Jul 30, 2013

Gearing up

Angel's Sadistic Regime is working. There's less leg wobble. At least I think so. My JMT mindset is shifting from hypothetical to the applied. I could be doing the hike. I should be elated. I'm annoyed.

Last weekend I humped a few hills in the Santa Monica Mountains with Duane. We did a nifty 10-mile loop to Sandstone Peak. An ocean breeze took the edge off the afternoon heat. The peak sports a spectacular glinting view of the Pacific which we enjoyed with a crowd of west-side weekenders and two dogs. Everyone was friendly. It was a moment of hiker contentment.

On the way home we got stuck in a two-hour traffic jam on the Pacific Coast Highway. We talked about gear. Duane is passionate about gear. He's a resolute student and fiercely committed to the principles of light and cheap. His pack is the model of economy. You won't find a plastic sink in there. Nothing that can be made is bought: his stove is made from soda cans, ground cover from paint tarp, cozies from windshield shade. He assures me I can do the same. He suggested I start reading the lightweight backpacking blogs.

So, I've been surfing. There's terabytes of gear gurus squabbling about everything from tents to toe socks. It's unsettling. Each site brings less joy. A guy walks 10,000 miles in tennis shoes, shorts and one pair of underwear and the contents of his pack becomes a topic for doctrinal study. A another guy relishes camping on a heap of snow in zero degrees and declares his open tarp tent is comfortable. A millennial triathlete finds enlightenment in unheated, re-hydrated food and decries hiking with a stove. Did I mention Joe Blow, the gear glutton, from the Appalachian woods who posts a YouTube every 3rd day with a new cuben fiber gizmo? (FYI, cuben fiber is the unassailable, gold-plated solution to base weight.) And then there's this parade of vendor-appointed trail ambassadors who lend credibility to this acquisitive hubbub because they've 'tested' every gizmo on the trail and ferreted out every problem down to that extra stitch in the hip belt.

Who are these people? Are they made of wool? How come they don't need clean underwear? Don't they need coffee?

All this lightweight chest beating hurts my ears. The manic hunger for new gear horrifies me. The cost is stupefying. A cuben fiber trap tent is over $500. A cuben fiber quilt (i.e. sleeping bag without a zipper) is $300. A guru-approved pair of underwear is $50. Pity the poor bastard who has to settle for rip-stop nylon and cotton briefs.

I'm not sure why the gurus are so annoying. Sure a heavy pack sucks and a light pack sucks less. It might be that I'm just cheap. I've been broke. I've felt the shame of having to borrow the rent to keep my stuff off the sidewalk. Never again. My wife reminds me that we're now secure, and that, unlike my parents, we are not about to go bankrupt and that I should stop acting proud about my financial neurosis. In my heart of hearts, I think she's incautious.

More likely, I don't believe in providential design. At school I carried a silk-screened "Question Authority" banner. I'm not stopping now. I don't want to be told what makes me comfortable. I don't want to spend my remaining days seeking gear perfection. It's fine for your 10,000 mile true-thru who carries free gear which she wears like a sandwich board. Or, your old-salt who sews his own cuben fiber, dehydrates his own peas, and sleeps soundly in the rain. My prefered plan: a day trip to REI. Kaboom. Done. I've never gone wrong at REI.

But, you can't un-know. Now I'm obsessed with tents. The lightweight gurus would have me under a single walled tarp. I'm not made of wool. I want a double-walled shelter. Bug screen. Rainfly. Bathtub floor. Maybe even a ground cloth! I care nothing of their derision!

I'm worn out. The search has gotten the better of me. I think I'll purchase the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL-1. It's too expensive, but for rip-stop nylon, it's the lightest tent on the market. And, it's at REI.

I wonder what Duane will think.

Jul 19, 2013

Camo Man

Trail Report:
Eaton Canyon
Bench on shoulder to Yale Peak
(elevation  ± 2800 ft)
Today’s miles:
10 miles
Total Trip:
10 miles

The days are long. I start my hike after lunch. There will be plenty of time to get back. We're meeting friends for dinner.

