Friday, June 12, 2015

The Time has Come, the Walrus Said

Hello there hiking fans!

First and foremost I want to apologize for my sudden and unexplained absence. In short explanation: Whistle has been having a fabulous adventure, but it has not turned out to be an adventure consistently on the CDT. Specifically, the weather and snow has been far too bad for a dedicated hike, and it was too dangerous (over and over again) to be able to continue. There are still several fun stories and photos that I will share with you at some point along the way, but as it is right now, I don't have consistent material to share with you. I was waiting to see if there would be more, but alas, all good things must come to an end. Like a block of cheese. Eventually it's just all gone, and all you're left with is good memories of cheese well eaten. There is sadness in goodbye, but gladness in having had the experience. PRETTY CHEESY, RIGHT?

So where does that leave us? I have completed my thru-hike, I kept you along for the ride for the 200 Terrific Things about Long Distance Hiking, and then we got a short but sweet window into hiking the Continental Divide Trail through the beauty and wisdom of our dear Whistle. I do not have another long-distance hike planned in my near future. What, then, could possibly be published on trail kit?! Recipes for hiker food? Workout routines for cats? 10,000 photos of pie?!

The short answer is: nothing right now. But that does not mean I have quit writing. I have been picked up by Bangor Daily News here in Maine to write an ongoing column/blog about the tiny house. Here is the link to the first article:

How My Partner and I Came to Live in a Tiny House

Here is the link to the main page of the blog:

I will be updating every other Monday for the foreseeable future.

Trail Kit will not cease to exist. I have no doubt that there will be adventures in the future that will be catalogued here in this space.

But for now we will say goodbye for now in the tradition of the Mickey Mouse Club:

C L E... Eeet's been great being with you!

V E R...Rrrrr is the sound a velociraptor makes when she's being stymied by a kitchen door!

G..I..R..L.... YEAH!

Clever Girl! Clever Girl! Clever girl thinks you're super great!

Clever Girl

I'll send you out with this PHENOMENAL parody written for me by Neill, set to the tune of American Pie. Thank you Neill, you are my hero.
You totally have to hum the tune of American Pie (Don McLean) in your head to get the full effect of this.

Terrific 200 (A Tribute)

A long long time ago
I can still remember how those Words used to make me smile
I knew if we had the chance
That Clever Girl could make us all dance
And the Words would make us happy again for a while

But every count down made me shiver
With every paged Clever Girl delivered
Good times on the 200
I wish we had another hundred

I can’t remember if I sighed
When I read the very very last line
But something touched me deep inside
The day the Words, all died……

So bye bye Terrific 200
I drove my Honda to the mountains but the mountains were gone
Some good ole boys had logged them all away
Singin this’ll be the day we all cry
This’ll be the day we all cry

Now for many years we were all alone
And hikin’ trails like a tumbling stone
But that’s not how it use to be

When Dumptruck sang for the writer queen
In a tent he bought from LL Bean
But that’s not what we want to see

And while Grim was looking up
Whistle hid his drinking cup
Shanty Town was all around
We all digged their singin’ sound

And while Apollo read a book on the trail
We all knew you would never fail
You were out tenting in the dark
Getting trail magic in the park
The day the Words all died….

So bye bye Terrific 200
I drove my Honda to the mountains but the mountains were gone
Some good ole boys had logged them all away
Singin this’ll be the day we all cry
This’ll be the day we all cry……

Helter skelter it was a summer swelter
Hangin’ out in a trailside shelter
Twenty miles hiked and rolling fast

We all collapsed hard in the grass
We’re too tired for the mountain pass
With our hopes now all pretty downcast

The mountain air was a sweet perfume
But the hiker stench would make you swoon
We all got to smell the flower
But we sure did miss the shower

When the hikers tried for the buffet line
The restaurant manager would not let them dine
Do you recall seeing a sign
The day the Words all died
We started singin’

Bye bye Terrific 200
I drove my Honda to the mountains but the mountains were gone
Some good ole boys had logged them all away
Singin this’ll be the day we all cry
This’ll be the day we all cry……

