Florida trail day six: roads for days

December 18
Mileage 30
Mile 103 to mile 128.5 (plus 4.5 miles walking in and out of Clewiston and Moore Haven

I wake up before dawn, excited to be back on the road. It’s not a trail, at least for the next hundred miles, it’s a road, but I’m still excited to be back on it. Walking is walking is walking, right?

That feeling lasts for most of the day. First I’m walking along pavement, a sort of bike path/service road, alongside a dike, and there’s waving grass or sugarcane fields or palm trees on either side, and somewhere supposedly there is a lake, although I can’t see it, and the sun is not too hot and I’m making good time and my feet feel alright. Then there’s a gate across the bike path- construction, no tresspassing! It says. Some dudes below at a fish camp are waving their arms and saying-

“Don’t do it! They’ll put you in jail!” And so I am introduced to another endearing thing about the Florida Trail- sometimes the road is closed indefinitely, and one is forced to do a roadwalk detour around the roadwalk.

Hot blacktop it is, then, through the recently-burnt sugarcane fields that parallel the dike. My feet are aching now, and so to distract myself I re-watch a documentary about some folks I know who fixed up a derelict yacht one winter and sailed it from Florida to The Dominican Republic. This helps the time pass and I think about all the other things I could be doing- eating fish I clubbed myself, swimming with sharks, learning to sail. But would that be so different than this? Isn’t all life suffering?

I follow some railroad tracks through the sugarcane fields to the town of Moore Haven, where I have a resupply box at the post office. If Clewiston was a busy little hub of sugar manufacture and cheap cuban food, then Moore Haven is a shit-tastic wasteland of dollar stores and shuttered restaurants, edged in RV parks full of retirees. The walk through town on the freeway seems to take ages, and when I arrive at the post office the clerk looks at me like I’m insane and says that no, they do not have my package. I look up the tracking number online and discover that although I sent the box a week ago via priority it seems to have stalled somewhere in Kentucky.

“I’ve never had this happen before with a priority box,” I say to the clerk. “Is this, like, a thing that happens?”

He shrugs.

“Priority is not garaunteed.”

The dollar store is actually like a grocery store, only without a produce section. It’s pretty good to resupply, as it consists entirely of snack food and everything is cheap. After buying lots of things like “cinnamon almonds” and “mixed rice crackers” I head to the burger king, which seems to be the only gig in town, and may be the most depressing fast food restaurant on earth.

The teenagers who work there are leaning on the counter, bored to tears, and they perk up when they see me. I actually really love this about fast food restaurants- no judgment. You’re literally paying for someone to be nice to you. Not like the retirees behind me in line at the post office, who seemed scandalized by my existance. I order what is perhaps the worst salad I’ve ever eaten and then hike back along the freeway to the dike, which I can access again now that I’m passed the “construction”.

I’m seven miles from camp, a “designated campsite” along the bike path, when my feet start to really ache- particularly the heel in my left foot. I try to find something softer to walk on but there is nothing- the grass is deep and difficult to walk through, or sloping down at an awkward angle. Dark falls, and my morale plummets. Fucky fuck. Fuck this eight hundred mile roadwalk. I run through all my pep talks- it’ll be trail again for a bit in a hundred miles, you might get to hike with friends later on, you spent all that money on resupply boxes and travel, you can’t quit because quitting is dumb, never quit on a bad day. By the time I reach camp, after having navigated around two more “closed” sections of the bike path, crossing a number of bridges in the dark with traffic going by really fast (and everyone with their brights on, blinding me), and being stopped by a concerned state trooper because “you don’t see anyone walking out here”, I am emotionally spent. There is a picnic table tho, so that is nice. I sit at this table and do my evening chores, listening to the night-time animals do their thing in the water. Earlier there were wild boars in the trees next to the road, rustling around and making snorting noises.

At this point I feel like I’m in the kind of relationship where you really love the person, so you don’t want to leave, but in the day-to-day you’re just unhappy. But you and this person made all these PLANS together, you built your lives around each other. And you really love them. You’re just… unhappy.

On a brighter note, here is the video about the friends who fixed up an old boat and sailed to the Dominican Republic. If you like adventure, and feeling as though anything is possible, it is fantastic for that-

Hold Fast

Photos on instagram

Florida trail, day seven: Dear FT- it’s not you, it’s me

image

The real Florida Trail

December 19

When I wake in the morning I know that I’m done. Despite having slept really well, despite having camped in this nice place with a picnic table, I still cannot muster the energy to get stoked for thirty more miles on this paved bike path, followed by hundreds of miles on other paved surfaces.

I’m done.

The FT is 1100 miles long and has 600 miles of roads, or 800 miles of roads- I don’t know for sure. As I walk the six miles this morning to the little village where I can get on the highway to hitch, I think of the things I’ve done in my short hiking career that have made me most proud. Night-hiking over Mather Pass in the snow. Doing 25-mile days in Washington while feverish with tonsilitis. The time I ran out of food and hiked 50 miles on 1500 calories. The L2H. Even though I’ve only hiked a couple of long trails, I can sincerely say that I’ve never once wanted to give up and quit hiking. Not once!

And yet here I am, crumpling in the face of 600 (800?) miles of roadwalking.

This gives me newfound respect for people who HAVE thru-hiked the Florida Trail. This trail is such a unique psychological challenge- lots of tedium and foot pounding for relatively little reward. It’s different from an actual trail, and it requires a different sort of attitude. And apparently I don’t have that attitude.

This makes me sad, because I really, really wanted to love the Florida Trail. It turns out that I love Florida, that I love being in Florida! I flew all the way down here, it’s a magical tropical land, I love hiking. It was the perfect setup. But this is not like the hiking that I know- this is the kind of “hiking” that makes me want to curl up in a ball in the grass and go to sleep for a very, very long time.

It takes me over an hour to get a hitch the 20 miles into Okeechobee- I’m in some agressively conservative part of the state, populated my leary retirees, and passers-by stare at me with open-mouthed looks of horror. Who am I, standing there in my dirty white sun-shirt, turquoise skirt and backpack? Some sort of harlot? Where is my pickup truck? Why am I doing something other than driving to and fro work or shopping at walmart? I must be a drug-addicted feminist terrorist. I probably voted for Obama.

You think I’m exaggerating. In Okeechobee I walk to the library, because I just want to sit in a chair with my phone plugged in and think about what I’ve done and what I’m going to do next. I’m minding my own business, reading about Brangelina’s wedding cake in people magazine, when I overhear an elderly man at the computers behind me loudly declare to the man next to him that the woman who “runs this library” won’t let him spend more than two hours a day on the computers because she’s a “feminist nazi bitch”. I stare at him, and he glares back at me.

“How’s that for speaking your mind?” he shouts. No-one else in the library even looks up. “At least I don’t have any tattoos,” he says, pointing at the tattoo on my hand. “You know what that is? That’s the tramp stamp!”

“It’s not too late,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. “you’ve still got time.”

He shakes his head vehemently.

“Never ever, because the BODY is a TEMPLE made in the LIKENESS of JESUS CHRIST.” He is shouting all this, and as he says it his friend sitting next to him in pounding his fists against his thighs, mouthing along.

“She’s blushing!” He proclaims. “I made her blush! She’s blushing because she’s ASHAMED!”

My god, I think. These guys are like internet trolls, but in real life. Their need to pick a fight and get attention is more real to them than anything else, more real than the people around them.

