Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lessons from the T800

Whistle had spent her entire life dealing with one inescapable truth: she looked very wholesome. No behaviors, no matter how bizarre, could sway first impressions away from her awe-inspiring wholesome-ness. For example, wearing a gigantic backpack and completely mismatched clothing, walking alone down a highway in the middle of a desert, unwashed, with a giant silver umbrella perched permanently on her shoulder, was not nearly enough to dissuade strangers. In one mile of highway walking, no less than three separate cars driven by kindly older couples or women pulled over to ask if she needed a hitch somewhere. And even after telling them very politely that, no, she was perfectly fine with being a wandering vagrant and that she was actually on a "trail" that "isn't finished yet", these strangers accepted her word and drove off cheerily, thinking to themselves my, what a charming young lady.

After turning off the highway, Whistle came to one of her water caches, which she knew had far too much water. Opening the box, she hmph-ed to herself, seeing the two gallons she'd left there with Mama Whistle days previously. She was in a conundrum, as she knew she couldn't carry that much out with her, but she couldn't leave it for someone else to clean up, and she couldn't just pour it on the ground, and she couldn't chug it all because she would barf. Luckily, a young gentleman named Tucker pulled off the highway and started unloading his mountain bike. Whistle rushed over to him to start a conversation, and after learning about all the various ways in which Tucker had broken all of his bones in various biking accidents, she asked for a favor. 

"Listen, I know it's not very often that you encounter a long-distance hiker who wants to give something away instead of just trying to get something for free... but can you please take this water?"

Tucker was happy to oblige, and thus it was that Whistle did not have to pour out fresh water onto the sand in the middle of the desert. 

Some time later, Whistle was hiking up a very steep mountain and listening to her audiobook about Russian hikers likely murdered by aliens when she heard a strange sound. She looked up, and there, standing in the middle of the trail at an impossibly steep angle, was a full grown cow. 

Whistle looked at the cow. The cow looked at Whistle. The cow made a judgment call about Whistle, and apparently determining that Whistle was indeed not wholesome enough, jogged up the trail away from her. As the cow turned, she revealed that she was with a calf. The calf followed her mother away from the scary stranger lady. After they scrambled away about 50 feet, they were still directly on the trail. Whistle then had to walk forward, and upon getting within 15 feet of them, the cows fled again. Staying on the trail. 

This went on for some time. Whistle: an unwilling provocateur in the world's slowest chase scene with a cow and its baby. 

Eventually the cow and its baby got tired of being repeatedly terrified of a slowly trudging, completely unthreatening young woman, and made their way off the trail and down the mountain. Upon reaching the peak of the mountain, Whistle saw across a valley, on an opposing ridge, numerous other wild cows, all perched precariously on the steep mountain face. They were like goats. Except they were cows. Big, fat, awkward cows in their natural environment. These cows were not escapees from a farm, they were indeed wild, which is why the two had been so skittish with Whistle's presence earlier. I know you were about to scroll down excitedly to the photos to see if there are any pictures of the cows. There aren't any. Whistle wanted to preserve the cows' dignity. Also, as everyone knows, every picture you take of a cow steals the soul of a hamburger somewhere.

Upon taking her first zero, Whistle watched Terminator 2. She sent me a vox about how when she was 13, she had read the whole series of books by Orson Scott Card starting with Ender's Game. She spoke about how there was a particular part of one of the books that had caused her to think about wanting to have children one day. This led to another series of thoughts, which I absolutely cannot transcribe. You must listen to her words yourself.

If the audio embed doesn't work for you, you can go here to listen to it directly:

Whistle didn't eat any tuna for the entire year of 2014, knowing that she
would want to eat tuna during her CDT hike, and not wanting to
die of mercury poisoning from eating too much tuna.
Whistle was very excited to eat tuna again.

Whistle brought some temporary tattoos.

Whistle describes how being in the desert covers your entire body in a fine,
complete coating of salt and dirt, which cannot be dusted away and must
simply be endured. This makes it very difficult to rub in sunscreen.

