The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Every time I plan a trip to the Sierras, I begin to feel I'll finally get to be me.  Not that I'm not me at sea level, it just seems that at altitude in the range of light, the non-essential me, the me that gets wrapped up in the petty stresses of life maintenance will burn away in the crystal thin light and all that will be left will  be the me of pure joy who can just be.

Because really, I struggle the most with just being.  I am constantly five steps (if not five years) ahead of where I am, uncertain how I will maintain this pace forever (because, of course, if you are constantly looking ahead, then you will project the fatigue and anxiousness of the now onto the future while exponentially increasing its intensity). 

But in the Sierra Nevadas, I can't do anything about anything, so I let it go.  For a few glorious days, I wake up with the sun and let the day have its way.  I make time to sit in the hot tub before going to bed to look at the deep black sky that is peppered with more stars than my eyes can make sense of.  I can actually take the time to wait for my eyes to adjust to the utter darkness of night so that more and more and even more pinpoints of starlight become visible framed in the silhouettes of pine tree shapes as the milky way dusts across west. 

I am fully aware that I can CHOOSE to do the same in Monterey (though the stars would be hard to see through the perpetual marine layer).  So when I say "I can" do something in the Sierras, it is not that I am not physically unable to do that here . . . yet it sort of is.  Somehow, I am conditioned in the Sierras to turn off the incessant patter of "you should's" that pepper my waking (and sometime sleeping) mind in other places.  I can't seem to stop that patter anywhere else.  So while I have a choice other places, actually enacting that choice is not as easy as knowing that I have one.

But I guess that knowing is a start of sorts.  And also choosing to go to places that offer respite is another start.

If you want to put a positive spin on it.

One of the things I love about the Sierras is that the light there is completely clear, causing everything to fall into sharp relief.  It's as if you could, if you could focus your eyes right, see clearly to infinity.  There is very little to no blue of distance there--the jagged peak that is 5,000 feet above you seems close enough to cut your finger on. 

Maybe that's one of the reasons I find peace there: in the true light, the future doesn't seem so convoluted and tedious.  In the thin air, the marine layer of uncertainty can't sustain its clawing scrabble over the ridge to smother joy. 

Though I love the fading blue of distance, sometimes having perfect perspective can offer a bit more hope that is sorely needed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hiking Essentials

Random wrecked car about 4 miles in at Portola Redwoods S.P.
Mid-August, I will be doing a long-ish hike in Mammoth with some friends.  Initially (over a few beers), we envisioned doing 28 miles of the John Muir trail in one day.  One of our party, who is from that area, mentioned that she had done that stretch in 4.5 hours when she was in her twenties, and that comment set all of us off on visions of doing the same with small allowances for 15+ years of aging, living at sea level, not currently in training for marathon-length distances, etc . . .

Because I really don't have a realistic idea of how long it takes to hike specific distances on rough terrain (I know my marathon and half times, but running in a city is very very different than hiking trails), I started hiking the areas around Monterey to get an idea of time needed as well as how much water, food, and other sundries I will need to carry.  

Touriga for stamina
Things I've learned:
~I can do almost any hike on a well-maintained trail in flip flops if the distance is under ten miles
~I cannot do 28 miles in a day and enjoy it
~I live in close proximity to some absolutely gorgeous places
~I love redwoods and cypress trees
~banana slugs look like scary, skinny penises
~I tend to over pack and gravitate towards non-hike friendly foods
~arm-warmers are utter miracles of clothing science
~packing in a Klean Kanteen of beer or a bottle of wine makes even a 14-mile hike well worth it