Category Archives: travel

We live in the future

This is my first blog post by email! I enjoy the respite from technology that our long walks provide. I intend to do more writing, and wish to share of these dispatches on our blog during our PCT journey. I recently discovered the WordPress “post by email” function – which should allow me to create posts with the iDevice in airplane mode. Then, when I have service or wifi in town, I can “send” these prefabricated posts to Songs Out of the City. Post by email seems to provide the same functionality as the web interface, including creating categories, tags etc.

Our AT method was creating posts including photos/stories when we were in town, which meant many of our town days were spent in front of an old/slow hostel computer trying to download/digest the last 7 days of activity. I was usually so exhausted I didn’t feel like posting or digesting anything. I’m hoping the WordPress post by email functionality will help my stories feel more immediate, since they will actually be written in real time.

I believe the plugin is still in beta, so I will let you know how it works out!

AT vs PCT death match

The other big lady - Harpo & Groucho's stealth spot on day 3 of their AT hike - Katahdin viewed from Rainbow Lake (July 2013)

East Coast Big Lady – Harpo & Groucho’s stealth spot on day 3 of their AT hike – Katahdin viewed from Rainbow Lake (July 2013)

Now that we’ve announced we’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, we’ve been getting some questions about how this journey will differ from our 2013 AT thru hike. For honest journalisms-sake, we’ll have to give you an update on that when we finish. But for now here are some quick thoughts based on research and good ol’ fashioned hearsay:

Mileage
The PCT is just under 2700 miles, while the AT is just under 2200 miles.

Trail Condition
The PCT is graded and maintained for pack animals and thus has more switchbacks, nicer quality trail surface, and less scrambling. The PCT traverses through higher elevation mountains (10,000-14,000 footers as opposed to 4000-6000 footers), and so there may be some brief bits of snow travel, especially in the North Cascades in WA or Sierras in California, depending on when we get to those spots.

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This is an example of the “trail” in Maine. A bare rock slab going straight up hill with crevices for foot/hand holds rendered slippery and useless by the frequent rain. The easiest way to get up, even with a 20lb pack, was literally to get a running start (i.e. sheer force of will.)

Elevation Change
We’ve seen varying numbers on the exact number of elevation gain/loss over time on the AT or PCT (or CDT for that matter). But we’ve been told by thru hikers of both treks that 30 miles on the PCT feels like 20 miles on the AT, because of trail quality and gentler elevation profiles. This recent blog post by reputable hiker/mapper Guthook (whose apps are fantastic BTW), suggests the following in this blog post:

Overall elevation gain/loss on Appalachian Trail: 917,760′ over 2185.3 mi (avg: 420’/mi)
Overall elevation gain/loss on Pacific Crest Trail: 824,370′ over 2668.8 mi (avg: 309’/mi).
Overall elevation gain/loss on Continental Divide Trail: 917,470′ over 3029.3 mi (avg: 303’/mi).

A Hard Day's Night

Harpo climbs a sleep & slippery talus slope, seemingly out of the clouds, towards Chairback Gap lean-to

Hiking Time
Who knows. Any number of things can impact how long a hike takes, including your personal pace, quality of terrain, elevation gain, your efficiency with hiking chores like water filtration or setting up your sleep system or eating, weather, length of hitching to resupply, amount of time spent in town resupplying, number of zero (non-hiking days) you take, injury/illness, trail closures due to fire, well… you get the point. But generally speaking, someone who has already thru hiked has figured out how to be efficient at hiking/camping, and so barring injury, illness, or other unexpected detours, we’ve heard that it might take 2-4 weeks LESS time to hike the PCT even though it has more miles, because of the aforementioned trail conditions and our previous experience. We’re thinking it will take 4-5 months.

time saver… we were contemplating hitching to town to go to the brewery/hostel and then some nice day hikers gave us trail magic - rejuvenating our spirits, saving us a trip to town and precious minutes!

time saver… we were contemplating hitching to town to go to the brewery/hostel and then some nice day hikers gave us trail magic – rejuvenating our spirits, saving us a trip to town and surreptitiously providing us several extra happy hours of hiking.

Traffic on Trail
Last year on the AT 653 Northbound thru hikers, and 76 Southbound thru hikers claimed to have finished the entire trail (about 20% of those who attempted it.) The PCT currently collects and publishes less data about thru hikers, but at least 336 people reported a completed thru hike in 2014 (the PCTA thinks about 50% of people who attempt a PCT thru hike finish.) Due to the cultural zeitgeist around thru hiking also fueled through the recent movies “Wild” about the PCT and “A Walk in the Woods” about the AT, traffic is increasing dramatically in recent years. However, most (like 80-90%) of those hikers begin their journeys in California and hike northbound (NOBO). Beginning in Washington and hiking southbound (SOBO) we expect significantly less thru hiker traffic on the trail than our AT experience. This should be good for our meditation practice 🙂

Views
The states of Maine and New Hampshire offer the only above-treeline hiking on the AT. While we experienced much beauty both in the NE and along the whole AT, we expect more epic vistas and geologic diversity on the PCT as we travel along ridge lines, maybe thru snow fields, in proximity of Rainer, Hood, Shasta and Whitney, and then thru the Sierras down into the desert near Joshua Tree.

