When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Saturday, July 22, 2017

PCT Tahoe to Lassen: snow and heat of NoCA.

"July 15th, Day 5. 8:50 am.
It is a beautiful view, and I want to sit down, damn it. I've only being on the trail for some 3 hrs, but I want to sit down now. I need to learn to live my life like that. It's not that there weren't beautiful views prior, or I didn't want to sit down before, but the combination of it with so many thoughts just pushing seemingly out of my brain forced me to - no, allowed me to - take this break. Trail always dishes out lessons for me - challenges, yes, but lessons, few for hiking, many more for life. I keep claiming I 'should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now', and I, literally, don't walk my own talk. I fall pray to goals, hastened pace of life, pushing through...First 2 days were insane - slow, navigation issues, being the least "my" fit in the last 20 years (may be I am overreacting, but this is certainly how it feels)...I kept being behind my "proposed plan", forcing more, ready to quit, to cry. During one steep snow bank crossing, smack in the middle, I called out Larry (there was a cell reception after all!) and whined. He sent me a text back. I couldn't read a text - the sun was blaring, the snow was glaring, and my reading glasses were tacked away, not to mention my full attention was not to slide into abyss. It took me getting over that particular snow field on the side of the mountain, then some more, before I could read it. It took me another 4 hrs before his words got processed into my heart. 'Just remember that there is no finish line on your hike. It ends where you want it to end. And I'll be wherever that is to pick you up. One day at a time." Oftentimes my husband knows me more than I know me, I've said it before, and I say it again. Why am I doing it? I mean, why am I hiking this trail in the middle of the mountains, huffing and puffing with my 40 lbs backpack on, all alone? Because I love it. All of it. Trails, mountains, views. Solitude, challenges, pure thinking. Absence of daily mundane stuff. Simplicity. Air. Sunrises. God, if anything, I would do it just for morning hours and sunrises, the alpine glow and the color play on the mountain slopes and in the woods! Sometimes being a very goal oriented person bites you in the butt. It was ok when I was racing - I don't, anymore! Remember that! Relax! Don't force the nature on! Let the trail come to you...It is after processing all that, late afternoon on my day 2, did I finally take to heart what I preach. I stopped focusing on miles, only on next water source. I took breaks, took my pack off, washed my feet, wiped my body. And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the single track started rolling. Of course, I got stronger- it takes 3 days to "hike oneself into hiking shape", and the pack lightened up some. But as I kept on walking, I was loving not only cool morning hours and easy hiking, but the heat of the day, the exposed dry climbs, and the tired evenings. I smiled as I gasped for breath. I was loving the loneliness during the day - and a little too alone during a night. Not scared alone, just lonely, missing Larry. I was respecting the slow pace, the moment that will never be the same again, and the fact that I need Larry  by my side more than I did before. That may be my hikes now need to be shorter. May be fewer miles planned - not because I physically can't, because I can, but because I shouldn't. Because, like I said at the end of my Oregon hike, this is the page of my life that needs to be read slower..."
"That"view. Technically speaking, if one didn't know I am at 7,000-8,000 feet every day, looking out one could mistake it for NH or VT easily. Hills, either green or dry, were all I saw for the most part.

That was, literally, what I scribbled on the empty spaces of my printed "miles and landmark plan". It was, in a  big scheme of things, my only real journal entry - and not even in a journal. Having gotten into diary at this ripe age suddenly a few months ago, I took a little notebook with me - but by the first night realized the best I will do is jot down some notes to remember some details of the day. There is no way I'll be able to go on and write emotionally, when I am tired, need to set the camp and dinner, clean up, prep stuff for the early morning departure, and all this in a crouched position inside the tent, with swollen fingers. So, on day 2, I left my journal behind in one of the trail angel's bag at Donner pass - it is there where the words of Larry's text hit me hard. I tore off some pages to have a place to jot the notes, but the journal stayed behind. I should have left my knitting too, because I never took it out either. This hike was not what I thought it would be. But as always, it was exactly what I needed...

Day 1 started late. Tuesday, July 11th, I flew in to Reno and shortly after got picked up by Deborah, a Texan who happened to be spending time at Tahoe. It was a coincidence I learned about her being there and it saved me hustle figuring out a way getting to the trails. But we hit the traffic, things were slow, I was growing anxious, and at the end, the gate on the road to Barker pass trailhead was down - what meant not only was I not starting on the trail at 1 pm, but at 1:25 pm I still had a 5 mile road-walk to it! I left, meagerly waving my hand, and the next couple of days were under "I am behind, and I hate it" agenda. Where was I so in a hurry? 
Setting out on the 8-day hike.

I hit the snow, literally, within a mile from the trailhead. Snow in the trees means no direction. On the slopes, you can make out landmarks and peaks and general prediction of were the trail could go. In a heavy treed forest? Not so much. You heard it here first: thank God for technology. I, a person resisting technology like a caveman, downloaded an App a few days prior my trip - and it was the smartest move. That, and the spikes Larry said I should probably still take with me. I had to learn "on the fly" how to navigate the app - and it saved my tush big time. But, the snow travel is slow, starring at the phone takes time, and first day is always hard. Add to it late start and extra miles - and I was behind and upset...Passing by a cell tower, I called Larry and whined. I was hot and out of water. Seems that this whole section was either snow or exposed hot high elevation terrain with no water. Things I haven't had to deal with in Oregon - so yes, new lessons for hiking right there. But mostly, just forcing those damn miles I wrote on the piece of paper like my life depended on it, like I had something to prove. What was that?
First snow, typical view of my "trail" in the first 3 days.

