"A blank spot on the map is an invitation to encounter the natural world, where one's character will be shaped by the landscape. To enter wilderness is to court risk, and risk favors the senses, enabling one to live well.

...The time had come to protest with the heart, that to deny one's genealogy with the earth was to commit treason against one's soul."

-Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Evolving with an Open Heart and an Open Mind...

        Thoughts on a Monoculture vs. Permaculture Existence:

Monoculture in America

        Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing a single crop over a wide area; the mode of modern agri-business.  Permaculture, in opposition, is a more holistic approach to agriculture based on bio-diversity and modeled on the symbiotic relationships of different species found in nature.  Even a brief look at modern farming illuminates the pitfalls of monoculture in spades.  Monoculture farms have limited, less multi-faceted arsenals of immunity, so they are uniquely susceptible to a host of ills that biologically diverse, permaculture systems are not.  This is why big monoculture farms need all the herbicides and pesticides and other chemicals, that, in turn, adversely effect the land and the water and the workers.   The sheer size of these farms too, is a major reason why they are not sustainable; the bigger the land, the more machinery needed to work it; more impact on the land, on the environment in general, on resources, on the farmer her/himself.   Permaculture's essence is being appropriately-sized, working with Nature.  The results of this method are unavoidably sustainable, giving more to the land, to the animals that rely on the land (us included!), enriching it, rather than taking from it.    

Permaculture in America

  It is clear which style of farming is preferable and will actually survive the test of time and truly provide for humans and other animals, as well as the land which sustains all.*  These opposing methods, these two different approaches, can be applied to life beyond farming.  This is what I want to talk about: A monoculture existence versus a permaculture existence.  For optimal mental, emotional, and physical health people must choose their jobs, orient their professional and personal lives, align their hearts and their minds to the wisdom of permaculture, and, in doing so, give themselves to an eternal open-mind, to a life of diversity.  In terms of athletics and physicality too, following the permacultural-minded path will be more sustainable, supporting longevity of health and physical ability.   
        *-(I acknowledge that I am vastly simplifying the huge and complex issue of food/world hunger, etc...because it's simply too large an issue to grapple with here and besides, that's not specifically what I wish to address.)

  In a profession setting and generally in life, monotony (hmmm...sounds like monoculture) doesn't breed contentment.  Sitting at a desk all day, staring at a computer, making the same small motions and movements over and over again, is not sustainable, not optimal for employee, or employer.  Even at a great and stimulating desk job, (of which, needless to say, there are many) the physical stresses of those postures have been proven to cause all sorts of harm.  Most people know the frustrations, and repercussions in the rest of life, of having monoculture jobs/desk jobs (think Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, bad posture, back problems, sore eyes, trouble sleeping, stress, disconnection with nature, potential disconnection with family.)  So cultivate a permaculture job!  Doing what you love or something you are passionate about will instantly provide a more engaging work environment and if you're engaged and happy with your work, the results will be better, and everyone involved will benefit, especially you.  

  Multi-task, be multi-faceted; move around, and work with your hands sometimes.  Monotony of task is mentally draining, reducing our brain functions to repeating only a few well-trod pathways, so diversifying thought and motion is therefore improving the ability of our brains, allowing us to use more of it.  Specialization is good, often necessary, and appropriate in moderation, but switching things up, breaking out of the patterns as often as possible, is key to wellness.  

  So it is too with athletics and movement and general physical ability.  Specialization here too is necessary (especially at the "elite" levels) and appropriate in moderation, but more important is being well-rounded, an able-bodied and all-around athlete, of sport and life.  Over specialization and the ways our muscles develop accordingly, creates clear deficiencies in others areas, often leads to serious imbalances, some muscles over-developed, while others are sorely under.  But you must train with narrowed intent, with a specialized focus, to get to the highest levels of a given sport or activity!  This, as I said, is very much so, although it questions the wisdom of doing one thing, all the time, often to the exclusion of nearly all else (no time to read, to write, to cook, to watch movies, to be attend political protests, to be a part of your local community, to be with your lover/your friend/your family, to indulge, to read the paper and eat pastries and drink black coffee at a buzzing little cafe.)

  Being an all-around athlete of life increases your chances for physical contentment, for health, for survival; it develops your ability to adapt to whatever may come, to whatever twist or turn that life demands, whether that is running 100 miles, dancing in the club, busting a kick flip down a 5-stair, or throwing a ball to your granddaughter, or all of the above. 

  So cross-train, and be a cross-trainer of life!  Do what you love the most, the most often, but do other stuff too.  Remember that there's joy and beauty and pure, meditative focus available in all pursuits, in all conscious action, whether it's reading a book or painting a picture, making music or listening to a friend, running in the mountains or playing soccer, or basketball in the park, cooking a meal and sitting down and enjoying it.  

