Saturday, August 20, 2016

Yosemite Chronicles: Seven Weeks of Hiking

The question I’m most often asked by those I meet on my trip is, “What hike was your favorite, so far?” How can I choose a favorite trail? Some have amazing views. Some have historical interest. Some were bursting with wildflowers. Some were blissfully devoid of other hikers. I can’t choose. I can only list those I’ve done, so far.

Yosemite National Park
Rancheria Falls: 12.7 miles, 2568 feet elevation gain
Poopenaut Valley: 2.2+ miles, 1263 feet elevation gain
May Lake: 2.4 miles, 501 feet elevation gain



Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area
Black Point Fissures: 3.43 miles, 400 feet elevation gain


Hoover Wilderness
Virginia Lakes: 5-6 miles, 400 feet elevation gain
Lundy Canyon: 9.7 miles, 2000 feet elevation gain
West Lake: 9.43 miles, 2160 feet elevation gain
Oneida Lake: 8.45 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain
McMillan Lake: 8.8 miles, 960 feet elevation gain
Anna Lake: 13 miles, 2240 feet elevation gain


John Muir Wilderness
Little McGee Lake: 16.77 miles, 3000ish feet elevation gain
Upper Morgan Lake and Gem Lakes and Chickenfoot Lake: 10 miles, 1000ish feet elevation gain
Kearsarge Pass and Big Pothole Lake: 11+ miles, 2623+ feet elevation gain
1st, 2nd, and 3rd Lakes, 11.3 miles, 2000 feet elevation gain
Summit Lake via Mono Pass and Ruby Lake: 10.75 miles, 2116 feet elevation gain
Tamarack Lakes: 9.4 miles, 2303 feet elevation gain


Ancient Bristlecone Forest
Mexican Mine and Methusulah Trail: 5.6 miles, 826 feet elevation gain


Sequoia National Park
Muir Grove: 4 miles, 541 feet elevation gain


Kings Canyon National Park
Mist Falls: 9.21 miles, 800 feet elevation gain


Death Valley National Park
Wild Rose Peak: 8.3 miles, 2473 feet elevation gain


That’s over 172 miles hiked and 31,774 feet climbed. I’m saving a number of the Yosemite hikes for September, once the tourist traffic dies down. Expect me to add many more hikes to the list!

Follow along on Instagram @kasmirakit #yosemitechronicles

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Yosemite Chronicles: I read Soul Deep in Horses


I met Merri fresh from the Seattle racetracks. She was lean and incredibly strong from tossing bales, hauling water, brushing horses, and whatever else grooms do at the horse track. (Obviously, I’m not a horsey person. But Merri is.) She put those muscles to work on our Humboldt-Toiyabe trail crew and left me in awe of her strength and endurance. While her body worked the trail, though, her eyes always lingered on the horses. Horses were her past and they would be her future.

Our former boss gave me a copy of Merri’s book, Soul Deep in Horses. Since I’d left trail crew, eighteen years ago, he told me she had gone on to work with pack stock and was now doing some sort of endurance racing. I was surprised that she continued working with horses, because I also knew of a nearly life-ending injury she’d sustained (kick to the face) from her beloved horses during the intervening years.

Knowing of her racing background and present, I was hesitant to read the book. I was impressed with the glamour of her racetrack job eighteen years ago, but I’d learned the harsh realities of racing more recently. Beneath the glitz of glossy muscles, fancy hats, and mint juleps, lies outright animal abuse. How could my horse-loving friend have returned to such cruelty?

It turns out that I should have had more faith in Merri. Her book hopscotches through time and across continents to follow her own, beautiful arc. She goes from a girl who knew all the winners of the Triple Crown to a racehorse groom yearning to overcome her fear of galloping in order to become an exercise rider to an international traveler learning the harsh realities of Irish jump racing to a nervous horse-packer in the Sierra Nevada. She leaves working horses behind to simply enjoy riding in Egypt, Zimbabwe, and New Zealand. I cheered for her as she conquered her fear of galloping and found a new passion: endurance racing. (The book is not in chronological order, so I may have the order of events a bit out of line.)

Unlike traditional, track racing, endurance racing is a humane sport emphasizing the bond between rider and horse. Teams complete trail rides of 50 or 100 miles with frequent vet checks and breaks for rest, food and water. The motto of the American Endurance Ride Conference is “to finish is to win.” By Merri’s account, endurance racing is an excuse to get away from it all and spend some time in the wilderness with your horse buddy. The “race” is incidental.

