An overnight while hiking the Double Arches in the Red River Gorge

There was a moment this weekend when I looked up into the night sky, while ducking out of the tent during the early hours of the morning, as I was visiting the Daniel Boone National Forest in 22-degree temps. Wearing nothing more than long johns, a hat and an REI puffer jacket, with too little down. The sight overhead, through the nearly barren trees, made me feel small, but significant and full of possibility again. I think that’s why I am seeking out these remote places for two years, and counting, after sitting behind a computer screen for too many decades. It’s my journey toward freedom and meaning. Well that and slowly teaching myself to enjoy life and stop worrying all the time.

I drove 4 hours to Kentucky to spend my weekend outdoors in the Daniel Boone National Forest this weekend. I didn’t have the tech handy to catch starry sky moment but, as I said before, every time I got out of my tent that night to take a comfort break, facing the brunt of the Winter temps that dipped into the lower 20’s, it held my attention longer than the discomfort of being cold demanded.  The trees are now in the process of shedding their summer leaves. Yet it was all the stars above that blazed like a blanket of light, showing the full arc of the Milky Way, through the branches that just crushed me. This alone was worth the 4-hour trip down from Columbus. It made me glad for feeling cold, for the drive down South of Lexington Kentucky, for being solo outdoors for another weekend (until Sunday when I met up with a hiking group through Red River Gorge for the first time), the time away from the comforts of home, and grateful for the remaining heat from my campfire to warm myself by while simply looking up at the Kentucky night sky. It was absolutely incredible.

Sunday came and I met up with four other hikers, mostly from Lexington, at a Cit Go station. To use this area for hiking you have to get a pass to put on your car if you are staying more than the day. You can get this pass at the Glade Visitor Center or at most gas stations around the area. After that, you just hang the pass in your car after parking at the gas station or along Tunnell Ridge Road if you are lucky enough to score a spot. Then head down whatever trail head you want to head down.

Today we did the Double Arches trail under the guidance of our leader and her husband. These folks are teachers in their early 30’s. World travelers and socially conscious people. There was a woman who runs her own accounting business. Great conversationalist and adept hiker. Lastly another gentleman in his early sixties who is an avid hammock camper, seasoned hiker and playwright. The group was pretty awesome actually. I walked away from my first event with the Central Kentucky Backpackers group experience seriously impressed.

 

We walked through the hills, watched as the rock formations rose and fell. Sat on the peaks we climbed. Talked about our life stories. Learned about the Gorge on the larger scope. The Double Arches were beautiful and the views were stunningly full of rock formations, cliffs, a bowl full of blazing orange, red and gold trees. From there we trekked over to Castle Rock and then we walked the ridge back to the car.

 

I may go back there this weekend for an overnight “how-to” with another group Central Kentucky Backpackers organizer if I can manage the time. This is an area that is probably going to be on my short list for an annual trip.

  

 

 

 

Posted in outdoors

Lessons in compassion on my commute

I was witness to two beautiful exchanges between my fellow City dwellers while sharing a bus ride together recently. They happened to be homeless. But, their kindness and the sheer magnitude of their efforts humbled me to the core.

I am an urban man. I have chosen to live in the centers of both Dallas and Columbus down towns now for over 20 years. Today? I work one mile from my old brick and mortar three story storefront home. I either coerce a ride from my husband, take the free bus or walk to work most mornings. While I love being in the wilderness, I belong on the City streets. It’s where magic, big ideas and progress happens.

So it’s autumn in Ohio. The days are getting shorter. The air is chilly, it’s rainy, variably cloudy with sunshine that makes the “fall color” magic happen. As such, the leaves are beginning to thin, change and blaze all shades of the brilliant but dead spectrum. Another summer dying to be reborn the next year. Memories inscribed and challenges met. Change ever present testing our resilience to redefine annually.

There were two moments however that caused the world to slow around me as I looked on in nothing less than respect and awe. One where a homeless woman asked for a dollar bill in exchange for a rough estimation of change. Then it was a homeless man who answered her call. Without hesitation. The other was when another homeless man asked for a cigarette and different homeless man gave one up without question.