  Break the shackles of the monoculture world and live free, evolving with an open heart and an open mind...   
(drag queen!)

Lots of love and thanks for reading...have fun out there!

Here's a wonderful music video to a great song, check it out...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Returning to the Womb: Mishap on Moffett Creek

I have many topics that I've been meaning to write about (and haven't been) but a little over a month ago I had an experience that demanded to be written down before anything else.  It was slow going though, figuring out how to write it, how to lay it out and get it down, sorting through the thoughts and emotions of it.  There's a lot to be said about what happened; I just did the best I could for many complicated topics were at hand.  As you can derive from the title and my tone, this adventure was more of a misadventure.   I felt badly for the mistakes I made but positive elements existed too; strong and necessary lessons of the wilderness were learned and relearned, mental tenacity endured under harsh scrutiny, hard earned skills were put to good use, trust and faith, respect and friendship developed.

What Happened

Aj, a new co-worker and friend, came over on Sunday at about 8:30 in the morning and we drank stumptown and looked at the map of the Columbia Gorge, trying to decide where to go.  We'd been out on a few ~8 mile runs in Forest Park and he'd proved to be in good shape and down for the trails.  I suggested we do something longer somewhere, have a real adventure in the mountains.  Since Aj was just getting used to longer runs though and building up mileage I was having trouble figuring out what to take him on; I wanted something quite challenging but not too long, 15-20 miles would do.  We could take our time and hike as much as needed and since he was a fit guy and long time bad-ass soccer player I figured that that distance wasn't too crazy for him.  We hadn't yet decided the route when we packed up and left, so we didn't tell my girlfriend Sonya exactly where we were going, only "the Gorge."  I wanted to be back to watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals and drink beer by 6, at latest, and Aj had places to be by 5.  I'd been eyeing the Nesmith Point trail on the map, a sweet looking, steep and switchbacking ascent up almost four thousand feet in 4 miles.  As we drove along east on 84, I managed to pick out Nesmith Point and the valley that the trail ascended.  It looked sweet, perfect.  

"Ok, exit here, exit here!" I blurted out excitedly.  Game for anything, Aj turned off as instructed at exit 40, for the Bonneville Dam.  A quick right and we parked on the side of the car lined road by the trail for Wahclella Falls.  I had the plan in my head, the clear and seemingly simple route.  Leave the car and run west along the Gorge trail (a cool trail although the highway noise sort of kills the vibe).  From the Gorge trail, we would turn left and make the big ascent up nearly to the top of Nesmith.  After hitting the fire road near the top we'd turn left again and head south along the old dirt road a short distance to the Moffett Creek trail.  Then across the big and rolling, high and forested shelf below and between Mount Talapus and Palmer Peak we would go, crossing the head of Moffett Creek itself.  Then all down from there, dropping off the east edge of the shelf and descending steeply into the valley of Tanner Creek.  The trail would turn into dirt road and we'd follow that out to the mouth of the valley by the Columbia, and our car there; a simple loop.  The map I was using, the National Geographic Trails Illustrated one, didn't have specific point to point mileages but that loop appeared to be just what we wanted at 15-20 miles.  If we left the trailhead by 11 am then we'd have at least 5 hours to cover that ground; plenty of time.  

Well, we definitely could have done it.

Since we intended to be mostly running, we went with minimal equipment.  We each had a single handheld water bottle (I choose to drink the stream water in the area and do it all the time in the mountains (if it seems to come from a non human/agriculture/industry-tainted source), call me crazy.  Aj chose on this trip to do so too.  We went out with only one bottle with the knowledge that we'd have a multitude of opportunities to refill.)  I brought maybe 7 gels for the both of us and a few other random energy food/gel-type things.  We both wore running shoes, shorts, and basic, long sleeve synthetic tops.  I had a synthetic short sleeve shirt as well.  Going so minimally for 20 miles in the mountains may seem like insanity to a lot of people but when you do it often, going 20, 30, 40+ miles without a hitch you can forget that minimalism can have its consequences.  The forecast was good when I checked a few days before and people said the rain had finally stopped so it seemed like it'd be pretty casual...

I'd been exploring the Gorge trails fairly frequently, running and hiking more and more of them, feeling confident and like I was getting to know the terrain, getting a sense of the larger area in my head, connecting the peaks and the valleys and ridges in between.  It was feeling like my backyard, so close, nice well-defined trails...

We set off from the car at 11 am, as planned.  I never bring my cell phone and it must have not occurred to Aj either.  Who can get service in the mountains?  Besides, I hate technology (what the hell do you think I'm running from anyway?!?!) and don't tell me we're not all getting brain tumors from our phones. 

