Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why I Hike - CDT Dreaming

In a little over 3 months I’ll begin my next thru-hike on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). I’ve received an overwhelming amount of family, friends, and followers who ask the age old question: “Why?”
Everyone has their own reason why they chose to spend months on end exploring our rugged backcountry. In fact, there’s a saying among the thru-hiking community – “If you have to ask, you’re never going to understand.” But it’s my hope that you WILL understand and that you’ll be inspired to go out there and follow your dreams; no matter how crazy or difficult they may seem.
I hike for my health. Many of you know that I sustained Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) when I was 15. I was in a coma, I had to relearn basic functions, and I was bed ridden for almost 3 years of my life. I was unable to go outside because the light was “too bright” and I couldn’t listen to music because it was “too loud.” Many of my symptoms have gotten better since then, but my life has been drastically changed because of my TBI.
When you experience as much pain as I do on a daily basis, you realize that no matter where you are, the pain you’re in is going to be the same regardless of your location. I’ve been told by all of my doctors that I MUST work out daily. Physical activity then, is not a suggestion, but a prescription. For me, hiking has wholeheartedly become the only prescribed medical regime that has made my deficits more tolerable.
When I’m outside in nature backpacking I’m still experiencing all the physical ailments that I would if I were inside laying in bed. The only difference is that I’m in a place I love, as opposed to being confined to the tethers that sick people are supposed to be tied to. I would much rather be sick in a place I love, and hold dear to my heart, than to be sick inside a stuffy room, feeling claustrophobic. I try and look for the small things in life and let those keep me afloat on a daily basis. Things such as the sunshine, or how the wind rustles through my hair, or the birds singing. It is out in nature that I am able to find a certain peace. I let the little things in life bring me joy, despite the war raging inside my body. If I was trapped inside, I wouldn’t be able to experience these little joys and let them soothe my pain.
There is no doubt that I’m not the average backpacker. A few of my hiking partners that I’ve allowed to physically walk with me (I’m a solo hiker) have come to find out that backpacking is definitely not “easy” for me. In fact, it’s a grueling task, but I’d much rather be in pain out in nature, than in a town. I’m frequently stopped/brought to my knees because of sharp shooting pains. I often wobble and have to stop because my balance is off. Occasionally, my hiking poles become the same equivalent as crutches; they act like a friend’s shoulder, embracing me as I lean into them. Sometimes my hiking partners hear me let out a short gasp for air. They see the pain in my face as I keel over. I wait, and let the pain that has decided to make its appearance, pass.
My eyes frequently get blurry and I’ll get double vision, but when you’re out in nature it’s not that big of a problem. In the backcountry, I don’t have to stop and explain myself to the people who would see me if I were in town. In fact, I don’t have to explain myself to anyone when I hike, because I am a solo hiker. In town, when all my ailments and symptoms come on, I get weird looks and people are always asking me if I’m okay and what’s wrong with me. When I’m hiking I don’t have to reassure people or explain that these are daily occurrences because of the TBI. I have been living with these inconveniences for the past 7 years, and I’m not going to let them dictate how I live. Everyone has hiccups in life. It’s up to you to rise up and overcome these tribulations.
I hike to test myself both mentally and physically. I want to know exactly what I’m capable of, and then push myself further. I want to continue evolving as not only an athlete, but also as an individual. I want to experience life as it’s happening, instead of rushing by in a car or on a plane.
I want to stand on top of mountains knowing that I got myself there on my own two feet. There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment and belonging when you reach a summit. I get an overwhelming surge of happiness, because despite everything I’ve been through, I don’t let it hold me back.
I hike to live my own life, instead of one that has already been played out by countless others.
I hike to better understand my needs and wants. We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us to buy “stuff,” of which almost all of it is meaningless.
I hike to get a better understanding of the country I live in, and to see the raw, natural part of life that is so easily forgotten in our society.
I hike to experience freedom from technology. In today’s modern world we’re constantly plugged in. We have a multitude of media sources being streamed to us at all hours. We have Facebook, Twitter, the news, the radio, and countless other sources all feeding us an overbearing amount of information. It’s nice to be removed from all the “noise” and to focus strictly on the present.
I hike to be able to share my experiences with others who may not be able to get out there to see it themselves.
 I hike to meet people from all over the world and to gain a better understanding of my fellow neighbors.
I hike to develop lifelong friendships with people who share the same enthusiasm for nature as me.
I hike to let my imagination soar and to be open to new thoughts and ideas.
I hike to show others that we are capable of anything we set our mind to. Our dreams can become reality, all we have to do is believe in ourselves and maintain a positive outlook on life.
It is my wish that everyone will take hold of their dreams. It doesn’t matter how big or small they may be. If it’s important to you, go for it! Don’t let anyone decide your life for you. If you believe it’s possible… it is.
Come May 1st I’ll start hiking North from Mexico to Canada. Follow your dreams and passions. I’ve had a lot of people ask how they can help, so I’ve set up this site…

Monday, August 26, 2013

Glacial Grandeur

To say I've seen a few awe-inspiring/jaw-dropping landscapes in my life would be an understatement. You know that feeling you get when you gaze out across the land and your moved to your very core? That moment where the only reaction you have is to just stop and stare. And as you look out into the distance you realize how truly grateful you are to be living in such an amazing world filled with sights such as the one you are looking out at. 

