Jul 17

It is now far too long to be off the trail. Oddly, several very unexpected events occurred out of my control. They are as follows…

First, I received a call from Sailor at White Pass, noting that she was having knee problems, and wondering if she could crash at our place for several days. Of course that was ok, and we had a great time having her in. It also gave me a little more time to rest my neck. I will be dropping her off close to the trailhead tomorrow am, and then will be hopping on a Greyhound bus in the evening to head off.

Secondly, I was given some terribly unfortunate news. Betsy and I had remained close friends with Phil Muller over the years, and had taken him out to lunch or had him over for dinner whenever I was home from the trail. Last Tuesday, Phil needed help weed-whacking the growth in his backyard, so I took my trust weed whacker over, and we finished clearing out his back yard in about 2 hours, with Phil raking up the loose weeds and I running the weed whacker. Because it was too early to do lunch and with Phil a little tired out, we decided to stop work and just call it a day. Phil also wanted some help taking care of some trees in the yard, and we agreed to meet later in the week to accomplish that. I called the next day to set up a work day, and never received an answer, so just assumed that Phil perhaps didn’t wish to talk at that time. I tried again on Thursday and Friday, and still no response. Betsy was worried, so we went over to his place on Friday about noon, and there was no answer to the doorbell. I thought I heard some noises from inside the house so decided that perhaps Phil really just needed time alone, which wasn’t uncommon for him. Saturday had the event below occur, and so I didn’t try to make contact again until Sunday. Still no answer, so I became very worried. I called Dr. King and Andrew, and neither was aware of what was going on with Phil. I didn’t have Phil’s contact to his sister from Silverdale, so there was nothing that I could do to sort things out. Sunday at 18:40 I received a call from Andrew who learned that Phil was found dead in his trailer. I must have been the last person to have made contact with Phil. It is a terrible blow to see Phil go. He had a tremendous amount of personal problems, but still had struggled to live a Christian life as well as possible. These events kept me in town, answering questions to family, and sorting out whether a memorial service or anything of that sort was going to happen.

Thirdly, I was in a car accident. On Saturday, I drove out to Pinnacle Peak and ran up the hill several times. Coming home, traffic was heavy and I slowed down and stopped for traffic stalled in front of me. Suddenly, I realized that the vehicle, a black sports car, was inattentive and rammed right into my truck, pushing me several meters into the vehicle, a red Silverado, in front of me. The car was drivable to get home, and it was clearly the fault of the driver that hit me (who had good insurance) and so that lessened the pain of it all. In the process of sorting things out, USAA sent out an adjuster, who determined that my vehicle was totaled and not worth repairing, and gave me a generous quote for the vehicle. Once I finish my backpacking, Betsy and I will need to purchase a new pickup, and we will probably go again for a Toyota Tacoma, or possibly a Chevy Colorado. Meanwhile, USAA is going to pick up our truck and dispose of it where cars usually get dumped. It will be sad to see our vehicle go.

Car front
Car rear

Meanwhile, Betsy has a moderate amount of work to accomplish around the house. We will be having the carpet removed from our stairs and upstairs landing, and get wood floors in these locations like we did to most of the downstairs. This is going to tie up her time for a few days and leave her without the ability to get upstairs easily while the workers reconstruct the stairway.

My return to the trail has been under contemplation. I did not anticipate being at home this long. The weather has been very rainy in the Northwest, making it a bit miserable for hikers out there. Typical NW weather is a constant drizzle, and the trail tends to be muddy, no matter how well the trail was designed. At this time, my greatest desire is to simply a) get in as many miles as possible on trail free from snow and mud, and b) get to Canada, since I had to apply for a special permit for that to happen. Thus, I am shortening my original intentions by about 200 miles, and will be starting my hike from Ashland. I anticipate reaching Timberline Lodge in the 1st to second week of August, popping home briefly, and then doing Washington, starting at a point that seems most reasonable at the time to permit me to reach Canada before winter sets in.

