Monthly Archives: January 2016

Riding on a Cloud

IMG_4356I went to see a great show at On the Boards last night. OtB is known in Seattle as the premier presenter of new theatre and dance works. Riding on a Cloud, by Rabih Mroué, fits squarely in the modern theatre category – featuring a single ‘actor’ seated at a table with various props (a cassette machine, a DVD player, a stack of DVD’s, some paper notes, a glass of water) and a large video screen. The piece seemed simple at first, even minimal, yet revealed its complexity in very satisfying ways.

The work plays on the balance between fictive and real narratives, the precocious nature of memory, and the problem of representation. Yasser, the ‘actor’ plays himself on stage (thereby frictionally representing his ‘real’ self, as everything in theatre is fiction), occasionally wandering away even from his role as himself to observe the audience. The audience tries to determine what is true versus fictional in Yasser’s narrative, which is presented through a series of DVDs he plays throughout the performance. It’s telling that after 20 minutes of performance we learn that the DVDs are made in the wake of Yasser’s traumatic brain injury, the result of a sniper’s bullet during sectarian fighting in Lebanon (a true story, as it turns out). The DVDs are footage created in response to a real event which dictates the dramatic action of the show, rather than the other way around. We learn that Yasser has difficulty with representation – he is unable to create relationships between objects and photographs of the same objects, even photos of himself. The show is full of things which could be true, and some which might not. Other things are only hinted at, and then revealed over time – these reversals highlight the tension between the dramatic narrative and the nearly silent actor on stage, who’s story is represented only through media – otherwise he exists only as he is, somewhat charming and a little bit injured.

A Brother’s Tale, the New Yorker review of the show, does a good job of situating the work in it’s national and political context. I found myself more interested in it’s exploration of our relationship with language and representation. Creating our personal narrative – our portrayal of ourselves to others, is our most significant act of representation. This practice often hinges on language, our most basic tool. When we share our experience with others, we depend on language to bridge the gap between us, to ensure the continuity of our experience, to reassure us of our assumed truths. These are narratives that we depend on being true – our memories, relationships, our personal history and moral code. Language and (Bataille would argue) sex are the only hope humans have of overcoming our inherent isolation.


My x-ray after brain surgery – the result of a bike accident, I was in a coma for 12 days. The last thing I remember was having dreadlocks (I hadn’t had a haircut in a decade)… imagine my surprise at waking up unable to speak, fully intubated, and with a rat tail. Also, my business partner at the time had press released my injury to the Stranger, and while I know not to read the comments, my moms did not – which caused her considerable anguish – and overlays another layer of ‘unreality’ on a very surreal situation.

The experience of the traumatic brain injury (TBI) brings into sharp focus how narrative is plastic, flexible, and often uncertain. A sufferer of a traumatic brain injury, I experienced aphasia similar to what Yasser describes. The radical shift aphasia engenders is a restructuring of language, which in turn drastically shifts how we understand our relationships with others and ourself. I relearned how to speak, the names of things, and beyond that, redefined my relationships with people. Or more accurately, taught myself to believe the stories people told me.  If we can not assume that any narrative is true, then even memory becomes an uncertain and slippery thing. I had the hardest time connecting to close friends, where I could not connect emotionally to the narrative they presented – I felt cut off from intimacy, alienated and alone. Retelling stories of people around me, including my own, eventually allowed me to reconnect with myself and others – to recreate myself in my own image – yet for me the certainty remained that I was a completely different person before and after. For any survivor dealing with aphasia, there is a very real and continual question about what is true versus what is believed, and there is no clear way of distinguishing which is which. I have spent years trying to dovetail these two competing realities, sometimes more successfully than others.

Ultimately, Riding on a Cloud is a dark but uplifting show, addressing heavy issues with poignancy, humor and a genuine and interesting voice. Yasser becomes a poet after his TBI – after his loss of language he sees through the broken words to discover the most direct and beautiful phrases. His life, along with the framing of his personal narrative through the device of a theatre show, are victories of identity over insecurity. His story, whether true in whole or in part, allows us to examine our own stories. Yasser’s overcoming is an affirmation of personal narrative, revealing the inherent validity of our struggle for identity, the value of our own stories and the importance of telling them.