We lamented the noise of the cars and trucks on 84 as we rolled along the Gorge trail, west.  After a few miles we came to a junction busy with passing groups of hikers.  I misread the sign and we took the wrong trail a half mile out of our way to Elowah Falls via a dramatic trail literally blasted into the cliff face, complete with hand rail.  A nice and scenic detour although I pride myself on my directional and navigational capabilities so I felt a little bit off my game; I should have known it was not my day.  We headed back down from Elowah and got back on the right trail.  Just a minute further on we hit the junction with the Nesmith Point trail.  The big climb began.  The trail switchbacked incessantly up the lush, green drainage below Nesmith.  We mostly hiked the very steep ~4.5 miles to the intersection with the fire road on the shoulder below the point.  

About halfway up we came upon a deer and her two beautiful fawns.  They were on the trail ahead of us and continued up the incline, ascending effortlessly.  We spoke kindly and the mother calmly pulled off to let us pass but the little ones didn't follow the cue and forged on, a bit frightened.  We stopped and tried to show our good intentions and coerce them back toward mom but they went on, and so we hiked on too.  Finally they headed off the trail with small sounds of distress, moving over the land with their astonishingly nimble and light step.  We apologized for the scare and wished them well.

The trail ascended out of the drainage, climbing less steeply at last to the fire road.  We went left, passed a group of hikers coming off Nesmith Point who were going to head west down Horsetail Creek trail.  We continued past that turnoff a ways to the Moffett Creek trail.  We were feeling good, had been keeping along at a good pace.  The climb was over, it was early, and now all we had to do was cruise along over the high shelf, the headwaters of Moffett Creek, and then drop down into Tanner Creek and back to the car.  We were a little less than half way, feeling great. 

It was evident from the first step on it that the Moffett Creek trail was different.  As in, less used, way less used.  It was still easy to follow, just far fainter and less defined than all the Gorge trails I'd been on up to that point.  We ran easily on the fun rolling terrain through the trees and I was happy to see almost no snow up there at 3,000+ ft.  We crossed a creek and filled our bottles and ate, still feeling good, on track.  It was maybe 2:30 or 3 o,clock.  Onwards from there to snow.  It came by surprise as we neared a much bigger creek, the headwaters of McCord Creek, I believe.  It was north facing and the shape of the little valley kept it shadowed and protected, and the drifts were deep although thankfully it was hard and our steps didn't break through.  I was able to piece together distant bits of bare ground and stay on the trail to the creek's edge, but it was impossible to determine where it went on the other side, there was just too much snow and definitely no tracks.  I crossed the narrow flow and headed up the snow on the opposite bank.  I figured that since the trail was heading east we should continue to head easterly.  I proposed that we ascend the next little rise and see if we hit it.  We both moved along scanning the woods and soon, after just a few minutes, we hit a trail.  A trail, but unfortunately, little did we know, not the trail.  I hadn't brought the map along since I'd studied the route a good deal and there were no trails shown on my map that branched off of Moffett Creek trail.  The trail we hit was descending slightly to the northeast and since our intended route was descending to the east as well, and since I believed it to be the one and only trail in the area, we followed it.  

The trail wove its way out to where the land began to form a ridge line.  It was quite stunning as the narrow path, not much more than a game trail, danced along spiny sections with huge views in both directions.   I should have known that the Moffett Creek trail didn't traverse any terrain like that but I'd been duped into blind faith and fully consumed.  I'd fallen prey and my guard had been broken down.  

We crossed some open rocky sections following cairns and finally arrived at a more prominent craggy perch, with great vantage to the mountains and gorge before it.  The trail appeared to terminate here, right at the edge of a valley, dropping off steeply, downwards from that point.  I wrongly believed that this valley was Tanner Creek, and that the trail went down from there, as I'd seen on the map, but we just couldn't find it.  We searched around for awhile and couldn't find anything.  It was around 4.  Again, I thought that if we headed down the slope we might intersect one of the switchbacks of the trail and, anyway, if we didn't hit it, we could just plan on finding it in the bottom of the valley along Tanner Creek where it was guaranteed to be.  That errant assumption was the major error of the experience; hope, over-confidence, and that damn blind faith egged me on and I took the bait when we should have accepted defeat and turned around right there.  It was just so far to retreat when we were so near the end, and we still thought we were generally heading correctly and had been on the right trail all along.  

So down we went, into the lonely and dark valley, the steep and shrouded clutches of Moffett Creek itself.  At some point in this rocky, mossy, wet descent it began to dawn on me a bit that this maybe wasn't the best idea.  What if the terrain cliffs out before we ever reach the river?  I figured we would wait and see and went on.  The land did get steeper and steeper as we neared the bottom of our ~1,750 ft. drop and I soon found myself down-climbing the final 20 ft. to the river, a near vertical wall of moss, running with water.  I stood on the edge of the creek, or really in it, as Aj approached from above, and surveyed the scene.  