Greyhound will take me to Medford, Oregon. It is an overnight trip and will arrive early on Friday. I’ve spoken with a trail angel (Mike) who will pick me up and drop me off at the trail where it crosses I-5 about 10 miles south of Ashland. This means that I will be missing about 20 miles of the PCT in Oregon, but, that’s life. I’m anxious to get back on the trail and am trying the easiest approach possible to get me there. Psychologically, it is much easier to be going north, since I am then headed toward Canada. The snow should be easily manageable. My greatest problem will probably be mosquitos. If it hasn’t occurred to the reader, mosquitos are the bane of the backpacker. I regret how seriously this hike has been chopped up. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but then, I didn’t anticipate a record snow year for the trail. This was NOT the year to be doing the PCT.

So, I ask you to keep me in your thoughts and prayers. I know that Betsy will be ok, but I don’t like leaving her when so much is happening on the home front. The Lord has so far been abundantly good to me, keeping me safe and without any serious problems on the trail or at home.

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Jul 10

18 Words: The most Important Words You Will Ever Know, by JI Packer ★★★★★

Those of you who have followed my posts and book reviews should be aware that I am a fan of the writings of JI Packer. I took a class in Systematic Theology from him, and have deeply appreciated his insights, style of teaching, and way that he writes. JI Packer, more than anybody that I know, writes exactly like he teaches, the same style, vocabulary, and manner of presentation. Exceptional about Packer is how he can tackle very complex theological topics, like that of election, and make it extremely simple. This book is an example of how Packer will take theological topics and turn those topics into a lengthy lesson in practical theology. That has been JI Packer’s first statement on teaching theology, that right theology (orthodoxy) should evoke right living (orthopraxy) and worship. Each of the 18 words above comprise the 17 chapters of this book, with a preface explaining in more technical language exactly what he is up to. Only 17 chapters? Well, sanctification and holiness are both from the exact root in both Hebrew and Greek. There is no verbal form “holiness”, but there is the word “sanctification”, just as there is no adjectival form of sanctification, but holiness is the word that fits that category. So, from a Greek and Hebrew point of view, they are just different forms of the same word. How do all these technical theological words have significance for the Christian? That is best explained by reading this book by Packer. I’ve read many of the books that Packer has written, and certainly this text is one of his best. He shows insights from a lifetime of living and walking and teaching the Christian faith that are true gems in this book. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy to read. You won’t regret it.

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Jul 04

I am again at home when I should be on the trail. The neck issue has been quickly addressed. I called up by dear friend Fred Bomonti, a retired chiropractor, who came over and did a few things to my back, and I now feel better. I still have some pain, but not the searing pain that I was experiencing a few days ago. I’ll see him at his office on Friday for a follow-up adjustment. There are things that chiropractors really are superb at fixing, and back/neck pain is one of them. I fear that throwing the pack on my back too soon will re-start the pain, and so wish to give it a bit of rest, and will delay a bit before jumping back on the trail.

It takes a while to get hiker feet, and my strength in walking has never been a problem. Because of my heart issues, I feared that strength to do the trail would be my greatest problem, but it hasn’t been. True, I am tired when I go to bed at night, but when I wake in the morning, I feel as strong as ever. I never question the wisdom of God is designing us to spend a ⅓ of our time unconscious and horizontal. It is a marvelous way get daily “maintenance” on the body. I also lost 25 lb since starting the hike in April, and feel much better. This hiking trip has been awesome for my general health. Twenty-five pounds is a lot of extra weight to be carrying every day, and I’m most happy to be rid of it. Hopefully, I don’t put too much back on before I return to the trail.

I have said before that I have chosen absolutely the worst year to be hiking the PCT. I couldn’t help it. I had to sign up in October, long before anybody knew what trail conditions were going to be like. I figured that since snow conditions were so high two years ago, snow would not be a problem this year, but it was. These conditions have led to three actions among hikers. 1. Push on through. For a few, this isn’t a bad decision, as they have the strength to push on and the knowledge of how to handle severe conditions. I don’t, and the overwhelming majority of those hiking the trail don’t have the capability, and many are getting into trouble because of that. 2. Quit. Many of my friends on the trail were content to do nothing but the desert, or to flip-flop, realize that there were no good areas (this year) to flip-flop to, and then quit, hoping to come back some other time because the trail conditions were so ugly. 3. Flip-flop with time off to let conditions improve and make it a multi-year hike. This will be my ultimate strategy. There is no consensus among hikers on the trail as to the best option.

