The Fragility of Plans

It’s been a long time since my last post. Why? Read on.

Just over seven weeks ago, I was celebrating my first overnight backpacking trip. I spent a Saturday hiking a local state park with twenty-five pounds on my back. It was a short hike—about six miles—but it wasn’t about the miles; it was about the experience. What does it feel like to carry a fully loaded pack? How would I manage, setting up my own campsite? Is being solo something I can handle?

It was the first of many planned training hikes to prepare for my July 10th backpacking trip—Section K of the PCT (California), to be exact. This is an area near Lake Tahoe and goes through the Desolation Wilderness. I had my permits, my maps, and my gear. All I needed to do was continue my training.

I came home from my experimental trip with some new-found knowledge. First, my secondhand tent leaks in the rain. Second, carrying a twenty-five-pound pack isn’t easy, but it’s do-able. Lastly, and most importantly, I discovered a sense of confidence I wasn’t sure I had.

I could do this trip! I will do this trip.

But all plans are vulnerable, fragile. Mine were taken away from me in a matter of seconds when a truck coming the opposite direction swerved into my lane to avoid rearending the car in front of him. This happened on our way to school/work the Monday after my short solo backpacking trip. One day I was feeling accomplished and excited for the summer, the next, I was just thankful to be alive and that, other than a few bruises from his seatbelt and a yanked back, my son was uninjured.

Me? I ended up with a broken right ankle and a fractured left wrist. I took my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, where the doctors reset my ankle and told me I would be having surgery on it the next day. I ended up spending three nights there.

When I left the hospital, it was with a monster-sized leg cast and a walker I could barely use because of my broken wrist. The only mobility I was allowed for two weeks was to hop my way to the bathroom, using my clunky walker to keep me from falling on my face.

Two weeks after the accident, the orthopedic surgeon switched out my post-surgery monster cast for a normal-sized fiberglass cast. I chose a beautiful purple-colored cast, in case you’re wondering.  I also switched to a wheelchair to get around. Turns out I’m pretty good on wheels.

Four weeks after the accident, the surgeon removed my staples and I got to choose a new cast color. This time, I picked red in honor of the upcoming 4th of July and Canada Day holidays. I was still wheelchair bound and would be for the next two weeks.

Now, seven weeks post accident, I am about a week into wearing a “walking boot.” My doctor wanted me to switch back to the walker, but since my wrist is still healing, that proved to be as awkward as it was the first time I tried. Instead, I decided to try using crutches with the reasoning that either way, my wrist was going to suffer. It actually feels better with the crutches than using the special “platform” attachment on my walker meant to keep my weight on my forearm instead of my wrist.

I’m getting around pretty well with the crutches and putting weight on my ankle. My doctor likes the way I’m healing and is impressed with the relatively little swelling my ankle has. His outlook is positive. My son’s bruises have disappeared, although he is visiting the chiropractor twice a week to ensure his back, which got a bit tweaked in the accident, goes back to its pre-accident level of untweakedness.

Truly, I have a lot to be thankful for. I tell myself everyday it could have been worse, that because of the nature of the accident, it could have been fatal… but it wasn’t. I could have lost my son… but I didn’t. My children could be motherless… but they aren’t. These reminders are a life preserver in a sea of disappointment. I cling to them when the negative thoughts crash into me and threaten to pull me under.

I’ll save the non-physical impact—both good and bad—the accident has had for another post. There are always lessons to learn and new ways to grow in every circumstance, and this has been no exception.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of my car, my cast changes, and my Frankensteinish post-surgery ankle. And, in case you’re wondering, the driver of the truck, who was at fault and had obviously been distracted at the time of the accident, is fine.

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Mine is the car in the shallow ditch.
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RIP, little Mazda.
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In the hospital. My surgeon is a fan of padding.
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It was so pretty!
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Happy Independence Day and happy Canada Day!

This next photo is the final one, and if you’re squeamish, I’d skip it. Just a warning.

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Two weeks post-surgery. Both sides of my ankle looked like this.

 

Kanaka Loop Trail

On Sunday, May 5th, I really didn’t feel like hiking. I just wasn’t feeling very motivated. I’ve been working on a difficult book edit, the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death is looming in the immediate future, and I just felt blah.

I had originally planned to hike in the Laguna Mountain area, but thanks to my blahtitude, I was slow to get moving in the morning, and the later it got, the less I felt like driving three hours, round-trip, to do the hike.

It wasn’t until 11:00 a.m. that I finally kicked myself hard enough in the butt to decide on a hike closer to home… preferably an easy one so I could try out my backpacking backpack for the first time. I figured I would fill my pack up with all the gear I’ve accumulated so far to see how it felt to hike with the weight.