I reached a camp with a creek by 8:30 pm, with 16 miles on my feet (11 of them on PCT). That is a long day in terms of stopping just near the darkness falling, and I quickly set up the tent and cooked my noodles. At least I was somewhere, even if, Gosh, whole 3 miles behind where I wanted to be...The mornings had always being "my time". I am the one who gets up at 5 am even when I don't need to (and who needs to?). I love this time, pre-dawn, when all the grey getting lighter around you, and eventually sun spilling rays on Earth around you. The glory of Mother Land. The trail offered its path for me, and I walked. It is this day that had a combination of exhausting snow crossing on the scary slopes in the first half and the hot open altitude-induced hard breathing terrain in the second. It is in this day I told Larry, standing in the middle of the slope "I just want to sit down and cry!", and he sent me that infamous text message. It took me a nasty rocky descend to Donner Pass, walk on the road to the next trailhead, and a sudden urge to sit down, for the first time in two days, next to some weird barn with a sigh "Through-hikers stop" and a bag with oatmeal packets, to come to realization I need to cool off. In more meanings of the word than one.
Donner pass stop, an unlikely spot for a Zen moment.

I stayed there for 10 min. Took my shoes off, got the garbage out, left the journal behind. Took a deep breath. And in the next windy section, found a creek and stopped again. Washed myself off, did "laundry". I already decided not to push the the "proposed destination", Peter Grub cabin - after all, not only should I not be forcing to make up the miles I lost yesterday, I actually wasn't looking forward staying in the cabin anymore. The thing is, when I hiked in Oregon last year, I was alone and ahead of the thru-hikers wave. Here, though, I was smack in the midst, location and timing aligned such that I was leap-frogging with a bunch (over a dozen) of young mid-to-late 20 tall bearded looking-alike guys and a few gals. And the dynamics of it, while fun, wasn't something I was looking for. Not that anybody talked - they didn't, busy with their own agenda and in their own zen of walking by now for over 1100 miles. So I figured I didn't want to stay in the cabin with other people. I took my time, crossed I-80 (through the underpass knee-deep of water), hiked another 3 miles to the creek, and set the camp right in the middle of nowhere. I was a new me. I was letting things happen, letting miles come to me. And 23 miles did happen - while I was still technically "behind", despite the snow and the sitting down, I made the miles "of the plan". Let 'em come...
Camping out on barely-dry spot in the woods.

With my usual start by 5:30 am on the trail, I faced a crusted long downhill snowy slope within an hour. Here come the spikes! I was so glad I didn't fight Larry's idea of taking them. In the early hours, when the snow is hard, they gave me just enough confidence to make the trek. And the GPS trail app - confidence to wonder into the woods across the other's steps mixed with sun-cups, as people took their own paths, and not be afraid to get lost. I even crossed one creek barefoot, snow on each bank! Gosh, that was numbing cold, but almost fun (and thankfully only one like that for the whole trip). There was the most snow on this day, someone said 15 miles - not continuous miles, may be 2-3 M at a time, then dry trail, then back on the snow, sometimes open terrain, sometimes back in the woods. I got into a flow with "spikes on, spikes off", carrying them in-between wearing attached to my poles and hanging. I didn't care what mile I am at, took breaks, again, at the creek (the wet feet did end up getting blisters, of course, in a couple of places, so from there on I took extra precocious to wash the grit and change socks often throughout the day - side note: Drymax socks still rock, and Icebreaker suck ass). By the time the long dry downhill down to Jackson Meadow Reservoir campsite came, I suddenly realized - I am actually making it to the destination I had on my "plan"! Wow, that means I let the trail give me the miles, plus some, despite all the snow navigation! And I rolled there in a bright day light, 6:30 pm, with 26 miles on my legs, and feeling great! 
First of 15 miles snow for day 3. The degree of the slope is far steeper than photo shows.

With late snow, the wild flowers were just beginning to pop.

Just walking on the trail, moving along...

I didn't set up next to the bunch of thru's, rather walked a bit up the trail and plopped right next to it. That night, after doing "laundry and bath", I celebrated being "back into hiking" with a chocolate. And I slept much better for the first night.
Award for the day - one of the 2 chocolate bars I had with me.

Day 4 rolled with a long 10 miles downhill (for the most part), which always, while easier on the body, is harder on the feet. But the birds were singing, water was at every corner, I leap-frogged with a few groups of those lean-mean-bearded-walking-machines, and crossed the Hwy 49 to Sierra City at 10:20 am. Wow, that was early! Yet there was no cell service! I was hoping to text Larry my whereabouts, and as I stood there, a truck rolled in, with a local man Bernie giving a ride to a hiker from the city. I asked the man to give message to my husband - which he did - and took on a long 8-mile climb on the open ridge, in the heat of the day, with scree slopes and sun just punishing. And I never dropped a positive attitude! It was awesome, in its hard working way! One step at a time, I would glue my eyes to the single track, not wanting to slide off it, and grind up. I am still not sure what made me so happy that day in that blazing heat, but it will stay with me. Finally, the woods came, not dense, but enough to throw some shade from time to time, I crossed another road (another no cell service), and in the next section - surprise! - I walked into a real Trail Angel set up! Yeah for the people of the Land! The girl, Josie, who had hiked PCT in 2011 (under the name of Outlaw), was there with her husband, they drove from Reno with all kinds of goodies! I inhaled a number of fat-containing products (guacamole, cheese, beef jerky), chased it with a banana, and filled up on water. My 1.5 L container was proving to be barely enough during waterless stretches. They saved me right there!
Some French hiker sitting on the rock took this shot of me as I passed by walking to the river.