I’m so happy for my friend to have found her horsey groove. I got to know her better through her engaging writing and fantastic stories. The title of her book is Soul Deep in Horses, but it’s Merri’s heart that shines in this collection of essays.

Melde, M. (2014). Soul Deep in Horses: Memoir of an equestrian vagabond. Murphy, ID: The Equestrian Vagabond.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Yosemite Chronicles: Frequently Asked Questions


Town clothes

What are you wearing?
I’m mostly wearing athletic gear and loungewear. I do have some “town” clothes: denim shorts and skirt, a few tees, a long skirt, a chambray shirt, a scarf, and cowboy boots. Believe me, you’re not missing anything (except my incredibly obnoxious American flag hat).


A visit from Beefy AND his mom at Lake Tahoe

Where’s Beefy?
I left my job to take this trip. Beefy did not leave his! He’s in Sacramento, working and taking care of our animals and my plant collection. We are meeting for weekends a few times this summer.


My Bridgeport friend, Mark

Are you alone?
Yes. I’m an introvert and love alone time! I am not always, alone, though. I get Beefy visits and have a friend in Bridgeport. I have also made friends on the journey.


I wanted to eat this puppy

What about the dogs?
Because I’m hiking in national parks, the dogs had to stay at home. Most parks don’t allow dogs out of the parking lots/campgrounds or off the paved road, if they are allowed at all. I manage to get an almost daily “dog fix” from other people’s dogs, so I don’t miss my own as much.

Are you sick? Dying? Pregnant? Suicidal?
Yes, I’ve been asked all of these things. No, no, no, and no. You know how sometimes you need to take a “well day” from work instead of a “sick day?” Think of this trip like an extended “well day” from everyday life.

How long are you hiking?
My trip is 13 weeks long. As of this posting, I’ve just finished week 6!


Drying off after a dip in West Lake

Do you swim naked?
Not yet. Back in my park and forest service days, I always swam in the nude. I guess I’ve gotten a bit prudish in my old age. I’m usually wearing quick-drying gear so I swim in my sports bra and shorts or skirt.

How do you charge your phone?
I charge it in my car or with a solar battery. Because I’m usually out of cell service range, I leave it in airplane mode to conserve battery. I have found that when nighttime temps are below 50, it’s best to sleep with the phone inside my sleeping bag or the battery shuts down. (According to my research, it shouldn’t do that unless the temps are below freezing. I think my battery is defective.)


16-mile day hike

Are you day hiking or backpacking?
I’m day hiking. I prefer to day hike 20 miles with a 10-lb pack and come back to all the comforts of my camp rather than backpack 5 miles with a 30-lb pack, eat a crappy, dehydrated dinner cooked over a tiny, tippy stove, and miss my books and hammock (and booze). I may do an overnight trip or two, once I’ve reached peak stamina. And maybe not.

Got a question? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Follow along on Instagram @kasmirakit #yosemitechronicles

Monday, August 08, 2016

Yosemite Chronicles: I read The High Sierra


I’ve always thought Time-Life books were something to page through, bored, at my Grandma’s house while she watched Perry Mason. I’d flip through the pages, looking at the photos, but never, ever reading the text. In fact, I thought those books were all pictures and captions. Until reading (yes, reading) The High Sierra, I didn’t realize there was more to the books than pretty pictures.

Not only does the book have text, it’s good text. I’m not sure why I was so surprised by the quality of the writing, but I was. Ezra Bowen pulls the reader into his mounted Sierran journeys with keen observations, crisp descriptions, and a little of that cowboy attitude. I appreciate the history and naturalist text, but it’s Bowen’s opinions that entertained me most. He comes across as a crotchety old man complaining about how his wilderness is being taken over by dirty hippies with backpacks and lazy people in cars. I found myself nodding along, especially when I was visiting some of the more crowded areas. Bowen writes:
...most of the sightseers, lured to the area by its reputation and by its relative convenience to heavily populated metropolitan areas of California, arrive to experience only a brief and superficial encounter with the beauty of Yosemite. There are still a few such as the visitor who was heard to snarl at her husband, “Now I don’t want to hear NOTHIN’ about flora, fauna, or geology, understand?”
Written in 1972, the issues he grouses about are the same that plague the area today: overuse and development. Purists complain that the wildernesses are “too available.” Conflict between horse and hiker use continues. “Is a park a natural museum or a natural resort?” Reflecting on my own visits this summer to Yosemite and Sequoia, I’m starting to favor a daily car entry quota for the more popular parks.

