It’s heating up in the lowland Sonoran desert, and becoming even more dangerous for those who cross the border. Even though the temperatures are brutal, people still cross in the summer. Because they have to. The multi-week journey this time of year is insanely dangerous, and many people will disappear in the Ajo corridor without a trace. In the last six months, twelve sets of human remains have been found in this area by No More Deaths volunteers alone. People are dying and yet, it’s uniquely difficult to provide effective humanitarian aid in the Ajo corridor due to the vast tracks of designated wilderness, much of it closed to vehicle access or any public access at all. Recently, No More Deaths has been ramping up their efforts to try and solve this puzzle. How do we get water to the people crossing in the Ajo corridor, as the summer temperatures begin to rise. How. The May monthlong program, No More Deaths’ second monthlong volunteer program in Ajo, is part of this. We’re currently raising money to pay for the month’s expenses (we’ve already had two trucks break down, lol). Click the link below to put your money where your heart is and throw down some cash (if you have it). And thank you!!
A few years ago, in 2015, I started to get sick. While I’ve struggled with digestive issues for about ten years (and been able to mostly manage them with diet), this was something new- one day on the CDT I woke up with a flu-like fatigue, akin to the lead blanket they put on you at the dentist’s office, dizziness, and blurred vision, as well as joint pain and overall inflammation. While I was in this unfamiliar place I couldn’t think, read, or remember things very well. I felt fuzzy and disoriented and was overcome with what I can only describe as a massive, shapeless, impending doom. If you go back and read my CDT journals from 2015 (here or click the link in the menu above), you can see the exact moment when I get sick (and after which the entries become a little… dark). It was a few weeks after I drank water from a cow pond in New Mexico that my steripen wasn’t actually capable of purifying (it was brown and opaque) and after which I stopped filtering my water altogether, in Montana. While I had no digestive upset, I finally found a clinic that agreed to test my stool and I tested positive for giardia. I treated the giardia with flagyl, felt better for about two weeks and then wham- the sickness came back, even though I no longer tested positive for the G. And the mystery sickness has been coming and going ever since, alongside my long-standing digestive issues. I ordered some chinese herbs from my acupuncturist that help me for some reason I don’t understand (but she does) and eventually transitioned to the autoimmune paleo diet (most of the time). These two things have allowed me to live my life… about two thirds of the time. Unfortunately, along with intense exercise (no more five month trails for me!) The Sickness is triggered by acute stress, which is, unfortunately, a sometimes unavoidable part of life. As of May 2017, I have days, weeks even! Where I feel almost normal- where I can run and hike, think clearly, remember things, where I dream and scheme and the future is suffused with possibility- and I have days where I can hardly do the dishes and walk my dog. Days where I don’t recognize people’s faces, can’t organize my thoughts, and the lead blanket of doom and dizziness keeps me in my bed and knocks down all my plans, all my schemes and dreams and any sense of a future at all, brings me back to the most basic level of embodiment- breathing. Existing. Just being alive.
I recently got health insurance in Arizona (which will last just until trump takes it away) and started seeing a (condescending, borderline mean, and surprisingly young?) primary care provider who seems to know nothing about anything and doesn’t actually believe me when I tell her that I’m sick. I got a colonoscopy, the results of which came back normal. Last week I had the TSH test for my thyroid, and that came back normal. I’m trying to get the doctor to give me the (more) accurate test for lyme’s disease (western blot, I guess?) (I’ve had the apparently rarely accurate one already- the ELISA test, it came back negative)(I’ve never had a rash from a tick but I have been bitten so hey, you never know) and I’m trying to get a referral to a GI specialist so I can get tested for far-flung parasites that are not commonly tested for but which- who knows! Maybe I have.
I’m not the first person to get giardia and afterwards develop some weird chronic autoimmune-y thing. There are a number of studies where this has been shown to be a thing- give it a google if you feel like falling down the rabbit hole of the medical interwebs. In some ways, my search for a diagnoses is arbitrary- I have a thing that is similar to a thing a lot of other people I know have, and here we are struggling, all together, mere mortals in the grinding maw of existence having our brief go of it before we blink out entirely. Through most of human history, the average life expectancy was 35. I’m 34. Life is a gift, I know. Who am I to think I am entitled to anything else but what every other living being has experienced for infinity. Life is suffering, life is striving, life is brief moments of transcendence. Nothing is promised and in the end, everything we love is taken away from us. Not one living being is exempt from this ultimate and final law- no matter if you are rich, or powerful, the top of the food chain or at the bottom of the sea, if you live a thousand years ago or a hundred years in the future.
Seven years ago I was in a serious relationship with a wonderful human named Corinne. We planned to spend our lives together because even though “forever” might only mean “four years”, this is still a good and proper thing to do. We discussed the trajectories of our lives, growing old, aging. We talked about dementia. When we were old together, we decided, we’d wear little vials of poison around our necks. Each day we’d watch the other do crossword puzzles. As soon as cognitive abilities began to slip, the poison would go in the pudding. We’d do this favor for each other because dementia was, we agreed, a fate much worse than death. We’d do this favor out of love. We laughed while we talked about this. “In the pudding!” we said.
The worst part about The Sickness, when I’m having a flare-up, is not the fatigue, the joint pain, the digestive issues. It’s the loss of cognitive abilities. When I’m sick, and often in the time it takes me to recover afterwards, I cannot write. I just can’t. I can hardly organize my thoughts, let alone create interesting new ones. All my writing projects- and I have a lot of them! Sit untended. When I’m in this place, the one thing I have always had, no matter what, in spite of everything, the thing on which I base my self worth, however misguided that may be, is taken away from me. I have never ever not been able to write. Not being able to write is the thing that really knocks me down, that brings me back to the most basic level of embodiment. When I’m in this place, I breathe. I exist. And I cry. Sometimes I cry.
