Archive for June, 2007

Just dropped Rolling Thunder off at Amtrak. What a great two weeks.

Our last day on the trail was perfect as we hiked through Jefferson Park which is undoubtedly one of the nicest pieces of the entire Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. The weather was perfectly tranquil, the snow navigation was tricky, the terrain a challenge, and the friends and memories simply beyond incredible.

After lunch, I picked up my pace and headed for a finish line that now represented a starting line; I wanted to be alone, needed to be alone with my thoughts – what a hike, what a year and a half of my life, what a surprising and altering (albeit not what I expected) experience.

One short mile from the end my trance was broken as I was startled by a day hiker – no a thru-hiker – my friend Weed. Weed had drove up from Vancouver Washington to congratulate us our hike; you can not buy that for all the money in the world. We walked to the end of my PCT hike together while sharing a connection that only thru-hikers understand.

How about we go to the mineral hot springs, have a huge dinner, and then go for a soak (naked naturally)? How about we do that…..Times have changed.


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Rock pile lake to past Russel Creek
18.8 Miles

If all goes well tomorrow, I will have walked an unbroken line between Mexico and Canada. I like that- as I never liked the asterisk of having thru-hiked “but” missed 63 miles due to fire closure. I wanted to hike every mile of this trail and it “may” happen but we know how hubris has bit me before.

The navigation was tough today and equal to our 06 Sierra experience. There are no tracks and the route we are taking has seen very few hikers thus far in 07. We made one small error that we all quickly recognized when we observed “boy is that steep”. We doubled back but with 100% snow coverage all we could do was take an educated guess as to where the trail was. After bushwhacking for quite a while and after we cleared the snow area I was volunteered to go down slope to see if I could find the trail. It was so steep that all the trees grew straight out the slope, then realized the sun was a 90 degree angle to that, and thus turned upwards to reach the light. This was good for me because these sharp angles made for perfect tree steps down the hill; without them it would have been sketchy. Fortunately our guess was correct and I found the trail below us about 100 meters. Sunny who shoe skied down an adjacent snow bowl also found it.

This section of Oregon should not be missed as it is truly beautiful. Mt. Jefferson is really impressive and the early season snow makes it more so.

I received instructions on “dating” from the Filthy Five (subset of the Dirty Dozen). Boy did we laugh. Thunder contributed that you should never date someone you have not “first googled” and “googled imaged”. And he also offered that you must be 100% responsible and get STD test with any potential partner. Ok, but what is STD? That is when the team noted that they needed to start at the beginning and let me know that a LOT has changed in 16 years. I now that that SDT or Sexually Transmitted Disease is alive and well in the over 40 heterosexual community. So much for keeping the romance restricted to romance! Tadpole the Hippo suggested that the new norm was not dating but hanging out, typically with groups, and if something clicks with someone in the group you then hook up, and Sunny offered some very sincere advice when he said “just totally be yourself – that is who your are anyway so anything else is just acting and this is not a play”. I like that. Mike Unger was too wise to comment. I think my plan of NOT dating is still a good one….for now.

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Big Lake Youth Camp to Rock pile Lake

19.3 miles

That was hard! I am exhausted. We are camped at Rock pile Lake and amazingly the lake still has ice on the far side. This is really a beautiful place and I am glad we pushed on in order to camp here. We likely crossed more snow today then the nobo class of 2007 will see on the entire trail. The mosquitoes were awful much of the day.

During my thru-hike I thought of Liz each day and remember how much I missed her. Today was similar and I am missing her still, but realizing she has completely moved on certainly changes things. I have all kinds of options for my future but it is really hard getting my head around that.

I forgot to mention that I actively participated in hike naked day last week. I am pretty self conscious about stuff like this so it was a Big Deal for go-BIG. The mosquitoes were so bad that we stripped quickly, threw on our packs, swatted the evil ones from our asses and “other” body parts, and quickly shot a photo. Sean (Scout and Frodo’s son) had the best one liner when he said: I have to get dressed to say good bye to his parents” who were going north while we were going south. But once we headed up Glen Pass he was happily striding up the pass completely nude (less shoes and socks) to the great enjoyment of two nobo female thru-hikers. One of the best parts of hike naked day was learning that Frodo only agreed to participate if I did and she knew for certain that I would not and thus she was safe….times are a changing.