I go back to reading my magazine, but soon the dudes are at it again-

“You see these street people in here,” says one of them. “And you get to feeling sorry for them. And then you leave the computer and they get on it after you, and they steal all your passwords!”

“You’re right about that,” says the other one. I look at my dirty backpack, leaning against my legs. The one dude gets up, circles the room and then sits across from me, fixing me with a hostile glare. Are you serious? Are you fucking serious? He wants so badly to pick a fight with me. And for what? I think of the recent Nicki Minaj interview, in which she says that “men are like children”. So I pack up my backpack and go.

The town is crowded and busy and I’d have to hitch out of town in order to find a place to camp, and I don’t want to hitch alone in this part of Florida, so I end up getting a motel room. It’s more than I can afford but I just want to deadbolt a door between me and these awful people for a little while why I figure out what to do next. I talk to my friend Track Meat, who lives north of here, and this time when he offers to pick me up and take me on a roadtrip I say Fuck yeah! I walk to the grocery store for my usual town staples of roast chicken, avocados and greens and then barricade myself in my motel room to watch television and look at instagram until I pass out.

Photos on instagram

Florida trail, day three: hello roadwalk

December 15
Mileage 30
Mile 31 to mile 61

Roadwalking. Roadwalking happens. Roadwalking is a real thing, on most (all?) long trails but especially on this one. So… roadwalking. It’s hot, it hurts my feet. There isn’t any shade. And there are so many different kinds of roads to walk on- dirt roads! Gravel roads! Pavement! The people passing by in their cars stare out the windows at me- what sort of a person am I, and what am I doing in this corner of the world? The enchanted swamp that I waded through is not here; that swamp has been drained. Instead I find farmland, conevenience stores, asphalt. I think about the concept of a “Florida Trail” when so much of at least this part of the state is naturally swamp. And swamp, I don’t think, was meant to be walked on. Maybe in a boat. But not on foot. It was really cool to see all those wild secret swamp places, but walking in the swamp felt ridiculous. Sloshing down the “trail”, thinking- why is this so difficult? Am I doing this wrong?

So, roadwalking today. It’s hot, and I stop midday at Billie Swamp Safari Cafe for fried gator. There are people on ATVs tooling around, some alligators in a pen. I spread my damp sleeping bag and tent out on the grass in front of the cafe like that’s a normal thing to do. Inside, the waitress stares at me- my white shirt is filthy and she can’t figure out what my deal is. The fried alligator I order is so breaded it could be anything- fried racoon, fried shoe rubber. Still, it tastes good.

Back on the hot road. I’m walking through the Seminole Indian reservation- big nice houses, teenagers ripping by on ATVs. Then I leave the buildings behind and follow a gravel road along a canal as the sun sets. Cows gather in the dusk on the other side of a wire fence. Soon it’s just me and the milky way, stars reflecting off the still water, smell of manure, rustle of creatures going about their evening business. In the dark of the cow fields I can see the wink of fireflies; from the water comes the chorus of frogs. I am simultaneously lonely and overwhelmed with the peacefulness of it all, and as the dark deepens I feel my anxiety from the long day on the hot road drop away. The gravel road and canal leave the cowfields and I follow them into an immense expanse. There are waterways on both sides of the road now, great birds lifting into flight as I pass, silouhetted against a lighter dark. The gentle plop! of alligators and other creatures as they drop into the water. I know it’s a canal and I know the swamp has been drained but my god, I can’t believe the number of animals here.

I stealth camp in the mown stretch of green below the road, on the bank of the water. I don’t feel lonely anymore; I feel suspended in a web of everything, none of it hostile. The animals are having a party and I’m invited; I can sleep, if I like, no-one will bother me.

Photos on instagram

Florida trail day four and five: roadwalking fail

December 16
Mileage 18
Mile 61 to mile 79

I wake before my alarm, cold, to find my sleeping bag soaked through with condensation. The dark is just beginning to pale and I sit up blearily, lackadaisically poke at my gear, eat something or other. Suddenly I am treated to the most fantastic sunrise- and egrets lifting into flight, a flock of blackbirds, a gentle warming of the air. I am in a tropical paradise! How did I get here.

My joy lasts until midday, when I have a breakdown. My feet hurt so immensely- I’ve been walking on a crushed limestone road next to a canal all morning, the same canal I walked on yesterday evening, the same one I’ll be on for another 25 miles. Just one road going straight north, sugarcane fields on either side as far as the eye can see. Now and then a white worker pickup, spewing dust. The sun is out, and hot. Water can be gathered from the canal- agricultural runoff, pesticides and fertilizers and things. An oily sheen floats on top.

And my feet hurt so. fucking. bad. So I sit down next to the water and I just cry.

It is a particular pain specific to roadwalks. A hot, achey, burning pain that radiates up through my body, into my hips and my back and my shoulders until it is everywhere, until I’m on fire. I’ve felt this pain before during roadwalks on the PCT- but the roadwalks on that trail are maybe a dozen miles, while the roadwalks here are a hundred. This morning the pain is so bad it makes me nauseous. I take ibuprofen but this only blunts it- I know the only solution is to get off my feet, or get onto an actual trail. But instead I have nothing to look forward to but days and days of roadwalks just like this one. My sub-tropical dream seems to be turning into some strange version of hell. I sit there, looking at the alligators sunning themselves on the banks, the birds doing their thing. I do like alligators. But what have I gotten myself into? Couldn’t I have, like, decided to ride a bike across Florida? Why the long roadwalk? I understand, now, why so few people thru-hike this trail. The weather is a dream, the animals are epic… but the roadwalks. My god, the roadwalks.

I drag myself up, tell myself not to be a whiney baby. If other people can do these roadwalks (I even found a blog of a couple who did the trail in boots!) then so can I. But then the reality of how my feet feel hits me again as I walk along the hard, hot road- it is a pain that will not be ignored.

I decide to quit the trail. This feels awful in so many ways- I sent myself resupply boxes, I flew to Florida, I announced to the world I was hiking this trail- now all that will be lost. But, at least at the moment, the thought that I can quit whenever I want and the roadwalks will be over is just the morale boost I need. Four miles later I reach Evercane road, and stand in the sun with my thumb out. A woman in a huge, shiny pickup pulls up and beckons to me. She speaks little english and I speak no spanish but yeah, she’ll take me to Clewiston, a town about ten miles away. I feel bad about how I smell- I wonder what this woman must think of me, out walking through the fields for no apparent reason. In the car I stare out the window at the sugarcane fields, try and figure out what is important, what really matters.

Clewiston is a small, busy town built around a sugar refinery, bustling with workers coming and going from the fields. There is a string of cheap, rundown motels and I get a room in one, wash the dust off my face and then hobble down the main strip to the walmart, the only grocery store in town. I get lost in the labrynthine store and end up buying lettuce, avocado, roast chicken, carrots, an apple and three oranges. Back at the motel room I eat my dinner and the draw a bath, sinking into the hot water and closing my eyes. What am I even doing. What am I ever doing? What are any of us doing? We fuck up for a little while and then we die, right? Isn’t that life?

I text a few of my friends, tell them I’m quitting the trail. “My feet hurt OMG roadwalks!” One friend, who lives in Florida, offers to come pick me up.

