Ask The Tree Volume 5

The Prison of My Skull and Setting Up Camp

Two questions have come to me that I’ve been thinking about for hundreds of miles. What follows is a disjointed mishmash of thoughts and sentences composed at various times while eating lunch and doing my laundry. 

If you like these kind of posts, please ask me questions. They provide a distraction as I mentally compose a response during the thousands of steps I take each day. 

What do you think about while you’re walking? What percentage of time do you spend thinking about the past, present, or future?

What’s your camp set-up look like?

The camp set-up is easier, so I’m going there first. I’m sitting in McDonalds. They don’t hassle you and there’s wifi. 

Tarp and sleep system


Here’s a shot of the my tarp up and pack mostly empty. It’s amazing what comes out of a pack as you unload it. My sticks, hiking poles, are used to support each end of the tarp. I can remove the tail end pole and lower the front if severe weather threatens. It becomes quite tight for any movement in that position, so I always start higher. Often I leave my head out of the tarp, so I can see the stars, but can quickly slide in if rain begins. 

The tarp uses two poles and eight stakes. It compresses to the size of a Nerf football and weighs even less. I’ll be sorry to see it go. Michelle is sending me a more substantial tarp in a hundred-fifty miles or so to finish out the trek. More sustained severe weather is now possible. It’s heavier and bulkier. 


My yellow inflatable pad goes inside the brown bivy sack. The sack protects the pad from puncture and functions as a ground cloth and wind break. The other bags you can see contain my food, additional layers of clothing, and electronic equipment. Lots of plastic bags hold additional small items. 

Cooking and Eating 


Each days food items gets placed in a gallon plastic bag during the prep stage before leaving town. In the bag go 5 or 6 bars of some kind. Clif, Lara, Payday, Snickers. Just a good mix for some variety. Fritos and Snyder’s pretzel bits bags get broken apart into daily allotments in their own quart size bags and then stuffed into the gallon bag. Some sort of lunch goes in. Usually, peanut butter and a tortilla or two. A dinner finishes it out. If I’m buying in town, it’s Knorr rice sides. If I’m picking up a box from home, I have rice and beans and peanut noodle mixes.  These daily gallon bags get stuffed into a stuff sack in the order I want to pull them out. Makes it easy to pull out a bag in the morning and know I have all my food for the day in one bag. 


I use a small alcohol stove to heat food up. HEET, in the yellow bottles, is easily purchased at most gas stations. A small amount is required to boil the two + cups of liquid I use for a meal. 


The stove sits inside this windbreak with designed holes to funnel the flame up at the bottom of the pot. The cut out fits the handles of my pot and positions it centered over the stove. 


Knorr rice dinner with lots of extra liquid. The extra liquid gets more into me at the end of the day. I’ll add oil or hot sauce to the mix to add a bit to it. I also carry potato buds to add to thicken a watery pot up if I’m especially hungry. I’ll scrape the pot down as far as I can with my spoon then pour a small amount of water in and clean it with my fingers. I’ll wash the pot and spoon with soap each time I’m in town. 

By the time I finish eating each night it’s usually dark. I’ll write on my paper maps a few notes about the day. Then it’s time to pull everything in close and sleep until around 5am the next morning. 

In My Head

I’ve been walking for something like 72 days. My skull is a prison. I’ve played over every stupid mistake I’ve ever made, thought through my relationships with my parents (both deceased), wondered about how I’m doing as a parent myself, thought about all the things I could be doing at home, missed my wife in every hour of every day, and finally pondered about what am I going to do when I’m finished with this never ending walk. 

Often the trail is difficult enough or confusing enough that all attention must be paid to it to keep from walking extra miles by missing a turn or being injured falling over a downed tree. I’ve done both numerous times. 

However when conditions are easier, I’ve decided I’ve had enough of the torment in my skull, so I’m listening to more music and audible books. The words and music are distracting enough that I stop sinking into my own self-pity regarding loneliness or discomfort. 

My feet hurt. The balls of my feet and most of my toes are numb. When I stand up in the morning, I stagger around until some semblance of communication with that part of my body is established. As soon as I hit a pointed rock, feeling explodes in them again for the rest of the day. Music and words help to ignore most of that discomfort.  

I’m lonely most of the time. I walk alone. I camp alone. I see people when I’m in town or for a few miles minutes in passing on the trail. I’ve become accustomed to it, and I try to see it as solitaire rather than solitary, as Mr. Ed Abbey defined it in his masterpiece Desert Solitaire. But it’s hard. Ed was much better at it than I seem to be. 

