Superior Wilderness Designs 35 Liter Pack

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. 

so that’s your backpack, huh

Human remains recovery with No More Deaths along the US/Mexico border


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-

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!

One Year of Truck Repairs and Water for No More Deaths

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!!


One-on-one thru-hike preparation coaching via skype

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 if you’re interested in scheduling a session. Yay!


what’s going down and what we can do about it

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-

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.”

(That quote is from this article in the New York Times)

Here’s another great/chilling article on Steven Bannon/Richard Spencer and the “Alt-Right”

And another one

And another one

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:

How Fascism Accumulates Power by Testing People: in tweets

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.

Harry Potter knew what was up

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?


Stuff and things

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 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- Call her!




The Wind River High Route

Lia on Texas Pass

Lia on Texas Pass

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!

cube rock on the Green River Lakes trail

cube rock on the Green River Lakes trail

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.

Lia en route to Knapsack Col

Lia en route to Knapsack Col

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.)


I pretty much forced Lia to be my photo model- nearly all of these photos are of her

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?

Lia headed up Alpine Pass, knifepoint glacier in the background

Lia headed up Alpine Pass, knifepoint glacier in the background

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.

The Windy Lake at the End of the World

The Windy Lake at the End of the World

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.

Flower Crack Lake

Flower Crack Lake

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!

Lia hides from the wind

Lia hides from the wind

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.

Lia surveys the work ahead

Lia surveys the work ahead

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.

morning after the storm

morning after the storm

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.

I’m doing a reading in Portland, I’m on a podcast, and some blogs that I like

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-

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-

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-

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-

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-     

Come see me read in Portland! I’ll sign your copy of my book, and we can have awkard conversation! ha ha

No Sunrises/No Sunsets: A week in Gates of the Arctic National Park

I get a text from my friend Tara, who lives in Alaska but is in the lower 48 for the week.
“Are you on the side of the highway outside Anchorage right now, hitching?”

I look up from my phone, at the vehicles speeding past. The wind blows my hat off of my head, and I grab it. 

“Yeah,” I say.

“My girlfriend just passed you,” says Tara. 

Shortly after I am climbing into Crystal’s car, the girlfriend, who just happens to be heading to Fairbanks and recognized me from facebook, although we’ve never met. I’d been facing at least a day and a half of hitching, but it seems that serendipity is on my side. Thank you, Crystal! Alaska, so far, is a very serendipitous place.

I’m headed north from Anchorage to the Brooks Range, which is a place I’ve never been. The Brooks Range stretches from Canada’s Yukon Territory to the Chukchi sea, all the way across the Alaskan arctic. There are no trails there, and just one road- the Dalton Highway, which crosses the range en route to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Ocean.

I want to hike for a week in the Brooks Range. In Gates of the Arctic National Park, specifically, which butts up against the Dalton Highway- otherwise I’d have to be flown in, via tiny airplane. The Alaskan Arctic is wilderness, and has always been wilderness- there are grizzly bears, wolves, caribou herds (in their seasons), and the highest concentration of mosquitoes on earth. I can barely conceptualize the Brooks range, having only seen photos and done a modicum of research, and I only have a week to hike there. So I’m starting from the road- it’s the safest choice, should I have to turn around, and the most economical one.    

There’s a young Yupik woman in the car with us, Lena, and her one-and-a-half year old baby. And a dog. I sit in the backseat with my pack on my lap and feed the baby grapes as we trundle north in the bright evening sunshine and Crystal regales me with the long history of serial killers in Alaska. Soon I am even more grateful for the ride. The baby pops each grape into his mouth whole, and then mashes it with his gums. Grapes! What joy!

A few hours later we are in Trapper Creek, a small cluster of buildings on the roadside. Crystal grew up in Trapper Creek, and she introduces me to her cousin, nephew, sister-in-law, uncle and brother, all of whom are either working in the small café/store with its racks of dusty sundries or arrive on business while we are there. 

“I have fifteen siblings,” says Crystal. We watch stormclouds curdle above the Alaska range, which we’ve been following on our drive north. The dog makes a loping circle around the building and returns, sitting watchfully on the step. The baby has a bright plastic watergun, which makes him very pleased. I ask Lena what sorts of subsistence foods she likes best in her village. 

“The herring lay eggs on seaweed,” she says. “We gather the egg-covered seaweed and eat it with seal oil and salt.” 

My trip to Alaska did not start out with such serendipity. I missed my flight from Seattle- I remembered it on the wrong day, although I swear I checked the itinerary at least half a dozen times on the drive from Montana. My friend Elizabeth, who lives outside Seattle on the Kitsap peninsula, came to the rescue- she met me at the ferry, where I was crying in frustration, drenched in sweat after a day spent driving around in the heat, running errands and packing my bike, unaware, until it was an hour too late, that I was supposed to be at the airport that day. Elizabeth took me to the cool, comfortable house where she lives with her mother, girlfriend and aunt, and they fed me tri-tip and roasted broccoli, which was like manna from the gods after weeks of my van diet- vegetables and hummus and canned chili, mostly, no cooking. Elizabeth, in her incredible generosity, offered to let me park my van in the shady gravel drive alongside her house while I was in Alaska, next to the green explosion of the vegetable garden. I called the airline and paid $130 to bump my ticket forward, and a few days later I was finally on a plane.

