Friday, March 30, 2012

30 March - beta testing

iPhone entry by Charles. We are still beta testing this - today it's battery suckage. Do we need a backup battery? We don't intend to check news or be online all that much. Mostly just journal entries and the occasional bill to pay. So how much juice do we need?

Composing our journal entries offline plus keeping the battery draining features off seems to work well.

So much accomplished yesterday: movers, cleaners, carpet cleaners, window washers, banking arranged, and a shit-load of boxes packed.

Meanwhile there are all the instrux for the marvelous friend who will be managing our mail.

No hiking the last few days as we pack. Next week we have much else to do but can maybe get some packing and hiking in.

It remains warm and breezy here with heaps of pollen. Natch, I have a touch of bronchitis.

Here are some photos of today's tasks.

We are working on food packing.

In the middle of this mess (moving).

PS. With the new iPhone 4S, and this minimal journal entry composed offline first, then cut and pasted into BlogPress + uploading via wobbly cellphone coverage (at 3 bars, and not our WiFi) + paying one bill online, I used about 15% of the battery. That really means six journal entries this short -- or maybe four longer ones. Now, to bring a backup battery or not?

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, March 29, 2012

29 March - Looking forward to "Hike Naked Day"

Christo will not be shy on Hike Naked Day (June 21)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

28 March [first iPhone posting]

Testing again.

Charles here again. Once we get on the trail iPhone will be our way of journaling -- so we know the blog will not be as clean as when we do it on the computer. This post is an experiment in posting from iPhone. Here is a cool photo Christo took of the beginning of the Mesa Trail, where we usually start at Chautauqua. The rock in the center of the picture is the First Flatiron -- 1,000 ft. of solid sandstone that is our fave climbing rocks for free soloing. We took the poet David Yezzi up there a couple of years ago, and his beautiful five-poem sequence "Flatirons" was recently published in Poetry (and you can find it online), as well as an interview with him about the climb. The Third Flatiron (two to the left) is a fun climb, too, but now closed for raptor nesting (it'll reopen in Aug). The Mesa Trail runs through the woods near the base of the Flatirons going left (south).

28 March - Gear, boxes, and hiking (some more)

Charles here. We've been continuing our bodybuilding with backpacks heavy (still 35 lbs, consisting of a mix of weights wrapped in pillow cases, full water bottles, and volumes of the collected plays of Shakespeare).

Christo and Seano on Mesa Trail
Last Friday we hiked 13 miles with loaded backpacks across the Enchanted Mesa; Saturday we did a 7-miler across Sanitas and Flagstaff mountains; Sunday hiked nine miles back and forth across Sanitas, Flagstaff, and the slopes of Gregory Canyon; Monday we did 12.6 miles over the Enchanted Mesa in 4.5 hrs (our pace hasn't increased significantly, but we enjoy the trail more and more). 

The warm temperatures have held up, and spring is really taking on strength. Along the trail it's still the early stuff blooming -- heaps of spring beauty, Oregon grape, dandelions, a few sand lilies, one batch of pasque flowers on an exposed grassy slope, and plenty of yellow violets. 

The black-capped chickadee is singing his mating song (but the mtn chickadee is still holding back); the spotted towhee is singing away, and so's the robin. A western meadow lark was holding forth down by Eldorado Canyon Creek! Nice to hear him back. All the mountain bluebirds have moved up the mountains.

The mountain maples are abloom - the poplars and willows, alder and birch coming along nicely. The aspens here have been in catkins for a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, it's a whirlwind of logistics getting the household into storage and boxes ready to be mailed to us along the trail -- then there's the cleaners, the movers, the window washers, the school papers coming in, the committee meetings, all the insurance and financials worked out (taxes done & refunds deposited), and long lists for "wunderbare Vanessa," who is moving back to Boulder from Germany right after we leave, and who will be watching over our mail and doing logistical support while we're gone. *whew* ...

Yesterday we assembled the semi-final contents of our packs -- not food yet, that project is still waiting. Sean and I have been able to get our base weight down to 18 lbs. now (Chris's stuff is still scattered all over the living room floor -- so the jury's still out for him).   