“We can go on a roadtrip,” he says. I imagine myself seeing Florida from the comfort of a car. That sounds nice. And then, who knows what could happen? Maybe I’ll stay in Florida for the rest of the winter, camp in someone’s backyard. Get some sort of job.

Another friend doesn’t want me to quit.

“Get different shoes,” he says. “Stretch more.” I list all of my excuses but they sound hollow to me now, like I’m just being a whiney baby. Foot pain! Drinking agricultural runoff! If other people can do this I can do it. Right?

I fall asleep to the noises in the street, the damp cool florida night coming in the busted window screen.

——–

December 17
Mileage: zero

In the morning I pay for another night at the motel. Whatever happens, I am taking the day off. I eat gluten free pretzels from my foodbag and leftover chicken for breakfast and then wander through town, looking for a place to get my hair trimmed. My feet hurt less today, and that feels good. I find a little place on a sidestreet and $15 later I am free of the split ends that I’ve been too lazy to deal with for over a year. This cute little side street also hosts a thrift store, a furniture shop, an antique store and the single coffeeshop in town, where the only white people I’ve seen are huddled over bowls of broccoli soup. Outside is a wooden bench that proclaims “Clewiston, Florida- the sweetest town in America!”

I pick up my clothes from the lavanderia, where they’re done washing, and cross the main drag to a little cuban food place, which is crowded with locals on their lunch breaks from. I order the lunch special, which turns out to be massive portions of braised pork, chopped lettuce, black beans and rice and fried sweet plantains, along with a basket of toasted white bread spread with margarine. All of this sets me back about $7, and is delicious. I order another lunch special to go, so that I can pack it out- I’ve decided to go back to the trail. I’ve also decided not to hitch back to Evercane road but to start right where I am, effectively skipping 25 miles of roadwalking. My original plan was to give myself 40 days to try and do as much of the trail as possible- I realize now that I likely won’t be able to do the whole thing in 40 days if I have to take breaks for my feet. I’ve accepted this, and will start where I am. Setting out to do most of the trail feels better than giving up entirely.

Back at my motel room I start to blog but instead I fall asleep, lulled by the peaceful warm afternoon. I go in and out of dreams and when I wake there is a moment when I have no idea where I am, what time of day it is, or even who I am. This happens to me often when I wake- this moment where I floating loose from the interconnected web of reality, liberated from my place in all of it. This used to terrify me, but now I cherish it. It’s a sweet moment, and very freeing. I could be anywhere. I could be anyone.

Context comes rushing back in. It’s 6:30 p.m. on a weekday, I’m in a pink motel room that hasn’t been remodeled in a long while in a town that makes sugar. In a land called Florida. The FT is still more roadwalk than trail- There still aren’t any answers.

Some time later I fall back asleep.

Photos on instagram

Florida trail, day two: O MAGIC SWAMP

December 14
Mileage 21
Mile 10 to mile 31

My alarm goes off at 5:30. I sit up in a tent cometely saturated with condensation. Everything is damp. We’re in a swamp; I guess that makes sense. Outside, the land is draped in moonlight. The sun shows no sign of rising. What time does the sun even get up these days? I don’t know. I pack up my wet tent and sleeping bag in the chilly damp-dark and start hiking with my headlamp, picking my way through the mud. By and by the sky begins to grey and then bam! That gentle-orange wintertime Florida sun. How nice it is to see.

Today we have a surprise: water alternating with mud and then, just water. Flat, shin to knee deep water, stretching out in every direction, dead-looking trees sticking up, bleached white. The water is clear and the bottom is deep, sucky mud. I take a step- splash! And then I wrench my foot out- slurp! And this goes on for a number of hours. There is nowhere to stop and sit, nowhere to take a break. My shoes fill up with mud until there is no room for my feet; I remove the insoles and empty the shoes out, rinse them with swamp-water, wedge them back on over my socks. Soon they’re full again, pulling me down like bricks. The water is cool, though, and it feels soothing on my scratched-up legs. As I slosh forward I look at the forest around me- gnarled trees, leafless but stuck here and there with air plants, which I have seen before only in small glass atriums, lily pads, sunlight shining off flat water. And a deflated helium balloon- the fourth one I’ve seen today. So when you’re a kid and it’s your birthday party and you let the balloons go- this is where they end up. In the Enchanted Swamp.

After a time I realize I’m travelling at just over one mile per hour. This makes me panic a little. I’d planned to finish the swamp this afternoon- now I’ll be lucky if I get out by dark. What happens in the swamp after dark?

I try not to panic. Slurch, lurch, go my shoes. Splash! Goes the water, as it covers my legs and the hem of my dress. I look into the water for snakes. Would I even see one if it was there?

There are these things in the swamp called “pine islands”. I don’t know how they exist but I happen upon one around midday- a chunk of solid land, or at least firmer mud, in this vast expanse of low clear water. I push my way onto it, through some tangled foiliage, and find a leafy small alcove in the center, just big enough to camp, surrounded by dense trees. It’s eerily still here, and there are rustlings- I feel like every swamp creature lives here, at least every swamp creature that needs solid ground, and they are all, at this moment, watching me. I make a little lunch, take off my shoes and attempt to scrape the mud out. My socks are filled with mud too. I spread my wet tent and sleeping bag on some tree limbs in the sun to dry. A swarm of the tiniest mosquitoes descends on me, but I don’t mind. Rustle rustle, go the bushes. When I can’t stand the watchful eyes of the island any longer I plunge back into the swamp, and resume my slow journey north.

I find a kind of rhythm. I give up. I forget that there is any time, that there is anywhere I need to be. Slurp, slurp, slosh, go my footsteps as I lurch along, grabbing at the trees for balance. I wonder how my feet are doing in there. Rotting maybe? At 5 p.m. I pass another island- the next solid land, according to my data book, is not until the highway in 3.5 miles. I wanted to make it to the highway so bad- there’s a rest area there, and I’ve been fantasizing for hours about rinsing all the mud out if my shoes under the bathroom tap, post-swamp. But the sun is sinking and will set in half an hour, and my pace is slow, so that means night-hiking. I look down around me at the clear, deep water. Is it safe to night-hike in this swamp? Is there something I should be scared of?

I choose option C) call a friend. I call Track Meat, who lives in Florida and who hiked the FT last year.

“What are you doing?” He says.

“I’m in the swamp.” Splash. Splash. Splash.

“That is so cool.”

“Is it safe to night-hike here? Will something try to eat me?”

“Nah,” says Track Meat. “Alligator feeding time is before sunset; they’re not feeding now. And when you’re walking you don’t look like a deer.”

“They eat deer?” I say.

“Yeah. But you’ll be fine.”

Afterwards I am greatly reassured and I splash forward with renewed confidence, swinging my headlamp around at the dark trees. After a mile or so I reach a dirt road, only partially submerged, and I squelch down this with glee. Now and then I am plunged into knee-deep water, but the road always rises back out. And then the distant lights of the highway, a chainlink fence, and I am thrust back into the ever-present bustle of western civilization- the freeway.

I miss the swamp already.

In the restroom at the rest area I rinse out my shoes, change into my tights, and find an embedded tick in my armpit. The vending machines are like a convenience store; I buy three different types of chips to go with my instant lentil dinner and then I sit at a picnic table on the dark grass, watching the regular people in their cotton outfits come and go. I am exhausted from the swamp slogging; my legs ache all over and I’m starving. After dinner the Florida winter chill comes on but no matter; the vending machines have hot cocoa. And honey buns.