Monday, April 13, 2015


"Hey trail, where you at?! Oh! There you are. You lookin' fiiiiine..." Whistle's voice tapered off as she realized that she was, yet again, talking to the trail as though it was another human. In a way, it was, as the trail was her only real companion in the lonely, empty desert. As she spoke, her voice was taken by the wind and spirited away across the forever horizon. It wasn't that she was embarrassed about using her out-loud voice while hiking all alone in the middle of nowhere. Rather, she just didn't want the trail to start blushing with all the compliments she was giving it.

Over the past few days, Whistle's body had taken on a delightful new appeal, as her skin began to pink and then tan in the sun. And yet, this was not the sun-kissed surfer girl tan of California. Nay, that type of tan was far too cliche for this industrious, independent, blazingly fashion forward young lady. Instead, Whistle was getting bands of tan around her mid-calves in the space between where her tall wool socks ended and her American flag leggings began. Her umbrella didn't quite cover her perfectly as she hiked, exposing her elbows to the sun, which led to patches of tan collecting like patches on a smoking jacket. Except for leather, these patches were made of skin. Indeed, Whistle was a sight to behold.

As she sauntered along, grooving out to the thoughts in her head, considering her own tan lines and talking to the trail, she got lost. Getting lost on the CDT is something that happens quietly and without ceremony. Unlike in regular life, when one is driving their screaming children to a pool party that everyone is already 30 minutes late for, the driver knows immediately when they've gotten lost. Instead, on the CDT, because the trail is hardly ever marked, a hiker could get off trail for quite some time before they realize they've gone astray. In the middle of whistling, Whistle suddenly stopped and considered her surroundings. 

After checking her map, she confirmed that she had, indeed, gone about three quarters of a mile in the wrong direction. Before leaving for the trail, the most oft repeated advice she'd heard about the CDT was,

"If you get off trail, which will definitely happen, don't be tempted to bushwhack. Just take the time to walk back the way you came! It will always take longer to bushwhack, even if it doesn't seem like it."

As Whistle considered her map, she thought to herself, Those people probably just weren't good at math or maps! According to her map, she could either walk back three quarters of a mile, then walk ahead another mile or so... Or, she could cut across the hypotenuse of the triangle which was only half a mile. Easy, right? Incorrect!

The half a mile bushwhack took her almost 40 minutes, as she was ensnared by shrubbery after shrubbery, and ended up having to walk at a meandering uphill almost the whole time. For the entire adventure, she felt determined not to have to turn around again, and that she had made the mistake, so she had to live with the consequences. The consequences were a thousand little prickers jammed in her socks. Once she found her way back to the trail, she spoke to it quite a lot about not being so coy and sheepish, and expressed her desire that they no longer play this "hard to get" game. 

And yet, even with all their flirtatious bantering, Whistle and the CDT had not yet fully grown to understand one another. The next day, Whistle was looking for a dirt road crossing that would take her out to the highway. She came upon a road, but parked there was a car with CDT bumper stickers, and a very clean, clearly marked trail continuing on the other side of the road. 

Well, ain't that something! Whistle thought, Maybe I'll meet those people!

Crossing the road, she popped onto the trail and headed down it, admiring how it was clearly a newly cut trail that was very well maintained. After 20 minutes or so, she ran into a kind couple and their dog. They told her that they worked for the CDTC, and that this was a new route for the CDT, and that they were trying to make the trail more direct and obvious through this section.

"This trail goes for another mile or so, then just ends. There's 5 miles of bushwhacking after that, because this new section is not finished being created yet."

Whistle nodded politely, not listening whatsoever. 

She then bid farewell to them, and marched off down the trail, leaving them looking rather bemused. The trail wound its way down into a beautiful valley, and Whistle hummed to herself, thinking about what good time she was making, but also wondering every once in a while where the road crossing was that she was supposed to turn on. 

After two miles, Whistle came to a dead end. She blinked, and then her echoic memory finally plopped the words of the trail maintainers into her consciousness. Aha... she thought the road with the car parked on it... that was the road I was supposed to turn on. 