The baby is hungry again, so I feed him ritz crackers. He sucks down a bottle of milk. We read a book that has no words. To our left is Denali, nestled amongst its neighbor peaks, snagging the clouds. Below the mountains the boreal forest, ever humble, clings to the earth. Boreal forest: black spruce, white spruce, alder, birch, and cottonwood. Wild roses and vaccinium. Swamp and mosquitoes. The clouds flame orange with the sunset, which will not turn to night but instead, in about four hours, pale slowly back into dawn. Lena’s small wrists are on the steering wheel, wisps of hair falling down over her face. Crystal passes her a redbull, and cracks one for herself. We’re going to make it to Fairbanks!

Midnight on the parks highway

It wasn’t easy to find information about how to plan a hiking route in Gates of the Arctic. Alaska is still the kind of place where the best way to learn about an area or how something is done is to find someone in physical reality and talk to them about it, one on one. I was in Montana, though, when I got a wild hair to do this trip, and without a whole lot of time to plan. In my search I discovered the website of a super-hiker by the name of Buck/Bruce Nelson (, who traversed the entire Brooks Range in one summer. He also helped Andrew Skurka plan the Brooks Range portion of his epic Alaska loop. Buck has a cool new book, Alone in the Fortress of the Bears, which I immediately bought for my kindle. I emailed him my phone number, and an hour later my phone rang. Buck was calling me from the middle of a river.

“I’m paddling across the country,” said Buck, “Following the route that Lewis and Clark took, so I might lose reception.” Buck answered the long list of questions I’d written in my journal- how do I plan a route? (If you stay close to the Continental Divide [the northern most portion of which stretches across the top of Alaska, forming the spine of the Brooks Range] the rivers will be small and crossable on foot), how many miles can I walk each day? (Buck can comfortably cover roughly ten air miles per day), what do I do about grizzlies? (it’s so open you see them from a ways away, carry a bear can, they’ll likely run away when they smell you, but if one should charge then bearspray works), etc. He couldn’t tell me where, exactly, to walk, as sharing of routes in the Arctic is discouraged- a number of people walking the same route through the tundra can damage it for a long time. But he could coach me in how to create a route of my own, and talking to Buck put me at ease. The Alaskan artic wasn’t a scary, foreign planet, unwalkable and full of inconceivable terrors- it was just as knowable as anything. Thanks Buck! After talking to Buck I messaged my friend Laura, who I met on the PCT in 2013 (she was Scout/Rafiki then), and who lives in Fairbanks. Her husband, Scott, is a ranger in Gates of the Arctic, and she ran my plan by him. “Scott thinks that’s doable,” she messaged me back, and I felt even more relieved. Ok! 

It’s two a.m. when Lena drops me off at my friends Allison and AK’s house in Fairbanks, where I’ll be staying while I’m here. They’re asleep but they’ve left the key under the doormat for me, and I fumble with the lock and tiptoe into the guest room, where a gloriously comfortable bed is waiting for me. Still, I cannot sleep- the pale light of this strange hour filters through the birch forest outside the big windows and hangs in the air around me, illuminating and obscuring the furniture, the walls, my pile of inanimate objects on the floor. Oh, alien light! Why won’t you rest. What is a world without night. I remember my childhood summers in the low-income apartment complexes of Anchorage, where the throngs of children were turned out by their harried single mothers in the morning and not let back indoors until dark. After the long starlit winter we were drunk on the light- we had no money and our toys were precious and busted and we gave no fucks at all. We built forts, climbed trees, swam in frigid bodies of water, shoplifted candy and set things on fire. Now, as an adult, being in Anchorage is a total mind-fuck for me. The days I spent there this time around, running errands and gathering supplies for my trip, were a bit of a bummer. Anchorage is an ugly, if necessary little city, built in the seventies in the cheapest, most hurried way, and seems to grow uglier with time. Busted stripmalls and decaying neighborhoods, the constant roar of traffic, trash blowing in the gutters. To ride a bicycle there is to fear for one’s life. (It sounds like I’m exaggerating, and I know that lots of great people live in Anchorage, and it’s a utilitarian center that provides important resources to an otherwise very rural state, but it really is an ugly town!)

The real reason being in Anchorage is such a mind-fuck for me, tho, is that both my parents are there, and I have no relationship with either of them. My schizophrenic mother, who I haven’t seen in nineteen years, in some sort of halfway house for the homeless mentally ill, maybe. Or- where? Is my mother even still alive? As I made my way around the city I peered at the homeless people clustered in the grassy parks, or asleep on cardboard with their objects arranged around them. I wouldn’t know how to find her, and I don’t think I would want to. My mother was physically abusive, and provided neither food nor nurturing. My brother and I raised ourselves. We’re lucky we survived. The last time I talked to my mother on the phone, maybe eight years ago, she told me I should’ve died when I was a baby. She wasn’t a parent, a mother. I don’t actually have a mother, nor do I owe her anything. But still, as I rode my bike around Anchorage I looked for her, in the faces of the homeless people. And I felt sad for her, for them.

