“Transcendence, transcendent, and transcendental are words that refer to an object (or a property of an object) as being comparatively beyond that of other objects. Such objects (or properties) transcend other objects (or properties) in some way.” — from Wikipedia
“The term psychedelic is derived from the Greek words ψυχή (psyche, “soul”) and δηλοῦν (deloun, “to manifest”), translating to “soul-manifesting”. A psychedelic experience is characterized by the perception of aspects of one’s mind previously unknown, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ostensibly ordinary fetters.”— from Wikipedia
Ninety degrees, full sun, cupfuls of sweat, and 5 miles into today’s trail run the glorious occurred.
I typically refrain from using music while trail running, preferring to tune into what’s happening with my body, my environment, the ebb and flow of my own thoughts unmolested.
But the music came with me today; running midday in the sun, I knew I’d need a little something extra to help maintain. And what a good choice that was…
I cycled through a few things on the playlist, and then suddenly….Boredoms.
Easing into their psychedelic, driving, percussive sounds, I suddenly found a rhythm in myself, rooted in them. My foot strikes synced with the drums, the cymbals, the crashes of distortion and noise. We held steady together, operating on exactly the same wavelength, and I was transported. We sped up, slowed down, cruised through highs and lows…the terrain continuously, effortlessly rolling by. I became man primordial, sweating, driven by a beat and my turning legs, ancient fires and drums and shamans dancing in the depths of my brain.
Somewhere, sometime later, when the music stopped, I found myself dazed and running a dusty trail, suddenly aware of my minimal shoes and the heat blister forming under the ball of my right foot.
Those brief moments of transcendence, of liberation from time, space, distance, ourselves…
The great connection, of mind-body-environment-self-other…what more can a runner, artist, musician–human ask for?
I’m fortunate to have the type of relationship in which my wife can say “I think you should get out of here for the night” and nobody means ill and nobody is offended. I have my days in which I need a break, as does she, often wanting to simply have a night at home on the couch with the kids watching movies- something I’m notoriously bad at, usually getting restless within the first half hour.
So when those words are spoken, I have no trouble finding a place to go.
My bag was packed within minutes, I raided my leftover backpacking food stash, and was out the door with dog in under thirty minutes. I headed for my old stand-by, the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.
It’s a love-hate relationship, though primarily love. Long ago, while he was alive, my father taught me to fish on this river, though I didn’t know its name then. The river has been there for me as a refuge for decades, a quick place to go to escape, swim, fish, be alone, or hoot and holler with friends. My children both had their first backpacking trips with me here. However, with proximity to a city as vast and chaotic as Los Angeles comes issues. I suppose sadness would be a more appropriate word than hate; sadness at seeing how such an amazing, hospitable place can be so thoroughly overrun and disrespected. Massive crowds, trash, shantytown-like encampments of literally scores of people along its banks during the summer, complete with teenagers shampooing their hair in the river and dirty diapers and beer cans left behind. Yes, I paint a pretty ugly picture.
Yet all one has to do is be willing to turn a blind eye and walk a little further than everyone else…and the river’s beauty is there for the taking. Lazy beaches in the shade, plentiful water, and mild temperatures- backpacking at its easiest. I’ve had some of my best nights in the woods here, alone or gathered with friends and food and drink, all under the exact same stars that shine down on the Sierra, though much closer to home.
Plentiful and mild in every season, I cannot help but imagine how good the life must have been that was created by the people that originally walked these canyons. I can feel them, see them when I hike. Stumbling upon large plateaus shaded by oaks above the river, I can see the women grinding acorns and men going about their chores, children leaving bare footprints in the mud along the banks. Bighorn sheep, deer, trout, bear, all manner of smaller game, this would have been a good place to be.
I didn’t know how far I’d walk on this trip, reaching the trail at around 1PM and having to be home by around noon the next day. So the plan was to simply walk until it felt right. That’s part of the beauty of local areas like this. The logistics are so easy, access so immediate, that there is little sense of urgency in planning- or sticking to- an itinerary for a trip like this. When you know you can be back in a few days, expectations are put at ease, and you’re left to simply follow your feelings.
