Spence here: Over the Labor Day weekend, I managed to wrangle (seriously, I had to wrangle it) an extra day off.  I have always wanted to check out Mt. Jefferson and the whole Jefferson Park area, outside of Detroit, Oregon and the South Fork of the Breitenbush River. With an extra day for driving and seeing the sights, we were off.

I knew the trail to the area was steep (trail 3375)  and we hadn’t been backpacking in awhile. I was still a bit disappointed in my fitness level, however, and it still came as a surprise as to how long it took us to get up the 6 miles (and 2000 feet) to the park area. I felt happy though, just to get out there, feel the late afternoon autumnal sun rays and smell the breeze. I bought a new backpack several weeks ago and really got a chance to over-load the thing with heavy food, extra clothes, books, journals and water, to test it all out. My review of the pack is simple–awesome! Mountain Hardware’s South Col 75 is a good friend to have along in the back-country. Comfortable, big, nice hip belt, great outside pockets and mostly waterproof.

The first night we stayed in a site among the boulders, hiking up about 3 miles. We had left late from Portland and meandered our way to the trail head from Genie’s restaurant, the library and a stop at the North Santiam River State Park–finally driving through Detroit and down a long gravel way. The first morning was chilly. We made coffee early and then got back in our sleeping bags with the thermos full, reading books until the sun came up over the ridge. Warming up came quickly though, as we hiked the rest of the miles up to the lake. We took our time feeding and watering the horses (I like to think of myself as a horse sometimes when I hike uphill, as it makes me feel stronger), eating fig newtons all the way up.

Our reserved back country site was on Park Lake. There are numerous lakes in the area: Bays, Russel, Scout, Park, and Rock Lake. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the area and on our next full day we hiked along the rocks and on this famous trail.Views of the mountain were in my mouth it was so close and the shadows long with a strong warm sun. The next day however, the mountain changed moods. We woke to dark, chilly sky and a misty ridge line. By the time we thought about packing up, the rain was actualizing and the temperature had dropped. We said goodbye to the brook and the trees, glanced up and said farewell to Seekseekqua, aka Mt Jefferson, the lakes and Park Butte, (and our abandoned oatmeal breakfast) and headed down at a good trot. I finally found a good pack weight equilibrium for my knees and felt like they were healthy for the first time in years. I actually had a great time going down over loose gravel, mud, rolly rocks, wet plants and low hanging brush. We stopped a few times to pick and eat wild blueberries and Oregon Grape. At one point I was running down the trail, using my trekking poles like a slalom skier… thankful to be feeling better in my mind and body. 6 miles in 3 hours and were getting back in shape. I love the woods!

Billy here. What a much-needed foray into the wilderness! We were so happy to be on our first real backpacking trip of the year that we didn’t mind the ridiculous traffic on the highway (that seemed to mysteriously end after passing the suburban outlet malls with their Labor Day sales).

On the way, we stopped for lunch at North Santiam State Park and sat at the river bank for a bit, enjoying the sun. It was late afternoon by the time we took our final turnoff on the forest road for our trail head: late enough that we knew we may not make it very far in before setting up camp for the night. On the road, far from any other campground, a lone man was walking with a dog. Spence waved, but the man only peered in to the jeep at us intensely. We thought it seemed odd, but soon forgot all about it when we reached the trail head and tried on our fully loaded packs. It had been entirely too long, but it felt good. My pack was actually too heavy, despite my assertion that it felt light. I had journals and Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit packed, along with fresh fruit, vegetables, and more food than we could possibly eat in three days. However, it was sunny and the smell of the woods was invigorating.

Posted on the trail head was a flyer for a missing young hiker by the name of Riley Zickel, who had been missing since July 27th. His car still remained at the Breitenbush Lake trail head, according to the flyer. Spence said maybe he just decided to keep walking the PCT. This put me in a reflective mood as we ventured into the woods. The lady fern, vine maple, and big leaf maple began to envelop us. Some creature left several half devoured grand fir cones in the trail. As the trail climbed, the ferns changed to bear grass and huckleberry, and the maples gave way to mountain hemlock and Douglas fir. We struck off the path as the sun turned red to find a flat spot to camp, but the going was rocky and steep. I kept imagining how the missing hiker may have slipped off and into a ravine to perish. By the time I was really thinking of how tired and out of shape I was (and how we probably should’ve settled for the last flattish spot), we found a beautiful little camper nest off the trail with just enough space for our tent and a kitchen area. It was cold that first night, maybe because it was wet near the creek and the sky was clear.

The next day was gloriously sunny and warm. We hadn’t made it quite as far as we’d imagined, but it was only a few miles to the wilderness area up near Park Lake where our reservation was for the next night. Hikers leaving for the weekend, it being Labor Day Monday, reported being rained out the entire weekend, only to have the weather break today when they were leaving. We knew we had a little window though, because the forecast called for rain tomorrow. The hike over the ridge into the Jefferson Park was really beautiful and, after feasting on wild blueberries, the rest of the walk was more or less downhill.

We crossed stunning meadows and creeks as the mountain suddenly came into view, large and sheer. Park Lake was nestled at what seemed like the foot of the mountain, where our campsite sat at the top of a hill overlooking both the lake and the mountain. We sat at the water’s reflection. We ate chocolate and drank wine. We wandered the lakes and walked a short jaunt of the PCT around the park. The sunset was golden and the stars that night were powdered sugar and crystals.

The next morning we moved slow. It was misty and wet and we didn’t finish breakfast before it started to rain. We packed up everything wet and began our descent down Breitenbush Trail. I forgot my gloves and Spence graciously lent me his socks and carried my cold trekking poles. Raynaud’s syndrome causes the blood vessels in my fingers to constrict, so my hands overreact to cold and wet climates. I should start packing my neoprene surfing gloves everywhere! Despite being soaked and a little cold, the hike down was lovely. We ate more blueberries on the way down. I think they are the most delicious blueberries I have ever tasted in my life.

Driving back out down the forest road, I mentioned to Spence that the man we saw walking with the dog a few days ago may have been the missing hiker’s father. We stopped in Detroit for coffee and snacks and the hiker was the talk of the town. The family was indeed searching for him and they said that his father, Robin, did indeed go walking for him every day. Sadly, as of this post they still have not found him yet, despite weeks of rescue efforts, but the search continues.  I found myself deeply moved by the courage family and friends showed when faced with this uncertainty and loss.

A friend of the family, Cheryl Alterman, described the young man: “Riley was a special kid. He’s an old soul. He’s 21, but you would never know it, and his smile entered the room before he did. He is the guy that every mother hopes their daughter can marry. I know his heart is brightening up the forest.” Lt. Chris Baldridge said: “I think it’s the hardest thing for us to have to look the family in their face after getting to know them for eight-plus days, and letting them know we can’t find their child.” The father posted this moving message online from the family:

I will be leaving Detroit today with great gratitude for the love and support  we have received from the people of Detroit and from the people who have tried so hard to rescue him.

What we have learned from this very hard lesson is that Riley has shown us that the most important thing is to show love and compassion to one another. This is what we have received from you and this is what we would like to give back to you so that we all can continue on to give to each other.

