Every section of the Pacific Crest Trail has its joys and sorrows, its highpoints and its lowpoints, but section e, jeez. Not a lot of highlights, unless you count the industrial:
Which I don't. Or unless you count camping by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, built back in the l920's by the famous/infamous William Mulholland/Noah Cross.
Which I actually sort of do. For twenty-five hard dry desert miles the trail travels with the aqueduct, which claims to be extremely dangerous.
Headed north through land about as barren as the PCT gets, in my experience. Does have some trash, which a wildlife manager for Tejon Ranch I encountered complained about. People use the desert as a dump, he said. Was a helpful guy named Eric who gave me great advice on where to camp. Told me to go to the base of the mountains, and hunker down low, to avoid the winds of the Tehachapis.
But that was for when I reached mile 540. The day before I camped at mile 523, after an approximately fifty-mile detour around a massive burn scar left in the region last year by the Powerhouse Fire, seen here in a picture from Reuters from June 2013.
A fire official at a station at mile 478 told me much of the trail through this section has been completely destroyed, hence the detour, which involves a country road known as N2 north from Lake Hughes.
Take that about fourteen miles north to Highway 138, turn left for Hikertown, turn due north, and keep on until evening. I camped on the furthest edge of the city, on public land land few even know exists.
This really was a highlight, and actually -- as the desert often is at night -- utterly lovely and sleep inducing. Still, perhaps the most urban campsite on the PCT.
Even compared to the super-dry Mojave that follows in section f, this 112 miles from Agua Dulce (north of Los Angeles) to Hwy 58 (north of Mojave) this section is a trial. For one, it's desert, but not wilderness, and you have to walk on the hard roads and around the huge burn and with never enough water to understand what a difference that makes.
Eric and two other reliable sources assured me there was water to be had at a faucet at Sycamore Creek at mile 535, shortly before the trail splits off from the aqueduct and heads north towarde the mountains. I had a couple of liters, but was really counting on that, and had every expectation that it would be there -- after all, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said so.
But when I turned the lever, no water came out. Gathered what I could from a couple of old plastic bottles people had left around and headed north, hoping to find a spring alleged to exist at mile 542. Pretty barren campsite.
That's at 540. Pushed on next morning to 542, called Tylerhorse, which also allegedly had water, Encountered some rare locals by the trail.
At mile 542, blessedly, came across a tiny spring-fed pool. Don't have a picture of the elusive denizens of this one, but did come up with a way to remember it:
invade the silence
with a whirr, flutter, cheep
birds of Tylerhorse
Loved this site, but could not stay. Had about four liters and twenty-five miles of mountain to go.
It's not a super-hard trail, but it's about 2200 feet in about ten miles, with no water for at least sixteen miles. (In fact, with one exception, there proved to be no water for the rest of the entire section, to mile 568, or about twenty-five miles.)
Hard traveling, as Woody Guthrie would say, through a horribly scarred landscape, but two saintly trail angels -- in the midst of all this devastation -- had left a tiny oasis.
I cannot tell you the relief. I tried to depict in a selfie, thinking of my mindset before the water, and perhaps succeeded a little too well. (Sorry to post again, but seems part of the story.)
But at that point, even though I had about a day and a half to go, I knew I would make it, and could relax a little. Life -- and the wilderness -- have no shortage of surprises.
Though I had to camp amidst the burn and the windmills, which I didn't like, no matter how photogenic.
Trail had some freaky obstacles. Every hiker has encountered dead trees fallen in inconvenient ways across the path, but never have I seen one quite like this.
Here's a representative sign near a spot at mile 558, which was also said -- on the map and in the official PCTA trail notes -- to have water.
Also did not. Hoo-boy. Happy to see Hwy 58 and the end of section e.
The headline exaggerates, of course, but doesn't in fact mislead. Here's a graph of a NASA climate model, depicting a forecast of precipitation in the U.S. for the next winter. Colors tell the story.
In truth, it's a little hard to decode the anomalies chart, but this turns out to be just one of eight climate models forecasts. The trouble is that seven of those eight, as Eric Holthaus mentioned this morning on Twitter, depict little or no rain for the winter three months in California.
California has about a 1-in-8 chance of a wet winter. Continued drought looks increasingly likely, per latest models: pic.twitter.com/z0t4huwNNt— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) October 13, 2014
Troubling. Am trying to reserach, verify, discuss for a story. But also striking is this contrast with the NOAA forecast.
It's a bit different isn't it? At least for SoCal. Much better chance of rain.
From a lovely campsite at the end of a long hot day on the PCT, Section G, through the dry dry region north of Walker Pass, looking south towards the Mojave desert. Here we see the twilight wedge effect (that a meterologist reader explained to me years ago). I'm a total sucker for it.
One of the funniest tweets of all time, according to one semi-disreputable media outlet, is about climate change.
#13, to be precise. From Playboy.