I’m trying really, really hard right now- we all are, and I know I’m not alone. I don’t exist in a vacuum, my god I have so many friends with chronic illness all on their own journeys, I am just one of many, and I have support too, and I’m also lucky, in many many many ways. We all struggle in this brief time we’re allowed as humans and then we’re reincarnated as a flower, a coyote, a tree, a saguaro, and then a human again because the struggle never ends, it goes on and on and on. I’m here to witness that, to be honest I have no idea what the fuck is going on- isn’t that what life is? Just enough time to say “what the fuck is going on” and then it’s all over. I’m here to witness the confusion for as long as I may, for as long as the universe, which is more powerful even than trump (thank god) allows me to. Maybe I’ll finish the three books I’m writing or maybe there’ll be a nuclear war and the only thing that will get finished is modern human civilization. Fuck, I don’t have any answers. If anything, I’m trying to approach all of this with a sense of curiosity and, if I’m really really lucky, with wonder. Also I have a dog, and when I’m in the just-existing place he lays in bed with me and I smell his good old pennies/salami-on-a-hot-dashboard smell and watch his little chest go up and down with contentment and I know that if he can be grateful for what he has (nothing), then I can be grateful too.
I’ll write a more positive thing soon. In the meantime, thanx for listening.
My gosh it’s been a long time since I’ve written on here.
I live in Tucson now and the heat is coming on; I live live here as in I have a very small house with furniture that I like from thriftstores and things on the walls that I picked out myself and houseplants that I dutifully care for and derive pleasure from, even when I don’t quite understand their individual wants and needs (like is aloe vera a plant that you water regularly or nah?) and sunbeams streaming in the windows for better or worse (now we’re in the fast slide towards the hot-dry part of summer and I’m envying friends’ darker more insulated cave-like houses, it’s going to be 98 degrees tomorrow oh my god). And, most recently, a small doge- I selected him at the second-hand pitbull store on the edge of town with the circus tents full of howling strays and he was drugged up for doggy anxiety and emaciated and seemed to be in pain but I could tell he had a good heart and in just a few weeks he plumped up and made a full recovery and now he chills and/or walks with me through town in the sunshine making friends with all the strangers and generally completing my life. It is impossible to have a dog responsibly while hiking five months of every year but for many different reasons I know that that part of my life is behind me; I would list those reasons here but the thought of doing so makes me feel tired. One month or two month hikes are still hard as fuck/super fulfilling depending on the route and I still want to do them and I have no qualms with paying a friend to dogsit for that amount of time, but thinking about a five month hike brings to mind that heavy scurvy-like feeling one gets in one’s bones after months on the trail that is a combination of loneliness/isolation/boredom and deep mineral deficiency. I do not want that at this point in my life. My health is just not up to it, and neither is my heart.
So, a soothing doge 4 me. Pinto Bean the chillhauhua.
The world is fucking hard to be in right now. I oscillate between the bleak despair that comes from holding space for/deeply feeling this descent into hellscape dystopia endtimes that is happening all around us, wherein the only thing that allows me to sleep is the knowledge that we’ll all die someday and that modern human civilization, which selects for sociopaths but which is also inherently unsustainable will eventually collapse no matter how we feel about it and Trump and his cabinet will be in the ground and the butterflies will return and grass will grow through the concrete and wolves will move back into the cities and huge flocks of migrating birds will shadow out the sun and literally every living thing will rejoice ala the PBS documentary The Wolves of Chernobyl (which you can watch online here) (I don’t hate humans, for the record, and I don’t want humans to die out as a species, nor do I think they will)- and a dumb blind true happiness that bubbles up from a deep place located in the very center of my body/the earth whose name is WE EXIST AND THAT IS FUCKING INCREDIBLE AND THAT WILL NEVER CEASE TO BE INCREDIBLE NO MATTER WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS GREAT DRAMA CALLED HUMAN EMBODIMENT, FOREVER AND EVER, UNTIL WE DIE.
There you have it, the inside of my brain in the year of our lord 2017, planet earth. Come what may.
The other thing that soothes me right now is my developing relationship with/understanding of the US/Mexico border and my continued efforts to find some small way to make some small change that even though it may be futile and near microscopic it still seems important and/or the only thing that really matters- laborious striving and blind trust in said striving without promise of actual result as spiritual practice/deeply grounding thing that tethers me to this churning mad human world and keeps me from floating away on a paper boat of helpless despair.
My writing practice has changed. I hadn’t realized it but I’d become dependent on long hikes to provide structure in which to be creative and also an environment in which it was impossible to overthink my the writing itself, due to time constraints/how uncomfortable it is to write on my phone while propped up on my elbows in my sleeping bag as the oncoming cold slowly numbs my fingers and the minutes are ticking away until I have to get up again with the dawn. Basically, I wrote about 100,000 words of the first draft to Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart on my phone in this manner and now that I have a House with wifi and Many Comfortable Places to Sit and lots of snacks to eat I’m finding it hard to work on… anything. Not impossible, just a lot harder. Which is interesting, and I think speaks a lot to having some sort of structure/constraints for daily writing practice as well as a sense of urgency, even if you have to psyche yourself up/create these things yourself.
Other thing: I went on a three-day bike trip through the Sonoran Desert from Tucson to Ajo with a friend this week, and that was fun. I carried Pinto Bean in a pannier and we slept in the dirt at night and when it got too hot we wilted in the shade at gas stations and drank fountain sodas.
The stars were incredible and the sun was brutal and the highway was lonely and flat and I listened to old country and at one point I saw a white horse standing amongst the saguaros and thought, how do animals live out here, with all the cholla and with no water, but they do and they thrive and it’s beautiful. Bike touring seems chill, it’s lower impact than long distance hiking and has more access to gas station snacks. I think I want to do some more of it soon.
I’ve been trying to improve my spanglish. I do skype lessons with a teacher in Guatemala via Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco and I got a textbook to use and that feels good. One idea is to bike tour in Mexico for a bit as that would combine my desire to improve my Spanish so as to be more useful around the US/Mexico border with my deep need for periodic adventure lest I go insane. Summer is also a good time to GTFO of Tucson as it’s blazingly hot but it’s also hot in Mexico then so… we shall see.