One of those stops to take care of my feet.

Only creek on the 8 mile slog around a dry exposed mountain ridge.

My first true Trail Angel experience. I didn't even put my pack down! "Beware of chair" :)

Because, as I kept hiking, the water sources that are marked on the map, were dry. There was a couple of fantastic campsites with open views on my way, but I knew I had to cook dinner/breakfast and have enough water to walk out to next creek - so I kept on pushing some more distance for a shorter "walk-out" to the creek in the morning. I finally stopped at some trail intersection on the spot that had no snow, and set the camp up. 28 miles. My new victory.
Lacking water and eating semi-dry noodles that night lead me to a tactical mistake the following day.

It was that night that I suddenly felt very lonely and missing Larry. I didn't sleep (I, in general, don't sleep well on the trail, but that was extra-bad), and it was that night that lead me to way too many thoughts in my head on my morning part of the hike, that eventually made me sit down, get a piece of paper and a pen out, and write those crazy swirling thoughts down. And I felt better afterwards.

And then, that day 5, I kept coming onto streams on a long wooded downhill. It seems that the way the trail - and my miles of travel - rolled that in the morning, when it was cool, I was going down, shaded by lots of trees, and with many creek crossings as water opportunities. In the afternoon, when the sun is hot, I hike uphill, in the open, and with not a trickle of water in sight. The irony of backpacking...But I learned to appreciate every creek or spring I meet so much, that I would drink and fill my bottle at every one of them, and oftentimes take a quick wash off too. As I was climbing later that afternoon, crossing dried up creeks, I was concerned about the only potential source for the rest of the day - which was located 1/3 mile off the road I am to cross, and what if it's dry as well? Suddenly, I see a word made out of sticks on the ground: "Magic". I almost ran, tears on my face! Another Trail Angel set up! An older couple from Sacramento, who never hiked in their lives, heard about this kind of thing, and drove up - and how thankful I was...I had 3 cups of cold lemonade, a little bit of potato salad, but most importantly, filled up my water bottles.
More snow. I actually took risk once and rolled down through lots of used-to-be switch-backs to end up at the right place. My use of navigation app was getting more sophisticated:)

Self-timed photo at some spot where I just took my shoes off for a few minutes. It was dry around.

Trail Angel's stop at McQuincy road parking lot. 

Next stretch was still long and hot. I got to the campsite I aimed for that day shortly after 7 pm, nursing my water for hours (I learned to like "campsites", which technically is just a spot that has been cleared of derbies enough for one or two tents, but it had a fire ring, and that meant stocking a fire, burning trash, scarring mosquitoes away, and giving me a feeling of security from wild animals). Another 28 miler on. An hour later some guy walked in as well, and after a brief exchange of information, we retired for the night. 
Everything was great here, just wish it had a tiny creek!

I was singing next morning, if you can call it that way. It was glorious, as the downhill rolled, and I came across first a water spigot (shorts laundry!), and then a steel bridge over North Fork of Feather River. The 6 M climb after the river didn't bother me, I took it one step at a time. Met with an Australian guy (name Crash), who is aware of ultrarunning, and had hiked PCT 2 years ago. We even discussed Killian, and I mentioned I bet he just won Hardrock 100 - it actually made me look at my watch and check the day of the week. Sunday. Yep, all the Hardrockers are at the school getting their awards...memories. A mile later came across a trail angel's sign nailed on the tree mentioning that there will be a cell reception around the corner, at Outlook Rock. And it was right there - I was able to send Larry a few texts. There was nothing out of the ordinary on that day, more walking, road crossing (where trail angels left beer in a creek cooling off, too bad I don't drink), laughing to myself I was planning to stay at the Bucks lake this road leads to - but it being 3 pm, there was no way I was going to set the camp. I kept on rolling, crossed Bucks summit parking lot, and walked another 3 miles to the camp, another 28 miles down. Seems that this number had become my "natural walk". That was one of the most sophisticated camps in the woods I saw! Lots of space, fire rings, ropes strung for food sacks and clothes drying, clean...but in the deep dark woods, at night there were too many noises for me to sleep deep. Somebody was "walking" around the tent, I swear to God, and I clutched the whistle in my hand in the darkness, my only protection. 
Drying rack for my laundered shorts.

North fork of Feather river. The bridge was huge!

Outlook rock.

That fancy camp in the woods.

All was well as I set out at 5:20 am next morning, and that was the best morning in terms of hitting the ridge views just as the sun made a rising circle. Ah, paradise...After a 4-mile rolling climb, I was on a long (LONG) descend to Belden, a "town" consistent of a motel with a restaurant and a store, and a bridge across the river. It is a thru-hiker's heaven, and I was looking forward a hot meal - somehow I made a couple of strategical mistakes, one at home (miscalculated how many days I'll be hiking, so prepared less food) and one mid-way (before I realized I don't have enough food, I decided to discard some of the dinners/breakfast pouches I did have, for some weird reason I won't dive into, but it seemed logical at the time). I walked hungry, for 6 hrs, on one power bar - and once in Belden, set down at the table waiting for the order. First, it took 30 min to even place an order - one girl serving, one girl cooking was their staff. Then it took 30 min to deliver. It looked awesome - until few bites into it, I was full, and wondering how do people go out to eat often. A variation of BLT on a bread and french fries were too greasy and too much for me, even having hiked 16 mile to get here on empty! I left a bit on a plate, but God knows I tried to consume as much as I could. It took me another 30 min to process it and not puke, sitting outside and catching up with the world via WiFi and FB (no cell reception, but plenty of internet). I didn't join the other bunch of hikers, being an introvert and all, and as I walked out at 1:30 pm to tackle an open 6 mile climb - everybody looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently, it is a thing to spend a day and a night in Belden. What??
Morning of day 6, almost dark at the start.