I never met the girl who wrote the lines
And couldn’t ask her for another try
The magic there was a heavy chore

So I went down to the hiking store
Where I read the Words years before
But the man said missing the Words made him cry

And in the woods no water in the stream
The animals whined and hikers could only dream
So nary a word was spoken
The mountain tops were all broken

The writer I admire most
Lives in a tiny house near the coast
So while Whistle hikes another trail
Clever Girl would receive all her mail
And now the mountains would live to boast
The day the Words came alive

And we started singin’ high high
Rocky Mtn high those good old Words
Caused the mountains to fly
The skies are blue and the trees are tall
We’ll be reading the Words into the Fall
Readin’ the Words into the Fall

And we were singin’ high high Rocky Mtn high….

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Barbecue for Days

On her way up to ancient cliff dwellings, Whistle encountered a group of wild horses standing across the road. The largest mare shook her head and without warning, false-charged at Whistle. Whistle put her hands up, the universal hand gesture for I'm definitely not planning on killing you and cried out "Whoa!" The mare snorted and stomped at the ground, the universal hoof gesture for I may or may not decide to kill you. Whistle tried to go off trail to go around the horses, but one of the mare's disciples darted to the side to cut her off. "Yikes, guys," Whistle said calmly, "Be cool, man, be cool."

In all of this hubbub, the tiny filly decided that he thought Whistle didn't look so bad after all, and ambled up to her in a friendly way to say hello. Before he could reach her however, the large mare used her nose to give the filly a good hard admonishing whack on the patootie, which sent the filly scampering off down the trail away from Whistle. The other horses followed, but not before casting Whistle a series of dirty looks as they trotted past. It's possible this was simple anthropomorphism, but Whistle was quite sure that the horses were, without a doubt, totally frontin'. 

After reaching the cliff dwellings, Whistle meandered down to the visitor's center and used an honest-to-goodness payphone to call her parents collect. Her parents were rather glad to learn that she had successfully escaped the river valley of death, and that she was standing at a visitor center thinking about lunch rather than her imminent demise. Whistle then ambled over to spend time in some hot springs, and met two lovely young women from Tuscon who let her use their fixin's to make a sandwich and gave her a dragonfruit. Afterward, Whistle went to a place called Doc Campbell's and met her first legitimate fellow CDT hiker after weeks on the trail. His name was "Out of Order" and he was a triple crowner, reprising a section of CDT to do a trail called the Granite Champman trail. They spoke for five hours, and Whistle was overcome with gratitude to be able to speak to a real live hiker again.

In the morning, Whistle met a man on a bicycle, who offered to take Whistle to his Tiny House and make her breakfast. Whistle was fed eggs benedict from scratch, hash browns and bacon, and learned about how this man built his own home, has lived in this tiny town for 20 years, and spends most of his time building things and riding his motorcycle. He told Whistle all about how the river has flooded numerous times and can be quite dangerous. Whistle nodded in hearty agreement.

On a morning some time later, Whistle woke up to discover that some industrious critter had chewed straight through one of the load-straps on her backpack, causing it to list aimlessly to one side if not held firmly in place as she hiked. With her pack this way she did a 10 mile day that included climbing 4,000 feet up and over a mountain. On the other side was a town, and Whistle sat alone eating a king's feast of barbecue. It was so delicious that she shed a couple of tears, and she cared not a whit about how she must look, filthy and covered in barbecue sauce, quietly weeping tears of joy into her rack of ribs. 

After this, she had to walk 1 mile through the town to get to her campsite, but she was in dire need of using the bathroom the entire way. However, it was the evening and nothing was open for her to use their restroom, and as she was in civilization, she could not simply do her business on the sidewalk. Question: How many miles does 1 mile feel like when one has to pee desperately by has to hold it? Answer: It feels approximately like 3 miles.