There’s an update for you. Life is… amazing. What the fuck even is anything. I hope each and every one of my readers is finding some way to navigate the pounding surf of this world right now. Also, here is the best piece of journalism I’ve seen recently re: the history of fascism vs. antifa, for your perusal (the mythology/existence of antifa is so important right now as it flies in the face of everything and gives me hope in a way I can’t explain)- Inside the Underground Anti-Racist Movement That Brings the Fight to White Supremacists (Mother Jones)
Also! Some No More Deaths volunteers are trying to raise money to deliver a truck to the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project in Pachaj, Quetzaltenango Department, Guatemala. They need a mere $2k, here is the link for the fundraiser- https://www.youcaring.com/chicomendesreforestationproject-795948
I have a new pack! This is very exciting. I love an ultra-tiny ultralight pack company. The kind of company that consists of two people max, and whose highly custom packs are made to order in like a basement somewhere. The kind of pack company that you don’t even know exists unless you are deep into thru-hiking nerdery. I had a pack that I loved from a company like this, Jeppaks, but they only made products for a few years and I’ve been looking for a new tiny pack company to befriend ever since they winked out of existence and I shredded my Jeppak on the Hayduke. Then, last year, I saw Superior Wilderness Designs on Instagram, and it seemed like their packs might fit my specifications- framed and with a hipbelt, roll-top, super padded shoulder straps, aesthetically pleasing, no more than 25 ounces. A few days ago my new pack arrived, and I am stoked.
The Superior Wilderness Designs 35 liter pack (it’s actually more than 35 liters when you include the outside mesh pocket, I’d guess 45ish liters?) is made of something called X-Pac… I don’t know what X-Pac is. Upon inspection, it seems similar to the burly dyneema composite fabric (née cuben fiber) used by Hyperlight Mountain Gear in their packs. X-Pac is waterproofish, much like cuben fiber. It also comes in great colors. So.
Since December I’ve been volunteering with No More Deaths, a volunteer-run humanitarian aid organization that aims to end death and suffering along the US/Mexico border. I’ve helped hike gallons of water into the Sonoran desert along known migrant trails, and I’ve also helped recover human remains. I wrote a piece about my experience so far for the Guardian-
“Finding human remains anywhere else in the US would be cause for public uproar – newspaper articles, grid searches, possible criminal investigation, a desperate scramble to connect the remains to a missing person. But not here, where we are, in the dry wilderness of southern Arizona, 40 miles from the US-Mexico border. Here, a person died an excruciating, untimely death far from the ones they loved, and their skull now rests in the center of an ocotillo bush, as though that was the most normal thing in the world.” -19,444 gallons of water in the desert: how volunteers save lives at the US border
I’ve also been chronicling the experience on instagram, if you’d like to see more photos- instagram.com/carrotquinn
No More Deaths is an incredible organization. They’re staffed entirely by volunteers, and in 2016 they put 19,444 gallons of water in the desert, over an area of 2500 square miles. They also staff a remote clinic in the desert 365 days a year and produce reports on human rights abuses around the border. Nearly all their budget comes from donations, and their biggest single expense is truck repairs- volunteers spend hours each day driving No More Deaths trucks on the roughest roads imaginable, in order to reach the most inaccessible corners of the desert, and multiple truck repairs are needed each week. I feel that in the coming months, groups that do work around the US/Mexico border, such as No More Deaths, are going to need extra support and protection- and if you’re looking for a way to support No More Deaths, here is a fundraiser for their truck repairs!
Even if you can’t donate- and I totally understand that not everyone can- please share this fundraiser with your own personal social networks- sharing helps just as much as donating! And thank you!!
Hey all, there’s been a lot going on lately, both in the larger world and in my own small world. I promise to have some more writings about all of that soon (actually there’s something coming in like three days? that I’ve been working on). In the meantime, I’ve decided to begin offering one-on-one thru-hike preparation coaching via skype, for those who are interested in the luxury of such a thing! Read more here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in scheduling a session. Yay!
Shit is really intense right now. I keep wanting to write something on this blog, but things are evolving so quickly that whenever I feel like I know what to say there is a new development, and I no longer know what to say or how I can even say it.
We have, via electoral college, elected a fascist as president, in the classic definition of the word. (Definition of fascism, via wikipedia.) The week after the election, I felt like I was in mourning; I couldn’t stop crying, I was barely sleeping, and my IBS started acting up again, after months of relative stability. At the end of that week I realized a couple of things- a) as a white person who is less visibly queer than a lot of my friends, I’m much less affected by this than more marginalized groups and b) things are happening very, very quickly, so we (fellow white people, I am speaking to you) need to suck it up and get to work, and we need to get to work FAST.
It’s not that I haven’t been involved in what’s going on in the world before this election- but I’ve been focused on the long game, my particular long game being “build a platform through my writing and use that platform to help shape and influence popular culture”. After the election, I realized that my long game wasn’t good enough. I needed a short game as well. Because we may not have twenty years to slowly shape the world around us. We may not even have five.
Here’s some things you should know, if you do not already:
Trump has chosen Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, chief strategist being one of the most powerful positions in the white house. Steve Bannon is founder of Breitbart News, a website that serves as the largest online platform for the Alt-Right- “Alt-Right” being what the neo-nazi movement is now calling itself.
Here’s a video that explains the Alt-Right- https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/839915112816664/
Richard Spencer, the person who coined the term Alt-Right and who is considered to be one of the founders of the movement, said recently at an Alt-Right gathering to celebrate Trump’s victory:
“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Mr. Spencer thundered. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
Even if Trump publicly disavows the support of the “Alt-Right”, his choice of Steve Bannon as chief strategist speaks volumes, as does the other choices he’s made so far. According to this article:
“On Friday, Trump added another polarizing politician to his team when he nominated Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Sessions was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 for his reputation of spouting off racist comments. Around the same time he named Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who once pronounced on Twitter that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” to be his national security adviser.”