There are spectacular pieces of the trail that require no distraction other than the extreme beauty in front of me; however, to get to each of those pieces often requires hours of monotonous climbing or mundane walking. Walking 12 to 13 hours a day to get 25 miles in takes stamina. The music and the words are helping.  

I finished my prep work on my resume back in Dubois, WY. A wonderful lady has been hired to condense my ramblings into a tool to obtain future interviews for employment. Thoughts about what I’m going to do roll through my head on daily basis. Where am I going to land? I don’t know for now, so I try not to worry about it. But this world does take money. Michelle and I saved sufficient funds for this walk and the immediate afterward, but it is a finite amount. I must get buy at something when I return. Hopefully, in the educational field. 

HELP

I’ve seen a few people request information regarding anything they could send to me. I would be gratefully surprised by three particular things right now:

  1. Caffeinated Clif Bars. That jolt of caffeine helps in the afternoon. 
  2. Jerky. Jerky is light and goes into dinners or eaten as a snack. 
  3. Amazon cards. My taste for audible contemporary writing is expensive. I can only listen to so much free Victorian literature before that becomes even more tormenting than my own thoughts. 

Here’s a link to an earlier post with information about how to send something to me if you’re so inclined. 

Some Friends Wanted Addresses

Michelle works to keep the spreadsheet up to date, but she’s starting school and things will be hectic for a couple of weeks. 

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on (Even though I’m resting in Steamboat Springs for the night. Packing those gallon bags!)

Tree

Rawlins to Steamboat Springs

Coming Down the Hill

“I’m not sure if I have enough gas to get down to Encampment,” she said as I got into her truck. The inside was stacked with clothes, kids, and a little dog named Boyfriend. I smiled and pulled my pack onto my lap as I slid into the cab. “I’ll be happy to help you out when we get to the bottom,” I replied. 

She took the turns wide, using both lanes of the road, as we swept down from Battle Pass. “I’m moving back to Cheyenne before school starts. I want the girls to be in one school.” I turned my head as far as I could towards the girls to catch a glimpse of them.  They were both in the seat behind me with Boyfriend precariously perched on a stack of clothes in the seat behind the driver. “That’s a good idea,” I said. 

“Hope this gas holds out,” she reiterated. “I’ll just call grandma from the bottom,” she said to the girls behind me. “Somebody will be able to come help us out.” It was long 16 miles down that hill. She stayed off the brake and used the road. 

We made it the bottom and I filled her tank. Kids have to be safe. 


Encampment and Riverside 

So there I was, alive and a bit invigorated from the ride, standing on the corner of two small Wyoming towns, Encampment and Riverside. It was 4:15 pm. I’d walked 20some miles to get to Battle Pass. I didn’t have enough food to make it all the way to Steamboat Springs, another 80 some miles, so I’d come down to resupply and eat and drink. 

The Lazy Days campground gives CDT hikers a tent site for $10 which includes a shower. No towel. I was welcomed warmly and quickly set up my tarp and showered. Off to the small store where I picked up a noodle dinner, chips, pretzels, and a bunch of candy bars. 

Then across the street to the Mangey Moose where I quickly decided on the Moose Burger, two 1/2 pound patties, and an order of onion rings. I sucked down some electrolytes while I waited. Bartender had a masters degree in human development and was going back to school for teaching certification. 

After talking to a few locals who felt winter was coming early this year, I finished up and headed back to my tarp. I sorted my food into days and bagged it up. It was 7:40. Usually, I’m just finishing setting up camp at 7:40. I tend to walk until 7:15 or so. My belly was full and I was in bed early!

It didn’t turn out to be a restful night. Too much traffic down the road for someone used to being in the mountains. I slept later than normal. Moving at 6:20 I was packed and out of the campground by 6:55. Trucks were parked in front of the second bar across the street. It was my lucky day. They opened at 7 on Saturdays. Coffee, a breakfast burrito smothered in green chili, and 25 minutes later and I was walking the mile to where Wyoming highway 70 left Encampment back to Battle Pass. 

I passed the historic information about the history of Encampment and the K-12 school. It was quiet. Only a single car went passed in the direction I was headed. 

As I hit the final turn out of town, a couple enjoying the morning sun and a cup of coffee, called to me from their porch. The ran a small business in town and wanted to know more about hikers and how they aid them when they came to town. It was a nice five minutes. I could hear a truck coming, so I said, “Goodbye” and turned back to the street extending my arm with my thumb out, glasses off, hat tipped back, with the biggest smile I could muster. He slowed immediately and pulled over. “Headed up to the pass?” he asked. 

“Yes” 

“Climb in,” he said as he rearranged the front seat for me to get in. Twenty five minutes later, I was at the pass and back on the trail. It was 8:15. 