Our lives have changed forever and it is our hope that due to our beautiful son Riley so has yours so that we can all share with each other and the world the beauty of the lessons he has shown us.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Erin, Robin, and Noah

Cheryl observed, “The forest was (Riley’s) favorite place, and if that was his way to go, then he’s probably in the happiest place that he can be.”

Bike Camp-Out: Oxbow Park and Beyond

Spence here: A few months back I decided to take my little bike on a small camp-out. My destination was to be Oxbow Park, located on the Sandy River outside Troutdale. I haven’t ever ‘toured’ before, staying overnight somewhere, only long day trips so I was excited for the possibilities. I (tried) to pack the bare minimum, as my bags, rack and handlebar bag are of second-rate-used quality from Next Adventure for a total of $30. No use getting expensive stuff if one is not even sure one is going to like said activity. Anyhow, these bags worked great and I probably won’t get fancier ones. There are many bags out there that are water proof, but garbage bags on the inside to protect my clothes and sleeping bag work well for me. I spend my money on backpacking stuff. Probably I had about 30 pounds of stuff all said and done, including water. For a list of things I brought along, see below.

My bicycle doesn’t have touring-magical-powers, nor do my legs. The gearing is a 2×8, 2 in the front and 8 in the back. Not bad for a 40 mile day with decent hills. Oxbow Park is really only 20-some miles away, but I took the long way because I wanted to see all of the Spring Water Corridor Trail. It was awesome! Even with 3 flat tires there and back (I had old tubes in there) I enjoyed myself. The route after the bike-and-pedestrian-only trail ends is very hilly, through rolling farm county. I felt like the trucks and locals were pretty respectful and moved way over for me, except for one motorcyclist who had something to prove by buzzing me while I was going 5 miles an hour up a hill. I guess he showed me his man-power!

I ended up getting lost, as I didn’t have a map and I don’t have a fancy phone, gps or the like. I did write down the directions, but I took a different turn than I was supposed to, just to see what was down the road (and to ride a 3 mile downhill!) so I stopped at a gas station to ask for firmer directions. While I was there, I picked up a 6-pack of “morale booster” and what-do-you-know, it fit in that old handlebar bag like it was meant to go there. It even is insulated! At first glance I didn’t notice.

The people at the gas station didn’t know where the park was, even though they were local people and the park was less than 5 miles away. After asking 4 people, a 5th person knew and set me up for success. I reached my camp after another ridiculously long steep descent and toured the park. A wonderful, clean, well-cared-for park with plenty of wild areas for your imagination. I spent a lot of my two days out napping and writing on the beach and trying to figure out a way NOT to ride back up that screaming hill! It looked like the only way in and out of the park so I was sweatin’ it. I even thought I might be able to convince a drift-boater-fisherman to take me across the river, as I knew the road was flat over there. I never got up the gumption, but also then I found an old horse trail on the map that I thought I could walk up. My bike has knobby tires so I figured I’d rather hump along an old horse trail than ride up that monster twisty hill. Maybe I m just a backpacker at heart. In any event, sometimes not knowing what you’re getting yourself into is all the courage you need!

I got up early on departure day and I had another flat tire. After fixing my pump! and then fixing the flat! and then missing my turn to go up the trail (it was a little overgrown) I had breakfast by the river. I managed to find the trail and it went straight up. I could barely push my bike up the grade. Once I got to the top of the ridge however, the trail was easy, open pine floor and quite lovely. It was very quiet and a perfect temperature and I decided I would like to go on another bike trip in the future if conditions were like this. I rode that trail for awhile and then reached the switchbacks. A quarter mile later, after grappling over some roots and fallen snags, I reached the dead end road that would lead me to my turn-off back to Portland. I felt pretty clever and energized for the rest of the ride. As they say, it was all downhill from there. I will probably go on another ride/camp-out this summer, when I have forgotten how much I dislike biking uphill. I will probably take even less gear and bring a friend. Biking is safer in numbers. Yee-haw.

List of gear, loaded into 2 rear panniers and a front handlebar bag:

sleeping bag

alcohol stove, cook mug, spoon, knife, lighter and fuel

food, 2 water bottles and an insulated coffee mug

extra socks, shirt, underwear, bandanna and raincoat

journal, pencil, colored pencil set, paperback book

tools and 2 extra tubes: tire levers, 3,4,5,6 allen wrenches, 13, 15, 17 cone wrenches, adjustable wrench, leatherman multi tool, chain-breaker, extra master link and patch kit, travel pump

sleeping pad, tarp tent and ground cloth bungeed to the top of the rack

Alpine Lakes Wilderness: The Enchantments

Spence here: On the last day of our hike through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, descending 5,000 feet in elevation to the trail head, I felt pensive. The golden hours were filled with walking, snacking, chatting with new friends, and picture gathering, as a vivid Autumn day passed. The sun had not been so hot and bright since we first headed out, 3 days before. Saying goodbye to the plants and animals and thinking about the busy city life ahead slowed my hiking pace to a crawl. Every hike softens me and I am not eager near the end to get “back”–even though rich food awaits my belly in town! The wilderness teaches me, as it has always done. I learned about Larch trees up at the high elevations, (a Conifer which changes color and loses leaves in winter). I learned about the Mountain Goats, which happily walked through our camp twice a day, curious and unafraid of us, to get to the marsh, where an abundance of snake grass awaited. I watched as the mist rolled off the peaks of the Enchantments, down the cliffs, across freezing pools, onto my skin, making my hair feel coarse. Climbing high on rough slopes, I had the sensation of thinking of nothing else, but the movement of my legs, the coordination of my hands and the weight of my pack. I felt so grateful for the positive performance of my knees and back, after worrying the trip would be too much up and down. After also worrying too much about the rain, the cold, the smoke, and coordinating all the friends–to be hiking and existing up there with focus, and with joy was a great lesson. Things can be simple if I let them.

Everyone deliberated much about going on the trip–checking forest fire risk and air quality reports on the hour. For most, the four days of welcomed retreat were a sacrifice. Kids and partners left at home, time taken away from work and overall “adult” responsibilities abandoned. I can say that it was surely worth it–the whole experience–from the drive to our friends’ house, to the rugged miles of “up”, to the craggily peaks, cold evenings, and amazing new friends, to the bad rest area free coffee! Thank you to Cory and Julie, and baby Adelaide, again, for your amazing generosity and hospitality. I think one of the best parts of the trip was getting to spend more time with them.

The seasons have changed. I felt the transition as we were leaving Portland, but in the mountains, things had already morphed. Little pockets of sun burnt umbers and siennas mixed with yellow branches and cold mornings. Leaves whisked down the path, as the wind had a noticeable bite. In the town of Leavenworth, Washington, where the trail head is located for the Snow Lakes zone, deciduous trees had changed and outdoor patios had a festive glow.  The town is surprisingly authentically German Bavaria. Windows spilled over with flowers and picturesque scenes were painted on the buildings and above doorways. We ate at the sausage shack (they even had veggie snausages!) before and after the hike, partaking in homemade sauerkraut and a flowerful bier garden! We just missed the open hours of the authentic German bakery, but managed to hit up another fun sweet haus, filled with gigantic gingerbread cookies. Billy and I, as usual, imagined living there in our self-built strawbale house on the outskirts of town, smelling the high alpine air for the rest of our days. It could happen!