And if you need to hear it via podcast, the Rachel Maddow show is now available in audio form, and she is doing a GREAT job of spelling all of this out in her most recent episodes. Here’s a youtube clip of one of her recent shows:
Incredibly intelligent people who’ve spent their whole careers studying authoritarianism and the rise of fascist governments have been sounding the alarm in the weeks since the election. Fascists run on platforms of nationalism, often ethnic nationalism- the “Alt-Right” is an ethnic nationalist platform. These are the people who elected Trump. These are the people he’s choosing for prominent positions of power.
“Having studied authoritarian states for over a decade, I would never exaggerate the severity of the threat we now face,” says journalist Sarah Kendzior, in the article How to be Your Own Light in the Age of Trump. She asks us to “Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them. Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.” (If you read nothing else I’m linking to, read the above article- please.)
Timothy Snyder, history professor at Yale, wrote this piece: What You Can Do to Save America from Tyranny and says that “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”
In the New York Times piece A Time For Refusal, Teju Cole says- “Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else. This is not a process that began a week or month or year ago. It did not begin with drone assassinations, or with the war on Iraq. Evil has always been here. But now it has taken on a totalitarian tone.”
The most chilling thing I’ve learned in my race to educate myself and understand, in the weeks since the election, how fascism rises to power, is the tricky way that fascism has of slowly normalizing previously unacceptable behavior. Here’s a great illustration, via a series of tweets, of this process, which has played out again and again throughout history:
So what do we do? Aside from the small, burning, far-flung hope that enough members of the electoral college will align themselves with the popular vote, December 19, instead of with the way their states voted, and elect Hillary Clinton- barring that tiny kernel of hope- how do we fight this. How do fight Trump and his buddies. How do we fight fascism, which, unless you insist on being in total denial right now, is very, very much here. Fascism is not new. It has played out in various ways, again and again, throughout history. And now it’s looming over us, like a storm about to break.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some ideas.
1. Understand the situation. Read everything you can from reputable news sources. Read pieces by historians and professors and other people who know their shit. Read everything I’ve linked to in this post! Listen to podcasts (Democracy Now and The Rachel Maddow show, now that it’s audio, are my favorites). Understand the history of fascism, and how it relates to our current situation. HERE’S A REALLY GREAT ANTI-FASCIST READING LIST. Read things! Understand what is happening!
2. Talk to the people around you. Not just on facebook, which can sometimes function as an echo chamber, but in person- talk to your relatives, acquaintances and closest friends. Talk to your family during the holidays. Talk to people on the bus. Talk to people you know whose families immigrated from countries with authoritarian governments. TALK ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON. Resist normalization. RESIST.
3. Find an anti-fascist organization in your area. Use facebook, google, whatever, to find other people gathering to talk about fascism and ways that we can fight it. If an anti-fascist group does not already exist, form one with your friends. Read things together. And organize. Which brings us to:
4. Learn how to organize. Find people who organize and learn from them. Read books about organizing. Join some shit. Get involved.
5. Protest. All forms of protest are valid. Find what works for you.
This blog is read, mostly, by long-distance hikers, potential long-distance hikers, and people who like to read stories about long-distance hiking. While on trail with my fellow long-distance hikers, I hear people talk, again and again, of using the trail as a way to resist living the sort of life that one has been told that one “should” live, of hiking for months at a time as a way to live a life that feels “real”. In this way long-distance hiking is, in itself, a subversive act. Every subversive act takes guts, courage, and a certain amount of risk. If you have the guts to thru-hike, then you have the guts to organize against fascism. Right now.
For my part, I’m currently en route to Tuscon, Arizona, where I’ll volunteer with a group that does good work around immigrant rights. I have some friends who are headed to Standing Rock. Other friends have raised funds and donations for Standing Rock, in lieu of going themselves. (the medic team at Standing Rock is currently in urgent need of supplies and funds, following the violence of a few nights ago- donate and learn how to help here.) If you’re a hiker and looking for a study group, I’ve created a facebook group- Long-Distance Hikers Against Fascism. The long-distance hiking community can sometimes feel, at best, apolitical and totally checked out of how environmental conservation is related to what’s going on in the rest of the world, and at worst, racist, misogynist, and generally super conservative. This anti-fascist facebook group is my small push back against that.
Whatever you do- do not be in denial. This is history in the making. When future generations look back at us, which side of history do you want to be on?
It’s fall. Another precious North American Summer lived/milked/frittered away. Currently I’m in Oregon, where I’ll hunker down/work/work on my 2nd book/manifest my next projects until spring. As much as I like sleeping in my van beneath a hundred blankets in the perfectly dark and quiet forest, Winter is Coming (as they say) and soon it’ll be time for this indoor/outdoor cat to find some indoors. The craigslist housing page for the area where I want to spend the winter looks dire, but I’m pretty good at manifesting, like, a shack or a treehouse or like an old barn, so I’m not too worried.
Cops in the US are still executing black people in the street on suspicion of misdemeanors, or just because. White people would still rather avoid the discomfort of thinking about race than face that this is even happening. (Here’s some hard data if you still need convincing that this is an actual issue, or to share with friends/relatives who need convincing.) But YOU aren’t one of those white people who prefers to just hide in the bubble of their privilege to avoid discomfort, are you? No? Good! Go to joincampaignzero.org to see how you can help. And if you’re looking for a good news source on these incredibly timely and important issues, I like Democracy Now, which you can also listen to as a podcast. Great!
Some cool things! This summer I read Shrill, by Lindy West, and it was one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, and now she is my hero. In the book Lindy talks about the concept of “Punching Up” as a way of living one’s creative life. Like, if you make a joke about rape, that’s punching down, because you’re making fun of people who’ve been raped. But if you make fun of rapists, that’s punching up. Making fun of a marginalized group: punching down. Making fun of Donald Trump: punching up. Lindy is a brilliant, eloquent, fearless warrior of Punching Up, and she’s also very, VERY funny. And kind. And patient. She doesn’t HAVE to be funny and kind and patient while also making the world a better place in the real and concrete ways that she does, and yet she is. And that makes her a fucking saint, to me. This book should get the fucking pulitzer prize. Go read Shrill.