I push my way into a dense stand of trees behind the rest area and next to the biggest cell phone tower I’ve ever seen and set up my tent there, to stealth camp. This reminds me of my hitch-hiking/trainriding days. I push my stakes into the soft mud and crawl inside, exhausted.

Tomorrow the roadwalking begins.

Photos on instagram

Florida trail day one: le swamp

December 13
Mileage 10
Mile 0 to mile 10

On Friday night Phyllis, the trail angel who volunteered to host me in Miami, picks me up at midnight after my flight is delayed. This officially makes her a saint. We go to a late-night burger joint and then Phyllis takes me to her condo in North Beach- she’s set up the most incredible bed for me on her living room floor. It’s such a sight after my long journey wherein many things went awry, although that is another story for another time. I crash in Phyllis’ quiet living room at 2 a.m. and when I wake it’s 11:30 a.m.- I guess that’s what jetlag does. Phyllis takes me out into Miami, which looks, at least in some parts, exactly like a Pitbull video. Palm trees, people wearing gold jewelry, luxury yachts shaped like spaceships.

“The drug trade built all this,” says Phyllis.

On the drive to the trailhead we stop at a grocery store. I haven’t eaten, and to my amazement I discover that there is both peruvian AND cuban food in the strip mall there. I eat a conglomeration of roast chicken, black beans and rice, vegetables and what I think is barbecue sauce. It’s the best thing I’ve eaten in days. Phyllis drops me off at the trailhead at 3 p.m. I have no idea how I would’ve gotten to the trailhead if it wasn’t for her, as it’s pretty remote. As such, she saved my ass. Thank you Phyllis!!

Things I learned about the Florida trail today:

Swamps exist. Swamps are real. I keep expecting to see kermit the frog sitting on a log, strumming a banjo and singing “rainbow connection”. I see three alligators within a minute of leaving the southern terminus. They are on the other side of a chain-link fence, next to a canal. I hold my phone up over the fence to take a picture. Can alligators jump? There are also birds with long white necks, called egrets. And herons, and what look like giant pheasants. In general the birds are large. As I hike there is much rustling in the swamp- as though a hippo or giraffe or dinosaur might appear. The temperature is perfect, about 65 degrees, and the sun is soft and long. Soon the trail turns to mud, then standing water. The mud sucks at my shoes and pulls them off. I look down into the water- are there snakes here? The water is at my ankles, then my knees. Help! I need a boat! I keep slogging though. Contrary to what you may have been told, only the first 30 miles of the FT are swamp. And then a 6 mile chunk later on. I know I’ll miss this when it’s gone, and all I’ve got is roads. So I try to keep a good attitude.

The going is slow, though. Water, then mud, then water again. I’m not making very good time. And now the sun is setting… at 5:30. I want to do ten miles today, so I get out my headlamp. I smell a campfire, and the I pass “seven mile camp”, where a couple is sitting in front of a tent. I keep walking, and then the trail just sort of… disappears. There are orange blazes spaced regularly on the trees, but at night I can’t see them. And now the tread is as good as gone.

I poke around, but everything is overgrown with grass. Huh. I guess that campsite is about as far as most people go on this trail. I find the trail, lose it again, keep having to backtrack. Mud, water, mud. I wish I could see the orange blazes. There are these big rocks in the trail that look like bleached dinosaur bones, it’s hard not to trip on them. More overgrown trail, more backtracking. The trail grows more faint. There’s no way to tell which way to go- just flat swamp-forest in every direction. I actually have to use my GPS, which is embarrasing. This is the florida trail! Still, it’s cool that I’m in a mysterious swamp and that it’s challenging.

By the time I reach “ten mile camp” I’ve just sort of been bushwacking for a while, using my GPS. There’s a flat spot, and, according to the data book, “water in a cypress dome”. What is a cypress dome? I don’t know. It’s too dark to find out, so I just set up my shelter. I look up and see the most fantastical shooting star. Earlier there were fireflies.

Tomorrow I hike through “the black lagoon”, where water can be “up to a person’s waist”. Who’s waist? A six-foot-tall person’s waist?

What am I doing here? I don’t know. But I’m having fun so far.

Photos on instagram

Florida Trail or Bust

My seasonal job is over, cash stacked, money saved for the CDT, now it’s time to hunker down in a half-empty room somewhere and work on my book until spring while cobbling together odd jobs to pay the rent, like I always do. But no, I haven’t hiked in two months and I feel crazy- all wound up inside like a spring, a woodstove full of fire dampened down all the way, glowing and glowing and then the embers slowly dying out in this great cooling bath of a life. But no! I don’t want to live like this! I feel frustrated with this dull sedentary existence that so many of us tolerate, working dull jobs empty of possibility and stealing moments staring at screens. And we are always being sold something- what if you were thinner, and the sunsets were always over-saturated? What if you harnessed the power of nature in a crystal necklace? I want to smash everything with a tire iron. I start picking fights on instagram with rich white women doing yoga on stand-up paddleboards and then I know it’s time to go.

I’ve got to hike! Florida trail or bust, and I’ll finish the book after. The idea to hike the Florida trail started out as a bit of a compromise- I am too poor to travel internationally and it turns out that in this frigid country there is only one long trail that is not frozen over in the winter. So the Florida trail it is, or “the poor man’s TA,” as I like to call it. I asked friends who’ve hiked it for advice and everything they had to say was disheartening-

“800 miles of roadwalking”

“Mosquitoes so bad they once suffocated a cow”

“Canals polluted with agricultural runoff as your main water sources”

“Walking through Orlando for two days”

and especially this-

“The only reason I’m glad I hiked the Florida trail is that now that I’ve hiked it, I know that no trail will ever be as shitty again.”

So I back pedaled and was like, “JK, not doing it!” and then these same friends were like-

“WAIT! You don’t understand! The most glorious sunsets I’ve seen in my life! The prettiest forest I’ve ever walked through! Sub-tropical beaches! ALLIGATORS!”

And so I was like, fuck it! And I bought my ticket to Miami. I also downloaded half a dozen audiobooks and bought a turquoise dress on deep discount from patagonia- because if there’s anything that makes me excited about adventure, it’s a new hiking outfit.

It’s not just hiking and our relationship with screens that I’ve been thinking about lately- I’ve been thinking a lot on the death of Eric Garner and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I tried to be an activist for a few years in my early twenties, which is when I first realized how deeply rooted in injustice everything around me was, but I got too excited, burned out, and then sort of faded into apathy over the years. I hadn’t even realized this was happening until a few weeks ago, when I started obsessively following the progression of the #BlackLivesMatter events via newscasts while I was working- the first time, in fact, that I’d listened to the news in a long time, and as a result I was vigorously and somewhat painfully re-politicized in a matter of days. And then it suddenly dawned on me just how close I had become to being the sort of white girl who lives in LA, does yoga on a stand-up paddleboard, makes dream-catcher jewelry and documents it all for her 60k instagram followers. For a couple of days after realizing this I alternated between horror and rage as I saw the current version of myself as though for the first time and wondered what the fuck I could do re: helping to rock the boat at this pivotal moment while also being a useful ally to people of color. I read a lot of online articles, watched some youtube videos, looked at a lot of twitter, and the distillation of what I learned is this:

-Don’t center whiteness. I am white, and this movement is not about me. It’s not #AllLivesMatter, it’s #BLACKLivesMatter. Sure, all lives matter, but we are talking about the police brutality against BLACK folks specifically. That’s what all of this is about. #AllLivesMatter derails the conversation. We live in a white-supremacist culture that steers the conversation and the attention back to white people whenever it can. Seek out black media. Seek out black bloggers. Seek out black twitter. Try and keep the conversation centered on the voices of black folks. It’s amazing how difficult this is, how strong that inertial pull back towards whiteness is.