And my father, in his expensive condo, not two miles from where we lived in poverty. He never paid child support, and growing up I thought him dead, or in prison, or something, anything that would grant him absolution. Anything that would explain his absence when we went days without eating, when we were so malnourished we had leg cramps that kept us up at night. I was shocked when I looked him up, at age twenty, and found him there, just down the road, comfortable and smug. He was not stoked when I knocked on his door that summer- it was a terrible inconvenience that I was still alive. Couldn’t I just disappear again, into the ether? And so I did. As much as I have forgiven my mother, and let her go, I have not forgiven my father. My anger at him is totally useless- it eats away at me, solves nothing. Still, what a douchebag.

So I couldn’t wait to get out of Anchorage. Even though I had wonderful people to stay with while I was there- my friend Julia, and her darling 5 year-old son, Sebastian- we sat up late after Sebastian had gone to bed, in that second afternoon that is the long evening of the summertime night, amongst Julia’s houseplants, and talked about love, and loss, and the mysteries of intimacy- and then a new friend, Andy, who housed me in her big, peaceful house in the birch forest south of town, and I got to pet her sweet dog, Piper, who is from South Africa- even among friends I couldn’t keep the doldrums away, and I was glad to get out. And now I’m in Fairbanks, en route to the Brooks Range, where I have never been. Because it’s my Alaska now, my life. And I get to make it my own. 

Allison and AK have an impossibly cute three-year-old son named Juno. When I make my way upstairs after sleeping late I find Juno, naked except for a bandaid on his knee, clutching his stuffed eagle (named “Eagle”) and listening to a vinyl record of a Frog and Toad book, read by the author. 

“I found these records at my mom’s,” says Allison, as she scratches jam onto her toast. “I listened to them as a kid. Did you know the author is gay?”

“Oh my gosh,” I say. “Frog and Toad. It makes so much sense!”

“Eagle is fwying!” says Juno. He’s staring up at me with his giant blue eyes, flapping the cloth wings of his eagle. “He’s fwying!” I wonder if I could ever have kids. Probably not. They’re cute, though.

What even

Allison is an acupuncturist, and she and AK moved to Fairbanks a month ago when AK got a job sciencing at the university here. The backyard of their house is a forest, the ground feathery with horsetail. I’ve known them both a long time- I first met AK thirteen years ago, when she was dating my housemate, and I lived with Allison nine years ago. Lately I’ve been overcome with gratitude at the realization that it’s possible to know people over a long arc of time, that we get to watch each other grow- not just for a few years, but possibly for the rest of our lives. There’s something so reassuring about this, as though we’re not just all adrift, alone, in space. Like we’re here, together, in spite of everything, and it’s going to be ok.

Allison drops me off at REI and I find a SPOT device and a can of bear spray and hold them both in my hands, considering. I have never carried either of these things, personally, on a hike, although Dan and I shared his PLB when we were on the Hayduke. In Gates of the Arctic I’ll be more solo than I’ve ever been on a trail, with more unknowns, and with a healthy population of grizzlies to boot. These things are worth the peace of mind, and I buy them both.

So safety

I like Fairbanks. It’s smaller than Anchorage, and the wide streets and gentle sprawl lend un unpretentious, utlitilitarian air to what might otherwise be a hipster haven. Fairbanks reminds me of Moab, Utah in that way. A wonderful place, a base camp for those who spend a great deal of time in the outdoors, just ugly enough to keep it humble. The Moab of the north! If I lived in Alaska again, I think, I would live here.  

The night before my hike begins I can’t sleep. I lay in the bright midnight light from the window, imagining the most impossible conditions, all the way things could go awry. I finally drift off at 2 a.m., curled into a tense little ball. What have I gotten myself into?

In the morning I pack and repack my bag. Have I forgotten anything? My base weight is heavier on this hike than any hike I’ve done- I have rain pants, my new sturdier rain jacket, my two-person zpacks duplex, my kindle, a “real” camera, a thermal base layer, and of course the spot and the bear spray. I need to be prepared for freezing rain, as freezing rain, I’ve been told, can happen at any time in the Arctic, as well as heat, which is also a possibility, as well as bugs. I’m carrying seven days of food. I heave my pack onto my back. Ok!

In even more Alaskan serendipity, two other friends from PCT 2013, Franny (Dingo) and Mudd, live and work in Coldfoot, a wee village north of the arctic circle that serves as a truck stop of sorts for those headed north on the Dalton Highway, the rough road that services the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. My planned route begins just north of Coldfoot, at the eastern boundary of Gates of the Arctic National Park. Franny, incredibly, is able to get me a standby seat on the next air taxi headed from Fairbanks to Coldfoot, saving me a long, arduous hitchhike on a remote, little-trafficked and very gravelly road. It’s a flight-seeing trip, and I listen to the pilot describe the land below us as we climb above Fairbanks in the little plane. There are the White Mountains, the broad taiga with its small shining lakes, the Yukon river and the Koyukuk. It’s hot on the wee plane and the other passengers fan themselves and take photographs. And then, below us, is the Brooks Range- Sloping green mountains capped in scree and rock, glittering rivers valleys, light and air and wonder. 

