Oct 31

A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There, by Aldo Leopold ★★★

This book is very popular among environmental groups as it offers a strong case for the current environmental movement, and is often quoted by environmentalists. I became interested in the book only after reading another environmental book, Another Shade of Green, also recently reviewed by me.

This edition is divided into 4 parts; 1) a fairly lengthy introduction by Robert Finch, which I’ll not review, 2) A Sand County Almanac, which is observations Leopold made on his farm in central Wisconsin for each month of a certain year. 3) Sketches Here and There, which are brief observations from various states of the USA and Mexico. 4) Leopold attempting to lay a philosophical basis for the environmental movement. Section 2 and 3 are very similar in their style detailing Leopold’s observations of nature, but are organized first chronologically, and then location-wise.

First, I found it challenging to stomach the arrogance of Aldo Leopold. He is constantly making statements suggesting that he sees things in nature that other people callously don’t pause to notice. But, are you surprised? That is what Aldo is supposed to be doing. He has been trained to observe nature, and that was his occupation. He knows the names of minute plants and organisms. I scarcely am able to differentiate the names of various common trees. But, I am a trained surgeon and notice physical characteristics of the human body that go unnoticed by everybody else. Yet, I don’t insult or condescend to my patients for not noticing things that I have been trained to notice. That one does not quickly identify subtle changes in nature, or take note of obscure plants that wax and wane over the year, does not reflect on one’s absence of appreciation for nature. Similarly, my patients appreciate good health, even though they are not always cognizant of subtle signs and symptoms that reflect a loss of that good health.

Leopold appeals most to the irrational emotions of people by creating a Disneyesque nature to our world. Animals talk and think rationally. Animals think out a rationality to nature that simply doesn’t exist. In the process, Leopold turns our world into a giant version of Disneyland. The technique of personalizing beasts of the field and birds of the air leaves for delightful reading. Doesn’t one often have curiosity as to what animals are thinking about? It’s ok to be creating scenarios of sentient creatures, but don’t sell it as a plea to protect our world.

Leopold is often hypocritical about protecting nature. He loves to hunt but laments how hunting has altered the ecosphere. He loves nature but complains when others get out into nature in a different style than him, such as through the use of RVs and motorhomes, etc. He bemoans over-population but doesn’t volunteer to help reduce human population by eliminating himself. Clearly, he lives in a solipsistic world that has reduced tolerance to those different from himself.

The greatest thing I noticed in reading this book is that Leopold remains entire blind to the most obvious fact observable in nature, that of a Creator. Leopold will frequently refer to Biblical stories, though they are treated more in a fairytale fashion than actual history. His god is evolution which created his beloved environment through time and chance from the primordial slime. Yet, the heavens and firmament are screaming at deafening volumes as to a loving, wonderful God who gave us a beautiful earth. It is sad that Leopold doesn’t see the forest because of the trees, and fails to realize that there is a connectivity, and moral rationale for protecting nature based on a desire to care and nurture the world God has given to us.

I found part 4 of this book the most interesting, but also the most muddled in thinking. He agonizes about a “land ethic” but never defines it completely. Then, he details the two types of environmentalists, those that are mostly hunters/RV campers/occasional participants in the outdoors, and those that have a strong interest in going as natural as possible and preserving wilderness as a natural phenomenon. He could have picked two names, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir, to make his point, but he didn’t. His idea was that the more “natural” we keep nature, the higher good is obtained. Now, I have my repulsion for hunters and RV campers, but that doesn’t make me establish a superior attitude to them. We all enjoy nature in different ways. I tend to side with the later (John Muir) camp, but also realize that we have a responsibility to care for nature. I also have a very difficult time identifying that the more natural things are, the better off they are. A perfect example is the California forests, which are burning up because of the absence of forest management. Another example is the rise of Lyme disease in the Northeast because of the return of farmed lands to “nature”. It is difficult for me to grasp exactly what the most proper natural state of the biosphere would be. I also have difficulty seeing the moral superiority of a burned-out piece of wilderness over a carefully managed piece of wilderness. The most aggressive environmental pundits long wistfully for wilderness in the Daniel Boone sense, but that is a wish that is similar to wishing that one could again believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. An expansive wilderness that covers half a continent simply will never again happen.

Aldo Leopold paints a very fancy picture of the outdoors and longs wistfully for the wild untouched land of yesteryear, but that doesn’t help when attempting to create a rational policy toward wilderness and natural sites management. The environment remains an emotional issue for all. Who is there that cannot gaze upon a majestic mountain scene or a stately elk in its native environment, and not be overwhelmed with emotion. These emotions don’t help when attempting to formulate public policy. Leopold worked in the public sector all his life and should have known better. In my opinion, wilderness speaks for itself. Most people agree that we must not destroy the natural beauty of our world. How we go about saving our natural areas, and exactly what is meant by saving our natural areas remains a topic of discussion. Overmanagement might be a grave evil, but so is undermanagement. This is our earth, and we must care for it diligently but cautiously.

I can appreciate the witness that Leopold gives to the beauty and majesty of our natural world. I don’t appreciate that he fails to discuss the most obvious conclusion of his observations, that…

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

…yet, there remain so many folk, especially educated elitists like Leopold, that close their eyes and remain deaf to the obvious, that we live in our Father’s world, and because it is His, we darn well better take good care of it!

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Oct 02
Me on McAfee Knob, Appalachian Trail

This was the year I was committed to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. So, what in tarnation am I doing on the other coast, hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT)? Well, in late August, I discovered that the Wilderness Medical Society was doing a 4-day trip on the AT with lectures in wilderness medicine. I figured that I could use an update on wilderness medicine, and so called up my best friend Dr. Peter Tate to see if he wished to also do it. For him, it meant CME credits, for me it meant having some time with an old friend and getting a sample of one best portion of the AT, a 30 mile segment around Roanoke, VA. Peter bit. So, we were both signed up. I was to fly into Lexington, KY, stay one night in Lexington, and then ride with Peter down to the farm in Stanford, KY, stay two nights there, and head out from there to the conference. I arrived safe and sound in Lexington on 19SEPT and reconnoitered with Peter. The next day, we were off to the farm. Peter was in the early stages of building a new house the last time I was at the farm a year and a half ago. It was now in the nearly complete stages. It truly was a masterpiece, especially considering that Peter did most of the construction himself. He even included a swimming pool which the house wraps around. On the interior, he made certain walls at an angle off of 90 degrees, creating a wonderful character to the house, with the swimming pool sitting at that oblique angle from the house.

The house that Peter built, nearing completion. It appeared to be complete inside.
The inside kitchen area
Hiking the farm

Our full day at the farm included an about 7 mile hike through the pastures and woods on Peter’s land. We carried our backpacks fully loaded just to condition our bodies to the upcoming adventure. The next day, we headed out to our group meeting point at a camp outside of Roanoke, VA, called Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing (WAEL). The first and last night of the adventure were spent at WAEL, with the first night in a cabin, and the last night in our tents. Peter drove the Tesla, which seemed to have some software problems on the trip. I also realized that long distances in remote territories are NOT Tesla’s forte. After an uneventful night, we headed out for the trail. We were going to hike the trail southbound, with a starting point at Daleville, and ending at Dragon’s Tooth, then hiking out the Dragon’s Tooth access trail. The first three days all entailed about 9.5 miles of hiking, and the last was much shorter.

WAEL main meeting hall

Our first night was at Lambert’s Meadow. It wasn’t really a meadow, and there was confusion as to where we were to camp, the instructions suggesting that it was at the cabin, rather than a ¼ mile before that, where most people stopped. I couldn’t help but think of Lander’s Meadow in the middle of section f (California) and a truly beautiful meadow lined by majestic Ponderosa pines. Peter and I and Jay camped in the correct spot, and met Smoking Joe, a NOBO, and in desperate need for food. I had way too much food, so Joe pumped me some water in exchange for a bunch of food. I missed the lecture that evening since it didn’t really start until about 8:30 or later, and I was sound asleep by then.

A view of Carvin Cove Reservoir below, which the trail wraps around.

The second hiking day, Peter and I took off at a leisurely pace, encountering two of the three sites of note in Virginia, the Tinker Cliffs, and McAfee Knob, the third being the Dragon’s Tooth, which we would see our last day. McAfee Knob seems to be iconic of the AT, so both Peter and I were photographed on the knob. Our second night was at John’s Spring. Though named after a spring, this was a dry campsite, and the last real water was at Lambert’s Meadow. We had to watch our water consumption. The site was a little small for the group of 23 of us, there was a shelter there where a few of our group slept, and we all managed ok. The lecture was on bears.

Valleys were on both sides of us, and always civilized with farms filling the valley. The trail usually followed the ridge line.
Peter on Tinker Cliffs
Lots of nice sandstone rock in the area

The hike the third day proceeded to have an interest in reaching the next water source, which was about 6 miles out of camp. Since the weather in the mornings was cool, there was not too much water loss, though I was down to my last half liter. We were to camp at Lost Spectacles Gap, a more roomy spot, though also a dry camp. The trail went through some nice meadows, and crossed a road where a short walk led to a restaurant/grocery store/gas station, where Peter and I decided to diverge and seek libations not found on the trail. We brought some beer back to camp to enjoy, and had a great time. Unfortunately, I ordered a hamburger for lunch which was larger than I anticipated, and when Peter and I stopped at a particularly majestic lookout point, I proceeded to throw up half my meal. Oh well. We arrived at camp fairly early, enjoyed a couple cigars, and laid low. There were no lectures, but instead, there was a mock bear attack session, where we had to make decisions regarding the traumatic injuries and administer initial care to the victims. It was a fun venture.

