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We are enjoying civilization once again, here in Ashland, OR. What a great town! Yummy food, compact and walkable, lovely vibe, nice people, wonderful plays and a fantastic grocery store rivaling the Berkeley Bowl (yes, really!). I’m in love. The next way point is Crater Lake in 4.5 days and then the town of Sisters after that.

The scenery and stops between Mount Shasta and Ashland have been fantastic. It’s been a pu-pu platter of national forests and wildernesses — just enough time in each to know that we want to come back someday for more! We trod up-up-up and around through Castle Crags State Park with its impossible granite spires and glimpses of Mount Shasta’s western flank. Wildfires in the area didn’t impact us much thankfully; in fact the haze created a blue-ridge-mountain effect, what I imagine the real Blue Ridge Mountains might look like. After Castle Crags, we marched through the Shasta and Trinity National Forests; we were smitten with granite-rimmed Porcupine Lake and wished we had enough food to just stay there for weeks. A dip and lunch had to suffice as an appetizer for some future adventure here.

Then we found ourselves in the sweet town of Etna, CA, replete with an old-timey soda fountain and a somewhat punkish soda “jerk,” the coveted title of those who work at soda fountains. We split a fuzzy, or was it a fizzy? Anyway, it was good! And why did we split one? Because we received so many cookies from our dear family and friends (thank you thank you thank you) that we could not justify pouring any additional sugar into our bodies. We packed up the cookies, and hit the trail again to find ourselves in the Marble Mountains Wilderness, which is as magnificent as it sounds. The Marbles require a fair bit of climbing and descending, but we were powered by cookie calories, the best kind. Plus, the topsy turvy marble tumbling out of hillsides makes the effort worth it. There were also wildflowers again, including minty pennyroyal, which simply makes us very happy.

And then we descended into Seiad Valley, a town of little note except for the blackberries on the roadside and its cafe with prankster wait staff — check out the photo of our “veggie wrap”! We were so thankful that friend Jill Greenblatt swooped in and took us to a cute little cabin in Happy Camp for a night where she fed us wonderful, healthy food. Thank you, Jill! Seiad Valley is worth leaving, despite the 5,000′ climb over eight miles (if you can’t imagine that, trust me, it’s a lot of ascent!). We happily pushed our way toward Oregon, knowing that walking our thousandth mile and crossing the border would really feel like milestones. And Oregon has lived up to its reputation and deluged us with a mighty storm just hours after we crossed its border. We finally had a chance to see how our pack covers and rain jackets held up — pretty well, but I plan to put my sleeping bag in a plastic bag in addition to its “waterproof” ultrasil bag.

We head out for more bodily abuse today, but we have crammed all-you-can-eat Indian food down our maws and look forward to what Oregon has in store for us. We’ve heard that it’s much easier walking than CA. We hope it is so!

Soda fountain

Soda jerk by working antique cash register

Prankster! Clearly loves us vegetarians!

Trail art. Jen in a neat nest.

Wonderous Marble Mountains

Hey all, this is a resend of a post I sent three days ago that didn’t seem to get posted to Facebook.

What is our goal of being out here on the trail? Why are we hiking 2,000 miles to Canada? There are a few different kinds of goals that show up easily. There are small vision ones like avoiding poison oak, having my feet being intact and getting to Canada. The first two are minimal impact ones like avoiding sick days. The latter is similarly lacking, but a bit like getting the golden watch at retirement. In other words, they’re not very inspiring end goals. They don’t speak to the power of purpose. So, why are we here? Sometimes it feels a bit like an egoic purpose (“I did this big thing!”), but when I’m at my best, I hope that I’m learning something while I’m out on the trail. What am I learning along the way? How I’m doing and *how I’m being* while I’m here feel like the most significant goals for my time out on the trail.