The next day Whistle made her way to Albuquerque where she was going to be meeting her parents and hanging out with them for a couple of days. She arrived in town very early in the morning, clutching her cardboard container of leftover ribs and mayonnaise soaked bread. She wanted to sit down and eat her medieval breakfast, but the only outdoor seating was in front of a Starbucks being flocked by early-morning business commuters in their suits and smart dresses. With no shame at all, Whistle crossed her American Flag legs up on a nearby seat, and ate her leftover barbecue in plain sight of the world at 7am on a weekday. 

It was mightily delicious.   

These are ladies that Whistle met at the hot springs who were having a reunion
to celebrate their journey last year, when they completed the
Great March for Climate Action. It was an 8-month trip from Los Angeles
to Washington D.C. that involved stopping numerous times along the way
to do presentations about climate change and oil drilling.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

River Walker

Whistle collapsed onto her hands and knees on the wet ground, pulling her feet out of the swiftly moving river before the water could yank at her chacos and pull her back in again. She gasped to catch her breath and looked back and to watch the river roaring past. Water dripped from her legs, and she was suddenly struck with a resounding, clear, empowering purpose to her life: She needed to find a stick, and it needed to be a big one. Slippery rocks shifted beneath her sodden feet as she stood up and wobbled her way forward.

Sheer cliffs stood tall and imposing ahead of her, keeping her inescapably in the valley of the Gila River. Before embarking on this adventure, she'd known that the Gila River wound its way snakelike through the valley, necessitating countless water crossings. However, she had neglected to account for the fact that she would be in this section a full month and half before most hikers, and that the river would be at a much higher level. Her soaked American Flag leggings count attest that the river was, indeed, much higher than had been expected. She had already had to cross the river several times, but each crossing was getting progressively deeper and progressively faster.

Round-bellied clouds thick with unreleased rain drifted lazily through the low-slung grey sky. Whistle bent to pick up a large branch, snapping off the few still-attached twigs. The branch was thick, at least seven feet tall, and gave Whistle some small reassurance that through the next crossing she'd have a bit more stability. She also felt mightily prepared to poke any mean-looking badgers, should any appear. The next crossing luckily was not as deep, but the one after that was daunting.

Sliding one foot beneath the surface of the burbling water, she could immediately feel the undercurrent tugging at her ankles, begging her to be swept downstream. Reaching nearly the middle, the water level at her hips, buoyancy finally took over and lifted her toes from the rocks in the river bed.

"Whoops!" Whistle called out to no one at all, as the river took her bodily downstream. Kicking her legs and shooting herself forward across the gap, she rammed her large stick down into the rocks like a a gondolier's pole and was able to touch down onto rocks on the other side. She'd only been lifted up for a few seconds, but it was enough to put her a solid ten feet downriver. Clambering out once more, she scrabbled up onto a steep slope of sliding rocks, peppered with cacti. She navigated through the pokey branches of a bare plant, its twigs scratching and pulling at her like skeletal fingers.

After considering the sanctity of her own life and mortality, and after consulting her GPS and her maps, she determined that it was time to call her mother.

Mama Whistle got on the phone with local rangers, but everyone's advice was that she just had to keep going through the valley, or try to hike up and out one of the valley walls and bushwhack her way to a different trail. Though it was only 4pm, Whistle decided that it was time to sleep. She set up her tent in one of the dry spots in between the curve of the river, and listened to a bit of her audiobook, which at this point was Catch 22. However, Catch 22 is a book that is rather glib and cavalier about life, and Whistle shut it off after a few minutes, shouting to the empty wilderness that it was totally ridiculous to make fun of life because being alive is AWESOME and should totally be cherished, ALRIGHT?!

In the night, the clouds finally let loose their cavalcades of rain, accompanied by a powerful, driving wind. Twice her tent was knocked over, and she woke up with the fabric pressed to her face and wrapped around her body. Disentangling herself like an older sister trying to disentangle herself from the desperate clinging body of their younger sister who just wants to plaaaaaay! Whistle climbed out of her tent and reset it, as rain roared down around her, pickling her already pickled body.