It is hot. A grey haze wafts over the city. I'm carrying a full 2-liter Platypus, an extra nalgene pint (in case of bladder leaks) and 5 pounds of ankle weights. Too soon to carry the 10-pound bags of cat litter.

I once met a hiker who called this route Rattlesnake trail. It slithers up a 500-foot slope over eroded sandy deposits and old red sediment to the toll road. The older sediment is on top since the land got tilted up when the Pacific plate burrowed under the North American Plate. The climb is steep. It's not just the tilt; it's the erosion. On the next ridge, there's insanely precipitous slump where mud once slid into the wash. A death-wish social trail skirts the 250-foot slump scarp. Every now and then kids fool around up there. These mountains are dangerous. Four or five die every year just a mile or two from these neighborhoods.

The red sediment is brick hard and hot. I lean in to the slope as if in a stiff wind. The trail joins the toll road a half-mile up. An oak-shaded glen sits at the junction. Most weekenders stop here. Off in a corner, behind a stand Laurel Sumac and Mountain Mahogany, there's an unauthorized pee zone. The brush back there is papered like a homecoming party. The next chance at relief is 2 miles and 1,000 feet up.

I quicken my pace on the toll road. The ascent is a persistent, shadeless trudge. To the right, the city stretches out to the horizon. The sea glints in the distance. I meditate on the comfort of eons exposed in the road cuts. My mind wanders to enduring affronts from managers, neighbors and bureaucrats. I sweat profusely. My eyes sting. I reflect for a while on deep worries about home and lingering obligations. My heart beats arrhythmically. It's the heat. I'm light-headed. I push on. Could an arrhythmia impact a thru hike? I slow to manage rhythm and breath. Heart, legs, feet. Breathe. Conserve energy. I'm cruising.

Mt. Lowe, Mt Markham and San Gabriel Peak
I step on to the Fiji Campground in under an hour. Not bad. The leg seems OK. I douse my head and lay on a table. Western Bluebirds flitter from trunk to branch. A breeze passes through the Coulter Pines. I stare at the city.There's no sound except the rustle in the trees.

After ten minutes I am rejuvenated and resume the climb to the Heliopad junction. The air has cleared. The peaks in the 2nd range come into view: Mt. Lowe, Mt. Markham and San Gabriel Peak lay to the west across upper Eaton Canyon. I can make out vestiges of the old trail to upper Eaton Falls on the next ridge. Somewhere around here local climbers bushwhack across the canyon to a diorite wall above Eaton Creek. Search and rescue lift someone out every weekend of the summer.

The road curves round to the shadows on the north slope. The chaparral gives way to a middle montane forest of live oak and poison oak. I blast past the Idlehour trail head and start up the last 4 switchbacks to the Yale Peak saddle. As I climb, the woods thicken. It's cooler. Someone has chalked an ominous happy face with a jaw-bone smile. Ahead are blooming Showy Penstemon and ferns hanging from the silt road cuts. I attract a following of black flies. I wave my stick like a wiper keeping them at bay. A breeze stirs the forest. Bright red leaves drift decoratively onto the road from shedding poison oaks. A doe and two fawns scamper into the clear. They pause and then dart down the mountain. The flies are swarming and biting. I quicken my pace and break free on the saddle where it's gusting. I hold my hat.

A thing of beauty
This is my stopping place. There's a grand view. The Mt. Wilson solar telescopes towers seem close, closer than the 3 miles and 1,500 feet. I rest on the split-long bench behind a large Jeffery Pine. I loosen my boots, close my eyes, chew a Picky Bar. I can hear California Quail. All is tranquil. My leg tingles, but I'm not concerned. The ultra-types call on deep reserve and can-do determination. Many survive to write blogs.