Big Lake Youth Camp turned out to be a really cool place. The camp is a Seventh Day Adventist camp with a 100% vegetarian diet. The food was great. We were invited to their camp fire program which turned out to be a “revival” meeting for young people. Thunder describes it as “happy clappy” and he retreated faster than a hungry thru-hiker on his way to a all you can eat buffet. Sunny, Tadpole, and I took much of it in. Certainly not my thing and when they started handing out “Jesus gems” my cynicism kicked in – But they were truly great people having a good time and treated us very nicely.

Thunder just gave me a couple of vitamin I; needed as I hurt all over.

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I got an email form a friend who had talked to Liz and learned we were divorcing because of “mutual” desire. I was flipping ticked when I read that as in my view there was nothing mutual about it. At first I thought I was mad at Liz because I felt she mis-characterized the situation. That said, after 7 miles I realized that I was not mad at her at all (well ok, sorta). What I was really upset with is “how I would be perceived – if people believed it was mutual? Embarrassed, ashamed of failing and giving up – of quitting for god’s sake. It is odd how what looks like a primary emotion is actually masking what is really going on. In this case fear was actually driving the anger, and that anger was mis-directed towards Liz. We all talked about this subject for many miles and ultimately agreed that fear is a primary emotion that drives many behaviors. Now I have been paying a therapist $100 an hour to tell me what hiker trash observed and communicated as obvious for free. And this came in the first miles of the missing miles expedition which was designed to finish undone business.

We walked across more snow today then we saw in the Sierra last week. Amazing what latitude will do.

The people at Big Lake Youth Camp are super friendly and invited us to dinner and campfire (including singing and a play). We are looking forward to it.

Likely going to pay for the pace today but with only 63 total miles we can beat ourselves up a bit and recover later.

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Hanging out this morning before heading south back over Glen pass. The mosquitoes are out in force and as I write this I have 20 of them buzzing between my eyes and the paper I am writing on. It is an interesting exercise to be calm and simply let them buzz, but it is also hard not to start flailing your arms in mental frustration and chaos.

Two days ago was Scout and Frodo’s 30th wedding anniversary and they renewed their vows on top of Forester pass ( highest point on the PCT) Scout read his journal entry for day and I cried – tears of happiness for them and tears of sadness for Liz and I. Long term relationships are incredibly difficult (for me at least) and because I was so so so convinced that Liz and I would be together forever, I failed to invest enough on a daily basis. I accepted that things were “good enough – as good as they could be”. That is not to say that I did not work hard or try my best – I most certainly did. In fact I put more effort into this relationship than anything else in my entire life. But I see now that it wasn’t always the right effort and I needed more skills. It is an odd thing; If I do not know how to say, navigate, I learn how and I do that in all areas of interest to me; all areas I want to improve upon. But for some reason I felt I was skilled enough on the relationship front and sought little additional information, education, or skill development. Why is that? Those truly important things are often overlooked and dismissed.

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Charlotte Lake: along the PCT

Beautiful morning in the Sierra Nevada. Air temperature dropped into the high 30’s last evening and sleeping in the fetal position felt so warm and secure. The Nutcrackers are going wild as they have found our camp and begging from us is likely easier than foraging for their own food. The contrast from 2006 is amazing and demonstrates fully that the way things were are not the way things are. There is virtually no snow and I am camped at over 7,500 ft. Last year nearly everything above 9,000ft was solid snow; last year I was happily married. It is good to reflect on this and recognize that Siddhartha had it right regarding the impermanence of all things. Yesterday we met a dozen thru-hikers and most seemed to be really great people which are consistent with our experience last year. Thunder posed and interesting question however: “Where we as self absorbed as these hikers seem to be”. At the time it did not seem like we were but upon further reflection I believe we were. Everywhere we went we talked about us, our hike, our experience. When we finished we continued the trend -yes we were just like that, still are likely.

One aspect of recovering as a thru-hiker for me has been the idea or question of “what next” or more precisely “how do I top that?”. That line of questioning, I am finding, is detrimental and yet that is 100% how I have lived my life up to this point – always the bigger challenge. And as my dear friend Michael pointed out, “…you basically use one tool for all jobs, and that tool is a hammer.” At first I tap a bit with a finish hammer. If that does not work I keep moving to bigger and bigger hammers and I swing harder and harder. Or as I realized recently, if I hit a dead end with a barricade instead of turning around and looking for a better path, I simply pour on more fuel and push my way through regardless of the consequences. You know outwardly I would likely be described as successful, however adding more force does not always make for good relationships.
At our presentation the other night, RT and I joked that “he got a divorce and went for a hike, while I went for a hike and got a divorce, and 3 gallon went for a hike and fell in love”. I tried to give a lot of support to Thunder last year as he worked through his divorce. That experience has helped me work through my own suffering – how is that a coincidence …..it’s not. We also joked, well sorta joked, that we were both now single and could be contacted via our journals. The next morning, Ms. Michael- our host, commented that there were 2 messages on her and Joe’s answering machine and in one message the women was panting. God it is good to laugh at oneself and it beats the hell out of crying.

