Decisions

D is for Decisions

When I began training for the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon, years ago, I had nothing a runner needs to train for a long-distance race. So even before the ink was dry on my entry form, my friend and I went to the nearest Road Runner Sports. I remember being overwhelmed by the massive store and all the options in front of me.

This venture into serious hiking and backpacking feels the same way. But the financial stakes are higher. I thought running was expensive—and it was. That was due, in part, to making decisions without doing my research first. I purchased things I didn’t need, and I want to be careful this time.

There are a lot of items a backpacker needs to purchase before heading out on the trail for the first overnight trip. At the bare minimum, I will need to purchase some kind of shelter, a backpack, sleeping bag, and food. Of course, I’ll need water, but water is free, which is why it’s not included in my list of items to purchase.

But if I want to have water, I’ll need a way to transport it. I already have a decent CamelBak bladder, but I really don’t like drinking out of those tubes. Blech. Maybe I’ll see what my options are. In case I need to scavenge water along the trail, I’ll some kind of filtration system, so there’s another water-related purchase I’ll need to decide on.

I know there are a lot of other things I’ll need. Off the top of my head, those items include a first aid kit, boots that don’t hurt my feet after eight miles of hiking, proper clothing, a sleeping pad, a way to heat food (and make coffee), and good socks.

I’m focusing on the big things first.

Backpack

For my birthday, I ordered a used Osprey Viva 50 from Amazon. I decided to return it, though, when I saw a brand-new Viva 65 on the Osprey website for the same price as the smaller, used one. Buying a pack without trying it on first might not be the best way to go about it, but I’m willing to take the chance… especially knowing I can return it. It comes today, so I’m anxious to get home and try it on. I love the green color.

Footwear

I’ve heard great things about Altra trail running shoes, and at under $60, these will likely be my second “big” purchase. The 3.5 is last year’s style, which is why they’re about half of what they were selling for at REI before the 4.0 style came out.

My feet are happiest in light, bendy shoes, and based on reviews, these seem like a good option. I’ll be getting them from Amazon, so I won’t know until I buy them and try them on.

Tent

Soon, I will have to decide on a tent, but first I want to sell a road bike I haven’t used in a few years. I also have an exercise bike I bought off a friend. Like a lot of the world’s exercise bike population, it spends its time gathering dust. I’m hoping that between the two, I’ll make enough to purchase an inexpensive one-person tent. I’m looking at these:

Kelty Gunnison 1 Tent with Footprint

There aren’t a lot of reviews, which makes me wary, but I like that it comes with a footprint. Also, it’s pretty.

REI Co-op Passage 1 Tent

This doesn’t come with a footprint, and it’s not as pretty, but it’s less expensive and about a pound lighter than the Kelty. Most importantly, it has a lot of reviews, and the majority of them speak highly of the tent. This is probably the one I’ll decide to get.

At this point, I’m not concerned about getting the best and the latest backpacking equipment. Keeping this new obsession budget-friendly is a priority. My objective is to get out there, enjoy nature, be healthy, and have fun. If backpacking becomes a regular part of my life, I will be able to upgrade and decide on equipment as I learn what works for me.

Cat Tails

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter C.

Piggybacking on yesterday’s post, I figured I would share the different types of cat tails a hiker might see while hiking in the United States’s western/southwestern regions.

This is a bob cat. They are recognizable by their bobbed tails. Of course.

Photo Attribution: docentjoyce [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D


Now that’s a tail! This is not a creature I want to come across while out hiking.

Side note: The title for this photo on Wikipedia Commons is “Annoyed Mountain Lion.” It’s the same look I get in my classroom when I see one of my students doing something they shouldn’t be. I teach twelve- and thirteen-year-old kids. I wear this look often.

Photo Information: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

And then there are cattails. I took this photo on my last hike. The cattails were poofy and ready to share their fuzz with the world.

I love cattails.

Bobcat

B is for Bobcat

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the Letter B.

There are tons of things that start with the letter B, so I had a lot to choose from when deciding what I would write about for today’s A to Z Challenge.

I considered sharing that I got a backpacking backpack for my birthday, which was on Saturday. I also thought about writing a post about Boucher Hill Fire Tower—a fire tower located in Palomar Mountain State Park. Not only did I pass the tower on my last hike, it’s also where I spend a lot of my time as a forest fire lookout volunteer.

I could have written about barf, which is what I did on the trail two hikes ago after eight miles with a mostly empty stomach that was literally sloshing water around as I walked. Then there is the topic of backtracking. I had to do that on my barfy hike when I decided I didn’t want to cross a creek for the fifth time that day. That ended up being a mistake, but not worth sharing.