At about 5 to 6 miles in the narrows are reached, and most all human traffic ends. Walls get steeper, the river deepens, and the trail disappears. Passing the Iron Fork junction, I decided I’d continue at least to the junction with the Fish Fork. It had been a while since I’d been up this far and my route finding skills were seriously lacking. My pace slowed, crossing the river, crossing back, climbing hills, trying to find the path of least resistance, seeming only to find the hard way. So it goes. Bushwhacking through fallen trees, yucca, stinging nettle, and poison oak becomes the routine in the more lush seasons. My dog quickly learned, the hard way, of course, how to identify yucca alifolia (Spanish Bayonet) on this trip, pausing pathetically for a lift any time it got thick. We had a close call with an angry rattler, but came out unscathed. I don’t believe I’ve ever picked up a dog by the scruff that fast. In addition to smashing my foot in a river crossing, I later fell into a nice thicket of nettle, leaving my leg burning for the remainder of the night. Dog was an absolute trooper, at only 8 months old she kept up amazingly well, only requiring help at deeper crossings. At 12 pounds, she’s easily swept away in the current (which is how I learned she could swim a few months ago), but her small size makes her great at climbing and negotiating thick vegetation.
Feeling a bit battered and watching dog’s motivation falter, I decided to hang it up for the day at the Fish Fork junction, somewhere around 10-12 miles in. I had hoped to do a bit more mileage, but as rugged and choked as this canyon becomes, we’d had enough for the day. An old camp exists here, outfitted with a well-crafted fire ring and stone benches and tables improvised from the surrounding rock slabs. Night falling, a small fire lit, I cooked tea and dinner and fed the pup, became lost in the fire and my thoughts until well past 10PM with her sleeping in my windshirt beside me. I slept out, forest illuminated by the full moon, and I could not help but lay awake and stare at the canopy. A strange thing it is, to be laying in a dark forest completely alone at night; I guess I can see why most think us crazy for it. I was crawled upon by a fair share of long legged spiders and other insects, feeling like some sort of Saint Francis with his creatures. In fairness, it did take me a few years of going solo before all the irrational fears, illusions, and demons in the dark went away.
I was up by first light, ate two Mojo bars (my new favorite bar), packed camp, and hit the trail. We came across at least 8 bighorn sheep climbing some cliffs, completely baffling my dog seeing such large animals at least 60 feet above us, and in typical bighorn style they remained to far to be photographed without telephoto gear. Thankfully getting out proved much smoother and faster, as dog was exhausted by reaching the car; 20+ miles of rough terrain is a mighty fine effort for a little one. Right on time, I was home by 11Am…the beauty of these local trips. Score one more for the East Fork.
Based on recent talk on Backpacking Light about SUL/XUL backpacking, I kept this trip minimal on gear. Hardly my first trip in this style, I had everything I needed, nothing I didn’t. Nothing in my pack was unused except lip balm and first aid. I didn’t itemize any weights, but my pack total, not including food or water, was only 2.6 pounds. I wore ~2.5 pounds of clothing/stuff, making the overall trip extremely light. Due to the mild weather, nothing was really needed. On the one hand, this makes the XUL target feel pretty arbitrary. But on the other, it further drives home the point of packing for what one will encounter, rather than what one fears one will encounter; true necessities only. I was never lacking in comfort or convenience despite carrying easily 1/4th of what a typical backpacker would carry on a trip like this. Is XUL some sort of Holy Grail, imparting courage and prestige on the practitioner? Hardly. It’s just a means of keeping things simple and light by using weight as a limiting factor in gear selection. By adding my poncho tarp, a down vest, and a pair of socks I could easily extend the comfort range into different weather conditions and still maintain a weight very close to 5 pounds , both worn and carried. One thing I did like with this setup- it was very easy to run with my pack. The biggest advantage of XUL/SUL so far: Weight was nearly imperceptible on my physical performance, even with food and water.
-OR Sunrunner hat (my favorite for sun)
-REI OXT Synthetic long sleeve (good for heat/sun protection and cold)
-running shorts w/sewn in brief (my favorite- swimming, sleeping, hiking, they do it all)
-New Balance Minimus Trail, no socks (love these shoes)
-lanyard w/ firesteel, whistle, and Photon microlight (this has been a standard item for many years)
-Homemade simple pack…~6 oz.
-GG Nighlite torso pad (works great as frame in pack)
-WM Summerlight in stuffsack
-painter’s cloth groundsheet (this one has lasted 12 trips so far!)
-Montbell Tachyon anorak and Dynamo wind pants (5.6 ounces for both in XL!!)