One learning that I’m thinking a lot about is optional suffering (suffering is “dukka” in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist discourses). There are two kinds of suffering/dukka. The kind I can control and the kind I can’t. Pain in my pinky toe (not optional) provides an opportunity to be present. The raw rubbing on my heal (not optional). Scratchiness of poison oak (not optional). Anxiety about getting poison oak while wading through what feel like massive fields of it (optional). Thinking about the future and what jobs will come our way, where we’ll live, thinking about the past and everything that I may not have done exactly the way I would have wanted (optional). The soreness of muscles being used hard every day (not optional). fretting about making it to Canada before the first winter snows (optional).

Each experience, if I take it individually and pull it apart, points to some element of richness in my life. These are all experiences that I certainly wouldn’t take back. If I can leave the experiences as simply experiences and explore them for what they are, not what the worry center in the analytical left side of my brain tells me they are, life gets better. In their own way, I feel like I can cherish each of those things. I hobbled for 30 miles into Mt. Shasta due to excrutiating pain in my left pinky toe. It turned out to be an infection in a crack of my dried out toe (I’m now taking antibotics and using an astringent on it three times daily and doing much better), but it was an excellent opportunity to explore a sharp constant pain. Perhaps it’s no suprise, but sharp pain is different than a dull ache or any of the other types of emotional conundrums or messiness that I sometimes find myself. Exploring these different sensations is informative.

If I don’t let these challenge areas take over my consciousness, they are simply, physical pain, ache or worry. They tend to lose their power. These events and experiences don’t have to expand to become misery. I’m working on examining them when they come, look them over, gently place each one in a shoebox and place it in a high shelf in the closet and then go on with my day.

I certainly do come up with some anxiety about getting poison oak: “Oh my god! It’s going to be nasty and terrible and I’m to get sores on my legs that are going to be impossile to keep clean…” Whew! What a bunch of catastrophing. Not so useful or fun. I’ll work to avoid to the poison oak, but almost more importantly, I’m working avoiding the optional secondary hit of self-imposed suffering. I don’t need or want that in my life. I’m working on letting it go and setting it aside.

Some of the poison oak is changing colors right now and it shows up as verdant green, mottled with deep red and some fiery oranges. It’s really a pretty plant and even the poison oak shakes beautifully in the breeze. If i can acknowlege that piece and take a few deep breaths and go on with my day, I don’t get taken over by whatever it is that’s showing up in my life. That seems like a pretty good place to be.

Poison oak shaking beautifully in the breeze:

Castle Crags panorama from the Trinity Alps:

Castle Crags State Park at sunset:

Sunset enhanced by smoke from the Boulder and Butler wildfires (these two fires known as the Salmon Complex have burned about 15,000 acres) west of Etna Summit:

Daytime view of the smoke from the wildfires. Thankfully, the fires are about 85% contained and not moving towards the PCT. Note the chopper doing rounds of water drops on the fire. We’re well past this fire now.

We have landed in the City of Mount Shasta, named after the looming snow-capped mountain that provides a pretty incredible backdrop to this cute town. Glimpses of Mt Shasta over the last several days helped us mark our progress, as it grew ever larger on the skyline.

The last ten days or so has been so varied and striking in its contrasts. We loved Lassen National Park with its lovely alpine lakes and ragged burned areas bursting with wildflowers. We enjoyed snowy views of Mt Lassen and Mt Shasta as we ambled along Hat Creek Rim, a tumbling sun-baked ridge formed by a long volcanic rift zone. For weeks, Hat Creek Rim inspired not a little anxiety for me. It’s a 33-mile waterless stretch of chaparral and heat. We’d heard there might be water caches, but how reliable were they?

Amazingly, locals go to much trouble and expense all summer long to put water at several junctions with fire roads. In two locations, we found Gatorade and sodas, too! The ongoing generosity of these trail angels is incredible.

On the other hand, not all the natives are friendly trail angels. We tried to stop some local dirt-bike yahoos riding on the PCT (strictly verboten). They knew exactly what they were doing, and not surprisingly we found that talking sense to them was a bootless endeavor!