But as you can see from the title of this blog post, I am going to write about a bobcat. I was blessed on my Boucher Trail Palomar Mountain Loop hike (March 24) with the sudden appearance of a bobcat who popped out of the bushes, onto the trail, about thirty feet ahead of me.

I spent most of my hike worrying about the mountain lions that live in the State Park, so I’m surprised I didn’t automatically “see” a lion when the bobcat stepped on the trail. Instead, I “saw” a fox. It took a second to process what I was really seeing. When it turned to rush back into the trees, I was relieved to see its bobbed tail, confirming its non-mountain-lion-ness.

Before dashing off, the bobcat stared at me long enough for me to get a photo. Be warned, the photo is Sasquatch/Big Foot quality, so please excuse the lack of clarity. Also, a lot of people tried to convince me the animal is a mountain lion after sharing the photo on Facebook. I assure you, it was not. The cat’s tail in the photo blends into its leg, making it look longer than it is. I’ve seen a mountain lion in person; there is no mistaking when you see one.

Hi, little bobcat!
Definitely not a mountain lion… whew!

Alone on Boucher Trail & Palomar Mountain Loop

A is for Alone

Last weekend, I did two hikes. One was a four-mile, easy hike with my husband. If you’re interested, you can read about that hike here. The other was a nine-mile solo hike. Both hikes were on Palomar Mountain, but they are miles apart and vastly different.

Some people express concern when I mention I hike alone. To be honest, I have my own concerns about being on the trails by myself. A couple years ago, I wouldn’t even consider doing a solo hike. The biggest reason for my change of heart regarding solo hiking comes down to not having to rely on someone else to do the things I want to do. My husband likes to hike sometimes, but I can’t settle for the sometimes hike. I need to hike, and I need to be challenged.

I also enjoy doing things on my own. When I used to run, friends would often suggest running together, and I always declined the offers without apology. Running was my time. Now hiking is my time. It’s not that I’m a fascinating person to myself. I just like to think. I don’t like to talk. I want to be in tune with creation, to see it, hear it, feel it. I can’t do that when I have to concentrate on what people are saying or how I should respond to the things they tell me. Like your run-of-the-mill introvert, socializing often exhausts me.

My hike last weekend was both a little scary and exhilarating. But then, the two often go hand-in-hand, so it’s not surprising.

The scary came from being absolutely alone during most of the nine-mile hike. I don’t like crowds, but it is reassuring to see a human on the trail every once in a while. If nothing else, it gives the mountain lions a choice, and hopefully she will choose the other person. I’m joking, of course. Mountain lions don’t often attack. Besides, chances are I’d be the choice meal because I’d be easiest to catch.

Is hiking alone the safest thing in the world? No. Is going to the grocery at 7:00 AM the safest thing in the world? No. I could stay at home and hide from the world, but even that isn’t “safe.” Even in the sanctity of my own home, I am not guaranteed to be free from dangerous people, natural disasters, or disease.

Mostly, it wouldn’t be healthy for my soul.

Life is about living. With living, sometimes you need to take risks. Sometimes you have to put yourself in a place where others think you ought not be. Sometimes, if you want to live life, you have to do it alone.

Sometimes, alone is just where I need to be.

Love Valley Meadow Hike

This quick four-mile out-and-back hike was not on my agenda last weekend, but when my husband suggested heading to Love Valley to see if there were any wild flowers growing, I saw an opportunity to get a few more miles in… and maybe even see some of California’s famous wild flowers.

Love Valley lies on the eastern side of Palomar Mountain, just off of East Grade Road—or the S7, if you want to be technical. It is part of the Cleveland National Forest with views of Lake Henshaw, Warner Springs, parts of the PCT, and beyond. It is a pretty easy hike, but it can get very warm there in the summer.

There weren’t any wild flowers when we visited, other than the usual tiny purple flowers that grow in the area, but it was beautiful. The meadow at the base of the valley is green from all the rain, and the two small ponds are full. My husband and I passed a woman and her two dogs as we were heading down the valley fire road, but we saw nobody after that.

We hadn’t been to Love Valley in more than two years, and there were a few unfortunate changes. The first was a large portion of the meadow stripped almost bare. This is a result of San Diego Gas & Electric using it as a vehicle staging area for a project more than a year ago. It’s nothing a little time can’t fix though.

The other change is more permanent. There used to be an old, rusted-out, bullet-ridden metal structure on the site. I think it used to be a barn. It was both ugly and beautiful, as only a rundown barn in the middle of nowhere can be.

It’s gone now.

