Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tips For Good Hiking Etiquette

Most enjoyable for life.

If you go hiking alone, no one cares if you are a slob. This has been proven by science.

Clouds of flies around your head. Bushy facial hair. Dusty, baggy pants. Sweat-stained shirts. Filthy, disintegrating footwear. Stinky, woolly armpits. All are acceptable if you are hiking alone, or only with your boyfriend.

But become part of a larger group and you need to meet a higher standard.

At a minimum you will be expected to know which side of the trail it is proper to walk on, how to navigate turns, how to pass safely, and what the various signs mean.

In some more popular, high-traffic areas you may need to take a hiking test before being allowed onto the trail, and will have to carry a license. Expect to demonstrate the proper use of lights, how to lace boots for various maneuvers (and which socks to wear), how to start and stop safely, and how to go uphill, downhill, and reverse your way out of danger.

Besides this, practice hand signals, so valuable in trail encounters. Many novice hikers get into needless trouble by inept use of gestures whose meanings they have not properly learned. Don't let that be you! Buy the guidebook and study with diligence.

But of course also, carry a stick. If you watch closely, you will see many hikers these days do this, possibly to deal with wandering rudeboys. (You never know!) Carry two, with points on them. Use vigorously if shouts and hand gestures prove ineffective.

Now, one thing is to maintain distance while hiking with others, to avoid bumper bouncing. Once again, your sticks (so handy!).

Safely hold pointed end while lightly probing your fore-buddy in small of back with handle. Closer is now impossible to get and all in group may maintain a brisk forward motion. Secondly, this prevents slovenly formations. Now you have it. March on boldly.

Blisters arise through improper use of footwear or from impure thoughts. Deal with these privately or experience shame.

Hiking over the exquisite outside of the country should be a matter of joy and improper boots will only supply you with frustrations. Remember that the longer the distance you go, the heavier your oboe will become. Perhaps it is better to carry a smaller instrument, or to whistle only. Whistling or a quiet humming sound can be quite enjoyable and much less bulky than wind instruments. Plus, easier to learn.

Your companions will be appreciative.

Ah, companions! Such wonderful times may be had with them!

Some, however, contemplating the various qualities of the terrain over which you will probably be mostly traversing, will say, "Dude! Impossible!" Do not take fright. This is only an affable expression of enthusiasm, most often used by the young, and perhaps includes only slight fear. Fear is a natural emotion. Oats are a natural food. See?

Once the good footwear is on all feet they will calm. It is all natural. Town folks can learn too. They will adapt while learning to walk. Maybe this is you?

Welcome! Have a new existence while walking.

When you are done, proper etiquette demands that you return home not only with your clothes in place, but also removing all waste. Remember this simple rule: Stuff it in, stuff it out. But so often there is regret among thoughtful hikers at finding traces of those who have gone before. A pile of chewed bones or discarded implements is never a welcome sight, let alone soiled or abandoned apparel. Please be aware to this.

Even a thing as wonderful and degraded as the toilet roll can still take too long to happen, so why not reverse the rolling and bring it back for your pets? Could be. A new toy for them.

If you lack a container, how about that now-empty water bottle? Hmmm? Or at the least bury the despicables near views to avoid clutter.

Warning: If in the badlands it is bad form to carry a boombox, and possibly too dry as well. Think it over.

Tip: If you are an unpleasant person to see, why not hike with your face down? Just saying.

Remember foremost in your head that respect for other walkers is most critical. They are too hard to avoid. There are simply too many, and frequently have pointed hiking sticks. This is a good reason to be polite. Try offering small snacks or treats, but beware of approaching their young, as mothers can be quite protective, aggressive even, or have diseases.

Mating season is also dangerous, especially if beer is involved, or wine. Please stay on the trail and do not investigate strange noises. A small red flag, carried inconspicuously in the pocket, can be placed to warn others of such hazards.

Likewise, there are other animals too, often having a plethora of hoofy feet or claws. These they use on unwary hikers to cause annoyance, or worse. In case you are preparing on hiking -- and the laws permit it -- proceed with caution. Avoid wildlife, especially large things that seem to be frowning, though this is sometimes hard to ascertain, so listen closely for cursing. That is a sure giveaway. Retreat.

Bears are large animals with teeth on one end. They are to be feared. Mountain lions also. You might try catnip. Who can say? Do your best to avoid annoying these, and even the less assertive wildlife. As a rule they all have secret appetites which may involve disagreeable practices.