Meadow hiking
Peter relaxing at the viewpoint having a beer while I was throwing up
A very relaxed Peter contacts Karma his wife

The last day was short, which us waking up a bit later than usual, ascending a rather treacherous portion of the trail to arrive at the Dragon’s Tooth. Arriving back at camp, we picked up our backpacks, and hiked out. We again were able to easily reach the store that we were at a day ago, and picked up a case of beer for the other hikers. We had yet another lecture on orthopedic injuries. The shuttles picked us up, hauled us back to WAEL, and we settled in for the evening. At this time, Peter discovered that his car, which was plugged in to be charged while we were hiking, had now totally drained of charge. After a few desperate measures, he had a tow truck haul him and the car to Richmond, VA. It was decided that with the uncertainty of repair of the vehicle, I would ride back to Lexington with Jimmy, a medical student at U of Kentucky in Lexington. I stayed for dinner, and enjoyed two more lectures, one on water filtration, and the other on Jessie’s thru-hike of the AT. Eventually, Peter arrived back to Lexington (quite late at night), and took me to the airport then next morning, on 28SEPT. I made it home intact!

Some of the trail was a class 3 climb! The white markers indicate the trail.
Peter in front of Dragon’s Tooth
Riff riff back at camp, waiting to hike out.
Ending the last hike of the season

Thoughts

First, about the WMS adventure. It was enjoyable, and provided me a chance to appreciate the AT for the first time. the WMS always does a first class act in their meetings. The nature of this meeting in the form of a backpack trip was a touch more chaotic. My only wish was that it would have been a touch more organized, with a stronger communication channel from the leaders about what was up, what was going on, and deciding on giving the trail lectures before it got pitch dark. Perhaps a 6 pm lecture time would have been most appropriate. At the time of the evening lecture, “map” sessions reminding us of the plan for the subsequent day would have been in best order. In spite of the problems, the infectious enthusiasm of the leaders for wilderness medicine was most notable. In all, I would call it a most wonderful adventure.

What about the AT? Having just hiked a 1000 miles of the PCT, could I make comparisons? Actually, the two trails are totally different. The strategy for doing them are different, the environments that you go through are different, and the personality of the trail is different. Most of the time, it is easy to get 15-25 miles a day on the PCT. Because the AT is less manicured, you would be doing well to get in 12-18 miles a day. The AT keeps you for the ;most part much closer to civilization, and in the section of the trail that we did, you never seemed to have ever left civilization. The AT is described as a long green tunnel. It is mostly deciduous trees, as compared to conifers for the PCT. The AT has many shelters (about every 8-12 miles) where the PCT has practically none. It seems that one must have a much different mentality when approaching the AT as compared to the PCT. In all, I did not acquire a bubbling enthusiasm to return and do the entire AT. After all, I still have large incomplete segments of the PCT to get done, if I even decide to do them! I will sign up to hike the PCT next year, but may spend most of my time camping with Betsy, and giving Betsy a summer of my life. I may get some cycling in, but plan to not leave home for more than a few weeks at a time. Betsy and I have depleted our Wanderlust, and wish for slightly more simple adventures from here on out. But then, who knows what the future will bring?

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Sep 11
Looking east from our campsite at Hart’s Pass

Betsy and I had two main reasons to go to Hart’s Pass. First, we needed to pick up Intrepid. Secondly, we needed to bring Jacob back home. Betsy and I decided to add a third reason, and that was to play trail angel. Hart’s Pass is the last portion of the PCT to cross by a road, at the Hart’s Pass campground, 30 miles from the Canadian border. At this campground, thru-hikers were getting their last “hurrah” before pushing on into Canada. If they did not have a Canada entry permit, they would turn around at the border and hike back to Hart’s Pass where they would hope that they could find a ride to Mazama and thus hitch-hike home. The gravel road from Mazama to Hart’s Pass is the highest maintained road in Washington, and often designated the most dangerous road in Washington.

We had our truck totally loaded with hiker food and camping equipment. When we got to the Hart’s Pass campground, Intrepid was already there and able to find us a wonderful campsite with a great view. To our brief dismay, there was already a trail angel established there, a guy from Indiana named EZ, and was being helped by Tyler. After speaking with EZ, we quickly established how we would work together to maintain the trail angel spot. I brought my food up, as well as a 10 x 10 canopy. This came in very useful, as we arrived on a Tuesday, and it started to rain on Tuesday afternoon, the canopy providing much needed protection for our food and our hikers. Together, we actually had way too much food, so the next day, EZ went to town to get more ice and to drop off a large portion of our food at a trail angel in town, Ravensong. Several days later, EZ took off for three days to hike up to the border monument and back, leaving Betsy and I to take care of everything. We had a great time. At first, we felt that this was not an ideal site to be trail angel-ing, but quickly learned that hiker trash really appreciated our setup, and the non-hiker food, beer, and an encouraging word before their last push to Canada. What was most delightful was encountering hikers that I had met on the first few days of the trail out of Mexico finally arriving at the end. Some hikers had skipped the high Sierra, but all were eager to wrap up and move along, either returning home or returning to the high Sierra to complete that phase of their journey. Friday afternoon, a group from the Grand Coulee 7th Day Adventist Church showed up to trail angel. They apparently do this every year. They were a very kind group, and we were able to work out a transition for them to move in and us out. We had hoped that somebody would show up, since I knew that EZ would not be back from the trail until late Saturday or Sunday. Thus, the replacement group were most welcome to maintain continuity of the trail angel site at Hart’s Pass.

EZ and I have met afterwards in Tacoma to discuss the future. We think that we will again play trail angel next year for 4-5 days, a week or two after Labor Day. Perhaps next year we will improve on our mistakes and make it an even better experience for thru-hikers in the last phase of their hike.

Our tent, a six man REI Kingdom, on space #5
Our camp kitchen table
Betsy in a very relaxed mode
EZ on the left and Tyler on the right
Denise with Betsy
Umbrella Man on the left, who I met south of Snoqualmie Pass
The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from Lynden, WA. They were quite familiar with the VanVoorst clan. They were doing the PCT by horseback, but made sure to come and enjoy a beer from us.
Betsy offering some slightly aged apples to the horses and mules, which were eagerly devoured.
The Mule. The Mule was from France, and most delightful and friendly character. I first met the Mule several days out from Mexico in the desert. I was in a long stretch of the desert trail when I saw a short happy person from France doing pushups just off the trail (as though the trail wasn’t exercise enough!). I saw the Mule a few more times in the next few days before losing him. I often wondered whatever happened to him. Apparently, his hike was totally successful!
A great Dane, I don’t remember his trail name. He got extremely excited when I informed him that I had some Carlsberg beer (from Denmark), which he was going to pack in and drink at the monument. This guy was really funny! Apparently, he was going to be on Good Morning Denmark when he got back home.
The replacement trail angels, with some hiker trash (Intrepid and Jacob) as well as Betsy.
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Sep 01

A Different Shade of Green, A Biblical Approach to Environmentalism and the Dominion Mandate, by Gordon Wilson★★★★

This is a book I received recently direct from Canon Press, and chosen because of my avid interest in a Biblical approach to environmentalism, ecology, and wilderness ethics. Gordon Wilson has a degree in Environmental Science and Public Policy and lives in Moscow, Idaho. It was suggested in the book that he is the brother of Douglas Wilson. The text is easily readable, which I did in about 4 hours, and geared for the early high school level.

I don’t have any serious criticisms of the book, save for the book being moderately non-academic and not complete in its thinking. I mostly agree whole heartedly with the thesis and conclusions of Gordon, yet I have many questions which I would seriously love to sit down with him tête-à-tête and ask him in regard to issues he left unspoken of in the book. Maybe he’ll take me up on that, and I’ll leave a few of these questions at the end of this review. He heavily quotes two people, Aldo Leopold and his Sand County Almanac and Francis Schaeffer in Pollution and the Death of Man, written in conjunction with Schaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middelmann. I have not read Leopold’s book but perhaps will. I have read and re-read Schaeffer’s text many times, and it has been formative in my thinking on the environment. This current book tends to support Schaeffer’s theses, and thus I would stand in whole-hearted agreement with all that Wilson has to say. New in Wilson’s thought that I especially picked up on and appreciated was his emphasis on the biosphere operating analogically as a giant machine, and each part of the biosphere (and physical earth I presume) being an integral part of that machine. Thus, all species and subspecies play a role in the overall and necessary function for the best operation of the total biosphere.