My friend Nicole Antoinette finished her solo hike of the Oregon section of the PCT and made a special podcast episode about it! Nicole has a wonderful insightful brilliant analytical brain and I wish she would do EVERYTHING and tell us about it. This is one of the best accounts of a person’s first long hike that I’ve ever heard/read.
Also, in the newest season of Nicole’s podcast, she interviews my friend, body-positive fitness coach Lacy Davis! AND she talks to Blair Braverman, who wrote the book Welcome to the Goddam Ice Cube, which is another book I read this summer and loved. Basically Nicole’s podcast is great and you should listen to all of it.
And another thing! At the beginning of the summer I got a tarot reading over the phone from my friend Erin Aquarian, who is rly good at tarot, and it basically set the tone/course of my entire summer and started me on this awesome trajectory that I’m still discovering/building on/seeing the rewards of. Erin’s website is here- http://www.erinaquarian.com. Call her!
After I get back from Alaska I drive out to meet Danfriend (who is hiking the CDT) in Pinedale, Wyoming, a two-stoplight cowboy town that boasts a $1 laundromat, a greasy spoon, plenty of sunshine and a Mountain Man Museum (mountain men being the first white dudes to trap beavers in the area, before the bottom fell out of the top hat market and the railroad came). En route to Wyoming my van dies three times while headed uphill in the heat- it has a problem with vapor locking in the fuel line, or at least that’s what the tow-truck driver thinks (I have the foresight to call AAA and sign up for service just before the third time the van dies, and I make it two miles within the hundred-mile tow boundary for Pinedale). The fix, says the tow-truck driver as we rumble through the mountains in the low evening light, is to put a whole bunch of wooden clothespins up and down the fuel line. Well.
I hang out with Dan for a day in Pinedale, watch him eat every ten minutes, as thru-hikers are wont to do, think about space and time and longing and attachment and what even is anything and what is real and what is life and where should I go and what should I do oh my god. Dan’s beard has grown wilder, his massive quadriceps are very tan, and his one-inch inseam running shorts are in tatters- the hems hang off and the sides are splitting. I drop Dan back at the trailhead in the morning and then my friend Lia arrives, who is here to meet her girlfriend, Jess/Orbit (the same Jess I hiked the Lowest to Highest route with in 2014), who is also hiking the CDT, and is a few days behind Dan, and who is hiking with our friend Tick-Tock. When they arrive we go to said Mountain Man Museum, and next to the museum we find a cluster of decomposing trapper cabins in tall grass behind a gate that isn’t really locked, and in one of the cabins, whose side door is also not locked, there is an old piano amongst the sunbeams and mouse droppings and Jess, being a pianist, sits at the piano and plays a sad song.
Lia and I decide to hike the Wind River High Route in the Wind River Mountain Range. We’re just sort of bumming around for a time (Lia will join Jess on the Colorado portion of the CDT, but that’s not for a few weeks, and I, well, I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing, although maybe I’m moving to Bend? Except I can’t really conceptualize that. I guess technically right now I’m just homeless, and I live in a van that keeps breaking down.) The specific Wind River high route we’ll hike is the Wilson/Dixon one, as that is, as far as I can tell from those who know these things, the very best Wind River High Route. The route is 80 miles, about 60 of that being off-trail, with 20,000ish feet of elevation gain and nine passes around 11,000ft. The route stays high, in the land of twinkling lakes and clear thin air and piles of rock. We’re going to try and hike the route in five days, although I’m bringing enough food for six. (More information about the WRHR, including maps and such, can be found on Alan Dixon’s website here.)
I’ve been sleeping in my van in the “public parking” lot next to the creek in Pinedale- reading books in the low long light of evening with the shades down, peeing in my pee jar that’s made out of a gallon jug with the top chopped off, and waking before dawn to wrap myself in more blankets against that bitter cold that comes just as the stars start to fade away. I leave my van here and we drive Lia’s car to the Green River Lakes trailhead, where our high route commences. For the first bit and the last bit we’ll be following the CDT, at least the higher version of the CDT that most people hike through the winds. So I have already done Knapsack Col, last year, and I am not looking forward to doing it again, as it’s a six thousand foot climb or somesuch and I’m in the worst trail shape I’ve been in three years- I haven’t been running this summer, and have only been hiking a small bit. Well, this will be fun.
We get to the trailhead at four p.m. and hike three hours to a place called “Beaver Park” that is damp, low, cold, and in the forest. We’ve covered 9-ish miles. There are backpackers everywhere, their tents set up in large open dewy meadows and other condensation nightmares. We stop in the trees next to the refrigerator-style chill of the river and I set up my wee tarp and crawl into my sleeping bag, grateful for its two pounds of down (best gear decision I’ve ever made, never cold again). My hands are already dirty, my legs already ache and I’ve already forgotten what my face looks like in a mirror. I put on my sleeping hat without unbraiding my hair and cinch the hood of my sleeping bag, already damp with condensation, around my face. I can’t wait to eat all the stale gross shit in my food bag, salvaged from the boxes I made for the GDT earlier this summer. Ah, feels like coming home. Feels RIGHT!
In the morning we climb for forever and the air grows thin and the trees fall away and the glittering lakes and expanses of rock appear as we leave the mortal world and entire the High Alpine Wonderland which can only be reached through Great Effort and where the sunshine is brighter and more pure and the water more jewel-colored and the tiny purple flowers more heroic than any other known place. We break often- I woke up with a stomach ache and imagine I am acclimating to the elevation, but with any luck that will pass soon.
Then appears the huge mess of Knapsack Col with its optical-illusion jumbles of talus and scree that change shape and size as you grow nearer to them as though the physical reality of the earth has no fixed state and one is simply wandering upward through a fluid landscape of rock, i.e. “no two Knapsack Cols are the same”, which I would argue to be true. I repeat “mountain” words in my head like touchstones as I make my way up in the thin air, gasping for breath- col, tarn, cornice, moraine, cairn, cirque, scree, ramp… (“Col” is another word for a Notch, Gap, or Saddle. “Tarn” is a tiny alpine lake made from snowmelt. “Cornice” is a lip of snow that hangs over a ridge. “Moraine” is the pile of rocks and shit left behind by a glacier. “Cairn” is a stack of rocks that Andrew Skurka kicks over bc he hates fun. “Cirque” is a bowl ringed in peaks. “Scree” is gravel-sized rocks on a mountainside. A “ramp” is a slope of rock one can climb to get over a cliff or somesuch.)
