Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

At 5 a.m. in the darkness, driving through farms, fields and fog, with the defroster blowing cold air on my frozen sock-covered hands, I headed up to the high country once again. With a shrinking bank account and a truck with 330,000 miles on it and various parts regularly falling off, I made my way across the Central Valley to ask for endorsement for protection of a big swath of the Sierra — in a place where politicians actually advocated logging in Yosemite after the Rim Fire.

My mission? To make a national monument between Yosemite and Sequoia, which runs from 12,000 to 1,000 feet and encompasses three major watersheds – the South Fork of the Merced, the Kings and the San Joaquin Rivers – and about a million forested acres.

It’s a big and grandiose plan, some say. Yes, it is.

But on I drove in my truck with no functioning heater in mid-winter. By the time I knocked on a business door in downtown Mariposa or Oakhurst or North Fork or Coarsegold to ask for an endorsement, my level of total discomfort would reach a crescendo. I don’t like sales. I don’t really even like to talk much.

Deep breath. Open door. The jingle of bells. The suspicious eyes surveying me and my clipboard. It was awkward. I’d talk, listen, and ask and repeat this scene hundreds of times, after hundreds of miles of driving. What am I looking for? Just a signature. But I got a lot more than that.

What I discovered in being honest and vulnerable to complete strangers is that most of them care about the environment and they care about the place they live, even in one of the most conservative districts in the state. Many signed on. Some were doubtful. A few were caustic. But mostly, they were kind.

Even at the Forest Service office…

I made an appointment with the supervisor of the entire Sierra National Forest, to discuss how he might (or might not) like to manage a national monument. He was polite. He is organized, and the man can run a public meeting with aplomb, a good person to be in charge. But the Forest Service generally doesn’t like monument designations, but I thought I would ask, anyway. He said he wouldn’t quit. Well, that’s a start.

Naturally, my truck broke down out front, right after our meeting, and the Forest Service staff provided the jump. I made it about one mile, and it failed again. Then, a gentleman helped push the truck off the highway and disappeared. Then, a police lady stood with me in the rain, until I could get a tow truck. Then the Pep Boys staff gave me a free oil change with an alternator replacement, and I went home, finally arriving around 9 p.m. (I can’t even begin to detail the wonders my mechanic has worked during this time.)

I used to drive up to the mountains and hike and sit silently under the trees, and not say much, and it made me feel wonderful, alive and content. But I had no idea that the people and the towns around my favorite place were so rich with life and goodness too. If anything, I’ve learned that political rhetoric can interfere with a real conversation between real people, working to do the right thing.

If ever there was a cause for hope for a better world, I found it in them. I am grateful for every business person, organization and individual who signed on last year, who gave me a chance or cup of coffee or a piece of chocolate, or just a word of encouragement.

I look forward to another year of getting to know you. Thank you very much, from my heart to yours.

Learn more about the Sierra National Monument Project. Like the Project here. Endorse.


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Tell it on the mountainMy boyfriend has been having trouble sleeping lately. Since he has barely slept in the past two days, I suggested that we watch a “boring” movie about hiking. I even remarked, “This will put you to sleep for certain,” and we started to watch Tell It on the Mountain, a story of seven people’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600 mile trek from Mexico to Canada. But once the film started, my beau didn’t check his iPad, his iPhone, his wristwatch or anything else for that matter. He sat engrossed in the film, witnessing the evolution of seven individuals as they marched along one of the most beautiful and rugged sections of the American West. He even insisted that we watch the movie to the end – staying up late with his eyes wide open – not drooping a second – until the film ended.