In the morning she packed up her tent and got on the phone with Mama Whistle, who could track where she was using the GPS on Whistle's tracker. With the advice of a ranger, Whistle scrambled 800 feet up and out of the valley along a very steep mountain covered in loose scree, but much of the advice for directions was lost in translation, and Whistle got turned around and lost. Eventually she decided to turn back around and head back down to the valley, but found herself on a much steeper side of the mountain than she remembered. It was so steep in fact, that she had to crab-walk down it, dragging her bottom along the loose rocks. Clouds and fog hung very low and thick, obscuring the world ten feet in front of her.

Suddenly, there was no mountain.

Whistle stopped immediately, her breath catching in her throat as one of her feet went out into open air. The only sound was that of a few loose pebbles under her hands tumbling forward and rolling off the edge of the 500 foot cliff that Whistle had just discovered.

Gingerly, moving impossibly slow, Whistle re-positioned her body to climb back up the pile of completely loose, soaking wet, football-sized jagged rocks that made up the steep mountain face. With each crawling, grasping movement forward, the entire bed of rocks would shift, sliding her back a few feet, like loose shingles on a roof, sending large rocks tumbling over the edge and out into open air, to clatter to the ground far below. At this moment, there was a very real, true possibility of her imminent death. Whistle's mind went completely blank, no thought at all occupied her brainspace except getting back to the top, so that she could find her way back into the valley with the water that wasn't really so bad in comparison and retrospect. Whistle was unaware of the passage of time, and brain decided that it didn't need to spend any energy converting short-term memory into long-term memory.

And such it was that the next thing Whistle remembered, she was back in the valley, on the blessedly flat ground, picking her stick back up where she'd left it, and telling everyone on her GPS in her strongest voice that there would be "NO MORE BUSHWHACKING PLEASE" and that she was just going to make her way through the valley.

After this point, the shallowest river crossing was at her thighs, and the deepest one was at her waist. At some point, a white-water rafting kayaker flew by just as Whistle was getting out of the river at a crossing. This was the first human being that she had seen in days. Whistle screamed and screamed for him to stop, not because she was in much danger anymore, but just because she wanted real, definitive proof that she was in fact alive. She just wanted someone to look her in the eye, take her by the shoulders and say "Yep, you're definitely a corporeal being." She could have done with a good hug, frankly. But the kayaker didn't hear her, and was gone in a matter of moments. Whistle contented herself with the knowledge that even if she was a ghost, she was clearly a very determined hiker ghost.

Finally, in the last four miles of the day, the cliffs descended down to become more manageable mountains while the skies parted, and gave way to a very metaphorical (and yet very real) rainbow. Looking out across the stunningly gorgeous landscape, her butt quietly chaffing in her still completely sodden leggings, Whistle smiled and felt pretty happy to be alive, thank you very much.


Author's note: I'm sorry there was such a gap in time with writing - I was struggling mightily with how to write Whistle's terrifying near-death experience. I sat down to write it at least five times, and each time walked away with a blank screen. Even though the Appalachian Trail tried to kill me several times, I think it's a little easier to write about one's own scary things rather than someone else's. You can rest assured that Whistle is very much alive! There shouldn't be as much of a gap between writing now that we've gotten over this hurdle. Hooray, no death!

Giant River-Crossing Stick

This is my "Welp, probably gonna die soon" face.

"Oh look, this one's only up to my calves! Easy!"

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Friendship with Solitude

Whistle stood on the rim of a deep canyon, a gentle breeze pushing a few loose strands of hair across her sun-spotted face. Reaching into her pocket, she went to press pause on her phone to halt the playback of a book about teenage brains. The woman was expressing some fear about when teenagers take a single sip of alcohol, they permanently screw up their brains for the rest of their lives, due to the neurons not completing their development properly. That's silly, Whistle thought, her finger hovering over the pause button. I dare her to find a single adult who didn't have one sip of alcohol as a teenager. I mean, society's all falling apart or whatever, but it's probably not because of that. She pressed the button, and the woman's voice cut off mid sentence. 