These experiences left me with a profound reflection about compassion. Not Christian “compassion” mind you. Hard core, you are shunned, and invisible, to everyone in your Country compassion. It’s nuts and bolts life at that level. But life it is. As such, there is always beauty when there are people who choose to see you are present. When that happens, that spark in the dark while it’s raining like fuck, there is always hope. There is always love in even the smallest of things from the weakest and smallest and most vulnerable of us. All it takes is a spirit of giving and a little empathy.

In the era where we currently live, there is a great deal to learn from the homeless. Especially as I walk home from Katzinger’s Delicatessen with a bag full of great food while passing by a woman curled up in a sleeping bag in the rain inside a doorway of a church. The idea that we are all one People. This is all our home. Yes, you can have one of my cigarettes. Yes I will share my change with you. She got one of my potato latkes. What she didn’t get was judgement from me. We all deserve to be embraced.

Posted in personal

A hike through Great Seal State Park

I joined the great folks form Hike Ohio once again this weekend for another Sunday hike in a place I had never been before, Great Seal State Park. But first, I decided to go do an overnight at a place that is seriously on my radar as I have read some really good stuff about it, Tar Hollow State Park and it did not disappoint.

It was another long week at the office. Lots of crazy good things happening right now in the digital transformation sphere within a massive organization and all of my peers have a hand in it. Kind of one of those life era’s where what you do has a measurable, and sometimes immediate, impact. It was also a great week in the AHA Support Network where I am continually impressed by the level of empathy this community of folks, whom I am a member, holds for one another like a bright light in the dark. This is my week day life though.

So back to Saturday night under the trees. As I have written about before, I am enjoying everything about being outdoors right now. Be it walking by the river after work, running, hiking, swimming (in warm months). Short trips or longer… no matter. I spent way too many years plugged into a computer terminal both at work and at home. Every life era comes with a choice. Especially given the battle we all lose with time in the end. Life is what you have the courage to grab right now, with no regrets, square on, at all times.

One minute windstorm video

Tar Hollow State Park is an easy drive from Columbus. Nestled in beautiful Southern Ohio. An area that I am liking more and more as time goes on. I stayed at site 105 which is in a small loop of primitive campsites deep inside the park and up on a ridge that is surrounded by heavy tree cover. When I got there I was pleased to see a good deal of other tent and tarp campsites setup already. Some folks, no doubt, taking advantage of the State Forest hiking trails which I plan to check out soon enough.

One minute campfire video

I got things setup, a fire started, dinner prepped and a good book ready in quick order. As the sun dipped however the dark clouds started to roll in along with powerful winds and some steady rain. The effect of the wind felt more like those cold fronts that would come in off the planes North of Dallas when we lived there. Sustained, howling, strong. The following morning on the way out of the park I saw a ton of blow down on the roads and even encountered mature trees on the hiking path that were knocked down by Saturday nights wind. It might have been a touch dangerous but it was a unique experience to be outdoors in a windstorm like that. Of course, the temperatures dropped significantly so I slept in my long johns, gloves, knit cap and, eventually, my down jacket inside my 32-degree sleeping bag.

The drive over to Great Seal State Park took about 30 some minutes from Tar Hollow. Really pretty views of pumpkin patches, now brown corn fields, farms, small pockets of rural homes, and the still green leaves that are now starting to wax yellow and brown in some areas. The park has a history that surprised me. I was reading in 50 Hikes in Ohio by Ralph Ramey about it last week. Chillicothe was once in the running to become the State Capital of Ohio. And it was after a night of playing cards that Thomas Worthington, who went on to become a US Senator, walked out into the early morning hours and was taken by the sunrise coming up over Sugar Loaf mountain, left, and Bald Hill, right, that he proclaimed, “there is our <State> seal.” Ramey goes on to talk about the history of the times between its occupation by the Hopewell Indians, the settlers, the logging and corn liquor industry eras. It really has a colorful background.