Sighing once and shrugging she headed back up out of the valley, humming all the while, her spirits undampened by yet another misdirection. 

Some time later, she found herself on a different road, and stuck out her thumb when a truck drove by. The truck slowed down, and revealed a father and mother, and their two young adolescent sons. As it is with the Appalachian Trail, long-distance hikers are largely ignorant about the surrounding landscape other than what falls in line with the trail. Thus it was that as this dad asked a series of friendly questions about where Whistle had been hiking and where she was headed, she was unable to answer these questions with any level of authority or confidence. The man stared at her.

"Does your mother know you're out here?"

"Yes, sir! She dropped me off!"

"...You know there are bears out here, right?"

"Yes, sir!"

"... Well, alright. Get in the back, we'll take you down the road."

Whistle sat in the back of the pickup truck next to a half-full bucket of water with a recently caught fish in it. Later, the two young sons proudly proclaimed that they had gone fishing, had failed to catch any fish at all, and then a nice older fisherman gave them one of his fish. They explained enthusiastically that they were headed home to gut it and cook it on a fire! Whistle expressed that she understood the feeling.

They dropped her off, and Whistle said goodbye to the kind people who clearly just thought she'd been lost in the woods for DAYS. While this was not far from the truth, the difference was, she was having a great time doing it. 

Whistle says "This is the CDT's version of a shelter, clearly."

This is the tiny hippo that I gave Whistle when we were on the AT

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Quick Update

Hey there sportsfans! This week I am ending my current full-time job, starting a new full-time job, all while still juggling my other two part-time jobs. Also, Monday was Dumptruck's birthday. This leaves no part-time for listening to my source material and writing.  Updates and vignettes regarding Whistle will continue, I promise, but not following any particular schedule (just like old times!)

Clever Girl

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Where The Sun Don't Shine

A little girl sat on the edge of a wooden chair, scooping cereal into her mouth with a spoon held in her first. Her legs kicked back and forth idly through the air under her chair, while she narrowed her eyes at the maze on the back of the cereal box. She chewed thoughtfully, while tracing her pointer finger along the path. The maze was a playful, colorful and farm-themed. Suddenly her progress was impeded by a cheerful drawing of a barn and a tractor. Sticking out her lower lip she said aloud to no one at all in the empty kitchen,

"This is ridiculous! I should be able to just walk in between the barn and the tractor! Who made this maze? I'm calling Kellogg!"

Fast forward 20 years, and Whistle was standing at the real-life version of one of those mazes. She thought she had picked the right path, but suddenly, there were two ocotillo (a type of spiky plant) on either side of her, and a giant, dying prickly pear sprawling dramatically across the trail. If she were the childhood version of herself, she might consider trying to jump over the prickly pear. However, she was the adult version of herself, who took one look at that pile of spiky doom and declared,

"Heeeeeck no."

She turned on her heel and hiked back down to a starting point for a new potential path, and set off to find an altogether different way across the rocky, cactus-snarled labyrinth scree. Whistle was on day two, and making fine progress, except for being surrounded by a veritable army of things that wanted to poke her. She stepped on only one cactus by accident. It was a small barrel cactus with a Napoleon Complex that was either a baby cactus or a dead cactus, but still a very mean cactus. The long, hooked teeth had rigged their way into her socks and had to be gingerly extracted. Though only two days had passed, her legs and feet had already sustained a fair amount of abrasions from pokey, spiny plant life leaping up and grabbing a hold of her, like so many tiny little sisters begging for attention.

Whistle spared a moment to worry a bit about Grim starting the CDT later, considering that he is likely to faceplant constantly over cacti, due to trying to text and hike and the same time.