I immediately realized the flaws in my decision making.  The little canyon was sheered walled on the other side, and narrow, and there was no trail in sight or even space for a trail.  It was like we were going canyoneering.  WTF!?  This was one of those times where things have gotten pretty bad before accepting defeat you try desperately to fix it and end up making it even worse.  Aj made it down and of course we figured we might as well walk down stream a bit to see what we could see, maybe we could work our way down, we reasoned, until we could exit the valley at the bottom, near Wahclella Falls and the car.  I thought it might not be that far away.  We headed down stream, wading through the ice cold water at times, balancing on the treacherous rocks underfoot, getting wet.  After just a few hundred yards the nightmare worsened as we hit a waterfall, a 40-50 ft. drop off.  Dead end.  Maybe, we reasoned further with a stubborn and desperate motivation homeward, we could just bypass the waterfall by climbing up the slope above the creek, traversing over, and then descending to the water once again down stream of the drop.  We accomplished this, by moving up and across on wet, mossy, rugged slopes of forest life, sometimes using our hands on the humus, on that stunningly rich mix of things decaying and things growing.  Once back to the river we forged on, wanting so badly for this plan to somehow work.  The time was getting on.  We didn't want to face the impending truth.  

Another waterfall.  Another attempt to move up and over and around it.  Devil's Club everywhere, a freakishly thorny and aptly named bit of flora, pricking and slashing my bare legs and arms as I bushwhacked through the mess.  I was worried, starting to get that sick feeling in my stomach and mind, like a bomb ticking away with every moment, every wrong turn and dead end, every maddening, torturous struggle through the brush, every stumble on the rocks and slip into the river.  The slope we were traversing was becoming too steep, too dangerous to attempt and, rounding a little bend, I saw the worst case scenario.  Cliffed out.  Dead end.  We tried to go up and around but as we ascended we hit more cliffs above.  Dead end.  One final idea, to follow a steep little gully straight down to the river, proved fruitless.  Another drop off.  Sheer.  Overhanging even.  Dead end.

That's when it became blaringly and unavoidably clear that the jig was up.  We couldn't go forward, in any direction from where we were; we could only go back.  We checked the time.  7 o,clock.  It would be dark in an hour and a half.  That initial nagging worry back home had already begun but I couldn't ponder it, couldn't let it break me down, I had more important issues to deal with, like keeping our shit together, mentally and physically, and not dying out there.  I had someone else's life on my hands, on my conscience, too and I knew it was game time.  There was only one choice; we would have to backtrack, retrace every step back up that long mountainside and over to where we initially lost the trail and back down to safety.  But since we didn't have headlamps we simply couldn't do it safely until the next morning (I felt it to be the wiser choice to be conservative and take the time to build an effective shelter than to push it until the point of darkness and then try to do that) and so, therefore, we had to spend the night.  When we realized this fact there was little to say.  I told Aj that we would be ok, that I'd been stuck out before, and that the most important thing was to remain calm and not freak out.  We worked back upstream, toward where we'd entered the valley from above, looking for a place to call home for the night and to take advantage of what light we did have and shorten our trip in the morning.  A small, flat(ish) little area presented itself, on the steep slope of moss and ferns and lush green forest above that initial big waterfall we'd come to.  

Ahhhh...a night in the woods, stuck out, unplanned, unprepared...you got to love it.  As I said it had happened to me before.  The first time it almost happened (we did get back to the car well past dark with no lights) was with my mom on a climbing trip in southern Illinois in eighth grade.  A friend and major supporter of my adventures, my mom belayed me selflessly as I climbed the sandstone bluffs all day and our chocolate lab Babe slept at the base of the cliff in the sun of sniffed around with a deep nose.  Later, after we couldn't find the trail out and the rough terrain demanded we backtrack, we worked our way together through the dark woods, helping Babe along as we scrambled through boulders and blankets of fallen leaves to the car.  Then there was the time a few years later, maybe sophomore year of high school, on Middle Cathedral Rock in Yosemite, huddled on a tiny ledge a thousand feet up with a New Zealander, shorts and t-shirts, no headlamps, food, water, nothing.  Other times: I'd huddled in a ditch, highway side, during college, after attempts at hitchhiking hadn't panned out.  Old friends, new friends, strangers even, shouldn't afraid to spoon when need be; of this, now, I am a firm believer.  

The dark and lonely valley, the Moffett Creek Drainage.  We entered it from the righthand skyline,
descending the steep, shadowed face, in front of the righthand ridge line that drops into the upper valley.
We spent the night at the bottom of the valley, right in the middle of that mess.

