Tuesday, May 13, 2014

PCT Socal II: A Year on Trail

Comfort Level:

What I thought would be a bigger challenge is the difference in comfort levels between Bearclaw and I. I mean this in regards that I can only give her so much. I cannot tell her not to be cold, not to be hurting, not to be too hot, nor not to be beaten by the wind. Comfort level is a product of experience. Though I've got a lot more experience on trail I've had to be more understanding at times. For instance, I am naturally a very warm person. When Bearclaw is freezing her tuckus off, I am comfortable. My needs are pretty darn low. I teach her techniques of getting warm. But most importantly we just walk. I bear with her shivers. I have to; she's only getting more enduring. She has adapted greatly to the trail and its lack of comforts showing ability of one who has hiked before. In this aspect, having someone to help her with gear, time management, pace, water carriage, realistic goals, and mental preparation has put her way ahead of most other thru-hikers, even ones with experience. A common theme I see with other thru-hikers is the over-carry of water and not knowing their bodily water needs, having gear that may not suit their skill level, mileage not suitable to their physical capability, and not a clear reason or goals why they are out here hiking. 

Fear has the most profound effect on comfort level. Social media feeds the insecurities of thru-hikers deeply. In fact, it feeds the most fear in the herd of hikers that I've witnessed. Not other hikers' rumors anymore. Rather Facebook, forums, etc. 

"Watch out for scorpions," they say. "Mind the desert!!" "Careful of mountain lions!!" "You'll need to carry a ton of water!!" "The snow is too high!!" All about fear within someone else and not the one actually hiking.

These outside influences negatively influence HYOH. I'll get to that in a bit...

The past is another influence that has an effect on comfort level. I call it 'freeing your dirt,' becoming secure with your insecurities. The trail brings reflection, repentance, understanding and connection. Sometimes it is hard to let go of your past life, things that were fucked up, however, pushing your boundaries and facing the skeletons in you cavernous closet is one way to push a more enduring quality. Tenacity and courage, Bearclaw has these qualities. Her bravery is the most I've ever seen in a person. And I see her fighting spirit everyday while dealing with her life she left back in Oklahoma.

Injury and Hardening:

In the first 3-4 days Bearclaw developed Achilles tendonitis. She has since managed it and has practically healed the injury. We have learned to tape her Achilles using K-tape, got heel lifts, and have gone back and forth with shoes to find the right pair until we finally did. However, the hardest thing for me to do was to watch the woman I love struggle with pain. I feel very responsible for our journey together on the PCT. I feel, with my experience, I should be aware of what she is going through at all times, that I should be making her feel perfect enough to mash miles and be pain free. What has helped me 'slow my wiring' is to realize the process of time time takes on the body and mind to perform at an efficient and beneficial level. She has all the gear, she has expert tutelage, but what she is gathering is miles, her own valuable miles that does not reflect on what I can do for her. Sometimes I just need to shut up and let her figure it out for herself and read her body. She knows what is up and gauges her body well.

Her feet have been otherwise great. The only thing that caused significant blisters was the Superfeet we tried to put in her shoes. The hard plastic blistered her arches. Once removed the blisters only needed a matter of a short time to heal. Pre-taping her feet before the trail and in every town has proved to be a stellar method in preventing blisters, a method I have employed for over 10,000m.

I say this with people's will in mind, or lack of it. Some give up and quit on injuries, stiffness and soreness, or even the past's troubles that creep up. However, I also have witnessed the guts and determination of others, even more so with Bearclaw. Her trait of 'showing no teeth' is only getting stronger. Why give up when you won't push yourself? Why hike if not to endure pain? Then, why start?

I have felt great. Before the PCT, I came off the Lowest to Highest Route walking long daily distances with really in-shape hikers. At first, my legs just wanted to 'go' but what I have noticed in my body after doing about 22m a day from the border is that I feel well balanced and healthy. I feel my steps may be a tad slower but I have developed a stronger core which has enabled me to almost hardly ever use a trekking pole anymore.