Time to hike out or be late. It's two hours back down. The down slope is easy going, but the leg starts to numb up. I lean on my sticks. No one is ever up here. In the blogs, true thrus look after each other. They share meals and campsites. They go by trail names. The San Gabriels is not like that. But, I have no worries. My leg will get stronger.

I round the corner of the fourth switchback, pass the ominous smiley face and see this hiker step across the Idlehour bridge onto the toll road. I wave. We meet on the landing.

He points down the road. "Does that get me to Henninger? Is there water there?"

"You'll need a filter. It's not potable." He drops his pack. I hand him my Nalgene pint. He drinks thirstily. "Take it all."

He looks tired.

"Where'd you come from?"

"I hiked down from Wilson and slept at Idlehour. The flies are bad." He's right on that score. I'd cover every inch of skin if I camped there. It's a misery.

He's shorter than me.  Beardless and red headed. He has creepy cruel eyes with no eyelids.  He's cammo'ed up. Boots, pants, shirt, hat. He carries a big pack. He probably has a Cabela's catalog in there. What's not so funny is that he has an 18-inch machete and skinning knife hanging from his webbing. A crossbow dangles from a shoulder sling.

I point to the crossbow "Looks like that thing could be dangerous."

He smirks. "No one tell you there's bear and mountain lion around here?" He empties the pint into his canteen and hands back the empty.

"I think it's illegal to hunt here."

"Gonna arrest me?"

I'm not arresting anybody, particularly somebody with a skinning knife and 18-inch-machete. Camo man gives me this 'I see what you're thinking' look. The most dangerous thing in the mountains is some guy with a missing screw. I'm a bit spooked.  He is probably messing with me.  I wasn't hanging around to find out for sure.

"Gotta go.  " I take off with the most insouciant stride I can muster. "See ya.  Take care."

"Later dude and thanks for the water!"

Until I am past Henniger, I half expected an arrow. I am probably over reacting. Maybe I shouldn't be so dismissive about the risks up here. Perhaps I shouldn't disparage suggestions from my wife that I stop hiking alone. Perhaps that ominous smiley face is an omen.

Jul 15, 2013


It's been on my mind since I was outpaced by Mr. Country club. Unless you're living it, you don't really know. Getting old doesn't just happen to other people.

It comes on slowly. At first there's these little astonishments. The mechanic refers to your new car as an 'older model.' The cops look like kids. Your favorite books have faded on the shelf. The underwear drawer looks like its filled with cleaning rags. Before long you develop an indifference to food stains, forgotten zippers, and mismatched socks. Then you'll notice that the eyes don't focus, your best friend's name eludes you, your hair grows in the wrong places and you must grunt to get out of a cozy chair. About that time you could detect a tingling in the toes, ringing in the ears, a persistent change like a wonky leg, and the daily jolt from what peers back in the mirror. But those are niggling irritations compared to recognizing that all those old people are your peers and realizing that you are part of nature's disappearing act.

No point in being distracted by the inevitable. I'm doubling down. Starting today, I resume Angel's Sadistic Physical Therapy regimen.

The Royal Corps of Signals Memorial - geograph.org.uk - 1566933
Look closely,
the knee is wobbling
In one humbling routine, you place one foot on a step, hold your arms akimbo and slide your other foot into the air. In this precarious balance, you do one-legged knee bends and try to keep your knee from wobbling. Desperation is a stronger incentive than hope.

Meanwhile, the word is out. My wife has been on the phone talking to our friends. "He's going to hike the John Muir Trail."

They are an over-educated, opinionated lot who all hiked before raising families and grinding out the competitive challenges of an 80-hour work week. We collectively refer to that time as 'when we were younger.' It's now a favorite topic of conversation second only to the latest malady.

Just yesterday I was talking to my old college buddy Swonk, the certified, know-it-all. He's accumulated enough letters after his name to create an alphabet. "I hear you're going to hike the John Muir Trail?"


"Good to know." Swonk is non-committal when most disapproving.