On to Colorado 

The last few miles of Wyoming were a grind emotionally and physically. Pieces of trail like this are connectors. Rarely travelled by anyone but CDT hikers, they lack maintenance and any sort of view. They are simply connecting two other pieces of trail. Lots of blowdowns and non-marked trail kept my mind busy but frustrated. 

At 4:35 pm on August 26th, 2017 I crossed the border between Wyoming and Colorado. Took the obligatory photos and whooped once halfheartedly. 


The trail quickly changed in Colorado. I followed an ATV trail for the first 20 miles or so. The good thing about an ATV trail is that the tend to be clear of blowdowns. Lots of rock though. 

Sheep and Dogs

First morning in CO I ran into sheep and my initial encounter with guard dogs. From the moment the first one saw me and barked, it only took 10 seconds for me to be confronted by 7 or 8 barking and growling dogs. I held my sticks in front of me yelling, “No!” at them repeatedly. I backed towards a tree, so they couldn’t surround me. Two puppies came towards me with what appeared to be friendly intentions, but I didn’t trust them. I fended them off with my sticks and backed away. When I did all the dogs but the biggest male and the puppies lost interest in me. 

What To Do?

I had to get by and didn’t want to wait for the sheep to move. I started slowly up the trail again. The sheep bellered and bleated and ran away as I went forward. The male and the puppies followed me. I crossed my sticks behind my legs, to semi-prevent an attack from behind. I would have crossed my fingers if I could have. Eventually I cleared the sheep. The male stopped but the pups continued to follow me. I shooed them back several times to no avail. Finally, another dog came skulking out of a clump of trees and the pups joined it. 


I wish I’d had a chance to get a photo of the sheep and all the dogs, but I was honestly worried about being bitten with at least 30 miles to walk before I could get help. I settled for this shot of the pups as I looked back. 

Mt. Zirkle Wilderness


The scenery quickly improved with a solid climb to over 11000 feet. It was good to be up high again. The late afternoon thunderstorms spit rain at me but didn’t dump anything significant. 


I’ve landed in Steamboat Springs after a great afternoon yesterday with another hiker, Deluxe. I haven’t hiked much with anybody else and the afternoon of conversation was good. We camped together and talked until much later than I normally stay up. Deluxe is on the ambitious pursuit of connecting all the National Parks in the United States on a three year tour. Wow!

Regrettably, I had to leave him because he’d already been into Steamboat through another road. I’m hoping we might connect again before he leaves the CDT around Salida, Colorado. 

Fall is coming. The delicate plants are dead and dying. Frost coats my tarp and bivy more frequently. Shades of red and gold are appearing. 


Wash, food, drink and rest for me now. 

Kindness matters (more than ever)

Truckin’ on

Tree 


Colorado Bound!

Lazy days in Rawlins. I ate, drank, and slept for a day and a half. Struggled even to push to write anything. I’m scratching this out quckily this morning before heading out of town. I have to stop at the PO and mail a package home before I can be on my way. 

Being in town is always a relief after a hard section like the Great Divide Basin. But stopping for rest is hard too. After moving for so long, to not make any progress and just be laying on a motel bed, I find depressing. Got to move to make it to Mexico. 

80 miles or so till my next resupply in Encampment/Riverside and from there it’s just a hop of 20 miles to the Colorado border. I’ll be in Steamboat Springs before the first of September. Good timing. The afternoon summer thunderstorms are predicted to decrease a bit next week with more sunshine according to the Denver station I picked up here in Rawlins. 

I’m nervous about Colorado. Big mountains and long climbs. Last night in the lounge at the motel, I was talking with two other hikers, and the advice was not to chew too much too soon. Don’t worry about Colorado. Get to the next stop. Take it a step at time. Go low if you have to. Find different routes if the weather is rough. Just keep making that continual forward progress. Good advice. 

Hitching to Pinedale–Just a bit early

“This looks like a ride,” I thought as the older van with a bike rack on the back of it rumbled down the dirt road towards us. I was standing at the entrance to the Green River Campground with Magpie and Stoaked. We’d decided to try to hitch into Pinedale earlier than planned because the traditional hitch route into Pinedale requires a 10 mile walk in off trail and then back out again. Rather than do the extra 20 miles, we decided to try to get a ride off a more remote stretch, but one that didn’t require any extra miles. The van picked us up and brought us all the way to Pinedale. 

It was great couple out for a vacation around the Wind River Range. They even took us a bit out of their way to get us into Pinedale. Two great dogs, so I got lots of pets in on the way to town. 