I've also noticed my legs, in particular my calves, getting bigger and more muscular. I attribute the growth to the type of speed and pace we've had on trail. Take in point, lifting weights. When you press light weight at high reps, a smaller, super-lean frame exists. Medium weight at medium reps give the presser a lean, well-built physique, while heavy weight and low reps build a stout and powerful frame. In previous hikes I've averaged on full days of hiking roughly 35m. A lot of reps at a light base weight which meant for skinny, ripped calves. This year, however, doing medium mileage at a more controlled pace is building my legs in a stronger manner, bigger. Hence, the rare usage of trekking poles and more strategically place steps.

In Bearclaw, I have noticed her legs looking more ripped everyday. Her regards to the elements is practically non-existent. The wind does not seem to effect her pace anymore. She is tackling hills in a more consistent pace. She is learning to hike more efficiently everyday with excellent form. In fact, the past week I have been almost jogging to keep up with her. Her stride is one of a hiker of 6 feet in height. And she is only about 5'5".

One last thing. Water carriage has been something I've tried to impart upon her. The weight, the time to consume, how much for the miles ahead, 'cameling up' etc. She is physically gifted and has a similar 'camel' quality not unlike myself. In hiking 35m a day I usually consume about 1L for 8-10m. In hiking about 22-25m a day I've been consuming about 1L for 12-15m, occasionally pushing 18m per 1L. Bearclaw is not too far behind.


An observation from hiking this year is the amount of other hikers and people not on trail involved in others' hikes. Some are true supporters, while others seem to be pushing their hike or style on someone. I've observed the one's who've been hiking express uncertainty in their decisions on trail, as if their own way is wrong or judged. Those particular hikers have a sense of guilt surrounding them. HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) is an acronym used among the hiking community. It simply means that, yet social media's influence, which at one point seemed positive to me, now seems like you have to be open to judgment for expressing or learning your own method of hiking or views. There is mentoring, then there is pushing. The new acronym I now go by is MYOB (Mind Your Own Business, of course). I truly want to be supportive of everyone's hike. Honestly, I do. Some hikers I respect more because of their ethics, goals, and convictions. Others, I despise. I say this in a contradictory manner and can understand why outsiders will impart their opinions. Shit, I guess everyone feels their own way is the right way. I do too! 

I just think we should hike without worrying about anybody else's thoughts, opinions, or styles mattering. For instance, I had a hiker, who is raising money for MS and is supposedly 'thru-hiking.' She confided in Bearclaw and I after hitching 50m around an area. She was worried about what others would say, especially since she was fundraising money. I told her that maybe she needs to re-assess why she is out here, to determine what it is she really wants out of this adventure. She could define her own methods, her own convictions, anything, as long as she stood up for what she thought was right in her mind. I could not help but think of an objective witness in one's journey rather than a subjective participant. Not only for the hiker but the one bestowing an opinion. I wanted to be neutral, to not deter her from not hiking the way she wanted to hike. I wanted her to be okay with hiking her own hike. She left us, from what I gathered, feeling upbeat. Anyways, fast forward a few days later and Bearclaw and I are strutting down a lonesome highway on a fire detour and who shows up in a vehicle hitching again? The same hiker who had confided in us. She told of another hitch earlier but came across like she was going to hike the rest of the way. Since it was late in the day and we had ran up our mileage for the day we began spotting for a camp spot. The other hiker agreed a little too overly with our spot. We stopped to make a decision while the hiker moved on. We decided to push on for another mile. While hiking no more than 5 minutes from the potential camp spot we see the other hiker hitching again, skipping more and more. 

I imagine with the massive number of hikers this year this will be a common theme. Frankly, I don't care what she did and has done since then. It is the sole fact of being honest and owning up to your own hike that matters to me. In that sense, MYOB.

I bring up this example that HYOH is contradictory phrase. Everyone is worried about everyone else. Why not just be concerned about your own hike? I learned this from the CDT, the Vagabond Loop, and even more this year while hiking in the herd, hearing negative opinions and influence not only on Bearclaw but myself. Frankly, she has been slammed in some circles from home. I've been slammed as well for doing what I am doing with her. As if selfish intentions are the sole guise of my hike with Bearclaw. Hiking with her has kept me in the moment, in complete focus on our own goals and needs. I look and see and hear others but I only want to mind my own business, our own hike. To me, this gives someone the freedom and security of choices that they may make.

Maybe this is a narrow-minded, naïve view of the hiking community, and I might add this is truly my first experience in it even though I hiked over 10,000m. I've mainly kept to myself on the trails only having a few hiking partners, being ahead of the herd, and walking lonely, less-populated trails. The gossip is running rampant. We all have opinions. I will choose not to push mine or judge others'. I will MYOB.