You may have a pet at home, as a hobby. This is good, but please do not assume that wildlife will obey you. Wild animals quickly become frustrated and exhibit signs of mental distress. One of them by this means may become attached to you. Say to your leg. Removal is costly and you could receive a fine as well, so in general avoid upsetting animals.

Perhaps you can stay on the bus and have a nap. The seats are very soft there and air conditioning is available, with sandwiches. Nothing unreasonable can get in without a ticket, and you have a reading lamp. This could be a fine alternative.

Happy hiking to you and your compatriots!


Friday, March 18, 2011

Boundary Trail 4

Cold buns, no warming oven.

Morning, day four. Looks hopeful, right?

This trip is getting dim in my memory, but it's taken a long time to get through all the photos. That sounds almost like a good excuse, right? If I come across a better one I'll come back and edit it in, but for now that's my story and I'm running with it.

Leaving Dark Meadow by the rear exit.

I started this trip toward the end of July, 2010, but was surprised to find deep, old hard snow at the end of the first day.

So what's up higher? Mmmm.

The last three seasons around here have been rough for backpacking -- heavy snow late in the season, summers cool, cloudy, and late to arrive. And 2011 isn't looking any better. Been raining like crazy here all winter.

Maybe if I look up.... Mmmm.

But last summer was a real booger.

The second and last time I started this trip in late August the day was bright and sunny, a situation that ended about two hours later. But it wasn't bad. The first day was pleasantly cool, and dry. Days two and three were about the same, with occasional sun. Overnight lows were in the 40s and 50s, Fahrenheit (~ 8 to 15 C)

Is the trail any better? Well, it's visible.

The fourth day brought a lot of mist, and never warmed. The high for the day was around 45F (7C), not exactly calm, but not breezy -- sort of drafty. OK for hiking, but chilly on stops of more than a few minutes.

Let's see...plants not frozen off yet.

This was also my first real encounter with motorcyclists in this area. Strangely, I can't find any photos of them. I remember taking a few but I must have been hallucinating again. I need to take more people pix.

Plants actually look as though they like it.

Out of Dark Meadow, which is a nice place, going west, you climb halfway up Dark Mountain before dropping way down, then go up the very long Yellowjacket Pass, which was where I met my first group of cyclists. The good news is that you can hear them coming, even if you can't always tell if they're coming toward you or going away, or are ahead or behind.

And the plants have the only cheery colors left.

The bad news is that they kick up huge amounts of dust. Over the seasons motorcycle tires have badly ripped up the trails and have left thick layers of soft dust in deep trenches where the trail tread used to be. I have literally had my entire foot disappear into the dust. More than once.

Maybe if I look back east. Hope there? Nope.

The first group was only a handful, but farther up I got tangled in a group of maybe 15 riders.

I heard them coming from behind, and stepped off trail, usually up, and behind the nearest tree. This sounds odd. OK. I started a game once when I was around eight years old. Being invisible. Color me kinky but it's kind of fun. Helps preserve the illusion that everyone is out there alone too.

Back to my friends, the foliage.

The problem was that right after the last of the group got past they would all stop. I don't know why. When I went mountain biking I tried going with other people but they did the same thing -- ride for five minutes and then stop and talk about it. Not like road riding.

On them, blue looks good. Not on my hands though.

Anyway, they'd stop, and then I would catch up with them, and ease past after a while, because I didn't want to stand and wait around, and then they'd come up again from behind. Though it was fun spooking them out by constantly reappearing from behind when as far as they knew, they hadn't passed me.

Pretty. I wonder what it is.

Actually pretty nice people, but motorcycling and backpacking aren't really compatible uses. Horses are bad enough, but if you shoot a horse it gives up. Not so for motorcycles.

More trail around Shark Rock/Kirk Rock

When I finally got out of the Yellowjacket Pass area the cyclists kept going southeast while I headed west. Between Snagtooth Mountain and Craggy Peak I stopped for lunch, around 1 p.m. By then things were getting drippy.

This was odd. Had never seen it before.

Old crumbly basalt, the bones of this place.