Most beautiful sunrise of the trip.

The glory of Earth waking up.

Belden. The hiker-town.

Yes, it was hot, and yes, I climbed up steadily, but nothing to kill me if I had the right attitude. And I did. There was even water crossings often! I splashed, I set down to chat with a south-bound hiker (about Russia, don't even start me on that, I went for 20 min non-stop!), I walked...and got to the camp by the river with a man there (Tom) and then a French couple rolling in later. We had some nice conversations, about crossing Sierra with the Frenchies (it was as scary as I thought it would be, so good thing I didn't go that route alone), and about some semi-political stuff with Tom (I rarely if ever do politics, but that was easy flowing). We even roasted marshmallows
Hot climb out of Belden

Entering Lassen National Forest at last

Group camp

Clean for the night.

Technically speaking, the next day, day 8, Tuesday, was to be my last full day on the trail. I had 2 water crossing (with wet feet) right from the get-go, one a bit swift, but low, one slow and wide, which I took too far upstream, and then had to bushwhack some to get back on the trail. It is at that time I lost my Russian Doll, my Matreshka talisman I carried on all my hikes. At first I was sad - even a bit afraid: will my luck run out? But then somehow I remembered what I read yesterday on FB at Belden stop: my good friend Georgie Velasco was having a colon cancer removed today. I stopped, said a prayer and offered that Russian Doll as a luck talisman to the Universe, so that his surgery was with great outcome. Everything happens for a reason, I thought. That was mine.
Noticed my Russian Doll lost.

Alpine glow

I wish I had much else to say about that last day. I wanted it to be special, and when I realized there are no views and only quiet forest and open meadows from time to time (even a slight wind blowing and cooling off the air, comparably speaking), I thought: well, that's good, leaves me plenty of time to contemplate. But then it became more. More "no views, thoughts ran out" kind of thing. Frankly, it became boring. I was ok with that, because I realized even that had a reason. Part of my thoughts were exactly in that direction - I will probably abandon my second hiking trip for the year, the one I wanted to do part of WA state in August. I needed to figure out if doing this more than once a year is running away from life. I mean, doing this even once is that, too. But it is fulfilling and a great time alone and a confirmation of "I can", and soul-searching, and time to re-charge. And a get-away from freaking Texas summer, and into the mountains...but I really should make my next trip with Larry, and since he can't take much time off work and life nor would he want to disappear into the woods for a full week, we'll just do some day hikes in WA in August. And that was it. My decision.
Larry would love meadows. me? Not that much. But it was pretty.

PCT mid-point!

As always, second half of the day was dry (the only water source was 0.3 miles off to the side, and as I walked there, it felt like a mirage, nothing, and then sudden green spot and a spring!). Eventually I saw a half-way point of PCT, my newly-proposed night stop. I looked at my watch, it was 6 pm, plenty of daylight, and 5 miles to the creek. I busted that donwhill, feet blisters and all! This is when my hiking ability came to play, my focus from ultrarunning days - despite not eating in the last 4 hrs (I finally did run out of food I was trying to stretch out), I was flying. 33 miles that day, baby! I am back! Just in time for it to be over...

I showed up at 7:30 pm to a camp full of people (well, 5. That's a lot of cramping!). Oh, well, it WAS a single water source, after all. I set up, ate my last small portion of noodles, and washed my clothes for a walk-out next day. I wanted not to stink much meeting with Larry:)
Campsite view on the next morning.

It was a mere 4 miles to the road where Larry was to meet me, and we arranged that he'd  walk towards me with Harrison. He waited for me in a perfect spot, in an open meadow, with a camera in hand. It was a little more awkward with his son there that I anticipated, but it was good to finally give him a hug. 
Walking out of the woods.

Back together!

We walked to the car that last mile together, all three of us, and the life was slowly getting back to normal. Lots of food and coffee, shower, clean clothes. Nothing to do. How weird. After 8 days of doing one single thing, walking with a pack up and down the mountains, I finally had nothing to do - and once the stories wore off, it was sad not to walk anymore. I did cancel my WA section, and did re-book tickets for us to just hang out in the woods for a couple of days. I saw my first bear for the trip - on the beach of lake Tahoe! The wild fires started in South Yosemite Valley, and the air got really cloudy and grey, obstructing the views and causing me to sneeze constantly (of course, for people who live in the area, there are much worse consequences of that). We were just happy we were done with our part of mountain living prior these fires began.
Hwy 36 crossing to Chester. Mile 1328, 203 miles on PCT (from 1125 at Barker pass, plus 5 mile road walk)


I ate half the pizza - Squaw Valley

All cleaned up at Tahoe Lake

Poor Bear:(

I am home, and the thoughts keep on rolling in my head. What else I want to hike - and what I don't. Who do I want to be around. And who I don't. Slow down with life, enjoy it - but not go against my personal values, and sometimes "enjoy" for me is not what the general term is.

At some point during the first night "out" I was trying to set up a trip to Oregon to see my friends on a certain week (the one I already took off from work for that WA hike) - and in a weird coincidence, EVERYONE I'd like to see was out of town. May be it's Universe's way to tell me it's time to cut my ties with Oregon for good? Why do I keep coming back? May be it's one of many things that keeps me from moving on with my life? May be this hike turned out the way it did so I can figure out where else I can go?