The most essential element to a night out in the woods thought is faith and trust in nature.  It's the ultimate "tough-love" to be sure, but it is just that.  A night in a mossy lean-to may not be comfortable by normal standards but nature can provide for us, can cradle us, can sustain us.  But first you have to give it your faith, your love, your calm surrender.  Embrace it even when it wears it toughest face, displays its harshest moods.  

We stood and surveyed the tiny plot in the shadowed woods of the Columbia Gorge.  A long and slender trunk was already downed on the site, laying horizontal to the ground.  I grabbed it, pulled it up a bit and propped it on limb from a nearby tree; voila, the central beam to our earthen A-frame.  We then moved about the area collecting pieces of wood, limbs and boughs, the long sections littering the ground.  These we leaned up and propped against the beam from either side (creating an "A" shaped shelter.)  Large carpet-like sections of moss, ferns, pine boughs, and anything else we could grab were placed atop this frame to provide the actual roofing.  We took the necessary time gathering materials and filling in the patchy roof, getting warm in the process.  It was still light when we'd finished but there was nothing to do but get inside and begin the miserable but essential process of suffering.  We crawled in and it was a very tight fit indeed, but that was probably for the best in terms of warmth.  

I thought of my girlfriend and her sister worrying, waiting for me to return , to meet them out and watch the Finals and have a good time.  I knew it would be hell for them, the stress and uncertainty and worst-case thoughts, but I had to try to push it out of my mind or else I'd lose it and start crying.  I'd been in a few such situations before and I knew I just couldn't dwell on that; I had to focus on surviving and keeping this two person team safe and sane.  As we accepted the fact that we had to spend the night, all I could say to Aj was: "Just don't panic, we're going to be fine.  This sucks...bad...but we're going to be ok."  He nodded in understanding and never waivered in his faith and perserverence.   

We climbed into the shelter at 8 pm.  Shortly after, as if to make the situation as arduous and dangerous as possible, the valley filled with dense, cold fog and it began to rain and continued to do so until we climbed out at 6:30 am.  All night we shifted and spooned, and shivered, and shuddered, tried to stretch our aching, cramped limbs, spooning, turning, and shivering more, in and out and in and out of consciousness, arms inside our shirts, knees to our chests, two wilderness travelers in fetal position, side by side, raw to the earth, in the dirt, enmeshed in pure elements, in complete and utter submission to mother earth.  I had set the alarm on my watch for 5 but when it went off in the dark and it was still raining we decided it was worth it to wait a little and see if the rain let up with the coming light.  Of course it didn't let up, so we figured we just had to go for it, rain or not.  The shelter, while cramped and uncomfortable, was surprisingly waterproof.  We were a little wet and clammy to be sure but not soaked after 10 hours of sleeping in a mossy shelter in the rain...pretty good.

All night, when I was conscious, I thought about what it would take to get us back safely.  The route back, although tough and tiring, was known.  It was the wet and the cold that could kill us and our only safety was in constant motion.  I knew that when we climbed out of that shelter into the wet, foggy, mountainous world we couldn't stop until we'd made it back.  Another wrong turn, inactivity once we were fully wet, could mean death.  I knew this.  I knew we weren't going to stop until the end.  We crawled stiffly out into the light, stood up, blinking into the relative bright, looking around at our surroundings, and began moving forward.  We were on our way...

I felt clumsy and uncoordinated as I tried to wake up while slipping and tripping down the creek from our shelter.  We still had to go up river a bit to where we'd dropped in and I stumbled and almost totally fell in, partially soaking myself.  The ice water filling our shoes once again probably helped to snap us to life a bit.  I lead, as I did all day, and Aj followed behind, silently enduring, engaged in his own struggle and mental games, although the team was strong together.   We reached the point where we'd descended into the whole mess and I began the process of getting fully soaked by climbing the mandatory moss wall, about 20 ft. of thick emerald moss over near vertical rock, all pouring down with cold water.  It was miserable of course, uncomfortable to the utmost, and the journey ahead was daunting but there was no thinking now, only survival mode, nothing but action.  We ascended through the trees, trying to pick the right course upwards, scared now of somehow losing our way again.  1,750 ft. back up the steep fern and moss slopes, through enshrouded boulders and short cliffs, arguing here and there about the right direction of ascent to where we wanted to go.  I tried to be as accomodating as possible and not be too insistent or forceful on my position, although I felt I was doing a fine job of steering us back.  I knew he was scared and had already done so amazingly in enduring the challenges we'd faced, I wanted to support and comfort him as best I could.  