Billy here. When we got to our friends’ house north of Seattle, their power was still out from a storm that had blown through, knocking down limbs and power for miles through Washington. When we left for the trail head the next day, there was still no power and rain pelted us the whole way. The young ranger at the trail head asked us if we knew about the weather and we stopped in our tracks, even audibly letting out ignorance. He told us that backpackers last night experienced torrents of rain, even a little snow, and 60 mile an hour winds. We all seemed to feel undaunted by this unanimously, as the weather seemed to be lightening. Spence and I were so excited to be backpacking that we practically power walked up the first half of the way to Nada Lake, a somewhat grueling climb of nearly 4,000 feet. The wind whistled through the trees in certain bends of the switchbacks and an osprey curiously eyed us from across the creek. Snow Creek fell down out of the mountains near us in a jade and turquoise rush.

Thought by thought, I was stripped of the worries my mind spins incessantly. Little one year old Addie had helped. Playing with her that morning before leaving almost instantly turned me giggly and mischievous, hopping around like a frog. The seed fluff of the flowers letting go for the end of summer did the same. The air was so cold and pure it was, as I told a new hiker friend in our group, like sucking on an ice cube. Some parts of the trail are overgrown with thimbleberry and flowers. The wind would kick up and white little faerie seedlings would take flight, filling the air with pure lively joy. Autumn came overnight in the mountains and with it a sense of possibility.

Though base camp near Nada and Snow Lake was often cold and rainy, including the steep scramble up into the Enchantment Lakes area itself, our spirits were high and the weather never reached the drama of the ranger’s warnings. A family of mountain goats foraged near us, loping like werewolves or unicorns (or were-unicorns). In the night they galloped through our camp, partying like, well, animals. They were so used to humans that they were unafraid to forage right next to our camp. The billy goat would tromp right into our camp, between us and the little baby kids, who bleated like kittens.

Though the hike was definitely steep and hard, I was surprised at how good it felt to be out in the elements using my muscles and getting tired. Perhaps I was also feeling the happiness of the land getting rain after such a hot, dry, and literally burning summer. But the weariness of the muscles seemed to bring on a relaxation of the spirit. The snake grass on Lower Snow Lake grew like scratches on the surface of the water – burnished copper, tarnished green.

Over the last several weeks the word palimpsesthas been going through my head. I wasn’t even sure what it meant – though I had looked it up some months ago when I first began studying the Book of Kells. According to Oxford, it means either:

1. A manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
1.1 Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
It is amazing how our minds work: how we know almost nothing consciously and then are reminded by our subconscious or our dreams of what we can know – an experience beyond ourselves, all palimpsests, every one of us, written upon the surface of the Earth in skin just as the plants are written in solar cells of  chlorophyll and the rocks are written in mineral, the same manuscript written through the eons on the molecules of this planet. We walk outside of ourselves and our cities to remember who we really are, not just human, not just minds or egos or somebodies, but inks on the pages of the living book of life. We will be rewritten someday. And that is the beautiful way of it.

The Good News… A Snow-Capped 40th B-day Adventure

Billy here. I’ll keep it short today, for there are lots of pictures and they speak for themselves! To celebrate 40 years of Spence’s life, we went up to our local Cascade mountain range for a backpacking trip. Armed with five days of food and Volume One of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, we hiked up through the Pole Creek Burn into the Three Sisters Wilderness. It’s sobering to see the effects of wildfire and volcanic activity, then to see the brilliant wildflowers of the alpine meadows. Life is short! And the meadows still blossom every year! Let’s look at the picture books!

Gallery: Fishermen’s Bend, The Pole Creek Burn Area, Demaris Lake, Dee Wright Observatory Area

Gallery: Golden Lake

Spence here: I came home to find our cabana had been decorated for my birthday by our lovely housemates.

Birthday Cabana

What a great piece of cake, so-to-speak, to end a whirl-wind birthday adventure weekend. 40. No longer in my 30s. People ask me if I feel any different. Yes and no. I always feel a shift when I hike into the mountains so it is hard to pinpoint it on a birthday. But marking these passages of time is something I am fond of so I instinctively get reflective. Something is different, in that I feel more compassionate in general and I have more gratitude for everything in my life.

The hike we took was not the one I anticipated, but ain’t that the way? Our plan was to go around the North and Middle Sister mountains, (see Three Sisters Mountain Range) traversing between the Middle Sister and the South Sister, near the Chamber Lakes area. I should have known the snow would still be ever-present, even in a low snow year. It was a miracle we could get up there at all in June. I wonder when I will stop trying to breach the mountains in early summer–I am eager. Needless to say, we didn’t make a loop. As we got closer and higher to Camp Lake on our second day, we lost the trail several times, ending up in snow fields, checking the compass. After Billy found the trail again, I hiked up another snow bank which was blocking our way and my view. Cautiously, I leaned over, a bit from the edge, to gather info about how to proceed. What I saw was our trail, about a 30 foot drop below me. Perhaps we could have kept going, finding alternative routes, but I didn’t really feel like I wanted it to be that kind of trip. I chalked it up to another lesson of hitting the mountains in early June and we “settled” for hiking the Green Lakes Trail, heading south. I type “settled” in quotations, because the trail was fantastic! Snow fields and mountain passes, making way into water falls, making way into streams and creek-lets, making way into alpine pools and lakes. We heard and saw strange black woodpeckers echoing in the Pole Creek Burn Area, a curious yellow warbler at Demaris Lake, deer in Park Meadow and only a few hikers around Green Lakes.

We averaged about 7-10 miles a day, exploring the eastern slopes of the Three Sisters. Our first night, we slept without a tent and we stayed awake most of it, watching meteors and the Milky Way. It was chilly at night, but 80s and sunny during the day, with plenty of fresh water running. The food we had packed in haste turned out to be really gourmet, with fresh carrots, kale from the garden, cucumbers, apples, cheese, butter and foraged pine-needle tea. Another added benefit of carrying bear vaults, is that they keep food fresh and cool, without getting crushed in our packs. Of the trip, one of my favorite moments was crossing a creek, barefoot, near Park Meadow and walking on the trail a ways without shoes on fresh damp earth. Another highlight, waking up with the best partner I could ever ask for, on my birthday, hiking a nice 7 miles through scent-filled forest and afterwards, drinking the largest Dos Equis Amber mug of beer I’ve ever seen. We drove home via McKenzie Pass on HWY 242 and even stopped by the Dee Wright Observatory. Coming home to a welcoming committee of best friends wasn’t too shabby either. The bad news is… I can’t think of any! Cheers!

Gallery: Green Lakes Area

The Clackamas River

Spence here: It is official! Welcome to the new home of Coupleohuckleberries! I am very proud of our site, and it is always fun reading through our past adventures. So far, the month of March has been filled with evolvement, sprouting and stretching. As my mom would say, “peaks and valleys”. We started off right, taking a few “stay-cations”, as a grand friend was in town and we became tourists of our own city once again.