Harpo & Groucho’s How Not to be A Dick on Trail


Harpo, Groucho, Bug and Twinless in the Sierra, 2015.

Hiking is awesome for it’s almost total equanimity – regardless of age, gender, race, nationality or income people can make their way on trail and have rewarding and transformative experiences. As free as we feel on trail, we also need to recognize that it’s still a mirror of human society. Women are told to keep up their guard in society, that danger lurks around every corner, and that every situation is unsafe. Additionally, women are told it’s their responsibility to keep themselves safe, and their fault if they are victimized. This is not only totally unfair, it’s also unreasonable. Dudes just need to man up and not be dicks. Remember – we create this world together…

Here are some tips for trail angels, fellow hikers, business owners and society at large to make women feel welcome, celebrated and safe:

  1. Be nice. Smile, say hi, shoot the breeze.
  2. Don’t ask whether someone is hiking alone. Never. Ever. It is creepy, misogynistic, and none of your business.
  3. Don’t press personal questions or ask about itinerary specifics. It makes you look like a stalker. Talk about anything else – food, gear, water, weather. This goes for hikers, hitches and trail angels too.
  4. NO UNSOLICITED HUGS!! Fist bumps instead.
  5. Don’t assume a woman’s time is public domain. A women sitting alone may be super happy to be alone. This goes for bars, restaurants, coffee shops, waterfalls, lakes, or trail pit stops. You can wave or vocalize “hi”. If she clearly invites you over, then it’s okay to join her, but otherwise respect her solitude and keep it movin’.
  6. If you’re approaching a campsite and others are already there, use GENERAL etiquette… before you start setting up, greet others, say hello, and ask genuinely if they mind if you set up nearby. If they say no… respect their vibes and cheerfully move along. You are a thru hiker (and therefore superhero), you can do another 1/2 mile. N.B.D.
  7. All humans love jumping naked into crystal clear alpine lakes. But most people enjoy it privately. If you come upon anyone skinny dipping that you aren’t friends with, find somewhere else on the lake to swim. Or again, ask if it’s okay to do your own thing there. Be mindful and respectful of your body language if you are skinny dipping with someone.
  8. Avoid using violent or threatening language, such as “Hunters make me want to commit murder” or even… “Aren’t you scared to camp alone?” (Often dudes make assumptions about women’s experience. Fear is not a gender-specific emotion. Feel free to talk about your own experiences honestly, but don’t assume you know things about her. Also… asking a woman if she’s afraid may induce fear and make you look like a creep).
  9. Speaking of annoying language – don’t comment on people’s bodies. This is not gender specific. I have a hiker friend who lost weight while thru hiking, whose friends from home body shamed her on her instagram pictures “you skinny bitch!” She had just climbed an 8,000 ft mountain. On the other hand, I had lady section hikers say to me 700 miles into my hike, “you don’t look emaciated enough to be a thru hiker.” Both comments are insulting, and draw attention to how we look, rather than all we have achieved.
  10. Avoid misogynistic behavior and activities. Don’t play stupid games like “Fuck, date, marry” or any other game where you are outright objectifying women. Call out other dude hikers who make misogynistic assumptions. Even if you are just in the company of other men… consider the psychic environment that will be most welcoming if the next hiker who joins your camp is female.
  11. All the trail angels we’ve met are incredible and give without thought of returns. This is the gold standard, and obviously applies equally to interactions with male and female hikers. “Return” includes things physical and metaphysical, including a hiker’s time. If you feel someone is uncomfortable, leave them alone by politely excusing yourself from the interaction, which does not necessarily mean withdrawing your kindness. It’s a fine line, we know…
  12. Everybody gets lonely on trail. If you find yourself getting loose with a hiking bud and things are moving towards any physical interaction, use your words – GET A POSITIVE, VERBAL YES from the other party. And if they’re drunk, no go under any circumstances. Basically, be a normal-ass, kind human.