RT and go-BIG Daddy think I need a “transitional” woman. Wrong. I actually still want to be married to my wife thus requiring I need to work through the fact that I am not, and maybe even learn some of the life lessons you can only learn when your ego is sufficiently deflated to render you teachable. Dating would only hasten the recovery of such ego and I would likely stop learning again….I am like that. So, call me in 6 months.

Rae lakes

Scout, Frodo , Sean, and Thunder showed up right on schedule and we had a reunion complete with tales of wonderful times from last year and new adventures that are currently unfolding.

Dad was feeling strong so we decided to hike over to Rae lakes. It was great as we leisurely strolled the ~ 5 miles in ~5 hours. Scout and I had a chance to catch up and compare notes on life’s challenges and working through them. One thing I have learned in the last several months is that if you want people to relate to you on a deeply personal level you must take the risk and open up your personal life to them. It is ironic that I have always kept people at a distance thinking I was protecting myself from being hurt – only to realize that wall of protection will ultimately fall on you and boy will it hurt when it does. So I am taking more risk but by doing so may actually be taking less.

A pose of thru-hikers came in and Thunder dispensed “biscuits”. Why would anyone call a cookie a biscuit? I forgot how fast trail lore moves up and down the trail but was reminded when the group said they had heard about a guy with a huge pack handing out tangerines – Thunder while hiking in over Kearsarge.
Déjà vu as Scout reads from his journal – flashbacks to Oregon where Thunder and I shared our journals with Scout and Frodo when they provided us their very special trail magic. The gift of returning the favor has been a gift in and of itself.

More mosquitoes here then we saw in all of 2006 – Deet works but I hate climbing into my bag with that stuff on.Tomorrow is hike naked day; something I would never consider previously, but times they are a changing and we will see.

3 months ago I was retired, moving to Mt. Shasta, and married. Now, I am working again, living in a one bedroom apartment, and getting a divorce – still hard to fathom that. When we decided to divorce I figured it would be good to keep the lawyers (no offence Barney) out of it and I hoped Liz felt the same way. I decided however that I should at least consult an attorney just to make sure I was on the right track. I went to a highly regarded law firm and while in the waiting room overheard the paralegal advising a client to have the house reappraised because the market had gone down. And she said that George (the attorney I was about to see) recommended that he not cut the grass for a few weeks and let the place go to hell in order to get a lower appraisal and thus have to split less with his wife; then after the divorce he could clean the place back up, sell it and beat her out of some of the proceeds. I almost walked out right then but instead sat through the consult and listened to more of this insane (this is why the system is broken) crap. Disgusting, and no way to treat the person I had spend 16 wonderful years with. We ultimately settled our affairs in 30 days without any of that crap….I am really glad I told I said no thank you to the proposed option but rather followed my core beliefs. Yes I ended up with 1/2 of what we had before, yes I was somewhat resentful about that, and yet I am so glad that law firm got not one penny.

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Atop Kearsarge pass along the PCT

I am go-BIG and I am a recovering thru-hiker.  Almost exactly one year ago today, I was in this exact spot as I hiked from Mexico to Canada along the PCT.  They say a thru-hike will change your life-I know that to be true from personal experience.  What they don’t tell you is that some of the changes will be significant and hurt so much that if you knew what was coming you may choose to get off the trail of life if that was an option offered.

During my hike I truly learned what was important to me- my wife, my family, my friends, our natural world, and the communities we live in. Unfortunately I did not learn a darn thing regarding how to actually live my life differently in order to foster better relationships and contribute more to life. Rather, I returned home lost and I fell into a depression that first left me without a rudder, then broken paddles, and finally sank me to a very dark and lonely place. When I was so arrogant to think that life could not get much tougher, I was told by my wife that she wanted to consider a separation, then I was told she did not want to be married any longer, next came a request for a divorce, and finally an acknowledgement that she was no longer in love with me and that she was involved with someone else.