*With the adjustments below, my base weight went between 6.5-7lbs. Bearclaw's dropped to about 7.5lbs. 

*I ended up not taking an umbrella due to SoCal being so windy. Bearclaw had one but she hardly used it. The wind kept pushing the ribs back which proved to be more of a hassle.

*Bearclaw went stoveless within 3 days of the trail. She did not like the process of the whole cooking thing. We may revisit the warm food later on trail to see how she likes it. Of the 2 cooked meals we had, I got to say, I was pretty damn impressed with the taste but I haven't missed the whole 'chore' of it. I noticed many hikers going stoveless this year due to the fire ban. A nice change from year's past.

*For chafing we ended up using Seat Saver by Hammer Nutrition. Normally used by mountain bikers to prevent 'clown mouth,' the .3oz. tube is super light weight and when applied goes a long way.

*I carried a Frogg Toggs ultra lite jacket instead of the umbrella. Bearclaw shipped her Frogg Toggs pants home and kept the jacket. I've yet to use it but I feel confident in it's usage from prior experience.

*I have carried some extra tape, actually Kinesio-tape. Though it is a tad heavier, the importance of this item in helping with her Achilles injury has been invaluable.

*The ULA Circuit that Bearclaw has has been disappointing. The shoulder straps hang too far away from her body causing her significant back pain. The bracket in the frame that runs along the spine dug into her back and also caused back pain. I removed the rod and since then the pack is more comfortable. The hip-belt pockets zipper run counter to the motion of travel while walking making the pockets a pain in the butt to open, enabling her to leave the pockets open which can potentially mean lost items. To me, the pack is complicated. I think Bearclaw would say the same thing. She has enough gear to not fit in the pack. Contrary to having to much for the size, she has not enough to fill up the space. Plus, I think the pack is too wide to conform to her slender body frame. With all these negative qualities we are going to try The MLD Exodus, a pack I feel confident in. 

*On the other hand, my Gossamer Gear Kumo is simply simple and functional, and conforms perfectly to my body.

*I almost hardly use my LT4 trekking pole, though the pole is a great trekking pole. I love the freedom of not using the pole and feel the lack of one has helped with my hiking form which has me really using my quads in a functional manner. The Leki poles Bearclaw has have been very useful for her. I think it is helping her develop a better gait and stride. She is a damn quick learner and her form is good. We'll see in the future how she may not need poles. We do, however, need at least one for the Terraform tarp.

*The Terraform tarp is bomber! It is plenty spacious, though it may be tight with the bug netting that we may need further up along trail.

*Bearclaw switched her sleeping pad to the NeoAir Xlite, shipping home her more bulkier and heavier other one.

Food and Diet:

We have found to like very similar things to eat. We also have found out more about what we like that wasn't known before. We have adopted accordingly. We have come up with the combination of instant flavored mashed potatoes, chia seeds, and my Vlop mix (consisting of dehydrated refried beans, dehydrated red and green bell peppers, kale and tomato powder, along with some spice) that has proven to be scrumptious. 

In previous hikes I used flaxseed oil. This year we have used coconut oil capsules which have provided a minor fat supplement, but mainly a boost of energy (more than the flaxseed oil) and a 'well-lubed' up digestive system. 

The Paramount Wild Foods jerky, flavors such as cajun gator, buffalo, and ostrich mixed with assorted fruit such as strawberries, mango, and apricots have been incredibly delicious and a great source of protein.

The trickiest part of the food packing is loading up her pack with the right amount of food. In the first couple hitches we routinely had too much food in April's pack. Since then we have gauged how much food she will actually end up eating and what is required of her body.


  1. Geezus, your acronyms are profound. Not just a way of hiking but a way to live your life. Live your own life, Hike your own Hike and really, Mind your own business! I mean seriously, wouldn't we all be happier if we can just practice this on a daily basis? I love it!!! Very cool dude, very cool.

  2. Ryan, your blog posts are quite inspiring. They make me want to get out there and do it. I am doing some more challenging hikes and more frequently in preparation for the CT this summer. Thanks for sharing your expertise. I enjoyed meeting you at the Ruck Clinic recently. :-)