Groucho sez: Ultimately, dudes, its up to us to consciously create a world where women feel empowered and safe hiking. I love being part of a sport where the sexes are physically equal – lets face it, women are often better long distance walkers and runners than men. However, society tells women to be afraid, to guard themselves, and avoid situations where they can be victimized on trail. DUDES, ITS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO PREVENT WOMEN FROM BEING OR FEELING VICTIMIZED ON TRAIL. Men are privileged in society and on trail, and its time to recognize that. Now is the time for men to step up and create and defend safe space – it takes work but iz totes possible with mindfulness and willingness.   We can share the trail, with positive and enlightened vibes all around. GOOD LUCK!

Have any other tips/suggestions? Add them in the comments!

Setting a PCT SOBO Start Date

Uh oh. It’s only January and the SOBOs of 2016 are wringing their hands about start dates.  I hear you. Snow melt in the North Cascades is a topic of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. This post explains my methodology for choosing a start date…



Harpo using her ice axe on a melting avalanche chute north of Harts Pass on 6/14/15 (10 days after the snotel for Harts Pass reached zero in an exceptionally low snow year)

Colloquial  wisdom suggests starting your SOBO hike once the Hart’s Pass Snotel reaches zero. Or better yet a week or so later, unless you love postholing and are really looking forward to using that ice axe.

Hart’s Pass is 30 miles from the Canadian border and elevation 6,100’… not the highest elevation in the North Cascades, so once snow is melted at the pass you may still have snow-filled avalanche chutes to traverse. Be prepared for snow travel and know your own limits.

We began our 2015 hike 9 days after the Snotel data reached zero at Hart’s Pass. I STILL carried an ice axe despite the exceptionally low snow year, and as you can see from the photo above, I was happy to have it for balance, leverage and peace of mind.

But how can you guess when the snow levels will reach zero?

Yung buck, it is still too early to tell.

UPDATE: I recommend clicking on the link above for an overview of snotel stats from the last few years, and my analysis of that data… but a few highlights:

  1. January’s data is nearly equal for ALL years, high and low. Therefore it is not easy to tell looking at January’s accumulation whether it will be a high year or a low year.
  2. In the last 5 years, snow levels peak in late March/early April. This is a better time to look at data and determine if it is a high or low snow year.
  3. In 3 of the last 5 years, snow has melted to zero before July 4. This average is probably why folks plan to start after July 4.
  4. Are you anxious to leave in early June? Remember that in a high or average snow year, there may still be over 50″ of snow (or more) at elevations of 6,000 in early June.


C.R.E.A.M. – On Trail Edition

Hi. I’m Harpo. Before I hiked the PCT, I hiked the AT. Before that I was a responsible human who made plans, budgets and spreadsheets for a respectable living. I know it’s gauche in some company to talk about money. But I’ve never been a totally elegant human (sorry mom.) HERE IS A SPREADSHEET OF EXACTLY HOW WE SPENT MONEY.


Photo of Harpo with vegan pizza by J Fleck (aka Twinless)

I see lots of questions on forums about how much money it takes to thru hike. That depends gear you have and what you want to purchase. Even after obtaining your titanium spork, you still need cash$ to spend on trail. Many sources estimate $1000 / month for trail expenses. Everyone tells you to prep for these expenses but it’s hard to visualize. On trail expenses range from lodging, showers, gear replacement, camp ground and park fees, town food, hitches (always offer gas money!), coffees (‘free’ wifi), town food, booze, and food resupply.

I hike with my buddy Groucho. For our 2015 SOBO Thru Hike of the PCT we spent about 4.5 months and about $7500 in on-trail expenses.