I’m fwying!

Franny, who looks exactly as I remember her from the PCT, meets me at the dirt airstrip and ferries me to Coldfoot camp, a cluster of buildings huddled close to the earth beneath the huge arctic sky. We’re almost, but not quite, far enough north that there are no trees at all- as it is, treeline here is very low, just a few thousand feet, and although there are spruce and birch and cottonwood trees alongside the road, the slopes of the mountains are broad, open tundra, lending a feeling of the alpine.


At Coldfoot camp I am amazed to see Will (Teatime), another friend from PCT 2013, who is also living and working here.

“Sarah?” He says, when he sees me. He hasn’t seen me since I grew my hair out, and he doesn’t recognize me.

“Carrot,” I say.

“Carrot?!” says Will. “You look just like Sarah!”

“Who’s Sarah?” I say, but before he can answer Franny is offering me food, and then I’m eating a giant salad on the deck of the little restaurant, with the dusty, saddle-worn bicyclists en route to Patagonia and a woman reading a battered paperback copy of Wild. Franny also lends me her bearcan from the PCT, which I will need. I strap it to the top of my pack. Now my pack is really heavy!

Still cute tho

The ranger at the visitor center in Coldfoot, Bob, an older gentlemen who speaks slowly and wears a bright orange hat, is dubious at first when I tell him my plan. Then I out myself as someone who’s hiked ten thousand miles in the last four years, and he visibly relaxes. He points to a map of Gates of the Arctic that’s pinned to the wall, and traces his finger along the drainages and over the high, rocky passes. “You could hike your route the way you’ve planned,” he says, “but this way is better.”

“Thank you,” I say, as I quickly add these new waypoints to the map in my phone. “Oh my gosh, thank you thank you.” He gives me a patch and a bandanna that say “Guardian of the Gates”, and sends me on my way.

Will is driving north of Coldfoot that afternoon with his dreamily beautiful girlfriend, Fiona (they met in Antarctica, as one does) to go on a hike, and they offer to drop me at the drainage where I plan to start. As we drive, Will points out the eerily shaped peaks alongside the road, naming them- “I climbed that one,” he says. “And that one.” It’s six p.m., but time doesn’t matter- it’s never going to get dark. We pull onto the shoulder at my designated starting spot and I triple-check everything in my pack. And then I’m off, stumbling down the shoulder of the road, into a stand of spruce.

Right away I discover the thing that frightens me most about hiking in the Brooks range: dense brush, specifically the possibility of surprising a grizzly bear in said brush. Luckily, however, after a short period of flailing and one stream crossing (as per Buck’s advice, the streams are manageable here, close to the continental divide, even if sometimes I half to walk along the banks a bit to find a place to cross) I am out of the spruce forest and alder tangles and climbing, climbing, up through the open tundra above treeline! In the light and the air and the views that go on forever, green ridges falling away. The tundra is a sponge beneath me, springy and soft, sometimes soggy and sucking at my trail runners and sometimes crispy and able to support my weight. I stop for a moment to catch my breath and touch, with the tips of my fingers, this green mat of life on which I sit- it is an intricate, interwoven riot of lichen, moss and tiny flowers, and I know that beneath this mat is the permafrost, Alaska’s promise that winter is never very far away. Far below me is the Dalton Highway, with the alaska pipeline running alongside it, transporting crude oil from Prudhoe Bay south. And next to where I sit I find my first shed caribou antler, baked white from the sun. I turn it over in my hands. The caribou must migrate through this drainage, or at least they once did. In the coming days I’ll find dozens more of these sheds- single antlers and sets, sometimes with skulls attached, some old, some new, standing still in time or being absorbed into the tundra, a centimeter at a time. A strong breeze blows my hair into my face, and keeps the mosquito hordes at bay. The mosquito’s advances are delicate, at best. Such weak little motors. I drink some of my water, gathered from the stream below. What wonder!      

It takes me three hours to climb to the very top of the rolling green mountain, and at nine p.m. I pitch my tent in a gentle sheltered depression between two ridges, right next to the spot where a wee burbling stream springs from the rock. The sun is so bright at 9 p.m., but I climb inside my tent anyway, after placing my bear canister in the moss a little ways away, where I can see it, as though I am setting a trap. I am exhausted from the anticipation and the excitement. Inside the tent I blow up my neo-air and arrange my water, bearspray and other nighttime objects next to my pillow, which is my mosquito headnet full of my extra layers. 