At the end of the second day, Whistle arrived at the road crossing at 81 to meet Mama Whistle, readjust her gear and eat lunch. The original plan was that Mama Whistle was then going to bid her farewell for the last time, and drive back to the airport to head home to Illinois. Instead, Mama Whistle and Whistle were met by another border patrol agent at the road crossing. This was the fourth border patrol agent to speak with Mama Whistle and express deep, true concern about the danger of hiking on the trail alone between 81 and Lordsburg. Apparently over the past week the patrol agents had been daily (and nightly) picking up drug traffickers, and that things were pretty intensely unsafe. 

Whistle made the very smart decision to drive with Mama Whistle up to Lordsburg, skipping about two and a half days worth of trail, to avoid the potential of being alone in the desert and accidentally wandering her way into murder. I want to take a moment to remind you that Whistle was completely alone on this trail. Not in the way that people start the Appalachian Trail alone, where they are surrounded by other hikers they just haven't met yet. No. Whistle was literally (not figuratively) the only CDT hiker in the southern part of the CDT at that time. She felt pretty icky about needing to skip over a section so early on, but she knew that it wasn't a good idea to do that section without any other hikers. In telling me this part of her story, she didn't defend herself at all, she simply said "I just need to remind myself that being a 'purist' isn't what this long hike is about for me." 

<rant> Even though Whistle knew she didn't need to defend herself to me, I'm going to defend her, because I know there are some silly folks (not many, but some) that believe that in order for someone to consider themselves a long-distance hiker they cannot skip any section of any trail for any reason whatsoever. I want to remind those people what I stated earlier re: murder, and request that you spend a bit of time seriously questioning your priorities. Lastly, Whistle has already the very clear decision that this hike cannot be a pure thru-hike of the CDT. It is a Long A** Section Hike of the CDT, and she is a Long A** Section Hiker (LASHer), which means she can do any section she pleases. If you still have a problem with that, I want you to imagine me making a very long, wet, rude fart sound at you. </rant> For those of you that have no problem with this, thank you for bearing with me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go de-ruffle my feathers.
Saying goodbye to Mama Whistle was incredibly hard for Whistle to do. For the first two days, it was easy for her to feel like she wasn't alone, bolstered by the knowledge that she was going to see her mother very soon, and knowing that if something went wrong, her safety net was only a phone call away. But, waving to Mama Whistle's car as she headed down the road to drive to the airport and fly back to the midwest, Whistle understood that she was really in this for the long haul. She also understood that for a while at least, the long haul involved being mostly alone. 

Well, not totally alone. Whistle and Mama Whistle had given themselves a matching set of temporary tattoos, which is frankly no different from having a psychic connection.

Looking down at her GPS tracker, she zeroed in on herself, set her eyes on the unmarked trail ahead, and headed out into the desert once more.

I got a full straight minute of exuberant, excited voxer messages
 about this dead, sun-bleached millipede.
We all love different things.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Except I Have a Sandwich

The first significant section of the CDT winds its way through the desert, and as one could infer from the word "desert", there's not much water. In order to discourage hikers and trail maintenance folks from becoming vulture food, there are several large boxes called "water cache boxes" along the trail into which hikers can place jugs of water before starting their hike. Whistle and her mom, Libby, had been placing water when Whistle pulled out the logbook to see if there was anyone else on the trail.

Indeed, Whistle was bound to be alone on the trail. The only entry in the log was from December. It read,
Hey Jim, I just wanted to tell you that the tire on the FD blew and I have to walk back to 81. Don't worry about me, I'm ready for an adventure today, but if you do see this today, can you email Jessie to let her know why I'm going to be so late? If you get it on your second day, don't worry about it, I've already made it back.
Later, Whistle was sitting on a rock, just about seven miles into the Continental Divide Trail, unwrapping the subway sandwich she'd purchased in town many hours earlier. Whistle stared out across the desert landscape, taking a bite of her food and thinking about how she was the only human for many, many miles. Whistle's mind wandered back to the logbook she'd read earlier- specifically about how whoever left the note would have had to walk about 20 miles on rugged dirt roads to be able to get back to 81. She chewed and thought I kinda feel bad for that guy... having to walk back to civilization all alone with nothing. Although I guess that's what I'm doing! Except I'm not doing it with nothing. I'm doing it with stuff. I have a sandwich... And flies. Go away flies. Don't land on my socks.