The day was dry, but there was heavy dry fog all around, and it condensed on the trees up high, and then the water dripped off like rain. No trees, no rain, all fine. Under the trees you got soaked. There was a stretch between Craggy Peak and Badger Lake (on the maps below) where there were little streams flowing down the trail. The air was dry (if cold), the ground was bone dry, but in the middle of the trail, meandering through the dust, were small streams.

If this is summer, what could winter be like?

In late afternoon I suffered through a sponge bath at Badger Lake, which is the only body of water in the middle section of this trail, and kept heading west. The best part of the day was finding a camp site.

It's good you can't fall up. Me no want fall on that.

There is a really nice open forest a little east of Elk Pass/Road 25. The land is flat there, it's quiet, and sheltered but spacious. Good for hammocking though the trees are widely spaced. There is a little trickle of water somewhere in the mile (2 km) or so of trail east of the road, but it probably goes dry most summers. Anyway, it was nice.

By this time the trees were getting drippy.

The last day was a bit warmer though still mostly cloudy, and quiet. The trail is a little chewed up, but it looks like most motorcyclists stay well to the east. Incidentally, on the day I saw all the motorcyclists, I was hiking along sections of trail that were even a little spooky to walk. You know, a rock wall on one side, rocky trail tread full of loose stones, and a relentless rocky slope below, plunging several hundred feet. I have no idea why they didn't all die riding through these places.

Somehow, the trees still look happy.

Only one of the photos here even hints at that kind of terrain -- there were several sections where you had to concentrate on where you put your feet. Again, I have no idea how they rode motorcycles through those sections.

Meanwhile, on the trail, still cold and dim.

Anyway, the last day things were warmer but still not warm, getting almost sunny toward the end. I think this was a Monday, so it was quiet too, but you can see from the photo of St Helens how cheery the day was.

Back in the forest, no change.

So then I went home, planning to come back and visit Jumbo Peak, and climb it, which I did, but had to wait out the entire month of September because it rained. And rained. And rained. I have a post on that elsewhere.

Just about out. St Helens not smiling today.

Happy 2010, everybody. Happy 2011, too, if possible.

Woot. Almost done, almost sunny.

West 1/3 of trail.

Middle 1/3 of trail.

East 1/3 of trail.


Boundary Trail 1

Boundary Trail 2

Boundary Trail 3

Kurt's Dark Divide Pages

Washington’s Dark Divide Roadless Area, by Susan Saul, Forest Magazine, July/August 2001

Exploring the Dark Divide, Southwest Washington's threatened gem (PDF)

Dark Divide Washington August 10, 2008 (video)


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Tale Of Pre-Security

Deja voodoo all over the place.

I want to leave the country. Legally. At least for a while. It's a thing.

I might hike or something.

To do that I need a passport.

Last week I checked at the post office to find out the days and hours I could do this.

The man I talked to said I'd need a photo. I knew that. He said it would cost $110. I knew that.

He said there was a $25 fee. I didn't know that, but OK.

To confirm I said "So that's $135." No, he said, $110 plus $25. "$135, right?" I said, hopefully.

He said that the passport fee was $110 and there was a $25 processing fee. I wrote all this down, added it up, and came to $135, which seemed to make sense to me.

He seemed dubious.

The hours were OK: Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

So far so good. He reminded me that I'd need a photo. Twice. (Three times in all.)

So far so good.

A few days ago I went back.

I was wearing pants.

And I had:

* The official form, filled out.

* $135 in cash, since I didn't want to mess with a check or credit card, which were both listed as options, on the form.

* Two photos, as required, in the correct size.

* An official birth certificate.

The form asked for my parents' full birth dates, but I only know the years so I just put them in. I hope it's good enough. I believe only terrorists know really detailed information like day of birth and month of birth, and normal people don't. I'm trying hard to seem normal so I think that's in my favor. We'll see.

The clerk saw that I had already signed the form and told me I'd have to come back in three years, after getting a spanking, because I shouldn't have.

He was right. On line 1476B, subsection 18, in bold, 3-point type it says not to. I'm a naughty one, I guess, but he pulled out a scrap of paper and had me sign it while he watched. He said that would work too.

This was obviously a test. And not just an ordinary test, but a two-part test.

First, to prove that I knew what a pen was.

If I had grabbed the pen and immediately poked both my eyes out, I'm sure I would have failed, oh so miserably.

Second, to prove I could write, I guess. I can, I could, I did, signing my very own name again, successfully.

I passed. OK so far.

Time to pay.