I met the group of 18 hikers at 9:30 am on Sunday. We were all bundled up. Packs on full of water bottles, snacks with trek poles in our hands. The trail was well maintained and easy to navigate. We climbed Bald Hill, which, while strenuous, was not bad. We also went down the Shawnee Ridge and Sand Hill Trails. At one high point, I think our guide said it is the highest point in all of Ohio, there was a set of outdoor furniture setup, complete with a table, chairs and a wooden bench swing. Who set all that up? More power to you folks. There’s nothing like walking through groves of trees though and feeling the crisp autumn air in your lungs while being bathed in golden green sunlight through the canopy. It was, in a word, perfect. Only more so because of the camaraderie in meeting new folks, seeing folks from past hikes, sharing stories and a little bit of outdoor effort in climbing the hills and hopping tree branches, rocks and blow downs from the previous night together.

Next week I have a tricky conflict. My niece is getting married and I am going to try to squeeze in one more Sunday hike in Zaleski with another Hike Ohio organizer. It’s an 8-mile trek in an additional State Forest I have not visited. One which was provisioned by a Polish exile who invested in the Zaleski Mining Company, the town of Zaleski, and, of course, Zaleski Furnace fueled by the ample timber growing in the area. So, here’s hoping it’s not a morning wedding… otherwise that could become a difficult choice.

Posted in outdoors

Camping & a group hike at Lake Hargus

The first camping and hiking trip of the season went well. It gave me ample opportunity for both solitude, rest, making new friends and physical activity.

I arrived at HW Marion State Park Campground around 4 yesterday. It was a little tighter and cramped for space than I am used to while camping outdoors, even for a State Park. The facilities were sparse, and the proximity to others close, but it still made for a decent spot to pitch a tent. Being October, it’s getting chilly here in Ohio. I was more than happy to dive into my shelter, wrap up in my puffer jacket and take a nap before dinner.

As I lay there drifting off to sleep I listened to the sounds of the family adjacent to my site. A father, wife, grandmother and a young son. I was once again flooded with memories of my parents taking us camping as kids with my grandparents in an adjoining lot. Breece corner in a wooded private lot as it were.

I woke up, put on my camp shoes and started to make dinner. My last package of Dottie’s Chicken and Biscuits. While packing yesterday. I noticed the TSA confiscated my Toaks stove and my Esbit fuel. The stove probably because of the fuel residue, but my heat shield and spork. Really? Ah well, I had my trusty JetBoil for this weekend. Almost like an old friend as it was one of my big things I got from 2017 when I first began to combat anxiety by getting back outdoors. Away from 911. Surrounded by nature. Forcing myself to remember to live without fear for the sake of living. No choice.

After cleaning up, I dove back into the shelter, stripped down, donned my long johns, wool socks, knit hat, light gloves and crawled into my sleep sack with my small movie player. Before turning on a film, I once again listened to the sounds all around me. The muted sound of 80’s music, campfires, people talking, drinking, laughing. It was a pretty beautiful moment actually. Even if I didn’t muster the energy to raise my own campfire, it was nice to experience everything around me in a shared sense of the simple joy of being someplace where collective good times were being had.

I woke up a couple times in the night, got out, walked around a bit and looked at the few stars I could see through the trees. The rain started somewhere around 3 am or 4 am by my guessing. The sound of it served to knock me back out into a dream-ridden deep sleep. Gently impacting upon my tent cover as it fell through the tree cover, still green with the passing summer. The cool 39 degree, and crisp, air outside contrasting with my body heat filled one man tent that I was nestled inside. Warm, sleeping and happy. I slept 9 hours in fact. It’s amazing what the outdoors can do for our general health and patterns.