When I started at the Mexican border, you might hike alone for half a day or more, but you would then see many people when you arrived at camp or if you stopped to rest. It was easy to get to know fellow thru-hikers. In the flip-flop mode, there are so few hikers on the trail, that the acquaintance of one day is certainly gone the next day. You meet the riff-raff hoi polloi out for their day hikes. This last segment, I met a young couple hiking from Timberline Lodge to as far north as they could get in a month. It was their honeymoon. They were WAY overpacked, so I suspect that they might call it at Cascade Locks or not too long afterward. It is quite easy to tell the real thru-hikers from the riff-raff on the trail.

There are four main segments of the PCT. 1. The Desert, 2. The High Sierra, 3. Northern California, and 4. Oregon and Washington. This year was a perfect year to hike the desert. It was green and gorgeous. Water was plentiful. It wasn’t burning hot. It was a joy to hike through. The high Sierra had 220% of average snowfall, the highest recorded in many areas, and the snow is not melting quickly. The high Sierra is usually pictured as lovely green meadows and granite lined lakes with many surrounding peaks. Right now, it is a bland sheet of whiteness. No thanks! Northern California also had record snowfalls with the snow not melting quickly. Thus, many areas remain impassable (at least, as recommended by forest rangers) at this time. Many areas of the Sierra, Northern California, and Oregon/Washington demand lengthy (multiple miles) of hiking through snow, which might not be dangerous, but definitely slows you down to under half your normal hiking speed. The risk of injury, getting lost, and other problems go up astronomically when hiking through snow. Other areas, if the snow is gone, still have the problem of intense blow-downs (fallen trees across the trail) which makes hiking the trail MUCH more difficult. I did the only portion of northern California where snow was not a dominant factor at this time of the year but even then, it was 2-3 very challenging miles of snow. In Oregon and Washington, matters are a bit different. Having grown up the Northwest, generally serious hiking at higher altitudes does not begin until late July or August. The PCT generally stays at these higher altitudes. Besides contending with snow, rain is a constant issue until late July, and insects, especially the mosquito and biting flies) are worst before August. If one was doing a typical PCT thru-hike, you would not be hitting Oregon and Washington until August/September, when conditions in the mountains are ideal. The last few days showed me swarms of mosquitos in many spots which did not even permit me to sit down and rest, lots of rain, and very muddy trails which leaves on feeling uncomfortably dirty. So, there are no good options for where and when to jump back on the trail.

With all of this in mind, I am in deep contemplation as to what to do next. This is now my third time to retreat and come home. Besides running up the cost of this venture far beyond what I expected and planned for, it is psychologically demoralizing. It is especially psychologically challenging to be hiking south when your goal is to eventually reach Canada! Assuming that my neck problem can be resolved to comfortable levels, I still wish to get in as much of the trail as possible. Too much of a good thing becomes a very bad thing, and the doldrums of the daily routine is also somewhat psychologically challenging. The adventure of discovering the trail seems to resolve most of those doldrums, though I find it incomprehensible that many would wish to hike the PCT (or AT) through many times over. I wish to complete as much of the trail as possible this year for several reasons. 1) It was my original intention, and I don’t wish to go against that, and 2) I am walking the trail as part of a hike-a-thon for the Huguenot Heritage, for whom I wish to raise as many funds as possible, and 3) most of the trail that I missed has intense beauty, and worth hiking.

I am definitely going to give my neck a few weeks of rest from the backpack. I wouldn’t mind doing an over-nighter with family or friends (Russ?), but definitely not longer out than 2-3 days. I’d like to perhaps do a car-camping trip with Betsy. Once I return to the PCT, which would be later in July or early August, my thought is to start either at Snoqualmie or Chinook Pass and hike north from there, preferably into Canada. By that time, the swarm of PCT hikers will then be coming through and I will again have company in my endeavor. Most of the snow will be gone. The insects will have died down. I will have missed from Walker Pass to Old Station, from Bridge of the Gods to Chinook/Snoqualmie Pass, and from Castella to Timberline Lodge. These are all areas that might be best to wait until next year, when weather and snow conditions are more favorable. If I recover quickly, maybe I’ll return to Timberline Lodge and complete the Timberline to Castella segment, and then come back and do the above. Next year, since I don’t need to worry about an exact “start” time, getting a permit to finish everything will be much easier to accomplish. Perhaps I might also find the right person to accompany me?