Whistle and Libby (Mama Whistle) had arrived in Tuscon two days previously. The two ladies spent a day with their sweet family friend Barbara and visited the Desert Museum where Whistle got to spend several hours being delighted and fascinated by learning about all the animals that were bound to attempt to devour her in her sleep on the trail. They cached all of Whistle's water at boxes near road crossings from the first road crossing up to Silver City. They ate a questionable meal from a small town deli that Mama Whistle described as "disconcerting." They learned from a border patrol policeman about the steady rise of "murder drug mules" (direct Whistle quote) that they should be wary of if they are considering hiking the trail. Then, they slept.

In order to get to the trailhead of the CDT, hikers must elicit kindness from locals with cars blessed with four wheel drive. The "road" to get out to the trailhead is barely more than a wide trail, and has been known to swallow sedans whole, sending entire families to the Land of the Lost. Not keen on the next several years kibitzing with dinosaurs, Whistle and Mama Whistle got in contact with a local fellow, Juan, who volunteers with the CDT Coalition to bring hikers out to the trailhead in his truck. Whistle strapped on her American Flag leggings, and loaded herself in for the jangliest, bounciest ride of her life along a pot-holed trail in Juan's truck.

When they arrived at the trailhead, Whistle clipped into her backpack, breathed in the warm air, and wrapped her mother in a hug. She thanked Juan profusely for his kindness, then headed down the (literal) dusty trail. 

Whistle had started listening to an audiobook about the Dyatlov Pass Incident, and without really considering the potential psychological impact, she popped her earbuds in and kept listening to her story. The true story involves a group of Russian hikers who were found dead in the Ural mountains, scattered a mile around their campsite, their bodies highly radioactive and their hair blanched bright white. While listening to this story, Whistle couldn't help but consider what she'd heard from the border patrolman earlier. Thus it was that whenever the audiobook made a sound she wasn't ready for, Whistle would stop in her tracks, whip around and demand "Who's there?!"

After fourteen miles, Whistle came upon her first water cache campsite, which was dotted with hundreds of tiny yellow flowers. After setting up her tent and eating her dinner, she sat on her sleeping pad in the open air, watching as the sun slowly faded from the endless open sky. Her eyelids drooped heavy with sleep, but she was determined to stay awake until it was dark ("like some sort of young person!") so that she could see the stars.

She felt the silence around her, and the buzzing of quiet desert life. Before Whistle started the Appalachian Trail two years ago, she didn't think that it was going to change her as a person, but it did. Up until she started setting up her campsite on the first night on the Continental Divide Trail, she had thought "Oh, I'll just be Trail Whistle again." But sitting there in the fading evening light, she realized that she was going to change in an entirely new way. She was so happy to be out there, so excited to finally be on the journey toward finding out what she was going to love, to hate, to learn. She was overjoyed to consider what friends she might make, or what stories could come from any potential injuries. 

She was Whistle.

"I don't know what it's going to be like. And I can't wait to find out."

Mama Whistle and Barbara

Water to be cached!


Whistle and Juan. Juan has hair down to his waist, and hitch-hiked all over the
 country when he was in his 20's. Apparently he avoided certain parts of the south,
expressing that he'd heard "They don't take kindly to hippies, so I hear."

Whistle's umbrella is jerry-rigged to sit atop her backpack without needing
to be held. This is in an effort to keep her from frying to a golden crisp
in the sun.

Whistle has asked that I make it very clear that her long-distance hike of the CDT will likely not be a thru-hike due to her scheduling constraints for a job at the end of the summer. Furthermore, due to various other constraints in regard to weather, etc, a lot of her hike may be flip-flopped and done in an objectively weird order. If you are a trail "purist" in regard to how a trail is "supposed" to be hiked, then this isn't the blog for you. If you are here to learn about a fun, ridiculous adventure taken by a fabulous young lady, then you're in the right place. I'm so glad you are here!