The area that seemed to meet the criteria best was the Santa Ysabel Upper Creek Preserve, just outside of Julian, California. The Kanaka Loop Trail is rated as “moderate” on AllTrails, but based on a previous hike in the preserve, I had it in my head that it would be flat. It turned out to be more hilly than I thought, and with my backpack on, it was pretty challenging.

I was doing great until about mile six. That is when I really felt the weight of my pack (I didn’t think to weigh it until it was too late). I can definitely see why backpackers talk about reducing weight wherever they can. My knees and feet felt the difference, but two days later—as I write this—they are fine, and that’s what matters to me.

The final two miles of the hike were tough. I took a lot of breaks and questioned my sanity, but I survived. Best of all, it got me out of the funk I was in. The exercise, fresh air, and beautiful scenery were just what I needed.

The area is still English-Countryside-Green from all the rain we’ve gotten.
The flat part of the trail.
The fields were covered in little purple and white wild flowers.
Looking northwest, toward Palomar Mountain (the peak way off in the distance).

Plans, Permits, and the PCT

No new mileage to report in this post; however, I will be hiking this weekend, so I’ll update in a couple days. Aside from trying to reach my 500-mile goal by my birthday in about 11 months, I’ve got a new incentive to get out and hike.

In July, I will be section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail!

California’s Section K is where I will begin my quest to hike the PCT a section at a time. I chose Section K because its trailhead is about a nine-hour drive from my house, it doesn’t require that I trek through desert during the summer, and its 60-mile length seems doable for a someone new to backpacking.

This section of the PCT requires a permit, which I reserved last week. It also has quotas set for the trailheads because the trail passes through the Desolation Wilderness. It was a bit confusing trying to figure out how to plan around the permit and quotas, but I feel 99% confident that I did everything correctly.

Now, I need to prepare my body and my gear. I’ve been adding to my pile of things I need for backpacking, but I have a lot of work to do when it comes to being physically and mentally ready. Each of these topics deserve their own posts, so I won’t get into this now.

Instead, I’ll end this post with an image of Lake of the Woods, one of the many beautiful places I will see during my trip.

Photo attribution: brewbooks from near Seattle, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Quick Mileage Update

I haven’t posted anything on my blog for the past couple weeks. I didn’t bring my laptop when I went to Edmonton, and I am terrible trying to write anything using my phone. Then last week, I was simply exhausted.

But, I’m back now, and hopefully rested up after my trip.

I have a lot to write about, but this post is short and sweet. I need to update my mileage since my last post.

While in Canada, my sister and I hiked seven miles along the extensive river trails that run along the Saskatchewan River. It was a good stretch but mostly flat.

Today, I hiked six miles of the Pacific Crest trail near Warner Springs. The sun and heat made the hike a bit more challenging for me than usual. I also had to be home by a certain time, so I cut my hike short by about a mile.

Anyway, I get to add thirteen miles to my grand total, bringing me up to 51 miles. Yay!

Freedom

F is for Freedom

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary’s first listed definition of the word FREEDOM is: the quality or state of being free… the quality or state of not being coerced or constrained by fate, necessity, or circumstances in one’s choices or actions

Some of the synonyms Merriam-Webster lists are: autonomy, independence, independency, liberty, self-determination, self-governance

Freedom. Wars have been, and still are, waged to gain it. People have, and still do, sacrifice everything to keep it… to give their children and grandchildren the gift of it. Freedom means different things to different people. It can be as huge as a country and as tiny as a baby’s first step. For some, freedom lies on the other side a distant border, while others find it behind the wheel of a car. It can be as meaningful as worshiping without fear of violence or loving someone without suffering the sting of hate and prejudice. It can also be as petty as a teenager’s argument to stay out until two in the morning.

What does all of this have to do with hiking? Everything.

I hike because I am free to do so. I am blessed to reap the benefits of living where I do, and I thank God every day for this privilege. But I also hike to be free. Not everyone understands this, but those who hike probably do. There is a freedom on the trail… a moving forward, propelled by the power of my own two legs. Hiking offers an escape from the demands of life. Instead, there is peace and contentment in nature. To me, hiking and surrounding myself with nature is like coming home, going back to the person I was created to be.

I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.

Henry David Thoreau

One morning, not too long ago, I opened CalTopo on my phone. This is an app that allows its users to view and map trails. I found the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail, which is about 50 miles south of where I live and watched the entire trail slowly load as I scrolled out.

It was fascinating to see the red line that represents the PCT spread further and further north. When it finally stopped at the Canadian border, I took it all in and my heart leapt as one word flashed in my mind—a single word that sums up how I view the PCT.

Freedom!