After sweltering through Hat Creek Rim, we cooled off in the spray of the unbelievable rushing waterfalls at Burney Falls State Park. The riverbed above the falls was completely dry less than a mile upstream, but springs tap into a huge aquifer to create a deluge of water. From there, we wound through more landscapes, from splendid sun-dappled oak woodlands with gushing wild rivers (Pitt River, McCloud River, Rock Creek) to creepy, dark conifer tracts latticed with a gazillion logging roads.

And now we find ourselves in town, delighting in all things clean. We are doing pretty well, spurred on by the wonders of care packages, personal emails and letters! So many thanks to you — you are making us so excited to stop in at the post office. Really, really.

Unlike a lot of mountain towns in CA, Mount Shasta is decidedly alternative with its three natural foods stores, a great tavern boasting four vegetarian entrees along with its 100 types of beer, some decent bike lanes, and even some aliens. Apparently, the Lumerians landed their spaceship inside Mt Shasta and they use lenticular clouds that form around the mountain to access both their world and ours. There’s even Lumerian Lager on tap at the tavern. It made me wonder how many folks dining around us this evening had come by cloud!

Here are some recent photos to round out the post. First, some have inquired about our vittles. Below are two photos with four days of food. I carry lunch and snacks (including many wonderful goodies provided by friends and family!), while Rog carries breakfast and dinner. As we increase our daily miles into the low to mid 20s, our snack requirements have soared, so I’m making Rog take some snacks. :). He’s happy to carry more than his share of homemade cookies!

Four days of lunch and snacks.

Four days of dinner and breakfast. Rog claims that these meals are actually quite heavy (“Dense!” he chirps as we parse out the load), but you be the judge.

Hat Creek Rim–thank heavens for the cloud cover!

On Hat Creek Rim with Shasta beckoning in the distance.

Burney Falls State Park

Oak woodland near Castle Crags State Park.

More soon!!

Sent from my phone–please excuse brevity and typos.

Sent from my phone–please excuse brevity and typos.

Here’s the next one!

Sent from my phone–please excuse brevity and typos.

Not sure if this will work, but I decided to give voice recordings on my phone a try. Here’s 1 of 2. Let me know if it works!

Sent from my phone–please excuse brevity and typos.

We’ve arrived in Old Station, CA on time and under budget after another 94 mile chunk in four days from Belden through Lassen National Park. We were delighted to meet a cookie care package from Teri and the amazing luxury of hot showers.

Feet are tired, ankles limp and weak, blisters screaming, footfalls heavy and towards the end of the day a bit sloppily dangerous. I’m sure not “Dances with Granite” (I wanted someone to give me that trailname, but sadly no one ever did). That’s the way it feels a lot. Then something random occurs. It could be anything: a favorite birdsong, wind in the trees or a breeze cooling the back of my neck, noticing the beauty of the sun dappled trail, a wildflower that we haven’t seen in days or the bear wandering in the woods 15 yards off trail two days ago. While the latter was the most dramatic, all of those things have effectively snapped me out of the pain, the focus on self and my self-inflicted misery. Yes, I am heaping some abuse on my body; hopefully none of it is causing any lasting damage. There’s nothing so good, so heart opening, so get over my silly little self as a solid dose of connecting to the present moment and the beauty it has to offer. The universe is rich, this planet ripe with abundance and beauty, but only if I’m here for it.

The solo hikes that Jen and I do every morning for an hour or two can be full of grace and deeply meditatively rewarding. They can also be disconnected, distracted and disjointed, full of worry about the future, fretting about the past and consumed with the physical pain of right now and wondering why the hell I’m subjecting myself to it. Sometimes it takes a long time to snap back, other times it is easy and fluid.

Through it all are minor bits of pain. Every time we get up and start walking without stretching is gimpy and strained. It takes 15-30 minutes for the walking to feel fluid/normal again. Stretching helps a lot, but it can be easy to forget, especially when we stop and flop down, grateful to simply be off our feet. But it’s just pain. After all, “not all pain is significant” as ultramarathoner Scott Jurek reminded us often in his book Eat and Run.