To our relief the trees finally cleared and we reached the top of the valley right at the rocky area where the trail we were following the day before had terminated.  It was a welcome sight and a relief to have completed one of the hardest parts of getting back to warmth and security.  The elation was short lived though for the high top of the valley and the semi-exposed ridge line that the trail follows for a ways was being whipped by a strong and cold wind and the rain had intensified accordingly.  Of course, we were already completely soaked through from the climb up and then the temperature dropping and the wind really made things dire.  I put my arms inside my shirt and cupped my hands around my mouth to catch the warmth of my breath.  I hiked like this for 4 miles or so, shivering and sluggish, uncoordinated and numb, until the wind died down and I warmed sufficiently.  Aj marched along behind all the while, never complaining, beyond words.  We were both scared and focused, zen like, driven by the instinctual motions of survival; there was little talking, only forward motion.  We actually found the junction (with the "mystery" trail that we hadn't known even existed) we'd missed before, where we'd first gotten off, although it wasn't much, still snow covered with a small sign broken and laying flat.  We crossed the snowy area that had foiled us and picked up the trail on the other side and continued our backtrack to safety, seeing then, as with most things in retrospect, how we'd been tripped up and turned around.  Hiking on over the rolling terrain, we finally reached the dirt road up to Nesmith with excitement.  Done with the Moffett Creek trail.  

Down the big climb up from the day before, we ran for a bit and warmed up but our beaten bodies were quickly happy to settle again into our previous slow and constant march.  Near the bottom, near highway 84, we passed a hiker and told him what had happened and that we were trying to find a ride the few miles east to our car.  He was headed up but told us that he had just passed someone farther down who might be able to help.  On we went and finally reached the guy farther down, told him the story, and he gladly agreed to drive us the short distance.  He offered us granola bars and we were happy to accept them and indulge instantly.  The first food in maybe 19 hours.  We got in his car once we reached the road, apologizing for our glorious, earthen scents and filthy, dirt-caked bodies; he had us sit on towels.  We chatted on the short drive and soon he dropped us at Aj's truck.  We thanked him profusely and waved as he drove away.  There was a note on the windshield but no one and nothing else around.  It read: "Call 911," so we knew something was up.  Then we got in his car and realized our wallets and cell phones had been taken, although the doors were locked and the windows weren't broken.  Right then, as we stood slightly bewildered, an SUV pulled up and a blond haired woman stuck her head out of the window.

"Are you guys the lost trail runners?" She asked excitedly.  Aj and I looked at each other.

"I guess so, yes."  She motioned to the driver and they pulled over immediately and jumped out.  The guy had a news camera and she a microphone.  Oh no!  Not the local news!

They questioned us and we answered light-heartedly, not knowing the full extent of what had happened/was happening.  Only after minutes of questioning did she tell us that not even a mile up the road a major search and rescue operation for us was based and that people had been out looking for us all night.  OMFG!!! What?!?!  We felt terrible, of course.  After borrowing the news lady's phone to try and make contact with my girlfriend and my family, Aj and I hopped in his truck and drove up to the center of the search and rescue (SAR) operation.  We got out and timidly began waving in acknowledgment to the people on the scene as it became obvious that we, haggard and dirty, were in fact the two they were looking for.  We were ushered into the "mobile command center," a massive RV-like vehicle, to talk to the guys in charge of it all and to explain what had happened and where exactly we'd been.  They were excited to know.  Our wallets and cell phones were there with them, they'd opened Aj's truck and gotten them to identify us with.  My map, that I should have had with me, was there too.  I showed them exactly where we'd been, where we'd slept, where we'd gone wrong.  They seemed impressed actually and were extremely nice to us, wide eyed as we told of spooning the rainy night away in our moss and fern covered lean-to.  They even handed us a huge bag of McDonalds and told us to grab a burger.  I hadn't eaten McDonald's in probably a decade or more but I took one so I wouldn't seem ungrateful (I ate it in the car for the hell of it and, damn, it's like candy, there's nothing to it, so bad in so many ways, so fleetingly and sickeningly delightful.)  I was truly humbled and deeply sorry, and we thanked them and everyone around over and over and apologized for our errors and in creating such a spectacle and worrying so many people.  More reporters and their cameras tried to interview us as we left the command center but we'd had enough of that so we declined them and got into his truck and drove off. 

On the highway, 84 west and we were finally headed home at last, shell-shocked and hungry, among other things.

Other Thoughts on the Experience

This incident was quite intense, needless to say, and left with me with a lot to think about.  I have a great deal of experience in the wilderness, climbing, running, backpacking, and boating, with a Wilderness First Responder medical certification (or two, since I decided to re-take it once it had expired, for a job leading teenagers in the wilderness), so of course I want to understand what I did wrong so as to learn from my mistakes.  Although there were things that I clearly did wrong, there were essential decisions that were made correctly; I will mention both. 