The PCT represents freedom to me. For more than a year, I’ve dreamed of hiking the length of this trail, but until that moment, I didn’t know why. Then I thought about my ancestors, and how I come from a long line of people who traveled the world. My earliest ancestors I can trace were Vikings. Later, they were Pilgrims who came to the New World for religious freedom and/or financial gain. After that, they were homesteaders who braved the unknown of the territories.

This is the DNA that built me. I don’t feel the urge to conquer and pillage. I also don’t need to find a new home halfway across the world… or across the country. But maybe I’m drawn, in part, to the freedom of the trail because of all those who came before me.

“Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation of his ancestors.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Someday, I will hike the PCT, though it will likely be in sections. Maybe I’ll even take on the Appalachian Trail when I retire. In the meantime and in between, there are a lot of trails I am free to travel, and there is a lot of freedom to find on each trail I traverse.

I’ll take small bites of freedom wherever I can find it.



My Tiny Piece of the PCT, Side B

On Sunday, I returned to Warner Springs to hit a few miles of the PCT. This time, instead of going south/east on the trail, toward Eagle Rock, I went north. This is where Section B of the PCT in California begins.

Since I had never been on this side of the trail, I studied it on CalTopo—a very helpful backcountry mapping tool—and found what appeared to be a good turn-around point. This little section of the PCT crosses over the Agua Caliente Creek a few times as both trail and creek snake around the landscape. The third crossing is at around mile five. Since I wanted to go about ten miles out and back, that became my destination.

There were a several times along the way when I considered turning around. It was getting warmer, there was little shade on the trail, and a good portion of it was uphill. None of this bothered me as much as the nagging voice inside my head that my husband was going to worry about me being gone so long; it felt like I had been on the trail for hours.

But I kept going, mostly because I have this need to always see what lies beyond the next bend in any road upon which I’m traveling. And there are a lot of bends as the trail switchbacks its way up and then down to the creek. Time after time, I was rewarded for my curiosity—each twist in the trail opens to better views than the one before it.

Once I rounded the bend that I swore would be my last, I heard the unmistakable sound of water rushing over rocks and stones. I knew then I was close to the turn-around point, so I allowed the path to lead me down into a small valley of oaks, green grass, and tranquility.

This being Southern California, a well-fed creek or stream is a rare sight. I wanted to leave the trail and follow the water’s flow to where the trees opened on an area adorned with large, water-carved boulders, but the way was blocked with poison oak and stinging nettle.

Instead, I crossed to the other side of the creek—just so I could say I did—then crossed back again before resting on a log that bordered a single-tent camp site, which was not in use at the time. I listened to the creek’s music while I ate my chocolate-melted Kind bar. It was shaded, peaceful, and perfect.

I could have stayed at the site all night if I had a tent and enough food… and a husband who wasn’t expecting me to come home. But, reality forced me to my feet and sent me back the way I had come.

The hike back to my car was a little more eventful than the hike in, but I’ll save that for another time. Until then, don’t worry—no mountain lions, serial killers, or flesh-eating fire ants to talk about.

This weekend, I plan to get some miles in on Palomar Mountain, which I affectionately call “my mountain.” I spent a lot of my childhood camping, fishing, and hiking on that mountain. Now, I bring my own children to experience it the way I did. I also volunteer in the mountain’s two fire towers as a forest fire lookout. I love my mountain.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

My Tiny Piece of the PCT

After about three weeks of fighting off one bug or another, I was finally feeling well enough to hit the trail on Saturday.

The hike I chose starts at Warner Springs in San Diego County, which is less than an hour from where I live. The route is part of a small stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, where Section A ends at Highway 79 and becomes Section B. For this hike, my destination was south and east along Section A, toward Eagle Rock, which is a landmark made up of large boulders. I didn’t get a picture of Eagle Rock on this hike, but here is a photo I took during a hike about a year ago.

You can see how Eagle Rock got its name!

The day was chilly (by Southern California standards), so I layered up my clothes, including a bright yellow windbreaker my husband used to wear when he was into cycling. It was a perfect layering piece with pockets in the front and back. It did a fantastic job keeping the cold wind out. He hasn’t worn it for so long, I think I’ll just have to keep it.

I passed a few PCT thru-hikers who were heading the opposite direction, making their way to the Warner Springs Community Resource Center just west of Highway 79. The community center seems to be an amazing resource for PCT hikers. I haven’t experienced their hospitality firsthand, but you can visit their website if you would like more information. Here is their web address: https://sites.google.com/site/wscrcenter2/about-pacifc-coast-trail

Other than the thru-hikers at the beginning of my hike, I had the trail mostly to myself… until I got closer to Eagle Rock. About a mile from the landmark, I passed several day hikers who were returning to the trail head at Warner Springs. I guess they all got an earlier start than I did, which was fine by me—I enjoyed the solitude of the first three-quarters of my hike.