Does that make you jones to be a long distance thru hiker who cranks out 30 mile plus days? According to ultra light backpacking pioneer and legend Ray Jardine here’s how you do it. An average fit person can pretty easily hike 2 miles/hour. We’ve been using that as our backpacking benchmark for years and that math always seemed to work pretty well, except in that parallel universe that is backpacking in Alaska without the benefit of trails. In that situation, all bets are off and you can simply defenestrate the theory that follows. (The joys of hacking through willow and tundra buns of steel workouts in Denali are second to none and means you can pretty much count on halving mileage you’re used to being able to do). But back to the PCT, ultra light and ultra hiking. The gospel of Jardine for a 30 mile day is pretty easy: 10 miles from 5:30 am to 10:30 am followed by a brief 30 min respite and foot break aka lunch, five more hours of cranking out a tenner from 11 til 4 pm, interspersed by an hour dinner on trail and then you saunter off dinner for an easy peezy ten more miles (don’t want to let those precious dinner calories just get burned off in your sleep!) before finding camp and collapsing. Jardine makes it sound not only doable, but fun, right? Yeah, us neither. We still haven’t netted our first 30, and prefer to beat ourselves up eith plain old marathons. Even still that’s plenty enough “type II fun” (type I= fun while doing it and fun to talk about later, type II= not so much fun while doing it but fun to talk about later, and thankfully we’re bot transgressing into type III = not fun during or afterwards).

Rog is kinda interested in cranking out a 30. Why would we want to pummel ourselves with 30 mile days one could rationally ask. Well, all the cool kids are doing it. Marty and Heather passed us on their way to spin out 3 30+ milers in a row, because the food for 3 days weighs less than the extra tonnage to go the 94 miles from Sierra City to Belden in something sane like 5 days. Anish has been popping off steady 40-50 mile days on her way to break Scott Williamson’s unsupported speed record of the PCT. Yikes!

Maybe because we’re meditatively in our own worlds or in our own pain (I make it sound worse than it actually is), Jen and I talk to each other less these days. We really don’t have tons to say. There are logistics to be dealt with (“You want to cook or set up the tent?”, but mostly I do the latter and she the former). Routines are established and work well. The days flow and we talk about the quality, tenor and techniques of our solo meditative time, sometimes dream out loud about what life will hold for us post hike and, of course, we gripe about our feet. But we can only talk about where we’d like to live next, what jobs we’d like to be doing, which friends and family we’d like to hang out with and bodily pain just so much before we bore each other and ourselves. We can’t do, or at least think we aren’t able to do, much about any of those things while we’re out here (except the feet: we *could* take days off). That conversational limbo leaves each topic a bit suspended in time, all aspiration and no decision or action. Eventually, that gives each theme an air of “Well, we’ve talked about that as much as its worth doing so…next!” Until we can do something about them, it may be simply best shelved for a little while. When that happens in enough areas, we start feeling a bit like an older couple (okay, we have been together 18 years now) who’ve had a lifetime of saying things of all sorts to each other, but who just don’t need to say much to each anymore.

At the same time that the conversational font has run dry, I feel wonderfully connected to Jen. We’re sharing in a quest, on that at times feels like what our friend Doug Johnson would call an “epic suffer fest,” but our relationship is, to my delight, not suffering. Au contraire, we’re both grateful for having each other in our lives, expressing that to each other and feeling richly abundant for that and the other little gifts that come our way each day. Do we need much more than that anyway?

Most of the time, we don’t *need* more, but sometimes, the trail is, well…not so much boring as we’re ready for the empty space to have something in it. There’s only so much of this enlightened being present all the damn time crap that we’re capable of handling. The lull in our conversation is one reason we’ve resorted to outside entertainment. Yes, as antithetical as it may seem to being deeply present with our wilderness experience, we’re often listening to music or podcasts on our phones. We mostly do it in the afternoons when the going has gotten rough and the 20-26 mile day is really feeling like a slog. The outside stimulus is lovely, intoxicating even, and helps take the mind off the feet and makes the miles zip away. Mostly this far we’ve been listening to stuff off of National Park Radio: This American Life, Planet Money, Freakonomics, Fresh Airas well as some dharma talks, but really c’mon there are only so many hours straight that one can listen to Ira Glass or Teri Gross or Buddhist philosophy. Got any suggestions? Maybe something sciencey or psychological or funny or newsy or with a folksy-hip hop-Finnish-goth-metal rock twist. We’re open to a lot of stuff. Suggestions?