-Go to protests and donate money. The basics.

-Stay active. Stay informed and involved. Keep reading. Keep listening to the news. Keep devoting a certain portion of your emotional bandwidth to this thing that is much larger than yourself and that you actually genuinely care about. In other words, DON’T slip back into the easy apathy that your white privilege allows, whereby you can just, like, repost a few articles on twitter and then go back to your life of drinking kombucha, going on roadtrips and pretending the world’s not ending.

This last part is the hardest one for me. I understand how to do the first two, but the third one eludes me. I want to offer up something of myself, but aside from the first two, I’m not sure what I have to give that can be useful. I have this blog, is there a way that I can make it more useful? More about something other than hiking? White people hiking, specifically?

I don’t know the answer just yet. I am going to keep thinking and reading and reaching out to others who have thought about this a lot more than I have. I don’t know the answer yet but I do know that I am really fucking sick of myself, or rather that part of myself who documents a sunset for instagram or comes up for a new way to describe the color of tannin in water (tea-colored? no. broth-colored! I patent that one!)- and calls it good enough.

Here are some really cool inspiring awesome resources for you, right now in this pivotal time in history.

Clever, funny video: Five Tips For Being an Ally (to a community you’re not a part of)

Donate: Fund for the children of Eric Garner

Insight: Being a cop showed me just how racist and violent the police are.

Why being “nice” isn’t good enough: White America’s Silence Enables Black Death

MTV made this video defending riots

Invigorating history of this young movement- “Black Lives Matter goes beyond extrajudicial killings of black people……..it is a tactic to (re)build the black liberation movement.”

This woman was punched in the face while in the back of a cop car and then spent four days in jail, although she was never charged with any crime.

Athletes wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts during important games that everyone is watching and the awesome implications of that.

Comic relief- Obama texts his grumpy daughters about the turkey pardoning

 

 

 

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Six- Triumph

Morning light hitting the High Sierras, as seen from the crest of the Inyo Mountains

Morning light on the High Sierras, as seen from the crest of the Inyo Mountains.  Lone Pine is the patch of green in the valley.

(In the first week of October, 2014, I set out to hike the Lowest to Highest Route with NotaChance and Orbit. This is the final installment of my trip report. For technical information on this route, go here.)

—————-

Oct 7
22 miles

At six a.m. I wake after a single perfect, flawless nights’ sleep and begin to crow the lyrics to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” into the still darkness. This is our agreed-upon alarm clock- my singing voice is beyond awful, so it’s really, really funny. It’s a joke that started when I used the song to wake Jess and Lia for our four a.m. summit of Mt. Adams- another hit was me singing Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”.

“Your version is better than Miley’s,” said Lia, who is a musician, as we struggled up the steep white snow.

“Thank you,” I said. “I know.”

Now Jess boils instant coffee for everyone in her jetboil while the sky lightens to a washed-out shade of blue-black and then empties entirely, that single, colorless moment before the liquid sun spills over the mountains. The coffee is good and I feel fucking amazing- I actually had a real full uninterrupted nights’ sleep and now the world is suffused with goodness, possibility and promise. Things are good, things will get better! Mountains! Magic! Sunrise! Can you actually even believe that there is something instead of nothing!

Directly after Burgess Well the route leaves the rutted jeep road we’ve been following since our cache and begins to cut down the mountainside, towards Long John Canyon. There’s a “faint cairn trail,” which means we’re cutting back and forth like rabbits on the gravelly slope, whooping with joy when we find a cairn.

“A cairn! A cairn! ERMAHGERD CAIRNS!”

It’s cold but the air is slowly warming and below us is the flat Owen’s Valley, with Lone Pine on the far side a cluster of little trees, and then the High Sierra rising up catching the first rays of light. The cairns are small and often toppled and I fix a few, which makes me feel good, and try and imagine who comes up here, who made this route in the first place. I picture a wizened man running his fingers over an old topographical map, driving his 4-wheeler across the valley in a cloud of dust, hiking up here to watch the sunset. Gathering the rocks from the hillside to build all these cairns.

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sass chance

 

At one point Long John canyon, the wash that we’ll follow to get out to the valley, is far below us, and the maps are telling us to simply go “down”. Now commences the sport known as “screeing”, or skiing on scree- jogging down the steep, crumbled shale that leads to the canyon. I am not brave about this sport, and I slide on my butt a lot. By and by we are deposited in the canyon at a large cottonwood tree, standing leafy and miraculous in this cathedral of dirt and rock. There is mining detritus around- rusted steel drums, wooden planks, bits of metal. The leaves on the tree rustle companionably. We walk up the canyon to the find the spring there, which may or may not be running- we’d planned on it being dry and when we find it, penned in between walls of rock, it’s just a little wet spot in a patch of moss. You could gather water here but it would take strategery, and lots of Time. Luckily we have plenty of water so we make our way out of the wash, grateful for the cool shade thrown by the high rock walls. Eventually the wash fades into the bright hot open Owen’s Valley and we join another jeep road, this one cutting straight west towards Lone Pine.

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Jess / sierras ho!

 

It’s hot, now, and nearly noon. I only have a few spoonfuls of sunflower butter left but I don’t want to eat that, so I think about the lettuce wraps at Carl’s Jr. in Lone Pine and drink my tepid water. The sky is hot, the valley is hot and open. The road is hot and it hurts my feet. My shirt is wet with sweat and chafey under my hipbelt.

In the middle of the Owen’s Valley is a miraculous oasis- a swath of muggy growth, long green grass, insects flying everywhere. Old fences tilting into the earth. The Owen’s River runs through here, flat and slow. There are signs posted everywhere- PROPERTY OF LOS ANGELES / NO TRESSPASSING / PROPERTY OF LOS ANGELES

And cellphone towers- two big ones rising up like monumental old-growth, surrounded in fencing, saying WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH into the atmosphere. Next to the river, beneath the cellphone towers, is a cluster of junky outbuildings, a sinking trailer, a bunch of horses penned up without any shade.

“Are those horses happy?” I ask Chance. I don’t know about horses.

“Nah,” she says. “They should have shade.”

The sun is so strong, it’s cooking us. Looking down at the ground is painful because the dirt is bright and it reflects the sun back up, into my face. I wonder how the horses must feel. I look up at the cellphone towers. There are children’s toys in the dirt yard in front of the trailer. We walk past the trailer, but it seems to take forever. We walk and walk and walk. I imagine the children watching us, from behind the broken blinds.

Lone Pine grows infinitesimally closer, those surreal green treetops inching towards us, and then I’m crossing the main drag, climbing over the barbed wire fence, pushing through the brush and across the sandy open desert to the back gate of LoveNote’s house, little white board fence swinging open into the dirt yard. Shower’s on and then I’m in heaven, washing the heat and sweat and weariness away. I take off my clothes and rinse them in the water, run a bar of soap over them, twist them out and watch the dark water swirl away down the drain.