We reach the top of Knapsack Col (Col, in this case, meaning a pass between peaks) and Lia has service so she texts Jess, who she misses already very much, and then we pick our way carefully down the loose boulders on the other side, recently un-glaciered and so fairly unstable, avoiding the dirty remnants of the glacier, which dribbles silty water over the rocks and is receding at an alarming rate. At the bottom we turn a corner and are suddenly in the Titcomb Basin- which feels like a magical land way up in Heaven, and we lounge in the fall-colored alpine tundra alongside its lakes and eat snacks in the wind. Seven dudes appear, marching in a row. They are all carrying HMG packs and they all look like LL Bean models, with dimples and pastel-colored shorts and tidy haircuts. When we tell them we’re doing the WRHR they look at us in amazement, as though they didn’t know women could hike cross-country. They’re doing the route as well, but in seven days instead of five. They sit on rocks next to the lake, take off their shirts, pass around some weed and a ziploc of homemade bacon jerky, which they share with us. They were all in the same fraternity, in college. Now they go on an adventure together each year. When I ask them what they do for work, they all get kind of sad. They have respectable office jobs, which they don’t really want to talk about. We decide to call the group The Boyfriends.
After Titcomb Basin we hang a left into Indian Lakes Basin, which is less trafficked and feels a little wilder than Titcomb Basin.
We find a perfect windbreak in the form of a huge boulder next to one of the still, glittering lakes and pitch our wee shelters beneath it. Seventeen miles today.
By and by the boyfriends show up and set up their tents a stone’s throw away and proceed to talk loudly well after dark, shouting to each other and swinging their headlamps around at the stars. I emerge from my safe cozy sleeping bag to tell them to STFU, which they do in good sport. The milky way is nice. I go to sleep.
Knifepoint glacier is on the other side of Indian Pass, which we climb up to out of Indian Lakes basin.
“I’ve never crossed a glacier before,” I shout to Lia, on top of Indian pass in the 50mph winds.
“I’m pretty sure we’ve been on a glacier together,” says Lia. She rolls the upper half of her body up and down in the wind, like she’s one of those inflatable balloon people you see at used car lots.
“Huh,” I say. “Well, never like a real real glacier.”
Knifepoint glacier is shining clear-blue rippled ice crusted with gravel bits and percolating small streams of snowmelt. The safest way to cross is at the 11,600ft contour line, where the glacier is the least steep. Neither of us have traction, just our trailrunners and trekking poles. Just before the glacier we meet three older dudes and a dog wearing a pack. One of the dudes has no trekking poles for the glacier crossing, so Lia lends him one of hers and we set off, tip-toeing our way across the ice, as though not to wake a sleeping dragon. The boyfriends are nowhere to be seen- probs they slept in.
The first ¾ of the glacier is fine. It’s flat enough that if we fell, we wouldn’t go sliding to our deaths. The last quarter, however, becomes steeper and steeper still, until I feel as though I’m in some weird nightmare. The surface is hard slick ice, mostly, since it’s still cool morning and nothing has had a chance to soften in the sun, and if we fell here we most definitely would slide off the edge of the glacier to our deaths, and so we are taking the most careful, slow, intentional steps, jamming our trekking pole tips into the crispy ice the best we can, while repeating “We should’ve brought one micro-spike each, just one micro-spike each” to each other.
And then it’s over, and we’re on some loose talus drinking snowmelt, our faces glowing warm from being burnt in the reflected sun on the glacier, watching two of the older dudes stray lackadaisically away from the 11,600ft contour line until they’re so spooked they sit down, and the third dude, where is the third dude?
We hear a dog whining up towards the next pass, Alpine pass. No, not the pass, but in the impassible cliff jumbles beside it- why is the dog up there? That is not the pass! The dog whimpers and whines some more, the sound echoing eerily off the rocks. Where is the dog? Is the dog trapped? And where is the man who was with the dog?
“Where is your friend?” we ask the other two dudes, when they make it down off the glacier and join us. They shrug their shoulders. “Do you have a PLB?” we ask them. “It sounds like the dog is trapped?”
They don’t have a PLB. Lia and I climb up to Alpine pass. The man and dog are not there. Lia does some class ¾ scrambling on the cliff bands to see if there is a way through up there, maybe the man went through up there? But there is not a way through. We descend back down the pass to a bench, where the other two men are. We can no longer hear the dog yelping. We have a little meeting with the men and decide that since I have a spot device, we should stick around until the man is found. Lia and I will wait up at the pass while the men search for their friend and the dog.
An hour later the boyfriend with the dimples crests the pass, his hair blowing just-so in the wind.
“My friends found the man and dog,” he says. “He crossed the glacier too high and got way off course.”
How can a person not know how to find a simple pass? I think. How can a person not think to read their route notes, and then navigate to stay on a specific contour line? How can a person leave their friends behind during a glacier crossing, especially when one of those friends doesn’t have trekking poles? Or, am I being too judgmental?
Free to go, we begin the long descent down large, unstable talus towards the shining blue lakes of Alpine Lakes Basin, which will be, according to the notes, the hardest and most beautiful part of the entire trip. I feel woozy from the sun. I focus carefully on my boulder friends. Some of them are more stable than others. Lia is faster than me on boulders- I still haven’t reached that magical space where I just step, where I trust my feet, legs, eyes, body, physics, everything. I use my hands/arms a lot, and this slows me down. Lia and I are both wearing Altra Lone Peaks, which I’m realizing don’t fit me very well. I don’t have wide feet, and they’re way too loose on me. “Why did I wear my floppy clown shoes to the talus party,” I say to Lia. I also think that Altras look like foam slippers that somebody painted to look like a sneaker. Like if you got a packaged holloween costume that included “sneakers”. Even the laces look painted on.
