Thursday, July 17, 2014

Aldo, Muir and the Siskiyou Crest...

Joni and I traveled to Aldo Leopold's shack where the great Aldo wrote A Sand County Almanac. The same day we traveled to the land where John Muir spent part of his boyhood. That's quite a thrilling day for us!

And I had this piece published today in the Chico News and Review regarding a proposed new National Monument.

Monday, July 14, 2014


This is a coyote we picked up on our trail cam. This fellah was sniffing around about 25 yards from our house.

Every post I write gets around 70 hits. That's the average. If I push the post on Facebook, I can get that up to 150 or so.

Some posts do better than others. Evidently, "Zite" picked up my last post in one of its feeds that it sends out to specialty users. So if a person is interested in lightweight backpacking, Zite picks it up and sends it to IPhone and Ipad users. I don't have any of those things, so I don't know what it is like.

My piece on the death of backpacking got picked up by Zite and it has had over 1,000 hits today. That's kind of fun but a bit worrisome. All of us are becoming so insulated in our opinions that we only get information on topics that we focus on. And usually just one side.

My post was a bit anti-speed hiking, so it ruffled a few feathers. Something I like to do on occasion.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

On the Demise of the Sport of Backpacking.

I've read enough trail journals. I've seen enough. The new Ultra Light backpacking hysteria has destroyed what was once a good and noble endeavor. Ultra Light backpacking has changed backpacking into an adrenaline based sport that shamefully belongs on the X Games. The emphasis has become on carrying too little and racing through too many miles. It has become an obsession that is ruining the sport.

The Appalachian Trail Society doesn't pay attention to time records for hiking the AT. They say it is not in the best interests of the trail. The Pacific Crest Trail should follow the AT's lead.

Enough is enough. Yes, I marveled at "Anish's" unsupported distance hike last summer. Doing the entire 2,650 miles of the PCT in 59 days, averaging 42 miles a day, surely is a feat worthy of admiration. To her detractors who say how can anyone "see" anything when they are speed hiking, Anish said she saw six mountain lions en route. On her previous, more traditional PCT Thru Hike in 2007, she saw no mountain lions.

But tell me, how much did she see when she was hiking at night, trying to smash the record? Hiking so fast that you surprise a mountain lion, one of the more elusive creatures on the planet, does not seem like an argument for "seeing" things. It sounds more like bellicose, belligerent hiking to me. Sort of like a jet fighter strafing a quaint village.

Thru Hiking has become nothing more than an ultra-marathon where you streak through some of the most awesome scenery in America in 25 to 35 mile stints, all to reach the next trail town where you drink beer, crash in a motel with seven other Thru Hikers and charge your cell phone.

Nobody wants to carry food, or a sleeping bag or a tent. Cowboy camping has become the Thru Hiker norm; sleeping bags have become quilts and tarps have replaced tents. It is all designed for speed.

And the shoes? No longer do we have the support of mid-ankle boots that work so very well carrying a heavy load over rock. Now the shoes look like running shoes. By looking at the footwear, a person would think that the revelers in Thru Hiking were lining up to run the Boston Marathon and not Thru Hiking through countless wilderness areas and national parks.

Meals are no longer cooked: trail bars and candy bars and chips are the norm. You eat when you get to town. Food is only carried for four days max. Read this typical entry from a Thru Hiker journal I read this morning:

"I get to the trailhead around 1 and wait for a bit, organizing my stuff. My pack is way too heavy. 4 liters of liquids. 6 days of food, which really is more like 8 with how much I eat. It’s heavy! But I want to make it all of the way to Seiad Valley without stopping, some 156 miles down the trail. I’m hoping to do it in 5 days. Hoping."

What used to be common on the trail (carrying sufficient water and food for multiple days) is now something to complain about. This is the new norm. Thru Hiker's don't carry food anymore. They just head into town every three days.

So judgmental Allan. Don't you know that all these folks should Hike Their Own Hike (even if they hike their own hike all the same) and not pay the least bit of attention to your curmudgeonly critiques. Judge not lest you be judged. That's such crap. This is just a way to stifle feedback and opinions. Of course we should judge! That's why we have frontal lobes.

On my last backpacking trip, I was carrying around 45 pounds. Enough water to be safe in some dry conditions and enough food (and a tent) to actually enjoy the art of camping. A couple young bucks came along, carrying monstrously large packs. They were on their way for a couple hundred miles hike that would have them in the woods for a couple weeks. And they were carrying enough chow to last them. I stopped and chatted with these guys. "We don't go for this ultra-light business" one of the youngsters said, "we like feeling like we are actually camping".

And that's the point. Thru Hikers have lost that sense of solitude. Of being self-sufficient. The trail has become a race. An ultra sport. An adrenaline experience. You do it in "packs"---sometimes called a "herd". You travel in a pack. You start at the same time down in Campo, California. You hit the towns at the same time. You eat together in the towns. You share motel rooms together. And you run the race together on the trail. Gone is solitude. Gone is the art of zeroing on the trail. Gone is camping.