-Snowpeak 1400 cookpot w/bail (My favorite pot…blackened, battered, nice and big for sloppy cooking. Bail a must for woodfire cooking.)
-Aquafina 1.5 liter bottle
-ESEE Izula knife (Heavy and not really needed, but I like a sturdy fixed blade for doing bushcraft/carving.)
-Essentials in small bag: ClO2 pills, lip balm, first aid, Dr. Bronners, tiny toothbrush, tinder, all less than 4 ounces.
-Mysterious Kupilka cup (no reason you can’t have a fun cup)
-Two small nesting plastic cups for dog food and water
~5 pounds for worn and packed.
The trip began on Thursday, June 23rd, with a drive to the Bay Area to stay with my old friend Ben. I met him at the construction site he was working on, about a block south of Haight-Ashbury. With a few hours to kill until he was off work, I roamed the city. Having never been there, I was instantly dazed by the proliferation of patchouli and incense, every other shop selling glass and Bob Marley t-shirts, and the seeming endless array of hippies, young and old…Selling something, everyone selling something. What at one time in my life might have been some sort of Mecca, as it clearly was for many of the dreadlocked, blue-eyed kids roaming the streets, now appeared to me as one giant TV commercial pushing some sort of lifestyle. Quickly overwhelmed and becoming increasingly misanthropic, I grabbed a coffee and got out of there, heading for Golden Gate Park.
At the park, squalor. While I’m down with much of the anarchist-come-social dropout mentality, the punks and hippies I saw there seemed to be dwelling in a world of nothing but substance abuse. Bakunin and Zerzan didn’t seem to be anywhere to be found, only smack and weed and cheap liquor. I watched a girl that looked all of thirteen years old, squatting and smoking cigarettes with a group of grown men…I had to go. Luckily I found some solitude at the top of Buena Vista Park, enjoying a great view of the bridge and the bay.
After Ben was off work, I finally made it to Sausalito, fully ready to get out of the bigger city. A quiet night of beer and dinner overlooking the harbor ensued, my faith in humanity was somewhat restored, and I was ready to head off for the coast come morning.
For some reason I was confused about this trip from the beginning, never feeling like I fully understood where I was going or what I was doing. Not that the logistics ended up being that hard, but psychologically something just wasn’t clicking during the planning. I’d look at the maps one day, certain of my plans, only to second guess everything the next. I originally intended to yo-yo the whole coast, starting at Usal Camp at the southern end of the Sinkyone Wilderness, hiking all the way to the northern terminus of the King’s Range, Mattole Beach, and hiking back. The plan was to do this in 5 nights. I soon discovered that starting at Usal would be a bad idea, as the drive in is difficult and it’s not a recommended place to leave a car unattended for a week.
So now the plan was to start in the middle, at the Hidden Valley trailhead outside of Shelter Cove, hike about 20-25 miles south to Usal over 1.5 days, then back to the car. I would resupply food, then head north and back. I was a little bummed that by starting in the middle the trip wouldn’t feel as continuous, but on a positive note, I wouldn’t have to carry all my food at once.
My feet finally hit the trail, heading south from Hidden Valley on the Lost Coast trail. It was an hour of hiking before I reached my first views of the ocean, surrounded by redwoods and dense forest while climbing in and out of canyons. As the day progressed, I got closer to he ocean. It eventually came into full view during most of the hike, though I was still on trails considerably high on the cliffs above it. A land where giant forests and cliffs meet the ocean, impressive indeed. The weather was unusually hot and clear for the north coast, easily pushing the high 80s while inland. About fourteen miles of hiking brought me to Bear Harbor, where I would be staying for the night. It became apparent throughout the days hiking that my mileage goals weren’t going to happen; my energy was a bit low and I realized I had underestimated the mileage combined with logistics of finding suitable camping locations. A 100 mile yo-yo certainly wasn’t going to happen in 5 nights, which was all the food I had, unless I seriously picked up the pace- which was looking quite dubious. So I was content with the plan that came of its own; lazily meandering through canyons and bluffs, stalking the elk herds (which I never got into photo-range of without being blocked by vegetation), staying at Bear Harbor for the night, and heading back north the next day. The rest of the southern half of the Sinkyone would have to wait.
One of m favorite sunsets was soon to follow, enjoyed from cliffs and a small beach I had entirely to myself. Surf fishing produced nothing but eel grass and kelp this evening, so I was content with only my Popeye Ramen (1). I could eat this for days…and have.