A man appears from below- he’s older than us, wearing wool pants and carrying a huge pack with an ice axe, crampons and what looks like an animal pelt rolled up and strapped to the bottom.
“How’s Alpine Lakes Basin?” I say, by way of making smalltalk. His mouth drops open, and he looks at us with shock and disgust. He waves his hand in the air.
“Wow,” he says. “Wow.”
“We have maps,” I say. “We have GPS. We have a route. I’m just asking, like, generally.” The man scoffs again.
“I’ve been hiking here forty years,” he says. “And I’ve never seen a single person. And then today, already, I’ve seen three!”
“There are ten people behind us,” I say.
“I guess this is a popular trail now,” the man says, with as much disgust as he can muster. He waves his hands in the air some more. Lia and I politely excuse ourselves.
“That man has been waiting forty years,” I say, “for somebody to scoff at.”
Towards the bottom of the descent we find a patch of shade behind a truck-sized boulder and hunker down to eat snacks, watching the tiny specks of the boyfriends move down the pass. The boyfriend with the dimples catches up to us first, a half-hour later when we are climbing up and down some “ramps” to get around cliffs on the edge of the first lake. The dimpled boyfriend, we figure, is the leader of the boyfriends. He exchanges witty banter with us and soon the other boyfriends catch up and the whole big group of us is bouldering together, around the lake. I don’t like having a bunch of dude-bros right on my heels like this when I’m bouldering, but whatever.
We name the last lake in Alpine Lakes Basin “The Windy Lake at the End of the World.” The lake is the color of sapphires and appears to hang off the edge of the earth. The wind will not stop battering us, and the water froths with whitecaps. To leave the basin one must climb a “class 4 exit crack” in a cliff on the far end of the lake. I used to be really scared of stuff like this, but on the Hayduke I learned to enjoy it. It still takes me a while to figure out where to put my hands/feet, though, as I’m not a rock climber, and so sometimes I just have no idea WTF to do.
We form a bucket brigade of sorts at the crack, handing up packs. The crack is right above a stand of small, gnarled white pines that I imagine are about a thousand years old. Once at the top of the crack we only have to navigate down, along the natural mess of the earth, towards the first unnamed lake in the basin below. The earth is hunks of sloped granite, alpine tundra, streams, bushes. Just before the unnamed lake we drop down a couple of smaller cracks, crushing bright wildflowers beneath our feet. The flowers release a strong smell into the cooling day.
At the unnamed lake the boyfriends hotbox a 3-man tarptent. Lia soaks her feet in the water. Today we covered nine miles in twelve hours. “That was so much fun,” says Lia. I have to agree. I set up to cowboy camp behind a large rock, hoping the rock will stop the 50mph gusts that still come sporadically, BOOM BOOM BOOM. One of these gusts lifts my neo-air like a kite, even though I had my pack on top of it, and Lia jumps up to chase it down, while I clutch my pot and stove, with which I’d been assembling dinner, lest they be blown away as well. The gust passes.
None of us sleep well, with the wind. In the morning I’m groggy and exhausted. The wind is our constant companion today- but then, hasn’t the wind always been here? And won’t it always be? We travel cross-country through the convoluted bowls of the earth, making our way over boulders and passes and around lakes, laughing deliriously as the wind beats us about the face. We follow bits of animal trails (aka “use” trail) that disappear as quickly as we find them, teaching us about non-attachment. I remember learning this hard lesson about non-attachment to tread, on the Hayduke. The point is to not to WANT there to be a trail. The point is to simply make one’s way. The ability to travel faster than 1.5mph is a privilege, not a right.
Have I mentioned that this high country through which we’re traveling is one of the most beautiful and sublime things I’ve ever seen. And my body, even though my calf muscles are completely withered away from non-use, feels incredible. And the altitude isn’t bothering me. And I’m so happy to be here.
We walk alongside the three golden lakes and the wind stills and the trees throw dappled shade and I feel the strong call of the perfect nap spot- now I wish I’d brought more days of food, so that there could be more naps. But then my pack would be heavier. Life is suffering, as they say. But what delicious suffering, to long for a nap. That all our suffering should be so uncomplicated!
Up and over Hay Pass on good trail in the blinding clear sunshine and clean freezinghot wind to a stick with an eaglefeather and a view of the bright pure world.
Leaving the good trail because Good Trail is not for us, Good Trail is for people with Nalgenes and Bearbells. We’re feral, we pee and snack and sleep and walk where we want. We are the weathered human animals that sleep behind boulders and never wash our hands.
A long cross-country traverse through dried-up bog and over boulders brings us to sprawling Hall Lake in its bowl beneath some peaks. I am losing my good humor about the wind; Lia magically finds us a spot that is blocked on three sides where we can sit and eat and camp in peace; we can hear the wind, but it cannot touch us.
I’m cooking dinner in my sleeping bag when we see a figure on the slope opposite. I think it’s one of the boyfriends so I wave my arms in the air. On closer inspection the man is a stranger but oh well, too late, now he’s our friend. His name is Chris and he’s carrying a small pack and is quite the Chatty Cathy. For the last several days he’s been on another Wind River High Route, a newer one which shall go unnamed here. I ask him how that route has been.
“It sucks,” says Chris. He’s hiked the Dixon/Wilson route before, and loved it, so now he plans to finish on it. While we talk he unpacks his sleeping pad, inflates it, and begins to patch a hole. He tells us about the sketchy glaciers he’s been crossing. He points to the way the tread is falling off his shoes. He works in insurance, he says. He hiked twenty miles today, while we only managed fifteen.
Just before sleep I have a dream that I’m falling- but instead of falling off a chair, per usual, I’m falling into a crack between boulders. My whole body jerks. Lia, curled in her quilt in her hexamid, is having a dream that she’s leaping off boulders at the edge of the earth- and each boulder turns to dust as she steps off of it.
Dawn is hot green tea and mint dark chocolate and the discovery that a mouse (aka “mini bear”) has chewed a hole in the corner of my food bag and eaten the edge of a cherry pie lara bar. I imagine the mouse growing uncomfortably full on that one tiny bit of lara bar, a food richer than any he has ever encountered, and stumbling back to his burrow to sleep it off. I eat the rest of the bar with breakfast. I aint mad.