Its all high tech gear and titanium poles. Tents have become specially made tarps. Backpacks are space age rucksacks. John Denver wouldn't recognize today's trail shoe.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association encourages this type of recreation with their emphasis on "the Class of 2014" and in their magazine that gives way too much attention to Thru Hiking. They should de-emphasize this in order to promote solitude. Beauty. The Trail. Section hiking. Zeroing on the trail.

I've read some 25 trail journals this year of Thru Hikers. I haven't seen one Zero (a day not spent hiking) that was spent on the trail, camping at a thrilling location. Isn't that why we hike? To get someplace with our own two feet that others rarely go? No zeroes on the trail. Lots of beer in the towns though. Alas, that's what long distance backpacking has become: a race from one beer joint to the next.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Well, I don't know if much more can happen in just a couple of weeks.

Since my last entry I've quit a job of eleven years. We had Joni's Grandchildren move out of our house after ten years to go live with their Mother. Joni and I are empty nesters now.  I'm on my third laptop in three weeks due to the first laptop melting, the second couldn't connect to the Internet (I'll never buy an ASUS again after two tries)---hopefully this third Toshiba laptop is a charm. I took a five day backpacking trip across the Siskiyou Mountains during which time one of our dogs got bit by a rattlesnake. The dog lived---thanks to the fact we had recently vaccinated her against rattlesnake bites.

On top of that, the Oil and Gas Industry found a loophole in our petition to ban fracking in Butte County such that all of Joni's efforts to get that on the ballot in Butte County are at risk.

After being off-line for so long, I had hundreds and hundreds of e-mails to sift through. I am buried. To tell you the truth, not having access to this digital world was wonderful. We recently got rid of our cable television--after a couple weeks of an adjustment, we no longer miss it at all.

Which makes me think that weekly Sabbaths and Sabbaticals from the digital world just might be an enjoyable thing to do. I have a friend who doesn't answer e-mail every weekend. He leaves the digital world behind and only imbibes in that during the work week. Good idea.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cannabis and the Butte County Primary of 2014

What's the view from Butte County on the election results from the primary? Nothing all that Earth shattering. The Chico ER was surprised that Andrew Merkel got as many votes as he did running against Larry Wahl for County Supervisor. Merkel is a marijuana advocate hothead who has scads of money from Butte County's richest industrial lobby: cannabis. Frankly, I was surprised that Merkel didn't do better than he did. Merkel has a popular pet issue (pot) and lots of money. Wahl, who most Progressives hate, ran a low budget campaign. Wahl was the single vote for Fracking when the Butte County Supervisors surprised us by endorsing a Fracking ban in Butte County.

What else? Candace Grubbs, who has been the County Recorder for years and who refused to marry gay couples at the County Courthouse, faced a challenge from a popular County Supervisor's wife. Grubbs has been vocal in criticizing the lax Cannabis growing rules. Grubbs easily won re-election.

Jerry Brown took 44 percent of the vote in Butte County (compared to 54 percent state wide). To the Left of Jerry Brown, the Greens did poorly as did Cindy Sheehan of the Peace and Freedom Party. I couldn't get myself to vote for Brown because he is in bed with the oil companies on Fracking. I voted for the Green Party candidate---something I swore I wouldn't do after the Nader fiasco of 2000.

And Doug LaMalfa eeked out 50 percent of the vote for his House Seat. He will face Heidi Hall who anemically managed to garner 33 percent of the vote in Butte County. Those lazy ass Dems in Butte County better start working a bit harder if they are to have any hope of voting out one of the worst members of the House of Representatives. Turnout was low amongst Democrats. Overall, the turnout was only 28 percent of eligible voters.

In Lake County, a ballot measure that would eliminate most outdoor grows of Marijuana won handily. Lake County, like many rural California counties, has been bombarded with Cannabis grows. Locals are sick of the environmental damage and the increase in crime that results from this lucrative, semi-legal industry. And since Lake County doesn't have an urban population of Liberal College Professors and students, the hard working people who face the biggest impact from the Substance Abuse culture that mars many rural areas, cried out for change. And for tight regulations.

Will we see something similar here in Butte County when two pot measures are on the ballot this Fall---one measure written by the Cannabis Lobby and another by the Supervisors who represent the rural residents most impacted by the Green Rush? As the rest of the country rushes headlong into legalization, it is immensely interesting that Cannabis producing counties in California are moving towards much tighter regulations. Humboldt, Lake, Shasta, Tehama, Fresno, Sacramento and Butte Counties are all attempting to tighten regulations on this "herb". Rural residents know the high price that is paid in order to provide the weed to fuzzy urban potheads.

The last time we saw marijuana (and all other drugs) legal in the United States, it was the Progressives who called for regulating the hallowed substances. All those restrictive drug laws that arose in the early 1900's were proposed by the Left side of the aisle. And why did they do that? Because of the immense damage to public health legalization of drugs did to large numbers of people. Much of the population spent their life being gorked on cough syrup made of cocaine, opiates and cannabis. Leftists who get all caught up in Libertarian attitudes towards cannabis and other drugs, aren't very good students of history. They forget the reason why these drugs were regulated in the first place.