Siobhan, Swonk's wife, and my wife are fast friends. Siobhan is the bright light among us. Even her teenagers seem to want her company. It must have something to do with her annoyingly positive temperament and infectiously endearing humor. In the background I heard her say, "I think he should do it." I prefer Swonk's disingenuous approval; it seems more reliable.

My neighbor Don is always ready to share his thoughts. He does this fabulous Foghorn Leghorn imitation. "Well son, do you need to borrow a gun?" He wasn't just ribbing me. He grew up with guns, carried an M-16 and a M-21 in Nam and has an arsenal in a locked cabinet. I don't own a gun. He thinks I am an idiot going into bear country unarmed.

Our friend Tim is encouraging because he's well meaning and Sofie suggests caution because she confuses worry with truth. Nancy is sympathetic to the idea, but quick to provide ready-made excuses in the likely event of failure. Jim is worried sick. Then there's Bill who thinks it's a grand idea because he can see Mount Baldy from his Century City office and Connie who, in her reliably plain-spoken manner, thinks I'm utterly out of my mind.

By contrast our talented millennial friends Addie, Jimmy and Julie, Mitch and Kymie are all enthusiastically supportive, but their judgement is impaired by a moral obligation to respect elders. They are only just learning the frustration of having your parents ignore your advice.

For the most part, I can't say much. How do you explain the stirring of the walk, the changing landscape, the vistas? The best thing is to just get up the hill and stick with Angel's Sadistic Physical Therapy.

Jul 13, 2013

The Point of Inspiration

Trail Report:
July 12, '3
Echo Mountain, Altadena
Lower Sam Merrill trail/Mt. Lowe Railway/Castle Canyon
(elevation  ± 2800 ft)
Today’s miles:
Total Trip:

The Lower Sam Merrill Trail is built like an Interstate and about as busy. It's an exposed hike up Echo Mountain with a hazy, 100-mile view over the city to the Pacific.

I hardly notice the view anymore. I've walked this trail dozens of times. The track is well-graded. The switchbacks come in a delightfully mindless progression. Just the thing to meditate on any ominous twinges in the left leg.

Few make the trek above Echo Mountain. It's as quiet as a remote area in the Sierras. The walk up the Lower Sam Merrill trail is another matter. If conditions are decent, you can count on a conga line of aspiring triathletes, hand-holding, doe-eyed couples on their 3rd date and yammering clumps high-schoolers looking to smoke pot away from any meddlesome authority. No way to get in the zone. However, if you head out in the misery of a summer afternoon, aside from the occasional heat-stroke victim or anxiously-unemployed millennial, its pretty peaceful.

Archive video of the Funicular and Mt. Lowe Railway
About a century ago, Echo Mountain was a major tourist attraction. Millions visited. They came to ride a scenic tram called the Mount Lowe Railway and hike well-maintained trails to back-country resorts.

The tram was built in the 1890s by Col. Thaddeus Lowe and David Macpherson. Macpherson was a Cornell educated civil engineer who worked on the first electric trolleys in San Francisco. Lowe was an inventor, tycoon and Civil War veteran who served as the Chief Aeronuat of the Union Army Balloon Corps. He made his fortune in LA as and ice-maker and banker.

The old tram line ran 4 miles through the mountains. The first stretch tight roped above the heights of Las Flores Canyon, zigzagged up and around the crest, passed over an excavated granite ledge above a deep gorge called the Grand Canyon and landed on a saddle at the base of Mount Lowe.
Mt Lowe
Funicular carried tourists
to the Mt. Lowe Railway

Back then there was no need to hike up to Echo Mountain. Lowe and Macpherson built a funicular that made a breath-taking 1,300 foot climb to tram platform. It was an engineering marvel.