As she pulled her ear buds out, first one and then the other, her mind became awash in a gentle, pressing silence. Clouds curled across the distant horizon, forming and splitting and forming again in their own slow motion dance. Taking a deep breath, she let out a single carrying cry, bending slightly at the hips and hurling her voice into the canyon at her feet. Her voice flew away from her, careening into the far wall and bouncing back up to her in a reverberating echo. The echo faded in diminishing returns, and Whistle was again left in quiet. She tried to sing a round, but the canyon and her echo didn't have a good understanding of harmonizing and 8 counts, so she gave up. Hitching her pack into a better resting space on her shoulders, she turned and headed on. 

There had been many moments on her journey when Whistle was overcome with the pressing need to share the beauty of the trail with someone. Being the only hiker on a vast, seemingly endless trail through wilderness had its perks and its sadness, but it was always hardest when being awash in the experience of something being particularly lovely. The burble of a creek, or a certain smattering of stars blinking in the milky way splashed overhead, and any number of other tiny experiences of joy, were diminished just a little bit, as she looked over her shoulder and wanted there to be someone standing by. Just to be able to point and say,


Whistle was not dogged by this pressing loneliness; it wasn't as though she was hanging her Snoopy head and slowly trudging down the trail, while Peanuts' "No Dogs Allowed" played in tinny melancholy over the speakers of her mind. On the other hand, she wasn't skipping down the trail throwing imaginary sparkles into the air and relishing in the sheer delight of every passing of gas that was unimpeded by the constraints of society. Instead, she was settling into a better understanding of herself. Understanding solitude. 

While humming along to herself on an old ATV track, Whistle was startled to discover that her face was suddenly feet from the face of a horse. The horse blinked slowly at her. Whistle dutifully blinked back. Her attention traveled up the horse's face to the man sitting atop the horse, a man who was clearly doing everything in his power to mask his pure joy and delight in stumbling upon another human being. 

"Howdy!" The man said, brightly, just as two large dogs bounded around and between the legs of the horse to snuffle up to Whistle's knees and lick her hands. Whistle grinned and knelt down to ruffle the fur of the dogs' faces.  The man's name was Ron, and he had been camping with his animals and riding South on several trails in the desert. Whistle and Ron began to small talk exuberantly, as it was clear that neither of them had interacted with another sentient, language-speaking creature in quite some time. This became abundantly clear as both Ron and Whistle quickly ran out of things to talk about, but desperately wanted to keep interacting. 

After a few minutes of introductions and general explanations in regard to why both of them were alone in the woods, Whistle and Ron fell into a quiet, panicked silence, as each of them cast about for something, anything to say.

"This horse is 11 years old," Ron suddenly explained.

"Wow," Whistle enthused, "Is that old for a horse?"

"No," Ron replied. He looked a little pained. Whistle pat one of the dogs absently on the top of the head.

"How... long do horses normally live?"

"I think the oldest ones have lived into their 40's."


"But I think most of them live into their 20's."


Somewhere in the underbrush nearby, crickets literally chirped.

"Weeeeell," Whistle said, nudging a little stone with the toe of her shoe and holding the straps of her pack, "Best be on my way! Good luck to you, Ron!"

"To you as well!" chirruped Ron, and they both marched off down the trail in opposite directions. Whistle felt buoyant at having had human interaction with a friendly man and his animals. Sometimes, when you're alone in the woods, having a conversation on the level of awkwardness akin to trying to small talk with your boss at the water cooler after he has just accidentally interrupted you talking with your close coworker/friend about your most recent bowel movement, isn't so bad, because hey, at least you had a conversation and no one was injured!

Whistle later found herself hiking up a 9,000 foot peak in the rain, overcome with the incredible beauty of it. The trail wound its way up a rocky, dry, desert side, but at its peak changed into a lush pine grove. There were thin veins of cold mountain water burbling down between the trunks of the stoic trees to collect into crystal clear pools. Agave grew in abundance, stretching strong and healthy with the collected water of years. Pillars of rock made miniature, natural totem poles, telling secret stories of a world long gone. Whistle stood at the peak and wondered if her voice still echoed in the canyon she'd left behind, a tiny, quiet sound heard only by the space between stones.

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.