I loved every step of it. I loved the whiny parts, and the scary snowy parts, and the exhausting hot parts. The loneliness, and the fleeting people's interactions. The ability to sit down. Gosh, I wish there were lakes I could spend more time hanging out at! I love alpine lakes, but sadly, there were none. I am partial, but Oregon had better views than this particular section of NoCA. But it provided for more deep thinking, I guess. Or just thinking. No "entertainment" leads to more personal growth, I heard. Hopefully, I grew a little.

I should probably proof-read it, but it's time to get to work, and if I delay and re-read it, I'll start changing. Raw writing was always my forte. I know I will not like it even tonight, and surely in the next few days, until it'll fade into horizon of life and insignificance if it. So, here it is.

Link to photoalbum is here - I will eventually narrate the pictures to give a fuller detailed report the one I wrote here, so if you remember later and are still interested, come back. For now, this will suffice.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

PCT 2017 section numero uno - it's GO time!

It is actually a full 11 days before "go" time, or, in this particular case, "ready or not, here I come!" time. I will be flying out on Tuesday, July 11th, for my first section of PCT for this year - Northern CA. You know, that idea after last year's Oregon's 15 days away from home and work to split the fun times into two parts (what also means I can be away from oh, so obnoxiously hot and humid and boring Austin, TX TWICE in one summer!)? Well, it's here to become a reality, and I am stomping and itching and doing whatever is that you guys say I should be doing.

The training is done today. Well, the training as it rang this year is NOTHING like the training I had last year, or moreover one the year prior...you get the point. Every year my body's "return to running in the Spring" gets shorter, slower and lasts less. This year took the cake! It only lasted all of 3 weeks - and my long run - get this! - went a WHOLE 8 MILES! Damn! Once! And one more time I managed 7. Oh, well...you know what June looked like for me in terms of traditional running training? One 3 M shuffle and one - yep, a long run - of 4 miles, so twice a week for the last month (I think I still did 5 at the beginning of the month once). That's it, ladies and gentlemen.

You know what it also meant? More backpack walking - earlier starting (in terms of months in advance) and more times a week (a solid 3). And I did more quality there too - Mt. Bonnell 100 steps/200 feet repeats of 20 each Tuesday in the heat of the day, Great Hills streets loop 8 M on Mondays (the name implies hills, and it does), and River Place trail 5 M loop on Thursdays with its own stairs (best, most well engineered and with most elevation change and highest steps trail in Austin, albeit, yes, only 3 miles, so I entertained my own loop, and that last mile where all the steps seem to be concentrating always kicked my behind). Alas, the distances speak volume too...not because I couldn't muster more, but because I chose living over training this year, a.k.a. no double workouts (unless it's a yoga class once a week thrown in) and no more than 2.5 hrs away from home at any time for that. Yep, where was I with this kind of balance and kindness to myself years/decades before? Well, whatever. I am banking on the fact that I have experience - both in backpacking/hiking and ultra-distance running, that I carried a 40 lbs pack for the last almost 3 months, and that I hiked without poles - an added bonus to leg training (but a suffering while in the process for sure!). My gym visits dropped from 3 x week to twice as well. Come to think about it, I was so fed up with my gym (Pure Austin, The Best Gym in town for the last 7 years!), I am happily awaiting my last 2 visits to have my membership expire next week - yes, you heard that right, all that wonderful, personable, clean and less-populated highly expensive gym annoys the heck out of me by now, and I will be taking a break - for the summer (I am hiking anyway, and recovering in-between) and the beginning of the Fall as well. Then I will decide my next move.

But for now - I am packed! And I am thrilled to have been learning along the way as I backpack each summer on what I can do without. As of this trip's prep, my pack weighs 35 lbs at the start (without water)!!! Which is, like, a full 10 lbs lighter than my last 2 years (granted, last year I carried more food for a longer outing). No water filter, only one bottle (contemplating on the second one still), yet I am adding a sleeping pad - not so much for comfort, who cares, as for the warmth, as last year in Oregon I was freezing every damn night, and I believe it was going from the ground into me.

(an addendum of sorts to prevent questions and thoughts on the items I packed, as I happen to have to answer those every year: my gear works, so I am NOT buying/replacing it with lighter/better/newer in terms of weight and performance, and that goes for pack, sleeping bag/pad and tent, and YES, I am carrying a tent, I am not interested in sleeping under the sky/in open tent with a pole/hammock/etc. Please do not offer suggestions. I like it the way it is. End of story. I am tired to defend my choices.)
One more exciting news in terms of packing weight - I don't need neither ice axe nor microspikes, the two items we bought back in March when the snowmageddon hit High Sierra with the biggest and wettest snow storms and accumulations on the ground in 100 years or so. Two things played role into my not needing those items though: snow does melt eventually, AND I am doing a different section than originally planned.

So, let me backtrack. The original thing with flying to Reno staying intact. What changed (ever since mid-May, as Larry has been intently "watching" and following all the real PCT through-hikers' journey online) is the direction. That section from South Lake Tahoe through Sonora Pass and North High Sierra into Tuolumne meadows is the most remote, has a few bad passes, but most importantly, even on a good year has a huge number of creeks that would be better described as rivers. This year it is covered in snow more-so (navigation) and with the melt JUST beginning the creeks, a.k.a. rivers, are raging - and freezing. Let me be honest, it is NOT impossible to get through, and some do get it done (although so far about 90% at least of this year's through-hikers are skipping this section), BUT it means most of the time hiking up the stream for a mile or two to find a less deep and less swift crossing, then backtracking to trail - and repeating it many, many times (still getting wet and dangerous a lot). The thing is, this section does not offer bailing-out points or cell reception, and I am on a time strain - Larry and Harrison are flying to explore Kings Canyon and Yosemite Valley and hike Half Dome, and they are expecting to pick me up on a very certain precise date to fly back together. If I am stranded in the middle of the section, taking longer to find all the crossings, trail and being slow in general, I will not have a chance to let them know - even if I do, I won't be able to retrieve myself out.