This summer I got to witness perhaps one of the most magical sights thus far. In Homer, Alaska across the bay in Kackemak Bay State Park there lies a real beauty... known as Grewingk Glacier (pronounced Grew-INK). There's a few trails you can take to get there, and they all have their perks, but the most memorable approach for me was on my buddy Kristo's 30th Birthday. 

A few of our close friends, that we were privileged to spend the summer with, got the day off to hike to Grewingk Glacier. The seven of us set out from Humpy Creek Trail Head. We had just finished putting in a bridge over at Humpy Creek and as a reward we got the day off. The previous way of crossing the creek was by an insanely sketchy mess of downed trees. My balance issues served as a real test as I tried to maneuver over the slick surface of the logs while carrying enough weight to make a thru-hiker appalled. The new bridge was a welcomed approach and I was thrilled to be taking the high route rather than risk falling into the freezing Alaskan water. There's actually an article that my good friend, Joe Miller, published in the newspaper: Humpy Creek Bridge
The Bridge We Built
As we set out across the dry, fiberglass bridge my feet thanked me. We strolled through a flat, rocky trail surround by purple wildflowers and Alders for about 3 miles. The trail slowly weaves in and out of beautiful views of the bay and the surrounding rivers and streams. We eventually came to the intersection by the hand tram. This wonderful, yet slightly nerve-racking contraption is one of the ways you can get onto the trail which leads to Grewingk. Fortunately, this time, we didn't have to exert ourselves and heave the heavy metal box over the raging river. 

The Metal Box aka Tram 

The next 3 miles involved going up and over Foehn Ridge (pronounced Fen). Our trail crew was used to hiking the entire summer and we didn't bat an eyelash at this somewhat steep ridge climb. After Foehn it was an easy, flat hike through the valley floor onwards to the glacier. I had already hiked to the glacier before, but today was different. We hadn't been working all day. We were fresh. We didn't have a million pounds of gear on our back. And it was sunny. I love the sun!

Kristo and Adam: Brothers at heart 

As we got closer we came to another intersection which leads up to Emerald Lake. This is another beautiful hike leading up to a truly breathtaking view of... well.. you guessed it, emerald colored water reflecting the golden rays of the sun. We proceeded past the intersection for the final leg. 

The closer we got to the glacier the more the trail began to rise. We began a pleasant climb towards a beautiful little lake. If the weather was hotter I would have permitted myself a refreshing swim, but seeing as how I was about to be standing on a thousand year old hunk of ice, I decided against it. 

A beautiful lake before the first view of Grewingk

The final stretch the trail turns to scree. We climbed for a short, perhaps 100 yards, possibly further, before we plateaued on-top of, quite literally, a pile of rocks.  I had to stop to go pee and so the boys carried on ahead of me. When I reached the top I peered out at one of the most magical sights I've ever seen. The glacier was glistening and reflecting every shimmer of light as if it had diamond built directly into its surface. The deep blue of the ice was enchanting as I stood there admiring this almost heavenly sight. 

Me with my pack overlooking pure magic

This was so different from the last time I had been here. Kristo and I were the only ones that had been here before. The energy that our little family was emitting was tangible... not to mention the sheer magnitude of the sight we were taking in. 

The descent to get onto Grewingk is a little sketchy. It's more of a "slide" instead of a "hike," if you catch my drift. With every step (also known as falling) I took, I was filled with an excitement that made my heart feel as if it would burst. The cold wind was roaring across the ice making my hair dance along side my head. I was overjoyed. I stopped just short of jumping onto the ice to put on my microspikes (which were donated to me by Rod and Laurie for the PCT). Thank you again guys!! 

My descent to get onto the glacier

The only way of getting onto the glacier is by taking a running leap and hoping you don't go sliding into a crevasse once you make it. I knew that spikes on my feet would provide great traction and I had nothing to worry about. I took a few steps back and jumped with all my heart. As I sailed across the deep trench which was the only thing standing between myself and the glacier I felt a surge of energy spark through my body. This was really living! 