I ended up sharing a fire and dinner with two other hikers from Chico, depleting half of my whiskey on the first night over stories of their ride of the CDT (they did the CDT via MTB together), philosophical musings of the campfire variety, and general nonsense as the liquor depleted.
I took my time in the morning, which is rare when I’m solo, but knowing that I’d never make my original mileage freed me to just slow down. After breakfast (2) and a few hours on the beach, camp was broken and I began the return journey back to the car and the King’s Range section of the coast.
After getting lsemi-lost while driving and stopping in Shelter Cove, I finally reached the beginning of the northern section at the Black Sand Beach trailhead. With 3 nights/4 days of food, I figured I’d just go as far as I could and turn around, no expectations. Upon my first steps on the beach, I realized it wouldn’t be far at all…Sinking ankle deep in sand or pebbles with every step, I was reduced to more of a stagger than a hike. Having already had some mileage on my legs, I knew the rest of this day would be short. I was mentally unprepared for the heat as well, having hit weather that was completely uncharacteristic- a slack tide, zero wind, and clear skies with full sun. It was easily approaching 90 degrees and more akin to hiking in a very dry desert, only with ocean on the left, cliffs to the right, and endless glaring sand ahead. This is where my energy took an even greater turn for the worse; I was really feeling lethargic. I was loving the scenery, but just had no gas, my legs were slowly becoming jelly. Something was just physically and psychologically off on this trip, my motivation was slipping. I made it to Glitchell Creek, about 4 miles from the trailhead, and decided to call it quits for the day. It was now certain that the 20+ mile days I’m accustomed to while solo were not going to happen on this trip. It was about 4PM, high tide was approaching and the next 3-4 mile section would be impassible. I set up camp and took a hike up the creek to get out of the sun and heat, swim, and eat. Mood lifted, I fell asleep curled like an animal on a beach by the stream for about an hour and then wandered back out in search of firewood.
The night was passed in true castaway fashion, shirtless and laying beside a fire in the sand, rolling over to stare at the stars periodically. I was a King, reclined on one elbow, lazily picking through all of my food. Time slowed, my mind was still; this is exactly what I came for. Other fires along the beach began to go out, but I stayed up well into morning hours before climbing into the tent (3). Truly a spectacular night. Come morning, a breezy sunrise, and more low energy, I knew I was done. I had a few reservations about going home so early with so much food left, but something was just telling me to go home. Not in a hurried, anxious way, but I found I was content, ready to see my family. There were no long miles or epic struggles, just slow time, sun, saltwater…After 2 nights and 3 days of walking, I decided the rest of the Lost Coast would wait. In the end, I suppose this is an essential part of the beauty of backpacking and outdoor travel; sometimes you don’t know what to expect or where you’re going, others the plan goes off flawlessly. Sometimes you come up short, other times all expectations are exceeded. Sometimes it’s all of it in a single trip. Hail the unexpected, relish going into the unknown.
(1) Popeye Ramen: one of my favorites. 1-2 packages of “oriental” flavor ramen, using only 1/4th of the seasoning. To this I add ~1 tablespoon of garlic-chili paste (the kind with the green lid), a ton of spinach (fresh or dehydrated, depending on trip length), shitake mushrooms, topped with green onion.
(2) One of my favorite breakfasts, learned from my buddy Michael Skwarzcek: Two Morningstar Farms veggie sausage patties, crumbled, added to a package of instant potatoes. Top with green onion. The sausage patties last about 4 day without refrigeration.
(3) My tent: 2011 MSR Hubba, 3lbs total. I loved this shelter, though I got no real weather. I used the mesh inner on the first night due to a plethora of tick and Lyme Disease warnings in the Sinkyone. The second night I used the full fly due to beach moisture and wind. Freestanding is awesome, especially for camping on sand; no worries about elaborate deadman staking systems, just set it up and go. Despite the inner being narrow, this shelter feels super roomy to me (I’m 6’2″, 205 lbs.), even moreso than my old Contrail. While the Contrail is wider, I could only sit up in the front of it and rubbing the walls meant getting wet with condensation. No such problems in the MSR. The vestibule is a great size as well. It has a great, small footprint and the color is very soothing/unoffensive. I’ll gladly carry this in the future, I think it’s well worth the extra pound or two.