I thought about an option other than original, but felt bad asking Larry to accommodate me and drive a long time for the pick-up. But he is my husband, and he thinks for me better than I think for me sometimes:) He offered it! And it became clear - best thing to do for me is to go from North Lake Tahoe (Twins Peak mile 1130 on PCT I passed in 2015 during TRT hike) in the North direction to the parts of Lassen Volcano National Forest, sort of just about to half-way of PCT and may be a bit further (mile 1338 on PCT). All the raging creeks in this section have bridges, the snow melts at the same rate, so the trail is already almost 2/3 clear (even if sloppy in places), and there are PLENTY of bailing points/road crossing/cell phone reception! So, if I can't make the mileage, I can hitch - or sit and wait for Larry and Harrison at some random road to arrive. Bingo!

I kept it quiet besides sharing with the closest people who care about me and my well being. But I am super-excited this hike is going to be exactly what it was meant to be - me being in the mountains, just walking, hard, but not death defying. I felt like a failure at first, but it lasted only a couple of weeks, if not less. I am past the point I feel the need to prove anything, whether to others, or to myself. As it turned out with my training, it was even wiser decision than when it was made. I am ready to go!

My journey with training and packing is documented here, browse if you'd like. The Big Plan is for something like 200 miles in 8 days (wow, I didn't even know the number until I looked, it sounds more than I can handle at the moment!), and I'll see what it transpires to be. Whatever it is, it'll be absolutely awesome.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Victorious Moscow

There are a lot of pictures in this link as I didn't bother to filter or choose to post here as photos, so only a few will get through - and that's ok. I also decided against writing a long blurb about a lot of things I got to think about, as even fewer would get it - and that's ok too. The one thing I will say though, when you are, in light of these days and age, trying to form an opinion about Russia and all Russian, give a chance of thinking about it through the lenses of knowing me. You know, sort of "I like Olga a little (I hope so since you're here, reading a private blog), so would she do/say/whatever?". And if you do have questions and want to know more - have a coffee with me and a long talk...But if you don't, that's ok too.

The weather never got above 50F, and there was even snow once - which is greatly unusual (so don't tell anyone it's always cold there), but I didn't mind one bit. I was blessed with plenty of sunshine to do family stuff and play a tourist too, and I am thankful from the bottom of my heart. I love my home, and every year I love it more, even if don't love the changes or everything in general. I am grateful I got to not only visit my mom and sister and help with as little as I could, but be there on my nation's most important holiday, one that unites us like no other (and as no other country know of). Because every - each and every - family in Big Russia (and that includes the republics left since) has a personal loss and a personal story - and we carry it, still, to our great-grandchildren as it's not a page from a history book. I am a part of it, forever. And yes, we, as every nation, have things to not be proud of, but "the one to cast a stone"...

So here I am, trying to make a short post. As we say, Russians don't do small talk.

I am taking vacation from FB, again. There are more important things in life.

Here is a link to Moscow trip pictures.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Artist's Way to Aloha, Kauai

My friend and a part-time life coach living in Tucson, AZ these days, Tommie, had suggested a book by Julia Cameron to read, The Artist's Way. Actually, she mentioned on her website that she is assembling a group of ladies who need to unblock creativity in their lives and this will be the book they would read and work on. I am always in a search of new book recommendations, so I jumped on a wagon and got a book in the library (I did not join a group, though, as I am more of a solo pursuer of any tasks). You know, I am an artist. I knit, cross-stitch, quilt, and I write. In fact, everyone of us is an artist, some know what field their talent lays, some have not discovered it yet about themselves. And while right now, at this point, I do not feel blocked, I go through spells of it for sure, and I was curious what I could glimpse from this author - and again, I am always on a lookout for a new book.

From the first pages I loved it. Well, the first pages were all about how great she is and how many people she helped, and I didn't love the self-promo (common, if the book sells, it means it works, I bought it/borrowed it, lets move on), but then it was great. Right from the start the first suggestion was to start writing "morning pages". You know, diary type of thing, 3 pages at the minimum. Somehow this spoke to me loudly. I have to admit, I am far from a diary sort of girl. I never had one as a teenager, or a young adult. All my life I preferred to do things, not day-dream on the paper, and I was way too busy working a bunch of jobs since I remember I could, and my creativity in writing went onto paper assays Soviet school system had us do a lot of. Straight "A's" and pages written on all kinds of topics later, this, of course, also brought me to blogging. But diary - never. The only things I did put down in my life were quotes - I love writing quotes from books I read into journals, and I have two of those, one from Russia written in Russian, from my early days, and one in English, written in my first decade here. With blogging I sort of dropped it and put quotes into my posts (and I am sad about that as now I don't have a "one place for all", because I could follow my life's interests and thoughts by what I read and what I chose to put down for memories).

Well, "never" a diary will be lying. I did start writing in January of 2014, exactly in this journal I have now - one I gave Larry for his first birthday of our dating life. I forgot about that since it went for about 2 months, sparse and short, and felt forced. Then last year, 2016, I wrote 3 daily gratitude notes in it for 9 months and 9 days - I stopped on my birthday. That was fun and helpful, but some life's events made me more aware of "wrongness" of during that period. I needed time to process without squeezing cute affirmations.