Changes? 1) I’ll go back to Altra Lone Peak shoes. I’ve actually found two blisters on my feet, one on my left medial first toe, and one on my right medial heel. The Lone Peaks did not give me such blisters. 2) The Tyvek is too slippery and doesn’t work well if there is any slope to where one is sitting. I found another simple pad which could fill other uses. 3) I’ll leave the flip-flop sandals at home as I never used them. 4) I’ll carry less food but more dinners. 4) I like the new hydration set-up and will stick with that. 5) I gave my Ursack to Chuckles as I was leaving the trail and she was having a serious problem with rodents eating into her food bag, even while hanging. I’ll get a black Ursack for this next time out. 6) I’ll try to limit my miles a bit more. 7) I’ll probably carry a larger battery backup since I’ll be on longer stretches without the possibility of recharging my iPhone or inReach PLB. 8) I’ll need to be a little better prepared for cold wet weather. Perhaps a thermal top would be appropriate.

What can you do to help? 1) Pray for me, that I might have health to continue, and safety in my travels. 2) Pray for good weather, minimal rain, cool conditions, few mosquitoes, no forest fires and minimal snow. 3) Consider meeting me at one of the resupply points (Snoqualmie, Stevens, Stehekin, or Manning Park, Canada) for a trail angel moment, 4) Provide me a ride to Chinook Pass as Betsy absolutely hates to drive in the mountains, and 5) sign up and pledge to support the ministry of Huguenot Heritage. I most certainly will not make all 2650 miles of the trail this year, but your pledges will keep me going for as far as I humanly can endure. Even I have pledged money per mile for the trail, but value the ministry of Huguenot Heritage sufficiently that I intend to donate as though I had hiked the entire PCT. You might consider the same. 6) Pray for Huguenot Heritage and III Millenium Ministries. The focus of this backpack trip should not be me but the many people who have given their lives and fortunes to bring the gospel to foreign speaking people. Francis Foucachon and others are laboring tirelessly to provide the materials that front-line missionaries and pastors need to minister to their flocks in foreign countries. Have a heart and pray that the gospel triumph through their work.

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Jul 03
Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier, and Mt Adams all in the distance

I mentioned in my last post that I would resume my hike but now hiking in a southerly direction in order to delay hitting areas of excessive snowfall. Because I am using Guthook’s app to determine my mileage, I have Guthook’s set for a SOBO (south-bound) hike, which then gives mileage as calculated from the Canadian border. It will be confusing, but don’t worry: worse things could happen. You’ll still get my total mileage easily calculated, and if I’m at a distinct site, I’ll try to mention that when mentioning the S-mileage to help you know where I’m at. Cascade Locks is 2157 miles from the Mexican border, but 495 miles from the Canadian border. Guthook is actually calling Cascade Locks 406 miles from the Canadian border, perhaps including the 8 miles from the Canadian border to the road. In any event, I’ll use the Guthook mileage with an “S” before to indicate the difference in mileage accounting. Once I reach Castella, it will all be a moot point.

I am making a few minor changes. I’ll be carrying a small sheet of Tyvek to sit or lay on at rest stops.

I’ll be using an Ursack, effective for bears, but most importantly for squirrels, chipmunks and mice that would love to eat your food.

I will no longer carry micro-spikes, but go for a little heavier shoes should I need to kick steps in the snow.

Merrell Moab IIs- NOT waterproof!

I’m no longer using an internal hydration unit for many reasons, and have gone with an external system that always allows me to know what my water supply is doing.

1 liter Platypus connected to a hydration hose and greatly modified by me

So, I am constantly changing but always keeping my weight down. If I add weight, something else has to go. That’s the wisdom of the trail.

Yesterday, I took the train down to Vancouver and Gaylon picked me up. I was able to see his new abode, which looked quite nice. For some reason, I felt really gorked out and we crashed early. I didn’t sleep too well; somehow, getting back on the trail is becoming harder with every break. This time I knew that I would be away between 4-6 weeks-not cool.