Grown men on the internet told me I would die out here without a gun, ha ha

I feel pretty good about bears when I’m walking up here, out in the open, where we would be able to see one another from way far away, with a minimum of surprise. But what about at night, when I’m asleep and unawares, zipped up tight in my sleeping bag? How quickly would I be able to get to my bear spray, should a bear come thrashing at my tent? Is that situation even reasonable? Plausible? The bright arctic sun bears down and I lie there, only a thin layer of fabric between myself and the unknown, tense as a wire. I read on my kindle for a while in an attempt to relax but every time the wind rustles the fabric of my shelter, every time the shadows around me shift imperceptibly, I practically jump out of my skin. The bright sun continues its slow arc across the sky, heightening my sense of alertness. In more southern parts of the state, like in south central Alaska where I grew up, the summer nights are long- but there is always at least the pretense of a sunset, a nod to that moment of quiet rest between the days. Not up here in the Brooks Range, though. There will be neither sunrise nor sunset for the entirety of my time in the arctic. No golden horizon, no gentle dusk. Just the bright white sun, illuminating all. I roll onto my back, and put my long-sleeve shirt over my face. Fuck, I need to sleep. And around one a.m., I finally do.

I wake to the hot overhead sun of late morning and tear my sleeping bag off, and then my clothes. It’s fucking hot! I was expecting rain in the Brooks range, clouds at the very least. Not this week, though. Not for me. It’s late, 9:30 a.m., and at first I feel guilty about this- but then I realize that it does not matter, up here, which eight hours of the day that I sleep. 

I’ve caught nothing with my bearcan trap, thank goodness. I poop in a hole, make some tea and eat my breakfast. I look at my maps. Yesterday I averaged 1 mph, climbing this mountain. Today I’m hoping for 1.5 mph. My goal for this trip is the remote subsistence village of Anaktuvuk, seven days distant. This village is only reachable by plane, and once I’m there I can catch a flight back to Coldfoot. There are lots of unknowns in my route, though- will the rivers be fordable? Will I be able to get over all the passes? Will I be able to cover enough miles each day? I’m 100% mentally prepared to turn around, should I need to. I’m out here to learn, to see what the Brooks Range is really about. To discover what it means to walk here, and how one might go about doing that.   

I descend the other side of the mountain, butt-scooting on some scree and finally attain a gentle pass, where a little lake sits peaceful in the stillness, ringed in caribou sheds, and wolf tracks are everywhere in the mud.

At the pass is a small stream, and according to my maps I’ll follow this stream down, down, down, until it becomes a river. I walk in the rocks of the stream or on the steep, squishy tundra slopes alongside it. There are slabs of blue aufeis, the thick ice that forms on the rivers and stays forever, and the burbling conversation of the water as it bounces off the hills around me. I realize that between the streams and the wet tundra of these waterways that I’m following, my feet will be pretty much wet all day, every day. The cool water feels good, though. 

I round a bend in the afternoon and find myself looking down at the most gorgeous, green, sweeping land-before-time river valley- I can see forever, mountains on mountains on mountains, and a glittering river winds its way through all of it. Unnamed peaks are cut with drainages. I know that the drainages hold hidden lakes, glaciers, waterfalls, and other secrets. Oh, that I could explore them all! The mosquitoes bump companionably against me in the still air, reminding me to get a move on. They’ve already made short work of my arms, as has the sun- I should’ve worn a long-sleeve shirt. I don’t carry any DEET, as the stuff makes me ill, and is poison besides, and my tolerance for mosquitoes is pretty high. Still, why didn’t I think to wear a long-sleeve shirt?!

The stream I’m following grows larger as it gathers tributaries, and I cross it again and again. Soon I won’t be able to cross it at all, and I check my maps to make sure I’ll be on the correct side of the water before that happens. I walk for a while on the tundra, my feet sinking into the moss. It’s slow going, but I don’t mind. It reminds me of walking in deep sand, on the Hayduke. Every few minutes I spin around, looking for grizzlies. I make my way through some brush, and turn on an audiobook in an attempt not to surprise anyone. I wonder if I’m going to be mauled by a grizzly while listening to Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. We live in a poetic universe; anything is possible. I feel secure with my bearspray, though. I’m no longer a defenseless mammal; I am now a mammal that stings! I am capable of shooting burning liquid at any other animal that would make me its prey! This levels the playing field a bit, and I stride through the nature with confidence. I live here too, motherfuckers!

I become completely immersed in The Argonauts, and the next thing I know it’s the following afternoon, and the book is ending- in between I slept, fitfully, on another open slope of tundra, my bearcan perched nearby, in the absolute silence. The Argonauts is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read, and now that it’s over, I cry. I also cry because it’s so glorious here, so sunny and wild and soft around the edges, and I’m filled with infinite peace, but also a sort of sadness. I’m thinking about the meaning of love. Am I really, truly, worthy of love? Are any of us really, truly, worthy of love? I think about this as I wend my way down the river valley, into and out of the water, up and down the tundra slopes, picking the least swampy parts, feeling the mosquitoes consume my flesh. I stop at a stream to fill my water bottles and eat a snack. Unconditional love doesn’t ask about worthiness, I say aloud.