Big Lady - dinner at a stealth spot just inside the Rainier National Park

West Coast Big Lady – Groucho’s stealth spot on a PCT section-hike – just inside the Rainier National Park (August 2014)

Water
For the first half of the AT, water was plentiful. We sometimes felt guilty even treating water because it was pouring cold and strong from a pure spring out the side of a mountain. Once we reached the halfway mark in Pennsylvania in September we started running into dry sources, needing to sometimes hike .5-1 mile off trail for water. This continued intermittently into Virginia and Tennessee until winter precipitation began.

On the PCT we’ll have a crazy different challenge when we get to the desert in the fall. We’ve heard about 30+ mile stretches without sources, and the need to carry 6-10 litres in the heat of the summer. Thankfully there is a frequently updated water report that we’ll be able to print out on a daily or weekly basis to help with our planning. If anyone sees a camel for sale on ebay or something, let us know…

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There was so much water in the northern section of the AT that we were often walking in/on/thru it.

Signs of Life

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Journal Entry from the last day in Guatemala

An iguana just walked through the kitchen, a spider the size of a kitten guards the bedroom, geckos chirp warnings from the ceiling at night, salamanders scuttle through the garden by day. Is this Jurassic Park? Pelicans glide in formation overhead, endoskeletons of sand dollar sea urchins sprinkle the shore, hundreds of thousands of teeny snails hang onto sand grains with each wave, waiting to push tiny valleys through the beach that are soon erased. Elegant sand-pipers dip their beaks in holes and crabs comically run sideways up shore, pausing for a perfectly timed second-take before disappearing into their burrows. Surrounded by these tiny lives, I sit covered in mosquito bites, itching, and ready for my next journey to begin. Let’s not wait too long to move this little life along.

sunrise the last morning at the beach, Guatemala

sunrise the last morning at the beach, Guatemala

 

 

 

 

 

Floating Castles

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Work-for-stay agreements honor basic needs for shelter and food in exchange for  contributions of energy and time. At the finca this meant spending 25-60 hours a week cooking, cleaning, teaching yoga, office working, accounting, amateur religious counseling, spiritual space-holding, singing, and/or painting in exchange for 3-meals a day, saunas, lake jumps, ceremonies, singing, yoga, chosen community, and room for two.

Our room happened to be a converted pleasure craft – a house boat.

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The house boat’s humble facade belied the internal character of the space… cozy wall panels of plywood held proud graffiti-style inspirational phrases scrawled haphazardly in crayon or colored pencil. Two short shelves on either side of the bow created a temporary aisle and a surface for our altar. Under the shelves were two mysterious gaps leading to the internal hull of the ship -an abyss availalble only to the farm cats and probably some of our socks. A long and even row of nails made a make-do closet.

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Half the boat was dedicated to a full bed where one could gaze out the windows, seeing the farm dock and two looming volcanos. The volcanoes waited, shrouded in darkness, arising resplendent each sunrise from the mist rolling across the glassy morning waters of Lake Atitlan. Other than the view, the interior of the boat was as plain as a nun^s habit, which was maybe apropriate given the context.

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We learned how to balance our entries into the boat by positioning ourselves on opposite sides, so as one person see-sawed the boat starboard the other entered down a steep ramp on the other side. We took comfort learning these quirks, even as the water of the lake dropped several inches each week, and our little door sunk lower and lower until we were doing a kind of limbo down the narrow plank entrance.
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Each morning we awoke to a light grey sky behind the dark blue volcanos, and each evening the waves of Atitlan would lull us to sleep once again.

While loving the space, I awoke some mornings feeling heavy, like dreams had been dark, weird and cloudy. I began to blame the visual environment. Eventually we took a hard look at the makeshift collage right next to the bed, and wondered if we could use that precious wall real estate for our own creative expression, at least while we were here. Something that would feel familiar, inspiring or something that could remind us less of other people{s time here, but more a reminder of the ever-present.
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After a few days scheming, we decided to continue the houseboat tradition of using magazine clippings and found objects to create art representing not only our sacred journies, but  the mythic and mystical that belongs to all of us through sacred geometries.
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We spent many hours finding and clipping circles from a collection of old Yoga Magazine and Self and National Geographics. We made wheatpaste in a big pot in the kitchen on the gas burner, and NKO drew circle after circle on all the wood panels. Arranging the circles chromatically, we pasted up sacred geometries which NKO then embellished further with paint and his research into chakras, platonic solids, and sacred numbers.

We finished the piece over the last few days at the farm, NKO doing the lions share of the work once the circle cutting was complete. The last few nights in the houseboat were restful and my dreams were vivid, deep and present.
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We left behind a more elaborate piece than we had intended, but on our shuttle away from the farm, our friend Kali commented on the mural, letting us know that people who stare and a sacred geometric symbol or mandala before bed claim to have better success at interpreting dreams and lucid dreaming. Success!

Landscapes of San Marcos

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Unicorn Tile Murals at the Unicorno Hostel

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Sage and Candles

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5am from the deck of my room at Ananda Healing Center

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And sunset…

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What $7 a night pays for in San Marcos

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More Unicorn Art

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Crazy yogi’s raiding the 2nd hand clothing pile at the sushi restaurant

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A glimpse into what 2 weeks of Thai Body Work/Massage Training in Guatemala looks like…

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A room with a view – Hotel Quetzal

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Learning curve. This photos was back when I didn’t know that the last boat left for San Marcos at 5:00, and arrived at the dock at 5:15 and was suckered into paying 150 Quetzals for a private boat. The equivalent of $20. Less than a cab fare in Seattle, but it should’ve cost more like $3-5 max… I was “Had”.