The John Muir Trail

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Here are my tips:

+ LOTS OF SALTY CHIPS. There is no such thing as too many fridos. But seriously, make sure you bring a mix of sweet and salty snacks.

+ Don’t take full zero days (days where you spend zero percent of the day hiking). Take half days. It’s more satisfying (food always tastes better after you’ve hiked 6-8 miles). And more importantly, it also helps keep you in the zen mindset.

+ If solo, bring audiobooks. If with another person, bring audiobooks (it’s an excuse not to talk, a new conversation topic, …).

+ Bring a camera. I brought my iPhone and I wish I had brought a nicer one (annoying to admit since my dad kept offering his high-quality low-weight one). Photos remember what happened so when you forgot, you can unforget. And moreover, photos allow you to reflect and research has shown that reflection of difficult, impressive times in your life gives you a sense of pride and happiness.

+ Do side trips. I did half dome and clouds rest. I understand not everyone has the time, but if you do, take your time. I only regret not doing more. Side trips are usually beautiful and make for great conversation with other packers.

+ Camp in isolation a couple times. When you are alone at a campsite, there are many fun things afforded to you like meditating without the fear of interruption, singing so loudly you know you must be off tune, and running around camp naked (to name a few).

+ Be friendly. Be willing to adjust your itinerary when you meet brilliant people…you don’t ever regret it. Even if it’s something that feels unnatural to you and you think you’ll come across as creepy and/or awkward, know people on nature hikes tend to be warm and unassuming. Lines like “Where are you from?” or “How are you doing?” or “Do you know where we are right now?” are easy ways to start a conversation. Be curious and don’t prematurely judge boasters or complainers or people-with-that-pet-peeve-of-yours. I guarantee you’ll find some human gems. I met teachers and 80 year olds and cameramen and similarly idealistic college grads and a man who wouldn’t let chemotherapy dictate his life.

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Skyline to the Sea

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Draped in a young vine, a taut silver branch bows down over the trail forming an archway for our processional. White light plasters the sky, hunting for the artist to paint its canvas. The Nebraskan flowers, Marina and the golden rod, smile adoringly up, not bothered by the blinding luminosity. Along with some other relaxed shrubs, the perennial Nebraskan opens up to some spotted critters and leaping bugs. A sunken trunk, rouged with reds last spotted in the cosmetics aisle, sinks into the ground near the plant brothel and drips pitter-pattering rain drops.

Skyline to the Sea is a 32 mile gift. (It’s mostly downhill and only 3 days.) Although the trail is very well marked, it isn’t difficult to accidentally loop, which joyfully lengthens the time you get to spend in nature with a friend. And I’d recommend going with a friend. It’s not that the trail is physically exhausting: it’s just more fun to laugh in the rain, instead of being sad about it getting into your peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

You’ll have to book your campsites in advance, we stayed at Watermon Gap the first night and Sunset Camp the second. Typically people stay at Jay Camp the second night.  But I wouldn’t.  Sunset doesn’t have water but it does give you an extra hiking stretch peppered with waterfalls as well as it providing a cozy, tucked away spot to camp (Jay’s location is near headquarters and piping with people).

Here are the links we used to plan:
http://www.redwoodhikes.com/BigBasin/S-to-S.html
http://www.everytrail.com/guide/skyline-to-the-sea-trail

There isn’t any cell service after the first day (at least for AT&T) so plan in advance when you will be picked up from Waddell Beach. Also, I’d recommend mosquito repellent and some water purification mechanism.  The latter is more of necessity rather than a recommendation if you are planning on staying at Sunset Camp.

Lastly, if you go, look up!  Unless you are superman, you will get tired, cold, hungry, an ache in your lower back from where your backpack rests…but you just got to look up! You have the opportunity to see the wildest things. The skeletons of cars vomited from highway 1. Newts snuggling up next to your feet.  Your best friend silently laughing really hard at your ridiculous getup.

The things you find on Mt. Diablo

IMG_2947Walking frees the soul from the body. It latches onto a hawk and not only swoops, glides, and hovers but also stops and sees a leaf for what a leaf really is in all its intricacies and details. With those eyes, brick houses with picket fences and sparkling pools are Lilliputian and look for once what they are: insignificant. A slip and a fall and your body tumbles down a bit. All part of the adventure. Your soul latches onto something, a falling pebble. The rock has been there for ages. It’s withstood the winds of nature and terrors of men. It’s seen everything, and I take comfort in the fact that if this rock could last so long, maybe I too can last another day of my high schoolers.

Ketamine, a synthetic drug, frees the soul from the body. I would argue that hiking in nature does the same. Your body accidentally identifies with the animate and inanimate surrounding objects, and you find yourself walking in a body that isn’t your own.

It was like finding my spirit animal. Before going to Mt. Diablo, during the frequent introduce yourself and tell everyone your spirit animal, I would never know what to say. Everything from “ducks because they can swim, walk, and fly” (I only realized later I couldn’t fly) to “tribbles because they like eating and are flufffffffy” came from my mouth. But today I found it. I found my inner critter.

I am a lizard. I like basking in the sun for hours and have no issue plopping myself in the middle of people scurrying about. My dance moves have a slithery, wriggling quality. And I have been known to swallow some bugs in my sleep. Don’t know how I didn’t think of it before.

A Caterpillar Snooze

hikingThe Sole Photo of Spring Break 2013 Shot Outside Henry Coe State Park (Inadequate but indeed quite adequate)

A mosaic of greens encrusts the hills.  In the clouds, gray diffuses into white.  Feet sport socks inside out and tarnished with memories.  Meanwhile, the plants project out of the ground like spokes on a bicycle wheel.  Light creates motile caterpillars out of plants by illuminating the fuzz on the long slightly curved stems.  But just as the sky giveth light and life, so it taketh away.  In seconds, hurried clouds obscure the sun casting grays instead of oranges and sedating the caterpillars, leaving them to dream.

Pictures are moot in places like this where the light is a vibe rather than a visual spectacle.  Here, the light fills your body up like sand does an empty sack.  And the fluctuating light leaves you to dream, but this time as plants do.

Close your eyes and take a caterpillar snooze.