The main problem was not taking the map.  Duh, so to speak.  I had studied the route and it showed no trails branching off so I thought it would be impossible to take a wrong turn.  This assumption was clearly wrong and if I'd had the map I would have been checking it and would have realized that we were veering off in the wrong direction.  Simple.  Besides the map, some extra food and a headlamp would have been a minimal but solid additions.  If we'd had headlamps we would have backtracked and gotten out that night.  Given that we hadn't brought the map, the other big error was in forging on, hoping that my assumptions were correct.  It is easy to get like this when you think you are still navigating correctly, overly optimistic,  unwilling to accept defeat and just go back.  We must be humble in the wilderness!  No matter how experienced, how trained, how fit; sometimes you make honest mistakes and the art lies in realizing that sooner than later and dealing with it, as gracefully as possible.  I should have know better than to continue on when it began to look bleak but hope can really spur you on when you think salvation might be just around the next bend.

Another problem was not telling someone exactly where we were going.  (This may sound strange but given that we were still uninjured and functioning and able to self-rescue I am actually very, very thankful that the search and rescue didn't know exactly where we were; our position, where we spent the night, was so rugged and inaccessible that a rescue effort there would have been dangerous for others and hugely involved.)  Although I hate cell phones, that is one more component that many have been urging me to bring along (I guess even if it's turned off "they" can still locate you with a "ping."  Very creepy but for my loved ones I must swallow my pride and learn to take the good with the bad sometimes.)  I've been bringing it along, turned off, on every adventure run since.

There were some major criticisms of us that I would like to address (most of them written in the comment section of the videos of us on the local news sites.)  First off I want to say that I am so sorry for ever making anyone worry about me; I know this is no small thing and I don't desire recklessness.  When people say things, though, like: they must have no experience! who goes out to run 20 miles in the mountains? who would bring such little gear?  they should pay for the rescue efforts, I don't want my taxes going to save them! I can't help but feel that they are not considering some things.  Lots of people go and run 20-30-40-50+ miles in the mountains all the time, and that number is increasing rapidly.  I know it sounds crazy, and is in some ways, but it's entirely feasible too.  You can't run those distances in the same way if you have lots of gear with you.  Yes, you do up the risk a bit, but you also have the great advantage of being light and fast and if you're fit enough and choosing to be out there doing it in the wilderness then you must have at least a certain level of mountain aptitude and amount of self-reliance.  In terms of tax payers' money going towards rescue efforts like these, I would say first: of course, you don't want totally inexperienced people going out and being far too ambitious and getting in way over their heads and then relying on a costly rescue to survive, but there's a big difference in someone with a great deal of training and experience making an understandable error and then dealing with it and getting out safely without assistance.  The second thing I'd say to those concerned about tax payers' dollars is: Better you should be worried about how much of your hard earned cash is going toward wars or Wall Street bonuses or any of the other myriad sick and warped ways our government spends our money than about whether a few cents worth goes to finding someone who got turned around in the woods.  I am forever apologetic for having the rescue efforts made for me and Aj and I would choose self-rescue at almost any cost but come on, let's keep it in perspective here, I mean for real!

A note on local news: Don't trust it.  The seemingly simple plot of our misadventure was reported differently and never accurately by the handful of local news channels that covered the story.  Every question that was asked of us oozed sensationalism, they wanted to film me, up close, talking to my family on the phone.  No thanks.  The inaccuracy though was baffling and no wonder then how stereotypes form from one-sided, biased reporting, spreading fear and all the negativity and discrimination that results.  Just a quick aside.  

  Back on topic, I must say for all the mistakes made we did do some things right, things that saved our lives. Here they are:

-We stopped early. still in the light, to make a shelter.  We didn't forge on into the night and get wet and cold before trying to find/make a shelter without headlamps.  We accepted our fate, knew we couldn't get out safely with what we had that night, and knew we had to spend the night.  We took the time to create an effective shelter, our salvation from 8 pm to 6:30 am, and it very possibly was the difference in our survival.  

-We kept things together mentally.  This was truly the most important thing that happened.  It served as the basis for all other decision making.  Panic causes rash decisions to be made, like desperately hiking into the night without lights trying to get home, like building a half-assed shelter in the dark.  Things snowball, death occurs.  Calmness in the mind, acceptance of the situation, informs a relaxed body.  Better energy for survival.  

-Of course there's the super basics, like we weren't wearing cotton (a serious liability when wet), but that goes without saying.  