This is my 3000th post on this blog, and to commemorate the occasion and thank readers for their interest, I'd like to give away some top-notch Page tangerines, air dried by yours truly, which IMHO are the best trail treats ever. Better even than chocolate, beause a) they don't melt, b) they're lighter, and c) with luck in drying, they shatter delightfully like light candy in the mouth. These have no perservatives, no added sugar, nothing but tangerines, with can be consumed whole. Here's a pic:
If you don't know me by now, this is a sincere no strings attached offer -- I won't use or sell or give away or in any way take advantage if you send me your name and address. Heck, I'll take a risk by putting down my actual email address: firstname.lastname@example.org, to show that.
My one ulterior motivation is to see if others like these tangerines as much as I do -- if so, I may try to sell them next year when the Page tangerine season comes around again. Let me say that these are way way better than the flat dusty version Trader Joe's sells.
Please write me for some free tangerine candy! You'll like it I bet.
Today Crosby Stills Nash & Young released a massive live compilation of recordings from their huge and infamous "Doom" tour of 1974 (yes, that's right, forty years ago). Thirty-plus songs, from thirty-plus performances, before crowds averaging 50,000, we are told.
In the Wall Street Journal, in Rolling Stone, on Jimmy Fallon, in Drowned in Sound, and no doubt in an almost infinite number of venues we'll see the old would-be left coast beatles discussed and interviewed. Maybe we'll even hear some of the music. Despite the band's tendency to go over the top lyrically, the record -- over which Graham Nash in particular labored for years -- has won great reviews.
Crosby has blamed the jerkiness of the band at the time on cocaine, and from watching film of their talks backstage more than one insider admits that they sound like pompous jerks, and in particular the candid Graham Nash admits with regret that he was a terrible drug addict at the time.
Bassist Tim Drummond in an oral history today said that Bob Dylan happened to visit, and played songs from his "Blood on the Tracks" record to him and Stills in a hotel room. Drummond was in total awe. Stills sneered at it as "not good" to Dylan's face, which has to be about the crassest possible move, short of actually attacking Dylan with a stick or something. It's an interesting story.
But note that in this flood of talk, Neil is not saying a word. Not one word. Not to Rolling Stone, not to the Wall Street Journal. He's made his feelings about the tour plain for years. During the tour he split from the hotel penthouses, the jets, the free food and drink, the drugs, the groupies, the rip-offs.
Graham Nash to the WSJ:
During the tour, Neil's album "On the Beach" was released and he began traveling separately in a mobile home and then a bus. It was typical Neil. [Mr. Young wasn't available to comment for this article.] The timing of its release was probably part of the reason he did the tour. But Neil also was our conscience. One night after a show, we all went back to our hotel suite where we had the entire top floor. It was decadent. Every night there were huge plates of food set up, like cold lobster for dozens of people. Neil was disgusted by the excess. There were even pillows embroidered with Joni's tour logo as well as china and luggage. Hey, we didn't ask for all that. This soured Neil a bit and, in retrospect, he was right.
Plus, unlike many wince-worthy CSN&Y songs, most of Young's songwriting -- which is at its best at his simplest -- stands up to time's long gaze without apparent effort.
Here's an example of a forgotten classic from that l974 tour, with Neil on guitar and harmonica, Crosby and Nash harmonizing perfectly, and Stills playing an eloquent country-ish piano counterpart to Neil's plaint, from a last performance in Wembley England.
A cow is not Bigfoot. Nor is a wolf, a bear, or a racoon -- but hair samples from all of these creatures were given to an pair of academics looking for the truth behind the Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti legend.
Psychologist Rhettman Mullins and geneticist Brian Sykes put out a call for testable hair from a Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti, and from around the world were given all sorts of follicles -- including one strand of fiberglass.
According to a story in LiveScience, the hair came from over thirty other anmal species of every imaginable variety, even including a couple of extinct bears.
What it didn't come from was any species even remotely human.
Daily journalism is the first draft of history, they say; well, this looks to be a story crying out for another draft or two. So much cannot be said in 800 or so words.
Just the combination of the academic/scientific co-authors intrigues.
First we meet a psychologist named Rhettman Mullis, a believer in the legend, and fascinated enough with it to be part of a site/community devoted to its study. He joined forces with a geneticist named Brian Sykes. Unusual.
To pick up this thread from the Livescience story:
...Sykes, a geneticist at the University of Oxford in England, teamed up with Mullis and other researchers to solicit hair samples from supposed Bigfoot sightings around the world. If the sightings were real, the thinking went, then the DNA should not match that of any known animal.
The team received 57 samples, one of which was actually a piece of fiberglass, the researchers said. After winnowing down the samples to the most likely bets, the team did a genetic analysis on 36 of the samples.
Almost all came from known animals, including cows, horses, raccoons, humans, deer, coyotes, and even a Malaysian tapir. None of the samples, however, came from a completely new primate species, the researchers said.