Carls Jr. is crowded with teenage girls in monogrammed sweatpants- some sort of highschool sports team. They stare at me while they eat their fries, not hostile but curious. I consume two burgers in record time and refill my giant soda cup with about a gallon of powerade, step back out into the sun. My clothes are already dry from the walk from LoveNote’s house.

Chance and Jess are at the hostel, the bottom floor of which has been transformed, this year, into a gear shop, collapsed into huge overstuffed chairs watching a movie about water privatization that’s playing on the bigscreen TV. I sit down too and immediately my brain turns off. I feel sleepy and bloated with powerade. I shake the ice around in my cup. But wait, what are we doing? We’ve still got to do the roadwalk to Whitney Portal Campground today, right?

A man approaches us. He’s small, wirey, silver-haired, looks like he used to do a lot of rock climbing. His name is Mike, and he asks us where we’re headed.

“Mt. Whitney,” we say.

“You got your permits?” he asks.

“No,” I say. I’m sort of spaced out.

“Ranger station’s a couple miles outside of town,” he says. “That’s where you get your permits. Tell you what, I can drive you there.”

“Really?” I say. Jess and Chance are half asleep, so I go with Mike in his car, which is clean in that way only very, very new cars can be. The backseat is piled with gear, gear is strapped to the roof.

“I live in Toulumne half the year,” says Mike.

“Wow,” I say. I wonder how one “lives” in Toulumne, but I don’t ask. I am once again amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers. Why do people want to help us like this? And they’re always so nice- while I am often tired, distracted, have very little to give.

At the ranger station there’s a relief map of the region that takes up a big part of one room- It has all the mountain ranges and hot desert valleys and I stand over it, pressing the buttons to light up the little strings of lights. Pacific Crest Trail. Death Valley. Los Angeles Water District. I run my finger over the plastic mountaintops, from Badwater Basin to Telescope Peak, down to Panamint Springs and up Darwin Canyon. I look at the Sierras, Mt. Whitney, follow the PCT south to the descent off San Jacinto. I tap the scorching valley of Ziggy and the Bear. All of it, the whole earth is like this. Up and down, folds and hills and long open expanses. What does it mean? Where should I go? What should I do?

It’s after 4 p.m. when we finally leave Lone Pine to walk the eleven miles to the Whitney Portal Campground. Weather gathers over the peaks of the Sierras as we climb our way towards them on the road- the leftovers, Mike told us, of a storm off the California coast somewhere. The sun drops behind the clouds and begins to set, draping the granite spires in an ethereal pink light.

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The road climbs and climbs and soon it’s dark, and the sky clears, and the stars wheel above us. Now and then a car comes curving down the mountain and we stop, momentarily blinded, and step aside to watch it pass. I wonder how we look, walking this road in the dark with our packs on. I wish someone would stop and talk to us, ask us where we’re coming from and where we’re going. And I wish I knew the answer to that question.

We watch the moon rise above the Inyo mountains, remember standing over there at dusk the night before. We reach the hairpin where the road turns back on itself and then cuts into a fold of the mountain- you can see this hairpin turn from Lone Pine. “The biggest switchback of your life,” as Chance calls it, and soon we’re swallowed by the granite, pines crowding the road around us, the earth grown softer. All of a sudden we can smell it- the burbling water, the deep loamy soil, the clear thin air. The high Sierras! The mountains rise up on all sides, the stars are sharp and bright and it’s cold, cold, cold.

We reach Whitney Portal Campground and find it to be a dark labyrinth of interconnected campsites, winding its way through the forest and over streams, deserted. The fee for a campsite is, apparently, seventy dollars, but we are small with only our small bedrolls and we find an ambiguous corner next to some bear boxes and unroll our things there, eat a little dinner and cinch ourselves inside our bags against the cold. Before sleep Jess tells us that there will be a full lunar eclipse tonight, in the wee hours. My legs ache and I feel restless, the thin high air gives me a bit of a cough. Finally I drift off.

I wake in a start and sit up in my bag- in the flat spot next to Chance is a black shape, just blacker than the night around it, pawing at the ground.

“Hey!” I say, clapping. “Hey bear!” The bear runs off- it’s the smallest one I’ve ever seen.

“Wha?” says Chance.

“Just a lil feller of a bear,” I say. “He’s gone now.”

“My ibuprofen,” says Chance, picking the small ziploc off the ground. We’d put everything that smelled like anything in the bear boxes but apparently ibuprofen, which is candy coated, attracts them as well. “Dang bear,” says Chance. She walks the ziploc over to the bear boxes, slams it inside, and collapses back into her sleeping bag. I sit up for a while, too wired to sleep. Will the skittish little bear come back? What if the bear, like, touches my face? What if it licks my hand or claws at my backpack? How will I ever sleep after this?

I wake again, from a nightmare, and the moon is red. Blood moon, blood moon. Is this the eclipse? Is this what an eclipse is?

I wake again, startled, and look around me. The moon is gone. The night is eerily dark. I am awake because the moon is gone. I lay back down. Go to sleep, go to sleep, I think. It’s only an eclipse.

———————-

Oct 8
22 miles

Someone’s alarm goes off in the morning and I am awake again, this time in an ordered world without shadows or the strange comings and goings of mysterious beasts. I eat roast chicken and coconut macaroons for breakfast, bought from the little store in Lone Pine with its depressing, half-empty shelves. I’ve got one caffeine gel shot left and I eat half of it and pack the rest away for later. Chance and Jess are pumped, packing up their things and drinking instant coffee. 99 switchbacks to the top of Mt. Whitney, our last eleven miles. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.

We were hoping for a crowd- it seems silly but I was looking forward to passing lots of day-hikers on the way up, feelings strong and fast amongst the multitudes. But it’s a weekday at the end of the season with the smell of snow on the air, and there’s not really anyone around. In a few days or a week this trail will be covered, buried for everyone except the mountaineers. Now we start to climb, past the quaking aspen in their flame-orange autumn colors and the jeffrey pines and leaping over the small cold streams that bound down the mountain. It is magical here, and I can’t believe that we actually walked up into this wonderland from Death Valley. I am capable of anything, I think. Many small things become one large thing. Many small things become one large thing.

I’m feeling the altitude this morning and I hang back, taking my time. I’m feeling it a lot, actually- my head is pounding and I feel weak. I don’t care, though. I’m climbing up past glittering lakes, the sun shining off the granite, the air so sparkling and pure. I stop often to drink water and eat coconut macaroons. There are a few tents at the lakes on the way up, I pass a couple of people. Mostly, though, I have the trail to myself.

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I meet up with Chance and Jess at the PCT junction and we sit against the granite, looking out at guitar lake and the peaks rising up opposite, a bit of weather rolling in on the horizon. I eat potato chips and pass around a bag of gin-gins- it’s so beautiful here it takes my breath away. Chance is feeling the altitude, too, and we climb the last mile together, stopping often and laughing and comparing everything to how it looked in spring, still crusted in ice and snow. Jess, of course, is fine, like she always is- unaffected by altitude, or climbing, or fatigue, or hunger, or thirst. Hiking with Jess is inspiring to me, and good for my morale- she makes everything seem so damn possible.