Step 1: Go out to eat.

Step 2: Wander aimlessly in cool, quirky Portland neighborhoods until one is hungry again.

Step 3: Repeat.

Having multiple beverages with breakfast always signifies a serious vacation for me. Followed up by an overnight camp out on the Clackamas River and a feast with our neighbors to celebrate the Spring Equinox–culminating with the release of our own art websites… Check mine out here:

The over-nighter to the river was chilly and reminded me it is still only March. It didn’t rain though and we had ample time for drawing, investigating fresh water pools and photography. We even had our first camp fire of the year. There’s also something about sleeping in a tent for me, which invokes excitement, possibility and overall child-like smiley-ness. Walking down the path to Alder Flat, we watched our steps as brownish-red little newts lay amongst the leaves and pine needles. I finally acquired a handy tree guide for western trees and spent some time studying the family names of Alders, Cottonwoods, Poplars, Firs, Cedars and Hemlocks.


We live a charmed life, its true, but its not all $50,000 roof-top parties and donuts. I struggled through extra hours, rain and wind at my delivery job with an ill-timed bout of depression and 2o-something bossy co-workers. My body is not what it used to be, as flexibility wanes and arthritis is starting to have perfect attendance. This week I also received a couple of rejection letters from publishers. Was it F. Scott Fitzgerald who received over 300 hundred rejection letters before finally publishing The Great Gatsby in 1925? Well then, 298 to go.

I had a dream in which I caught an evil spirit in my hands. Grasping the dark, twig-like bundle of energy, I brought it to my lips in order to kiss it over and over again. In the next dream, I explored an old house, which to my surprise had glorious, colorful, small, spirits peeking out from between the woodwork. I think the work I have done the last few weeks is good and I have that to fall back on, as well as Billy’s unwavering love and support. I am planning a few new sculptures and now a new spirit painting, which will really feed me for the month to come.

Billy here. Spring is here! All those things we planted last year, for better or for worse are sprouting up!

It reminds me of the Navajo story of the two wolves, one good and one evil. A boy asks his father which wolf will win over humankind, and he answers, “The one you feed.”

So we are choosing to feed our creative pursuits seriously! It’s absolutely frightening, because it’s what has meaning, as opposed to the simplicity of punching the clock on some other job. It feels incredibly vulnerable and yet so empowering. So before I lose my nerve, here is the official unveiling of my new website!

Sharing your creations with others feels incredibly dangerous and terrifying. It’s like falling in love and trusting someone to treat your heart gently as a raw egg. A Texan art curator once said that if you can’t walk by a piece of art every day and get something out of it then it’s not for you. This is tricky, because sometimes you get something out of it, but it’s a hard feeling. You still get something out of it, even if it’s not pleasant. It’s growth. Making art and music is like that. It breaks my heart, making it. But if I didn’t make it, my heart would turn hard as stone.

There was a funny egg in the dozen we bought at the farmer’s market. It was as hard as a rock, and after boiling it, it would not break even after being banged against the concrete. Such an egg or a heart is not good for nourishment. Was it a decoy?

It was great fun to have my best friend in town for five days and see the city with new eyes. We walked the city over, through wind and rain, laughing. There is no better cure for the winter sadness than getting out in the weather and laughing with friends. I am reminded that it’s about people, all the people, the animals, plants, minerals, insects, and stars. We keep bringing each other back to the surface of the water to breathe.

I was feeling mad about some internal weather a bit ago. So I took a walk. Everywhere I looked people were happy. A guy was teaching his four year old how to skateboard. A woman was walking, grinning and bobbing her head to music on her earphones. A dog panted with excitement out a truck window. I couldn’t be mad with all this happy sunshine around. Come on up, they all said, it’s time to breathe above the water! I can start to feel what they mean, those uncanny philosophers, when they say that breaking through to eternity is not some future time or forever time, it’s being right here, right now, each and every moment. That’s eternity. That’s being in love with existence itself.

Burrowing in for the Winter


Billy here. With Arctic air blasting most of the States, we are reminded that winter happens every year and it is upon us again! It’s time for us to bake bread, cook soup, drink pots of coffee all day long, make art projects and dig into the stacks of books we’ve been collecting through the year. Time to celebrate your local library! I love the Multnomah County Library. So much in fact, that it could the best part of being here in Portland for me besides my loved ones.

I am designing a new astronomy calendar for next year and, to help it along, taking some classes at the Independent Press Resource Center, which may contain the largest zine library in the world. The winter months for me are the time to study, reflect and be aware of the symmetry of the big picture. These are also the months when the night sky is clear and crisp. Orion and the Pleiades are rising in the East. The Andromeda Galaxy is overhead. It may be time for a winter camping astronomy trip! Here is a sneak preview of the new design for the calendar:

astro 001

Speaking of which, here is a fantastic snap shot of the inner solar system as imaged by Solar System Scope, a truly delightful planetarium program on the internet. Also, you can follow the Rosetta spacecraft as it made it’s way to the Comet 67P with a little movie and a timeline on the bottom. If you click on the magnifying glass on the left once you are running the program, click on Comets, then Comet 67P and then the little “Land on a Comet” box will appear. The video is not to scale, but it’s pretty fun.

Screenshot 2014-11-16 10.19.50

While you are reading this we are making our way across the West once more to visit our old friends in New Mexico and get the rest of our music equipment to take back to Portland with us. We are both missing playing music a lot and are excited about getting the instruments set up in our next project: the art and music studio next to our cabin.

Next week we will be on the road and feasting with our friends, so we won’t be posting on our blog, but check the blog on December 3rd for our 50th blog post all about our winter road trip. Thanks for reading and enjoy your time with your loved ones this Thanksgiving!

I want to give thanks for all the people and all the love in our lives. This year has been full of a lot of changes and beautiful reminders to be here now. Celebrating a lifetime commitment of love with Spence. Seeing my Gramma go back into the earth. There is nothing permanent in our lives ever, not even our lives. Every day we renew our commitment to be present with each other. Every day there is no certainty. What we have is this moment. And I am grateful each and every minute to be here, softening and opening to it.

We must meet ourselves time and time again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.

– C. G. Jung

For further reading, here are some blogs of a few of my favorite living authors:

Fritjof Capra

Ursula K. Le Guin

Pema Chodron

and just for fun, a piece by Jeff Sharlet, associate professor of creative nonfiction at Dartmouth College:

Nightshift: Excerpts from an Instagram Essay



Spence here: All week I have been readying, since we hatched the plan to go back to New Mexico to get our music gear and a few other odds and ends. Every other day since we left finds us saying, “I wonder where that fill-in-the-blank thing went; oh I left it in New Mexico”. Anyway, we’ll be on our way soon to try to remedy this a bit. Normally, as I always tell people, I don’t like to travel in the winter. Driving or flying with the possibilities of storms always gives me anxiety. We have some time built in, however,  if we have to stop or re-route. We also have the utmost love and support of family and friends awaiting us on both ends. This is all we need.