I’m going to end up skipping a bit of trail (50 miles) because of how I came out. I’ve already told Michelle this is a place we have to come back to. Two- fold reason for not going back. The hitch-It’s easier to get a ride when you’re standing by the roadside with two females. Second, I’m right in the eclipse zone. Prices are skyrocketing and people are getting ready to freak out on the 21st. I want to get south of the zone and escape some of the bedlam. I’ll still have an almost complete eclipse in the Great Divide Basin. 

The Basin is a desert. Long miles without water, and plenty of cow dung mixed in. I’ll be eating my water. It’s been wet and cold lately, so I’m ready for a bit of a change. 

Colorado will be on the horizon as I finish the Basin. Rawlins, WY comes first though and will be the next place I can post. Remote and sparsely populated area for the next 200 miles. 

See y’all on the other side of the desert. 

Rawlins bound with Steamboat Springs, CO just a jump after. 

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on

Tree

Hurting in Dubois–Heart and feet 

Each downward step caused a sharp pain to shoot up my ankle. Ironically, going uphill didn’t seem to bother it nearly as much. When my foot extended downward and needed to absorb the blow from stepping down, it occasionally caused me to cry out. 

A couple of weeks ago, I’d accidentally kicked a rock into the same ankle. It had been tender for a couple days but hadn’t bothered me since. During a river crossing three days ago, I slipped and smacked it against a submerged rock. It hurt but just about everything does on the trail. I forgot about it till after I stopped for lunch. When I started to walk again, I quickly realized I had a bit of a problem. Ibuprofen it was to get me through the day. Some more that night. And still more to hammer the rest of the 30 miles into Brooks Lake Campground where Michelle and Maggie picked me up. 

Currently, I’m taking a couple of days off to see how it heals. There’s a pretty good bruise and blood pool right on the ankle. 

Mileage and my love

On the plus side the terrain in Wyoming is much more conducive to making miles. The rain and cold chased me into one 30 mile day and a 25 mile day followed.  

I’m still not finding a good groove with walking. The last 300 miles have been a sequence of pushes to get to wherever Michelle is going to be as fast as I can. I’m running towards her, and I know that streak is ending. She’s going to have to head back to Michigan after this stop in Dubois. That puts me in an emotionally fragile place. 

One thing I’ve learned on this journey of self-discovery is that I really don’t like being separated from her. It sucks. 

That and my ankle are making me seriously consider calling 1000 miles good and heading back to Michigan.  

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on?

Tree

This was called Parting of the Waters. The creek split in two with half headed to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific. I spent the night here after gratefully finding a fairly flat spot after a long cold day in the rain. Six hours of drizzle at 40 degrees had soaked me to the point where I struggled to get my fingers to undo the buckles on my pack. 

Upper Brooks Lake. I know I’m just a couple miles from meeting up with Michelle and Maggie again!

Lima to Old Faithful Village–Running for Wyoming

#¥!&$&%^*!!!!

When I saw the Subway on the corner I knew I might still have a shot to make my 30 miles. I was about 20 into a miserable bushwhack and road walk of a day. 

It had a started the night before. 

“It’s 100 miles, not 88,” I thought and swore silently to myself. “That’s going to add another night unless I add on a big day tomorrow.” I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t realized it was 12 more miles to a road in Yellowstone after I entered the park. 

My Mistake

My phone app ended at the Idaho/Wyoming border, and I hadn’t loaded the next one. “That’s what you get for being a fool.”

As I poured over my paper map, I quickly realized the mistake and made a few mental computations. I could still make Yellowstone, but it was going to take a big day along with a longer run into the park than I anticipated. 

It was four miles from where I was camped to the start of the Mack’s Inn cut-off over to Yellowstone. The cut went almost straight east to the park rather than following the Divide north through the Sawtelle range. I’d already decided to take the cut and save 70 miles to get to Michelle and Maggie quicker.  I’d have to walk most of the 34 miles of the cut in a day to still have a chance to make the park at a reasonable time. 

Making the cut

The five mile bushwack up Hell Roaring Creek was not fun. There was intermittent tread and knocked down grass where others had passed, but most of the time I just had to pick my way up through the canyon to the ridge. What I expected to take  me until 10:30am took until noon. 
The trail became solid as I reached the ridge line and became even more pronounced as I began to descend. Quickly it intersected a popular ATV road and my speed downhill incensed along with the amount of dust in the air from the vehicles and bikes whizzing past me. I was able to go into mental zone that doesn’t usually happen on the trail when I’m constantly making sure I’m in the right spot and haven’t lost the trail. The road was impossible to lose. I even closed my eyes a few times!