My feet hit the cold, frozen ice with a thud that reverberated through what seemed like the entire glacier. I stood in awe as my friends were exploring the beauty this glacier held. I took a deep breath and let the freezing wind twirl around me. My skin immediately got goosebumps, but the cold didn't penetrate through. My adrenaline was pulsating through my body and the heat being generated was more than enough to keep me warm. I took a few more breaths, absorbing the stunning grandeur of this magical spot and then waltzed on. 

I quickly caught up with the boys; who were having a noticeably difficult time walking on the slick surface. I was immensely thankful to have traction on my feet. I could walk anywhere I pleased without worry about a thing, although I was fully aware of every step I took.

Left to Right: Kristo, Joe, Adam, and myself..... absolutely stunning!!

It felt as if I was floating on that glacier. My heart leaped with joy with every step I took. Even though it was freezing on the glacier I never experienced the bone-numbing chill I should have gotten. I was on cloud nine. I was thrilled to be sharing this experience with my boys and Paige. Everyone has a huge smile on their face, our electricity was alive and thriving. It felt amazing... and the sun was shining upon all of us. I love the sun!

I went onto the steep slants of the ice with a confidence that was tangible. I felt like I was floating effortlessly over the entire glacier. It was an almost surreal feeling. As I climbed up to explore the many waterfalls and deep crevasses that called the glacier home... I felt at home. There is something incredibly moving about standing on living history.

I glided out over to Adam, who was intent on not accepting help. He made me nervous. He had zero traction and the area we were standing on wasn't level to say the least. We were surround left and right by steep drops which could end in falling into the abyss if you weren't able to stop. I positioned myself near him so if he fell he would run into me. I knew my footing would hold. Adam, never did fall though. It was incredible to be sharing this experience with him... and everyone else. 

Me and Adam Exploring the Glacier

We all regrouped and filled up our water bottles with fresh glacial water. High quality h2o! We even drank directly from the glacial rivers. Some took extra water bottles to send to friends and family. I just wanted to enjoy the moment for what it was worth. I didn't want to think of the future or my impending departure of Homer. This was too magical of a moment to be anywhere other than fully present.

Our Little Family: Me, Paige, Edler, Joe, Adam, and Kristo
Eventually the time came for us to head back. We had about a 8 mile hike back to camp. With bright spirits we all gathered and departed Grewingk. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been surrounded by great friends in one of the most miraculous places I've even been. 
I will always remember and cherish the beauty and magic that I experienced that day... it was truly glacial grandeur!

Pure Magic 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Going to Alaska!

In a little over a month I'll be on a plane flying to Alaska! I'm so excited to be able to live in a place teeming with such raw beauty. Ever since I got back from thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail I've been aching for more adventure. This is my opportunity to live in the backcountry and still be tethered on to civilization. I am thrilled beyond imagination. 

I will be living in Homer, Alaska volunteering on a trail crew. We're in charge of roughly 85 miles of trail. I'm excited to see what these next three months up there will hold. My schedule is 8 days on and 6 days off. Living in the backcountry for 8 days, then living in a house in Homer for 6 days. It's the best of both worlds. 

I've never been to Alaska, but I'm excited to have the chance to witness firsthand this wonderful country. 

When I return my sights are set on the CDT (Continental Divide Trail). It's another long distance backpacking trail starting in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and ending in Montana (or more specifically, Canada) for a total mileage of between 2,700 - 3,100 miles (depending on routes taken). 

Despite my quote on quote "health issues," I'm set on overcoming them and showing others that anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself. Living with the long term effects of Traumatic Brain Injury is grueling and painful, but you should never let these "downfalls" effect how you chose to live your life. Although they may interfere, never let them be in charge. Whether it's TBI, Cancer, or any other pesky blockers... This is your life, you're the boss, don't let others tell you what you can and cannot achieve. You can do anything you set your mind too! 

Life is full of challenges and setbacks, do not let them define who you are as a person! I know I certainly don't! 

Alaska in a month! Hip Hip Hooray! 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Thru-Hiking: Bitten For Life

It's official...

They say that once you thru-hike you're never going to be the same. This couldn't be any more true. I am constantly thinking about being out in nature again. She's as much a part of me as I am of her. I find myself day dreaming of the rolling clouds, snow covered peaks, fresh flowers, and endless, quiet peace. So it wasn't a surprise to anyone when I decided to take off on an 184 mile backpacking "jaunt" a couple weeks ago. 

I had an absolutely spectacular time. I met many new people at the Anderson's for Squatch's screening of "Flip Flop Flippin' 2"  Which if you haven't seen yet; go out and watch it!