Since Billy has been geeking out on his astronomy calendar and recent amazing books (like The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin, which he is letting me borrow), I have been delving into the wonderful wide world of backpacking gear! Oh the possibilities, the adventures, the gadgetry, and the endless YouTube videos! Sadly, I must retire my little red and tan tent. Billy and I realized after our last Pacific Northwest camping adventure, the material itself has started to fail in the rain. After 15, maybe 20 some odd years of heavy use, I am finally retiring it. Here’s a photo one of my fondest trips with my Eurkea two-person tent, along the Pacific Coast Trail in 2011.


On the up shot, we just purchased an REI tent online that has been discontinued–the Taj 3, at an amazingly low price. It weighs the same as the little Eureka, but is actually made for 3 people, so Billy and I will be living it up with extra room for wet gear or shoes or backpacks or all of the above.


We also bought some sweet sleeping pads. We’ll try them out soon, camping in the cold mountains of Utah on our way south. I am also looking at a new backpack, although, that purchase will be later in the future! (Let me know what you think of the Patagonia Ascensionist 45L. It is a small climbing pack, but I have read reviews which could make it good for all-around backpacking. I really appreciate the shape and simplicity.)

For now I am thankful to be in the presence of so many friends, share in some amazing food and see even more of the country. I miss the people all over the globe who I can’t be with, while celebrating with the people I can. I find the holiday/yule time to be that way. Next up at home, a remodeled artist-in-residence cabin, home-brew, my latest sewing project (“Blue-Man-Suit”) and our punk/experimental music project. Have a great couple of weeks hibernating and check out these fun, unique blogs at your leisure.

The Largest Freshwater Lake in the World

Grand Marais Point

Billy here. Traveling west through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we explored Pictured Rocks National Park on Lake Superior (in Ojibwe gichigami or Great Lake). We traveled the entire shore from the tiny fishing town of Grand Marais down to Marquette, finding huge ravens, wild raspberries, eagles, waterfalls and hidden lakes. Our first glimpse of the lake was a calm glassy morning in Grand Marais, where old, tiny fishing shacks lined the streets. I thought of the incredible cold in winter time and smoked fish. I thought of the terrible winter storms that could whip up waves as high as 26 feet. This lake contains a spirit so great that many lives and generations have lived with it. The Anishnaabe word for spirit is manitou, but it could also be understood as “The Force” that binds all living things together, the gichi manitou, the Great Spirit. Small animals are called manidoowish and insects are called manidoons, both meaning little spirit. When I visit a place, it is helpful for me to familiarize myself with the language of the original peoples that lived there, because I feel that this language is a part of that place and in fact the initial human relationship with that place. I feel a great longing to visit Northern Europe and understand how it feels to be with the land there, to hear the languages in the remote villages, because this is where my ancestors were buried before coming here to escape the Second Reich of Germany. Some of my ancestors, of course, were buried here on the Great Lakes too. Each place we visit is a part of us, its stones the bones of our grandmothers, its streams the blood of our future children.

The heavens and the earth are my heart. The rising sun is my mouth. My lips dare not lie to you. My friend, I ask the same from you. Do not deceive us. Be strong and preserve your word inviolate. I am old, but I shall never die. I shall always live in my children, and my children’s children.

– New Corn, Potawatomi

The nitrates in Lake Superior are rising each year. This is slowly changing the ecology of the lake. Being the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, Lake Superior alone contains 10% of the world’s surface freshwater.

We obtained a backpacking permit and hiked into Beaver Lake, which we used as a base camp to hike along the beautiful shores of Lake Superior via the North Country Trail and circumnavigate Beaver Lake. A forest ecosystem grew up over sand dunes along the lake. Streams tumbled into waterfalls. Loons and the wind on the lake filled the air.

Spencer here: Lake Superior–grand, glassy, chilling and alive. When it shimmers, my mother always says, “makes you want to jump right in!”  Often I agree, but on this trip, I thought better of it. At times the lake can look and feel like the Atlantic Ocean–crashing waves and stiff wind. So cold,  it feels like November, not the middle of August. The morning we spent in Grand Marais, walking along the break wall, it was flat, calm and sober–the water temperature 35 degrees. Maybe I was reading into it, but I thought the lake also felt watchful. On our trip we have seen so many people with kayaks, canoes, jet skis, boats, atvs and even water jet boots!  As I said, it is good people can get out there and experience the out-of-doors, I can’t help but wonder, however, if people are still missing the point of wilderness.  When I see Lake Superior, I feel the wildness. It lures you and entices you and breaks your heart–but it teaches you if you listen. It teaches, yet it is a mutual learning: slowing down to a glacial pace and letting go, things I need to work on honoring myself.

The problem is that the people who go there [to wilderness] don’t care about the wildness; they care about the other human values of our culture: money, gear, family, friends, having fun. Most people who do go into the natural world are going for recreation, not contemplation.

-Jack Turner, Author and Teacher

I too, get caught up in backpacking gear talk, thinking about what cool canoe to buy, finishing a long-distance trail, getting to the top of Mt. Whitney. I also think about the stuff falling out of our Jeep, organizing, driving and cramming in the fun.  Billy and I often make reference to this behavior as “Peak Bagging”, which is an awful term that lends reference to the hordes of people every year who try to conquer wilderness. Really all we need is to take a long hike through the woods.  Walk until our legs ache to stop and our minds actually do. Then we become nature and in turn natural. The fun comes without effort.

With the ice in Lake Superior only just melting at the end of June, it would be a long winter for us if we stayed in a small town like Grand Marais, however, I can’t help but to daydream about it. Perhaps I am in the mood for it, as I have been desiring a more isolated existence these days. That might seem funny since we just came from rural New Mexico. My experience there was brilliant, although very different from what I had originally thought it would be. I am grateful for the time I had to write, play music and paint, however, we were busy bees there, just like anywhere else–helping neighbors, attending gatherings and working customer service jobs. I learned part of what I need to do is choose not to be busy because it will find you anywhere! Carrying all this forward, across the country to where we will eventually land will be a challenge. Most of my friends work extraordinary hours in the city to keep up with skyrocketing rent, mortgages and new family members. While on occasion I envy their stability, I wonder how I will fare when I get back and take up the slack of my responsibilities. Eventually, it is our goal to not have to “get back” to the city.  Sustain ourselves in nature, perhaps near a small town, as artists. How? How? How?  Staring down over the cliffs at Pictured Rocks helped me to be worried about something else for a change–Billy getting ever closer to the edge to take photos and get a good look! We really stretched our legs on this segment of the trip. I tried to stretch my ideas of what  “home” might look like as well. The town of Marquette started winning me over at the end with a fantastic food co-op and Dead River Roasters coffee shop.

Tahquamenon Phenomenon

Lake Superior Water Magic

Smokey Sandhill Spence here:  We ended our visit in Traverse City with a leisurely stroll on the TART trail past a cool old railroad truss bridge. I finally showed Billy Boardman Lake and we spent some time in the library, overlooking the summer sailboat camp.  My mom was healing up nicely after a knee replacement surgery and the leaves were already starting to change…time to go.