Now for the photos:

Epic’s dirty feet hanging out at Lower Twin Lake in Lassen National Park

Buckwheat’s got the wildlife eating from the palm of her hand. Also at Lower Twin Lake in Lassen.

Northeast side of Lassen. This is as close as the PCT gets to that mountain. If it was closer, we would have done a side trip to bag the peak, but extra miles=extra days and we’re not sure we’ll make it to Canada before the snow as is…

A recent burn zone east of Lassen. Still hauntingly beautiful despite the lack of green.

A good reminder whether you’re hiking or not. Hope you’re having a great day no matter where you are!

While Rog tended to his man crush (see his tea party post), I chatted with Ally of Tea Van fame over a cup of cool hibiscus tea. I noted to her how the trail at first seems like an expression of American rugged individualism. You know–everything we need is on our backs. We live this simple, idyllic life.

But really that’s pretty far from the truth. We couldn’t do this trip without all the folks who have gone before and written handbooks and created on-line tools; or the oodles of people who labored to build the trails we tread. Many hiker-friendly motels, stores and locals accept resupply boxes and our uber-organized and generous friend Karen is sending us those boxes. And then there’s the kindness of friends and strangers who have made a huge difference in terms of keeping our spirits up on the trail.

I mean, day hikers have foisted grapes and cherries on us, volunteers at Carson Pass gave us water and bananas, and our friends and family are sending us trail magic in the form of cookies and letters of encouragement. And then Ally and Guisepe threw a tea party for us hikers (!).

Ally smiled knowingly as I gushed. “Interdependence! I’m actually in the process of writing a Declaration of Interdependence. Although our country has this legend of independence, really very few if us get by without one another.”

And really, who’d want to anyway? A better union is one where people help each other and create community; it’s definitely not one where we pretend that we don’t need each other!

So I declare interdependence. And funny enough, acknowledging my interdependence dovetails nicely with those questions of work and play that have come up on this trip.

When I recognize my interdependence and ask for help, work lightens, and becomes more like play.

Feeling like a part of a community or team can help work seem like play.

Finding a sense of purpose helps me keep on keeping on. Sometimes friends can help give a sense of purpose: some of you told us how you are excited to read our posts; some of you are even sharing our trail locations with your kids! Silly as it may sound, it was enough to make me feel like this big walk-about is bigger than just me. In a way, I get to do it with you, and that feels better. Thank you!

And now for photographic evidence that we are still hiking the good hike.

Jen was in desperate need of new shoes after approx 680 miles. Old and new shoes side by side, before old found their new home in a trash can. If you zoom in, you might note the almost six inch hole along the old shoe’s side. Also note these are the same shoe model!

Amazing trail angels Ally and Guisepe. Who does this kind of stuff?? we are inspired to host free tea parties in the future! More info on these lovely people at (I haven’t checked it out yet myself-let me know what you think!).

Our ever widening palate has landed on the perfect trail lunch (a.k.a. I never imagined I’d stoop to Skippy). Nutella plus Skippy (honestly, it’s all they had at the Sierra City market) plus white tortillas (no, not whole grain or any of that healthy stuff) plus a sprinkling of trail mix. It’s kind if like a Reeses roll-up. Yum!!

Again, huge thanks to all of you who reached back and encouraged us. We feel better. We have a 13-mile climb tomorrow though, so don’t stop! Honestly, it really helps to stay connected with you, so please let us know what’s up in your world. You might think it will sound mundane or boring to us. Not true! Send us your boring–we will love it for you!!


Rog and Jen’s travels – some old stuff, some new stuff

This blog has a collection of the travel update emails that Jen and Rog compiled during our 2001-2002 round the world trip. We're off to do a bit more trekking around, and thought it would be nice import those old emails. Enjoy!

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