Saturday, April 30, 2005


I decided that since I am planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I should read Ray Jardine's "The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook." I'd heard so many good things about Jardine. Granted, most of these came from 'Jardinites', hikers who would remove a couple of organs if they could to reduce their hiking weight. Our conversations usually went something like this:

Me: "Hey, beautiful weather today eh?:
Jardinite: "Must carry less, must hike more miles, must carry less, must hike more miles, .... oh, what?"
Me: "Nice day for hiking today."
J: "Oh, yeah, (looking up from the trail for a second) I guess it is. (looking at me) You aren't actually planning on carrying that monstrous pack for more than an hour are you *smirk*scoff*?"
Me: "Yup, all the way from Maine to Georgia."
J: "You'll never make it. You need to hike like me. I haven't carried a tent, stove, flashlight...(goes on for 5 minutes)... since I read Ray Jardine's amazing, mindblowing, consciousness-altering book. I hike 23 hours a day. That way I don't need to worry about freezing to death while I sleep."
Me:"Yeah, maybe I should look at that sometime."
J:"Gotta go, gotta do 50 more miles before I take my next break."

You can imagine my surprise when Jardine actually advocates carrying enough gear to actually be safe should something as inevitable as bad weather pops up. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Jardine even tries to distance himself from his overzealous disciples a few times. The problem is, the seeds are definitely sown for such an attitude. Take for instance this passage, taken from a section entitled 'A Personal Choice':

Most backpackers wear stout boots. Talk to any of these traditionalists, young or old, and you will probably find they have rather strong opinions pertaining to these clunky devices. It's one thing to have strong opinions, but another to base them on sound reasoning. If they wear boots for fear of twisting an ankle, or to protect the bottoms of their feet from sharp rocks, then that might be sound reasoning. Maybe they lack the time and inclination to go out and toughen their feet and strengthen their ankles in lighter weight shoes. And maybe they are not concerned with hiking higher daily mileages, and of doing so with greater safety and enjoyment. If they wear boots because they are reluctant - or afraid - to try new ideas, then that may not be very logical, but still there is nothing wrong with it. If looking the part of the boot-clad hiker bolsters their image, then that is their prerogative. If their belief in heavy stout boots stems from the propaganda of the boot industry, then so be it. The bottom line is that each of us is free to enjoy ourselves on the trails and to select whatver clothing and equipment best facilitates this.

Hmmm, doesn't really sound like he believes what he says about everyone being free to choose their own way to enjoy the trail. Sounds to me like he thinks that anyone who hasn't converted from boots is stubborn, lazy, unsafe, unhappy, cowardly, illogical, vain, and/or a sucker for advertising propaganda. It's this tone that takes away from the good information that is included in the book. Alot of what he says makes sense. For instance, I will definitely be hiking with a lighter backpack next time. A crude measurement weighs my present pack at 6-7 pounds (gasp, or more). That's a good 3 or 4 pounds baseweight that I can eliminate. I'll also probably be giving an alcohol stove a try. And for the PCT definitely, and maybe just in general, I've been thinking about trail runners instead of boots. That said, if you ever catch me smirking at someone who's carrying something they want to have with them, you have my permission to hide a rock in my pack.

Before I finish this post, I would like to point out one more disturbing passage from the book.

A common question that comes my way: had I been hiking solo, how much heavier would my pack have been. I consider this somewhat academic. For one thing, sharing gear with a like-minded partner is an effective way to reduce packweight, which is why I incorporated it into my system.

I'm sure Jenny appreciated that sentence.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

It's my birthday and I'll ....