Still, this time this diary idea, the morning 3 pages, felt natural, and I pulled the very same journal right away, as soon as I read the suggestion. And I wrote. And wrote. 3 pages were easy, it went 5, 6 in a morning, and the only reason it wasn't even more was time strain and my hand and arm would be getting so tired I even managed to get a serious muscle knots in the forearm! Handwriting is a task long forgotten...It helped with the thought flow that from day 3 the pages were written while in the dark, with a sound of crushing ocean waves below from the window...

Oh, the sound of the ocean. Welcome to Hawaii, island of Kauai. Aloha to us. At the end of last year Larry's younger sister got engaged, and as her husband-to-be grew up in Kauai and still has family here, this is where the wedding spot was picked. After a little hesitation (it is a crazy expensive trip after all, and a long flight, not to mention Larry and I never had an urge to go to Hawaii - I know, shocking), we decided that a) we can't miss such an event when Stephanie's already not going to have much family besides mom and dad, and b) we'll use an opportunity to actually make a visit, form our own opinion, and check it off the state's list. But besides being thrilled for the bride, we weren't really thrilled for the rest of it - and when we voiced it, people scolded us. Common, folks, don't get defensive! Some people are just not into water/ocean/swimming and/or humid/muddy/populated/short trails. But we were totally up for an adventure with an open mind.

And the moment we stepped off the plane, inhaled the ocean air and saw palm trees - we were smiling. Vacation time, and we are on Hawaii!!!

First order of things to do - coffee shop (check!) and a yarn shop - YES! They had one! Surprised me.
Then, a shore drive from the bottom (south) end of the island where Lahui airport is to the north-east end where we were to stay (and where Napali coast trail begins). The views were great, the wind blew the humidity away, chickens roamed freely (Kauai has a thing with wild chickens - and wild cats, as in cats and chickens running wild and multiplying on their own) and the mountains shot straight up. Gorgeous scenery!

We stayed pretty much on the beach (which is not a swimming one, with rough water dangerous even for surfing, about a mile before Tunnel beach), and Mom was the one renting the house and sheltering us in a process - gratitude from the bottom of our hearts! We got in, and went for a short drive with mom to check out some more shore, before dropping to bed exhausted.


And, of course, with 5 hrs time difference, I woke up at 1:45 am. I managed to stay in bed until 3:30 am - and then gave up on that idea. But it turned out that my 3:30 am mornings were by FAR my most favorite times during the whole trip! Sitting in the dark, sipping dark coffee, writing my morning pages, as the ocean waves crushed into the shore...then taking Larry and walking to the beach in the darkness still, and walking on the coarse sand, watching the sun rise. This was a paradise for sure, and those were my favorite moments of the 5 day stay and of Hawaii in general.

That second day we checked off the list a very important thing to do when on Kauai - a Napali coast trail. Since we didn't have a permit for the whole 22 mile out-n-back, and the first 2 miles are "for all", we did that plus another 2 miles to the tallest waterfall on Hawaii - Hanakapai Falls, some 300 feet tall. The hike went straight up without hesitation, steep steps, rock, roots, mud and all - and those first 2 miles provided for beautiful coastal views for sure. We even ran some!

As we reached the intersection and some rocky beach access, we entered a real jungle - and a real jungle trail. Narrow, sweaty, muddy, and bad footing, it took us with no views, but the waterfall was worthy working for.

The way back was completely unexciting though. First of all, the nature of out-n-back is that you've seen it all already. Secondly, we did not carry any water (or food), and the sun and humidity were rising by 10 am. And lastly - the people!!! The tourists! On that narrow trail, dozens and dozens of slow-pocking tourists not knowing the trail etiquette and I can not believe they started that late too! Anyway, totally took the wind out of our sails. We were glad to be done. And frankly, from there on, as far as "Hawaii experience" goes, we figured we've seen what we had to, and we were right in our assessment: it is totally gorgeous, indeed, just not our thing.

But the Hanalei coffee shop was THE best with 3 shots of mighty awesome espresso per cup of anything (Mocha for Larry and Americano for me), and relaxing was good for a change. In the evening, we had a pre-wedding dinner with family and friends of the bride (pretty much just us and parents) and groom (about 30 people total). It was at another beach house catered with Hawaiian food, and we got to meet our new family extension.

Day 3 started with a bunch of morning pages - by far my most productive morning - and then a 3 mile walk on the beach all by myself, sunrise and solitude and all the good things I crave. I was able to recharge from all the people I had to meet the previous night - as an introvert, I get drained badly when I have to socialize. In fact, I had a panic attack a day before our leaving for the trip that I will not make it - really, not funny, an anxiety feeling with tears. I have to thank those beach walks and early morning hours by myself - as well as Larry and I's explorations of things away from majority of tourists - for my calm, and for my positive experience. That morning was definitely the best. It stormed during the night, in fact, it only finished at 5:30, right in time for my pre-dawn walk. The ocean was angry, and the sky was dark - yet the sun rose, even if not conventionally expected round circle. It was magnificent, and the waves were loud, and it was Easter, Jesus's risen, and I had time and space to think about that too...

Since it was wet everywhere, we did more of a mellow touristy stuff - checked out a pier into the ocean, a lighthouse, drove around to another waterfall in the middle of the island, then found a private plantation growing mahogany trees - largest in US! We hit the 4 mile loop-around with a secret garden just before the rest of the vacationers started waking up - and had all that place to ourselves! We learned a lot, and it was totally wonderful.