I offered $135 in cash.

No. They don't take cash.

There are two fees: $110 and $25. They have to be two separate transactions. The first one is $110. To pay that I had to buy a money order with cash, at a cost of $1.10, print my name on it and hand it back to the clerk.

I tried not to.

I tried giving him my credit card. He said it was good for only $25. But I could pay with a check if I wanted.

No. I had brought cash so I wouldn't have to do any of this stuff, but after a while we got it worked out. Meaning that we did it his way.

$110 in cash, plus $1.10 in cash, and then he gave me the money order, and then I handed back the money order.

On to the next part, also involving money. Yay!

The clerk accepted cash for the $25 fee, without twitching, while I held my breath. But he forgot to make me kiss his ring, which I'm having some guilty feelings about now. I should have reminded him. We'll see. I hope it doesn't come back to me later. I am on camera not kissing any rings at all.


He cut my photograph in two. I had brought two images on one sheet of photo paper, and handed them over, then he cut one off and gave it back to me. He said I could keep it for my records. But I have a mirror in my bathroom, which fills all my needs, so. What?

I reminded him that I was supposed to bring two. It's on the form. Bring two identical photographs. It's on the form.

He said they don't do that any more, so I should keep the second one. (The form lied to me. Nasty lying form. We isn't trusting it again, ever. Nasssssty form. We isn't ever trusting it again.)

While the clerk was mutilating my photograph I casually remarked that it's a good thing I'm not the kind of guy who, about now, would be standing there waving his arms and screaming. He didn't say anything. I'm not sure he heard me. Or maybe he was thinking how bitchin I looked in my 2x2-inch photo.

Probably not.

I don't think he was that impressed. I guess I just didn't come across as funny, or threatening, or bitchin. Anyway, I wasn't trying to be funny.

Then the clerk disappeared.

I had my credit card out, floating around. I had one stray floating photo, and that had to be recaptured too. And I had another piece or two of paper, plus two receipts, one for $110 and one for $25, signifying the two transactions, you know.

But I had no driver's license.

You have to bring one.

For identification.

I'd had it out, and I didn't want to lose it, because, you know....

And now I couldn't find it.

After a while the clerk came back and handed it to me. He had gone off to make a photocopy, which I hadn't known, because he's a mumbler. A really, really good mumbler.

In fact it was only then that I realized why I hadn't been able to understand any more than every third or fourth word. Because he must have been one of the best of the best. A mumbling instructor.

They ARE the best of the best.

I imagined him at the front of a room. A room full of chairs, and in each chair a fresh, shiny clerk in training, and he was teaching each of them how to talk like you talk when you have a whole cheeseburger in your mouth. But he didn't have one.

I know.

I had him open his mouth and stick out his tongue and there was no cheeseburger in there. Anywhere.

He's a pro.

I could never, ever be that good.

But we got past it. You lean how to do that in relationships, so we worked, and got past it.

Only one thing left.

For some reason he had to check my birth certificate and find my birth date. I'm not sure why. It could be his hobby. But he got it wrong. He found the date I applied to get the copy, which is on there, and it says "December 23, 2010".

And that confused him. I'm way too young.

I directed him to the birth date line but it still, to him, seemed wrong. Somehow.

I told him that I should write Harry Shearer about how my day went but I don't think he heard me. Or he didn't care. Or he thought I was bluffing. Or doesn't know who Harry Shearer is. Not that Harry Shearer would care.

I'm just this guy, you know?

But it passed. We moved on.

The clerk decided that my birth date was my birth date and read it out loud. Four or five times.

I began to feel proud. My birth date, I think, must be a really good one.

It may have been a first for his collection, especially since I'm from a very small, really goofy state that has more cow poop than electricity.

He seemed pleased by all this in his expressionless, mumbling way.

Almost done. I had only to gather up my collection of waste paper and receipts, and leave.

While I did this the clerk told me that the process will take three to five weeks. He said this at least four times, except that once he said four to six weeks.

I think he wanted to see if I was paying attention.

I was paying attention.

Helpfully, the clerk finally informed me that if I want to know about the progress of my passport application I can check the web site. I pull out my receipts, looking them over for a tracking number while asking if there is a tracking number I can use.


I am free to go to the web site and search around. Somewhere. Somewhere at the web site of the State Department there will be a place that will tell me where to go, and then if I want to, I can go there.