I miss Dan. I wish he were here, to joke about the mosquitoes. They grow so thick that I put on my rain jacket, even though it’s hot. Now I’m sweating in my rain jacket, huffing and puffing. Then I see, ahead of me, a jolly round object frolicking on the tundra, its fur glowing golden in the sunshine. Grizzly! Grizleeeeee! Griz griz griz! My brain has tourettes. What do I do? What do I do do do do do. The bear pauses its happy bouncing, looks my way. We eye each other for a moment, and then the bear continues to prance. I climb down from the steep bluff, kicking up dirt, fight my way across the river, which is a bit too high here for my comfort, ascend the bluff opposite, edge my way as far up the slope as I can, and continue my traverse of the valley. When I look back, the bear is nowhere to be seen.     

Later I see a porcupine, weird looking creature, five feet away alongside a stream, standing on its hind legs, acting oddly. A smaller porcupine is standing in front of it, doing something to its chest. I realize that the smaller porcupine is a baby, and that the baby is nursing. I’m seeing a freaking porcupine boob! The mama porcupine does not seem to care that I watch them, and take photos. Porcupine doesn’t give a fuck! Porcupine has spines!!! 

Porcupine boob!

In the morning I wake late to a hot tent again and walk naked and barefoot across the tundra to gather my bearcan. The long warm sun feels good on my skin, on the dried sweat and mosquito bites. The soft trampoline of lichen and moss feels good beneath my feet. I eat dark chocolate for breakfast and drink black tea. What even is life. 

The going is slower today- the tundra is extra spongy and deep, the brush more frequent and thick, there are acres of toaster-sized boulders. Arctic terns dive-bomb my head, angry that I’m making my way through what must be their nesting area. Something- the movements of glaciers? Have deposited tall rocks mounds all around me, and the mounds make deep, glacial-green pools out of the stream, and in the pools I can see fish. I pick my way from mound to mound, as the birds yell at me. What is this lonely, enchanted place? Not lonely, though. Full of animals! Someday I will come back and spend enough time in the Brooks Range to see a musk ox, which is my favorite animal that most people don’t actually know exists.

The mosquitoes grow thicker, as though some omniscient being is turning them up in increments, to see just when I’ll crack. One incredible valley opens into another. How beautiful this place. How sheer these mountains, with their impossible scree tops. The river carves a sort of gorge, rushing and heavy, and I walk above the chasm on a bluff. I am suffused with a feeling of ease, and peace. The sun continues to be bright, which is almost, but not quite, no longer fun. 

Before camp I take off all my clothes and rinse myself in the icy river, which now braids itself, shallow and wide, across the valley. I sit naked on a rock to dry. The neat thing about mosquitoes is that they’re attracted to heat, so if I jump in very cold water I buy myself a few moments wherein I can sit naked, invisible and unmolested, before the sun warms me and the mosquitoes can “see” me again. For the time being they swarm around my legs, but they do not land. I look at my feet, which have been rotting inside my shoes. If I do a longer trip in the Brooks Range one day I’ll have to take a break each day to dry them, lest they disintegrate. 

Camp is on another broad, open hillside- I could’ve camped down by the river but I saw too many animal tracks there, so I picked my way up the slope to this flattish spot with an open view all around. The mosquitoes are bad enough that the inside of my tent feels like a place of inexplicable peace, at least once I’ve killed the several dozen that found their way inside, leaving disgusting carnage on the floor. I eat handfuls of unappealing trailfood and watch the insects bump uselessly against the mesh. I’m starting to dread these long nights, the three hours it takes me to wind down enough to fall asleep. I wonder, if I was out here longer, how long it would take before I was too tired to be scared anymore.      

I’m going to have to turn around. I’m sitting on a large boulder in the afternoon, looking at a glacier, my shelter draped over my head to keep out the bloodthirsty hordes. I’ve been climbing all morning- up a green valley, alongside a stream, and then a thousand feet (or more? I don’t know) up loose, shifting talus and scree. The mosquitoes are the worst they’ve been and so I hiked fast, feeling harried, sweating in my rain jacket and my headnet, thinking that once I reached the talus and left the water behind, I’d leave them behind as well. Now I eat banana chips with my tent draped over me, and look at the glacier. It sits in a bowl, surrounded in a ring of impossibly steep ridges, which are sided in scree and topped in spires of rock.

The continental divide, which I’ve had to cross a couple of times- but nowhere as high as this, as steep as this. I look at my map again- the divide in this spot is a fence, a tall boundary between the drainage I’m in and the one that my route traverses next. I’d picked this spot to cross somewhat arbitrarily, as all the drainages on the map looked equally as steep, with no idea if I’d be able to make it across or not. And I can’t. Not here. I’m not even going to try. Maybe, if I was with a friend, I’d give it a go- but even if I could get up all that scree and sheer rock to the ridge on this side, the other side, according to my map, is even steeper. So, no.  