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the saccharine paradise of Muir

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Chance is tuff

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Jess just casually bein a babe

 

We reach the summit block at mid-day- it’s cold up there and clouds are really rolling in now, threatening snow. My head feels crazy from the altitude up here at 14,450 feet and I’m out of water- I want to rush down, back to the campground, get a hitch into Lone Pine and collapse at LoveNote’s house. But I’m also right now in this special high-up world and we jump around a little bit, look out at the great convoluted earth, talk to the other people on the summit. We did it, we did it, we did it! We made it to the top of Mt. Whitney!

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summit hut

“Five days nineteen hours,” I say. “What is that, like, an FKT?” It’s funny to think about claiming an FKT for something like the L2H, which is a route only a handful of people have ever done. Why not, though? We joke about messaging our friend Bobcat, asking how long it took him to do the route in spring. But they took the mountaineering route up Mt. Whitney, clawed their way to the summit block with ice axes. It’s not really the same.

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yours truly

 

I stand on the summit block and remember being here in May this year, how warm and sunny it was, all of us in our t-shirts. Eating all our snacks, famished. Laughing, feeling drunk from the altitude. Jess, Chance and I make a tiny human pyramid and a woman we just met takes our picture. The picture is silly, not like a pyramid at all- it looks as though we’re ponies and Jess is riding us.

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Well. We tried.

 

We laugh about this and then Chance and I head down- it’s just barely begun to snow. Jess hangs back, wanting a little more time on the summit. As we descend our heads grow clearer, the pounding begins to retreat. We reach a little lake and fill up our water and Jess catches us- she was jogging down the icy switchbacks, swinging around every hairpin.

“It’s really snowing up there!” she says.

“Imagine if you lived in Lone Pine,” I say. “You could come up here every day. You could, like, run up Mt. Whitney, every day.”

Jess’ eyes look dreamy.

“Yeah,” she says.

The hike down seems to take forever and I think about food, about sleep, about the long journey ahead of us back to Southern Oregon. We pass a group of younger dudes from the bay area, wearing fashionable clothes and resting against a log, eating snacks.

“Are you guys headed into Lone Pine?” I say. “We’re looking for a ride from the campground. If you’ve got room.”

“Yeah,” they say. “Sure.”

“I’ll buy you Carls Jr.,” I say.

“Deal,” they say.

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L2H YAY

———-

Completing our journey was only possible with the support of many people. THANK YOU to everyone who picked us up on our hithchike south, to LoveNote and Burly and Huckleberry for hosting us in Lone Pine in their enchanted bungalow and ferrying us northward and then hosting us AGAIN in their dreamy cabin, and to the trail angel Badfish who met us in a Tahoe casino and literally drove us all the way back to Ashland. And thanks to all my Instagram followers for their tips and logistical help. Thanks to Brett “Blisterfree” Tucker for creating the route, and the maps, and to Charlie (wherever you are) for being, like, a cowboy (if that’s what you are) and wandering the dry mountains on your wild burro, or whatever, and checking to see if the water sources are running. And thanks to Chance and Jess, without whom I would’ve surely gone mad.

Many more photos of this journey can be found on my Instagram.

Let’s Get Uncomfortable

agnesb_East-West-project3

While thru-hiking the PCT I learned a lot about pain. There is often pain during a thru-hike- blisters, pain in the bones and tendons of the feet, things stuck in your shoes, your shoes rubbing you, chafe on your hips/shoulders/thighs wherever fabric rubs, cold aching hands, creaky knees, sore ankles, stiff hips, twingey neck, sore shins, various sensations that may or may not be the beginnings of tendonitis. The pain of sunburn, the pain of thirst/hunger/fatigue, the ache of loneliness, random shooting pains in various internal organs that come and go mysteriously. In my life I’d always been afraid of pain, of physical discomfort in general. Pain is something to be avoided, right? A signal that tells you that something is wrong? The pain was unsettling, and set off all sorts of alarms in my brain. Was I dying?

No.

On the PCT I discovered that there are two types of pain- pain that will hurt you, and pain that will not. Pain that is a harbinger of injury, and pain that is not. And almost all of the time, it turned out, the pain I was feeling was just pain- there was no point in stopping to fix the cause of it. I could just keep walking, let myself feel it, and it wouldn’t kill me.

I became a much better hiker when I no longer tried to avoid feeling pain.

I’m telling you all this because we live in a country where black folks suspected of misdemeanors are executed in the street.

Here that is again:

We live in a country where black folks suspected of misdemeanors are executed in the street.

I’d be willing to wager that almost all of my readers are white. So, white readers, does that statement make you feel uncomfortable? Are you squirming in your seat? Does this discomfort feel wrong to you? Would you like to avoid this discomfort? Well, guess what. This discomfort is not going to kill you. Chances are, you’ll live. But guess who didn’t live?

Eric Garner, who was strangled to death by police for selling loose cigarettes.

VIDEO

Watch the video above. Watch the whole thing. It will probably make you uncomfortable. You might cry for a few minutes. As you go about your day afterward, you might be plagued with doubt, grief, despair. You might have a little bit of a meltdown. The fabric of reality might seem a little shaky. Unwelcome thoughts will enter your mind. Are you a good person, or a bad person? What is white privilege? Is any of this really happening? All of this is very uncomfortable, almost intolerable. It feels sort of like that time you had menstrual cramps so bad you threw up. But you know what? You’ll probably live. You’ll wake up to see another sunrise. Unlike

Michael Brown, executed in the street for shoplifting cigars.

Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, was never indicted. He’ll never face repercussions. A bunch of money was raised for the killer online. Everyone went about their business Christmas shopping.

Some folks in Ferguson reacted to their complete and utter powerlessness in the face of this lawless execution by setting shit on fire. That was fucking awesome. I would’ve done the same damn thing. Wouldn’t you? On the internet, a bunch of people and media outlets called this burning of buildings and inanimate objects “violence”. These same outlets had never called the execution of Michael Brown “violence”. So burning property = violence. Executing someone in the street = not violence. Murder = not a big deal. Destroying storefronts = a terrible, terrible thing to do.

Yay Christmas shopping!

This woman says it better than I ever could.

Also MLK, who was also shot by white folks:

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Now you feel really uncomfortable and you want to stop reading. It’s the holiday season! Can’t I post something cheerful?

You know what? Deal. You’ll fucking live.

Unlike

Trayvon Martin
Sean Bell
Kendrec McDade
Jonathan Ferrell
Oscar Grant
John Crawford
Amadou Diallo

You get the point yet? YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DIE. Your comfort right now is not more important than the lives of black folks.

A woman in Texas was arrested at her home for an unpaid parking ticket- actually, she’d been paying it down for months, but she still owed $100. Here’s what happened to her while she was being booked. Watch the fucking video. WATCH IT. The officers involved were never charged.

You know what white privilege is? WHITE PRIVILEGE IS THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE WHAT YOU DO AND DO NOT SEE. (examples of white privilege) (a good explanation) White privilege is the power to break the law AND resist arrest without being executed in the street.

Here is an excellent history lesson that explains all of this

I hope I made you uncomfortable with all of this. I hope I made you so fucking uncomfortable.
I hope you watched the videos and cried for ten minutes in your car, on the way to black Friday shopping.
I hope you have to take an extra yoga class just to decompress.
I hope you walk to your corner coffee shop to order coffee but then, while standing in line, you forget what it was that you wanted to order.
I hope you’re so out of sorts that you have to call your therapist about it, or maybe do a tarot reading.
That you fire off an angry rant on facebook, and lose a few “friends”.
I hope you’re too squirmy to focus on your homework.
I hope that you get a migraine and can’t go to work.
That you fail an exam.
I hope you go see that movie you wanted to go see but sitting in the movie theater all you can think about is how white everyone on the screen is, and suddenly nothing seems the same.
I hope you get pissed. I hope you get so fucking pissed.
I hope you cry every fucking day.