I got up the next day, broke camp early and went into Circleville to have breakfast before the Hike Ohio group was to meet at 10 am for the Lake Hargus trail loop. There were about 30 or so of us. I had to tie my boot lace one more time so I ended up bringing up the rear, which was fine, but there were a couple folks who were really physically struggling. One guy made me nervous, and several other hikers as well. We all gave him the full path ahead without complicating things by passing him. Some distance. I was afraid that he would suddenly tumble down one of the hills with his big wooden hiking stick flailing about like a baseball bat.

He eventually dropped off the trail with two other folks but we were effectively cut off from the larger group at that point. Still, the four of us made fast friends and we explored the trail system. Stumbling upon an old cemetery with dates like 186x, 1812, and so on, over these lichen-covered weathered headstones with barely visible writing. From there we caught the blue blazed lake trail and came upon great views of the shores, tree lines, walking through marinas and talking about fishing and canoeing/kayaking.

One of the guys I made friends with today talked about my camping last night and that I should have put a notice out about that on the group channel. I told him I opted not to because I didn’t want to sound creepy. He allayed those fears saying that a lot of people probably would have been into that. Thinking about that possibility made me consider what those campfire conversations would have looked like. So yeah, maybe next time John.

The five of us, we picked up a latecomer, ended our excursion with lunch at Brew Dog. I’d had their beers before, but I’d never been to the facility in Washington Courthouse before. Totally awesome. Really enjoyed the place.

Next up is a 13-mile hike in Great Seal Park this coming Sunday. I plan to not fall behind on this one, shoelaces first, and try to camp out again in the even smaller, non-reservable, campsites in the park. The cool thing about these two hikes is that they are super close to Columbus. Like within an hour or less. While I love Columbus, she always has a way of surprising me with these hidden gems. I’m looking forward to more weekends outdoors as the leaves fall from the trees and the shadows grow longer. There are definitely campfires in my future. I can almost smell them.

Posted in outdoors

First hike & camping trip of autumn

September was a crazy good month for me but it wore me out in some areas. Starting with the Olympic Mountain hike and ending with a week in Orlando at Microsoft Ignite. It was a very good month overall. Still, change is ever present and as we near the middle of October I am feeling the need to get back outdoors again so I have signed up for two hikes with the good folks from Hike Ohio and decided to do a solo hike through the Dolly Sods during the last week of October.

This weekend starts with an overnight camping trip at H. W.Marion State Park. A chance to light a fire, eat and read outside, make tea and look at the stars on Saturday night. Then I plan to break camp after breakfast and meetup with the group and join them for the Lake Argus loop trail. Somewhere between 7 & 8 miles from the sounds of it.

I guess it’s time to repair my loose chest strap on my backpack, lay everything out and pack it up for the first hiking trip of the autumn season. I’m hoping to catch some great fall colors, make new friends, and enjoy some natural beauty while sending out major grateful vibes for the ability to be able to do this stuff at all. Truth be told, if I could, I’d leave more often, for longer periods of time and probably end up with horrible worse table manners if I had a choice.

Lake Hargus Trail

Posted in outdoors

Tapas & conversation

There was a boy who decided to carry a shield in the 6th grade. His dad’s old briefcase. He was looking for a way to feel important. Something more. A validation of his internal compass being slightly different than that of all the other boys around him. Or so it seemed at the time. His friends, rightly, warned him that this was tantamount to putting a target his back however he was not able to hear that. Until tonight when that boy, now a man, had dinner with a woman who he met back in sixth grade. The one who gave him those warnings. The one who used to duck out of school, taking a back route, to avoid the bullying that was ever present for both of us. Me as a confused gay kid and her as a confused transsexual person. Equally distant from our true selves as children, but with all the markup that brought us to tonight at Barcelona restaurant in German Village.

Truth be told, I was nervous all week. I spoke with my husband and my best friend about it in fact. Not in the friendship I have with her today. But in the awareness of all the insidious ways that my own privilege of knowing my gender so easily matches my genitalia and the socialization that is part of my programming which can have a way of making others feel less. I have trans contacts, yes, but this is my first childhood ally who was brave enough to realize a new and open reality. I was nervous I would inadvertently say the wrong thing. Use the wrong pronoun. Default to old names that were no longer relevant. I felt intensely aware of the cadence of the conversation and tried to make sure I made every effort to embrace the woman before me as nothing less than one of the bravest, strongest, most courageous and honest people I have ever met in my lifetime. A true friend.