30 JUN- S505-523 (2148-2130) I started on the Washington side of the Bridge of the Gods, Gaylon having dropped me off, wanting to get photos of me walking the bridge. Today was a true grunt day, climbing nearly 6000 feet. The weather could not have been better. Most of the thru-hikers have flip-flopped and were heading north. I passed about 5 pair/couples who have done that. They all mentioned some issues with snow, but suggested that by the time I reach those places (like Mt. Jefferson) the snow should be mostly gone. I’m still trying to take it slow and easy for now. I set up camp at Wahtum Lake, expecting to reach Timberline Lodge in 2 days. Mentally, the day was hard as it was a very long climb to start after a long break. I’m thinking that perhaps a zero day at Timberline or Odell Lake might be in order. One thing that has kept me going was a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies that Betsy baked up just before I left Puyallup. Boy were they nice. I’m also finding myself back into hiker-brain, not wanting to think about anything but survival on the trail. It’s hard to read before bed, as the brain shuts down.

Washington side, looking into Oregon
Climbing out of the Gorge
Large sections of forest burnt in the last forest fire.
Hiker trash
Wahtum Lake

01JULY- mile 2130-2109 (523-544S) The weather started cloudless, and Wahtum Lake was most beautiful. I was on the trail by 6am knowing that I would need to go 21 miles. It wasn’t quite as much climbing as yesterday but still was fairly demanding. About 2 o’clock it started to sprinkle and I put the rain cover on my pack. Not much happened with that. The trail went on a ridge that had Bull Run Reservoir (the drinking water for Portland) on one side and Lost Lake on the other. From the trail you could not see Bull Run and multiple signs announced it off limits. Lost Lake could be seen, and it brought back memories of a camping trip with Betsy soon after we were married.

Mt Hood getting ever closer
Lost Lake and Campground in the distance
Glacier Lilies in abundance lining the trail
Rhododendrons in full bloom

Before starting the Old Station to Castella section, I began to have terrible pains in my right neck. I could barely move my neck, and pain when trying to sleep became severe. Because I needed my full faculties of thought, I didn’t want to push the benzodiazepines (good for muscle relaxation) or narcotics to relieve the pain. On my short stay at home, most of this pain resolved. The pain began again soon after commencing hiking yesterday and today was unbearable. I could not look up or turn my head to either side without extreme pain. After setting up camp close to another thru-hiker headed south like me, Chuckles from Kotzebue, Alaska also noted that I was holding my head strangely and I explained to her the problem. The pain is extreme enough at this point that it might force me off the trail at Timberline. Tomorrow will tell.

02JUL- mile 2109- 2097

It rained through the night. My tent held true to the word and kept me very dry. I didn’t sleep much because of the neck pain. The rain had stopped by morning but it was quite misty. Chuckles woke up to wish me off. I left her a bunch of food as she was getting low, and planned on doing less than ten miles today, leaving her short of Timberline Lodge. She was a professional dog musher and was doing the trail to get into shape for next season. The trail was almost all upwards with several long climbs. I did the variant that passed Ramona Falls. The Sandy River was a very swift ford with sloppy rocks but I got across uneventfully though with wet feet and pants. At some point the mist increased and by the time I reached Timberline Lodge it was pouring down rain. To be expected, the trail had lengthy segments of mud, or rivers of water. More surprisingly I was told that the trail was snow free yet there were still lengthy segments of snow, some being a bit dangerous. This sort of weather and trail conditions are very typical for this time of year in the Northwest, but I guess I was thinking that I might luck out. By the time I reached Timberline Lodge, I could not even see the Lodge until I was right on it.

I neck continued to hurt severely. I couldn’t look to the side because of pain, so had to stop hiking and turn my entire body to see anything. The pain wasn’t as severe as yesterday, perhaps because of my lighter pack, but knew that I would be getting a 4-5 day supply of food for the next section and so might expect worse pain again. I picked up my resupply box and decided that I should have my neck looked at. My dear friend Fred Bomonti, a near retired chiropractor from Puyallup, said that he would see me the next day. I hopped a shuttle bus from Timberline Lodge to Sandy, another from Sandy to the Gresham MAX station, the MAX from Gresham to Union Station, and the Amtrak back home by 10pm. My dear lovely wife picked me up, and I could not be more happy to see her.

Ramona Falls
Mist engulfing the mountain
My first blister. I’ll be going back to my old shoes, the Altra Lone Peaks
You can’t see it well, but the streets are lined with “homeless” tents. This did not exist even a few years ago. Like Seattle, Portland has become a highly undesirable place to visit thanks to seriously misguided city management

I’ll soon be writing another blog about my thoughts so far and how I plan on negotiating the future life on the trail so stay in touch.

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