Since sub-20 was our goal, we're pleased. Long-distance backpacking and lightweight backpacking has been such a paradigm shift for me. So much researching and asking questions to get prepared. I was taught in the 1970s how backpacking involved lugging "necessary" comforts and "what-if's" up the mountain with big metal-frame packs -- some of them canvas -- wearing heavy boots, heavy clothes (cotton and wool), elaborate tents, etc. (Oh gods, now that I think of it, there was even the requisite hatchet that I never once used). [And, in those days, you didn't filter or treat your water -- and we never got sick. We still don't treat -- and we still don't get sick]. Our backpack expeditions in those days involved 60 to 70-lb packs for long trips. Ugh. What torture we put ourselves through. Unlearning the trillion details of preparing has been a real mind-bender, and yet sooooo much fun (I love unlearning, hard as it is). And I know we'll learn more on the PCT. 

A week from tomorrow, Christo has his honors thesis defense -- while working grueling hours until 3am or 4am night after night earning bucks for the trail. All the hiking this past week he managed on successive nights of max five hours sleep. And cheerfully. Geez.

Sean's spending every hour not on the trail writing textbooks. But he's marching along briskly and cheerfully.

On Sunday, I get 28 freshman annotated bibliographies that need grading, and then I launch my students into their final research paper drafts and workshops -- which will be completed before I go. I was up until midnight last night packing up for the movers who show up in two weeks to haul our worldly possessions off to storage.

I can't help but wish we were standing at the southern terminus already. 

PS. Late breaking news: Christo's base weight comes in at about 17 lbs. ~ yay!

Friday, March 23, 2012

23 March: "A walking stick is a wing"

Charles here. One day we do the 13-mile trail, the next we do the 7-miler. Turns out, as footsore as we feel after the hike, by the next day, the feet have miraculously recovered. The knees, on the other hand, sometimes get cranky and stay cranky. But they keep working -- so no worries.

Here are a couple of photos of the Mesa Trail taken a couple of weeks ago by Mtnrunner2. 

Turns out as rolling as the trail is, it actually puts you through 3,000 vertical feet [averaging about 6,000 ft elevation].

Hoooeeee! With the warm weather holding on and on, it seems like everything is responding. All across the Front Range, I bet there was a miles-long tumbling and ker-thumping sound as mule deer antlers dropped in unison. The bucks are all looking a bit on the sheepish side now -- some look a little freaked out, and even the most burly bucks seem self-conscious, like they don't want us to notice their naked heads. Well, they'll get over it soon enough. First velvet this summer, and theyll be sauntering around like they were sporting a couple of oversized menorahs.

Now we see buds all along the trail as we hike -- wild plum, chokecherry, apple; maples are blooming, and so are the willows. The wax currants are in first leaf, and some of our various sagebrush are coming along nicely, along with yarrow.

No new birdsies, though (other than the spotted towhees, I mentioned previously, and the mountain bluebirds, who come and go) ~ the year-round-residents (both types of chickadees, three types of nuthatches, Stellar's jays, siskins, downy & hairy woodpecker, flickers, etc.) know that any day the first wave (real wave) of spring & summer birds will move into the neighborhood.

We hike across the bridge over Boulder Creek at Eben Fine Park when we head across Settler's Park to Flagstaff Mtn. The creek is clear and flowing steadily -- a bit higher than the midwinter level, but the real run-off hasn't started, and we don't notice it's getting much deeper. In the next day or two, the three of us will pause during one of our hikes and do our Spring Baptism, jumping off a boulder into one of the creek's ice cold waterfall pools. (Then we do it a second time, because the first time you never remember just how cold it really is. Facing it the second time is different).

The black fox came trotting along our road, yesterday. Seemed to be sniffing around where we sometimes see Nuttall's cottontails hang out. At our last mountain place, up Sunshine Canyon, the foxes were ruled the neighborhood -- they'd sit beside you next to the picnic table, looking off nonchalantly, as though they weren't really, actually, totally, undividedly paying attention for morsels or chicken bones that might fall off a plate.