So it's over for the Bigfoot legend, is that what they're saying?
Kaput. Finished. Through.
No, not exactly -- the clever investigation takes another twist.
...two hair samples, one from Bhutan and the other from Ladakh, India, closely matched the genetic sequence of an extinct Paleolithic polar bear. One came from an animal shot over 40 years ago by an experienced hunter, who claimed the bear acted more aggressively than do typical brown bears. The other came from an area that is reputed to be the nest of a "migyhur," the Bhutanese version of a Yeti.
It's possible that the two samples are from a previously unrecognized bear species or a hybrid of existing species, the researchers said. If the newly discovered bears are widespread, they may contribute to the legend of the Yeti, especially if the hunter's report of more aggressive behavior is representative of the species as a whole, the authors wrote in the paper.
The story goes on to quote Mullins saying that despite this finding, he still believes in something Yeti-ish in the Himalayas. He points out that there are three words in the language of the area for this creature, only one of which means bear.
Okay -- but what about the geneticist?
The story appears not to ask Sykes -- for some reason.
Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes poses with a prepared DNA sample taken from hair from a Himalayan animal. DNA testing is taking a bite out of the Bigfoot legend. After scientists analyzed more than 30 hair samples reportedly left behind by Bigfoot and Yeti, they found all of them came from more mundane animals like bears, wolves, cows, and raccoons. In 2012, researchers at Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology issued an open call asking museums, scientists, and Bigfoot aficionados to share any samples they thought were from the mythical ape-like creatures. BBC4/AP/File
While everyone knows that exercise is a good idea, whatever your age, the hard, scientific evidence about its benefits in the old and infirm has been surprisingly limited.
“For the first time, we have directly shown that exercise can effectively lessen or prevent the development of physical disability in a population of extremely vulnerable elderly people,” said Dr. Marco Pahor, the director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida in Gainesville and the lead author of the study.
Countless epidemiological studies have found a strong correlation between physical activity in advanced age and a longer, healthier life. But such studies can’t prove that exercise improves older people’s health, only that healthy older people exercise.
Okay, but looking past Captain Obvious, how much can we expect walking to help? And what does that kind of aging look like? How do we not just exercise in a general way, but walk in the mountains as we age? How hard do we push ourselves?
So happens that Backpacker magazine has a superb story on exactly that topic, although -- to my bewilderment -- I cannot find it in the Backpacker webite, even though the featured "senior hiker," Joe Kelsey, a climber still at 75, a former guide and writer, has been written up in past issues, and the writer of this piece -- Hike Forever -- Matt Jenkins, has a long association with the magazine.
And believe me, I looked through their site. But no matter -- if and when it's posted, I'll link to it. For now let me link to a past mention of Kelsey's favorite trips in his beloved Wind River range in Wyoming and manually quote the rhetorical heart of Hike Forever, from adventurer/writer Matt Jenkins, which has some of the best such writing on the physical mysticism of hiking in the moutains I've seen in some time:
Now you might think a man in his 70's might be a little creaky for hard climbing, but not Joe Kelsey. He moves upward like a dancer. Of course, he's not the only senior hiker to remain physically fit at an age when most people are looking at photo albums, not making them. Heck, Earl Shaffer, the Appalachian Trail's first thru-hiker, hiked it for the third time at age 79. But unlike record-setters, whose feats can appear unattainable for us mortals, Kelsey's path seems like one I can follow. Keeping doing what you love. Go for a short hike if you can't go for a long one. Use packhorses if you'd rather spend your energy climbing backcountry rocks than carrying a heavy load.
At lunch we lie in the meadow, close our eyes, and swap stories. This is the finest gift of the mountains: to be utterly unattached to the outside world. We are in an alpine meadow so close to the sky we need only reach out our arms to touch it -- while the rest of humanity is far down below, entangled in a morass of emails and tweets and text messages. the spiritual freedom of this recognition gradually fills us like a snowfield fills a tarn. for a while we simply listen to the exquisiteness of nothingness, allowing ourselves to be absorbed into the landscape, to become part of the mountain like the purple fleabane and the flecks of feldspur.
I am dozing, in a dream-like state but still conscious of the warm rock under me and the sun upon my skin, when I once again fast forward to inhabit the body and mind of my older self. I can see that I will enjoy what I presently resist: taking my time, observing more than doing, accepting limitations. I can imagine no longer constantly pushing, but rather accepting the world for what it is rather than what it should bve, and myuself, not for what I weill become, but for what I already am.
That's why I keep going back to the mountains I guess. Haven't found a pic able to express what Jenkins puts so well, but this one -- of a pinyon pine in the Mojave -- gives some sense of that warmth and that timelessness on the trail. From one of the best campsites I have found on the PCT -- entirely by chance.
[at about mile 637 in Section F atop a hill beyond a water cache]