Fine, I said. I'll keep that secret close to my heart.

I said this with feeling. And I will do it too. I will keep this secret so very close to my heart, and cuddle with it whenever I am feeling lost and hopeless, or chilly.

That was it. I was told I was done.

Next I get to meet the TSA. I can't wait. I hear they're nice.

But first, "Quit whining. It ain't that bad," someone said, over my shoulder.

And that is exactly what the clerk then repeated. In fact, those were the clearest words he spoke, to which I replied "Oh, yeah?"

Directly following this we engaged in a reasonably short arm wrestling tournament (best one out of one) to settle our differences, which we did, pretty quickly, although there was too much grunting and screaming for my taste.

Who won isn't relevant, but I'd like to say right now that these injuries are taking a lot longer to heal than I'd hoped. I can still barely even use a spoon to feed myself, let alone the cat.

I have no idea when this cat showed up. I didn't used to have a cat, but he's a good conversationalist, and has been nice about licking my scabs to keep them from cracking. He's a good napper too, which I admire.

Sir! Mr. Clerk, Sir! (I have to call him that from now on) and I did part amicably though (I am legally required to say that). In fact, in a gesture of magnanimity, or possibly of pity (either works for me) he let me test-lick a whole new line of stamps that will be available soon: peach, plum, persimmon, cinnamon-ginger beer, and spicy green apple, in handy denominations from 47.25 cents up through $22.37 (for those larger, fatter letters full of legal documents, and for passport applications).


That's all taken care of.

Now I guess I just wait for the FBI to kick my door down.

If they don't, I'm free to go.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Moving Fur And Feathers

Beat-up Bob/Ma & Pa Quacker

I did a morning walk today. Haven't been able to get up early enough for a while.

There's a converted railway line here which goes south almost from my front door, and intersects with a working railway about four miles south. That's where I turn around, so walking this route is a decent way to start the day.

Today I was smart enough to take a camera.

Little guy sitting in a field and looking confused.

There was a small raccoon sitting in a big field. Sitting there like a cat, looking down at the grass. Raccoons don't do that.

Surprisingly it didn't run off while I fumbled to get my camera out. It sat. Then it started licking its under-parts the way a cat does, and sat some more before finally moving off slowly.

Limping off using only the two right legs.

That's when I found out.

It wasn't well.

It kept both of its left feet in the air, putting weight only on its right two. I've never seen an animal do this before. The poor guy had obviously gotten beat up. Maybe chewed on.

These two looked a lot happier.

The second photo seems to show him putting weight on his left rear foot, but he wasn't. The foot may have briefly touched ground for balance, but that was it. The left front foot didn't even get near the ground.

The day was still dark then, and my camera must have boosted the ISO up to the max, so the photos are grainy and soft, and the color is odd. And although I'm not too familiar with raccoons, and it may be only a natural pattern in the fur, it looks almost like there is a bald patch on this guy's shoulder.

Maybe not, but he was really hurting. I hope he recovers.

And inseparable.

On my way back, about an hour later, two ducks were in a trailside ditch. Any place that's wet, there they are. I kind of herded them south, letting them swam away from me, gave them time to turn around, and then followed them back north a bit, before easing away and finishing my walk.

The light was much better by then, so the photos are better. It's surprising to see how bright and smooth the male's colors are. He almost looks like a floating abstract painting.

For a couple of years there was a resident pair of ducks at another point in the trail. They would stand on the pavement and watch me go by every morning. I usually quacked at them as I passed but I think they could tell I wasn't a relative.

A small ditch, but big enough for two.

Sometimes one of them would be sitting and the other standing on one foot.

I think they were pretty sure I was a harmless fool because I'd come within about six feet and generally they hardly bothered to give me a close look. When they do that you know they have you figured out.

No rain today. Yet.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Definitions: Utensil

Bite with me.

Utensil:  Human lips, teeth and tongue, for those who are not fastidious eaters and simply stick their heads into the pot and slurp.

Utensil:  The human hand, for those who are fastidious eaters. (Comes in washed and unwashed versions, left or right hand models.)

Utensil:  Spoon. Normally not considered essential among ultralight backpackers, but may be fun to bring along for special occasions.

Utensil:  Useless affectation such as a knife, fork or spork, especially if made of titanium.

Utensil:  What you find in the road in upscale neighborhoods instead of a fork.