Lowe also built a pair of luxury hotels atop Echo Mountain. There was fine dining: you could order Consomme with Cheese Straw, Roast Quail on Toast or Champagne Punch. There was dancing, music, tennis and bowling. The world's largest searchlight was bolted atop one of the hotels. And, just up the hill, guests could visit a public observatory and watch the stars through an impressive 4 1/2" refractor. The complex could be seen from Pasadena. They called it 'The White City.'

Ye Alpine Tavern
(Here's a link to more cool photos)
At the tram terminus, Lowe built a chalet called the 'Ye Alpine Tavern.' The Tavern lay at the hub of trail network that headed off to back country resorts. Switzer's Resort was off to the northwest. Martin's Camp and Strayn's Mt. Wilson Resort were off to the northeast. Beyond lay Valley Forge, West Forks and Devore. Castle Canyon provided a scenic descent past Inspiration Point. It was a hiker's paradise.

Today, there's not much left. Fires, windstorms and floods have reduced it all to rubble. The foundations remain as a dim reminder. The tram is now a fire road. A few odd ties still poke up from the old rail bed. These past glories are mostly lost since few in the conga line know the history.

I planned to take the Sam Merrill up to the tram junction, hook a left to the Alpine Tavern and return past Inspiration Point via Castle Canyon for a rush-hour descent on the Sam Merrill. It's a waterless 3-liter hike but once you're over the ridge it's a very private vertical landscape. I was a little concerned about trail erosion on the catwalk above Castle Canyon since last time I walked there, it was dicey.
Buttressed portions of
Lower Sam Merrill Trail

I pushed my weak left leg while ascending Sam Merrill. Each step was an endurance test. Was it strong enough? It would have be strong for any sort of thru hike. I don't need a fifty-thousand-dollar helicopter ride. One thing about hiking, little things can become big in a hurry.

I gained the tram junction in less than hour. Not bad for a hot day. I hooked a left up the tramway trail. I was studying one of the old bridge foundations when this guy came scurrying up.

"Hey! Is this the way to Point Inspiration?"

I pointed up over the hogback. "About 4 miles just past the Alpine Tavern."

"Sounds good. Mind if I join you? I could use a cold drink." He said that without irony.

I told him the place burned down 80 years ago, but didn't say a thing about the tram, the hotels or the champagne punch. We set off for the Cape of Good Hope. I was undecided about this turn of events. Didn't matter. It's not like I own the trail.

He didn't seem much like a hiker. He was dressed more for a country club than the country. He wore a long-billed cap with a designer logo, polo shirt with an alligator, shorts with cuffs, and socks that didn't cover his ankles. No day or fanny pack; he just held a quart of Evian. Appearances are misleading. I had better boots but I had to rush to keep pace.

He was quite friendly and talkative. "Are you from around here? I used to live in Venice. I live in Portland now." "Do you hike here often? I used to hike Sycamore Canyon all the time. There's great hiking in Portland. I hike this place call Forest Park along the Columbia River."   I know that spot, it's actually along the Willamette River. It's an easy mistake to make.

Mount Lowe Railway circular bridge
Mount Lowe Railway circular bridge
He chattered on as we turned the Cape and made our way up the switchbacks to the Circular Bridge. I stopped to take in the expanse of LA. There was a trestle there once. The tram turned a wide 180 there. Passengers would have had a mid-air panorama.

"I kinda miss LA," he said.  "But I don't miss the parking."

From that point we marched north along the well-graded road cut. The geology up there is a hodge podge. There's a few granite intrusions, but mostly it's metaphosed ocean bottom that crumbles when scraped and turns to mud when saturated. McPhee says the San Gabriels are the fastest eroding range in the lower 48.

Granite Gate
The power line supports still protrude from the rock
We were just passing the granite gate he asked, "What do you do?"

Why does that question seem so out of place on the trail? At a party, sure. Everybody know that it's a cypher for "why should I talk to you?" I remember the day I got the job at Solar System Labs. People would say "how cool is that!" It gave me confidence. I used to dread parties.