Bound to cover just a little more ground

When the Subway came into view, a super large fountain drink and 12 inch club were calling my name. Fighting dehydration all the time has made me a fan of a 32oz and above Dr. Pepper. It’s a habit I’ll need to break immediately upon ending this trail run, but for now they are glorious! 

Another two miles down a busy highway I crossed a river filled with tubers and canoeists. Another quick stop at Mack’s Inn provided me with a Klondike bar and a Powerade. Fuel to make another 8 miles. 

Easy stretch of pavement and then a long gravel uphill on Moose Creek Road would finish out my haul across the valley and get back up on the next ridge line. Beautiful sunset with the all the smoke in the sky. Pushing my first 30 on the trail kept me positive even as my body began to rebel. As darkness crept in I decided on a roadside turnout for a camp. It was flat. 


A moose popped out of the woods just as I layed down. She was not happy I was in her spot. She hung around for over an hour chomping and snorting at me. She finally left and then the rain started. I got up quickly and set up my tarp for the little bit of spit that came down. 

Grinding it out

Morning broke and I was walking by 6 to hammer out my 20 or so by 5pm. A little bit of gravel road followed by a long 12 miles of blah trail through a burned section of Yellowstone. The anticipation of hitting the Wyoming border fueled the morning walk, but once I’d made it the grind through the old burn was tedious. I don’t usually listen to music while walking because I have to pay attention to whether I’m on trail or not. Trail was plain, so the new CRB album, Behold the Seer, went on and I zoned the miles away. 

Michelle, Maggie, and Stoaked (She’s traveling with M & M while healing a hip injury and trying to get back on trail) were waiting for me as I broke the woods and entered the Biscuit Basin area of Yellowstone. Hugs and an olive pepperoni sandwich along with a cold electrolyte beverage finished off this section. 

Wrap-up

I made the hundred mile run in just over 3.5 days. Didn’t make it in until 5pm because I thought as I started out from Lima that it was only 88 miles until I could meet up with Michelle and Maggie again. 
Trying to get Maggie to write a blog post from her perspective. Who’d like to read one of those?

It was my first stretch of consecutive 25 mile days; it hurt. Twenties are comfortable now, twenty-fives are doable, thirties definitely hurt, but my legs are strong and getting stronger. Stringing more and more of the 20+ days together is now the goal. 

I think I got a shot at making this thing. Eight hundred miles in with two thousand to go. 

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on

Tree

P.S. I put on a pair of size 34 waist pants this morning. That hasn’t happened since 1993. 

Ask the Tree Vol. 4 Addendum

I’ve been kicking around my response to Vol. 4. If you missed it, you can read it here. 

I realized as I was walking along that I missed adding a few key pieces to why I started long haul hiking and why I’m still doing it. 

Ego, Adventure, and a Little Bit of Crazy

I left out an important piece in the ego. In addition to time, money, and health when attempting to walk more than 2000 miles, I think you have to believe you can do something that most won’t or can’t do. 

Thoughts like, “I’m tough enough” or “I can do this thing that most can’t” has to be part of the why. I’m not sure how that rolled into  my Appalachian Trail hike, but I know it’s for sure part of why I’m walking now. I needed to prove to myself that I still have the stones to get a trail like the CDT done. 


If I’d been born in an earlier era, I’d see myself moving west like Pa Ingalls or hunting for gold in the Yukon. Instead, I have the most remote wild trail in the United States for an adventure. It’s a chance to turn corners on the trail and see new sights. To walk sometimes for days at a time without seeing anyone else. To learn to trust my own ability to find my way through whatever confronts me on the trail. To have an epic adventure of a lifetime. 


Possibly being a bit crazy is an essential part of attempting to hike more than 2000 miles. I don’t think I’m really crazy, but I’ve been told that by a number of people. And if I’m being honest there are times when I’m crossing a ridge in a thunderstorm or setting up camp in the dark when I do ask myself, “What are you doing out here?”​​​

Often I go back to my lists to stabilize my thoughts and to remind myself of what I was thinking before I left for this adventure. I wrote the lists to prepare psychologically for the trail after reading Zach Davis’ book Appalachian Trials. 


This attempt at a mid-life accomplishment is also about self-discovery at 50. What does run through my head as I’m walking down the trail? And in what sort of proportions? That, my friends, is where I’ll be headed with Ask the Tree Vol. 5. 

For now I’m hanging in Lima with Michelle, Maggie, and a mix of other NOBO and SOBO hikers. Steak tonight and back to the trail in the morning. Going to push hard for Yellowstone (90 miles) over the next 3.5 days to be able to meet up with Michelle and Maggie again. They’re going to take a side trip to Grand Teton National Park while I’m walking before we check out the geysers together. 

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on

Tree