What’s remarkable about this film is its quiet grace. Producer Shaun Carrigan and Director Lisa Diener did not mar the pristine landscape with personal tragedy – in order to dramatize the scenery – one of the aspects of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild that upset so many hikers. The filmmakers did not get lost in the mire of self-hood and sulking, so popular with memoirs these days. Instead, they told deeply personal stories about life outside, keeping their focus on the scenery and the human expressions of delight, fear, pain and happiness.

pctThat took incredible skill. The film touched on many themes, which I’ve struggled to articulate myself: the freedom and beauty that envelopes the very soul and heart of hikers, the sense of individualism and unity that comes with walking alone and with others, and the incredible feeling of being alive and connected to the wild landscape. With only the essentials on your mind and beauty before your eyes, you forget all about the material world with its excess and ugliness and instead are free to examine yourself, your life and the mountain skyline.

A year or so ago, I tried to explain to my book editor that writing a confessional about my life – was not what I was intending – because it would put me before the most beautiful thing that I’ve come to know, and that’s backwards. The wilderness is the primary thing, the first and best thing we have in America. While I’m still sorting out exactly how to express that, Carrigan and Diener got it exactly right in this film. They told great stories, seven of them, and they effectively enshrined the wilderness as a sacred place and life on the trail as a spiritual, physical and mental odyssey. It’s a triumph. Bravo.

Watch it – rather than the big game.

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.John Hope Franklin

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Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, is the object of relentless derision. Critics complain about her drug addiction, her sex addiction, her infidelities and her overwhelming grief. One reviewer writes: “This is not so much a book about hiking the PCT as it is her own catharsis: her father brutalizing her and her family, the death of her mother, her heroin addiction, and the final straw for me: the graphic murder of a beloved horse (it made me ill). And the hiking of the trail? She’s lucky to be alive. Don’t take notes. She’s Adventure HIker Faded Edgesill prepared, and with the aid of strangers, who provide rides, showers and food, she ‘makes it.’ I was not inspired. Just saddened.”

After reading such comments, I was determined to avoid her book. Why read a memoir that brings personal horror into the holy temple of the American Wilderness, which I personally cherish?

But I kept hearing women chatting about it. They would mention it to me at parties, or I’d catch a phrase from strangers passing by. Try as I may to avoid the book, it kept coming into my life, so I finally bought a copy and read it all the way through.

And yes, her critics are right; Strayed includes every painful detail of her life, down to the heroin-induced scar on her ankle, which was fresh the day she started hiking the PCT. But Strayed also takes her readers up and down mountains and successfully articulates the satisfaction of simple shelter and a solid meal and the way wandering in the wild makes you crave sweet soda and greasy fries, and thankful for a sunny day, a hot shower and a cold beer. Yes, she barely survives the PCT, but that’s the point. Backpacking takes grit and determination, and it hurts, just like life. And it’s wonderful, just like life.

Strayed’s critics need to a giant step back (or forward) and consider the underlying theme.

Consider that Strayed spent the next 15 years learning to write in order to tell this story. Consider that she highlighted the three months that she walked in the wilderness—above all. Consider that on the PCT, she began to recover from her overwhelming grief at that loss of her closest ally, her mother. Consider that by interspersing flashbacks of death, sex and shooting up, she effectively enshrines the haven of the natural world. Her walk in wilderness was the single most powerful and redemptive experience in her life, and it took guts to put her foibles into a book and publish it for all to see. That’s brave, not sad. I wrote my own hiking book for someone just like Strayed – to point my finger at the best places I know and to share beauty with people who most need it.

What saddened me about her book was just one thing. In her Acknowledgements, she forgot to thank the wilderness itself, without which, there would be no journey, no story to tell, no redemption, no place for her children to visit and reflect. So many people spend their weekends enjoying parks, forests and open space and so few work to protect them, and they’re under threat all the time. We’ve allowed rampant logging in our national forests, and what’s left of them seems to be on fire. In California, clear-cutting is still widespread, and in Oregon, where Strayed lives, it’s worse. Just fly to Portland and look down.

Strayed is a beautiful writer, she’s amazingly honest, and she’s achieved something good with this book, despite the barbs. I respect her accomplishment and her tremendous recovery. She’s absolutely headed in the right direction; she’s simply not gone far enough, not near far enough.

What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.―Mahatma Gandhi 

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