The trail is different. The elite don't work. They hike. They are broke. All that matters is the frontier of personal limits. Pushing past endurance. Conquering fears. They talk about their hikes, their near disasters, not their jobs.

"I'm a photographer. I'm in town for a few gigs," he said. Tomorrow we're shooting a jewelry catalog and a magazine layout. Next week, I've got a porn shoot. Saturday, I'm shooting some portraits for this law firm. But, I used to do fashion. Then the all the digital stuff along. Now everyone is a photographer."

"Do you like Portland?"

"I don't know many people. It's only been a year. I used to live in Chicago to be near my daughter. When I lost our house, my wife and I split up. We met at Art Center. She moved back to Chicago to be with her family. My daughter is in boarding school now. No point in staying. We text all the time."

"Sounds kinda lonely."


At that point, we needed to pick up the pace. The afternoon was getting on. I felt for this guy. How come someone else's misfortune makes you feel better about what you have? How many social ills come from that?

We cruised past the Tavern's ruins and headed over to Inspiration Point for a snack. I gave him one of my Picky Bars.

We chewed in a thoughtful silence.  Inspiration Point does have a grand view of the Basin. You can peer through one of the welded-pipe 'telescopes' that point to Catalina, Santa Anita, or the Rose Bowl. On a clear day you can see 100 miles to Saint Nichols Island, but there's no telescope on that. I laid out on one of the benches.  He checked the telescopes.  It is a cozy spot.  Some years back the old ramada was refurbished with a new roof. A Santa Ana Wind took the old one decades ago.

"Do you like to read," he asked.

That caught my interest. I do love volleying book titles. The cynical pleasures of reading Waugh, O'Connor and Dahl sprang to mind. But then the deeper wonders of Middlemarch, Gatsby and Kurtz had greater influence. I was trying to organize these inspirations when he said, "I heard about this book from Oprah and it's amazing!"

"What is it?"

"It's called Wild. It's about this girl who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. You've got to read it."

"I have."

"Isn't it amazing!! I'm thinking of giving up everything next year and hiking the PCT. I think it will be the experience of a lifetime."

The hike down Castle Canyon was pretty much without incident. We scampered past a swarming beehive and walked carefully across the trail's instant-death parts. We joined the conga line for the last 2 miles down the Sam Merrill. We parted at dusk on cheery terms, but we didn't exchange names.

Since then I've been thinking about that discussion at Inspiration Point. Has Wild turned thru-hiking into the moral equivalent of moving to LA and writing a screenplay? This may sound awful, but the desire to hike the JMT now feels sorta tawdry. It has nothing to do with the fact that the JMT is only 10% as long or difficult as the PCT. It just that I might be caught up in some Oprah-inspired fad that has the masses rushing to the hills.

A little while ago I reopened my copy of Wild. Strayed wrote with honesty, feeling and insight. I guess the truth is that I'm also a bit Oprah-inspired. It's hard to admit.

Jul 9, 2013

Lightweight Dogma

Fletcher Meadow, Yosemite NP
Couple days ago I was distracted. My big writing project, The Key to all Mythologies was going nowhere. That's not the actual name. I don't have a name. It's just a reminder.

What I do have is this mind-worm movie of Fletcher Meadow. Vogelsang peak on the right; Matthes Crest on the left; Rafferty Peak ahead. The breeze stirs the grasses and ripples the creek. Clouds fly by and Bushtits flitter around. It's nature's play on a giant granite proscenium.

Then Washburn Lake popped into my head, except I couldn't recall the name. It was a nag. I don't know about you; it's only takes that 'one-thing' to trigger my digressions: a forgotten book, an urge for some gimchee or the need to know that player "to-be-named-later" in the last botched Astros trade. This time it was that lake.

Washburn Lake, Yosemite NP
No sooner had I opened the map than it was clear I needed more maps; in particular, I needed Harrison's John Muir Trail Map-Pack. A trip to REI was in order. What else did I need? A tent? A Bag? A new stove?