We decided to take a northern route across the country with some beautiful detours. I was thrilled to get to see the Mackinac Bridge again and tell Billy about the ferocious winds that at one time picked up a Yugo and threw it into the Straits. I also hadn’t been through the Tahquamenon Falls area for at least 20 years.  My father and I visited in the winter when I was young, which was a very special time. The snow was deep and most of the tourists gone.  A hot lunch at the Berry Patch restaurant was welcomed then. Whitefish Point was a woe-be-gone place, isolated, lonely and fascinating.  That was one of the last winters I remember seeing ice caves on Lake Superior–now I look at the pictures of the caves in my memory and the internet.

The area was definitely different in the summer. I was feeling 7 billion people on the planet as we struggled to get close to Whitefish Point and the falls.  We opted to hike in to a quiet, scenic back country camp spot about 3 miles from Upper Tahquamenon Falls (“Tahquamenon rhymes with phenomenon”) It was worth our hike out everyday to view the falls, have lunch on Lake Superior and study the bogs along the way. Even with the 7 billion mosquitoes we encountered, it is a lovely place.  Luckily, we bought bug jackets with hoods to combat the bites. We startled Sandhill Cranes with their babies–it had been so long since I had seen them it took me awhile to remember what kind of bird they were. How I could mistake their trumpeting calls I don’t know! We decided to celebrate (celebrate what? everything!) and we took ourselves out to eat at the Tahquamenon Brewery, located inside the park.  Billy got to eat Lake Superior whitefish and the occasion was so awesome, I ate some too.

One lovely sunny day, we took a trip out to where Tahquamenon River meets Lake Superior–the river mouth. It was a great day for  a picnic and after a little searching, Billy and I found a perfect private beach for two. After dunking in the water and sunbathing for awhile in restful bliss, a family came up from behind the tall grasses hiding our spot. The grandma was sorely disappointed to fine us there and I heard the mom say “shit, someone’s there already”. I knew we were about to have our half hour of peace disturbed. As appalled as I felt, I knew that when they descended onto our beach that it was inevitable, although terribly awkward.  I mean, that beach was really small! I had to move my beach chair for them to even get to it!  “I hate to barge in on you like this, but this is the only sandy beach we could find that’s close to our cabin and these kids need to get in the water,” said the grandma.  The three little kids felt slightly shy, obviously feeling the strain of the situation. The grandma tried making small talk, which I barely indulged for about 5 minutes. I then made up something about exploring the river mouth area trails and we left.  We drove down a random dirt road Billy had a hunch about and we did find a breezy, shaded pull off, located up the river, to have our dinner. More and more, however,  I find that I “escape” to wild places and wilderness, only to find that people are crowding it up.  Where are the wild spaces left for the wild creatures?  Sadly, sometimes these experiences trump my enjoyment of the place. It doesn’t take away the beauty or the specialness, and I think it is important for people to visit these places to know they need protecting, I just wish there were less people.  There, I admitted it. I’m not happy about the population growth. All summer long I feel it (more and more every year) and swear that next year I’m not going anywhere until school is back in session. That said, I still love the Great Lakes and I know it is a fantasy to think that they wouldn’t be crowded on a lovely afternoon, but I still wish it so.

Billy here. The clear water of Lake Superior is a phenomenon I had underestimated. This water could be drunk straight from the lake and taste as pure as any snow melt. I am sad that all lakes and rivers cannot be drunk anymore. It reminds me of the saying about the last poisoned river and the last cut tree.

Michigan is named for a Algonquian word, mishi-gami or “great lake”, which was extrapolated into “Michigan” by the French. The more I look into this Turtle Island, the more I feel it living, even in the cities, and I understand that there is not a single piece of earth here that doesn’t still feel this heartbeat that was named and loved by the first people here. All of us immigrants are settlers on stolen land. This is something I have felt and known since I was a kid. I felt the sadness of the trees I grew up with, every old oak had a heaviness and they were my best friends. I did not learn about the lynchings, the evictions and the trails of tears until much later, but I could feel them through the old trees and the rocks.

Non-Indians will never have western eyes so long as they cling to the Man versus Nature dichotomy. Four hundred years of this thinking gets you a civilization of people lost in shopping malls, coast-to-coast take-out windows, a culture that has lost its connection to the natural world. That is the ultimate poverty for all men, and no amount of money can ransom that sadness.

– Raymond Cross, Indian Law Professor

I found myself going through heartbreaks while backpacking. My mind was spinning all the familiar loops and my was heart tight and hot as a coal. I agree with John Francis, that the only person we have the ethical authority to change is oneself. I also want to feel the conviction of one Holocaust survivor’s insight that forgiveness is for us, so that we can go on living and it doesn’t let the perpetrator off the hook. But these old and new things, all the bruises of this lifetime and the last 2000 years, sometimes they clog my blood and I feel held fast.

Then I heard the elephantine whirs of sandhill cranes. I walked through the black spongy bogs with the mosquitoes. Frogs of every size jumped into the water. Thick under-stories of wild blueberries surrounded us. The deep ruby sun burned off in the morning fog while a hermit thrush sang an echoing melody. The tree roots on the trail rose up, worn smooth and shiny by thousands of feet, like unfolding wings of birds and bats. The evenings were so quiet I could hear the lub of my heart and the static scream of my nervous system. And slowly, day by day, I am becoming softer and spongier as the abundant bog.

Lizard Head Wilderness


spence here once again! back on the trail! after a long, beautiful, sunny winter in the high desert of new mexico, billy and i found ourselves waning a bit from house-sitting gigs. we took a golden opportunity (we had a house-sitter for our house-sitting gig!) and an excellent excuse (my birthday) to travel north to telluride, colorado. in all my years, i never get sick of fresh air, waterfalls, river valleys, ancient trees, mountain views, good brews and alpine lakes.

we drove about three and a half hours from gallup, nm to the town of telluride, on clear roads. an easy trip, cutting through little towns called rico, dolores and stoner.  the history of the area is as intriguing as the cool people and micro brew names (face down brown is my favorite.) however, while i appreciated visiting telluride, its really the mountains i will remember. appealing green, rolling mounds, even greener pines, purple rock slopes, dark shadows and white caps. i was surprised there wasn’t more snow on the mountains, thinking about it being spring  in june at 10,000 ft in elevation–another sign for the drought monitor.

we camped in an open meadow the first night, after picnicking in telluride park. the lizard head wilderness stretched out before us, as we ate chips, sipped some ale and talked about the next days plans. i bought a guide book in town, a bit shoddy on actual helpful information, but heavy on small town historical lore, and still worth reading. we decided on the navajo lake trail…something with a water feature.