So, what are the questions and comments I would make if I could meet with Dr. Wilson? 1. He definitely overuses a few words without defining them, such as the word “dominion”. He quotes the word as used in Gen 1:28, where the text really doesn’t give a strong clue as to precisely what is meant as “dominion”. Perhaps the overplay of the word orients around a possible adherence to Dominion Theology. While Dr. Wilson may adhere to Dominion Theology (I don’t), I don’t find Dominion Theology as necessary in building a Christian stance for the environment. Certainly, Francis Schaeffer and Udo Middelmann did not feel that way! 2. Wilson focuses heavily on the animal kingdom, giving the plant kingdom only passing mention, and the physical earth as almost no mention. This is problematic. To what extent is it ok to “remodel” the earth? Is dynamite sinful? What about the preservation of beauty? How would he lean in the (still ongoing) Hetch Hetchy controversy? Would he lean with Pinchot or with (the probably more Christian) Muir? Waffling on the question in NOT an option. What about the state preserving areas such as wilderness? Wilson in the book not once (that I could find) even mentions the word “wilderness”. This leaves a giant lacuna for the book. Can he form a wilderness ethic? Does he have any comments on the wilderness act of 1963? Is it good or bad? How would he change it? He suggests leaving some areas “natural”, yet that is NOT Biblical, as “dominion” suggests caring for all the earth in a fashion to groom, control, contain it. Another giant lacuna is discussion of bioengineering, the production of genetically modified organisms, and its role in ecology. Is GMO a good or a bad thing from an environmentalist perspective? I would reiterate a question, how would Wilson lean in the Pinchot versus Muir debate? How do we balance utility of the biosphere with preservation of the native state of nature? Is logging ok? How much logging? What about grazing of sheep and cattle? Is it simply a question of “sustainability” (i.e., over-grazing”) or are there aesthetic issues involved? What about the preservation of exotic subspecies? Part of my recent hike was detoured because biologists felt that the sound of human steps disturbed the sex life of the yellow legged frog. I felt that this was misdirected thinking. How would Wilson weigh in on this? The last few years had an unprecedented number of west coast forest fires, and at least a few of these were the result of poor forest management or laissez faire attitudes toward forest upkeep. Does Wilson have any comments on this? Should we manage forests in a way to limit the amount of forest fires, or should we allow natural fires to have their way? He quoted briefly Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, yet this book has come under serious attack for being being very bad science, and perhaps completely inaccurate as to the affects of DDT. How would Wilson respond? I have been engaged numerous times with libertarians who contend that a libertarian approach to the environment would have the most salutary effect at preserving wild places. Experience and time has shown that the libertarians are dead wrong on this issue. I believe that there is a role for the state in preserving wild areas and maintaining laws that prevent the destruction of the environment, maintaining necessary areas such as wet lands, fields, forest and other habitats for members of the plant and animal kingdom to survive. How much control of our land does Wilson feel the state should have? Any form of development of the land intrinsically leads to habitat destruction. Clearing out land for a house or housing development, flattening a large parcel for a shopping mall, diverting rivers for flood control, putting in roads across natural ranges for animals (bison!!!), and even the development of hiking trails leads to habitat destruction. How does one balance the good and bad of human activity in this world? Which ultimately leads to the most fundamental issue, and that pertains to the orientation of the universe. Wilson and I both believe that the universe was created for man, for both sustaining man but also for man’s enjoyment and pleasure. This makes both Wilson and I side toward an anthropocentric universe. This seems to be the fundamental difference between us and the secular environmentalists who do not believe the world is anthropocentric, and that man is an often unwelcome invader in this world. I wonder why he didn’t develop this thinking further, as any discussion of wilderness focuses on man’s role in this universe?

Enough questions. With time, I could draw more that I think are vital to answer in any form of engagement of Christians with non-Christians in their discussion of environmental issues. The book is a good read, and I strongly recommend it, even to those with a passing interest in environmental issues. It will soon be offered on Amazon.com, or can be ordered directly from canon press.com.

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Aug 26

It is now 5 months later and 1002 miles of the trail completed. I certainly wished for more miles, but a combination of factors prevented that from happening. At this time, I have no intention of attempting to put on more miles this year. What I would like to do in this blog is to summarize matters, including a) what were the problems with the hike, b) what did I learn from it all, c) what equipment did I like and dislike, and d) what positive good came out of it all. This is a really long read, so I know that most of you will probably not read it all. That’s ok. It was written mostly to consolidate my own thoughts.

Problems

This was NOT a good year for thru-hiking the PCT. As a veritable matter, it was probably one of the worst possible years to do the PCT. I didn’t think that could happen. a) Record Snow Two years ago, the high Sierra (central California) had record snowfalls, and so I felt that we would not see a high snow year in a while. I was truly fooled there. Starting in central Oregon and south, the mountains recorded record years for the amount of snowfall, including the amount of snow water content. This extended all the way down to Mexico, so that in three areas, Mt. San Jacinto (around Palm Springs), Mt. Georgiono Wilderness, and around Mt. Baden Powell, were areas of the desert that had dangerous snow build-up, especially the first and last regions mentioned. I had to carry Kahtoola microspikes (crampon like spikes that you fit over your hiking shoes) through much of the desert from Idyllwild to just past Mt. Baden Powell, and even with the microspikes, the steepness of the snow led to some very challenging situations and extreme danger. Your speed of travel drops at least in half. Your ability to find the trail is dependent entirely on your cell phone and the Guthooks app on your cell phone. After dropping off Mt. Baden Powell, I determined that I would not subject myself to extreme snow situations again on the trail. Even still, in northern California, out of Burney Falls State Park, reports had it that the snow was gone, and yet I hit about 4-5 hours of hiking through very challenging snow situations. The prospects for much more snow further on in northern California and southern Oregon were daunting, and at least a few people soon around the time I was coming through were injured and helicoptered off of the trail in southern Oregon, Second Chance being an easy example of that. Not cool. b) Mosquitoes Who would ever think that such tiny little beasts could create such misery. When I consider the worldwide fatalities from mosquito-born illnesses it leaves me no wonder. Yet, even without the diseases, mosquitoes can be a source of intense misery. Truly, one must keep every possible skin surface covered because mosquito repellent has only limited efficacy. Mosquitoes will bore through your clothing, such as through my hiking gloves. At night, no matter how hard you try to keep the mosquitoes out of your tent, you will still spend an hour swatting the residual mosquitoes that snuck in while you were entering. You can’t cook a meal or relieve yourself without vicious attacks. Unfortunately, this year was reported to have record numbers of mosquitoes on the trail. I can believe it. c) Early onset of fall Somehow, it seems like the weather got chilly much sooner than normal. Having lived for most of my life in the northwest, I’m used to fairly dry Augusts and early September. Now, it just feels chilly whenever one goes outside, and the sense that fall is in the air. Leaves are already being to turn color and fall. It just doesn’t seem like we had as long of summer as usual. It must be global cooling? d) Major areas of burn from recent years I was surprised how often I would be hiking through major forest burns. They were very frequent in the desert, but also frequent as one moved north. Most of these burns happened within the last few years, and almost certainly related to bad forest management rather than “global warming”. There is a sense of eeriness or spookiness from walking through a burn area. I oftentimes think that I am seeing a person standing just off the trail when it is actually nothing but a tree stump. The more troubling aspect of walking through a burn area is that you are getting no shelter from the sky. Whether it be the sun or rain, trees are highly protective. When the trees are gone or burned, it is like walking through a desert. It’s just not fun. e) Record number of people injured or bailing from the trail. This issue probably relates to all the other issues above, especially with the snow situation. A number of my friends with whom I hiked were later removed from the trail because of injuries. I have heard of only several trail deaths yet, thankfully. The attrition rate secondary to so many factors was a little discouraging. It also created heightened worries from Betsy about me being injured. So, multiple factors led to a disappointing performance on my part.

What did I learn?