Today is my birthday. The big 23. Five years ago I was taking a day off from hiking. That was probably one of the best birthdays I've had. My then girlfriend now wife had sent me a birthday package of all the best Canadian delicacies. That's right, Ruffles All Dressed Chips, Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, and Smarties. We had a very greasy breakfast at Hardee's, checked e-mail at the library, and hung out at the hostel, eating pizza, listening to reggae, and watching a movie. I think you should be able to take a zero day from whatever you're doing on your birthday. But since this is only my fifth week at my job, I don't think I'll risk it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Comparison

For your reading pleasure, a comparison of two different descriptions of snake encounters by Colin Fletcher:

"Across the Trail, five feet ahead, stretched a sinuous brown evilness. As I stumbled back, it rattled. The sound was hard and dry. It began with a rhythm no faster than an outboard motor, then ripped up to a climax so vibrant it was almost a hiss." (28, The Thousand-Mile Summer)

"Six paces and I stopped. From a little bundle of sticks on the bank, twenty feet ahead, came a familiar buzzing. Slowly, so as not to disturb the beavers, I made unthreatening passes with my staff. The snake was pale pink, about three feet long, and as pathetically frightened as most disturbed rattlesnakes are. After a minute or two it slid sideways into the thicket. When I walked on I gave a respectfully wide berth to the place it had disappeared. But our meeting had been a quiet and gentlemanly affair. It had no way disturbed the evening's new warmth and harmony." (158, The Man Who Walked Through Time)

These snake encounters occurred five years apart. The comparison isn't something Fletcher ignores either. After the description of the pink rattlesnake, he mentions how upon seeing his first rattlesnake he was "scared purple". That would pretty much sum up my first encounter with a rattlesnake as well. I was hiking along the Appalachian Trail, listening to my Walkman ('The Sound of Silence' by Paul Simon happened to be playing right then), when I heard something at my feet. I looked down, jumped, yelled, and ran about 100 yards back down the trail before I even really realized what had just happened. After Josh arrived, we went well around the snake, still sitting in the trail, and carried on. It was a long time before I hiked with my Walkman on again.

My perceptions changed a little bit with each rattlesnake and copperhead that I saw. By the time I was nearing the end the trail, Dad, who hiked the last week with us, couldn't believe how easily I went around the snakes. The snakes and their behaviours hadn't changed. They continued to be the docile or 'pathetically frightened' creatures they were the first few times I encountered them. I had changed. I had come to accept them as part of the environment that made hiking Appalachian Trail such an amazing experience. It wouldn't have been so powerful if there hadn't been times when I was pushed to confront my limits. Part of that was facing my fear of hiking where there are poisonous snakes. Gaining some actual firsthand experience with the snakes brought my fear in line with reality. I still have a very healthy amount of respect for rattlesnakes, I just don't have the same unrealistic fear of them.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


"...But now, lying on my back at the bottom of the black Redwall gorge, I understood. I was hopelessly insignificant. Insignificant and helpless. A mere insect. And when we humans feel this way we are, inevitably, afraid.

Out in the world you may, very occasionally, look down at night from a high and lonely vantage point onto the swarming life of a great city and catch a frightening glimpse of your own personal insignificance. But that is not quite the same thing. You do not feel, achingly, the utter insignificance of all mankind, and you therefore escape the sense of final, absolute, overwhelming helplessness." Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time

I've been reading (or re-reading) a lot of Colin Fletcher recently in an attempt to get a glimpse of desert hiking in preparation for my 2007 PCT trip. This passage is from his account of his trip down the Grand Canyon, the first person to do it on foot. It resonates with one of the feelings that I find most powerful when confronted with the power of nature. If I'm hiking along the coast, it'll wash over me when I'm tired and staring out at the waves that just keep coming, the tides that come and go. Hiking the coast in New Brunswick is good for this because of the incredible height of the tides. Along the Appalachian Trail, I was often struck with this feeling of insignificance while above treeline in Maine and New Hampshire. I remember sitting looking at Mt. Washington, feeling, as Fletcher says, like "a mere insect" in the face of the beauty, majesty, and sheer size of the mountains ahead. Rather than making me feel afraid, however, I find this feeling of insignificance reassuring. It reminds me of my truly frail place in the order of Nature, my deformity in the face of True Beauty, my indistinguishable flicker on the timeline of History. I'm gripped in a very tangible way by the fact that these things, Beauty, Goodness, Time, exist, existed long before I arrived, and will exist long after I'm gone. In my normal day-to-day activities, my sense of importance can become inflated. My place in the order of the world can get confused. In the midst of the mountains, or the vast unexplored power of the sea, I am put back where I should be. Order is restored and it is a good feeling.