Our figure isn’t 100% accurate. Groucho carried some cash – spent on forgotten booze/hitches. Also parents and friends mailed us several resupply boxes and care packages. And occasionally when you end up hiking with budz you inevitably trade picking up the tab… you get the idea.

Check it all out… and give us a shout in the comments if you have any questions.



GROUCHO’s Gear List PCT 2015

Note some of these items were carries only part of the time – for example, DriDucks and Bedrocks, even the Platypus I didn’t pick up until we were out of the Sierra. Harpo and I also traded carrying some items, such as the tarp, so pack weight varied during the hike. My pack was heaviest in the northern Cascades, and again when it got cold in Cali thru the Sierra – otherwise packweight was usually just 10lbs. Listed below is an approximate value for the heavy end of my gear, including winter items. Here’s a link to the google doc – the graphic below doesn’t play nice on mobile devices for some reason.

Interview on Nourishing Journey

This week we were interviewed about our veganism by a section hiker we met on the PCT for an article called The Rise of the Vegan Thru Hiker. We met BUG, aka Anna Herby at Donner Pass, and quickly learned she was not only a badass 2014 SOBO Thru Hiker, but also a VEGAN AND PROFESSIONAL NUTRITION EXPERT.

IMG_3068Over the 900-or-so miles we hiked/traveled with Bug, we learned much about trail nutrition, recipes and overall wellness with a plant-based diet.

As a graduate of Bastyr University, Bug holds a Masters of Science in Nutrition and currently works as a Registered Dietitian in the Seattle area. In addition to consultations, Bug maintains an awesome blog  that you should check out (and not only because she just interviewed us.)

Thanks for the write-up Bug!

Gear Hacks: Ultralight Dental Floss

As mentioned in my previous post, I really like flossing on trail. My moms and I have had endless discussions about my dental health, and maybe this reminds me of her when I’m in the backcountry. Or maybe the act of keeping my mouth clean allows me to forget that the rest of me is so stinkin’ dirty. Regardless, I try and floss every day, and also use dental floss for gear repairs and sewing on punk rock patches… it’s great to have an adequate amount around. The problem is, like most conventional products, it’s value is defined by excessive packaging making it seem ‘fancy’. Here’s a simple hack that will allow a hiker to carry an almost full roll of floss at 1/2 the weight.

Above left is a conventional, full roll of OralB Glide dental floss, weighing in at 16.5g, on the right is a sample floss (easily obtained from any dentist’s office) weighing in at 5g. Why not just carry the sample? It only contains about 3 meters of floss, or enough for 3 days of regular use or 1/3 of sewing on a Minor Threat patch. The Glide, which contains 20 meters of floss, weights so much mostly because of its packaging. The key is to repackage the Glide in the sample container to reduce the carried weight.


It’s clear that the sample pack just isn’t enough floss to sew on that AT patch, much less the 2000 miler bottom rocker. The problem with the full sized roll is all the extra packaging

Remove the roll from the sample container. There are typically 4 plastic tines securing the small roll of floss in the center. Break off two opposing tines – this is necessary because ultralight, duh! Actually, as you can see from the photo above, the center spindle of the full roll of Glide is much smaller to accommodate the extra floss. Next remove the full roll of Glide (or floss of your choosing, this trick works with any brand – I only use the OralB because this is the one moms gave me. Thanks Lynn!) and remove about 2 meters of floss from the roll. The full size roll is, in fact, slightly too large to fit the sample container, so we need to reduce its diameter slightly.

Once you have replaced the sample with the full sized roll, thread the floss around and over the right post, then under and around the left post, leading it thru the dispenser opening. Then close the package and you’re done! This is a super simple, if not slightly neurotic way to save a few grams on trail. Based on the photo below, you’ll notice the new floss system weighs in at 8.4 g, which is 8.1g less than the original full size package. Happy flossing!


Sample package with full size roll of Glide, minus 2 meters. One of these guys is usually good for me for about 2 months of daily use. I keep the sample container after I’ve used up the full roll during a thru hike, and repeat the hack with a new roll purchased in town…