a) trust in God You don’t have much to think about when spending all day walking. I’m used to reading books, listening to music or audio lectures, watching a movie, or something of that sort. The trail removes one from electronic media and leaves a person alone to their thoughts. My thoughts usually would go to God. It might be thoughts of contemplating the beauty of God’s world, or praying for friends or family, or singing to myself a favorite hymn. Always, I was seeking God for strength to continue on my journey, and I feel confident that I could not have walked a thousand miles without His divine intervention. It is a lesson to continue leaning on the Lord for strength in all of life’s ventures. b) friends abound Almost everybody on the trail were friendly and helpful. It was a touch amazing that there was a sense of family and helping each other out while on the journey up the trail. In fact, while you may not be hiking with any specific person, there is what is known as the trail family associated with those people moving about the same pace as you and encountered by you in camp or in resupply towns. Many of these people I have stayed in touch with. c) backpacking style Ones’ backpack style of necessity must change while on the trail. Early on, most people that I encountered were doing ultralight packing. Once into northern California, Oregon and Washington, it was not unusual to see many folk backpacking in an older traditional way, with 50-60 lb packs, loaded as fully as possible and as much strapped on the outside of the pack as possible. At the Mexican border, I had a base weight of about 19 lb. Base weight is not well defined, but usually means the weight of all that you are carrying excluding food and water. People usually do not include the weight of your clothes or shoes. Things shed as I moved northward. Stuff sacks were seen as useless added weight. I left my wonderful ultralight camera at home in preference for using my iPhone for photos. I used trail running shoes (Altra Lone Peaks) instead of my standard hiking boots (I never got a single blister while using the Altras). Every fraction of an ounce was carefully reviewed. A 2.25 inch mini-Swiss army knife was used instead of the standard size 3.5 inch knife. At every town, I’d ask myself what else I could ditch, and then mail it back home. Hydration was another issue. I was using a 3 liter hydration pack which fit into my backpack. The problem was that I could never tell how much water I had left. When refilling the bladder, it was a challenge to remove the bladder to fill it, and if I’d fill it in situ, would never know if it was really full or not. So, I went with an outside hydration unit with a bladder, and kept a 1 liter SmartWater bottle for when my pack was off of me. Distances became different. Typically, I’d hike a 15 – 20 mile day, but got up to 28 miles when I was coming to a destination town. On flat roads such mileage is easy, but on the trail it was a concerted effort with minimal dilly-dallying to achieve those distances. Not that I would not enjoy the scenery, and a beautiful scene was an excellent excuse to stop and take a photograph. d) knowing my own personal limits Before this adventure, I had no idea what I could handle for a thru-hike experience. My expectations were uncertain and I could only guess at what my actual performance on the trail would be. In the planning phases, I definitely over-estimated my hiking strength and thought that I could carry on easily hiking 20 miles a day for weeks on end. I anticipated that I would acquire my “trail feet” within the first two weeks, and then proceed with bold abandon. I learned very quickly the virtue of a day a week rest, which became my norm. The Creator’s instructions include a day in seven with minimal activity and clearly He knows best for us. Why we always question His wisdom and instructions for our lives speaks poorly of ourselves and not of the Almighty. Any question about the problem of evil (theodicy) is overwhelmed by the statements and experience of His love, goodness, kindness, wisdom and caring for us as pitiful, rebellious creatures. Trail feet are a real entity, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will go faster on your feet over time. For me, it meant that I could push myself a bit harder as time went on without becoming a total cripple. e) psychological effects of the trail The psychological effects of the trail are quite extreme. Can I do it? Will I die or require rescue in a long waterless stretch? Will the snow kill me? What in the Sam Hill got into my brain to even think about hiking the PCT? How will I contend with the monotony of every day for 150+ days waking up every morning, finding it nearly impossible to get out of the sleeping bag into the cold air, pack up all of your belongings, and then start walking, walking, walking, walking, walking. Will I reach an instance where I won’t be able to find a suitable camp spot and require to spend a sleepless night curled up in my parka and hugging a tree. Hunger combined with revulsion for food hits every moment of the day. Every part of the body hurts. The feet hurt. The ankles hurt. The hips hurt. The back hurts. The shoulders hurt. The hands hurt. The neck hurts. Mass quantities of ibuprofen only slightly alleviate the discomfort. Coupled with mosquito attacks (up north), a tipping point toward total insanity was not in the far distance. Then there are worries about back home. Will Betsy be ok? Is she surviving? Are there problems on the homefront that require my presence? Am I shirking my duties as a husband by torturing myself on the trail, even though Betsy has encouraged me to do this adventure? Perhaps she was just humoring me? Too many questions… too many episodes of skirting on the edge of insanity… I spent most of my life at a desk studying, talking to patients, reading and writing reports, or standing still at the operating table, worrying more about someone else’s life than my own. Now, I have transitioned from an essentially sedentary lifestyle to one of extreme physical activity and thought processes that pertain solely to personal survival. The contrast could not be more extreme. There were other aspects to the psychological effects of the trail. At the Mexican border, there was only one thought on my mind, which was that of walking straight to the Canadian border and then celebrating. The snow situation in the High Sierras made that an impossibility for me. I would need to flip flop and leap around. The discontinuity had a significant effect on my psyche. Then, I opted (because of snow conditions) to do some north to south hiking. This did not fit, since my brain kept telling me that I should be hiking north to Canada. Then the realization that I would not complete the PCT in one season further demoralized my efforts to persist. (Actually, that was the best realization to ever happen to me as I saw the craziness of feeling that a thru-hike MUST be in one season in straight continuity. So many of the older folk on the trail were breaking up the PCT into manageable sections and actually finding their hike pleasurable!). It was comforting to know that people were praying for me as I walked, yet, those prayers were for God’s provision, which I experienced with profound portions. My appreciation for all the prayer warriors that stood before God on my behalf.

Equipment Reviews

A) Backpack I used a ULA Circuit. It is a relatively light pack at 2 lb 9 oz, and I’ve appreciated how it was designed. My main complaint was the minimal padding of the shoulder straps. The straps tended to cut into my neck and after many months of use created fairly sharp shoulder pain. I tried to prevent this by keeping the pack weight down, yet even with a base weight of 16-18 lb, when one needs to carry 5-6 liters of water and 5 days of food, a heavy (up to 35 lb) pack is unavoidable. I will probably be switching to an REI Flash 55. It is a 2 lb 3 oz pack with nicer back and shoulder/hip belt strap padding, a nice design, and very comfortable on the back. B) Tent I started with a Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 Platinum tent. It was a fairly expensive tent and reasonably light at 2 lb 10 oz. I found that it is NOT a durable tent, and the fabric tended to easily tear. You needed a ground tarp. In foul weather, it was almost impossible to set up because a wet rain fly would not fold out easily and demanded exact orientation to place over the tent, which was challenging in high winds and heavy rains. The tent did not dry out quickly and tended to hold water. For some crazy reason, Big Agnes changed the size of the clips for attaching to the ground tarp and my tent clips did not match the ground cloth clips. So, the Copper Spur flunked, regardless of its cost and popularity. I went with a Z-Packs Duplex tent, weighing 1 lb 3 oz, very easy to set up, but needing two adjustable hiking poles. It is very spacious inside and the vestibules were spacious. Because it is NOT a free-standing tent, one could not use this tent on a concrete or rock slab. The only change that I would make would be to switch out the MSR mini Ground Hog stakes which were not substantial enough, and go with the regular MSR Ground Hog stakes. The guide lines holding the hiking poles especially need to be staked down very well, which the minis did not accomplish. C) Ground pad/pillow. I started with an Exped Synmat HL MW ground pad and Exped down pillow. The ground pad was VERY slippery and formed a rip in a seam the second night out on the trail. The third night out on the trail, the down pillow would not hold air any longer. I purchased an egg crate mattress (ThermaRest Z Lite Sol) and a Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Regular pillow in Warner Springs, and they have held up well. Later, I switched back to an air mattress, this time using a ThermaRest NeoAir Uberlight mattress. It immediately developed a slow air leak, and needed to be reinflated several times a night. It was also slightly slippery, necessitating careful choice of a camping spot without a slope. There are reasons I liked the egg crate mattress in that it could also be used during the day as a pad to sit/lay down on, and was not very slippery. It was less comfortable than an air mattress. D) Sleeping bag I used a Feathered Friends Flicker UL Wide quilt, which worked wonderfully. It could be opened up in warm weather and closed down in cold weather. Only once did I need to also use my down coat with it to stay warm at night. It stuffed nicely into a sea to summit 13 liter dry sack. E) Down Coat I used the Feathered Friends EOS jacket. I did not wear this jacket while hiking, but it was wonderful for the evenings and morning. I did not use the stuff sac but simply packed it around items in my back pack. It is a perfect down parka for backpacking. F) Shoes My main shoes were the Altra Lone Peaks. They are NOT a durable shoe and wear out at 300-500 miles of use. In spite of that, I had not developed a blister while wearing these shoes, making it worth it. They are super-comfortable, to the point that I saw no use in having flip flops or slippers to wear while at camp. I used the Merrill Moab 2 shoes for a short bit, hoping that their rigidity would permit better handling in snow. Within 50 miles, I had blisters on both feet, so quickly returned to the Altras. G) Clothing Nothing special here. I used a synthetic REI long sleeve shirt that buttoned up, REI Sahara convertible pants, ExOfficio briefs, Darn Tough socks, and OR Helium rain jacket. The Helium rain jacket was wonderfully light and effective at keeping out the rain, but had no arm pit vents, and tended to create sauna like conditions when hiking. It still remained my preferred rain protection. H) Hat I used an REI Sahara hat in the desert, and had wonderful sun protection, so that I rarely ever needed to put on sun screen. Elsewhere, I used my OR Seattle Sombrero, a hat wonderful for rain, sun and the like. It is a somewhat warm hat, so that it was slightly uncomfortable in very hot weather. I) Hiking Poles/Gloves I started with Black Diamond 110 cm poles, and needed to switch to an adjustable pole when I went with the Duplex tent. For that, I utilized Z-Pack poles. I always wore OR sun gloves, and found that many other people also utilized OR gloves with their hiking poles. J) Stove I used the JetBoil Flash Lite stove, and was most happy with it. It was light, I didn’t need to worry about carrying a pot, it had a dependable ignitor, and it was extremely efficient on fuel, with a small canister easily lasting 2-3 weeks. K) Garmin InReach This is a personal locator beacon (plb) which allows for an SOS rescue signal if I ever got in trouble, and also allowed others to regularly see exactly where I was on the trail. I could also send and receive messages. It’s only problems were 1) it was heavy, and 2) though it was a Garmin product, was incompatible with all the other Garmin products, including their maps. Shame on them. If I were to do it over again, I would have used the InReach mini because it is significantly ligher. I won’t buy another plb until Garmin corrects the issues mentioned with the InReach. L) UrSack For the desert, I did not worry too much about the little critters, and simply used a dyneema food bag with an odor-proof liner. Outside of the desert, I used the regular size UrSack. The UrSack offered me protection from rats, squirrels and chipmucks eating my food (a real and serious problem), and allowed that I did not need to hang my food, but instead, I stored my food in the tent vestibule. I used an odor-proof liner also with the UrSack. M) Thru-Pack The Thru-pack is a fanny pack designed by some dude in a cottage industry. It was perfect for backpacking. I debated long and hard before the hike as to how I would carry my iPhone. The iPhone was used constantly since it was my main map system. The Thru-Pack had a pocket that very securily held my iPhone, yet the iPhone was extremely easy to quickly access. I also stored small items like lip gloss, sun glasses, mosquito repellent, and small candies in the bag. N) Pocket knife Believe it or not, some people do not carry a knife on their thru-hike. I needed the knife mostly for the scissors in order to cut things like the LeukoTape for my feet to prevent blisters. Swiss Army produces a very small 2-1/2 inch knife that has only a blade and a scissors, with a few other minor implements. This was more than adequate and worked out well for me. O) Safety equipment I carried a small amount of repair items, such as tenacious tape (which I used on the Copper Spur tent), duct tape (never used), and a small sewing kit, which was never used. For medical safety, I carried a roll of LeukoTape, which was nearly always being used on my feet to prevent blisters. I also carried superglue, blister pads, mild narcotic pain meds, antibiotics, and a sleeping pill. None of the medications were used. P) Toilet sack The toilet sac was a small stuff sac kept on the outside of my pack with a small trowel to dig holes, toilet paper, hand sterilization gel, and a small zip lock for packing out the toilet paper. The trowel was ineffective at digging a hole in northwest soil, but did allow scrapping for covering up the poo. Q) Electronics My electronics was limited to my iPhone and the Garmin inReach device. I carried a 10,000 mAh battery backup as well as the necessary cables. I carried earbuds but ended up never using them. R) Phone case I used the LifeProof Fre upon the recommendation of Halfway Anywhere, and didn’t like it. It was protective, but made the iPhone difficult to use. I just didn’t need that much protection of the phone so went back to a regular iPhone case. S) Headlamp I started with the lightest cheapest Black Diamond headlight, and noted that the case would frequently pop open. A switch to a more substantial Black Diamond light solved that problem, even though it was slightly heavier. T) Hydration system I started with an Osprey 3 liter hydration reservoir. I liked it better than the Platypus or Camelbak products, but disliked that the reservoir sat inside your pack, leaving you clueless about how much water you had left and making it very hard to refill the bladder without emptying out your pack. Outside of the desert, I rarely needed to carry more than 3 liters, so utilized the outside side pockets of the backpack, which were meant for liter water bottles. Because I like hydration systems, I found a tube system for this purpose, exchanged the mouthpiece with the Osprey mouthpiece, and utilized a Platypus 1 liter very lightweight collapsible bag for this purpose. I always carried in addition a liter SmartWater bottle but drinking when my pack was off of me. So far, this system has worked out wonderfully. U) Food choices Food is not really equipment, but it is a necessary item that weighs a lot, so it is worth discussing. I felt that it was important to eat well on the hike, and so did not consider cold-soaking food seriously. I liked a warm meal at least once a day, and was willing to carry a lightweight stove for that purpose. The popular foods that hikers used like Top Ramen were all doctored to taste better. I would add freeze-dried vegetables and beef as well as sriracha sauce to improve the nutrition and flavor. I chose foods that would require minimal cleaning of dishes, since I often dry camped, and even when camped by water, would not feel like doing dishes. I started using lots of prepared meals like the Campbells or Pace prepared foods. These were a bit more heavy but offered reasonable tasting food at the end of the day. They would come in bags that could be crunched up and inserted into my stove pot with boiling water, let it sit for five minutes, and I would have a warm meal with warm water for a cup of hot chocolate. It couldn’t get any better than that!