I don’t usually like human-made things taking up space in nature, but its absence made me sad. I emailed the Cleveland National Forest a couple days after my hike to ask what happened to it. I didn’t expect a reply, but one came the next day from the Recreation and Lands officer who oversees the Love Valley Meadow area. According to the officer, the barn has always been slated to be “deconstructed” but a storm came through a while ago and it sustained major damage. That sped up the process to get rid of it.

They did a thorough job of getting rid of the structure! No trace of it exists. Nothing. If I hadn’t seen it in person, I would have no idea that a barn had been there at all.

I took this photo of the Barn in 2015.
This is the Barn in 2017. I took this photo without realizing it had sustained so much damage.
I’m not very observant.
The Barn in 2019. This is looking south, while the other two photos were looking north.
Regardless of the direction, the barn is gone.

The missing barn aside, it was a nice, low-key hike. Here are some other photos from our excursion.

A little hazy, but that’s Lake Henshaw down there.
A view of the valley.
A nice, full pond.
Me and my husband with the non-barn behind us.

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.

Here Comes Half a Century

This the first day of March, which means in less than thirty days, I will turn forty-nine. One year from fifty. Three hundred sixty-six days from half a century. That’s half of 100!

Maybe it’s normal to do some self-reflection when faced with a milestone birthday.

But turning forty wasn’t a big deal to me. Forty actually sounded sexy… old enough to no longer be considered a “youth,” but still looking pretty good. If I turned inward, assessing the first forty years of my life and wondering how many quality years I had left to live, I don’t remember. I trained for and ran a marathon when I was thirty-nine, but that had nothing to do with stepping into a new decade—unless the motive was subconscious.

Fifty? Well, that sounds old, even to my soon-to-be-forty-nine mind. Fifty is grey hair. Fifty accounts for the wrinkles around my mouth and the loosening skin on my neck. If I had started my family a few years sooner, I could be a GRANDMA by now!

Is fifty old? I still have a year to go, but I don’t feel old. When I look in the mirror, I see a few more wrinkles than I did five years ago, but I don’t think I look old.

Or maybe I do and just don’t realize it.

The passage of time comes with certain changes that can’t be stopped. They can be covered up by plastic surgery and a visit to the hair salon, but time will always win the war when it comes to appearance. No skin-care regime will make my face look like it did when I was in my twenties… not even in my thirties and forties.

In three hundred sixty-six days, when fifty comes around that corner to embrace me, I want to be ready for it. I want to look fifty in the face and say, “All right, Big Five-Oh, here’s the deal: You can have your wrinkles and age spots, but you are NOT the boss of me. You might have some say in how I look, but you don’t get to dictate WHO I am.”

I’m going to greet fifty with courage and strength, with the confidence one can only get by taking on a monumental challenge and standing, victorious, in the aftermath. Fifty is going to have to get used to me, not the other way around.

All this is a prelude—yes, it is a long one—to explain the purpose of this blog and why the title’s tagline is “five hundred miles by fifty.” I have decided to challenge myself to hike a total of 500 miles by the time I turn fifty. I won’t be doing this all in one shot, though I wish that were the case.

If I had the time, resources, and freedom, I would take on the challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. But like most people, taking six months out of my life to hike from the border of Mexico to Canada is not in the budget, nor would I want to leave my family for that long.

I bounced around the idea of taking a month during next summer and hiking a part of the PCT. On my way to work this morning, I was trying to figure out the logistics of hiking four weeks in the PCT by myself, and I was struck with how impractical that would be at this stage in my life. No, it’s not an excuse; it’s just reality.

The more tangible and immediate goal of hiking a certain number of miles seems like a good option. Besides, maybe I will take a few weeks next summer and hike a portion of the PCT. Getting 500 miles logged in before attempting such a feat will do nothing but help.

Why 500 miles? Well, besides “five” being the perfect alliterative word for “fifty,” 500 miles seems both difficult and achievable. Five hundred miles in about twelve months comes out to about ten miles per week. This is do-able, but there will likely be some weeks when I can’t get out and hike ten miles, which means a twenty-mile hike the following week.

I can do this. It will take commitment and work, but I can do it.

Ideally, some of these miles will include two- and three-day hikes, complete with tent, sleeping bag, food, and practicing the age-old art of pooping in the woods. I want to experience solo hiking for longer than two miles around a lake. I want to know how to pitch a tent, carry a pack, and be brave when I think I’m being followed by a mountain lion.

This blog will be my journal, and you may read it… if you want to. I will use it to describe my hikes, the changes I see in my body and in myself, share photos, and maybe even “meet” some other hikers.

If you’ve stuck around for this entire post, thank you! I welcome your comments and would love to follow your blog if it relates to hiking, nature, outside adventures, goals, and/or fitness.