The best part of the hike, aside from feeding my soul by being in nature, was how green everything is right now. With all the rain we’ve gotten over the past few months, the fields, mountains, and valleys are almost the type of green I used to see while I was living in England, years ago. At every turn in the trail, I stopped and wondered how the view could be more beautiful than what I was currently seeing.

The hike to Eagle Rock and back is about six miles. When I had done the hike with my husband and son almost a year ago, we didn’t go any further than Eagle Rock. This time, I wanted to keep going to see where the trail led me. Plus, I wanted to put a couple more miles under my feet. It was definitely worth the extra effort. Next time I hike that route, I’ll start earlier and go even further.

Even after three weeks of little physical activity, I felt pretty good except for a knot in my left calf that appeared the morning of my hike (before my hike) and got worse as I walked. I wonder if I was a bit dehydrated, as I haven’t been faithfully drinking my water like I should be. When I got home, I rested my calf and massaged it for a while. It feels better now and should be ready to hit the trail again this weekend.

There is more to share about my hike—especially how much I needed it—but I will save that for another post. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this. I heard this beautiful gal on the trail before I saw her, and I admit… she startled me. As we stopped and stared at each other, I half expected her to open her mouth to tell me something important, like maybe a boy named Timmy had fallen into a well and needed saving.

She followed me until a tall patch of green grass off the trail drew her away, “Timmy” long forgotten.

Itching to Begin

It’s been almost a week since I made it my goal to hike a total of 500 miles. So far, I’ve done a whoppin’ zero miles. Boooo!

I’m trying to not be too hard on myself, though.

About three weeks ago, I came down with some sort of cold, which decided to move into my chest. This turned into bronchitis. I was on antibiotics for two weeks, but my chest continued to hurt when breathing (so pretty much all the time) and when I lay down.

On my third trip to urgent care, we finally figured out I have pleurisy. If you don’t know what pleurisy is—I didn’t—it’s the inflammation of the lining of the lungs. It isn’t a serious condition, but it is painful and has zapped all my energy. I’m using Alleve and turmeric supplements to ease the inflammation, and it seems to be helping.

Now that I’ve committed myself to this hiking goal, I want to start! I’m forcing myself to wait until I can breathe without hurting. Breathing is difficult enough for me when I’m hiking up hills. Why make it worse?

Meanwhile, I’m trying to be patient and planning which trails I will hit once I’m ready… hopefully this weekend.

I’ll keep you posted!

Why Hiking?

About ten years ago, I permanently injured my left foot during a love affair with long-distance running. The day my podiatrist showed me the x-ray of my fallen arch, I knew he would tell me the news I had dreaded hearing for months… that I needed to stop running. In a non-sympathetic manner, he informed me that I had the foot of a seventy-year-old and unless I wanted to be disabled in my fifties, I needed to give it up.

I felt like I lost my best friend that day.

Still grieving the news, I spent the next year trying to prove him wrong. My foot would feel better, and I would hit the road and trails, only to feel that familiar twinge of pain creeping back into my left foot. I repeated this cycle multiple times, but I never pushed it too far—I had no desire to return to living with constant pain.

The need to challenge myself led me to cycling and mountain biking, but I couldn’t fall in love with it. I like to be in control of my movement, and relying on two skinny circles attached to a metallic frame doesn’t appeal to me the way running did. I participated in a couple road cycling events with my husband—one in Palm Springs and one in San Diego—but after too many near misses with cars whose drivers weren’t paying attention, I was done with “sharing the road.”

Recently, I reconnected with my first love, hiking. Like a loyal family member, hiking has been waiting in the wings while I sought new challenges to test me physically. I never forgot hiking; I have always loved being in nature, using my legs to move through the miracle of it. I just never considered it a replacement for the challenge of running a marathon.

Then a day-hike led me to a small section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I had heard of it and remembered someone saying it stretches from the Mexican border to the border of Canada. A section of the PCT has been in my backyard all my life, and I didn’t realize it. As I studied the iconic blue-and-white trail marker, I remember thinking, “Do people hike the whole thing?”

People do!

The tiny sign that gave me a fresh perspective on hiking.

While the PCT is what planted the seed to embrace hiking as a way to challenge myself, I have no plans to hike to Canada… not yet, anyway. The trail and its amazing travelers are my inspiration to take on hiking as a way to challenge myself with tangible, reachable goals.

Hiking is my new running. It is a return to my childhood. It is where I feel closest to my Creator. Hiking brings back the best memories of my dad—the man who helped me fall in love with the outdoors almost fifties eyes ago.

Hiking is good.