This restoration of proper order is also something that comes when I am photographing natural things. When I stop to 'consider the lilies of the field', to try and capture a moment of their beauty, Beauty, Order, and Goodness push their way into me. As a photographer, it isn't my job to manipulate the thing to make a good picture. My job is to manipulate the camera to capture the beauty of the thing. In order to do this, I find myself physically representing the emotion that I have, usually kneeling but sometimes even prostrated before the object I am photographing.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Update and Revision

My first two weeks at work are over. It went pretty well. I'm officially through my 'preliminary training module'. I got paid today. Nice to see a real paycheck, even if it was only for one week worth of hours.

Grizzly update. I have learned that there are in fact a few grizzlies along the PCT. Their numbers are very low. It makes it more of a challenge to actually see one, though, rather than something to be worried about.

I found out this week about Andrew Skurka. He's hiking from the Atlantic in Gaspe, Quebec to the pacific in Washington state. He, "set out from Quebec's Cape Gaspe in Forillon National Park to become the first person ever to hike the entire 7,700-mile Sea-to-Sea Route (C2C), which is a network of existing long-distance hiking trails that span almost continuously between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with the exception of a 700-mile gap in North Dakota and Montana along the Missouri River and a less formidable 30-mile gap in Vermont. I hope to arrive at the C2C's western terminus, Cape Alava in Washington's Olympic National Park, by August 2005." (website) What an incredible and ambitious goal. Check out his website to learn more on why he's doing it and how he's doing.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Icy Diptych

Icy Diptych
Originally uploaded by whalemail.
Just thought I'd try my hand at the 'blog this' function from These are a couple of shots from the cold cold weather that we had here for a while. Thankfully it is much warmer now (and rainier, but you know what they say about April showers).


In a conversation last night I told a friend that I was reading (now finished) Frank Parker Day's Rockbound. My comment about it was that you can really tell that it was written by a Maritimer. So he replies, "You mean it was deficient in that way?" I was so put off by this that I couldn't find a suitable response. All I could come up with was that it has a distinctly different feel to it than had it been written by someone from Ontario. What I really meant was that the majesty and grandeur of this place and the effect that it has on the people who live here saturates the book. Because of their unique relationship to the land and the sea, the great questions are framed in a different way than they could be if explored elsewhere. Knowledge and understanding come differently here, which can either not be seen or look deficient to some, but they are present. And they are present in a way that is connected to the ebb and flow of the tides and the steady changing of the seasons. It is a knowledge rooted in the way the world actually works.

Times are of course different now than when Frank Parker Day was writing. Most of the fish are caught differently. Some of the fish are gone. Tourism and call centres are brought in to take the place of industry. In the face of all this, I think the sea is too mixed into the blood here for life and living to ever be entirely changed from the picture that Rockbound paints.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A week of learning

The past week was my first week at my new job. Ah, the life of the employed. On the whole it was a pretty good first week. I'm in the middle of training right now. Everyone that I've met there is really nice and approachable. Most of them actually seem to enjoy their employment, which is nice. I'm also starting out making as much per hour as a guy at my last job spent seven years building up to.

In the down times during training I found out (or was reminded of) a few exciting things about the PCT:

1. Starry nights in the desert. There is minimal skyglow here so the night skies are pretty amazing, but I can't wait to lay on my back looking up into that starry dome in the desert.

2. No Grizzlies. I had been thinking that I'd have to worry about those massive bears along the PCT but nope, the grizzlies are gone. I feel kind of torn about this one. Ideally there would be grizzlies, because that would mean that we hadn't encroached as severely into their habitat. I think that I will be able to sleep better at night though.

3. Yosemite. I had my first look at the PCT route through Yosemite this week. I would really like to be there in time to wander around a bit and see some of those vistas that Ansel Adams has made me dream about.