in the morning we leisurely packed up and after billy frolicked in the meadow behind our camp, we set off down dunton road–a slanty dirt one-track–lined with aspen. i was thrilled to smell the green and anxious to stretch my legs on the trail. we decided at the last minute to backpack in and stay the night at the lake, allowing us more time to enjoy the trail. we hiked steadily up, although not painfully up, until the last mile of switchbacks. the navajo basin, from which the west dolores river is created, did not disappoint. the river crossings lacked danger, but were mighty cold, with chunks of ice still floating in them. we arrived at the lake, some 5-6 miles up the basin, passing several snow drifts, however, the trail was gleefully clear. the sunshine and uphill walk warmed our bodies and our hearts as the 60 degree day burned on. around dinner we got to the lake and the temperature was brisk already. spending a fair amount of time enjoying navajo lake, we finally agreed to camp lower (the lake is at 12,000 ft) seeking a warmer night’s sleep. near a soft grassy knoll, creek-side, we finished our wine and hit the sack. we took precautions with food and brought our backpacking bear vaults along, securing our food just in case–even though no signs were posted anywhere about bear protocol or safety. good thing we have done this before because later that night a bear came sniffing around the tent. our only trouble with the bear was lack of sleep and billy’s backpack getting micturated upon.

hiking out in the morning back to the van, i had a lot of thoughts about last summer and our adventures. this hike, albeit just a jaunt, had helped me to realize just how tired and worn out i was last year.  i was stubbornly set on hiking, after working so many hours at my job to save money for it, as well as working so many hours at rehab on my knee.  after two knee surgeries and 6 months of continual overtime at work, i wasn’t actually physically or mentally ready to do a damn thing. maybe we should have went to hawaii and sat on the beach or something. anyway, after taking this winter to rest in new mexico, i can see and feel the difference in my physical state, as well as my attitude. i feel grateful for the chance to hike the jmt last year, but realize the lesson yet again of patience over pursuit. the jmt, thankfully, will be there when i’m ready, and now i am grateful i know the difference.  maybe this fall i’ll see you there! as our wonderful neighbor urs once said with a gleam in his eye, “experience lights the way behind you.”

The Hike Out

Bear Creek to Mammoth Lakes: 56 miles in five days

August 20th: 7 miles along Bear Creek

August 21st: 11 miles Bear Creek to Vermilion Valley via Mono Hot Springs Detour

August 22nd: 6 miles from Vermilion Valley to Cold Creek

August 23rd: 15 miles over Goodale Pass down into Cascade Valley to Fish Creek

August 24th:18 miles from Fish Creek through Iva Bell Hot Springs to Mammoth Lakes

Billy here. After getting soaked in relentless rain for days, we woke up along Bear Creek after a long, restless night. Spence had a fever and was sweating and chilled all night long. He even got up in the middle of the night to make hot chocolate, he was so cold and sleepless. It was clear that we would not make it over the next mountain pass this way, so we began a slow trek out, with the idea that perhaps we would get a ride back to Mammoth Lakes some way or another.

We hiked out Bear Creek and thought we’d try Mono Hot Springs south of Vermilion, since it was closer to the road out, thinking maybe we could find a ride or get a bus or shuttle. It was a beautiful but hot hike out, some of it down a rocky and steep OHV road. At the end of the OHV road was a little trailer where someone lived rather rustically. Here we continued down a steep, winding main road with no shoulder for a couple of miles. Mono Hot Springs was a cute little operation, dotted with cabins and a quaint little general store. We were running low on energy and water, so we bought some juice and maps and sat out front in some rocking chairs to discuss our plan. A couple of local grizzled cowboys were sitting net to us smoking cigarettes, one with a gentle demeanor, and struck up a conversation on the area and where to catch a bus. From the gist of it we would have to try and find a ride to Fresno and then take a bus all the way around. This prospect would cost us some money. Even though Mammoth was about thirty miles on foot (as we erroneously thought) across the mountains, by car you had to go all the way around, south and north again through Yosemite, a trip that would take us all day with good luck. We didn’t really like the prospect of having to negotiate a ride into a city then sitting on the bus with Spence feeling so sick. We decided to rest and walk back. This was a feat of courage and endurance on Spence’s part that still impresses me to this day. He was feverish and woozy with no appetite and the trek we had in front of us was more like fifty more miles, not thirty. Our first step was to hike back up the steep road to Vermilion Valley Resort to get back on the trail. One of the grizzled yokels was talking about the numerous hot springs in the woods, some public, some secret, but it was hot out and we wanted to get on our way. The other cowboy with the soft voice said he saw us walking down the main road as he was driving in from his trailer where he lived at the end of the OHV road, which we passed earlier, and offered to give us a ride in his van, at least as far as his trailer. As long as we didn’t mind a little mud and animal hair. Not in the least! On the ride up he talked about how he used to ride the horse train for the camp up near Vermilion and how he loved the Southwest. There was something so gentle and kind about him, like a cowboy Buddha. Sam Elliot would be cast for his character in the Hollywood movie of our summer. When we said goodbye I realized we didn’t get his name, only the name of his dog, which seemed appropriate somehow. We were so scattered and out of sorts that we had forgotten to get water in Mono Hot Springs and I had even left my half finished juice at the general store. The climb up the road to Vermilion was hot and ruthlessly sunny and we soon ran out of water. It was at least five more miles to the resort and I felt ridiculously irresponsible for letting us run out of water when Spence was so sick and on the road of all places. As if being answered swiftly by a miracle, I heard the sound of running water off the side of the road just up ahead. There was a small spring! We rested in the shade, filled up on water and trekked back up to Vermilion for the night.

That night it stormed through the entire night, soaking our tent further and effectively draining us of more sleep. So we had a slow, wet start to the day and Spence was still feeling very sick, but we didn’t want to spend another day at the resort so we might have a better chance of getting some good rest, so we decided to hike a little into the trail and take a rest day. Looking at the map and remembering the torturous climb down the granite staircase and Tully Hole, we agreed that we didn’t want to climb back up that way. Also, we wanted to stay at a lowest possible altitude, in case Spence’s flu was an altitude sickness combination, so we set out to take a different route back: down into Cascade Valley along Fish Creek instead of up over it on the PCT. We knew we didn’t technically have a permit to go this way, but figured through the extenuating circumstance, we had to take the chance. So we set out up Cold Creek past Graveyard Meadow, where we rested and dried out for the rest of the day. I was beginning to feel under the weather too, but I drank Emergen-C and powered through it with sheer will. I had to be motivated and strong to get us safely out.

The next day we slowly hauled over Goodale Pass, which was relatively not as difficult as Silver Pass. We rose slowly into the dusty, moonscape of the mountain pass and saw Squaw Lake again from a different side. My thoughts were filled with old grievances as we clamored slowly down switchbacks on the other side of the divide past alpine lakes, until we reached the very bottom of the valley and forded Fish Creek with our shoes in our hands at dusk. We continued down the creek for a ways trying to find a flat spot to camp for the night and, even though we didn’t intend to hike for so long, by the time we finally found a spot right next to the creek, it was dark and we had gone almost 15 miles.