What a blur the next four weeks will be. So much to do to make this trip happen. We have lists, and then lists, and then more lists. Today I was trying out homemade instant oatmeal -- that is to say, instead of buying the little packets for the trail, I assembled the ingredients from bulk (quick oats, brown sugar, salt, instant milk, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, coconut). Turns out doing it this way, instead of a $5 breakfast, we end up with an 85¢ breakfast. Not bad. [Trust me, since we're estimating anywhere from 130 to 150 days on the trail, we take what combined savings we can -- so we can splurge elsewhere]. Then, at lunch, I kept tinkering with the Mac & Cheese recipe. Doesn't seem to be any way to make this taste particularly good (and I hate the texture) but I remember liking the meal okay on the Colorado Trail last summer. Apparently the necessary ingredient is end-of-the-hiking-day ravenousness.

Here's a poem we found the other day. We are experiencing hiking as healing. We recite the last four lines often.

My Moses

Big Jack and his walking stick
live on the ridge. Kokopelli's
orphan kids dance for him,
bobcat urine's in the weeds,
the shotgun barrel's up his sleeve,
a Persian coin is on the wind.
The Chinese Mountains smell the moon
and arch their backs. I tell him, Jack,
sometimes I wish I was living in
canvas France, the old west,
a picture book, the Sea
of Tranquility, or even in
the den near the hot spring.
He says, kid, to hell with

phantom limbs; spring is a verb,
a wish is a wash, a walking stick
is a gottdam wing.

—Wendy Videlock
(originally published in Poetry)

Friday, March 16, 2012

16 March: Signs of Spring

Charles here again.

Beautiful day in Boulder, so we set aside the gajillion other important things we have to do to get ready to leave for the PCT, and decided to push the mileage upwards. We're enjoying the warm weather – which isn't odd for Boulder, even though back east the heat's been been record breaking. Must have gotten to 80° or so here.

Packs loaded again to 35 lbs, the three of us headed out from Chautauqua Park on the Mesa Trail. It's a rolling foothills trail that runs along the base of the flatirons, most of the time through ponderosa pine and douglas-fir forest -- sometimes out into mixed trees and prairie. Lots of other trails branch off this way and that. 

Christo had to turn around after 1.5 hrs and hike back for work. Seano and I continued to the end of the trail 6.5 miles at Eldorado Canyon Creek where we stopped to drink from the creek (yummm!) and soak our feet. Then we turned around and hiked back. We made the full 13 miles in about 4.5 hrs, so our hiking pace is around 2.9 mph. (Christo could beat that pace easily). We'll keep working at it.

With as much hiking as we've been doing the past year, you'd THINK our feet would be tougher. But after today's 13 miles with the loaded pack, the feetsies feel like someone's been banging on them with little hammers. Not a big deal -- but achy. Footsore after only 13 miles? What gives? That's gonna have to change one way or the other. Geez.

But while we were trundling along, we saw and heard some beginning signs of spring in the woods and fields. In warm sheltered patches along the trail, we found Oregon grape in bloom.  --------->

<---------------- We also found a few scattered spring beauty.

We saw some of the beginning foliage of the usual suspects this early: filaree, mallow, sage, wild caraway, etc. The shrubs weren't buying any of this warm weather, though. Three-leafed sumac, smooth sumac, mountain mahogany, wild plum -- none of them were budging. They know we have three more months where snowstorms can happen. Willow wands were turning orange-green.

But some bugs are making the most of it. The box elder bugs, for instance – they're already mating. We saw mourning cloak butterflies (always first).

And down through the meadows leading to Eldorado Canyon Creek, the flying insects brought out mountain bluebirds zipping and flitting.

We heard the voice (and then saw the silhouette in the bushes) of a Spotted Towhee. Yay! First spring birds. [Bluebirds better watch it; every year some get caught in our snowy spring weather, and end up frozen]. Robins are belting out mating songs now, and the juncos and trilling away with real verve (it's just a one-note song; you'd think they'd be self-conscious about it). House finches have been going full bore for three weeks now. Mountain chickadees and the black-capped, not yet. Raptors are back and sussing out nest possibilities in the cliff faces of the Flatirons.