I pick my way back down the shifting talus, slowly, feeling bummed. I’m halfway to Anaktuvuk, and I have to turn around. It’s all part of this learning experience, I know (and later, after the hike, a ranger friend will show me on the map which pass actually goes through, for future reference), but I still feel sad about it. I also feel really, really tired. This neverending sun has me worn out, the wet tundra and water crossings, the constantly being on edge about bears. Newness is hard, the unfamiliar is hard. Growth is hard.     

Back down the way I came

At 9:30 p.m. I am too tired to walk anymore. For the last hour I’ve been seeing bear signs everywhere- overturned rocks, roots ripped from the ground, scattered bones with bits of ligament still attached. Expanses of brush punctuate the hillside, places for animals to lurk. But I am exhausted, and I need to camp. It’s brutally hot in my tent, the sun shining down on the fabric, and I eat bars for dinner, naked and sweating. At last, around eleven, the sun drops behind the ridge, draping my campsite in sweet, cool shadow. I’m reading Finding Everett Ruess on my kindle. The book makes me sad. He was so lonely! I’m lonely today! Oh, life! 


Two days later I stumble out of the spruce forest and am back on the Dalton Highway. I stick out my thumb when a semi-truck rumbles by and am surprised when the truck grinds to a halt, spitting up dust.

“Sarah!” says the driver, when I heave myself onto the running board and pull open the passenger side door.

“No,” I say. “Who’s Sarah?” I startle at the sound of my own voice. Is this what my voice sounds like?

“You look just like her,” says the man. He introduces himself as Peter. He’s been driving his truck up and down the haul road for twenty-five years. “Sarah’s a great lady,” he says, as we rumble down the rutted highway. He looks at me, wishes I was her. “You want some salmon?”

“Sure,” I say.

“Smoked or canned?” says Peter. “I made it myself. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you both.” 

Peter drops me at Coldfoot camp and I wave goodbye, my hands full of salmon.

“I’m going to start pretending I’m Sarah,” I say to Will/Teatime, when I see him in the restaurant. “And take over her life.”

“You really do look like her,” says Will.

I’m starving, and the restaurant is having a buffet for dinner- an elaborate salad bar, roast beef, potatoes, shrimp. OMG! I fill up two giant plates, find my own little table in the corner, and eavesdrop on the other people in the dining room while I happily munch away. There are two crews here, apparently, working on something or other to do with the highway. Rough men wearing orange vests and steel-toe boots, smelling of diesel fuel. I feel vulnerable and raw after speaking to no-one for a week, and I don’t make eye contact with anyone. I like hearing their conversations, though. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to talk to anyone, and that I could just listen to people talk to each other. Specifically, I love the way people in rural areas use american english when they’re speaking- the sentence fragments, the economy of words, the way that so much is implied or assumed. I also love it when straight macho heteronormative dudes open up to each other in unexpected moments, in awkward ways- suddenly admitting feeling or vulnerability or pain, and the way the other dudes pretend not to hear. 

Franny, incredibly, has hooked me up with another flight back to Fairbanks, at 10pm, and I spend the evening in the cool dim sanctuary of her and Mudd’s living room, sunk into the couch, watching their cat stalk around the room. Franny’s been working here long enough that she has quite a bit of responsibility- “I work eighty hours a week,” she says. “And I’m on call 24 hours a day.”

“Oh my gosh,” I say. It must be a good place to be, though, because people keep coming back.

“It’s super chill in the winter,” says Mudd. “It’s peaceful. There’s more down time, and people all hang out together.” 

I imagine Coldfoot in the winter- dark, snowy. Cold. The staff gathered around a card game, maybe, in one of the bunker-like dwellings, sharing a bottle of whiskey. I wish I had found this place when I was twenty-five. I would’ve loved it here.

There’s a fire to the south, and it’s a relief when the plane carries us up, up, out of the smoke, until we’re looking down at it, as though on clouds. In Fairbanks, at midnight, I am ecstatic to see the flame-orange colors of a sunset, and at Allison’s house it’s almost dark enough to need a light. I drop my things in the guest room, and curl into the bed there. I’m indoors now, no grizzlies can get me. And in the morning there’ll be a three-year-old to hang out with, which is pretty cool.


THANK YOU to Elizabeth, Julia, Tone and Sebastian, Andy, Allison, AK and Juno, Franny, Mud, Will, Fiona, Peter the truck driver, Ranger Bob, Laura, Scott and JP, Crystal, Lena, Tara, Buck, Suzy and Luce, and anyone else who housed me/gave me a ride/helped me with the logistics of this trip! My god I am grateful to have friends, especially of the Alaskan variety! Thank you!!