Positive Good of it all?

a) personal health/weight loss I was down up to 25 lb during the hike, though that weight loss was at a time when I was also markedly dehydrated. The health benefits for my heart and overall fitness were balanced by the severe strain and abuse afflicted on the musculoskeletal system. I general, I would surmise that I gained a grand total positive health effect by my activity, though it is something that only time would tell. b) spiritual growth Hiking offers the hiker must time to contemplate, reflect, meditate, ruminate, and think over one’s self, the world, and the grand scheme of things. It was a time to spend in prayer and worship. On the negative side, my brain was often in a fog, so that reading had to be forced to happen. When I was not walking, I was either eating, writing my blog, or sleeping/trying to sleep. c) Betsy My absence gave Betsy time to learn how to manage house and home. We learned more than ever that even though we often need our “space”, long periods apart become difficult. I don’t think that I’ll ever intentionally plan for more than 4-6 weeks apart. Some folk may consider that short and some long. I don’t think I could give definite times since much depends our ability to stay in touch with each other even when we are not immediately face to face. d) new friends It is fascinating how one quickly develops friends on the trail. I have yet to meet someone who is a “jerk”. Some hikers are more reclusive and wish to mostly be to themselves, some can’t tolerate loneliness, some are Macho man (or Macho woman), some are flaming drunks (just one that I met), some are quite old and putting in few miles a day, others are young jackrabbits flying down the trail, but they all are friendly folk. Perhaps because we are all striving for a common goal, we form a “fellowship” that binds us together on the trail. e) rethink of my personal Wanderlust A year ago, I attempted to bicycle the TransAm, a bicycle ride that goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It was a true flaming failure, but it taught me much about tempering my expectations, and about planning for epic adventures. I would not call this year a failure at all, even though I was slightly disappointed about having to put the reality of the weather and trail conditions together with the ability of my body to endure hundreds upon hundreds of miles of sheer abuse. I believe that I got my Wanderlust out of my blood. No more attempts EVER for epic adventures. I wouldn’t mind filling in the gaps over the next few years in the PCT, like completing Washington and most of Oregon, doing the high Sierra, and other parts of northern California. I wouldn’t mind attempting the Colorado Trail. But, anything longer than 500-600 miles will not be performed. My body has spent most of its life behind a desk, reading or writing reports, or standing still in the operating room for hours, trying to avoid inflicting harm on oneself. Unlike most older hikers, I would do maybe 2 or 3 hikes a year in fair weather lasting only 2-4 days, and that was it. I’d come back as sore as imaginable and immediately return to a sedentary lifestyle. True, the last ten years of my life involved much long-distance bicycling, but that is using much different muscles, and MUCH less abusive on the body. As I write this, I’ve been off of the trail for 5 days, and yet I still ache seriously from head to toe. I’m not taking massive doses of ibuprofen any longer, and the body is really feeling it. I have competitive passions that cannot be partaken in while hiking. I love to read, I love to listen to classical music and watch opera, and I love to play my trumpet. Those activities take a true back seat on the trail. I love bicycling, but will probably never ride coast to coast or any really long distance. I’ve lost the desire to do that. With a friend, I wouldn’t mind hiking or bicycling in Europe (Betsy isn’t into that), but not for a long distance. I don’t even have the rage like I had in the past to travel to distant lands and far-away places. I think my Wanderlust has died. f) awareness of Huguenot Heritage Ministry Those who know me know that I tend toward strong passions. The work of Huguenot Heritage is one of those passions. When Betsy and I served in a hospital in extreme North Cameroon, we noted the desperate need for theological education in French-speaking Africa. Huguenot Heritage is filling that void, by providing Third Millenium materials in the French-speaking tongue. It is a vital ministry worthy of support. Several years ago, I mentioned to Francis Foucachon who runs the Huguenot Heritage of my plan to walk the PCT, and he seemed interested in seeing my walk function as a walk-a-thon. I was to do the hike last year, but then decided to attempt the TranAm bicycle ride and put off the PCT for a year. I didn’t realize that I was going from one horrible weather year on the east coast, to a horrible weather year on the west coast. It wasn’t until about February of this year that one realized the immensity of the snow situation on the west coast, yet I had already received my permit, and planned and packed 20 resupply boxes in order to attempt this adventure. While I realized soon enough that I (and almost everybody starting the hike) would not complete all 2652 miles, it was worth trying for as many as possible. I am a touch disappointed that I couldn’t get more miles in, but grateful that I was not brought home in a body bag, or needing rescue from the trail. I truly hope that the hike-a-thon spin on my trip helped bring enhanced awareness of Huguenot Heritage, and support for their work. It’s a strong conviction of mine than when I’m dead and six feet under, the church in Africa will be the center of Christianity. Christianity is dying in the west, but growing in Africa, and one of the main languages in the African church is French. Hopefully, we can see more seminaries and bible college in Africa, like the African Bible Colleges with distinguished theologians such as O. Palmer Robertson. Christianity and the Muslim religion clash in the north (Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, etc.) and so other means of accomplishing theological education for Christian pastors becomes necessary, and Huguenot Heritage fills that void. Please consider strongly support of this vital ministry.