I am so excited for this years new class of 2013 hikers! I wish you all the best! Maybe I'll see you at Kick Off. I'm going to be doing a presentation, hopefully you'll be in the audience! 

Without further ado...

Hiker Town - Kennedy Meadows. I had been aching to get back out onto the trail ever since I had left. Finally, I was "healthy" enough. But, then again, "healthy" is a very relative term. Anyways... here are some pictures of the beauty I get to witness firsthand, not only on a daily basis, but also on an "every second of every day" basis. Enjoy! 

I'm Home!

Sunset on day 1

Thanks for the shade!

After TylerHorse Canyon

Name that song:
"It feels soooo gooood to be back" 

Windmill Farm: Tehachapi 

My backyard: Southern Sierras 

The wonderful Trail Angel: Tom! : ) and Ken

Guino and Ken 

Ipod, Myself, and the Beautiful Becky!

I love that sign!

Finally Water!

This years class of 2013 is going to have a rough time in regards to water. If the current rate of snow fall stays the same, they're going to have some very tough stretches ahead of them. My best advice for the class of 2013 is to check the water report (updated frequently on twitter @PCTWater #PCTrail) and Camel-Up (aka drink as much water at sources as you can) and have a large capacity!

Class of 2013, I wish you all the best this year! You're going to have the most amazing time out there. Remember to roll with the punches and relax. You're going to meet life-long friends. Go out and enjoy the life you have! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Carrying on...

It was the first few miles out of Stehekin. We were headed North down the trail. The crisp air was welcoming itself into my lungs. I take a deep breath. You're almost there. A couple more days then you can rest. Just a little bit further. I know it's getting harder to hike; you're so close. If anything happens you're w people now. They won't leave you. You WILL make it. Kristo said he'll carry you if he has to. Just keep walking...

I admire all the beauty I'm immersed in and I start reflecting on my journey. I can't believe that in less than 90 miles I will have accomplished what I set out to do. I cannot believe that I have made it this far in my current state. I cannot believe that I have continued to push on.. ever since that day in Sierra City so many miles ago. I am eternally grateful to be able to see and witness all this pristine beauty. I have no regrets. If I go... I'd be okay w that. I am blissfully happy despite being in so much physical agony. I have proven to myself that it is possible. There is only one other hiker that I believe understands what I mean. I am almost to Canada...

Thoughts are racing through my head like stars falling across the night sky. I think of the Sierra's so vast and teaming w power. I think of the unbearably hot desert. I laugh at all the sunburns I've gotten. It's ironic. I think of all the time I've spent alone and it makes me appreciate the times I've been w hikers that much more. I think of all the streams I've fallen into and I smile. I go back to all the nights I've spent shivering waiting for the sun to wake up. It makes me appreciate the daylight more. I am proud of myself for never wanting to quit. I have seen so much life that the fears about my future fade away like the setting sun.

I begin to wonder if any of us really know what our limits are. Have we tested them? Have we taken ourselves as far as we are physically capable of going? How do we know that we've given it our all if we're still here? By definition, doesn't that mean we still have more to give?

With each footprint I pass, I sense the urgency in which my body has been SHOUTING at me for months. I cannot listen to you just yet. We have to make it to Canada. I proceed to drown out all the alarms my body tries so desperately to send me. I notice the colors change. I have watched summer turn to fall and winter is now on its way.

I stop and let the wind dance along side me. It's getting colder. I don't do very well in the cold.  It's time to open another hand warmer. I place them under my arms and hat. Hopefully this will help w the shaking.

I love it out here. This has become my home. Despite all my ailments I am still able to admire all the rugged beauty. I am at peace despite the war raging inside me.

The beautiful thing about the mind is it's ability to overcome. I am no stranger to pain. I have been living every single second of every day in it for years. Something special happens when you are able to look past this physical aspect. It no longer has any power over you. You are still aware, but you are able to acknowledge it and move on.

My mind wants to stay out here forever. My mind is healthy; I just wish the rest of me would follow suit. I take each step deliberately. I am willing myself forward; just as I have since Sierra City. I am strong and I am capable. I have clearly proven this.

Just a couple more days and I'll be in Canada. I know I will make it. Canada is calling and for the first time it is clearly within my reach. I no longer have any doubts that I will be able to finish. If I have come this far.. what's a couple more days?

As I lay down to sleep I am happy. I am w my traveling family. Hardly any of them know the battles I have been fighting. I pride myself in my ability to mask pains. I try my hardest to retain my goofy and lighthearted personality. I shock myself at how well I have done. My only wish is that I were able to share these last days w the person who brought COURAGE to the forefront of my life. Aside from that, I wouldn't change a thing.

Right before I drift off a thought sneaks into my head... I know what my final entry in the register will read. Now I just have to get there.