The panic attacks lasted for a few weeks and the throwing up subsided after a few days. That was 94 days ago; March 15, 2007. I will remember that day for the rest of my life.

And I remind myself everyday what a departed friend always used to say: “Out of seemingly bad, always comes good…..always”.

I am not used to failing at things and I never planned to fail at my marriage; and yet here I am getting a divorce- dealing with the shame, guilt, embarrassment, and remorse. And to be very clear, I own 100% of my part, and while I have my moments I can not stay angry for very long as I care deeply for Liz and even now think warmly of her and hope she finds the greatest happiness.

The hike in was really nice. I am hiking with my 06 buddy Rolling Thunder who flew into from New Zealand a few days ago. With us is go-BIG daddy. We are doing an on trail resupply for Scout and Frodo (formerly Barney and Sandy). We are also trying to dispense some trail magic as a very small “thank you” to all of those who helped us along our way.

Things with mom are really good; amazingly good in fact. She has completed her chemo therapy and radiation and while the treatment was brutal her pathology numbers are very good, she is feeling well, and the prognosis is positive. And, in classic form to demonstrate how good things are she insisted that Dad join us on for this hike. It is good to be hiking with Pop again as we did not get out at all in 2006 given my thru-hike and mom’s cancer.

Thunder broke ahead to Vidette meadows and we are staying at the designated meeting spot. Scout and Frodo should be in tomorrow by noon.

When I set out on my thru-hike I told my wife that I was scared she might not want to be with me after a prolonged absence. She said she had the exact same fear. At the time that made me feel better but I see now that I was in a place of fear and fear is not a healthy emotion for a relationship. I also see now how much I defined myself by my marriage- how much I define myself by external things. Things like hiking the PCT, my career. It is like I walk around carrying a sandwich board with the menu items being definitions of who I believe I am. I also am seeing how much I like my sandwich board and how I really get upset when people erase some the the menu items; erase who I thought I was.

I shared with Liz recently that my heart was broken and she acknowledged she understood as her heart was broken intermittently over the years. I never meant to break her heart but I see how my actions could and did have that effect.

And my family and friends – have been by my side, carrying me to a better place. Shannon who incurred a $650 phone bill; telling me I was a great man…I needed to hear that a lot in the beginning. To Pam, Shannon’s partner who finally said “get off the phone, and invite Robert over for dinner – several times”. To Alan and Michael who invited me on bike rides, shared their very personal history with me, and showed me through their relationship what is possible in a growing relationship. To Dave who took a call from a friend and responded with an outpouring of support. To Nick and Christy who had the brilliant suggestion that house sit in their beautiful Mt. Shasta home for a week- just what I needed. To Sheri and Cathy who took me into their home, found me an apartment, the insisted I hang pictures and make it my home.

Nutcrackers are calling as the last rays of light fade into a glorious Sierra nightfall. The Kearsarge pinnacles are blushed with pink (photo on banner of this site) and I am happy and content.

To Larry, my JMT hiking partner, who calls every few weeks to simply check in. To Sugar Daddy and Eric Valentine who have been generous with their Christian perspective. To Joe and Michael who listen carefully and make laser like observations that would cut like a knife for me not knowing they are given with absolute kindness and caring. To Ray who has been willing to and capable of helping me see my short comings while prescribing a course of action to “get over it” and move beyond being so self focused. To my parents who support only like parents. I am grateful and so blessed to have you all in my life…I am a rich man.

Thunder and I did a PCT presentation in Mt. Shasta on Father’s day to a full house at the stage door coffee house. We had never done anything like this together before and yet our 1600 miles of trail last year made our delivery seamless. We laughed, I cried a bit, and we generally had a ball in this outreach program for the PCTA and the Mt. Shasta Trail Association. Have I mentioned that everyone needs to support organizations such as these.

Speaking of support. Prodeal put together an incredible video of our class of 2006. With each copy he sent out he provided a letter requesting that all thru-hikers become life time members of the PCTA – I felt very very good about writing that check. Ironically, I did not get an acknowledgement receipt and let the PCTA know as they are super diligent about such things. Would you believe it, they keyed in my new address wrong. I ultimately got one of the nicest most sincere, and most “professional” apology voice mails from Liz. I was very appreciative and yet it hit me fully that I was not getting a call from my wife who just happened to be the Executive Director of the PCTA but rather a call from the Executive Director who just happened to be my former wife.  That hurt a lot….just part of the process of moving on.

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