Then it was time to rest - and get ready for the wedding at the beach! It rained, again, poured, and were weren't sure how it's all going to happen - and then the bride and the groom put their leis on - and it stopped raining. Talking about magic! May they live happily ever after:)


By the end of the evening I, Larry and Stephanie (the bride), being introverts that we are, hid downstairs for a few moments to quietly recharge for the cake cutting ceremony - and before we knew it, it was time for bed.

My day 4 had me sleep in until 4:30 am! The morning pages felt rushed, and the sunrise walk didn't happen, as we were in a hurry to drive over 2 hrs around the island to a north-west shore to beat the tourists - that's the other end of Napali coast, but the road doesn't connect on the north end. That West shore is drier and somewhat different, and we played vacationers ourselves, stopping at the view points, doing only 2 miles out-back hike (on the muddiest ugliest trail, may I add!) and admiring the views of sharp knife-edge mountains splitting into the ocean, and the ocean merging into horizon with the sky. We even saw another island! But by 11 am the people came in drove, buses, cars parked everywhere, elbowing each other to take a picture - and we ran away as fast as we could. If that's the "shoulder of the season", what is the season then??!!

After that was all said and done, we had two more educationally great stop. One was by the former Russian fort (!!!) from 1800's, which was established to help trading between America and Russia (and per agreement with Hawaiian king). There were 3 forts total back then, all by the river necks, and this one was the same Captain Cook entered when he came to this island. He (Cook) was killed on Kauai, and to my surprise, I put two and two together - back in my childhood we had a song how "Aborigines killed Cook", and to discover that a) Cook is a historical figure, b) he was killed by locals, and c) the tail of ti reached Russia because Russian had a fort here - wow! Folk art has roots, for sure.

And a second stop was by a real coffee plantation - a LARGEST in US, with 4 million trees (they counted!). We learned how the coffee trees grow (and get trimmed), how the beans get collected and  dry (and roast eventually), and which ones have more flavor versus more caffeine. We got to try different varieties, and of course I bought a bag for myself! Drinking it as I type:)

The afternoon was free, and we actually made an effort to do what normal people do when on Hawaii - go to the beach, lay down on sand for a few minutes (may be 10?) of tanning, and walk into the ocean to submerge into its clear water (swimming was not advisable in those waves, but the water was very warm and clear, indeed). All chores - checked!

By day 5, our date of leaving, we were edgy and ready to go. To us (I repeat, to us, not in general) there was nothing more here to do, we helped mom to clean up the house, packed, and made it to the airport without stopping 3.5 hrs before our departure time. Yep, you can say 3 days of vacationing for us is top. I mean, it's one thing when I just hike for days on end. And another when you're sort of somewhere where you have to do things, but once you do a few of them, they run together in their sameness and laying on a couch I could while at home, absolutely for free. Aloha, Kauai, and Mahalo.

I guess I was afraid of not being able to blog anymore since I started my "morning pages" in a journal, that I would use all my creativity, my inspiration, my desire to share, to put thoughts "on paper" - there, on real paper, leaving my well dry. Here I am, trying to get back to normal life, and one of the first things I had to do - is to write a post about our experiences. Like an affirmation, a final dot, so we can move on.

Larry and I are both creatures of the routine. I love traveling a whole lot, and do it often, but every one of those trips, even a tiny 2-day-away, takes me out of my comfort zone. I want to eat my vegetables that I cooked myself (I always fall prey to eat whatever when travel and don't even try hard enough) , I want my routine of exercise, sleep pattern and wake up calls, my work not to be strained (around every trip I work more hours as an hourly employee without vacation time to make up the money lost when not working), and I definitely want my "back room" as I call it, my creative room with lots of yarn in the baskets, cross-stitch framed pictures on the wall, needles in a glass, my laptop (I don't really like using my smartphone that much), my books, and a pile of ready-for-hiking stuff.
Speaking of the hike, a conversation transpired last night about the state of shape I am in (or not). Due to my overwhelming feeling of "all the sacrifices during Lent with eating restrictions and harder training are lost in my 6-day pigging out/not exercising HI venturing", Larry asked where I think I am comparing to last year (taking out of equation these 6 days). Without hesitation I said "much worse". I had a night (and morning pages" to think about it. "Much worse" may be not quite as bad. I am for sure weaker somewhat. I had a longer non-running break this year than every previous year (and during this break I had a stretch of 1.5 months when I didn't even shuffle at all). My cardio machines are limited more than before (I just hate them for too long and really fed up by now). I am afraid to squat and deadlift too much due to a fracture in my vertebrae a year and half ago. According to the Fit-testing machine at the gym, I carry a good pound less of muscle overall and some 5 lbs more of fat (which accounts for 2% extra comparing to the same time last year). I look flabbier than I remember in many years, my clothes don't fit well (and I still refuse to buy new sizes), and I feel more tired overall in other aspects of my life. But, while I just started back to running (a full 2 months later than last year), I began my backpack walking earlier, as well as I am much more diligent with stairs training and going to the real trails - and I do more of those things than I did before. I also remembered that I was in a better shape prior Tahoe Rim Trail in 2015 than Oregon PCT in 2016 - but I made it. Granted, this time it will not be about the miles walked or elevation accrued - but about snow post-holing (an incredible difficult task physically) and swift freezing river crossings, not to mention route navigating and trying not to slide off the side of the mountain. But as with morning pages and creativity, what I have to do is work the steps - and training what I can is really all I can control and do. So, I do the steps.

"The morning pages are both our wilderness and our trail". Gosh, how did she write THAT in her book? My wilderness and my trails are my soul, and they are in my daily work. I do what I have to do, and the inspiration comes, and if I enjoy the journey - the outcome is already spectacular.