Some of the conflicts have been lost to history. For instance, who knew that Walt Disney Productions planned to build a ski and summer resort in the Mineral King Valley that would have included a multilane access road through part of the Sequoia National Park? (The current highway though the park, The Generals Highway, is two lanes and steep and winding.) The Sierra Club blocked the development long enough for the area to be added to national park status, ending the plan.

Although the book is now 44 years old, I found it a good companion for my summer. As expected, I saw pretty pictures and learned a little about Sierra science and history. As not expected, I was prompted to contemplate the politics of the region. In the end, it left me hopeful. Currently, more of the Sierra is protected in wilderness status than shown in the 1972 map. Wildlife is rebounding. New restrictions and limits on use protect sensitive and popular areas. We are successfully being kept from “loving our wilderness to death.”

Next time you’re at your Grandma’s, don’t just flip through the pages of her Time-Life Books collection; pause to read a little. You might be surprised at what you find.

Bowen, E. (1972). The High Sierra. New York, NY: Time-Life Books.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Yosemite Chronicles: Daily Routine

You’d think that days spent hiking and camping alone would be full of long, boring stretches with nothing to do. Not so! I find the days are flying by. This is a typical day:

5:30 am
Wake
Dream journal
Coffee and Larabar
Morning pages (3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing)
Run (2 miles)
Pushups
Abdominal exercises
Yoga
Breakfast
Hike (and lunch)
Journal and read
Dinner
Meditation
Journal and read
Sleep
9:30 pm

The only time I find myself at odds is before bed, when I’m too tired to read or write but not tired enough to sleep and too bored just to lie in my hammock. If I were at home, this is the time when I’d mindlessly scroll the internet or watch Netflix. Neither activities are an option without cell coverage. Instead I either go for a walk or listen to a podcast.

Even though I’m on “vacation,” I like having a structure to my days. It makes me feel productive and keeps me from doing nothing but getting drunk in my hammock (although that has happened).


Follow along on Instagram @kasmirakit #yosemitechronicles

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Yosemite Chronicles: I read Yes Man


I don’t know how often you can say that a Jim Carrey movie changed your life, but that’s how I feel about Yes Man. It didn’t have that impact right away. When I first saw the movie, I laughed at Jim Carrey’s typical physical silliness and longed after Zooey Deschanel’s quirkiness, but subsequently dismissed the movie from my mind. It wasn’t until I began my 40 B4 40 project that the movie’s message returned to my consciousness: say yes!

I was a few months into my project and my yeses when I heard the quote “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” (Neale Donald Walsch). This rang so true. Sometimes my 40 B4 40 adventures were outside my comfort zone and sometimes they led to other experiences outside my comfort zone, but the discomfort was always worth it. I felt more engaged with life. This reminded me of Yes Man and I rewatched the movie, enjoying it as more of a philosophical statement. It reaffirmed my commitment to the project and saying yes more.

I’ve certainly stepped outside of my comfort zone this summer: saying yes to quitting my job and three months of wilderness. As I selected reading material for my trip, I found a copy of Yes Man (the book that inspired the movie) at the thrift store and said yes to adding it to my stack.

Upon reading it, I was surprised to learn how loosely the movie plot is tied to the book. Despite the differences, though, the message is the same: move beyond your comfort zone. I was three-quarters finished with the book when I realized that the narrator’s name is the same as the author’s. Wait? What? Was this not a fiction book? Nope. The story of Yes Man is true as told by Danny Wallace. This made it all the more powerful and relatable.

Some of my favorite lessons from Yes Man:

On saying yes: “It [has] the power to to change lives and set people free . . . It [has] the power of adventure. Sometimes the little opportunities that fly at us every day can have the biggest impact.”

On saying no: “Some people go through their whole lives saying yes over and over again - yes to things that allow other people to take advantage of them . . . Some people need to learn how to say no. Because every time they say yes, they say no to themselves.”

On fear: “People sometimes go through their lives having fears . . . People are always saying no to things, aren’t they? They’re frightened of change, used to routine, used to doing things a certain way. . . They don’t realise they’re putting a real limitation on their lives.”

On change: “When you think about it, probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same.”

On control: “[Let] your Yes moments lead the way. Because actually we don’t even have control in the first place. It’s a myth. In life absolutely anything can happen.”