The Future and Summary

So, what is my vision of the future for me and Betsy? a) playing trail angel Trail angels are those people who meet thru-hikers at various places where the trail crosses a road and is known to be in an area where outside contact from the trail is minimal. Typically, it’s a place where prior thru-hikers know that they would have gone a long distance without food or water resupply, and thus welcome ice-cold beverages or a snack to eat. Some trail angels tend to be more expansive when their house is close to the trail, such as at Hiker Heaven or Casa de Luna where the host family provides more extensive care and overnight capabilities for guests. Sadly, the two places just mentioned are closing this year, and we wait to see if there is any sort of replacement. Meanwhile, trail angels will provide sporadic “trail magic” which is unpredictable, but when present, is always welcomed by hikers. I don’t plan on doing this extensively. It’s a nice gesture, and in several areas of the desert, trail magic in the form of cold pop and other goodies saved the day and so were gratefully received by me. Trail angel-ing has become a preoccupation of many in towns, and there are separate Facebook pages for various trail angel groups. Much of their purpose has been to shuttle hikers from the trail to town and back. In fact, they really don’t serve totally as trail angels because they request (or should recieve!) payment for their services. As the PCT has become busier and busier, more people are getting on the trail less prepared for the task. Many do not adequately think out their resupply strategy and depend heavily on hiker boxes at the various places where resupply packages are mailed. Others hop around the trail quite casually, calling on the good nature of other folk to shuttle them around and about, to specifically allow their hike to be tailored to convenience. Many places on the trail demand hitchhiking to get to town and back, and that is awkward enough, but still different than asking people to go out of their way in order to service your whims and recreational pursuit. Betsy and I will be spending 03-08SEPT camped at Hart’s Pass and will have goodies for passing by hikers. We’re not sure how many hikers to plan for, but anticipate no more than 10 hikers/day coming through. I can envision occasionally going up to Chinook Pass with a cooler of soda pop, but other than that, I will focus on other activities to spend my time. b) Backpack conference I will be attending a Wilderness Medical Society Backpacking Medicine CME hike on 22-27SEPT. I’ll fly back to Lexington, KY where I will meet with Dr. Peter Tate, spend a few days with him, and then go together to attend this conference. I don’t need CME (continuing medical education) credit anymore since I am retired, but I still backpack and so would like to remain knowledgeable about what is the current standard for medicine in the wilds. c) volunteering for PCTA/WTA/MORA The initials are Pacific Crest Trail Association/Washington Trail Association/Mount Rainier (National Park). All three have volunteer slots for trail maintenance, which I enjoy doing. The PCTA does a phenomenally spectacular job with their volunteer vacations at making an enjoyable week of camping, doing trail work, and meeting other hikers. Because of the infirmities of my body, hard heavy lifting is no longer possible. I will probably shift toward volunteering mostly with MORA, doing things like trail walking, and giving advice to tourists lost or confused on the trails around the mountain. d) shorter adventures next year I would like to complete portions of the PCT, including the high Sierra and the northern aspect of the PCT from Snoqualmie to Canada. I’d also like to do the Timberline Trail again. The Olympics calls for me. I will probably do these trails solo but welcome others to come with if they are able to travel light. e) return to some bicycling I love cycling and would like to not only ride my bicycle on a regular basis, but also to do some touring. Maybe I’ll do something with Adventure Cycling next year, but will have to look at their tours and think about how I can mesh a cycle tour with my backpacking. I’d also like to consider how to lighten up my entire bicycle touring apparatus, similar to what’s happening with ultralight backpacking. f) car camping with Betsy Betsy and I will be car camping next week at Hart’s Pass, doubling up as trail angels. I hope that we could get away to the beach or elsewhere to spend some time just relaxing together in the woods. We have all that we need for that, save for the time and the initiative to get off our butts and out into the woods. I need to determine ways of making camping more comfortable and fun for her, but I’ll find out next week whether some of my ideas were successful. g) Overnighters with the grandkids I would like to eventually take each of the grandchildren individually out backpacking in the woods. Ethan happens to be next on the list, and hoped to do that this year, but it didn’t work out. Hopefully, next year? h) work with outdoor club at church Our church has a youth outdoor “club”, but I’ve not been involved with it. Perhaps in the future? i) more writings on conservation/the environment/wilderness ethic It is sad to say that writing related to the environment are generally poorly thought out, or solipsistic in their thinking. Now that the environment has become a political issue, it is guaranteed to be even less well thought out. Much of the writing on wilderness ethics is very self-centered—everybody should support wilderness, but please stay away and leave it for me alone to enjoy (i.e., since I am the only person that can truly “appreciate” wilderness)—sort of attitude. Leave no trace (LNT) thinking is great, but every human involvement in the wilderness leaves a trace. On my last venture, I was looked on very disapprovingly for leaving an apple core to rot in the woods. Soon, they will be telling us to pack out our feces! The Wilderness Act speaks of wilderness being an area untrammeled by man with no trace of man’s presence, yet man’s presence in the wilderness is “trammel-ment“, and trails are distinct traces of man’s presence, let alone structures built in the wilderness, a perfect example being the hut on top of Muir Pass! All of this is highly inconsistent. Perhaps the refusal to accept that this world is anthropocentric, that is, made (by a Creator) for man, with man’s responsibility to take care of his world. Wilderness ethic implies a sentient being which has the capability of appreciating beauty and acting on that appreciation, and so restricts the beings to man alone. j) home plans My favorite moments are the time I have with Betsy. We will soon be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary, and the memories are long and fond. Betsy tends to not be so adventure minded as myself, and is content to putzing around the house, working on various projects inside the house and outside in the garden. I have a mild love-hate relation to gardening; it’s fun once in a while, but not all the time. We’ve engaged in a number of projects, the latest being that of building a backyard small raised garden for vegetables. Betsy and I also enjoy watching movies together. We do not get any form of subscription tv services and do not get television in the home, but will watch movies. Currently, we are working through the Lost in Space series from the 1960’s. It is quite corny, but also very informative as to how greatly society has changed in 50 years. I love to watch operas on our big screen, and hope to soon work through Der Ring des Niebelungen again. I happen to be a Bach and Wagner addict. I love to read, and still have stacks of books waiting for my attention. I’ll be refreshing and advancing on my French instruction, and also trying to learn a little Spanish. I hope to return to regular practice on my trumpet. I am working on a 40th anniversary get-away with Betsy. She would like to visit Lost Vegas but still have our plans wide open. I have more stuff to do now that I’m retired than when I was working. C’est la vie!

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Aug 23
Looking down on Sheep Lake, Mount Adams is in the background

I tried to make this blog post up on WordPress on my iPhone, but somehow the program went bezirk. I was in Airplane mode since you don’t have cell phone service in the woods, but the program kept trying to upload my posts as well as past posts. It would stall for minutes, and then eat up 1% of my cell phone “juice” every 5 minutes. That is NOT a sustainable situation, so I deleted WordPress from the iPhone and wrote everything in Pages, converting it to a blog post when back at home.

19AUG Mile 2323-2337 (Martinson Gap) It’s now been a month off the trail, and I still feel beat up from the trail. Yet, the weather is beautiful, the mountains are calling, and I am missing the backpack life. I met a high school student on a volunteer trail maintenance project last year, Jacob Conner, and he wanted to do some of the trail with me, so we decided to do it together, with the fathers’ support. Ken Gill took me up to the trailhead, along with Sam, Ethan, and Liam. The kids walked in for about 3 miles before turning back and leaving Jacob and myself to our own devices. After ascending to Sheep Lake, the trail further ascended and coursed around the Crystal Mountain ski area, and then through a large burn area from several years ago. Because we were just starting out, we decided to take it easy today, and just walked 14 miles.

Betsy doing a conditioning walk with me on the Foothills Trail
The starting crew, including Ken, Ethan, Liam, Sam, me, Grandpa Bill, and Jacob

We had some interesting people pass us including Eleven, who I met in Hiker Town. We met a couple of hikers from Montreal who we stayed in contact with through to Snoqualmie Pass. We were able to have a very relaxed evening. 

Norse Peak Wilderness beauty
Mount Rainier partially hidden from the trail

20AUG Mile 2337-2352

I was in the trail at 6:40, a little later than usual, and Jacob followed a bit later. Eventually he passed me as he is a fairly strong and nimble hiker with a light pack weight. I met a few people of note including an elderly lady named Rhinestone, hiking alone, heading south and doing about 8-10 miles a day. She immediately volunteered that she was a Christian lady and spoke much to me about her faith and appreciation of God’s handiwork on the trail. She was working on short hikes supported by her husband until she could finish the entire Washington section of the PCT. Then there was Hotrod, another elderly geezer, who noted strongly that one should always hike their own hike and not be affected by the young ones sprinting at breakneck speed one the trail. Jacob and I met up at a water hole, then at Ulrich cabin where I was able to get more water, and stopped early at mile 2352 where there were nice campsites plus the last water for 12 miles. Since there were no good campsites for another 7 miles we decided to set up camp a little earlier than intended and had a relaxed evening, enjoying cigars together and celebrating my birthday. At Ulrich cabin there was a 25 yo hiker that had celebrated her 25th birthday just yesterday. It was birthday time on the trail.

Rhinestone
Ulrich Cabin

21AUG Mile 2352-2371

Jacob wished to have coffee before starting the trail so we didn’t get hiking until 7 am. The day started beautiful and cloudless, but soon clouds and drizzle moved in. There were some beautiful scenes when the clouds broke but it was mostly hiking in cool, cloudy and occasionally rainy weather. We were able to hike quite quickly and made it through the 12 mile “dry” section without a problem. Soon, the rain became more persistent and the hills more demanding. I realized that though I wished to put in more miles I also wanted to have my tent up before I became completely soaked. So, we stopped at 19 miles where I had originally planned.  It felt like fall was truly in the air.