Oddly enough, there was an On Being mailer this week, I love that podcast, it provided the following quote by Gustavo Santaolalla.

“I’d like not to think that [in] every phase in my life, I leave phases behind. In my country, we say ‘Yo ya supere eso’ — ‘Already, I’m over that.’ Now I’m in another phase of my life. And I always thought that it was better to try to keep on adding to your life. Let’s say you have the child, then the teen, then the young man. You carry these people with you.”

It reminds me of the closing scene from Beautiful Boxer, which I watched when I lived in Dallas, where the main character sits on a bus stop, as a beautiful woman, and looks to her side and sees the boy, the young man, the athletic and muscular boxer, the troubled trans person, all sitting beside her as individual people. But, all, the same person.

The saddest part of the night for me though was that my friend, and her wife who joined us tonight, have a “backup plan.” Money set aside for a quick escape should things get violent. An actual escape route to Canada. With gas tank volume, time, and mileage calculations. Then onto Germany or Norway. Places where it is thought to be safer for trans folks and their families. That there is a climate of violence against trans people brings me back to the days of Mathew Sheppard, and countless other horrific events. The days when gay/bi men & women had to hide for fear of bashing, unemployment, loss of family. The, not so far away days when gay/bi folk could not dance together in public under “fire laws” in Columbus Ohio. Or had to speak through a sliding window built into a door of a hidden back alley bar to gain entrance. Or being left with little option but to adopt a dangerous practice of cruising in alleys and public parks just to get off as we all stood outside of acceptable culture. The whole situation smacks of persecution in the form of fear. It always has.

I spent years of my early manhood working through the process of coming out. I spent decades more debugging my code to extricate the internalized homophobia that I picked up along the way of growing up. When my friend reminded me tonight of the briefcase I carried, and the warnings she gave me as a 6th grade child born into the wrong body, I am left feeling like, maybe there is credence to the idea that we meet the people we do for a reason after all. I’m gay. My friend is trans. We are both in technology fields for great companies. Both of our bosses are women. While change is constant. It is a slow, glacial powerful force.

Tonight left me feeling like I have work to do for the trans community. Work to do for diversity in tech, and in the world at large. It also left me with the hope that things are changing and that I know how to continue to carry that as far as I am able to do so.

Well, that and friendship over a good meal with inspiring people. That’s the best that anyone can hope for in my opinion. Life is best when it’s full of open love and fulfillment after all.

Posted in personal

Eggplant Parmesan, pro-rock climbers & books

Made a decent dinner tonight from a Mediterranean cookbook. A smoky/spicy eggplant parmesan with a couple eggplants Eddie picked up from the local farmers market tonight. It was a great way to end a complicated day. I’m preparing to travel to Microsoft Ignite next week and the demands of the office in advance of this are a little more immediate right now. It’s hard, at times, to get people to see beyond a simple need for an application to “rule them all.” I usually see this when a various organization has a tool that they want to drive enterprise-wide adoption. One of the folks I work with commented that every tool seems to be competing against the other to some degree with this misguided notion as the rationalization. There is a better path. One that gives proper weight and space to a variety of tools. All while setting up any single tool in a way that gives the best value to the entire organization. I’ve never believed that control is better than a purpose-driven offering. AS I argued though, it’s the value we build into our platform that makes a tool stand out. Not forced adoption guardrails… or in this case, noise. Ah well, another day awaits and with it more opportunities to try again.

