Living alone of course has its advantages and disadvantages. I am not currently grossing anyone out with my pile of Kleenex or by washing out my sinuses over the kitchen sink. I have never really wanted anyone to "take care" of me when I am sick, but I do find the lack of human interaction creating some cabin fever. Even a brief conversation with a barista would give a boost of energy making the $2 cost of a cup of coffee more palatable.

I guess I am sort of a social introvert now. A man that at times keeps people at arm's length, yet somehow maintains close connections. I have been blessed with having a number of good friends in my life. Much of this can be traced/attributed to my time in restaurants. The work atmosphere not only brings lots of different people together, it seems to encourage closeness as you engage in the daily battle. And of course you are forced to speak to strangers on a regular basis. Through practice and exposure, you are brought out of your shell.

I was at a surprise birthday party a month or so ago for a longtime friend. We have worked together, lived together, been a part of each other's weddings, but more recently we see each other only once a year or so. Another great friend with the same longtime connection would be there along with his wife and son, and I couldn't recall the last time I had seen him. It had obviously been a while since his son was now about five and I recalled him as a toddler.

It was a great evening. All the years faded away as we fell into funny and meaningful conversation. I got to know one of the wives a bit better, and I enjoyed talking to the little boy. When it was time to go, my friend and I were exchanging a hug. I have a reputation for giving a good strong hug, but when I went to pull away, by friend held on and said, "I'm not done yet."In that simple phrase and moment I felt the beauty of deeper connections.  I still struggle with keeping people at arm's length, but I also know I am doing better, and light years from where I used to be.

Earlier, while the adults were chatting away, sharing stories under a tarp cozied up to heat lamps, the little boy came up and asked his mother if there was any paper he could draw on. We weren't at their house so she said she wasn't sure. I reached into my pocket and handed him my pen and little notebook, saying it was sort of small but he was welcome to it. When he returned the notebook later in the evening, it came with a gift.


Sometimes it pays to be a little nerdy.

February 10, 2017

Waiting for my real life

I remember the first time I heard him. I was sitting on a makeshift deck, temporarily stationed on a Huntington Beach sidewalk. My friend put in a CD and said, "guess who this is?" Even though the voice is so distinctive, it took me two lines into the second song to realize I was listening to Colin Hay, formerly of Men at Work fame.

Men at Work was of course this quintessential 80s band. They broke big around the world, but were late to get airplay in the U.S. However, they were just in time for the launch of Mtv (back when they played music videos). Video may have killed the radio star, but this band rode the next wave and were soon everywhere. They were huge for a couple of years, but then disappeared, self-destructing from within, an all too familiar story, doomed to have their story play out on "Where are They Now" on sister station VH-1.

I can also remember seeing my first ever music video, and coincidentally it was "Who Can it be Now?", Men at Work's colossal first hit. I didn't see it on Mtv, but rather as sort of a preview at the theater, before the movie Tron came on. And now I have managed to date myself about four times in three paragraphs. Getting old. Get off my lawn.

Anyway, I loved the Colin Hay CD Going Somewhere, particularly that opening song, "Beautiful World". It became sort of an anthem, my song. It was the first song I would listen to before heading out on a marathon, big bike ride or other epic adventure. I can remember singing it when I was "swimming past the white breakers, where a man can still be free (or a woman if you are one)" on one of those tropical vacations I have been blessed to experience. Whenever I hear the song, I can just feel my shoulders relax.

I saw Colin play many years ago, at some small venue in Seattle, possibly The Crocodile. His shows are intimate, and the stories in between are almost better than the songs themselves. His songs are very personal, and his show persona even more so. While Beautiful World still starts the day, I think Colin's "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" with its raw, haunting beauty is a song that will stay with me forever.



There is a wonderful documentary on Amazon Video about Colin's life and career called "Waiting For My Real Life", the title taken from another great song of his. Definitely worth checking out (here). I have been waiting to see him come around this way again, but for now the songs and the movie will have to do.


January 14, 2017

Good morning

How to wake up early on the weekends and clear that morning brain fog quickly:
Step one: Have a painful calf cramp that has you pleading. "No, No No," as you frantically massage the knotted muscle.
Step two: After the cramping subsides, lie still, willing your muscles to relax. 
Step three: Let things great and small, important and trivial rush through your head, ensuring that even if your muscles relax, your brain won't. Look at the clock, sigh, 
Step four: Get up. Start the coffee. 
Step five: Optional, but recommended, drink your coffee while staring at the horizon, letting the trivial thoughts fade into the background.

January 1, 2017

Turn the page

A new year. A fresh calendar page. A clean slate.

So many of us wait for January 1st to resolve to follow new goals and leave certain habits behind. The date is rather arbitrary in the grand scheme of things, but it has a nice tidiness to it. The fact that it follows so closely after the Holiday/Christmas season, changing habits is especially welcome as we detox after too much food and libation. You are also inspired by the time spent with the people you love most. We commit to "start to do things differently," but are happy to postpone it a week for that nice annual starting point. I mean 1/1 is even numerically pleasing as a place to start. There was even a possibility of snow this morning, which would have reinforced the clean new world feeling, but alas my neighborhood received just a dusting.

So here I sit happily falling into this tradition or trap with a laundry list of things I would like to change. It is of course a poor strategy to try and make multiple changes at once, and New Year's resolutions already have a pretty poor reputation for longevity. Check into any gym and it will look very different at the end of February than it did at the New Year. In 2011 I did the monthly resolution experiment, and it was a nice exercise to focus on one thing each month. I was not so clever as to prepare another list for 2017, and quite frankly I haven't even begun by writing any down for 2017.

But there is definitely a loose list floating around in my head. Top of that list is to be more present, focused on what is in front of me rather than living with distraction. Step one would probably be to write these things out to get them out of my head and in front of my eyes, but I chose to start here first as this seems to be the worst casualty of inertia.

I was recently talking to a couple of our clients at work. They have been promising me some information for most of the year, and we were still talking about it on December 29th. One of them said, "I am really going to focus on getting this to you, but we have failed enough times that I won't bother lying to you about getting it to you tomorrow." Similarly, I won't bother here with lying to you that I will be writing on any regular schedule, but I will try my best to get back in the habit. It does my mind some good.

I recently finished reading a book called On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor. It is about how trails develop, both through human and animal activity, and their impact on the world and ourselves. It was an interesting read. Sometimes when I am reading a book and want to remember a good passage or turn of phrase, I will flag it with a little sticky note. This many tags is generally a sign of a good book.


The opening quote on the preface page of the book is:
"The path is made in the walking of it" ~ Zhuangzi
I don't know what my path will be in 2017, but I have some ideas of where I would like it to lead. At this point, though, I won't bother mapping it out. I will make the path by walking it.