An hour later I was working on a spreadsheet. I commandeered the Cuisinart digital scale and starting pulling gear out of the garage and the attic. By the time my wife got home, I'd weighed everything from hiking sticks to socks and underwear. She didn't seem pleased that I'd turn the kitchen into a staging area so we went out for Italian.
"How much is this gonna cost?" she wanted to know.

"Probably a thousand bucks."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

To be honest I have no idea how much this is going to cost. She was right to ask. The silver lining of retirement underlies a dark tower of uncertainty.

Then she said, "You really want to do this don't you?

By yesterday afternoon, I had my first good list gear list. I'd kept the new gear purchases to a minimum, just a tent and sleeping bag. That gives me a base weight of just over 28 pounds. I knew I could carry 40 in my Osprey Aether 70. I love that pack; it feels like freedom.

This morning I was raring to go. I emailed Duane about another hike. We met for lunch. Ends up he's busy. He's going to lead a group of Boy Scouts over New Army Pass. I guess that cinched it—surely I could keep up with the Boy scouts! I sorta blurted out, "I'm thinking of hiking the John Muir Trail. I've got a starter gear list."

There was this awkward pause; some news takes a while to sink in. I don't think Duane knew where this piece fit in the puzzle. I felt like I'd unwillingly divulged a secret.

"No kidding? When?"

I hadn't really thought that far. "Next summer, maybe?"

Ever get that sinking feeling that you don't know what you've really done. I had that feeling. Life's big decisions seem to be like that.

"Really?" He nodded thoughtfully and then skeptically. "How did your base weight come out?"

"About 28 pounds."

"Really?! Sure you want to carry that much?"

Please understand that Duane is scientist. He's dubious, but not close minded. When I dropped him off at the Lab, he pulled his iphone from his pocket. "What if send you some web sites. You might want to bone up on lightweight backpacking."

I just looked at Backpackinglight.com. Till now I thought that once the leg was good again, I'd just be hiking. This is a whole new universe. I wonder how much this is going to cost.

That reminds me. There's still time to get to REI. I need that Harrison's JMT Map.

Jul 2, 2013

The 50-pound pack

My very own Woodzig folding saw
The stuff I pulled from the dusty camping boxes was right off Cheryl Strayed's gear list:
  • A candle lantern with attachable parabolic reflecting mirror, extra candles and felt carrying case.
  • A Lucite camera case with metal latch and rubber gasket guaranteed waterproof to 30 feet.
  • A pair grooved plastic cereal bowls
  • A pair of sturdy 8-inch divided plates designed to minimize space in a 800 liter pack.
  • A double-walled Lucite REI cup.
  • A 3-pot stainless cook set with aluminum gripper.
  • A Teflon frying pan with a foldable handle.
  • A Woodzig folding saw
  • An pair of 1-gallon vinyl sinks
  • An 8-inch skinning knife
The clincher was the folding saw—the very same that Strayed carried as the iconic symbol of the disastrous state of her life. Once shed, she was on the road to recovery.

I'm troubled. I remember using the collapsible saw in the Golden Trout Wilderness. In practice it was useless, but it was neat and the 5 ounces of heft never crossed my mind. Camping was about preparedness, tools and little luxuries. Packs were heavy. That Woodzig folding saw fit in my Kelty pack. It didn't seem wrong. You got in shape and carried what you could.

Vinyl sink weighing in
Times have changed. Twenty-five years ago, these were treasures. During those years at Solar System Labs, my treasures had grown old and irrelevant. Am I to be a slave to fashion? Am I to cling to the neat and useless? What would I carry on my journey?

I thought of Strayed. She started her journey with an oppressive physical and metaphoric weight. Old things, like old habits of mind, are like that. Letting go isn't easy. I know I must be draconian.  I can give up the saw.  I can buy a new tent, sleeping bag,  pad and stove. I could get my base weight down to 30 pounds. But giving up that vinyl sink will be tough. It is just 2 ounces.