More lakes, lumps, mounds, trees, talus, cairns today. Lia gets hives from the sun, as she is occasionally wont to do. “I’m so itchy I can’t stand it!” she says. We have lunch at a clear aquamarine lake in the Bonneville Basin, and Lia cools her legs in the icy water.
We then begin to climb up what seems, at first, to be a straightforward, unnamed pass between Raid Peak and Mount Bonneville- but which becomes so wondrous and fantastical that we name it The Coolest Pass Ever. The climb up is huge, lichen-spotted granite slabs, tilted every which way, making me feel so small and insect-like. Then the pass, wherein one can see our next, unnamed basin, where sheer peaks throw light and weather and drama. But to reach this basin we must descend the longest, largest talus field we’ve yet to experience, and then traverse around a class 3 slope/cliff.
I make my way from boulder to boulder, focusing. There is no room in my brain for any other thoughts. Talus as teachers, talus as meditation. Remember the time BOULDER but what about when BOULDER did I do the right thing BOULDER what if he BOULDER should I BOULDER is it ok to BOULDER did I fuck everything up BOULDER what is the meaning of BOULDER what will happen when BOULDER how do I BOULDER BOULDER BOULDER BOULDER BOULDER
Once down the talus and cliff (does it go? Does it go? We shouted to each other as we rounded each crumbled contortion of rock) we walk a long tundra bench beneath the drama mountains, looking back now and then to gaze at the cool thing we just traversed.
We reach Pyramid Lake. From here on out we’ll have Real Trail, or at least use trail so trampled that it’s just as fast as real trail. The weather continues to be freezinghot, and my calves are crisped from the sun. The trail turns dusty and our feet grow weary. We write “Skurka: The Musical,” in which Skurka sits atop a pile of talus and scree, gazing down at the glittering lakes below. He sings a song from The Little Mermaid. “I wanna be where the people are…” Can we hike twenty miles today? We can.
We stop at Texas Lake, just below Texas Pass. I camped here last year, on the CDT. We can see the backside of the Cirque of Towers, where everything is impossibly beautiful and climbers come from miles away to scrabble up cracks until their hands are swollen and bloody. We find a couple of little caves to sleep in beneath truck-sized boulders but then weather rolls in over the peaks and we set up our shelters instead. Just as dark falls it begins to rain. Lightning flashes. I am cozy and safe in my tarp. I carried this thing on the CDT, I know it does well in storms. I burrow into my sleeping bag and try to ignore the thunder. My legs ache. I am a tense, damp, smelly little animal. FLASH! Goes the lightning. Hail rattles the fabric of my tarp.
In the morning Lia gets a text from Jess. Jess and TickTock are taking a zero in Lander to go to a free show there- one of Jess’s favorite bands is playing. Jess says that it would be really nice to hold Lia’s hand at this show. Lia immediately eats an entire package of cliff shot blocks. Five minutes later she’s at the top of Texas Pass. I huff and puff behind her. I’m tired today- the long climbs and rough nights are catching up to me.
We drop down Texas Pass in a thick fog that turns the towers in the cirque into wizard’s castles and at the bottom we find lonesome lake. On the climb up Jackass Pass, Chris appears. We walk with him over some more boulders, past another couple of lakes and down the forested Big Sandy trail, until the anticipation of food/shower/friends grows too strong and Lia and I eventually pull ahead.
“You walk fast, for girls,” says Chris, as we speed away. I feel embarrassed for him. You know nothing, Jon Snow, I think to myself.
Lia reaches the Big Sandy trailhead before I do, and by the time I get there, just before noon, she’s already scored us a ride to Pinedale- from a friendly climber with cracked hands who rearranges everything in his tiny ford focus so that we can squeeze inside. On the long drive out we’re all smiling, happy about the dramatic mountains and the open plains and the cows and being and hungry for everything and just like life in general. It’s so easy to forget that there’s a big world out there, it’s so easy to forget that nature loves us. Lia nods off in the back seat while the climber, whose face is just as craggy as his hands, tells me about all the places he’d like to climb.
Hai all! I’m doing a reading in Portland on Tuesday, August 9, at the Waypost, at 7pm, along with several other awesome women. Here’s a link to the facebook event page-https://www.facebook.com/events/1731064887173784/?ti=cl
Also! I’m on an episode of Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antionette! Nicole’s podcast is so good. It’s like Rich Roll, but with more actual women. Nicole and I talk about pooping in the woods, riding freight trains, and existential despair. Download all of her podcast episodes, and while away the hours listening to intelligent long-form conversations with smart, interesting people! Here’s the link- https://www.nicoleantoinette.com/podcast/carrot-quinn/
Speaking of things that are good, here are some blogs that I like-
Did you know that Jeff Garmire/Legend is hiking the calendar triple crown (that means the PCT, CDT and AT in one year), and that he’s currently on his final trail, the CDT, after hiking the AT in winter and then crushing the PCT in 80 days? And he blogs every single day. Read his blog here- http://freeoutside.com
Britton is new to long-distance hiking, and she decided to tackle the Oregon Coast Trail as her first adventure. I know nothing about this trail so it’s been fun to follow her blog, which is beautiful and introspective, and to see her nice pictures and such. Check it out- http://witchwandering.com
Finally, this is a blog I’ve been waiting to share here, because I was a little worried that if I mentioned it I would somehow jinx it?! And Arno would stop posting?! Because it is my favorite trail blog, and hands down the best trail writing I have EVER read, like ever ever, and I am kind of obsessed with it and I’ve read some of the entries like three or four times. What a relief to find a trail blog with such depth and intelligence and subtlety as this one, how fucking refreshing! I really hope that Arno finishes the blog and goes on to make a book or somesuch out of it, because… I don’t know. You just have to read it. Go back to the beginning and read the whole thing- http://onemorecrown.blogpost.com
Come see me read in Portland! I’ll sign your copy of my book, and we can have awkard conversation! ha ha