Help end police violence

Cops continue to execute black people in the streets in the US, and I’m over here like 🌲🌲🏃🌲🌲 with my white privilege. On tuesday Alton Sterling, a 37 year-old father of five, was shot while being held by police on the ground after selling CDs in front of a convenience store (this was caught on video). And then yesterday, Philandro Castile was fatally shot three times in a St. Paul suburb- because he had a busted tail light. In all, 136 black people have been killed in the US by Police so far this year. It’s easy to say that I care about this, but at the end of the day, what am I doing? Nothing. What are you doing? Check out this awesome website with ideas on how we can all get involved-

Denied entry into Canada/total change of plans

I forgot that when you cross through customs into Canada they ask you a million questions, and if you don’t have a simple easy-to-digest story that seems totally 100% normal and common and legit (i.e “we are going into your country for one week and we are both gainfully employed and not homeless at all and we have a ton of money”) and instead tell the truth “we live in this van and are going to hike through the wilderness for 40 days without permanent homes or jobs,” then they run a background check, and if you have any convictions (even misdemeanors) it’s likely you’ll be turned away at the border.

I have a bunch of misdemeanor convictions from my youth riding freight trains and taunting riot police at political protests. Like a whole stack of them. Convictions with ominous-sounding names like “interfering with a peace officer,” “trespassing,” and “failure to appear”. The customs dude didn’t know that the “failure to appear” was the time a friend and I got pulled off a freight train in Arizona in the warm springtime near Yuma by a kindly black railcop who just wanted to tell us stories. After he’d given us our trespassing tickets and released us we circled around the yard and got on another train, headed for Oaxaca with its $4 hostels that were just hammocks on the beach under mosquito netting and the ripe mangoes that littered the ground. We never returned for our court appearance and a few years later, standing on an onramp in Arizona with another friend, sunburnt and trying to hitch into town after climbing off another train, a cop ran our IDs and I had a warrant. Luckily my bail was low. We spent three days sleeping in the weeds alongside a canal and swimming in the turquoise water, and at my court appearance I was given a fine.

“Interfering with a peace officer”- in 2003 I was 21 years old and we had just started bombing Iraq. Critical Mass was a big deal in Portland at the time- a bunch of bicyclists riding together slow through downtown traffic once a month, blocking traffic and interfering with commerce to make a point about car culture, fossil fuels, whatever. An extra huge Critical Mass was scheduled as part of the protests against the Iraq War- we wanted to block the freeways, stop traffic to downtown, disrupt everything as much as we were able. On the Portland news it was announced that Critical Mass riders would be arrested. The women’s jail was the only one with empty beds (I learned later), and they arrested eleven women. I made eye contact with a riot cop and that was that- they dragged me from my bike and zip-tied my wrists. I spent four days in the jail downtown that overlooks the grassy park blocks, the elk fountain spouting water and the lazy traffic that circles around it. Each bed in my cell had a long narrow window overlooking everything. My cellmate was in for check fraud, and she was very kind. I read A Separate Peace and Slaughterhouse Five.

After they denied our entry into Canada I turned the van around and we drove back towards Glacier in silence. I hadn’t had any caffeine yet that morning and there was a sharp pain right between my eyes. Outside heavy stormclouds alternated with patches of clear sky and rain splattered the windshield. The van was stuffed with all our resupply boxes for the Great Divide Trail- hundreds of dollars worth of bars and dinners, carefully boxed and labeled, our portioned-out maps, extra shoes and socks, new raingear, hopes and dreams and fears.

I’d crossed into Canada before- but I’d always had a neat story, and when they’d asked me “Have you ever been arrested?” I’d lied and said “No,” and they had never checked. But now I was officially blocked from entry until such time as I returned with a large stack of court documents from several states and $200, and applied for a waiver allowing me in. There was no time for that right now, in this narrow window in which we had to hike the GDT. And I could no longer bluff my way across the border- My name was in the computer. They had a photocopy of my passport. Etc.

As we drove through the wild stormclouds towards East Glacier I thought of the time, in March of 2009, that I’d gotten a craigslist ride from Portland to Alaska with a wealthy Israeli man and two other young vagrants in tattered clothing returning home after a winter in California. Before crossing into Canada we made up a story of how we were all related, where we lived and what jobs we held, how long we had known each other and how we had met, how much money we had, etc. They waived us across at the border almost impatiently, and we were free. Our driver flipped the car into a snowbank in the Yukon and I ended up hitchhiking the rest of the way to Alaska in -20 weather, but that is another story.

Once I got over the initial disappointment and sting of rejection from Canada (why?!!), I realized that it’s probably for the best that I won’t be able to hike the GDT this year. We only had 40 days in which to hike it, and we were starting a few weeks earlier than what is considered reasonable. We were counting heavily on the low snowpack in the Canadian Rockies this year and just kind of crossing our fingers for the best. Now I can hike the trail another year, when I have more time, in a more relaxed and reasonable manner. It was probs meant to be.

I’m in Montana right now, figuring out what to do next. I really have no idea. I thought briefly about the Pacific Northwest Trail, but I’m not sure that I’d love that one, with its miles and miles of dirt roadwalking. I might fly to Alaska for a month with my bike. Or, I might just drive back to Oregon, find a quiet place to live near some forest, and take care of my gut stuff. I really have no idea. Dan is thinking about southbounding the CDT- he hasn’t hiked any of the 3 long trails! And here we are at the northern terminus, right in time for SOBO season, and he has all these resupply boxes already made.

I’ll let y’all know soon.