So, we made it.  That was that.  It was epic and moving, deeply affecting, and loved ones were worried and I felt bad, missing acutely all those I love, and remembered the essential, vital importance of those relationships and bonds.  The real important stuff took center stage, all the meaningless details of life that occupy us were dissolved away in a moment, in my life and in the lives of those connected to me.  But, as it is now in our modern times, in our modern lives, all that was gone in an instant.  Time flew by, marched on, rushed past.  The experience seemed more and more dreamlike as it receded into memory, as the scrapes healed and the lingering sense of the womb of the forest slowly faded from me.  Everything went back to normal, as to be expected, but it reminded me of how we're living now and how we are changing as humans beings, and the interrelation of the two.  Long reflection, contemplation and slow living is being systematically bred out of our society, of our culture (if you can even call it that anymore.)  Raw, real, animal-like experience in nature isn't valued; it can't be sold, can't be made big business.  Our society can't see the chance for true wisdom there, doesn't see the opportunity for the cultivation and exercising of real bravery and courage, or developing a unity with the last untouched, unfettered, untainted thing we know.  Don't get me wrong, please, I am forever and wholeheartedly apologetic for making anyone worried, for having rescue efforts mobilized, for every bit of that, but in terms of learning to trust, love, and respect nature, and to gain perspective on this world we live in, it might do people good to get turned around in the woods a little more often.  Get up close and personal with it!  A guaranteed adventure, a story to tell your kids!  Explore the brilliance of something untouched by man, crawl around in the woods, nuzzle your face in the dirt! 

(just tell someone where you're going and not to wait up!)

I want to give an extra special mention to my girlfriend Sonya, who took the brunt of the worrying, and also her sister Nina.  I am forever sorry for the bad night!!!  Also to my family: I know I've put you through some scary times over the years but I learn more every time and I swear I'm becoming more conservative.  Love you all!

Last, but clearly not least, to Aj.  An amazing guy, I am forever impressed at your tenacity and toughness in the experience.  Thanks for rocking it out and sorry again for the poor navigation.  I just hope one day you'll go on another run with me.

Thanks for reading!  Peace...

here's another video for your enjoyment.  Amazing talent! Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

ART! inspired by and celebrating NATURE!

Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Oregon, Oct. '10

"...to deny one's genealogy with the earth was to commit treason against one's soul."
-Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

I've always made art, since I was a child, and from an early age I was taught to respect and love Nature; being inspired creatively by that world was the natural result.  My mother is a landscape architect and was and is still a huge and enduring influence on my life.  I vividly remember at a first grade birthday party at a friend's vacation home by the Indiana Dunes all us boys were out in the woods.  A kid named Billy was kicking down a small, young sapling of some sort and it as as if he was stomping on my own mother.  I let out a wail and charged toward him, leveling him to the forest floor.  As I said, I've always been into the outdoors...

Over the years, as a kid and then mostly after college, I've continued creating and making art of all kinds.   Drawing, sewing (designing and making women's purses for a few years, etc.), stenciling, furniture making, and other things here and there.  I've been embracing the need for hands-on, inspired creation in my life and have actually been keeping up almost more than ever.  My girlfriend, Sonya Montenegro, and her sister Nina, are HUGE inspirations as well, creating and art making and thoughtfully and passionately crafting incessantly.

Loving Nature and loving the act of creating art and craft is so closely linked, so tightly bound together.  Inherent in both, especially in today's world, is the acute sense of things true and real.  When you're on a hike in the woods or sitting and putting pen to paper, paint to canvas, you are present in that act, not watching it on a screen, not experiencing something synthesized.  Your actions have direct results; you see the fruits of your labor.  A walk in the woods, a run in the mountains, is art, since it's a conscious choice, a deliberate action.  It's a gesture of respect, an example for others to not forget that which sustains us.

What inspires out there?  Well, everything really.  The patterns all around, the intricate weblike veins on the leaves, the textures on the trees and rock.  The shapes, some jagged and rough, some smooth and sensuous.  The sounds, the smells, the Forms (all gracefully and simply one and the same with their Functions.)  The sweeping ridge lines, the waterfalls and all the endless sculptures, true sculptures, carved by that essential liquid.  The plants, the flowers!!!! I mean, for real, it's staggering.  It's funny that I could create those "fantasy" plants in my head, make them as wild and crazy as I wanted, and yet they're nothing in comparison to what you can go out and see in Nature almost anywhere.  Dive into the ocean, see the plants and animals up close, go into the forest and the mountains and stare deeply into what you find...the flora and fauna in Avatar won't seem so far out (I think that was part of the point...a natural world so stunning and amazing that you'd fight for it exists right in front of us, all around us.)

Here's a variety of images of works old and new.  Please enjoy!

Mar. '11, on display at the Paradox Cafe, Portland, OR

Mar. '11, on display at the Paradox Cafe, Portland, OR

Jun '11, on display at the Paradox Cafe, Portland, OR

Sewing on stretched fabric, Spring '10


Mar. '11, on display at the Paradox Cafe, Portland, OR

old work (~'05-'06), sold at the Paradox Cafe, '11

Fantasy Mountainscape, past work

Peruvian Mountainscape, from an image

Fantasy Plant, ~'09

Fantasy Plant, ~'09

Fantasy Plant, '09

Orchid, from life, ~'09

Fantasy Plant, on wood, ~'09

Speaking of art....enjoy this too!