It’s funny also that I just finished “The Longest Mile” by Jeremy Jones tonight. Short trail log kind of book about three guys who walked about 60 miles through the Smokies together over 6 days. It’s hard to tell actually how long they made it as the record and account seemed to change throughout the book. If I do sit down and write my account of this past year of hiking and camping my way to face fear, this is not the kind of book I intend to write. It was enjoyable. Made me laugh and think about my own mistakes and inexperience. The fact that this was his first hammock experience? Well, that was me earlier this year at my favorite gay campground Freedom Valley where the guys all decked up with 8 person tents for 1 (or hopefully 2) thought of me as an oddity. I loved Jeremy’s struggle with knots. I definitely share that in common with him as well.

Next on the reading list are “Zen in the Age of Anxiety” by Tim Burket and “These Truths” by Jill Lepore. Reading is an escape for me. Makes me think. I love reading cookbooks too. And yet, after having a moment of panic earlier today where I had to go find a room to myself and work through some breathing exercises. Probably because of my own internal reaction to challenging someone who was challenging me back. Confrontation is not my favorite thing. But sometimes it’s part of the work. Always calm, cool and professional. That’s the goal anyway. But it comes with a cost. For some of us, it’s moments where there’s a physiological cascade of baseless anxiety.

While I was waiting for the peach cobbler to bake off before starting the eggplant dish I picked up the copy of Esquire Magazine that came yesterday. I read an Alex Honnold interview by Brandy Langmann titled “On How Not To Be Afraid of Fear” (this is in a full series of feature interviews, so do a page search for it by his name if so inclined to find it). The idea that we, more specifically myself, place ourselves in situations that are intended to face our fears… when in reality we are simply maneuvering through them blew my mind. It was the key to my whole entire year so far in less than 500 words. Boom! Mind blown. This guy is evidently a Rockstar climber who is often times in situations that can end his life by a simple change in the wind and an easy mistake. What he closes with though is gold. That it’s better to face fear in increments. To learn the difference between actual fear that is worthy of our attention… and fucking anxiety. I am definitely going to explore this more. It’s exactly what I wanted my hike through the Olympics, Burr Oak, and Lake Vesuvius to be about. Being away from an easy call out to 911 if I have another heart attack. Forcing myself to find joy again and stop worrying about every damn day about the next. It’s crippling. But I’m working through it slowly. I can definitely say, Alex, is absolutely right.

 

Posted in food, personal, professional

On the edge of autumn

There is still a smell of my first fall meal in the air of my home tonight. I found a recipe for titled “Sheet-Pan Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Peppers” in the New York times today. It was this beautiful combination of flavours that had a little bit in common with jerk seasoning but more floral-aromatic-sweet yet earthy and hearty at the same time.

I think I am still physically recovering from my Olympic Mountain hike now too. My left knee has been talking to me along with my left thigh which probably used all of its force to propel my frame and my 50-pound pack weight up the mountains and back down last week. My run at the YMCA at lunch today was my first since leaving Portland. Not painful but felt like stretching, cracking the spine of a book and liberating at the same time.

Today was one of those days where I am simply left feeling grateful for the totality of everything. I am missing a camping trip this weekend I had planned, which seriously bums me out, but I plan to use that time to go visit Nick for the first time in a long while. Spend time with Eddie. Maybe start a writing project and get ready for Microsoft Ignite the following weekend for the coming week. I guess, maybe, for the moment anyway, it’s time to retreat and be thankful for a few days. I just had one of the best summers of my life. Yeah, there were challenges and demons, but damn, this stretch of hot summer months have been so good to me. I feel full of warmth and possibility again.

Tomorrow’s plans start at 5 am with decaf coffee and a walk up to the YMCA with Eddie to go workout together. Weights are on the agenda for me for the first time in a while now that the 90 mile hike is over. I guess the seasons have officially changed for me at last. Who knows, I may actually sign up for the 15k race in November called the Hot Chocolate, just to nod at the last three and a half years with a smile and a warm heart.

Time for bed. But I wanted to take a stab at putting thoughts to words to leave a record of what I think being lucky feels like.

Posted in food, personal

Life and patterns

One of my history professors used to say “history never repeats itself… but it is very fond of patterns.”