Misty day
Mountain beauty
A clue as to where you could find water
Jacob as spry as ever

22AUG Mile 2371-2393

It rained all through the night. I had my tent closed up and noted some condensation inside the tent. I also realized that my “mini” tent stakes were quite adequate for the desert but completely inadequate for the Northwest soil, so will swap out and use regular MSR stakes. I got up a little earlier and headed out with a very wet tent rolled up. I fortunately was dry as well as my sleeping bag. For the third night now, my sleeping pad, a ThermaRest Uberlight was half deflated and needed re-inflation at least once in the night. I think that I’m going to take it back and get a slightly smaller but more substantial sleeping pad. But, in my summary to follow, I’ll do a more complete summary of my equipment. We wished to reach Snoqualmie Pass by 4 pm and had 22 miles to hike. At first I led the way until Jacob caught up and dashed ahead at Mirror Lake. The trail from Mirror Lake was very rocky and not easy to hike through, so I dropped from a 2.5 – 3 mph rate to about 2 mph and ended up with considerable pain in the ankles. But, it was good to see Jacob, his mom, and his little brother. 

Stampede Pass in the mist
Beautiful Mirror Lake
Looking down on I-90

At this point, I had to make a major decision. First, I realized that I could not keep up with Jacob and that he had a time constraint in that he wished to get to Stehekin by 01SEPT, which I could not do. Secondly, with the body aches, especially in the neck, I wasn’t finding the hiking enjoyable, in fact, it was more a matter of constantly suppressing the pain, which usually started about 10 miles in for each day. If I was averaging about 15 mile days like most of the older geezers I passed, then all would be ok. But, this rate of hiking did not fit into what I could handle. I knew that the trail had won and that I really needed to fold in for the season. I had hiked a grand total of 1002 miles of the PCT this year. I am glad to have gotten the most challenging section over with (the desert), and would like to complete other sections of the trail in years to come, though at a slower pace than what I’ve been doing this year. Like Rhinestone, I would like to complete the Washington section of the PCT, do more of the Oregon and northern California PCT, and possibly even do the high Sierra. I will have the advantage of selecting optimal times to do each of these sections in the years to come. It just isn’t going to happen this year. My attitude toward epic adventures, whether on a bicycle or on foot, has come to an end. I will no longer seek for adventures that remove me from home for more than a month. ,,

There is a disappointment in this ending. I would have liked to have hiked more of the trail this year. As a fund-raiser hike-a-thon for Huguenot Heritage, I would have liked to complete a greater part of my commitment. If I physically could have, I would have. But, it just wasn’t possible. This was one of the worst years possible to commit to the PCT. First, there were record snowfalls from central Oregon south all the way to the Mexican border. Because of the late snow melts and massive water content, there were record hordes of mosquitoes. You already know how I felt about mosquitoes. Thirdly, the summer was unusually short, with fall settling in earlier than usual. The one aspect of the hike that was excellent was the desert, which was unusually green. The rivers and creeks that supply water for the hikers were flowing at a time when they are often dry, making water more available than other years. So, I am grateful for many aspects of this adventure. 

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Aug 04

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, by John Frame ★★★★

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor…

from Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe perhaps best summarizes my feeble investigations into philosophy, law, medicine, and theology, all studied with great zeal, and yet still left feeling like a fool. I thoroughly appreciate Frame’s approach to the history of western philosophy and his merger with theology, as they both breech similar questions and topics of thought. Oftentimes Frame is verbose, oftentimes terse on a subject in discussion. It is impossible to provide a thorough single-volume text to match the magisterial works of Copleston or Windelband. Frame is a philosopher in the school of Kuyper/van Til, though he makes it clear that he is not a rigid vanTilian. For that reason, I have a deep respect for Frame. Frame offers a fly-over view of western philosophy, starting a usual with the Milesians of ancient Greece and ending with modern deconstruction. Frame is always most kind, sometimes too kind when someone deserves to be attacked, such as the modern deconstructionists. Yet, perhaps Frame feels (as I do) that modern philosophy is more a passing fad than a system of thought to be taken seriously.

Frame takes and runs with the vanTil notion that all thought ultimately is defended by circular reasoning, and thus a defense of Christianity demands a position of Scripture as a presupposition and not as a possibility to be explored and argued as true simply through the use of reason. Yet, all belief systems are circular. The rationalists will use reason to defend their case. Like vanTil, the creator/creature distinction must constantly be held, and that the idea of God speaking to man (through Scripture) is a starting point and a given, and not something that you reason into.

More than 40% of the book is added on at the end in the form of multiple appendices, essays that Frame has written over time and now waiting to be published in a philosophical context. Frame might have served the reader better by offering an explanation before each essay as to setting in which the paper was written.

Frame is very kind. As an example, Frame has many disagreements with Gordon Clark, yet emphasizes what Clark truly got right, and how Clark was perhaps misjudged in the vanTil/Clark controversy. After each chapter of text, there is a review of terms and names, as well as questions to stimulate thought; these questions would be invaluable if one were reading the text for a course. I happen to have read it mostly for my own enjoyment and pleasure, and thus did not constipate myself with deeper philosophical ruminations. I also have this book given as a set of lectures in a course given by Dr. Frame. I will soon be applying myself to listening to Frame philosophize. So far, I find that he is easier to listen to than to read.

Do I recommend this book? Yes of course! John Frame has a brilliant mind and thinks well. I appreciate Frame’s perspectives on philosophy and theology. I would hope that the reader interested in philosophy will also find this text thought-provoking and a delight to read.

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Aug 01

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, by JI Packer ★★★★

I have now reviewed a number of Packer texts, and this will probably be the last for a while. Why would I read this book, a very toned down, brief summary of theology themes, when I have already took Packer’s in-depth course on systematic theology? Simple. It’s one of Packer’s texts that I haven’t read yet, and plan on using it as a book that I could refer other to in seeking for texts in classic Reformed theology. Packer is Anglican, ordained in the Anglican church, yet whose theology was formed by the Puritans and the Westminster Confession, of which he freely admits in the preface of this text. In 94 very short chapters, Packer offers a summary of many of the themes of theology. Packer’s skill is that of taking very complex theological issues and making them very simple. His longest two chapters are only 5 pages long, and they are on the church and on baptism. The book summarizes Packer’s thinking quite nicely, while also giving the reader a sense of how Packer handles hot (controversial) issues, which is, in a very gracious fashion. Thus, even Arminians might read this text and find disagreement but will feel that Packer is hard to disagree with. Throughout are little theological gems that make JI shine. It’s a book worth reading, even if you know your theology.

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Jul 29

Praying, by JI Packer with Carolyn Nystrom ★★★★★

I started reading this book in March 2019, stalled because of my PCT hike, and recently resumed and completed reading it. Like its companion volume God’s Will, they were written with the help of Carolyn Nystrom. Both are intended to be both instructional and devotional.

The book reads in a relaxed fashion, as though JI were sitting with you, and giving you his thoughts on prayer. The various chapters include 1) discussion of who we are praying to, 2) encouragement for a life that is patterned in prayer, 3) spending time dwelling/meditating in prayer, 4) using prayer to praise God 5) searching the self for sin / bad attitudes when approaching God, 6) advice of asking in prayer, 7) advice on complaining to God in prayer, 8) perseverance in prayer, 9) necessity of corporate prayer and 10) praying with your whole heart and sincerely. The postscript is a delightful little statement on gaining the habit of a prayerful life.

My dear readers by now should be aware of how deeply I admire and respect JI Packer and his writings. This book is yet another example of how you cannot go wrong by reading Packer. It is Packer at his mature best.

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Jul 26
Tim in front of our Fish Lake Cabin

22JULY Mile 1773-1785

I was a little slow taking off from Fish Lake. A joined a bunch of other hikers for breakfast, which didn’t open until 9am. Fish tank, Tim and a few other hikers were there. Tim crashed the cabin with me. The attempt to hitch back to the trail was a little frustrating, and I had already walked a mile before somebody picked me up.

VERY touristy Fish Lake

I decided on a short day. The weather was cool with some clouds, but I was still sweating. I am drinking more water than I thought. Finally reaching Christi Spring about 4 pm, there were a lot of tent sites and I decided to crash here for the night. The other hikers from Fish Lake eventually caught up with me, and all but Tim decided to go on. After a quick dinner, I became invaded by vast swarms of mosquitoes, so it was a very quick retreat to the tent and mosquito protection. I also learned the near impossibility of taking a dump without being eaten by mosquitoes. I am now happy in bed, waiting for the sun to go down and everything to cool off. Tomorrow will need to be a big day.