Because you know what?

You’ll live. You’ll still fucking live.

IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR UNFOCUSED ANGER

Here is a map of where to protest re: Eric Garner

Here is a link to the Ferguson Defense Fund

Here is a link to a support fund for the family of Eric Garner

Listen to the news- DEMOCRACY NOW has daily podcasts that are unfailingly thorough and awesome

Read this piece on the dehumanization of black folks

Do you have a largish platform w/followers? Make your followers uncomfortable. They might make you uncomfortable back but guess what IT WON’T FUCKING KILL YOU.

You might decide to ignore all of this, just because you can. It’s not happening to you. It’s not happening to your white friends or the white people who you love. And that’s true, it’s not. Yet. But this current rash of killings is a harbinger of things to come- another wave in the slow and steady militarization of the American police force.

You live in a country where black folks suspected of misdemeanors are executed in the street.

lastwords

Eric Garner’s last words

 

Fucking think about it, motherfucker.

*note- I have white privilege, this entire post also applies to me.

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route From Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Five- Inyo Mountains, Hikin Yo Trails

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(In the first week of October, 2014, I set out to hike the Lowest to Highest Route with NotaChance and Orbit. This is the fifth installment of my trip report. For technical information on this route, go here.)

———————————

Oct 6
23 miles

One day you’ll fall asleep at an indeterminate hour of the night beneath the cold stars and when you wake the sun will be coming up among the joshua trees, banishing the dark, bringing with it the heat and the boiling daytime. It will be six a.m. and, unlike the night before when you were walking with your friends along the cool road watching for UFOs and singing along to soul music piping from Chance’s phone, you will be more tired than you can ever remember being.

I sit up and drink from my dirty gatorade bottle. I am a taught wire, a humming weariness, a delay in the telephone line. My legs ache and my mouth tastes like dust. The sun is burning and Jess is pouring steaming cups of coffee. I blink- there’s sand behind my eyelids. I feel as though I’m underwater. When was the last time I felt this tired?

I’ve got 4.5 liters of water left and it’s 35 miles to Lone Pine, our next water source. 35 miles up and over the bright hot Inyo Mountains- that oughta be enough, right?

No. There is something wrong with today. My bones are liquid and my feet are bricks and the heat, the heat… We’re following a jeep road so the walking is easy enough but still, for some reason, I feel as though I’m dying. Then the climbing begins, the jeep road tilting right up the slope of the mountain, and at the same time the sun turns itself up to Ten. I’m stopping in every patch of shade, drinking too much of my water. My brain feels strange inside my skull. I tell the others to go ahead, I’ll be cruising 1mph. I wonder if this has to do with the heat exhaustion I had the other day- if I’m still recovering from that. Makes sense. The puddles of shade beneath the dusty oak trees are my friends and I sit there, watch spiders move in the dirt. There are “no trespassing” signs tacked to the trees. We’re entering old mining country. After a time I get up and resume my slow underwater trudge up the mountainside.

cabin in Cerro Gordo

cabin in Cerro Gordo

Five thousand feet later I find my friends hunkered in the shade of a pile of sandbags, outside the ghost town of Cerra Gordo. I’m irritable and I’m almost out of water. A bright white pickup is parked outside one of the ancient buildings and I drop my pack and head for it.

“But what if you get shot!” shouts Chance.

“Nah,” I say. “People are nice.”

A man appears as I approach the old hotel. He’s wearing suspenders and walking slow. He sees the dirt caked onto my shirt, the dust smeared across my face.

“You’ve got a long hike ahead of you,” he says. His look is patient and kind. I suddenly feel as though I’m in a Steinbeck novel.

The man leads me inside the hotel, which looks as though it hasn’t been touched since 1880. A little chihuahua follows the man, gives me the whale-eye, hops just out of reach when I stretch out my hand. The man tells me tales of gold, murder, and prostitutes, and then gives me three liters of water- I feel like a glutton but for some godforsaken reason I need it.

“Are there ghosts here?” I say.

“Four of ‘em,” says the man.

The fact that I haven’t been shot gives Chance the courage to make her own pilgrimage to the old hotel and while she’s gone I hunker in the shade with Jess and make some cold-soaked oatmeal to celebrate my newfound water wealth. It’s beautiful up here, on the crest of the Inyo Mountains- to the west we can see the baking Owens Valley and, rising up beyond that, the High Sierras- a massive granite wall which holds, unbeknownst to most mortals, lakes that sparkle like jewels, brooks lined in bright flowers, fat marmots- the saccharine paradise of Muir.

After leaving Cerro Gordo the route follows another jeep road up, up, up along the crest of the Inyo Mountains- we’re climbing again in the heat and my weariness won’t leave me, and I overcompensate with caffeinated cliff shot blocks until I can feel my heart jumping in my chest like a rabbit. We reach another summit of sorts and sprawl, looking down at the saline valley. All of this belongs to us. Our desert kingdom!

Chance

Chance and the Saline Valley

After that the walking is gentle and Chance and I tool along in low gear, making up stories to distract us from our fatigue. We’re characters in a Steinbeck novel, headed north looking for seasonal work. One foot in front of the other. Used to be you could draw up salt from the Saline Valley with the old wooden tram, trade it for salt pork and cornmeal. Had a bunch of children, uncles, cousins- they all died. Left one daughter behind when we were traveling by wagon- she was raised up by an old desert rat, he taught her to find her way home by the way the oak leaves fell on the ground. Now I’m walking to Lone Pine to buy a bolt of calico to make her a dress for her fourteenth birthday. Chanstity (Chance) has an old friend who lives in the cabin by the abandoned salt tram. We stop in but he’s not at home- he’s out with his burros, or making a shady deal with the traveling show.

nobody home

nobody home

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"thank you for leaving artifacts"

“thank you for leaving artifacts”

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Had a father who was a mean drunk, he died. Third husband stole my shoes, haven’t seen him in months. Quiet Jessalynn has been following us for days. She never speaks, but they stay she killed a man to get her jetboil.

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The sun begins to melt like an egg yolk into the jagged peaks of the Sierras. Right behind Mt. Whitney, to be exact. This seems like a harbinger of something and we stand on the ridge, watching the light move like a shutter across the surface of the earth and then the cold comes on and we’re shivering.

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Goodnight, sun

The summit of Mt. Whitney, way over there at 14,505 feet- that’s where our journey will end. We’ve been talking about those 99 switchbacks for days, imagining how glorious it will be to pound uphill on a real actual trail. For now we put on all our layers against the sudden, brutal cold and walk another couple of miles to “Burgess Well”, a broken hole in the ground that rests on a grassy shelf just big enough for our bedrolls lined up end to end. Above us a cold draft wends its way across the hilltops and below us the icy air gathers in a meadow. Here, though, we are safe from all of it, and we eat a little dinner and watch the stars come out. This day has really been three days, has lasted far longer than any day has a right to but here we are, now, in camp at a reasonable hour, all ready for sleep and whatever tomorrow’s bright morning will bring.