Having spent the afternoon with my parents talking through the trip I just took and catching up on various life and family matters in the Breece clan I discovered something that made me think of the previous statement. I got my book on the Smoky Mountains recently and am starting to plan some hikes for next year already. When I saw the sections of Clingmans Dome, I said to myself, I am going to hike a small section of the AT to go out to that spot and back again in 2019 if I can.

This is where history and its fondness for patterns comes into play. Evidently, my dad, grandparents, and a couple of my uncles did the same thing decades ago. This is when my dad still had his eyesight. It made that bell go off inside me that said this is exactly one of those moments that was meant to happen. Like life itself was steering me toward some design pattern.

It made me feel even more grateful for the lessons and patience that my parents have showered upon me while growing up as a boy and even more so as a man. I have a great deal of admiration for them both.

Next up? Hunkering down for the upcoming Fall season, getting back out on the running trail and swimming pool, and, of course, planning more outdoor adventures.

Posted in outdoors, personal

End of the road

Safe and sound back in Portland Oregon with my buddy Doug. Once we got back to his home from a hearty pasta lunch and a trip to Zupan’s he got straight down to the business of resuming his life and the things that bring him joy. This included making a wonderful dinner for the three of us. It’s one of my last nights here at the tail end of nothing short of a transformational journey. One that started, for me, last year. Well really, it started three years ago last April actually. Regardless, his husband asked a question of Doug, “do you think you could have done this without doing all the preparation work you did? Carrying your pack six miles a day across the bridge and working out?” The answer was of course yes. But what I held back to myself was a counter. I think that all the work that we both did in advance of the single hardest physical challenges he and I have ever faced could not have been done without each other for one. But mostly, without the mental preparedness for the harshness of the backcountry. While beautiful, and worth every hardship, it’s a lot like running a long distance race. Like the 20 mile race I did a couple years ago. That one taught me that I am a tough son-of-a-bitch. I just didn’t know it at the time. There are challenges that we face where we, sometimes, find ourselves. This trip? This journey? Well, it was definitely one of those for the both of us.

I used the word “transformational” earlier. I set out on this trek with the goal of putting fear in my path, setting my sight on it and then, walking by it. That’s exactly what happened too. I am already planning a trip in my head to see Fall colors in a place called Dolly Sods in West Virginia on a solo 20+ mile backpacking trip. A trip to the Smokies, 30 miles in and out to see Clingmans Dome and do a small portion of the Appalachian Trail. And, possibly, some more of the National Park systems through regions that my mom and dad introduced me to as a kid on our cross country treks to California while I was growing up. That’s another thing. Through all this, I realized I owe them a huge debt for fostering a sense of enjoying the outdoors in me as a kid. Yeah, I hated it at the time. But damn if I don’t think back to both of them every time I am sleeping outside and saying “thank you.”

The text below was a note I sent out to my own husband, family and friends back home before the last day of our trek. Before we’d face the toughest challenge on the trail before us. One that brought my friend Doug to tears at the summit of his mountain some 5700 feet above sea level shoulder to shoulder with an entire range of mountains lined up like jewels in a crown before us. To be honest though, I had my moment of tears when I collapsed on the ground after I unfurled my bedroll in the dirt on top of another mountain where we reached Hoh Lake after the most extreme climb I ever summited in my life. That is until, of course, the last and final ascent to Hurricane Hill – which turned everything inside me upside down and inside out.

Lastly, I want to thank my best friend Doug for going on this journey with me. I could not have done it without his planning, preparation, and enthusiasm. You truly are my brother in every sense of that word and I love you. To Char and Gary for their hospitality and the pink spork. My husband for letting me go and pushing me toward the many and varied doors that my crazy life purpose frenetically points toward. Eddie, my heart starts and ends with you. Always.

On to the synopsis.

Note; The use of “today” below refers to Sunday August 2nd before we headed back out for the final and most grueling/rewarding day of the trip.