Cannabis Advocates like Andrew Merkel, with their hundreds of thousands of dollars and an army of stoned volunteers, might not have such an easy time of it in Butte County this Fall. They won two years ago with a ballot measure that was difficult to comprehend what you were voting for, or against. This time the lines will be better defined and we are beginning to understand the social and environmental costs of a massive Cannabis Economy. I think the Chico ER under-estimates the backlash against the Cannabis Industry. I think the vote will be very close this Fall.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

David Little Strikes Back On Climate Change

David Little is the editor of the Chico ER. He writes a Sunday column which, at times, can be quite readable. Mr. Little is very much a Conservative. But he also is an outdoorsman and a hunter. He wrote a great column welcoming California's first wolf (OR-7) to California. That's a fairly progressive view for a hunter to have: usually they hate the competition from predators.

David has written some great columns on enjoying little known Wilderness areas (Gold Lake). He also has written awesome columns about backpacking the Coastal Range.

I've corresponded with David, although not so much lately. We've argued over Lead Ammunition and about whether the reduction of the deer population is 1. a bad thing and 2. a result of having more Mountain Lion. David Little has never broached the coyote killing issue. Perhaps I should write and ask him his opinion on that.

David Little was critical of both Sam Aanestad and Doug LaMalfa---and refused to endorse either one in the primary of 2012. In the general election, he endorsed Doug LaMalfa, not so much because Doug is so wonderful, but rather because Little really disliked his challenger.

And so, as far as local Conservative Columnists go, I'd give David credit for being a bit more interesting than most. 

But there are times when David Little is just simply stupid. He did that this weekend when he wrote about Climate Change. You can read his piece here. Of course, David Little goes back to that really tired argument that science has been wrong before as when some scientist suggested, for a very short time in 1976, that the world was starting to cool. This hypothesis was quickly debunked---but Conservatives have never forgotten it. They use this as a lens to bolster an argument that global warming is all hyperbole. Never mind that this hypothesis has been studied for forty years. Never mind that it has wide-spread acceptance amongst professionals. That doesn't bother Mr. Little.

Two things are interesting about this piece. One is the comments at end of the piece. Every Right Wing Nerd who thinks he (and it is almost always a he) has done all the research and who quotes Roy Spencer and the Heartland Institute ad nauseum, genuflecting to the denialist Kremlin Wall of the rare science denialists; these guys troll the Internet, looking for articles to bolster their cause and to demean their critics. In this case me: just look in the comments section. Of 68 comments, only a handful are critical of David Little's article.

The other interesting thing is just how much climate denialism has joined the mainstream views of the Conservative Movement. It used to be Conservatives accepted the science. No more. Now they all bow at the idol of the Fossil Fuel Companies. Of all the Conservatives, probably the most honest is the former Governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman, who said that yes, Climate Change is a problem---we just can't afford to fix it. At least that is a straight-forward honest answer.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good Bye to the Napa Valley...

I have decided to work more for less pay. A dumb idea. I've had this psych job in the Napa Valley for eleven years. For the past six years, I've been traveling 330 miles round trip, at first twice a month, and then--starting three years ago--- once a week. During this time, I've spent a large amount of time away from home. The trips got more and more burdensome. I get more and more homesick.

Satellite radio helped---a present Joni gave me for Christmas. I spend a lot of time in the car. I eat way too many meals while traveling on the road, wiping the French fry grease on my car seat--spilling sodas and ketchup on the passenger side seat as I wrestle with a fast food meal while driving. I eat way too many of these; they are just too convenient while traveling. I've pretty much lived out of the car. Many trips I just left my clothes in the car even when I got home.

For the last six years, I've stayed at Crystal Springs---an old haunted turn-of-the-century Nursing Dorm on my hospital's campus. Many of us older nurses travel to work here in the Napa Valley. We can't afford to live here, so we stay in the Nurses Dorm. It has helped us traveling nurses get close to each other. We have become second family. There have been many nights when we've had a few beers in the Crystal Springs parking lot, enjoying the ocean breeze as it travels up the Napa Valley at night. We'd have beers (against the Adventist Hospital rules, for sure) and we'd process the sometimes violent events that happen on a psychiatric unit. Its a little like going off to war together; only other psychiatric nurses understand the locked and secretive world of a mental health unit.

On the 9th of June, all of this will come to an end. I've decided to take a job in Chico as a home health psych nurse. I will actually drive more miles in my new job---I will have all of Tehama and Butte Counties as my territory. But I will get to go home every night.

There are plenty of reasons for not taking this new job: I will earn a lot less money; the health insurance is awful (to insure Joni it will cost us $700 a month); I won't have the worker camaraderie with fellow nurses I have now. Home health nursing can be lonely work.

So why do it? Because the travel has worn me out. I miss being home. I miss Joni. I miss the girls (although they are moving out in June to live with their mother). I miss the dogs. I miss taking walks. I miss the canyon. I miss my trail camera. I miss working on the house and the yard.

It is hard to have two homes. Time to just have one home.