We saw our first Least chipmunks emerge about a week ago from their winter snooze. But we don't see them much -- must be still napping mostly. Mule deer bucks still have their antlers (some, anyway), but those'll drop any day now. Didn't see any today -- they hang out in our yard a lot (mountain house). Unfortunately, the Mesa Trail is popular -- and Boulderites do love to take their dogs with them wherever they go. We just don't end up seeing nearly as much wildlife when dogs are running the trails. But when we're alone in these hills, we bump into foxes, coyotes, weasels, skunks, ground squirrels, Abert's squirrels, bears -- once a bobcat. But today, nothing much in the four-footed department except canines. Woof.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

14 March: Exercise, packing, planning ~

Charles here.

The days are flying by as we prep for our thru-hike (and we can't wait, can't wait, can't wait). Geez, if we didn't have to work full time, get the house packed up, get the house rented (which means keep it "show ready"), get our entire household into storage, it would be a lot easier getting in our hikes each day. The logistics involved in launching this great journey – in the middle of careers – is considerable. Unpaid leave of absence for me (subtract half a year's pay, before spending any money). Sean taking on no new publishing work. Christo getting a leave of absence from his restaurant. Affording all this has required a year of working lots of extra hours, and a year of living in "austerity mode" [which has meant low cost everything we can: I've been cooking up giant batches of cheap "peasant food" (like beans & cornbread, chili, thai soups, lo mein, fried rice, feijoada, pasta, etc.), we've been buying box wine (help me), and rummaging about for the cheapest tequila and gin (double help me!). Our wardrobes are getting a bit frayed from no upgrades, and the cars are suffering]. But how exciting seeing things fall into place!

In the meantime, Christo is putting final touches on his honor's thesis while working up a storm at The Bitter Bar. Sean is finishing out work on all his remaining contracts writing up a flurry of articles, book outlines, and composing curricular materials for publishers.

Sean is hiking about six days a week, Chris and I are managing four days a week. We put on our backpacks loaded up to 35 lbs and hike for three hours on trails in the foothills and mountains west of Boulder (rolling trails climbing up to 6,300 and down to 5,600 ft elevation) -- doing between 7 and 8 miles a day. Not optimal for preparing for the PCT, we know ~~ but we've been climbing and hiking for a whole year, so our legs are pretty strong. Our feet have toughened up considerably -- but probably nowhere near what we'll need. During August, September, and October before the snow set in we were hiking 2,600 vertical feet up Green Mountain and up Bear Peak ending at elevations above 8,000 ft. Then trail running down (no packs those months).

Here's a snapshot of the trail on Mt. Sanitas where most of our hiking begins ---------------->

Over the summer we did a couple of backpack trips to try out gear and mileage. The second backpack trip on the Colorado Trail (section hiking) we managed 20 mile days without problem.

Now we're wading through all the fun of figuring out where to do mail drops and UPS deliveries. Though  we're planning on buying most of our resupplies along the way, some items appear to be difficult to find -- like  powdered whole milk (Nido). I know we can order along the way and have items like this delivered, so we're not worried.

March is warm right now -- temps in the 70s. But last month when it was in the teens with snow on the ground, we kept getting in our hikes. It's going to be warm until next Tuesday, when we get back toward freezing. No worries, though.

What else for preparation? I've lowered my base weight by shedding 25 lbs of body fat. I'm a not-quite-svelt 180-185 right now -- :-) -- still trying for 175 by the time we reach the Southern Terminus.

Sean's lowered his base weight the same way -- getting down to between 170-175 personal weight right now. Christo, on the other hand, is trying to boost his weight. He's strong and slender -- and a little worried he'll be having to walk w/ a peanut butter jar in his hands to keep his energy up on the PCT.

But none of us have managed ultralight yet in our packing. We're at about 20 lbs base weight, which is short of the mark -- though way lower than we've ever done in previous backpack trips. Oh well, guess we'll learn en route.

Here's another pic of the terrain we're hiking in (photo was taken in the late summer when there was still green in the valleys). It looks a bit duskier now.