The next morning we hiked over the ridge to Iva Bell Hot Springs, where we rested our weary legs in a warm, healing pool and determined that we might as well hike all the way out today since we were quickly running out of food options. We forded the creek again and hiked up a dry, hot switchback out of Cascade Valley, affording wondrous views of the valley floor, and continued north to Devil’s Postpile where we would take a shuttle back to the car. This little back trail from Fish Creek to Reds Meadow was quite beautiful and I am glad we got to see the sheer granite cliffs and waterfalls tumbling straight down them. Much of the trail was flat solid rock, part of a vast cliff dropping off to the west of us. By the time we hiked up out of our last switchback bowl, I was finally getting the hang of understanding altitude change on the topographic map. “Oh, the rest of this trail is no problem!…Gentle slopes all ahead!…No more uphill after this!” I would say before ascending yet another gravelly switchback over a rocky ridge.

We were so thankful to finally see the Rainbow burn stumps of our home stretch: only a couple miles to the shuttle pick up. Just before leaving the meadow, I saw the flapping of what I thought was a hummingbird, but it turned out to be a sphinx moth, a creature I had been wanting to see since I was a kid! Our very last uphill to the shuttle stop from the trail was so ridiculously steep that I joked we would soon start walking up backwards, trying to humor Spence, who was not in a mood for any more hills. I was so tired, hungry and grumpy that I stopped in my tracks and laughed with my hands on my knees. We finally made it to the bus stop after nearly 18 miles up from the Valley floor. We sat on the shuttle in a daze as the sun set. We were dreaming of hot fresh food and a bed and a shower. I could only imagine how tired Spence must feel battling sickness and going 50 more miles over another mountain pass and into and back out of an enormous valley.

In the dark, we anxiously walked away from the shuttle through the parking lot back to where our van was last parked. We were delirious and could hardly walk even on the pavement. We were exuberant to find our van intact once again!

We went to a local bar with a Texas theme called Z Ranch and joyously drank Shiner. I ate a mouthwatering double jalapeno cheeseburger with zeal. We checked into the Motel 6, took heavenly hot showers and crawled into soft, flat, clean and dry beds. We were going to sleep in and have some real coffee. At a coffee shop.

Because we had backtracked and done parts twice, like the River Trail, we had just walked over 192 miles through the Sierras, which is nearly the length of the entire John Muir Trail. I knew in my heart I would go and do this trail again to the finish. Ultimately, it isn’t about the miles or even completion, for there is nothing to complete except the continual shattering of limitations in the mind, forms, symbols and ideas – learning to see and hear the world as it is without the stained glass vision of the story through which we see the world. As Arthur Koestler says:

Every creative act involves…a new innocence of perception liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.

spence here:  waking up to another very cold and wet morning, we decided to go about a mile to a drier camp to rest up and dry out. my head was spinning and breakfast did not appeal to me–not even coffee. we landed not too far from upper bear creek meadows and sadly never went any further south. even after laying in the sun to dry out for several hours i had severe chills, accompanied by sweating since i had put on every layer of clothing i could fit. that night’s sleep was possibly my worst ever, as i struggled in average temperatures to stay warm and stop shivering.  in the middle of the night i finally got up and made hot chocolate,  thinking dramatically, that if i had hypothermia, the beverage would save me. in the morning, we had nice sunny skies and warmer temperatures, however, i was in no shape to hike. i turned to billy and i saw that he knew what i was about to say. in a disappointed and sick-induced haze i buried my head in my sleeping bag. when i woke again, i weepily drank half a mug of tea and dragged myself out of the tent to pack up.  i’ve never been so dizzy, fatigued and/or nauseous in any time i can recall. it took me an hour to sort and fill my pack–a chore that normally took 5 minutes.

what i remember from that day of hiking, as we turned around to go back, was not the fact that we barely made any miles, or the fact that i had napped more than hiked, but that of billy’s courage, patience and resolve to take care of me and get us out safely.  we had both been reading our guide book and re-reading the book to try to figure a short way out and the answer was simple–there was no way out that didn’t include at least one mountain pass and elevations of 11,000 feet. i focused that day on staying upright, with the hope that going down in elevation to vermilion valley resort would help me feel a little better.

we sacked out for the night at a lovely spot near bear creek, with a shadowy butte overlooking our camp. it was warm and dry and i slept a little better at 8500 feet, but still had the chills.  it took me 3 days to get rid of them, but by that time, i had a new problem–chafing.  i had never had this problem before while hiking, although i had heard numerous horror stories of people unable to continue hiking for the chafing on their butt cheeks and thighs was so bad.  many companies make anti-chafe cream and lube for this purpose, as well as special spandex, chamois shorts and a whole host of other preventive measures. fortunately and/or unfortunately, i had read of a quick and painful remedy that proved to work well the whole trip–alcohol.  i always traveled with alcohol pads because they are good for everything–from first aid to getting sap off your hands to cleansing before cooking.  curiously, another use for them was drying up chafing.  yes, it is as awfully painful as it sounds, but its a 5 second way to stay chafe-free and get a little cleaner at the end of a long hiking day.  in my sickness stupor, i had neglected to notice and take care of this increasingly aggravating problem, so by the time we arrived back at vermilion, my chafing was so bad, it was uncomfortable to sit down.  i did what i could by showering at the ranch, using alcohol and eventually using talc powder, but since we had to hike further, nothing really helped. at least it took my mind of my continuing nausea and fever!

with all said, i really did appreciate seeing mono hot springs and i felt sad to miss out on soaking.  i was glad for more kindness from strangers, in the form of buddha cowboy camper-dweller and for the continual hospitality from the folks at vermilion valley ranch in the face of our predicament. i was dead-tired and worried about hiking out, but going down in elevation to 7500 feet helped to clear my head and see that our path was clear over goodale pass. it was a brilliant trail and seeing the pass (basically west of silver pass in the same set of teeth) in the sunlight, really highlighted the silvery rocks and cliff faces, gleaming.

billy must have been on edge and disappointed about our turn of events to hike out, but he never showed it. on our way down we stopped for lunch at another secret waterfall spot which had a shimmering sandy beach of crushed granite. we talked about coming back and finishing the trail another time and i know in my heart we will.  i wish i could have enjoyed the last day of hiking more, as our 18-mile epic walk was so picture perfect in many ways.  the trail weaved through massive granite walls, soft pumice paths, across clear fast streams where i dunked my weary head and captured the pictures of twisted old junipers in my mind.  billy would hike ahead and then wait for me to catch up, a slow, shuffling bundle. i felt all sorts of emotions, from disappointment in myself, to relief, to sadness and then back to disappointment.

our shuttle back to the van was uneventful.  i was grateful for the ride, resting my bones, but somehow i thought there should be some sort of monumental ending. not exactly ticker-tape or a medal, but something. i felt proud of what we had accomplished, however, it felt hard to praise it in my mind in light of our hike being over. it felt difficult to swallow–it being “over.” but besides the chafing and exhaustion, at the lower altitude i started feeling better. i knew we had made the right decision in turning around, as hard as it was. i had heard the stories of hikers trying several times to finish the jmt and being sent back to civilization stronger and wiser–successfully finishing in subsequent years. this was my resolve.

i thoroughly enjoyed my garden burger and beer at the z ranch bar, as well as my epic hot shower at the motel.  we had a lot to look forward to with an upcoming new adventure in the desert. i looked towards those future paths and the wisdom and courage that flows to us with time.