On coincidence: “Coincidence does not exist! . . . The world knows what it is doing . . . There are connections everywhere. Sometimes we are brought to certain points and we do not know why.”

My 40 B4 40 project ended last November and I fell out of the yes habit as I prepared to leave my job and planned this summer sabbatical. Sometimes, you need to say no in order to focus on a goal. But that’s got to be balanced with some spontaneous yeses, and reading Yes Man reminded me that this is the time to “say yes more.”

Wallace, D. (2005). Yes Man. New York, NY: Simon Spotlight Entertainment.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Yosemite Chronicles: Logistics

When I explained my summer project to people, they mostly conjured up images of Wild: a lone, overloaded, backpacker trekking through the Sierra backcountry. I’m not as hardcore as Cheryl Strayed. I’d be lucky to do 5 miles a day with a fully loaded backpack. Add my reading list for the summer and I’d need two Monsters. Instead, I’m doing things the American way: in my car!

Transportation


I traded in my company car for a Subaru Crosstrek. My last adventure car was also a Subaru, so choosing this make was a no-brainer. The Crosstrek is like a mini-Outback. It’s described as a compact crossover or mini-ute. I love this car! It holds all my gear for the summer and is capable of getting me to remote campsites.

Lodging


I reserved 17 days of campground stays for my 3-month trip. The Yosemite park limit is 14. The remaining three reservations are in the Stanislaus National Forest. When I don’t have reservations, I find campgrounds with first-come-first-serve sites in and around the park. I’ve also tried dispersed camping - staying on US Forest Service land, outside of campgrounds. (Yes, this is legal! But there is usually no water, no picnic tables, no trash service, and no pit toilet.)

Finally, I have a friend in Bridgeport who lets me crash at his house on occasion.

On the weekends, I head to town for groceries, laundry, showers, electricity, and internet!

My tent is the Marmot Limelight 2P. It’s a 2 person tent with 43 inches of headroom. If I wanted to take it backbacking, I could, since it weighs just over 5 pounds. But I’m a backpacking wimp.

I’m sleeping on a 22-year-old Therm-a-Rest pad (still going strong) and in a 22-year-old North Face Cat’s Meow bag (needs replacing). Thankfully, I also brought a thick fleece blanket to compensate for the old, compressed fill in the sleeping bag.

Food


I think I could survive on granola, trail mix, and Larabars all summer, without the need for a stove, if it weren’t for coffee. In fact, I’d give up all the food for coffee. So, I bought a Camp Chef two-burner stove. It’s propane powered and can heat water for my family-size, stainless-steel french press in no time!.

Since I have a stove, I am eating something other than granola, trail mix, and Larabars. I’ve been eating pasta, soup, or burritos for dinner. Lunch is tofu roll ups (that I make in the morning) or crackers with protein (peanut butter or sardines*). I usually throw some fruit and trail mix into my pack for lunch, as well. Breakfast is . . . granola (with hot water and coconut milk powder), a Larabar, and coffee!

Because I’m in bear country, I use the metal food storage lockers provided at the campgrounds. Scented toiletries also must be locked up. In the absence of storage lockers, I lock the food in my car and cover the boxes with a tarp to make them look as uninteresting as possible to a bear. There’s not much I can do about the smell except keep the windows rolled up tight.

Water

I brought a 5 gallon water cooler in case I ran into a primitive campground. I didn’t expect to use it much, but it’s been a lifesaver! I’ve been to a number of sites already with no water. Even when there is a hydrant, I fill up the cooler to cut down on the number of trips I need to make to the spigot each day.

I’ve also had to boil and filter water in the absence of hydrants.

It’s probably no surprise that, in such water scarcity, I’ve only seen flush toilets twice and nary a shower at my campgrounds.

I am now so much more conscious of how much water I use each day. Just doing dishes, washing my hands, cooking, making coffee, and drinking consumes about 4 gallons a day.

It’s no three-month backpacking trip, but the basic business of moving, sleeping, eating, and drinking are a bit different than they were at home. So far, though, the only comforts I miss are fresh produce and showers. I binge on those two things when I’m in town. I’m otherwise perfectly content to live in the woods with my Subi!

Follow along on Instagram @kasmirakit #yosemitechronicles

*I’m reluctantly eating some fish this summer. Without refrigeration, it’s tough to get enough protein on a strictly vegan diet.