So, as planned, we hiked out of the Elwha dam (webcam from what is left of the dam facing outward) territory yesterday and got picked up by Doug’s friend Char for a night of comfort before we tackle the last hike of the trip today. One of the motivators all week was the idea of having a good meal at a local restaurant called Nourish. Gluten free, but on par with a popular place in a larger City that Sequim, small that it is, has a quality and flavor that denotes a marriage between the simple and sublime. All in one awesome little waterfront town. Of course, true to myself, I criticized them for several points of service quietly, for once, to Doug… you can take the boy out of the restaurant but you can’t take the restaurant out of the boy. Anyway, I will write up all of my notes and share some of Doug’s photos in the coming weeks. But for now, here are some highlights.

We walked through a real rainforest, with massive trees covered in dense mossy vegetation that looked as if it were dripping from the enormous branches reaching far higher than anything I have ever seen in person. Made friends with the elk, along the trail, at a distance. Filtered water from the beautiful Hoh River nestled between the mountain peaks we were about to climb in the coming days. My one regret is that I cut my audio recorder in favor of saving on pack weight as the sound of this place was absolutely wonderful. I would love to have brought that home to my dad who is blind not to mention capturing a moment that even a photo can’t hope to frame.

We faced a massive climb from there up to Hoh Lake. Serious. This day was probably the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life. 33 switchbacks, according to one guide, up 4500 feet above sea level in just 5 miles. It nearly killed us. But we had these views of not so far off peaks like the glacier-covered Olympic Mountain and it’s sisters all around. Clouds were literally touching our heads as they rolled over the heavily forested summit we were walking across.

At that elevation, we started to encounter clusters of black bears who were 100% focused on eating as much of the loganberries which were all over the mountainside, ripe and sweet, as they could in order to fatten up for winter. We walked from Hoh Lake down 3000 feet through this nearly J.R.R. Tolkien forest which was lit by golden light falling through the distant treetops tinting the sunbeams with a greenish yellow hue as it hit the reddish forest floor with a shimmer of summer promise along our path. There were so many streams and rivulets that it was almost like walking through some forest orchestra playing soft movements of sound and life to entertain us. Or at least give pause to think about how a forest system works like a single organism.

We had to trek back up 4000+ feet to Heart Lake, part of the Seven Lakes Basin, the “jewels of the Olympics” as Doug described it, where we broke camp in a hurry as it was raining, cold, densely foggy and our spirits were low. This was our short day where we were at camp early so we could try to continue to recover from the Tuesday hike which left us both decimated. Anyway, it was still raining and so I rolled the tent cover into my bedroll which hung off the back of my pack and we headed off to a place called Appleton Pass. It included walking between two peaks of two mountains with a huge climb up to 5200 feet. The maps said we were in for about 11 miles. Wrong. We tracked about 20 miles on foot that day to arrive at a place called Boulder Creek. This was our last night of camping in the Olympic National Park.

Our trek out the next morning was a walk through the closed Elwha dam network. The dam had been destroyed in 2012 to help promote salmon habitats. We walked down a now unused and blocked off paved road the whole 3400 feet to an elevation of a mere 100 feet of elevation where we walked to a parking lot where Doug’s friend Char picked us up. She’s this amazingly warm and wonderful being who truly reminds me of Ruth Gordon’s character from the film “Harold & Maude.”

We are shedding our 45+ pound backpacks, mine full to capacity with two bear cans, the big one and a smaller one for trash, his with a four-person tent and a whole lot of other bare minimum essentials for a trek like this. Both flirting with 50 lbs thresholds and heavier than anything we’ve done to date. Our packs today are just day packs with a water bladder, lunch, and some small supplies. Like maybe 7 pounds with any luck with trek poles as our climb today is back up 5800 feet up Hurricane Hill. A link to something that may not be exact but looks like our hike today.

It’s been an incredible effort but totally worth the time in planning, expense in equipment procurement, time away from home and the people I love given that I feel privileged to see something that won’t exist for much longer as climate change and lawmakers continue to erode habitats like the varied and unique ones I have walked in, over ~80/90+ miles, through this week.

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