Looking out toward Upper Klamath Lake
Looking down on Four Mile Lake

23JULY Mile 1785-1806I woke up this morning not feeling as well as I would have liked. The sun had not yet risen but one could see, and there was a drove of mosquitoes waiting for me just outside my tent. So, I packed everything in my backpack except the tent itself, quickly got everything together and ran. The mosquitoes remained in hot pursuit for about half the day. It got me thinking about mosquitoes. Have you ever thought about how large their brain is? For thinking, they probably have only 4 Betz cells. They don’t think! I suspect that they are direct operatives/automatons of Satan himself. Every bit of their behavior is Satanic. I can’t conceive of any good they fulfill for the kingdom of God. I certainly don’t mean to be selling bad theology since I believe that God is in total control of all things, yet comprehending the mosquito is like comprehending the whole problem of why there is evil in this world. But, back to the trail. The trail finally started climbing and offered spectacular views of Mt McLaughlin and Mt Shasta. I came to a saddle where looking north you could see Mt Thielsen, and the Crater Lake rim. This is also where I ran into some residual snow on very steep slopes. Several weeks before, this trail would have been close to impassable. I finally crossed several streams which were the last water for 20 miles until Crater Lake village. So, I am now carrying as much water as the desert. My poor back. An even longer stretch of 29 miles is coming up. You drink the water sparingly, but it is warm so your thirst never gets quenched. I stopped at a nice camp at mile 1806 with few mosquitoes, had dinner, and climbed in my tent. Just then, Fishtank comes by and chats. For reasons that will be discussed later, I decided to bail for now, maybe getting some hiking in after a longer recovery for my left shoulder/neck. I arranged that Fishtank could pick up the several resupply packages I’ve already sent in order for them to get used. My resupply packages have become known as having very enviable food items that most other people just did not think about using for a backpacking trip.

Mt McLaughlin in the distance

24JULY Mile 1806-1823 (Crater Lake)

It was quite cold this morning, cold enough to warrant my down jacket. The mosquitoes were already lurking outside of the tent, awaiting a feast of fresh human blood, which I would try to deny them. I knew that today would remain waterless until I reached my destination 16 miles way. The weather started as cool, but warmed up quickly, demanding increased water consumption. There was only about 2000 feet of climbing, so I was able to zip along quickly. Sadly, there was about 8 miles of forest fire to walk through, which extended well into Crater Lake National Park for about 4 miles. I took my mid-morning rest at the high point of the day, a saddle with spectacular views in both south and north directions. There was still snow about the trail on the north side slopes, which suggested prohibitive danger even just a few weeks before when hard pack snow would have completely invested the slope. Even on dropping down 1000 feet to the level of Mazama village, there were large patches of snow. At Mazama Village, the campsites were full and they had not opened up the hiker sites yet. It was like the hikers were their least concern, even though thru-hikers had few other options. I had lunch at the expensive village restaurant, which fortunately provided bottomless fountain drinks, allowing me to consume about 4 liters too partially assuage my thirst. A couple sitting next to me agreed to shuttle me up to the rim, where I could catch a shuttle into Klamath Falls. I quickly picked up my resupply package and doled it out to about 15 hiker trash people hanging out at the village store and got my ride up to the rim. Several hours later I was in Klamath Falls at a motel close to the train station, and consumed several more liters of fluid to aid my persistently raging thirst. I scheduled the Amtrak ride back to Tacoma on-line, called Betsy, and then felt relaxed.

Snow past the saddle
Few of Mt Shasta (far left horizon) and Mt McLaughlin from the saddle
Lengthy area of forest fire, particularly hot to walk through
Arrival at Crater Lake National Park
Yes! Crater Lake

So, I am going to terminate my journey. Toward the end of August, I might still spend several weeks going from Stevens Pass to Canada. This way, I could complete the two ends of the journey. I am sad that a complete thru-hike was not accomplished, but then I was realistic from the start at a 5-10% chance of total success, and on learning of the dismal snow year this year and expected heatwave in the mountains this summer, calculated only a fleeting chance of total success. So many of my fellow hikers (almost all of them) ended up bailing out, most of them far more capable than myself.

Why did I throw in the towel and give up? There was a combination of factors. I will quickly blame the weather and environmental factors as playing a huge role for not only me but for most of the hikers attempting the trail. Greatest in my mind was the physical aspect. I had the strength to make it, but the neck and back issues had become unbearable. Perhaps a different pack might make a difference and I’ll explore that, but it would have to be a pack weighing under 2.5 lb. I will probably still have some time this year to explore that option.

The second issue was psycho-social. First was the psychological issues of the trail. Flip-flopping is known to demoralize the thru-hiker, and now I can see why. I had no choice in this matter, not wanting to take the huge risks of going through the snow of the high Sierra. It is also demoralizing to be hiking south like so many flip-floppers were doing when the ultimate goal is Canada. The trail was becoming unbearably monotonous. For 99% of the time, you were in forests with trees and hills that mostly all looked the same. True, the high Sierra would have offered a different venue but that wasn’t to be this year. I truly enjoyed the solitude of the woods, but then too much of a good thing can become a very bad thing. The hike really is a concatenation series of 3-6 day section hikes, starting and ending at resupply points. With each section, one needed to estimate the difficulty, available water sources, possible snow conditions, and any other possible problems.

I didn’t experience the typical hiker hunger, but often had anorexia, just not wanting to eat much of anything. The thirst was relentless no matter much I would take in. Water tastes SOOOO good right out of a cold spring, but bland when it had been warming up all day in the heat of the sun in your backpack. After about one day, you become quite dirty. Even though I always wore long pants, the dirt on my legs would be challenging to remove once I was able to take a shower. Oral hygiene was close to impossible—just try brushing your teeth without wasting a drop of water! I don’t mind getting dirty, but staying persistently filthy when one has lived his professional life in sterile conditions becomes hard to handle.,

Early on in the hike, there was a sense that once you acquired your “hiker legs” you would be able to go much faster and farther in a day. That was only partially true for me, in that once I got started in the morning, my feet would just go and go, like the Energizer bunny. I found that my heart was a serious limiting factor, in that going uphill predictably would slow me down to a crawl. I found that once I hit a bit more than 20 miles in a day, my feet just didn’t want to go further, and pain in the feet and ankles prevented me from pushing on. This could be remedied by consuming mass quantities of ibuprofen, which I would do. I would have liked to have hit at least one 30 mile day, but 28 miles ended up being my longest day, hit several times on my journey. There are those who can accomplish greater than 40 mile days, but they begin the day at 2-3 am and hike great lengths in darkness—not my cup of tea—and usually are pushing 3 mph speeds. If I tried to do that, I would have guaranteed myself a serious injury.

There were social aspects to the decision to quit. First, the desert was far more heavily populated with thru-hikers, and they were an enjoyable lot. You might go much of a day without seeing anybody, but then you would run into a lot of people that you could identify with. Up north, there were far fewer people on the trail and many of them were section hikers. Most of them were not prepared for the task at hand, having packed WAY too much unnecessary items resulting in pack weights in excess of 50 lbs. Most of these people were very physically fit males who didn’t think that weight mattered. Those people should limit themselves to 10-12 miles per day and go for under a week with most of their hikes, or at least learn and quickly lighten their load. So it was a matter of progressive loneliness for me. I thought constantly about Betsy at home and felt that our time of separation was a bit too long. Then there was the issue of much going on at home and Betsy feeling increasingly desperate for me to be home. She agreed before the start of my journey that she would be totally supportive, and she has kept faithful to that agreement. Yet, I could tell how she really needed me at home. I thought about the other things I should be doing like short adventures with Betsy, and getting the grandchildren out into the woods, teaching them the new style of packing. All of these matters played a part in me finally breaking. The decision came quickly but resolutely, with me giving it several days before talking with Betsy about my intention.

Was the journey worth it? Did I learn anything? Did I accomplish any good through this venture? I believe that the answer is yes to all of these questions.

It would be impossible to estimate the worth of the journey. Healthwise, I lost 25 lb, and feel much better than before the journey. While hiking, I found it necessary to stop my anti-hypertension mediations, or I would get lightheaded every time I stopped hiking. I was way over-treating myself. I always felt as strong as usual while hiking. Spiritually, it was a wonderful time with God. As mentioned before, each day as soon as I was on the trail I would sing the Doxology and Gloria Patri, and then pray for my family including Betsy, the children, as well as my siblings. Often, a special hymn would stay with me much of the day. I had in iBooks a pdf file of the lyrics to my 100 favorite hymns that were always nice to sing in my head in the evening. I have almost completed John Frame’s History of Western Philosophy, though the appendices are almost as long as the book. I experience hiker-brain on the trail which limits the amount of critical thinking that I could do.

The learning experience was massive in terms of knowing how to do long distance hiking. At this time, even shorter hikes will be different, and a focus on lightness will be key. I met many new friends, some of whom I suspect will stay in touch. The trail gave me experience in knowing how to plan and tackle various challenging circumstances such as dealing with long waterless segments of the trail, and learning how to do without many of the comforts of life.

Did I accomplish any good outside of what I gained personally? Others would have to tell me that. Betsy would have been my greatest focus on how this experience might have affected her, and you can ask her that. Doing the hike as a Hike-a-thon for Huguenot Heritage Ministry was a deep concern of mine, and hopefully my journey generated a worthwhile return for the ministry. Thinking realistically 6 months ago, I knew that completion of the trail had most odds against me, and indeed, even completion of the desert section was greatly against me. I also pledged for the hike, but have determined that I would still donate an amount equivalent to as if I had done the entire trail. The dear reader should follow their own heart, but remember that this ministry merits the best we can do to support it, in spite of my personal failure to accomplish 100% of the trail.

So, I will do more of the trail, but will need to take care of home issues and organize my thoughts as well as heal before hitting the trail again. Stay in touch.

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